True Stories: Six women on coping with depression

For the longest time, mental illness has been associated with being crazy or “may sayad". Many of those who have a condition choose not to talk about it openly in fear of being judged, while the rest hide, dismiss, and maybe deny its existence. Recently though, the Mental Health Act was finally approved in the Senate and more people are opening to conversations about it. This is important for creating awareness, not just for the general public to understand that it’s a real disease but also for those who have it to recognize the symptoms and get the help they need.

The most common of these issues is depression, and its also one of the most difficult for people to recognize. How do you know you’re not just sad? We talked to six women about their experiences with depression to paint a better picture of what it can look like, and hopefully their stories can help others to recognize their own symptoms and offer appropriate support to those who need it.

Apple Nocom, copywriter

In first year college, I was underperforming and uninterested in things I was usually passionate about. It was just really hard to be happy. I dismissed it as a reaction to heartbreak and culture shock until I encountered a list of depression symptoms. Most, if not all, of them applied to me quite perfectly and it became clear to me that something bigger was at play here.

I didn't seek professional help until a year after graduation. I sought a psychologist for talk therapy. It helped for a while but soon I felt like it was taking too much time and I was spending even more energy than I was regaining just by going. I stopped seeing her. Two years later, when my depression had started to affect my relationships, I decided I'd had enough and sought a psychiatrist for medication.

Even with the meds, living with depression takes a real toll on my life. It makes me unproductive, unmotivated, and sometimes even distant and cold. You'd think I know my condition well by now but sometimes I don't even understand what mood I'm in. It's very difficult and discouraging, and there are days when it gets tempting to just give in and believe that I'm a helpless failure. Luckily, the determination to recover comes back to me.

If I could send a message to my younger self, I'd tell her to get help sooner and make healthier choices early on. I'll also tell her to not give up because it gets better. I really want to believe it does.

Mara Mercado, former graphic artist turned medical student

In my third year of college, we were given a battery of psych tests. All of my results pointed out to depression but I laughed it off, not realizing what it truly meant. It wasn’t until the end of college that I realized I’d been feeling “down” for quite a long time. I evaluated myself but couldn't admit that I was depressed until I'd started working. I felt overwhelmed but because I’m the type to "hold it in" for as long as I can, I turned to my close friends and officemates for instead of a specialist. 

Coping with depression is a non-stop struggle. Even though Id' been working for three years, I began to suddenly get feelings of inadequacy, immense sadness, loss of motivation and drive. It plagued me almost every night and I felt so hopeless and alone – even though I had such a strong support system. I started hating on myself about why I felt this way to begin with. I found that exercise (especially running) pacified these feelings for as long as I tired myself out. For days when my recurring injuries prevented me from running, I turned to video games, drawing, and sleep. Honestly, my depression sometimes compromised the quality of my work.

I resigned from my job and started med school but I was worried how I’d be able to manage my condition when I couldn't in the past years. It also got worse, because I now subjected myself to a different kind of stress. I had to survive many sleepless nights of studying to ensure I passed exams because I tended to compare my "terrible" performance at school with classmates who seemed to do better. I got worse and started seeing the school guidance counselor. I would have started seeing a psychiatrist but I have this poor notion that what goes through my head are just shallow things (I know it’s wrong to think this way), plus seeing a specialist is expensive. I didn’t go to support groups for depression either, as meeting new people makes me really anxious. 

Instead I turned to my circle of friends for support and talked to those who also suffered from depression. I went back to running, playing video games, and getting enough sleep. I have a Post-It right beside my bed – the first thing I see in the morning - that tells me to take it “one day at a time.” My experiences also led me back to my faith and I turn to God in prayer to help me get by.

If you suspect you may have depression, I don’t think there could be any sufficient preparation to brace you for the battle you’re facing. The best reassurance I can give is that you will always have wonderful people to be with you through it.  And just like what everyone’s been saying, “You’ll be okay.” Just breathe, know you’re not alone, and take it one day at a time.

