#VoicesOfHope: Inhale Hope, Exhale Despair

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I was born on Independence Day, a day of freedom for the rest of the Filipinos, yet ironically I spend years wondering when I would be free – from pains, insecurities, worries, and fears.

I was an achiever growing up. On the outside, everything seemed smooth and perfect. I excelled in different fields: academics, journalism, dancing, sports, and was even elected as a muse. I received a lot of praises, but felt that in every praise I received came the higher expectations. I started to feel like all eyes were on me, that one single mistake would undo all the things I worked hard for.

I went to college carrying all the pressure of being a high achiever. I felt there was no room for me to show weakness and pretended that everything was going well. It couldn’t be farther from the truth. I was struggling. I was afraid to fail. My whole body shook every end of the semester when our grades were released.

I cried a lot because I was afraid to fail. The mere thought of disappointing people gave me nightmares. I felt this way for four years without realizing it wasn’t normal, and continued to push myself to study harder.

One would think relief came upon graduation day. But for me, my worries did not end there. It worsened because I knew everyone was looking forward to our licensure exams. The people around me expected I would pass. The pressure during this time was difficult and I felt lucky to have someone I could share my thoughts with. It lightened me when things felt heavy. This person was not approved by everybody, however. But instead of following expectations, in this case, I followed my heart. 

It took two weeks before the licensure exam results were released, and knowing what you know about me by now, you can only imagine the agony of waiting.

I found out my name was not on the list. It took days for me to internalize what was happening. My worst fear came true: I was a failure. Despite working hard all these years, this one mistake proved that I really was not good enough.

I stayed at home for two months. I deactivated all my socials and ignored everyone except for the one person who became my support system. As the days passed by however, I started to feel alone. I eventually found out that he betrayed me with somebody else in the most painful way. I immediately decided to remove him from my life, but the trauma unfortunately stayed.

It was all too much. I had already made all these plans when I graduated but none of it happened. I felt stuck and left with no other options. I felt scared to the extent that my body would start shaking every time I thought about what had happened. I couldn’t breathe properly. I barely slept and ate. Eventually, I felt I really needed help. I went to see a psychiatrist. 

I could hear the silence while I was alone with my doctor and initially felt really afraid. Once she smiled at me, I burst into tears and told her every detail of my story. I did not expect it would be so easy. 

I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder with panic attacks. It wasn’t new to me because I researched the symptoms I was feeling. I did keep this to myself at first, but when my brother reached out to me, I told him about it and he helped me with my medication. The rest of my immediate family also eventually found out, and my doctor also talked to my guardians as part of my therapy.

Unfortunately, I stopped taking my anxiety medications because I did not have a good experience with it. I had a full-blown panic attack that nearly brought me to the ER. I calmed down when my mom wrapped her arms around me and told me to breathe. 

I signed a waiver to stop taking my medications and went through a series of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). 

I told myself that since I no longer took medication, I had to exert extra effort to help myself. I followed every advice that my doctor gave me. I started meditating twice a day. I learned breathing techniques. I exercised, spent my spare time trying to distract my mind from negative thinking.  I  traveled to relax and unwind and eventually became a travel buff. I kept on doing these routines and after 5 months, I got my first job. I met new people, which at first made me so anxious. Slowly, I got used to my new job and my colleagues.  I noticed that I was starting to get back to my old self. Though the anxiety attacks were still there, I was already making a lot of progress, which I was glad about, so I decided to discontinue my therapy sessions but still constantly did my routines. While I still have my routines, I have also ventured into exploring new things. I’ve been interested in different ways of meditation. I recently enrolled in pole dancing lessons. And I’m still looking forward to more adventures that life has to offer.  

Four years have since passed, and while I still encountered a lot of challenges along the way, things still fell into place. I did not get a local license and was not hired in my dream company, but I do have international certification that led me to my current job in an Australian firm. I’m also in a relationship with a guy whom I’ve known for 13 years. He has been very patient with me when I was having anxiety attacks during the first couple of months that we were together. I am grateful that he always does the best way that he can to protect my mental health. All in all, it took me 2 years before I could finally say that I am better now.  

Having anxiety gave me a lot of worries and nervousness,  but it also led me to valuing and loving myself more. Every day is a new chance to heal from the past, make the present memorable, and to be excited for the future. To assure that I  can make this happen,

I’ve been waiting for this moment to share with everyone that I am a survivor and I want to let  everyone know that as long as you’re still breathing, no matter how heavy or hard it is, there is still hope. So please keep on fighting and give yourself a chance to live the life you wish to have. how you wanted to. Let’s all be free from all these pains, insecurities, worries and fears. Breathe in hope, breathe out despair.

 

Editor’s Note: Failure is a normal part of the human experience, but it makes us believe in the negative thoughts and doubts in our head saying we are not good enough. We hope this story reminds you that every day we are alive is a chance to start anew. Like the author, there is nothing wrong with asking for help to deal with this in a healthy way. Please feel free to visit our directory for a list of mental health services available in the Philippines, or call the NCMH hotline (09178998727) for emergencies.
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