Rachel Salud seen here with his father shares journey with depression. (Facebook)
Mental illness needs to be understood
By Ted Alcuitas
Editor’s note: We have been thinking of writing about depression for a while but never came around to it. Then I read these two posts from Facebook friends a while back. Still I didn’t. Then the celebrity death of Anthony Bourdain happened and somehow FB friends opened up to their own bouts of the illness.I too, have a personal connection not only with relatives suffering from mental illness but also myself.
For years, I have been beset with my own demons. Anger hounded me all my life and it affected the people closest to me – my own family.While I was not in denial, I tried to treat myself by reading books on anger management, desperately trying to understand where my anger came from.
Five years ago when I suffered a heart attack and was taking physical therapy, a hospital social worker suggested that I take steps to address my anxiety or depression.She put me into an out-patient group self-help program where I was with six other people who were suffering from anxiety and/or depression (but not clinical depression). During the six weeks or so, we would meet and share with each other under the guidance of two mental health professionals. At the same time, I was seeing a psychiatrist in the same facility every two weeks.The psychiatrist recommended that I take an anger management course after the program.
I am now on the way to healing, thanks to the program (which was all free, by the way). I am not completely free of my anger but I can say with all honesty that I have grown from that old self to a new person that sometimes fall but lifts myself up.
I hope that by sharing my own story and and the stories of Rachel Salud and Steffi Tad-y we can in some way, contribute to the journey of healing for ourselves and others.
Rachel Salud’s story:
The story was posted by her father, Joel Pablo Salud who is Editor in Chief at Philippines Graphic Magazine.
“Peeps, if you want a good read to cap your Sunday, here’s an essay from my daughter Rei Rei. It talks about a rosary-list of the oddest things–the strangest companions ever to witness my eldest daughter’s growing-up years. These years she spent mostly in isolation as a teenager, and this by her own choosing as she battled depression, often by her lonesome in some corner of a school, or between the pages of books while under a quilt of stars. Now a grown woman, she still wages an untiring battle against her sundry demons. The only difference between then and now is that today she’s better at waging war using words.
By Rachel Salud
Growing up, I’ve forged more friendships with books than people.
Which is not to say that I deem human companionship unwelcome. But for one who seems to find joy in self-imposed exile, books may well have been the perfect friends in an otherwise strange and somewhat isolated life.
There is a kind of convenience one finds in befriending books that cannot be experienced while sharing the same relationship with people: for starters, books do not disrupt the sanctity of your hard-won sleep by calling in the middle of night only to yammer on about steel-hearted lovers or estranged friends, the parent who refuses to understand that the foolishness of their child is a possible result of genetics, the teacher whose favourite letter is F, or even the slave-driving boss who gets away with all the credit. Books—good books in particular—talk about all these things with more finesse, as well as increase one’s arsenal for vocabulary.
They offer a web of perspectives and not just a steam-train hurtling straight towards a cliff. Books let you walk with them along the labyrinth of misery and mysteries, affection and idolization, failures and triumphs without ever letting go of your hand.
Like most teenagers who have more than once suffered the loneliness of a nameless island, I turned to books for good conversation. I loved it that they did all the talking, mostly because I find difficulty in speaking.
Even as an adult, hearing my own voice outside of my head makes my skin crawl because it’s far from how I imagine it to sound. Imagination, too, has been one of the many priceless gifts I have received from befriending books, though letting my mind run uncontrollably wild does have its repercussions. Yet it is also with books that I have come to learn about control, not only when it comes to my imagination but also with the rather burdensome aspects of myself, anger being first and foremost.
In the more turbulent times of my life, both personal and professional, I try to recall passages from poems to calm the runaway locomotive I like to call my fist. Sometimes, the words hardly make sense, muddled by the fury that comes so easily to one born with the temper of a dynamite and a machine-gun for a mouth.
