If anything, my brief episodes in Psych Ward taught me a valuable lesson on complaining: there are men without shoes, and there are men without feet. In that imposing structure of concrete and iron bars, there is a lesson to be learned in handling the weight of the world.
Every time I go there, I rub shoulders and share prescription pads with the poor, who take the brunt of mental illness in the country. I know some of their stories: depressives who became so because of defeat, maniacs who became so because they were misguided, and schizophrenics like me who were dealt what seems to be the wrong hand. I know how some of them attempt to pay the psychiatrist’s free services: in baskets. There are baskets of bananas, baskets of lowland vegetables, baskets of dried fish.
Before the building of the Department of Psychiatry was finished, there was an informal economy that revolved around baskets in the hospital: hawking. You would think that the old woman selling kakanin and vegetables for pinakbet is only doing it for extra cash, but then after a day’s worth of making the rounds and selling at the hospital perimeter is done, you would see her sitting down on the benches for a prescription for her sick son. Her apron is half-full – or half-empty – with coins and twenty-peso bills: hopefully enough for that pink pill that would save her son the indignity of dog’s chains.
From what I recall, I never did once see a new basket. They were old ones: the kind of kamalig worn from trips between mango trees and the market. And then I wonder why: these are hard-working people who are worked enough to die of their own labor. Why them? Then I realized why.
Nobody in Psych Ward’s outpatient department ever opened up a hand for a handout: there’s always a hand up. There were always questions about work to be done, like construction work or laundry. You would see calloused hands everywhere: fresh wounds from fresh work. These are hands that would be worn to stumps given the sledgehammers and scrubbing boards that would buy the lifetime medication necessary for the sick to have a normal life.
Why them? Heck, why not? Life was never the fairest of bosses. They’re here pushing around baskets, and whoring themselves to whatever economic prostitution there is in building houses or taking in some lazy family’s laundry. They’re here: whether they deserved it or not, whether it is a punishment for some long-lost sin or not, is out of the question. It’s never the question. What matters is the here-and-now.
Then it hit me: I thought I had it bad when my hallucinations were diagnosed not to be a “third eye,” but an extreme illness. I thought I had it bad when I figured how much it was going to cost to “heal” me. But as I looked around, I realized how bad and extreme I had it compared to these people. They are decent people: hard workers who tilled the fields and cast the nets to earn a decent living, and here comes one of those challenges people wouldn’t wish on their worst enemies. And I don’t pay in baskets: cold, hard cash passes through the cashier’s window. So what do I have to complain about?
The weight of the world, as I always thought it to be, was that everyone carries crosses. But when someone carries your cross for you, there really isn’t a weight to speak of. Not a damn pound.