‘How are you?’

Photo by Louie-An Pilapil

Photo by Louie-An Pilapil

A few days ago, I arrived a bit early for yoga class. As I waited, I happened to look out the glass wall and decided to watch people walking along the footbridge. What could each of them be thinking, I wondered. I was sure one was worried about a deadline or some work-related concern. Perhaps, another was thinking about a loved one or what to eat for dinner. They were, at that moment, moving within their own little universe, thinking of little else but getting from point A to point B. This is how we normally go about our day until something of massive emotional impact draws us together into a collective experience. Before then, we are separate entities – sometimes even from those we love – and continue the business of living in isolation. One can even feel alone in the company of a person or group, and this, in my mind, is the bad kind of solitude.

I had heard about a young acquaintance’s suicide days before, so the concept of isolation incessantly filled my mind. I didn’t know this young person well and only saw them a couple of times in a yoga class I either taught or attended. But news of their passing struck a nerve. Questions like “What could have been done to prevent the tragedy?” and “What were the signs?” arose, but the thought that kept nagging me was: It could’ve been me. I am almost certain that anyone living with depression who learns about someone’s suicide thinks the same thing.

“It could’ve been me.”

I write this a few days after news of Robin Williams’ apparent suicide broke. I, like many of those who enjoyed his performances and marveled at his comedic genius, am heartbroken. There is, however, another layer to my grief. I know only too well the despair of someone who blacks out and loses hope. In my case, thankfully, these moments are temporary because, somehow, I am able to crawl out of that dark hole and press on. Others like Robin Williams, the young person I mentioned, and countless others, could not. And I was left wondering again why some people fall off the edge and others don’t.

Let me continue by saying that I had to debate with myself on whether to write this entry or not. Before this, I thought I was comfortable talking about living with this illness – and realized I wasn’t. There was fear of judgment after all. It was only recently that I started to open up about my depression to friends and some family members and the load became somewhat lighter. Talking about it in a public venue, such as this blog, is taking every ounce of courage I have, which goes to show how deep my fear of the stigma attached to this illness is.

So in light of recent events, the other question that came up was this: Why must we be ashamed of how our minds are wired?

Commentators on television with different opinions on a subject rarely make sense to me, but, when talking about depression, they are united in saying that the stigma against mood disorders and other mental health issues is an enemy that needs to be vanquished. If someone with heart disease or diabetes can walk around without shame, why couldn’t someone with depression? Why do we have to feel less of a human being simply because our brains lack certain chemicals to function the way healthy ones do?

Perhaps this is because of society’s preference for intellectual pursuits. Brain function is tied closely to a person’s abilities and, therefore, their worth. Decision-making, analytical prowess, and creativity are the arenas of the brain and anything that is perceived to be a block to this muscle’s capability to carry out what it was made to do is considered closely tied to one’s personality. Maybe, I don’t know. Whatever it is, it has to end.

For those of you who are wondering what it’s like to have a depressive episode of the chronic kind, I will try to describe it as clearly as my writing powers would allow: Take yourself back to the worst time of your life and feel the grief that you experienced then. Multiply that grief about five times and remove the reason behind the despair. That is pretty much how it goes.

Some people experience this a few times in life – the death of a loved one or pet, the disintegration of a long-term relationship, the loss of a job… For some, this comes with an emotionally charged event. For others, like me, it often does not. If you who don’t live with it are confused, imagine the frustration and sadness of someone who does.

The way I deal with this is two pronged: there’s the physiological aspect that handles brain chemistry. This involves therapy and medication. I’m exploring holistic and natural ways to heal myself as well, such as yoga, acupuncture and the elimination of processed food, all meats, and refined sugar (the last one with a lot of difficulty because of my sweet tooth). And then there is the more important part in my view: the care of the soul. I believe this illness in particular deadens the spirit. This is why I cultivate a rich inner life that allows me to transcend the depths to which this illness takes me. This involves meditation; prayer; friendship; love of self, others and animals; and – what do you know? – yoga.

