title: learning to live, love, and be loved at age 29

author: skye

e-mail address: [email protected]

web address: [email protected]


all my life, i somehow knew that i was different. i felt i didn’t belong. i had a picture-perfect life coming from a picture-perfect family, but inside, i was dying...slowly. my father was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the 70s back in my country. but back then, there was little known about mental illnesses in general and there were very few options for treatment, not to mention the enormous cost. my mother tells me that one day, my father told her that the president of Korea was coming to visit and he was initiating some kind of a ritual to welcome the president. he was taken to the hospital by his family and remained there for 7 months and then discharged with no follow-up treatment or medications of any kind.

my childhood was filled with insecurity, confusion, and fear. my father would disappear for weeks or even months at a time, go on a spending frenzy on his mania and return home when he’s depressed. he did not provide for the family, so my mom was left to take care of the kids, make money, and be the father and the mother to me and my two brothers. since i am the only daughter and the only one who would listen to her (and she needed someone to talk to...i just wish it was an adult who took on that role, and not a child like i was), my mother began sharing her fears and hardships with me from a very early age. when i was in my third-grade in elementary school, i began having terrible stomach pain. when my mother finally took me to the doctor, he told her that i was experiencing stress-related pain. then my mom asked me, “do you not want to go to school?” ..............little did she know about the stress that began to build up inside me from the overwhelming sense of insecurity

and fear.

for as long as i remember, my mother taught me to pretend. pretend as if all is well. despite all the difficulties that she was dealing with throughout the first 20 years of her marriage, she refused to talk to anyone outside our family because it was considered “shameful”. that means she could only talk to me or my brothers because my father wouldn’t listen and besides, he was most of her problem. my brothers won’t very good at comforting my mother so she quickly gave up on talking to them about her problems. so there was me. she called me the “counselor”. those years of growing pains...filled with insecurity... this would shape who i am and how i reacted to the world around me for many years to come. but i looked great on the outside...because i became an expert on pretending. no one knew what was really going on inside me...that is...until things got out of control.

i was always a good student. when we immigrated to america when i was 12, i had little difficulty with learning the language and moving forward with my education. i graduated college in 1998 and began medical school in 2000. by high school, i was doing things that left me feeling extremely guilty behind my mother’s back, but i pretended like i was the good christian girl every parent dreamed of. and i was good at it too.

since age 14, i always had rocky, roller-coaster-ride-like relationships...one after another...but other than that i thought i looked pretty normal. i was very emotional and had really bad mood swings that only my boyfriends would notice which made them weary of me in time. i didn’t know what to do with myself and they didn’t either.

i don’t know when, but sometime in my early adulthood i had become so good at pretending that i began to fool myself too! i believed that i had a good life and a good past and a good future. i was succeeding in academics...and although, in retrospect, i was depending heavily on my hypo-mania’s to cram all the knowledge just before an exam at UW-Madison, i was still an A student. it wasn’t until medical school that i began to experience overwhelming difficulties with studying and keeping a balanced life. it became increasingly difficult to survive on my short-lived hypo-manias to learn all the required material to last the depression which completely debilitated me.

i began to experience more extreme mood swings that started to scare me, especially because you learn about mental illnesses in medical school. i started a journal and wrote down all the things that i did, that concerned me, when i was “high” vs. “low” . after my first year in medical school, as much as i wanted to deny it, i knew that i suffered from the illness that my father had.

when my depression got really bad and unable to handle during my second year, i finally went to see my family physician. that was january of 2002 but it wasn’t until may of 2003 that i was correctly diagnosed with manic-depression. between the two time periods, there was a fatal suicidal attempt and subsequent hospitalization, and many more psychiatrists and psychologists who told me i had “major depression” and prescribed me anti-depressants, which only pushed me over to mania each time. i was screaming out my diagnosis to every doctor i saw (and my mother, too) but for some reason, no one accepted it. and perhaps i, too, wanted them to deny it, so that i could have a some sense of security and well-being, albeit false.

