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YOUNG BLOOD - My life with the Big D.

"Why are some people born sad?" I once asked a monk, in reference to myself. The monk answered: "Because of karma. In your previous life, you must have done something wrong."

I can't say for certain that I agree, or that I have fully wrapped my mind around that response. But right now, having battled Depression essentially all my life, I just go with Kurt Vonnegut's "Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why."

I was 17 when I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder due to chemical imbalance. A year before that, I ran away from home. I was too young to know how to explain to my family and friends the reason for my behavior. Too young to understand the confusion and the HoldenCaulfieldesque loneliness that overwhelmed my mere 16yearold self. (This was before I "met" Holden Caulfield.)

On the morning of my 18th birthday, I could be seen being discharged from a therapeutic community. That's a euphemism for loony bin. I remember being sad that day. I was unlike most of the patients who hated being there. It was a place where I found peace and freedom, a place I called home. The irony still interests me to this day.

I am 29 now. Over the years, I've had more than 10 shrinks and been prescribed different combinations of mood and anxietydisorder medications, two suicide attempts, and countless depressive episodes and rock bottoms. Nobody knew of my condition then except my parents, my older sister, and a trusted friend. But even they had only a vague idea of what was going on with me.

It's not hard to understand why people with mental disorders end up hiding their affliction. Aside from the stigma attached to mental illness, especially here in the Philippines, depression is never easy to explain. It's often mistaken as being lazy, being shy, being weak in character, being too undriven or too complacent to try.

"It's all in the mind." "It's because you're too negative." "It's because you never exercise." "It's all a matter of getting used to it."

While I recognize that comments like those sometimes come from wellmeaning intentions, such remarks just do not help at all. When you tell me not to take pills because doing so would change me or get me hooked, I know you mean no harm. But opinions like that are spoken out of ignorance.

A person suffering from depression experiences sadness, loneliness, emptiness and many other negative emotions at a paralyzing level only a sufferer can understand. Whenever I'm down with a major depressive episode, I am stripped of will power. My body is devoid of energy to go through the motions of daily life. My mind automatically fills itself with dark thoughts, far beyond my control.

Other times, the mind is just numb and the body is in a state of unbelievably severe ennuiunable to experience pleasure or interest in literally anything, even things previously enjoyed. This symptom, as I came to know from years of reading about my illness, is called anhedonia. When I'm anhedonic, I feel like a zombie. I wake up lifeless, reduced to just satisfying my stomach's hunger for food and sleeping for hours on end.

It took me years of denial before I came to accept that I need the pills to help me cope. While I know medication is not the sole solution and may entail extensive trialanderror (finding the right combination of pills could take a long time), based on my experience, the truth is that medication is of huge help. And you owe it to yourself to not deprive yourself of something that can serve as a crutchso you can get out of bed and seek other ways to help you cope with the disease.

Sometimes I wonder where I will be now if I didn't have this mental abnormality. What places could I have gone to? What things would I have done differently? How many friends and people would I have met, and kept? But whenever I realize that this condition has also brought me places, made me seek out adventures and try paths less traveled, I am led to an understanding that whether you are sick or not, there'll always be a story carved out for you, a story continuously unfolding and worth telling just as any other story is.

My constant search for ways toward the manageability of my condition has led me to unusual places and experiences. Had it not been for the Big D, I probably wouldn't have had the chance to live in a shelter for the homeless when I ran away from home; I probably wouldn't have joined a templestaycumstudy program which involved living a semimonastic life for two months; I probably wouldn't have learned Zen meditation.

Had it not been for depression, I most probably wouldn't have experienced how it's like to have amnesia (when a psychiatric treatment called electroconvulsive therapy brought me such a side effect); I probably wouldn't have embarked on a monthlong backpacking trip in north Luzon on a shoestring budget; I probably wouldn't have learned about Ayahuasca and DMT.

Had it not been for this mental illness, I wouldn't have known straightoutofthemovies weird and eccentric real people, whom I met through a support group for depression and anxiety sufferers, one of whom became my best friend. And I probably wouldn't have developed this profound appreciation of parental and family support, when I finally made a real effort to ask for help.

Having said all that, I'd like to say that my mental disorder doesn't define me. Rather, it is a part of me that has helped shape my life into what it is now. I will not claim that I have found stability, for the struggle continues. But I have learned that no matter how far from normal my life deviates, it is always allowed, possible, and even fulfilling, to live my life my own way.

I have learned that I am not alone. That I should never, ever be ashamed of myself. That it's not my choice to be ill, just as people with cancer didn't choose to have cancer.

Whenever it feels like the sadness or emptiness won't ever go away, I do my best to remember that everything is temporary. The symptoms may recur againand againbut they will pass. And I will cope. Just like everybody else, normal or abnormal, I'll get by.

"Darlene T," 29, is a freelance online English teacher and "struggling photographer." She has lived in Samar and Baguio, stays now in Quezon City, and will soon be off to Baler.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Jan 4, 2015
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