I sometimes ask myself what I could have possibly done in a past life to be so lucky in this present one. I say this while on a solo trip to France and feeling very blessed.
This was not how it was early this year, or the last two years for that matter. You see, I was going through a depression without realizing it. My last time to be diagnosed with clinical depression was when I was 16; so after two decades, I didn’t think it was possible to go through it again.
For the longest time, I didn’t really know what was wrong with me. I felt extremely negative, constantly annoyed, and nothing and no one could make me feel better. I blamed it on the stress of work and single motherhood and brushed it off for a very long time.
But depression is persistent. It won’t just go away even if you ignore it. In fact, it presses your buttons harder and more frequently because it needs to be noticed.
All of a sudden, I needed everything around me to be perfect. Heck, I needed to be perfect. Everything had to be in place, but the more I tried desperately to make everyone around me happy, the more miserable I became. No matter how good my intentions were, things were definitely falling apart, and only a few people I am truly grateful for noticed it, and didn’t brush it off as me being “negative,” or “hard to deal with.”
It was my ex-boyfriend, whom I also consider one of my best friends, who pointed it out to me and suggested I go see my former therapist. He knew my history, but never really experienced it full force, until then.
At first, I did not want to even consider that I was depressed. I was an adult, and all adults know that life isn’t going to be rainbows and butterflies all the time. I was convincing myself that I was just living the life of a normal grown-up, one with responsibilities and problems to deal with.
Then I realized that the rest of my “grown-up” friends did not seem to have as much trouble dealing with their issues as I did.
I started to feel heavy and wanted someone to carry me for a while. But at the same time, I did not want to ask for help. I didn’t want to be a burden so I turned inwards—until I imploded.
I knew I needed help when I started drinking every single day by myself. Once, I was on my way to my parents’ house with a few friends to make dinner when my daughter actually said something like, “Okay, at around 5, my mom will get drunk and then she will start crying.” I laughed it off, but it startled me—definitely a reality check. And yet, it still took me a few more months to call my therapist again.
Drinking to forget
I was drinking to forget, and having alcohol in my system made it easier for me to stop feeling horrible. I would find all the excuses to pour myself a drink—it’s happy hour, I’m cooking, I’m feeling good today, I feel gross today, it’s 1 p.m.
Another thing that made me think like something was really wrong was when I felt like I wanted to go out and get hit by a truck—not because I wanted to die, but because I wanted to feel something. You see, depression isn’t just feeling down all the time. It’s also long periods of numbness, of not feeling a single thing. I’m still not sure which is worse.
I don’t even know how I went from being fine—an independent, open-minded woman who felt she had the whole world to conquer—to a fearful, overthinking, indecisive mess. It wasn’t pretty to look at, yet I hid it so well, most people had no idea what I was going through.
I tried to keep up appearances by overworking and overdoing everything. It seemed that as long as I made everyone happy, I didn’t have to let my vulnerability or weakness show. In order to make this easier, everything had to be black and white. There was no space in my life for gray areas. I simply did not have the strength for it.
In the span of two years, I broke up with someone; started dating another one who could not commit to me and vice versa; lost my best friend; started a new job, overworked myself until I burned out; started retreating into my room and watching dumb shows during my free time; and left Manila as much as I could to escape.
I basically broke many things along the way, and a lot of which I probably can’t fix.
Of course, this made me feel even worse. It felt like everything was my fault, that people expected so much from me, and that I cared so much about what other people thought, when I never really did.
I was irrational, unpredictable and also developed body dysmorphia. I wouldn’t consider myself anorexic because I ate, but I definitely saw a 500-lb woman in the mirror when I looked at my 97-lb frame. I was so obsessed with my stomach being too big and my thighs touching that it was a constant battle between what my logical mind said (“You are not fat”) and what my crazy eyes saw in the mirror. I talked about weight so much, it drove me crazy.
Now, I realize, it was a form of me being in control, at a time when I felt like I had none. I was in a tailspin and was holding on to anything that made sense.
I finally started on medication after seeing a psychiatrist to get a real diagnosis. After months of talk therapy, I still felt as if nothing had changed; and after six months of being urged to go on meds again, I finally agreed.
Anyone who has been on antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication knows it’s no walk in the park. The first two weeks were miserable; just on the second night I was shaking so hard and had so much paranoia and anxiety that I felt like jumping out the window of my 16th floor apartment.
I wasn’t suicidal; I just wanted to get rid of the feeling of panic and dread.
My first medication also made me want to eat only sugar and carbs. After a month, I asked my doctor to change it, because people with body dysmorphia should not be given any reason to look for what else is wrong with their bodies.
You may ask how one becomes depressed, or how you know if you are, or just having a bad day. Here are a few clues:
You feel sad or off for over two weeks, without knowing why, and you can’t just “shake it off.”
You either sleep too much and can’t get out of bed, or can’t sleep at all. At my worst, I would sleep for three hours a day, run around all day and exhaust myself and I still couldn’t sleep when I was in bed at night.
You become defensive and blow things out of proportion. A small thing becomes a huge mess, about everyone attacking you, or…
You just don’t care. It’s one or the other. It seemed as if I was either a crazy person on crack or someone who just woke up from an overly sedated sleep.
You try to hide your issues as much as possible by overworking, overcompensating, being too giving towards people and pretending everything is fine. In my case, I realized it in the middle of everything, but it took a few more months to accept it.
You can’t make decisions and overthink everything. You can’t let go of past issues, you are terrified of the future and your present becomes nonexistent—one big blur of fear, agitation and sadness.
You feel guilty about everything. You feel worthless most days and undeserving of anything good. I think this is why I needed approval from everyone all the time.
You lose or gain large amounts of weight. In my case, I went down to the size of a prepubescent child. I still thought I could lose more.
In a worst-case scenario, you get suicidal thoughts, and if left untreated, might even attempt suicide.
There are different kinds of depression. There is major depression or clinical depression, which is what I tend to have. This can be genetic and rooted in a chemical imbalance that is triggered by certain life events or situations. There is dysthymia, or chronic depression, a milder form that can last two years or more. It has the same symptoms as clinical depression, but perhaps not as intense. Then there is postpartum depression, experienced after giving birth; and manic depression, where you swing from lows to highs.
Depression and other mental illnesses are not easy to talk about, and what pains most of us with such conditions is that a lot of people still don’t take it seriously. I have heard everything from “stop with the drama” to “Just count your blessings, there is so much to be thankful for.”
The thing is, depressed people know this logically, but nothing in the world can make us feel it or believe it. You would not tell a person with a physical illness like cancer to “just get over it.”
It is the same with depression and other forms of mental illness. We are not crazy. We are not negative people at heart. We have to adjust chemicals in our brain for us to see the world as it is, and not as our depression tells us it is. With talk therapy, and if needed, medication, it is possible for us to live not just a normal life, but a very happy life again.
Although many unfortunate things happened during this time in my life, I still believe that the positive things outweighed the negatives. I’ve become a softer person, less judgmental, less set in my ways. I’ve become more understanding and compassionate. I’m learning to stop apologizing for being who I am or wanting what I want.
I’m trying to become a better mother to my daughter. And most importantly, I’m excited about the rest of my life again.
Many people chase many things in life, try to keep up with the Joneses and try to acquire as much as they can materially as a sign of success. For me, at the end of my life, the only thing I need to know to gauge success is that I love myself and I am at peace. For a depressed person, that is the greatest achievement of all.