In line with Suicide Awareness Day in September, PGR is raising awareness around a very taboo topic: Suicide & Depression. We’ve interviewed several individuals (heroes) about their lived experiences; stories that we hope will bring you healing, hope, and a deeper level of understanding.
In our interview below, we feature Xiu Wen who shares her journey as a high-functioning individual who has achieved much, but continues to deal with many emotions that may not be as obvious on the surface.
Tell us more about your journey?
I started showing signs of depression back when I was about 16.
Back then, when resources on mental health were scarce, it didn’t really cross my mind that I was suffering from depression. I just felt ill and different from others. Thankfully, I was able to cope well enough throughout my teenage years and eventually managed to graduate from university.
Although some of my friends knew of my condition, they were ill-equipped to provide much help. Frankly, I didn’t think it was that serious as I seemed to be able to “progress” (at least outwardly) – finding a good job in academia, enrolling in a PhD program etc.
Looking back though, I was definitely putting too much responsibility on myself without taking care of my mental health or keeping it in check. Things continued this way until it got to my “breaking point” – I couldn’t take the stress, felt overwhelmed, and didn’t want to continue living with such pain.
How did you get diagnosed?
In my early twenties, I was recommended to seek help from a psychiatrist several times but always backed out due to fear of how it might affect my future employment possibilities and the stigma surrounding it.
Eventually, though, it got to the point where I couldn’t ignore how much my condition was affecting my life. Back then, there weren’t many support groups or mental health initiatives which provided information. I had to search for affordable mental health care services – and found out some polyclinics had in-house psychological services, so I took the first step by visiting a polyclinic.
Naturally, there was tremendous fear that they would not believe I needed help or that they would dismiss my condition altogether. However, my fears were unfounded and everyone there was very professional. I remember the doctor swiftly referring me to their psychologist, and I was able to book a therapy session within two weeks.
After some therapy sessions in the polyclinic, the psychologist decided to refer me to a hospital so that I could receive a more holistic form of care from a team of psychologists and psychiatrists. It has been about 5 years since that initial appointment, and I’ve continued to receive treatment from that team.
Tell us more about your recovery journey?
The impetus to start my recovery came from within. One day, I just decided “enough was enough” and that I wanted to do something about my condition. Of course, deciding was just one step – the part that was the hardest was figuring out how to go about it.
I think, like me, many individuals recognise that they need some form of help but are unsure of the steps to take. I’m thankful that I had a very supportive spouse who invested a lot of time to help in my recovery. He joined the Caregivers Alliance in order to understand my condition better and to better support me. Needless to say, I’m eternally grateful to him.
What did you wish you knew back then?
As mentioned above, I was initially worried about how the “stain” of mental illness would affect future job prospects. I didn’t want others to see me as incapable due to my struggles. Given that, I did not want to seek help for the longest time in fear of “jeopardizing” my future.
Looking back, I wish I knew that was far from the truth! Although there may be some employers or companies that discriminate against mental health conditions, most are quite accepting (especially given how mental health struggles are becoming a less taboo topic in our current climate).
I wish I knew it wasn’t worth jeopardizing my recovery for the sake of a group of people who might judge me. If I had started my recovery journey earlier, the process might have been easier, and I might not have had to experience so many struggles in coming to terms with my condition.
What are some misconceptions about suicide and/or depression that frustrate you?
The misconception that individuals living with depression are unable to handle work or life responsibilities is one of my biggest frustrations.
It’s a “blanket” belief that shouldn’t be applied to all of those struggling. As someone who has lived with depression for almost half my life, I have learnt how to “live” with it and embrace it as part of my life journey. When I see others labeling me as someone with a diminished capacity to navigate life, it definitely hinders my ability to live life as a “normal” person.
Another misconception that bothers me is that talking about suicide may lead someone struggling with depression to suicide ideation. So many are terrified to bring up or explore such topics in fear of “triggering” others. In fact, the opposite is sometimes true. Talking about suicide openly can often diminish the stigma associated with it and may even prompt those struggling to seek help without fear of judgement.
As I’ve come to realise, however, many of these misconceptions are due to a lack of education and awareness about mental health. I’m therefore learning to be more patient with people, and I also try my best to educate others when the chance arises.
What advice do you have for those who are struggling?
Struggling with a mental health condition is obviously difficult in various ways. It’s always easy to give up – but remember that there’s a lot of courage and determination within you just going through the struggle.
When you struggle with mental health issues, there tends to be the expectation that recovery will be a constant upward journey. When that doesn’t happen, it can be tempting to feel bad and beat yourself up. I think it’s important to know that there’s bound to be ups and downs – that’s part of the process. I’ve learnt to embrace the cycle of ups and downs and to treat it as part and parcel of recovery. I hope those struggling can start to become more comfortable with the inevitable ups and downs – while also taking pride in their own journey.
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