Isabelle Daza is a Filipino actress, model, and social media influencer with almost 3 million Instagram followers. Last year, she talked about her struggle with anxiety and mental health in a speech she shared on her Instagram page. The video went viral and made headlines. Since then, she has spoken about fighting the stigma of mental health in public forums and vlogs.
I start my days with a mental fitness routine. It goes like this: I say three things that I’m grateful for, then look at myself in the mirror and recite affirmations.
“I don’t devalue myself by constructive self-criticism. I have kind and warm regards for people at all times. I’m inner-directed and I allow others the same freedom. I am enough. I am beautiful. I am happy. I am brave.”
I say them to myself and sometimes to my 1-year-old son before a 10-minute meditation. It’s not always easy. On most days, the first thing I really want to do in the morning is to grab my phone, check my messages, and scroll through Instagram.
Phone addiction is real. And we don’t understand that it’s pounding our mental health. There was a time when I didn’t even open my eyes upon waking up, my hands would just instantly reach for my phone.
I didn’t realize this until I gave birth to my son last year. A lot of my friends visited me at home, poured out their feelings, and talked about what they were going through. It turns out, many of them were struggling with their mental health. I was too.
I watched people on social media as I struggled with the 65 pounds I gained during pregnancy. Fellow models had new endorsements, others were travelling, while I was stuck. I felt anxious and was doubting my new life as a mother. “What am I doing here? Is this really what I want?” I thought, fully aware that I had a beautiful family.
I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. I’d be so sad and my husband would tell me that weight is just temporary, that it’s something superficial. “If you’re not happy about that, just do something about it but also be kind to yourself,” he said.
It took a while for me to believe this but eventually did when I started to open up about my anxiety. It started when one of my friends whose son went through depression invited me to talk about mental health for an event. I didn’t want to at first because I was scared to go up on stage and show my vulnerability but I did it. It took a lot of courage to say that I’m actually what I’m not on social media. This is the real me.
Opening up so publicly during the talk helped me understand myself but posting a video of my speech on social media was rewarding in a different way. Not because of the likes, but because it has helped others with their struggles too.
One time while I was out having lunch, a bunch of ladies who were around 60 or 70 years old sent me food. When they were done with their meal, they came up to me and one of them said, “You know what, your video is the name of our chat group now. ‘It’s okay to not be okay’,” she said, quoting the title of my speech. She was almost in tears.
I was so shocked to find out that my video transcended generations. I thought I was only speaking to millennials.
This taught me a lot about humility.
I learned on social media that humility is learned the hard way. Sometimes, when you think you’re on top of the world, just one post can make everyone hate you. But I also found out that humility is not always about putting yourself down, it is acknowledging that you’re beautiful and saying you’re beautiful as well.
Don’t dim your light in order for other people to shine, that’s not humility.
I eventually went to see a therapist. She told me that I have to know I’m enough so that my son will grow up to know that he’s enough. That’s what really changed my attitude. She taught me to look at myself in the mirror again and told me about the importance of morning affirmations.
“You have to tell yourself ‘you’re beautiful, you’re enough, you’re happy,’” she said. I found it so stupid but she told me to just do it. So I did.
After brushing my teeth, I would tell myself that I’m beautiful, that I’m enough, and that I’m happy. I did it for two weeks and from there I saw the change. Telling myself I was enough made me feel I was enough. I started to have a different perspective on life and slowly became more grateful. I was happier. It may seem so stupid but the power of words is so important.
Seeing a therapist has taught me a lot and it’s something I now advocate. I’m very open to asking for help because I don’t think that’s something to be ashamed about. This goes against Filipino culture, which tells us to always hide our weaknesses and put on a brave face.
“Bumili ka nalang ng pizza (Just buy pizza)” or “OK lang ‘yan, iiyak lang ‘yan. Tomorrow it will be fine. (That’s OK, just cry it out, tomorrow it will be fine),” is what people usually say when you talk about your mental health. Many forget that anxiety is a real thing. For me, it’s almost as if you’re drowning in a wave that’s constantly keeping you there, and you’re trying to get out of the wave and nobody can help you, because nobody sees the wave and nobody sees the symptoms.
This is why my friends and I have decided to launch a website about mental health. We want to change the words associated with it. When you say “mental health” people think depression or baliw (crazy) but really, it’s about exercising the brain to become fit. If we’re getting our bodies fit why don’t we do the same thing to our mind?
I’m still constantly on social media looking at what I don’t have, seeing what everyone else has, but going to therapy is a way for me to exercise my mind and go back to what really matters.