Depression vilifies us as individuals. It makes us feel as though we have no significant purpose; hopeless, paranoid, sad, angry, melancholic and delusional. It deforms reality and like a parasite, slowly consumes the life of its victim. Some are fortunate to overcome depression. But for others, depression overpowers and subdues. Depression has taken the lives of many. It does not discriminate. Nationality, religion, gender, age, social class or wealth are insignificant. Anyone can fall victim. Recently, we lost a great man to depression. His name is Gerardo Ochoa, and I would like to tell you his story.
Gerardo was born in Napa. From what his mom tells me, he was a kind and playful kid. He loved to play sports and loved to wrestle with his siblings. However, in school, he was quite the opposite. He was a shy kid and didn’t want to play sports at school. It was around the fourth grade when his parents began to notice significant changes in his mood and character.
He was always respectful and caring. He cared so much about others. He was the type of guy who would pass by a homeless man and try to converse and get to know him. His sister expressed that he would get sad when he would see homeless people. He had a deep caring for the injustices and corruption that exist in this world. He almost seemed burdened by the negativity around us.
I met G in 2012. He was part of a program called Puente at Sacramento City College. He and I were both from the area code 707 and our families were from Michoacan, Mexico, so we became like brother and sister. Everyone had respect and admiration for G. He was wise, always positive and willing to share. He was helpful and caring. He had manners and values that many of this generation lack. He was genuinely the most respectful man you’d ever meet.
After the program ended, I only saw G once in a while because he moved back to Napa. I’d see him at trips, events I’d organize, and community events where I volunteered. It was always a joy to see him. Although I always saw him in smiles, I noticed a sadness in his eyes. A silence that should have been a red flag to me, but I was in my own silence, so I couldn’t really tell. I would talk to him to see how he had been doing, and he always seemed like he was in progress for something great. He was so comical and positive that it would just brighten my day when we would say, “You know, just doing my thing… Keep doing your thing… I support you to the fullest!” You wouldn’t expect someone so positive to feel so burdened.
On Saturday, August 30, while at work, I received news that he had passed away. I was speechless, confused and upset. I thought someone was playing an awful joke. But, it was no joke. My dear friend, Gerardo, committed suicide the day before, a month before his 25th birthday. I couldn’t believe it. I refused to believe it. I called him, messaged him, and messaged anyone he knew to find out the truth. The inevitable truth sank in the next day, when all his friends and I met for support.
We sat in a circle reminiscing about the memories. Sometimes, we sat in silence, puzzled by the unforeseen event. I’m almost certain we thought the same thing at one point or another: “If I only knew what he was going through, maybe he would still be here with us.” Nevertheless, he will forever remain in our hearts, for he honored us with many memories, lessons, advice and values to follow. His legacy remains.
I chose to write about this for two reasons. One, I want the world to know who Gerardo Ochoa was; I want his legacy to live on. Second, I wanted to shed light on an issue that affects so many people today, depression.
To dispel some myths, depression is not “all in your head,” as some might say. It is not something you can just get rid of by just trying to be positive and avoiding to deal with it. There are genetic, environmental, biological and psychological factors involved that can cause depression. And if not dealt with properly or treated, it can worsen to unfathomable levels.
In its early stages, one can experience the following symptoms: anxiety, feelings of emptiness or numbness, feelings of hopelessness or pessimism, feelings of worthlessness or helplessness, irritability, tiredness and loss of interest in activities like hobbies or sex, lack of focus, difficulty remembering details or making decisions, overeating or appetite loss, suicidal thoughts or attempts, nausea, headaches or digestive problems. These symptoms make school, work, and even simple conversation really difficult. One loses touch with life and often isolates oneself. And at worst, depression drives people into psychosis where they experience disturbing false beliefs and a disconnected sense of reality, and they begin to hallucinate, hearing and seeing things that others can’t hear or see.
I’ve experience depression on different occasions in my life. The longest depressive episode I’ve ever experienced began around two years ago; I recovered from that episode three weeks before G passed away. When I met his family and they told me that he had been going through a deep depression for two years like me, I felt my heart heavy with agony.
We experienced similar symptoms in our diaspora. In our exile from the distress and worldly negativity, we found comfort with the night. In isolation, the substances, the music, and the writing provided some temporary relief and release from the blues. However, I realized that wasn’t enough. I couldn’t go on like that everyday; I had too much to lose if I continued without help. I was able to get some help, and it really woke me up. It felt like the past two years were a dream. I wish I could say the same about G. He resisted receiving help and couldn’t come to term with his illness. Thus, he prepared his departure and is now in peace.
Depression is a serious illness. Any one can become victim. Depression is present in our communities, and we must be aware of it. It is present in every community in this country, and dare I say, in this world. However, it is most prevalent in underserved communities and ghettos such as Oak Park. The lack of access to adequate and affordable health care and education, community resources and good paying jobs sets people up for defeat and distress. It is no surprise our environment is so stressful, anxious and hopelessly deprived of the bare necessities.
To defeat depression, one must first accept that it is depression. They must understand that there is nothing wrong with them, it is just temporary and will pass. They must be open to receive help or seek it. They don’t have to go to a therapist if they really don’t want to, although it’s highly recommended.
Although I didn’t have medical insurance, I overcame depression through self-help methods. I searched desperately online for YouTube videos on motivation and how to defeat depression. I read many articles and journals on depression and ways to conquer it. I put into practice the advice and the words of encouragement that I received. I bookmarked them, wrote them down, and made sure to look at them whenever negative thoughts arose. I contacted so many friends and sought advice and opened up about my problem. I joined online chat rooms where people volunteer their time to listen to you. I sought support, and all of a sudden, I had people who cared and who were willing to push me forward.
I learned along the way that talking and sharing with others your experiences helps ease the insanity of always hearing your problems in your head. When you talk to other people, you begin to see your problem objectively and come to realizations at times that it’s not as big as it seemed. I had to learn to love myself, as odd as that sounds.
Sometimes, we forget to treat ourselves, compliment ourselves, and give ourselves breaks from the ideal person we strive to become. I had to learn to allow and seek more positivity in my life, whether by spending time with supportive friends, family, enjoying a lovely sunset or sunrise, meditation or relaxation, and comedy, because laughter is great medicine for the soul. I know a lot of people don’t want to hear it, but diet and exercise can make a significant difference. I began to eat more fruits and vegetables and noticed that I felt more energized and more focused on my tasks. When I felt a lot of stress, I exercised, and the stress melted away. Even if it’s just a walk around the park or cleaning your house or hitting the punching bag, it can make a difference.
There are so many resources and things one can do to defeat this or help ease the ailment of depression. I encourage anyone who’s ever felt this way to seek the help they deserve. If you know of a friend or loved one who is experiencing this, be understanding, let them know that you are there for them, help them if you have the means to help, and make sure that they do not isolate themselves, but give them space.
Listen to them; let them know that they can trust you. Refrain from giving advice and just listen and let them know you are listening. Give advice only if they ask for it, or you can ask if they want your advice. There are many ways to help someone in depression; but ultimately, it is up to them to be willing to receive the help.
As friends or a loved one, we must be patient, understanding, loving and respectful of their circumstance. As one who is experiencing depression, seek help where people are willing to understand, be patient and respectful of your circumstance. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Depression happens to the strongest of us, so let us be patient, loving and understanding of ourselves. Love yourself and treat yourself everyday. Do a little something everyday that can bring some joy or happiness to your life; I encourage you.
This is an epidemic among all people; it is a shared struggle that we should discuss more publicly so that we can support one another. Remember, love yourself and love one another. You are not alone. We will survive this together.