RL, freelance writer

I’d already known there was something wrong with me since I was a kid. I’d always had weird, unexplainable crying jags and sudden bouts of sadness even as early as third grade. I only started seeing a psychiatrist in 2016, upon the advice of a friend who was diagnosed with depression. To be honest, if he didn’t immediately recommend a doctor for me to visit, I probably never would have gone.

Since my diagnosis, I’ve been taking meds to help with the illness. They’ve helped a lot: my moods are a lot more stable now and I rarely have episodes without triggers any more. I’ve also started focusing a lot more on making art to help cope with the crushing reality of everyday life. I also surrounded myself with my own support group composed of my closest friends.

There are two pieces of advice I can give people with depression. First, get checked if you haven’t already. It’s better to get help from an expert instead of relying on self-diagnosis or trying to help yourself clamber up the pit. Also, if you’re worrying about the stigma of taking meds, forget it. They help. Second, it gets better. It’s cliché and, sometimes when I’m down in the dumps, I don’t believe it myself. But it’s important to hold on. Delay your suicidal ideations to tomorrow. Then tomorrow, postpone it to the next day. Just hold on to even the smallest hope. It will help you get through the darkest times.

Maritess Mallari, human resource management assistant

I actually did not know that I was depressed until after I was out of it. I lost my first child to Anti-phospholipid Antibody Syndrome (APAS) 22 weeks into my pregnancy. My husband and I cried the whole night, trying to console each other. My sister had lost four babies in a row (to different causes) in a span of six years, and I could not believe it also happened to me. 

As I was induced to labor, I watched with envy and heartache as other mothers about to give birth came and left the birthing ward. There was happy anticipation in the midst of the anxiety and contractions, and all of them went home with their babies cradled in their arms. I kept wishing it was just a bad dream. After three days of abortion pills and bags of oxytocin, I still did not go into labor so the doctors decided to do a C-section. I went home not just wounded but scarred for life.

Losing my baby left me empty. There seemed to be a void I could not fill, the future looked bleak, and it was impossible to believe there was a happy life waiting for me. Physically, it hurt to move around, and bouts of cough and hyperacidity worsened my condition. Emotionally, I was loaded with guilt. Was it something I did or something I did not do that caused my baby to die? Why couldn’t I keep him/her alive inside me? Perhaps my husband blamed me for everything, he just couldn’t say it to my face. Perhaps he loved me less and would leave me in no time because I could not give him a baby. What good is a wife who could not bear a child? I decided I was unworthy and labeled myself a complete failure for not being able to keep the baby.

It was hard to answer questions about my pregnancy, the delivery, and my baby.  People around me wanted to know how and why it happened, and repeating my story seemed to cut my wounds even deeper. Kind words and expression of regret would make me feel better, but only for a while. Some days, their reassurance fell on deaf ears. I wouldn’t want to hear any of it.  There were days when they only fueled my self-pity and insecurities. It was like a part of me was dead.  

The doctors could not tell us the gender of the baby. We thought of a name that would fit a boy or a girl perfectly and so we named our child “Angel”. Deep inside though, I felt we had a girl and I still believe so up to this day. Now, having baptized and buried her would have put the gender issue to rest but it would be years before I have full closure on this. I may have named her but I did not get to see her. Before my family went to the cemetery to bury my baby, I asked to see her but my husband would not let me. I helplessly looked for an ally but family members said no. Until now, I cannot understand why I gave in. Maybe I was full of anguish and I was confused. Maybe I got so tired of thinking that I simply chose not to argue. When I finally realized I made the mistake of not insisting, it was too late. My baby was already buried deep in the ground, beside all the other babies my family has lost.

Months after, I found out why my husband and family didn’t want me to see my baby. They had placed her in a jar and her left leg was detached from her hip when the doctor tried to get her out. They all feared I would break all over again but I think I would have it endured it. It might have torn me apart but it may also have helped me heal. If only I chose to see her, but I did not. It’s only God’s grace that allowed me to forgive myself.  It’s a long time coming, it is a lifetime of longing, but in heaven I know I will then see my Angel. 

