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Caregiving is a noble task

Unlike the many girls whom I dated, Doris Lau, my late wife was very down-to-earth. I found her to be sincere and caring. This was the woman who would change my life – dramatically. Doris passed away on 17th April 2014 after she was stricken with pneumonia. She died within a week that she was hospitalized in Tan Tock Seng Hospital. 

 

Undoubtedly, Good Friday has special significance to both my wife and I. Why? Because this is the most painful day of the year as we remember how Jesus suffered and was put to death for the sins of all of us.  Despite being tortured and humiliated, Jesus who displayed enormous strength was able to show compassion and forgiveness.  

 

When Doris first met Raymond: By some strange coincidence, 12th April 1974 was the day that I first met Doris. And it happened to be on Good Friday. And though it is an arduous and painful journey for me to manage my wife’s dreaded schizophrenia for 40 years, I often draw my strength and compassion from Jesus. And each time that I suffer from burnout, Jesus is always there to carry me on His shoulders. His pictures are in our home; and He is very much alive in our hearts. 

 

Doris has battled schizophrenia for forty-four years. The disease first struck Doris at the tender age of 17.  Many people find it very hard to believe that I married her despite her mental illness. In caring for Doris for four decades, I had grown to love her more and more each day. I have seen this illness ravage more than half her life and the journey, though very difficult, was so rewarding when I saw her enjoy and live life to the fullest.  

 

Seeing the ‘demons’ in her mind: During our 40 years marriage, my wife has been hospitalized in the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) ¬– Singapore’s biggest public psychiatric hospital twelve times during our 40 years’ marriage and I have witnessed all her delusions, hallucinations, depression and fears. Seeing Doris struggling with the “demons in her mind” has been extremely painful for me. 

 

My long hours at work in broadcasting saw Doris spending many days and nights all alone.  The loneliness and the isolation saw her missing out on her medications, resulting in relapses. 

 

When Doris was in a stable condition, she is a loving and kind-hearted person. But during her relapses, I become her emotional punching bag. I have taken all her emotional outbursts quietly, allowing her to scold, shout and nag at me because I fully understand how this illness torments her, how it frustrates her.

 

Over the years, I have learnt to forgive my wife as I fully understand that it is the illness, and not her.  Through my experience in caring for Doris, I have learnt to completely separate the two. Many people, including family members do not really understand the specialized care that the mentally ill need or the unremitting emotional wear and tear that caregivers have to endure every day of their lives. This illness is terrifying because it is unpredictable.  

 

The beauty from within: What struck me most about Doris was the beauty of her heart. She had also touched me with her sincerity. She taught me how to be prudent with spending, advising me not to waste money on taxis, but to travel by buses. Most certainly, she has always had my best interest at heart. This is one of the primary reasons why I took her to be my life-long partner even though I knew I would face huge obstacles during this part of my life.  

 

When the relapse comes on, the nightmare begins: Shortly afterwards my family members and I were shocked to witness the torment Doris went through when the relapse of schizophrenia reared its ugly head.  The enormous stress she went through during the run-up to our marriage took a heavy toll on my wife.  

 

Doris was eventually hospitalized at the old Woodbridge Hospital (now known as IMH) for about two weeks, and my daily visits helped a great deal in her recovery.  This is why I have always emphasized during my motivational talks or in the books I write that emotional support is vital in helping patients in their recovery. 

 

Caregiving – a noble task: I’ve always felt that caregiving is a noble task; and it must be promoted as such. Though it often takes the wind out of you, it will be such a joy when you see first-hand the smiles on their faces, their creativity and their happiness when they are in their full recovery stage. 

 

In managing a loved one with mental illness, practice the 3Ps – Patience, Perseverance and Prayer.  Not always the easiest task, but I assure you that if you can find the strength to do that – God will bless you in more ways than one as He has done for me and my wife. 

 

Today, I have authored 30 books and, in the process, I have gone on to become a motivational speaker, a songwriter, regular forum writer to the mainstream newspapers and even a TV actor.  I am also Singapore’s leading advocate for the mentally ill and volunteer my time with IMH, the Singapore Association for Mental Health and the Silver Ribbon Singapore. 

 

In producing my books, I also managed to “infect” my wife with the power of the pen. And before she died, Doris became an author of 8 successful books because she fully understood that writing is healing. 

 

Coping with the loss of my wife: It was a real struggle for me to come to terms with the sudden passing of my wife – more so when my whole world revolved around Doris. I went through situational depression for one solid year and experienced insomnia for the same troubling period. Two things helped me to come out of this difficult period: Counselling from a psychologist and the love from a Filipino girl whom I got engaged to in March this year.  

 

Many people have asked me why I willingly married Doris despite knowing of her mental illness. My answer to them is simple: “If schizophrenia and arthritis was part of the life of the woman I love, then it must surely have been part of mine too. I did not necessarily like what the illnesses did to her, but it is her that I love. And that had, and will always be, the guiding, motivating force of my life.

