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psychotherapy - Singapore Mental Health Film Festival

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.

“Not trying hard enough”

I’m thinking of reaching out for help for the 6th/7th time now out of desperation. Helping professionals sometimes view me as “resistant”. Perhaps it’s because I’m not extremely open during sessions, or because I’m always so quick to say no to the possibility of sharing my mental health concerns with my family. This however makes me wonder if there will ever be a helping professional who tries to see things from my perspective, without jumping to the conclusion that I’m being “resistant”, or “not trying hard enough”. It is a very gutting feeling to hear someone tell you that she is trying harder than you are to solve your own problems, especially when you have been trying your best to stay alive for nearly a decade. I’m in the midst of trying my best not to be disillusioned by the entire helping profession, and to try to seek help one more time.

I’m so glad I didn’t go through with my attempts

I was 16, fresh out of secondary school, when I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and dysthymia. I was bullied by my seniors and people whom I used to call friends, simply because of my weight. Because I was also often on my own, I was an easy target. Throughout my life I was also subjected to my father’s snide insults in public and he was always unreasonably cold to me, and I knew he was embarrassed to call me his daughter.

I realised after getting help that a lot of my self-esteem issues stemmed from home. And I knew I brought that low self-esteem out into the world, making myself an even easier target for everyone to pick on. After my diagnosis and a chat with my psychotherapist, Dad still had trouble accepting that he had a part to play. You know how dads are. It has been 5 years now. In those 5 years, I tried to kill myself twice. But as I sit here typing this, I’m so glad I didn’t go through with my attempts.

I sat on a ledge at 16, and again at 18. Today I’m blessed to no end with an amazing support system. I found a wonderful group of friends who remind me every day that they wouldn’t be who they are without me, and my family is stronger than ever. My father still slips up every now and then but I’ve gained the courage to call him out whenever he does. For anyone diagnosed with GAD, I can promise you that it will get better. For depression, hell if I know.

I’ve only learned that grief comes in waves and it never fully goes away. Some days are harder than others, and those are the days you’ll need to put yourself first. Surround yourself with good people, and only good people. Have a good support system — ultimately you really fight alone, but with the right people cheering you on, it’s a little easier. Please reach out, tell the truth, and find a community that’s good for you. I’ve seen how ugly things can get and I’ve met some of the cruellest people. But no matter what, they aren’t worth your life. I promise you this — you will fall in love with life again.

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. 

Every day is a new battle and victory

I cannot be too sure how it began but it feels like it has been a long time. It might have begun when I was 12 and felt the full impact of my parent’s ugly and painful divorce. Or 14 when I self-harmed for the first time because I didn’t know how to cope with parental conflict and anxiety. Or at 16, when I was sexually assaulted and did not dare to tell anyone. When depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts entered my life, I learnt how frightening, isolating, and hopeless life could feel.

Fast forward and I am 30 this year. Despite multiple hospitalisations, countless medication and psychotherapy, and several failed suicide attempts, I am still alive and that counts for something. I am capable of functioning and have had full-time jobs most of the time, which is fortunate. With the right attire and socially accepted behaviours, you cannot see the scars. Sometimes the depression gets worse, sometimes it lifts momentarily and I can go on dates, meet friends, function, plan for the future. Sometimes I lie in bed when the fog gets too heavy. Sometimes the fog is a weight I carry around and go about my daily routine.

Mental illness is not something that comes up in everyday conversations, but it should be. There were (and still are) countless days where I wished I could be honest about my experiences and not fear judgement or get passed over for an employment opportunity. Contrary to mainstream belief where only the “weak” are vulnerable, anyone can be afflicted with a mental health condition. And while resilience is often used to describe individuals who turn out well despite adversity, perhaps we can begin to see that it actually takes a lot of strength to fight another day, to survive, to just be.

I may live with depression for the rest of my life but I have been learning to cope better. Every day is a new battle and victory. I am just as human, longing for love, understanding and belonging. I am just another person on the street.