I first set foot in the Philippines when I was 5 years old.
“Uy! Ang sarap po nito! Ano po ito?”
‘Pandesal, anak,” my Lola said, smiling as she watched me munch on a freshly-baked local bread at 4 in the morning. ‘Matulog ka na pagkatapos.’
We slept on the floor that night, all of us. Me, mom, ate, and little bel in her baby crib.
I slowly closed my eyes and thought this is the best day of my life! New environment, new world. I wish dad was here though.
I woke up disturbed and annoyed by loud wailing and banging of closet doors. Ate was running around the house, hysterical.
INIWAN NILA AKOOO! NASA’N ANG MAMA KO!!!
And alas, I was 5 years old when I first set foot in the Philippines, only to be left here by mother the next morning.
The excerpt above is what rewinds in my mind every single silent moment since that day. I’ve been trying to escape this memory for 19 years now. It seeps through my memory, my dreams, my fears and my whole being. A compulsion to play back this certain event over and over. I’m tired of it. I see no sense to it. My mind seems to think otherwise.
I grew up to be an achiever. Always early to school, complete in homework and seatwork, perfect in examinations. The reward I get every recognition ceremony is a pile of clothing, books, toys, shoes, bags, materials I have no use for.
I’ve always wondered why I’d always choose others over my family without thinking twice. As I grew older I began to realize why. My parents worked abroad their whole family life, only to return to the Philippines every few years or so for a few weeks and get back to work for another couple more years. I hear it every day, the classic sacrifice line, “We are doing this for your future, your education and basic needs.”
My material needs are given in a matter of a phone call. I study in one of the most prestigious university in the Philippines. I can take up double courses if I want to. I can live in a luxurious condominium. I can dine in fine restaurants every week if I want to. My material needs are taken care of, alright.
My other needs, however, are never fulfilled. I get to live alone in this expensive building, go home to pieces of furniture, and tell my sofa about my day; cry on my pillow for every failure I get. Laugh on the shows on TV and hug my teddy bears at night.
I celebrate Christmas in a house with my Lola and talk to my parents on the phone. Greet them for a few minutes and sleep the celebration off. I celebrate my New Year’s Eve with my neighbors who are kind enough to cook Media Noche for one more extra guest.
Independence seems fun, don’t you think? The whole house all to yourself. No one to tell you what to do. No one to force you to eat vegetables (I love bacon by the way. Bacon is life). No one to give you orders to sweep the floor, make your beds, do the laundry, wash the dishes and change the beddings. I get to go out with people whenever I want. I get to invite guests all over. I get to study in peace, hold group meetings. I get to budget my allowance, which one is for the bills, the laundry, the grocery, the internet and the rent. Adulting feels good, right? It is at first, when I thought I can do everything by myself; when I thought I did not need attention, time and concern from anyone. But at some point everything just becomes pointless if you have no family to witness your success, failures and learnings. No one to celebrate the important moments of your life with.
It seems like a normal part of puberty if you’d look at it in bird’s eye view. But what happens in between the superficial is what makes all the difference. It was when I, despite achieving well in school, even graduating with flying colors, felt like I had no purpose, no direction. I faint all the time for no triggered cause. I gradually dreaded my everyday life. I started to neglect meals, chores, bathing, going to school and socializing.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease is the most common medical diagnosis for an anxious kid. Bloated abdomen, vomiting, heartburn, diarrhea and anorexia. I got labeled the anorexic not knowing later on that I actually have the disease and so much more “mental” problems.
I have put upon others my own burden. I have changed into someone with no interest, no dreams, no passion and no goals. I became like a walking zombie. Then I decided to get checked.
‘We’ve already ran all the tests possible to determine what the problem is. CT Scan, Transrectal ultrasound, all the blood tests, ECG, EEG, x-rays, nothing. May you should go get checked by a faith healer,” the gastroenterologist finally told me after a whole year of medication with no improvement.
I walked out feeling like a big joke. Am I making things up? Am I possessed by some paranormal spirit?
My quest to find out what was wrong with me entailed expenses with no support from my parents and only from the little savings that I have. When the cash finally dropped dead, I decided to ask help from my parents.
“Ma, the psychiatrist thinks I have depression.”
‘Walang baliw sa pamilya natin! Nawawala ka lang sa landas! Magdasal ka, anak! Manalig sa Panginoon! Hindi Niya pinababayaan ang mga naniniwala sa kanya! Hindi totoo yang depression depression na yan.’
How would you feel if your own parents never understood you and judged you and worse never supported you in your health.
I am still under therapy as of present. And I would always blame my parents for my Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. But I’ve gone tired of cultivating hatred. I’m tired of letting them understand that these things are real and that they are real diseases.
I went to medical school with a scholarship despite my frailty and vulnerability. I knew things wouldn’t get easier in this road. And so came more stress, responsibilities, deadlines, information and examinations.
Failures came in piles as my year level increased. Failures that I couldn’t muster myself to rise from. Failures that eat me every day. I still get all the symptoms of the abovementioned diseases – palpitations, racing thoughts, flashback of the same traumatic moment, severe somnolence, anorexia, zero self-esteem and so much more.
I thought I wouldn’t make it up to third year. But I did and I’m still fighting for my every day. Still hoping that tomorrow will still grant me one more chance to conquer my inner demons. Still fighting for this advocacy of change, of awareness, that it is never too late. There is always a way to change things as long as you don’t stop believing.
I decided to take on big roles to drown my lack of purpose and lack of self-esteem. It works actually. It enables me to turn my attention to others instead of my inadequacies. It enabled me to feel normal and able to help others. This helps me a lot, too.
I started building my support group, a few people who understand and have enough patience to listen to my ramblings about the same things over and over – my psychiatrist, two friends, my sister and my Catholic group.
I program myself to believe for one day. One day is enough for me. To fool myself that today might be my last day, might as well believe in myself for once. And repeat it the next day, and the next and the next…
My parents still do not believe that mental illnesses are real and serious, life-threatening diseases.
But I believe. I believe in you. I believe in your story.
This is my story.