February 11, 2021. I stared at the wall clock. I was waiting for my alarm to go off. My eyes were wide open, my ears were listening to every sound. The drop of water in the bathroom sink, the chirping of birds outside, the blow of the wind, and everything else seemed louder than usual. This has been my longest streak of being awake. I was up for 48 hours straight, no sleep, no naps in between. My only rest was two episodes of “Homeland” on Netflix and a good stretch on the bed, but that was it. On normal days, I would still be asleep at this time. I usually sleep at four in the morning and wake up at around ten thirty. At six in the morning, I was preparing to eat breakfast and hoping to get a good sleep after. But no, my mind was fully awake. It was active, and noisy, and I am unable to rest. I felt like I could write an entire magazine article in one sitting (or perhaps a novel), or probably finish a full-schedule photoshoot in the next couple of hours, or maybe help bake and decorate some cakes in the kitchen in our pastry shop. The energy was God-like, yet I have no idea where it was coming from.
Everyone just wanted to put me to sleep. My brain was ready to work that day, however it was not in the usual speed. From 20 km/hr., it was at 100. At nine in the morning, I was done with my breakfast. I have already answered some inquiries on all of our business pages, did some marketing campaigns for brands, closed some deals, and finished our business licenses. I was talking and chatting with people all at the same time. I was waiting for my brain to get tired and fall asleep, but it never happened. That very same day, I had to drive a few blocks from my house to handle our taxes from the taxation office, up until now I cannot believe how I managed to be productive with 2 days without sleep. I officially branded myself as a “48-hr. zombie”.
UNDERSTANDING BIPOLAR DISORDER
I was clinically diagnosed with Bipolar 2 Disorder in 2018, and the manifestations showed up while I was not in my home country. What started as depression and anxiety was the beginning of my never-ending battle with this illness. Let’s back track to 2018 when all of this started. I was sitting on my bed back at my Bondi Beach Apartment in Sydney while crying non-stop as if the world was about to end. That day, I was supposed to be awake, reporting for hotel duty at 5 in the morning. That day was the first time I have ever felt overwhelmed. I was not able to sleep the whole night. I completely spent the night staring at the ceiling while my thoughts went ballistic. It felt like nothing was going right for me. My future seemed to be a vast piece of blank paper. There was no light at the end of the tunnel. I just sat there in one corner of my dark room, under my blanket, confused, not knowing how to feel, I did not even know why I was crying. This was the beginning, my first episode of my “lows”.
It all started there, until my housemates dragged me to see a doctor. Sure, the prescriptions helped me sleep, but those were the worst days I have ever had in my life. It was like being alive but not living, and dead but not departed. My friends can see my presence, but I could not be felt. I was just sitting there and hanging around with them, like a mannequin, not feeling or grasping anything. My brain was in a constant train of thoughts, working full-speed. My anxiety got the best of me that even riding a bus was a struggle. I could imagine people staring and laughing at me, so I had my earphones and baseball cap, or a hoodie on each time I go out in public. I never wanted to be seen, I did not like people looking at me. It made me severely anxious to a point that my heart would palpitate so bad. I just wanted to disappear.
As a pastry chef working in a very busy French bakeshop in Bondi, I had to be at work at four in the morning. I cross this wide intersection by half an hour after three everyday and though my prescribed medications were essentially therapeutic, they also had the meanest side effects. I see the headlights and tail lights of the vehicles passing by, lingering in front of my eyes like they were moving in fast forward ten times the normal. I see my surroundings blurry, like I was watching a movie on triple speed. My head spins, my gut in agony, my feet suddenly weak, my arms frail, I just want to lay on the ground and get some sleep.
This was the depressive side that I had to deal with for years. I shed tears so many times, not even my mom could understand where all of the emotions were coming from. I was upset about little things. I was mad about a broken faucet, I cried over a local water shortage (I wanted to just die because of it), I sobbed for help… help for I didn’t know what. But after the months of “lows”, came the “highs”. My creative side came out. I had brilliant ideas with me everywhere I went. I had a solution to every ordeal. I was involved in everybody’s lives, because I thought listening to other people would make me feel that I was not the only one trying to survive the turmoil. I spent dollars purchasing anything colorful. Pens, notebooks, coloring books, coloring materials, anything shiny and attractive, they made me happy and blissful. I bought 3 ukeleles. Learning this new musical instrument reminded me of the beach, it was calming and peaceful.
I spent my hard-earned salary on chocolates of every flavor, just because they look so nice when they’re piled up together. I never ate the chocolates. I just stared at them. After a while of finally getting tired of looking at the colorful packaging, I ended up storing all the chocolates in a box and shipping them home. I went traveling, and writing, and exploring without any doubt or fear. I bought shoes, three pairs in one go. I bought clothes, I wasn’t sure where to wear them but I took them home with me anyway. I could eat hotpot for days, as long as all the balls and ingredients are complete. I have to make sure all the shapes are in my bowl. I don’t know why, but I particularly have to complete the sauces too (mom and I had to go to every shop just to find Ponzu Sauce). I can only eat and feel fulfilled when I have all seven sauces lined up in front of my eyes. I buy everything out of impulse. A giant aquarium for my kitchen, pots and pans, cook books, name it. I have every color, every piece, every title of an entire set. I had the need to complete everything. It doesn’t feel right when they are not. I was not sure of anything, was it a slight form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? That, I was not sure.
