Thursday, October 31, 2013

Martyrdom Just Gets You Shot: Why Sacrifice for Family Isn't Always a Good Thing

In my workshops on psychological well-being, there's one question that keeps popping up: "Should I still support my family? I already feel drained and stressed but I don't want to be a bad son/daughter."  The question typically comes with frustration, resignation, and not a small amount of guilt. Being the sole breadwinner, or at least someone who single-handedly takes on major responsibilities at home, is paradoxically a position of power and weakness.

Now, before I start answering this question, let me say at the onset that I've been always impressed by Filipinos' (and Asians' in general) love of the family. I think one of the reasons Pinoys are resilient is because we know that no matter how hard life gets, there's family to come home to. Those who live in individualist countries tend to suffer more anxiety and mental health problems, presumably because they're cut off from a major support system. So the ability and willingness to sacrifice for family?  Definitely a value worth preserving.

But as with anything in life, excessive is not a good thing. Healthy families take care of the well-being of all individual members, not a select few. Society may pat you on the back for being the responsible and considerate one, but if you're no longer able to live your life, you're actually not being responsible or considerate ---- to yourself. Family care needs to be balanced with self care.

So here are some guide questions to help you muddle through the sticky business of self-sacrifice. It won't apply to every family with a "tagasalo" (catcher) but it can be good starting point when making decisions about how long and to what extent you should help out.

1. What are you giving out of choice and what are you giving out of pressure?

There are people who take on the tagasalo role and yet they're perfectly happy. The reason is, they know the sacrifices they're making are freely chosen, and this gives them peace even if their sacrifice comes at a price.

So ask yourself, did I make a choice to do what I'm doing? If yes, what are my reasons for making that choice? Will I make the same choice again given the chance? True, choices can be difficult to make, and sometimes you're forced by a situation into a choice you don't like, but taking ownership of a decision is the first step towards settling into a particular set-up.

Now, there are tagasalos who only do things because (a) family members will get mad at them if they don't, (b) they're worried other people will call them ungrateful, or (c) it's the only way they know how to get appreciated. If these are your reasons, for sure you'll feel depressed and frustrated all the time. You'll feel taken advantage of and/or manipulated by guilt.

In these cases, you have to know how to identify and defend your boundaries. You may have to engage in a heated discussion with family, true, or you may have to survive gossip and whispers.  You may even have to struggle with feelings of worthlessness. But some issues do need to pass through rough waters before it can get resolved. There's nothing wrong with family members fighting, for as long as they fight fairly! Being afraid to rock the boat is not going to get you anywhere.

2. Are you overfunctioning because someone is underfunctioning?

Your intentions may be to help your family but if what you're actually doing is nursing irresponsibility, or at least complacency, you're doing your family more harm than good.

So look at each member of your family and see what each one contributes to the pool. Your parents may have asked you to shoulder your little sister's tuition and allowance, but if your sister is old enough to take part-time work to earn extra cash, let her. You may actually be doing your sister a favor as you're teaching her self-sufficiency. You have a brother who job hops, resigning from work everytime he encounters something he doesn't like? Stop feeding the monster by not making him face the consequences of his actions.

Now this is the tricky part: even when tagasalos realize they're creating dependency, they would still resist change. They feel bad making loved ones take on extra tasks --- "kawawa naman ang kapatid ko kung pagtratrabahuhin ko din."  They have lost faith that underperforming family members will actually pull through. They don't have the patience to wait for others to find their feet. Or they've gotten used to the "perks" of being the responsible one (e.g. the praises, the power to make decisions) that letting go makes them feel all lost. When this happens, you have a lot of self-processing to do.

I always tell clients that families are systems designed to survive. Hence, if you decide to trim down the bills you're taking on, your family will find a way to find the money --- especially if you stick to your guns and let others hit rock-bottom. In fact, letting go of the tagasalo role is often the catalyst for new ideas on how the family can survive. You might even get pleasantly surprised with the discovery that loved ones are actually stronger and more competent that you realize.

3. Can you prioritize self-care?

But what if all of your family members are actually overfunctioning? Sadly, this situation happens. Sometimes the family's needs are greater than all the members' ability to respond. When a loved one has a chronic illness for example, understandably you may have to work double even triple shifts to pay hospital bills. When the family business fails, adjustment has to be made by all concerned. Death of parents may force the eldest of the family to set aside his own dreams and take charge of the household.

