In conjunction with World Mental Health Day 2015, the Malaysian Mental Health Association organised an essay-writing competition for those with mental health illness and their caregivers.

The main aims of this competition were to educate and create better awareness of mental illness, promote early detection and treatment, and better acceptance of mental illness, as well as destigmatise such conditions.

Fit for life will be publishing the top three entries over the next few weeks.

This week, we present the essay by Air Jernih, which came in second.

You can find the 3rd place winner’s story here.


I thank God when I can, because there was a time that I could not

Most people take for granted the ability to wake up, eat, bathe, walk, talk… But there was a time in my life when a toothbrush was too heavy to lift, when getting out of bed seemed almost impossible, when opening a gate felt like opening a one-tonne iron door, and stepping out of the house seemed as difficult as climbing Mount Everest.

• was 22 when depression struck. From being an outspoken person, I became withdrawn.

From being a leader, I wanted to become nothing. At one point, I really felt like nothing. That was when I really could do nothing.

Back then, I was a medical student in my third year of university. My father had just passed away, and so had a friend.

I suddenly felt that I did not know how to take care of myself, what more others.

So I withdrew and locked myself in my room. I knew that help was available, but I refused to see a psychiatrist.

I can handle this by myself, I thought.

For a short period of time, I did, until it all became unmanageable. It took me a year and a half before I sought professional help.

Even then, I refused medication. Why? Because I did not want to accept that I had depression.

Whether we realise or not, depression remains a stigma in society. Visiting a psychiatrist would mean either one of two things: either you are “weak” or you have gone crazy.

I obviously did not want to be associated with either. It is alright to see a doctor for headaches, tummy pains and other bodily discomforts, but not for a mental breakdown.

Antihypertensives are drugs which are well accepted, but when it comes to antidepressants, it’s a different story altogether.

Some view people with depression as weak or lazy, or just seeking attention. They feel that such symptoms can be controlled by the power of the will alone, but depression in fact is more than that.

Depression is a state of longstanding low mood and energy levels that you try to get out of, but you simply cannot.

lt sinks so deeply into you, binds you, and drains you of every ounce of strength that you have, until you are left with nothing.

In the study of psychiatry, the cause of any mental illness is divided into three aspects: biological, psychological and social.

“Biological” represents the genetic predisposition, which is means that if either of your parents have depression, there is a higher likelihood of you getting depression.

This is due to the chemical imbalances in the brain which predisposes to the illness.

Next, the “psychological” aspect is related to how a person thinks, i.e. how one works through difficult situations and stressors.

Lastly, the “social” aspect speaks of the environment a person is in – whether there are supportive family members and friends, or whether the workplace is conducive.

Working through all these three aspects is important in helping one understand and overcoming depression.

In my final year of university, I accepted the “help” of antidepressants. By then, despite multiple counselling sessions and tireless attempts to recondition my mind more positively, I reached a stage where even picking up a book became a challenge.

I knew then that I could not put off medication any longer.

Within a month of starting medication, my mood bounced back to a level that I had never known before. For once, I felt like the sky was blue and that I could breathe.

I graduated with a medical degree.

You have heard the phrase, “doctors are the worst patients”. Well, upon graduating, I decided to stop taking medications against medical advice. Lo and behold, two months into housemanship, I suffered a relapse.

I woke up every single morning with palpitations. I could not concentrate at work. I found living arduous.

And finally, even walking became laborious.

I was forced to go on medical leave. For three whole weeks, I lay on the couch, hardly speaking a word. Questions kept running through my mind. “Will I ever work again? Why is this happening to me? Why am I here? What is my purpose in life?”

At that moment, I lost all sense of identity and purpose. Living meant nothing to me.

It took three weeks for the effect of the medication to kick in, and it was seven weeks before I started working again. It took courage to step back into work, knowing that the whole department had been talking about me.

However, my superiors and colleagues were considerate and did not give me a hard time, and I managed to blend into the crowd as a caregiver.

Thinking back, acceptance was the most difficult part of my journey of depression – firstly, self-acceptance, and then, the acceptance of others.

When you do not acknowledge that there is a problem, how then can you find solutions?

Perhaps, if I had started on medication earlier or had been compliant to my medication, my relapse could have been avoided.

Receptive friends and family helped me recover better.

It is especially important for one who has gone through depression to feel accepted despite being different.

Thanks to antidepressants and supportive family and friends, today, l am a full fledged doctor in a district hospital. l am 28 and am still on antidepressants.

You may ask, how can a person who has depression become a doctor?

My answer is, why not? I do not deny that I have low mood and energy levels at times, but knowing my limits and the amount of stress I can take before I break down helps me pace myself and take necessary rest when needed.

With medication, I can keep up with the demands of my daily work.

I do not compromise my responsibilities or patient care.

Just as one with diabetes can carry out regular activities when on treatment, so can one with depression.