Tag Archives: depression

Not So Much Your Death, But More So Your Life

Not So Much Your Death, But More So Your Life
(An apology to a friend in Heaven)

 

I hug my son, tuck him into bed and kiss his forehead.
I wish him sweet dreams.
Then I think of how you can’t hug your son and tuck him into bed anymore.
How he sees you in his dreams and in his tears.
And I hold back my tears and my heartache.
And I wish that, instead, I would remember the hugs, the kisses and the dreams you had given.

I sort photos of my teenage daughter’s last birthday celebration.
I am in awe of how time has flown and how much she has grown.
Then I think of how you can’t celebrate your daughter’s birthdays anymore.
How she blows out her candles and blows away her sorrows.
And I hold back my tears and my heartache.
And I wish that, instead, I would remember the birthdays when you were there.

I shop for brush pens, card stock and such art supplies.
I want to learn hand lettering; I want to draw the beauty of words.
Then I think of how you won’t be making any more art.
How the walls of your home might be less colorful.
And I hold back my tears and my heartache.
And I wish that, instead, I would remember the lovely paintings and crafts you had made.

I stay in touch with our friends from all over.
We say hello; we share photos and stories; we reminisce.
Then we realize that you are not with us anymore.
How our friend is gone too painfully, gone too soon.
And we hold back our tears and our heartache.
And we wish that, instead, we would remember when you were with us.
When you welcomed us warmly into your home.
When you were always ready with smiles and kindness.
When you spoke softly yet with such conviction.
When times were good.
When the world was brighter.

Forgive me, my friend, for feeling more of my tears and my heartache.
Forgive me for thinking and thinking about your death.
When, instead, I should be remembering your joys and your gifts.
I should be thinking and thinking about your beautiful life.

summertime sadness

 

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Cycling and Candle Lighting for World Suicide Prevention Day (Sept. 10)

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It’s fifteen days till September 10, fifteen days till World Suicide Prevention Day, fifteen days till the first death anniversary of my friend who was lost to suicide.

“In 2014, the theme of World Suicide Prevention Day is ‘Suicide Prevention: One World Connected.’ The theme reflects the fact that connections are important at several levels if we are to combat suicide.

Connectedness is crucial to individuals who may be vulnerable to suicide. Studies have shown that social isolation can increase the risk of suicide and, conversely, that having strong human bonds can be protective against it. Reaching out to those who have become disconnected from others and offering them support and friendship may be a life-saving act.”

The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) is calling for volunteers to support World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) 2014 by doing these things to show the importance of connectedness and to promote the message of suicide prevention:

1. Cycle Around the World. WSPD aims to collectively cycle the circumference of the globe, which is 40,075 kilometers or 24,900 miles and to have people cycling on every continent.

2. Light a Candle. At 8pm on September 10, light a candle near a window in support of  suicide prevention and awareness, survivors of suicide and for the memory of loved lost ones.

3. Be open to talking and learning about depression and suicide prevention. Promote it on your social networks. Know the signs and the ways you can reach out. Organize your family and friends to cycle, light candles and show support for suicide awareness and prevention.  Donate to IASP or your preferred support group.

I have fifteen days to get my slightly rusted bicycle ready and to get myself in shape to cycle again after almost two cycling-free years (ouch!). I do have my candle ready. And I am getting ready to post this all over my social networks and to invite friends to join me in supporting World Suicide Prevention Day.

How about you?

 

Why Robin Williams’s Depression and Suicide Matter

robin williamsYesterday, the world was shocked to learn that the great and lovable actor and comedian Robin Williams passed away.

What was personally shocking and heartbreaking for me was that, as of now, preliminary investigations indicate that he died of suicide by asphyxia. That he had hanged himself. And through the many, many articles and tributes online, I learned that he was battling severe depression for many years.

Suddenly, the dots connected. Behind the joy and laughter he exuded and elicited, that personal darkness of depression was there. Despite getting professional help, despite having loving family and friends around him, Robin Williams wasn’t able to keep up the fight.

Indeed, depression doesn’t discriminate. Contrary to popular belief and glamorized notions, depression is not only for the loner, the poor, the unsuccessful. It is not about being sad after a heartbreak, a material or financial loss, or a dream unfulfilled. It is a mental illness that, if kept in the dark and untreated, can be overwhelmingly out of control.

Thousands, perhaps more, people all over the world are mourning the loss of Robin Williams. We are all paying tribute to his legacy by remembering his best works, our favorite lines, our childhood memories of how he made us laugh. But there is another way to honor Robin Williams. We can talk about depression and suicide. We can make more of an effort to understand that depression is, more often than not, hidden from plain sight. We can refrain from judging the collateral damage of suicide, because each person’s journey into depression and/or suicide is different. We can try to be kinder to one another. We can shout out to the world or gently whisper to our friend that throughout the long and dark tunnel, with help all along the way, there is that light. There is that hope.

