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Personal Stories

Break the cycle

Something that no one sharing about mental health wants to talk about is how isolating it can be. They try to make it feel as though there is always going to be someone to watch over you, that a support network is amazing and comes naturally. Except, in the reality of some, like myself, it is not.

Most of your friends are not going to understand what you are going through. No matter how much you open up, how much you try to help them visualise it, it always ends in a similar way. They would not know better about how to help you.

Seeking your friends’ help is sometimes like when you are drowning in a deep pit, and all they can do at the mouth of the pit is shout down and ask “Are you Okay?” Sometimes, all they would think of you as quirky. You know, that one friend who is sometimes high, sometimes low; that one friend who can be a bit of a drag; that one friend who has suicidal thoughts sometimes.

The more you talk about your mental health, the more it seems that you have lost your marbles, because no one else feels that way. No friend wants to see you struggle, but the stigma and barriers of mental health make it so that it is so hard for them to help you. Even the ones who try always have hits and misses. Even the one who care the most have to keep struggling with you, because depression is never constant. Some days are good, and some days are really trying. The people who love you most can hurt you the most too.

My parents did not understand what I meant when I said that I have depressive episodes. They told me to get over myself and stop being so drama. I want to stop too, but it is not as simple as a flick of a switch. Sometimes that is the best they can do, because after all, they are as clueless as you. When I finally found someone who understood, I broke down in tears. I was almost incomprehensive. I was sobbing all over her. All my bottled up frustration and sadness spilled out all at once, because here was someone who understood where I was coming from. Then, almost immediately, I was reluctant to talk to her about my depression again.

It breaks my heart every time I see her because I know she is as burdened as I am. She has to bear my struggles along with her own. My head used that as fuel for the growing fire, and I hated myself more because I was abusing her with such burdens that she clearly did not sign up for. That is why mental health can be so isolating. The stigmas we have built over the years and the internalised barriers makes opening up about our struggles so hard. It constantly makes us think that we are weak because we rely on others to help us.

Even going to see a counsellor has made me feel worthless, because I cannot even stand on my own two feet without someone nursing me – Seeking help made me feel weak, not stronger. Depression has been criminalised in so many ways, that even admitting that I have it makes me feel dirty and broken.

I am always a wall away from my friends because just the act of being around them makes me think that they would get it from me too, that I would drag them down with me. Therefore, I should forever suffer alone.

It has taken me so many years to finally accept my mental health. It took me longer to find a good support structure that I can rely on. It has made me reflect on how we as a society can do better for our friends and peers who may face these struggles of not being in the norm.

I ask of you, dear reader: Break the cycle. Create supportive environments. Encourage either yourself or someone you know to seek help. Be a good supportive friend. Listen attentively, not just listen and judge them. It is the least we can do to make our friends feel safe about being human.

I’ve been really worried for her mental health

Ever since my grandfather passed away 3 years ago, my grandmother has found it very hard to adjust to her life without him. She’s 88 this year, lives alone and needs to get around in a wheelchair. You could say that she’s your typical old person; stuck in her ways and hard to please but aren’t we all a little bit like that too?

I’ve been really worried for her mental health lately, she seems to be filled with sadness and might even be depressed. What happens after you’ve given your entire life to raising your family but at the end of it you’re left alone because everyone’s “too busy”? Family dynamics aside, I find it hard to talk to my aunties and uncles about mental health because they have no idea what it is beyond labelling someone as “siao”. I don’t have the right vocabulary to explain it either, not all of them speak English.

I’m afraid that if they don’t address it soon, dementia might set it and my grandmother’s physical health will suffer too.

Strength to stand back up again

I was 15. My parents were scheduled to meet with my high school principal the next morning. They were going to receive the news that I’d be repeating another year at school. I remember that night very clearly, as I traced lines on my wrist with a penknife. I didn’t sleep a wink, and left farewell messages on my friends’ voicemail. I was ready to pull the plug and let the blood drip out of my body, but I feared the pain and the long process it’d take before I met death.

Hours passed while I went back and forth about taking my life. I feared the pain. Eventually, the time came to leave for school, and I had to leave that penknife on my desk and hope that the mental pain that I was about to endure wasn’t going to be worse than the physical pain that I was afraid of. The news was delivered, and everything that happened after was a blur. I don’t remember how or when my parents left the school compound, but I remember being pulled aside by one of my teachers. She was the only one who asked me how I was doing, and how could she support me.

At that age, and with my given school record, no adult or friend had ever asked me that question with so much patience, love, compassion and empathy. The flood gates opened and I confided in her that I had almost taken my life the night before. She held my hands and looked at me in the eye and said, “Promise me, that you will never do something like that ever again.” I looked at her and remember seeing so much hope and love, her kindness made me believe that I’ll somehow find the strength and courage to walk out of the darkness with grace. I gave her my word.

And because of that incident, I got through high school in one piece – though incidents later on in my life would take me in other directions down the deep end again, but that teacher saved my life. She was there to support me – a troubled 15 year old. She gave me the strength to stand back up again.