My Friend Tried to Kill Herself…

And only two people knew- the girl who had called the morning after, and me…6000 miles away.

A year ago, her recipe was set: the lost of a first love, college pressure, and a dash of depression. She’d gone through the steps: wrote a suicide note, and took the meds. She didn’t need much. She fell asleep with the fifth pill.

Her friends had noticed a change in her, even her mother had suspicions, but no one thought she would actually do it. Most of us have had suicidal thoughts at some point, we just don’t act on it. This girl did. She didn’t just want to die- she could have already died because unlike me, she tried.

There was that one worried friend who had called her the morning after, when she woke up alive and scrambled to hide all evidence of what she had tried to do. I don’t know how that conversation went but I know that she didn’t talk to people about it. ‘Kalain sad oi.’ It’s unusual. She only told me – a year later – because she was suffering bouts of anxiety and she was afraid she had depression.

There is a stigma attached to mental illness in the Philippines – and it is a taboo to talk about mental health. I would know from experience. When depression ceased me, I knew something was very wrong, yet my first reaction was to retreat further into myself and show the world that I was still capable of being happy by laughing when it was appropriate and smiling… when in reality I felt nothing.

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Weathered, a piece from Regardt van der Meulen’s Deconstructed sculptures

The fact is it isn’t as fun in the Philippines as most people think.

Filipinos are known as highly adaptable people who manage to smile even at the hardest times. Unfortunately, it seems this image also helps make the discussion of mental illnesses a taboo. In addition to this, mental illnesses are often connected to insanity (dangerous, aggressive, violent) and even seeing a mental health professional is perceived negatively. Denial then becomes a big hindrance to receiving treatment, not just for the person but for the family as well. Meanwhile, all we can do is bear the burden in our worn-down minds and try to cope by relying on our inner resources.

Sometimes, suicidal thoughts or profound unhappiness bring forth guilt. There are people who have it so much worse and they’re not chained by their own misery. What then, is wrong with you?

We need to talk about mental illness. We need to get rid of its stigma. We need to acknowledge, as a society, that a person cannot be held responsible for his own psychological health. We need to start to listen without judgement. We need to admit that refusing to acknowledge a problem doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. We need to accept that it’s okay to get help, that it’s okay to be unhappy when there is so much to be happy about. Until then, we will continue feeding the ignorance that might ultimately cost us the life of a spouse, a parent, a friend, a child, or our own.

Stop the stigma. Mental health matters.

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Reflections on a Year Past

I started 2016 with so much energy and the impulsiveness I’ve always had. As a response, Berlin gave us a ball of light in an entirely overcast sky for a sunrise on January 1.

It was at the beginning of 2016 that I finally made the change I was always planning on but was always afraid to do. It was painful then, but the pain stayed there. I was free. It was the year that proved what I always say: I’m too many people at once, sometimes I don’t know who I am.

IMG_017211111.jpgI spent so much time, money, and energy traveling. There were times when I felt physically, emotionally, and mentally spent. I met all sorts of people, engaged in countless conversations that impacted me so much, and collected so many stories. I realised I can talk and that there are people who want to listen, and that the quieter you are, the more you can hear.

I worked on rediscovering what it meant to be ‘family’ –as Jonathan Safran Foer puts it, “One day you will do things for me that you hate. That is what means to be family.” I spent my entire Christmas break traveling to meet family. It was a bit of a challenge that they were scattered all over the place.

I learned to do weekend breaks– having spent the previous year with barely any weekend free from work. I traveled to places I’d never heard of before, and learned to make do with whatever was at hand.

I woke one February morning to the news of the Brussels Bombings. I breakfasted in silence with the strangest feeling. By some stroke of fate, my extremely delayed flight left the airport 6 hours before that attack.

April 1 World Pillow Fight Day
World Pillow Fight Day in Berlin

In a fit of jealousy, stubbornness, and possessiveness, I started running again. Every initial step was a battle against the voices in my head, against memories of the darkest summer I spent. I signed up for my first half marathon: the Isle of Skye Half Marathon.

I met the dreaded ToiToi – Germany’s portable public toilets, enjoyed work and the diversity of the people I was with. When summer was in full heat, I had my first swim in a Berlin lake, did the Rostock Half Marathon, and enjoyed the outdoors and the endless events that made up Berlin’s summer spirit.

One Sunday I visited a Gurdwara for the first time and received insights on something I knew very little about. I learned that Sikhism is more tradition, a way of life, than religion.

 

I remembered my roots, realised how much two and a half years can change a person, and caught up on old relations. It was a pleasant surprise that although we all go through so many different experiences and we are constantly changing, some things are fundamentally the same.

