I was 17 when I learned that my mother had an affair. I never told my dad because I know he would not let it pass, and that it will greatly affect our family. I did share it to my sister (who was a year younger than me), and we confronted our mom that we know about it. She kept on denying until we were able to corner her – that’s when she admitted it and also promised us that she’d stop it.
A little more than a year after, my dad, through a reliable evidence, learned about the affair. From then on, it was a series of “Let’s fix it” to “we’re fixing it” to a few months of it being fixed, and then back to the same affair, then another round of fixing, promising to stop it, working to mend the relationships within the family, and back to the same affair. Along the way, my younger siblings who were aged 15, 14, and 7 three years ago, learned about the matter, too.
I can still vividly remember that one night when I couldn’t help myself but answer and shout back at my mom because I was so angry at why she kept blaming my dad for what she did. After this, she forewarned me that I wouldn’t succeed in life because I disrespected her; she even called me out for being “mayabang” to think that I can just shout at her.
In July of last year, after more than 5 years of trying to work things out, my parents separated in fact. In the early years of their marital problem, all I wanted was for them to stay together because “family and marriages should stick together through thick or thin.” But after trying for more than half a decade, and seeing little to no remorse from her, their separation was something that me and my siblings finally wanted. Personally, I have been emotionally and mentally affected even though I wasn’t present when my parents were arguing (I live away from home during the weekdays). I made sure (and as the eldest child, I felt the responsibility) to always call and check up on them at home hoping my dad’s health isn’t put to danger because of another round of heated argument and hoping that my siblings are still emotionally and mentally stable.
When they separated, I offered my dad if he wants me to take a leave of absence from law school, so I could help him manage our family business. Thinking I only had 2 more years in school, he insisted that I focus on my studies. I understood that time that he didn’t want to risk that I’d get so involved in the family business that I wouldn’t come back to school and finish law. It was, in the first place, the same reason why he wanted me to pursue law right after college graduation.
And so, I went on to enroll in my third year in law school. It was the dip to my law school rollercoaster ride – lots of missed classes, going to school knowing about only 1-2 cases and “livestreaming” everything during class, going home right after class and spending the whole night either trying to study and failing, or just not trying at all. I didn’t have the focus that I needed to study. Every night I end up either crying myself to sleep, or binge-watching, stress-eating and not sleeping at all. Honestly, I was at that point where I didn’t care if I failed a class; but every time I had this thought, I remember my dad telling me to prove my mom wrong. Fortunately, I didn’t fail any of my third-year classes.
No one in school except my boyfriend knew about this. The next person to know was KG, last year’s Hotel Operations Head (I was her Understudy). Other than the two of them, no one in school (not even my close friends outside of law school) knew the exact situation I was in. It was in the latter part of last semester (2nd Semester of AY 2017-2018) when I started opening up to my law school friends. It’s funny looking back now that my campaign managers who are also my blockmates – France, Belle, Steph, and Gaita, found out about it because I cried during a room-to-room campaign when asked about how I can help students who have mental illnesses in relation to my platform on mental health.
Fast forward to this semester, and three days after we capped off the Mental Health Month project, I’d like to believe that I am mentally better today than I was a year ago (or maybe because I just don’t have the time to wallow about anything anymore). I still have bad days, yes, but I guess taking less class load this semester really helped me channel more of my energy for myself, my commitments, and my family. I’m kind of embracing the thought that I am now the “mom” to my 4 siblings, to the barristers this year, and to the student body. Sometimes it is physically tiring and it feels burdensome and I ask myself why I should be responsible for some things I didn’t sign up for, but for the most part of the whole experience, it is fulfilling to know that I can help and reach out to more people rather than spending my time feeling down, questioning why this happened to me and why I’m in law school when I should be helping out my dad, or thinking about the future and whether I’ll never really succeed because I shouted at her.
To everyone else who’s going through a mental illness, or even just a mental health condition, know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE in this fight. Whatever it is that you are going through, you have friends who are willing to listen and make time for you (yes, despite the caseload if they are in law school); you have the Student Council whose main goal for this year is not only to execute innovative projects, but also to be approachable regardless of what matter you want to talk about; you have different organizations in school where you can channel your energy; you have professors and a school administration who are ready to listen.
Also, do not be afraid to SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP – it’s better to know about it, to go through the process of denial and acceptance, and then to cope with it, than to wallow in self-pity and emotions over an unreasonable period of time. The guidance counselling office will soon be open, too – thanks to the school administration.
Lastly, BE SELF-AWARE AND TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. One thing that I learned from my personal experience and from the whole Mental Health Month project is that we’ll have our own coping mechanisms. While mine would be keeping myself busy and occupied with work, yours might be travelling more often, or doing cardio thrice a week, or playing a computer game. Do whatever it is that you think and feel will help you. Don’t feel guilty that you are making time for yourself instead of studying. In the end, your mental health is still more important than the numerical grade for a class.
Struggling with you,
Mental Health Advocate
Internals Vice President, Student Council 2018-2019
Hotel Operations Head, Central Bar Operations 2018
Over-all Civil Law Subject Head, Central Bar Operations 2018
Resident Intern, Ateneo Human Rights Center
Co-Founder, Y & Y Perfumery