I am a poet and writer of personal essays. I just found out I have bipolar disorder two years ago and then realized I have been describing symptoms in many of my earlier works. AMA!

Gratiagusti Chananya Rompas
Mar 13, 2018

I have enjoyed reading and writing since I was small. I studied English Literature in Universitas Indonesia, Depok (2003) and received my masters in The Gothic Imagination from University of Stirling, Scotland (2005).

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in August 2015, following two breakdowns, which caused my family to rush me to the ER each time. Afterward, I intensively saw a psychologist and a psychiatrist. My family and I decided that it was best for me to take medications as well as maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle.

I still see my psychiatrist but we have managed to lower the dosage for my meds that I do not have to take some of them every day. I am still battling the almost always unexpected spells of mood swings and feelings like my life is without purpose, that I am unworthy and guilty of a series of things. However, through writing, I can express myself and even get to know my emotions better.

Ask me anything about my works, poetry, possible collaborations, writing as healing, living with bipolar disorder, how it affects me and my family, and everything in between!

My poetry collections are "Kota Ini Kembang Api" and "Non-Spesifik", both published by Gramedia Pustaka Utama. My recent work, "Familiar Messes and Other Essays", is published by Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia in collaboration with Comma Books. It is a part of a project called Self-Portraits, which focuses on the experiences of women of different ages and backgrounds told through the form of personal essays.

I am also into collective projects. I was one of the founders of Komunitas BungaMatahari, a mailing list-based Indonesian poetry community that has embraced many poetry enthusiasts with its catchphrase “semua bisa berpuisi” or, roughly translated, “poetry for all”. I am also involved in Selatan, an online literary journal in Bahasa Indonesia, and PaviliunPuisi, a monthly open mic event that is open to poets, poetry communities and artists to showcase their works to an open-minded audience in a casual setting.

Last year, my friends and I initiated a mini film festival called "Sayang, Sayangilah Jiwamu", which literally meant "Love, Love Your Soul", to increase awareness on mental health. Hopefully, we can do this again this year for we found out that there are still many people, even in a city as big as Jakarta, who needed information about mental health but did not know where to start. The event also enabled us as the organizers to network with communities founded to assist people with bipolar disorders, schizophrenia and other forms of mental disabilities and their caregivers.

I plan to write some more, particularly on the subjects of memory and place. I am also interested in exploring themes of day-to-day life, motherhood, and mental illness through writing in collaboration with other art forms, such as film, music, drawing, painting and dancing.

I have been chosen as one of the WrICE Indonesia/Australia Writing Fellows for 2018. The residency will take place in Yogyakarta in March and Melbourne in August. All the fellows will also participate in events at the Melbourne Writers Festival.

I currently reside in Jakarta, with my husband and daughter. I am now working on my third collection of poetry and the poetry editor of an online literary journal, InterSastra. You can find out more about me at gratiagustichananya.com and @violeteye on Instagram and Twitter.

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Conversation (68)

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Do you think you were meant to be a poet?
May 27, 3:54AM EDT0
What’s on the horizon for you?Anything special are you working on?
May 3, 2:31AM EDT0
Could you work anywhere or is there a certain space and quietude required to write?
Mar 13, 2:12PM EDT0

I'm a moody person. I blame it on my bipolar disorder. Hahaha, just kidding.

But, yes, I do need them to write. It doesn't mean that I have to go to a writers' retreat (though I wouldn't say no to that) because, if that's the case, I would very seldom write. :)

Sometimes that space and quietude means me getting to be in the bedroom alone and write on my laptop while listening to my favourite music. Since my husband and I are both writers, we can ask for a time alone without the other feeling offended. Our daughter also understands this, although being the upbeat kid that she is, she can't help but bursting into the room once or twice. 

I've also written in the backseat of a moving car at night. Recently, I flew long haul and found myself writing when other passengers were asleep. For me, variety helps my creative juices flowing. So, it's yes to both the options you offer in your question. :)

Mar 15, 5:16AM EDT0
What's the worst advice you hear authors give writers?
Mar 13, 11:55AM EDT0

One of Indonesia's most commercially-successful authors, in the early stage of her career, once said in a workshop (I was one of the participants) that a writer is a writer when he or she writes. 

