Surviving Depression Through My Memories of Her


When I was in my senior year of high school, depression hit me for the first time. I don’t remember how it started. All I know is that my insecurity was the root of it all.

“Here we go again,” I’d think to myself as I walked in the middle of the road adjacent to the small stores near the school gates, feeling the vendors' eyes on me.

I didn't know when it’d end. I'd get into my classroom and feel as though I was being tortured. Sitting in my chair of discomfort, I'd plot ways to make everything stop. And I didn’t know exactly what ‘everything’ meant then. Eventually though, I did. That’s when I knew that not only did I have depression, I also had extreme social anxiety. It was not just everything. It was everyone.

When you’ve got a fear of being perpetually judged and miniaturized for your physical flaws while invisible walls make you feel like you’re in a prison, your first instinct is to hide away from it all. It may not necessarily mean skipping classes and absences
for me, it meant depersonalization.

If you think about Stranger Things, it’s similar to Eleven going in a sensory deprivation tank to be transported into a place devoid of furniture and snickering. Floating in that tank is equivalent to me fumbling my way into that space in my head to escape the eternal struggle of crippling 6 to 7-hour classes.

This depersonalization has bred several opportunities of time-travel back to a specific period in my life when most days were good and it was easy to have a genuine laugh any time of the day. As Simon and Garfunkel put it, "it was a time of innocence, a time of confidences."

This memory may be altered by years of nostalgia; however, my depression somehow convinced me that these days were definitely, without doubt, the Good Old Days. The Good Old Days were the good old days because of her.

I don’t recall the day that she was born. I just remember being a 14-year-old kid, carefully cradling a newly-born baby in my cousin’s bedroom. She isn’t mine, no. I didn’t give birth to a child when I was 14. She is my niece and her name is Lala.

Lala is the youngest of three siblings, a quiet child that has charm and tenderness radiating off of her. When she smiles, her big, bright eyes smile, too. Her most favorite thing in the world is her pacifier.


Ailah Gabriele “Lala” Olfindo (niece) 

My happiest days consisted of her. Every day after school, I would always have something to look forward to: going home and giving her candies that I'd bought. There would always be drool all over her mouth and chin, eating candies or not. Giving her a kiss would mean drool on your mouth, too.

At night, playing under the dim fluorescent light was full of hushed giggles with her and her siblings. We'd laugh and tickle each other until sleepiness made our eyes droop. When it'd be time to sleep, mildly scratching her back and massaging her eyebrows was the way to go. It’d always work. The most rewarding thing was her tiny arm hugging my neck as she drifted off to sleep. With her, I could feel like a kid and yet, somehow, older— like a sister or a young mother. I had a sense of complete openness which ceased to exist when I was depressed.

I remember that Christmas, she was wearing a tag that had a note written in black marker. I can't remember what it was exactly. I just remember it was funny and everyone laughed as she'd go around asking for her "pamasko" or Christmas present. We were so happy. I was so carefree.

The joy a child brings is so much different than anything you get from other people. Without any selfish intentions, they just love you. No judgement. No hidden purpose.

I hadn't realized I'd want to drag out the freedom and simplicity of my life back then. Looking back, I realized how short-lived it was. The thing about babysitting is that you hardly see the child growing and changing, unless you look at a 3-month-old picture of them. It’s similar to us not feeling the Earth orbit the Sun, although we know it moves. By looking at the sky, the clouds, you know it does.

She was almost two years old when she passed away. I didn’t pay attention to her age that much until then. Through her pictures, I realized how fleeting it was, how uncomplicated life was back then. But in the time between when something makes you sad and when it makes you cry, a thought would hit me: during that time I was truly, unabashedly happy. Maybe, having felt it means that it isn’t so impossible to feel it again.

Maybe.

I'd be sitting in discomfort as I’d recall all these memories, wishing that I could go back. Now writing about high school 4 years later, no longer drowning in depression or scared of disapproving eyes, I can say that I’ve felt that kind of joy again— in many ways, countless times. Although it’s not exactly the same as the one Lala blessed us with, it makes us laugh as genuinely and as easily as she did.



Jack Daniel “JD” Hernandez (nephew)

Lala was not just a person—she was a time and a place, too. I will always be grateful for her helping me get through the worst of my youth and for teaching me how to be patient, how to love and be loved. She will always be the first and purest girl I know; she's a constant reminder that time is not linear.


By Sam Fabian

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