Trigger warning: Mentions of depression, anxiety, and suicide

Living with depression is like being stuck in quicksand: the struggle to move against the pull of unseen forces is immense. Unfortunately, fatigue inevitably takes hold. You will feel suffocated, helpless, and sadly, you will feel consumed by utter hopelessness.

This is the feeling I cope with daily, and it is an experience that I would like to share in the hopes of educating my peers and removing the continuing cultural stigma surrounding mental health.

I grew up in an era where mental health was less understood than it is now. In the province where I was born, depression, anxiety, and suicide were topics that were taboo at best and dismissed at worst. My elders often agreed on one thing: depression, or any mental illness for that matter, equated to weakness and failure. Instead, one’s worth was measured against their character, achievements, and most of all, potential. The more you had of each one, the more you would be socially accepted. If you exhibited symptoms of depression, social rejection naturally followed.

As a result, I strove to fit this image of success at an early age. I tried to contain any emotional outbursts and repressed my inner doubts. I was considered a well-behaved child because of this, earning praise from my elders for being much more mature than my peers. My elementary and high school years were unproblematic: I constantly ranked at the top of my class, which led to my teachers pushing me to lead student organizations, which then led to me representing my school in local competitions, winning most and losing few. More praise and pressure followed in equal measure, forcing me in a constant state to perform exceedingly well, unfortunately causing what I would later come to know as extreme anxiety.

In 2015, I took and was able to pass all the entrance examinations of our nation’s top schools, to my family’s pride. I entered college with the hopes and dreams of my family and friends on my shoulders. But the immense pressure of the preceding years took their toll. When I met my first string of failures in the form of low grades and organization application rejections, all against the backdrop of a chaotic Manila compared to my idyllic youth, I was emotionally devastated. The bubble of ignorance from my childhood popped, and I struggled to find the motivation to do anything.

Depression slowly took over every aspect of my life, coloring each hopeful moment in a blanket of despair. First, I found excuses to put off academic work. I struggled to go to class, in the face of the Metro’s brutal commute. I ignored forging new friendships, because I was too tired every time I tried to communicate.

This went on for years, hollowing me out emotionally, and extinguishing any promise that I believe I once held. Thankfully, a small part of me sought to help myself, despite feeling so very helpless. I researched heavily about the nature of depression, and finding that I exhibited many of its symptoms, sought to do something about it.

Unfortunately, my family did not believe me at first. The image I molded throughout the years was a major disconnect to the actuality of me being depressed. Seeking actual help was also expensive, and it was far cheaper to deny the truth than to go through treatment.

Nevertheless, I struggled on, and miraculously coped even when I felt my symptoms worsen over the years. In 2019, at the onset of the pandemic, during my lowest point, where the pain from demotivation and bitter past memories made suicide a tempting option, I finally sought help at one of the few open psych clinics in the Metro, where I was finally diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder.

The diagnosis only confirmed what I felt long before there was a label: the loss of passion for the things I once loved to do, the crushing feeling of despair that prevented me from getting up for days at a time, the inability to feel that I was loved or even to express my emotions. It was a cycle of suffering, and I knew I had to end it by being helped.

Sadly, depression, once manifested, can only be managed. Hence, there is no “cure” for depression. It can only be coped with. I am told that a combination of a healthy diet and exercise, medications, and personal will, are the necessities for keeping the despair at bay. Yet not all treatments work. It is up to us to try our best to reach out to professionals, so they may properly diagnose our illnesses, and tailor the best personal coping strategy. Personally, in order to function socially, I have to take medications, or else risk the feeling of being in quicksand yet again. But I am not ashamed to admit this, because it makes me do the things I love to do, and help others that feel the same way.

It was an immense struggle to reach out for help. Yet know that seeking help doesn’t make you weak. The admission and acceptance of one’s own predicaments, much like any other ailment, is the first step towards proper healing.

This essay was first published in the Young Blood column of the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Nov. 2, 2021.

Franz Fernandez-Legazpi, 23, is a proud son of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. He graduated BA Creative Writing at the University of the

Philippines Diliman, and now works in the public service sector.