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Ending stigma, beginning help

I saw you go through the worst days in your family, in your career, in your love life, in your overall self. How did you manage to keep it all together all this time?”

My answer? I never kept it together. I allowed everything to fall apart and just lived with it.

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In high school, I suffered from insomnia. I tried warm milk, sleep relaxation, etc., but none worked. I visited my doctor about this problem, but never entertained the idea of prescription drugs.

Instead, I took medicine that made me drowsy as a side effect. In time, the insomnia went away, but I still get it when anxiety hits me again.

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I almost took my own life at school when everything seemed to be falling apart with my family at the time. One day, all that stress got into me and I just broke down. Good thing a classmate wondered why my restroom break was taking so long, and that’s how I was saved.

It was followed by countless trips to our school guidance office and one-on-one talks with my then first-year high school adviser.

My sisters, and perhaps other people around me, could attest to my anger management issues. I had the worst anger episodes, with physical and verbal violence (which was not evident on a regular day, when I was jolly, friendly and sweet to people).

I realized one day that I was losing my family because of it, and that I needed to do something. My anger episodes would last for a maximum of 5-10 minutes, but my relationships were becoming scarred and strained. I did not want to lose my sisters, my family and the people around me.

I started to watch videos and read articles and materials that would help me control my anger issues. I even signed up for BetterHelp without anyone’s knowledge. Now, I rarely get angry. If I do, I get usually quiet and will just shoot someone an indifferent look and go away.

When stress happened at work, I got sick and would break down. These episodes took a toll as well on my relationships.

How did I finally get used to stress, deadlines and the pressure to deliver?

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John Maxwell books, a good pair of running shoes and affordable gym rates and fitness activities — all these allowed me to breathe a bit more. Now I am working on my professional efficiency and trying to get into better shape to avoid getting sick.

When I had to juggle a 23-year-old secret revealed to me about a relationship falling apart and the pressure to deliver my best in the company I worked for, I found myself going on trips to the bar and having drinking sprees.

I went home drunk and smelling of alcohol and smoke. Such fun and happy times at night, and I had to go to work in the morning. I laughed a lot.

I became a workaholic. I put up a brave front outside even if, deep inside, I was shattered.

That was my depression. It went on for more than a month. I rarely called home. And I sent cries of help to my sister, but asked her never to tell anyone else because I feared being judged.

I was glad she did not heed my request; my family was sufficiently alarmed after they found out that my Nanay and Tatay took the trip to Boracay where I was working.

I greeted them with the widest smile, took them to a nice restaurant and brought them to a nice hotel.

Then suddenly, my Tatay said: “Quit pretending you are okay, because we know you are not. We know what is happening. That is why we are here, to let you know that it is okay not to be okay.”

And with that, I broke into tears and finally admitted that I was at my weakest, that I was falling apart, and that I couldn’t be strong anymore even if I was trying.

I felt free after that. Relieved. I felt more alive. I realized I just had to admit it. It was also an eye-opener for my family, to accept that things were not perfect and that they had a loved one who was strong outside but was frail and fragile inside.

Strength is not pretending. Strength is acceptance. Strength is moving forward, despite the failures, despite the loss of hope. That’s what I learned from that period in my life.

When was the last time I broke down? I can’t remember anymore. And, now, I am paying it forward. I make sure I am someone my friends and other people can disturb at 2 a.m. to tell me they are around the area and need someone to talk to.

I’d go out and meet them up. They can call me and text me and I will respond. I will stay on the phone with them until they feel better.

I share snippets and stories of hope, of optimism, of moving forward. I make sure I am with them, despite the time and distance.

And if they have concerns, I am a call, chat or text away. I may be very busy, but I promise to take time.

And, most of all, I check on the people I feel are the strongest, because the truth is, they are the most breakable. This is my way of thanking the people who helped me get through my own struggles — by helping other people overcome theirs.

I am lucky enough to be alive to tell my story. Now, I am praying for others, too. For you. That you also live to tell your story. Together, let us end the stigma of depression and mental health.

Together, let us inspire those who want to give up and let them know that life is worth it.

Let’s save lives with our stories of hope and survival. Let’s pay it forward. It’s time for the stigma to end, so that help can begin.

* * *

Tiffany Marie Somes, 24, is a marketing officer of a hotel and restaurant chain in Boracay.

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TAGS: Anger, anger management, Depression, personal problems, stress, Tiffany Marie Somes, Young Blood
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