Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Is there balance?

Measure your personal development by how balanced your world is. When you spend too much time in one area of your life, at the expense of others, it is well worth asking: what am I running away from? And yes, you can be martyring yourself for a good cause and still be, at the end of the day, simply refusing to face your demons.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Suscipe (Ignatius of Loyola)

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, 
my memory, my understanding 
and my entire will, 
All I have and call my own. 

You have given all to me. 
To you, Lord, I return it. 

Everything is yours; do with it what you will. 
Give me only your love and your grace. 
That is enough for me.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Why I Talk Openly About Having Bipolar Disorder

Sometimes I feel like I've become overly open about having Bipolar Disorder, to the point that I'm conscious of appearing as if I have a convenient excuse when things go wrong, or a way to get sympathy when I feel insecure. It's as if I've suddenly gone: "Well here's a diagnosis that sounds cool, let's run with it shall we?" So yes, I do ask myself if I should just shut up. After all, it's not as if my life is an absolute mess --- far from it. I am a very blessed, and to some extent a very productive, person. I have family, friends, and even clients who have made allowances for me. I can even recognize that I function better than some people with the same condition.

The thing is: mental illness is very real to me, and I know it's very real to others like me as well. Since the time I've come out of the closet so to speak, I've had people come to me telling me how they are in the same boat. If  I then, a mental health professional, can't talk about it, who can? (And for the record, many psychologists have clinical conditions and are quite open about it.)

I only received this diagnosis latter half of last year. The original diagnosis given to me is Clinical Depression with Obsessive Compulsive traits --- it's the wrong one; I don't respond to antidepressants and the OCD link is tenuous at best. For the first time therefore, I got something that fits my symptoms to a T. And you can't know how liberating the right diagnosis can be to someone who has been at the mercy of extreme emotions most of her life.

The knowledge that what I have is Bipolar Disorder linked me to the right medicines to take. It helped me in making coherent explanations to explain my behavior. It provided me the correct calendar to predict my eccentricities and therefore make plans to manage them. It has helped me forgive myself. In short, my life changed; it's now something somewhat within my control. I guess you can say that the silver lining playbook, if you would pardon the hijack of someone else's phrase, starts with knowing what condition you have. Why then should I not be proud to finally have the correct label?

At the end of the day it's really all about the stigma that people attach to mental illness. It's all sorts of extremes, ranging from "you're just making things up" to "you're all degrees of insane." Am blessed to be a psychologist sufferer; I am, to some extent, buffered from the shame that comes with nakedness, shame that makes what's already unbearable excruciating. True, part of me takes pride in aiming to be awesome with no one the wiser. But if I am to do what is best for others like me, what I should aim for is a life well-lived PLUS a life of openness to being mentally ill. (I don't always achieve the well-lived part but when I am in remission I do try.) With such a life, I can indirectly send the message "Hey, if you're hiding what you're going through, look at me. I refuse to go down without swinging."

There would always be people who won't get it. And that's fine. I don't get half the people around me, and I am being paid to suss out people! (For instance, certain extreme forms of feminism just boggles my mind.) Educate people who are willing to listen; ignore the one's who aren't. What matters in the end is you get the support system that you deserve, and part of the process of doing that is pulling the weeds.

I know I can still improve a great deal regarding how I deal with my illness, or how I explain it to other people. I am in that awkward, rebellious, please-understand-me stage. There's room to mature. But I am in no hurry. Being functional and happy demands a learning curve. Luckily, I have time. For now,  just let me say: I don't have any problems talking openly about having Bipolar Disorder. I've realized, in a very ironic way, that accepting you are not quite right in the head is the very thing that would make you feel, well, quite right in the head.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Reflections on God's Timing

At the beginning of the New Testament, Christ's genealogy was presented. Forty-two generations from Abraham to Jesus. So much waiting for the coming Messiah. It does make you wonder: is God really so slow, so unresponsive, that He can't quickly save the people He swore is His?

We live in an age when time has to move at the speed of light. Heck, we can't even work patiently at a computer game; a few levels of playing and we're already looking for a crack code to the best bits. That we are made to bear frustration for another day, instead of  enjoying immediate gratification, is perceived as a tragedy.

