Editor’s Note: A very brave piece by Hieu who shares candidly about her journey with bipolar disorder and its challenging symptoms such as delusions, panic attacks and suicidal ideation.
She mentions the importance of social inclusion and how her family and friend never gave up on her despite her being symptomatic.
We are glad that with treatment, today she is living in recovery and is in passionate pursuit of her dreams! :) To understand more about this mental condition and its symptoms, please click here.
I have bipolar disorder. In other words, my brain has an illness that occasionally makes me feel, think, believe, and decide things against my will.
January to June 2013: I completed an entire semester in SMU and an internship when I should have been getting my brain treated. During those six months, I experienced full-blown manic, depressive, and mixed episodes of bipolar disorder type one (bipolar I), with symptoms of psychosis. Helpless, I let my life plunge into chaos.
Everyone thought I was heartbroken because of a guy I was interested in. No one could understand it was in fact my brain that was broken. That’s where our tragedy began.
The three most problematic parts of my mental breakdown were psychosis, suicidal thoughts during depression, and hypersexual thoughts during mania.
Psychosis is defined as “loss of contact with reality”; symptoms included auditory hallucinations, delusions, stupor (a motionless state) and agitation (purposeless movements). Auditory hallucinations plagued me thrice, during which I heard a strange voice in my head, distinct from other thoughts, forcing me to do things I did not want to do. The multiple delusions were as persecutory – (I believed that others, including my friends, were harmful to me) or grandiose (I believed my mood could affect the weather). By the end of June, I was convinced that I had cancer and I was going to die.
I experienced suicidal ideation for the first time when I abruptly imagined myself walking into an incoming truck. I realized that these suicidal thoughts were also a form of delusion: that death is the only way to escape all these pains and sufferings.
Fortunately, I had reasons to stay alive.
One was my own dream of becoming a professional translator was still unfulfilled. Another was the thought of my family and friends suffering because of my death. Of course, I thought of him. He is a good person with a conscience and who deserves a bright future; he would be guilt-ridden if I were to commit suicide and I did not want him to be plagued by something so dark. In fact, I did not want anyone to be affected by my untimely death. I did not want my brother’s kids to ask where their aunt had gone. If I died, all my problems would disappear, but my loved ones would suffer even though it was not their fault.
Suicidal thoughts during depression were intrusive and disturbing, and I simply could not “shake them off”. The same goes for hypersexual thoughts during mania.
I had always been reserved around my friend, but mania compelled me to take uncalculated risks and to do things that were totally out of character for me. The result of these manic behaviors was me feeling humiliated, and even more depressed; then I would avoid him altogether for fear that more terrible things could happen.
To give my friend credit, he still wanted to be friends despite my manic behaviours. Or perhaps he wanted me to cheer up and continue to be his friend like I used to be. On the other hand, my depression made him feel guilty and regretful of my manic behaviors. He learnt that the way he treats someone when he is angry or irritated can affect them more than he would have ever imagined. Especially towards someone with a “broken” brain that still capable of feeling so much.
Bipolar disorder is cyclical; once it’s got you, it will never let go. I’ve been up and down, throwing tantrums, crying excessively, having panic attacks, etc. What I learnt from this time is that I need to accept that I am not normal, and focus on keeping myself sane and happy, because no one else is at a better position to do this than me.
Hieu Tran is a Vietnamese freelance writer and translator. She studied Business Management in Singapore Management University (SMU) from 2011 to 2013. After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she returned to Hanoi to pursue an English major. She is a contributing writer for Catalyst Asia, a publication by the Institute of Societal Leadership, SMU.