OpinionNo man is an island

No man is an island

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I had been in isolation mostly since November until the second week of December. Let’s just say it was not the right thing to do, as it only exacerbated my mental health issues and bouts with anxiety.

Isolation, I suppose wrongly, was the answer to obviate any potential relapse of my illness anxiety disorder, and depressive episodes after the death of my best friend, Leo.

People close to me, the empathic ones, have noticed that I was really going through a rough time dealing with my best friend’s loss. However, I was just trying to continue living and undermining – as evinced by my decision not to entirely process the loss – my emotions, and not allowing myself to feel and deal with grief.

Looking back, however, I don’t think it all started with my best friend’s death. I believe it started when I was working on a research paper about wartime atrocities by the Japanese occupying forces in Dumaguete.

In that paper I was working on, I looked into the different torture methods done by the Kempeitai – Japanese military police, likened to the Gestapo – against civilians in Dumaguete, the various acts of murder committed by the Japanese forces, and I also revisited the cases of Engr. E.J. Blanco, the three Amigo Sisters, and the beheading of Wentworth Uytengsu and Juan Chi.

In doing so, I perused several hundreds of pages of hitherto classified reports by the Counter Intelligence Corps – their interviews with the victims and perpetrators, and many eyewitness accounts.

I thought that being a historian, I could take it well, as it behooved me to write about something that really hasn’t been written about in detail on Dumaguete local history.

But I guess the decision to do so was quite regrettable.

It took me around five months to complete the paper because I took breaks every now and then.

I told my wife, Mako, that my chest felt heavy sometimes due to the nature of the topic I was writing about, and she was there to constantly support me.

The gruesome and heinous nature of the crimes committed by the Japanese – similar to what they did in Nanjing – somehow, just gradually, took its toll on my mental health.

I guess I was too attached to what I was writing about that it made me feel for the people who were killed or tortured without compunction.

I should have taken the warning that one historian told me in our conversation when I took part in the Emerging Scholars Workshop at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana in February this year. He told me that writing about the Holocaust took a toll in his mental health since, humans as historians are, he could not fathom how people can do these egregious acts to fellow people. And the stories that he read about were so horrible that he had to take breaks from writing.

Suffice it to say, I did not take that warning fully into consideration, and still pushed through with the research project on wartime atrocities in Dumaguete. What made things worse was that I still had to present the paper four days after the death of my best friend, 19 October 2023.

After that, I thought that I could just deal with things by myself. I did not share further any heavy feeling in my heart, or negative thoughts on my mind because I thought I could just do it by myself when I tried to isolate. I’ve always done it by myself before, so why can’t I do it now?

Well, let’s just say that was one of the worst decisions of my life.

Isolation was never the solution – it never is, and it will never be. We should always try to find some form of support system to help us get back up when we’re down. Keeping negative emotions to yourself will only bring more harm than good – trust me, I’ve done it and I’ve done more harm to myself and people around me than good. And I have deeply regretted it.

Whenever you feel like your life is falling apart, or whenever you feel like you cannot get out of that loop of negative emotions, talk it out with people you trust. Release it. Do not feel like it is weak to be vulnerable to others. There’s nothing weak about that – in fact, it takes strength to be vulnerable to others.

But these are just words, and words alone can do you no good. You have to act on it, and this will be the hardest part – I know because I’m still in the process of acting on these words that I’m saying. However, just have trust in yourself and to the people close to you.

Trust that you can open up to them, and trust that they can – in any way and form – help you out as you go through the vicissitudes of life.

Life is tough, I know, but throughout history, people – especially the resilient ones – always find ways to overcome life’s challenges.

Many people have suffered during World War II here in Dumaguete, but life went on after the Americans liberated us from the Japanese occupying forces.

Life was not easy, but people had to move on, and continue living. How were they able to do it? I suppose most of them did not do it alone, nor did they overcome the challenges by isolating themselves.

As my best friend told me early this year, it’s always great to have a form of community – perhaps a group of trusted friends who you can lean on to whenever you need support.

So a piece of advice: Never think you can do it alone; open up to people, seek professional help when needed (especially when your anxiety or depression is getting bad), and always trust that you can make it through the rough times no matter how bad you think it is going.

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Author’s email: JJAbulado@norsu.edu.ph

 

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