First off, I would like to applaud you for the bravery in sharing your personal life story and struggles. Thank you for sharing the article and allowing me to respond.
A little background of me: I’ve been diagnosed with depression and some other anxiety disorders since the age of 13, so that makes about a little over a decade now.
And I also come from a broken family at a young age, with some really horrible memories like parental divorce, domestic abuse and multiple incidents where my suicidal mother wanted to throw me out of the window, but I’m not going to go into that.
I’ve been consulting a private psychiatrist all the way until my NS started, during which I had switched to the psychologist and psychiatrist assigned to me at MMI (Military Medicine Institute). After NS last year, I have been living off remaining medication (prescribed generously by the MO a week before my ORD day) and not seeing a shrink due to financial reasons.
Alas, my previous depressive episode ended just about 1-2 months ago ago. The number of bridges that I have burnt with relatives and close friends at the start of this year, as well as a total sense of loss contributed to a total relapse which lasted for months. I have had 2 suicide attempts this year, one of which was stopped by another and the other was self-averted.
During my depressive period which lasted for months, as you can probably imagine, I couldn’t function properly, I had great trouble with sleep patterns, and I stayed at home for weeks at a go, clamped down by severe anhedonia (unable to enjoy the activities one usually enjoys) and daily thoughts of pure negativity, self-hate and suicidal thoughts. Quarrels and misunderstandings, or criticism would send off my “triggers” and leave me extremely restless and furious and then totally lethargic for days on end. My memory was also extremely poor.
I was filled with so much inner poison. I was so alone.
Unlike you, I (still) do not have the luxury of understanding from others. My only comfort actually came from online private support groups which consist of people with the same disorders and experiences.
I am mainly going to talk about some misconceptions and stigma of mental illness that I’ve faced personally. Because I think that is one of the greatest hurdles that a person suffering from any mental illness will encounter. I will also provide links at the bottom, which I believe are really good reads, accurate and useful for advocating mental health awareness and the elimination of stigma.
For almost half of my life since I was diagnosed, my parents have never really understood the illness. They paid for my consultations with the private shrink for years, thinking that one day I would eventually “grow out of it”. They know there’s something wrong with me, but are never comfortable about the subject of mental illness whenever I try to bring it up to them. During one of my meltdown periods this year, my dad angrily demanded an explanation from me about why I am not applying for a job months after my ORD. I told him with a weak voice that I am simply not ready because I felt like sh*t. His exact response was “you yu zheng, jiu bu yong zuo gong? (direct translation: Depression, so no need to work?)”
I’ve also had relatives and friends tell me that once I have a job and settle down, most of my current problems will be gone. Yes, it’s true to an extent, but back then, I couldn’t even lift myself from the bed, and I didn’t even have the appetite to enjoy my favourite pizza. I just wanted to sleep and never wake up. I prayed that on the day I actually die, I would actually be depressed enough to go willingly. As a young adult male, even the most basic biological thing like my libido was totally dead. It definitely wasn’t healthy. It was a kind of indescribable numbness on a daily basis, and any trigger can potentially cause irreparable consequences, and the people who are concerned about me actually think making money can make me happy again?
I had also burnt one more bridge with another “concerned friend” who wanted to snap me out of it by giving me the “tough love’ and ‘harsh reality check’ treatment, but with totally insensitive words and no regard for my actual mental disorder. I was even accused of faking my depression to “gain attention and sympathy”. And of course, I was severely disappointed. My act of pushing many people away was interpreted as selfish, but it was the only way I knew to protect myself from tripping over the edge. Black and white had become really gray.
I lived by the adage below (and still do).
It is worse when it actually and usually is both.
Over a long time, and without any more drama and insensitive bashing (my parents had also eased up on pushing me to work and gave me time), I eventually picked myself up again. My medication had already run out some time ago, but I took my time and started with baby steps, and each small victory was actually pretty huge at the point of time. I had slightly more confidence of my self-control, and that I was stable enough to try to look for small freelance jobs, and then eventually applying for a fulltime one. Yes, I still get extremely lonely and sad from time to time, but at least I could move again. I was sad, but not in the depressive way.
