Now what? – Manila Bulletin

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Honestly, I don’t know where to start.

I found myself typing and deleting not knowing what to write or how to write what I mean. What do I even mean in the first place? Probably because as a journalist I usually write about other people and this is the first time I’ve shown the world my vulnerable side.

It started with continuous burping, followed by nausea with cold sweats, and then severe vomiting. These are the symptoms that I have been facing since February of this year. For the first few weeks, I just brushed it off. I was used to it. I mean most writers suffer from acid reflux, right? Coffee is life.

But it didn’t stop. I found myself in the emergency rooms of different hospitals – in the midst of a pandemic! – just to get medicine to control my vomiting. I will be given intravenous injections and sent home. And then it will all start again.

All these days I thought I was just suffering from severe acid reflux or GERD. Until I saw two gastro-doctors. They told me that, no, I didn’t have GERD or acid reflux, I just had functional dyspepsia – my stomach was not working fast enough to digest the food I was taking. I was given medication for two weeks and advised to change my diet.

Dealing with this kind of illness for months was tiring, not only physically but also emotionally. In the hope of finally finding the answer to my prayers, I religiously took my medication and removed fatty foods from my diet. This included red meat. For a while I felt a little better. But the heavy feeling of not wanting to get up in the morning because we knew there would be suffering lingered.

A THIEF As someone who loves to travel for stories, the author believes depression has taken that joy away from him (Zaldy Comanda)

As a writer, I loved to travel. I kept asking my editors to send me. I was bored sitting at the desk for nine hours. But without realizing it, due to my illness, I started to develop the fear of traveling to distant places or even just leaving my home thinking that I might have another stroke.

What if I am hospitalized again? What if the attack happened and I was on my own? What would I do? Who would be there for me?

Whenever I thought about these things, all the symptoms would appear, like vultures looking for negative thoughts in your head, taking every opportunity to attack me. That’s when I started to feel helpless. I cried in the morning, day and night. When I prayed, I got to the point that I no longer asked for healing. I just wanted it to end.

I was dealing with all of this while taking care of my family responsibilities and doing my best for the job that I really love. On the verge of despair, several journalist and editor friends encouraged me to seek help from a mental health professional. As a very functional individual, it never occurred to me that this would be my last resort. But why not? I had nothing to lose, anyway.

But the challenge was, with only 500 psychiatrists in the Philippines serving over 100 million people, where could I find a center or hospital that would keep me entertained in the midst of this pandemic?

WAIT The author while waiting for his psychological assessment at the MakatiMed Wellness Center

Then I found refuge at the MakatiMed wellness center. Without any idea, I told them I wanted to see a psychiatrist. But I got more than I asked for. First of all, I was examined by a family doctor who cleared me of any illness. Then I was sent to see a psychologist.

For four hours, I took several exams while she was talking to me. These experiences were all new to me. She patiently listened to my story, laughed with me, and even cried with me. I didn’t realize it felt good to tell a stranger all the things you have on your mind. It was like emptying an old container and filling it with new memories and experiences.

Even without the final test result, my psychologist already told me that I needed to see a psychiatrist. This is when things got real. It’s so real that so far I have no words to describe how I feel. A few hours before the moment of truth with my psychiatrist at Makati Medical Center, my psychologist gave me my result and he said: “Major depressive disorder with features of anxiety”.

Not knowing what to think or what to feel, the good doctor greeted me in his clinic with a warm smile that made me feel at ease. He explained to me my situation, that I had to deal with this and now I have to take medication, something that I don’t like.

But he also assures me that I will recover. I just need to take things slow, prioritize my sanity, and soon I’ll be confident in myself. He even praised me for braving the stigma and seeking help, knowing that not everyone is in favor of seeking mental help.

I am now starting with my medication. My body is still adjusting to it but I can say that I am better than before. I look forward to the day when I can once again be happy and free as a bird. I no longer ask why me or what triggers it. For now, I’ll do my best to take one step at a time, face my own fears.

I hope my story inspires you to take care of your mental health. Break the stigma. Do not hesitate to seek professional advice.

To all those living with mental health problems, I salute you all.


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