In reflection, perhaps our lack of eagerness to wait is less about patience as much as an inability to fully grasp what it means for things to happen "in God's time." While yes, it's brilliant that we are powerful enough to change the world --- faith  in no way negates personal agency --- Christians are also asked to appreciate how God's sense of timing (or God's plan as a whole) may be different from their sense of timing. For if you are of the belief that God's will equates with the ultimate good, then your duty is to trust and not to insist that you know better. Basically, stay still. It is in childlike trust that faith is sharpened and made more concrete, for the death to one's self is the very thing that faith requires.

Right now I am trying to finish my graduate thesis --- a paper that is more than five years overdue. When you think about it, I have no good excuse for having not written it in time; as a writer by profession, I have completed longer, more complicated, and more artistically demanding products. That I should find it difficult to complete a relatively simple revision (I have already defended my paper years ago) is comedy gold.

The main plot of this comedy involves me having turned this paper from a mouse to a monster. See, somewhere near the end of my course units, a personally traumatic experience happened to me, and it triggered the onset of what I am now enlightened enough to label as Bipolar Disorder I. I went through a roller coaster ride typical of many mood disorders: from overwhelming mania that almost earned me a restraining order, to suicidal lows, and right back to manic highs again. My MA degree has become a glaring reminder of that period in my life that I want to forget, but somehow became a record player horribly stuck on loop mode in my head. I hate my thesis, I am scared shitless of graduating, I have this love-hate relationship with all my pain finally becoming over --- and yes you can make all sorts of psychoanalysis from that. Even now when I have been granted a generous second chance by my school (I've passed the allowed years of residency for a graduate student), thesis writing fills me with so much anxiety that I again missed the deadline set for me. I've finished a really (at least to my standard) good  and hopefully final draft --- but it may not get accepted anymore. The thought of failing again, after so much unfinished work because of my BD, fills me with dread that I have called people to watch out for my sanity. Such is my past week.

So do I continue to blame myself, or my mental illness, for not being able to accomplish what otherwise is a very simple thing? Or could it be, maybe, just maybe, that it's not in God's plan for me to have submitted it back in the day, or that I submit my paper at all? It could very well be that it's not meant to be, although I am hopeful and I know that my hope is good. I probably sound like I am merely rationalizing mediocrity, but I actually think God is trying to teach me a valuable life lesson, a lesson that I forgot to learn the first few times He tried to teach it to me. The lesson is: there is more to life than achieving things.

I am in no way the sharpest tool in the shed, but I do believe I am overly attached to being good at what I do. I try too hard to "accomplish" when my role is to simply "be." I've forgotten what really matters: that being a Christian is firstly about sitting at the feet of Christ, as Martha did. Industry is good --- things don't get done by themselves --- but to get too attached to getting things done, and done well, is a disservice to Divine providence.

See, demanding that things happen when we want it, exactly how we want it, takes the rightful focus from God to one's self. With "why not this?" and "why not now?" we forget the bigger purpose of our existence: to be used for His greater glory.  Fixating on what is not happening keeps God from using us in the here and now,  possibly in a way that will make us grow. For at the end of the day, what does trust in God's timing mean? Does it mean a passive "I will sit here and just wait for God to work miracles?" No. Trust in God's time means "Use me now, Lord, in however way you please, regardless of what my circumstance happens to be." Availability to God is worship, it's service, and in some cases, it's fellowship. Definitely, it's love. Christ love for us is mainly by His ever present welcome to those who desire His presence. And we are exhorted to respond in kind.

There is victory that comes with trusting in God's time. Take my accursed paper for example. Its quality is so much better now that I have given the ideas some time to percolate. The material is so much more relevant now too as related literature have surfaced making stronger analysis possible. Hence, its more useful. Whether I publish it for my school or for simply under my own byline, it will do more for the world as it is today. The victory of finishing a graduate paper now is also so much more sweeter, as it came despite hidden disability. Had I obtained my degree 5 or 6 years ago, it would have meant nothing, just another step towards an increase in paygrade. Now, it's a symbol of triumph. A triumph based on the strength that God loans to me.

But the most important thing about having had mental illness that kept me from following the life trajectory I initially set for myself is the knowledge that my plans are not important after all. Nor are they the right plans for me to have made. All the crying spells taught me to look for others, to seek help and to give it --- for I was clammed tight for so long I've forgotten I am not an island. I was simultaneously the expert and the most ignorant person as far as emotions are concerned. And all that mania? Hopefully it has made me humbler and more forgiving. We all do things we wish we didn't, and it is, like Jean Valjean, in the forgiving eyes of others that we regain a modicum of self-respect. Knowledge of this is way more important than two letters affixed to your name.

