Welcome to my kaleidoscope world.

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By: Matheen

In 2015, I’ve been medically and clinically diagnosed as living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Depression, Anxiety Disorder, and Paranoia. I’m currently taking medication for my mental illnesses. I also go for my monthly counselling with a registered Psychiatrist. My family and a few close friends do not feel sorry for me — instead, they have been supportive; they have shown understanding and compassion. In social media, I often posts articles about mental illness and encourage others not to make fun of people living with mental illness — it’s not cool to joke about someone and label them as “retarded”, “abnormal”, “paranoid”, “mental”, or even casually using “OCD” as if having it means you’re cool and fashionable to have it; au contraire, you are so not cool if you are guilty of such actions. I always think that one should always put oneself on other people’s shoes to be able to comprehend and empathize. Simply put, how would you like it if someone labeled you as such?

In the 80’s it took someone like Princess Diana, Elton John, Madonna, Elizabeth Taylor, et al, to come together and take away the stigma off HIV and AIDS. People like me who support charitable causes related to HIV and AIDS are extremely grateful for influencers like them for educating the world about HIV and AIDS. In the early 90’s, I volunteered for three years at AIDS Reach Out Organization in the Philippines and we were extremely grateful for the support of former Secretary of Department of Health, the late Senator Juan Flavier. He provided help to those living with HIV and AIDS in the Philippines at a time when everyone thought that people living with HIV and AIDS were like social pariahs or modern-day lepers. The world has certainly come a long way since the 80’s in highlighting and bringing much attention to HIV and AIDS.

This is 2017 and once again, the world needs to highlight another dreaded disease. This illness is not contagious like HIV or AIDS. But just as HIV and AIDS were, it is an illness attached to a lot of stigma and discrimination at work, outside work, and in the eyes of society as a whole. It affects the way we live our lives on a daily basis. It affects our relationships with the people we love. It affects the way we work. It affects the way we view ourselves as human beings. I’m grateful that a lot of social media influencers such as Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry, Lady Gaga, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Margaret Trudeau et al, have come out and are spearheading a campaign about taking away the stigma from mental illness. We hope that by having more influencers come out and openly discuss mental illness — they will convey a strong and clear message: having mental issues is not something to be ashamed of. I’ve always been open about my mental health issues because it has made me stronger and more aware of my issues which enables me to turn into a better version of myself one small step at a time; by facing my issues head-on, it has empowered me to transition myself into a fighter from someone who felt she was a victim. I wish the same clear path for others out there who are currently feeling lost, ashamed and burdened by their mental illnesses. It is not an easy journey, but you are not alone. There’s so many of us struggling daily, trying to put a brave face on a torturous and crippling illness.

Alison Kirkham, the BBC’s controller of factual commissioning, said 1 in 4 British people were affected by mental health issues. In Canada and in any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences mental health or addiction problem. By the time Canadians have reached the age of 40 — 1 in 2 have or have had a mental illness. Mental illness also does not spare the youth: young people from ages 15 to 24 are more likely to experience mental illness or substance abuse. In the US, approximately 43.8 million or 18.5% experiences mental illness in a given year. These people suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and specific phobias. In the Philippines, between 17% to 20% of Filipino adults experience mental disorders. 10% to 15% of Filipino children ages 5-15 suffer from mental health problems. In fact, according to Philippine National Statistic Office (NSO), mental illnesses are the third most common forms of morbidity for the Filipinos. These factual numbers only confirm that mental disorders are common not just in certain parts of the world but around the world.

For those of you who are extremely fortunate enough not to be affected by mental illness, please allow me to let you inside one’s troubled and complexed mind. So here it is, welcome to my kaleidoscope world:

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

As someone living with OCD, I am plagued daily by recurring thoughts that are distressing, fears and obsessions I have no control over. The anxieties and nervousness produced by these thoughts in my mind forces me to have routine obsessions such as:

• Washing my hands with antibacterial soap frequently;
• I used to splash rubbing alcohol all over my body after showers;
• Taking frequent showers;
• Vacuuming my place every day and keeping my place neat and clean everyday;
• Making sure that all the labels in all household products faces front and they are stored impeccably;
• I also wash all products bought from the store with antibacterial soap;
• I am deeply afraid of feline creatures (cats);
• I was afraid to handle cash for the longest time;
• I have fear of being contaminated by germs;
• I have fear of having sinful thoughts;
• I have fear of failure and making mistakes;
• I have excessive doubts

My having excessive doubts caused me the breakdown of my two marriages. Until now, I am incapable of having a healthy relationship because of my excessive doubts. For the longest time, I couldn’t function properly in a social setting because I am deathly afraid of germs and being infected by some transmitted diseases. For awhile, I used to be semi-recluse and refused to see others because I was afraid I might catch a disease from them. I still don’t carry cash around because I am still afraid of germs. I cannot date anyone who has cats for pets.

