I am 28 this year. For the past four years, I have been living with mental illness. Visits to psychiatrists and pill-popping are part of my routine. It is not the adulthood I had envisioned.
When I was a kid, I harboured dreams of having a lovely family (an adoring spouse and beautiful healthy children), a successful career, and an active social life.
Little did I know life would test me in a way that I never expected. During my last year in university, I was studying hard for my final year exams, when a family crisis erupted. My family found itself in substantial debts due to an ill-written will. I got regular updates from the family on the distressing situation, but felt helpless to do anything.
My mind was fixed on getting a first class honours so that my PTPTN loan could be waived and I could provide for my family when I started work.
I had a best friend of 10 years who was my roommate at that time. When she stopped returning to the room, I got curious and asked her why. She told me: “The distress on your face scares me.”
Subsequently, I fell into depression.
After graduating, I did what any normal graduate would do. I looked for a job and dated a few guys I met at work. But something was not right. I was living in fear and felt threatened all the time. I started to scrutinise every aspect of my life. I heard voices in my head and withdrew socially.
I struggled with insomnia for six months and was hospitalised. My weight plummeted, and I was barely conscious of what was happening around me.
At one point, I could not even stand or walk. There was no physical impairment or issues, but I just could not walk. All I could remember was, I was on the bed 24/7, and I had difficulty breathing. The doctor could not find anything wrong with my lungs, yet I was struggling to breathe.
I lost count of the number of times I was rushed to the hospital following a panic attack. I could not work for half a year. The amount of pills I had to take was staggering. There were tranquilisers, anti-depressants and sleeping pills. My psychiatrist did not tell me much about my medical condition. I guess he did not want me to live with a label.
I kept wondering what was wrong with me. One day, I took a peep at the report my psychiatrist left on the counter. I saw the diagnosis: major depression. So that explained why I kept losing the urge to live.
I could not understand the conflicting emotions that raged inside me. I lost my sense of self and had difficulty relating to others. All these developments got me more worried. I was plagued by doubts, fears and poor self-esteem.
I tried to look for an answer from within, but none could be found. I suspected I was possessed, I suspected it was my strict upbringing, I suspected I studied too hard and had injured my brain. Every single minute I doubted myself.
Three years passed. I am in and out of employment. I had no goals in life, no savings. All my savings went to my medical bills. Deep down, I didn’t know who I was. I felt this was not me. I wanted my old personality back.
Eight months ago, I started to see this psychiatrist at the Ipoh General Hospital. The doctor was very attentive. Her initial diagnosis was depression, but after a few visits, she found out that I have been suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD).
It now makes sense to me. There is an answer finally! So what is BDP? An Internet search describes it as a serious mental illness that centres on the inability to manage emotions effectively. Most people with BPD have problems regulating their emotions and thoughts. They can be impulsive and sometimes display reckless behaviour.
Other disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and substance abuse can exist alongside BPD.
Getting the right diagnosis was good news. The bad news was that there was no available treatment for BPD in the country.
A suitable treatment for BPD is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy but there is no practitioner locally. The next closest option is psychodynamic therapy. It costs RM500 per session and has to be carried out once a week for a whole year. The cost broke my hopes. I could not afford this treatment.
That is my story. My suffering is invisible, just like all the patients who are battling mental illness. We often live in fear because of the stigma associated with mental illness.
People often tell us, “Don’t be so negative, don’t be affected by it too much.” Some friends think this is just drama queen seeking attention. What people do not know is, depression or any form of mental disorder is not something that you can just snap out of. It is a sickness of the brain. It is like being haunted by ghosts; people around you do not see it and they do not believe it exists.
Please understand us when we say we really fight hard to win the battle. You can’t see this because it is invisible. But do not disregard our efforts. Would you tell a blind person to try harder and see clearer? Would you tell a diabetic patient to control his insulin secretion properly?
It is frustrating that people do not understand mental illness. If my story can encourage even one person, my daily struggle to survive the ordeal is made purposeful. I am deeply grateful for the unconditional love and support of my family and friends who have helped me in this journey.
Beyond Barriers is a platform for sharing and raising awareness on disability issues and any chronic medical condition. We welcome contributions from readers who have a disability or any special needs, caregivers, advocates of disability groups, or anyone living with any chronic medical condition. E-mail your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. Contributions which are published will be paid, so please include your full name, IC number, address and contact number.