Content warning: mentions of psychosis, delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, mental illness, bipolar disorder, hospitalization, depression, self-loathing, suicidal ideation, suicide attempt, anxiety, mental illness stigma.
I am safe and stable now. This talks about past experiences.
Yesterday was World Mental Health Day, and I am here to remind you that I’m a bipolar mental health advocate with a history of psychoses, delusions, severe depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation and attempts. I started to have psychotic breaks when I was 19 and had an emergency hospitalization when I was 21 as a senior in college, back in 2010. Originally they thought I had schizophrenia, but later received bipolar disorder as my diagnosis during my outpatient program.
A psychosis is an abrupt disconnection from reality where I experienced hallucinations and delusions and paranoia. You can read more information here. These thoughts and experiences made no logical sense at all but I believed they were all true, even compounded on top of each other. It was the truest thing I ever felt. Some examples:
- I was part of a secretly rich and powerful family
- My scholarship and entire college career was an experiment and EVERYONE was in on it, like the movie Blindsided. Though to be clear, I watched that movie during my third psychosis so it was definitely warped in my mind. I also believed that the movie was about me and shot because of me.
- The Filipino Channel’s soap opera “Legacy” was about my family, my friends, classmates, strangers, officials, and especially me. I was able to see what everyone else was doing behind my back, including how they were murdered.
- The Price is Right, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, Deal or No Deal game shows had participants who knew me and my family personally, enjoying our downfall, and all those shows were giving away our vast fortune as punishment
- I was the AntiChrist and the blood bank truck outside of my childhood church was collecting martyrs to sacrifice
I wasn’t public with my mental illness until several years later, when I decided to submit to the inboxes of tens of thousands via The Listserv. It was a flash fiction of a young filipina woman experiencing a psychosis, which you can read in full here. I didn’t know anyone who was open about their psychoses, or even seen any sharing online.
This was my one chance to state anything I desired and it was important to me to get this story out there. If only to show others they weren’t alone like I believed I was.
Its publication garnered encouragement and support, even concern to make sure I was okay which I greatly appreciated. Here’s my most favorite reply:
My very first fan mail and it still catches me off guard. Since then I’ve written and performed onstage three monologues, one of which had the original protagonist of the email, Regina Cordova. And a dialogue between me as The Author and her. Personal guest essays on being mentally ill. I have done a panel with Filipinx artists, hosting a space where we can both talk about being Filipinx and our traumas. Something I never had before. There I even gave a PowerPoint presentation on the components of my psychotic breaks lol, “Breaking Down My Psychotic Breaks”—from the definition of psychosis, what delusions are, what media images triggered those delusions, and how my family helped me recover. Plus what the common signs were before I had those psychoses.
You can see some of the slides on my Instagram here.
I’ve been on the Artist Gripes’ podcast on “The Dangerous Myths of Creativity’s Relationship with Mental Illness” and gave an interview on the short film documentary “Born to Stay Alive” whose trailer you can watch on YouTube.
I have made so many friends, received wonderful opportunities, and been on grand adventures since the moment I decided to speak out against mental illness stigma.
They actually have an open call for their Fall 2021 Compilation, for audio tracks of poetry, short stories, monologues, etc. It’s running until October 14th and I highly recommend submitting to them. More details here.
This interview I did with In Full Color as their Alumna of the Moment better captures my mental health over the years and the huge impact this wonderful organization had on me. The founder Summer gave me a platform and so much support to tell my story, to break this horrendous stigma that traps us all.
I want for us to be at a place where we can talk about our mental health openly, without any fear or shame at all. I honestly feel no guilt when I speak about my delusions, paranoia, and psychotic breaks. Not even for my suicidal ideation and attempts. I know I’m not the only one to have such dark thoughts and experiences and I want to help others be open too.
Before it’s too late.
I spent too many years believing I deserved to die and to fail. I thought that this is how my life will always be: utter self-loathing, drowning, and all-consuming fear. If I wasn’t diagnosed, if I didn’t think to speak up, I most likely would’ve continued to suffer in silence, wrongly thinking that this was my personality. I probably would’ve killed myself.
Yet now, in a few weeks I will be on a college campus for In Full Color to perform “Psychotic Break” — my first monologue for them which I did in 2017. You can read it and watch a past video here.
It’s so strange to come full circle. I will be sharing the words and advice I desperately needed over a decade ago. To students who might need to realize that their mental health is in danger.
I had everything going for me: a guy who liked me, a scholarship, high grades, a job I love, the honors program, friends I adore, courses, classmates, and professors that made me happy and vice versa, a major I dreamed of. But I was still suicidal, depressed, and could barely take care of myself.
I didn’t see how bad things were until I woke up in the hospital, believing I was in Hell.
College will always be there. Your mental health and your well-being won’t. In all honesty, that psychotic break saved my life in many ways.
One of which is me, writing to you.
I want to show people there’s a way to be honest and to live a life you only dreamed about, while being mentally ill. That taking medication does not mean it will kill your creativity and your passion. I’m living proof.
I keep on thinking of little one, me when I was 21 and recovering from a reality that told her she was the root cause of 9/11, the insurmountable national debt, and traffic accidents. It was the nickname the nurses at the mental ward gave me. I’ve always written to her and for her. Striving to do projects and enact dreams that would make her wide eye with joy and exclaim:
I GET TO DO THAT??!!?
Absolutely, my sweetest of hearts, and I will do everything I can to make our most extravagant dreams come true. Where a decade from now, the currently 33 year old me will go doe-eyed and scream to #43:
HOLY SHIT, THAT’S MINE!??!
ALL of it. Every breath, sight, site, exclamation, failure, wonder, thrill, and anxiety. All yours for the taking. You will meet and adore new friends and lovers and family members. You will witness things you only daydreamed of. Discover new possibilities that you never knew existed for you. Like now, with my current and biggest endeavor yet.
This image I used in my risograph zine made through a Taxonomy Press workshop which I highly recommend. You can watch a reading of the zine here. And I can send you a copy along with other books and things if you’re interested, just let me know.
I wouldn’t have gotten this far if it wasn’t for my amazing support system. And my stubbornness haha. I know that I’m extremely lucky and privileged and sadly not everyone has supportive family and friends. I acknowledge that we don’t live in a world that embraces the mentally ill and gives them the attention and care they need.
But I do want to continue to work towards that, however I can. And I have witnessed some changes, like commercials featuring folks with schizophrenia, more people being outspoken about being mentally ill, more spaces that focus on us. I believe we can get there. I believe there will be a time when I won’t be afraid to give birth to someone who is mentally ill because I will have the resources I need. And I will become someone who will raise them in the best way possible. And I believe we will live in a society that is more just, equitable, and kind.
Before writing this blog, I was unsure and felt like a failure in some ways. But I needed this as a reminder of how far i’ve come and all the good that awaits not just me, but us all. I’m becoming more optimistic and finally starting believe all the wonderful things people have always told me.
You will get there too. I hope you have someone you can be open about your mental health. Especially when it’s terrible. I hope you strive for your dreams and give support to those who need it. I hope you always write and create and thrive for your little ones, every single iteration of you. Past and future.
Wishing you sustenance of every order and realizations in every incarnation. May you fulfill your potential on your own terms and well-being.
Holding you close,