By Tom Pauken II
“A Personal Perspective of Manic Depression: This reporter gives a first-hand account about the bipolar disorder” reprinted with permission from Mr. Tom Pauken II.
Bipolar disorder, commonly known as manic depression, affects 0.3 percent to 3.7 percent of the world’s population. Fifty percent of them seriously considered or attempted suicide. Forty-five percent of Americans with bipolar disorder believe this sickness made a high negative impact on their lives. Seventy percent of those same respondents assume the public doesn’t understand their condition.
These statistics were compiled by a Global Survey for World Mental Health Day 2005 (Oct. 10) also posted on the upliftprogram.com Web site. Are these statistics important? Do you know somebody afflicted with manic depression? Well, I consider these statistics important because I suffer from this ailment.
I make this revelation not to grab attention for myself. I’m more passionate writing about geo-political issues of the East Asia-Pacific region. I shun diaries and anticipate never using first person voice in future articles.
Nevertheless, I feel an obligation to my readers. I want those suffering from mental illness to feel inspired during their moments of darkness because I might be manic depressive but I’ve taken great strides to overcome my difficulties.
I first recognized my problem when I was crying alone in my room on the evening of my 10th birthday. I sensed a premonition that my gloomy spirit would not leave anytime soon.
I had just moved from Washington D.C. to Texas. Even though, the rest of my family adjusted to their new environment I felt isolated. My school life made the situation worse. I found myself as a target of ridicule due to a scrawny appearance and overt displays of emotions by laughing one moment and crying the next. Students enjoyed imitating my strange mannerisms and speaking voice.
For many years I cried myself to sleep, shut the doors to my bedroom and only talked to my family when unavoidable. I watched too much TV, so my grades plummeted including my concentration.
When I entered high school I wanted to improve my scores so I would have less to worry about. I dedicated many hours to studying but didn’t get the intended results. I couldn’t focus on my academic tasks. Years later I was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.
Nevertheless, I held one psychological trait far superior to the average person. I was persistent about accomplishing goals even under the most difficult of circumstances. When I wanted to achieve something nobody could convince me to quit unless my objective seemed impossible to reach.
Of course, when I failed my sadness stifled me to an impression of imprisonment but I could recover the moment I initiated a new big dream for my future. Surprisingly, I graduated from high school with good enough scores to attend a prestigious private college.
Yet my manic side overwhelmed me the moment I stepped on campus. I introduced myself to everybody I saw. At first I thought my loneliness would disappear but many people avoided me for being obnoxious.
I was trying too hard to please which brought contradictory results and the stress brought severe repercussions to my mental state. Luckily, I gained two friends who never abandoned me so we spent all our free time together. I will always feel grateful to them.
Needless to say, I transferred to another college thinking I could escape my problems. On the first day I told myself that I will graduate from this institution. (This was no easy task. It took me six years rather than four because I was suspended two years for admitting to a suicide attempt.) My depression grew rapidly worse but I would soon experience a life-changing moment.
The administration worried about piece of mind but respected my efforts to work harder than most students. One day, the president of the college brought me into his office, “When a person breaks an arm he goes to the doctor so when someone suffers from a mental disorder he must do the same. Therefore, you need to go to the doctor during winter vacation.”
I accepted the terms but didn’t expect any improvement. I became more skeptical when I met the psychiatrist for the first time. He was holding a large medical book on his lap, asking me personal questions and never looking at me while making a diagnosis. I revealed all of my mental anguish while crying and he just kept flipping through the book without revealing any emotion.
An hour later he raised his head, “I see that you have good grades at your college and you’ve never seen a psychiatrist. How in the hell did you accomplish that?” He smiled gave me his prescriptions and assured me that these medicines will lift me from the cloud of despair.
I was unfamiliar with the benefits of psychotropic medicines but I tried the pills anyways. One week later I was amazed. I felt the terrible torments of my mind dissipate. I could relax thinking I could accomplish anything. Soon I learned that the medicine is helpful but not a cure.
When I returned to college life improved but depression was creeping back and I didn’t tell anybody. This led to my suicide attempt. When I returned home I couldn’t avoid my despair. Then one day, I decided to write an essay about addictions, but as I put pen to paper I wrote a 10 page story about a woman addicted to chocolate in less than an hour.
I felt so exhilarated that I started writing a novel the next day. Three months later, I finished the manuscript of over 300 pages about a group of Southern red necks who tried to start a military dictatorship in America. Since it was humorous I took great joy in it.
When I showed it to friends and family they loved it. Later I tried to get it published but I couldn’t find a highly-reputable publisher. I was depressed but compelled to make a career out of writing.
Eventually, I graduated from college one of my greatest accomplishments. I was bouncing around jobs until I came to South Korea where my personal life finally improved. I made many friends, got married to a beautiful Korean woman and we have two wonderful children.
For some getting married and having children comes easy. But when you have a bipolar disorder it’s not. I feel a sense of normalcy now working as a professor in South Korea and getting a few of my articles featured as daily top stories in internet newspapers including OhmyNews. Certainly, I’m not satisfied, because I’m ambitious and want greater happiness for my family.
I wish that some day I can become a world-renown columnist related to Asia-Pacific regional politics or that I could write interesting books. I will always have my dreams because that’s my motivation for living. But if those dreams don’t come into fruition I’ll still be proud, because I’ve tried my best considering the circumstances.