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relapse - Singapore Mental Health Film Festival

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.

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.

I felt alone even though my loved ones were just a call away

I was embarrassed to tell people about my self doubt and insecurity. Almost everyday, I would scroll through social media and look at girls to see how pretty they look or how cool they dress up. I wanted and tried to be like them, but I know that I was just being pretentious, being someone that I’m not.

This self consciousness is also stopping me from pursuing my passion; how I feel that I’ll never be good enough. I feel like a useless and unproductive zombie everyday at work. In fact, I feel that I’m not good at anything at all – in my career, in my passion, in my relationship, how I am awkward around my own friends. I feel useless. I was prescribed antidepressants and I went back for it a few times. This went on for two years, until I had a bad episode and was diagnosed with depression. I was referred to a psychiatrist whom I avoided. I felt like I was troubling my loved ones with my own internal issues and I hated that.

Things went downhill within a few months, and my thoughts were eating my brains. I started overdosing on pills. One, two, three times. I liked how it made me feel lost, dazed and sleepy and it took away my thoughts. However on my last overdose, it led me to harm myself further by slitting my wrist.

I felt alone even though my loved ones were just a call away. I felt stuck in the moment but I needed to snap myself out of it and get help. I brought myself to IMH where I was diagnosed with adjustment disorder. When my antidepressants were my main coping mechanism, I wasn’t allowed any after being discharged from the hospital.

Till this day, I still struggle to cope with my thoughts and not having pills to depend on.

Healing Takes Time

Word of advice, if you’re suffering because of your mental health, please get help. I started showing signs of clinical depression and anxiety at the age of 13, I had panic attacks almost every day but I didn’t know what they were. By the age of 14, I went to my first therapist for my depression and I didn’t feel comfortable so I never returned. Sometimes it takes multiple tries to receive help that suits your needs. By 15, I had been through multiple tests to check for the reasons behind my breathing problems and got diagnosed with clinical anxiety instead. I started going for therapy since. At the age of 16, I started showing symptoms of ARFID(eating disorder) and dissociation. Sometimes the battle isn’t easy, it can get worse, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the road. The road to recovery is difficult and anything is a step forward as long as you’re trying, even a relapse counts. Your life is worth fighting for. You are loved whether you feel it or not. And most of all, anything you feel is valid. Don’t forget that. Pain is pain and healing takes time. Self-care is important so please learn to be kind to yourself, and know that you are loved.

Christmas was not always merry for me. 8 years with eating disorder, OCD and BPD, Christmas was an awkward, depressing and lonely time to me. I didn’t know what it was like to laugh heartily. I didn’t know what it was like to freely enjoy food with loved ones. I had mixed feelings seeing lovers because I believed I was ‘not lovable’ and so ‘romantic relationships are not for me’.

Secretly however, I longed for joy and to be free to enjoy food with my friends and family. I longed to love and be loved by someone special, but my fear was greater than my dreams. I didn’t date for 12 years until in 2015, I tried Tinder and went on quite a number of dates, attracting all the men who weren’t good for me.

My turning point was in Oct 2015 when I wrote a 40 page intention/declaration journal to myself – “Today, I declare to the universe, that I’m resolute and committed to love Valerie more every day. I’m loving her more than anyone else, anything else. I’ll take care of her Whole Person – body, mind, heart and spirit. Let’s do this and enjoy this life quest – this Love Quest! So Val, I love you! You are my favourite person. You are my best friend. Thank you for staying with me – through it all.”

And I wrote, as detailed as I could, what kind of relationship I was going to have with myself. Then I wrote what kind of relationship I wanted with someone special. 2015 was my first truly Merry Christmas with myself and loved ones. I was excited about 2016. And I attracted priceless gifts of life in friendships and a beloved. My life was never the same again.

Bottomline: When you truly love yourself, the choices you make for yourself will change for the best – health, friends, romance, career, money… I wish you warmth, love and joy.

I used to have severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). There is a huge misconception that OCD is all about making sure that everything is squeaky clean. This is not true. Many people use it inappropriately in their comments about themselves, “This chair is not in order! Sorry I am OCD”. This simply means that they like to be neat.

OCD is more complex than merely wanting to keep clean and neat. Going through OCD is a real struggle because your brain is just permeated 24/7 with intrusive thoughts that feel very real. For example, being afraid that you will kill your family if you leave the gas tap turned on when it is already turned on. Afraid that you may have illicit sexual affairs with people you randomly see on the street when you have no sexual attraction for them at all.

OCD is about the inability to break out of irrationality. It’s difficult to explain it to people who don’t have OCD. They just dismiss my concerns as “you are too worried.”

They don’t understand that it is excruciating to have these worries that are constantly being repeated in your head.

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.

New lease of life

As I lay in bed today, I can’t thank God enough for giving me the strength and the will to pull through what I thought I couldn’t. First and foremost, this is not a pity post. I could use some pity, but I don’t want it. This is me trying to reach out for those in plight. To help those who are alone when the world goes to sleep.

Having gone through a bout of depression, it has certainly brought me to the edge. Literally. I can remember vividly being on the 16th floor, looking down and thinking to myself how fast my problems would end.

I remember the texts I sent to my mum. I remember my aunt calling me trying to console me out of it as I sat on the stairwell crying and confused. At that point of time, I talked to God. He made it clear that taking my own life would only open the doors to more plight. And so I sought help. It was the best decision I have made in my entire life.

Here I stand today, with a new lease of life. I lost beloved friends and family members along the way but hey, that’s another story for another day. How I approached to saving me from myself might not have been the best way, but you can do it better. Talk to someone; A friend. A relative. A stranger. You never know if he/she could be the person to save you from you. Seek help. We may not know one another, but I treasure you.

I feel so helpless

My girlfriend is having a relapse. She has paranoid schizophrenia. Being gay, our asian parents do not recognize the fact that we are together. It’s really tough especially when they think that I am the cause of her stress.

She is constantly looking for me and I am constantly being refrained from seeing her. Now I feel like I am the one breaking down.

Her family is in denial of her illness and doesn’t understand that she needs someone to listen to her.
I know she needs me but our communication keeps getting cut off. I feel so helpless.

I thicken my skin to be able to see her, despite hurtful remarks from her mother. She is my world.
We have been through this once before and we came out stronger but this time round, I’m not so sure.