I was working three jobs, I had a hotel training for my Entrepreneurship course, a restaurant training for my Hospitality Management course, and my real job as a pastry chef. I was also doing side jobs as a writer online. I never had a free-time. I also switched jobs from one place to another. I had the mentality that I should be job-hopping to know every secret of every kitchen. I was on the hunt for new discoveries all the time. I was busy, productive, and energetic. I was so high, that I can literally finish school work, my jobs, house work, and everything else all at the same time. People started naming me “achiever”, or “superwoman”, or “goal-digger”. I didn’t mind. Until the news of my diagnosis came out.
MEDICATIONS AND THERAPIES
My little “shopping spree” had to come to an end. No sane middle class person would max out almost P10,000 ($285 AUD) just to buy gym clothes. I stared on the bed with all of the shopping bags with that same look on my face. “What the f*ck did I just buy again?” It was like waking up from a spell. I can never justify everything I bought, and to my psychiatrist, it was a clear exhibition of Mania. I came to a point when my Mom had to confiscate all my bank cards and was not allowed to go or drive anywhere alone. I could not buy anything for myself… me, an adult, of legal age (way past 18). I needed my mom’s approval to buy anything. It was like torture, or a punishment of some sort, but it was a part of my therapy.
Trying to stay well and steady takes a lot of effort. It took us a while before me and my psychiatrist have finally found the perfect medications. You see, mental disorder medications take a long time before the brain reacts to them, consequently it is a long experimentation process. It can take up to two weeks, three weeks, a month, we can never tell. Aside from the prescriptions, I have to undergo Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to keep me balanced (which I am willing to write about on a different post). I am currently on three medications. I am on Quetiapine for Bipolar depression which my psychiatrist managed really well, as I seldom feel the “low” side of it these days. I am also on Depakote for the Mania, which we are still working on… (YES MY VERY ACTIVE BRAIN IS WRITING THIS AT 5:00 AM. Not new to me). I also have another prescribed drug for anxiety which I only take when needed (too much of it can kill, it also works as an anti-epileptic in case of seizures, the drugstore actually has to call the drug enforcement agency before they dispense those nasty little things).
MY SUPER POWERS
While having a Mental Disorder can be psychologically, emotionally, physically, and mentally draining, Bipolar Disorder has its positive aspect. On a Manic episode, I can do many things that normal people cannot do in one day. A normal person can only handle two to three major tasks in a day, while I can handle about eight to ten without feeling tired or overwhelmed. I could use some of the extra energy to clean the house, cook meals, absorb an entire series on Netflix without falling asleep, after a whole day of juggling work and blogging.
Bipolar Disorder has the power to make you invincible. It can make you dream beyond the impossible. It can make you achieve and conquer things that you thought you can never handle. You can do great things, but make sure to use the “powers” well. Rest if you must! Do not try to overwork, but I know this is not an easy thing to do. Forcing your brain to just shut down has always been a struggle for me since Day 01 until three years after.
I am owning it. Having Bipolar Disorder does not change anything. Aside from my very erratic mood swings which requires a massive amount of patience and understanding from the people around me, I am highly-functional (maybe more functional than a normal individual). Though I cannot control my Bipolar Episodes, I am mostly living well. There are good days and bad days, and days when I am hay-wired, nights when my brain is too chaotic to fall asleep. But there will be normal sunny days, when you are neither manic or depressive, just in between (this is rare, and sadly you don’t get to choose).
However, I want the people reading this to know that being distressed, or sluggish, overly emotional, or feeling down or the other way around (hyper activity, manic) for more than a week or so is NOT normal. It ultimately requires medical intervention.
STOP THE STIGMA!
The major reason why some people refuse to get treatment is the generalized conclusion that anyone who sees a psychiatrist is probably crazy. We call them names like “may tililing”, “may sapak”, “baliw”, “sintu-sinto”, “may sira sa ulo”. In fact, Mental Disorders are illnesses of the brain. The brain is an organ of the human body. When an organ malfunctions, it needs medical treatment. Just like how we get treatment for asthma (an illness of the lungs), or anemia (an illness of the blood). You don’t just tell someone with asthma to stop having asthma because they just can’t. Same way with having a Mental Disorder. You just can’t tell patients to stop having a Mental Disorder. The society we live in is cruel, we need to be more sensitive with the needs of others. Let’s start within ourselves and make Mental Health Awareness a part of a normal conversation.
Hindi ito pag-iinarte lang. (You are not faking it. The moment you feel empty, is the same moment you need help.)
99% OF SUICIDE INCIDENTS HAPPEN NOT BECAUSE THEY HAVE MENTAL ILLNESSES, BUT BECAUSE THEY TRIED TO SPEAK BUT NO ONE ATTEMPTED TO LISTEN.
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a mental illness that brings severe high and low moods and changes in sleep, energy, thinking, and behavior. People who have bipolar disorder can have periods in which they feel overly happy and energized and other periods of feeling very sad, hopeless, and sluggish. -Web M.D.
Are you feeling depressed and anxious? Are you in the verge of self-harm? Are you feeling overwhelmed like you just want to disappear? Have you lost your interest to do anything? Or would you be needing assistance for a family member or a friend?
MENTAL HELP HOTLINE PHILIPPINES:
Dial 0917-899-USAP / 0917-899-8727
SUICIDE CRISIS LINES:
Do you have a story that you would love to share?
Do you have questions regarding Mental Health and Bipolar Disorder?
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