By Portia Carlos
My boyfriend, Brian Velasco, committed suicide on Jan. 16. This is the first time I am speaking about what happened and I disown all statements attributed to me in articles published before this.
Brian had bipolar disorder. It's a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings.
On our first year together, he told me he had post-traumatic stress disorder. I believe he used PTSD as an explanation for his sudden mood swings because it did not have the stigma of other conditions. PTSD is just a consequence of a traumatic event.
But having seen all the extreme behavior, and knowing about major life events in his past, I knew it could not be PTSD.
A not-so-happy event can make him giddily happy, just as a manageable issue or problem could make him feel as if it’s the end of the world.
He was staying at their family home during our first year but would go to his condo and call me when he was having an episode because he did not want his family to see it. Early last year, he asked me to stay with him because he said thoughts of ending his life were creeping in in short waves.
I tied his wrist to mine while we slept, asked him to stand in front of the bathroom when I had to pee, took a bath or bought something downstairs only when somebody else could keep him company, and missed work for a week. It was when he saw me do all these that he finally agreed to see a doctor.
The doctor said that when you have the disorder, a part of your brain (not the mind) does not function in the way it should. Neurotransmitters that are supposed to meet/pair/ connect—these make persons without the condition react to events normally—do not meet/pair/connect in a person with bipolar disorder.
The manifestations of this disorder are behavioral. The usual go-to of most doctors is to prescribe antidepressants, to address just the depression part, which just pulls them all the way up, at risk of crashing all the way down. Another is anti-psychotic meds. This makes people on it feel numb, dead, and like a zombie, incapable of reacting to any happy or sad event.
Brian was put on medication and he agreed to take it religiously. Knowing that I was watching him 24/7, the doctor told me I could rest when he’s in the low state. The doctor explained that people with bipolar disorder, unlike people with functioning depression, do not have the energy to kill themselves.
So, no. He was not depressed.
The doctor said what I had to watch out for was the manic episode or a mix of both manic and depressive, because it is during such an episode when they can have an impulse and are capable of killing themselves.
But the medication was not a forever thing. A combination of regular physical activity, plus a special diet, would produce the same effect as the meds, the doctor said.
Brian also loved his drink—drinking was “part” of their profession, and it was always present at gigs. We all knew this. Just like everyone else, he either had bad or happy normal drunk episodes.
A few weeks ago, he started being snappy. Outside of this, he was his usual kind and patient self 95 percent of the time. The 5 percent I just attributed to stress: from losing his dog last November, seeing to me when I was recently ill, and taking care of a new puppy—an extra-hyper one—24/7. So yes I could agree he was snappy because he was exhausted. And no—what happened was not because of the death of his dog.
During the wake, the helper who cleaned his condo unit and bought his meds said he did not ask her to get the meds. And then, a few days before Jan. 16, he also had been drinking with a friend. His manic episodes were very similar to his bad drunk episodes. And we all thought he was taking his meds.
I lived just a few floors up and even though I could not go down much in those days, we had our meals and usual routines together. His brother was staying at his condo because of his internship and classes. His mother was also messaging him.
So he was neither alone nor isolated in his last few days. Brian was actually making plans prior to Jan. 16.
On Jan. 12 and 13, we spent hours training our dogs to co-exist because we had been planning to live together this May. On Jan. 13, he messaged a friend, another drum teacher, to ask her when their drum recital was.
That day, over dinner, we talked about the color of his suits for two upcoming weddings in my family. On Jan. 15, he asked the mother of his student if their family was planning a trip because he was scheduling a recital soon.
Based on his medical condition, Brian had a manic-depressive episode on Jan. 16. If you have a relative who has bipolar disorder, please talk to his or her psychiatrist so that you will understand your loved one and know how you can help. Those suffering from bipolar disorder can indeed have suicidal thoughts and behavior.
Please read up on bipolar disorder to know the symptoms if you suspect your loved one has the same problem. If the symptoms are present, please bring your loved one to a psychiatrist as soon as possible for the proper diagnosis and for a suitable treatment plan. This may include therapy and medication.
If you are bipolar and contemplating ending it all, please seek help. I have always sensed that Brian was embarrassed about having the condition. Please do not be. Your illness is not something to be embarrassed about. Do find the help that you need.
To those who genuinely were affected by Brian’s death, you can help by not judging people with this illness. Please be kind to everyone you meet. Your small act of kindness might save a life.