But in the passing years, I have since used those words as an anchor, a lifeline. Shakespeare’s Sonnets have become, by default, my soothing balm, along with Federico Garcia Lorca’s poems from “Poet in New York” and Sylvia Plath’s “Ariel”.
For the darkness that, time and again, tries to offer its hand in false friendship, I run to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Strange Pilgrims,” Vladimir Nabokov’s “Collected Stories,” and Neil Gaiman’s “Fragile Things”. Later on, I’ve managed to get a hold of more of their books, but there’s nothing like love at first read. I’ve also had the good fortune to come across other friends like Jorge Luis Borges’ “Labyrinths,” George Orwell’s “1984,” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” (both in paperback and illustrated versions), and Haruki Murakami’s Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, all of which I’ve put in a place of honour in my library (except for the Murakami book, which is still playing mistress to a friend). These days, I find myself in the company of Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief,” Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series (“Wizard and Glass” being my all-time favourite), and a beautiful black-and-red tome of H.G. Wells’ “Collected Stories”.
Of course, I’ve also found very good friends in books penned by local authors: “Katipunera” by Elsa Martinez Coscolluela, the “Twisted” books by Jessica Zafra, “Bisyo ang Pag-Ibig” by Mike L. Bigornia with an English translation by Krip Yuson, “Damaged People: Tales of the Gothic-Punk” by Karl R. De Mesa, and Ambeth R. Ocampo‘s “Rizal without the Overcoat”.
There are, naturally, many other books I’ve come across, friendships with them fleeting or forever, but if I begin to list all of them I might as well accomplish the whole inventory for the house, which I’ve been somewhat avoiding for the last decade or so (sorry, dad).
One might perhaps be wondering why I didn’t bother to list the “Harry Potter” series here, which most people would consider a common addition to one’s personal library. I did come to love J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books, but at the time I was reading them, Gabo’s magical realism grabbed me by the hair and plunged me into a world from which I have never taken a breath to see the shore.
I suppose that is the kind of violence one experiences when forging a friendship with books: they drag you in without a moment’s pause, not for air or sleep or dreams, open your eyes to both beauty and madness even if you refuse to see. They take you travelling without the hassle of airport security or even the physical limitations of not being in an actual starship. Time and space and distance become of little consequence, themselves dissolving and rearranging as they make sense of the nonsensical. No passports and visas required.
And when, at the end of it all, you finally make it to land, you will never be the same: you are all at once empty yet unimaginably complete.
For this, I have my dad to thank. He nurtured in me the profound joy one experiences in reading. With the spare money he manages to save, then and now, it often—if not always—went to books. Whenever I would go on dates with my boyfriend, or travel away from home (regardless of whether that’s just in the grocery or the mall or outside of the city), my dad makes it a point to ask if I’ve brought a book along. I suppose it was also his idea of proper parenting and babysitting, considering that there would be times when he cannot always talk to me about my troubles. Instead of your child asking other people who probably don’t know any better, get them to read books. I knew it was not by chance but through a carefully calculated risk that he handed me Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” during the most manic-depressive, suicidal time of my life.
In gaining friends with books, I’ve also learned how to enjoy the company of other people, despite my occasional aversion for humans as a vampire would avoid daylight.
But more than that, I’ve realized that I’ve never been truly alone all this time. There was my dad, and, to borrow a line from “The Book Thief,” “that was typical, and I loved him.” #
Steffi Tad-y started a blog to cope with her depression
What I learned from having Bipolar — part I
Two and a half years after being diagnosed, I am incredibly grateful to be at this point where I can say that its presence in my life has shown its gifts. Bipolar has given me so much, sometimes too much, but always enough to bring me into gratefulness that I’m alive, with a beating heart, and enough core muscles to breathe and belly-laugh sustainably.
We are all in different points in our journey and regardless of where we are, I want to take the chance to be here, vocal and confident, for my fellow Bipolies in a way that others have before me.
(The first doctor who diagnosed and carried me through also has Bipolar.)
