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therapy - Singapore Mental Health Film Festival

Your pain is valid and it is real

I was raped by my ex-boyfriend in Secondary 4 and had to proceed with a secret abortion at 3 months (with zero knowledge from parents) because I got pregnant soon after. I did badly for my national exams and subsequently had to battle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety and an eating disorder for the past 2 years. It was probably the hardest struggle I ever had to endure and I was confused. I was scared. I couldn’t accept what happened to me and why I kept breaking down almost every day, tired from pretending in front of my loved ones that I am okay. The nightmares kept me up at night, endless thoughts of self-doubt, self-blame and shame were wrapped around me tightly.

The suicidal urges were so bad, I had numerous attempts and unhealthy coping mechanisms (drinking, hooking up) were used to suppress the pain. I honestly felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was probably the only one back then who must have been feeling like this, and I felt that I should be ashamed for feeling this way. Fast forward 2 years later, the pain is slowly becoming lesser. Therapy (and opening up 2 years later) is helping me learn how to cope with the pain and not to carry it around with you like a mountain on your back, but instead to slowly become like a small pebble that I carry around with me.

There are still days where you feel like the world is against you, where you feel like you lost it all, there’s no hope for anything anymore and everything feels extremely fucked up. But I urge you to stick around for the days that you see yourself trying to heal as best as you can, for the okay days, for the good days, for the days where you didn’t give up on yourself and are able to carry the pain more easily. We need you around in this world, to continue the good fight. I promise you, to anyone who has been a victim of rape, sexual assault, and/or who are currently struggling with your various mental health issues – you are never alone, and you ARE a survivor and a warrior. You are brave and you are strong for coming this far and for still sticking around. Your pain is valid and it is real and no one should ever tell you otherwise. Please don’t suffer in silence. Reach out to a trusted person for help. I hope that you are or will get the help that you truly deserve.

Stay, you are needed

I was recently diagnosed with clinical depression, anxiety and OCD. I am still learning to slowly accept my diagnosis because when the doctor said I have these illnesses, it was a confirmation of my deepest fears yet a sense of relief and consolation that what I’m feeling is real. 

 

I grew up in a messed up home where my parents were either not home at all or when they’re home, they would verbally and physically abuse me. They are really successful perfectionists so they expect perfection from me as well. If I don’t live up to their standards, I know I would be in deep trouble. 

 

I didn’t think much of all the abuse that was happening because I thought it was normal. I only came to a realization when I entered a local school where teachers questioned beating marks on my body. This happened throughout middle and high school. I hated myself and I wanted to die. 

 

In the 21 years of my life, I have attempted suicide 3 times, all unsuccessful. I felt worthless and a burden to everyone around me. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be at church because people at that particular church were judgmental and topics about mental illnesses and suicide were all avoided. I felt all alone in this world because I had no one to talk to about feeling down. I lost all my faith in God and I stopped going to church. 

 

Around 2 years ago, a friend of mine invited me to her church near my house. I am so glad I went and got to know the people there. They were so loving and friendly, and they were the family I never had. I found people that have helped me realize that it’s okay not to be okay and that it’s okay to feel my emotions, and not bury them. 

 

I am also very grateful and thankful for the guidance of my therapist and psychiatrist for helping through rough times when I felt like I couldn’t go on, and for bearing with me when I have outbursts in sessions. 

 

Today, I am still in the process of learning how to love and be kind to myself. Even though I am still going through a dark time, I am glad to have people that listen. Their very presence brings comfort to my hurting soul. To those who feel alone, please know that you’re not alone. I am here, please do not give up, I am living proof that you can survive this. Stay, you are needed. 

I feel like I’ve been in a never-ending fall

I’ve been feeling myself slipping away again.

 

I first felt it in 2012. I felt my mind turning dark for no reason while my best friend was talking to me. I snapped not long after. Then three years later in 2015, I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder and chronic depression. Therapy didn’t work as well as I thought it would — mostly because I had a therapist that talked more than I did. I’ve been silenced most of my life and I thought no one would ever want to listen, and those therapy sessions just seemed to prove my point. It was a bad first experience and I never went back to seek help.