I will never love myself

I was insecure about my appearance from a very young age. I started to dislike how I looked and wanted to lose weight since I was in primary school and now I’m 17, in poly, nothing has changed. I still hate my body, my face and even my personality. The hate just seems to grow stronger and it feels like I will never love myself. I realised this just recently that no matter how many genuine compliments I get, I will never see myself as a beautiful person. I told some of my friends that I disliked myself and one of them simply asked ‘Why?’ but I couldn’t give a simple answer.

Fight with me

At 17, I’ve recently started getting help again at The Institute of Mental Health although I started having suicidal thoughts since I was 12. I’ve always felt left out because I’m gay and society has sort of made us seem like a disgrace. But I’ve learnt to embrace myself for who I am. I’ve been admitted 4 times into the Institute of Mental Health this year so to those who are fighting their demons as well, fight with me. Let’s not give up. I may be depressed but I’m still human

I feel like I’m suffocating

I have been feeling down for some time. I never thought I would end up this way. I was a nursing student, I loved what I was doing. I learnt about mental health and I never expected I would go down this route. I was a very confident person. I was never afraid of anything. But then it all changed. I quit school and I lost myself. 

 

It’s tough living with a drunk father. He stole my room key when I was out and barged into my room in the middle of the night when I was sleeping, screaming at the top of his voice. I was determined to kill myself that night but my friend managed to talk me out. I cut all contact from my family and avoided my father. My mother tried to ask me what was wrong but I avoided her question because she was partly the reason I got into this black hole. 

 

The constant stress, the biasness and all the scolding I got from my family for no reasons. When I finally picked up the courage to tell them my feelings, my mother could not accept it and started to compare who was going through worse problems. Why is it so hard for them to understand that I just need to be heard and understood. I could be better if she chose to accept what I said. Even if she could not accept it, she could just pretend to. All I need is to be heard. It hurts so bad when I do not have my family to support me through this stage. I feel like I’m suffocating, I have so much in me that I can not let out. It hurts so bad. I never thought I would go down this route…

The mental torture did not stop

I was diagnosed with psychotic depression in September 2012 due to the stress from a study bond that I signed back in 2009 with WDA. This bond was meant to subsidise my school fees in the animation school but it turns out that I am required to work for a period of 1 year after graduation to fulfill the bond. On top of that, the media company I was working in has very nasty colleagues. I wanted to leave the job, but they made sure I stayed to prolong my suffering. It was a tragic period for me, and I left after 4 months of working there. 

 

After I left, the mental torture did not stop. I was tormented by voices from outside of my head and the people around me threw favour at me. I was very frustrated, but I was unable to voice anything out because I was only able to speak 3 to 5 word sentences at a time. I even had demons facing all sides of me, and I was terrified because I felt the people around me were demons. Everyday was a living nightmare.

 

It was during this period that my mommy took me to get a psychological report done by a psychologist to facilitate my discharge from the WDA bond. It wasn’t an easy process. The psychologist made a statement saying that I was making use of my mother to get discharged from the WDA bond, which is absurd and never the case. If I did, I wouldn’t have come before her so stressed and distraught. Nevertheless, she helped me to arrange the psychological report to be given to WDA for review, and in August 31 2012, I was officially discharged from all the obligations of the WDA bond.

 

After I was discharged from the WDA bond, I had signs of not wanting to leave home. I would knock my head with my fist and with sharp objects such as scissors and my mobile phone. I would shout the word “Die” in both Japanese and English. This was when my mother noticed something was wrong, and she then referred me to a doctor at the Institute of Mental Health. That was when I first met Dr Diana Barron and Dr Sajith. Both of them had me admitted to the IMH hospital for observation and treatment. I was given medication called Risperidone to help bring down the voices in my head and an anti depression as well, called Fluvoxamine which helped to improve my mood. Both of these medicines helped to improve my mental stability and my mood. 2 weeks later, I was discharged from the Institute of Mental Health. 

 

I have been attending outpatient treatment by Dr Diana but she left in 2017 and Dr Sajith took over my case from 2017 to 2018. After that, I was handed over to a team of random ANDS doctors after Dr Sajith saw that I am doing very well with my daily activities especially photography and events. I believe in no obligations and zero pretences. I want to be real and real for eternity, because only by being my real self, will I then be able to relate to people well as a human being.

I attempted suicide

I started experiencing depressive moods in October of 2018. It has been non-stop ever since. Some people think depression is a feeling of constant sadness, but for me it has been both pain and emptiness. I realised that I was not like most people, as I seemed high-functioning and did not outwardly display sadness. My parents thus struggled to understand it, as to them, I was a happy teenager. In 2019, I was diagnosed with Atypical Depression. Getting a diagnosis was actually relieving for me, as I now knew that I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. 2 weeks ago, I attempted suicide, and was put on a 2 week MC. I am on the MC as I am typing this, trying to get better in order to go back to school. Depression confuses people, and honestly, it confuses me too. How could I feel so empty yet so much pain? I am still finding my way through this illness, and I now understand the stigma to a much larger extent. I realised that I would lie about the reason for my MC to avoid questions, and would play off my self-harm scars as scratches from eczema. The stigma that surrounds mental health needs to be broken, so that those who suffer from the illness can seek the support they need.

