Fear, Pain, and Everything in Between

Photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash

I Really Don’t Want To Do This (Part 1)

It’s 12 midnight on a Sunday. My mom’s knocked out beside me, snoring like a hungry beluga whale in the pacific ocean. To my reluctancy, she flew in earlier today, insisting she’d go with me to that dreaded doctor’s appointment.

Yeah, it’s 12 midnight counting down to 1 and I still could not fall asleep. I’m supposed to confirm my appointment with the doctor at 2 so I have exactly 59 minutes to catch some nice REM sleep. I don’t know if this is the nerve wrecking anxiety, or my racing thoughts going at 140 kph, or this orthopaedic bed which seemed to be designed by someone who hates sleep, but whatever I do I was just jostling in bed, can’t putt my conscious mind into the deep slumber hole.

What’re you gonna do? There’s no backing out. I said to myself. This is THE appointment I’ve been putting off for years. My brain was swimming in cocktails of anxiety hormones, fear, and self-doubt. My body was agitated, tossing and turning, kicking the pillows off the bed. The waiting game was a subconscious torture. Never in a million years would I put myself thru this if it wasn’t for my boss who convinced me to do this because, well, everybody can see I need this badly.

The clock stroke 1:50, I picked up my phone. The power’s down to 10%, I plugged it in and started dialling my doctor’s number. “Hi, I’d like to confirm my appointment?” I can hear she was finishing up with a patient on the other end when she said she’ll have to push back my slot to 4 AM. Good, at least that’d give me an hour to close my eyes.

My phone’s alarm went off at 3 AM as scheduled. I sneaked in a quick shower then my mom and I Grab-ed to Cardinal Santos Medical Center. Oh how I love EDSA in the middle of the night. Taguig to San Juan was just a blitzing 20 min trip. And so we found ourselves inside an eerie medical arts building that looked like it came straight out of a page of True Philippine Ghost Stories.

It took a few vague directions and wrong turns before we landed on the right clinic room.
“Jercyl Leilani L. Demeterio — Psychiatrist”, it read.

I Thought It Was Only What I Thought It Was (Part 2)

Outside the clinic was three groups of patients. One was a middle-aged mom with her teenage daughter who was about to come out of the room. Sitting across me and my mom was a grade school kid who was already dressed for school with her parents. At the far-end bench was a couple in their early 30s. And then there was me. This would make a great participant sample, I kid myself. (Sometimes I pity my sense of humor.)

I was last on the queue so I had to endure another hour of agonizing wait until my name’s gonna be called. My loving, caring, angel of a mother, tried all her best to console me and calm me down while I kept kicking my leg in jitters out of frustration. My forehead felt like exploding from the lack of sleep. I kept wiping away my tears underneath my specs. I felt stupid for crying over the uncertainty of what’s gonna happen inside, if she’ll confirm my worst nightmare.

A couple of days back, the afternoon my boss sat me down, she handed me back my signed resignation letter. We had this countless tête-à-tête over the course of summer whenever I’m itching to resign and take a much-needed break. This was different, she was /finally/ letting me go, and shared with me her own present struggle with anxiety and depression. I’ve always thought we were two peas in pod when it comes to work ethics. Never did I expect that pod includes fears and anxieties, too. She’s 40 and she’s single, but she managed to send this message to me, a way how a loving mother and professional mentor would. She understood me. I broke down crying as soon as I heard, realizing that sometimes we don’t need heroes to fix our personal crap for us. Sometimes we just need someone close who gets even just a glimpse of the darkness we are trapped in. She went on to tell me how she is handling it still, noting we are also different in a crucial way.

I think you’re manic depressive, she told me. She recounted all the times I was hyper for a time then dives back to depression in a span of hours. I’ve always known I was prone to depression and by now I could confidently navigate my way thru it and keep it under wraps, but manic-depressive disorder is a whole new psychological arena altogether. At that moment it felt like two cannons of anxiety nerves fired up in my brain and I was scared as hell of a sudden. As soon as I got home I googled and Youtube-d manic depressive disorder and shit just got even scarier. I checked ALL of the boxes and that prompted me to dial the number of my roommate’s psychiatrist.

That brings us back to this day, in the waiting area of the doctor’s clinic.

I Told Her Everything (Part 3)

Halika na, Anak. A head bobbed out of the door, flashing me a charming smile, cuing me to enter the clinic. My psychiatrist is a 65-year-old doctor, more than 40 years in practicing adult psychiatry. I saw her for the first time that day. Her hair was held back in a loose half pony. She was wearing a maroon french cut top and beige pencil skirt — a classic uniqlo ensemble. Her eyes were half open, while she handed me a blank info sheet and asked me to fill them up. Her voice was warm and and mellow, like a grandmother putting you down for an afternoon nap. I finished up with my forms while she was clearing her desk.

