Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Precious Things First: A Memoir of My First Encounters with Her (Read: Hope)

When Sir Ali Cencia, my Pol Sci teacher, said that Niccolo Machiavelli predicted that things would end the way they started, I was deeply troubled.

But I was troubled the more when Sir Ali offered an analogy to help us better understand the concept (or did it really help us understand?).

Sir Ali spoke in his rather mesmerizing voice and begun his story.

"I once had a friend," he said. "Who was really good with women. He courted a girl when we were in college. With his wit he was able to make her fall in love. Well, you may not call it 'courting' if you want. The girl was an easy prey.

"The relationship lasted for sometime. Then my friend got bored and left the woman for another. The woman came to me for she was also a friend. She was crying and asking me why he left her. I didn't really know what to say. But that's when it came to me in a silent thought that he left her probably because--that's where they started after all. Things would end the way they started"

"Power behaves that way," Sir Ali said. "The quality of one's acquisition of power determines how it would endure and how it would ultimately end."

Is this the same with love?



I met Precious in a virtual world and we communicated in that space for around eight months before finally seeing each other in person. Before September of 2012, only the pictures in her Facebook account and the mysterious voice behind the phone painted the image of the person I was getting to know.

Actually, from January 2012 until around May last year, my idea of her depended a lot on her Facebook posts, her Facebook comments, her Facebook profiles and her Facebook photos. Thank God Mark Zuckerberg was born a genius!

Prior to this, I was not really a Facebook person. Before 2011, I was out in the fields carrying my Bible, knocking on doors, talking to people about the glorious good news and I thought I'll be doing this 'til kingdom come.

But that all changed as I fell into a terrible depression that changed my life forever in March of 2011.

My relationships started to vanish one by one as I lay down in bed 16 hours a day, getting up only to eat, take my meds and play GBA games on a PC emulator. My social ties were destroyed all the more as I blamed my parents with what happened, cursed God and withdrew from my friends at church.

Isolation became my reality, my computer became my best friend and death was the only thing I longed for--the ultimate tellos of life.

Then, as I fell into a deep abyss, a sudden light of hope came. And this is not figure of speech. It was literally the light that came out of my computer's radiation.

When I typed the words "Mood Disorders Philippines" on the Google search bar, out came hope:

"Mood Warriors and Fire Birds: Mood Disorders Advocacy Philippines/Facebook"

I entered the URL and that same time, I entered a new phase in my depression. That phase doctors call 'recovery.'

For the next weeks I became an active member of the Facebook secret group. I met a lot of friendly people who have either bipolar or uni-polar depression. I even met a member who almost had the same experience I went through in 2011. I met with some members of the group at Manila and that deeply encouraged me to have the will to finally live again .

Behind ships at Manila with MWAF Founder May Juliet Dizon
and fellow mood warrior, Karl Friedrich during the summer of 2012. 
From then on, I decided to pursue some resolute changes that I knew were right and healthy for my recovery.
  • First, I decided to permanently delete the files on my computer about how to commit suicide. And along with this came my resolution to live and love life. I am proud to say that I haven't come back to reading those same files available in the internet since then.
  • Second, I decided to leave my religion. This was difficult because I really love the people I've been with for more than twenty years of my existence. I was able to develop quality friendships within that group. But nothing beats my resolution to live according to my personal principles and I can deeply say that this is one of the wisest decision I've ever made in my life.
  • Third, I decided to continue my studies, graduate, get extra education and pursue a career that I would really love. I am currently on the last semester of my undergraduate studies and I am happy of what I have achieved so far.
  • And lastly, and perhaps the most important of all, I decided I am ready to love again.

As a motion of courtesy, I sent thank you messages to members of the Facebook group who accepted my friend requests. Since I have a scarcity of friends at that time, I added all 50+ members of the group. Yet, only one of them replied on my thank you messages. And this was a reply I was not expecting.

"Hi Vincent. Kumusta na ang group? Di na kasi ako masyadong active ngayon eh."

Wow. She replied. How kind of her.

Before replying back I noticed her profile picture. Her face was too small to see since she cropped her image from head down to her mid-body so I clicked on her profile to get a better look.

