The title here is the same title of Tame Impala’s hit song from their studio album (and one of my favorites) Currents. Ironically, despite the song being one of my favorites, my anxious, neurotic mind wouldn’t seem to agree with this statement at all. Allow me to ruminate on portions of my life story that would justify my disagreement to this statement.
Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to know everything. At the age of five, I would voraciously peruse the Grolier’s Encyclopedia set that my mother bought me. Like many encyclopedias, this was arranged in alphabetical order, though the most overused volume was the letter W since I always went back to the topics on World War I and World War II.
This early fascination with World War II came from the movies that my grandfather, Lolo Dads, introduced me to – movies such as Battle of the Bulge, The Longest Day, and Midway.
Having been a World War II survivor, Lolo Dads found these films captivating; I remember him telling me how majestic the military officers looked – even the Nazi officers, specifically the Schutzstaffel officers who wore all black. This does not mean, however, that he agreed with their ideology; it was more so on the way they brought themselves, or how charismatic they looked as exuded from their uniforms.
My grandfather simply opened the door, and I, a bright-eyed eager child voluntarily stepped into the new idea and more knowledge. Though my attempt at knowing everything may have given me the spark to pursue my career in World War II research, this does come with hitches.
This trait of wanting to know everything somehow branched into a channel that would be my obstacle later in life – health and illnesses. This then led to my obsession of trying to take control of everything in my life.
Unfortunately, this obsession with control most likely led to my current bouts with anxiety, specifically my illness anxiety disorder.
I tell you, this illness anxiety disorder, otherwise known as health anxiety, or hypochondriasis, has been the bane of my existence, and it has gotten worse as I grew older.
It is axiomatical truth that as we age, the people we love – our grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, friends, and so on – also get older. With age is the inevitability of death, which is the only thing certain – or with finality – in a life filled with uncertainties. Growing old means seeing your loved ones pass away, as morbid as it may sound. Their deaths would then indubitably affect your mental state as you grieve.
If you don’t have a strong mental fortitude, and if you are overly attached to your loved ones – whether it be a family member or a best friend, it’s all the same – it will surely take time for you to understand and process their loss. Trust me, I’m still processing the deaths of my loved ones for the past five years. But how did I end up being like this? Was it because of how I was raised?
My psychiatrist told me, and this has been corroborated from what I learned from my undergraduate psychology course, that my upbringing as a kid played a huge role on who I am today – the good and the bad.
Being a frail kid growing up, I was very overprotected. Though this was the norm I grew up in and thus I was not bothered by it. Looking back, however, I was not as sickly as my brother who suffered pertussis – an unending cough that slowly worsened. Though with the help of experts and professionals from SUMC, my brother overcame the sickness.
At a young age, I was introduced to the seriousness that my brother’s ordeal brought about my family. I remember just being overly fixated with the notion of death. I would have nightmares about it and every time we pass by the Dumaguete Memorial Park, I’d always feel anxious thinking that someday, I – and the people I love – will end up there in one way or another. That bothered me a lot.
Perhaps that was the trigger when the thirst for knowledge and control of my life started. What did I want to know about? Well, I wanted to know about the different forms of diseases and illnesses as much as possible that would lead to our inevitable death. I did this in the hopes of preventing my own or loved ones’ demise.
What was my first source? Yes, you’ve guessed it right, the Grolier’s Encyclopedia that my mom gifted me. There was no Google back then, but if there was, I would say that my health anxiety would have set in earlier. So, every time I felt like I had a symptom – dizziness, headache, weird discolorations on my skin, and so on – I then checked on the encyclopedia for any hints of what illness I possibly had.
The worst experience for me was when I was diagnosed with anemia and I was over-thinking too much about it because I thought it would evolve to something terminal – the term I cannot even fathom to mention due to the trauma it brought me as a kid.
At this point, the desire to know more, therefore, seemed to have had a negative effect on my mental state. But as a kid, I did not really dwell on it that much and found pleasure—though it was a form of distraction— from hanging out with friends, and doing other hobbies like playing the piano, playing computer games, and reading about the different histories of people and places.
With all these distractions, elementary and high school years went by like a breeze. The fear of death really was not there anymore as I busied myself with school and life. There were no deaths among close relatives back then, so everything seemed copacetic.
Then 11 years later, on 2013, my grandfather [from the father side], Judge Pacifico S. Bulado Sr., a towering figure in the Bulado family – the Godfather as I used to see him—passed away from an illness. His death greatly affected me, but I already saw it coming since he has been in the hospital for more than a month. This knowledge of his deteriorating health prepared me to embrace his passing easier.
Though I may have dealt with two losses from my family (my grandfather, and his son, Papang Noy as I called him) with enough fortitude, nothing would have prepared me for 2018. My maternal grandfather, Atty. Salvador E. Austria (Lolo Dads as we, his grandchildren, fondly call him), a gentle giant and a very virtuous lawyer, passed away all of a sudden from sepsis. The day before he passed away, I was still in Cebu enjoying a vacation with my wife (then fiancé) and her family.
On 30 April 2018, I really cannot forget this day, my mom called and told me that I had to return to Dumaguete as soon as possible. From the tone of her voice, I can already sense that this was something serious. She then told me that Lolo Dads was in the ICU and that he’s not doing well.
After hearing the news, I then told my wife, Mako, that I have to go back; empathic as she always has been, before I even told her the details, she knew that it was serious – so she told me that she’s going to go with me back to Dumaguete. We hurriedly rode the 3 p.m. bus to Dumaguete, and arrived at around 9:30.
