It took some time for me to meet John (not his real name) since he still came from Nueva Ecija. We decided to meet at the time he planned to go to Manila to receive the results of his application for med school. However, things didn’t turn out well for him prior to our meet, since he was denied by the school without an explanation. He was devastated because knew he was qualified so he couldn’t understand why. The only reason he can pinpoint was his disclosure of his mental illness during the interview. He didn’t think it would be a basis for discrimination. Apparently, he felt that it was a wrong move for him.
On that day was also my interview for my school application because I’m planning to study again. I decided to also disclose my history of mental illness despite John telling me not to because I’d rather live my truth. I cannot accept my capabilities being defined by a mere diagnosis of a mental illness. I have no idea how they will take it as I am still waiting for the results of my school application as well.
The stigma for mental illness is still widespread in the world which is why I’m doing this small project as a contribution to make a change. First and foremost, we are all human beings before our diagnoses and I believe that we all deserve a chance to live the life we aspire.
Tell me about yourself
I’m a 26 year-old licensed med lab scientist. I was diagnosed with severe depression, generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder).
When did your mental illness start?
I believe it came from an early age. I remember being an overachiever since my elementary school years, being consistently top 1 in the class. My mom, who’s a teacher, is a perfectionist and from a very young age, my older sister and I were constantly pressured by her every single freakin’ day. We were subjected to emotional and verbal abuse and were cussed out for making even the tiniest mistakes. Basically, be perfect or be dead. That was our household. At home, It’s just us three — my sister, mom and I who’s there. My dad was always in Cavite for work. He comes home every weekend but just sleeps the entire day since he’s tired. We don’t see him.
Dropping to top 2
When I was 6 years-old, from being the top 1 in class, I dropped to top 2. As punishment, my mom slid me inside a rice sack and hung me upside down in our bathroom. I was crying heavily the first hour until it turned to whimpers the following hour. After 2 hours, my sister released me once my mom left the house. I started self-harming at the same age this incident happened.
This actually led to a recent confrontation with my mom. My mom apologized to us and we sort of reconciled about it. Depression seems to run in our genetics. She explained that she also had her own issues before like feeling like a single parent even if she’s not.
You started self-harm at 6 years old?
Because my dad was collecting knives and he’s always away. I don’t know… it just made sense to cut myself. I remember it very clearly, it was Christmas and I was assigned to light up the advent wreath when my teacher saw my scars and asked me, “What’s this? Why is there a lot? Where did you get this?” I didn’t know what to answer so I just said, “Don’t tell my mom or she’ll hit me.” so she didn’t tell.
So they just let it be? I can imagine myself feeling deep concern for a child if I ever see that.
The principal confronted my mom after that. Try to predict what happened after that.
I can see her getting mad at you for causing her shame.
There were a lot of f-cked up moments in my childhood. My mom also had work so my sister and I learned to cook and do house chores at a young age. Often, we were left to our aunt and uncle next door. My uncle has a kumpare (close male friend) who frequently isolated me and touched my genitals when I was 7 years-old. Until it came to a point where I couldn’t handle it anymore so I kicked his hand and I ran home crying. It lasted less than 6 months because I didn’t let it go further. And every time my mom made us go there, she was objected with my protests and tantrums. My sister also insisted not to go there anymore and told my mom she can take care of me. Until now, I don’t want to be alone with another guy. I’m not comfortable even being alone with my dad inside the car.
Your mom seems to exhibit narcissism.
Both of my parents are; however, my father is more narcissistic. My mom was more of suffering from depression and emotional abuse from my dad then she just resorts to taking it out on her children.
My dad is a narcissist. Now, I can confidently say he’s one. I can see all the symptoms of his narcissism. His attitude is like, every time I express an opinion, the first thing that comes out of his mouth is, “you act like you know more than me.” So I learned how to just let it in one ear and out the other.