If this is the case, you have to accept the situation and grieve for your losses. Grieving is good; cry if you must, yell at the universe if you must. But this doesn't mean you have to have a bad life. Take regular time outs for little pleasures --- dirty ice cream with friends, a quiet walk in the park, quality time with your family. There are ways to get work-life balance if you're determined to have one. More importantly, articulate to your loved ones if you're no longer okay, and let them take care of you for a change.

Meanwhile, explore concrete plans on how you can get out of the situation you're in --- maybe take an investment course to get passive income or call on extended family members to help. You can cope better if you know there's an end to your sacrifices in sight.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Mental Illness is a Disability --- When Will the Philippines Catch Up?

I've been looking for an article similar to this for a long time.

See, some 5 years ago, I took on a writing project for a US-based NGO that advocates for Persons With Disabilities (PWDs). While doing research for the series of articles I had to make, I came across US laws that specifically identified mental illness, such as Major Depressive Disorder, as disability. Like learning disabilities, mental illness is classified as a hidden disability.

What does this mean?

Being a disability, persons with mental illness are legally entitled to the same rights as those with other kinds of disabilities. These rights include discounts on basic necessities like medicines and food. It also means being entitled to reasonable accommodation in the workplace. Furthermore, companies are prohibited from asking questions related to mental health history without a concrete job offer. 

Sadly, our definition of mental disability in this country is limited to mental health issues related to loss of reality testing (e.g. schizophrenia) and mental retardation. Thus, rights for persons with mental illness are not accessed by everyone concerned. When will, say, diagnosed mood disorders be included as an acceptable definition of disability? For yes, those with these conditions can spend days, if not months, unable to earn a living. I know there were months, back when my mood disorder was at its peak, when I could not even summon the will to work.

An excerpt from the article worth reflecting upon:

It is also important to note that there is no mental health legislation for those with mental disabilities. The Department of Health does have mental health policies, but the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons is not specifically for mental disabilities. It provides for special rights and privileges for the physically impaired (their mobility is enhanced through sidewalks, railings, ramps and the like); the hearing-impaired are benefited by TV stations that provide a sign-language inset or subtitles, and telephone companies are encouraged to install special devices for them. The Magna Carta provides for the “mentally retarded” under the provisions on education. Mental retardation, however, is only one kind of mental disability. In fact, there are mentally disabled persons with superior intelligence—the complete opposite of mentally retarded persons. 

Why does this matter interests me so much?

One of the things that I've worried about being a person with Bipolar Disorder is surviving full time work in a company. I'm lucky, I have skills that help me become an independent service-provider, which means that I can basically control my schedule. I can, for example, choose to take a break when I feel an attack coming. 

But part of me also feels that if I can find a company understanding enough to provide reasonable accommodation I can thrive in the corporate world. Reasonable accommodation doesn't equate to special treatment --- key result areas are not watered down and only adjustments that don't represent "undue burden" qualifies. For instance, persons with diagnosed mental illness can request to take breaks based on need not on company schedule. If the job is flexible enough that there's room to take stress breaks, no harm is done. (You can learn more about reasonable accommodation here.)

Here's the problem: without a law protecting this right, dare you even raise the matter to management? Requesting reasonable accommodation is a tricky thing in a country where stigma against mental illness is strong. Ensuring that your request is kept confidential is another. Getting your co-workers to understand without feeling that life is unfair is something else.

It makes me wonder how many persons with mental illness out there are potential star employees. Probably a lot. Many persons with mental health conditions are smart, skilled, and hard-working. The question is: can the government protect them enough so that they can pursue a fuller life? Furthermore, can the state punish companies who refuse to do the right thing?

I am passionate about doing something about this. This is why I started Possibilities, I want to give workshops to companies about psychological well-being in the workplace that includes mental health advocacy.

Anyway, kudos to Ms. Corpuz for bringing this matter into public awareness. I pray for improved service to persons with mental illness in this country soon.

Obsessing About Failure

There are people who obsess about missed opportunities or being bested by others. They spend hours, even weeks, replaying what had happened, wondering what went wrong and figuring out why they weren't successful. They do this to the point they get emotionally drained.

Obsessing about failure is different from an honest, realistic assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. When people experience setbacks, it's always helpful to find out what could have been done differently and how to do better next time. Failure is nothing but feedback; just the universe’s way of telling us that something needs tweaking.

