The Phoenix Process. "The Egyptians called the bird the Phoenix and believed that every 500 years, he renewed his quest for his true self. Knowing that a new way can only be found only with the death of his worn-out habits, defenses and beliefs, the Phoenix built a pyre of cinnamon and myrrh, sat in the flames and burned to death. Then he rose from the ashes as a new being - a fusion of who he had been before and who he had become. A new bird, yet ever more himself; changed, and at the same time the eternal Phoenix."
-Broken Open, Elizabeth Lesser
I denied my own illness, amidst the acknowledgement of the 3 key people in my life then. I denied myself out of shame and embarrassment and never talked about it even with my very close family. I didn’t want to embarrass my family’s name, God forbid if our Filipino family friends found out and talked about us. I never opened up to my family, and they never asked. So I suffered in silence and life continued. I pretended that all was well. I had mastered the art of putting up a front, smiling and laughing in front of everyone around me, only to go back to my room locked in the darkness, tears and self-deprecation. As far as my family was concerned, I appeared to be sensitive, emotional and very moody; all seeming to be normal flaws of one’s personality. So they also became sensitive to me, and were careful of what they said around me. I knew they wanted me to feel better and just be better – but not from some kind of mental illness –they just wanted me to be happy. I knew what they were doing, as they carefully walked on eggshells around me, avoiding triggering my “moods”. I was aware of it. But I didn’t know what to tell them, nor how to explain it to them if I couldn’t even understand what I was going through myself. However, years later, I remember getting a call from my oldest niece who was going to nursing school at the time. They happened to discuss major depression in class, so she reached out to me. She knew I suffered from depression but she never really understood it then, nor did we ever really talk about it. It took her to be in nursing school before she actually became sympathetic to the illness. Nonetheless, I appreciated the gesture and her sentiments. Even though it was years later, the acknowledgment from a family member was enough to validate what I went through.
It was a challenging number of years, more or less 6 years – the longest years of my life, when everything stopped. It was a time of denial, and roller coaster of emotions. In a matter of time, the diagnosis of “major depression” led to “manic depression”. It was all so surreal. My world had changed and everything revolved around this illness. I lost myself. I lost my dreams, my drive and inner strength that defined who I was. I lost people in my life, friends who never understood what was going on. I felt nobody, feeling empty inside. All those years, I must have taken 30-40 medications comprised of trial and error, all depending on my symptoms and numerous physical side effects. I had been brought to the emergency room multiple times. It was a time of lying in bed for days, helplessly and desperately trying to get through each day. I was a complete mess. People probably don’t realize but depression is more than chemical imbalance and a whirlwind of negative emotions. It affected my whole body. I was in constant pain, from my head to my muscles all over my body and I was in constant and dire need of energy. I was always sick and my body was always hurting. All those years, it was all that, and so much more.
It was also a time of learning about my illness, my needs, and all my limitations. I was raised Catholic. I never considered myself religious just like my family, but I am a person of strong faith. My life stopped during that time period... I questioned my faith and everything else, but I also went back to my faith for hope and guidance. I had a lot of questions but I never lost hope nor stopped believing. I searched for inspirational quotes and words that would strengthen my faith and help me get through the darkest days. I read books after books. I also acquired my first inspirational piece of jewelry. It was a leather bracelet with a metal and engraved in it were the words “wisdom courage strength”. I held on to that bracelet like I was holding on to my dear life and wore it every single day until the leather wore off. It was my daily reminder to keep going and to stay strong. I had up and down moments, a true roller coaster ride. I moved to different apartments multiple times and I had several odd jobs, hoping to find one that would make me feel good about myself. I was a nomad, not by choice but by the constant desire to keep changing things my life, hoping to find answers and feel better.
I had hit rock bottom; and hitting rock bottom only meant one thing, there was no other way to go, but up. One day, I had my epiphany. I decided it was time to take control of my life. All the self-help books I had read all those years finally did something, and I realized I needed to face this illness head on. I needed to help myself. It was time for me to do some soul-searching as well as come up with practical solutions that would work for me… and only I, could figure all that for myself.
I decided to stop all my medications, the same pills that made me lethargic all day long, gave me headaches, dry mouth, nausea, dizziness and weakness –every- single- day. (Please DO NOT do this without any medical advice). I read more and more self-help books. I learned about alternative medicine. I embraced aromatherapy and massages, energy healing, yoga, and everything else that did not involve drugs. Things that made me feel good, and even for a short span of time, I felt great. Stopping my medications was not easy, because that meant dealing with my depression symptoms. But I came to terms with myself, and I made a choice to take control of my own life. It was during those desperate times, when I had cultivated my spirituality and self-awareness…and that eventually led to my healing.
In the following 4 years, I was feeling much better and I felt completely different. I was in a different place, a better place, yet I knew there was still a lot of work to be done. I continued to read and engage myself in things and activities that were helping me get well. I strengthened my faith, in ways different from how I was conservatively raised. I learned more about myself and continued to explore my health, wellness and spirituality. But these 4 years were not a bed of roses. Don’t get me wrong; these were some of the promising times in my life, but unfortunately also one of the most challenging times. I met someone and got married during this time. However, I knew there was a red flag in the first year of that marriage. Things continued to go downhill and ended up with a divorce 3 1/2 years later.
It was a trying time. Just when things were getting better, just when my health was at its peak, I realized that my marriage wouldn’t work. I realized I wanted and deserved better, especially having survived all those years of being ill. I realized it wasn’t meant to be. So, I left and I hit another rock bottom. I decided to leave the marriage though I was afraid I embarrassed my family. I knew I did something courageous but I also knew, it was shameful to most people. Yet again, the feeling of shame and guilt, based on a decision I thought was right, in my heart and in my mind. I felt lost and confused yet again, but I felt stronger and braver this time. The marriage happened for a reason and I was happy at one point. I learned what I needed to learn and I have become a stronger person because of it. This phase of my life was a true testimony to what I have become. I was faced with another life-altering event, but I survived and I rose from all the challenges.
All in all, 10 years I always say, my life seemed to have stopped. So, I consider myself a late bloomer. I went through 10 years of mental illness, life-changing events and experienced all the possible highs and lows of life. I look at it now and I realize those 10 years were NOT a waste. Those 10 years have become my teacher, my depression included. I wouldn’t be the strong and hopeful person I am today, if it weren’t for those 10 years. I have been broken open a couple of times. Each time became an opportunity for me to grow and open my heart. *It was when I was all the way down to the bottom of my loss, with an open heart, in the darkness and pain; I was able to find my true self and inner growth. This was my Phoenix Process. Today, I live a meaningful life – a life of hope and inner strength… and I remain a student of life, always seeking the growth of myself and spiritual journey.
That is my story....and it's only one of the millions** of others who have gone through and are going through some form of depression. I am sharing it with the intention of shedding some light - and offering my string of hope and inspiration to keep going, keep fighting... one day at a time, because it gets better... and all will be well. :)
*Reference: Broken Open, Elizabeth Lesser
** Depression Statistics
According to NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. In fact, an estimated 16 million adults and 2.2 million adolescents had at least one depressive episode in 2012. The number of patients diagnosed with depression increases by approximately 20% per year. An estimated 121 million people around the world currently suffer from some form of depression.