It all started when I was at a university camp in year 2.
I could hear voices in my head – voices that didn’t exist. Voices of family and friends criticising me behind my back even though I didn’t physically see or hear them. Then, paranoia would set in.
At some points, I could even hear the lecturer speaking to me directly even though he was talking to the whole student body.
I Couldn’t Even Trust Myself Anymore
I had all these thoughts about my friends and family shaming me and being out to get me. But the logical side of me knew that they wouldn’t because we were very close.
It’s as if there was a war going on in my head – negative thoughts kept creeping in while I kept fighting to make sense of reality. It was distressing and I started to feel abnormal. It frightened me so much that I couldn’t even trust myself to differentiate between what’s real and what’s not anymore.
I could hear two voices when there was only one person talking to me.
Despite all these, I continued with school and extra-curriculum activities thinking it would eventually go away with enough rest, but that did not happen. Things got worse and at its height, I could hear two voices when there was only one person talking to me.
I eventually told my parents about it and we went to the nearest polyclinic for treatment.
Learning That I Was ‘Sick’
I was referred to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), where I was assessed and eventually diagnosed with Psychosis – a mental illness where a person experiences hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions.
Most people would associate IMH with ‘crazy people’ and shun it like it’s a disease. But I was relieved to be there and to find out that what I had been going through was real, that there was an explanation for it and I could get proper treatments for it.
Hitting Breaking Point
However, initial feelings of relief turned into fear. The fear of what people around me would think when they found out that I have a mental illness. The fear of going for treatments because if someone I know saw me, I wouldn’t know what I’d say. Most importantly, I feared that I wasn’t going to be able to recover.
I could not even feel safe at home. I’d have nightmares and wake up with panic attacks. I was constantly on high alert, was very stressed and anxious all the time, and everything I did was a challenge. Even daily functions like bathing, brushing my teeth, and getting out of the house for lunch were a struggle.
The breaking point was when I realised that I could not even trust myself about what I heard and had to rely on others to verify what I had heard. It was so humiliating having to depend on others for something so basic.
I began suffering from insomnia and binge-eating. There were also periods where I felt completely numb and disassociated from everyone and everything. I felt like life was worthless and I was suicidal.
How was I supposed to keep up with everything when I was struggling so hard to even be alive?
Soon after, the doctor diagnosed me with Depression as well.
The fight against Depression was long and difficult. It was especially tough when I had to go back to school.
I hadn’t attended class for more than a month, my attendance was slipping, and I was often faulted for not contributing to group projects because I couldn’t turn up. How was I to keep up when I was struggling so hard to even be alive?
The Road To Recovery
My turning point came when my sister brought me to church. It was there that I found a community who loved and cared for me for who I am and not what I have. I was trained, taught, and given opportunities to rise up and do things I’d never thought I’d been able to do. These pushed me to progress in my recovery.
They were the reasons I held on a little longer each week.
My spirituality and relationship with God were what kept me going. I stopped feeling suicidal after having my own revelation that regardless of how tough life is, I’ll always cherish this life I have.
My family played an important role as well, for supporting me in every decision I made and ensuring that I was taking the steps I needed to get me through every day.
I was also in this mental health community called the Early Psychosis Intervention Programme (EPIP), where a caseworker will check on me frequently to ensure that I was doing fine.
Being in Club EPIP allowed me to hone and strengthen my cognitive abilities which had deteriorated over time. It opened my eyes to the fact that I was not alone in battling my inner demons. The Peer Support Specialists there inspired me to believe that recovery is possible.
Getting A New Lease Of Life
It’s been 4 years since I was first diagnosed and I’m very grateful that today, I can say that I’ve recovered and no longer depend on any medications. Today, I have a purpose in life.
I’m thankful and grateful for all the guidance I received from church and EPIP, and now that I’ve completed my degree and also graduated from the Peer Support Specialist course offered by the National Council of Social Service, I want to work in the mental health sector.
Additionally, I’ve continued to serve in two ministries in my church (since my school days), and am volunteering at mental health organisations like Silver Ribbon and Institute of Mental Health.
Recovery Is A Journey, Not A Destination
This experience has changed my family and my mindset of mental illnesses. And it was through the trials that we grew closer as a family. My journey to recovery also taught us the importance of communication and ensuring that everyone in the family was doing okay in their lives.
This journey has also taught me to love myself more, to take care of myself first before I can help others. It has taught me patience and trust especially in times of unknown and of distress.
More than ever, I value health as an important part of my life today, and I take concerted steps to sustain my recovery. Recovery is a journey and not a destination. The process of recovery is far more valuable than the destination.
Spread Awareness Of Mental Health
Never judge a book by its cover. People suffering from mental illness don’t look any different from someone who does not. Do your part to spread love and kindness to everyone because a suicidal person could be smiling on the outside, but is actually waiting for someone to stop them from dying.
Don’t think that you aren’t able to help someone suffering from a mental illness.
Don’t compare mental illnesses because every symptom experienced by someone with a mental illness is very real. And if you think that you are not able to help someone with psychosis, depression, or any mental illness, know that this isn’t true. Your very presence in times of difficulty and distress means a lot to the person. A genuine “how are you feeling?” and listening to them sharing their deepest thoughts is perhaps all they need.
Why should we treat mental illness as a taboo when mental illness is as important as our physical health?
With World Mental Health Day round the corner, join us at the Voice Out concert at Singapore Botanic Gardens on Saturday, 7 October, to learn about mental illness and spread love.