On my back is a tattoo of the Christogram ChiRho. It is believed to be the symbol that was shown to Constantine before going into battle. The sign was supposedly accompanied with the phrase “In hoc signo vinces”. In this sign, conquer.
I had the tattoo done last November. I had no plans to form an empire but I had every intention to conquer that which was slowly trying to kill me.
It is no longer a secret that I have battled with depression and anxiety. When I first wrote about it, I was afraid of how people would react. It’s difficult to admit to mental health issues in a culture that prides itself on resilience and the ability to smile while a storm is raging, literally. I was afraid of how this would affect my job, as well. Then I realized that this fear of being labeled cuckoo for cocoa puffs was the one thing I had to overcome if I wanted to help myself and other people. So I made a pact with a good friend to come out of the closet together. We blogged about our condition on the same day and hit publish together.
Within a few hours, my blog had a lot of hits and I was receiving messages of support from friends and strangers alike. They said it was a relief to find out that they were not alone, that there are people like them who also had difficulty getting up in the morning not because they had a good time the night before but simply because they saw no reason to rise from the bed. One friend said that she felt I had written her inner monologue.
The feedback surprised me. I was not expecting the outpouring of love and appreciation from so many people. I also did not realize that a handful of my friends and acquaintances have had to seek professional help to cope with their own mental health issues. Admitting to everyone that I had a black dog cleared a path for me, one that I never thought I’d be treading.
It suddenly dawned on me that my purpose in life is to promote mental health awareness and help people break their bell jars. Don’t get me wrong, I am not forgetting my role as a researcher, unconventional mother to my son, and personal bombshell to my husband. It’s just that when you’re in the throes of depression, none of these roles or titles are important. You can’t tend to your responsibilities efficiently because there is a vortex of dark emotions (and sometimes, nothingness) that sucks the pleasure out of everything. I think of depression as a thief that robs people of their birthright to enjoy life.
To serve as support system for people who battle mental health disorders is a daunting task for me. After all, what do I know? I’m not a doctor. I don’t have a psychology degree. Heck, I myself work at keeping my black dog on a tight leash. What I do know though is that depression is not something that a person should have to go through alone. This was made even clearer to me when a friend who suffers from bipolar disorder told me about the dark thoughts that were swirling in her head. I sometimes feel anxious because I’m not physically there to help her. There are also times that I’d get emotionally exhausted at having to feel so much but as my husband pointed out, “When you commit to someone, you don’t give up when you’re tired. You rest and then you get back up.”
So I’m committing myself to mental health awareness. I promise to keep my lines open for people who want to talk about what’s bothering them. I pledge to set aside 5% of my earnings to subsidize treatments. I promise to be gentle with people who don’t understand what it’s like for people like us and freely use the terms “saltik, baliw, may sayad” to describe us. These people suffer not from disorders but from ignorance and educating them should be part of mental health advocacy.
My sledgehammer is ready. Let’s smash some bell jars.