I recovered without the aid of medication. But do I believe depression is purely “all in the mind” and can be overcome by sheer will? Yes and no. It really depends on the person. Different people need different treatments or therapy. Some cases are more severe, some are not. The thing is, I don’t set my standards unto others. I believe, and with good reason, that depression and other mental disorders are genuine illnesses that should be taken seriously.
Over internet discussions, I have encountered people who think depression is just a “cultural” thing of first world societies. Just look at the conversations below:
To me, too many people are confusing sadness (depressed feelings) with the actual major depressive disorder, or clinical depression, if you will. I am neither pro nor anti-medication, I believe different people need different treatments and/or therapy, and it may take time for some people to find the right kind. And anti-depressants aren’t “happy pills”. They don’t give you instant rainbows in your life. At best, they help you to be stable and prevent you from being overwhelmed, there’s all they are and that’s all they do, from my experience.
When people say they have “overcome depression” last time (like that my friends told me) by snapping out of it, I can only be glad for them, but I cannot support their narrow view that all people who suffer from mental illness can do the exact same thing. Some mental illnesses are definitely way more debilitating than that.
I am fortunate enough to not have needed “tranquilizers” as of yet, but I have seen first-hand cases of a relative who needed them. She was my aunt and during her episodes, I could not even recognise her as a person. She would become so restless and seemingly “possessed” to the extent that she cannot control her own actions. My aunt’s mother, who is my paternal grandmother, had committed suicide before I was even born. She had schizophrenia. This has led me to suspect that my depression and other anxiety disorders may have stemmed from genetics, but I believe this is still something that the scientific world has yet to confirm, and a whole other issue altogether.
The most common misconception is that depression and other mental disorders are just weaknesses by choice, or that the people who have them are just selfish/lazy/unmotivated. Yes, depression can stem from many factors, be it biological or external stressors. The more important thing, however, is that depression and other mental illness are not discriminate. They don’t necessarily have to make sense.
Even high-functioning and highly successful people can be struck by mental illness. The recent tragic suicide of Robin Williams has provided a platform for mental health organisations and advocates of mental illness awareness to spread and inform the public about common misconceptions and stigma of people with mental illness, as well as urging people who are suffering in silence to speak out and seek help.
Robin William’s suicide really affected me on a personal level and even gave me some mood triggers. I remember crying on the bus while on my phone and watching him laugh heartily with his daughter Zelda in a behind the scenes segment of a Nintendo commercial. And it is even sadder, that it takes the death of such a famous and beloved actor and comedian to bring out the much overlooked and misunderstood topic about mental health to the masses.
Even Stephen Fry, a famous British comedian/actor/writer, has had a long struggle with depression. He was featured in the 2006 documentary “Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive” where he talked extensively about having such a mental condition and the treatments he went through. In 2011, he became the president of Mind, a mental health charity org. He attempted suicide in 2012 while filming aboard (thankfully he was stopped), but has otherwise always been very open about his condition and an advocate for better mental health awareness and treatment.
It can be hard to believe these 2 great world-famous comedians, 2 great minds who has brought on countless smiles, are actually sufferers of debilitating mental conditions. And one of them is already gone. Check out this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39ya2Drpj3s
I believe that most people has less empathy for people suffering from mental illness than those suffering from a physical ailment. You don’t hear people telling people suffering from diabetes to “Snap out it” or people with cancer that “You can get better if you want to. Just be happy!” Granted, mental illnesses aren’t terminal, but recent scientific research have determined that people with mental disorders have shorter life-spans than heavy smokers (link below). But while you can quit smoking, mental illness has no permanent cure.
The recent ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that is going around has raised a significant awareness and sum of money for the charity. I am happy for the people who get to benefit from the donations.
However, I believe it is unlikely to see anyone start or organise a charity for people with mental illnesses. Most people will just shrug it off thinking these are not “real” illnesses or disorders, or that those “state of minds” don’t really need medication recover.
This is why as a fellow person suffering from depression and some other anxiety disorders, I am also advocating for better mental health awareness and the eradication of mental illness stigma and misconceptions.