Broken minds are like sandcastles. They are built, drawn up from the pebbles and seawater, as if wrapped in gel and formed into our greatest masterpieces – and then torn down by everything else. The condescending waves crash down and wash them away; sometimes, they crumble even before they’re ever built up, flimsy on trembling hands or withered bones; sometimes – whether consciously or unconsciously – someone kicks them down. The heavy crowns around the skulls of those minds become rusted and cracked, and their “audiences” cease to listen. The world to them is deaf and blind, limbless and hopeless. But the worst part? To the world, they are deaf and blind. They are limbless and hopeless.

There are so many ways to conveniently describe what others began to think about me. “Ah, he’s just a crybaby, can’t handle making a mistake.” “Bumagsak lang sa exam, nagwala na siya.” “Stay away from him or else he’ll punch you.” Of course, these words are all speculations that I think would run through bystanders minds. But before any of these make sense, there are some things about me I need to talk about. For one… as you might surmise, I wasn’t exactly the quiet type. Since I was four years old, I would do the rowdiest things, like dressing up in my Superman outfit and leaping off chairs, wrestling (yes, performing wrestling maneuvers) with my classmates, and indulging in all the newest and latest games. I was into a lot of sports, too, bringing a basketball or a dodgeball to the playground every other day. What’s more is that I was consistently one of the top in my class, one of the tallest in the batch, and one of the more active students in clubs and group leadership. I had friends who had all the same interests and from different spectra among the cliques in the batch. At home, I was well-cared for by parents and caretakers alike, and my dreams about Pokemon, superheroes, and adventures almost literally roared to life. Seems fantastic, right? Like all the blessings were right there in front of me, a good future stirred before me.

But at some point, while building my “sandcastle of glory”, something started going wrong. No matter how hard I try to recall, I could never pinpoint a certain moment when things went awry, but I could never forget the surge of bodily phenomena, like an “aura” to something disastrous. I would get called by the guidance counselor for some misconduct or “overreaction” incidents; my head would go hot, and the cold, damp feeling in my chest would just not disappear. It’s reached a point wherein I would stay up past midnight every night, trying to calm my mind with procrastination and a bandwidth of thoughts away from the idea that there was something wrong with me, losing my balance and exploding all the time. Everyone, even my family, began criticizing me for being uncontrollable, even publicly calling me a “time bomb that would just go into tantrums” on a school magazine. Is that all I was worth, on a school publication no less?

High school eventually came, and this is where, as they say, the feces hits the fan. I noticed everyone was getting taller, and I seemingly was getting shorter. The world seemed a lot bigger, too, and I eventually lost my honor roll. I’ve had too many embarrassing or awkward moments to count, and after being called “stupid” by a classmate, I completely lost it.

Authority figures would dismiss my behavior to nothing more than overreaction to low grades and would even give me points up merely to appease than anger. To me at the time, that was more than insensitive; that was insulting. However, I truly lost all faith in authority when one day, as I sat on the corridor crying waterfalls while doing homework to distract myself, I was caught by a prefect. In our school, students weren’t allowed on the corridors on break time, but I sensed he knew something was wrong because soon after he left, I heard a fast-paced set of footsteps getting closer and closer. It was the guidance counselor, and, after a loud-voiced berating from him, he told me to go to the restroom and wash my tears, go to the canteen, and eat. No, more like ordered me to. The guidance counselor! Obviously, I had so many racing thoughts and seeping memories that I needed to say, but if even the school counselor refused to just listen to me, this felt like the nail in the coffin, shutting my SOS away into a casket and locked tight.

Everything else toppled like dominoes one after another. My grades were badly slipping, I no longer played basketball with any of my “friends” who were probably ashamed to be close to me at that point, and I cried everyday. Classmates started talking about me behind my back and selling me off as some kind of monster in the forest you’re forbidden to enter, and this eventually spread even to our sister school, where it was more than hard to find a prom date because of it. I started slashing my wrist until it was jagged and painted red… with a ballpen. Yeah, I had no guts to use a sharper edge or see my own blood or feed those to the crows. I was still scared to die, and scared stiff to even live. But the only things that kept me alive were one or two friends and my family’s value of constant prayer and fighting spirit. All I had to give were my long, ominous letters to a shadowed audience, trying to convey the trenches of my mind just for the sake of it. Maybe a part of me wanted someone to read this someday and help me. But I wasn’t sure if that meant too much to me after all because I was already firmly believing that everything I did was my fault.

This was all until I had my fated fall from grace, literally. I actually thought, finally, I would die by accident, but quite miraculously, even after falling three-stories high, I only broke both my arms and a leg, where the doctor at the emergency room said that they expected a full recovery after half a year. It was first time I was ever hospitalized or needed such avid care from my family, who were there 24/7. What surprised me was that nobody blamed me for what happened, and all of a sudden, people were either empathetic or apologetic, and friends and classmates came just to see me and talk to me. Wow, something that wasn’t my fault? Wow, people who are genuinely interested in whatever part of me was broken.

Eventually, this became a school phenomenon as I was now known as “the boy who fell and lived” and was the reason the wall-climbing wall had to be shut down. However, what I really kept was what the school director told me when he visited me, that I had “extraordinary times with God.” I worked hard to get back on my feet since then, and five months later, I graduated with honors, finally deciding I wanted to study to become a medical physician.

Today is six years later, and it all sounds like one big happily-ever-after, but in truth, it wasn’t. What I or other people like me sustained over those years would be welded scars, still throbbing to this day. I can honestly say that today I am finally seeing a psychiatrist for assessment. There is no diagnosis yet, but I realized a number of things that patterned my behavior today to how I was back then. Yes, I still have outbursts and panic attacks. Yes, I still die inside every time I fail at something. And now that I am an adult, I can’t help but wonder, what-if. What if back then I was suffering much more than I was being let on? What if the counselors had taken the time to see if my mind was developing something more than they were dismissing? What if I had been treated as early as then? All questions, but at least in this end, I am wise enough to say that things are – luckily – turning out for the better.

Still, this is an everlasting caveat in my mind. These internal and mental struggles baffle our culture because everything about it is new, against the norm, and extremely persistent. And because of that, more times than not, a child, adolescent, or even adult would hide these feelings. Perhaps so many people would argue to this, that we “all go through hardship, through life,” but how ignorant do we have to be to say that the unique inhabitants of the world would not go through it differently? In my case, I was fortunate for my family and friends in the end… but what about those who are not as lucky or are scraping the sands with blood fingernails and a lost voice? There are souls who go through worse, and in more ways than a bystander can possibly imagine.

Broken minds are like sandcastles – the hallways are numerous, but every one of them has crumbled into stone. They are beaten, washed, scraped, muddled, and forgotten. They can barely be seen over the roaring waves, and one day, they might just be gone.