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family

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.

Please hold on

At the age of 12, I was so suicidal because of my family and class situation. Then at the age of 15 I finally got help at the Institute of Mental Health but I was so scared that it would affect my career. I stopped going there which was kind of stupid when I think back about it. Then at age 16 which was my first year in applied food science at ITE, my suicidal thoughts got so bad and my cutting got deeper. I got help again and this time I got admitted to the ward. 

 

I thought things were starting to get better but it did not and the medication just kept increasing. Also being gay (which I dare not tell my parents) I felt really left out. It’s as though I am not allowed to be who I am but to be honest I stopped caring about it. I really wanted to get better so I started opening up to my psychiatrist and psychologist which sort of helped but I am still very suicidal. 

 

My point here is to tell any teen or any age group that is never too late to get help, the faster you reach out the faster you could recover although it might take years and many breakdowns it will be worth it. 

 

I know many people have told you it is going to be okay so many times, I want you to know that there are some days that are going to be very hard but you are worth it, every single life counts. 

 

Having depression is like being colourblind so try to find colour in life. Everyone loves you, even I do so please hold on.

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…

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.

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. 

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’ve had to wear a mask

In the past I’ve had to wear a mask when I talk to people. Meaning I’ve had to say the opposite of what I’ve felt instead of how I really feel about the situation. For example, when I worked in my previous media job, my colleagues require me to say I am coping well, when in actual fact, I don’t like the job and am suffering in it.

 

It was after 4 months when I told my SPD social worker I wanted to leave with immediate effect, so they arranged for me to leave work. But the stress there has taken a toll on me and I haven’t been able to be real in front of my family members as well.

 

I went to seek treatment at the hospital. Now after medication, the doctor has helped me by teaching me how to be myself. My family members have also encouraged me to take off my mask and say what I really feel or think about the problems that I have.

 

My relatives and friends also encourage me to do the things that make me happy, and they also remind me that I do not owe anyone a living.

 

With the support of people who care for me, I am now better able to be myself and I do not have to wear a mask in front of people anymore.

Don’t feel ashamed

To all those who are struggling with any form of mental illness, you are not alone. There is someone out there that cares for you. As someone who has depression, 2018 wasn’t a great year for me. Friends burning bridges and having a dysfunctional family didn’t help with the situation. Trying to make ends meet financially and juggling between education and work. In the pool of despair, sometimes you may feel like you should stop struggling and let it consume you.  

 

There were days where getting out of bed takes everything out of me. Nights where suicide is all I ever think about. Times where the only form of relieve was with a Swiss army knife and cutting myself to let the physical pain numb the mental agony that I am going through. 

 

Life is too short to stop trying. It is not wrong to seek for professional help. Don’t feel ashamed. I am thankful that my counselor and therapist for not giving up on me. I am thankful that right now I have friends who can provide me with mental support. Even though I am still struggling, at least now I know there is still hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel. 

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.

This feeling was all-consuming and terrifying

I’ve been struggling with my mental health since I was around 13 years old. I wrote off the newfound anxiety, loss of interest, and lower energy levels, as a teenage phase. Likewise, so did the adults around me.  When the feelings I felt didn’t go away, but worsened with age to the point where I started to refused to go to school, I knew I had to see someone about it. 

 

Feeling afraid of stigmatisation in public healthcare settings, I pleaded to consult a private psychiatrist. No recommendations, no referrals – just the power of the internet and the sheer fear of letting anyone know that I was actually seeking help for something of a psychological nature. In first seeing a psychiatrist, I didn’t feel comfortable revealing too much of my personal history – so I mentioned only recent, severe symptoms I was experiencing at a particular point in time. The specialist I saw didn’t have the best bedside manner, and asked me (in retrospect to other specialists and psychologists I’ve consulted since then) barely any questions. He diagnosed me with “some sort of mood disorder” and sent me on my way with the lowest dose of antidepressants. After taking the medication for a month, and not “feeling” much worse, my family and I decided that I would stop medication. 

 

I didn’t know at the time, that symptoms of mental health could also manifest in interpersonal relationships, and one’s intrapersonal understanding of oneself. These were issues I had had at the time, that I concluded, again, were situational, and not reflective of any psychological issue I might have. 

 

As I continued on with my life, I noticed certain patterns of behaviour that continued to happen, year after year, and feelings that would follow it. I also became more aware of my rapid fluctuations in mood, according to people around me. Finally, one day, several major stressors in my life overlapped, and I couldn’t see a point in me being alive anymore. 

 

This feeling was all-consuming and terrifying – it made me feel like my entire life before was non-existent. I had breakdown after breakdown after breakdown, until finally, I planned to take my life, and began to type goodbye messages to important people in my life. Luckily, they realised what was happening, and I realised I was a danger to myself. 

 

I was living on my university campus at the time, and I informed the staff in charge. I was promptly escorted to the hospital – a humiliating, but humbling experience. I realised something was really, really wrong with me. And so I decided, finally, with advising from the hospital as well, to seek out a psychiatrist. 

 

This time, I was given a thorough review – I only regret that my first positive experience with a psychiatrist did not happen in Singapore, but overseas. I was told that I had some symptoms of borderline personality disorder. I was shocked, and terrified – but I was also reassured that this wasn’t a full diagnosis. While anxious about this unofficial diagnosis, I was also relieved – as I searched more about the disorder, which was the first time I had been introduced to it, I identified more and more with it. With that in mind, I sought to seek the advised treatment, dialectical behaviour therapy, but once more, did not seek it immediately. 

 

Instead, I underwent a variety of other, new stressors, but reassured with the option of therapy in sight, thought I would be able to “handle” it on my own. I did seek therapy, but once I began to, I still refused to see it as regularly advised by my therapist. And once I began therapy, another, altogether highly terrifying symptom of BPD started to manifest in my life – dissociation. It was then that I entered a deeply emotionally draining state, and decided that I would need to continue more intensive treatment back in Singapore. 

 

Mustering the courage to break the news to my family felt like the worst shame in the world. And upon returning, it has been a long and arduous journey that is only just beginning, in finding psychiatrists and therapists that I’m comfortable with. I’ve met the stigma of revealing my “unofficial” diagnosis, and it makes seeking help even more of a struggle than it already is, especially since awareness of it among public health professionals in Singapore is truly lacking. 

 

I hope as I continue my psychological battles, that I can help to shed light on mental health issues and reduce the stigma of psychological suffering here.