It was a catchy one-liner, I have to say, but as I put more thought into it, I believe a big part of writing happens when one is not writing. A lot is happening when you're on the streets, looking at the people, buildings, vehicles around you; or, when you're in your study, can't stop thinking about the children in dirty clothes selling flowers at the traffic lights; or, when you read the news; or, when you watch a Ghibli film with your child.

Such an advice could potentially be counter-productive, too. Especially when you live in a busy city like Jakarta and have to juggle a few jobs to make ends meet. Writing can be a privileged thing to do. 

I'm aware I'm blessed with the privilege so I'd rather support aspiring writers with a safe place to express themselves and the network they need to converse and, hopefully, collaborate with other writers and/or artists so they can grow their art and cultivate their voices. 

Mar 15, 5:01AM EDT0
Has your bipolar disorder affected your writing habits in any way?
Mar 12, 3:24PM EDT0

Totally, even before I knew I had bipolar disorder. I used to write like, at least, five poems every night for a period of time. And then I didn't write at all and that made me feel worthless. I didn't know that I was experiencing hypomania and depressive episodes. My depression got worst leading to my break down that I stopped writing and reading altogether for a few years. 

Now that I know about my condition, I'm more at ease. I've accepted the fact that I work in bursts, and make good use of it. When I start feeling low and uninspired, instead of punishing myself, I try to relax a bit by listening to music, watching a film, or reading a book. My therapists advised me to do more sports to elevate my endorphin levels. But, I'm still working towards doing it more regularly.

Mar 15, 4:37AM EDT0
What are some tips you can recommend to aspiring writers?
Mar 12, 12:27PM EDT0

Live, read extensively, know and be brutally honest to yourself, talk to people from all walks of life, don't be afraid of criticism, and live. :)

Mar 15, 4:19AM EDT0
Do you write fiction too or are all your written materials non-fiction?
Mar 12, 11:59AM EDT0

I largely write poetry and haven't written non-fiction besides my dissertation and personal essays. I hope this answers your question. :)

Mar 15, 4:15AM EDT0
Are your friends and family supportive of your career?
Mar 12, 9:13AM EDT0

Very much so. One of the most concrete examples is while I'm hosting this AMA, my husband is picking up our daughter from school. Haha. Well, my husband is also a writer and we discuss each other's works a lot. He even translated some of my poems too.

My mother-in-law is into art and literature. She always incorporates readings for each of my book in family events and asks her sisters and nieces to read pieces from the books. Often things got quite emotional. :) 

My family, in general, is less artsy than my in-laws but they always come to my book launches. To be fair, I owe it to my father, bless his soul, that I could get an education in literature. 

My friends are also very supportive, in so many ways. Some of them are my first readers and honest critics. A lot of them help promote my works. Several perform at my launches. And I also have two of them as my make up artists. :)

I am very lucky, indeed.

Mar 15, 3:58AM EDT0
How would you describe your writing style?
Mar 12, 8:22AM EDT0

Lyrical, surreal, told in everyday words and mostly speaks about everyday situations. 

Mar 15, 3:20AM EDT0
How did you come to realize that you have bipolar disorder and it’s time to see a psychiatrist?
Mar 11, 3:43PM EDT0

I didn't realize I had bipolar disorder until I had both physical and psychological break down.

In the first week of August 2015, I experienced dizziness, muscle spasms and pins and needles all over my body, including the face. These happened, escalating from mild to worse, in the course of three days. On the third day, I vomited a lot and got so weak, my husband rushed me to the ER. I was then admitted to the hospital and treated there for about 5 days. The doctors' diagnosis was electrolyte and mineral imbalance. 

As I recovered, I felt like I was given a new life. As if I was just resurrected from death. I felt like I had the answers to all my problems (I had a lot on my plate during that time: family feud, house renovation, a good friend diagnosed with cancer, a fall-out with a friend, frustration with the local literary scene, writer's block, and difficulties communicating with my husband and daughter - in short, nothing was going right in my life). I had never felt better, my energy level was high, and I was chirpy - something I never felt for a long time. I was ecstatic and had so many ideas, so many things I wanted to do. I'm a Christian so at the time I thought God had spoken to me directly. While, in hindsight, it was obvious I was experiencing mania.

