I came from a broken family. My parents divorced when I was 12 years old, and I lived with my mother and grandmother since. My mother went through a lot of suffering as she had to bear all our living expanse, lodging and my school expense. She even resorted to taking only one meal a day to scrimped and saved.
During my school days, I did not lead a normal life like other children. I was often the victim to school bullying. On top of that, I had to go straight home and attend to the needs of my auntie and uncle. I was treated like a maid and was not allowed to have any contact with my friends. When I disobey them, I will end up getting canned.
With the limited resources available, I managed to graduate from Institute of Technical Education. After my graduation, I served my National Service (NS) in Singapore Civil Defence Force. However, during my time of service there, I was diagnosed by the Institute of Mental Health with depression, anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsion disorder, anger management issues and social phobia. Throughout my 2 years of NS, I was bullied too. During my NS, I had to wear a jockey cap which was part of my uniform, and had become so dependent on wearing it till this day, as I am fearful of taking it off to look at people eye to eye.
After my NS ended, I was afraid to go anywhere because I had become anti-social by then. My school friend from ITE asked me to invest in his café and I invested $8,800 of my hard earned savings into his business. However it turned out to be a scam! I was very confused, angry and sad that this happened to me, and had to seek various jobs just to make ends meet. I eventually found work as a night security officer. For four years, it was a good job for me as I did not need to meet a lot of people during those working hours.
In 2014, my father passed away. I regretted not spending enough time with him while he was alive. I was very miserable, kept very much to myself and stayed home most of the time
Several months later, while buying food, I lost my wallet with my Identity Card in it. I reported this to the police but later found out that it had been used to loan money from loan sharks. They even painted my unit number at my lift landing and demanded payment. This harassment caused my depression and anxiety to relapse.
In February 2015, I was referred to SACS Employment Support Services for help. My Employment Specialist, Ms. Pauline Chia, supported me a lot and helped me link up with the SACS’s Social Enterprise unit. I started training at their Thrift shop known as Something Old Something New (SOSN) in June 2015.
Initially, it was very difficult having to learn how to cope with my fellow trainees as well as customers. I wanted to quit on several occasions, but the kind SOSN staff encouraged me to press on and don’t give up no matter how tough the going gets, as this is part of my recovery journey. Gradually, I picked up the necessary skills and despite numerous unpleasant incidents with my fellow trainees, I learnt to apologise for my over critical behaviour, and began to accept them as they are; after all, they were here to be helped, just like me.
Throughout my recovery journey at SOSN, I faced several challenges, such as communicating with total strangers, overcoming the fear of crowded places, having to stay awake while working, learning to plan and set goals for the business to continue to improve.
I am very glad that I am now better and more confident interacting with fellow trainees and customers. This has helped me overcome my social phobia, while having OCD is not such a bad thing as I learnt to channel it into my work, especially in displaying and arranging merchandise. I have also learnt to better control my anger issues.
My mother depends on me for support, and recently she has been diagnosed with heart problems which require an operation, but she refused to do it. I aspire to find a job that can help me earn enough to support my family, and for now, to work hard towards recovering from my mental illness. Eventually, I hope to be able to open a shop of my own and also continue with further studies.
Even though I have not recovered completely from my illness, I am very grateful to all SOSN staff and trainees, and also Pauline Chia, for their kind support and encouragement.
Cai Cheng Jin – A staff of Something Old Something New Thrift Shop