FOR THE RECORD: Razorback drummer Brian Velasco's girlfriend on his death
Editor's Note: Death, in any form and at any time, is always difficult to process. We can't imagine how much more difficult it is when a loved one who happens to be a beloved public figure dies. We're running in full (with very minor edits) a statement by musician Brian Velasco's girlfriend, Portia Carlos. Brian, 41, died on January 16 in an apparent suicide. He is best remembered as Razorback's drummer – he joined the band in 1997. This is Portia's first time to speak up since Brian's death. She disowns any other statements attributed to her in past stories or articles.
Brian had bipolar disorder. A mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings that include mania or hypomania (emotional highs) or depression (lows). These episodes would happen fast and last for a short time, hours, or a few days at the most, unlike depression that could linger for months or years.
On our first year together, he would tell me he had post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. I believe he used this disorder as an explanation for his sudden mood swings because it does not have the stigma of other conditions – just a consequence of a traumatic event.
But having seen all the extreme behaviors, and knowing about major life events in his past, I knew it could not be PTSD. I had a hunch he had bipolar condition.
What were the emotional highs and lows that I observed?
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. He did not want to burden his mom and was careful of what his brothers would see. He was supposed to be their role model. He was more a father to them than an older brother as they grew up without a dad and the brothers were way younger than him.
Sometimes, without any trigger, he would have manic episodes, quickly followed by depressive ones.
Early last year, he asked me to stay with him because he said thoughts of ending his life were creeping in in short waves.
For a week, he was either very angry or depressed. Raging or crying. Hyper or unable to move.
I think because he saw what we went through together due to his state – that I had to tie his wrist to mine while we slept, had to ask him to stand in front of the bathroom when I had to pee, I could only take a bath or buy something downstairs when someone visits, and that I had to miss work for a week – that he finally agreed to see a doctor.
I will try my best to explain what the doctor said to us to remove the label that just because the definition of bipolar disorder is a "mental" condition, it means anyone diagnosed with it is crazy because the word "mental" connotes craziness.
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.
Before you judge someone with this disorder, I hope you can remind yourself that it is just similar to other disorders where some physiological part of the person does not function as it should, say an inefficient kidney that needs dialysis. In this case, the manifestation of this disorder is 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.
So, he was put on medication and he agreed to take it religiously. The medicine was none of those I mentioned above.
If a person with the disorder experienced the highest 10 and the lowest 1 (when experiencing events that only warranted say, a 3 or a 7 reaction) the medication Brian received made him stay in the normal range, in the middle where we, who do not have the condition, are.
But the doctor said that it will take a few days before the meds would take effect.
Knowing that I was watching him 24/7, the doctor told me I can 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. I have seen his few-days-only depressive episodes several times. He would just lie on the sofa or on the bed, and can't even bring himself to the bathroom to shower, or feed the dog or himself.
The doctor said what I have to watch out for is 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, will produce the same effect as the meds, the doctor said.
He had not been able to consult a dietitian or start a strict workout regimen. Thus, he continued to take the meds.
And he had been okay since.
We know he also loved his drink. Drinking was "part" of their profession, and always present at gigs. And while he still experienced "bad drunk" episodes, they were just that. He either had bad or "happy normal drunk" episodes. People who know him can attest to this.
A few weeks ago, he started being snappy. But apart from snapping at me over petty stuff (one of our recent fights was over a kitchen colander when he was cooking, and my saying the pasta he cooked seemed undone), he was his usual kind and patient self 95% of the time.
I just put it down to him being stressed out from the combination of losing his dog last November, exhaustion from seeing to me when I was recently ill, and single-handedly taking care of a new puppy (Panchito) 24/7.
Why would I think that a puppy could cause so much stress? Because Brian would sometimes come up to me and say, "Love, I'm so exhausted! I just played with Panchito to expend his bottomless energy supply...." "He's like the Flash!" And in my mind I would think, "Wow! I'm the one who just came from work and you're exhausted over a puppy."
But this was before I experienced dog-sitting Panchito. The first time I did, I wanted to escape from him even before Brian got home from a rehearsal. Even if Panchito is extremely adorable and I love him almost as much as Brian did. I even started making excuses after, telling Brian I couldn't dog-sit when he had rehearsals or recordings (the only times he would leave Panchito) because I had to craft a presentation. This, so Brian could call his brother to watch over Panchito.
At the wake, his brother said, "I can't even sleep coz he (Panchito) munches on my hair or whatever he can reach."
So yeah, it was not so far off that Brian was being snappy because he was exhausted training and taking care of extra-hyper Panchito full-time. He loved the new puppy so much and wanted to be a better furparent to the new dog that he didn't go out unless it was for work. So, no. What happened was not because of the death of his dog Alfie last November.
At the wake, however, the helper who cleaned his condo unit once a week and bought his meds told us Brian had not asked her to buy his meds. After his death, they also saw some meds in the condo when his supply should have been used up by then. The helper knew when she was supposed to buy the meds if Brian had been taking it regularly.
A few days before January 16, he had also been drinking because his friend came over that weekend. Once he starts drinking, it would be a 3- to 4-day drinking spree. Everyone close to him knows this. But while he loved to drink, Brian could also go without drinking for days or weeks.
Once he starts though, when he had friends over or he had a gig, he would be drinking for days.
His manic episodes were very similar to his bad drunk episodes. And we all thought he was taking his meds, specifically because he has not had a manic episode since he started taking them.
So, no. He was not alone, not isolated in his last few days. We have seen worse and we just assumed that it was alcohol and that he would be sober in a few days.
I was a few floors up and just couldn't go down much since Sunday because I was closely observing my dog who was very ill. But he would come up to my unit and we had our meals and usual routine together. His brother had been staying at Brian's condo because his internship and classes were near Brian's place. His best friend also just visited. The band had meetings and rehearsals and recordings more frequently these past few weeks. His mom was always messaging him "Good morning baby bly bly" and we have been eating out with her often recently because her office is in Manila and there are a lot of new restos to explore in the area. He was not alone.
So, imagine it was like having hypertension, and you were not taking your maintenance meds regularly or you stopped, and when your BP finally went up, you ate a bag of chicharon (in his case, hard alcohol).
But unlike other illnesses, by the time your body needs the medication, you already do not have the mental facility or capacity to know that you needed to take your meds. This is how the doctor I saw yesterday explained to me what was happening in the last few days of his life. I learned that intermittent taking of the meds, or waiting a few days for the meds, could cause a withdrawal.
He wasn't depressed.
He was actually making plans prior to January 16.
On January 12 and 13, we spent hours training my always angry shih tzu Jack and Panchito to coexist because we planned to live together this May, so we won't have to pay for two broadband accounts, two Meralco bills, two association dues, and decide each night which unit we were gonna sleep at, only because we needed two units in the same building to separate my dog from his Alfie (his recently departed dog). We thought a puppy would be easier for my dog to learn to coexist with.
On January 13, he messaged another drum teacher-friend and asked her when their drum recital was. Over dinner, we were talking about the color of his suits for two upcoming weddings in my family.
On January 15, or a day before the incident, he spoke to the mom of a student and asked if they had plans to go on a trip because he is scheduling a recital soon.
Based on his medical condition, he had a manic-depressive episode on January 16. This was confirmed by the psychiatrist I talked to on January 26 based on the events and activities I revealed to her.
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 to come up with a treatment plan that is suitable to your loved one, which may include therapy, aside from medication depending on your condition.
If you are bipolar and contemplating on ending it all, please seek help.
I have always sensed that Brian was kind of 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. – Rappler.com