Previously, I met up with Gia and Ann. They’re close friends who volunteered to share their story struggling with a mental illness. I’ve decided to put their stories into separate posts. Last week, I featured Ann. Now, I will be featuring Gia’s story.
Tell me about yourself.
Well, my nickname is Gia. I’m turning 25 years-old in a few days. On my first consultation in January 2014, my diagnosis was borderline personality disorder with major depression. Supposedly, I had to go through therapy, but my parents weren’t supportive about it so I was only able to push through until the third session due to financial constraints. Even it was only three sessions, it helped and it made me survive the following months.
Late 2014, around October, I asked for a second opinion from another psychiatrist. It was just a quick consultation. We conversed for about 30-40 minutes; however, 70% of the time she was just talking about herself and it turned me off. That’s when I proved that my initial psychiatrist was better. Although based on her observation, she agreed that I do have borderline personality disorder.
Juggling work and school
In 2015, I enrolled in Manila for masters and it was a stressful time for me juggling work and school. I had to go back and forth from my work in Pampanga to Manila. It was enjoyable at first because I truly wanted to do it; however, it was very taxing at work. Supposedly, I was going to file for resignation, but they gave me a counter offer of a managerial position. Of course, I didn’t let it pass since it was also a career boost. Upon accepting that position, I felt the symptoms coming back. I went back to my first psychiatrist and she informed me, “With your symptoms, you might have a bipolar disorder.” I started taking my medications again with additional new ones so I was taking more than the usual.
After a few weeks, I was hospitalized for 5 days. I forgot the exact medical diagnosis, but I had dengue-like symptoms. My labs revealed low platelets and potassium. Personally, I believe it was due to taking so many medications but the physician didn’t really stop me from taking them. I continued to take it in the hospital and they just tried to counteract whatever I’m losing.
During my hospitalization, I was particularly annoyed at one nurse. When he was giving me my medications, he told me, “Why are you taking those medications? Just try to be happy.” Since we weren’t close, I just smiled at him. I was sick and I didn’t want to waste energy to call him out on it.
Weeks after discharge, I had to get a check up again and went to a different doctor because I was having cough again, dizziness, etc. I was just experiencing so many symptoms. What’s bad about it was I believe I was misdiagnosed and prescribed with the wrong medications so my condition just got worse. The experience was quite traumatizing and it was financially constraining because of all the medications I had to take. I got tired of going to the hospital and stopped going to my psychiatrist. I also stopped taking my medications.
What were the symptoms that you experienced?
Looking back, as early as high school, I already had a history of cutting myself and my friends are aware of that. I was also a bulimic that time. I just felt so insecure with myself yet looking at my pictures in high school now, I realized I was thin. My self-esteem was just really low. I overcame bulimia because I was worried it might affect my braces since getting it was expensive. I also had bouts of anger in high school. Half of my teachers liked me, other half avoided me. They get surprised I look angry, then there are moments when I feel stressed, I would express my annoyance out of the blue to the point of disrupting other classes. I thought it was just teenage angst and I was also kind of emo that time. I thought maybe I was just influenced by my songs of choice like Green day, My chemical romance, etc.
In college, it was also hard for me to connect with my classmates. Making friends was a struggle for me; either they approach me or I just go with my friends whom I’ve known for a long time. In my first year of college, my seatmates were my only friends.
In retrospect, I noticed I already had bouts of anger since I was young like when my mom made me buy something from the store and I was given the wrong item. I didn’t think much of it back then and I also couldn’t remember. Actually, there are parts of my childhood that I couldn’t remember. First year of high school was totally blank. It was just when I was already working that I had my high school classmate as a roommate and she explained what happened. She asked me, “Were you traumatized when we were in first year of high school? How come you don’t remember anything?” The memories came back only when she told me.
I’m not very fond of taking medications due to the side effects so I didn’t take it continuously but I think that what I just really need is just someone to talk to and open up with. That’s why I agreed to share my story. Furthermore, I noticed that when I started opening up to my friends about my condition, it clicked with them and said, “oh, that’s why!” I thought I would face judgement, but opening up made them aware that such conditions exist. I am thankful for the strong support system from my friends.
