Last night, actress Iza Calzado laid bare the painful truth: her mother, Mary Ann Ussher died by suicide 18 years ago. In a 28 minute video, uploaded on Facebook by She Talks Asia, a women’s movement Calzado co-founded, she said, “The sharing of this story is also my greatest gift to her. I want to let her know that I am no longer ashamed and I understand her.”
Calzado chose October 10, Mental Health Awareness Day to go public about her mother’s mental health struggle. A few hours before the release, ANCX caught up with the actress who shared her nervousness about what was about to be revealed. “We will be releasing a video of me talking about my mom and her mental health struggles and how I lost her to depression; something that I never publicly talked about in my 17 years in the public space, so yes I am nervous, it’s a very sensitive topic. But I just want people to know it’s not something you wish on others not even your enemies. Nobody wants this in the same way nobody wants cancer, nobody wants diabetes. It is something that exists, unfortunately, and I think talking about it helps people be able to deal with it.”
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In the video, posted on the She Talks Asia Facebook page, Calzado is in conversation with She Talks co-founder, Sarah Meier, who shares their involvement in empowering people to seek inner healing journeys, part of which involves healing and re-parenting a person’s inner child. The video was condensed from a two and a half hour session. “I am so grateful we had full and total control of it,” Calzado shares. “Also very grateful it was Sarah doing the interview.” The actress says she couldn’t have wished for a better person to navigate the whole interview. “It’s been 18 years of healing from it, I am grateful to have had that time to process it and now it’s time to share it, both for my healing and freedom.”
In the video, Meier sets the tone of the interview by thanking Calzado for what she was about to share. “A lot of people will find power and hope in your story,” says Meier, before proceeding to her first question: “What is the part of your childhood that you need to heal most?”
“People know about this,” Calzado readily answers. “Oh she was big before, she was a big kid, she lost weight. But I was big for a reason. I was diagnosed with childhood depression when I was in sixth grade. The psychiatrist said that was why I ate a lot.”
Since early 2018, Calzado has been a leading voice for body positivity, opening up about her destructive love-hate relationship with her body, amid the pressures of being in the public eye. In the platform, She Talks Asia, (other co-founders are Lynn Pinugu, Victoria Herrera, and Bianca Gonzales) Calzado spearheaded the production of a video and a summit called Body Love Revolution in February 2018, to send a message of self-love, addressing women’s insecurities with their bodies.
It turns out, there is an even deeper cause for Body Love Revolution. “My mom ever since I knew her or could understand things enough, had a mental illness, a condition. At that time she was told she was neurotic. This was the 80s. She had a temper. They gave her downers. She was misdiagnosed. And eventually she became manic depressive. And eventually bipolar was the last term, the prognosis.” Calzado bares, “As a child I grew up with a mother who was battling this. So I grew up with a stigma, ‘Yung nanay ko baliw.’ I’m sure it was more difficult for her but of course it was difficult for a child.”
Calzado shares how her mother lost her youngest brother 17 days after childbirth and how her mother’s best friend was murdered the same year, 1988. Stammering through her revelation, the actress disclosed, “My mom, part of her, [because of ] what she was battling, wanted life to end. She didn’t want to live anymore. I would be a witness to these things. I remember she would take a lot of downers...she was a suki ng Medical City, and for a child to see that, there was a lot of shame. My mom’s not normal. Nakakahiya ito and my father was in showbiz.”
Calzado goes on to describe the roller coaster relationship with her mother. “When it was good, it was good. My mom was a beautiful person. She was generous. She was compassionate. But it was hard because it’s your mom and she’s trying to take her life and she kept talking about it, that she was sick,” says the actress. “I think the trickiest part of this is I don’t want to paint a bad picture of my mom. She had so much in her. I’m sure she didn’t want it.”
By third grade, Calzado’s parents separated and her mother moved to San Francisco. Calzado remained with her father, Lito, an actor, director and choreographer in the Philippines.
Not long after, Ussher came back to the Philippines and it became a tug of war between her parents deciding who will get their daughter. Calzado describes that period in her life as akin to a “top rating soap opera.”
In the video, Meier asks Calzado what her mother saw in her during her good days, “She saw everything she could have been,” Calzado says, letting out a big sigh. She pauses first before resuming: “I was her hope. I was everything that she wanted to be. I symbolized that, everything that she didn’t achieve for herself, my daughter will be the one to do that.”
On her bad days, Calzado would find herself her mother’s weapon to hurt her husband. ”That’s how I felt and I know that to be true.” Calzado responds. She shares how she had so much white hair from grade school until high school. “It was a physical manifestation of what was happening inside,” Meier volunteers.
Ussher went back to the US for further treatments. She was prescribed antidepressants. When she returned to the Philippines, Calzado noticed her mother’s situation had gotten worse. “Even her okay times were not okay anymore because [she] was not happy with her life. There would be very low moments where she would lock herself up in the bedroom taking downers. That would go on for days, sometimes weeks. And so we would know always at some point she would bounce back. We knew this to be the drill.”
In 2001, on a Sunday morning following a night out, Calzado woke up to screaming. “The yaya was screaming. I went down and I saw my mother. I remember screaming, ‘Kuya, help!’”
Calzado recalled the thoughts racing through her mind at the emergency room. “I didn’t realize she was actually gonna do it because there was actually a point in my life I thought it was an act. I thought it was a way for her to get attention. And then suddenly she did it.” Calzado breaks down in the video as memories of finding out her mother committed suicide came rushing back. “And then immediately... guilt comes in. It’s my fault, it’s dad’s fault, it’s kuya’s fault.... And then there was the shame. There was also shame from the Catholic Church. Her body was not allowed to be blessed in the Church that she supported.”
Calzado recalls her beginnings as an actress in 2002 and how she would avoid the truth when asked about how her mother passed away. She says she later on wanted to be a mental health advocate but didn’t know where and how to begin. “And then I became part of She Talks and I knew also I had my own healing journey. And as I was going through it together with the body love and self love, the biggest trigger for me was when I got married in December.”
Part of the wedding ceremony involved actress Sunshine Dizon giving Calzado a bracelet which belonged to her mother. Various accounts from wedding guests referred to Calzado losing her mother to cancer. “It didn’t seem that it was fair to her,” Calzado says, sharing her realization. “I feel like I speak so openly about the things that I am going through. How I am. But there’s one part I am not honest about but it’s a very crucial part of who I am. And why I’m having to go through this healing journey.”
Calzado says this was the reason she decided to finally be completely honest about her mother’s death. “Perhaps somebody will find inspiration, hope, meaning from it.”
Calzado tells ANCX before the release of the video: “I feel, right now, the biggest thing we should focus on is giving access to people who are going through [depression], access for them to get help, and the proper support group which is something my mother never had. I guess from hereon I will be more active in talking about that and in finding solutions.”
The video is the first featured story for She Talks Conversations. She Talks aims to tell those who are undergoing emotional crisis that they are not alone. For Philippine residents seeking immediate assistance, you may call these hotlines anytime. They have trained respondents who are ready to listen and assist you 24/7.
National Center for Mental Health (NCMH)
0917 558 HOPE (4673)
2919 (toll-free number for all GLOBE and TM subscribers)