Monday, December 24, 2012

90 seconds on a day before Christmas

It's the day before Christmas, December 24, 2012.

On my way to the gym early this morning, the streets were mostly deserted. The supermarkets at the malls were open early and that's where all the cars were parked. I guess it's a sign that people are busy preparing food for tonight's noche buena, a tradition that millions of Filipinos and billions of people all over the world carry. To the Christian community, it marks the birth of Jesus Christ. To the majority of the people all over the world, Christmas has become one of the most anticipated festive occasions of the year.

As my car stopped on an intersection, I could not help but watch some children without slippers and in ragged clothes huddle in a corner. And while the music in the car churned to the dancing and prancing and rocking of Christmas carols, the young woman carrying a baby outside the window of my car was begging for food.

The 90 seconds wait hit a lump on my throat. Here were children who did not deserve to be on the streets the day before Christmas or any other day in their lives. They were peering into cars that did not even bear plate numbers (read - spankingly NEW!). And no one even opened the window for them.

On the other side of the street were people bringing loads of supermarket items and plates of food, I surmised in preparation for tonight's gathering and merry making. It was like a film in slow motion where I slowly picked up my bag for some change while watching the counter of the traffic light tick slowly away. I pushed down the window switch and a whole flock of children had leaned against the car. The coins were enough for them.

When I got home I could not rub the picture off my mind. The 90 seconds kept rewinding on my mind while I had lunch. I, and let me say it cynically, most of us, have more than what we expect from a good life. Sure, we've had good and bad days. Sure, we've had our share of heartaches and headaches. But we should consider ourselves luckier than most. And the largesse that we have should not be shared solely among those who already have more in life but to the very least.

A few more hours and it would be Christmas. I took out my checkbook and wrote an amount for a preschool child to go to school. I gave it to our parish church. It would make a difference in his or her life. I went back home and looked at how much food there was on the kitchen table. They were gifts from several people. I asked the household help to divide all these cookies and pastries and fruits and candies and whatever there was into several packages. When I get the food I ordered for tonight's dinner, I will pass on some gifts to those who are on the streets on Christmas eve.

If we all put out a little from what gifts we earned the whole year round, it really would be a better place for all. It's my grown up Christmas wish list.

What's your Christmas wish?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Silent nights

It's 6 days to Christmas and I have not posted a blog for the longest time.

Oddly, it's one of those days where I don't even feel the Christmas spirit. I am not sure if it has anything to do with the workload or or what has happened to some of my employees, friends and loved ones this year. It was, I should say, a most challenging and difficult year.

There were those who I had the honor of working with for the longest time, leave the company. There were those who had lost loved ones to illnesses which even the best that medical science could offer, could not save. There were tasks in the work field that became difficult and patience became a virtue. (It definitely isn't me, but I had to learn it the hard way.)

In short, there were hellos and goodbyes.

Perhaps the most difficult of all was to see loved ones go through the worst days of their lives and there were times that I felt that God was not around to make the pain go away.

I remember the year when my father passed away, it was one of the most miserable Christmas of my family. My family and I huddled in a corner and hoped that the year would pass quickly.

During the weekend at the mall, I strolled around to see the merry making, shopping, caroling, dining, glittering and whatever joy that decked the halls that make Christmas tralalalala-lala! And as I reached home, it would be one of those silent nights, waiting for a brand new day.

I mulled on the thought that while the shoppers were busily wasting their 13th month pays and Christmas bonuses on gifts galore, there were street kids who have nothing to look forward to. The victims of the recent calamity, Typhoon Pablo, had yet to recover from their losses. And it looked like the community where I lived was awash in cash and gadgets.

Even newspapers had the commercial angle of posting articles on "what do you want for Christmas"? Gadgets, Clothes, Cash were at the top of the list. Food was at the bottom. Christmas had lost its meaning. It is a materialistic season and that's the bottom line.

In reality, media has brainwashed us into believing that the true spirit of Christmas was in the spending spree of all that we earned or worked for for the year. It's the once a year splurge that heralded the airwaves even as early as September (in the Philippines, the -ber months stood out to mean that Christmas would be near). In the Philippines, there are two seasons where work comes to a standstill - the holy week leading to Easter Sunday and Christmas leading to the New Year.

