Mental health awareness in our country has advanced greatly in the past few years. However, asking for help when it comes to our struggles is still uncommon. This is something I'm familiar with because I’m clinically diagnosed with depression, and I believe it’s rooted in my experiences with physical and emotional abuse.
I was heavily bullied by my peers when I was younger. Years have passed, but I still carry the trauma to this day.
It took me years before I recognized that I needed help.
Because of this, I've never been fully able to trust people—especially men—no matter how good they may seem. I get panic attacks in the middle of the night whenever I see or hear anything that reminds me of the past.
It took me years before I recognized that I needed help. In college, I finally started going to therapy. This is because I didn't want anyone, especially my parents, to know. Fear and shame held me back. I was ashamed to let anyone find out I was raped. Had they known, my parents would have taken legal action, and I didn't want to be a part of that; I didn't want to expose myself that way—even to my loved ones. I was also scared people wouldn't believe me because my rapist seemed like a good guy.
Even when I went to therapy, I still did it in secret. I used my own money to pay for my sessions and buy my own medicines. Eventually, my parents found out about my diagnosis but even then, I didn't tell them the real reason.
I told them that I was sick due to a chemical imbalance in my brain. They didn't understand and my parents told me to just be positive. They also told me that I just wasn't praying enough. "Depression wasn't a thing during our time," my parents said, "We needed to be strong emotionally." I have to admit that knowing how they would react stopped me from asking for help.
I entered my psychiatrist's office with so many thoughts running through my head. I asked myself,
"Would this help or am I just wasting my money?"
I can vividly recall my first therapy session. I entered my psychiatrist's office with so many thoughts running through my head. I asked myself, "Would this help or am I just wasting my money?" Honestly, if my psychiatrist didn't look so nice and inviting, I wouldn't have pushed through with the session.
She started by asking what brought me to therapy. Admittedly, I held back and gave vague answers—only mentioning my rather "dark past" in passing. After hearing my history, she asked me a few questions about my life. I honestly felt uncomfortable, but I guess, I just wasn't used to putting all these stories out there. Oddly though, I felt slightly lighter. The counseling part only took a while, I'd say around 30 minutes or so. Before I left, she told me I did a great job and then thanked me for being willing to ask for help.
The next few sessions, I felt myself getting comfortable with these weekly conversations. I became more open, and I started to share information I held so close before. But still, there are some days where I would ask myself if these sessions were worth it; I'm basically just spending thousands of pesos to talk about my feelings. Why couldn't I just do this with a friend? Eventually, I realized that I'm paying for professional help. My therapist spent years of her life studying these things and it's working so far, why stop now? Besides, I've hid these stories from my friends and family for years because deep down, I know, they probably weren't equipped to help me work through these emotions.
It's been roughly three years since I started therapy. Since then, my doctor has imparted different coping mechanisms that have helped me in many ways. One that has worked well for me is keeping a journal where I can write down my thoughts and emotions. She told me to pour my feelings in those pages, as I would during our therapy sessions. "Think of it as therapy on-the-go," she said. After writing my thoughts down, I would ask myself the same questions my therapist would ask me. This way, I'm working through my thoughts and emotions on my own which took me a while to learn but has helped me greatly.
If you think it's time to try therapy, look out for these signs:
When you've been continuously down for more than two weeks
"It's normal to feel down and sad sometimes," Coach Beth Morales, a consultation, life coach and licensed psychologist, told Cosmopolitan Philippines, "but experiencing this continuously for more than two weeks may be a sign of something serious." Sadness and depression are two different things. Sadness is a normal emotion, and we feel it when we go through tough situations in our life. Depression, on the other hand, is a "mental disorder that has an overpowering effect on many parts of a person's life. It can occur in people of any gender or age and alters behaviors and attitudes."
When you're starting to feel anxious more often that usual
According to Coach Beth, there are several symptoms of anxiety: breathlessness, trouble in concentration, being forgetful, to name a few. Essentially, when you're worrying more than usual, this may be a sign of anxiety.
When you experience unexplainable symptoms in your body
If you experience sudden chest pain, stomach ache, or vomiting, these sensations may be psychosomatic symptoms. Coach Beth told us that some of her patients come in to the ER to have themselves checked but their tests return clean. These symptoms may be signs that you're going through something mentally.
When you cannot control your emotions
To reiterate, having intense feelings is normal. However, if you cannot control them, it may be a sign that you're experiencing something you can't quite figure out on your own. This is when professional help comes in.
Change didn't happen overnight. It took me months before I acknowledged the progress I've made. But with patience and an open mind, I believe that it helped me become kinder and more gentle with myself. It's all a learning process and every day, I'm still finding out more about what life is like after these rough chapters. Yes, I unfortunately went through some traumatic experiences. These still keep me awake some nights but thanks to therapy, I found a way to talk and work through them.
There's nothing wrong with seeking help. "If you can go to the doctor for physical pain," Coach Beth says, "then you should also visit an expert when you're struggling mentally."
Personally, I recommend therapy 100 percent. We all need help. Even if we think we can do everything by ourselves, the truth is we can't. These struggles affect the way you live, so you might as well make sure this aspect of your life is healthy.
Coach Beth Morales is a Registered Psychologist with the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) and a Certified Specialist in Clinical Psychology with the Psychological Association of the Philippines (PAP). You may contact her through her website.
*Name has been changed