In a parallel universe Mama might have been alive. I might have been married with six kids or a travel journalist with a weekly show on TLC. But I am not in that universe. I live in Bulacan, sometimes in Makati, more often in Negros Occidental and I am a so-so blogger.
My cyclic anxiety and depression started, and I would place a huge bet on this, when Mama’s doctor sat me and my aunts down and told us about her lung cancer. I accepted the news with a smile, the kind that I would flash when I get embarrassed or when talking to strangers—a forced big smile. I tried to be as composed as I could as my aunts discussed with the doctor about Mama’s options in between sobs. I nodded and okayed and asked questions about surgery and radiation and chemotherapy as if we were talking about some other patient and not my mother. I was very casual about it. I actually felt proud I kept myself together during the reading of my mother’s death sentence.
Two days later Mama had a stroke that left her, well, speechless. And me, more anxious. For almost 10 days I became an escapist, always looking for excuses to go out of the Lung Center. Excuses like going to the office for some insurance paperwork, buying groceries and lunches, leaving Mama with my niece who was her personal caregiver. I did buy groceries, food, medicines but it took me longer than it should because I met and had lunch or coffee with friends just to give myself a break from seeing Mama in her paralyzed state. I know, it was selfish. I had a hard time forgiving myself for doing that and for leaving for work in Tuguegarao and Negros during her last few days on earth.
I rarely cried after she passed on. My eyes were never puffy when I welcomed our relatives and friends during her wake and cremation. I kept my composure and tried to exude the strong, independent woman vibe. But it didn’t take long before that image I projected was shattered. Four months later I started feeling weird symptoms like chest pain, headaches, palpitations and other weird body pains. Several times I would wake up during the wee hours of the night with difficulty breathing and heart racing like I just sleep-ran a 100-m dash. My panic and anxiety attacks had begun.
I was an emotional wreck during those months of anxiety and panic. I lost friends but met new ones and reconnected with some. It was reassuring. But just as I was getting myself back on track, my grandmother got sick and died a couple of weeks later. Anxiety and panic stepped in again. I managed to get away from my two assailants with the help of my friends and my shrink. I became a regular in psychiatrists’ clinics and was prescribed with all sorts of pills from antidepressants to muscle relaxants. But I didn’t take any of the pills prescribed by the shrinks. I am more afraid of dependency and how these chemicals can actually mess my brain even more.
Then Bali happened. And I thought I was on the road to full recovery from anxiety disorder until our company driver died of a heart attack while I was on duty in Negros. I didn’t see him when he collapsed nor when my colleagues tried to revive him but their frantic movements and the endless phone calls from Manila and all over were enough to trigger my anxiety and panic attacks.
After two weeks, anxiety and panic’s very good friend, depression, also came in.
Last night was probably one of my most unbearably bad times. I cried and cried until I couldn’t breathe. If not for my first yoga class I would have continued crying through dinner and possibly crying would have put me to sleep, too. I just found myself in a very pathetic situation. My roommates were both on the phone talking to boyfriends while I was playing 2048.