Tag

faith - Singapore Mental Health Film Festival

The way I walk is different

When I was born, my leg got stuck in my head, it was some unnatural birth problem and they had to cut off a bit of the skin to detach it. My foot became curved over the years, but I’ve grown accustomed to it. When I was younger, I went through quite a lot of surgeries but they haven’t helped at all, it has only cost me pain and money. 

 

Because the surgery’s target is to make my foot curve but somehow after every operation, it will go back to its original form and it kind of hurts me knowing that there’s no cure! With surgeries comes scars and there’s a long scar at the back of my leg. Up till today, I’m still not fond of it and I often avoid short pants when going out because people will look at me differently. 

 

The way I walk is different too. I call my walking style ‘penguin’ because a lot of my close friends have said so too. Socialising with people is difficult because whenever I leave the house, I get anxiety due to the situation with my leg. I always wonder if I deserve to hang out with my friends because I’m different. This thought has been with me for the longest time. 

 

My family always tell me to wear short pants but I always refuse to. Sometimes I even get scolded and that is because they don’t know how I really feel! So for my whole life, I have been wearing long pants (ignoring the primary/sec school times where I must wear shorts, in fact, that was one of the worst times in my life…. Because my class is always standing at the very front, the whole school will see my leg…. And my anxiety was very severe back then but I’m lucky I gone through it). I only wear short pants around my neighbourhood, but when I’m in school or with classmates or friends, I’m really scared.

 

One of the biggest miracles in my whole life was back in 2013. My leg’s pain was so intense I had to drag myself to school. There were times when I cried too. I decided to tell my family that I had to have an operation again, no matter what happens. So we went to the hospital, the doctors explained that they were going to operate near my veins and the chances of hitting it was very high which could mean paralysis and being wheelchair bound for life. 

 

The doctor was not confident of the operation. But somehow, I was adamant about it even though I knew the risks. Many people asked me not to do it, including my close friends and teachers but I still went ahead. 

 

The operation day came and it was time for my fate to be decided. Throughout the whole thing, I smiled through and when I woke up, it was a success! I didn’t know they put 5 metal rods until a few months later and they had to pull it out while I was awake. It was horrible. So that really impacted my whole life!! Part of me still feels insecure.

 

I always thought I would be like that forever, not until I realised the true friends around me and most importantly God telling me to love myself and not care about the world! Through the years, instead of hating my leg, I begin to call it a blessing in disguise and love my leg even though I still fear it! I feel like my leg’s scars are a testimony that I’m a strong man that went through a lot of things. It’s a thing that allows me to be me! I’ve met friends who sincerely cared about me as well, they always take special attention towards me and are always motivating me. Teachers are also supportive of me which helped me a lot. I grew an interest in film and I thought I couldn’t make it because of my leg but here I am, studying film and even working in the film industry already!

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.

Caregivers are just as important

“One more day, just one more day!” – is what I tell myself when I’m ready to give up and want to take my life. ”Lord, please STOP the pain”, was my daily plea. The intense emotional pain, anguish was brought about from PTSD, which caused clinical depression for the next 3.5-4 years. This was a result of various factors, but chiefly triggered from caregiver burnout and guilt whilst tending to my mom’s sudden sickness till she passed on within a span of 6 months on a Good Friday! Relationships with family, friends, church ministry, work suddenly were all breaking down. The societal stigma towards mental health did not help.   I was so severely depressed, I gave up hope, and became suicidal. But somewhere, during the sickness, I felt God ‘tell me’ that I am to use this experience to help others with similar conditions.

 

By God’s grace, I was completely off all the anti-psychotic and anti-depressants in April of 2018. I still have intermittent mini-flashbacks but it’s manageable now.

 

Here are but some key tips for recovery:

  1. Be kind to yourself.
  2. Do something you have always wanted to do but have not tried.  A new sport, a new hobby?
  3. Get some sun.
  4. Join a support group – you are not alone.
  5. Identity – know your values, interests, temperament & life goal/mission. Re-discover your purpose! 

 

I would like to help break this stigma, to tell anyone out there, that there is hope, recovery is possible. And that caregivers are just as important as those who are suffering. 

Stay, you are needed

I was recently diagnosed with clinical depression, anxiety and OCD. I am still learning to slowly accept my diagnosis because when the doctor said I have these illnesses, it was a confirmation of my deepest fears yet a sense of relief and consolation that what I’m feeling is real. 

 

I grew up in a messed up home where my parents were either not home at all or when they’re home, they would verbally and physically abuse me. They are really successful perfectionists so they expect perfection from me as well. If I don’t live up to their standards, I know I would be in deep trouble. 

 

I didn’t think much of all the abuse that was happening because I thought it was normal. I only came to a realization when I entered a local school where teachers questioned beating marks on my body. This happened throughout middle and high school. I hated myself and I wanted to die. 

 

In the 21 years of my life, I have attempted suicide 3 times, all unsuccessful. I felt worthless and a burden to everyone around me. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be at church because people at that particular church were judgmental and topics about mental illnesses and suicide were all avoided. I felt all alone in this world because I had no one to talk to about feeling down. I lost all my faith in God and I stopped going to church. 

 

Around 2 years ago, a friend of mine invited me to her church near my house. I am so glad I went and got to know the people there. They were so loving and friendly, and they were the family I never had. I found people that have helped me realize that it’s okay not to be okay and that it’s okay to feel my emotions, and not bury them. 

 

I am also very grateful and thankful for the guidance of my therapist and psychiatrist for helping through rough times when I felt like I couldn’t go on, and for bearing with me when I have outbursts in sessions. 

 

Today, I am still in the process of learning how to love and be kind to myself. Even though I am still going through a dark time, I am glad to have people that listen. Their very presence brings comfort to my hurting soul. To those who feel alone, please know that you’re not alone. I am here, please do not give up, I am living proof that you can survive this. Stay, you are needed.