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All I know about depression |


All I know about depression

Gabbie Tatad - The Philippine Star

The first time I thought about killing myself, I took the tallest chair I owned out onto my balcony, stood on top of it, and looked 16 floors down into oncoming traffic.

MANILA, Philippines - Earlier this week, news came of screen legend Robin Williams’ suicide and his struggle with depression. Amid the Instagram posts of famous Williams quotes and melancholy clips from Dead Poets Society, those who loved Williams had their fair share of questions: how did he become so depressed without anyone knowing? How could someone who made us laugh so much be so sad? How could someone beloved by so many feel so alone?

While I rarely discuss my personal life in this medium, I find this instance to be an exception. Major depression has also been a bedfellow of mine, so I do have some sort of understanding. I don’t claim to be any sort of expert on the matter, and what I will go on to tell you is simply based on my personal experiences. But I believe it is important to talk about this, as depression is a grave issue that we need to be able to discuss more openly. There is a large need to broaden our understanding of mental illness past the obvious “Crispin, Basilio” reference and soon, before we lose any more good men to this illness and others like it.

When I was younger, I saw someone I love suffer from depression. All the signs were classic — there was an inability to bathe oneself, mood swings, total disregard for personal appearance, and a complete change from the person I once knew. This was the mask I knew depression to wear, and did not at the time realize that this illness manifests differently in each person it takes hold of. When depression dug its clutches into me, I didn’t recognize it, because I still made jokes all the time, I laughed a lot, I bathed every day, and I cared a great deal about making myself look presentable.

However, there were little things that tipped me off — things that told me that something was not exactly right. The smallest of tasks became difficult, like stepping out of my apartment building to buy bread from the 7-Eleven fewer than 10 feet away. I was irritable and uncomfortable around unfamiliar people, and I made sure that any errands involved little to no contact with others as much as humanly possible. I shifted between extremes: I was either eating all the time or not at all, and I could either sleep for almost the entirety of a day or stay up until I’d seen the sun both rise and set again. I lost interest in the things I loved most, including writing, as I could not get my brain to focus on a coherent string of thought. And as if that wasn’t enough, I was in serious physical pain, as though somebody had balanced a sub-zero freezer on my chest, stabbing straight through me on a daily basis. 


No one, not even my closest friends or those I lived with, knew that I was suffering. Because I was living in New York at the time, where most people function under a moderate amount of depression anyway, I didn’t feel as though it was right to complain about my lot in life. I thought that asking for help when I had already been given so much was an abuse of others’ kindness. I walked with shame because I couldn’t control my disorder, and I became an expert at keeping the symptoms of my illness far from view of those who loved me. However, the guilt, the fear, the anxiety, and the exhaustion had crushed me to a point where the question of life itself seemed negotiable.

The very first time I thought about killing myself, I took the tallest chair I owned out onto my balcony, stood on top of it, and looked 16 floors down into oncoming traffic. I placed my foot on the edge of the banister and wondered what it would be like to free-fall. Most people in this situation would be gripped by fear, but all I felt was relief. I stepped down from the chair and decided that while things wouldn’t transpire that day, I would soon meet the sweet release of death. And instead of an obvious, glaring red flag, as it should have been, it became a source of consolation for me. Any time someone would ask to go to a concert or on a trip sometime within the following months, I’d respond with, “We’ll see.” Then I would smile to myself because I clung to the idea that while my friends enjoyed music and beaches, I would simply be free.

This continued for months, and one day I received a call telling me that one of my best friends, Helena, had jumped from a building in Ortigas. My blood ran cold, and I wept uncontrollably. I knew exactly how alone she must have felt, and I wished we could have commiserated together. I wished one of us had been brave enough to let the other know that this was how bad things were, and then maybe we could have carried each other. Yet amid the heartbreaking loss, instead of taking that event as a cue to tell someone about my situation, I thought, “It shouldn’t have been her; it should have been me.”

Depression is a mental disorder that warps a person’s way of thinking and way of viewing oneself, so things that ordinarily stand to reason no longer follow. On my absolute worst days, I had convinced myself that I was of little value, and no amount of praise from another person would change what I viewed as fact. I’ve realized since that a huge deterrent in asking for help is not just the fact that depression triggers a huge sense of low self-esteem, but also the immense fear of being judged.

