Friday, December 07, 2012

Ups and Downs

In our final GNIE semester, we covered mental health. I want to share this excellent BBC documentary that explores the bipolar disorder.


Early last month (November), after one of our team meetings, AP, PY and I were gossiping idly as usual. We had just covered our mental health topic at school recently. PY, who had several years of mental health nursing experience, started to "diagnose" some of the people we know mutually. She was spot-on, both AP and I agreed with her.

Somewhere along the way, I mentioned that I may have some symptoms of bipolar. PY went, "You? Bipolar? Impossible!"

I countered, "Why not? I know I had been depressed before*, although never clinically diagnosed -- simply because I wasn't even sound enough to go see the doctor. I don't get manic episodes, but I suspect that I may have hypomania sometimes." [*Note: Albeit the depressive episode was almost 15 years ago, and I have never hit that rock bottom since.]

PY went, "No, not possible. X is bipolar but not you. You're doing so well at school."

AP disagreed with her. AP had spent more time than PY with both X and me. 
IMHO, thanks to my intellect, I am able to harness the optimism and increased energy (symptoms of hypomania), while ring-fencing its undesirable effects. 
It helps that I am financially disciplined. Even when I splurge, I keep myself within my "splurge allowance". I guess it helps that I am excellent with numbers and I track my daily expenses with a spreadsheet. E.g. Unlike X who whips out his credit card and go on a shopping spree (whether at the malls or online) when mania strikes, I shop at places that would not bring me to financial ruin, limit myself to quantities that I can physically carry on public transport, and keep within my "splurge allowance". E.g. AP occasionally goes supermarket groceries shopping with me. Once she told me to "put back" items that I didn't need immediately, although I could well afford those additional items. E.g. Every now and then I would buy too much food and other items, and only give them away. [That said, I am happy to give the stuff away, especially to the food bank, charities and/or my refugee friends.] E.g. Whenever I feel the "shop-till-I-drop" mood, I would try to keep myself busy at home. If that fails, I avoid shopping at the malls and head towards places like Value Village (a thrift store), Dollarama (a penny store) and The Real Canadian Superstore (a mid-range supermarket). After all, at the thrift stores, one can still experience the highs of finding a good bargain (i.e. enjoy "retail therapy") without going into the red. Plus, it takes a lot more time to sort through the "second life" items to find a good buy at the thrift stores, and thus limiting the quantity of purchase. [That said, I ever found some good quality finds at thrift stores like Value Village. E.g. I have a grey cashmere turtleneck that both JX and EM touched admiringly, asking me where I bought it. They were surprised when I told them, with EM remarking that she must make a trip to Value Village someday.]  
I think that it also helps that I was trained in acting. Thus, even when I feel blue, I am able to do the minimal socializing necessary to function and to meet my roles and responsibilities. After all, "all the world's a stage". Of course, I would prefer to withdraw to my comfy room/bed and/or to the libraryWhy spread one's misery when the world already has enough problems? Indeed, sometimes I prevent myself from sharing my misery even when asked, because I know from life experience that my blues will and do turnaround.
IMHO, it also helps that unlike PY, when it comes to sexual needs, I find Doing-It-Yourself as good as intercourse. Frankly, I do enjoy my solitude, thus dating is not high on my priority list. In short, the risks associated with hypersexuality (in many people with hypomania) is not an issue for me.
In fact, the last time a couple of mood swings happened was in November. I stopped blogging for a couple of weeks -- the brain kept hurtling on, while the body became slow/impasse (because the body felt that the brain may change its mind again soon enough). Interestingly though, since I paid more attention to my moods, I even felt a "click-click" in my brain once while standing along a supermarket aisle -- one moment feeling an urge to buy all the available options of take-away containers, and the next moment (after the "click-click") rationalizing that I had more than enough to meet my current needs. I had another of those "click-click" moments again in late-November.
PY was still unconvinced of my self-diagnosis. She then suggested that I could consult a family doctor (GP) to ask for an assessment and, if needed, a psychiatric referral/treatment and social support while I am still considered "low-income". I replied, as PY knows, that since psychiatric drugs are only symptomatic treatment and tend to have a lot of undesirable side effects, I would prefer not to seek intervention, especially since I am (seen to be) functional. [Note: Psychiatric diagnosis is often an art rather than a science. "To a degree that interferes with the functions of ordinary life" often becomes a defining line upon which the decision to treat is based.]


