As told to The Mind Faculty
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Having an open, honest conversation about mental health is an important step into raising awareness and reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness. We speak to of our community members about their experience with bipolar disorder:
A few years ago, I was performing Umrah in Mecca. Suddenly, it felt as if I gifted with a special energy – which I now know is a symptom of bipolar. I smelt something beautiful that I had never smelt before: I felt as if I was in paradise.
It was then when I began to see angels: handsome men in white dresses who smelt of rose and strawberries. But I also saw devils. I was convinced that I could predict the future. I felt that God had spent the spirit of Jesus to visit me.
Upon returning to Malaysia, I began speaking a my own language that no one else could understand: this was a mixture of Arabic and English, two languages I could speak before. My English took on a Russian twang.
I enjoyed happy songs by Michael Jackson, Enrique Iglesias and other Latin singers. I wore good clothes and bought perfumes that reminded of that heavenly scent I smelt in Mecca.
However, my day-to-day life was getting worse. I did not go to work. I spoke frequently of heaven and hell, angels and devils. I told people that I felt the spirit of Jesus in me. I was reckless: driving at high speeds and not sleeping for days.
Most of the time, I couldn’t remember what I was doing. My neighbours, relatives and friends knew I was going through something. Some of them even referred to me as ‘Gila’. I don’t know how my wife handled this difficult time, but she did her best to support me.
When it became too much for my family to handle, they sent me to Sungai Buloh. I was placed in the psychiatric ward for two weeks.
When I was discharged, I could not function the way I was supposed to. I slept most of the time. My energy and self-confidence was at an all-time low. I was negative and did not want to meet people. Against my doctor’s advice, I skipped my medication which led to a reoccurrence of the symptoms of bipolar. I was admitted to the psychiatric ward again.
Last year, a psychiatrist advised that I undergo Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). After nine sessions of ECT, I finally felt like myself again. I was able to resume work and my usual routines. I found cooking for my family therapeutic: I find the process of preparing the meal relaxing, and there is nothing more rewarding when I watch them enjoy the food. I also started doing charity work, giving support to my community and the less fortunate.
I am still on medication and I see my psychiatrist every 6 months for a check up.
If I could offer advice to anyone who feels overwhelmed or who suffered from the same experiences I did, I think that reaching out for help is important. Your support system is important. The love, hope and support that I received from my family helped my through the darkest of times.
All the best, A Bipolar Disorder Survivor.