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counselling - Singapore Mental Health Film Festival

There are other people out there who care for me

After my Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) in 2015, my mother had a seizure when I was alone at home with her. Everything went downhill for me because that’s when I realised that I am afraid of people leaving me. This fear inside me, it feels as though part of my heart is torn apart. I didn’t dare to tell anyone about it because I thought that people would judge me for thinking that way. Till this day, I’ve been having nightmares of the whole incident as it keeps on replaying and replaying again. And that got me thinking, maybe if i were to end my life, I wouldn’t be in so much pain at all. Another reason why I didn’t want to tell them about my thoughts was because I would just be sent to counselling and that was it. But thanks to my school friends and teacher, who were all super understanding, after sharing my problems with my teacher, neither did she give me a pity speech nor send me to the counsellor. She placed her hand on my shoulder and said that she’ll always be there for me whenever I need help or someone to talk to. She made me feel that there are other people out there who care for me and love me for the way I am. And that’s what I’m super grateful for.

I’ve chosen to acknowledge my anxiety, my fears, my anger.

I’ve always had a pessimistic outlook in life ever since I was a teen due to my family circumstances. My father was plagued by various addictions and depression followed him and my mum.

The negative thoughts and feelings I had became worse and was at the peak last year when I experienced anxiety attacks for a week and thereafter regular meltdowns that comprised of screaming, crying and punching my fists into the wall.

I was shaken but not surprised since mental illness is a part of my family history. My grandparents, my parents and my sibling have been sucked up in the cycle of depression, never able to escape it.

It seems inevitable that I myself will never be able to break the cycle of depression but there is something that has set me apart from my family. While they have been in constant denial of the mental issues they face and have refused to seek help, I’ve chosen to acknowledge my anxiety, my fears, my anger. I’ve taken the step to share it with my husband and my closest friends. And I promised them that I will seek help from a counsellor.

I want to live even if it’s so painful

Break ups can be painful, had been painful. Especially for a person like me who grew so attached to someone else that I wasn’t even yet married to and saw him literally as my world and only affirmer before. It was toxic I know, toxic love because I just didn’t know how to love myself enough to love another person without drowning in my own insecurities and doubts.

When we broke up, I was happy at first. For a month I felt I have released my own chains and his. But the nightmare came after – for a total of 3 plus years I endured constant flashbacks and rumination on ‘what ifs’ and anxiety heightening whenever he was nearby (even in the midst of a crowd).

The first 3 months was pleading and relentless chasing to get back the lost attachment figure whom I thought would never leave me. I was also in therapy at that time, and stressors prior to the breakup already included confronting childhood abuse, family violence, and possible addictive behaviours. Didn’t actually need one more event to push me over tipping point and consider all ways of suicide, so yeah… OD and starvation were my least painful choices that I also wanted to use in front of my ex-boyfriend with an elaborate plan – shan’t elaborate.

I then told my counsellor that I was too mad at God after I heard that He abhors suicide. I wanted to force my ex-boyfriend to care for me and take me back by silent lethal protests. My counsellor however, did not waiver and told me she will have to ward me at NUH if I can’t contract to keep safe. I thank her for her firmness to this day because if I attempted anything more deadly then, I will likely not be able to meet my present fiancé, a wonderful God-fearing man that aligned with my prayers.

Afterwards it was a tough journey to learn how to self-sooth and depend solely on God and my eventual promise to Him that I will continue living only because of Him and his love for me. The toughest part was not being able to really share with anyone my loss and loneliness – I wanted to protect my family from my meltdown, and I completely got off social media. I did call Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) once, and I remember it to this day – a concerned Indian lady listener – appreciate her listening ear.

God is sovereign and good and He never lets me or you down if we continue to have faith. And for that alone, I find myself having the courage again to keep on living. Because of that promise to live for someone other than myself, I was saved. I then came to know how to say ‘I want to live even if it’s so painful’.

If you are in doubt and thinking of suicide or harming yourself, allow this post to be your #hopethroughthenight. Believe in the ability of time and kind persons to come into your life and do not give up on the possibility of being able to heal, or if not, be capable of managing your own turmoils with renewed strength.

Allow this year’s #SuicidePreventionWeek be a powerful instrument to spread vivid memories and advice from those who care and want to share.

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 learnt how to be vulnerable

In my secondary school days, I struggled with low self esteem. I would always beat myself up over my perceived failures; in hindsight, it was an impossible drive for perfection. Coupled with a tendency to internalise my feelings, I found myself turning to self harm to cope with my self-hatred. 

 

It started as a way to punish myself for my inadequacies and not doing things ‘right’. Soon, it became a habit. I self harmed more and more frequently, and the urges were strongest when I felt stressed, anxious and overwhelmed. 

 

Self harm was my coping mechanism; frankly, it brought me relief and was an outlet for all the feelings I keep inside of me. However, I always knew it was wrong and not socially accepted, but because of how useful it was in helping me cope (maladaptively) and its habitual nature, I could not and did not want to stop self harming. 

 

I told no one about this for 3 years and no one knew. On the surface, I was a good student who had my life together, but deep deep down I was craving to just talk to someone about everything that is going on. I could not go on like this. 

 

Eventually, I realised that the help I needed won’t always be as accessible and affordable as that in school. So I plucked up the courage to seek counselling. It was one of the hardest but best decisions I ever made. 

 

I learnt how to be vulnerable with others, how not to let my feelings destroy me and how important it is to talk and express my feelings. I also understood that people need people. 

 

Today, I still struggle with self harm urges every now and then, but I am in a much better place and I’m coping in healthier, more fulfilling ways. 

 

There truly is light at the end of the tunnel, don’t be afraid to seek the help you deserve.

I am now passing the help on

I was diagnosed with major depression and generalized anxiety at 17. With medication, a counsellor and a caring psychiatrist, I am now passing the help and hope on in my work as a clinical psychologist. This is an amazing initiative, and I salute fellow mental health warriors.

I knew I needed help

It all began when puberty struck me and sensitivity crept into my life. In Primary school, my sensitivity got a hold of me and I started to break down almost everyday. The thought of self-harm came to mind because of how people made fun of me. There were times when I was completely normal, and times where I would become a maniac and start slashing my arm.

During Secondary school, one self-harm attempt led me to the Institute of Mental Health. It was really scary, but I knew I needed help.

I couldn’t possibly let my schoolmates see my “drama”, and my parents (my mum) be so worried about me. It also struck me how my relatives reacted to my self-harming. Especially my father who blamed me for choosing to let all this happen and also for believing in my religion.

I cannot possibly hide this matter any longer, so I’m thankful for my school counselors, teachers, church mates and my mum and relatives for truly understanding my situation; encouraging and guiding me along as I chose to seek professional help.  

So to my fellow students that are also struggling, please speak up for yourself and get professional help. It would really benefit you and help bring you back to who you truly are.