BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Thursday, September 15, 2011

'Like a Cage Without a Key'

My latest blog on The New Internationalist:

‘That’s the thing about depression: a human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key.’  - Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation

Photo by Ernest Duffoo under a CC Licence

Writer Wurtzel, in her triumphant memoir about her own journey through depression, could not have said it any better. ‘Every person who has experienced a severe depression has his own sad, awful tale to tell, his own mess to live through. Sadly, Kurt Cobain will never get that far. Every day, I thank God that I did.’

From the 13th floor of a posh five-star hotel in Manila, the Philippine capital, my cousin jumped to her death one hot Saturday afternoon, a few years ago.

She would have been one of the country’s best lawyers. It was just less than a month since she passed the Bar Exams, among the few brilliant ones who did. She was a writer and a lover of life, a jolly and vibrant young woman. She received the best education and had a loving family. She travelled around the world and went to places others could only dream of.

Indeed, she had such a bright future ahead of her. But a bout with depression, aggravated by the ill effects of anti-depressants, failed to bring her out of the tunnel.

She got stuck until there was nowhere else to go. The day she decided to pull the plug on this thing called life, my cousin bade her loved ones goodbye. She simply could not take it anymore.

In seconds, her body crashed into the cold pavement – hard, cruel and lifeless. It simply could not be undone. It was the end.

I remember her story as the Philippines joined the world in the observance of World Suicide Prevention Day last Friday, 9 September.

I would guess that every mother and father who has lost a loved one to suicide knows that it is tied to depression. Depression is serious. It is not a disease but a condition that needs profound understanding, genuine love and compassion.

Improper medication can worsen the problem, says Frances Lim of the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation, a non-government organization established in the Philippines in 2007. I interviewed Frances on the sidelines of a forum about depression and mental health as part of the observation of World Suicide Prevention Day. The Foundation was named after Natasha, Frances’ niece and a successful young woman, who in 2005 committed suicide because of depression.

Frances said it is important to raise awareness of depression and what interventions are needed so that it does not lead to suicide, and so that it may be addressed.

It has been years since Natasha’s death and the Goulbourn family has persevered in turning their tragedy into a crusade to help other families.

My cousin is buried in the middle of a grassy field in a quiet cemetery. It is a place away from all the noise, the chatter, the nuisances, the stress, the pain and the troubled world outside its walls. Sadly, it was, for her, the only way out of the fog. But her story is completely her own. As Wurtzel said, depression strikes down deep. People going through it have their own tales to tell, their battles to fight. I can only hope that they will put up a good fight and not stay there. But reality is stark and telling. I know that as I write this, someone is holding a gun to his head or popping an overdose of drugs into her mouth. It can’t be undone.