Sometimes, the monsters we are afraid of are self-created. When I started openly talking about this illness, I’d had nothing but support from friends and family. The judgment I feared was all in my head – how funny! May I also tell you that someone in the throes of a depressive fit would do anything in their power to hide it. That person in the office who has it all together, that lovely socialite with the handsome husband and gorgeous kids, that neighbor with whom you exchange pies, that yoga teacher in your favorite studio, that comedian whose purpose in life is to make people laugh – they could be living with this. It is up to us to be extra vigilant and care enough to ask “How are you?” and “How are you, really?”

I’m writing this because I think it’s important for the depressed to seek help and not feel shame for doing so. Also, I want everyone to know that many of us who live with this illness are productive members of society. We work and live as fully and frantically as everyone else. We have dreams and we strive to achieve them, just like everyone else. We love and love deeply. The stigma, the need to slink back and keep quiet or plaster a smile on one’s face to show everyone they’re okay when they’re not… that has to stop. We need to get real about this illness before it takes more lives. Feeling awfully sad does not mean you are weak; it means you are human. It also means you have an illness that requires attention.

In life, Robin Williams spread light and happiness to the world. In death, he brought understanding and curiosity about a disease that is often discussed in whispers. Two of the best movies I have seen in my life are Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society – both films had fearlessness and “sucking the marrow out of life” as themes. The universal grief over his death is testament to the good he brought to humanity, because, my God, we all need a good laugh.

So, the next time you get out of the house, in a hurry to get from point A to point B, remember to glance up from the concrete once in a while and look around. Someone in front of you, next to you or behind you might just need a simple smile and a sincere “How are you?”

———–

And to you, o Captain, my Captain… farewell.

Comments

  1. Thanks for writing this Louie. What courage :)

    “Feeling awfully sad does not mean you are weak; it means you are human.”

  2. Thank you for sharing this Louie..it’s so true that a lot of us do forget to be sensitive to our surroundings and to other people.. And that sometimes a simple smile can truly change a person’s day.

  3. Vincent Paul Baron says:

    You are a brave soul Lovi-soy. Thank you for enlightening my unconscious mind/soul on this. I feel I failed a lot of friends and acquaintances for not being conscious. Thank you.

  4. gracey landicho says:

    Hi Louie, I didn’t know that you have a website of your own, I’m very proud of you and keep it up! :), I like your website and it sticks me in reading all your posts. BTW, I want to share my view in this recent awareness. I guess what matters now is how we can prevent or maybe how we can cope up with it and exit the black hole gracefully. But, I am happy because many tweets, posts and re-posts of the people around us, friends and colleagues who talk about this so called depression, seemed we learned and understood that it is serious and should not be disregarded, shrugged it off after we acknowledged who is experiencing as such. Diseases are becoming mutants, and they are mutating to be deadlier as time goes by just like this one :( My only hope is that we find stronger foundation and build relationship w/our family, find a way to feed our lonely soul (Yoga! Running, travelling etc..). Ask guidance to be selfless with your favorite spiritual teacher or a pastor or a priest) so that when loneliness and pain come by it can be bearable and depression will not consume us.

    Well, my kids and my loved ones inspire me to live stronger and travel with them if time permits :)

  5. Lydia Santiago-Bautista says:

    Thank Louie for sharing. So true a lot of times people are so preoccupied checking their cellphones anywhere they go that they no longer have time to smile to the next person around them (me myself guilty at times). After reading your article I will try to check my phone only when necessary and keep my head up and smile and to the person next to me. I know when I get a smile from someone it does make my day so why not pay it forward. Also I will share this article to a good friend of mine who I think will be inspired on how to deal with depression..

    Thanks and keep on writing.

    PS. Tita Carina and I will be hosting your Mom here in (Canada) the next few weeks.

    Keep on writing cause we listen.

    Cheers

    Tita Lydia

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