“How did you go bankrupt?”
“Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”
(The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway)
In Prozac Nation, when Elizabeth Wurtzel was asked to describe her depression, she used that quote from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. “That’s how depression hits,” She writes, “You wake up one morning, afraid that you’re going to live.”
About two weeks ago, that’s what happened to me. I woke up on a Thursday morning afraid I was going to live. I couldn’t make myself get out of bed, or do anything. When I tried, I was hit with panic attacks that came one after another ad after another. I thought it was going to be the end of me.
Gradually, then suddenly. That’s what so scary about depression. You don’t notice that you’re depressed half of the time, but suddenly, you just can’t get out of bed or find any meaning to your life. Worst of all, in those days, you really don’t want to live at all. Try as you might but you just can’t find a single reason why life must go on for you. And for some people, that was the end. I was almost one of those people.
I didn’t try to commit suicide, but I did entertain the thought when I was lying in bed, completely devastated by my panic attacks. I couldn’t see a way out of the wreck that I was in. The thought got so loud that I finally reached for my phone, and started texting.
“When you have a minute, I need to consult,” I pressed sent.
About twenty minutes later, I got a reply, “What’s going on?” And I finally admitted that I was depressed, slightly suicidal and I did not know how to pull myself up from that hole.
That text was not sent to my psychiatrist. I had called her, and she adjusted my medications, so all good on her end. At the time I needed to talk to someone who would patiently untangle my life and the mess that I felt I was living in, as well as counter the negative, dark thoughts that were suffocating me – thoughts like what is the point of staying alive anyway if you’re just going to be a useless piece of crap who can’t even get up from bed, despite the fact that you have back-to-back deadlines – with hopeful, positive thoughts that weren’t regurgitated from inside a Hallmark card. That person for me was Nano Oerip.
I don’t really know how to categorize Nano in my life. He’s a friend, and also partly my coach and therapist who in the last few months have helped me navigate my day-to-day life. As a bipolar, I have always had a problem with the day-to-day. My manic energy would drive me that I actually excelled with impossible deadlines and high-pressure jobs, but then I would crash.
During these low points I would not be able to do anything because my depression would cripple me to the point that even getting out of bed is too difficult an activity to bear. People have likened being Bipolar to being on a constant roller-coaster ride with the high highs and low lows, but the problem with being on a roller-coaster is you can only ride it so many times. After a while, you just want to get off and throw up.
That day I wanted to get off the ride and throw up. I just couldn’t do it anymore. So, I did what I normally would never have done – because I am a strong, independent woman – I asked for help. And that was exactly what I got from Nano. I got help. For about three hours after my first text, he helped organize my thoughts, and together we started to pinpoint what exactly triggered my episode.
The act of conversing with him alone had distracted me from my depression. At the end of the three hours when he had to excuse himself for a meeting, I was still depressed, but I no longer felt like I wanted to die. And it may feel like a small thing, but for someone like me who has struggled with this issue for most of my life, it’s actually significant.
Nano doesn’t believe in extreme, radical changes, which at first went against my nature as a bipolar. We bipolars love going from one extreme to another. Small, steady changes – the day-to-day – are not really our thing. But after a while, I realized it was exactly what I needed.
He got me to start moving by asking me to try walking for 30 minutes a day. Simple, achievable, and definitely not extreme. He also got me to organize my mind by asking me to journal my boring daily life that includes what I eat and drink throughout the day. He asked me to prioritize my work, rethink how I handle my clients and assess how I’ve been letting my clients treat me, and he even got me to let go of a few toxic clients to not only free up space in my schedule, but also in my mind.
He put me on a routine that I could adhere to everyday. He paid attention to what I’m putting in my body and nudge me to eat healthier. He helped me plan out my day-to-day life so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed by meetings, deadlines and pressures. He was also willing to listen and be that sane person I could talk to whenever I needed sage advice. In short, he’s my Yoda.
I still struggle with depression and mania to this day. Nano does not suddenly make my illness disappear. Instead, he helps me to live with it. A friend told me once that an illness, whether it’s physical illness like cancer or mental illness like bipolar, is like a monster that is trying to invade a palace. The more you fight that monster, it just keeps getting bigger and bigger. But if you accept and embrace it, it will get smaller and smaller and you hardly notice it at all after a while.
That’s what Nano does for me. He helps me embrace my illness and devise a system to live with it, so I can live a relatively healthy, functional, productive life in spite of it.
Depression comes gradually, and then suddenly. You wake up one day and you realize you don’t want to wake up. And my greatest fear has always been that one day I will not have the strength to fight it – and I finally give in to it. I will just be a statistic, a warning, a sad story, a heartfelt tribute on social media. I don’t want to get to that point. But I’m also not strong enough to fight on my own. And what my experience with Nano has taught me more than anything is that all I have to do is just ask for help.
It’s okay to ask for help. It’s not embarrassing to be a grown adult who still needs assistance to deal with the mundane, everyday stuff. Some people are just better at “adulting” than others. Some people are just better at handling life and all the insanity that comes with it than others. You’re not a failure, or weak, or pathetic just because you need help managing your life. You’re just human. And we all need others to help us at some point.
I asked for help and I’m still here. And I can’t promise that I will always be okay. All I can promise is that when I’m not – when depression or mania rears its ugly head – I will always ask for help. It may come from Nano, it may come from my psychiatrist, it may come from my family, it may even come from some random person.
I have to believe that help is coming, even if it takes a while. Remember what 911 operators have always said in movies?
“Stay on the line. Help is on the way.”
Illustration by Adhitya Pattisahusiwa
 Actually his real name. You can find him on Instagram: @nano_oerip