In March 2021, CandleX director Xiaojie interviewed Kelly Yang on her experience with bipolar disorder. A year later, CandleX decided to present this interview in five chapters to commemorate World Bipolar Day. This is Chapter 1 of the interview.
In Chapter 1, Kelly first introduces herself to the audience. She grew up in Beijing with her parents, studied abroad for college, and is on her dream career path. She illustrates herself as a hard worker and high achiever. Through her stories and descriptions, we get the sense that Kelly’s life was quite ideal and successful. She says that on the outside, she is an extrovert who loves to socialize and try new things. However, she explains that because of her constant desire for excellence, deep down there is another side to her that is very vulnerable, sensitive, and prone to self-doubt.
Xiaojie then asks Kelly when she first experienced symptoms of bipolar disorder. According to Kelly, there were three times she had signs of bipolar disorder. The first time was in Kelly’s last year of college: she was stressed with life decisions and pressured to do well on important exams for graduate school. She was constantly self-doubting and surrounded by negativity during this time until she finally received the offer to graduate school and could feel relief.
The second time was a bit like the first: she pressured herself to do the absolute best in graduate school, which caused her to use excessive energy in studying and be in a constant state of self-doubt for half a year. This time, the symptoms went away when she won the major scholarship award and was first in her grade.
The third and most previous time was due to work: she was under high work pressure, so when she made a small mistake, she thought her life was ruined. She says this third time was different from previous times because her emotions were going from one extreme to the other. She remembers her father telling her that for five days, she was restless and didn’t sleep. On one extreme, she would jump, run, shout, and cry at home or act crazy out in public. On the other extreme, she would hide in the corner of her room without talking or eating.
Xiaojie summarizes with Kelly’s confirmation that the first two episodes (times) Kelly described were closer to depression, and the third episode was when she started having bipolar symptoms. In Chapter 2, they will discuss more about the emotional states during phases of bipolar disorder.
Xiaojie: It's good to see you again today. This is the second time we've met, right?
Xiaojie: The first time we met should be last week (March 2021).
Kelly: We met at one of the movie nights.
Xiaojie: So I'm very happy that we had that conversation after the movie, and you said that you were willing to share your experience with bipolar disorder and the treatment process you went through. So I'm delighted to speak with you in our "broadcast studio" today.
Kelly: Yes, because I had my own experience with bipolar disorder for about two years, and as I told you last time, after people around me knew that I have this illness, they came to me for consultation, or hoped I could share some advice with them, so I hope that I can help more people who suffer from this mental illness, so that they can know how to get proper treatment, or how to get out of this predicament.
Xiaojie: Yes, actually experiencing a bipolar disorder is a journey. I would like hear your story bit by bit from the very beginning.
Kelly: I graduated from Hong Kong Baptist University, and I am now working on documentary production as a documentary director. My life story is relatively simple since I am a Beijinger, I grew up with my parents, had about a year and a half of overseas study experience, and after I returned, I successfully got to work my dream job at a TV station. Actually, everything went relatively smooth for me. I am seen as the "good child" in others' eyes. So before my illness, everyone would think I was doing well in all aspects and that my parents never need to worry about me. I always had an excellent image. Even when I was suffering from bipolar disorder, everyone was shocked because they thought life was so smooth for me. I think this is a misconception that others have.
Xiaojie: Right, and it's quite a common misconception, too. May I ask you about your personality? You talked about how your entire life has been quite smooth and successful, so what are you like in the eyes of people around you?
Kelly: I don't know if I feel too good about myself, but I have always thought of myself as quite extroverted. Of course, I'm not THAT open. I'm just more willing to share my thoughts with people, and I like to socialize and hang out with people. I have many hobbies and interests, and I hope to explore more possibilities. I am actually a more outgoing person who is willing to try new things, and my personality was always like this. Of course, with this outgoing personality, there is definitely another side. That is, there is also a very sensitive and delicate side. It may be due to my desire for excellence ever since I was young, so I would constantly judge myself, like what if I am not good enough, or did I say something to make others unhappy? Behind the outgoing side there is, this introverted, sensitive and vulnerable side. I think it's this kind of double-sided personality.
Kelly: There are actually three times when I showed signs of this illness. The first time was when I was preparing for my postgraduate exam, I was taking the IELTS test, and that time I was faced with a life decision. My parents, including my boyfriend at that time, couldn't give me much advice that I could rely on, so I had to make this choice on my own. When making a choice, I was always torn, not knowing what to do, and I also wished to get a very high score on the IELTS exam, so during the entire time of the exams, I could clearly feel that my emotions were very low, and stayed low for a really long time.
Xiaojie: You mentioned for a long time, so about how long?
Kelly: Around six to eight months. During this period of time, I was always in a state of self doubt. I felt like I was not good enough. I would think "why couldn't I do anything well?" There were always these negative emotions surrounding me. This time, once I received the offer to my school, everything was fine again. In fact, after the offer, it all felt fine at once. So this was the first time. The second time was when I was studying at HKBU. because my undergraduate degree was in international finance, and I took a big leap to an international news major for my graduate major. Because learning journalism and working in television has always been my dream, so I really hoped that through this experience of studying abroad, I could really understand how to work in the industry I want. So, at that time, I worked very hard. I was afraid that I wouldn't do well. Every night I called my mother crying, telling her why I couldn’t do anything well and why I was so incompetent. But in fact, this inability to do well was the self-image that I put on myself.
Xiaojie: That’s stress.
Kelly: No matter how many people told me otherwise, it didn't work. I firmly believed that I wasn't good enough, and I told myself that I needed to work even harder. It might sound a bit like I'm bragging, but this time, I won the only major scholarship award in my whole grade,
Xiaojie: That is already fantastic.
Kelly: I was first place in my entire grade that year, and I felt like I received affirmation, so my emotions stabilized again. This second time also lasted for about half a year. It was also a time of extremely negative emotions and no lifted spirits when I wouldn't eat or sleep. This was the second time. The third time, and the most recent one, was because of work. I was under a relatively high-intensity work pressure, so because of a minor mistake, I suddenly broke down. That mistake was minor to the point where it's like I can't even recall it now, but it had felt like the whole world collapsed around me. I thought all the decisions I made and everything I had done were all wrong. I thought my relationships were ruined. I thought my career was gone, and love was gone. At the time, I fed myself a lot of these imaginations. That time, it was obvious that my reactions were different from previous times. My emotions swayed between two extremes. I remember my father telling me that I went five days without sleeping, and I didn't feel tired at all. I would jump, run, shout and cry at home, and when I was outside, I would go mad and act sort of crazy. Or I would sit in the corner of my room all day without speaking, responding, or eating. I was jumping between these two extremes.
Xiaojie: So for the first two times, it sounds like you had many months of depression. But you were in a stably depressed state during those times.
Xiaojie: The third episode was actually when you started to have bipolar symptoms, right? Can you tell us, during times when you feel bipolar symptoms, what the high and low emotional states are like? For depression, the emotional state is depressed; some people are sorrowful, others are numb with low spirits. I want to learn more about the emotional and physical experience during times of mania for you.