This thing called depression

This is my full article for my Humming in my Universes column on PhilStar. Unfortunately, I sent only half of it and that was the one that appeared on print.

I went to a wake three nights ago. It was that of a relatively young man who had ended his own life. He was bright, handsome, creative, intelligent, but very troubled. He was an artist.

When I heard about his death, I was saddened and felt a heaviness in my heart. It was so painful to be there but I felt the need to go. The deceased and I shared common relatives. I hardly knew his family but I did not hesitate to express the deep sorrow I felt to them. No one will completely understand what other people are going through. But I felt I had to give my share of comforting to those he left behind. I needed to do it too for myself. If you could measure my sorrow objectively, (which to me was very intense) it was nothing close to what they were going though. The heavy rain that was pouring outside could hardly match the tears in the room.

I had encountered him once before because my wife had asked for his services to create standing lamps for our new home. They turned out quite nice.

I stared at his photo near the urn which carried his ashes. His mother lovingly put her hand on it as she openly sobbed. There were no words. But you could feel the unimaginable loss she was feeling. It was so palpable. Her love and the pain of losing her son could be seen in her hand movements.

The world is so sad. Too many people are suffering from depression these days. To be more accurate, it has been like this for the past two decades and it seems to be on the rise. I don’t know why. I was talking to my brother Jesse who is now 82. He said that in his entire class, there was only one person who died due to suicide. He was in his early 60s when it happened. In my own class, I am not aware of anyone who had taken his own life. I am not saying there was no depression then. For sure there was except that they were most likely very rare and totally undiagnosed.

Today, it seems like an epidemic affecting many young people. No one knows why. Could it be genetic? Is there something about modern life that is causing it? I have met many young people who have told me that they are depressed or bi-polar. As a teacher during the past few years, my department always gave me a list of students in my class who were undergoing treatment for depression.

A lot of depressed kids may seem normal and carefree but are going through some private hell. We should always be on the look out.

So far, almost all I know about depression was what I learned from my own daughter Erica who has gone through episodes of it. I remember being so concerned every time she went through it. Lydia and I would spend many nights awake worrying about her. We made sure she got professional help. We even attended sessions with her to see how we may be contributing to it.

As a very concerned father I remember telling Erica that I completely understood what she was going through. I advised her to try to be more positive, to pray, be strong and I reminded her that I was always there for her.

She answered me pointblank and said, no, I did not understand what she was going through. She said I had no idea what she was feeling. No way. My advice of trying to be more positive, or praying more may be well-meaning but ignorant advice. Almost in exasperation and through tears, she said it was something she could not even describe much less explain.

That opened my heart to completely accept the situation even If I did not comprehend it. It was something alien to me. She was in a mental state that was so difficult to be in that the idea of ending one’s life becomes a palatable option to free one’s self from it. I just vowed to do my best. I readily conceded to her that I did not understand depression. But I had empathy for her suffering. I told her that we loved and cared for her so much. I begged her to pls call me anytime if she needed to talk for to see her.

And thankfully there were times she did call until she got out of it.

Erica has also learned a lot about her bouts with depression, too. She has openly written and talked about it. A lot of kids actually write her asking for advise which she answers with the advice that above all else, they should consult a doctor since every case is different.

The mother of the deceased said she had no idea her son was going through something. Sometimes, even the closest people of the depressed do not see it. And when they take their lives, they are all shocked because no one saw it coming. Only at hindsight do they realize that may things were already pointing in that direction.

There is a tendency among those left behind to blame themselves for the tragedy. Every person who dies elicits this kind of ‘I-should-have-done-more’ attitude among the living whatever the cause of death. When people die of suicide, this ‘guilt’ is probably much more intense. While it is understandable, I don’t think it is fair at all. Depression is so personal and so complex. If we really understood it, no one would want to willingly cause it on anyone. We would certainly make sure it does no happen.

Today, there is a lot of talk about mental and psychological health awareness. No longer is it a stigma to be depressed, or be bi-polar as it used to. There is a kinder attitude about it. People are less condemning and more understanding about it. There are numbers to call for help.

In our own circles, let us look after each other. Check on how everyone REALLY is. It is best to bring up the topic to remind people that there is always help if they need it.

Father Alex, a young enthusiastic priest who sang all throughout the mass at the wake gave a very gentle homily. He reminded us that whatever has happened or will happen to anyone of us, we must not forget we are all God’s children no matter what. And God has unconditional love for ALL his children.

His kind words eased the pain somehow. When I left, the rain had eased a bit.

The fight of our lives

In 3 days, the nation votes. I have worked hard campaigning for the candidates I believe in. I am voting Otso Diretso and my Partylist is Magdalo.

If that first paragraph has turned you off, then proceed no more. You will probably be deaf to everything else I will write.

