Is what I’m feeling valid?” I remember asking the moment I sat down in the small office at the psychiatric wing of the hospital, across the table was the psychiatrist I was supposed to meet that day while my dad was waiting outside.
“I don’t know if I should be here. I feel like I’m just overreacting,” I added.
It took everything in me not to walk out of the door, call it a day and sleep it off. I felt a bit embarrassed having to break down in front of a stranger. It was the first time that I had sought professional or formal help (or help in general) and I didn’t know what to make of it, what to do or what to say.
Back then, I was a bundle of nerves, fingers fidgeting with a handkerchief I was carrying and eyes darting all over the place and refusing to meet the psychiatrist’s eyes. His first words to me, sans the greetings, of course, were the answer my question: “Your feelings are valid.”
For all my efforts to stay unaffected, his words sliced through the thin thread that was holding my emotions together. I broke down and cried until I could no longer breathe and we hadn’t even started yet. I couldn’t speak clearly for a few minutes, and whenever I tried to either explain or apologize for my tears, I ended up a blubbering mess.
The psychiatrist patiently waited for me until I quieted down, wiped off my tears, snot and all. I wondered what my father thought of the way my ugly sobs echoed throughout the room back then. He heard it, for sure, given the thin walls and its doors slightly ajar, but never pushed me to talk about what went down that day.
Come to think of it, I never really thanked him for accompanying me, either.
It was a blur (both literally, as I was through heavy tears, and figuratively), talking with the psychiatrist.
I had an inkling of what I might be dealing with before that consultation, given the time I spent researching and reading all about it. But I never wanted to assume, and since I was afraid, never knew how to start seeking help or if I needed to — I simply didn’t know how to properly deal with or address the mental health issue I was suffering from.
I wasn’t aware that there was something about the way I kept losing interest in things that I used to love or having little to no energy to do simple, menial tasks like getting up in the morning, showering or, really, just functioning. Every day got harder for me to get by.
Back then, I did not think of a future or, if I did, it was bleak and dull. I was just surviving and not exactly living. I got through most of my high school and college years feeling like that. I was in a constant state of sadness, fear and anxiety. It was like drowning on land.
After a series of questions, affirmations and assurances, the psychiatrist then talked to me about depression and anxiety, with my symptoms lining up with the mental disorders. That day answered and acknowledged a lot of what-ifs and doubts for me, then came the knowledge that what I was dealing with is, indeed, real.
Years later, I’m still in the process of learning to try, live and love myself with the help of my loved ones.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month — a time and opportunity to raise, educate and eradicate the stigma about mental health illnesses. It has been observed since 1949.
The negative take on psychological disorders has been going on for decades. Mental illnesses include mood disorders (such as depression or bipolar disorders), anxiety disorder, personality disorders, psychotic disorders (such as schizophrenia), eating disorders, trauma-related disorders and substance abuse disorders.
According to a 2020 study, despite mental health problems as the third most common disability in the Philippines, Filipinos tend to shy away from formal help due to the social stigma for psychological disorders, as well as lack of financial capabilities and access to mental health services.
Especially after the pandemic — which is still continuously taking a toll on everyone’s mental health — hit, the Philippine WHO Special Initiative for Mental Health recorded in the early part of 2020 that at least 3.6 million Filipinos have suffered from mental, neurological, and substance use disorders — with many of those unaware of and unable to gain access to mental health services or options.
Awareness is step zero, said Dr. Jessica Schleider, an assistant professor at the Department of Psychology and Clinical Psychology Ph.D. Program at Stony Brook University (SUNY), in a tweet. “Awareness is not the end goal. Structural change is — toward making treatment more accessible, more effective and less harmful. Toward restoring agency and trust to those seeking help,” she said.
Schleider added, “Awareness is step zero. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Happy Mental Health Awareness month!
Everyone has different, unique stories to tell, ways to cope and scars to bear. Take your time, and do things at your own pace. Deep breaths. Here’s a reminder that it’s okay, don’t be hard on yourself.
Your feelings, emotions are valid. You are so loved, cared for and worth it. The world is so much better and beautiful with you in it. Thank you for being here. Thank you for existing. You are not alone in the fight.
You are here and that’s what matters. Mental health matters.