Slaying the dragon
I woke up to the news that Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington had taken his life. Words of love poured through my Facebook timeline as people remembered their favorite Linkin Park songs and how these became an inspiration to them. But there were also people who condemned Bennington and called him selfish for leaving six children fatherless. This is why I’m angry.
I’m a suicide survivor. I battled clinical depression five years ago. Added to it was anxiety, which makes one feel like a failure. The battle against this gargantuan dragon was not easy. There were very, very dark days. A glimmer of light appeared once in a while, but the darkness loomed over everything.
I was prodded to take a leave of absence from my past university because of bad experiences. The thing is, if you’re bullied, it’s always your fault. I used to think that everything was my fault. I believed I was a walking disappointment and I let my parents down. I transferred to the University of the Philippines, and it was where I found my haven. People were accepting, and for the first time I had true college friends.
But I’m still traumatized by everything that happened five years ago. The pain remains, as well as my inner scars. There were many times that I became aloof. I couldn’t trust people even if they were trustworthy. I made weird and wrong decisions out of raw emotion. The battle was in my head, with the gargantuan dragon emitting flames from its gnarly mouth.
This is why I prefer a physical illness. I’d go to the doctor or have myself admitted to a hospital, and I’d be A-OK within days, or a week or so. Struggling with a mental illness is different—it’s more suffocating, more destructive. I was prescribed medications and the costs were high. The side effects—nausea, drowsiness, restlessness — bothered me and prompted me to stop taking them against the wishes of my parents and my psychiatrist. But after stopping taking them, I began contemplating suicide.
The funny thing is that I used to connect suicide with selfishness and sin. I believed that for so many years, until I was diagnosed with clinical depression. There was a gray area forming in my mind. People have a runny or clogged nose and teary eyes when they’re experiencing an allergy. But depression includes symptoms of being sad for two weeks or more, crying endlessly, changed sleeping or eating patterns, shunning activities that one used to enjoy, and contemplating or eventually committing suicide.
I remember debating with myself whether I should make a farewell video to my family or write a suicide note. I thought about it while riding a jeepney or lying in bed. I researched methods of suicide, hoping to find the least painful one. Everything was a confusing blur. I did not want to be a burden to my family anymore. Nobody liked me. I wanted to be able to rest. I wanted everything to stop. I did not want to feel anymore.
This circus of thoughts played in my mind over and over again. The gargantuan dragon smiled at me, waiting for me to break.
Heading home from school one day, I took a U-turn, went to a supermarket and bought a cutter. I had not been able to write a note or make a video, but I was finally going to do it. I was sick and tired and done. I greeted my parents as I arrived home and went directly to my room. It was where I planned to do the deed. I looked at myself in the mirror and knew that I would finally be free: The gargantuan dragon wins. I am its slave.
But I was unsuccessful. I cried so hard because I couldn’t even do it. I was halfway there but I couldn’t finish it. Instead, I cut my left and right shoulders, to transform my emotional pain into physical pain even for a while. Then I left my room and confessed to my parents the deed I had failed to do.
I went back to my psychiatrist and was prescribed a higher dose of antidepressants. At that point, I admitted to myself that I’d do anything to banish the pain I was feeling.
After a week I woke up to the news that my sister was pregnant. I became excited and giddy. I took out my phone, wrote an essay on my battle with depression, and posted it on Facebook. It was an instant decision, an impulse that I regretted after five minutes. I had not told anyone about my depression other than my parents, my sister, some trusted friends, and my psychiatrist. I believed it was a shame to be afflicted by this illness. I did not want to be judged or ridiculed because of it. I wanted to be accepted.
I was about to delete the post when likes and comments suddenly poured in. There were comments filled with love from people I love. There were 232 likes and more than 30 comments. I broke down. I had thought I was alone, that nobody cared. The feeling was overwhelming. Even my family broke down because nobody expected to receive such acceptance and love. It is such a cliché but I felt like a dove, flying and free, finally rid of the gargantuan dragon.
Depression is such a negative word, but it also taught me to find a passion to beat it. Photography became my passion as I was — and am — going through depression. Photographs can vividly express an emotion or capture a moment. It is something I am thankful for.
Sometimes the gargantuan dragon comes back. Just like before, I am fighting it. I want to be back to my normal self, and I think it is possible. There is a glimmer of hope in the darkness, and I am holding on to it as tightly as I can.
Suicide is no laughing matter. You wouldn’t know how it feels like to confront the idea if you have never experienced severe depression. The key to understanding suicide is empathy. The gargantuan dragon is everywhere, and it’s a silent killer. A person may seem like the happiest one alive on this earth, but you will never know that he or she may be actually battling a gargantuan dragon.
The best thing to do if you know people who are going through a tough time is to lend an ear. Let them tell you how they feel. It is important to not judge. Listen, listen and listen. Be a shoulder that they can cry on. Trust me: It feels a whole lot better if one can express his or her pain through words. Yes, I am angry about the stigma surrounding depression and suicide. This is why we need legislation on mental health and how to help people with relevant issues. By being a mental health advocate, you are one step closer to helping people slay their gargantuan dragon.
* * *
Seth Jason Tan, 22, is taking communication and media studies at UP Visayas and “loves taking photos, writing essays and reading fiction books.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.