Exactly a week after I was released from the hospital, I was scheduled for tests and consultations with the doctors so they can make sure that I was doing well. My husband and daughter went with me; I was happy and couldn't wait to see the positive results. But, as I stepped into the hospital lobby, I started shaking and crying. We had to find a place for me to sit down. It took me almost an hour to at least be calm enough to be able to walk to the lab.

I was cheerful again when the doctors gave me the all clear, but, after dinner, things turned upside down. I had a misunderstanding with my husband about a toothpick - yes, a bloody toothpick! - and I began crying again, screaming, and then it was a blur for me. 

My husband later told me that I kept repeating the sentence, "I want to leave and go to a place where I don't know anyone." I was crying uncontrollably, which led me to hyper-ventilate. I was in and out of consciousness and had to be rushed to the ER again. So, yeah, I was admitted again to the hospital. This time I was also treated by a psychiatrist. After 2-3 days, I was released from the hospital. I wasn't myself, though. I spent most of my time talking randomly and crying. My husband immediately took me to a psychologist, who was the mother of a close friend of ours.

After interviews and tests with two psychiatrists, they told me I had bipolar disorder. The first psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar disorder non-psychotic, non-spesific (which I then used as the title of my second book) while the second said I had bipolar disorder type 2.

At first, I blamed myself who, despite my education, couldn't figure it out sooner so I can get proper treatment without having to undergo such traumatic experiences. I also blamed my late parents. But, then, as I learned more and more about this illness, I could say that my father was showing a lot of the symptoms when he was still alive. 

I also realized that since many people with mental illnesses are still largely stigmatized, it is often difficult for people who suspect they might have mental problems and for their spouses and families to admit that they might need professional help. 

I've stopped blaming myself and my family now. I just hope that, by sharing my story, more people could feel that it's okay to see a psychologist/psychiatrist and it's better sooner than after you break down. :)

Last edited @ Mar 15, 5:26AM EDT.
Mar 15, 2:19AM EDT0
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Mar 11, 12:52PM EDT0

I have so many of them. I'm also open to finding works by authors I've never read or heard before. But I often find myself coming back to the works by these authors: Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Anne Sexton, e. e. cummings, William Carlos Williams, Angela Carter, Shirley Jackson, Alice Munro, Muriel Spark, Alison Bechdel, Shaun Tan, Maurice Sendak, John Burningham. 

Mar 15, 12:06AM EDT0
Where can one read your essays or get copies of your written materials?
Mar 11, 12:26PM EDT0

For international orders, both of my poetry collections can be found on Amazon:

However, they are written in the Indonesian language. I hope you can read in the language! 

My latest book, "Familiar Messes and Other Essays", which is written in English can be found here. It's a part of a three-book project called "Self-Portraits" (all written in English), showcasing the stories, experiences, thoughts of three women from different backgrounds. I suggest you contact the publisher contact.commabooks@gmail.com and ask them whether they can arrange shipment to your address. Maybe they'll be able to offer you a special price, if you order the three of them. :)

If you're interested in reading translations of my poems, you can order "Ajar Issue 5: song song || parallel" here. Ajar is a Vietnamese-based literary journal that publishes translated literary works from the Southeast Asia region. 

You can also find some of my works written in English on my blog, here and here.

Oh, if you need to see reviews of my works, you can find them on my Goodreads page.

Last edited @ Mar 15, 5:28AM EDT.
Mar 14, 2:34AM EDT0
Does Komunitas BungaMatahari have spoken word events too? Are many Indonesians interested in these events?
Mar 11, 10:09AM EDT0

Oh, yes. Other than regular spoken word/open mic events, Komunitas BungaMatahari has done poetry performances collaborating with musicians, mural artists, graphic designers, filmmakers, photographers, and a mime artist. These performances weren't only held in cafes and private venues, but also a public park, a train station and the lobby of cinema (this was where we did what we called a poetry flash mob). 

