Oct 1978 - Apr 1979
Location : Metro-Manila, Philippines
I am not a depression therapist and I do not make claims that I can cure depression. In this blog, I simply narrate how I dealt with it back in 1979, and how I would deal with it now, being a little older, a little more knowledgeable, a little wiser...with yoga as my default practice.
Piecing the Details back Together
I had a suicidal bout of depression back in 1979 when I was still a university student, but I am writing about it now in Feb 2022. I'm thinking back, trying to piece the details together. This is an important/pivotal episode in my life that could have gone either way - come out stronger or commit suicide. Dealing with depression made me wiser and stronger. I'd like to share/recount/document this triumphant ordeal.
What is Depression?
In my experience, I will define depression as a 'feeling of sadness, withdrawal, isolation....which can lead to feelings of suicide' Yes, it's just a feeling, but a powerful feeling which alters your perception of day-to-day life, warps your perception of reality, confuses, perturbs, and worse, something too big, too powerful for you to control.
When this happened in 1979, depression was an obscure illness - not much was known about it then. Prozac was not even invented yet. It was largely misunderstood then. People suffering from depression were simply labeled loners, recluses or introverts.
Causes of Depression
Depression is a complex medical illness and many things can cause it, to name a few:
There are many causes of depression but I know how mine came about. I unwittingly induced it. One day, I just felt sad and in a perverse way, I felt good about feeling sad. I guess there is something about this self-indulgent 'drama' that feels nurturing, placating, and condoling. In short, I fed fuel to it. Instead of fighting it, I rode it like a surfboard, almost saying, "Take me where you want to take me". I milked it for everything I could. I became sadder, and sadder, and sadder, sinking into this spiraling insidious rabbit hole that felt like a surreal wonderland where the universe commiserates with you.
A Monster Came to Life
It wasn't after the 3rd week of continuous spiraling sadness when I felt something different - something frightening. From deep inside me, I felt a monster come to life and it was eating me from within. Tt was powerful and I could not control it. I was petrified. Has this pursuit of sadness made me crazy? I lost my verve, lost energy, and lost my enthusiasm. I started withdrawing from people and began to isolate myself. I managed to continue attending school, but that was it. I could hardly function. With the passing days, I sank deeper and deeper into this abyss - like drowning in quicksand...slow but sure. It came to a point where my waking moments felt like being in a nightmare - this is terribly bad because I was awake...I could no longer wake myself up from it. It didn't take long until I started feeling like ending it all - suicide. That's when I realized the problem was now too big for me to control and that I needed professional help. All this time, I never told anyone but my girlfriend. Not even my parents knew what was happening. I also didn't know what I was going through - I only knew that there was something deep that went horribly wrong.
I remember seeing a movie during this time - Rubia Servios. A rape scene left me deeply disturbed for weeks. I would not normally be affected by that movie, but the way it unbalanced me was a telltale sign of my growing weakness and vulnerability. This is also how I remember the timelines (the movie was released in Dec 1978).
A saving grace during this very difficult time was my girlfriend - Noree. She didn't know how to help me, but by simply being there for me to be with, I felt more grounded and secure. I was with her like an amputee would be with his crutch. We were both students at the University of the Philippines. Immediately after my class, I would seek her out like a lost ship in a storm looking for a lighthouse. She remained my umbilical cord to the outside world. I can't imagine what would have happened to me had I endured that episode alone.
PMHA (Philippine Mental Health Association)
Realizing I needed help, I walked inside a mental health center close to my university - the government-run PMHA (Philippine Mental Health Association). At that point, I didn't know I was suffering from depression. All I knew was that there was something horribly wrong going on with me. I went inside, told the staff that I was a student, I had no money to pay for treatment, but I needed help because I wasn't sure if I was going crazy.
PMHA accommodated me with no charges. The amiable Dr. Leyva looked after my case. I was subjected to an EEG test (Electroencephalography - a medical instrument that records electrical activity in the brain). When they read out the result, all I could remember was Dr. Leyva telling me, "You're not crazy. There is nothing organically wrong with your brain." It came as a sigh of relief to be reassured I wasn't crazy.
Dr. Leyva prescribed a bagful of pharmaceuticals, some names I still remember - Albion and Neurobion. I would practically ingest a handful of these daily. At some point, all my allowance money was going to my medication - I haven't told my parents what I was going through. Sure, the drugs stopped the loneliness but it did more than that - it stopped me from feeling my humanity. I felt empty inside - I became incapable of feeling happiness, loneliness, pressure, anger, etc. I felt like an empty shell - a lifeless zombie. I could be trapped inside a burning building and my heartbeat would not skip one beat. I would conceptualize feelings as a memory...not as a human experience anymore. I was flat-lining. It felt horrible.
