By Jane Santos Guinto
One thing the University of the Philippines taught me is that life is full of contradictions. There are always opposing forces. There’s certainly no one way of viewing things.
This is how I’ve come to understand my mother’s bipolarity. She was diagnosed in 1986, a year after my father’s tragic death at 30.
At 6 years old, the words ‘psychiatrist,’ ‘nervous breakdown,’ ‘manic depressive,’ and ‘antidepressant’ had become part of my functioning vocabulary. For over 20 years, I would accompany her to the psychiatrist once a month, every three months, every six months, every year–depending on how things were.
“Poor Jane” was a common expression among relatives and friends.
Today, Mama has been off medication for close to a year. Even after having had a mastectomy and four bouts of chemotherapy three years ago, she continues to work full-time for the Supreme Court, attends weekly prayer meetings, and shops at Forever21. She’s almost never absent or late for work, even when she has cough or colds or even when there’s a typhoon coming.
I wonder sometimes if we had been wrong about treating her bipolarity as a curse instead of a charm.
Even when she was on antipsychotic drugs and talking in roundabouts half the time, she has always seemed to be very sure of what she wanted in life:
1. The best education for her 2 children
2. Her own money
3. Up-to-date clothes
While she could be very smothering at times, she could also be very stern. I remember on my first year of high school, she didn’t speak to me all the way home after getting my first quarter report card. Although I had above-average grades on all other subjects, I had barely passed Sibika at Kultura (Social Studies)–a subject she had excelled in since grade school. From that time on, I made sure I got good grades, even in subjects I disliked.
While her words can be hurtful and mean sometimes, her actions speak louder. She gets up at three in the morning to clean my van, get the washing machine going, and cook breakfast. She quarrels with her siblings over yahoogroups.com and yet, every year (in good times or bad) she gets every one of them a Christmas gift.
Indeed, we have a choice of how we’d see life. As others would see trips to the psychiatrist a dreadful chore for a child, I saw them as learning sessions. Debating with psychiatrists even before I hit my teens was good training for work.
As others choose to see my mom as a bit loony, I choose to see her as the best.