And while we prep up the economy through spending more this Christmas, there will be many as well who will not feel the yuletide joy. And the mixed feelings of joy and sadness permeate my silent nights.

I hope that for those of you who regularly read my blog, you may find a new meaning to Christmas...more than just the gift-giving and merry making in our homes, but in those whose lives we can touch and we can change because this Christmas, we made a difference in their lives.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A little bit crazy

We're a little bit crazy in someway.

I guess life's challenges puts us at the throngs of balance between too much happiness and too much sadness.

We are all tested by major changes, delayed promises, impossible problems, unanswered prayers, undeserved criticisms and even senseless tragedies. Often times, we say that these are just "tests in life" and we need to pass the tests.

The tragedy felt by family members of suddenly losing a parent to a disaster in a family that is tightly knit is different if the family was in disarray from the get go. Job loss or financial difficulties are more stressful to someone who is the major bread winner. Whatever the problems are, the circumstances surrounding it form the "icing on the cake".

Mental health is as important as physical health. In the United States, it is estimated that about 25-30% of Americans suffer from mental health problems - anywhere from anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression, alcohol and substance abuse, sexual deviations, to name a few. The data in the Philippines is not any different - perhaps what will vary are the types of mental health disorders but the overall statistics more or less remains the same. Which means that about 30Million Filipinos suffer from mental disorder. The difference in gathering more data in the Philippines lies in the fact that seeing a psychiatrist or seeking assistance for mental health problems carries a stigma in the country. It's probably why we brush aside patients who have mood disorders and say that they're just not in their element for the day or children who are hyperactive as just part of the growing up years or that they're just "spoiled" brats.

Because of the cultural differences and the fact that many Filipino physicians even fail to recognize early signs of deteriorating or changing mental health is a barrier to educating laymen on the process of recognizing and helping patients with these disorders.

Today, people and science are taking mental health to a new level. With awareness, must come answers to properly address how we can manage, recognize and refer patients to health care providers experienced at diagnosing and treating mental health disorders.

Here are a few tips on recognition of mental health problems:
1. Children react differently from adults. While adults may talk about it, children usually mimic what they see by re-enacting it or experience night terrors or nightmares.

2. Mood changes between mania and depression may be abrupt and often times are difficult to recognize. Because it may be rapidly-cycling, the general public brush aside these mood swings as "sumpong" of the person.

3. We're all a little bit crazy. That's a given. I have my mood swings and have had good and bad days as well. The tipping point comes and goes and I coast along the road of life. For those who have mental illness, however, the symptoms continue over a period of time. In short, it's pervasive. Remember, there are various mental disorders and each of them should fulfill a cluster of diagnostic criteria to fall under a classification.

4. People who suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) mimic depression. Flashbacks are common among these victims of trauma and symptoms can appear much later after the incident (sometimes 3 months to 1 year). Nightmares and avoidance of certain places or people who trigger the trauma are usually presenting manifestations. They also retell the story over and over again to those who are willing to listen. They are usually easily started or are hypervigilant.

5. Never take suicide - whether expressed verbally or attempted - casually. Any form of expression of suicide must be taken seriously.

6. Just because you understand the symptoms does not mean that it can replace professional advice, treatment or any other form of care. If you really understand what the person with mental illness is going through, you need to help him/her seek professional help. Understanding alone is not the solution to the problem.

7. Many illnesses have symptoms that may either overlap or be similar in appearance as another disorder. For example, patients may be mis-diagnosed as major depressive disorder when in fact the patient may be in the depressive phase of a bipolar disorder. On the extreme end, however, is the fact that ONE symptom is not an indication for a mental illness in the person.

You can help your friend or neighbor or relatives or even yourself by making sure that your mental health stays in check as well.

The site of the Philippine Psychiatric Association with this link

is a great read.

Think about it...we're all a little bit crazy some days of our lives. But for those who are a bit crazy for most days of their lives, there's hope for them than just mere understanding. They have the right to lead better lives as well and the road to recovery isn't just about recognition of the's about taking the road with them one day at a time...

[Photo from the Philippine Psychiatric Association]