mental health

Small

by Angelique Campo, FINDink Contributor

I spent a lot of my years trying to get to the bottom of who I am.

At a young age, I taught myself how to be small, in every essence of the word.

When I became aware of all my flaws, aches, and growing pains that I didn’t like about myself, I began to learn what it felt to be insecure and suddenly, being small became progressively easier.

There were parts of me I kept hidden away. I pushed everything I felt down, hoping that one day those feelings would disappear. I thought I was just being dramatic when I was younger. But then it started following me for longer periods of time. My mind took one, little thought and ran with it, and it wouldn’t stop until I was hyperventilating. It was such a stark contrast of what I felt versus who I portrayed myself to be to everyone around me.

You never want anyone to know, because it brings an onslaught of shame and guilt. Like I’m not allowed to feel this way. Because there’s no reason to. It’s not real and I’m not actually suffering.

You have this, and you have that. You’re so lucky compared to others. Stop complaining.

So, I stopped.

I made it so that it was small; so tiny that it was insignificant.

Because if it were small, I wouldn’t have to deal with it.

If it were small enough, it wasn’t real. And if I brushed it off like I learned to, then I would be fine.

I hadn’t realized what a disservice I was doing to myself by invalidating my own emotions. I was shrinking myself to fit into an outdated cultural narrative that was brought down from generations before me. I didn’t understand it until I got to college. I couldn’t run from it anymore. I couldn’t ignore it when it started seeping into my life during the day and putting italics on my sadness at night.

When I finally got diagnosed with anxiety and depression, it was such a weird sense of relief. Like I could breathe now that I knew what was wrong.

But at the same time, it opened doors to conversations I still was not ready to have, with people I loved who couldn’t quite understand why, and trauma from growing up that I had to relive over and over again until I accepted it for what it was: trauma.

For me, healing meant having to peel myself down to the very core, everytime, in hopes to get to the bottom of it all. You make a valiant effort to explain it to other people, and yet, it still doesn’t get any easier.

That’s why this month in particular is very special to me. It’s the first one that’s allowed me to feel valid. After a year of not being able to recognize her, she was able to build herself back up.

Once I faced the fear that became my own truth, I made some room, instead of shrinking.

I finally felt the gravity in kind words. I started saying them to myself. I said it out loud. It was then that I decided this is where I begin again.

And I will start over every time if it means getting the opportunity be better than I was before.

Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc.

Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc.

Suicide, Smiles, and the Saserdote

by Alpheus Llantero, FINDink Contributor

In the Philippines, the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation has a depression and suicide prevention hotline to help those secretly suffering from depression. The numbers to call are ‎804–4673 and ‎0917–558–4673. More information is available on its website.

In the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you are in crisis, call 1–800–273–8255.

Content Warning: Mentions of suicide and mental trauma.

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For all the values instilled by the Spanish colonization, Catholicism visibly remains the greatest remnant. The Catholic Church teaches the Filipino how they ought to live, and more importantly, how they ought to die. For many, Christianity has been the saving grace of a country where nearly a quarter of its population lives a hand-to-mouth existence — isang kahig, isang tuka. The kingdom of heaven is not theirs on earth, but theirs in heaven. Endure the miserable existence, so that one day, you may be rewarded — endure the evictions, the hurricanes, the slave-like labor and menial wages — so one day, the kingdom of heaven be yours.

It is not a surprise that the public conceives the image of a happy Filipino. Numerous pictures and articles have showcased the impoverished-but-smiling Filipino, a testament to the resilience of the Filipino spirit. A poll last March reported that 87 percent of Filipinos are “very happy and satisfied with life”, despite half of the population rating themselves poor. The National Statistics Office reports that 17 to 20 percent of Filipinos are diagnosed with some form of mental illness, with a recorded suicide rate of 3.2 for every 100,000 people. How can we reconcile these troubling, conflicting statistics?

“Talk to a priest” may be the answer to suicidal ideation — a common refrain among elders who may commonly see one’s intent as a symptom of normal emotions of difficulty or sadness, kalungkutan. After all, life really is hard. For those that live in poverty, the physical and financial hardship is already an established fact. That’s why for variety show host Joey de Leon, “Yung depression, gawa-gawa lang ng mga tao ‘yan. Gawa nila sa sarili nila”, depression is made-up by people; it’s their attitude.

Happiness is the only option for the poor Filipino, it is needed for their survival. It is needed for the worker who goes home to their family after long hours on the factory or field — that they may wake up the next day with purpose and go through the process all over again. The struggle is subdued through a culture of “good vibes lang”, “let’s look at the bright side of things”, let’s stay positive”, or “a negative mind only sees faults”. It is a culture that is reinforced by asking the poor Filipino people to get on their knees and look to the Lord, for indeed, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The culture of happiness proves quite helpful in the face of tragedy — it has fostered a generous interdependence that built the then-leveled City of Tacloban from the ground up after Typhoon Haiyan, and literally moves houses from one barangay to another, the classic example of bayanihan, the ancient Filipino custom of group work. The culture of happiness is quite useful in another regard — in the exploitation of the Filipino. For the Oversees Filipino Worker, the culture of happiness binds together the suffering Filipino; the domestic helper based in Hong Kong lament their subhuman treatment to fellow abused Filipinos. And the exploiter persists in their exploitation, because the Filipino persists in their “enjoyment” of exploitation.

