Climbing out of the 'deep dark hole': How one woman found purpose in battling depression

Tarra Quismundo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 24 2017 04:41 PM

Janneke Agustin (middle) leads participants in a seminar on mindfulness, a practice she credits for helping her manage depression.  Contributed photo

MANILA - It came all too sudden.

Sometime in 2010, Janneke Agustin, an artist and volunteer who had thrived in advocacy work and who constantly sought to make a difference, found herself struggling to get out of bed, questioning why she was still alive.

“I was trying to figure out what was happening to me because I went to that space when I didn’t like my life anymore,” Agustin, 39, said.

“I just suddenly saw myself in that place and asked, do I like myself? If I could just rot in my room, just not move, just lie there,” said the former theater artist.

Agustin had always been driven to find meaningful advocacy work. At the time, she had just finished a volunteer stint in a failed presidential campaign and was looking for a fresh venture.

Taking part in an international conference among young cultural creatives, Agustin did not expect to confront “the huge gap between who I could be and who I was.”

At that point, the abysmal feeling crept in.

“I imagined myself as a balloon in that you’re so inflated with yourself—what you’re doing, your achievements—but inside, there’s nothing. You’re hollow,” Agustin told ABS-CBN News in an interview. 

Then it hit her. She had fallen into that “deep dark hole,” and it had a name most still would rather not speak of: depression.

“I started finding out what’s happening to me. If I checked all symptoms of depression, that was me. It’s a good thing I did not like harming myself, or else I would have,” said Agustin, who was 32 when it hit.

On her own, she found out she had a “textbook case” of depression and traced it back to what she experienced in her youth: physical and verbal abuse as a child, bullying, and “control issues” at home.

“It didn’t help that I was quite the perfectionist,” she said.

“I had phases when all I did was sleep. And not just for weeks, but for months. And you’re not just wallowing, you don’t have the energy. I really lost that sense of purpose,” she said.

She knew what was wrong. But, afflicted at a time when stigma was high and public awareness was low on mental health problems, she opted to help herself and find ways to heal.

"At the time, it was still weird,” said Agustin. Indeed, it was an illness that some still think is fake, like someone just acting out.

“You even have to look it up for yourself. So I went through self-help,” she said.

Agustin embraced the feeling. She learned to understand it and was determined to heal herself.

“I eventually learned to swim and surf the tide…but [it’s] still fluctuating. Only recently have I been better able to ‘manage’ depression and anxiety,” she said.

FINDING PURPOSE 

Somehow, it was in battling the illness that Agustin found purpose anew.

Being among those suffering from depressive disorders—3.3 million Filipinos based on Department of Health estimates—she wanted to help others climb out of the dark hole.

In 2011, Agustin started sharing her experience with others. She called her initiative Conscious Heart Creations, an advocacy that brought together her love for the arts and her mission to help those experiencing depression and other mood disorders.

“It's me finding healing and empowerment for myself and then sharing it with others,” Agustin said, whose program includes music and art therapy, and other mindful practices such as deep breathing and meditation.

With the support of other “collaborators,” Agustin partners with various organizations to provide training on mental health care. Her wellness training focuses on mindfulness, a proven way to quiet the mind, reduce stress and help ease symptoms of depressive disorders.

In 2016, Agustin received certification as a facilitator in mindfulness-based wellness for stress reduction training. She currently works with the FriendlyCare Clinic, which offers affordable health services to Filipinos who can't access costly medical
insurance.

Having experienced depression herself gives Agustin a unique perspective in providing support to others just starting their journey to overcome.

“I think that having gone through depression and anxiety gave me a grasp and a better handle of the process, [but this is] not to say that depression or anxiety is the same for everybody, there will be nuances depending on our coping mechanisms and other factors,” Agustin said.

“The experience definitely allows empathy to arise in one who has suffered some form of mental unhealth or illness or mood disorders. I guess because I was awake to my process—what was happening, and trying to find answers and trying to somehow find a ‘cure’ or at least ways to cope—I am able to recognize the same in others,” she said.

She still has her bad days, but Agustin has learned to make depression an ally, not an enemy.

“I still go through waves, and I don’t resist because the more you resist, it’s like you're digging a deeper hole,” she said.

“I realize that sometimes, when I just want to stay in bed, it (the condition) just wants me to take a break after months of exhausting work,” she said.

To those experiencing signs of depression, Agustin said they should immediately seek help and support.

“Find people you can trust and share with them what’s happening. Do not keep it to yourself, especially if you’re not able to manage it or not able to cope. There are many ways to manage it. Find what works best for you,” she said.

Agustin cited several modes of therapy available to those experiencing depressive disorders, including consulting with psychologists and psychiatrists, and mindfulness-based treatment, which she credits in helping her manage her condition.

“If you need it, don’t hesitate to get the help you need…One’s well-being shouldn’t be compromised for other ‘priorities.’ Our health and well-being should be the main priority to get us to where we want to go or be in life,” she said.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: 

A group in the Philippines is dedicated to addressing those who have suicidal tendencies. The crisis hotlines of the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation aim to make these individuals feel that someone is ready to listen to them.

These are their hotline numbers:

Information and Crisis Intervention Center
(02) 804-HOPE (4673)
0917-558-HOPE (4673) or (632) 211-4550
0917-852-HOPE (4673) or (632) 964-6876
0917-842-HOPE (4673) or (632) 964-4084

In Touch Crisis Lines:
0917-572-HOPE or (632) 211-1305
(02) 893-7606 (24/7)
(02) 893-7603 (Mon-Fri, 9 am-5 pm)
Globe (63917) 800.1123 or (632) 506.7314
Sun (63922) 893.8944 or (632) 346.8776