My dear Filipinos, I define this election as a battle between democracy and imminent dictatorship. The Senate is the last bastion that can stand as a check and balance to the President’s control of EVERYTHING. If, as the surveys say, the President’s candidates will dominate the entire slate except for Bam Aquino, then Duterte will have a super majority in the Senate and he can install federalism without a referendum, continue his failed war on drugs that have resulted in the death of thousands, commit the Philippines to onerous loans from China, give away islands to Xi Jin Pin, continue the Train Law, etc.. In short, he can practically do whatever he wants. Th senate is the last infinity stone that will make Thanos invincible.

If that scenario is OK with you, then go vote for the President’s candidates.

For me and many others, it is not OK.

We are disturbed by the direction this country has taken. Our Senate has become a rubber stamp largely run by politicos who don’t care about anything except to stay in power. There are only a few good men and women there. They need more people on their side to fiscalise.

Today, our government institutions are supporting whatever the President does even when he is clearly wrong or acting unlawfully. No one is brave enough to stand up to the President–not DOJ, not congress, not the PNP nor the Armed Forces. He is running a one man show. He issues threats almost daily now to his critics through clumsy matrixes, and dubious and laughable intel sources. But he has serious intent. There is clearly the desire to the repress our freedoms as evidenced most recently by the threats towards media and a free press. All this is unconscionable.

This election is a major battle for the future of this nation. For many who believe in democracy and the rule of law, this is the fight of our lives. That is why I am for the opposition.

When you look back at how the campaigns were conducted, the contrast between the Presidential slate and Otso Diretso was too stark to ignore. The admin candidates had unlimited resources. Their TV ads were flooding the airwaves. Mind you, every 30 second ad costs close to a million pesos. They had huge billboards, collaterals, etc. Their rallies were well organized with big entertainment personalities as come-ons. Local government backed them. The crowds were often given meals and transportation and even pocket money.

Meanwhile, Otso Diretso candidates could not get permits to hold rallies in many places. They campaigned mostly in public markets, schools, bus stations, and wherever people gathered and they could only cover one third of the country due to lack of funds. There was very little money for collaterals. The whole effort was run by unpaid volunteers who made their own posters, leaflets and went door to door to ask the people what they were concerned with and introduce the mostly new candidates to the community. People engaged strangers in conversation in taxis, transport hubs, churches, offices and campaigned for Otso Diretso candidates.The opposition hardly had any TV ads to reach out to the entire nation. Too expensive. Their supporters used social media for exposure. Ordinary citizens made their own songs and jingles, posters and put them online. There were some who organized events like concerts, shows, lugawans etc. to raise funds. But clearly, there was hardly anything to go around. In short, the people who believed in them financed their campaign in anyway they could.

The list of candidates on the President’s side had old known names, plunderers, people accused of killing, scions from political dynasties, possible drug lords, etc. Many were involved in environmental anomalies.

Meanwhile Otso Derecho had candidates without any bad reputations that tainted them with corruption murder, crime, or any anti-people issues. They were mostly newbies who had done well in their fields of public service expertise.

The President’s men largely refused to attend debates on television or talk about issues. None of them expressed any opinion on the encroachment of China on our sovereignty, human rights, the Train law, drugs, and all the other major issues that plague our nation. The latter wanted to challenge the ruling party to debates and to expose their platforms in public. It was clear they were more transparent and had a better grasp of the issues that needed to be faced and dealt with.

Sometimes, I ask myself in frustration why good values and good candidates are such a hard sell to the electorate. Sociologists have said that we as a people are not issues-oriented but are attracted to personalities. That is why a plunderer or a murderer with name recall, a nice smile and a few millions to throw away will get the votes.

But I believe people can change. As much as there is so much vileness going around today in public discourse compared to before, I also believe that there were times when there was also so much bayanihan spirit and goodness that was present in our country. Nothing is permanent. Everything is in flux. The world keeps turning.

Whatever the outcome of the elections, one good thing I see is that the people who believe in democracy and rule of law have been united and have become more organized. Many people I know who were apolitical then have awakened to the issues facing our nation. They are concerned. They are angry. Most especially, it is evident that our youth as shown in the results of mock elections held in many universities are bucking the trend in their voting preferences. They are solidly opposition.

There are many battles ahead. We earned our chops during this brutal campaign. We are in a better position now to pursue the democratic agenda compared to last year.

Leaders of large religious groups have given their list of candidates for their faithful to follow. In truth, I believe that a person’s conscience should be the ultimate decider on whom to vote. You and you alone should decide whom you wish to vote for. No one else. If you are being dictated upon, maybe you should question your leaders. Look at them. Are they really people of faith, or power hungry players enslaved by greed and ego who want to ingratiate themselves to the impending dictatorship? It is time to be honest and ask them tough questions. Your future and the state of your soul are at stake.

As you go out tomorrow and vote, I wish you a strong clear conscience to choose the candidates who will serve our country best. You are free to choose plunderers, thieves, corrupt yes men who will serve and legitimize everything wrong in this country. But you are also free to choose candidates that will reflect the good aspirations, the dreams you have for yourself, your children, our nation and future. They will fight for you.

Do the right thing.