I am a writer diagnosed with mental disorder: Now what?

Published October 17, 2021, 8:55 AM

by Jessica Pag-iwayan


I honestly don’t know where to begin. 

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

It started with continuous burping, followed by nausea with cold sweat, and then severe vomiting later kicked in. These are the symptoms I’ve been dealing with since February this year. During the first weeks, I simply 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 middle of a pandemic!—just to get medication to control my vomiting. I’ll get shots via IV and be sent home. And then it will just happen all over again. 

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

Dealing with this kind of sickness for months  was tiring, not just physically but also emotionally. With the hope that, finally, I found the answer to my prayers, I religiously took my medicines and removed fatty food from my diet. That included red meat. For some time, I felt slightly better. But the heavy feeling of not having a will to get up in the morning because you knew that there will be suffering lingered. 

A THIEF As someone who loves to travel for stories, the author feels that depression took away that joy from her (Zaldy Comanda)

As a writer, I loved to travel. I was constantly asking my editors to send me out. I felt bored sitting in the office for nine hours. But without me noticing, because of my sickness, I started to develop the fear of traveling to far places or even just going out of my house thinking that I might get another attack. 

What if I get hospitalized again? What if the attack happens and I was all alone? What would I do? Who would be there for me? 

Whenever I would think of these things, all the symptoms would come in—like vultures looking for negative thoughts in your head, taking every opportunity to attack me. This was when I started to feel helpless. I would cry in the morning, during the day, and at night. When I prayed, I came to the point that I was no longer asking for healing. I just wanted everything to end. 

I was dealing with all of these while attending to my family responsibilities and giving my best to the job that I truly love. On the verge of becoming hopeless, several journalists friends and editors encouraged me to seek help from a mental health professional. As a highly functioning individual, it never came to my mind 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 servicing more than 100 million people, where could I find a center or hospital that would entertain me in the middle of this pandemic? 

WAITING The author while waiting for her psychological check-up at the MakatiMed Wellness Center

Then I found refuge at the MakatiMed Wellness Center. Clueless, I told them I wanted to see a psychiatrist. But I got more than what I asked for. First, I was checked by a family doctor who cleared me from any illnesses. 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 that it felt good to tell a stranger all of the things in your mind. It felt like emptying an old vessel and refilling it with new memories and experiences. 

Even without the final result of the tests yet, my psychologist already told me that I needed to see a psychiatrist. That’s when things became real. It is so real that up to this moment, I have no words to describe what I’m feeling. A few hours before the moment of truth with my psychiatrist in Makati Medical Center, I was handed my result from my psychologist and it said: “major depressive disorder with features of anxiety.” 

Not knowing what to think or what to feel, the good doctor welcomed me to his clinic with a warm smile that helped me feel at ease. He explained my situation, that I needed to deal with this and I now need to take medication—something I’m not fond of.  

But he also assures me that I will recover. I just need to do things slowly, prioritize my mental health, and soon I will get back my confidence. He even commended me for braving the stigma and seeking help, knowing that not everyone is in favor of seeking mental help. 

I’m now starting with my medications. My body is still adjusting to it but I can say that I am better than before. I am looking forward to the day that I can be happy and free as a bird again. I’m no longer asking why me or what triggers it. For now, I will try my best to take one step at a time, braving my own fears. 

I hope my story will inspire you to take care of your mental health. Break the stigma. Don’t hesitate to seek professional advice. 

To all the people dealing with mental disorders, I salute you all.