China: Bipolar disorder

By Chu Yiwei

Negative. Despairing. Insane. Crystal Ma used these words to describe her life.

Ma, a 20-year-old student at Jilin University, has suffered from Bipolar disorder for three years. She swallowed pills to attempt suicide last November. But she regretted what she had done and called her mother to take her to the hospital to pump her stomach.

Nevertheless, Ma’s condition is still bad. “I started to have insomnia and auditory hallucinations last week. I am not sure whether it was the symptom of schizophrenia,” she said.

Ma is not alone.

Gloria Wei, a 20-year-old student at Guangzhou University, took a year off because of the onset of Bipolar disorder. Her father also suffered the disease and beat her many times. Wei had been in the hospital for one year to take medication and be monitored.

Bipolar disorder, formerly called manic-depression, is characterized by moods that swing between two opposite poles: periods of mania with exaggerated euphoria, irritability or both and episodes of depression.

According to The World Health Organization, Bipolar disorder affects about 60 million people worldwide. China has somewhere between 12 and 15 million individuals who have Bipolar disorder.

Therapist Steven Zhang has treated the disease for many years. He said the causes of Bipolar disorder are multiple and still uncertain. But he thinks young adults suffer from the disease because of childhood trauma, massive pressure from school and family, and genes. “Bipolar disorder is an inherited disease. A lot of patients with Bipolar disorder have at least one close relative with the illness,” he said.

For example, Wei’s father was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder 13 years ago, and he beat her frequently. “Being slapped by my father before entering the university was as common as eating breakfast for me,” she said

Ma also attributed Bipolar disorder to her father. “My father is an officer in the army, and he always treats me like his soldier instead of his daughter,” she said.

Nevertheless, Ma’s father became almost sadistic in his treatment of her. “After I had failed the entrance exam to Peking University, he locked me out of the house for one week. One month later, stress and tension made me play a disorder in college entrance examination. Xiamen University accepted me. My father tore my letter of admission to pieces and told me that I must keep restudying in high school until Peking University accepted me. He yelled at me, kicked me, reproached me, threw my telephone, cut off all the connections between my friends and me,” Ma said.

Still, it took a long time for Ma to be diagnosed with Bipolar disorder.

In December 2014, Ma attempted to suicide and was diagnosed as suffering from the disease. However, after being treated for two months, she became uncommonly excited. “I stood on the table of a canteen, making a speech for nearly one hour until the headmaster pulled me down. Most of the time I was extremely confident and happy, but sometimes I realized that my life was going to be over soon,” Ma said.

Even though Wei’s mother realized that there must be something wrong with her daughter, she still didn’t believe in the diagnosis at first. “Wei promised me to come to see me on Saturday. But she forgot totally. When I saw her, I can’t recognize her. She lost nearly 20 pounds. After taking her to the hospital, the doctor only gave her a questionnaire and asked her some questions,” her mother said. “How can I believe in the diagnosis?” When she realized that there must be something wrong with Wei, it may have been too late because she didn’t be treated immediately.

Ma’s father still didn’t believe his daughter had the disease. He said, “I know that my method of education is wrong. I would like to use my life in exchange for her healthy life. However, I am pretty sure that these psychiatrists talked irresponsibility. They want to earn more money through overstating my daughter’s illness. My daughter is just stressed out.”

But the psychiatrist disagreed. Zhang explained that patients with Bipolar disorder have distinct emotional features. Doing questionnaires and being asked questions are necessary steps for a more accurate diagnosis.

Once patients are confirmed to have Bipolar disorder, the direct consequence is lifelong medication with substantial side effects.

Both Ma and Wei have to take many pills to limit the development of the disease. Meanwhile, Ma goes to Beijing every week to see a therapist.

Ma said that the side effects from the drugs are difficult for her. “I had a strong sexual desire, which can drive me crazy after taking drugs. I pictured that I had sex with several people together. I tried to stop taking drugs once for one month, but I attempted suicide,” Ma said.

Wei said that she gained almost 40 pounds after taking medicine for one year. “I always feel hungry even though I had dinner five minutes ago. The drugs I am taking now have the composition of hormone and increasing appetite. I feel afraid that I will gain my weight forever,” she said.

Ma’s boyfriend left her in November after she hurt him with a knife. She fell into depression after that. Her reaction was to try to commit suicide. “I can’t control myself. My father was next to me at that time, but he even can’t prevent me. I am lunatic. I hate myself.”

Wei lost most of her friends, but her parents remarried 11months ago. Wei’s mother said, “Her father and I were divorced when Wei was six years old. We have owed her too much. Her father is a bad-tempered guy. I must do something to prevent him from continuing to hurt my daughter. Everything should be done for Wei.”

After going back to school, Wei had to hear comments about her from her new classmates. “Bipolar disorder ruined my whole life. I wanted to drop out of my school. After talking with my father, he slapped me again and said that he would kill me if I did this. But luckily, I have my mom now. She shouted at my father, and my father was scared of her.”

Zhang is Wei’s therapist. Despite some problems, he said that she is getting better because her father and mother have remarried.

“You will never know what will happen tomorrow, so why don’t you enjoy your life?” Wei said, thinking about the possibility of getting better.

Ma agreed, “Even though I am still tortured by Bipolar disorder, I appreciate this experience. We are born for feelings, including pain, happiness, and depression. I am lucky to feel much more than other people.”

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