Jakarta. Last week was a joyous occasion for poet Gratiagusti Chananya "Anya" Rompas, who held a launch party for her new poetry collection, "Non-Spesifik," on Wednesday (26/07) at Nitro Coffee in Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta.
A full-house crowd at the cafe, on a Wednesday afternoon no less, belied the fact Non-Spesifik, published by Gramedia Pustaka Utama, is not exactly a happy book. The title is taken from the name of a mental disorder the poet suffers from: non-specific, non-psychotic bipolar disorder, which in Anya’s case causes periods of depression and periods of elevated mood according to what triggers her.
According to Anya’s psychiatrist, Endah Ronawulan, who spoke at the launch party, there are two types of bipolar disorder. Type 1 when mania or elevated moods occur more often than the depression, and Type 2 when the situations are reversed.
The moods of a non-specific bipolar disorder sufferer like Anya, however, are heavily influenced by the events and situations she experiences.
Anya’s poetry collection, ironically, has a very specific goal. The poems, written between 1997 and 2016, are put together to delve into her chaotic mind and reflect it back for her readers.
"The poems represent a search for myself and the confusions that run through my head," Anya said.
Divided into three parts which she called "Episodes," the bo0k shows off many sides of being a bipolar disorder sufferer.
The first episode contains many experiments with punctuations, compositions and page layouts. Anya said it is a darker next chapter to her previous poetry collection, "Kota Ini Kembang Api" (This City is Fireworks), also published by Gramedia in 2016.
"Return of (Un)Innocence," for instance, disturbs the reader's senses by juxtaposing the noise of a taxicab driving through a heavy rain with the narrator’s shaky attempts to capture the moment, and her pent-up frustrations.
"Last Night I Was Afraid of Death" portrays the speaker’s overwhelming fear of death, which to her seems to lurk everywhere, ready to take her away at any second.
The second episode of the collection mashes up her psychological struggles with her experiences as a first-time mother, while the last episode examines her feelings about Jakarta, the city she lives in for most of her life.
Most of the poems in the last two episodes were written after Anya was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, so many of them talk about her efforts to come to terms with the condition.
"The ones that really opened up my eyes are the poems written in 2015-2016, after I was first diagnosed. They were challenging times, but after that I was more accepting of myself," Anya said.
Coping With the Self
Beneath Anya's friendly and cheerful demeanor, dyed-purple hair and colorful attire lies a self that is constantly pulled back and forth by the vagaries of her mood.
"Honestly, ever since I was a kid, it always frustrates me why other people can seem so happy all the time. I can be happy for a second but that fleeting happiness would soon be replaced by deep sadness," she said.
When she was a teenager at school, Anya put her emotional highs and lows down to normal mood swings. Writing poems, which she has been doing since junior high school, became like therapy.
"In 1997, I realized there was something wrong with me, but I didn’t know what to do, so poetry was my way of venting my feelings. In those years, I could write up to five poems in just one night," the poet said.
Anya's formal studies then drew her even more toward poetry. The author earned her bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of Indonesia in 2003 and a master’s degree in Gothic Imagination from the University of Stirling in Scotland in 2005.
"[Poetry] helps me to see the emotions that disrupt my head. I love reading and writing since I was a kid. Then being an English Lit student, I started learning the techniques of composing poetry. That also played a part on why I chose to become a poet," Anya said.
She knew she had been bottling up a lot of emotions and thoughts inside her head, but did not realize how much they had started to affect her physical condition. Then, one day in 2015, she suddenly collapsed and was rushed to the hospital.
"My body just couldn’t take it anymore. I was taken to the [hospital’s] emergency room twice in a month. Soon after that I was finally diagnosed with non-specific, non-psychotic bipolar disorder," Anya recalled.
The discovery was long overdue. Endah said many Indonesians tend to overlook symptoms of mental illness.
If someone has been feeling blue for a while, many consider it normal and try to find excuses in recent losses or failures experienced by the person. Not many people know that two weeks of sadness can already be categorized as depression, and many ignore it until it is too late.
Endah lamented that seeking professional help for mental illness is still very uncommon in Indonesia.
"In Indonesia, seeing a psychiatrist is still considered a taboo. First aid for someone with a mental health issue is often going to a psychic. Psychiatry is associated with madness," Endah said.
Aside from taking medication and therapy with a psychologist, she suggested that people with bipolar disorder make their hobby — be it writing, painting or making craft — into an outlet for their emotions.
Endah said in Anya's case she has managed to turn her condition into something positive thanks to her dedication to heal herself as well as her family’s relentless support.
"The role of the family [of a bipolar sufferer] is to support and offer empathy. Give them appreciation for every action, every effort to heal themselves, no matter how small," Endah said.