Did you also experience splitting? I heard it’s a common defense mechanism in borderline personality disorder. It’s described as black and white thinking. Like one day, you idolize a person then one day, you can suddenly switch into despising that person.
There are many times that happens. Sometimes I really like someone then next time I am so mad at her for no apparent reason. So it’s kind of stressful. I don’t want to have that kind of relationship, I don’t think anyone does. Sometimes I would feel so annoyed at someone even if she didn’t really do anything but the next time she’s the only one I want to hang out with.
At work, there were only a few who knew about my condition. Like for example, at work, there were only two of us in the team, and discerning my past experiences with whoever I work with, they were really moments that I would explode in anger, and in 5 minutes, I would be happy again and the next minute I would be mad at that person. So I explained my condition to my work mate and expected to receive a negative reaction, but to my surprise, she said, “Oh, it’s okay, it’s understandable because my aunt also experiences that sometimes.”
When I had a bad mood, there were times people couldn’t talk to me for a few days because it was truly bad. Of course, it was also affecting my work since collaboration was required. We had an open forum about why I felt this way and what they can do about it. I didn’t want that to happen again because I wasn’t able to maintain my relationships with others in my previous work. I burned bridges there so I didn’t want to do that in my most recent work. So I opened up to them like, “I have these certain mood swings and if you don’t know how to handle, please refer to the second in command in the team” Because I don’t think I would be able to handle all the stress so that’s how I coped up. Other ways I cope when I’m highly stressed is either I go out of the office, get a breath of fresh air, get coffee or something. I take time at least 5 minutes of breathing then it usually gets me more level headed. Nevertheless, I know there will be times that I wouldn’t be able to control my mood so at least for my co-workers, they will have an idea how I can be managed.
What do you think was the cause of your condition?
My parents separated when I was 10 years-old and I have this memory that they were fighting in front of me during my birthday. The fights started when my mom got a full-time job. I was quite spoiled growing up and when they separated, I went with my mom and we transferred from one place to another. From a middle-class neighborhood, we moved to a lower-class neighborhood.
My psychiatrist told me that another factor of my condition is my relationship with my mom. Now it’s better, but before, the root cause of my insecurities was because of my mom. She’s “kikay” (vain), she expects me to be the same as her but she never put effort in me. Her piercing comments hurt. I struggled with my weight due to her physical remarks. I was always compared to my thin sister.
As to what I can see, even before your parents’ separation, there’s already a problem. Like your mom’s high expectations of you.
I think so. Since when I was young, I remember her already being vain with her body.
My sister is fair-skinned and thin. I feel like I’m adopted when I’m with them. I look more like my dad. Even if my mom says there’s none, she has resentment because she sees him in me. She told me that I got some of my father’s mannerisms. I remember her telling me to stop some of my mannerisms because it reminded her of my dad. She’s happier when other people compare my sister to her, because they look more alike. It put some strain on our relationship. Actually until now, my mom would still comment about my physical appearance especially that I gained weight. I just learned to let it be.
The most recent incident was my mom bought a glass weighing scale in Lazada, she said that she bought it for our home but she just hides it in her room. Her room is off-limits. She showed it to my sister and remarked, “Don’t show this to your older sister, I don’t want her to use this. It might break because it’s glass.” And when I came back home from Manila, she commented, “You’ve gotten so fat, what happened to you?”
Raising her younger sister
Along the conversation, Ann said,“This what I’ve pointed out about Gia, her mom wasn’t the one who brought up her younger sister. It was her.”
Here’s how the conversation went:
Gia: I am 6 years older than my sister, she coped up better with my parents’ separation since she was still very young. She’s more level headed compared to me. Since my mom was working, I was the one who looked after my sister. Until Ann said it to me, I wouldn’t have realized that was the case. I asked my sister, “Do you think I was the one who raised you?” and she said, “Well, financially, it’s mom but personally, it’s you.”
Ann: One time, her younger sister had a suitor who wanted to meet her mom to ask for permission. And her sister was like, “No, I’ll just ask my sister.”