Studies at San Beda College of Law

Lives at Manila, Philippines

From Gubat, Sorsogon, Philippines

Oh, she's studying law at San Beda? Interesting! I browsed some of her photos. And God, you can call me a stalking machine, but I became an instant fan!

Precious Claire Fajardo Formarejo (A well-thought name for a beautiful Spanish surname) was almost the same age as mine (But she's in law school? I wonder why I didn't figure it out immediately that she has been putting this on her profile to boost her morale. She is currently finishing her degree on Accountancy and dreams to be a lawyer). She has pictures of her on pageants, lots of them on her account and almost all were public (easy viewing for stalkers like me, hehe).
"Conquer the stage just like how you conquer yourself."
Prei during the Search for Ms. Sosogon 2008.

Inferring from her Facebook page, Precious who I later called 'Prei' (which according to her should be pronounced 'Pre' with a silent 'i', but of which I chose to pronounce with a twisting accent at the end like a French name--Preyyy), is a people person who loves life and family very much. It is her number one quality which I really got attracted with.

I wondered then, this person looks happy enough to be part of a 'Mood Disorders' Group.

I started checking her profile everyday, sending messages once in a while which she replied after around a week (she was not a Facebook person after all) and commented on her posts which I can relate with.

I remember one time, she posted a lyrics of a song she really is fund of. I saw an opportunity to catch her attention. I didn't know the song so I Googled the complete lyrics on the net, copied the following stanza and pasted it as a comment on her post. She was awed! (haha) What I did gave her the impression that I knew the song. This was a sly trick I admit (hehe) but it worked. She finally noticed me :)

After sometime, I learned to express to her the everyday struggles I faced as a depressive thinking that she would understand me. She was kind, really kind, patiently listening and reassuring me that she will always be ready to entertain my thoughts. She later revealed that she experienced mild depression after a certain stressful event happened following her father's death. Unlike me, however, she was not in medication and never in therapy.

Being concerned with my frequent messaging, she offered her cellphone number so I can contact her more often if I wanted since she doesn't use the net as often as I do. I honestly felt excited when she did this.

But even with her number and my frequent messaging we did not communicate as often as I expected. She would reply after a day or three and sometimes I grew tired of waiting. But I waited and I was curious why. There is something with this girl--something different.

Waiting.
In March 2011, the first serious relationship I had with a girl ended after a mutual break-up. I loved her so much with all my heart at that point in my life. But it has to end, like summer. And after it ended, I found myself on the brink of madness. Winter has come.

Since then, and the consequent events after that March madness, I decided I want to be a celibate, a eunuch even. I don't want to be involved with another woman again.

When she reminds me of her love she does it with her
simple but clever style which does not fail to excite and
surprise me. Instead of demanding her what to do for me,
I learned to wait for her next beautiful surprise. 
But Precious changed all that. She was never difficult to love. In fact, I would readily admit that it was I and I alone who made the relationship difficult at first. I find it hard to trust anyone, my moods were extremely irritable and I was negative and melancholic almost everyday despite the help of Jovia (Escitalopram) and Rivotril (Clonazepam). For Precious who also came from an unsuccessful relationship and who thinks she isn't ready  for another round, a relationship with me was taxing.

We started calling each other often until the deepest hours of the night since both of us were insomniacs. We grew fund of each other, waiting for the next message, waiting for the next call, waiting for the next move.

Then suddenly, one evening, as we lay on our beds and texting each other to sleep, I told her of a dream, an honest dream of mine.

I said "I want to be a doctor." Then I added, "I'll be a doctor and you'll be a lawyer." And in an arrogant Tagalog I said "Para maganda combination nating dalawa."

She replied, "Bakit, ano ba tayong dalawa?"

Boom. I was stunned.

Boy, she was direct. Direct and very intelligent.

That night I confessed my feelings for her, honest as I always was. I said I think I like her. And after that she said goodnight and there was no knowing what would happen next.

The following night, I told her I want to try to love again. I asked her if I could court her. There was an unsure expression on the other side of the phone, hesitant, irritated, if only she can get away from me once and for all. But she said, "Sige...sige na nga." And the rest was history.

