Originally published for World Mental Health Day 2021
Trigger warning: mentions thoughts of death and mental illness episodes
I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 2 sometime in May 2016. At the time, I was feeling extremely lost, which catapulted to a full-blown depressive episode after a fight with my mother and the deep, dark realization that at 22, I am not really looking forward to anything anymore.
As social media infamously tends to go, everything on my Instagram told you the opposite: I just got into a relationship with an amazing man and was all smiles in our photos, a lot of them in hip bars and beaches and gala nights of theater productions. I was celebrating one year of jet-setting all over the country to give talks on climate justice through my first adult job. I saw friends more than once a week to go dancing in clubs. I was writing here and there and getting some of my essays published. For all intents and purposes, I had virtually nothing to be upset about.
But I was upset, alright. The medical term that I was to learn later, officially, was depressed. I holed up in a spare room at my then non-profit's office and started sleeping there, only that my sleep schedule was all over the place, and I fell into the habit of downing cheap rum at night just to get a few hours in. I was unable to work and cried a lot for weeks. I wrestled with thoughts of self-harm. My poor then-new boyfriend didn't know what to do. So did I.
I found a psychiatrist who lived in my city off an ads website and booked the next available appointment. I was stunned when she started asking me point blank about things I didn't realize I was navigating for years: periods of extreme depression alternating with a season of extreme productivity, erratic sleep, poor memory, impulsive behavior. I nodded at each symptom like an obedient child, fully expecting to get a clinical depression diagnosis. She then told me it's likely Bipolar Disorder 2 and prescribed initially some anti-depressants to keep me from offing myself in the meantime.
I came out of her office stunned. More than the diagnosis, I kept repeating to my boyfriend: I am now someone who needs anti-depressants to live. That part stung and numbed me. Despite our issues, I called my mother and told her, which left her quiet as well. I didn't know it was about to get worse.
Over time, the trauma of one too depressive episodes eventually coalesced into this permanent state of brain fog. I scrambled with names, dates, faces. I eventually quit my job impulsively one day without speaking to anyone after, and struggled through consultancies, side-gigs and one random semester back in college.
I eventually found another psychiatrist after my old one started mentioning prayer groups. This one prescribed me mood stabilizers and antipsychotics which worked at keeping me functional, but without a routine and my general will to live missing, I struggled day and night not to off myself.
More than the brain fog, however, the depressive episodes got worse. I was hysterical during the worst times, wailing and praying to the god I don't believe in to just take me, my boyfriend having to restrain me and hide sharp objects in the unit we eventually moved into. I fantasized about jumping from our twentieth-floor balcony, craving the impact of my body into the ground.
I was immobile a lot of days, evading calls to be in bed and staring at the sky, afraid to trust myself to do more. What's the point of recovery if I always come crashing down at the slightest trigger, I thought. And so the months came and went with me watching the sky change colors all day, never really feeling like I'm still part of the world. I got some type of better, but relapsed so many times I lost count. In 2020, with climate change, the pandemic, and Philippine extrajudicial killings spelling out new levels of suffering into existence, I relapsed so bad I thought I wasn't going to make it out of the year alive.
I write this now at a much better place. It is a Sunday evening and I just spent the weekend caring for and being cared for by my family who lives in the same building, which now includes my boyfriend and my dog. It is quiet and a candle is lit by a warmer. I feel somewhat ready to take on the week and have started fending off sleepiness because I have a sleep and morning routine I am immensely proud of that usually has me in bed by 10PM. I see my psychiatrist every other month and a therapist every other week. I am the most stable than I have been all my life. All this comes at the realization that I am incredibly fortunate to have a great support system and the economic privilege to afford the mental healthcare I need.
But days like this are scathing reminders that we should not rest on our individual resilience. All forms of healthcare should not be for the privileged few. We are only as strong as our communities. Care should not just be individualized, but collectivized – we have to tend to each other's needs as well as our own so we can thrive, be our full selves, and have the headspace to imagine and fight for a better world.
We have to resist the capitalist capturing of World Mental Health Day as merely a day for "self-care." With the climate crisis looming, the pandemic exacerbating inequalities and various forms of violence rampant in our societies, we see more and more how our personal upheavals are shaped as much by political and social upheavals as well as material conditions as brain chemistry and genetic predisposition to mental illnesses.
Mental healthcare is as much political as it is personal – we see this for example in how feelings of distress are rampant in the youth in the age of climate breakdown, or how multiple studies confirm that mental issues both cause and are rooted from poverty and deprivation.
Ending inequality, then, is mental healthcare. Climate justice is mental healthcare. Ending all forms of violence is mental healthcare. Our personal battles are always, always, inextricably connected to our collective ones.
There is something about being part of large mobilizations that move me. I've been in actions here and there over the last seven years, but the biggest ones I've been part of – Aquino's State of the Nation Address in 2014, a 500,000-strong COP 25 Climate Strike in Madrid, and the string of rallies against the Anti-Terror Bill last year – all still bring me to tears when I remember them.
Fighting for causes "greater than yourself" can definitely remove you from feeling like your depressive thoughts are absolute and central. I argue, however, that said being part of anything greater than you as an individual can also plunge you further into depression because you realize that while your troubles may be insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe, they definitely still feel as overwhelming and as all-encompassing as our very own fleeting existence does.
Everyone deserves love and compassion as we go through the range of human emotions and experiences on this pale blue rock hurtling towards space. I'm always going to be for giving ourselves time to process and honor it all especially during our worst days, but I want us to remember that holding each other close – not just for comfort and warmth, but for collective liberation from both what is dark and diabolical within us and out in the world – is our greatest hope for all that is yet to come.