Gia: My sister’s actual response was more like, “It’s better that my sister knows, because I needed more of her approval than my mom”
Ann: That’s the thing. Her approval weighed more than her mom’s approval for her sister.
Me: I feel sad hearing that.
Ann: Don’t you feel jealous that she has a tight relationship with her sister?
Gia: We just got used to it since there are only two of us. So of course, we naturally spent more time together.
Me: I mean, yeah, it’s a beautiful relationship but it’s sad. In my opinion, at that age, your life should’ve been spent enjoying and not weighed by heavy responsibilities like raising your sister.
Ann: But what’s good about Gia is that she’s helping herself. Okay, her mom is not there for her. And so? She can do it on her own instead of complaining about her situation. For her it isn’t a way to go down, it is a way for her to go up.
Gia: From what I can see, my mom treats my sister better. There’s favoritism.
Ann: Because her mom didn’t raise her sister! She didn’t have any struggle of raising her, except only financially. All the emotional struggles that her sister can experience, Gia was the one who was there for her. I’m not looking down at her mom in terms of her achievements career wise, but at the expense of what?
Gia: My sister is aware of my condition so she also feared that she might be the same since we came from the same household. She knows she has a risk of developing the same condition. She checks herself but so far, I don’t think she developed any mental illness. She’s one of the few people who can handle my emotional outbursts. As much as possible, I tell her, just don’t tell mom but reach out to dad. She’s talking to him now and he’s giving financial support from time to time. I didn’t want them to cut contact since both of them have the right to talk to each other being family. It was only my mom who was strongly opposed to communicating with my dad.
Revealing her condition
What hurts the most was when I showed my mom the prescription with my diagnosis. She got mad and said, “I have more right to be depressed than you.” I cried of course, because it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I’m also an avid book reader, one time we didn’t have TV for months, so she checked out my library at home and said, “You just got that from the books you’ve read.” I made me ask myself, do I really imitate what I’ve read? But I concluded I didn’t. In the end, I quit confiding to her and just talked to my sister and friends instead.
I cut myself for years but my mom was oblivious to all of it even if my scars were obvious. She didn’t even wonder why I always hid my arms. There are also a few cuts in my legs. I showed my scars to my mom and she got surprised, “What’s that?” I responded, “You didn’t know? It was there for years.” All my classmates already knew, but my mom didn’t.
I attempted suicide last 2014. It was my first real and only attempt, a few weeks after I told my mom of my diagnosis. Prior to that attempt, I already had a lot of suicidal thoughts. I had left over medications for my conditions plus medications at home which I took all at once.
My mom was alarmed when she came back home and saw me crying. They talked to me and right after I threw up what I ingested. I just got irritated because her first comment was, “We need you at home. I need someone to help me (financially)” But I just let it be. If that’s the only thing she can give, then I’ll take it. However, I thought to myself, “Am I really only like that to her?”
Since I have support from my friends, I was just the one who helped myself. I don’t like taking medications. But it’s not that I’m opposed to taking medications in general, it worked for Ann, just not for me. I help myself by speaking about my condition to other people from the support group and my work. Because of this, my other co-worker felt comfortable opening up to me about her feelings of depression and anxiety. I’m not saying I’m an expert but I’m helping her as much as possible. I think speaking about it helps myself and at the same time it helps other people. At the end, I think we just all want someone to reach out to. It doesn’t matter if it’s a family member or friend, or even a total stranger. I think that’s what works for me.
Struggles in sexuality
Aside from my condition, I also struggled with my sexuality. In elementary school, I had short hair and I was boyish. I went to an all-girls school. I thought I was just going along with the trend; Back then, I also had a crush on a tomboy.
When I transferred to a co-ed school, I had a crush on another girl… Then, I also had a crush on a guy. It felt messy inside my mind. Even if I already know the concept of bisexuality, It didn’t come to my mind that it applied to me.
There came a time I’ve developed feelings for a girl, I knew that that was already different. For years, it kept bugging my mind. I opened that issue up on my second consult in 2015. My psychiatrist said it’s okay, it’s normal. That’s when I learned to accept the fact that I’m bisexual.
Do you feel scared when you get close to another person for fear of being abandoned?
