Baliw is a Filipino word that means “crazy,” insane, deluded, maniac and some other words that basically mean sick in the head. It’s one word that you don’t want used to describe you.
In the islands, if you’re a jokester (maloko) and are pretty successful with making other people laugh, you might hear them say “baliw ka talaga ( You’re so crazy)!” In this context, the phrase is spoken with amusement because of your quick-witted ideas and delivery.
But amusement with the word, “baliw” ends there.
in Jose Rizal’s literary masterpiece, Noli ME Tangere, Sisa is a character who was said to be baliw. The curse of her condition does not only ostracize her but her children, her town and all imprints left by her presence. Even in her literary death, Sisa’s deluded legacy lives on.
The phrase para kang si Sisa (you’re like Sisa) is like Colgate to toothpaste; it’s a household brand. Growing up, if someone just woke up and they look disheveled with their hair sticking up, adorned with raccoon eyes from yesterday’s mascara, someone might jokingly say, “Para kang si Sisa or Sisa, ikaw ba yan (Sisa, is that you or You’re like Sisa)?
As of 2017, there only 700 Psychiatrists and a thousand psychiatric nurses in the Philippines for a country with a population of 100 million +. Fifteen years ago, a consult would cost you at least P500 ( about $ 11). Today, it’s around P 1500 ( about $ 30+) per session at a minimum. It’s not only expensive but inaccessible to the regular Juan.
Prioritizing A Healthy Mind Over Reputation
it’s not uncommon to view a real “baliw” walking down the streets of Manila. Sometimes they are called, “taong grasa.” I knew one growing up, and my family used to call him Jango. Jango wore his military style jacket and because he doesn’t bathe, his hair is tangled up in a what appears to be a turban. He’s always seen counting something, usually sticks and leaves and as a kid I was fond of chatting with him as I offer him bread that my mom gave me as baon ( to go food). Jango was harmless, at least on the days I’ve had contact with.
It is not hard to understand why Filipinos are foreign to the concept of Counseling or Therapy. First, the fear of being seen as baliw and its ramifications is scary enough not to seek treatment. Some who may not understand our Collectivistic nature and deep love for family and community may have a hard time grasping that the disease of one person in the family (say, diagnosed with depression, bi-polar etc..) becomes the disease of the rest. The burden of dampening our family’s good name, reputation and hard-earned legacy seem more painful than seeking healing for our enduring pain.
So, we just keep going —
Looking at Others with Kinder Eyes
Many years later after seeing Jango in my daily rides from school, I heard stories about his personal life I heard that he came from a decent family and that he used to be a professional gardener. A responsible father to his 3 kids, until he got sick.
I always wondered…
What if the people around Jango were kinder to judge him if he sought treatment,
What if they cared more about how he felt inside before caring about the glares they would get from their nosy neighbors,
What if he can afford treatment, and help is around the corner,
What if his family knew what sign and symptoms to look for,
What if his family also had support in the process so they knew how to support Jango,
Most of all,
I wonder if Jango knew a “baliw” growing up and because he didn’t know better, he glared at him with disgust. The same look of disgust he wanted to avoid from others when he learned deep down inside that something was totally wrong with him.
I wish Jango was kinder to himself.
I wish his family and friends accepted him despite his imperfections.
I wish the Islands have a more structured Mental Health support system.
I wish we have more success stories to share our children about healing and that feeling good is not a privilege but what is normal.
I wish parents do not think of themselves less if their children end up seeking counseling/therapy.
Therefore, I wish parents have a stronger sense of self that their love for their children is stronger than any gossip or glares that can shake their insides.
Changing Our Minds In America
Migrating in America does not automatically change our minds toward someone who may need mental health support.
Some have changed their minds by simply observing others, learning about new things, listening and being curious about what makes other people unique in their ways.
Some have kept their old ways. Overemphasizing performance over quality of childhood experience. Overemphasizing people watching over looking oneself in the mirror. Overemphasizing status over kindness and compassion. Overemphasizing reputation over our children’s healing and wellness.
They say that the definition of crazy is repeating the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome.
If you’ve tried many ways to make yourself more confident, less sad and anxious, less paranoid about what others say and think, but have not come to the outcome you’ve hoped for,
There is nothing wrong with you.
Try something new.
Seeing a Therapist/Counselor may help you break free from the prisons of your mind.
You are worth it.
May you break free from the emotional hand-cuffs that is pulling you away from your authentic self.
If you’re ready of have any questions around therapy/counseling, contact me here.