Who am I really?

I took a lot of courage to pen down my thoughts on this blog post. Am I ready to share my story? I have been living in constant fear to tell others about my mental illness. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 21. I have a fear of being judged. I fear that people may see me as crazy or abnormal when I tell them the truth.

What is bipolar disorder?

People diagnosed with bipolar disorder have mood swings involving both lows and highs. Because of this diagnosis, I dare not express myself. I dare not cry; I dare not laugh too much. I have to cut people away because I need to protect myself first. I cannot afford to have my mood affected by anyone. I am worried that I might experience another manic episode.

A manic episode can be triggered when a bipolar patient has too much to do or under tremendous stress. In the days running up to the competition, many thoughts are running through my mind.

"Am I able to deal with the stress that comes with this competition?"

"Am I ready to make my social media accounts like Facebook and Instagram public?"

"Are these people going to judge me?"

"Am I ready to handle all these things on my own?"

Bipolar is messy, and it is not fun. For those who dare to share their stories, they are often judged that they are oversharing or come across as entirely disordered. Or there are comments like, “She is behaving crazy again.” Many high-profile, successful people have bipolar disorder.

Mariah Carey has bipolar disorder, and she has chosen to use her fame to help eliminate the social stigma. Through this post, I will like to share that it is possible to find happiness with bipolar disorder or any other mental illness you might be facing.

During our visit to Sirinthornwararam Phu Prao Temple, we saw this adorable little schoolboy. He came to us as he was curious about our work. He shared with us that he was here because his teacher wants him to do some social work at the temple. The reason was he has autism, and he is here to talk to others. I was so shocked by what he told us. He certainly does not look like he has autism.

He is such a kind and happy boy. How can our society give him a label? Because of what the teacher said, he has to live with this judgment as someone with autism. If he has autism, I am not sure how do you define someone with autism anymore.

Children are innocent and playful. I saw curiosity and joyfulness in children, and I saw no deviousness and selfishness in them. Children are born innocent, and they want only to be loved. They need guidance and not being labeled to have special needs. It is regrettable to hear stories of children diagnosed with ADHD or autism. Children are hyper, and they will have restless energy. They are just kids, and they are supposed to enjoy their childhood. These labels damage kids, and because of this labeling, they have to go to a special school. Having a mental disorder like autism or bipolar disorder does not mean that we are special. We are just a little bit different from the majority. But that does not mean we are not normal people.

I met many people with mental disorder when I was receiving my treatment. You will be surprised to know that many high-flyers in Singapore are facing psychological problems. Many of us are relying on medications. I have this talented film director friend of mine, and all his work are so amazing. However, he has this fear of going back to school. He said he has dyslexia diagnosed when he was a kid. He has problems with reading, writing, and occasionally speaking. But I never felt that he has such a learning disability because he can articulate so well. Because of the diagnosis, he truly believed that he has such impairment in life.

I do not understand what gives one human being the right to judge another human being? Or to say someone is not normal? Are we not all equal?

What I felt at Khemmarat

When I first visited this village, Khemmarat district of Ubon Ratchathani, I felt like I was in a completely different world, unlike my own in Singapore. I initially thought could it be yet another touristy village with the curse of commercialization. The answer is NO. Khemmarat is an untouched beauty hidden away from the world. The Khemmarat community really surprised me a lot. There is never a dull moment during my trip to Khemmarat, as every moment here, there is a surprise after surprise in this beautiful village. I had grown so fond of this place. I felt so much love and warmth from the mum of Khemmarat. I never felt the distance between the Khemmarat community and me despite the differences in our culture.

Poor or Rich

Back in Singapore, when I was taking my real estate salesperson course, I met this foreign girl in class. She said, “That’s why the poor are always poor. They will never be like the rich.” And she even labeled the lower income group in Singapore as “low class.” The folks at the village may not be as wealthy as how we are in Singapore, but they are rich in their way. Singapore is a developed country with very high living standards. For that foreign girl in my class, it is unfortunate to know that she looks down on the poor with her poor choice of language. Money is all that matter to her, and it is a mean to judge others. I beg to differ with this classmate.

The Khemmarat community show me the kind of hospitality that I have never experienced before. They are so selfless to share, treating me with a lot of delicious local food. As a foreigner from Singapore, I feel that I have never been treated as an outsider. Instead, I had this indescribable feeling of warmth with the people of Khemmarat. These human interactions are lacking in our country, Singapore, as we are so self-centered. We only care about ourselves first. As a nation, we are progressing rapidly on the international stage. However, when it comes to human relationship, my thought is that we are moving backward.

Happiness - Spirit of People of Khemmarat

What I saw here is happiness, the spirit of people of Khemmarat. They are happy. They are kind. They are selfless, and everybody is doing their part to support the community. To me, they are so much richer than most of us in Singapore. Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants. Having 'Less Is More' is the key to happiness.

Stop the Labels

I have my fear that will I be taken advantage of because of my vulnerability. These labels and social stigma can be hurtful. Having bipolar disorder does not mean I am no less than anyone else. I am a human, and I have my rights to show my feelings. I laugh when I am happy. I cry when I am sad. Nobody has the right to label others as poor, imperfect, or abnormal. Nobody is perfect in this world. Labels. What defines them as acceptable? Judging people instantly without understanding them is wrong.

In our society in Singapore, showing your real emotions are like showing your weakness. More often than not, we have to put on a poker face. I was trying my best to hold back the tears when the mums are making their farewell speech for us. I am afraid of my illness because I have been told to have reasonable emotional control. I could not hold back these tears, and I had to let go and free myself. The feelings, the connections, and the interactions are all genuine and heartfelt. I really love the Khemmarat community and their way of life.

My mum, sister and I

I lead a comfortable life in Singapore, and I count my blessings. Nonetheless, I can be a huge mess when it comes to handling my family relationship. I am not good in expressing words to my family. I try my best to be a good daughter and a good sister. Trust me, and I am trying. I will like to use this opportunity to tell everyone that I love my family. I enjoy the village life at Khemmarat, but I never forget that I have my family back in Singapore. To my family, I love you all.

Irene Tan

 Monday, August 5, 2019 8:31 PM