However, Komunitas BungaMatahari is in hiatus now (although people are still sending poems to our mailing list and FB group). I'm now involved in an initiative called PaviliunPuisi (which literally means Poetry Pavilion), aiming to bring together existing spoken word communities as well as individual poets and artists in Jakarta to collaborate and generate unique performances. For example, we've had a poem performed by a dancer, a poem translated into music created by modular analog instruments, and we're now in talks with a theatre company to create a theatrical sketch based on a poem. 

So it's definitely yes for your second question. Many are reading works written in other languages than Bahasa Indonesia too, such as Javanese, Sundanese or other traditional languages, and foreign languages, such as English. 

Mar 14, 2:04AM EDT0

Are you a full-time writer and poet or do you still have another day job?

Mar 11, 6:29AM EDT0

I've never had a full-time job in my life. When I was still a student, I took a part-time job teaching English for children. Then I worked as a freelance copywriter and translator for different types of clients. This was more than enough to pay the bills when I was still single.

After I received my Master's degree, I was a part-time lecturer for a few years, teaching creative writing for graphic designers for undergraduate students. But, after I had my break down and went into therapy, I had to pick and choose. This isn't to generalize that people with bipolar disorder are less productive than those without, though. It's more about knowing your limit, strengths and shortcomings.

I'm so much better now but I still have to prioritise. And for me right now it's good to focus on doing things related to writing and literature. This has proven to be going really well because I've never been so productive. It never occured to me before that I'd be able to publish three books in two years. And, I've recently taken the position as a poetry editor for a literary translation journal, InterSastra. So, I guess, it's safe to say that I'm a full-time writer/poet/editor. I'm lucky, very lucky. 

Last edited @ Mar 15, 5:32AM EDT.
Mar 14, 1:40AM EDT0
How does one become a member of Komunitas BungaMatahari?
Mar 11, 5:10AM EDT0

Just by participating in any of our events. Unfortunately, our last event was in 2015. But, the good news is, if you're in Jakarta, you can come to Paviliun Puisi, a monthly open mic event I help organize. For more information, you can visit and follow our Instagram.

Mar 13, 11:00AM EDT0
Is bipolar disorder curable with medications?
Mar 11, 3:02AM EDT0

There are many conflicting opinions about this. I myself like to say that it's manageable instead of curable. With the right treatment, healthy lifestyle and balanced diet, as well as support from family, friends and the society someone with bipolar disorder is in, he/she can lead a productive, purposeful life. 

Mar 13, 11:08AM EDT0
Are medications for bipolar disorder expensive?
Mar 10, 4:49PM EST0

In Indonesia, the most current and effective types of medication for mental illnesses are still expensive. Those that are covered by the national health insurance are generally less potent. However, it's still best to seek professional help. There are many types of treatment, which can be tailor-made to the patient's needs. I've heard that someone with mental illness regularly sees a psychiatrist to do talk therapy but, since she can't afford it, she doesn't buy the medication she needs. Instead, she engages herself in empowering activities that she enjoys. So she gets to channel her emotions while still under professional supervision. This seems to be working well for her.

Mar 13, 9:42AM EDT0
Aside from the compilation of your essays, have you published any books in the past?
Mar 10, 2:42PM EST0

Yes, I've published two poetry collections, "Kota Ini Kembang Api" and "Non-Spesifik". Both are written in the Indonesian language. 

Mar 13, 9:27AM EDT0
Do you write poems for others too? Like a dedication for a particular person?
Mar 10, 12:27PM EST0

Yes, but usually without the person asking me to do it for him/her. I've also written poems about the relationship I have with my husband and daughter but I don't specifally dedicate the poems to them. I dedicate my second book, "Non-Spesifik", for them, though. 

Mar 13, 7:32AM EDT0
Aside from writing, what are some of your personal hobbies and interests?
Mar 10, 11:22AM EST0

I really enjoy listening to music and watching films (I'm a Netflix addict!). My writing is also influenced by these forms of art. I'm shy about this but I kind of like to doodle. I also enjoy going to museums, whenever I can. Oh, I like taking pictures, too.

Mar 13, 7:27AM EDT0
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