Have you ever felt like two mad wolves were inside of you on a seesaw? One day you could be full of energy and optimism, feeling invincible. Then another day, you could be so down, cynical, and sluggish and could barely get out of bed.
That is my life.
In my highs, I would do something creative—like record a ukulele song cover, start writing a blog article, a book or a cringe-worthy song I wouldn’t finish anyway. Or cook another dish even if I just literally ate dinner. I would stay up all night but still feel energized the next day.
My thoughts would be racing. You would notice I speak more and faster than usual. I could be easily irritated by the pettiest of things. Sometimes, I would walk around the city, overspend and go home with an empty wallet.
In my lows, I could be very unsociable. There were days I would skip work and just eat and sleep for almost a week. I would go off the grid without informing people of my whereabouts. I would feel anxious, hopeless and very depressed I just wanted to die and rot in bed.
And then there were days I would be in a rather uncomfortable mixed state of highs and lows. Something harder to define.
On hindsight, these uncontrollable mood swings have been a cycle since my teenage years. But it was only last year when it felt like it was getting worse and it has become unmanageable and debilitating. I knew something was wrong and that I needed help.
My initial diagnosis was panic disorder and depression. Until after more than a year of continuous therapy and medication, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Type 2.
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by bad mood swings primarily due to chemical imbalances in the brain. It can run in the family and be triggered by environmental factors.
Seeking help was not easy. We live in a society that stigmatizes mental health patients. I was judged even by some of my closest friends. The worst I was told was that psychiatry is a form of witchcraft and is from the devil so I should take no part in it.
When I would hail a ride and pin the location “Philippine Mental Health Association,” quite a number of drivers would cancel. Or if they take my booking, their usual probing question would be, “Doon po kayo nagtatrabaho? (Do you work there?)” To which I would answer a simple “No” sans explanation. But maybe I am overthinking, which has become a habit.
Seeking help is necessary. Depression and other mental disorders are progressive and can lead to life impairment and even suicide when left untreated. In my therapy sessions, my depression was traced to my adolescent years and it was never properly dealt with until now that I’m in my early thirties.
When Do You Seek Help?
I consulted a psychiatrist when I started to experience the physiological manifestations of my troubled mind. I was having panic attacks. I couldn’t breathe. I would sweat, palpitate or tremble just anytime, anywhere. The first few times were scary.
I was also having a hard time coping with stress. There was a time I would choose to work up to 16 hours a day. I couldn’t sleep properly anymore. That was when I knew I needed help.
What Do You Tell the Doctor During Your First Consultation?
Be honest. Don’t filter. If you don’t know where to start or you are groping for words, it is okay. That is why you are seeking help in the first place, because you are looking for clarity. The doctor will guide you by asking questions.
Be open not just about your present problems but also your past. Tell the doctor as much as you can without overthinking. Talk to the doctor like you were talking to a friend. He or she will listen and not judge you.
How Much Do You Spend for a Consultation?
The first consultation is usually more expensive. Private psychiatrists in Metro Manila charge around P2,500 to P3,500. Succeeding therapy sessions cost less. Mine is P2,000 per session. I started having therapy every two weeks but now it’s down to just once a month because I have improved over time.
Would You Take Medication?
Trust that the doctor is trained to prescribe the right medication if necessary. If you are put on medication, follow it because it will help you get well. For medication, I spend around P180 daily for anti-depressants and mood stabilizers. That is based on my needs as a Bipolar Type 2.
Should You Tell Your Family?
For me, yes, so they would understand your behavior and help you pinpoint red flags in your mood cycles. Other than your family, I believe it is okay to tell your closest friends. Having a strong support system is necessary.
Should You Tell Your Boss?
If you are comfortable with it, there is nothing wrong. In my case, yes I did, because my medications could affect my work performance. Also being open can help create a workplace culture that is sensitive to people’s mental health needs.
One Step at a Time
Bipolar disorder and most mental health illnesses are manageable through lifestyle change and maintenance medication. There are even those who are eventually able to wean themselves off their medicines and live a normal and productive life.
But it always has to start with the first step, talking to an expert when you need to, because we all could use some help to tame our wolves.
[Entry 278, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Ephraim Aguilar is a former Executive Producer for GMA Network and a former correspondent for the Philippine Daily Inquirer Southern Luzon Bureau. He is a vegan and a mental health advocate. He was a journalism graduate of Bicol University in Albay. Views are his. Read more of his articles here