Names have been changed.
“No bipolars allowed. Life’s too short to keep them around,” my ex Brian recently wrote on his Instagram account.
I laughed in disbelief. I imagined him saying it in his British accent, the reason why I fell in love with him on a whim, as if I were an unwanted pet in a shop.
Aside from being on the receiving end of digital dumping, I unfortunately had to remove my “In a Relationship” status on Facebook after just a mere month. It was a whirlwind romance after all. After meeting him at a rooftop bar in Makati the year prior, he promised he’d be back soon. Unlike most travelers who leave empty promises, I have to give it to him for visiting Manila months after.
“You’re manic again,” my sister screamed at me when I told her I was going to Kuala Lumpur, two days before my flight, the very same day I booked the roundtrip plane tickets. I was going to follow Brian to Malaysia, his next backpacking destination. On our first night in the land of Nasi Lemak and Petronas Towers selfies, we officially became a couple, and spent several days basking in the glow of new love.
In retrospect, I should have believed my sister when she said I was manic. I also should have listened to my questionable gut feel when Brian first told me he knew nothing about bipolar disorder.
I did ask him to look it up in the Internet, after which he said he accepts me for who I am despite my condition. I guess it’s easier said than done, and a Google search can only do so much.
When people talk about mental health, they usually focus on depression and anxiety. What most don’t know is that there is a whole spectrum of mental illnesses including schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative identity disorder, eating disorders, and my favorite: bipolar disorder, among many others.
Is bipolar disorder simply just having severe mood swings? Not exactly. It’s much more than that. When I first got diagnosed in 2015 with Bipolar I disorder, it was because I drove like a maniac to Laguna in the middle of the night during the typhoon season, having zero sleep and acting all hysterical.
My boyfriend Kevin at the time begged me to see a doctor for my erratic behavior. It turns out I experienced my first manic episode, as my psychiatrist explained to me.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association, bipolar disorder is a mental health condition defined by episodes of extreme mood disturbances. There are two main types of bipolar disorder: bipolar I and bipolar II. Bipolar I disorder involves episodes of severe mania and often depression. Bipolar II disorder involves a less severe form of mania called hypomania.
The American Psychological Association further described the illness as a condition where common emotions become intensely and often unpredictably magnified. Individuals with bipolar disorder can quickly swing from extremes of happiness, energy and clarity to sadness, fatigue and confusion. These shifts can be so devastating that individuals may choose suicide.
Thanks to the influx of mental health support groups, such as Mental Health PH, Silakbo, and Anxiety and Depression Support Philippines, more Filipinos are gaining awareness on the dangers of major depression and its symptoms. From insomnia or hypersomnia, unexplained or uncontrollable crying, severe fatigue, significant weight loss or weight gain, and recurring thoughts of death, the inrush of suicide hotlines to service depressed patients is a major step forward for mental health awareness in the country.
As a bipolar patient, I noticed though that not everyone understands the equally dangerous side of mania, which is defined in the DSM-5 as a distinct period of abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood. It may lead to an excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g., engaging in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments).
How does my manic and depressive episodes manifest in my day-to-day life? Here’s the shameful but honest answer: my commitment to social events is quite shaky, yet I party like a rockstar. I can feel extremely awful about myself, yet at times I feel like the queen of the world. When I get irritated, all hell breaks loose. When I feel especially fabulous, I end up buying a round of shots for to strangers. I can at one moment be completely catatonic, and be extremely wild and risky the next.
I’m always on one end of the pole, rarely in the middle.
My hypomanic episodes led me to my shopaholic alter ego, which snowballed into financial problems as I struggled to pay rent with a massive credit card bill. Eventually my self-esteem went down the drain as I went from a size S to a size XXL in a period of a few months, thanks to my antidepressants.
My extreme swings from mania to depression have been so severe that I have had two suicide attempts in the past two years, both of which led me to the Emergency Room and several weeks in the psychiatric ward, which I like to call “The Place with No Forks”. From eating with two plastic spoons all the time, to having a strict bedtime, it’s the kind of place that you wouldn’t want to keep returning to.
It didn’t help that both my parents had cancer — my father passed away recently during the time of my diagnosis and my late mother was bed-ridden as her lung cancer spread to her brain, leaving me and two siblings orphaned in 2016.
I suppose it’s only natural that it didn’t work out with Kevin from Laguna, nor Brian from the UK. After all, they didn’t sign up for this Series of Unfortunate Events in the first place.
They both met the manic me: flirtatious, exciting, and filled with sheer vitality. The depressive me is ugly, toxic, and devoid of pleasure.
Is all hope lost? I certainly hope not. One night on my way home from work, as my Grab driver saw my Person with Disability discount (yes, diagnosed bipolar patients are entitled to one), he mentioned his wife was bipolar. I asked him if he knew before they got married. “Of course! That’s why I married her in the first place,” he quipped. Still unconvinced, I asked him why. “Her illness doesn’t define her,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes. “I love her for her.”
This made me ponder: perhaps one day, when I’ve been good with my medications and therapy, I’ll find someone who can see past this disorder and “love me for me.” Bipolars are definitely allowed a chance at love. And life is indeed short — but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep them around.