Yes. I entered a relationship before. After that, I changed my number and cut off all communication. I can’t explain entirely but it was like that. I opened up to my friend about it, and I found out he was a closet gay. We talked about opening up to each other about our issues and that’s when we started accepting our sexuality and decide to ‘come out’.
Now I’m more comfortable being myself. I’m not looking for a relationship but at least now I know I’m more ready as compared to few years ago. I’m not afraid anymore to talk to people I’m attracted to. Even just a “hello” or “hi” or just strike up a conversation.
When I opened up about it to my friends, I thought I would be discriminated but instead they just said, “We already know it a long time ago.”
How would you describe your improvement?
I would say, there has been a massive improvement. Since I worked in marketing, I had to do things that were completely out of my comfort zone. Like being forced to talk to people when I’m not exactly a social person. I don’t like speaking in front of people but I had to do that. Even if I don’t have a relationship with my ex co-workers anymore, there were two advices that stuck with me. First, I needed someone to talk to. Second, do small talk. For example, practicing small talk with a barista. I practiced that for one or two years. Before, I had a wall in me. I purposely didn’t wear my glasses so I can pretend not to notice if ever I pass by someone I know. Now, if they say hi, I can respond better even if I still feel some anxiety. In my work before, I only talked to others when they talk to me first. Now I make it a point to greet people at work, whether I’m close to them or not, to greet them good morning or just smile since I’m not really a morning person.
The other day, I met up with someone who had social anxiety and that was also my suggestion for her, to greet others at work so that she can feel more comfortable. It’s not for them but for her. I observed what my extroverted friends do. I remembered Ann when she bought ear phones at the store, the saleslady and she already shared their life stories to each other.
Ann said, “Of course, you also have to be cautious who you share information with, but you also don’t have to always distance yourself to other people. Nowadays, Gia has moved forward, she’s even the one who found you, volunteered to share her story and also urged me to share mine. What I like about Gia is she’s doing a lot of things to help herself. Sometimes I step back and observe her, I can see that she already had gone a long way since then.”
What is your current outlook towards your condition?
My psychiatrist explained to me that since it’s a personality disorder, she bluntly told me that there’s no cure for it. At first, I couldn’t accept but eventually I thought, that makes sense. She explained that we’re not going to cure your borderline personality disorder, that’s part of you, we’re only going to treat your depression.
At first, I wanted to get rid of it, I felt anger and frustration. When Ann was depressed, we didn’t talk and I thought she was being selfish and she abandoned me but now that I understand, I take back my words. I think what I really desire now is just to make my depression manageable because I really don’t like having suicidal thoughts. I think I can and I am learning to live with my personality disorder as long as the people around me and I know how to cope up with it. It’s tiring also if you’re looking for a cure. Why waste time looking for a cure when you can use that information to just improve yourself? Then that would be more productive. Once I’ve accepted that, it felt lighter.
What are the biggest factors that helped in your recovery?
First, Admitting that you have a problem. Second, Opening up about your condition. Ever since I’ve opened up, I received support from my friends, co-workers, my sister and actually my boss in my most recent work.
It’s not something I would open up to everyone in the company, only a selected few. One day at work, I heard someone utter, “Those Americans really believe in depression, huh?” It’s not something that everyone can accept but at least, opening up to the right people who will accept it is a really great help. They will also get a chance to get to know you better and if they’re worthy of that information, they’ll stick with you even if you get triggered again or what.
Another factor is self-acceptance. Like coming out of my sexuality and being more open with emotions.
What is your advice to other people who have the same experiences?
Try new things. Go out of your comfort zone. Travel. Make small talks, even with the cab driver. Sometimes their response may even surprise you, and might even have better advice to apply in life as compared to your relatives. That’s when I realized that even it takes effort for me to initiate a conversation, you can still connect with others even through small moments like that.
Bottom line is, go out of your comfort zone. Try new things, new places, even if you’re alone but if you can ask someone to come with you, then better. Then stick to the people who will really support you.
Share Your Story is a project aiming to provide mental health awareness by featuring stories of people who are courageously willing to share their experiences in struggling with a mental illness.