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#DepressionIsReal

These are the words that some people use when they describe me. Introvert: Maybe because I’m quiet. Antisocial: Maybe because I don’t attend parties. Weird: Maybe because I don’t laugh even if something is funny. Aloof: Maybe because I seldom mingle.

People don’t know that I have experienced depression, and that I chose to suffer in silence.

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I read somewhere that to live is to suffer, and the only way to be happy is to suffer willingly. Somehow I agree, because based on my experience, acceptance is the key to a happy life. We should first acknowledge or recognize the fact that we are sad before we can do something about it. In other words, we must honor the sadness or the pain we feel.

In my 29 years of existence, I’ve been through depression twice. In both instances, my hobbies — reading and writing — helped me overcome it.

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The first time was in April 2014, after I underwent cholecystectomy or the surgical removal of the gallbladder.

Postoperative depression is common. In my case, the manifestations were: My immune system had deteriorated, I lost 5

kilos in just a span of one week, I experienced hair loss (around 150 strands of hair fall per day), I suffered from seborrheic dermatitis (the medical term for dandruff), I had excessive sweating of palms, I had heart palpitations, and I had a constant urge to take a deep breath.

During that period, I almost believed that life was a burden. I thought my life had no meaning or purpose. I was not motivated and inspired to live. I didn’t appreciate even the nice things that happened around me. All I could see were the negative things. Consequently, I became impatient and irritable. There were also times when I isolated myself because I didn’t want to talk to people.

Despite the changes in my behavior, I managed to remain faithful. Not a day passed that I didn’t pray. Eventually, I realized the importance of counting my blessings. I learned to focus on the things that I had instead of the things that I didn’t. I also realized that life itself is a great gift, because it provides us an opportunity to inspire and help those who are in unfortunate circumstances.

All along, I thought I had become firm and emotionally stable. I thought I would never suffer depression again. But I was wrong.

The second time was in April 2018, after I flunked the 2017 bar examinations. It was so painful, because that was my third attempt.

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I was in the grip of sadness for quite some time. I thought I didn’t deserve to live. I had very low self-esteem. I lost my self-respect, too. I couldn’t even face myself in the mirror.

Then I began having what-ifs. What if I did not quit my job as an internal auditor of a rural bank and did not enter law school in 2011? And even if I did finish law, what if I hadn’t taken the bar examinations?

“Less action, less disappointment” became my mantra.

There was no one I could talk to regarding my situation, so I gathered my strength and shared my story with a priest. His message resonated with me: “I may not know how you really feel when you failed the bar examinations, but I know what it feels like to fail in other things. At this point in your life, you might feel incompetent, or jealous of those who passed. You might also be having some self-pity. All these feelings cannot be disregarded. What is important right now is to see your self-worth. Before entering law school, you must have had a life that you could call your own. Law school can sometimes snuff out the life of us. But that is not the only way to live life to the fullest…”

Throughout my life, I have been meticulous, hopeful, passionate and optimistic, so I really had a hard time admitting my failure. The most important lesson that I learned from this experience is the concept of self-love.

I now see that, in the past few years, I treated myself badly. I had the habit of punishing myself when I failed to succeed at something, to lessen the guilt and the pain. But I’ve realized that the best way is to forgive myself, admit my shortcomings and love myself more.

Now everyone would know through this piece what I’ve been through. Why I was quiet, why I did not attend parties, why I did not laugh even if something was funny, and why I seldom mingled.

From this moment on, I will exert effort to be vocal, accommodating, friendly and approachable regardless of my situation.

President Duterte has signed into law Republic Act No. 11036, or the Philippine Mental Health Act. I hope it will be properly implemented — because depression is real.

* * *

Leonard Kristian Mesa Gelacio, 29, of Cauayan City, Isabela, is distancing himself from law books for now.

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