New Year’s Day 2016.
Lunch had just ended and we were in Lola Charit’s living room, surrounded by relatives who were all talking about my father’s problematic heart valve.
I nudged Powie and whispered, “I kinda wanna tell them.”
He nodded once, encouragingly.
I spoke, my voice loud and clear, like it sometimes has to be in order to be heard in our family. “Guys, speaking of medical problems, I have one!” I said, almost cheerfully, as if I was announcing that I bought a new TV.
“I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety disorder.”
In hindsight, there were signs that I ignored.
In the months before my diagnosis, my PMS had transformed from just a day or two of irritability or sensitivity (and sometimes neither of the two) to lengthier, darker periods of gloom. I chalked it up to hormones, to getting older. “Maybe I’m approaching menopause?” I thought a few times, which is laughable since the red fairy and I will keep meeting for about two more decades before she says goodbye.
And then there was the bigger sign.
The day after the launch of my second book “Planet Panic,” I woke up feeling… nothing. It was so different from the way I felt after “Paper Cuts” came out—I was elated for days. This time, even though I had a lot of fun at the event, the next day, I felt no joy.
“Shouldn’t I be happy? Why don’t I feel happy?” I asked myself. But I told no one and I tried to explain it away. “Maybe I’m just tired. Yeah, I’m probably just tired.”
Besides, I didn’t have time to think too much about how I was feeling. I had a trip to the U.S. I needed to prepare for.
I spent a few extra days in the States because I didn’t want to worry about being rerouted when Manila was declared a no-fly zone during the APEC summit.
I met up with friends and relatives but I was alone most of the time, having adventures around Los Angeles, finding stories to write about. It had been an amazing week—I interviewed Lucky Blue Smith and Sean O’Pry about their Penshoppe campaigns, I had a blast seeing Lala, Chloe and Tito Ringgo, I loved hanging out with Tita Becky, I had dinner with Edzel, I had Chipotle twice (way essential), I somehow (magically) ended up at the Mockingjay premiere, I watched a taping of 2 Broke Girls, I went to Rainn Wilson’s book launch. Thanks to Uber as my wingman, I had finally fallen in love with LA.
It was almost time to go home and I had one last adventure planned. I went to the Grammy Museum to listen to Conan O’Brien and Peter Guralnick talk about Sam Phillips.
I wasn’t there for Sam Phillips or Peter Guralnick. I was just there to stare at Conan who had been my strange celebrity crush for many years.
And so it was a big surprise that when I walked out of the museum, my delight at spending a good couple of hours watching Conan play with his hair and my excitement at seeing his assistant Sona suddenly disappeared, only to be replaced by something I had never felt before.
“Have a good night,” the museum’s security guard had said to me.
“You too!” I had called out to him happily.
But the minute I stepped onto the sidewalk, I felt like I had been sucker punched.
This is the way I have explained it to friends: It was like my insides had been scraped out, leaving me hollow and empty. I felt like a human Jack O’Lantern.
I was supposed to head back to Tito Boy and Tita Becky’s house so I could start packing but my body refused.
“I need to walk this off,” I thought. And so I did. I walked block after block in Downtown LA but did not feel better.
“Walking isn’t making a difference. I think I need a drink,” I thought. I whipped out my phone, looked up bars on Google Maps and started walking towards Hank’s. I entered the dark dive bar, grabbed a seat and told the bartender, who looked like an older version of Kristen Stewart, “Can I get a beer please?”
“Sure, hon, but I will need to see an ID.”
I looked at the sign on the wall: “If you look under 25, be prepared to show ID.”
“Lady, I am 35,” I wanted to argue but I had no strength. I dug around in my bag for my passport and waited as she squinted at it.
Soon, a cold beer was in front of me and I drank in silence.
Kristen Stewart Sr. made small talk with every single customer in the bar, asking them about the basketball game, teasing them about the sports teams they rooted for, talking about how much she fucking loves Abba, but to me, she said nothing except ask, “Do you want another one?”
It was like she could see the dark haze around me and knew that even her edgy zeal couldn’t penetrate it.
I was draining my second bottle of beer when my phone went off. “You on your way back?” Tita Becky texted. It was time to go.
I arrived at their place to discover that Tito Boy had cooked a beautiful plate of Chilean sea bass for me. It was absolutely delicious and I ate every last bit of it. I didn’t know it then but that was going to be my last full meal for a while.
I spent the rest of the night packing and watching videos of Jennifer Lawrence on YouTube, finding comfort in the fact that I could still laugh.
The next morning, I watched a clip of Adele surprising her impersonators and I started crying at the airport. I spent the almost-fourteen-hour flight from LA to Korea just sleeping. Then I landed in Manila feeling like an alien who had been plucked from my home planet and dropped somewhere really really strange.
I was in my head for days, trying to understand the odd feeling that just wouldn’t go away. On the outside, I pretended everything was normal. I was working, I was productive, I was interviewing people, I was meeting deadlines, I was replying to messages and comments on Facebook and Instagram. But on the inside, I was everything but. Outside of work, I couldn’t relate to the people around me. I was constantly exhausted. I was barely eating. I spent nights crashing on the carpet and watching stand-up comics on YouTube. I slept too much. I remember being in a mall to meet with Jill and Giff for dinner and when they told me they were going to be an hour late, I felt completely helpless, like I wanted to go home. And when they finally arrived, I didn’t know how to talk to them. I was an alien, an alien pretending to be Pam. I felt like the person that I was had left, leaving her empty shell still standing.
I was maybe more quiet than usual but I thought I had been doing a good job at hiding the strangeness. But after about ten days, Jill asked, “Is everything okay?”
And after days of silence, I finally spoke. “No, I’m not okay. I think I’m depressed. I need to see someone about it.”