I was sitting there across the table from her while she verified some of the information I wrote down on my info sheet: my work industry, college degree, my hometown, etc etc. “So, anak, why are you here?” she went straight to the point. I won’t go into details what happened during the session but I can clearly remember the first sentence I said to her before we started, “To be honest, I’m not comfortable being here.” I went on telling her about my anxiety and panic attacks and what I think triggers it. I told her about how it’s difficult everyday for me to show up to work. I told her about the sleepless nights. I told her about the weight gain and binge drinking. I told her about my incessant thinking and impulsive actions (I might’ve bought 10 grand worth of stocks in a bearish market). I told her about the gruelling numbness that took a big chunk out of my day. I told her about bawling under my work desk for no reason at all. I told her about isolating myself from friends and shutting out my family. I told her about my mood swings, my heart either thumped or leaping out of my chest . I bounce around in a work party earlier in the evening and sleep in sobs later at night. I told her all the futile attempts to make myself feel better — one of which landed me to Japan for the weekend.

I told her what happened last summer.

All the time I was spitting words her way, she never showed disinterest or even “righteous” face most psychologists / “pretend psychologists” have (We all know one). She has this great talent in listening, a quality that’s often overlooked in a regular person but incredibly admirable. She’s receptive and emanates this safe space I could just bask in. She jotted everything I said onto my files. When I was sort of done, she drew a straight line on a piece of paper and asked me to chart my mood within a day. I ecstatically obliged and simultaneously explained myself as I go. She asked some follow-up questions I can’t remember.

I drew something like this:

And that’s when she said, “Okay, You have a Mixed Type Bipolar Disorder.”

Let’s Get Me Well First (Part 4)

“You have a mixed-type Bipolar Disorder,” the doctor said with a straight face as she wrote it down on my file.
“I thought it was a unipolar depression at first. But one episode of mania or even just a hypomania warrants a bipolar disorder diagnosis. What makes it different from the typical mood swings is 1. it lasts for more than two weeks, and 2. the presence of your clinical depression.”

Clinical Depression. As if the Bipolar Disorder wasn’t jaw-dropping enough.

“Don’t worry this is very treatable, anak.”
“Is this something I have to live with?”
“Right now, neuroscientists and present studies treat Bipolar Disorder as a lifelong disease, just like Diabetes and Hypertension. It’s not directly life-threatening but you just have to take meds to manage it.”
She went on, “This has genetic roots, but onset can be also triggered by certain stressors.”

I could no longer hold back my pain. It was like I was served with a life sentence for something that I am not even at fault for. It felt like all my power has been drained out of me. I didn’t deserve this. Nobody in this world deserves to be mistreated and still suffer the consequences six months and a lifetime later. Unfair is an understatement. My diagnosis explains a lot of my actions at work, and towards the people around me. I was putting everything I hold dear in jeopardy for something that I did not even do. It’s so easy to blame and rage over the people who might (/ definitely) have caused this but at the end of the day, it’s just me who’s at this clinic, it’s just me there late at night when the attacks happen, it’s just me alone to charge forward to this war I never wanted to wage.

The doctor looked at me in empathy and said, “When people say, ‘have faith’, ‘don’t think about it too much, ‘just be strong’..”
“I know, anak. Because it’s useless. And you are already so so strong. The damage is in your neurotransmitters that’s why we have to treat it with medicine. It’s just a matter of finding the right dosage for you.”

She pulled out the prescription pad and I was there crying, as if my heart was twisted, squeezed, and pulled in all directions. There was slight pain in my chest and my throat ran dry. The torture from the inside was almost palpable.

She started scribbling and a moment later, she began explaining the 5-page prescription to me. I did not stop crying. She was explaining what the meds are, how they work, but all I can see was a freaking 5-page prescription I have to take home and live with me.

She stopped in the middle, “Why are you crying so hard? You can tell me.”
“This…” I choked up. “This is just getting too real for me.” I buried my face in my hands. I could not muster more words, only sounds of anguish like I was stuck somewhere in between pain and grief.

She stood up and hugged me. I broke down even more.
“I know this is hard to accept at first. But you’re okay. You’re more than okay, anak. You can still functional like a regular person and you already are. I know how hard it must have been for you going to meetings and work needs carrying this. You are so strong. I like how feisty you are and I don’t want you to lose that. You can still pursue whatever you want, you can still follow your dreams. But let’s get you well first.”

She wrote me a doctor’s order of skipping work for at least two weeks to rest. She called in my mom to explain the drugs to me. It helped me a lot seeing that my mom is not overtly devastated by the news. I know she just maybe keeps a straight face on to be strong for me so I wouldn’t have to worry. My mom is the best.

It’s been a week since my appointment and I’m happy to report that no, I’m still not okay but I feel flat everyday which is kind of a good sign. It means my meds are doing their thing. Flipping to the brighter side at least it isn’t life-threatening nor am I a threat to myself. It hasn’t sunk in completely, but baby steps, I guess? I feel a whole lot calmer, now looking at my situation from the vantage point of being in control of the uncontrollable.



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Mostly stories of love and anguish — catch me on Twitter @maagendazs