If anything sounds familiar, look no further than the values that the Spaniards instilled in their subjugated people. The qualities of “hard work” in men and docility in women are exactly what the colonizers needed, in that they fulfill the needs of the Encomienda system and the needs of the household. These are the qualities of a good Catholic; these are the qualities that shall make the kingdom of heaven yours.

But even for the not-as-exploited middle and upper-middle class, their experience, too, is that of vulnerability. Growing wealth and upward mobility has led to increased pressures to sustain such progress. Pressures manifest themselves at work with extended hours, or at school with the perfect GPA in the hopes that one may land a spot at the premier University of the Philippines or study abroad; this is the “hard-working” Filipino. And do not submit to rest or defeat, for you ought to overcome.

Suicide in the Philippines is actually among the lowest in Asia. But its optimistic numbers are undercut by the non-acceptance of suicide, as per Catholic dogma. There is a sense of shame for the mentally ill, or for those who have died because of suicide — the idea of one taking “the easy way out” emerges, as well as the anger of a lost source of income or interpersonal support. Because of this, a large percentage of the deaths actually attributed to suicide are actually reported as an injury or accident. Filipinos do not want to confront their families with the reality of a loved one taking their own life. Good vibes lang.

Not until June 2018 did the Philippines have a mental health law providing for the implementation of mental health services. The lack of a framework to provide access to critical services has left the Philippines with a mere 600 psychiatrists in a country of 100 million people. While Republic Act 11036 presents itself with potential as a starting point to change attitudes surrounding mental health, the much larger problem with the culture of happiness must be addressed.

Filipinos should feel sad, too. Filipinos should allow themselves to feel sad. Filipinos should allow their fellow Filipinos to feel sad. To allow the recognition of negative emotions is to allow the recognition of problems, and the recognition of problems is to allow the recognition of solutions.

Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc.



Knot Who I am

by Carlo Arellano, FINDInk Contributor

A heavy knot weighs down in my chest, and it can’t be loosened or untied.

It was skillfully crafted by the hands of many Filipino men, passing it down as a family heirloom before they died.

My father wove his string into it, as did his father before him, and his father before him, and now this weight in my chest is my birth-righted inheritance, but I’m the first one to be born foreign.

I am a Filipino-American, spelled with a hyphen that is eighty five hundred miles long and having to face the realities of two clashing mentalities makes it hard to decipher right from wrong. cuz you see -

Growing up, grade school was a breeze, all As with not even a single B on my way to getting a degree, but it was my homeschooling that brought me to my knees, praying for mercy.

My homeschooling taught me that there is something in the water of those 7000 islands that make these men fall silent because they don’t talk about the knots in their chests without getting violent.

This same water distilled in every San Mig because why emotionally try and dig if you can just take swig after swig in between puffing pain out the butt of a cig?

That was the kind of communication imported to us from another nation but us Filipinos are a special variation of being Asian because we have own unique set of complications.

After all, we are as Asian as European, we have the whole spectrum of religions to believe in, but our region is mostly made up of God fearing individuals whose English is mainly biblical which makes this language barrier so formidable so I understand why us FilAms become so cynical when our parents “force” us into clinicals or any other field THEY deem profitable.

So please, listen to every word and syllable when I say that this hole in my heart, both metaphorical and literal, is simply unfillable because no matter how hard I try dad,

We are just not relatable.

That’s why I love hearing about your past, and learning what makes you laugh, so while trying to be you and find me, my heart feels torn in half even though i know that all you want for me

Is to have what you couldn’t have.

You gave up your entire life to be here, left your home with nothing but a suitcase and fear, yet the only time I saw your eyes bear a tear, was when lolo passed on…because he was there, and you were here.

You were here, giving the American Dream a try just so you can put food on my plate, and turn out the lights, working the full-time job of teaching your boys wrong from right, all while I struggle with the fact that I am the reason, you don’t sleep so you can work day and night.

The knot in your chest dad, is only getting tighter and tighter, and I wish it was me and not the alcohol that could make it lighter, so that’s the reason why I am here to pull these all-nighters in the hopes of being hired so I can finally send you back home to see lolo, and finally retire. But just like yours dad, my knot is only getting tighter, and i wish i told you sooner but you didn’t raise crier, you raised a fighter.

I love being your son, but I can’t be you. I know your love for me is true but when I have no clue as to what to do with my life, the last thing i need is a heart that is black and blue.

So when I raise your grandkids, I am going to love them with all of my being,

I am going to patch them up when they are bleeding,

And say “i love you” after I’m done with their night time readings,

And when I am old and my life is fleeting from a heart that stopped beating, they will remember me by seeing the truth behind the lies that the toxic parts of this culture’s masculinity was feeding and that life lessons do not have to be learned at the end of an emotional, or physical beating.

I love you dad, but I won’t be you.

And eventually,

I hope my children tell me the same thing too.

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Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc.