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YOUNG BLOOD

Let me tell you about my brain

05:04 AM June 19, 2018

May 7, 2018, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder. My parents didn’t know about it; neither did my friends. It was my decision to bring myself to psychiatric attention after two years of becoming conscious of the symptoms.

Let me tell you about the nights; how I have struggled to fall asleep, and how I have struggled more to stay awake.

I’m a seafarer. My body clock is trained to adjust to different time zones following three years at sea. When I went home after my last contract, I expected my body clock to adjust as easily. But it did not. Two months after, I still find it hard to sleep. Unwanted thoughts and unresolved issues come in the most silent part of the day.

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My mind seems to work too hard, and it can’t stop working even though I know it is already tired. Wired with so many bad memories, it generates overthinking, anxiety and aggression. On most days, I wake up exhausted. This is not my choice.

Let me tell you about the tremors; how I get them in the most unexpected situations. I was in Quiapo and it was 5 p.m. I was trying to get a ride home, and it was rush hour. I was fine — happy, in fact — when it hit me. My hands began shaking and I hyperventilated. I felt extremely nervous about something, but I didn’t know what. I tried to take control of my body, but the best I could do was to stand still and wait for the tremors to subside.

Anxiety attacks do not follow any schedule. It will come to you when you least expect it. This is not my choice.

Let me tell you about my social life; how I do not want to go out with lots of my friends anymore because crowds exhaust me. I am, in fact, an extrovert — highly outgoing and gregarious. But these days, I prefer solitude; I’ve become very picky about who I want to be with.

Most of my friends may misunderstand the change in my behavior, and I can’t blame them. I refuse to share my struggles with them, as I am afraid of their pity. As much as I want to be with them, my mind can’t accommodate their presence. I’m
sorry. This is not my choice.

Let me tell you about the dark thoughts; how giving up becomes an option. It may sound morbid, but this is the reality: I get so tired of routinely living life, in having the same problems and getting stuck in the same bad memories and fears.

This is not to say I am interested in ending the gift of breathing that is not mine to end. This is to say that I am still fighting. And every day is evidence of survival. Every day, I am trying to find hope even in the smallest details of life — in my favorite spicy ramen, perhaps, or the smile of my youngest brother.

This is my choice. And I will persist to make it that way always.

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I believe most people who suffer from mental issues are afraid to come out or seek professional help because society scares them, as it scares me.

It scares me to be called melodramatic and an attention- seeker. It scares me to walk the hallways with other people’s eyes following me, because my anxious mind eventually generates thoughts that I am being judged. That in the eyes of many, I am insane. It scares me to feel invalidated of my struggles just because I do not act miserable or live out depression in public.

When I told my parents about my condition, it was not easy for all of us. But I am appreciative of how supportive they’ve become, and how they’ve put my healing as a priority. When I told my closest friends that I have issues, it was a test of friendship. Even though it was heartbreaking to realize that even the ones you expected to help would turn you down, it was equally a relief to know who your true support group was.

My family and these few friends of mine do not know how much I owe my strength to them. And I can only wish that everyone who shares the same struggles will find their heroes and angels.

This is me today, giving a piece of myself that is not pleasing to take. But I don’t just speak for myself. I speak for everyone who suffers the same way, whose voices are silenced by the same fears. It is simply time to raise awareness about mental health issues. It should not be shameful to talk about, because the brain is just like a tooth that aches and an eye that becomes sore. No matter what part of our body doesn’t work well, we can be treated; science can provide objective reason and the Lord can intervene.

My battle to be better is a battle for myself and for my family. I am more than excited to win.

And to those who want to champion mental health, it is easy. Start simple. Go and check on a friend. You are so powerful that you can save lives.

* * *

Elijah Jose C. Barrios, 23, from Santa Barbara, Iloilo, is a seafarer. He wishes to advocate for mental health awareness through writing.

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TAGS: anxiety attacks, body block, Elijah Jose C. Barrios, mental health awareness, Young Blood
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