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recovery - Singapore Mental Health Film Festival

I got admitted when I was 12

When I was 10, I got diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, one of the most common mental illnesses. I didn’t – or couldn’t – find a reason to live, get out of bed and do the things that all preteens should be doing. I started cutting around this time, but I was also in denial of what I had. If something simply doesn’t come up in conversation, or never gets mentioned, then it simply doesn’t exist, right?

No, it didn’t work that way. Until I got admitted to the Institute of Mental Health at 12, I didn’t realise that wanting to die, not wanting to do anything and cutting would become so severe as to warrant a stay there. But I did, and recovery isn’t the best at times, I have to admit. I slipped up a few times, relapsed some, but in the end, it all pays off. Trust me on this – recovery is not the best thing you think will happen, but it gets the job done and you out of this mess that you are in. 

 

Cliche as it sounds, the best thing that you could do is to stay strong, and believe that you can do it, that you are worthy of recovery. And you’ll get better. Maybe not in a year’s time, but you will get better eventually. 

 

I’m now 14 and I’m proud to say that I’ve been clean for over a year and I don’t suffer from depression or have suicide ideation anymore.

It takes a village

They say it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to overcome depression. 

 

To all my ex-bosses, kind colleagues, family, friends, counsellors and random strangers who came in the form of angels who encouraged and believed in me (even when I couldn’t believe the light within myself to get up again), thank you so very much from the bottom of my heart. 

 

It wasn’t the job’s condition or situation was bad that made me leave my previous jobs but it was a question of existence I struggled with daily. What do I want to do with my life now after from recovery phase one of being catatonic? (a severe depression state where my doctor told me in layman terms that “it’s like my brain was away on a long vacation”). It was an extremely hard period for me as I was in a disheveled state as I could not move, eat, sleep, bathe, or even groom myself as I was very much unaware of myself and the surroundings around me.

 

When I started having movement in my limbs again, gradually with the help of medication, my neighbour started asking me accompany for Zumba lessons. I remember I would tear when the music started playing and I could actually move my limbs. It felt like a miracle that these feelings actually still exist even after the 4-6 months of existing in what I felt was an empty void. 

 

So fast forward many years since I had catatonia depression in 2012 till now, while the journey has been long and arduous (with some memories I rather forget, sometimes), I’m really thankful for a current stint in my life where I am now able to experience positive feelings daily (mostly!) and live happy to the best I can with a little craft home business I started. I may not be making mega million dollars, but I’m thankful for the daily treasures of simple joy, laughter, love, family, meaningful friendships which has made me rich beyond measure. 

 

If you’re someone who’s going through depression, I just want to say don’t give up. Those layers of scum and gunk will slowly erode away as we take positive steps to allow our hearts, mind and soul to heal. It’s okay.

I was abused by my father

I was abused by my father when I was younger; it lasted until I was 16. Although I came clean about it to my parents 3 years ago, they expect me to have moved on from it. My mum especially believes it is wrong of me to still hold a grudge against my dad. It is really difficult to forgive him when he does not acknowledge that what he did was unacceptable. I’ve struggled with self harm for the past 5 years. I probably suffer from PTSD too according to a counsellor I saw but I haven’t been able to afford a professional diagnosis. I’m basically alone in my recovery from the abuse because I cannot be honest with my family members about my true feelings and struggles. 

I’m in the process of internalizing that while my past is always going to be a part of me and influence my actions and perspective, it does not define me nor does it dictate my future. The hardest part, I’m pretty much alone in my recovery. I have amazingly supportive friends but it still pains me that my family is not part of my recovery process. 

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.

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.

I was severely bullied

Since the age of 12, I have been experiencing suicidal thoughts and anxiety. I was severely bullied in Primary 6 but now I’m still recovering.

I feel like a jar, an empty jar. When everybody just takes everything inside away from you, and all you’re left with is nothing. Please stop putting labels on us, because sometimes all you’ve got to do is to understand how we feel. We are all humans.

My mental health journey hasn’t always been smooth. I’m currently in Secondary 3, so I’m seeing the school counselor. It has taken me courage to seek help and recover from it. I have cut myself many times, attempted suicide but now I’m still alive and breathing.

I choose to advocate for mental health because not many people understand how we actually feel. If you need to seek help, seek help. Don’t be ashamed of seeking help because it will be worth it in the end.

Community is important

I believe that your mental health has a lot to do with the community of people around you. I developed an eating disorder at 11 years old, a year after witnessing my father have a heart attack. I didn’t even really pick up on my behaviors until a year later when I decided on a whim to tell my friend about the fact I was purging. I didn’t expect her to say anything, I even begged her not to but she did anyways. That’s the only reason I ended up getting help.

From then on a lot of people knew and they used that knowledge to support me and hold me accountable. If I didn’t have that amount of constant support, basically I wouldn’t be where I am now. I still struggle with eating but I am finally at a place where it doesn’t constantly consume the entirety of each day.

Community is important, think about the roles you play. They can really make a difference.