 

I was blessed to have met the most supportive friends in my school, and ultimately they are the ones who gave me the confidence and love I needed to be better. I believe having them around me constantly cheering me on and encouraging me is what helped me control my anxiety. They were the best thing that ever happened to me.

 

I’ve had suicidal thoughts and plans. I’ve had one suicide attempt. I’ve had dates scribbled in my planner to take my life, but with each date that passed, I changed my mind. It was usually because someone I loved did something good for me that day, as if they knew what I was thinking. It always seemed to happen at just the right moment. Coincidental nice things save lives.

 

But since mid-2018, I feel like I’ve been in a never-ending fall. I’ve loved (platonically) and lost, and each loss sends me into awful grief. I’ve been having more panic attacks than usual. I get extremely depressed and stressed out, and I lash out at people. I act like I’m fine and I don’t let anyone see beyond the tough facade but inside I am broken. I used to live my life trying to take care of everyone because I knew what it was like to be unhappy and alone. I used to always put people first. I make all my friends laugh and I’m supposed to be the funny one, so I need to keep that up too (or else, who am I?). 

 

I’m deathly afraid of being alone again but these days I’m finding it harder to control my emotions, and it’s getting harder to go out and see my friends. I just come up with weak excuses and hope they believe me. I feel myself becoming more and more selfish. I’m just trying to keep what little happiness I have left for myself. On the rare days I do see them, I make them laugh, and I hope it fixes something inside me too. But it never works that way.

 

I know I need to seek help once and for all. Good help this time. I want to go for therapy again now that I’m a little older, and hopefully a little wiser. 

 

I’ve lost my way but I know I need to pick up the pieces, and start right now, if I’m going to make it.

You are worthy of love

I had a rocky childhood: My father was abusive and unfaithful, and my parents divorced when I was 9. My mother never fully recovered from that trauma. I grew up believing I was a burden to my mother, and had my first major depressive episode in my teens. 10 years and countless episodes of depression later, I finally ended up at IMH after coming close to completing suicide. Now, after over a year of therapy and trying three different antidepressants, I can finally say I’m stable. There are still awful days when I feel utterly hopeless and the suicidal thoughts return, but I am now better equipped to handle them. My only regret was not seeking help earlier because I was convinced that how I was feeling was my fault, not something to be remedied. To anyone else struggling as I did: you are worthy of help, you are worthy of love! Don’t hesitate to seek help!

There are, thankfully, good days too

Everything on a bad day feels like a first draft of an unwritten story. There’s a sense of being too heavy, a sense that the action of rising will require insurmountable effort. If you can relate to this, you’ve probably have days like that too.

There have been days where I have had decided to lie in bed binge surfing on my phone in lieu of a therapy session. When I am most unhappy, I often find myself not wanting to talk to anyone at all. For the afflicted, you probably identify with this too.

Therapy is a hell of a lot like speed dating. I’ve sat on a great many sofas, couches, waiting rooms with certificates and answered many, many leading questions. I’ve been on a carousel of medication, from Ritalin to Xanax to Wellbutrin etc…

There are days where my heart is inscrutable, like a still and vast ocean. Other days it feels as though my will is balanced on something infinitely small and precarious. It makes me angry.

There are, thankfully, good days too. On those days I might feel fascination with an article, a TV show or a good book. I enjoy a good conversation, or the company of my friends.

Depression has many angles of attack. Some days it feels like a stifling boredom, other days an existential despair. In its harshest form it becomes a self imposed exile on Life via suicide.

For me, there really aren’t any “silver bullets” to things, whether you look at philosophy, psychology or psychiatry. In fact, the many interconnecting and sometimes conflicting views provide great anxiety.

Sometimes all we need is for someone, or even ourselves, to tell us, ” You aren’t okay. And that’s okay.”