Depression became normal
I knew I had depression but I didn’t put so much attention to it since I’ve lived with it for so long that it became normal to me. Recently, I found out that it was a condition and not all people are like that and it came like an epiphany to me.
My whole life I was a loner. I don’t go out and socialize. Looking at the description of introvert in the dictionary, you may see a picture of me there. I was fine with that set-up until I don’t know what happened and I started yearning for companionship.
I met her during my internship year in the hospital. We were group mates, so it’s always the same five people all night for 16 hour shifts. It was how we got to know each other. She was my first girlfriend. I’ve always been the shy, introverted type and suffered from low self-esteem. I hated the way I looked. I was surprised that she would like me, I mean, look at me. I’m the type of guy no girl will like.
My first suicide attempt was two years before, when I found out I was Hepatitis B positive, possibly from all the self mutilation I did as far back as grade school. I’ve always hated myself. And now here was a person who somehow managed to look past all that. It felt surreal.
Our relationship felt like a fairy tale. Her family is wealthy and I’m not. She’s used to nice things and I was never able to provide her that. I never brought her to fancy dates or gave her expensive things which I blame myself all the time for. At first, I thought it was fine but when we went to medical school which was a rich kids’ territory, she easily formed a circle of friends who are like her and they were able to give her what I couldn’t for 4 years. She recognized what she was missing out so she broke up with me on my birthday.
My girlfriend and I both dreamt of becoming doctors. The whole first year of medical school, I started feeling that she was growing distant towards me so I decided enough was enough. I was going to show her I could be what she wanted and deserved so I worked the whole summer vacation. My father’s an engineer, so I worked as a laborer in his construction site. He hated the idea and I had to beg him for it. It was embarrassing for him because he was paying for my med school and I’ll just be mixing concrete. I wasn’t making enough so I immediately got a second job at his friend’s metal fabrication shop where it was mostly deliveries and assemblies. During the delivery hours, I spent time reading lessons for the upcoming 2nd year of med school in the truck.
I planned to take her to Manila Ocean Park and buy her something from Forever 21 since she loves that brand, even printing an itinerary for that day because I wanted everything to go well.
When she came into the apartment on my birthday, she told me she was leaving me. She said the last two months of vacation that she wasn’t with me, didn’t see me, hear from me were the happiest she’s ever been in 4 years.
I didn’t know how to react. I sat in my room until she left and just looked at the itinerary I printed out in the corner. I had us booked for a couple’s massage at 4:30 pm. I wondered who they would give the slot to now. I looked out the window and felt the coldest wind hit me in the face, but it was closed. I realized all the blood left my face somehow. Then I started crying. That’s when I first felt the full hit of depression. From normal depression, it shifted to severe.
Second year of med school
Second year of med school rolled around. I couldn’t focus. It’s hard when I always see her there laughing with her friends. So I didn’t go to school anymore. I’d wake up every day, stay in bed and just cry. I’d read my books and only go to school during scheduled quizzes. After that, I’d beat a quick retreat back to the building we shared. I’d see the lights in her room turned on all night and hear them laughing inside.
It’s like the entire 4 years of our relationship was nothing. Although now I can understand. She deserves better compared to what she’d been through with me. I don’t feel any resentment anymore. If I could do it all over again, I won’t say hi to her when we were still in the lab. I’ll just let her be happy because I feel bad for her for tolerating me for 4 years. It’s hard to be with me because I’m a depressed guy. You can’t build a relationship on just being sweet and caring all the time. Women need more. She needed more. But that was all I could give. All I could give was my love, and I gave her all of it and I left none for myself.
I had 2 suicide attempts while in the relationship. I asked her if there’s a chance to get back together and she told me, “I can eat in the nicest restaurants, I can go wherever I want, buy whatever I want and I have no future with you.” It’s hard to admit, but it’s true.
Before Christmas last year, I went to the dean’s office to ask for recommendations for a psychiatrist and started getting therapy and taking medications.