in october of 2002, only five months after my suicidal attempt and only two months into my third year of training, i met james, a visiting physician at the hospital i was training at...and also the brother of a previous boyfriend who were in bad terms with me. our relationship began so fast...everything happened so fast that before i knew it, i was 2 hours away from home, on a leave-of-absence from medical school, living with james in the town where he was finishing up his residency in internal medicine, hiding from his crazy father who threatened to kill us and my family if we didn’t break-up right away, waiting to get married in court any time, and applying for a transfer position in medical schools near where james would be working when he finishes his training (talk about impulsive decision-making!). but most of all, i was very very depressed.

i stayed there for six dreadful months, most of the time, completely isolated and depressed to the point of debilitation until i had my break-down in may of 2003. i changed my life around completely to be with a man who turned out wasn’t ready to commit. he kept on putting off the wedding until i was bitter and convinced that he has no intentions to carry out our plan. he told me one evening in may (after a 2-hour conversation with his aunt who was fervently against our marriage) that our relationship was a mistake from the beginning...BUT he will still marry me because he wants to keep his word!!! i was shocked, confused, and extremely mad. i didn’t know what to do with myself. do i stay there? do i go back home? do i go back to my original school? what do i tell my parents? my friends? we kept on getting into these intense, heated arguments for many days on...i couldn’t get any sleep for almost a week because i was so nervous, anxious. one day, i started drinking a lot of a

lcohol, became very violent, and...just broke down psychologically.

i was hospitalized in the hospital that james worked for. the attending psychiatrist was rather insensitive, uncaring, and ignorant. he discharged me without a diagnosis, with only 3 days worth of paxil...and the four days i was there, he knocked me out with haldol-AGAINST my will. i was put on restraints for overnight because of misbehavior (which i considered to be standing up for myself against unwarranted practice of “authority” on the healthcare professionals’ part) and stripped naked in front of several male security guards because they suspected that i may have cigarettes on me.

of course, when i left the hospital, my condition was only worse! then my brother came to help me move back home... my mom wasn’t available because she was in korea for the summer. when i got out, i was even more violent towards james, which drove him away from me more and probably excused him from his sense of responsibility for what i was going through because it was so obvious to him and others that i was the BAD one.

i come home, only to be hospitalized again right away...this time by my friends who called the police on me when i told them that i wanted to drive to see james in the middle of the night. and that was the hospitalization where i was diagnosed for the first time with manic-depression and i was displaying symptoms of mania. within 3 minutes of talking to me, the doctor said i have bipolar disorder. and she prescribed me depokote and wellbutrin. i was released after 3 days by petition because i “needed” to see james, get out the country, or something. i just couldn’t sit there.

when i got out, i left for korea immediately because i knew very well that i was capable of driving myself to see james anytime, in the middle of the night, when i got the urge to and my reasonable mind saw the self-defeating effect of that kind of behavior, i guess. at least it becomes much harder when i’m overseas... i resolved to staying away from him for as long as possible to give myself time and space to get over him and sort out my life. i ended up staying in korea for 3 months, teaching english and living a completely different life. i came back to the states in august when i found out that UW-Madison accepted my transfer application...i thought this would be a good fresh start for me.

however, i fell into deep depression again when i came home. the guilt over all the drinking and the craziness when i was in korea ate me alive and i couldn’t face myself. however, my mom was still in denial that i even had a mental illness and pushed me to go back to school in madison. i was really confused, so i just went along with what my mom was doing...passively, as much as i could. i got an apartment in madison with her help and finished all the administrative work 2 days before the beginning of my clinical rotation and then she left for home. for the next day i was paralyzed in my apartment all by myself, not knowing how to move, where to move to, and what to do. thinking about drinking a glass of water was overwhelming.