Finally here.
The beginning of our relationship is actually a tumultuous phase in our lives together. She was unpredictable, I was over-demanding. She was going with the flow, I desired structure. She wanted to keep things as they are, I wanted change. She loved life, I dislike living. There's a single thing common with the both of us: we were unsure of our feelings for each other. There was no real love.

But we both battled. We both dreamed. We both waited.

I waited for September, when I would get to know her better. I thought, perhaps something missing would reveal itself. Perhaps something I was looking for would surface and all the doubts would end, finally.

And we were not wrong with our expectations that the September date would turn the relationship into a promising one.

"Pootsie", my stuffed bear substitute.
The first time I saw her, I said, this is not the person behind the phone. Denial and uncertainty filled my glass of ice tea on our first date. But nevertheless, i acted naturally. I wore the clothes that define me. I wore sandals, shorts and horizontally striped polo shirt which made my already large body larger. But this was the real me. I wanted to show her that the person she was talking to behind the phone was genuine and he was here in front of her.

But what made everything easy for me to act naturally was Precious' nonprejudicial approach to me. She knows I gained weight, she knows I had depression (so severe that I could have been admitted to a mental health institution), she knows I am a hard person--irritable, serious, mad, hateful. But everything she told me was "You are a good person."

You can imagine saying goodbye to her after the September date was difficult.

Of course, one date did not solve all the problems during the first months of our relationship, but it was enough to motivate us for a second and a third and now a fourth date.

Asking a store clerk to take this photo on my digi-cam during
our third date at Legazpi, Albay.

Dinner at Bigg's. We never miss going to this place
whenever I visit Albay.

Since it was Post-Valentine's Day, we asked Ate and Kuya
(we forgot to ask their names) to take this in front of a grocery store.
This photo took Kuya around 4 shots before finally taking this.

Behind cloudy Mount Mayon ('Ang Bundok na Walang Pangalan'
according to Abdon Balde Jr.)

Bye bye. At the Legazpi terminal as I board back to  Baguio
to end the third date.

Looking back at the time when I first met Prei on her Facebook account then finally seeing her in person, I would say that it was a roller coaster ride. Both of us did not expect where this road would lead us. But we are finally here and although life together would definitely pose challenges to both of us (studies, passing board exams, getting work, finally settling down together, my depression and mental health issues, issues with our parents, etc.) we are determined to face those and continue living...together.

There are only three people in my life which will always be there for me, I will die for them if need be and they I know they will never give up on me: Mama, Papa and the woman who gave me hope...Prei.

Happy First Dating Anniversary Mahal. Thanks for everything. I love you. And always will.


Saturday, May 18, 2013

When Gyra Died, I Lived




M. Sara Rosenthal once said in her book 50 Ways to Fight Depression Without Drugs that if we know how to die then we know how to live. It may sound ironical but it makes sense.

Rosenthal argued that an effective way to fight depression is to develop passion for life. This involves feeling ones mortality and appreciating beauty. And according to her, “nothing is more passionate than dying or being with someone who is dying.” This is because such occasions force us to reflect on the inevitability of death and thus the meaning of our own life.

Gyra died. And so I decided to live.



Gyra is one of the most beautiful people I have met in my life. All I can remember about her is her humor and laughter and how she can talk to you like a real concerned person. She worked with me at the school paper when we were at fourth year and I got to sleep with her (together with her mother and Reinalyn and her mother and her sister, yup, how I wish I had a moment with Gy) when we took the entrance exam at SLU.

She was one of the few people who believed in me more than I believed in myself. “Magaling ka kaya Imbat,” “Magsulat ka Imbat. Kaya mo,” “Ganyan din ang sinasabi ng Papa ko. Katulad mo siya.” And when we met for the first reunion after the first semester of college, she hugged me, so tight, that I hugged her back together with Glory Anne. That was definitely an unforgettable moment. Only my girlfriend hugged me that way.

I met her father yesterday. Got to talk to him for the first time and I realized, this is why Gyra was a beautiful person.

