I just wanted to swim with the other kids

Originally published on Patriot Not Partisan

BJ_1980
Me in 1980 – 4 years old.

When I was growing up, our neighbor had an above-ground swimming pool, a rarity in the tiny backyards of the homes on the Southside of Chicago. We could see the pool from our kitchen window.

I often played with the kids who lived in that house and considered them friends. But come summertime, they naturally spent their days in the pool. On any given day, lots of neighborhood kids could be seen playing in that pool. I wanted to play, too. After all, I was a neighborhood kid. But my parents said it would be impolite to ask — I needed to be invited. I watched them play from our kitchen window, sometimes even wearing my swimming trunks just waiting … but that invitation never came.

That’s the first time I learned that I was different from the neighborhood kids. Chicago was — and in many areas still is — highly segregated.  We lived in a white neighborhood. As a half-Filipino, half-white child, I was generally tolerated in my neighborhood, but never fully accepted (outside of my best friend and his family). At my Catholic elementary school, a few of my classmates would call me a “Filipino fart.” In high school, the kid who sat behind me in homeroom would often tell me to “go back to your country, wherever that is.” When I told the teacher about this, he told me to “just ignore it” and asked if I had finished my work. He completely dismissed my concerns, instead of addressing the situation.

Although I brushed off the racist rhetoric and actions, it did significant damage to my soul. I was severely wounded. I would bury myself in writing poetry, listening to heavy metal and dabbling in whatever substance I could get my hands on. One day, I wanted to end it all. And I almost did.

Twenty years later I found myself surrounded by people who accept me — and even celebrate me — for who I am. Of course, I knew there was still hate in the world. I wasn’t naive. I knew many people, especially blacks, Hispanics and gay people, still faced significant discrimination. And I always tried to stand with them. Although an ally against racism, I no longer felt like a victim. The wounds I endured in childhood were permanently healed, I thought.

Then Charlottesville happened, and more specifically, President Trump’s response. Like most Americans, I was shocked and saddened by the events of Saturday. And I was stunned by the tepid response given by the President. But I dug into my diversity training playbook and gave him the benefit of the doubt. As someone who has always been rich, white, straight and male, he cannot possibly understand what racial discrimination feels like. And on Monday, Trump at least made an effort to say the right thing.

Then his press conference on Tuesday happened. And the wounds in my soul that I thought were long healed began to flare up. When President Trump said, “there are bad people on both sides,” that little boy in his swimming trunks staring out the window occupied my mind. When the President said, there are “many fine people” among the neo-Nazis calling for an ethnic cleansing of our nation, the faces of the boys calling me a “Filipino fart” appeared. And when Trump promoted his winery in Charlottesville — “one of the largest wineries in the United States” — that teacher who dismissed my concerns was back.

In my diversity training, I learned there are actually very few racists in the world. Most people are just ignorant. I always thought our President fell into the latter category. But after his passionate statements Tuesday, and his continued unwillingness to consider the hurt his words have caused, it’s difficult not to consider him a racist.

And if you’re willing to overlook this fact and still support him, then you are no better than my high school teacher.

Chris Cornell’s suicide rooted in depression

Everything appeared to be alright.

Reunited and on tour with his original band, Soundgarden, Chris Cornell tweeted at 8:06 p.m.:

#Detroit finally back to Rock City!!! @soundgarden #nomorebullshit.

The band roared through a blistering 17-song set, playing the grunge sound they helped invent, including hard rock radio staples like “Outshined,” “Black Hole Sun” and “The Day I Tried to Live.” Much has been made about the telling encore the band performed that night, “Slaves & Bulldozers,” that includes a snippet of Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying” with Cornell belting the eerie lyrics:

In my time of dying, I want nobody to mourn.
All I want for you to do is take my body home.

However, Soundgarden performed that same song combination two weeks earlier in Concord, North Carolina. And if fans are seeking foreshadowing of his death through song lyrics, several of Cornell’s own songs provided such insight, such as the closing verse of “Searching With My Eyes Closed,” in which he verbalizes the battle inside his mind:

Stop you’re trying to bruise my mind,
I can’t do it on my own.
Stop you’re trying to kill my time,
It’s been my death since I was born.
I don’t remember half the time if I’m hiding or if I’m lost.
But I’m on my way.

Like the many rock lead singers who committed suicide before him, Cornell turned his depression into beautiful music, and his deeply personal lyrics were treasured by fans who were suffering alongside him.

Everyone has internal demons — that voice in the head that is constantly telling a person to take the dishonorable, destructive and/or selfish path when confronted with a dilemma. Most people are able to silence that voice. But for someone suffering from depression — when in a depressed state of mind — that voice can become overbearing. There are multiple ways to deal with this. Drugs and alcohol are highly effective at silencing that voice, albeit temporarily. Another effective way is to somehow dispel that negative energy through activity, whether it be physical or artistic, such as songwriting and performing, as Cornell did beautifully.

But you never know when that voice will come back. And if it comes back when you are mentally susceptible, you never know what you are capable of doing. For Chris Cornell, like thousands of others every year, the permanent solution was suicide.

Contemplating suicide? Call 1-800-273-8255.

Battling Depression

Robin Williams’ suicide personally affected me. Not because I knew him, or even because I’m a big fan of his work. Rather, we have a mutual enemy: depression.

Like Williams, I’ve been battling depression for much of my life. It’s a difficult condition, not only for those afflicted but also for the afflicted’s loved ones. In addition to severe sadness, it can cause extreme anger. It can be a constant feeling, or in my case get triggered by seemingly unrelated events or an innocuous statement someone says.

A friend who knew about my depression innocently asked me, “Why can’t you just be happy? When I’m sad I just stop focusing on the negative and focus on the positive.”

I wish it were that easy. However depression can consume its victims in an inescapable way. And it’s impossible for someone who hasn’t suffered from depression to truly understand — much like it’s impossible for males to truly understand the pain of birthing a baby. Yet it would be considered socially unacceptable to tell a woman in labor to just “get over it” and “focus on the happiness of a new baby!”

Another misnomer is that one can tell when someone is suffering depression. Robin Williams — considered one of the funniest men in the world — is a perfect example to counter that claim. People are often surprised when they hear about my battle with depression. I’m generally considered outgoing and relatable, have a successful track record at work, have no addictions,  am financially stable, very involved with my church and community, and have a beautiful wife and three sons. By most definitions, I am living the American dream. But I still struggle with depression.

Hopefully Robin Williams’ suicide will be a wakeup call to those with depression. Several weapons are needed in one’s battle with the disease. My arsenal is filled with a very supportive family, helpful medications and consistent therapist and psychiatrist visits. I know it’s a battle that will likely be with me until my death. But I am determined to not be like Robin Williams, and let depression be the death of me.