Amber Carmona is Silakbo's Featured Advocate for January.
We met online, and I immediately noticed how active she was in promoting mental health awareness. Her self-care posts are like light in a mostly negative social media feed. We’ve talked about some of this a while back, but I wanted to share her story of resilience–how she continues to create, not just in spite of, but also because of her past.
Please give us a short description of yourself.
Hi! My name is Amber. I am currently pursuing a degree in Psychology at the Open University. I used to be enrolled at the Ateneo de Manila University, and back then I was a member of Ateneo Peers, Psyche, and SPEED. I am the eldest of two siblings. Interests include but are not limited to: writing, painting, singing, fangirling (of course), reading, and sometimes vlogging (still working on that, oops).
What do you do to raise awareness of the importance of mental health?
After I was first hospitalized for mental health problems, I felt vulnerable as ever and so I turned to social media not only to vent but also to clear misconceptions about depression, anxiety, etc.. I would go to (and occasionally still visit) “recovery” blogs, and from there I would draw the courage to share my thoughts and especially my story to people online and, later on, in person. For me, at least, especially since we’re talking about the importance of mental health here, raising awareness equals to being brave, being bold, and being true. I find strength in vulnerability, and the Internet has given me a place where I can build shelter without having to hide at the same time.
May I ask about your history with mental illness?*
I was professionally diagnosed with Major Depression when I was fifteen years old, but I can remember struggling with depression since I was thirteen. It’s quite a long, complicated story, so I won’t delve into specifics. But essentially, the root of my depression and anxiety come from childhood trauma. Triggers always keep me on my toes. Due to the prolonged trauma I had to go through as a child, about anything can trigger a post-traumatic stress reaction in me. I’m still figuring things out though. What’s significant, I guess, is that I’m already on the path to recovery. 🙂
Any experiences with stigma?
[It] was inevitable at first. Not many people in my family understood, and no one really ever talked about it in school. It was also incredibly difficult to open up to my closest friends. It wasn’t their fault, nor was it mine. The suffocating silence born from the stigma surrounding mental illness took my voice away. I felt too ashamed to ask for help.
What did–or does–it feel like when you’re at your absolute lowest? How are you able to cope?
I know this sounds weird, and I apologize if this is hard to comprehend, but when I’m at my absolute “lowest”, I feel everything all at once. I feel overwhelmed. When I plummet to rock bottom, it’s like I’m not even there. The last time I was at that point, I could feel all the pain and anger surging through my body. Back then, I did not know what was happening, which confused me and only caused me to feel more alone. Coping was nearly impossible, but I would cry until it didn’t hurt so much anymore. It was like wringing a towel dry.
How are you now, currently?
Frankly, I’m still going through a rough patch. The difference is, it’s somewhat easier to exist knowing what’s caused all this and why it happens in the first place.
I know you draw and paint hehe. Do you do any other forms of art?
Yes, I do draw and paint! It’s nothing too serious though. I keep an art journal, plus I enjoy writing (fan fiction, mostly).
Does art help you cope, and if it does, how so?
All three forms of art serve as outlets for me. I just… pour it all out without giving a care in the world. Most of my artwork doesn’t really make sense to anyone but me, but they are all produced in the midst of “emotional turbulence”. Fan fiction has helped me empathize with characters I subtly make my own.
How do you feel about mental health in our country?
We’re going there, just step by step. I know so many people (mostly from my generation) who have contributed to mental health awareness and I’m truly so proud of them. What I want is for professionals everywhere to see why help should be more accessible. Medication and therapy cost quite a lot, and this only prevents people from getting the help they need.
What would you like to say to anyone who is reading this and currently struggling with their mental health?
God, I have a hundred things to say, hahaha. But if I had to impart a sort of message for people who are struggling, especially those who are suffering invisibly, it would be in the words of Iroh to his anguished nephew, Zuko:
“No! Zuko! You must never give into despair. Allow yourself to slip down that road and you surrender to your lowest instincts. In the darkest times, hope is something you give yourself. That is the meaning of inner strength.”
You got this, fam. <3
(*NOTE: Silakbo is aware that this is a probing question, and Amber has given her consent for questions on this topic.)
If you–or anyone you know–would like to know how to be a featured advocate, head over to this page.
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