Life according to Joanne Encarnacion; Part 1: depression

In my interview with Joanne Encarnacion, AKA @gofitjo, we discussed everything from fitness and food to building a blog and her favourite hometown haunts. I expected this to be a comprehensive, fun, laughter-filled interview packed with fitness tips and recipes - and it was. But upon breaking everything down, I wanted to pull out the section of our interview that covered depression and its root causes, because Joanne’s words were so emotive and inspiring and I felt that they needed their own platform. If you know anyone that’s having a tough time right now, Joanne might know exactly where they’re coming from.
 Photo: Tonhya Kae for #LAFEMMEFORTE

Photo: Tonhya Kae for #LAFEMMEFORTE

First, a little back story…
After leaving uber popular photography editing brand VSCO, Joanne decided to become more focused on her fitness and lifestyle blog. I ask her about that moment when she knew that her blog was becoming more popular, something that she could make a living from. I’ll give you the full answer in the next blog, but in answering, Joanne briefly mentioned her history of depression, and the two key things that caused it: rape and sexual abuse at a young age.
The fact that Joanne shared her history so candidly with me via our Google Hangout interview really took me by surprise; as a follower of hers for over a year, I wasn’t aware of her depression or sexual abuse experiences. What follows is what came up when I asked her to share more.

When I was around 15 I started to realise that something was ‘up’ with me. Like, I am not feeling quite ‘normal’ – this isn’t the usual ‘teenage angst’. My parents are Filipino, so talking about emotions, or feelings or mental state was something that my parents were like, ‘we’re just gonna pray over you’ –  maybe it’s a God/spiritual thing. Either way, I didn’t like the answer. I felt different.

In my household there was a lot of abuse – not from my parents, but from my older siblings and that placed a lot of heaviness on my self-worth. When I was nine years old I was sexually abused by my parents’ friend and I was kind of like, ‘where the fuck were you to protect me?’ Like, where are my mom and dad? I never blamed them for it because their cultural background is different. It didn’t make it okay…

Then, when I went into a brand new high school, so many rumours were started about me, the new girl. In some way, those rumours were amazing, because they led me to photography [Joanne and her husband now run a wedding and lifestyle photography business]. I’d be hiding in the dark room over lunch because I just couldn’t be outside with people. So, I ran away, and unfortunately in this running away situation, to a boy I had met, I was raped that night.

I came home broken-hearted, just not understanding my place in life. Two weeks later, I attempted to commit suicide. That was the biggest awakening stage for me in my depression; there were just so many self-worth challenges just barrelling down on a young girl. My dad found me in the bathroom choking on my own vomit after I tried to take my own life with pills, and that was kind of a blessing, because, what would have happened if he hadn’t?

So I started years of therapy and my parents finally started to understand me. It was great, but we had a long way to go in terms of healing.
When my husband and I got together when I was 19, he kind of woke me up to knowing that I could overcome this without resorting to antidepressants – which would keep me in a state of not necessarily feeling, or processing my thoughts or experiences. The first time I came off antidepressants I was 20, and I had my first daughter, Airis, at 21, so I was like, ‘well, you better not go back on antidepressants because now you have to take care of this child!’

It was definitely a healing process, but there was also a busy-ness to that experience that enabled made me to push it [the depression] away. I had to take care of someone else, so I couldn’t really take care of myself. I had to put everything I was feeling aside.

When our second daughter, Olivia, was born, there was definitely that feeling of being a complete family; now we were four. When she was 18 months old, another wave of depression hit; I was like, ‘why, what’s going on?’ On paper I had everything: I’d had a great career, was starting a new career, I had a husband, we had a business together –  we were living the American dream.

One day, while we were getting ready to have a family brunch, I was in front of the mirror. My daughter came in and told me I looked beautiful. I turned around quickly and said, ‘well I’m not – I’m ugly and fat.’
The look on her face… She just took off running. In that instant I thought: ‘holy shit – how can I be a pillar of strength to her if this is what’s coming out of my mouth?’

That moment was a wake-up call; if I don’t value myself now, nobody else will value me.
My kids won’t value me.
My husband won’t value me.
It felt like there were suddenly so many layers that I needed to peel back. It was no longer just my life; it was about my kids’ lives too.

How do you help?
If someone is in an episode of depression, whether it’s a light one or a really heavy and dark one, they need to be able to understand and tell themselves, ‘I can get out of this’. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but I can do this. You need that affirmation within you.
You need to tell your friends – ‘guys, I need help. I feel like shit today’. And you need them to say: ‘that’s okay – what’s going on?’

It’s about being able to feel vulnerable in yourself and having someone who allows you to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is a source of strength, not weakness. You can survive. Some days it is not your strength that will get you out; it is the strength of others. 

Society doesn’t understand depression. I’ve had to learn how to talk to others when I’m going through those moments, and I’ve had to accept that not everyone will understand. As someone going through depression, we know that we can get out of it ourselves but we need to acknowledge it so that we can ask for help. Instead we often feel shame, or we feel that it’s stupid to feel weak or down. If you have someone you can call or text –  someone to tell you that you don’t have to be okay today – that’s so valuable. It's not about them fixing you; it's about making a mental note that you're not okay.

If you or anyone you know is having a tough time with depression or is feeling suicidal, below is a list of organisations who are here to help. It can also help to see your GP.; 116 123 (within the UK) or email; 0800 1111; 0800 068 4141

Stay tuned for my next interview with @gofitjo, but in the meantime, be sure to check out her Instagram