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Recovery is possible

I have a twin sister. I guess it’s normal for siblings to be compared to one-another, but being genetically identical to another person means people find the comparisons even more entertaining. They’re desperate to know ‘which one’ is cleverer, taller or heavier. Which one is better. Even our teachers at school were encouraging us to compete against each other. So from a young age I was desperate to be perceived as the more attractive twin, became obsessed with my size and began skipping meals. I completely internalised the idea that my entire personality and self existed relative to my sister. I spent my entire adolescence trying to prove myself. I was spiteful about her achievements and wished failure upon her. She did the same to me. We loved each other so much but society had entered us into a vicious competition against our will, in which we were rivals. We would sabotage each other to get an advantage, though we’d never admit it. By the time we were 18 our relationship was in ruins. 

We resented each other, we couldn’t trust each other, but we were also grieving the relationship that we deserved to have that had been taken away from us by the competition. Eventually everything came out. We talked for a long time about things we both knew but had never acknowledged, and we decided to turn a new page and be honest about how we feel. I would tell her if I felt intimidated by her success at something, and vice versa. That platform of communication changed everything and we became closer than ever. But I couldn’t shake the physical comparison: the first and most obvious comparison to be drawn between us. I wanted there to be no doubt about which one was the skinny twin and, by default, which was the fat twin. 

It sounds awful writing it down, but that’s where my eating disorder was at. I became very underweight and everything I did was in fear of gaining weight. I had no friends as I couldn’t socialise – I didn’t have the energy and I didn’t want to be in a situation where I was out of control of my diet. I left my job because I was too exhausted, and I became a prisoner in my bed, drained, depressed and hungry. But I was the thin twin. It’s true that comparison can kill you. 

I was at rock bottom, physically and mentally, and I firmly believed that I couldn’t be helped. But I was incredibly lucky to be assigned a therapist who probably saved my life. She laid the foundations for my recovery. I’m now a healthy weight and I have a healthy relationship with food. I’m learning to accept myself as an individual with my own personality and my own aspirations. My adjectives don’t end in ‘-er’. I am funny and passionate and giving and determined and goofy and so many other things. My sister is funny too. She’s also sporty and trendy and bubbly. 

I want anyone reading this to know that recovery is possible. I didn’t believe it at all – I thought that I would never be truly comfortable with food or my weight. I honestly believed that for me, recovery was impossible. But I’ve restored everything that I’d deprived myself of and it’s been the most enjoyable and exciting and beautiful journey. It’s a cliche but I honestly feel like I’m stood with my hands on my hips looking at the mountain and proudly thinking ‘I climbed that’. I really want everyone to get a chance to look back at their mountain, because it’s such a beautiful view!

I’m grateful for every day I live

I just want to start by saying: To students who struggle with mental issues, I believe that keeping a gratitude journal, documenting every happy thought/action done to or from you will help. I know it’s tough… but we won’t win this battle if we don’t take action ourselves. Think positive, fill yourself with positive friends and give yourself a year to heal and don’t make rash decisions.

It all started in Secondary 3 when I got a really high leadership position in school. Given such high status, with no idea what I’m about to face, I honestly was crushed to the very bottom. I survived 1.5 years of being rejected from adults. I thought that teachers would always be there for you… but they had their own workload to care for, instead of caring for their students’ issues. I’m thankful for my friends who have seen my ugly sore eyes from long hours of crying. But the pain doesn’t not stop there. I started having anger issues because things did not go my way. Not only that, during my O’Level journey, I started having anxiety, mood swings, nervous breakdowns and depression (I searched the symptoms on the internet). 

I thought that I wasn’t good enough because I did not perform up to expectations, when I had my leadership position, it led me to think I was a failure in my academics. It wasn’t true… but looking back, maybe if only I had a trusted adult I could talk to in school, one that would hear me out and give me advice on how I should deal with growing up into adulthood, I believed I would have manage my mental health better. Also, I thought that after I finished O’Levels, I’ll be happier and carefree. Honestly, no. I’ve had nightmares of not doing well for O’s and it hurts so much. I don’t know will I get the result I worked endlessly for.

I cry every now and then, alone, and no one sees this side of me. I don’t dare to speak up too because people’s attitude and tone definitely don’t show they want to hear me out. I don’t even know how should I go and get my mental health checked because I certainly wouldn’t want my parents to know that their child is sick and this child is losing himself/herself piece by piece. I’m grateful for my family, yet I’m sorry if the situation gets out of hand and I ever commit suicide.

I’m grateful for every day I live. The pain and thoughts come and go, but I’ll stay strong.  

Every day is a new battle and victory

I cannot be too sure how it began but it feels like it has been a long time. It might have begun when I was 12 and felt the full impact of my parent’s ugly and painful divorce. Or 14 when I self-harmed for the first time because I didn’t know how to cope with parental conflict and anxiety. Or at 16, when I was sexually assaulted and did not dare to tell anyone. When depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts entered my life, I learnt how frightening, isolating, and hopeless life could feel.

