I have this love-hate relationship going on with the medical profession. A childhood obsession with reading medical books has me self diagnosing since forever and I have this thing of figuring out what was wrong me before a doctor has even looked at me. The Internet has also been an enabling mechanism for me. I actually told my ICU cardiologist why I had such a slow heartbeat. I had bradycardia, the medical term for a pulse that’s lower than sixty beats per minute, from powerlifting and doing a ton of high intensity exercise. I had an athlete’s heart. So most of the time, I feel a bit cheated when going to the doctor because I almost always know what they are going to say. In the same breath, I still like going to doctors because a part me wants to be validated, to be proven right. A little ego stroking never hurt anyone. Plus, you come to appreciate doctors when they have saved you from the brink of death.
Today was a bit different. For the first time, I genuinely wanted to go to a doctor because I had to go to my monthly psychiatry session. Since my bipolar diagnosis, my psychiatrist has been keeping tabs on me. This is the first time I am at a total loss at handling my condition. I have always thought being moody was normal. I have always thought being extremely happy one day and downright depressed the next day was something that everyone experiences. When you have tried to kill yourself twice, when you are out of control, that’s when things get serious. That’s when you need to get help.
So there I sat, waiting in front of my psychiatrist’s office. I had whipped out my phone and aimlessly tried to write an article I had promised to write for a political outfit and I also haphazardly tried to move my tikbalang short story along its projected path. My psychiatrist has actually seen what I write and she has told me to keep writing, so I wanted to show her some of the stuff I have been working on. The words were not flowing though and I was having a hard time making anything cogent.
I was lucky I came in early because the hospital was a bit full that day. On my left was an old lady in this green dress and Imelda Marcos hair. She was playing Candy Crush (who knew that the elderly liked playing the Internet equivalent of crack cocaine?) on her Ipad. She was probably there to visit one of the other doctors sharing the same hospital hallway with my psychiatrist, maybe the nephrologist or the cardiologist in the next room. To my right, a young lady was a saving another seat next to her for her mother. Today seemed just another regular day at the hospital.
Then an old man in wearing a swell newsboy hat shuffles in, leaning on a cane. He asks the girl next to me if the seat she was saving was free. She of course says no. So looking a bit lost, he shuffles along looking for a free seat somewhere further down the hall. I called him back and told him to take my seat. I was going to stand up anyway and I hate sitting down for a long time. Plus, my creative juices flow a bit better when I stand.
So there I stood, my back against the wall, tap tapping on my phone. I had thought of writing an essay about how useless I felt. I have this phrase floating around the back of my head ever since I learned about my being bipolar. Damaged goods. For some reason, I kept thinking that I was beyond repair. A recurring theme in my head was how I was not fit to work anymore. Since my episode, I had been thinking of walking away from my managerial position at one of the top companies in my country, but I was afraid that if I left my job, I would be unhireable because of my condition. I was pouring out my my fears and my thoughts into my words that day, believing that if I put my feelings into black and white, they would somehow lose some of their grip on me.
Sometimes though when you write about emotional things, a fever comes on to you. Instead of providing the release you desperately crave, you see the words reminding you of what you are becoming. Truth is stronger when it is also written down. I also had this fear that my writing was becoming too centered on negativity. Although I have written before that pain was a great way to fuel your art, I did not want to be perpetually in this state of needing sadness and anger and pain to be able to write. I was beginning to think that the little talent I had was an illusion, that all this was just a manifestation of my depression.
I had been hemingwaying there for a good thirty minutes when I saw the old man to whom I had given my seat stand up and enter into one of the offices in the hall. I sat down again feeling a bit more depressed. I wanted to get my appointment over with already. I was ready to snap.
Then Ipad lady leans over and taps me on my arm. She tells me, “You know what, young man? What you did, you cannot find that anymore. Giving your seat up for that old man was real kind of you. Thank you.”
I was a bit stunned. I felt myself choke back a tear. Those were the kindest words a stranger had ever said to me. I mumbled something along the lines of it was nothing and I thanked her too. She did not know it, but what she said genuinely made me feel better about myself.
After my psychiatry session, I erased what I had written while waiting. Instead I wrote what you are reading right now. I just realized that maybe I’m not as hopeless as I think I am. Maybe I am not so damaged after all.