I began writing about my depression by realizing that I don’t know how to write about my depression. I write to make sense of my life. I put difficult experiences inside neat boxes and present them to the world. I’ve done it with my most painful breakup, and I even managed to do it with my mother’s death. Somewhere in every tragedy, there is a narrative—a beginning, a climax, an ending. I befriended a man in college. We fell in love. We broke up. My mom got diagnosed with a large brain tumor in 2006. She had three brain surgeries and her health declined slowly for 11 years. She passed away.
I can’t seem to figure out my depression’s beginning, climax, and ending, not because I haven’t thought of my illness’ story. I have, in dozens of iterations.
I have thought of it as another parallel between my mother’s life and mine, like our gardening. She and I were both sick in the brain. My illness, invisible. Hers, painfully visible. I have thought of it in terms of my life in the academia and how my depression has drastically changed the way I view my students, how I interact with them in the classroom, and how it has helped me to finally put half of my wall down when teaching. I have thought of it in terms of the Philippine medical system and how it is so difficult for someone with mental illness to get the treatment they need because it is painfully expensive and stigmatized.
I have thought of it in terms of love, and how the love of my family and friends has sustained me day after day after day. I have thought of it in relation to my faith, how healing from mental illness is salvation that is afforded to me by the blood of Christ on the cross. I have thought about my depression a lot and, for a long time, constantly, that I even attempted to write my master’s thesis about it.
I can also tell the story in vignettes: In four journals, in the span of 10 years, I have written versions of “I feel an emptiness inside me that I can’t explain.” It always felt like drowning, or sometimes it felt like my internal organs had turned into lead overnight, a literal weight on my chest. I wrote about how I sometimes gasp for air, and in one journal, I even drew a picture of me drowning in a dark sea.
In June 2019, I helped my best friend plan her wedding while feeling numb. I went through the motions of happiness, mirroring what I see happy people do while feeling absolutely nothing. I remember the guilt and the frustration. I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand why I couldn’t be happy for my best friend.
In July of the same year, I finally got help when I first had thoughts of ending my life. I remember lying on our living room sofa after a long day of crying and taking an internet quiz entitled, “Are you depressed?” from the website of New Zealand’s Ministry of Health. I scored high and was advised to seek professional help.
I jotted down all my symptoms in my small leather notebook (lack of energy, feelings of hopelessness, very little sleep) that I read to my psychiatrist when I came to meet her for a free consultation. The meeting had to be quick, because 20 other people were waiting in line. After the consultation, I took the scenic route home. I looked at the trees and the skies. I even took a picture of the view. It was such a beautiful day, yet I had to tell a stranger how I just wanted to up and disappear. The beauty had nothing to do with what was happening in my mind. It felt like two different realities.
There were times that seemed hilarious in retrospect. My friends, who are also colleagues, would take turns to go to my house in the morning to bring me breakfast and bring me to work. There were times I wanted to avoid them and attempted to stay still and pretend that nobody was home. I didn’t fool them. They took me to drives around the campus. They would take me to dinner. They never made me feel guilty for just sitting there, saying nothing.
A few months into treatment, while driving to Cagayan, I told my other best friend how I was so thankful that he helped me get through my depression, thinking that I was well and that the worst was over. I felt better. The voice in my mind that told me I was useless was gone. I thought that was the end of depression. It was gone forever. I remember being so wrong.
In February this year, with seven months’ worth of medicine and therapy, I realized that I still felt like life is not worth living. I stopped going to therapy. I had elaborate plans for suicide, but thankfully, I didn’t have the energy to put them into action. A month passed.
I told my therapist this. I cried and cried as I explained to her why it would be better for everyone if I just died. She told me that my feelings are not facts. She told me that life is worth living. She told me that I needed to forgive myself.
So I did. I forgave myself for things that happened when I was young. I finally acknowledged that I did not kill my mother by being an absentee daughter, and that I didn’t deserve to die in return to make things right. I finally afforded myself the grace and forgiveness that Jesus has already won for me. I was free.
The end of depression is not happiness. The end of depression is normalcy, being fine. It is difficult to describe fine. It is reacting to life’s stimuli correctly. Getting angry when I should be angry. Being tired after a full day’s work. Being happy, truly happy, and not merely imitating happy people. Normalcy for me is wanting connection from others. It is anticipating a new day before I sleep at night. Normalcy is opening a savings account because, for the first time in years, I believe that I will live long enough to spend money in the future—that I have a future. These things may seem mundane, but after years of wanting to disappear, they mean so much to me.