The real trouble is when people who mean well say things meant to console, but are actually rather callous or insensitive. Things like, “There are worse things happening in the world,” and “Suicide is never the answer.” There is already so much guilt that comes with being depressed that comparing it to world hunger or ongoing wars only reinforces the idea that the sickness is invalid, which it isn’t. Sickness needs treatment, especially if it puts you at the risk of death. Likewise, people who are so depressed they have considered killing themselves don’t need reminding that there are other solutions, because without treatment, the illness makes all other options appear to still be steeped in misery. What people in this situation need is not your expertise in morality, your quotes of the day, or your overcompensating encouragement. What helps most in this difficult and extremely sensitive time is a patient, listening ear free of judgment. Trust me, it is the difference between life and death.


The way I finally received help, I am almost ashamed to admit, was not by gathering the courage to ask for it. Rather, help was thrust upon me due to an unsuccessful attempt on my own life. Following the incident, I was confined in a psychiatric facility for a brief period, where I was asked if I would agree to take medication. There was some resistance on my part. I am the kind of person who’s wary of taking an Advil if I can sleep it off, because each drug comes with a set of side effects. Often enough, if these side effects become unbearable, it leads to being prescribed another type of medication to manage those side effects until an endless chain of medicating begins.

As it turns out, going on medication was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Not only did it assist me in my road to recovery, but it has helped me acknowledge that while I am sick, what I am stricken with is treatable. And the truth is, the medication isn’t magic. It’s not like I no longer feel sad or irritable at all, but more like I’ve been given a dimmer switch where there once only used to be pitch black. I am reminded of the light; of what happiness can feel like; of what it is to laugh and live without so much physical pain; and of the possibility that sadness, while it still exists, can be fleeting. With both medication and therapy, I find I am slowly becoming better equipped to cope when negative emotions inevitably arise.

The rest of my stay in the facility bore some resemblance to Girl, Interrupted. There were different characters: massive former criminals who silently peered at you down the hallway, a man who leered at every woman that walked by, former models with at least 10 disorders to their name, some of the kindest and most patient nurses known to man, and a few kindred spirits who were just trying to get through the hell of their own being. It sounds cheesy, but it put things in perspective, that even though I’d hit rock bottom, I had been spared the exploration of the subterranean levels that lay beneath it. So I stand before you now, not completely healed, but infinitely better and finally remembering what it is to enjoy being alive.


If any of these things sound familiar to you or make you question how you’ve been feeling lately, it may be time to reach out and ask for help. Ask for help, not only because you need it but because you deserve it. You deserve to know how valuable you are, and you deserve the ability to enjoy your life.

Take the time to look at your situation as if it were happening to somebody that you love, and consider that you would be willing to help them out in a heartbeat, whether or not they asked. If no one has offered to help you, it’s not that they don’t care, it’s that they may not understand how grave the situation is. My family was surprised when they learned of my illness because I gave no indication of its breadth or depth. Still, they rose to the occasion, and have taken every step to ensure that I know I am not alone, that I am valued, and that they are rooting for my recovery. So while I know that the thought is terrifying, talk to somebody important to you and give them a chance to love and support you.

In Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams’ character has an incredibly insightful moment with a student, Todd Anderson, played by a young Ethan Hawke. Williams says, “Mr. Anderson thinks that everything inside of him is worthless and embarrassing. Isn’t that right, Todd? That’s your worst fear. I think you’re wrong; I think there’s something inside of you that’s worth a great deal.” Then Williams teaches him to reach down from within, to find his voice, and a young poet is born. While I know nothing of Williams’ struggles, my heart grieves hoping he had been reminded of all the things inside him that are worth so much, before it was too late. Still, it is my sincerest hope that you understand it isn’t too late for you.

This is not the end, dear friend. There is no failure or loss that is insurmountable, even if it is the only thing in view at the moment. This pain that plagues you will not be the thing that defines you and it certainly will not be what kills you. So stand on your desk and ask for help, because the rest of your life — a good and better life — is waiting to begin.

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Tweet the author @gabbietatad.

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