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It's Mental Health Awareness Month, and we are sharing stories of real people who have courageously shared their story with us. Because we believe that sharing a story can be a powerful inspiration to someone.... Hope you find hope and strength within the honesty, courage and vulnerability of Joanne's story.
This story begins with an 11 year old girl who asked for an eraser. I was doing my homework at a family friend’s house one night when I had asked my “uncle” for an eraser. He walked me into his office, closed the door, and began to step closer to me. I was confused at his actions, but since he was a trusted family friend tried to think nothing of it. He said to me “Are you going to thank your Tito for this eraser.” I said, “Thank you.” He stepped closer and sked for a kiss, so I gave him one on his cheek. The moment I was close enough to be in his space, he grabbed me closer and forced his tongue down my throat. I quickly pushed off and ran into the dining room where my parents were, feeling ashamed, lost, and confused. That is an experience that still haunts me to this day, it was the beginning of a downward spiral that lead into a world of emotional confusion, self hatred, and a loss of my own self worth.
I began to struggle with my own self worth, self esteem, and everything around me seemed so bleak. I questioned myself constantly because of that moment. It was like an age of innocence had disappeared in that 5 minutes of being behind those closed doors. From that moment on I became a static of young girls who were molested by someone they knew and it changed me in ways I couldn’t understand. I lost the trust in my parents, but even worse I lost the trust in myself. Every time I was able to be alone with my thoughts visions of that moment kept replaying over and over again and the years to come of visiting that house were no longer full of joyful memories, they were filled with confusion.
At 15 I attempted to commit suicide. My dad found me on the bathroom floor passed out and choking on my own vomit. I was quickly rushed to the emergency room and woke up with a tube down my throat and the taste of charcoal lingering in my mouth. I didn’t want to live, no one understood me, my feelings or my thoughts, and I thought maybe just maybe the world would be better without the worthless girl I believed I was. Being forced into psychiatric care after this experience was probably the best thing for me, although at the time I still believed I was a lost cause. I was diagnosed with depression at that time and my parents were forced into trying to understand a mental illness. Being raised in a traditional Filipino home, my parents were the type who didn’t discuss “feelings” or “emotions”. This was something their culture didn’t talk about back home in the Philippines and an illness that was rarely discussed since they shoved it under the rug. It was a struggle for me to go by day by day trying to regain my sense of self while testing out different types of antidepressants to combat against my wild hormonal imbalances. It was a struggle. There were moments I would wake up feeling completely down, not wanting to move, no energy for the day, and still trying to muster up the strength to face my high school friends.
Day by day it was a learning process. I had to learn how to cope, how to manage, and how to understand the emotions that I couldn’t control. It was a time of self discovery, but a road that wasn’t ending in my teenage years. I began to date my now husband at the age of 19 and we quickly became parents at 21 with our first daughter. I guess you could say I dismissed my depression and redirected my focus on being a young mother. A world I knew needed my attention. About 4 years ago after our second daughter, who’s now 7 was born an onset of my depression kicked in. This time it was set off by a whole new set of stresses and situations.
After having two kids my body had changed and since I had my first daughter at 21 I really felt like I was never able to enjoy my “young adult years”. My stomach was lined with stretch marks, my midsection was loose, and in my mind I never got to enjoy my body. So over the years I covered my pain with a busy schedule and tried to fill my time with and over committed life schedule so that I could forget about what was bothering me deep inside. But from time to time I would find myself crying in my bedroom while my daughters were downstairs so consumed by my lack of self worth due to my self image. I didn’t love myself enough to care and there were moments were I would look in the mirror and still see that little girl who believed it.
It wasn’t until I recognized the affect that my depression and lack of self worth were affecting my daughters that I knew changes needed to be made. So I took control of my health, my life, and began a fitness journey. Exercise has been a lifesaver for me, its my antidepressant, my stress relieve. It is in those moments when I’m working out where I can regain a sense of self worth by challenging a side of me I never knew was there. In some ways I would envision my old self ripping apart as I worked out hard in the gym and the soreness I felt was a new me breaking through. I began to see myself as a work in progress and one I could be proud of.
The depression isn’t over. As a matter of fact I recently went through an onset of depression last year which is when I found Link of Hearts and in finding Link of Hearts, it was a reminder that depression is a very real thing and it is something that we need to cope through together.
-Joanne Encarnacion, fitness & lifestyle blogger + digital media maven || GOFITJO
Photo credit: gofitjo.com