I was initially diagnosed with depression when I was in my mid-20s. I had a tough childhood. I have 2 siblings, older sister and younger brother. My father used to gamble a lot when he was young. We were poor. My mother seemed to have behaviour such as talking to herself and inability to manage her action. She used to scream and scold me in public. I grew up in an environment which was very stressful. I used to fall sick a lot when I was young. I had cough and cold frequently.
I started working part time when I was in my teens. I had to study and work part time to earn pocket money and school fees for myself. Since young, I learnt that I would need to work hard to earn a living. I managed to graduate with a diploma. During my study in polytechnic, my father had a stroke and needed medical care. Subsequently my father was discharged to a nursing home. When I started my first job after polytechnic, my father was transferred back home. He was bed ridden and needed care for all his daily living activities and needs. I often need to stay home to take care of him. My father was subsequently diagnosed with dementia. It was a tremendous stressful period at home with my father being sick and my mother’s behaviour. I was asked to bear all financial needs for the family, including my father’s medical care.
The house environment then was very chaotic. I could not find peace at home. I felt very sad and stress with my home situation. I would talk to my colleagues or friends about my issues. I started to present symptoms such as talking a lot to my friends and became active physically. I bought a lot of things and talked about starting a business of my own. I would cry for no reason too.
I was admitted to the acute mental hospital on a few occasions. I was afraid on my first admission. I did not know what place was that and did not know the reason why I was there. I was initially diagnosed with depression, and later as bipolar disorder.
People around me, including my family, did not understand my symptoms and medical background. I felt very upset and lonely. Despite feeling despondent, I still wish to re-build my family. A few of my friends rejected me when they came to know about my mental illness. I was involved in a relationship with a man then. He decided to break up with me when he found out about my diagnosis and the background of my family. The rejections pushed me further into the valley of despair.
I strived to continue with life. I was able to work in-between admissions to the hospital. I performed well in my job. However, I was terminated from my job when employer found out about my symptoms and diagnosis.
A doctor then referred me to a rehabilitation ward in the mental hospital. There, I recovered gradually. I responded to the medication regimen prescribed by doctor. I was discharged home. Unfortunately, I continued to face stressors from my family member. My doctor and social worker then referred me to a psychiatrics rehabilitation centre.
I came to Simei Care Centre (SCC) in 2010, without any belongings. I received support from the centre to have my footing established.
I enjoyed my life in SCC as I had my own space here. I enjoyed the peace. It was totally different from the environment at home. I worked, made new friends and widen my social network. I enjoyed the fellowship I had with friends there. I used to have very frequent relapse (a few times a year) before I came to SCC. These few years during my stay in there, I had relapse just once a year; in fact, I did not have have any relapse in 2014.
I was offered a job in SCC. I took the opportunity and I have been working there since then. I created a system for inventory at the storeroom. I made beads and jewellery for sale at roadshows too. I had been interested in craftwork since childhood. I worked in one of the company that produced jewellery, where I got to learn skill and technique. I liked making jewellery and will continue to keep learning on my own. I made additional earning to support my living expenses by making beads in the centre and sell them at roadshow. When I had more time and opportunity to make beads, I felt encouraged and motivated, especially when I received assurance and praises on my skill and talent. Working at roadshows helped built my confident and communication skill. I managed to help create awareness among public about psychiatric rehabilitation centre. I used to feel lethargy and sleepy but making beads and going for exercise helped me stay alert and focus.
I received support from SCC during my recovery journey. I received session from occupational therapist (train in staying focus and memory), counsellors, staff (showed concern and care to me which was lacking from my family previously), emotion regulation sessions (mindfulness, learn to manage emotion, accept and face the emotion) and art therapy (to express my feeling). Art therapy, I created my own art pieces, I felt encouraged to see that I have talent in creating arts. I learned sewing skill in art and craft sessions. I even joined outdoor activities such as visiting Singapore Zoo, Sentosa, Universal Studio, where I could relax and have fun with other members and staff.
I found peace in God’s words and learned a set of values that I can use in my life. I learned not to blame God for my illness, but to understand that God gave me the illness and helped my recover from the illness; I would then help others to recover. I felt cared for by sisters and brothers in Christ. I learned that there is always solution to issues or problems. I was able to communicate better with my mother. Although she would still give me some stress once in a while, I felt we both could communicate better nowadays and we meet each other more often now. I am thankful for God has blessed me with a peaceful life now, and blessed me with people who care about me.
I started to join peer specialist training in 2016. This is my interest area, I hope to help others in their recovery journey. I learned to facilitate peer support group, to support and motivate others in their recovery journey. I felt it was very meaningful doing as this is a mean for me to give back to the society. I hope to use story of my recovery journey as a role model or testimony to motivate others. I felt more confident, happy and satisfied with myself. I have fair memory that made me more hardworking and put in extra effort to study and make sure that I can cope with the training. I spent my weekends in preparing and studying the training materials.
The medications I took for mental illness possibly had contributed to my weight gain. I gained some 20kg in a few years’ time. I hoped to be healthy and tried to exercise regularly.
I felt a sense of sadness and pain when I reflected my life in the past. Nevertheless, I can see that I have grown so much in the past few years. I felt satisfied with myself when I reflected on my progress. I am able to manage my work and part time work in making, selling craftwork or jewellery and peer support group. I am ready to take up more challenges in life. I would like to help others during their recovery journey from mental illness. I did not hold grudges towards my mother. In fact, now I support and care for my mother by bringing her for doctors’ appointments and give her some money or buy things for her once in a while. The value that drives me to continue working hard in life, is that I would need to work hard to make sure I live a fulfilling life and God has a lot to expect from me. I hope I can work as a full time peer specialist and buy a two room-flat in five to ten years’ time.
Ivy Lam – A member of Simei Care Centre