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Rehab Is Not Just For Substance Abuse, It’s Also For Mental Illness


Those with substance abuse issues aren’t the only ones who can go to rehab.


(Ed’s note: Trigger warning for mentions of rehab, self-harm, and the like!)

Having been born with a cleft lip and palate, I faced my fair share of bullying and insecurities growing up. I endured face-to-face abuse and online trolling. This left me with a slew of unhealthy coping mechanisms. I thought I had to buy friends or completely change who I am to “fit in.”

In 2011, I had a breakdown that began with self-harm. It ended with me ruining my mother’s vintage Anne Klein dress, permanently staining it. Days later, a mental health professional diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. My parents felt medication should be a last resort; sometime later, I ended up on mood stabilizers.

By 2014, things weren’t getting better. My parents took matters into their own hands. They put me in the long-term program of Self Enhancement For Life Foundation (SELF).


All about SELF

Located in Batangas, SELF is part of the World Federation of Therapeutic Communities. Most of its clients have substance abuse issues. But there were also others like me who had behavior or mood disorders. People who couldn’t get to the root of their thoughts and feelings. People that behaved in questionable or downright dangerous ways.

While I was there, I learned something that surprised me. Behavioral and substance abuse cases had one thing in common: mental health issues. At the end of the day, how we feel and what we think influences our actions.

At every Morning Meeting, we would recite a philosophy. It says, in part: “I am here because there is no refuge, finally, from myself. Until I confront myself in the eyes and hearts of others, I am running.”

I already had a diagnosis, but I still underwent an evaluation upon arrival. Although I have bipolar disorder, I also have a penchant for pretending I’m OK. I liked to pretend I was Miss Perfect. For someone dealing with rejection and self-rejection (yes, those are two different things!) that was a lot.


Finding myself in rehab

As the days went by, I found myself again. I did group therapy, one-on-one counseling, and moderated dialogues with my family. Self-reflection also helped. I learned to confront people when they were wrong and to be accountable for my own actions. I also learned that wanting to “unalive myself” (as kids today call it) is not correct or normal.

After many ups and downs, much laughter and tears, I graduated from the program in 2017.

The author at her graduation from SELF’s program. | Image: Indigo Pai

Have I become a completely different person? Yes.

READ Kit Harington Opens Up About Dealing With Depression, Alcoholism & Settling Down

Sure, I still have mental health issues and I’m no saint, but rehab changed my life for the better. I’m still in close contact with many of my counselors. Still on medication that’s carefully calibrated by my psychiatrist, who I consult with still also. As one of our Unwritten Philosophies goes: You alone can do it, but you can’t do it alone.

Recovery is not linear, but it’s not impossible, no matter how many times you fall.

Featured Image Macky Arquilla

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