For about six weeks sometime this year I had to file a sick leave from work and stay with my parents in Naga because of an anxiety disorder that left me, literally, physically, scared stiff. I could not move my neck and upper back. I would shake at random times of the day. I would break out in cold sweat. I was terrified of everything, especially of cars and of riding in cars. Eventually it escalated into a fear not just of vehicles but also of high places, confined spaces, and loud noises. I would panic every time a vehicle would pass by our house. I could not stay in the bathroom for more than a minute, afraid that I would get locked in and the ceiling would cave in and I would suffocate to death. I could not sleep because if I did, I'd get nightmares about falling off high places, crashing into trains, and suffocating.
I could not eat. I lost 20 lbs. I could not write, literally, because my handwriting would come out as ineligible chicken scrawl. I could not type on my computer because my hands would shake so much that all I’d get would be more typos than I could correct. I could not read or watch movies because any scene with vehicles in them would scare me to pieces. The constant fear gave me palpitations, and I feared that I could develop a heart problem because of it. Prayers were always on my lips because every moment was a portal to death. Thankfully, with the support of my parents and the expertise of my third psychiatrist, we got to the bottom of it. But for a while, it was touch and go for me, and I really felt that I could die any moment.
Turns out the fearful feelings were side effects of a psychiatric medication I have been put on by my second psychiatrist, and this was discovered by my third psychiatrist. The medication was Aripiprazole. The moment I was off it, the fearful feelings lifted immediately, and it was glorious. Imagine being in a situation in which you are about to fall off a precipice, without a handhold, and then suddenly and without warning, you are pulled back to safety completely. I was on the brink of either death or insanity, and then I was saved. That’s how it felt. After that, everyday has been an exercise in gratitude.
And as part of my gratitude for this second chance at life, I resolved never to place myself in a situation in which that could happen again. I changed my entire lifestyle. My life and my health are so much more precious to me now and I feel that I am both stronger and more frail at the same time. I am sharper at identifying dangerous things and people, but I am also more sensitive to negativity. I am now more decisive, but I also tend to shy away from situations of uncertainty. I take care of myself better, but the heightened sense of creativity leaves me vulnerable to certain evils. My focus is now much clearer, but I can also see other unrelated things in the periphery of my vision. It’s a balancing act, but so far my instincts and gut-feel have been serving me well, and I am still alive and sane and, I believe, happy.
My third psychiatrist and I decided to go off all psychiatric medication completely, and that I should observe my moods closely and learn how to master them on my own, without help from medication. (My third psychiatrist is doubtful whether I am truly bipolar, anyway. That diagnosis came in 2007 from my first psychiatrist, who had always placed on some medication or other and whom I fired in April this year because I can no longer trust her. My second psychiatrist is someone I started seeing in April after I had a minor emotional issue at work. The second psychiatrist is a student of the first psychiatrist, so I’m still not very comfortable with her, and I haven’t been to see her since I came back from the precipice.)
In the effort to take myself out of situations that can stress me out, I have moved out of my old apartment in Makati, so I no longer have to live alone and rely only on security guards for my safety. I no longer have to keep house and deal with housework and the maintenance of a pretty home. I have given up my car and moved to a place much closer to the office so I no longer have to drive and no longer have to pass through traffic. I no longer have to see kilometers of cars with their brake lights on for hours, which used to, and sometimes still, give me panic attacks. I no longer have to take on projects that I’m not completely excited about just to sustain my old lifestyle. Now every single thing I spend time on is something that makes me happy, whether it be designing publications, reading, studying, writing, or taking public transport to go somewhere I am eager to be. I no longer talk to people I don't like. I no longer even dress for other people anymore. I have now reverted to dressing the way I have always been happy dressing for years — in jeans, soft shirts, and light jackets. My nonessential wardrobe is all packed up together with all of my furniture, and I suppose I shall be giving many of them away, in the continuing effort to pare down my stuff and retain only what I absolutely need to survive. Life is more than just owning stuff. Life is more than just doing stuff. I know that now.
Perhaps this is why it all had to happen. If I hadn’t had that emotional issue at work, I wouldn’t have fired the first psychiatrist, wouldn’t have met the second psychiatrist, wouldn’t have started taking Aripiprazole, wouldn’t have had the anxiety disorder, wouldn’t have met the third psychiatrist, wouldn’t have been off psychiatric medications completely, wouldn’t have had the opportunity to realize what was really important to me. I wouldn’t have had the resolve to write again and write much better. So I’m grateful for everything that happened, now that I know how it all fits into the bigger picture, no matter how awful it was when I was going through them. The bad things were not wasted on me. It turned me into this, and it's beautiful.
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