I didn’t know that was what depression looked like.
I was just sad…intensely sad.
11 July 2022
Growing up, nothing really interested me in life.
I attended school, did my homework and studied for exams. I was never great in school academically. I was never very sociable either, making friends was hard. I was better in sports and arts. But they didn’t feel special to me either. For a long time, my whole world was boring and I was living through each day, waiting for time to pass. While I did have a few off-the-course experience of a typical Singaporean, I felt like I was simply following a predetermined path in the game of life — trying to do well in school, graduating, getting a job, starting a family etc. — just like “everyone else”.
Perhaps being the youngest in the family and having a larger age gap with my sisters made me even more introverted and a complete enneagram type 9. Most times, I just kept to myself and simply went along with things, avoiding conflicts; my thoughts and preferences were basically non-existent. I never thought about what I wanted or liked, nor did I learn to express those desires.
You know, in a typical Asian society, mental illness was not understood and was frowned upon on, stereotypically labeled as “crazy people”. Nobody saw or even knew what was brewing inside me.
Life got increasingly “boring” in 2019. I was constantly trying to fill a void with happy things, one after another, but never really satisfied. And when Covid put us in a lockdown in 2020, everything went from bad to worse
My first episode of depression.
During that time, all the negativity I was feeling about life before, blew up in magnitude. For 7 months long, I lived every day as if consumed by an emotional black hole. I didn’t know that was what depression looked like. I was just sad…intensely sad. I cried frequently, listening to music on public transports, in the showers, at night… I avoided all contacts with my friends and family, because just being around people and trying to talk normally, felt like an incredibly stressful task I could not manage. I just wanted to be alone, all the time, surrounded by my own darkness.
My sister in the US called me pretty often then. Oh, I hated those nights where I forced myself to pick up her calls, when all I wanted was to drink the night away in my dimly lit living room. But it was also one of these dreadful nights where she told me, “You are depressed. You need help.”
Going through those difficult times pushed me to really dig into my mind. I asked myself a lot of questions on what I was feeling and why I was feeling that way. I knew the only way out was to face the demons in me, and I was peeling my emotions layer by layer to understand my deeper thoughts and motivations. I understood more about myself, but there were also a lot of deep unconscious that I was avoiding. I couldn’t cope with living. I couldn’t face life.
I had my first counseling with a psychologist in Oct 2021 when I was staying with my sister in the US. I never thought that simply sharing my inner thoughts with a professional would help me feel lighter about my issues so that they seem more manageable for me to work on. There were no judgements and he understood just how hard it was for me to be going through all those emotions. Things were going well, I was actively working on my issues, making small but measurable progress.
Unfortunately, things took a downturn again after I returned to Singapore. And I got into another episode of depression in Mar 2022. There were days where all I could muster to do was sleep. There were moments where I simply wished to disappear from this world. But I knew I didn’t want to continue living like this anymore, so I decided to seek medical help from a psychiatrist. That was when I learned that “dysthymia” (persistent depressive disorder) was a real condition.
If there was one thing I learned from experience, fighting against mental illnesses is very much a battle of our own. It may go on for what feels like forever and that we may never get out of this loop. Change is difficult when we have lived with certain conditions and beliefs for a long time.
I can’t say things will get better, because there will always be good and bad days. But I pray that we will have the determination to forgive ourselves again and again when the bad days feel tougher, and let us find light in the cracks of what appears to be our reality.
You are depressed. You need help.
That doesn’t mean we can’t receive or don’t need help and support from others. We may shut ourselves out because we’re afraid that people won’t understand what we’re going through. Yes, it’s likely that they will never truly understand. But there are also those who do love us enough to have an open mind and heart to support us in the way we need. And sometimes, we just need to be the ones to reach out first.
I am thankful to have the support from the people I trust. Being more open with them helped to lift some pressure off of myself, allowing me space to work on my issues. But I also know not everyone has access to that kind of social support. If you are struggling too, like it’s you alone against the whole world, consider reaching out to someone. There are support channels offering counselling and help that doesn’t break our bank.