My parents fetched us and brought us straight to SUMC. As I approached Lolo Dads, I remember feeling uneasy; my mind was telling me that this was what I feared back when I was kid – losing loved ones who meant so much to me. The fear that I had seemed to have forgotten now returned. At that time, it was slowly sinking in that the moment that I feared for, losing someone very close to me, was going to happen.
You have no idea how it felt. At that time, I just wanted to do all that I can to save him; to control the future, to make things the same as it was. But even my brother knew, being in the medical field (back then he was a recent Physical Therapy graduate), that it was something irreversible. Death was just lurking around; it was only a matter of time.
When I approached Lolo Dads, I remember holding his right hand tightly, hoping that he would give me a tight grip back and, though slightly unconscious, he did. That grip coincidentally happened when I said: “Abot na ko, Lo!” [I have arrived, Lo!] I even saw him shed a tear when he heard my voice. I couldn’t do anything but just cry while I was holding his hand – assuring him that his eldest apo [grandchild] was here.
After almost an hour in the ICU, my mom told me that I should go home and get some sleep, which I did. The only people that remained in the hospital at that time was our household help, Jemuel, and Joshua, my brother. I don’t exactly remember the time, but all I remember was a knock on the door from someone [I honestly forgot who it was] who then told me that Lolo Dads has passed away. Back then, when I heard the news, I did not really know how to feel, nor did I know how to react; the events seemed so fast that I could not process everything.
Admittedly, until now as I write, I still have not fully recovered from his death. Yes, I grieved and mourned, but his loss was just something that I can never easily forget. It’s not as if I grieve for him every day since then, it’s just that feeling that something is missing in your life. And that something is irreversible, you cannot go back to how it was before, you just can’t – that’s what makes it painful.
I know that people will tell me to accept – that it is through acceptance that I can finally move on from the pain. While it might be true, that I have already accepted his loss; but there is still that void that cannot be filled in his absence. I guess this is something that happens when you are just verily attached to a loved one. And I believe this is one thing that I should change if I want to continue living.
Since then, there were successive deaths in our families – Loreta “Mama Ne” Batiancilla died in 2019; my wife’s Tita Janine [Dr. Alberta Janine Flores-Lawas] died in 2020; then recently my best friend Dr. Leo Adalla passed away unexpectedly.
These deaths have become impetuses to my [selfish] desire to take more control of my life and those who I love, to prevent the pain of losing loved ones or causing my loved ones to feel the same grief had something bad happened to me.
Every death reminds me of the ephemerality of life and how we were born to die. These thoughts have worsened my anxiety day by day and God only knows how I was able to survive [and still surviving] the cavalcade of intrusive thoughts that would enter my mind during the past few days – especially at present, more than a month after my best friend suddenly passed away.
At the end of the day, the desire to know – as a way of taking control of the future – is undoubtedly deleterious to one’s mental state. It will only bring more anxiety to your life, and you cannot live life to the fullest if you’re constantly thinking about possible things that might cause your – and your loved ones – untimely demise.
It may seem easier said than done, especially for those who have experienced severe bouts of anxiety, but one of the ways to help out free your mind from intrusive thoughts is to accept that we can never fully take control of our lives.
As Seneca, one of the Stoic philosophers of Ancient Rome who served as the tutor and later on adviser of Emperor Nero, said: “a person who suffers before it is necessary, suffers more than is necessary.” Moreover, he added that people suffer more in imagination than in reality.
When I read them, these lines seem to be directed at me. Back in my childhood years, I’ve always suffered before it was necessary due to my desire to take control of the future – to be safe from harm; to know – and constantly have that reassurance – that I’ll be alright.
Matter-of-factly, I tend to do this all the time at present when I ask my doctors about some random symptoms which I think is already something terminal. But at the end of the day, my doctors would just say that it’s nothing and reassure me that everything is normal.
I am, therefore, the paragon of an incorrigible worrier – a hypochondriac as others derogatorily call. In doing these things, always asking for reassurances, I think it has turned into an addiction that I should try to stop as early as possible.
Last year, in one of our sessions, my psychiatrist told me that I should practice asking for reassurance only once in a day from medical specialists. As she said, doing this would taper down my inveterate reliance on reassurances.
I tried it and it worked, but only to certain time and degree; for there are things beyond my control anymore that trigger the intrusive thoughts from acting up again – one of them is grief from a loss of a loved one. So, with the death of my best friend, now I’m back to square one again.
Suffice it to say, we must not allow our minds to get the better of us. As Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius would say, we should always live life to the fullest and dwell in its beauty. Try as much as you can to refrain from taking full control of all aspects in your life just so that you’ll have a better [or in my case, safe] future – this will only exacerbate your anxious thoughts.
As for me, these are just words and words that I should also put to practice in my life. There would always be moments of weakness, where you would revert back to your old ways, and you might feel like the progress you’ve made was all for naught. But fret not, progress is not linear; there will be times when you’ll be tested and either stagnate or go back to how it was, but just keep on moving forward.
As cliché as it may sound, and I’ve said this line before in my previous article on grief, life is short. Live and cherish it with your loved ones. This would also serve as a reminder to my anxious self. To all those who are suffering from anxiety, I hope and pray we all get through these trying times in our lives and learn to let go of things beyond our control.
Again, I may not be the best person to say this but we must learn to live with life’s uncertainties. Try not to let fear dominate your life, as living in fear almost every day is worse than death itself. Face your fears and live each day as if it was your last.
In doing so, you can truly say, if not believe, that you have lived your life to the fullest. And when you reach the last stop of your life, at least you’ll be able to look back in fulfillment – that you have lived the best life without any regrets. I know that feeling – though I have not felt it yet – will be ineffable.
Author’s email: [email protected]