Fast forward and I am 30 this year. Despite multiple hospitalisations, countless medication and psychotherapy, and several failed suicide attempts, I am still alive and that counts for something. I am capable of functioning and have had full-time jobs most of the time, which is fortunate. With the right attire and socially accepted behaviours, you cannot see the scars. Sometimes the depression gets worse, sometimes it lifts momentarily and I can go on dates, meet friends, function, plan for the future. Sometimes I lie in bed when the fog gets too heavy. Sometimes the fog is a weight I carry around and go about my daily routine.

Mental illness is not something that comes up in everyday conversations, but it should be. There were (and still are) countless days where I wished I could be honest about my experiences and not fear judgement or get passed over for an employment opportunity. Contrary to mainstream belief where only the “weak” are vulnerable, anyone can be afflicted with a mental health condition. And while resilience is often used to describe individuals who turn out well despite adversity, perhaps we can begin to see that it actually takes a lot of strength to fight another day, to survive, to just be.

I may live with depression for the rest of my life but I have been learning to cope better. Every day is a new battle and victory. I am just as human, longing for love, understanding and belonging. I am just another person on the street.

It is very treatable

Surfing the web in Singapore, where I emigrated with my family from the UK ten years ago, I never imagined I would come across a video of my primary school.

The film was shot on the last day before the school buildings were demolished, adding to the special meaning for me because, when I was a pupil there in the mid 1970s, I had a near-fatal accident at home. Afterwards, a series of very difficult family issues sowed the seeds of what I now know was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For 40+ years I suffered recurring nightmares, physical tremors, constant anxiety, sexual dysfunction and other disturbing symptoms related to the trauma. It affected my family too.

My life changed two years ago when I found a wonderful therapist in Singapore. She identified the problem and was able to help me move on. My life is so different now. Colours are brighter, I can trust and accept the love of friends and the strangest thing is no longer feeling gnawed from inside by the anxiety I could never have shaken off on my own. It’s like deep piling construction work on a building site next door finally stopped and now I can sleep and hear my thoughts and feelings again.

One of the side-effects of PTSD is amnesia – suppressed memories. Unfortunately, one of the things that has taken the longest is recovering happy memories from the period around the trauma in my life. Along with the near death experience that my mind suppressed for so long, and which I can now see with fresh eyes and leave behind, I thought I had also lost contact with the many many happy days I spent at my primary school. I write this with tears in my eyes because the video has helped me to remember the corridors and buildings where I had fun with friends. Even the sound of the children singing with a clumping piano in the background could have been recorded when I was a child. It reminds me that the time around my trauma was not all dark and it does not have to be that way ever again.

For anyone suffering pain as I carried for 40 over years, please know that you are not alone and you do not have to carry it. Trauma is a natural response to an awful situation and it is very treatable.

The loneliness is grappling

Girls are toxic, well some at least, I try to fit in but they just shut me out. They pretend that I am not there and I pretend that I do not care. But when I go home all I do is cry. Cry for the friends that I never had, cry for the memories I never shared. I cry I starve I cut I swear.

Death welcomes me with open arms, it says I will be there for you no matter what. I bury myself in books, believing that they can be my companion but soon I realise that there’s no cure. For the depression stems from neglect of human interaction.

The anxiety from trying to be perfect for everyone else and forgetting myself. I hurt people around me, without intent, for I have been hardwired to survive, not to find a companion. The loneliness is grappling especially during the holidays, where everyone has someone while I find myself here…

I was abused by my father

I was abused by my father when I was younger; it lasted until I was 16. Although I came clean about it to my parents 3 years ago, they expect me to have moved on from it. My mum especially believes it is wrong of me to still hold a grudge against my dad. It is really difficult to forgive him when he does not acknowledge that what he did was unacceptable. I’ve struggled with self harm for the past 5 years. I probably suffer from PTSD too according to a counsellor I saw but I haven’t been able to afford a professional diagnosis. I’m basically alone in my recovery from the abuse because I cannot be honest with my family members about my true feelings and struggles. 

I’m in the process of internalizing that while my past is always going to be a part of me and influence my actions and perspective, it does not define me nor does it dictate my future. The hardest part, I’m pretty much alone in my recovery. I have amazingly supportive friends but it still pains me that my family is not part of my recovery process. 

It still hurts me so deeply inside

Recently I went to visit a Chinese Medicine doctor to see if she could help me with conceiving. She came highly recommended by a friend who successfully and easily conceived with her advice. She appeared to be very knowledgeable and experienced when she spoke. 

My monthly period cycles have never been consistent since it first started, and I also revealed I had been diagnosed with schizophrenia at about the age of 24. But it was 10 years ago and I have been doing very well with medication, holding a full time job and doing well for all those 10 years.

The doctor frowned at me and struggled but in the end said that doctors like her usually advise people like me not to have children. Having children she says, is not that easy. There’s the risk of postpartum depression, not to mention all the stress from taking care of a child for so many, many years. Nevertheless, since I wanted, and since I look stable, she will give me some medicine and try to help.

