Real Talk

Finding My Way Home

My personal battle with mental health and why I am winning everyday

Every woman has a story to tell. Here’s mine.

I have a father who once held the highest position in our country, and while some of you would think of the perks that came with that, what I remember most were challenges. Growing up in the public eye, my siblings and I were always subject to public opinion and scrutiny, and boy, were there A LOT!

Family matters

In 2002, at the height of my father’s impeachment trial, I suffered my own trial in school by being bullied and harassed by my fellow students everyday, until it became unbearable. That experience led to a plethora of mental health issues. I suffered quietly with severe depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which eventually became a debilitating form of anxiety. On top of this, I was diagnosed with bulimia (which I continued to suffer from till last year) and I started taking diet pills.

jerika ejercito family
There is no such thing as a perfect family, but in any lifetime I will always choose mine

They say you do not get to choose the family you are born into, but they’re the only family I’ve got and I love them with all my heart. Seeing my dad vilified nationally is a lot to handle and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. My parents wanted to protect me from further mental and emotional anguish during those dark times, and the only choice I had if I wanted a chance to heal and live a normal life was to leave. Note that there were no interventions or treatments done because it was never an option. 

jerika ejercito and dad
No matter what, I love my dad and I will always be a daddy’s girl

I didn’t want to leave my dad behind, it was in fact the last thing I wanted to do. And at 17, how much did I really know about life? But, a part of me also wanted out — out of the chaos, out of the country and out of the public eye. I had grown tired and terrified of the Anti-Erap headlines, EDSA DOS and the daily slandering and defamation of my father’s character by politicians, by people we thought were our “friends” and religious sectors — they didn’t even spare his family. 

Starting fresh

So I left — broken and alone, but somehow hopeful. I looked forward to living life on my own terms, without fear of judgment. I will never forget how it felt waking up for the first time in London, not having that gut wrenching feeling of having to deal with the constant persecution of my family, and that sense of freedom was intoxicating!

London became home for the next 9 1/2 years. It was where I spent my most formidable years as a young adult. I was like a sponge soaking everything in — whatever my senses saw, heard, smelled, tasted, touched, I gobbled it all up. I discovered an inimitable kind of independence that allowed me to create a certain degree of normalcy that had been lacking all my life. The beautiful people I met and the friends I made in London made me feel accepted, I learned to be comfortable in my own skin and I grew up. 

Facing the music

If only I could go back in time and hug this lost girl

The life I built during my 9 1/2 year stint away from Manila came to a screeching halt when my parents decided it was finally time for me to come home. I was stripped off my security and stability, everything I cared about — gone! I came back to be a stranger in my own country.

But that’s not the worst part. The realization that the bubble I had created back in London, the one that I ran off to when I escaped, popped. The trauma and the dark, scary feelings started flooding back. The stability and the peace I thought I finally had – nowhere to be found. Those were my lowest and darkest days. My bulimia worsened — I was addicted to the praises I got when I lost the weight but after a few months I gained it all back plus some.

Looking back, I know that moving away gave me a sense of temporary relief from the perils of grief and fear, but it was only a band aid solution. Coming home to face my demons and dealing with my depression full throttle was something I could have never escaped from.

In 2012, I reached a tipping point. I attempted suicide twice not because I wanted to die, but because I wanted the pain to stop. I had to dig deep, silence the noise in my head and be proactive about saving my own life. I asked myself do I end my life or was I going to fight with everything I got? Being in London afforded me beautiful memories, and I wanted more of those!

The first step

My journey to self-actualization started with accumulating an insane amount of self-help books, otherwise how else would I get the help I needed? One book in particular sparked my curiosity about the study of psychology: The Road Less Traveled by Dr. M. Scott Peck — and that was the game changer. This book gave me such deep insights in the realm of psychology, how strongly our minds are affected by our childhood experiences and how this could ultimately define our life as an adult. “The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers” is a quote that shook me to the core. I read the book twice, cover to cover, and it was then I became certain that I had been imprisoned by severe depression for 12 years.

With grit and perseverance, I sought for help, and with my last name, that was not an easy feat. But when it came to fighting for my life, one that was worth living, I was not about to relent! I rallied my family behind me for support and then I embarked on the long road to self-recovery…

Finding my way home

jerika ejercito with husband and son
The two people God sent to save me — Miguel and Isaiah

Two years of persistence and dedication, of marching in and out of my shrink’s office every Tuesday at 10 am (without fail), and doing the life work was my routine. It was difficult, but I made it.

As I was en route to getting some sort of semblance in my life, something still felt amiss. I felt better, but I felt hollow at the same time. I couldn’t figure it out. And it’s that feeling of the unknown that always scares me. I thought to myself, what if I pray? I mean after all this time, what have I really got to lose? 

Disillusioned by faith and God after all that I had been through, it was when I hit rock bottom and started seeking Him and asking the “right” questions, did I finally start to recover and heal from within. I was so tired, so exhausted and finding my way back to Jesus made me want to just give up and surrender! So I did. I surrendered my life completely into the hands of our Saviour. Years later, I am still thankful everyday that I did. He saved me in every way possible. Whatever I am and whoever I have in my life today is a direct reflection of His glory in my life.

Making A Difference

Fighting for Mental Health laws and benefits with Senator Risa Hontiveros

Having suffered severe depression and PTSD, it’s only natural for me to empathize with those who are suffering in silence. I know first hand how suffocating and hopeless it can be and I am completely aware that there’s a lack of available support from the society at large for people living with these mental health disorders.

I once headed a mental health foundation called Be Healed Foundation and we focused on giving talks in schools about bullying, we spearheaded an art project for women in one of the biggest drug rehabilitation facilities in the country, we were part of the technical working group of Senator Risa Hontiveros for finalizing the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the first ever Mental Health Law in the Philippines. I have dedicated a good 8 years of my life for this cause and I personally feel that I have served my purpose with full devotion. 

In the end my goal was to put mental health in the forefront of our country’s priorities and I see this being realized by the growing number of advocates fighting the good fight with the passage of the very first Mental Health Law back in 2016. 

As for little old me, I still have my good days and my bad days. The battle isn’t over. When the dark cloud looms over my head, I fight, I pray – I know the drill. Being a wife and a mother to my four boys makes everyday oh so worth living, they are a testament of God’s love for me, and there is nowhere I would rather be than here with them. 

Renewing my faith while confronting my mental health issues was providential. The more I deepened my understanding of the Christian faith, the more I learned and valued simplicity and humility. Life is meant to be lived according to His purpose. The power to renewing your mind (Romans 12:2) and taking your thoughts into captivity (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Here I found peace, I found my identity in Christ, I found rest. My faith enabled me to accept my journey and has allowed me to operate from a place of love and service. “Let all that you do be done with love.” (1 Corinthians 16:14)

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