I’ve been struggling with my mental health since I was around 13 years old. I wrote off the newfound anxiety, loss of interest, and lower energy levels, as a teenage phase. Likewise, so did the adults around me. When the feelings I felt didn’t go away, but worsened with age to the point where I started to refused to go to school, I knew I had to see someone about it.
Feeling afraid of stigmatisation in public healthcare settings, I pleaded to consult a private psychiatrist. No recommendations, no referrals – just the power of the internet and the sheer fear of letting anyone know that I was actually seeking help for something of a psychological nature. In first seeing a psychiatrist, I didn’t feel comfortable revealing too much of my personal history – so I mentioned only recent, severe symptoms I was experiencing at a particular point in time. The specialist I saw didn’t have the best bedside manner, and asked me (in retrospect to other specialists and psychologists I’ve consulted since then) barely any questions. He diagnosed me with “some sort of mood disorder” and sent me on my way with the lowest dose of antidepressants. After taking the medication for a month, and not “feeling” much worse, my family and I decided that I would stop medication.
I didn’t know at the time, that symptoms of mental health could also manifest in interpersonal relationships, and one’s intrapersonal understanding of oneself. These were issues I had had at the time, that I concluded, again, were situational, and not reflective of any psychological issue I might have.
As I continued on with my life, I noticed certain patterns of behaviour that continued to happen, year after year, and feelings that would follow it. I also became more aware of my rapid fluctuations in mood, according to people around me. Finally, one day, several major stressors in my life overlapped, and I couldn’t see a point in me being alive anymore.
This feeling was all-consuming and terrifying – it made me feel like my entire life before was non-existent. I had breakdown after breakdown after breakdown, until finally, I planned to take my life, and began to type goodbye messages to important people in my life. Luckily, they realised what was happening, and I realised I was a danger to myself.
I was living on my university campus at the time, and I informed the staff in charge. I was promptly escorted to the hospital – a humiliating, but humbling experience. I realised something was really, really wrong with me. And so I decided, finally, with advising from the hospital as well, to seek out a psychiatrist.
This time, I was given a thorough review – I only regret that my first positive experience with a psychiatrist did not happen in Singapore, but overseas. I was told that I had some symptoms of borderline personality disorder. I was shocked, and terrified – but I was also reassured that this wasn’t a full diagnosis. While anxious about this unofficial diagnosis, I was also relieved – as I searched more about the disorder, which was the first time I had been introduced to it, I identified more and more with it. With that in mind, I sought to seek the advised treatment, dialectical behaviour therapy, but once more, did not seek it immediately.
Instead, I underwent a variety of other, new stressors, but reassured with the option of therapy in sight, thought I would be able to “handle” it on my own. I did seek therapy, but once I began to, I still refused to see it as regularly advised by my therapist. And once I began therapy, another, altogether highly terrifying symptom of BPD started to manifest in my life – dissociation. It was then that I entered a deeply emotionally draining state, and decided that I would need to continue more intensive treatment back in Singapore.
Mustering the courage to break the news to my family felt like the worst shame in the world. And upon returning, it has been a long and arduous journey that is only just beginning, in finding psychiatrists and therapists that I’m comfortable with. I’ve met the stigma of revealing my “unofficial” diagnosis, and it makes seeking help even more of a struggle than it already is, especially since awareness of it among public health professionals in Singapore is truly lacking.
I hope as I continue my psychological battles, that I can help to shed light on mental health issues and reduce the stigma of psychological suffering here.