Life is hard. We walk around thinking we may understand something. Thinking we understand people and how they work. In reality, there are some people who do not have complete control of their thoughts. They struggle with mental health issues that can morph into completely irrational behavior. These people might be a co-worker, friend, family member, or it could even be you. You never think you know someone who is struggling with mental health until something terrible happens. Then the floodgates open and people start talking about it, and you discover you know a lot more people with issues that you never realized.
Growing up in the Filipino community in our area, you are bound to cross paths with most Filipinos your age. Most times it would be at a house party, wedding, or cotillion. I met Tony in college when we were both part of a Filipino organization at school. Have you ever met someone that seemed to know everyone? He was that guy that everyone knew and loved. Tony had the kind of personality that people wanted to be around. He always made people laugh and he was always down to help anyone. We shared many meals, drinks, and laughs together over the years at countless parties, trips, and gatherings celebrating all angles of life. Just as life does, things have been busy the past few years. I have kept in touch with his sister, but we all have our families and different priorities from our college days. We all still managed to see each other for Christmas and a birthday or two during the year, but it is a long ways away from our daily lunches, dinners, and parties in our early 20s.
Tony took his life on September 22, 2017. Tony was only 36 years old and had a wife and two young girls. From the outside it seemed that he had a completely happy life, but the news that followed his death was that he was dealing with some mental health problems. The thing that makes me most sad is how alone he must have felt in those final moments. Thinking that the only way out of whatever hell he was living in was to end his life. For us survivors, it may seem like the selfish path. But we have to understand that this was not Tony making that last decision. It was the illness that took over his mind and body.
Before Tony, I had never personally known someone who had committed suicide. There are still moments that I think he will be at our Christmas party next weekend. Then I remember that he isn’t only gone from me, but from his close friends and family. It shatters my heart every time I think of his wife and two girls. And I fight with myself all over again about being mad at him for doing this, only to realize it WAS NOT HIM. I choose to remember the REAL Tony. He continues to be loved by so many, and the memories we have of him will live on in our hearts.
I’ve had many conversations about Tony and about mental health since his death. The more I talk about it, the more I realize that there are still people hiding because they do not want to admit publicly that they have been down dark roads. Some of them I consider close friends, and I had no idea. I don’t want to not know again. I hope we can all talk openly about the issues we have and, as a community, help each other. And when friends and family are not enough, there are professional services that can help out. I know it is much easier said than done and I am sure there is a certain tone of naivety in my wishes, but we have got to try. If you think you see someone struggling, offer help. If you are struggling, find help.
Tony’s friends created pieces in honor of him with proceeds going to various mental health awareness organizations and to Tony’s family: