Smash The Bell Jar

 

Smash the Bell JarOn 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.

Mind Games

 

“It’s all in your head.”

How many times have I heard that before?

Just because it’s all in my head doesn’t mean it doesn’t infiltrate every fiber of my being. Many poignant pieces have been written by people who have gone down this route and each essay, poem, blog post, or whathaveyou has been praised as brave and authentic and hauntingly beautiful… but there is nothing beautiful when you are the one battling demons.

On paper, your life is good, you have a job, family and friends who love you back, and hobbies that should be keeping you entertained, yet there are days when you don’t want to get out of bed and nights when you think it won’t be much of an issue if you don’t wake up tomorrow. You are afraid to tell others because they may not understand and you just want to convince yourself that nothing is wrong with you. That this, too, shall pass. You get mad at yourself for feeling this way because other people are financially worse off but seem to manage better. Or maybe they are just as good as hiding it as you are. You go to Church, hoping for a miracle but you feel stupid and a failure as a Christian because you cannot seem to appreciate the life that has been given to you. So you keep it all to yourself until it becomes too much and it boils over to the surface. One minute you are okay, the next you are raving mad at someone for failing to get your order right. Sometimes you cry just because the crumpled paper you meant to shoot in the trash bin misses its mark. Every emotion is magnified and you are desperate for a way to release this pain from your body. You finally decide to tell others. Most of them are sympathetic, others not so much.

“It’s all in your head.”

Yes, it’s all in my head and that’s what makes it more frightening. The fact that it’s inside me and I cannot challenge it to a duel or a wrestling match or a flip-top battle.

Depression is real and ugly. I wish I didn’t know this from first-hand experience but I do. I’ve been there and hated every minute of it. I hated feeling powerless over my thoughts despite the number of self-help books I’d devour to make myself feel better. I hated dealing with people who told me I should quit being so dramatic. I hated not being able to tell anyone at the risk of being judged. I hated myself for being weak and ashamed of my condition. I was known as a strong, independent woman and while the rest of the world saw that, my mind only saw myself as a helpless soul chained by depression.

But then the time came when I couldn’t take it anymore and had to choose between my desire to live and the thing that was eating me alive. And so early this year I sought therapy. Some friends thought it was ludicrous, the idea of paying someone to hear you talk. A few even volunteered to be my sounding board if I just pay them instead but there is no substitute for a real professional. The money I spent in therapy was the best money I ever spent in my entire life. I hated the first two sessions because they brought to light the deepest pains and angst I thought were safely buried in a long-forgotten place but there can never be true healing without probing. With each session, I felt better and more in control of my thoughts and my reactions towards the rest of the world. My mind became a friendlier place to live in and I became more at peace with the thoughts that take place in it every second.

But it is never over. One simply isn’t just “done” with therapy because even though my therapist said that I was good to go, my work to choose more positive thoughts is to be done daily.

Why am I sharing this story? Because I found out that a former classmate has succumbed to her battle with depression and it breaks my heart knowing that someone so beautiful and smart and vivacious has had to fight with demons. We never went beyond hi, hello, and good morning in class yet I could relate to her because of her pain. If this post can encourage at least one person to seek help, then I have served my purpose.

People who are battling cancer and other illnesses are praised for being courageous but the world isn’t as supportive to those who struggle with mental illness. If you feel that your most of your days are bleaker than usual, I beseech you to seek help. You are a beautiful creature worthy of a happy life and no matter how you may be feeling right this minute, YOU ARE LOVED. I am just a text, tweet, message, or e-mail away.