“May toyo lang sa ulo yan”… or, why depression kills and Pinoys know next-to-nothing about it

Depression is a major health issue that the world has recognized, scrutinized and wisely prioritized in the search for immediate, far-reaching remedies.

But in the Philippines, it is largely ignored and – almost always – wrongly diagnosed by family members who have loved ones who suffer from the condition.

“Kulang lang sa pansin yan.”

“Sinusumpong na naman si drama queen.”

“Naku, nag-iinarte na naman si lukaret. Lilipas din yan.”

Making depression go away is not as easy as saying “snap out of it“… or “tara at gumimik tayo”.

The pain that depression brings is dark and intense – way, way beyond ordinary people’s comprehension.

Depressed people may feel sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, helpless, worthless, guilty, irritable, or restless. They lose interest in activities that once were pleasurable; experience loss of appetite or overeating, have problems concentrating, remembering details, or making decisions; and may contemplate or attempt suicide. Insomnia, excessive sleeping, fatigue, loss of energy, or aches, pains or digestive problems that are resistant to treatment may be present.

Not necessarily a psychiatric disorder, depression is a normal reaction to certain life events, a symptom of some medical conditions, and a side effect of some medical treatments.

People who wonder if they should talk to a health professional about whether or not they have depression may consider taking a depression self-test, which asks questions about depressive symptoms.                    http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression/MH00103_D

In thinking about when to seek medical advice about depression, the sufferer can benefit from considering if the sadness lasts more than two weeks or so or if the way they are feeling significantly interferes with their ability to function at home, school, or work and in their relationships with others.

The first step to obtaining appropriate treatment is accurate diagnosis, which requires a complete physical and psychological evaluation to determine whether the person may have a depressive illness, and if so, what type.


To give you an idea of the sadness and frustration that comes with the condition, I would like to share a eulogy delivered by a loving wife in honor of her husband who decided to terminate the agony by ending his life.

It gives you an insight of how tormented depressed people are… and how even all the love in the world may not be enough.

“I have always wondered what I would say at a time like this. I’ve never believed in forever. But I never imagined this time would come so early – or that I’d be speaking about my husband.

Beau was 36. Way too young. Way too handsome. Way too healthy to suddenly be taken away from us in this way. In the weeks before his death he constantly talked about his passing. He asked repeatedly: What I would do if I were to never see him again or if the night we spent together would be our last? I told him I would grieve of course and be sad, but that he should not speak of such things. I would tell him how much he was valued and what joy he had brought to the world. I wanted Beau to realize how much love he had, how much he had to live for.

Just three weeks ago, I had asked him what legacy he would like to leave. Beau said he wanted to be remembered as a fun loving, happy person. He wanted to help people with their health and fitness. I told him it was a great goal and that he was on his way to achieving it, with his personal training certification on the way and our plans of building a weight loss camp. He wanted to be remembered as masayahin and matulungin sa kapwa. That is why I chose not to have a public viewing of his body because seeing him that way would not leave a happy image for all of us who love him.

In the beginning I had battled over what to say about his passing. Then I realized that I owed it to him to let everyone know of what must have been a long fought struggle – the suffering he was too macho to share with anyone else, except me.

He was actually selfless, not selfish. He refused to burden other people with his personal battle. Not even me. Though I begged and pleaded for him to allow me to fight it with him. In the last three months he became increasingly frustrated because he could not figure out what it was that was bothering him. He would lash out in anger at something that seemed trivial to everyone else. Then after a day or two a deep scorching sadness would overtake the anger and he would seek me out desperately searching for an answer, anything to explain the darkness and pain he felt.

He would tell me of this inexplicable pain, of feeling like a candle slowly melting away, of knowing he was powerless to stop it. Anything I said brought him to extreme bouts of anger or to his knees, crying, both of which broke my heart into a thousand pieces. It was through this struggle that we actually realized just how much we loved each other. When the peaks of pain and anguish plateaued, there was nothing else to say except that we loved each other.

We loved each other with a passion beyond rhyme and reason. So much so that when this illogical darkness began to creep into our lives I was bereft of understanding. How was I to know that just like our love, this too had neither rhyme nor reason. Despite all the pain I was going through during this trial of emotions, we had always been together. I am burdened by guilt that my human weakness had for a time driven us physically apart. But I needed to be strong for both of us and I know Beau understood. I had been asking him to come back to allow me to hold him through these dark times but he refused, believing he could deal with it himself. “You are not the problem” he would say, “I am”. “Do not try to understand me he said, because it pains me even more to see your frustration. I do not even understand myself.”

He said he could not deal with my tears, did not want me carrying any burden – especially not him.
What a joy it would have been to have him as my cross to bear in this life. But I suppose it would have been too easy. Only now that he is gone do I feel shrouded in the deepest Lenten sorrow.

People do not know this, but my Beau was a deeply spiritual man. Whenever I would go to mass during this period he would ask me to pray for him and for us and I would always assure him that I pray for him daily— for healing, for peace, for enlightenment and understanding, all of which I now am searching for myself. I am in anguish, trying to understand WHY and HOW, the countless MAYBES and WHAT IFs. This is how I know that my Beau was a brave man. If we were frustrated by our failure to understand that chaos of his emotions, how much more frustrating would it have been for him? To not understand why nothing makes sense, why you feel nothing but an intangible blackness driving you to the limits of your sanity.