An unorthodox prescription by Dr. Leyva was to enroll myself in boxing. He said there is therapy when you hit something - you release negative energy that is not doing the body good. My Dad was in touch with the boxing personalities during that time. He made arrangements for me to have a private trainer at a boxing gym near Central Market in the heart of Manila - L&M Gym, owned and run by his 2 friends, Lito Mondejar and Moi Laynes. During this time, boxing was not a fitness workout - there was no such thing yet. Boxing was a livelihood by mostly poor people who had to make a living fighting in the ring. It was a hard-knox, no non-sense, 2-fisted environment (no pretty boys there). There was no Golds Gym yet during this time. It was a long bus ride from my university to the boxing gym, but I religiously went there 3x/week to train.
My trainer was a renowned ex-fighter, David Assuncion. When I met him, he was even disappointed that his name didn't ring a bell to me (honestly, the only boxer I knew during that time was Muhammad Ali). David was patient and protective. It was obvious he was given word to 'handle me with care', with the boxing officials and promoters being business associates of my Dad. David was careful not to let me loose in the ring and be battered by veteran boxers.
The first time he let me up on the ring was after months of training already. I knew how to hit the bag. I was set up against a gym regular who was specifically instructed not to hit back. All I had to do was hit him. I thougt he was a sitting duck. But lo and behold, I could not hit him - not even once did I land a punch. He wasn't running away. He was right there in front of me, bobbing, weaving, ducking and rolling. For three rounds I was there punching into thin air! It was an epiphany as much as it was humbling for me.
The training was a hard one hour. I was getting the same training as those preparing for a fight (again, no one was going there for fitness, but to train for a fight). The workout was followed by what I would call nirvana-on-earth - another hour of boxer's massage. David would knead my muscles from head to foot for a full hour - boxer-style! After my training, I would invite him for some eats in any of the restaurants in the area. Boxing wasn't work for me - it became a passion. I loved it.
As I became stronger, I regained control. I could feel myself overpowering this monster inside me. After 6 months of training, I no longer felt the need to continue with my medication or even my boxing. I was fully restored and functional.
It should be noted that during my time with Dr. Leyva, I finally talked to my Dad about my depression and more importantly, to help me financially with my medication. It was then he took me to his own doctor (and friend), Dr. Pascasio - just for a second opinion. Dr. Pascasio diagnosed me and concluded that at that point, I was already addicted to my medication. He in turn, prescribed a new set of drugs to wean me away from my addiction.
I now began seeing Dr. Pascasio weekly which took about an hour of talk and discussion. He too was very patient and caring. I no longer went to Dr. Leyva as it would be conflicting for me to be seeing 2 doctors and not have the other know about it. I'm not even sure if I gave Dr. Leyva a fitting goodbye for all his care, dedication and attention to me. I am forever grateful to him.
Even though I was not seeing Dr. Leyva anymore, I still continued my boxing lessons until I felt strong enough to be on my own.
Is the Depression Completely Gone?
I wasn't sure if I got rid of depression entirely. But I remained strong and functional again. In the years to come, in fleeting moments of weakness, I noticed that depression, like a living being, would peek and size me up - am I too weak to be overpowered? If I am, then it will begin to dominate and take over...enslave me again as it did before.
The big difference this time is, depression is an old enemy I'm already too familiar with. The moment it peeks out, I smell it. Once I smell it, my system goes on full alert. Whatever weakness I had is replaced by newfound strength. My mind becomes alert and vigilant. My entire body, spirit, emotions and mind converge into a formidable wall. I would feel a surge of energy. Metaphorically, I would look at depression (like I would look at an enemy in the eye), and say,
At that point, depression loses the element of surprise and wise enough to go back into hibernation. The danger is over. My system is reminded that I should remain strong, alert and vigilant at ALL times because depression is an opportunistic illness that lurks underneath...it never goes away.
(Feb 2022) Since my bout of depression in 1979, there have been perhaps only 2 episodes where it attempted to come back - again, during moments of weakness, being down or being distraught. But I have always kept my body strong, my mind clear, my emotions balanced and my spirit evolving. Yoga helps me in all of that. Depression is still there, underneath, but reduced to insignificance and put back into hibernation.
The insight I come away with, is rather simple. Between 2 opposing forces in nature, the stronger force wins - that is a fact. We can say that when you are depressed and taking medication, you are the weaker force and depression is the stronger force. Solution? 2 ways:
- Weaken depression - as we strengthen ourselves, we also weaken the enemy - depression. How? In my case, depression got its strength from all the attention I gave it. What if I ignore it? This will stop it from intensifying, but it won't go away. Better, I would observe it and not react to it. Draw strength you have already built up in your Adhitthana Yoga. Medication might be needed early on, but as you build strength, and regain control, there should be lesser dependence on medication, until you are completely free of it. Obviously, I'm not a big fan of medication.
On a different note, going back in time to write this, is by itself therapeutic. I had to dig up old files, old pictures, research the internet on location, people names, etc. For the short time it took to write this, I was pleasantly transported back 43 years when I was almost a completely different person.
--- Gigit (TheLoneRider)
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