There has been some good progress on my end. First off, sleep has been the best it’s ever been since I first started to see symptoms of bipolar depression. That means I slept through the night for eight hours straight. This is a huge step forward for me (as well as a hopeful sign of improvement,) because the last time I slept through the night without some kind of a tranquilizer (Ativan mostly), consecutively for two days, was over a year ago. Every night, I was haunted by insomnia, night terror, anxiety and other bizarre sleep problems that kept my brain wide awake in the middle of the night. The second is what I’m working on in therapy. I’m starting to piece together the “why” I am this way. Why the hell im sick. If you’ve been reading since the inception of my blog, then you know how I was triggered into having my first full blown episode because of work related stress- but it’s never that simple for bipolar disorder like other brain disorders. It wasn’t just work and it wasn’t just the stress. There are just so many reasons, contributing factors both immediate, and long term that affects the brain, that it’s impossible to pinpoint one specific event or cause. However, it’s still important to understand why, for the sake of closure, acceptance and to do things differently the next time. In short, I think my disorder came about because of my quiet, agreeable and disciplined disposition coupled by difficulties that followed the unilateral decisions made by my caregivers that are in no way ill-intentioned. More concretely, I was a quiet kid, who followed rules and who tried to do things right, without offending or angering anyone she cared about. My parents separated when I was ten years old, but rather discreetly- and the only way they kept things together was by living very far from each other. My mother and I moved to Canada, where we had no family, without speaking English. My dad and the rest of my extended family stayed back home, in Korea. I was enrolled in school, so I picked up the language pretty quickly. Soon I had to fill the role of the adult in the household because my mother wasn’t as lucky with getting assimilated into the culture. Paying bills, writing letters, making calls, filing complaints, and making informed decisions. When I was absent from school, I wrote my own letter of absence to take it to school. This is probably a common theme for first generation immigrants- you have no room for mistakes, rebellion, or misbehavior. There is no time to indulge in complaints, or laze around, be a kid. As a minority immigrant, you work double what the others do to get to where they are in society, in the new world- and that’s what I knew since I was ten years old. It doesn’t matter much if you were middle class, upper class or lower middle back in the old country, you’re on your own to establish who you are. Growing up, I never felt safe in my home with just me and my mother. I was a violinist, so every time I practiced which was everyday, an angry neighbor surreptitiously came up and kicked our door. I got hate letters from one of my so called friends who wished I went to hell- my mom and I figured she was jealous despite our temporary, shabby looking situation, I was able to go to music school. There was bullying involved, both at school and online. There are other mistreatments, racism, hatred, abuse that came with living in a foreign country with just one other adult who couldn’t really take care of you, or protect you as family should. This is in no way to blame my parents- they were doing the best they could in their given situation. It was not unusual to send your kids abroad to English speaking counties if your family was affluent. But the fact of the matter is, I’ve developed PTSD from the anxiety filled life where I cried under my blankets every night in silence to not upset my mother, and where I put on a brace face every morning. Every year, we had to make a decision to stay in Canada or go back to the old country- and that meant a) no stability, and b) living in rental apartments that were hardly furnished. I never felt tethered to a place, and I felt that I was temporary. This meant that I was always making up my back story to new people I met, and that meant that I wasn’t inviting anyone over. Family holidays were truncated to summers when I went back to my real home, where dad and the rest of the family were, and thanksgiving and Christmas were spent eating chicken because turkeys were too big for a party of two. There is much more but I’ll stop myself from getting flooded. These memories were so disturbing that I had suppressed most of it until I started psychotherapy with my current therapist. It helps that she is a first generation immigrant herself from the same country that I am from, and knows the hurdles and difficulties. Before her, people either envied the position I was in, or just had no clue what I was going through. I learned that choosing the right therapist is so very crucial, because if they don’t know where you’re coming from through experience, they won’t understand the source of the problem, and they won’t be able to help. One can read thousands of books on someone’s culture and study anthropology, but an armchair anthropologist can only know so much.
My multicultural situation is pretty unique, and I realize that when dealing with a mental disorder that is already complicated, a complicated life story makes it even harder to discuss with another person and still get all the cultural nuisances right. There is still more to dig, but I’m happy that I’m able to remember some of my so called childhood and feel validated for the first time in my life.