I struggled with terrible depression in the mid 1980s after suffering a major traumatic attack. I was then training in Yaw Yan Filipino martial arts in Cubao, training with a heavy bag made of coconut trunk, when the trauma happened. I can’t explain it in detail now but suffice it to say it shocked me. The effect lasted from 6 pm to 10 pm. But after I was brought to a hospital the trauma stopped.
I thought it was over, but the days that followed were worse. I suffered depression, the kind that I call Elijahic. I lost hope in life and felt like I was going to die any day soon. I was thinking—I was hospitalized despite my being a health buff. What kind of life was that? I guess being hospitalized can be depressing, especially if the hospital puts a lot of negative thoughts in your mind. Some doctors are experts at suggesting how worse your condition is when actually it isn’t. They scare you to death so you’d agree on confinement.
So, I felt I had some kind of wasting disease and felt weakened by it, sometimes even struggling to breathe, resulting to repeated hospitalizations that doctors couldn’t explain. I had all tests—they were all negative—but still I felt like dying.
The 5 PM Syndrome
Then I started developing the “5 pm syndrome.” Everyday I felt weak and sick but each afternoon at 5 pm I felt worst. My breathing started to struggle like I was running out of breath; I felt weak, dizzy, cold and nervous; my heart started pounding. It felt like death was just around the corner waiting. My dad tried to act like everything was normal, perhaps to keep me from panicking further, but I could see in his eyes that he was beginning to worry. He said so in his diary which one day I was able to read.
But on Saturdays when my niece and nephew, both of them still kids then, were around for a weekend vacation from Caloocan City, I felt strangely normal. No 5-pm syndrome. While they weren’t around yet, around 3 to 4 pm, I felt the syndrome collecting inside me and gathering for an attack. But the moment my niece and nephew arrived, the syndrome stopped progressing and disappeared.
I enjoyed watching them happily play around the house. I felt hope. I felt refreshed. I guess I saw new life seeing them like that. And even in bed at night I felt okay knowing they were around.
But there were Saturdays when my niece and nephew didn’t come and I would miss them and feel depressed even if my parents, siblings and other nephews and nieces were around. Strange. And the depression lasted until the wee hours of the night and sometimes deprived me of sleep. I’d struggle the whole time trying to breathe and felt so weak and almost dying.
Elijah Suffered Somewhat the Same Thing
Unfortunately, I didn’t understand what was happening to me so it went on for years. Imagine being like that, feeling like dying day after day, week after week, month after month and year in and year out. And the wonder of it all was that before this bouts of depression, I’d been serving God victoriously in church for years. I was active in all major ministries even if I was just a college student. I was the epitome of faithfulness, so to say. So why all this?
It was something like what the prophet Elijah must’ve felt when, after serving God by defeating the false prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel, he felt suddenly weak and giving up and wished he were dead. He suffered depression right after victory. We felt almost the same thing, the only difference was that I felt like I was dying and he wished he were dead—though he feared being killed by Jezebel.
God didn’t treat his depression by entertaining it. God seemed to ignore the prophet’s depression and put him right back on track after Elijah had rested and eaten. In my case, I finally understood what I was going through with the help of a young medical doctor and then I tried to ignore the depression by doing a routine a normal, healthy person would do—think positively, find something happy to do, exercise, eat right and perk up my hope in life. Doctor’s advice.
God Healed Me
I was back to the normal flow of life and managed to leave our house and start going out to make money, but not without difficulties. It was a struggle going out of the house and being alone out there. However, after a while, I found that being with other people and seeing other places kept my mind busy and away from depressing thoughts. Soon, I became a news correspondence. I found myself going to government offices and agencies and cause-oriented groups interviewing people and composing news articles and features. Soon, I was also back in ministry.
At times I looked back to the years when I suffered depression and was confined to a small, dark corner in my room suffering what I thought were throes of death. I’d smile and look afar, thanking God that he helped me overcome it all. I believe it was God who directed me and gave hints about what I should do.
I sometimes have short bouts of depression and anxiety now and then, but I easily recognize them and know exactly what to do. When I seem to feel uneasy, physically weak, dizzy, cold, sick and with some difficulty breathing—and I know for certain my recent medical tests were okay—I know at once that depression is setting in. I counter it with meditations of God’s Word, prayer and approaching the throne of God’s grace with confidence. I stay with God.
You May be Suffering Depression without Knowing It
I’ve seen some people suffer depression and anxiety without realizing it. They think they’re physically sick with something and they can’t understand what they’re going through. I try to help them out by listening to their woes, looking positive, praying for them and helping them smile or laugh a bit. Often, I remind them to start being less busy, especially being aimlessly busy, and keep things simple, light and happy.