Photo by Iya Merilles

Getting There, Staying There, and Leaving

Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Major Depressive Disorder. Bipolar Disorder. So many disorders, so little time. They all sound so familiar, yet so foreign, as if plucked out of a menu. Here, life says, the monkey on your back.

Getting There
Before I entered law school, mental health was my primary concern. College had not treated me well, in a sense that the readings were too much, the work load was inhumane, and the environment was competitive. I lugged my way through it to get a degree that a lot of people would call easy. But I came out the other end with a fancy Latin award, not knowing for sure whether it was worth it all.

They told me that the Ateneo Law School entrance exam was not like the others. The PhilSat, they said, you could study for. Reviewers were useful, and the LEB would release some on their own. The UP Law entrance examination was a lot like the UPCAT, they told me, and that review classes would be the way to go. But Ateneo—Ateneo was more psychological.

For one, the Bulatao Center for Psychology Services was conducting the test. In my senior year of college, I had been seeing one of their psychologists for my mental health concerns. I thought, perhaps the Ateneo Law School wanted to see if their students could handle the rigours of the grind, rather than how intelligent they are on paper.

That should have been a warning sign. I, of all people, would know that I am not mentally or emotionally stable enough for this. I don’t need an entrance exam, a pseudo-psychological evaluation on how I reason with logic, to tell me that.

Besides, with the turn out of that exam, I doubt the Ateneo will want to keep me for another four years anyway.

But alas, it seems that the universe had other plans for me.
Getting accepted into the law school made me forget about the consequences that might follow, or the negative effects on my already deteriorating mental health. Nevertheless, it was a risk I was willing to take, a dream I needed to achieve. My “why” won over my “how”—as in, “how the hell am I going to do this, when I’m literally crazy.”

Divine intervention, I figured.

Staying There
True enough, the first week of law school, in every way that it could, tested my entire being. It tested my health—I had just been diagnosed diabetic before classes started. It tested my faith, made me ask God why this has to be the path I’d take. And it tested my psyche, challenged me to do things I’ve never done before against my will.

Quitting could have been answer, but if I did that, my mind would tell me I’m a loser, I won’t be able to live with myself for more or less four years, and I’d be forced to get a job, an environment I’d much rather escape than the academe.

In the end, the next step was easy: onward. Just onward. “One foot in front of the other, we’ll get there somehow,” I would tell myself in the morning. And some days were better than others. To this day, I still feel the same: some days are better than others.

Some days, I wake up without my alarm. I take a hot shower the way I like it. I drink a perfect cup of coffee. I drive to school without traffic. I arrive to all my favourite slots at the third floor basement free. I get to settle into my classroom that already has its aircon on, and a few of my friends. I have lunch in the mall, eat food I actually like. And I’m productive after class, right on schedule with my grind. If I’m lucky, I even get called, and ace my recit.

But some days—most days—are not as good. Some days, I wake up, and I don’t want to get out of bed. Some days, I stare at the ceiling, wondering if I should go to school. What’s another 60, I think, if I’m going to fail my next recit, anyway? Some days, I wander around my condo on the 25th floor, and I end up on the balcony, wondering how many seconds it would take for me to make it all the way down.

Some days, the traffic is bad. Some days, the parking is full. Some days, I get called on a provision I didn’t memorize, on a case I didn’t read, on a concept I didn’t master. And some days, “quitting” doesn’t just mean “quitting law school” – it means quitting life.

The bad days happen more often. The bad days are nearly every day. And it is a struggle.

It’s a struggle to get out of bed. It’s a struggle to make myself shower. It’s a struggle to drive to school, and tell myself not to run by car into the nearest lamp post. It’s a struggle not to stare too long out the window in Room 312.

And yet. There’s always an “and yet.”

These several “and yet” keeps me alive. And that is as literal as it gets.

And Leaving
Support is everything.

The idea of law school sounds so cut-throat.

All of you are on this boat, nobody wants to jump or drown or die, but the boat can only hold so many people. At the end of four years, only the smartest of them all, the cream of the crop will get to make it to land.

We are told early on to look to our left, look to our right—only one of us will survive.

The idea of law school that society has, that the past generations had, ingrained in us this mentality that we have to be the best of the best, that we have to make it to the top or we’re blood in the water. Support is overrated. Sharing notes is a saintly act. Centralized notes are a gift from gods, otherwise known as Clarence Tiu, Sandy Crab, Kat Gaw, CromBonds, who walk among men. For some reason, I was made to believe that support wasn’t a thing.

I was proven wrong. Of course I was, so so early on.

It starts with family, who never seem to tire of being patient with me, of feeding me, and giving me enough to stay afloat. It continues to my girlfriend, my rock, my everything, who forces me to rest, who tells me it’s okay to be weak.

But all roads lead to my constants in law school: My block.

My block is one of the main reasons why I still fight. We fight for each other, and we fight together. Being bonded together through a joint suffering makes friendships unbreakable, families unshakeable. And in our first year together, my block showed me that law school isn’t all about bad recits, and midterms every day, and losing sleep.

Law school, with the right people, is about kindness. With my block, law school became home, the most unexpected of solitudes. Law school became about the moments in between classes, when we could talk or study or laugh. Law school became about the weekends, studying in different places around Makati, or when we’re feeling adventurous, Ortigas, or Quezon City. Law school became about friendships, and connections, and staying alive together.

Going through law school, as cliché as it sounds, is really like going on a roller coaster. There will always be ups and downs—more downs than there are ups. But we were told early on: once you focus on the downs, once you dwell and stay down there, you’ve already lost. The downs were make you feel like there are no more ups, that there is no more hope, that there will be no more loop-de-loop.

But the ups, all the “and yet,” and the “why?” – that’s what makes it worth my while. My family, my girlfriend, my friends, my block—they make it worth my while.

What now?
My mental health is not much better. Make no mistake, I still struggle every day. The meds can only do so much, my essential oils have stopped working, and every morning feels like a challenge for me to find new ways to self-destruct.

But leaving that dark, dark place isn’t as hard as it was before. Getting out of bed is a lot easier than I thought. The monkey on my back doesn’t feel so heavy.

One foot in front of the other, a battalion of soldiers behind me. Into battle we go.

This article was written by a law student from Ateneo Law for the Mental Health Month. #BreakTheStigma

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