“Kintsugirl,” acrylic painting by Kora Dandan Albano, was exhibited as part of a fundraising show for the Philippine Mental Health Association, Benguet- Cordillera chapter. “Kintsugi” is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold or silver.
My depression hits even at the height of summer
The last time my periodic visitor came was during a strong monsoon. But this time, there was no seasonal affective disorder to put the blame on
“Emotional pain cannot kill you, but running from it can. Allow. Embrace.
Let yourself feel. Let yourself heal.” —Vironika Tugaleva, www.tinybuddha.com
Vortioxetine hydrobromide is the antidepressant’s brand name. Its generic name is Brintellix. For close to a month, I was taking 10 mg of it nightly until it helped lift the depression that had been weighing me down for four straight months this year (late February to mid-June).
The condition, nay, the ailment kept me away from writing. Those were nonproductive, zero-income months. I dabbled in a little watercolor with my grandchild—at least the pleasure in seeing colors on blank paper remained. But writing? I thought that the Muse had abandoned me completely as I faced each day without so much as composing one coherent sentence.
My psychiatrist of four years was concerned about how it was taking me some time to get myself out of my blue funk that she scheduled talk therapy every two to three weeks before prescribing an antidepressant.
We tried tracing how the condition started. I pinpointed how I was on a high in January and February as I prepared for reunions with balikbayan friends and relatives. I was in an excitably manic state as I anticipated long chats with my overseas beloveds.
When they all left, the mood dip became pronounced. Before I knew it, I was tossing and turning at night. Even if I was able to catch up on sleep, I woke up tired and frustrated. Inquirer Lifestyle’s Alya Honasan once described depression as a brick or hollow block that weighed heavily on your chest in the book, “Down to One:
Depression Stories” (Anvil Publishing) by psychologist Margarita Holmes.
The last time depression hit me was in August 2018. I blamed it on the strong monsoon in Baguio that led to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). But this time it was the height of summer; there was no SAD to put the blame on.
Last year, since I couldn’t go down to Manila to see my psychiatrist, I would text a physician friend who had two kids with bipolar disorder and who could relate to what I was going through.
When I described to her what I was feeling, she asked for the triggers, if I was upset about something or was I working too hard and overthinking? When I told her that I had been busy writing and editing the past months, she assured me I should claim the down period as a time for rest.
She texted, “We’re seniors already. I also feel it. If I work straight from Monday to Saturday without resting, somewhere in the middle I get low batt the following week. Maybe your body and brain are tired, but continue to take the meds. If you were only near, I would put acupuncture needles on you. I do it on myself regularly.”
She advised me to take things easy. “Magpakasarap ka muna (Enjoy yourself). You earned it after being so industrious for many months.”
She also pointed out to me that with my mood disorder, there is really a cycle. “It may have something to do with the levels of chemicals in the brain. Exercise, eat right and keep yourself busy with things that make you happy.”
Every morning, I’d get hold of a one-decade rosary bracelet and intently pray, pleading to God to please, please remove the hollow block from my chest, the darkness that clouded even the sunniest of mornings.
I don’t know what I would have done without my doctors, including the text mate, my supportive spouse who went out to buy the needed meds, my grandchild who was clueless about what was going on inside of me and who distracted me with requests that we play together.
I’m grateful to my daughter Kimi who taught me how to operate the TV so I could watch Netflix series and old movies, mainly the ones Nora Ephron wrote and directed.
Before I knew it I fell into the rabbit hole of Netflix addiction, bingeing on suspense or comedy series in hopes of taking my mind to a place of non-thinking or rest. Kimi warned me of the ill effects of too much of anything.
When I turned on the computer and logged on to my small Facebook account, I could only manage to click the “Like” button at others’ posts and not post or share anything with my friends. It seemed the taste for life as I knew it had evaporated.
One long sigh
But I remembered to observe basic personal hygiene. Even if I felt lazy, I bathed, washed, brushed my teeth diligently. It seemed though that those were the only activities I had strength for, including some simple house chores like hanging the wet laundry and bringing the dry one in. It was one long sigh of “Hay naku” during those weeks.
I noted the FB memes on depression like this one from the Anxiety and Depression Support Philippines: “You can be a strong person and still struggle with mental health.” The page added in Filipino: “Kahit ang mga masayahin o malakas na tao ay nagkakaron din ng pinagdadaanan (Even a happy or strong person also goes through something).”
I also came across these helpful words from actor-comedian Jim Carrey who is open about his battle with depression: “I believe depression is legitimate. But I also believe if you don’t exercise, eat nutritious food, get sunlight, get enough sleep, consume positive material, surround yourself with support, then you aren’t giving yourself a fighting chance.”
There’s a mini-park near our house where I would sun myself apart. I also consumed calcium supplements with vitamin D (vitamin sunshine). I’d stand for about 10 minutes in the balcony where the morning sun rays fell and soak it all in.
On the Catholic Exchange website I’m subscribed to, I found out that “Sometimes the Holy Spirit Leads Us into Our Dark Nights,” as the title article of Stephen Beale ran.
I quote him as writing (and this is a great source of comfort for those who suffer my condition): “…the Holy Spirit leads us to suffering because, on this side of heaven, true love, divine love, always entails suffering. On this side of heaven, the cross is the complete expression of God’s infinite love for a fallen humanity.”
It was a time for reading a lot of poetry.
Fil-Am poet Luisa A. Igloria’s “Home Remedies for Intermittent Sadness” detailed ways one coped with low days: “Drain the dish rack and carefully check/ if the corners have hints of mildew./ Take an old toothbrush and gently scrub/ with water and soap, without judgment./ Turn it on its side or upside down./ If you have a deck chair maybe put it/ out there to dry in the sun. Think/ about the next little overlooked/ spots that might have suffered from/ an accumulation or buildup of residue/ over the months, maybe years. Pick one/ or two or three that can be dealt with,/ without too much agonizing— For instance,/ this would leave out the bottom and sides/ of the toaster; having such a poor/ design to begin with, those interiors/ are virtually impossible to reach./ And the removable plastic guard/ at the bottom of the refrigerator,/ because it is only the gateway/ to a winding corridor of lint—you/ can’t really tell how far back/ it goes. Review the YouTube video where a woman explains the magic/ of folding fitted sheets flat. Now/ take out your sheets from the linen closet/ and follow, finishing with almost knife-/ sharp edges. Even butter knife is good.”
In time the combination of all these, but especially the potent antidepressant, helped improve my mood. My doctor weaned me away from the emergency antidepressants from 10 mg to 5 mg until I reached zero.
Being well enough to write this latest account on my periodic “visitor” doesn’t assure me it will stay away for a long time or go away for good. Something in my genes seems to be hospitable to the visitor who is just hiding or resting until it can pounce again when I’m not looking.
I learned a new prayer, too, from St. Pio, another one of those things one finds in the Internet if one retains a childlike curiosity. It is particularly addressed to those fighting depression.
Stay with me, Lord, for it is necessary to have you present so that I do not forget you. You know how easily I abandon you.
Stay with me, Lord, because I am weak, and I need your strength, so that I may not fall so often.
Stay with me, Lord, for you are my life, and without you, I am without fervor.
Stay with me, Lord, for you are my light, and without you, I am in darkness.
Stay with me, Lord, to show me your will.
Stay with me, Lord, so that I hear your voice and follow you.
Stay with me, Lord, for I desire to love you very much, and always be in your company.
Stay with me, Lord, if you wish me to be faithful to you.
Stay with me, Lord, for as poor as my soul is, I want it to be a place of consolation for you, a nest of love. Amen.—CONTRIBUTED