I Didn’t Understand Mental Illness Until I Was Diagnosed With Depression


Trigger warning: Depression, thoughts of self-harm

I was diagnosed with clinical depression. The first thing I thought was, “Oh, so I’m one of them now.” Them, as in the people who have mental health conditions that I didn’t think of as that serious of a condition until I had it. Yes, I was one of the uncaring—no, uninformed—individuals. I never fully understood what depression was and what it does to people. But to be more precise, I didn’t want to know because it didn’t matter to me.

Before I found out, I gradually felt intense feelings. Some days I just wanted to curl up to a ball and cry in silence, and others I’d throw an insane tantrum, not caring who was on the receiving end. What goes on in my head ranges from being aware that I’m having an episode to wanting to go out and get in a car accident because it sounds like a better plan than the agonizing pain that I feel. I need an immediate escape. It manifests physically and it becomes unbearable. And the worst thing is that I can’t do anything about hurting except feel it.

When my doctor broke the news to me, the first thing that came to mind was that I had to prove to my family first that I was sick, otherwise they would not believe me. Fortunately, she asked if I wanted her to be the one to tell my mom, who was waiting for me outside the assessment area. I told her it’s best if she does because if I was uninformed, it was much more likely that my mom would think it was bull to have a mental disorder over something as trivial as “being sad”. I didn’t have the energy to explain what it meant, what’s going to happen next, and what support I’d need.

But like many others, life still went on. After all, I was still alive and could still fend for myself if I wasn’t in unbearable pain that manifested physically. I attended regular psychiatry sessions in what was called Ward 7, the psychiatry department of a hospital where I live. I took daily maintenance medication and went on with my life, attempting to feel like I wasn’t some form of a lesser being who relied on medicine to feel a little bit saner.

But it wasn’t like I wanted to announce that I was now an official member of the disorder. It was far from being a milestone. Yes, people are more aware nowadays of the value of mental health wellness, but a lot still don’t quite get how “being sad” can also mean “being ill”. Most days, I usually just stay quiet because the fight I’m going through with myself is more than enough to drain even the slightest amount of energy I can muster for the day.

There were days I was told that I just needed to be happy, think positive thoughts, and move on from whatever issues I had. Like it was just me not trying. It made it hard for me to educate simply because some people around me made it feel like it was just a phase—like puberty. And it doesn’t help that others don’t believe it’s real because they have certain expectations in their head of what depression looks like—breaking down to tears, melting down, throwing a fit. And those happen too, but other times I put on a smile or blurt out a joke that makes people think it doesn’t exist, that I’m okay, or that I’ve recovered.

At some point it just became worse as I continued living with it. What I didn’t know was that after showing the least bit of progress, like making it to work looking and performing 100%, I was expected not to spiral back, like it didn’t take me 400% effort just to relive the days when my smiles weren’t to deceive.

It took a while before the whole “I have depression” thing sank in on me. And in the worldwide pandemic today, I can’t help but feel that there’s too much happening and I can’t keep up. My anxiety is unstoppable. My episodes are unpredictable. People around me learned to just let me be, because honestly, there’s really nothing they can do aside from being an outlet to my mumbles. But other times, it’s also because they’ve stopped trying. There are moments I just need someone to listen and acknowledge how I feel. But how could you do that at a time when every day there are worse things to grieve and mourn about? I didn’t want to become anyone’s problem. Nobody wanted this pandemic to happen. But truth be told, I didn’t want this depression, either.

Today, I take my strength from what makes me happy. From the hope I get from friends who check up on me. From the thought of spending the better of my life with my partner someday. From being able to write about depression, among other things. It’s not the brightest idea to depend on people or things to continue living. But living is something I want to continue doing, not for the sake of the few people who might be sad, but for me. It’s a battle daily, and sometimes it’s a long war. But I’ll get there.