In light of the World Mental Health Day on October 10 and October being declared as the “Mental Health Awareness Month”, Maalaala Mo Kaya featured in its latest episode aired on Saturday, October 8, the inspiring story of the Ronduen sisters’ battle with mental illness and how they’re able to overcome it through the elder sister’s unbelievable strength and unconditional love for her younger sibling.
The inspiring story of Joan and Jaira
Titled “Lumpiang Shanghai,” it follows the journey of the letter sender Joan-Glenn, compellingly played by award-winning young actress Charlie Dizon. As the panganay between her and younger sister Jaira, impressively portrayed by Bea Clark, Joan is expected to be the one to look after Jaira and the household chores while their parents are busy working.
Just like perhaps in other Filipino families, she grew up thinking that Jaira’s life is easier than her since aside from being the bunso, she also has an inborn eye defect, making their disciplinarian parents less strict on her. But everything starts to change when their mother succumbed to heart attack, with Jaira blaming herself since she was her companion when it happened. Joan consoled her that it wasn’t her fault since their mom was already in critical condition that time.
Joan was reprimanded by their father when he found out that she has a “hoodlum” or delinquent boyfriend, berating her for being irresponsible, foolish, and selfish as she only thought about herself. Unfortunately, Joan wasn’t able to tell him that it’s her boyfriend who gave her the attention and affection that he and his late wife failed to give her, as they always expect her to take care of her younger sister.
She brought her resentment towards until she’s already an adult, as she constantly felt that he’s not able to appreciate the sacrifices that she’d been doing for their family. She had to compromise a lot of things she wanted to do just for the sake of paying the tuition fees of Jaira, rent, bills, and loans, so she was really hopeful to be able to breakaway from her obligations once her little sister graduates in college. She promised herself that once that happens, she’s going to put herself and her future as her priority.
But that’s seemingly not going to happen anymore after their father died due to his underlying ailments. This apparently took a toll on Jaira, whose mental condition deteriorated, especially when she completely dropped her failed subject at school. Although her Ate Joan told her that it’s just okay, she did not believe her and even called her “demonyo” and attempted to take her own life. Luckily, Joan was able to stop her and promised her that she would never abandon her or surrender in taking good care of her.
In order for her psychological problem be assessed, Joan brought Jaira to a psychiatric facility, despite being cash-strapped. In her conversation with her boyfriend Romel (JC Alcantara), Joan realized that she somehow had a hand on what happened to Jaira as she kept on advising her to simply shrug off the snide remarks she hears from people around her and not minding the symptoms she’s manifesting. As she conveyed that she may not be able to handle this challenge, Romel assured her that he would stay by her side.
One day, the facility notified her that they rushed Jaira to a hospital for having seizures, which put her in critical condition. It was later on find out that she has schizophrenia, a psychological disorder characterized by the patient’s inability to distinguish reality from not. As doctors and their relatives suggested that it would be better for them to already let go of Jaira, it was Joan’s unconditional love for her younger sibling that still prevailed as she chose to keep her even though it means not being able to attain anymore her dream of living for herself.
After days of being in comatose, Jaira finally gained consciousness. But her hallucinations were still there and she also developed epilepsy. In order for Jaira to completely recover, her attending doctor prescribed medicines for her and even advised Joan to take her sister to a facility again, because not doing so could cause more problems to them.
As Jaira looked back on the traumatic experiences she went through in the past that contributed to her current mental state, Joan felt sorry and realized that she could have done something in order to help her. She was also astonished upon finding out that their late father actually appreciated her all along and had been proud of her, as Jaira revealed that he wanted her to be strong like her, yet failed to do so.
Hearing Jaira’s story fueled Joan to be a better ate and be stronger as she helped her overcome her ailment. Thankfully, the psychiatrist (Hasna Cabral) in the second facility they went to told them that Jaira didn’t need to stay there because she’s comparably better that time than how she used to be. Jaira didn’t have any epileptic episodes, hallucinations, and psychotic attacks since then, which made her doctor decide for her to already stop taking her medications and therapy sessions.
As for Joan, she and Romel got married they are blessed with a baby boy to whom Jaira is truly fond of. Their relationship may still not be perfect as they have fights and misunderstandings, but it has been easy for them to resolve those through communication.
There’s actually a lot of lessons that could be picked up from this inspiring and relatable journey of Ronduen sisters. First, communication is indeed the key to attain rapport in any relationship that we have. As what we’ve witnessed, not having an open and amicable conversation among the family could be detrimental not just with our connection with our loved ones, but to our overall well-being as well.
Yes, it could be difficult, but it’s really a must for us in order to prevent going through the same thing that happened to the Ronduen family. And once we sensed that we already have a mental or emotional problem, or it’s a loved one who manifest the symptoms, we should not be afraid to reach out to family or friends who we think can help us, or even to seek professional help for us to prevent it or easily recover from it. Just like what the psychiatrist said in the latter part of the episode, we must treat mental illness like the way we do with physical ailment, so it’s not something to be ashamed of.
At the same time, we must learn to be cautious in everything that we say or do towards other people, may they be close to us or aren’t because we do not have any idea what they’re going through. Everyone’s fighting their own battles, so the best thing that we can do is be kind and understanding. Besides, we should also be careful in giving advices, because there are times that even though we mean good, what we’re saying could not be helpful and could further put more stress or pressure on the person we’re talking to. Being appreciative with everything that our loved ones are doing for us – may it be through words of affirmation, encouragement, and gratitude – could definitely go a long way without us knowing it.
Performances of the actors
Despite being bunso in real life, Charlie Dizon indeed did a great job in portraying an ate in this episode of MMK. Apart from the fact that her character is so relatable, her performance was also compelling that she’s able to pull at the viewers’ heartstrings and probably made all panganays (or those who act as one in their families) cry. At the same time, Goin’ Bulilit alumna Bea Clark also impressed many with her dramatic chops, proving that graduates of the said TV show are truly talented.
JC Alcantara also made our hearts aflutter not just with his natural charm and good looks, but of how an admirable boyfriend his character Romel was to Charlie’s Joan. His exposure might be limited, but he’s still able to shine in his every appearance. The same goes for veteran character actor Lito Pimentel who, of course, didn’t fail to astound and move us anew with his on-screen father role. Although we only got to see her in the last gap, we can say that Hasna Cabral could pass as a doctor in real life, specifically a psychiatrist, with how eloquent and soft-spoken she is.
Of course, we must commend as well writer Alpha Fortun for doing a great job in producing a well-written script and Director Raz Dela Torre for the great execution if this totally moving MMK episode.