Stand Strong

“The past few months,” my [then]-girlfriend said. “Ibang-iba ka na magalit.” A few hours later, she called on the phone and ended our three-year relationship. Even if a big part of me knew it was bound to happen sooner or later, it still broke my heart. I suppose Rico Blanco intended deeper wisdom than I initially understood when he sang, “Huwag mo namang diretsuhin ang patalim na alam kong parating,” in “‘Wag Mong Aminin.”

I drank myself to death that night and woke up the following day with a hangover that staggered my productivity. I couldn’t study at all and just ended up taking several consecutive naps in school. I got ridiculously sick and lost my voice for the rest of the week, leaving me unable to participate in the daily recitations our professors require us to do. In fact, I didn’t eat anything at all for five straight days. I would go out in the middle of class just to cry at the rooftop. I’d stare blankly into space and drown myself in the thought of what went wrong, when in reality, I already knew exactly what went wrong. It was me.

What she said implied that I was never like this before law school. As much as I didn’t want to blame myself, because of the horrifying fact that law school just happens to bring out the worst in people, I knew that I had enough agency as a person to realize that what I was doing to her and to our relationship was wrong. She told me that I was getting violent in our fights and she was right. I never hit her, but I was scared that it might actually get to that point. It was particularly saddening, because she had already brought up my issues that could possibly be addressed by getting professional help years prior to her breaking up with me. I actually followed her advice back then and went to one of our university’s guidance counselors. I suppose the sessions there helped out to a certain extent, but they, obviously, were not enough to forestall the inevitability of what was to come.

Maturity is maturity not only when you’ve come to realize the mistakes you’ve done, but also when you take the necessary steps to hold yourself accountable for them. I told my mom about what happened and asked her if I could look for a psychiatrist. My mother was skeptical at first, questioning the necessity of it all, considering that I was no longer with my ex-girlfriend. I told her that it was not a problem that was isolated solely between me and my ex-girlfriend, but it was an issue that affects my family, my friends, and all the people who are close to me. My mother wasn’t that informed about things so progressive such as mental health awareness and sexual empowerment, but she was loving and understanding enough to help me get through this. Although I understand where she was coming from, I acknowledged the fact that my ex-girlfriend was never coming back and me getting professional help from a psychiatrist would never get her back as well – but that was alright with me. All that mattered then was that I should become better than the state I was in.

My psychiatrist observed that all my anger could possibly have stemmed from past experiences. My father, who passed away in 2014, was an angry and stern man. I couldn’t say the same for my mother, but her rage came unmatched as well. Fights between them wouldn’t get “physical” (for the lack of a better word), but violence was still there all the same. You could see it in their eyes. The fact that my parents weren’t lovingly sweet or expressively affectionate did not help as well. Some form of emotional and mental abuse was inflicted upon me and my sisters because of the way my parents adapted and reacted to problems. I’m not saying that they were bad parents, but there were some things that they could have handled in a much more mature and loving manner. Being in law school also aggravated the whole situation considering the stress, the pressure, and the heartbreak it brings on a daily basis. It was also proper to note that my relationship with my ex-girlfriend wasn’t that open and mature to begin with. The way we reacted to the problems that we faced during our time together wasn’t the optimal way to do so, to be honest, but it was the way we knew. It was as if no matter what we did, we just ended up going in circles, facing the same demons that we thought we had buried deep enough for them to never surface again. In reality, all that the suppression of feelings ever did was to make things worse.

What my psychiatrist was trying to say was that even though I still had control over things, that control was not “entirely mine.” The things that have happened to us or around us, if they were powerful enough, would have enough strength to change the way we think and react to things. Yes, I may have been mad about a lot of things, but that anger did not come solely from me. There were other factors external to my being that played into how I would get angry. He then prescribed antidepressants which were supposed to – to my understanding – increase the level of serotonin (the happy hormone) in my body, make me less sadder, and curb my compulsion to do certain things. Although the psychiatrist didn’t inform me of any side-effects, my blockmates noticed that I started to become ridiculously hyper (coincidentally on the same day that the antidepressants were supposed to kick in).

I believe it would be proper to add that I did not just seek professional help, but I sought out the comfort of the people immediately around me as well. My friends were there for me ever since and they did not ask anything in return. They were there to listen to me, without hesitation and without unwillingness. I also got in touch with a very good friend of mine, who I’ve known for years. She was my shoulder to cry on and I was hers. Needless to say, we caught feelings and ended up together – but that’s a story for another time.

All that I am trying to say here is that professional help and medication will always be a big help, yes, but being with people who understand you, love you, and accept you for who you are will be good enough help as well, and actually, maybe even better help, considering that people recover in different ways. Although I wasn’t clinically diagnosed with anything specific (the psychiatrist, though told me that we should watch out for the possibility of bipolar disorder), each person’s mental health is sui generis in nature. Despite the various classifications of mental illnesses, there is no particular universality that attaches to all of them. People adapt and adjust to things differently, more so when it comes to mental health. Even if I got better this way doesn’t mean it would work for someone else. The difficulty in addressing mental illnesses then, probably, is that various methods of help works differently amongst people, but that shouldn’t stop you from seeking help nonetheless.

Even if the world we are in is not as accepting and progressive as it needs to be, there are many, many people who are willing to take the necessary steps to make it a much better place for us all. Despite the stigma and the discrimination, we should band together and stand strong. Our mental health is as important as our physical health and there is no valid reason why we should forego the former and focus solely on the latter. In a time when people are actively pursuing these kinds of advocacies, we should be steadfast in our resolve to fight the good fight. As soon-to-be lawyers, I believe we should be in the frontlines when it comes to mental health since we are exposed to the rigors of a place where our own mental health is put on the line. We should be brave enough to fight for those who are not able to fight for themselves.

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