When you have depression, the demons come alive, the negativities seem to fill your mind and everything becomes pointless. You become hopeless. In my case, among the hardest to endure were the what-ifs, the guilt and all the insecurities and fears that came with “not being able to keep the baby”.  I could not control the thoughts that came. It was frustrating and haunting.

The appetite typically goes down with the emotions but for me, I resorted to eating as my way of coping that I gained so much weight, some could barely recognize me. That added to my insecurities and kept me from doing the things I used to do. I had more reasons to “hide” than to mingle so I would stay in the house, not wanting to see people. 

While there were no support groups in Butuan to help us out, our family and friends where there there every single day to support me even when they could not understand me. It was also a good thing that I went back to work as soon as my maternity leave ended. I joined my husband in playing badminton and took vacations. Doing so helped me reconnect with people, including the chance to talk to my officemates about my experience. There I learned that I was not the only one who suffered from depression. Knowing that made me accept the reality that though it happened to me. I was not doomed as I thought I was. 

Maybe there is something wrong in your life but it is NOT like there is something wrong with you. It may not be ‘normal’ by whatever standards are there but it does happen. The good news is that there is a way out. We deserve to get ourselves back AND bounce back. The moment I got out of the four corners of my room and into the world was the moment God gave me the grace to redeem myself. I got up and I was freed. You can do it, too. 

Maritess Mallari and April Dabalos

Maritess Mallari and April Dabalos

April Dabalos, entrepreneur

Two months after giving birth, I felt really down and melancholic for most of the day. I just wanted to cry hard for no reason at all. I didn’t want to talk to anyone because I felt like no one was really concerned about me trying to take care of my baby while enduring the pain from my Caesarian operation. My OB-GYNE warned me about mood swings and postpartum depression when I had my post-op checkup. Her description matched a lot of how I felt so i was able to  inform her about my PPD right away.

It was really hard, lonely, scary, and confusing. There were times when I felt like I enjoyed what I was doing but the next thing I knew I felt really bad and frustrated. I would then cry, as everyone else could rest up, while I was in pain and busy with caring for my baby the entire day.

My anxiety and the feeling of having so much to do deprived me of the rest and sleep that I badly needed. There were moments where I would lock myself up and the baby in the room so no one else could see me feeling like a mess. I didn’t want to eat, I didn’t want to see anyone, and I’d get angry at my husband for sleeping while I had to stay up for the baby. The overwhelming feeling of being a mother, combined with restlessness and self-pity, made me cry all the time.

Good thing my OB informed my husband about what I was going through. She gave him tips to help me out, and how to keep me sane during those challenging times. He would talk to me often and ask the nanny to take charge for the day so I could relax and do what I wanted to do. He’d treat me to the spa, take me out on movie dates, and even travel when we could!

I am very grateful that my family was so supportive and really tried their best to help me out. I didn’t even notice how I was able to move past the PPD to enjoy motherhood! While there weren’t any support groups I could turn to in Butuan, I’m lucky that I was able to openly discuss this with my OB, husband, and close friends.

Suffering from PPD is never easy. You feel like you’re never enough – that you’re inadequate as a mother and as a wife no matter how hard you try to do your best. You feel ugly and fat because you have no time to take care of yourself. You feel like nobody would understand you. But once you recognize that there is something wrong, opening up to others and recognizing that you need help will get you on the road to healing. Remember: You are doing well, you are amazing and beautiful, what you are doing is more than enough, and you are not alone! 