Knowing what I know now about my life, I still would have things happen as they did. So perhaps, perhaps indeed, there may be Someone out there who knows what He's doing.

Five things I learned about recovery from Bipolar Disorder from the Silver Linings Playbook

Five things I learned about recovery from Bipolar Disorder from the Silver Linings Playbook:


1. It's always a good thing to allow in your life people as crazy as you are. 

2. Don't be arrogant enough to assume that others are more insane (insanier?) than you are when you're pretty messed up yourself. 

2. Indulge your parents' OCD and manic episodes, such as your dad gambling his entire savings on your dance competition scores.

(For the record, I'm being sarcastic with this one --- don't get any ideas!)

3. Let go of the one who has proven he/she doesn't deserve you in the first place. After all, the one for you may just be right in front of you. Or right behind you, stalking you while you jog around the neighborhood.

4. Getting into altercations with the law is more tolerable when you're saving your therapist from racist bas*****.

(On a geeky note, did any of you counseling psych friends of mine catch the paradoxical intervention Dr. Patel gave Pat?)

5. Jennifer Lawrence is cute. And yes, this counts as a life lesson.

My Best Christmas Gift Ever

This gift is from P, a grade 4 student who cried his heart out during a workshop for children of overseas workers (sometimes I give formation seminars for members of transnational families). I couldn't stop hugging him during the sessions; he looked so fragile. For some reason, his pain touch me to the core. I felt instinctively protective of this particular boy. Odd, considering that there were 9 other kids in my small group who were as distraught as he was.

After the more emotional bit of the session, he insisted on sitting beside me as our small group played a short game. I was touched by how he obviously wanted to be with me as much as he could. The game involved listing down models and makes of cars. It's an all boys school, so that's their idea of fun, and I'm game for anything the kids would suggest. He charmingly said to me: "Ate, tatabi ako sa 'yo para mabulungan kita ng sagot." ( "I will sit with you so that I could whisper the answer to you") He probably thought that I couldn't possibly know anything about cars. I was "old" and a girl to boot. He felt responsible for me. Little did he know I have three nephews, one of whom is a toy car aficionado. I held my own. After three runs , he exclaimed, sincerely surprised: "Ate, magaling ka pala dito!" ("You're actually good at this!") I just grinned at him. Funny how odd things can earn you the adulation of a pre-teen boy.

He wrote a gut-wrenching letter to his parent who works abroad. I encouraged him to read it in front of the class but he refused. I did some cajoling but he was adamant. Which was fine; it's not a requirement. I just thought that it was a wonderfully crafted letter with very real emotions that it's a shame if others don't get to hear it. The other kids read their letters out loud. I thought that was that. But when the workshop was over, he approached me, wearing a forlorn look on his face. "Ate, pabasa mo na lang sa iba yung letter ko para marinig nila,"  ("
Just let somebody else read my letter so that the others would hear my story") he said, glassy-eyed. I didn't have the heart to remind him that the session has wrapped up and people are already going back to their classrooms --- it's too late. I handed him the letter, smiled, and explained that it's such a lovely letter that the best use for it is to give it to his parents. It's such a sincerely written letter, I said, that surely it would touch anyone who reads it, as it has touched me.

I don't know if he was sad because he missed an opportunity to share or he feared he has disappointed me: a person he just met some 5 hours ago. I have a feeling it's the latter. I felt guilty for pushing. I gently held his face while I clarified: "Hindi galit si Ate Kay sa iyo ha, dahil hindi mo binasa yung letter." My heart broke as I said it. Some kids just badly need someone to be there, that the opinion of a kind stranger can matter so much.

The Christmas message wasn't part of the workshop. But on his own he decided to make me one. I feel honored. Honored and strangely enough, consoled. I wasn't feeling well that day but I pushed on, and he just made all the stress worth the trouble. He is a lovely kid; I hope I can see him again. Furthermore, I hope he remembers me when I do. His drawing is presently on my wall, and as early as now I am declaring it the best gift I received this Christmas.