Nobody knows I am a shipwreck

When I was 17, I was raped and I never told a single soul about it. I thought by ignoring it, I would somehow move on and get over it. I am 25 and married now, yet I still feel so lost and ashamed of myself every single day. I now realize how damaging the encounter had been to my mental health and relationships.

Nobody knows I am a shipwreck at the bottom of the sea, yet bit by bit, I see pieces of my past keep emerging and floating up. I can’t stand myself. My cheerful self is gone. My sense of purpose and identity is gone and it scares me. I am currently trying to be brave and want to seek professional help. My husband has been my pillar of strength and I cannot continue hurting him.

It has been 8 painful years of silence, anxiety and depression. I hope my loved ones can forgive me for my constant absence from their lives. I hope I will live and break my silence one day to help those who have gone through what I went through.

Please I hope you make a prayer for my journey to recovery.

Not everyone is kind

I still keep my old expired antidepressants in my drawer as a reminder to stay where the light is. I was 14 when I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anorexia. It was an extremely difficult and painful phase of my life, especially at such a tender age. I didn’t eat and cried my weight in tears.

Starving myself was a slow death the voice in my head had masterfully orchestrated. And, everyone around me had front row seats. I still remember vividly how my peers would recoil from me with disgust/shock/fear, the looks they gave, the callous remarks said behind my back. I was a painful spectacle and was utterly helpless to it all. It hurts to think about it even till this day.

Being afflicted with a mental disorder doesn’t make sense, it is unlike breaking a leg. How can you hurt when there is no wound? How can you be sad when your life is ‘perfect’? Because an affliction of the mind is like internal bleeding. I bled in pools of desolation, self-hatred, anguish for years, simply waiting for death to whisk me away.

Today, I’m beyond lucky to have recovered. I’ve spent a lot of time and effort trying to undo and bury my past. Because the stigma behind depression is very real, and not everyone is kind. At 22, the prime of my youth and beauty, I am unrecognisable from the girl I was when I was 14. But I know the only way to end this epidemic is through vulnerability, empathy, and openness.

My pain has given me so much perspective. I wouldn’t be who I am today without it. It’s time I embraced my past and paid a tribute. I wouldn’t wish to hide behind a cloak of anonymity forever but it gives me anxiety when people know too much.

Thankfully I found a way to seek help without my parents consent

When I was 10, I started hating going to school and would pretend that I was sick so my parents would bring me back home and I didn’t have to face ‘him’ anymore. All I knew, that ‘him’ was my older sister’s classmate and that he and his group of friends would always laugh and joke about the rabbit tooth that was sticking out of my mouth and that was something I felt really upset about.

I told my parents about how I felt, I was really really upset, I was embarrassed when I was made fun of in front of everyone else, I was scared to go to school. I didn’t know what I was thinking, but occasionally, the thought of suicide came once in awhile as I questioned my worth. Neither my parents nor my friends stood up for me. I was sad. But my parents brushed it off, I felt worthless.

One day, I told my form teacher in primary school about my ideations, she highlighted it to the discipline master and he called my dad. When I spoke to my dad over the phone, he immediately dismissed my feelings and told me to tell the teachers that I was just kidding and was saying things I didn’t mean.

At 11, I felt lost. It then started to become somewhat like a falling into a dark hole where nobody could see or hear me. I don’t know if I wanted to be heard, I gave up on myself. I was approached by the school counsellor, but my parents again found out that I was creating these issues again and told me that I should stop and never see her again. They felt like I didn’t need to see her. They said I had “no issues”.

Then I entered secondary school, I was happy and carefree till I met this guy that was new to my class, and I started to fall back again. That guy was mean, he commented on the way I looked and questioned about my weight almost everyday. He would use vulgarities and mean words that was never supposed to be said to another human being. He made me feel stupid. I hated him and I went back hating myself.

Due to the exposure of social media and the internet, I taught myself how to hurt myself and found harmful ways to deal with the internal pain that I was feeling. I started from metal rulers, then to staple bullets then to penknives where I eventually found the thrill when looking at blood. I knew I wasn’t myself but my parents told me I was. I got confused. I really felt like I was at the closest edge of suicide.

Again, I was alerted to the school counsellor and again, my parents were brought down to see the teachers to talk about my case and how to move forward. And again, my parents rejected and restricted my access to help. I was in their control, I didn’t know who I could go to. My parents told me I’m okay. Eventually, with them constantly telling me that I was okay and there’s nothing wrong with me, I believed them.

It came to a point where I could not recognise what pain was and everything seemed painless to me. When I hurt myself, it’s not pain. When I see blood, when I bruise, I don’t feel pain. I got confused so often that it gets very difficult for me to know what pain actually was. And if I am causing pain to other people.
I’m 18 now, and I feel okay but still broken at times.

Thankfully I found a way to seek help without my parents consent, and hope that I am getting better. It wasn’t easy and was definitely a long wait to get this far.

I’m still alive and am proud of myself.