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Her Hidden Depression

Sad WomanA year ago today, my children and I were on vacation in Singapore. A year ago today, we had spent the whole day in a dear friend’s house. As luck would have it, although our families had both moved out of Singapore the year before, both of our families were also back in Singapore on vacation at the same time. Perfect opportunity for a reunion.

My friend had just had a baby girl, her third child, a few months before. I met her little angel for the first time and carried her in my arms. My friend said her baby wasn’t colicky, wasn’t difficult. She said that, after having repatriated, her family was enjoying being closer to family again. The only hard part was that her husband was still working in Singapore, and would just go home to visit them as often as he could, perhaps once every month or two.  They weren’t sure how long that arrangement would last, but they were doing their best to make it work.

It was a lovely day. Mommies chatting away, teenage daughters hanging out, young sons running around and playing with toys. We were a bit sad to say goodbye at the end, but were hopeful of seeing each other again.  Maybe a day at the park next time, next year.

That day, a year ago, my friend was her usual self – calm, generous and happy. She looked and sounded like her usual self that I had come to know in the last two years. Which is why I was in complete shock and denial when I heard just two months later that she had committed suicide because of severe postpartum depression. Was she already experiencing it when I saw her that day? Were there signs that I had missed? If it had started only after we saw each other, how can this illness go bad so quickly that in less than two months, she was gone?

I learned the painful way that depression is a very frightening thing. It can hide; it can deceive. I still ask myself if I had missed anything, if anyone else could have seen it coming.

Today, I remember how my friend was a year ago, how our day was a year ago. It was a good day, a happy day. And I still don’t understand how it all went horribly wrong afterwards.

 

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Managing Anxiety and Depression

sad looking womanIris is an actor, writer and volunteer living in Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada. She migrated from Cebu, Philippines in 2005. Four years after migrating, her struggle with anxiety and depression began.

Did you attempt to do self-help, or to manage on your own?

“I always try my best to help and care for myself. For example, doing physical activities that I enjoy — yoga, dance, even just a 20-minute walk in the nearby park. I attend spiritual silent retreats for a weekend or for a whole week. I try to meditate, though I do have challenges doing it regularly.”

“Nurturing friendships also helps, especially with friends whose presence are helpful and calming to me. I have joined support groups. I volunteer a lot. Somehow focusing on others and not only myself helps a lot.”

“I listen and watch documentaries about mental health. I also read scientific articles and journals about the latest research on depression, anxiety and their treatments. The latest book I’m reading is Marc Schoen’s Your Survival Instinct Is Killing You: Retrain Your Brain to Conquer Fear and Build Resilience. It’s also about knowing and understanding more about it.”

How did you seek professional help?

“We have to remember though that there are days when it’s difficult to manage on our own. On these kinds of days, I would either go to my acupuncturist or massage therapist. Other times, I see my counselor and talk things through.”

“When I was going to university for my second degree, many programs and staff were available to students. The university is aware of the many stresses students experience. Health and Counseling services in the university was strongly promoted and advertised all over the campus. When professors notice that students may have some issues, they suggest the services of the Health and Counseling staff.”

“My family doctor had referred me to services and programs in our area. I kept my eyes open for ads and posters in community centers and health clinics. I saw the ad for the BC Bounce Back program in my doctor’s clinic. I asked him about it and requested his referral. The next day someone from the program called me right away and helped me get started with the program.”

How are you managing now?

“I’m currently in a hormone therapy for infertility so it’s a bit rough for me. One of the side effects of the hormones is mood swings/depression. So I do the best I can to manage it.”

“I signed up for a Zumba class. I take walks, read fiction books that make me laugh, eat well. Eating well for me means cutting back on junk food like chicharon and Chippy which I enjoy! More fruits, vegetables and whole grain. Less sugar. I also try to keep away from people with negative energy or activities that will rile me up (e.g. political issues). If I read online comments from trollers who just want to incite anger among its readers, I try to not fixate on it and just scroll down or I read something else.”

“I met with my counselor yesterday and gained some new insights into my current feelings of anxiety. An important thing that I remember is to be kind and compassionate to myself. I can be very critical of myself. I say thing to myself like ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this or that. I should be more logical and less emotional.’  The more I push myself one way, the less kind I am to myself. One thing I am reminded by my counselor yesterday is to just let the negative feelings surface, not suppress it and not judge it…then let it go.”

