The recent passing of Robin Williams came as a shock to many and has led a lot of us to do quite a fair bit of contemplation – both on fragility of life, and how very much mortal we all are. It has led me to think about a lot of things, particularly in the area of depression, suicide and self-harm. I’m going to try to approach this with as much sensitivity as I can.
A close friend of mine lamented on how frightening it was that someone so successful in his career would be subject to depression – how someone, who brought so much joy and laughter to the world, would be unable to find any hope to carry on. Perhaps, the scariest thing about depression is its ability to strike anyone of us and its capability in eating away at our vitality – like cancer.
As a writer of jargon, diabolic cats and toilet bowls, I don’t often do this. I mean, there’re so many people out there with greater stories to tell about topics like depression but at this point of time, this matter is very real to so many people out there, especially sufferers. And I guess, every story helps. After all, there might be someone out there who might find hope in this.
I am a sufferer of depression.
I am also living to tell this tale.
The dictionary describes depression as a severe despondency and dejection, typically felt over a period of time and accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy. My earliest memory of it in my life was when I was in Primary 3. I remember climbing up a chair, prepared to jump off the third floor of my school, to the taunts of my classmates. Only the timely intervention of a classmate and teacher prevented me from taking the plunge.
The next instance that I remember of depression truly taking hold in my life was when I was in secondary 4, a few months before the ‘O’ levels. I would hear voices telling me how worthless I was, how the world was better off without me. At times, I would feel a deep, cold presence wrap around me, choking me, and claws gauging at my skin and eyes – none of it actually physically manifesting, of course. Most times, I would just feel a constant void. To put it more accurately, I felt nothing. I was numb.
Perhaps it would help to pause here and provide some context. My family started out whole but it was slowly torn apart by financial difficulties. My own father began becoming physically abusive and, on multiple occasions, attempted to kill me. To add on to that, my family was constantly hounded by loan sharks and we were regularly sent death threats. Things were constantly smashed outside our house as well.
Here is a meme to lighten the mood… kinda.
In school, things weren’t much better. I had difficulty relating to my classmates and I was branded the problem student. For some reason, I was labelled as the “class gay” and was regularly beaten up in school. primary 3, my father left the family (he was arrested, I think) and my family turned into a single-parent family.
The kids in school caught wind of the news and I was now labelled the “bastard gay child”. No one wanted to play or eat with me and I was mostly by myself in school. Needless to say, I wasn’t very happy in school or at home.
Anyway, back to the depression hitting in secondary 4. It was a frightening time, as frightening as it could be when I was unable to feel anything. I recognized the feelings but I didn’t understand what it was. At that point, no one around me knew what depression was and I didn’t know who I could turn to. The combination of being friendless (still) in secondary school, having been molested and almost raped, and being unable to score well had all led me into this hopeless little black hole of nothing. I would often stab my hand or parts of my body just to feel SOMETHING. Physical pain was better than the constant unnerving nothingness.
Things DID end up working out in the end and I went into a course (Games Design and Development) that I wanted and got into a very welcoming church that treated me like family. I recovered emotionally. Two years went by before depression struck again, at a time I least expected. I was enjoying my church life and I was happy with my course.
But I was depressed anyway.
And I wanted to kill myself.
Depression was like a black hole.
No matter what I poured into my life; no matter whatever enjoyable things I did; no matter how much I tried to make the intentional choice to be grateful for what I had, I couldn’t be happy. I couldn’t function. It was as if there was this black hole in my heart sucking away the joy in my life. I knew that I ought to have been grateful for what I had. I mean, living in Singapore with my creature comforts is a whole lot better than living in the warzones. But I was unable to no matter how much I tried.
I constantly felt guilty and felt like a complete ingrate for whatever I had in life. I felt stupid and weak that I couldn’t overcome all of this. And I got all the more depressed for it. It was a vicious cycle.
Depression caused me to feel like a dead person in a living body.
My mind was numb.
My limbs were numb.
My heart was numb.
All at the same time, all I could do was cry. I would laugh on the outside with groups of people – especially if I was with the younger ones in church. I would cry for hours on end at home for no reason when I was alone. I would then stare at the ceiling for hours doing nothing, thinking nothing. Unable to move.
I burnt all photos of myself laughing or smiling.
Depression robbed me of my relationships.
It never did manage to drive a wedge enough in my relationships to actually cause my friendships to break. It did manage to make me feel alone in a crowd. Wherever I went, all I could see was the chasm between me and everyone else. All I could see was a wall in front of me – a wall that I would try to scale or get around, and just after I got over to the other side, I’d find that I was back where I was.
Here’s another meme to lighten the mood.
For three hellish years, I continued being in depression. Each day, I struggled to get out of bed. Each day, I struggled to get through brushing my teeth and eating my breakfast. I’d then go round the whole day pretending I was fine. Then I’d stay up all night wondering what was the meaning of everything and if I should just end it all.
Occasionally, my mood would lighten up and I’d think that I was out of the woods. Then it’d sink even deeper. One night, I decided that I had enough. It was either an intervention happen or I end it all that very moment with the penknife lying beside me.
A friend called me on Skype to ask me how I was.
That was a few years back. Thankfully, I’ve since moved on. It was a slow and painful path to recovery with many ups, downs, relapses and thoughts of death, but I made the choice to do so.
I chose to forgive myself.
There were so many days when I felt like I couldn’t cope with the thought of getting out from under the covers. There were so many days that I felt like I couldn’t cope with the idea of existing. I chose to forgive myself and accept that this went beyond a weakness in character. I chose to accept that I was ill and that I needed treatment, or at the very least, counselling. I checked myself in with a professional psychiatrist.
I opened up.
Depression had worn away much of the trust I had in people and in myself. It was probably one of the most frightening decisions that I had to make at that point of time. I’m glad that I did though. Opening up to a trusted friend enabled me to air out whatever issues I had and allow whatever healing that needed to take place to flow into my life.
I was loved and supported.
This was, perhaps, the most important factor in my recovery. Sadly, not everyone has this opportunity. I am grateful that I was granted it. Opening up to my friend enabled him to be part of my life and support me. Most times, he didn’t have any answer to the questions I had, but he offered a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. Gradually, he brought in support from some other people and together, they built me back up.
The road hasn’t been easy and depression is far from the easiest thing to go through. Most sufferers don’t need answers per se. Most know the answers. What is needed is often the support and the understanding that if we were to fall, someone would be there to catch us unconditionally.
If you want to opt for professional help, listed below are some organizations that can help:
SOS (Samaritans of Singapore)
Tel: 1800-221-4444 (24 hours daily)
Care Corner Counselling Centre
Care Corner Mandarin Counselling Centre
Tel: 1800-353- 5800 (10am to 10pm daily)
Family Service Centre
Singapore Association for Mental Health Helpline
TOUCHLINE (TOUCH Youth Service) – Youths between 12 and 19 years old, who are struggling, frustrated or depressed and badly in need of a listening ear
Tel: 1800-377-2252 (10am – 10pm Daily)
Tinkle Friend (Singapore Children’s Society – Bukit Merah Centre) – Primary school students, especially children who are alone at home, who need someone to chat or discuss problems with.
Tel: 1800-274-4788 (9:00am – 11:00am, 2:30pm – 4:30pm Mon-Fri)
Youthline (Youth Challenge) – Young people with interpersonal, family, stress/depression/anxiety and sex-related problems.
Tel: 6336-3434 (8:30am – 6:00pm Mon-Fri)
eGen tries to be more than just another blogging community by providing forums and photo albums for bloggers to share pictures, as well as ‘cyber counsellors’ whom teens can talk to online.