Her father talked about everything we never knew about Gyra. We never knew she ate with her father even if she isn’t hungry because she wanted to be with him and talk to him about her plans for life—how she will go to Med School even if money sets the odds of her being a doctor. They have this very rare bond, a father-daughter bond which I deeply envy.

We never knew she can be a rude teacher. We never knew she wanted saluyot and sayote with bulalo. When never knew she filled their house with laughter (although we definitely knew she did the same at school). We never knew she is just this good.
Back at Third Year high school. From left to right: Me, Alison, Charmaine, Gyra, Myra
Sheila, Marga, Marco. Behind: Floyd, Samboy, Ceasar.

Gyra is principled unlike most people I knew. She wants to make the most of her life. Perhaps, high school buffered that internal desire from her because of the culture of competition we were in during those times. But she definitely rose up and defined herself when she entered college.

She finished her degree for exactly four years unlike some of us (me being one). She worked immediately after college as a teacher at a nearby university and later resigned and took up a better job at Laguna where she definitely applied her knowledge of biology at the dairy farm. She loves friends, family and the zest for life’s challenge.

Gyra said: Nakikiuso lang. tamad magupload ng grad pic! hahaha @.@ Narealize ko lang nakashort lang ako niyan. shet nakakahiya naman dun sa dalawa ang bongga ng damit. Wala ng maisuot, laundry day!
She badly wanted to be a doctor but she knew it entails a lot of money and that money entails a lot of sacrifice prior to entering a good school. I heard that if she didn’t pass away she’ll be entering Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila by next year, finally, as a Med Student. All of these Med stuff was the topic of our last conversation back in November last year. I accompanied her while we wait for Joanna. Yup, I finally had a moment with Gy. And you know what, you really got to love this person.

Back in 2011, I decided to die. Yup, like Veronika of Paulo Coelho’s masterpiece. I decided that I couldn’t fight this Depression anymore, this vacuum tunnel which sapped me out of everything I ever had. I decided that life after all is nonsense, that we are simply waiting for death to come and we do all these things just to keep up with the boredom of this waiting, that if somehow I could inhale all this vapor, this gas, this boredom of life, this meaninglessness of adulthood can just end once and for all.

And you know what, I’m fortunate I didn’t. Because I saw how Gyra became a hero on her own right, like Rizal, like Robredo, like Cory and Ninoy, like Magsaysay, like GOMBURZA, like Jesus Christ. Because if you can die and inspire people to live, boy you are someone!

And who was not moved by Gyra’s death?

I love you Gy. And forever will.

Thanks.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Where Do You Go After Your Depressive Episode? PART ONE

Who would have known that the isolation that I have abhorred for the past days would lead me to an answer?

Who would have thought that the pain of Depression itself holds the fountain of everything you ever wanted?

I wanted a direction in life after my Depressive Episode last 2011. But I haven't come up with one. What would I do with my life?

This is part one of my search for an answer to these questions.


I find myself a well-rounded person. Cultured? Not really. I just have a lot of interests which revolves around some personal principles, the most domineering of which is my desire to help the less powerful.

I was involved in religious activity since grade school until I lose faith in God after my depression subsided and the medicines took effect. And I remembered, back when I was faithful, that I was actually doing all these volunteering, preaching and teaching thing because I love people and not necessarily because I love God. Yup. I feel my stomach aching whenever I ponder about that.

Through religious work, I was also involved in the Deaf community. I fell in love with their language as well as their unique culture. But most importantly, I fell in love with the people I was able to work with throughout the three years I was active at church work.

I am out of church, but my love for the Deaf never failed. After I went back to school, I was able to fulfill one of my greatest dreams, to write (or lecture) a deaf history of Baguio City. And I did it without the help of my former religion.

Taken after our interview with Teresita Martinez (center), one of the oldest Deaf
students of Baguio City. With her in this picture, from left to right: Kristelle
Pascual, Alyssa Faye Bautista, Tessie's grandson, me and Daryl Ejeil Sinlao.
After I left church, I looked for a new passion to pursue or more accurately a new group of friends to get involved with. I found myself in to politics.