“There’s no magic cure for depression and anxiety. It’s important to learn how to manage it and to not let it define you. It’s a constant learning experience.”

photo by: bradleygee

When Migration Leads to Anxiety and Depression

Sad womanIris is an actor, writer and volunteer living in Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada. She migrated from Cebu, Philippines in 2005. Four years after migrating, her struggle with anxiety and depression began.

When and how did you find out you were experiencing depression?  

“I have two mental health issues: anxiety and depression. They’re two different issues but they are interrelated. Learning about my anxiety issues led the way to knowing the depression.”

“It all started sometime in 2009. I went to our family doctor complaining of symptoms of chest pains. I was afraid I was having a heart attack. Our doctor is very bright and insightful. It turns out that what I’ve been experiencing panic attacks. He asked me more questions and referred me to a mental health counselor. I was diagnosed to have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I was referred to and participated in a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) program at our local hospital. For several weeks, I was with participants who were also experiencing GAD as well as depression. We learned concrete ways to manage our anxiety and mood issues.”

“I also learned that I have low-grade depression or dysthymia. Don’t get the low-grade description fool you. It’s a serious chronic condition. It’s also as common as major depression. Dysthymia has affected my physical health, my professional, personal and social life. It can be really debilitating.”

Do you know what triggered it?

“When I immigrated to Canada, I left a wide network of support from family and friends. Immigrating was not just a physical separation from home. It was also very much an emotional and spiritual separation. It has also been quite difficult to start in a job of the same level as my career back in the Philippines.”

“My life in Canada has been very different from my life in the Philippines. By my first year here, I started feeling more and more isolated and alienated. I had acquaintances but I didn’t really have people I could call friends. Sometimes I felt invisible. My self-esteem just plummeted. I felt I didn’t belong to a community. By this time, I had already met the man who became my husband. He was really trying his best to give me all the emotional support that I needed. But one person can never replace a whole community.”

“It doesn’t help that in Vancouver, it can also be rainy and gloomy for days on end! The absence of sun would sometimes worsen my depression.”

How did you first react to this realization?  

“I got even more depressed and anxious! I always regarded myself as this optimistic, cheerful and emotionally strong woman. I always knew what I wanted. In my early 30s, I’ve accomplished many things in my life that not many people have. In my mind, experiencing my depression and anxiety issues meant some kind of failure on my part in adapting to my new home country. On the other hand, I felt relieved that all the things I was experiencing had an explanation; it had a name. Accepting that I had a problem was the beginning of getting better.”

Did you tell people around you?  

“My husband knew. He was very supportive. He did a lot of research, encouraged me to seek help, and listened to me when I wanted to talk or just offer me a hug when I needed it. I gradually told some of my friends and family members back in Cebu.”

How did they react?

“It’s interesting because the reactions of friends and family varied a lot. From “You’ll get over it!” to the equally unhelpful “You’re so lucky to have all the things that you have! You shouldn’t be depressed.” Some of the people in Cebu that I confided in seemed to find it very hard to wrap their heads around the fact that someone like me – someone with a cheerful disposition, a person they ran to for advice when they had problems – could be suffering, too.”

“I even got responses from a few people that would contain only a few sentences recognizing my pain but in the next long paragraphs would proceed to tell me their problems. I’m not too fragile that I’ll break if they tell me their problems. I’d feel very honored and special to be trusted with their stories too. But sometimes I feel like I’m not being listened to. Just because others regard me as a strong person doesn’t mean I don’t need or want help.”

“I should say that there were some friends who seemed so understanding and offered their listening ear. For the most part, the idea of depression and anxiety seemed foreign to many I’ve told. This makes me feel sad. Imagine what we could for each other if we were more empathetic and compassionate to those who need it.”

(In a future post, Iris talks about how she manages her anxiety and depression.)

photo by: Helga Weber

Learning to Live with Postpartum Depression

Tanya, a 28-year-old banker from the Philippines, was so excited.  After struggling with infertility for 3 years, she and her husband were finally expecting their first child. She was determined to be the perfect mom.

After giving birth, she was very surprised and disappointed.  Instead of being elated with motherhood, she found herself depressed.

I think that the years of struggling with infertility, the difficult pregnancy, and the subsequent premature birth of my daughter took its toll on me physically, emotionally and psychologically. I had also just lost my father the year before the baby was born, so I had a lot of emotional turmoil in my life.

 SIGNS OF POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION

Tanya had never experienced depression before, so when she started crying over the smallest things, she knew something was wrong. “I was overly anxious, always worrying that there was something wrong with the baby. Maybe she wasn’t sleeping enough or eating enough or pooping enough. I was barely sleeping, constantly checking if she was still breathing. I found breastfeeding extremely stressful. And it didn’t help that my daughter went through several bouts of colic and wouldn’t sleep for hours on end. I was a working mom, operating on 3 hours of sleep a day. I’m sure the sleep deprivation didn’t help.”

