The past few days have been a whirlwind of events. It’s overwhelming how things can change in such a short span of time—it’s like you haven’t got time to even think about it. There are a lot of big things happening here at home that I can’t talk about just yet (but I will soon), but there are also some things that I can—one that pertains to a friend and mental illness.

Just a few days ago, I found out that an old friend of mine was starting to display symptoms of a mental illness. I haven’t talked to her myself, but another friend of ours called me in the middle of the night in panic, telling me that something was seriously wrong with our friend already. I resolved to find the contact number of my sister’s psychiatrist (who was pretty good in my opinion… After all, my sister became ok under her care) and pass it on to my friend’s mom—my dad lost it when he accidentally deleted the contact numbers in his mobile phone 😛 My sister was scheduled for a checkup soon anyway, so I thought, what’s a few days right?

But no, I was wrong.

My friend who informed me of the person’s psychological state then told me that she could no longer reach her—she wasn’t answering her phone. After a number of unsuccessful calls, the mom finally told her that “plans changed” and our friend was already in the United States taking a break with her dad. WTF? I’m no expert in foreign affairs, but can somebody actually get a US VISA, process travelling papers, and send a possibly-unstable person alone with no guardian whatsoever on plane trip across the globe in a span of three to five days? Our friend’s family isn’t politically connected, so how did they pull that off?

I honestly don’t buy it, and so do our other friends. If it was a lie… I perfectly understand why her family would do that. As my family found out a few years ago, it’s not easy coping with mental illness here in the Philippines.

Not everybody is open-minded to “accept” the idea of a family member being mentally ill.

It took our family about two to three years before we finally accepted the fact that we needed help with my younger sister. We thought we could do it on our own. And yes, we even thought that something supernatural was at work. We thought that what she had had something to do with her epilepsy—maybe a part of her brain got “busted” during one of her seizures—or that maybe it was some kind of autism that we just had to live with.

My mom, dad and I alternated in “shifts” watching over my sister at night—none of us had decent sleep for about three years. I quit my 9-to-5 job to take care of my sister better, and had my PC in a room where I could hear what she was doing and at the same time did some freelance design work late at night—and not risking the possibility of my sister putting her foot through my monitor during one of her violent tantrums. Any sound would make us jump and be on “restrain mode.” Her violent tantrums happened so often that my parents and I probably developed muscles on our shoulders with all the “exercise” we’ve gotten while restraining her. Heck, I even had my long hair cut short in preparation for these restraining sessions—it’s more painful getting your hair pulled if it’s long, you know 😛

Now when I thought about it, we pretty much had our lives revolve around my sister during those three difficult years. But it wasn’t that bad. It was, after all, one of the major factors that brought us closer together as a family.

We finally decided it was time for us to get help when my sister nearly took my dad’s eye out with her uncut and sharp fingernails (if you tried to cut her nails, you’d probably see yourself with a perfectly straight scratch on your face), almost broke my right wrist, and threw my mom against the wall. Yeah, yeah I know—we should also be chucked in the loony bin for letting things get that far. But you have to understand, it wasn’t that easy.

For three years we had been hoping it wasn’t as bad as it really was. We couldn’t accept the fact that my sister was mentally ill. She wasn’t possessed by demons. She wasn’t going through a phase. She was just mentally ill. Believe me, it’s easier to accept a demon possessing your sister’s body than accepting the fact that she was sick. An exorcism can cure possession—give it a few days or weeks, then it’s gone. But mental sickness isn’t that easy to go away—you could be mentally ill for the rest of your life and be dependent on medication to help you go through life like any other person.

Then, there are also useless psychiatrists who don’t really give a damn if you got well or not. During the first year of my sister’s illness, we tried to get medical help for her. But unfortunately, the psychiatrist we found was so ineffective that she might have actually made my sister worse. And that was when we thought we were better off on our own. Luckily, my sister’s neurologist was able to find and recommend a really good psychiatrist who eventually got her better.

Even the government can’t do anything for you if you’re mentally ill… If you can’t afford treatment and/or confinement, you’d probably end up in the streets wandering naked and covered in grime. My parents and I didn’t want my sister to end up that way, so we worked our asses off to pay for her expensive medical bills—even to the point of losing more sleep or asking help from relatives.

Oh, and don’t forget the society we live in—which sometimes consider mental illness as something to be ashamed of. You don’t only had to contend with “psychiatrists” only interested in your money, but also some people around you who look down upon your sick relative’s behavior instead of understanding.

During the time my sister was still having her crazy bouts, my family and I attended a party full of rich socialites. Pardon my bitterness, but that was when I realized that there really are people who look down upon the mentally ill. My sister was a bit calm at that time, but she got excited when she saw a cake. She wasn’t in her right mind, so instead of getting just a plate of cake for her to eat, she tackled the entire cake with her fingers. The hosts of the party were our relatives, my aunt and uncle assured us that it was no big deal—it was just a cake. My cousin put her harm around my sister’s shoulders and carefully led her to the washroom to clean up.

Though there were some guests who were very understanding, and even assured us that it was ok… There were also those who had “DISGUST” written all over their faces. There was even one high-and-mighty guest who had the gall to say out loud, “ugh, who invited her?” My parents and I didn’t know how to react, we were so shocked. Luckily, my uncle stepped in and said, “that’s my niece.” I’m guessing that person never got invited ever again to my uncle’s home 😀

People like that make it hard for families with mentally ill relatives to be upfront with their situation. It’s no wonder that there are those who just lie and say that their relative is overseas instead of saying upfront that he/she has been institutionalized on getting psychiatric help. It takes some time before one becomes unbothered by ostracisms, not because they’re just not, but because such experiences can help strengthen one’s character.

Since our ordeals, my family and I don’t even pity families like ours going through what we gone through. They don’t deserve pity—they deserve admiration.

To my dear friend and her family… If you’re reading this entry, I just want to let you know that you have friends who will support you every step of the way. If you need help, you know our numbers 🙂