Who’s mental now?

Overheard while in the salon: “Ang ganda pa naman ng dalaga, kaso Buday.” Hmm. Naka-ngisi pa si Manang.

Would you call a person with a hole in the heart, “Butas”? Or someone with liver problems, “Senggo“? I hope not. But why, oh why, is it easy for many of us to call a person with a brain/mental illness or handicap, “Brenda“, “Budoy” or to quote Manang, “Buday“?

When someone suffers a heart, liver or other organ ailment, we rush to their side and say, “Get well soon.” But when someone suffers with chemical imbalances of the brain (which is often a life-long condition), the typical response is to look away, or worse, drop that person off our friends’ list like a hot potato.

Granted, the brain is the most complex organ in the body, as it controls all our other organs. We could go physiological here, but the bottom-line is this: the grey matter’s function and output may be different from the heart’s, or liver’s, but it is STILL an organ, made up of tissues, and is susceptible to disease, illness or malfunction just like any other organ. And when it does suffer a disability or illness beyond a patient’s control, why should there be a societal stigma? Why is it hard for us to show people with mental illness the same compassion we give those who have other organ dysfunctions?

Having a loved one who suffers from a chemical imbalance of the brain (bipolar disorder), it makes me thankful to God every day that by HIS grace my brother emerges daily as a functioning and productive human being. The challenges he faces – mental, emotional, physical and societal – are enough to make normal, healthy people crazy, I tell you. He has changed jobs many times because when people around him learn about his condition, they begin to treat him differently and it gives him discomfort and stress, things that are very hard for him to cope with.

But still he keeps on going, loving and working hard, doing what he loves to do – writing, composing, designing, and helping others in the ministry. It took years of therapy for him (and for us) to accept his condition, but ever since we did, we have seen how God works through him in ways beyond what we even thought possible when we first heard the doctor say the words, “life-long condition”.

If we could all exercise more compassion and understanding for persons with brain handicaps, malfunctions or illnesses, we would be surprised at how much we can learn from them, and how much they can help us grow. All they ask are listening ears and understanding hearts. Don’t we all?

So the next time you see or hear a person with mental disability, illness or malfunction being sneered at, I hope you can answer the way I answered the lady in the salon: “Huwag kang mag-alala Manang, biyaya ng Diyos ang dalagang yan, kaya tratuhin niyo po siya ng tama.” (Don’t worry lady, that young girl is a blessing from God, so treat her well).

[Note: For those not familiar with the Filipino “nicknames”: Brenda is short for “brain damage”, and Budoy is for a male person who has a mental illness, or handicap like autism, Down Syndrome, etc. Buday is the feminine version.]

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