A Celebration Of Life: #WillYouStillLoveMe Was The Enlightenment We Never Knew We Needed
Three years ago, Julia Buencamino – a 15-year-old young artist and daughter of veteran actors Nonie and Shamaine Buencamino – decided that the cruel world was too much for her. She took matters into her own fragile hands and decided to put an end to her woes. Her parents probably had too much questions back then, but only one ringing question summed it all – why?
It wasn’t an easy discovery and it sure as hell wasn’t pretty. But research and discussions led them to one defining conclusion – mental health illness. Julia had it but she’s not alone. Millions across the globe suffer from different types and levels of mental health issues, one topic that isn’t openly shared during family dinners or during a casual chitchat with friends. It has long been clouded with fear and shame that those who have it just close their lips and suffer in silence. And that shouldn’t be the way.
The Julia Buencamino Project, with the help of generous collaborators and volunteers who are completely in support of raising mental health awareness in the country, gave birth to the #WillYouStillLoveMe event that took place last July 14 at Whitespace, Makati.
What was supposed to be Julia’s 18th birthday turned out to be a celebration of life despite her absence.
One part of the venue was dedicated for some of her artworks and other artists’ sketches and paintings as well. But what drew most of the guests into the hall was her journal displayed at the middle. There it lay open at the page where a striking poem that was personally penned by Julia can be read,
When my mask shatters
And you see how broken I really am
Will you still love me?
This heartbreakingly beautiful poem has inspired the producers of the project to make a stand about the reality that depression has took many precious lives away and it has to stop. Through art, music, and conversation, #WillYouStillLoveMe gathered people together to face head on this matter our society deems to be unspeakable.
The event opened with a graceful ballet number, followed by Shamaine’s monologue about what a mother of a depressed child goes through, and how one quietly aches for just a tiny bit of comfort through it all.
Issa Manalo Lopez, Gabbie Tatad, and Laya Arioder shared their experiences with depression, anxiety, and bipolarity through a set of touching videos. Laya, who is also a musician, played an original song titled "I’m Here" with her brother during the program. The guests gave her a deafening round of applause when she introduced herself – a moment that melted everyone’s hearts.
Actresses Meryll Soriano, Agot Isidro, and Yayo Aguila also showed their support by performing a monologue with Nonie Buencamino on stage.
The warmth of the crowd allowed the guests to feel more comfortable in stepping forward and speaking up about their own battle with mental health illness during the open forum facilitated by proud warriors and survivors Alya Honasan, Gabe Mercado, and TJ Manotoc along with experts Cathy Sanchez-Babao and Dr. Liza Rondain. People with the condition or those who know someone suffering from the illness lined up one by one to either ask questions or share their story. At that time, guests felt like there was no wall dividing the group of people with depression and those without. It was one community understanding each other and free from judgments.
Manila’s favorite comedy improv theater SPIT made everyone in the room feel light and happy despite the heavy load that depression brings with their crazy antics and incredibly witty banters. It was the perfect way to conclude what had been a night of tears, sentiments, and enlightenment.
Cesar Montano, to everyone’s surprise, closed the night with his rendition of Amazing Grace.
#WillYouStillLoveMe was the conversation-starter we badly need to address the current status of mental health awareness in the country. We’re probably still a long way from here, but events like this has brought those battling with depression enough courage to talk because they now know that someone out there is always ready to listen.
To you whose life seems blurry and bleak, don’t be afraid to speak up. It’s not easy, we know, but you got to learn how to behead the demons taking over your mind. Don’t be afraid to cry for help when you can no longer fight them on your own. Please remember that this battle can be won when you let someone help you carry the load.
Today is a beautiful day to start over. Wipe your tears, face the mirror, and say “I am choosing life today.”
If you are (or if someone you know is) thinking about suicide or self-harm, please remember that help is a phone call away. In the Philippines, please call suicide prevention hotline numbers at the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation: 02-804-4673 (HOPE), or 0917-558-4673 (HOPE). You may also call the Manila Lifeline Centre at 02-896-9191, or 0917-854-9191. In the U.S., please call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).