An interesting article from Yahoo!, "Does childhood stress stay with you for your whole life?"


  1. Hey WD

    Just wondering, if you are diagnosed with 'mental illness', will it interfere with your chance of getting employed as a nurse in Canada?

    I agree with PY in consulting a GP for referral. From what I know, a GP is not suppose to diagnose mental illness and going to see a psychiatrist is the 'final judgement' for your mental status.

    By seeing the psychiatrist, it provides you with an understanding of how your mental health is and allow you to make better judgement on how to control your life. Just avoid getting yourself prescribed with regular medication, since it is not hampering your life and career too much.

    Also, from what I know, is that the psychiatric medications that were given for people with mental issues tend to be on a 'trial and error' basis with many undesirable side effects.

    You can also keep yourself monitored by friends or family members when you decide to suddenly go on a 'shopping spree' when you are tight on cash.

    Take care!

    1. Hi Seraphim,

      Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. After reading your comment, I decided to edit my post to more accurately reflect my situation. Sorry if I had alarmed you unnecessarily. Now to answer your questions.

      > if you are diagnosed with 'mental illness', will it interfere with your chance of getting employed as a nurse in Canada?

      I asked X about this before since he is diagnosed with bipolar. X explained to me that in Canada, a person's health status is confidential information. Thus, medical professionals are not allowed to release any such information to the employers without the agreement of the client. According to X, having a "mental illness" is not an impediment to employment because it is one's ability to perform one's job that counts.

      The thing is I am pretty functional, so much so that "PY was still unconvinced of my self-diagnosis" at the end of our gossip session. IMHO, the only reason PY suggested visiting a GP for a referral to get into social support groups was because of what I shared about my mother's outbursts at me when I was a child. PY felt that having such nasty childhood experience could possibly "harm" me psychologically.

      > You can also keep yourself monitored by friends or family members when you decide to suddenly go on a 'shopping spree' when you are tight on cash.

      Thanks for your concern. Ahh, my bad, I probably wasn't clear about my financial situation in my earlier write-up. I have updated my blog entry to address this matter since. No, my intellect and financial discipline will not allow me to go on a 'shopping spree' if I do not have the cashflow. Before I head out on any shopping trip, I make a shopping list (which distinguishes between the must-buy from the nice-to-have) and check the limits of my "splurge allowance". It is just not me to be not financially prudent, I have cut my coat according to the cloth all my life.

      Thanks again for visiting and leaving a comment.

      Cheers, WD.

    2. Just to share, I just came across this website. It is a relief to read other people's stories, knowing that my situation isn't that rare. [E.g. Years ago, a friend personally shared with me about life with her borderline personality disorder mother.]

      > my mother's outbursts at me when I was a child. PY felt that having such nasty childhood experience could possibly "harm" me psychologically.

      That's just the tip of the iceberg. That's partly why I am glad that I am no longer residing in Singapore where my mother can continue to be emotionally abusive (and also other forms of abuse).

      That said, I count my blessing that for the first 7 years of my life, I grew up in an extended family where my (late) paternal grandparents loved and nurtured me, limiting the psychological damage from my mother. Plus, I knew quite young (before I even turned 4) that my dad adored me (I was and probably still am my dad's favourite), and that my mother had issues with my dad (and his family), so it could be why of all her children, I was the target of her "displacement" mechanism.

      I admit that prolonged issues in such a foundational family relationship have recurring effects in my life -- both positive and negative. I just try to keep coping and thriving.

      Cheers, WD.