Living With Mental Disorder
Words Anonymous | Photo Kat J
For as long as I can remember, I was always the ‘grumpy’ child. If you asked any of my siblings which out of the seven dwarfs I’d be, they would reply with ‘Grumpy’. And if you asked them which Powerpuff Girls I would be, they would say ‘Buttercup’. I was known in my family for throwing tantrums, being ‘sensitive’ and having mood swings – in which my mood would change in minutes from being happy to be annoyed and angry. It never occurred to any of my family members that I had any mental illness, until years later.
How I found out about my mental illness
Looking back, I feel like I’ve been living with my mental illness since I was young, as I exhibited symptoms of extreme mood swings. During my teen years, I was reserved and rarely opened up about issues to my family. However, it wasn’t until I was in college that my mum started to realise that I had exhibited symptoms of bipolar and depression. Some of my lecturers noticed during my final year that I was not acting like my usual self and often asked if I was okay.
My symptoms started when I struggled with getting enough sleep. I was also oddly experiencing sounds like knocking on the walls throughout my room, and would often find myself in a daze, where I would do things without realisation. For example, I would take a shower and go back to my room, then ask myself five minutes later, “did I take a shower?”. It was weird because part of me felt like I had showered whereas the other part of me felt like I had not, and that I was just hallucinating it the whole time. I knew something was off about me, but at the time I refused to accept that I was living with a mental disorder because of how taboo the topic was. But with assurance from my family and the support they were giving me, I decided to see a psychiatrist to overcome this.
My visit to the Mental Health Clinic
During my two-hour-long visit, my psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar disorder after a thorough assessment, involving questions. When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t know how to react, but my psychiatrist assured me and explained what bipolar disorder is. Bipolar disorder is a mental illness in which a person experiences mood swings. However, the period of these mood swings can range from seconds to weeks or even months. It’s like having those good weeks, where you’re full of energy and you exert all of it to your daily activities and maybe take on a few more tasks.
Then you come down from that high and experience burnout (where some people fall into depression), where you have trouble getting out of bed and have trouble doing your normal routine. Typically, we would know how to avoid burnout, which is to organise our lives, not adding too much to our plate, and getting enough rest. However, when someone lacks a certain hormone in their body (in this case, it’s serotonin), it makes it more difficult to rest and eventually balance their lives. Instead, they ride the high with little to no sleep and eventually get burnout – which is during this time, that they allow their bodies and minds to rest for days or weeks, before regaining energy and going through the high again.
When asked if my mum and I had done anything wrong for me to be like this, my psychiatrist immediately pushed it aside, “it’s nobody’s fault”. According to him, I was just lacking a certain hormone in my body, which was serotonin – a key hormone that stabilises mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. He assured my mum and me that there’s nothing wrong with having a mental illness as it doesn’t make us any less human. With assurance and support, I started my first month of medication to stabilise my mood.
How does it feel like to be on medication
I slept a lot for the first few days of being on medication. According to my psychiatrist, this happened because my body was adjusting itself back to normal, after all those sleepless nights, as well as days where I would use up a lot of energy. But in general, the medications don’t alter my life drastically, because I take them before I sleep and not during the day in the middle of my activities. The number of my medications have also changed recently, because I have been able to assess my mood and take a step back whenever I need to. I’ve also learnt when to increase or decrease my medication according to my mood, and hopefully, soon, I’ll be able to monitor my mood without the need of medications.
How different life is when living with a mental disorder
When living with a mental disorder, you tend to be more conscious of your mood and how you react to things. You will learn to divert yourself from things that affect you and embrace the things that bring you peace. You learn to control yourself, rather than your surroundings, and you learn to see things in a different light.
Had I not been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I would think that being overwhelmed and stressed is normal. But today, I know what makes me overwhelmed and stressed, and I avoid situations like that, or I learn to handle it differently, or I try to see past it and try to not let it affect me. As for life with other people, it’s a slight challenge because it’s a lot about altering how you see things, rather than changing people or your environment. Sometimes we come across people who are not as sensitive as you’d like them to be, but I keep my psychiatrist’s advice with me a lot – which is to ignore and look past things we cannot change.
All in all, people with mental disorders are just like everyone else. There’s nothing wrong with us and we’re not crazy. We just need a little push to allow us to be our best selves. And whether you’ve been diagnosed with a mental disorder or not, I hope this encourages you to embrace yourself for who you are.