Anxiety and Depression

I’m not Bipolar, I’m Yohanna

YOHANNA ABDULLAH

29 October 2020  |   8 min read

Disclaimer: This post includes the experience of living with bipolar disorder. Over-stimulation is a common trigger that has been identified. Activities that makes you excited or anxious can at times be excess stimulation that triggers a swing towards mania or depression.

I am not bipolar. I came to this conclusion after my 22-year struggle with Bipolar Disorder Type 1. This means I am more prone to high moods than low moods. While I have an illness that causes me depression and mania, I am not the illness. You do not call a cancer patient cancerous, so why should you call me bipolar? But I guess it is easier call someone bipolar rather than “a person with bipolar disorder”. But labels are foggy, ill-fitting, and can stigmatise or scar a person.

This is one of the four books I have written on mental health

Just Yohanna

Thus, I prefer to be known as simply Yohanna, or Yoyo — a fun, pleasant, positive, and kind person (if I may say so myself) who has lived experience of a mental illness of the bipolar variety. When I was manic, I went on wild, spending sprees, was sexually explicit and sang loudly and danced without abandon in public. When I was depressed, I stayed in my bed most of the time and found it difficult to eat, bathe, do chores, and take care of my children.

In between the highs and lows, are periods of normal moods where I am moderate, rational and at my best. Since early last year, I have been in my normal phase. My symptoms have abated after 2018, my worst year, when I had three episodes of mania within seven months. I was hospitalised in the Mood Disorder Unit (MDU) of the Institute of Mental Health (IMH). I reckoned I was having too much fun, stress at work and in my personal life, while having long-term unresolved issues with my mother who is, my greatest pillar of support. Fun, stress, and anger are my triggers.

Non-linear journey of recovery

I was a service user at Club HEAL, an organisation that assists persons with mental health issues to regain confidence in themselves, since their founding in 2012. I then became a volunteer, followed by a Publications Executive and then an Editor/Writer at Club HEAL. Between 2012 to 2015, I had been free of hospitalisations, but I started having relapses from 2016 to 2018. After the last episode, I resigned as I wanted to focus on healing.

With my beloved mum in our home. Her strength amazes and inspires me.

Forgiveness is key

This recent period of stability is a godsend. I would say that healing from the hurt, anger, and grudges that I had with my mother was the main factor in my present well-being.

I forgave my mother for all wrongdoings towards me — past or present, intentional, or not, real or imagined. I forgave and love her unconditionally, knowing that as a mother, she loves me unconditionally, and has done countless things for me, from cooking to accompanying me to the psychiatrist. She stood by me, unashamed by my most embarrassing deeds.

She had been my trigger point, so much so that my psychiatrist and my supervisor at work recommended I move out of my home to stay at Simei Care Centre. Healing became possible when I realised that it is me who decides who and what are my trigger points, and that only I can take responsibility for managing them. Finally, I had to forgive my wrongdoings or ‘mistakes’ and look at them as the steps to make me the person I am happy to be today. Forgiveness is the key to Wellness.

My relationship with my mother had suffered from my numerous manic episodes when I had been reckless with my relationships with men and money. Back then, I saw her concern and over-protectiveness as her simply being controlling. But now, I understand that caregivers have an extremely difficult time, and it can feel like a rollercoaster ride for the whole family.

The impact of my manic episodes has been equally devastating on my children and I am still mending my relationships with them.

Growing spiritually

Another factor that contributed to my recovery is my spiritual development where I renewed ties with my Creator. I connect every thought, emotion, and experience to God. I learn to live and let God. I believe in His Love and Wisdom and trust Him to guide me.

I seek to do good to all His creations, be charitable, pray, meditate, contemplate, pursue knowledge, and draw closer to Him. I live in the present breath that He has gifted to me and do not dwell in the past nor the future. I value myself, my family and my friends and my fellowmen — regardless of differences which are created by Him, only so that we can know each other. I believe in healing myself and healing the world.

ECTs and medications

Finally, in the process of my recovery, I worked with my counsellor and a Peer Support Specialist who gave me valuable insights into my condition. They walked with me through the healing process. I steadfastly made my way to and back from IMH, a good two-hour journey from my home. I also follow my psychiatrists’ advice in taking daily oral medications, monthly injections, and undergoing Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) once a week last year, which has been gradually reduced to once every three weeks now. I have since stopped my outpatient ECT as my condition has improved.

I have severe tremors over my entire body — a serious side-effect from one of my injections. It is debilitating and embarrassing. My doctor has reduced the dosage and we agreed to reduce it again in December. I work with my doctor to manage my recovery. I listen to her directions, just as she listens to my concerns.

Reciting my poem at a book launch

A worthwhile contribution

I am thankful that since August last year, my good health has allowed me to contribute to Club HEAL again as a part-time Rehab Executive, conducting Expressive Therapy, and as a Freelance Writer. I have learnt to pace myself and being at peace has greatly enhanced my work.

Healing from wounds of the past takes time and only with healing is recovery or absence of symptoms possible. I know recovery can go back and forth between its various stages, making relapse always a possibility. But I must remain positive and courageous.

I wrote a book – ‘Patience and Gratitude – Stories of Healing’ –  on what I have learnt from my two-decade long journey with mental illness. Besides the meaning of patience, it gave me hope that I can heal and I should reward myself for every step I make towards recovery that happens at its own pace and cannot be hurried. I have also learnt to be grateful for the things in my life that usually goes unnoticed and taken for granted, such as good health, sanity and the love and respect for our family and friends.

To all those facing mental health challenges, be grateful that you have been chosen to be the heroes and heroines to inspire others, including ‘normal’ folks who have their own challenges, be it mental, physical, emotional or spiritual. We are all in this together, and let us encourage each other to be patient, for there is always light at the end of the tunnel — yes, even with COVID-19.

The contributor is a part-time Rehab Executive at Club HEAL and a freelance writer.

‘Patience and Gratitude – Stories of Healing” contains 14 stories of people with mental health issues and a caregiver, who are facing considerable challenges. For more details, please visit https://tinyurl.com/amazonebookPAG