I moved to a new city in a new country, made new friends, and lived a new life. I had my fair share of grief and tears, faced my selfishness and learned that I didn’t have to explain all my actions. I shuddered at the indifference I discovered– at how cold and cruel the human heart can be. There are people in your life who are worthy of an explanation– and among them, people who don’t listen. As the saying goes, there are people who can’t see the forest for the trees.

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Rolling with the times

It was the year I first smoked weed, shisha, drank a little too much a few times too many, yet it was the year I was fittest. I felt young. I regressed and did things I had missed out on in my strange childhood.

It was life on the fast lane that on the day I typed the words, it was true.

You know the girl you once thought you knew? Well, she’s not here anymore. 

 

 

Anchorage

n. the desire to hold on to time as it passes, like trying to keep your grip on a rock in the middle of a river, feeling the weight of the current against your chest while your elders float on downstream, calling over the roar of the rapids, “Just let go—it’s okay—let go.”

I’d like to call this unwelcome winter episode in Berlin now as ‘hot chocolate weather’, and without fail, the feeling of nostalgia always comes with it.

Today, I finally got down to doing my spring cleaning and it’s quite terrifying how much stuff I have accumulated within two years. I threw and gave away a lot of things before I moved out of the Philippines, and seeing as I have to move out soon, I will have to let go of a lot of things again. I find it terrifying how we are always accumulating stuff. I came to Berlin with nothing but the things in my huge red suitcase and now, just a month short of my two-year anniversary here, I have stuff that fill that same suitcase and a huge closet to the brim.

I’ve met people who have lived with just a suitcase of stuff and I always had this romantic notion that I could do it. I’ve done it before; I would have to do it again; but it would always be the same cycle of accumulating stuff I don’t need or even want long enough and then give it away only to accumulate more stuff all over again. Humanity inherently comes with that flawed intrinsic need to possess something, anything, everything. You’ve probably felt the desire to hold on to time as it passes – and certainly that great longing to be in a moment that has passed and to experience it all raw once more. It doesn’t help that we always romanticise the past.

I myself collect a lot of memorabilia. In an inexplicable desire to immortalise a memory, I started writing journals when I was eight. I reread some of them a decade on and they were mostly of no worth: old movie plots, books I read, childhood crushes. Memories, like everything else, are relative. I ended up throwing a lot of ‘rubbish’ then, like I did today, yet there are some things I know for sure I will always hold on to.

I am an avid collector of postcards and handwritten letters. It doesn’t matter that I never met the person who sent me the postcard or that it may never again cross my mind that out there is a woman in Tenerife setting her table for dinner, exactly the way it looked in the photo she once sent a stranger. To me, postcards and letters are treasure chests forever sealed – I am never going to get anything else from them other than the story that was written there.

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Travel knick-knacks? I keep the guidebooks and maps I’ve used, public transport tickets, museum tickets, and even restaurant napkins with the name of the place printed on it. And yes, I collect the currency as well. Don’t we all?

I also find so much beauty in the fallen that I leaves, rocks, sticks, pine cones, and random things I find on my walks. I dry flowers too. On a rather queer note, I also collect beer caps. I got the idea from a good friend of who I met on a beer fest in Berlin. I love a good beer and a lot of my most poignant and spontaneous moments involved beer. I just didn’t anticipate I’d be exploring beer so much.

And let’s not forget all the digital trash – unfinished stories, photos I never sorted through, chat threads, old reservation confirmations.

I guess that’s all just a part of being human, and maybe it’s supposed to be this way. In the end, we want our stories – or even just fragments of it to remain long after we’re gone. Or it’s really all just anchorage – a way of holding on to time. Humans are quite unique in the sense that we gain satisfaction out of collecting things purely by seeking and owning them.

What about you? What things do you collect? Why do you collect them?

There is in me:
A hatchling that left its nest too early,
A juvenile angry at the world it lives in,
A creature that refuses to be tamed that I hold so dearly,
And always crouched in the shadows, its twin.
Sometimes, you can hear its rustle before it leaps for the attack
Oftentimes it’s too quickly over, and I pray for it to never come back.

 

I call this beast “I”.
I have clawed through walls I didn’t even know were there.
I have done things I thought I couldn’t dare.
I have cut off threads I thought were unbreakable.
I have deemed love and me incompatible.

 

There is in me a cacophony of all the voices I’ve ever heard,
A stillness punctuated by echoes of the absurd,
A void where words should be,
And periods to end every possible eternity.
There is in me an illusion of calmness and grace,
After all, there is stillness in the wild, but only on the surface.