The winning attitude is to keep moving forward--- creating version 2.0 from version 1.0. And if you fail again, the next day is simply an opportunity to come up with version 3.0. The goal is to keep improving. People who tend to obsess about failure have probably internalized the “failure message." Psychologist Martin Seligman coined the term “learned helplessness” to describe the phenomenon of people believing they have no control over things that happen to them that, at the end of the day, any effort to change situations for are futile.

 Learned helplessness develops from the attitude that failure is:

(a) permanent ("I will never get that break again!"),

(b) pervasive ("Since I'm a failure at this job, I will fail at that one too!"), and

(c) personal ("I alone am to blame forthis failure!").

As the term implies, learned helplessness is, well, learned. It's not originally part of your personality. You can probably trace it's origins to an experience. Perhaps you received the “you're not good enough” message during childhood. Or maybe there was a project you worked hard on, a project that went badly.

The good news is, while obsessing about failure is learned, it can be unlearned.Underneath it all is a fear, a fear to make a risk. It's more comfortable to toss and turn what happened in the past than to try again and risk failing once more. But see, if you get stuck in the fear zone, you’ll fulfill your prophecy. The attitude of overly-scrutinizing mistakes means you'll lose sight of new opportunities. And stuckness, well, it's never good.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

An Amazing Movie About Bipolar Disorder

I was looking for a good film to illustrate mental illness, particularly Bipolar Disorder, when I came across a powerful film produced by Arpi-Revo Productions. It's entitled "Up/Down  Bipolar Disorder Documentary" and features real people sharing heartfelt accounts of what's it's like to live with the condition.

The producers generously uploaded the film on youtube but it's definitely worth  getting a personal copy  as  it's one of those films that make you experience something new with every watch. In fact, simply watching it is therapy; you'll feel validated by the fact that you're not alone, you understand more about the illness, and you get to process your own experience by answering the interviewer's questions yourself.

Below is a copy of the film. As soon as I have the time I will post feelings and insights from when I watched it. I saw it during an extreme low and it was such a comfort.

Expect uncontrollable weeping --- the good kind.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Coping Strategies for Bipolar Disorder

I feel bad about not updating this blog for almost half a year. Not that I've been busy, or lacking in inspiration. The truth is: I have nothing to write there as I no longer identify with being a person with Bipolar Disorder. My illness has been in full remission for more than a year.  I've been able to pursue the many goals I've set for myself. And while life is not perfect, I am certainly happy.

I feel FREE.


It would be presumptuous to preach about what others with the condition should do in order to achieve recovery. After all, you're never really cured from Bipolar Disorder, you're only able to successfully manage the condition. I may come back here talking once more about my extreme highs and lows, highlighting the irony that as a practicing psychologist, I should know better. Remission is not something I take for granted, but the respite has convinced me that things do get better.

So let me just tell you what works for me. Most of them are common sense, even standard content of self-help literature. But when practiced, they can be powerful. You might want to give some of them a try.

a. Consistent medication. 

Finance managers would tell you to pay yourself first, so that you'll have healthy savings at the end of the day. If you're a person with Bipolar Disorder, you should buy your meds first. Yes, even before you buy food or pay utilities.

Yes, I've had moments when I'm absolutely convinced that I can live a full life without medication. That's a common delusion among persons with Bipolar Disorder once life gets stable. But I've been accomplishing a mood diary/mood chart consistently the past year, enough to know that missing meds eventually leads to mood swings. Take the need for lifetime Bipolar medication as Gospel truth, boys and girls, and you should be just fine.

b. Gratitude. 

I remember well the times when months would go by and I've barely accomplish a thing. So now when I get something done, even if it's as simple as a 5-minute chat with an old friend, I log it down. I savor the fact that I have a life, and I can live it.

More importantly, I appreciate what I have. I've met enough people to know that, for all the bad times, I live a life that's the envy of others. I have setbacks, true, but I also have blessings. Gratitude gives you perspective.

c. Boundaries.

I used to be a people-pleaser. Worse, I take on the world's cares when enough guilt trip is thrown my way. I am incapable of expressing anger. Now though I feel comfortable telling people to "f@#k off."

We lost our home two months ago. But I refuse to feel guilty about not being able to recover it; it's not my fault the house was mortgaged in the first place, and not my fault the family has no clear re-payment plan. The family survived. We're now renting a smaller house, living a simpler life. More importantly, I am letting those responsible for all our troubles take on the consequences of their actions. I do my part, which is pay the rent every month and provide my mother an allowance. After that everything is my business. I refuse to surrender my extra cash to cover up other people's under-performance.

