Being Mentally Ill with #WalangHiya

In honor of #WomxnsHistoryMonth2017, I’m collaborating with AnneMarie of Formation of a Filipinx American where I wrote a blog to reclaim the phrase #WalangHiya, which has been traditionally used to shame Filipinxs. Her edits were crucial for me to dive deeper into how shame badly affected my mental health, and how speaking about my mental illness openly allowed me to grow and become truly happy.  Photo Credit: Cindy Trinh of Activist NYC. For more essays from Femme and Womxn-Identifying Filipinx, check out the landing page.

In the last decade, I was severely depressed and suicidal for years. I suffered through three mental breakdowns. Each subsequent psychosis was worse than the last. Yet, today, I can openly share this and nearly every delusion I’ve had with no shame. Without hesitation, I’ve repeated my story enough times for it to be normal— because it is.

But I wasn’t always like this.

For years, I hid how depressed and suicidal I was and how much despair I carried in the recesses of my heart. I smiled behind “I’m good” and excessive laughter though I wanted to fail out of college. I felt like I didn’t deserve my scholarship, honors classes, my high GPA, my friends, my job, and loved ones. I spent so many nights, spiraling into my thoughts alone, allowing self-loathing and guilt to debilitate me. I wondered if I’d ever be truly happy.

During my senior year of college, I was seeing a boy. I believed I was part of a secretly powerful and rich family and he was trying to marry into my regime. I believed he was part of a major crime syndicate and we were to become leaders. But I felt like I was a failure who didn’t do anything of real significance since I majored in writing. I felt like a failure to my family and to the entire world. I felt I didn’t deserve to lead a happy life— or to be alive at all.

Eventually, I told the boy I was seeing that I was depressed and didn’t think I could handle my classes. He scoffed at me and told me I had no problems, especially compared to him. He pointed to his right eye, said that I was stressing him out and making it twitch. He belittled my “nonexistent” issues and told me to shut up. He was the only one I confessed to so I retreated even further into my depression and isolation, eventually leading into a major breakdown. I crumbled and ended up in the mental hospital wing for an entire month, relearning what my reality truly is, why I deserved to be alive, and how my problems do matter.

Society taboos mental illness, especially one as severe as mine. We are taught to not talk openly about mental health. But I have learned I can never become well unless this stigma is broken and discarded.

Now, I’m the happiest and most stable I ever been, BECAUSE of how open I am about my mental illness.

Last month, I performed my monologue “Psychotic Break” for In Full Color. In Full Color is a women of color theatre production of monologues and poetry. It was the first time I ever performed a memorized work that unburied my secrets:

“With you, I had power as The Leader, an Ancient god, an Aswang demon, a cult figure, a deserving Antichrist. I could control time and raise the dead. 9/11, tragic car accidents, and ensuing wars were all done in MY name. With you, I was the focus of all broadcasts, newscasts, printed word, even strangers’ conversations, and assassination plots.

My destiny was sealed.

Yet that fate came with a paranoia that engulfed me and dwarfed all reason and self-preservation. I went catatonic from the horror and I would never want to go back to that. But I hate how I regret this loss and now I don’t know what to do. That life had meaning, no matter how fucked up, and now I don’t know my place in the world anymore.

Today I have to cross-check what I see, hear, and think to ensure that this reality is the right one, every single day. A persistent doubt runs undercurrent to my being and I’m so scared that I’ll wake up believing I’m in Hell again.”

While the fear has diminished, it still exists and probably will for the rest of my life. But I don’t regret being mentally ill, because I savor my current stability and sanity and this reality, more than I ever could if I was “normal.” Depression was the part of my process to learn to be grateful for every happy moment that blessed me. Being once suicidal made how much my loved ones adored me more apparent. I also cherish them and this wonderful, surreal life I live more.

After my performance, strangers affirmed me how amazing, phenomenal, great, and brave I was— I am. They held my hands and told me I was doing beautiful, necessary work. How it built support within the community— our community. Audience members came up to me to share their own mental illness and struggles. Just starting that conversation and being open with one another— that alone was worth the admission of confessing all my dark secrets. I could never expect such a beautiful outcome. In all four of my performances, I heard sniffling and saw someone grabbing a handkerchief for their eyes. It was cathartic for me and the audience. I am so grateful to have opened my heart and my world to all of them.

If I didn’t have psychoses or severe depression, I wouldn’t have discovered all the lovely friends I’ve made, be in the amazing position of Event and Donation Space Coordinator of The Asian American Literary Review’s “Open In Emergency: A Special Issue on Asian American Mental Health”, and be this passionate as a writer and as a human being. I am thankful for what got me here and to write for you, dear Reader. I have no reason to be ashamed of who I am or for what I have. And I refuse to let anyone convince me otherwise. Not today. Not ever. I will continue to lead my life #WalangHiya and reassure those like me to never hide in shame. We all deserve to live happily, despite the voices in our head.

Eileen Ramos (she/her/hers) is a first generation-born Filipinx-American who descended from a long, resilient line of strong womxn. She is bipolar and has a history of psychoses and depression. As a mental health advocate and a writer, she strives to shine a light on the marginalized and silenced. She is the head event and donation space coordinator for The Asian American Literary Review’s “Open In Emergency: A Special Issue on Asian American Mental Health,” a fantastic multimedia resource that contains a deck of tarot cards with original art and text, a foldout testimonial tapestry, a “hacked” mock Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM): Asian American Edition, and more. As a book hoarder and future book maker, she adores experimental literature and is in the works of creating a joint interactive novel and comic book. She also enjoys guerrilla art and is starting a book column with Bored to Death Book Club, where she leaves behind books with her own written works in public spaces. You can email her at eintervital [AT] gmail dot com to arrange OIE events or for further conversation.  TwitterFacebook | Instagram 

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