i went to the student counseling center the day before i was to start my rotation and told a counselor what i was going through. she agreed with me that i should postpone school a little more and seek help first. she got me connected to a local mental heath center near my parents’ home.  i was then scheduled to meet with someone in a couple of weeks. but i became manic again in the meantime and ended up again in the hospital, this time in a state institution near home. i started medications and treatment again there while i was hospitalized 2 additional times (7 -10 days each time) over 2 more months. that’s where i met bruce, my case manager who turned out to be a “god-send” to me. he connected me to the right psychiatrist, therapist, group therapy, and met with me regularly to monitor my progress. after taking the medications consistently for a couple of months, i began to become more and more stable. the depression lingered, which required us to change medications many tim

es, but the i didn’t have a full-blown manic attack since october of 2003. i got a job at banana republic and started working part-time 2 weeks after i got out of the hospital for the last time and i am still working there..quiet proficiently (i was recognized as top performer 5 months out of the 7 months i’ve worked there).

i am in the process of trying to go back to medical school where i started originally because after careful thought and discussion with family, i decided it would be better to be close to home, for support and security. because i already withdrew from the school last year in order to transfer to madison, they are reviewing my file for re-entry. the process is taking its time because they are considering my withdrawal as one based on medical reasons, when in fact, although i had a medical condition, the actual reason for the withdrawal was to transfer to another school, for personal reasons. i believe it’s also their responsibility to make sure that i am well enough to return to patient care. i will be meeting with a sub-committee in a week.

i have lost two years in my studies, as my ex-classmates have graduated from medical school as of yesterday (june 2004). i’ll still be a third year student when i go back...if i and allowed to go back. i believe that things will work out fine for me in time. and i try to remind myself over and over again, that the past two years of my life weren’t lost in vein. i have learned a great deal about myself, my life, and my illness in that time. i have experienced a glimpse of living life fully, loving myself, and accepting others’ love for me for the first time in my life. i tasted peace of mind and security. all of the above are giving me hope for a brighter tomorrow. i believe that if this was a hurdle that i needed to jump over in my life in order to live life to the fullest, then i need to learn the lesson, and sooner the better. becoming a doctor will have much more meaning and impact now that i have found stability and peace within myself. just as we are instructed to put on

the oxygen mask on ourselves before we help others in a plane crash...i’ve learned that you can only truly take care of others when you have taken good care of yourself first...and that’s not being selfish, either.

i do experience the “down” phase still once in a while, but i don’t feel the overwhelming sense of doom and hopelessness that i used to feel. somehow i know that things are gonna get better... and when i feel really energetic for a few days, i try to just use it to my advantage and be as productive as i can. as long as i watch my spending, my hypo-mania’s aren’t too harmful. i believe paying close attention to your body is essential because everyone’s bipolar experience is a little different and you know yourself best. for me, i know that i have a rapid-cycling manic-depression, so with my episodes, i experience only days of mania and weeks of depression(at most) . some people experience months of either phase with quiet a long in-between period of normalcy . while my condition (due to it’s short length of episodes) doesn’t tend to get as destructive as the longer-phase ones, mine manifests more drastic changes in short amount of time (volatility) and less time of normalcy in

·        between. and although i don’t know the significance of this yet (other than my body just being in the “fight-or-flight” mode) there are certain physiological symptoms that can be clearly linked to my state of hypo-mania, such as excessive thirst and sudden pangs of low blood sugar.


so this is my story. one-year into diagnosis and steadily on my way to recovery. i would never play with medication compliance or alcohol because i know and understand my illness very well through learning in school and reading different publications on the topic. if i did anything right, i think it was continually educating myself of my own condition and desperately wanting my life back and wanting to be well. those things lead me to 99.9% compliance to treatment that i hope will remain with me no matter what. my doctor tells me that i’m the ideal patient that doctors want... and that i would also appreciate one day. i want to become a psychiatrist one day to say the same thing to another inspired patient who’s eager to live that healthy life! if anyone who’s reading this has recently been diagnosed with this illness, please know that there IS hope...that you CAN get your life back...and as long as you want to get well...time will be on your side, if you seek the right kind

of help. please feel free to e-mail me any comments or questions to [email protected] and best of luck to you!  thanks for reading~






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