I spent most of 2015 at home in a near-vegetative state, watching endless episodes of Friends and feasting on mangoes like there was no tomorrow.
I had just spent one and a half month in a mental hospital—yes, what you’d call a nuthouse—after a spectacular manic breakdown less than a year after graduating. I’d experienced clinical depression on and off while a student, but this was the first time mania reared its ugly head. I was promptly admitted, then equally promptly diagnosed as bipolar.
The month and a half was a big shock to the system: living among the supposedly insane and being behind bars and all. But that wasn’t why I was letting 2015 pass me by like a fool.
No, I was incapacitated by a crippling loss of identity.
You see, for my entire childhood and teenage years (let’s say aged 4 to 19), I was always the star student. I graduated from my high school in Thailand with GPA 4.00 (a.k.a. full marks) and received an offer from all the universities I applied to in the UK, including Oxford for its most prestigious humanities programme, PPE.
Growing up, that’s how I saw myself. I was the student. Studying well and getting top grades was my identity. That was the metric I was consistently measuring myself against.
That self-perception got shaken up a bit at university. I went to UCL, which if I remember correctly was ranking 4th in the world at the time, so you can imagine it was attracting all sorts of top students from everywhere in the world.
Thus went my status as the student. I was merely a student, one in the crowd. A good one, but not outstanding by any means. I got the occasional B for my essays. I scored lower than 70 in some of my exams (70 being the threshold for first-class honours).
I did graduate with a first-class honours overall, but my identity as the student had been shaken. And I believe this crumbling self-perception was a big part of the reason why I’d succumbed to depression for most of my university years.
But let’s get back to 2015. I’d just been released from captivity, overweight (that hospital food was some of the best I’ve ever eaten) and unhappy. And I was lost.
I was clearly no longer the student. Hell, having graduated, I wasn’t even a student. Instead, I was a 25-year-old with bipolar disorder who’d just done a stint in the nuthouse.
Quite a dramatic shift, I’d say.
As the months went by, I delved deeper and deeper within myself, trying to find a new identity that would save me from oblivion. I slowly clawed my way back into normality. I got a job, did my best at it, regained the confidence and self-esteem I’d lost.
Who am I now?
That’s hard to say. But the experience has taught me never to tie my identity to something ephemeral and external. My identity has to be derived from within, something that can never be taken away from me.
But enough about me. Let me turn the question to you: Who are you?
When you look in the mirror, who or what do you see? When you meet someone for the first time, how do you want them to see you? What are the metrics you’re using to measure yourself, the sources from which you’re deriving your self-worth?
If you can’t answer the above questions, think harder. If you’ve got your answers, then take a long and hard look at them.
Do they seem right to you? Do you wish they were different?
We humans go about our day rarely thinking about who we are. We’re mostly focused on what we do, where we are, who we meet, and so on. But it’s who you are that has the potential to give you a life worth living, the most important question that will have everlasting impact on the legacy you leave the world… not to mention your sanity as I painfully found out.
So, who are you?
Until next Friday… Stay cool, stay safe, stay thoughtful,
First of all, I feel you (*hugs).
You are both brave and generous for openly sharing about mental issues, which is no light matter and only a few could overcome without other people's help.
Second, you cared about "gettin good grades & straight As" during your student years, and at the end you eventually had some sort of an epiphany that says "never to tie one's identity to something ephemeral and external". For me, from my 18-30 I wanted to be popular among cool male friends and wished to attract lots of ladies while in fact that wasn't ME at all. So what's the point of being widely accepted by the others while you don't even accept yourself.
In other words... F*ck being famous.
Guess we both had some kind of clinginess in our teens? Well, c'est la vie.
Finally, I think it's a bit hard to make somebody realize that self discovery (aka Soul Searching) is crucial. But I guess when life hits rock bottom, that's the time when one started to think about it.
So who am I? Your crazy friend ngai la jaa eiei.
Much Love to you Val, 'til next time :)
Ps. Nuthouse? I prefer the term "Loony Bin" lol