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psychosis - Singapore Mental Health Film Festival

Never give up

I have been suffering from Severe Depression, Borderline Personality Disorder and Trichotillomania since I was 11 years old. I envy my friends when they are able to tie their hair so nicely in different types of styles and also let it down without being self conscious like I do.

 

I have a lot of friends, I am very sociable but also extremely introverted. I have come to realise that I am that person that’s actually alone, surrounded with people that I am familiar with. Even at home. It’s not until I met a close friend that I’m comfortable with, only she knows the real me. 

 

She would try to stop me from plucking my hair when I am unconscious or doing it out of anxiety even though I would get angry at her after that. I guess, it’s true when they say that you’re not alone. You’re just not exploring the friend that will be more than willing to be your listening ear, a helping hand and shoulder to cry on.

 

Yes I admit I still do have my psychotic episodes but it is not as bad when you let it out to someone you trust and are comfortable with. It is NOT necessary to be alone all the time and keep it in you to the point where you would think “exploding” ー giving up on the efforts you have put in to be okay. It is okay to fall back down sometimes. But never give up.

 

Try it out, I gambled on trying to lift all the weight I have on my shoulders, it worked. Explore and have someone that would be in the same effort you put in to feel okay. 

The hardest part was self-stigma

The first time psychosis happened to me was in 2013. I was a graduate student then, back in Singapore for a short holiday. I was quiet and withdrawn. But no one thought much of it. It quickly spiraled into unexplained guilt and anxiety, such that I could not sleep. It went downhill all the way within days. Delusions of people harming me, stealing my identity, and having me under surveillance crept insidiously into my mind. I was scared, paranoid and full of delusions.

My poor family—they were at a loss, desperate, so much so that they sent me to the emergency room of the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), despite having misgivings about “the mental hospital”. The wait at the emergency room was probably the worst experience in my life. I could not respond to people, I could not walk and talk. I was too caught up in the dramatic delusions unfolding in my mind: I’m waiting to see a judge for my sins, I’m going to die so that my sister could live, I’m putting up a show for the best actress award.

Little did I know that going to IMH was the start of my recovery. Even in that dark valley, I was making my way toward getting the help I needed to get well. I was referred to the Early Psychosis Intervention Program (EPIP) and received quality medical and psychosocial care.

After a season of rest, I went back to grad school. I want to tell you that I kept psychosis at bay; that it did not return. But due to the mounting stress and pending deadlines of defense and thesis writing, I soon started to lose touch with reality again. The delusions were coming back. The line between what’s real and what’s not began to break down again. My thoughts were all over the place.

It helped that I had a doctor at the University Psychiatric Clinic. She picked up my call on the third ring. I found out later that she already knew that I was unwell when I talked to her on the phone. She had a team mobilised, ready to meet me during my consultation with her. At my vehement objections to hospitalisation, she sent me home that evening to rest after giving me some medication. I went back to her the next day and was given three weeks of medical leave. With the support of my family, friends and medical teams, I completed my thesis and defended my doctoral research work. I still look back in awe of how I managed those days. There may be some truths in the Permanent head Damage title.

I moved back to Singapore in 2015. Bright-eyed and willing, I found various job opportunities ranging from science writing to teaching to social service. I landed a job as a peer support specialist in 2016. I thought it was a dream come true. I found so much meaning in helping others with a similar psychiatric condition as me. Yet, it burnt me out quickly as I ran too fast, too far. I fell into a third relapse last December. To be honest, the hardest part of it all was that self-stigma. As I struggled with my mental health, I questioned if I was really unwell or was just seeking attention. I was well physically, but why can’t I sleep, eat or concentrate?

I am thankful to have supportive colleagues and family that tide me through that period. I took a leave of absence from work. As I rested, I turned to writing. It was a cathartic and healing experience for me. The burden of the burnout seems to melt away with every word that appeared on the word processor. Soon, I went back to work, and transferred to another department. Clinical work has taken its toll on me. For now, I am happy to relish in the backend research, and hone my skills as a wordsmith.