This content may contain discussions or references to mental health, anxiety, and depression. Reader discretion is advised, and if you or someone you know is struggling with these issues, please seek professional help or support.
“Much like the ocean, the brain is also an unexplored realm.”
I didn’t fully understand this until my early 20s. And if we’re being totally honest here, I didn’t even give mental wellness much thought back then! Being surrounded by people raised in the ‘60s–boomers–all I “knew” was this was something rich people go through. Boy, was I wrong.
My journey began without warning, much like a sudden storm at sea, only I was in my office cubicle. It started with feeling as if thousands of tabs were simultaneously open in my mind, each running worst-case scenarios. My muscles tensed up, and suddenly, my mind decided to hyperfocus on my heart that’s rapidly beating. Within seconds, I couldn’t catch my breath and the surroundings looked like a vignette video. I was convinced I was dying of a heart attack, as the rest of my body was either cold or numb.
I underwent countless X-rays, cardiological tests–ECGs, and stress tests. After hours and hours of waiting in hospital benches and one too many trips to emergency rooms, results would always come back normal.
“I’m okay,” I convinced myself with a lump in my throat.
It didn't matter if I was busy or unoccupied, happy or sad, asleep or awake–this kept happening at the randomest of times. The more I brushed it off, the stronger the currents of anxiety became. Symptoms even manifested in various physical forms. It was a losing battle, and I found myself emotionally and physically exhausted beyond words.
Where do I go from here: Diagnosis
“Tuloy ang buhay. Hindi ka mayaman,” I told my middle-class myself. I dragged myself out of bed, and went on with life in flight mode, but was determined to put an end to what was happening to me. A quick Google search convinced me to see a psychiatrist–and this is how I finally found answers–sort of.
I was diagnosed with Panic Disorder and Depression. But instead of finally breathing a sigh of relief, I questioned myself even more: “You never struggled. Everything was provided to you. Now, you have a great life, a promising career ahead of you. What on earth is going on with me?”
After a few sessions, my doctor said, “Much like the ocean, much of the brain is also an unexplored realm.” She further explained that there are various causes of panic disorder as well as depression. Along with taking medications religiously, she said I needed to find activities that would complement my healing.
I found answers, but more questions emerged. “I am usually happy and optimistic, what happened? I took care of myself, what caused my mental health challenges? How do I overcome this?”
What now: Healing
There is no one recipe, concoction, or map to recovery. We all have unique ways of coping and healing. As for me, I didn’t know where to start, so I went back to my roots.
I told my sisters, who are medical professionals, about my diagnosis via Messenger chat. This was the time I finally cried and accepted the situation. They were and still are my lifeboats, the shore amidst journeying stormy seas.
From there, I went on what felt like an uphill battle as I delved deeper into my healing. I tried listening to upbeat music, doing physical exercises, journaling, and breathing. These eased my symptoms, but it didn’t work as much as I hoped it would.
I’ve had enough of my mental health troubles so I remained persistent. I read books, and listened to podcasts, and videos produced by mental health professionals to further understand panic disorder and depression.
When I heard that “mental health challenges are a signal from our inner self” something in me snapped and sparked. It’s as if I traveled back in time. Little did I know that I wasn’t able to truly process my negative experiences from childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. I simply bottled it up until I could no longer hold it.
I learned that it isn’t selfish to focus on myself, especially my mental well-being. I am learning to listen to my anxiety–but not cradle it–and acknowledge what it’s trying to say without judgment.
This all started when I was in my early 20s. Now, I'm about to turn 30 in a few years. It has been a long journey, but I’ve just learned to make peace with my anxiety. While panic disorder still visits me from time to time, it no longer dominates my life and pushes me to self-discovery.
I still get hurt when I share about my mental health journey and get responses such as “Uso yan, no? Ang daming nakikiuso.” “Kulang ka lang sa kain.” “Gawa-gawa lang yan.” But I’ve learned to respect myself, try to educate them, and, if worse comes to worst, respectfully excuse myself when the discourse is no longer healthy.
Yes, they say there is no one map recovery. So, I hope this helps you take the first brave step towards the many paths to mental well-being.
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