A few days ago, an interesting message appeared in my inbox. It was from one of the friends I have developed great admiration for because she is one of those women who seem to have her life together.
She was a traveler and a go-getter, one who just carried an essence of worldliness, one that went beyond the sometimes too tiny circle of Metro Manila. We often exchanged poignant and encouraging articles but this time the story she wanted to share was personal. It was her own.
From the outside, Paula Queaño is living the life. At 29 years old, she is working for a prestigious corporate real estate company focusing on brand innovation and corporate communications. She has seen a good share of the world, went to the best schools, and even worked for a prestigious media outlet in the country.
It would be easy to dismiss her as someone who “had it made” in life except for one thing – Paula was diagnosed with manic depression and today, she shares her story in the hopes of encouraging others.
The recent celebrity deaths leading to suicide has helped make the decision for her, maybe taking the courage to share her tale can help save a life.
It all started a couple of years ago after the demise of a seven-year relationship she held dear. She candidly recalls that it “took a hard toll on her” and likened it to being shattered, “I just didn’t lose battery, I was shattered into pieces in places that could not be replaced.”
Paula admits that her then boyfriend became the center part of her world, choosing him over family and making him her everything. Since then, Paula learned the important lesson of loving herself and being whole on her own but this lesson didn’t come without a price tag.
Initially, Paula thought she was just going through the motions of moving on from a relationship but saw the red flags when isolating herself turned from weeks into months, “It wasn’t just me getting over a heartache because it became extremely dark. I went to a dark place I never thought I’d cross. It started as not being able to handle pain into wanting the pain to end. Things were not getting better and everything was out of control.”
Knowing that some people may not understand the darkness of depression, Paula tries to explain it.
“It’s a state you can’t control. It’s an endless fight. If I should explain it visually, it would be me inside a room with a light bulb as my source of
light. It’s like someone took away the light bulb and I am trapped, helpless and hopeless at the same time. It’s a pit. You look for sunshine in order to survive but somehow you can’t find it, no matter how you try.”
She then knew that what she felt wasn’t just a woman getting over a heartbreak. It was something more. And so despite it being challenging, she got up and decided to get professional help.
“It was hard to get myself checked. But you have to do what you have to do to make it manageable. People don’t understand that mental health problem is the same as any disease. I’ve heard it all: arte lang yan, wala lang yan, you’ll get over it. But knowledge and educating oneself is the best way to heal and no matter what people say, you have to fight to overcome it.”
Paula was diagnosed with manic depression and today, she says that it is manageable.
“The journey is hard but the people you surround yourself with makes it easier. Knowing what it is and what triggers it has helped as well. That’s why it’s called managing it and you can only do so if you are brave enough to ask for the help you need.”
She also goes on to say that sometimes people think that her disease happened because she didn’t have enough faith.
“It’s not that I don’t pray, I do. I just recently went on a trip to Israel. But prayers go side by side with awareness. It’s like brain surgery where we pray for fast recovery but at the same time, we have to know the depth of our situation. We have to be aware to overcome.”
Today, Paula is winning the battle and it’s through awareness and not being ashamed of sharing her story, “Awareness is the first step, even for those who are not depressed. For people with depression, it seems like there’s no tomorrow, so imagine what they feel when they come across someone who’s dismissive, it can be damaging.”
She concludes, “To know why people are the way they are takes understanding and knowledge and soon enough, we will have a society that understands and extends kindness. Depression exists but with awareness, we can help those diagnosed with it to win. People have sprinkled sunshine in my life when I couldn’t produce my own and I am grateful for that and my only wish is for others to do the same.”