What she said seemed truth but it still hurts me so deeply inside, I controlled myself till I got home, and then the torrents of tests came. Is it wrong to want children? After all, a marriage also is two people and not just me. I guess it’s time to hope beyond hope again.

Keep fighting for yourself

I grew up without a dad during my early childhood. I often thought to myself that I could never make a mistake and when I did I would “punish” myself for it. It started with rubber band flicking on my wrist and then it developed to excessive eating or starvation and then to cutting and drinking. My anxiety grew worse as my depression did. I only got help at the age of 17 and that was when I got diagnosed with severe depression, post traumatic disorder and severe anxiety. It was definitely very overwhelming for me and there were days that I would really drag myself to therapy because I kept thinking that I would never get better. 

At the age of 18 was the peak of my depression. It was the year of the most times I actually tried to end my life. I got hospitalised a couple of times and I saw the pain my family felt. I was accused for not being grateful for the life I had when it was just that I couldn’t take my own pain. Was it selfish? To an extent, maybe. Here’s the positive outtake. That same year, as much as I continuously fell down, I also kept pushing myself. Back then I won’t be able to admit that but right now, I wanted to win that battle and I did. I still get anxious now but that was because it became a habit to constantly worry. I’m handling it better now. 

So, keep fighting for yourself. Remember you deserve it and as much as you feel alone. You aren’t. Don’t end your story half way because when you overcome it, your happy ending may just help someone else.

I will get better

It’s so unfair. I have always been a hardworking student who strives to do my best to receive recognition from my family. My friends were envious of me because my parents dote on me, I have good grades and I’m outgoing but, they don’t notice what I’m going through. 

JC life wasn’t smooth sailing. I push myself to the limit, I interact less and I kept everything to myself. At the start of the year, I became depressed and suicidal. I cried myself to sleep every night, thinking about how I should be selfish for once and put myself before others. I did not tell my friends about my condition until 5 months back, when it was too late for me to get back on track. 

My results dropped, my parents found out about my condition from the school counsellor and they felt like it was just an excuse for me to slack off. I fought with my friends when they found out I self harmed. However, all of it took a turn for the better after mid-years, I failed my mid-years with an all time low. I hated myself for allowing such a thing to happen. So I sought help from my closest friend, struggled through and saw improvement in my preliminary results. I told myself I would try my best for A-levels. As A-levels is ending and I know my results will be below expectations, I know that I can always try again next year. 

I might cry, I might feel hopeless and I might hate myself, but I know that as long as I don’t stop trying, I will get better. 

Keep fighting

“What if there is a tumour growing in my brain?”
“What if someone comes into my house and murders my family?”
“Do my friends genuinely care about me or are they conspiring against me?”

These are just a few of the obsessive thoughts that OCD floods your mind with. They are irrational. They are bizarre. But they are so convincing — capable of deceiving even the most intelligent mind. And before you know it, you find yourself stuck carrying out compulsions such as counting, checking and reassurance seeking, to name a few.

I never really know how to fully describe OCD to someone who has never experienced it. To put it simply, it feels like you are a slave to a monster living in your head. You are made to do whatever the monster demands of you. Don’t even think about rationalising or negotiating with it, you’ll only end up doubting yourself further. There is always a lingering “what if”. There is never a moment of peace in your head, and you are often physically exhausted as well.

OCD is cruel. It affects the way you function daily. It goes against your values. It steals what is most precious to you — time with your family and friends, things that you used to enjoy. On bad days, I would wake up to panic attacks and obsessional fears of stepping out of my house and being near others. Time which could have been spent productively is wasted on meaningless compulsions. What used to be my hobbies, my favourite subject in school and favourite Youtube videos are now potential triggers of my OCD.

I am currently seeking professional help for my OCD and anxiety and on the road to recovery. My parents, friends and teachers have played a crucial role in my mental health journey as well — by checking on me, encouraging me and simply letting me know that they’re there for me. I am slowly learning how to manage my condition. Compared to a month ago, it is now less debilitating as I am able to better identify my obsessive thoughts and resist the urge to carry out my compulsions. I am beginning to understand this monster and gain a sense of control over myself. Although recovery is not a linear process and I still have my bad days, I will continue celebrating every small victory along the way and focusing on my progress.

Having OCD, or any other mental health condition, can be frightening and isolating. An important thing I have learned is that although nobody will ever truly understand what you’re going through, you should not let that stop you from opening up to others. You may not always find open-minded, non-judgemental people who are able to empathise with you, but never lose hope and keep reaching out. There will always be someone who is willing to offer you support. Even if they may not know how to help you, a listening ear or nice conversations during tough times can make a difference. And while you build up a support system, It is also important that you build yourself up, as ultimately, you have to fight your own battles.

To all those out there who are struggling, the valley may seem dark now, but there is always a little voice in you that tells you that you can get through this, and you’ve got to nurture that little voice. Keep fighting. I believe in you.