But before sharing its gifts, I want to clarify that having Bipolar doesn’t mean having a moment-to-moment shift from being happy to being sad. It’s also not about being moody. (If you are curious to know more, I encourage you to look up the DSM-V symptoms of Bipolar, formerly known as Manic Depression.)
Depression isn’t synonymous with sadness, and mania doesn’t simply mean elation.
For Bipolar I to be Bipolar I, both depression and mania must exist — a.) in episodes (7 days or more for a full blown mania, 14 days or more for depression), and b.) must inhibit your ability to function in daily life.
The categories of DSM are also continuously revised and revisited, so a healthy dose of skepticism and flexibility is also important when perusing the DSM.
When in doubt, seek help from a professional.
Wherever you are in the galaxy, I want you to know that there is absolutely no shame in going to a psychiatrist or psychologist. They are healers and carers who decided to commit their lives to helping people. Let them.
Usually, if you map out your life, you become sure of Bipolar when you see a recurring pattern of periodic highs and lows. If you were to ask me what my “low” looks like, it’s not a feeling of sadness, but an insistent, clobbering tiredness. (I know something’s up when I hear myself saying “really tired” for days and no matter how much I sleep, meditate, or practice yoga, the tiredness doesn’t go away. It feels like it can seep through your bones.)
Some more points to make:
- It’s okay to ride a rollercoaster of feelings — to feel sad when your favourite ballplayer is injured, or to feel happy when you don’t have to sit through 2 hours of Manila traffic. It’s okay to feel both happy and sad, and it’s okay to cycle through them. You can trust yourself to ride it because every feeling eventually goes away. Everything is temporary.
- It is also okay to spend time to grieve, or re-grieve, when you’ve experienced a loss in your life. It is okay to cry it out, to ask for a hug, or to run through triggering loops in your head even if you already said a thousand times that you wouldn’t. We all need time. It is okay to create time and space for yourself when you need it. Your concerns are important, no matter how small you may feel they are to the world. (Because you are important to the world.)
- And on the subject of grief, one crucial and ongoing debate among scholars and researchers is at what point do we medicalize grief? A lot of people are onboard in saying that we ought to exercise caution in pathologizing our emotions. They are an inherent part of being human, and are raw materials for creating beautiful art, film, music, and poetry. Medicalizing, pathologizing, the role of emotions — I’ll leave that for another post.
For today’s post —
Because of Bipolar, I learned how to be my own best friend.
I learned how to honestly check-in with myself — to know the difference between pain and discomfort, to know when to listen to my thoughts and when to ignore them, to know when I am caught in a internal narrative or when I am being fully present, to observe when I am constricting or expanding, to be aware when I am being tender or hard, to know when I am coming from a place of fear or whole-heartedness, and to not judge myself in the process.
Because of Bipolar, I learned to mouth praises for myself (no matter how challenging that can be). I learned to forgive myself for my mistakes (the process of which began with me having to pretend that the red pillow on my psychologist’s sofa is Steffi, and I have to say out loud to this red pillow turned Steffi, “I forgive you and I love you.”) Managing one’s mental illness can be interesting at times, and it trains you to confront the difficult things.
Because of Bipolar, I also learned how to be gentle with myself. Learning how to soothe yourself, how to be your own encourager and caretaker are important because for many of us, being thrown into the Bipolar life means seeing yourself in this diagnosis of malfunction in fine print. It takes awhile to fully believe that there is still something good and beautiful in you.
I know it’s difficult to be called names, to be the psycho in somebody’s story, the paranoid suicidal, or the crazy one.
But dear bipolar one, I promise that you are not damaged goods.
There is something beautiful, there is something good in you.
There is something beautiful, there is something good in you.
I promise, I promise.
Your bipolar sister, order of General Leia Organa
Steffi Tad-y celebrates graduation from UBC’s MFA in English Literature in 2017. (FB)
Francis Arevalo (Twitter image)