 

I’m fighting it all the time

I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety around 2 years ago. But truthfully I probably have been struggling with it for about 8 years now. Growing up, I used to get panic attacks just raising my hand to answer questions in class. In fact, I never did raise my hand. It was being called to answer a question that would send my heart pounding like crazy. I thought it was normal. Thankfully that abated with time, although my general anxiety still persisted.

People always say that I don’t look like I have depression. What they don’t understand is that there really isn’t a “look” for depression. I always have to put up a facade, so that people around me would not worry. I feel guilty for every single thing and the self-hatred I have towards myself is overwhelming. My mind always goes into overdrive and I can’t do anything to stop it from producing negative thoughts. I’ve been admitted for depression several times now. I’ve been through electroconvulsive therapy and other alternative treatments several times too.

I’m almost ready to give up, with my depression being so treatment resistant, but I know that I need to keep on fighting. If not for myself, then for my parents who have been so supportive throughout this whole time. It is an ongoing battle – one that most people don’t see on the surface, but I’m fighting it all the time.

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.

Trust your instincts

Ever since primary school I have had the thoughts of ending my life, because my parents fight every single day and I just felt like nobody was interested to listen to what I had to say. I cried everyday but got through it somehow. I eventually grew up thinking it was normal for a couple to quarrel daily until my ex became upset about his parents quarreling one day and then I realised it shouldn’t be that way. My parent’s relationship skewed my views on how relationships should be and up till now I haven’t been able to see it as a happy and blissful thing to be with someone. I ended up with very low self-esteem and other issues which weren’t diagnosed but I kept going anyway.

Everything went downhill when my family was going through financial difficulties. I had to juggle between school, work and giving tuition on top of issues at school with friends. It didn’t help when (through my ex’s encouragement and a school staff’s understanding) I mustered up the courage to see the school counsellor and she turned out to be super dismissive and made every problem I had seem unimportant. I eventually stopped seeing her because she made everything worse. I did not continue seeking help and just coped. Only my ex at that time knew about all the issues and even after we broke up I was able to talk to him about my anxiety and he helped me look for doctors to see in a public hospital. However I still didn’t have the courage to do so and just tried to cope in my own ways through unhealthy habits.. 15 to 20 years down the road, my anxiety hit me in a way I had not anticipated. It was like my body was physically telling me that this was it. It was done fighting and it just couldn’t be caught in the struggle anymore. The physical symptoms manifested 24/7, I lost sleep and fell even deeper into depression as I could not figure out what was wrong with my body and how I could recover.

I did not dare confront it as a psychological issue as I was dismissed by not 1, 2, not even 3 GPs who said “no lah we won’t anyhow call people crazy even when we don’t know the cause of their symptoms” when I finally muster the courage at the very end of each visit to question whether it could be due to anxiety. I was shocked and it scared me so much to see another doctor. I put it off until months and months later my physical therapist said that he tried everything he could and also when my orthopaedic specialist made me do a 2nd MRI within 4-5 months just to confirm that there was nothing wrong with my spine. Deep down inside I just knew this wasn’t a physical problem. It was illogical to me and so I finally sought help at a polyclinic and I straight up told the female doctor who was exceptionally understanding that I have been having these symptoms 24/7 and that I think I need a referral to a psychiatrist and that I have tried to see the possible physical specialists so she believed me and she finally referred me to someone. It was the best decision I have made so far. Though I am not living my best life yet. I know now how it can potentially turn out great.

Submitting this story for all those who are afraid to seek help and find it hard to take the first step. I know sometimes it takes a few doctor’s visits and having to face doubtful and dismissive doctors who just didn’t know better. But you know yourself best and trust your instincts. No, it’s not for attention and when you feel like you need help, it is okay to do so. And once you find the right doctor.. it will be so worth it. Keep carrying hope and having faith. For those who are worried, it is actually accessible and affordable and there is financial help if you need. Your parents or family do not have to know. I do hope that one day though, the stigma can be gone and I can open up about what I have been through to my family or be well enough to not have to visit my therapist whom I am very grateful for.

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.