I saw politics as an opportunity to fill my desire to help. I know this may sound selfish (helping people to feel good about yourself) but ask social workers, volunteers and politicos (like Gretchen Rubin did to tame her desire to be recognized: read her book "The Happiness Project" or visit her blog at http://www.happiness-project.com/) and they would say that in order to feel good and last in this rather "stressful" job, you have to do this for yourself.

But my desire was really to help people. Politics, or at least "student politics" was not able to fulfill that need entirely. Yes we were able to extend some help on matters of student interest like information dissemination  lobbying and similar assistance but this was not the "volunteering" I was looking for. I missed the muddy, dirty, person-to-person volunteering that made me sweat. And it was what I was looking for.

During the Reproductive Health Bill Forum last December 2012 conducted by
the student political party at UP Baguio I was affiliated with, AKMA UP.
Moreover, I joined politics to see if the issue of mental health can be considered a major issue to tackle. I was dismayed to see that people (even those who claim to want to help other people) is not really interested on the problems of other people and would rather blame the impersonal economic system rather than more personal, direct and logical explanations to mental health issues like suicide.

The recent sensationalism of the UP Manila student suicide case is a very good example, where student tuition fee issues was given heavier attention by the media rather than the family and relationship issues (or even mental health issues) that the victim had. See http://teresay.com/up-manila-student-suicide-case/ for a demonstration of this economic thesis.

So yes, I am a politically-minded person, I love the deaf, I wanted to advance the quality of mental health service in the Philippines, but as I sit here on my hard wooden bench occasionally looking outside waiting for the Baguio rain to pour and perhaps engulf me, I realized, the intense euphoria, the satisfaction, the imaginative element that my definition of passion requires is not to be found with these three areas of interests. Yes they can be very practical venues for me to pursue. But I am undecided. At least, for now.

To be continued...

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Welcome

Hi there pal :)

This is the first day of my personal blog "Depression Philippines." I welcome you with all my heart. Whoever you are, I'm happy you dropped by.

I have to be honest. At first, I simply wanted to write for myself, for the very benefit of simply putting all those pesky ideas running in circles around my head into an organize palatable form. I guessed blogging can be therapeutic because I am able to express my feelings and emotions through writing. But I figured out, writing has a more noble purpose than that.

I don't know why you came over this personal place of mine. I don't know the language you speak or the culture you grew up with. I don't know the purpose of your short visit. Maybe you are just a friend of mine who happened to be on my list of connections or you were just lost around the web trying to find readable texts to entertain you.

But you may happen to be here for a very different reason. A very difficult one. The same reason I went through from 2011 until the present.

You may be here for either two things: HELP or HOPE.

I can't promise to offer you what you are looking for. But if you are interested with other people's lives--that is, their failures, their triumphs, their resilience, their spirits--the way I am so much interested with these things, then that I think I could offer.

You see, I am nineteen years old when I had my Major Depressive Episode. I had to stop schooling as I was in third year college that time. I also suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) from childhood to the present. I've been at the brink of killing myself. I've felt how life isn't worth living at all. I lost my friends. I lost my faith. I lost a person I love. I lost my entire self. Altogether, all too sudden and all too early.

Adding to all these life struggles is the fact that the Philippines has several problems, inadequacies and challenges within its health systems that accessibility to "quality" help for Filipinos afflicted with Depression and other mental health issues is poor. I experienced this while searching for treatment.

This blog shall serve several purposes:

1. A Memoir - Throughout the writing of this blog, I would try to recall my memories of the experience of Depression and the insanity that it brought me and my attempt towards recovery.

2. A Diary - This blog shall also serve as a daily log of the thoughts, the feelings and the experiences that a chronic illness like Depression brings to the soul as it battle for its life day by day.

3. An Advocacy - Since Depression, OCD and mental illness has particular stigmas attached to them and awareness about the prevention and treatment of these health issues are poor in some areas of the world, particularly here in the Philippines, this blog shall join the many mental health advocates in giving light to Depression.

4. A Lifeline - I can be your friend. I desire to help. I desire to keep in touch with fellow warriors and sufferers of mental illness.

Welcome to my blog. Welcome to Depression Philippines.