Mom, this is how my brain works

Editor's Note

This piece has been previously published in the first volume of Cathartic, Silakbo's annual zine.

Dear Mom,

I wish it were easy to explain to you how my mind works. When I come home from school every weekend, worn out like an old sweater, your hugs stitch me back together, one seam at a time. I hope you know how much I love every instance we sit by the balcony and talk. You know, those Friday nights, thick with humid air and your cigarette smoke and my endless chatter; those Friday nights when I can shake the exhaustion of school from my bones while you ask me about the latest medical phenomenon I learned in class. “How does the heart pump blood,” you would ask one week. “How do our eyes actually see,” you would ask during another. You tell me you enjoy watching me explain as animatedly as I can, and I love that you listen, that you understand. You see, these concepts are relatively simple to explain because they are concrete things, objective things, things you can read on a textbook and observe in another human being. I’m sorry my mental illnesses aren’t quite as easy to observe and comprehend.

Well, they are, in a way. I witness you and dad and my siblings and friends caught up in the path of a typhoon and that typhoon is me. I am a hurricane of anxious thoughts and and half-meant suicidal jokes told wryly with a joyless grin. I am the calm before the storm, pleasant and cheerful, then suddenly I am the storm, winds roaring a hundred kilometers an hour as I jump from idea to plan to plan to idea. And then the blustering winds die down until I am nothing more than a weak breeze blowing on a sunny day – except I don’t feel the warmth of the sun because here I am stuck in bed, and I don’t want to get up and I don’t want to feel anything and I don’t want to exist for now (or forever).

But please don’t be alarmed, because I promise I’ll try my best to explain what it’s like up here behind my face. To be honest, I still don’t know why I am the way I am and maybe I never will. A couple of times, during one of our more vitriolic disagreements, you asked me if this was your fault, if you had fucked me up enough. But I know – and please believe me – that this is my mind’s fault and no one else’s. Does it matter what caused my anxiety and bipolar though? I just want you to know that I try and fight and claw my way out of this godforsaken chasm I find myself in every day.

I may not be as tough as you now, with all your decades of heartaches and happiness – but I’d like to believe I’m strong enough in my own way.

Three years ago, I sought out a psychiatrist behind your back and dad’s because I was terrified of what you would think of me. Would you still believe that I was your first baby, the child you bore and raised two decades ago? Or would you see me like how I see myself – a shadow of your daughter, a parasite thriving in the dark, afraid to live? You see, mom, this is what depression and anxiety love to tell me every chance they get. I am useless, I am worthless, I do not deserve value and love and care. I’ve grown used to this internal monologue, this tug-o-war of self-hate and self-pity. Depression and anxiety are frenemies that love to one-up each other in my head, keeping my mind trapped in a never-ending battle with itself. I imagine every outcome I could come up with, rationality be damned. I agree and disagree; I catastrophize and the anxiety grows louder. My thoughts screech like bullets ricocheting into a deafening roar and I am held captive. What were once whispers are now screams, ordering me to bottle up these feelings, to stay silent and unaffected, to don a mask with a grin so wide, no one will believe that I was unhappy. (But I was. I am. Enough to wish I dropped dead so I could finally get the peace and quiet I longed for.)

When my diagnosis of depression was changed to bipolar 2 disorder just a couple of months ago, everything clicked in my head. Something in my mind, always so foggy and noisy, gleamed like the full moon on a cloudy evening; it was enlightenment. Now I understood the highs and the lows, the excessive energy then the sluggish apathy. I welcomed hypomania to the party in my head like an old, familiar friend.

This is how bipolar works – well, for me anyway. I’m on a rollercoaster and you know I hate rollercoasters, but god, do I love that exhilaration as I speed upwards, higher and higher. Soaring over everything and everyone, I swear I can taste the clouds from up here. I like to think of hypomania as mania’s functional cousin, because these are the times when you see me at my best, sort of. I’m up and about, restless and hankering for something, anything to do. I spew out words a mile a minute because I can barely keep up with all these new and shiny ideas in my head. I am productive. I am outgoing. I am confident. And maybe I am a little too much of those, but I don’t give a shit because these are the times when I can tell my anxiety to go suck it. I am a unicorn, bathing in rainbows and sparkles, and the euphoria is addictive. Each high has its comedown and when hypomania leaves me like a harried sailor abandoning ship, I crash and I crash hard. And you know what this looks like a little too well.

Once upon a time, you told me to put all the thoughts burrowing like worms in my brains into a box. You told me to put that box away. Compartmentalize. Done. I can’t help but feel weak because I am incapable of doing that as effortlessly as you can. My brain simply doesn’t work like that. I may not be as tough as you now, with all your decades of heartaches and happiness – but I’d like to believe I’m strong enough in my own way. Battling with one’s mind every single day is no easy feat. And maybe I can even be strong enough to make you proud.

I don’t blame you. I don’t resent you. And I definitely don’t hate you. Mom, you tell me you enjoy watching me explain things, and I love that you listen, that you understand. So I hope now you understand, maybe just a little bit. Maybe we won’t completely see eye to eye on this and that’s okay. All I really want are your empathy and your patience and your acceptance. Because this is me, this is my life, and this is how my brain works.


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