“I was always very sad. And I was very disappointed in myself for not finding more joy in something that I had been waiting so long for. I felt like a failure. I was always mad at my husband for not ‘participating’ enough.  I was mad at my daughter for upending my life so much I barely knew who I was anymore. I loved her, but was very mad at her at the same time. I believe at one point I called her an ‘emotional vampire’.”

 GETTING SUPPORT

 “I kept my feelings hidden very well. Only my husband and my sister (who had just had a baby herself, and was overwhelmed with being a first time mother as well) knew how I was feeling. They were both supportive and acted as sounding boards whenever I felt overwhelmed or depressed. They became the emotional support group I needed while I was working through my feelings. There was no judgment from them.”

“My husband set up meetings for us with the Ateneo Center for Family Ministries, when my PPD started infringing on our marriage. It was then I realized how hard he was working to make sure that I got the support that I needed, even if it meant seeking help from the outside when he couldn’t give me all the help I needed.”

 DEALING WITH POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION

“I let myself feel how I needed to feel. I was angry when I felt angry. Sad when I felt sad. I never tried to suppress my feelings, understanding that they needed to be felt in order to be resolved. My PPD was so much more than my pregnancy, or my feelings of inadequacy with motherhood. It was the sum of many things – my infertility, my father dying, my grief with the fact that he never got to meet my daughter or that my daughter would never get to know him, and being overwhelmed with the seemingly endless expectations —– from my daughter, my husband, everyone around us, and most of all myself. When I realized that all my daughter really needed was to be loved, in my own way…. when I learned to forgive myself for all my shortcomings (both real and imagined)… when I learned to accept that the only way I needed to parent was MY way, I learned to live with my PPD and eventually it went away.”

“It felt like a bubble that just burst. For almost a year, I was surrounded by these feelings of sadness and anger. I actually learned to live with it, thinking that I would always feel that way. And one day it just burst. And I stopped feeling angry, sad and lost.”

“I still have days when I don’t always feel 100%. There are days when I feel extraordinarily cranky or angry for no apparent reason, days when I feel melancholy. And I know these are the vestiges of postpartum depression. Maybe it never really goes away, but I’ve learned to live with it and rise above it.”

The Black Dog Named Depression

In September 2013, after my friend’s suicide, I began a quest to understand depression.  This was my attempt at making sense of what seemed to be a senseless and tragic loss.

I stumbled upon this short and insightful video made by Matthew Johnstone in collaboration with the World Health Organization.

Using images and words that anyone can understand, this video gives a glimpse into what goes on in the life of someone experiencing depression.  The image of a black dog that follows you around, wakes you up with negative thoughts, grows big or small, and most importantly, can be taught to heel gives a face to depression, something we can handle and get a grasp on.

This video is a simple yet powerful introduction to understanding depression.  It makes some very important points:

  • Being depressed is more than just feeling sad.  It’s becoming devoid of feeling altogether.
  • When you lose all joy in life, you start questioning the point of it all.
  • Depression is an equal opportunity illness.
  • There is no silver bullet or magic pill.
  • You don’t have to be afraid of depression.  It may not go away completely, but with knowledge, patience, discipline and support, it can be managed.

If more of us are aware of depression and its nature, we have a better chance to help others and save lives.

Depression is Real

Depression , Hate , Alone

I grew up unaware of clinical depression.  I thought it wasn’t real.  When someone would say he was depressed, it would be from someone who was moping over a heartache or sulking after getting grounded.  I thought depression was an emotion that you could brush away.

In 2013, I was in for a rude awakening.  In September last year, a dear friend of mine committed suicide.  After having found out through an email, I was in shock and in denial for days.  I had just seen her 2 months before then.  I had the pleasure of meeting her baby girl, the newest addition to her now brood of 3 lovely children. It was a day well spent in her cozy home; moms happily chatting, kids busy playing. No signs of trouble, no lingering farewells.  To quote a line from the song “Fire and Rain”, a song that now haunts me, “But I always thought that I’d see you again.”

I couldn’t understand how such a lovely woman – kind, generous, caring, happy, with a loving family – would commit suicide. I never thought that someone so strong and well-loved could secretly battle postpartum depression, and lose.

I will never see my friend again. Like her family and friends, I am learning to accept that I will never fully understand what had happened. My heart aches for her husband and children who are slowly moving forward and getting used to the new normal.

I write this post to begin my journey to understanding depression. I hope to let other people know that depression is real, and it is very frightening and powerful. But if brought out of the dark and into the light, with the help of others, it can be beaten.

 

photo by: rockindave1