15. Are you suffering?

If you recognise yourself in my story, I would like to speak to you here, personally. Perhaps you only see a certain portion of yourself, or perhaps you have had similar experiences and disillusionments. Or perhaps you feel the same sadness and lack of joy or constant pain. Perhaps you don’t understand happiness, or you find yourself struggling to be happy in the midst of a world that seems obsessed with being happy.

This message is for you.

You are not alone.

Read that again. Savour it. You are not alone. You aren’t alone in this suffering.

If you have never sought medical help before, perhaps it’s time to consider. There are various means that you can use in Singapore. If you are not having suicidal thoughts, or don’t believe that you will act on your thoughts in the short run, visit a government polyclinic to get assessed. GPs in Singapore are more well equipped to assess such conditions than is generally known, thankfully. I have managed to get compassionate help from my private GP as well as the polyclinic GP that I have seen. They will help you to be referred to any government hospital to be seen further if there is a need. If not, at least you will know that you are perhaps not ill after all. There are also other sources that you can seek for help from, such as counselling centers, or private therapists. Do note that while certain mental health conditions can be claimed from Medisave at government restructured hospitals, private therapists or counselling centers may not be claimable. Most insurance plans don’t cover mental conditions, but generally care is affordable. If not, government restructured hospitals will always work with you to help you manage your payments, such as paying in installments, and the Counselling and Care Centre is a not-for-profit organisation located in Chinatown, that will charge based on income levels.

If you are already seeking medical help, but feel alone, remember that you are not alone. There are many people who are also seeking medical help for mental issues. Don’t feel ashamed that you are ill, or fall for the fallacy that if you are mentally ill, you are mentally weaker than the next person. No one chooses to be ill, just as no one chooses to have a broken arm, or the flu. Don’t blame yourself. There isn’t any point anyway – whether you like it or not, that is the current situation. Be responsible in taking your medication, and keeping up with your follow ups, and that is already a huge accomplishment. Be responsible for your own actions too, and apologise where you need to, but don’t apologise for being sick. Again, you’re not alone.

Regardless of whether you are seeking help, if you feel suicidal, answer the following questions:

  1. Do you have constant thoughts of suicide?
  2. Do you have a plan on how to commit suicide? Can you describe it to some level of detail?
  3. Do you have a timeline by which you wish to commit suicide?

If your answer is yes to all the questions above, seek immediate help. Death may seem to be the only option, and may seem delicious and easier – but your mind is lying to you. There are other ways, and you need to seek help. Call the Samaritans of Singapore at 1800-221 4444. Alternatively, IMH has a 24 hour helpline at 6389 2222. Both numbers are manned by trained counsellors, 24 by 7. It won’t hurt to at least talk to someone who is willing to listen to you before you do anything. You have nothing to lose by calling either of these numbers as soon as possible.

There are major changes that mental health sufferers will have to adapt to, once we are diagnosed. Our expectations of life and the world need to be toned down. Don’t ever demand or expect that we will be treated the same way, once it is known that we have this issue. While people with other disabilities may have the courage and ability to fight for equality, remember that our illness is one that is unseen. Get well first. As long as we are not fully well, there are fights we cannot fight. When we are better, then that is where we can educate others on the illness, and increase awareness of the issue.

Put another way, our fight is simply to live to the next day first. When we have accomplished that, we can fight for the next week. When we have conquered thinking a week ahead, we can then learn to fight a month ahead. And so on. Don’t expect too much of yourself, because your mind needs to recover and heal. And sometimes the healing can take years. If miracles happen, and they do, then good. If not, don’t ever forget that such mental illnesses are there for the long haul.

If you find yourself dipping back into the darkness, try not to despair. Talk to your mental health professional at the closest possible opportunity. Work with your doctor or therapist, not against them. Pharmaceutical conspiracies are precisely that – conspiracies. The amounts we pay for our medicines, especially at government hospitals, doesn’t justify the doctors keeping us on treatment simply to earn money off us or even the government. Our doctors and therapists work hard to help us get better. But if you are not comfortable with the doctor or therapist working with you, by all means, ask for another one. Just don’t do that too often either, as there aren’t that many in Singapore to go around in the first place!

Finally get a support group that understands you without demanding more from you. This support group can include friends, family members or members of your religious group. We need to grow and improve at our own pace, and no one has a right to dictate the pace for us. In the same way, we will determine how much we progress through therapy and medication. If we are not honest with our support groups, or our doctors, we can’t expect to get better any time soon. But if we are honest, and responsible for our own actions, reaching out for help when we need it, there is every hope and chance that we will come out from under this dark cloud at some point in our lives.

Singapore remains a country where not everyone is well versed in understanding depression and similar mental conditions. The medical help structure however, is robust, and has contributed to saving lives. Don’t waste our lives or hurt the ones who love us, by taking our lives into our own hands. Seek help, and remember that we are never alone in this fight. At least you now know that I’ll be struggling alongside you. You can contact me if you need someone to email and talk to about your struggles.

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