Attention Deficit Disorder

Attention Deficit Disorder is not just for children — as I’ve found out after I was diagnosed by my psychiatrist. My ADD stems from my childhood and also as a result of my OCD. Because I have OCD, I’m extremely organized. However, I also have the following ADD symptoms which affects my work on a daily basis:
• Difficulty concentrating and focusing or “zoning out” in the middle of a conversation without realizing it;
• Easily distracted;
• Impulsivity — I have impulse problems which makes being patient extremely difficult;
• Inner restlessness and racing thoughts — I have so many ideas fleeting through my mind at all times sometimes I have difficulty sleeping;
• Getting bored easily — this is why I’m single for most of my life. I get bored easily; I tire of someone or something easily; I have this constant addiction for excitement — which if not controlled — can lead me to taking incalculable risks

Depression

In the summer of 2011, I suffered from a major depression. I was in school taking up Animation. One day, I stopped going to school. I was afraid that I was not performing well. I wasn’t failing, but I wanted straight A’s and I wasn’t achieving the grades that I wanted. It depressed me. I didn’t go to work for more than a month. I stopped going to school. I didn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t do anything.

That stage in my life was the most painful and difficult phase because I was trying to keep up a different persona for my son. I was trying to hide behind a mask so that he would not see that I was dying and drowning inside. Every time he’d come home from school and he catches me on bed, I would tell him that I was sick and not feeling well. I would cook his dinner in the kitchen trying not to break down in tears. I would often take a shower so that I could cry in private. It was not easy living a double life.

Through the help of my younger sister, I was able to snap out of it. We went for long walks and she listened to me without prejudice. I also sought counselling. After three months of severe depression, I was able to go back to work.

Anxiety Disorder

On top of my OCD, ADD, Depression, I’m also diagnosed as having Anxiety Disorder. I suffer from the following symptoms:

• Restlessness or feeling on edge whenever stressed;
• Difficulty controlling the worries;
• Sleeplessness;
• Feelings of being out of control

Paranoia

I thought that I have enough mental illnesses to deal with. Imagine how my heart sank when I was also diagnosed as having mild paranoia. My symptoms are as follows:

• Feeling that the whole world is keeping a secret from me; the whole world is lying to me;
• Feeling that I’m not who I am — that I am adopted
• Constantly having doubts on people I care for
• Paranoid about my health — I am so paranoid about my health that I constantly have myself checked every year — blood tests, Pap smears, mammograms and HIV and AIDS tests even though I haven’t had any sexual activities for more than a decade (nearly 17 years to be precise).

In 2015, after losing a job, I walked around the city in a confused state. I was in tears and I was panicking. I was on edge. I found myself in the emergency room of St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. I informed them that I’m not in my right frame of mind and that I might hurt myself. At first, the female doctor who attended to me was skeptical — I didn’t look like I was in need of help. I looked composed. I wore a suit and high heels. I looked sophisticated and professional. Eventually, after talking to me, and after seeing me break down in uncontrollable tears, she arranged for me to seek counselling with a psychiatrist. She also gave me temporary medication to calm me down.

After a month or so of anxiously waiting, I was able to get a half an hour scheduled with a registered psychiatrist. To ease my anxiety, I was given a prescribed medication to deal with my anxieties. I was told that there’s a long wait for counselling because they have to prioritize those who really needed help — the homeless and those who are in truly bad shape — those who are struggling with addiction. I’m extremely grateful that I live in a country that is full of compassion for those who are struggling with mental illness. Psychiatric care and counselling are covered by Medicare. However, the wait can take months or even a year. Clearly, there’s still a lot of work to be done in that area. Imagine for a moment, that you have a teenager suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts — how can you prevent your children from taking their lives — if there’s a long wait for counselling? What does a parent do? For the well-heeled — they pay $125 CDN an hour. For the middle-class families, they use their RRSP money to pay for their children’s psychiatric counselling. For the poor, they wait for months or a year or they just turn into more addiction. It would be great if Psychotherapy can be funded by the Government. It is a medically necessary treatment. Research shows that Psychotherapy works just as well, if not better than prescribed medications for the most common mental illnesses — it also does a better job in preventing relapse.

In my own personal experience with battling my inner demons, I am immensely grateful for my Psychiatrist and my monthly sessions with him. It helps a lot to talk about your mental illnesses. Nothing beats the human touch. I don’t think I’ll be able to function well without my monthly sessions with my doctor. Truly, my doctor and other psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors and family members like my middle sister — make the world a much better and safer place for people like me to live in. They are the real heroes that help fight mental illnesses. They turn an illness into a wellness. The world can be a better and more peaceful place if governments around the world pay closer attention to prioritizing mental wellness for its’ citizens.

To date, I’m much better than I was two years ago — I don’t vacuum as much, I can actually touch cash, I only take a shower twice a day, I sleep better, and I’m not as paranoid as I used to. I’m on the road to healing — I’m a work in progress. I sought help because I wanted to make my dreams come true. I sought help so that I will have a much better relationship with those I love. I sought help because just like other normal people, I’d like to have the chance to fall in love, eventually, with the right person.

For those who are feeling hopeless and lost, I encourage you to please seek help. If there’s a long line up with professional counselling, talk to those you trust — your best friend, your husband, your sister, your brother, or your parents. Don’t be afraid to open up. It’s the only way to battle the monsters underneath your bed. I also find that turning to creative pursuits help a lot in dealing with depression, anxiety and stress. For me, I found comfort in oil painting, drawing, writing and photography. I encourage that if you have no one that you can talk to, start drawing or painting. Write your thoughts. Write a book. Start taking photos. Sing a song. Compose a music or a poem. Tap into your creativity. It will ease your pain.

This is my kaleidoscope world. It is a world of challenges and yet there is hope. THERE IS HOPE.

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