Recently, comedian Joey de Leon got a lot of flak because of his insensitive remarks about depression.
"Yung depression, gawa-gawa lang yan," he flippantly said, and asked people to not support anyone who claims to suffer from it.
He has apologized since. A lot of rebuttals have also been made online. The incident became a necessary springboard to give this issue wider attention.
With all the noise (albeit welcome), I felt that adding more to the buzz would be futile. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt that I needed to talk about my experience. I needed to own up to what I felt, and make people who feel the same way know they’re not alone.
Here’s the thing: I’ve struggled with depression for years. And like others who suffer from it, I’ve kept silent about it because of the stigma around the condition--as if it’s a flaw we’ve brought upon ourselves.
Truth be told, I've heard the same thing Joey had said from family, friends, and exes, right to my face: it's all in my head. I'm just one prayer away from solving everything. I should just toughen up and ignore it.
While I know how well-meaning some of these statements were and are, they dismiss the breadth and depth of depression. Trust me, I try. A lot of us try. All the time. Every day we wake up trying to convince ourselves that everything will be okay. We try to keep the anxiety and fear at bay--pushing forward, moving on.
We learn to compartmentalize and hide feelings behind layers because sometimes, it feels that the only way we can survive is through denial. Sometimes days pass by like a blur and it feels like we're drowning. While a lot of us get to resurface for air, many don’t. They never make it to the light at the end of tunnel.
I almost thought I wouldn’t.
As a young kid, I’ve always had suicidal thoughts. Sometimes they would come even when I didn’t feel sad at all. I would cross the street and think about getting hit by a car. I would look outside a building and suddenly wonder how it would feel jumping out. I would imagine being in a plane crash.
It felt like a glitch in my head that persisted, like a dark cloud hovering all the time.
I’ve had attempts in the past, and while I’m not proud of them, I’ve come to learn from them. It used to be that I was looking for a quick fix. I thought seeing a psychiatrist and getting medicated would solve everything immediately. When it didn’t, I gave up the medications and quit the sessions, convinced that I didn’t need them anymore and they weren’t working.
I was wrong to have done that. While the depressive episodes are less frequent than before, it still comes severely--and sometimes, not as sadness, but as waves of anger. The thoughts still come, every now and then: I've just learned to fight back. I'm scared I will, at one point, lose.
Fortunately, I know better now.
I’ve promised myself I will see a psychiatrist again soon. I am seriously considering getting medication again.
I don’t want to lose.
I want to stress that this isn’t me trying to get away with my mistakes. People with depression don't want a free pass in life. I don't want to use depression as an excuse, and neither do I want people to think I'm less competent.
(Also, the last thing I want to happen is have people connect my being gay with my depression. Trust me, I've heard people say, or at least hint: "Malungkot ka kasi bakla ka.")
People think we want cheerleaders. But we don’t want people telling us everything will be okay. (You know how insensitive it is when people tell those who just had a loved one die that everything will be okay? Yes, that's how many depressed people think about those who say "Cheer up!”.) The optimism is great, but making presumptions about how we will feel and waving away our present situation doesn’t make us magically feel well.
Don't think you can fix depressed people with trite advice and inspirational quotes you picked up from an Instagram post or two. Sincerely try to be there, to care, to hear us out. Don't assume that people with depression follow a template. We don't all look alike. Some of us are high-functioning. We wear a lot of masks.
As a teenager, I lost my grandfather to depression. He hanged himself in the same room I was sleeping in. I think about that moment at times, and I wonder what I could've done to make him feel better. I know I could've tried harder to listen, to empathize.
Empathy. We really need more of it.
Instead of throwing shade, we could try to brighten someone else's day. We could be the support system that our loved ones need. We could be the ones who acknowledge that not everyone is okay all the time, and assure them that that's okay.
Let’s talk about depression more. Let’s be more understanding of people who are suffering from it. You never know whose life you can save by just being there.
If you're feeling emotionally unwell, seek help: the Hopeline hotline is available 24/7. Call (02) 804-HOPE (4673) or 0917 558 HOPE (4673).
HELLO, MY NAME IS EVAN TAN.
I'm a writer and communications professional based in Manila, Philippines. Outside of my regular job, I like to travel, work out, volunteer, watch movies and plays, go to art galleries/ fairs and museums, read books, and eat vegetarian food.
More about me here.