I wish he had sought help. I wish we had done more, although what “more “is, we can only imagine now. We can think of a million things we should have done, think of a million things we shouldn’t have and never understand why it had come to this. Perhaps he was fighting demons strong beyond our understanding. Perhaps it was some rogue chemical in his body left unchecked. Perhaps what was afflicting him was an illness not unlike a cancer that spread too quickly. Whatever it was, it was something beyond our control and definitely and sadly beyond Beau’s. To this day all those who love him struggle to find an answer. And while the pieces have already begun to fit, and our mental anguish is soothed somewhat, it does nothing to fill the hole in my heart that his passing has left behind.

He told me last week that he was sorry he couldn’t be the same person who married me three years ago. He was right. The man I married would have stopped to smell the roses. He would have thanked God for blessings received. He would have realized just how loved he was,not only by me but by family and friends. The man I married would never have felt alone. The man who was defeated by depression is not the man I married. But the physical body is but a home for his soul and what a beautiful soul he is.

He was a soul made happy by simple joys. The feeling of freedom when the wind would cross his face while climbing his beloved limestone crags. The adrenaline rush of finishing a marathon. The determination that fueled him whenever he set his mind to do something.

He loved life. Had he not been struck blind by this depression he would have been with us traveling to new places or finding beauty in places already seen and re-discovered. We will never forget how he loved to dance “out of tune” or how he struggled to sing a duet with me when the only line he had to sing was “turn around”. We will never forget the cheesy jokes that he loved to repeat over and over. We will always remember how he loved to tease our nieces, playing the cool uncle that made their poor parents look dated and boring in comparison. I will never forget the way he felt in my arms and the tender way he took care of me before all of this madness began.

What a beautiful soul my Beau was. Housed in a beautiful body with a beautiful face. Perhaps this is the complete freedom you wanted, my love. Rest your weariness and then fly… Fly to places you only used to imagine. Explore the nooks and crannies your mortal self had not been able to see. And most of all be at peace knowing we who were left behind would continue the dreams and hopes that were denied you in life.

While it cannot be helped, I know it is useless to dwell on the reasons why you are no longer with us today. I would rather make sure that you live on as we continue life for you. It is just fitting that we look to you for motivation as we did when you were alive. To those who loved and cherished him and for those who love me, now is when I ask for your help.

The climbing community will make sure our passion is kept alive for years to come. Your brothers and cousins will continue to train for the marathon they wanted to run with you, although perhaps at a pace closer to mine than yours. They have committed to continue the run in your honor and I will get many more to join us in tribute to what you had dreamt of achieving. To inspire people. You were such an athlete and you inspired so many people to believe that they can reach greater heights and exceed their limits. A student of yours and dear friend said you had made her believe in herself at a time when she had lost all hope. So much you had given and it pains me that you were defeated this way when you still have so much more to offer.

If my physical body will permit, I will endeavor to finish your greatest dream. You know how much I hate running. And how I cannot negotiate a turn on the bike. And how afraid I am of open water. But I commit to attempt to finish an ironman in your honor, if not next year then the year after that because I knew you had set this as a goal for yourself. I invite any of our friends and family who would like to join and support me in this quest to train with me and bring his dream to fruition.

You will continue to live in us and in our hearts. No matter where my life brings me, you will always be my Beau. The last time I saw you I mouthed through the window of the car: Promise me you will come back to me. And you nodded with a hollow stare. I know we will meet again. I love you and I will never truly say goodbye.

Thank you for all of those who share our loss and who are praying for Beau and our family. Please continue to be there for we will surely need your support in the difficult months to come when his loss would be truly apparent.”


7 thoughts on ““May toyo lang sa ulo yan”… or, why depression kills and Pinoys know next-to-nothing about it”

  1. This was almost too painful to read as a very dear loved one of mine had also taken his life due to depression. Your friend’s husband was very much like my loved one… Thank you for posting this. I’m still deep in thought… I need to read this over and over again as i still process the loss to this day.

      1. Cholo, you are therefore a kindred spirit. It has been over two weeks since I lost my husband and the reality still has not sunk in. How he could have done it, what was going on in his mind are among the dozens of questions left in my heart. I am afraid I will never know. Everything I am believing in right now is a post humous analysis of how my Beau lived his life in the three months prior to his passing. Only three months when his erratic behavior began and he is already defeated. How malignant is this illness? Worse than any cancer.

  2. Depression is very real but yes, many do not recognize it, or brush it aside or trivialize it. Those who recognize it and seek help are lucky, but many of those who do not go beyond the depths of despair. I have relatives and good friends who suffer have suffered and continue to suffer from depression…some have “conquered” it and are living functional lives, even happy lives. There is a book written by Margie Holmes about depression. It is a good read.

  3. There are many kinds of depression but clinical depression is often unrecognized, dismissed or trivialized. The truth is clinical depression happens to the best of people and it does not go away…ever. That is why it is important to seek professional help for this type of depression. I know people who have “conquered” it, are off medication and living functional, even happy lives. Yes, they still get many moments of unexplained, unwanted sadness but their family and friends now know that it is okay to be sad. Margie Holmes wrote a book on it. It is very informative and a good read.

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