Updated: May 23
Hi I’m Gabrielle* (name has been changed to protect author’s identity), I’m in my mid 20s and I suffer from Bipolar Disorder. I was first diagnosed in 2017 and since then it has been a crazy journey of finding myself and managing this mental health condition.
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder. There are several different types of mood disorders and I would think everyone’s experience is different. Whenever my friends asked me, I would tell them that Bipolar Disorder is a condition where I have manic episodes (high, feeling on top of the world) as well as depressive episodes (when I feel low and it seems like I am in this really dark and scary place). Episodes for me are gradual and it takes about 4-6 months to recover from each episode.
The song that I am sharing along with this article, is one that I wrote about my mental health condition and how I was not feeling okay. It was written during a very difficult time when I was hospitalized because of an episode. The song talks about the daily struggles to cope, the need to be, or at least look fine to people, dealing with past memories and being ashamed of my condition.
Daily Struggles to Cope
For me personally, I struggle with coping especially when I’m in a depressive episode. It’s not so much of the sadness, but more of a feeling that something is not right. I would tell my close friends: “I just feel off”. My brain starts slowing down and my thinking gets foggy. Even little tasks can get me all anxious. I remember a particular semester in university, where I battled through the entire semester, how I cried every morning before going to school and also sometimes in between classes (secretly, in the toilet). I couldn’t follow what the professors were teaching. I had trouble focusing and remembering things, not to mention assignments and presentations. My brain was just shutting down and I couldn’t do anything about it.
The Need to Look Fine
With trusted close friends, there is no need to put on a front that I am fine. However generally when interacting with others, I do feel the pressure to conceal and “act normal”. Maybe it’s the need to fit in? The need to keep up? The need to feel as normal as I can, because I can’t come to terms with all I’m experiencing? No one imposes on me and tells me that I have to have it all together. But from my experience, the way some may react towards me, even though completely out of good will, may cause me to withdraw. Unhelpful comments, assumptions and offering solutions are just some examples. I had many encounters where people, or even friends would tell me to just chill, relax and not be so stressed up. It’s really not that simple.
In the first verse of the song, I share about how it got really tiring for me to put up this front that I am okay. Smiling when I was depressed was exhausting, I would literally practice smiling in front of the mirror each day, so that I would be able to present a happy image once I step out of the house. These experiences shaped the following verse in the song:
“Faded smiles, it gets harder day by day
Do I have to act, like everything is okay?”
Dealing with Past Memories and Feeling Ashamed of My Condition
Dealing with the past memories has been one of the biggest struggles for me in living with my condition. After each mania episode, I find myself having to pick up the pieces. In mania, I do and say things that I don’t mean, things that are uncharacteristic of myself. I struggle with the fact that all these encounters and conversations did happen. I had no control because I was ill, yet the actions and words came directly from me. Some days I feel so disgusted at myself, wishing that all these things never happened. Memories are haunting, but I have learnt to manage my emotions and cope. Despite losing a lot of confidence through the process, I think it takes a lot of courage to stand up again after every episode, and I am very thankful for friends and family who are ever so supportive. These episodes resulted in me feeling ashamed about my condition.
“How did I learn to smile through all this pain?
Maybe its cause I’m a little ashamed”
Initially when I was first diagnosed back in 2017, I struggled to come to terms with the fact that I had a mental health condition. It made me feel like I was weak and lesser than others. In the first few years of the diagnosis, I had to quit university and my first full time job because episodes were frequent and it was really difficult to cope. It felt as if my condition was holding me down. These days when others ask questions like why I decided to leave university, I would just give a general “I didn’t really like it” answer. I try not to elaborate much. In the past it was because I was truly very ashamed of my condition. These days I have come to terms with it, but the stigma from society is still very real and there are many misconceptions on mental illnesses.
How Did I Manage to Get to Where I Am Today?
I am currently in remission and I thank God that I haven’t had an episode in 1.5 years. For me, various kinds of treatment have been useful. I take medication daily. I was also seeing a psychologist for a period of time to process the negative memories and trauma. I currently still go for counselling once a month. Medication helps to keep my mood stable, while counselling allows me to process my thoughts and emotions, and to form coping strategies that will help me when triggers arise.
How to Help Another Person Living with a Mental Health Condition?
Your presence is more than enough. Sometimes giving advice may not be helpful as much as you may be very anxious to see your friend get better. For me somethings my loved ones did that really helped was to assure me that they are here for me. You can’t fix the situation, but you can be there together with your loved one in the pain and assure them that they’re not alone. Journeying with us really helps, it gives us the strength to face the challenges that come.
Words of Encouragement for Those Struggling
For those who have bipolar disorder or any other mental health condition, you are not alone. I know that the struggle is very real, but you have been so strong. You are dearly loved and your condition does not define you. And it’s okay to be down, it’s okay to not be okay. Take all the time you need to heal and know that you are braver than you think you are. You have it within you to overcome every challenge that may come with the condition. Reach out to people you trust and don’t be afraid to seek help. Seeking help does not mean that you are weak. It shows strength.
Thank you for reading all the way. Hope that you’ve gained a little understanding of the condition and have been encouraged. Take care and stay safe!
Sometimes, its tiring to be okay
Hidden scars, the wounds of yesterday
Faded smiles, it gets harder day by day
Do I have to act like everything is okay?
I’m trying to keep it together, just one more step to take
I’m trying to hold me together, knowing that there will be
Am I okay? Guess you can’t really tell
Why you’d ask? Maybe its cause of my fake smile
How did I learn to smile through all this pain?
Maybe its cause I’m a little ashamed