Maria Amparo Warren, writer, editor, former musician

The first thing that I experienced that was out of the ordinary was "episodes" of depression, periods where it felt like all of me - my body, my brain, my heart - was heavier, slower, and sadder than usual. These periods would last maybe a day or two at a time. The most distinguishing characteristics of it at that point must have been my sleeping habits (I would either always be up at night, or sleep longer than usual because I couldn't muster a lot of energy to get up); my appetite (I started eating and drinking more); how I dealt with my emotions (I would be irritable, or gloomy, or exhausted more often). 

Depression is its own language for individual people, I feel, and it should be acknowledged as a complex issue that draws from many factors. It can activate at a certain time because of our hormones as they relate to other conditions in our bodies, or triggering events, or both. In my case, I began to feel very vulnerable in the years that I experienced career crises, the death of someone important to me, and residue from a past relationship. All of these things started taking a toll on my physical and emotional health.

Five years ago I was wondering what I could do to stop feeling this way and regain control. When someone recommended a good doctor, I figured there was no harm in at least checking in and seeing where that would lead me. I then went through a few sessions of therapy before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 2, or manic depression. That's also something that intimately relates to hormones. You end up needing to pay a lot of attention to these things as a woman.

Life didn't magically get better after I opened up and sought help, but what happened after was that I was given hope to be at my healthiest and happiest again someday, and that I could do that in constructive ways. I take meds and I attend therapy as needed. I hope my personal experience of both of these things can be considered in light of the stigma that surrounds them. The meds I take help regulate my blood level and regularize my sleeping patterns, among other things. I also consider the best "cocktail" of meds a good set of physical and emotional vitamins that my body can make use of. All meds have certain side effects, though. If any are prescribed to you, you should try and take note of how each affects you, so you can see what works best. 

Therapy has also helped me significantly. Not therapy conceived as a paid rant session or someone just giving you advice - what goes on in therapy depends on how the person is doing; sometimes you answer tests, sometimes there are key questions you need to work around, and these will reveal things about you that you might not even know. Fortunately, my psychiatrist is very good, and she has always emphasized the learning aspect of therapy. Aside from always telling me how my meds work and how exactly they will affect me, she informs me about patterns in my character that she sees, and how I can draw from my past experiences to be able to confront new ones. 

On my own part, I acknowledge that the beast exists and I allow for a part of my life to deal with it openly. I try to become more conscious of the things that may trigger me, and I've tapped a support system for when I feel vulnerable. I then try and keep up with the things that make me happy, like my hobbies - I love cooking, music, and writing. I have to admit that I should be more conscientious about my diet and sleeping on time, though. Those things are no laughing matter.

To me and you, whoever we are and whoever we'll be: don't be afraid to ask for help; don't be afraid to do things you feel you need to, period. If you feel out of the ordinary - "not yourself," or "not motivated to do anything," or "wanting to just sleep and sleep and not wake up" - look for a way out. I know you were looking for one somehow. There is one. You are not alone; try to keep telling yourself that you aren't, and that there are people who are willing to love you and that you can love back at your full strength. 

Take care of yourself. I mean it. Don't be too hard on yourself, as well as other people. There are some things about yourself and the rest of the world that you won't be able to understand right now, and that's okay. Take it a day at a time, and focus on each day. Every time you do something right, remember what it is, and how happy you'll be when it happens again. Look for a safe haven, and little by little work toward making a safe haven within yourself, one that you can always depend on. 

And when you get to a good point, don't forget the basic things! Eat healthy, not too much sugar or caffeine or alcohol. Exercise too, and never forget the importance of sleep. Have a healthy work-life balance. Pray to who you believe in. Be as good a friend and family member as others have been to you. And you'll have made it. Not immediately, but you will. 

Now, it’s your turn. If you know someone who’s going through depression, or if you yourself are going through something , please seek help. You can contact the 24/7 HopeLine at (02) 804-HOPE (4673), 0917 558 HOPE (4673), or 2919 (toll-free number for all GLOBE and TM subscribers) if you have suicidal ideations or simply need someone to tell you that you will be okay. The calls are anonymous and confidential, and can mean the difference between life and death.

Header image via Apple Nocom