I feel extremely alone

For the longest time, I’ve had a feeling of being empty. My mum told me that I once told her that I didn’t know how to be happy, that I was incapable of being happy. This was back when I was in primary school. Honestly, I didn’t think anything was out of the norm. I even thought suicidal thoughts and making plans to kill myself was normal. Back then, many people always asked me why I smiled so much, and why I was always so happy. I sincerely believed then that if I could smile, it meant that I was happy. 

 

I didn’t realise that my thoughts were abnormal until one day when I was replying a seeker in Audible Hearts (a now defunct platform that used to be a listening ear for youths), I wrote that having suicidal thoughts was a phase, and that it would pass. I honestly thought that was true, as my mother, who I confided everything in, told me so. The site moderator told me that was not so, and that was when I first realised that something may be wrong.

 

After my first suicide attempt, my father called me crazy. My mother cried very badly at my bedside. I remember her asking the doctor how long would I need to take medication for before I got better, and if I could still sit for A-level exams. She told me to never tell people that I have depression, and I must never write it on any form. Once, I had to declare that I was on anti-depressants to my school, and she was vehemently opposed to me doing so as she didn’t want it on my school record. Now, my mother reads books on depression, and books on how to support people with depression. She’s my biggest and most dependable supporter. 

 

I am now a survivor of 2 suicide attempts and seeking help still. Even now, many people still ask how and why I smile so often and so easily. To me, it is my one constant, and most days, I am glad I am able to. 

 

I find it difficult to confide about my feelings and illness to people. Initially, they tend to empathize and will keep checking in on me, but when I feel suicidal and seek their help, I tend to lose friends. I feel extremely alone more often than not. I fall behind in my schoolwork for weeks at a time. I spend days skipping class and spending the time in my bed, watching YouTube or reading. Usually, it’s difficult to find the energy to do anything.

 

I’ve been on scholarships since primary school. I volunteer, participate in projects, organise events, hold EXCO roles, and am in several committees. Even so, I still feel empty. I hope one day I won’t.

I wish I had more guidance

I’ll be honest, it’s been a long struggle with persistent depressive disorder (PDD). I was diagnosed with PDD 2+ years ago and I thought seeking help would mean immediately getting better. But the truth is, it was really only the beginning of learning how to take my mental health in my own hands and with responsibility. 

 

With the help of my psychiatrist, I started taking medication and finally settled on a particular drug called venlafaxine. The truth about antidepressants is that it’s a double-edged sword, you can’t be sure whether it is worth it and sometimes it leaves you more broken than before. 

 

I’m surprised to have found that antidepressant withdrawals are a thing and something not to be taken likely. How I wish I had more guidance before I was given these antidepressants because they can cause more mental health issues in the aftermath coupled with physical problems. To anyone going through it, you aren’t alone. Don’t let anyone look down on you for what you’re going through. 

 

As I lay here with nausea and headaches from withdrawals, I want to share something my friend shared with me a few hours ago on the phone while listening to me cry – “You’ve gotta take it minute by minute. Your situation sucks, that’s for sure, but you can’t give up now.” The truth is, I have so many minutes more to spare with people who aren’t gonna’ give up on me.

 

To anyone reading, it’s true, your depression and anxiety may not leave anytime soon, but there’s hope in knowing that there’s still life worth living despite it. So go on, find a reason and hold onto it. There will come a time that you and I both will be able to switch from survival to truly living, minute by minute. 

 

Why can’t I control my emotions?

For the past three years, I’ve been suffering from depression and anxiety. What started out as simply academic stress became countless nervous breakdowns and panic attacks. It feels like a never-ending ride. I no longer recall what it feels like to be “normal”. I’ve shunned many people away from me and lost many opportunities. Why can’t I control my emotions? I wonder. 

 

“The greatest battles we fight, are the ones with ourselves.” It truly is isn’t it? I am fighting against the depression, against the anxiety within me, and although I haven’t won yet, I know I will someday.

I was molested by my younger brother

I was molested by my younger brother in my sleep when I was in secondary school. I can’t be sure how many times it happened. Whenever it happened, all I could think of was how to move so that he couldn’t touch me from that angle. Recently I found out that other than fight and flight, there is also a “freeze” response which greatly validated my response at that time.

 

After telling my parents, they scolded him badly but the stance was always that he was probably curious since he was still young. I agreed to some extent, but at the same time there were feelings in me which to this day I still don’t really understand. Maybe I felt violated and alone. Thereafter I continued with life pretty well albeit with some PTSD symptoms here and there. But when University came it finally reared its ugly head and I ultimately was brought to see a professional.

 

The 3 years of recovery was a step by step climb out of harmful coping mechanisms and relearning how to love myself. But it is 100% worth it. I am proud to say I graduated and am holding a full time job and giving back to my family. I have completely put the trauma behind me. Everyone is on good terms and I have forgiven my brother, even though I’m not sure if he remembers what he did.

 

To everyone out here who struggles, I just want to say it is really possible to recover, but it takes hard work. Things happen to us, it’s not our fault. I learned that it is our responsibility to try because it’s our life. If we are strong enough to have made it through the trauma we are strong enough to recover. I wish you the loveliest of days ahead.