Despite seeking help, I still had a third suicide attempt. It was after midterms, the night before valentines. I bought a gun. No serial number and impossible to trace. I buried it in an abandoned parking lot, 15 minutes away from my building. I did it so that I had 15 minutes to think things over and another ten minutes to dig it out of the ground. It was wrapped up in a black garbage bag and stuffed inside a small canvas sack. I made sure there was a round in the chamber, pulled the hammer back, stick the barrel in my mouth and bit down hard so I can sever my brain stem in one shot instead of just giving me brain damage. I felt the most overwhelmingly powerful wave of peace just wash over me then. Then I pulled the trigger, and nothing happens. I felt it click and nearly had a heart attack. I try again and nothing.
I spent around 15 minutes reading the damn manual until I realize the pin’s not hitting the bullet. The joker I bought it from said it was a 9mm modified to be chambered with 45 caliber rounds but now I think he got it mixed up or some shit. I can’t even kill myself properly. So now I’m in the middle of a damp field, with a gun that won’t fire, and I feel a million times worse. So I ran home. It was already around 1 am.
I always have a plan B. I bought a length of nylon rope the day before at the hardware store. So I made the noose, swung it over the beam above my room and wrapped the noose with a wet handkerchief so it doesn’t slice my head off and give my poor mother a heart attack when the police find my corpse. And as I was thinking that, I saw my phone blinking and read my mom’s message, “Anak, I know you’re probably sad because it’s Valentines. We’re all coming over tomorrow okay? We’ll eat out, so just hang in there okay? We all love you very, very much”. I keep scrolling and my phone’s filled with messages of friends I haven’t spoken to in years. “In case nobody told you today, I love you very much” they all said. And I cried. I packed my bag, ran to the bus station and flew home. I got home at 5:00 am. My family was right there ready to go to me and I started crying. Then my mother started crying, then my sister. It was a bit weird because I’m not vocal about my personal issues. The one thing I’m expert at is I can hide everything that’s why no one knows about my depression and suicide attempts.
After that, I quit med school. I dropped out and focused on my recovery — medications and therapy.
Did seeking a psychiatrist help?
No. Therapy wasn’t effective for me. I didn’t like his methods. He doesn’t let me finish what I say. He will cut me after the first 5 words out of my mouth and will make a litany out of the few words I’ve said. His analysis were hit and miss but there were more misses.
I’m taking an anti-depressant but I’m just enduring the side effects which are nausea and muscle weakness. It evens out my mood swings. For suicide, I still want to die, honestly. I don’t look forward to the following days. Everything seems pointless.
Actually, when I told my story about my girlfriend to my psychiatrist, He told me that what my girlfriend was emotionally abusive. For 4 years, we fought a lot. She had a nasty temper, always had. She’d yell at me, hit me, belittle me and make me feel inferior and worthless. I got used to it. I get hurt but I still love her. My rationale that time was I am the one who’s difficult to be with but she still chose to stay with me. I think I deserved that treatment and anything that I do, that’s still my truth until now. I can’t do whatever the doctor says because I’m the one who experienced it, not him.
However, I have recently stopped therapy due to lack of funds.
How is your progress to recovery?
Actually, if I’m going to compare myself now from December, there’s already a big improvement. I would say I had a 50-60% improvement since then. I’m still in a dark place but it’s more manageable.
What were the biggest factors that helped you?
Number one is support system. Have a good support system. My sister is very supportive. My parents don’t believe in mental illness. They just told me I didn’t pray as much and that it’s all in my mind.
Another thing is being at peace with myself, whatever that means. Like not to blame myself for every single mistake that I make in the past. Knowing my limitations and being compassionate towards myself. I hate who I am but I need to learn how to love — Well, not so much love, but to live with myself. I can’t love myself.
Share Your Story is a project aiming to provide mental health awareness by featuring stories of people who are courageously willing to share their experiences in struggling with a mental illness.