And I have no qualms getting rid of those who hurt me or those who drain me dry. I will cry for a bit when I experience betrayal, but I readily move on. I know now that what you lose --- whether friends, property, or opportunity --- is often replaceable, and sometimes even recoverable. A bad day or a bad person is not equivalent to a bad life.

d. Balance. 

So I am not earning as much as most people. So I am not as polished as others. I do have what most don't: a a balance life.

I earn enough to fulfill my responsibilities, I do what I love, I have time to bond with family, I have close, supportive friends, I can indulge in movies or workshops or clothes, I have ministries and outreaches, and I have a love life --- of sorts. And each area of my life is moving forward; I am satisfied with everything.

I am even open to the possibility that I may have to re-write my life, surrender some of my loves, to make room for new experiences that will complete the picture. I am not stuck; I can take on challenges.

e. Self-compassion.

And lastly, I can be gentle with myself.

You can choose to let people hurt you, or choose to understand that bad things sometimes happen. You can choose to accept that it's alright to make mistakes. And I can choose to move on, even choose to open up to the prospect that closed doors make you notice the open ones you don't visit. The future is unwritten, but it's ripe with possibilities.




Saturday, April 6, 2013

Dealing with Bipolar Disorder: Why You Shouldn't Let Anyone Tell You "You're Not Trying Hard Enough!"



If you have Bipolar Disorder, then you've probably heard someone say before: "You know what your problem is? You're not trying hard enough to control your emotions!" And yes, it's a painful statement to hear. Basically, what your friend, parent, or just the armchair expert next door is saying, is that you don't have mental illness. As far as they're concerned, what you suffer from is good old-fashioned laziness and bad attitude.

But if you've done your research, you know that managing the extreme high and low moods that come with Bipolar Disorder is not as easy as "snapping out of it." The intense emotions don't just vaporize with pilates, a feel good movie, and some hard-core videoke-ing (though they can help!). Being biochemical in nature, bipolar mood swings can be stronger than one's resources to cope. Certainly, they can take longer to control.

I've decided to browse through more academic writings on Bipolar Disorder, and I found something that I think others with the illness would find comforting. According to this research, contrary to popular belief (or at least the authors' initial hypothesis which equates to popular belief in the scientific community), people with BD actually do report great use of adaptive coping strategies. In fact, people with BD actually try harder than people without the condition to cope with their happy and sad feelings. The only problem is: persons with BD experience less success in regulating emotions despite intense effort.

What could this mean?

It means: that instead of feeling bad because you can't seem to manage your emotions as well as other people, you should be at peace with the certainty that you are actually trying harder than most! True, this knowledge wouldn't make the extreme moods any more tolerable, but it can stop you from bouts of hating yourself for not being "normal" or at least as good as the next guy or gal. And when you consider that you have a steeper mountain to climb everyday (you have more intense emotions than other people), then you should be more proud of yourself for every milestone you achieve.

But less I be accused of hijacking a scientific study to flatter persons with BD, myself included, it's important to note that the study also stated that compared to other people, those with BD also employ way more maladaptive coping strategies than people without BD. These poor coping strategies include expressive suppression--- that is, keeping one's emotions to one's self. Expressive suppression can actually account for the feeling of increase effort in managing one's emotions, intense effort that creates little or no result. Suppression after all is very tiring. It is important then that persons with BD train themselves in using the right kind of coping methodology for the right kind of intended result. More so, it's important for persons with BD to beef up their armory of effective and positive coping styles. For example, cognitive reappraisal, or changing the way we think about a situation, is a good strategy for managing low moods and depression.

There is also a need to sustain every effort to manage emotion, even if they are not showing immediate results.When you are in an emotional high or an emotional low, it's easy to overestimate the amount of effort you've invested in managing your emotions --- five minutes of stopping yourself from crying hysterically in a corner or going out on an impulsive shopping spree can feel like five hours. Hang tough. Persistence, while a difficult muscle to train, can get you through the worst of times.


Thursday, March 7, 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.

Monday, March 4, 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.

Sunday, March 3, 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 Bipolar Disorder from the Silver Linings Playbook



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

*SPOILER WARNING IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE MOVIE*

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.