When I was sixteen years old, my family and I went to church every day for about two months. It was the same pattern; pray, light a candle and sit in silence until it was time to go home. What prompted this religious routine was my mother passing away due to a cancerous tumor that moved from her stomach into her colon, viciously stripping away her physical and emotional well being for two years.
It was difficult to see the woman who raised me, the woman who had long, blond locks and a confident smile, transform into a woman who was too embarrassed to leave the house. I learned to hold up her hair as she vomited after every meal from the chemo, and I watched, as she grew thinner, her bones violently protruding through her skin. But I never learned why anything was happening or how I was supposed to deal with it. No one talked about it. Instead, we went to church to pray, light a candle and sit in silence.
Coming from a very traditional Filipino family, it was not abnormal to grieve the loss of family members through prayer. But I felt abnormal. I felt that at any moment I would burst into tears and plunge deep into my own self-hatred and negative thoughts and never come out. I was expected to keep a smile for my younger brother and, as an older sister, or an Ate, that everything would be okay.
After the passing of my mother, my brother and I proceeded to deal with her loss in very different ways. I deflected and used Google as my therapist and doctor. My frequently asked questions were “How does someone get cancer?” and “What is colon cancer?” and “How do you deal with the loss of a parent to cancer?” No one talked about my mother or what had happened. It felt like I was grieving the loss of an imagined human being.
In contrast to my silent, but rapidly forming depression, my brother was aggressively open about his sadness. Upon entering my junior year of college, my brother attempted suicide twice. The first time he swallowed two bottles of pills, the secondtime he threatened to jump off our school cafeteria building. “There is always someone suffering more somewhere else. Be happy with what you have,” was the response of family and friends who looked in on his situation as outsiders.
It was not until my brother’s last attempt at suicide that I realized I, too, am depressed. I was just dealing with it in a different way. I laid in bed and felt nothing. I was numb to everything that had previously boosted any adrenaline or excitement in my body.
Senior year came with dread. My grades had fallen, and I found no motivation to do the things that used to make me feel worthy and confident. I tried to reconnect with friends, but it only resulted in more self-hate and isolation. Ignoring and deflecting from my sadness was once a remedy, a natural defense mechanism that I cherished for “getting me through” the worse of times, but instead it turned out to be the source of my malaise. I was told that if I did not get my grades up, I would not graduate. One thing I was sure of throughout my depression was that I wanted my independence back. I sought out a school therapist and worked with her through my depression. Simply talking out loud and having someone else empathize with my situation validated that I was not abnormal for feeling depressed. Therapy helped me more than any Google answer ever did. With that help, I very slowly worked up the motivation to make my grades higher to graduate.
Depression is not an illness to be cured; it’s a work in progress every single day. What is different today than a year ago is that I have outlets to talk about and process the depression. Thankfully, now I’m able to manage it and be aware of it, rather than ignore it.