MENTAL ILLNESS DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A PSYCHOLOGICAL PRISON SENTENCE. THREE WOMEN TELL US HOW THEY EMERGED FROM THE DEPTHS OF DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY, AND WENT ON TO LIVE LIFE TO THE FULLEST WHILE HELPING OTHERS.
1 LYNETTE D’CRUZ
She emerged from the abyss of depression and gained a completely different outlook on life in just two years. The 30-year describes herself back then as “a walking zombie”.
After years of battling depression – she was diagnosed with four disorders: bipolar, anxiety, clinical depression and bulimia – Lynette D’Cruz says she ﬁnally needed to pick herself up after contemplating suicide for the second time within a year.
She tells Her World: “People misinterpret selflove. It is more than just manicures and haircuts. For me, it means putting focus to push my limits, and break my body down into different parts. It shows that I’m capable of more than just lying at home and crying. When I achieve something, like completing a marathon, it’s indeed empowering.”
Two years ago, Lynette found herself at the police station in Ang Mo Kio for attempted suicide. The incident was a culmination of her bottled-up emotions of being bullied in secondary school, the passing of her father when she was 13, and losing her job in a wine company after it folded.
Lynette, who was then studying user experience at General Assembly (GA), recalls: “I felt mostly sedated from the medication that I was taking at that time. I had to skip work and, subsequently, I lost my job and could barely concentrate in class.”
Lynette was an adolescent “cutter” – when words weren’t enough to express her overwhelming emotions, and self-injury gave her a sense of release.
The near-death episode in 2017 saw her being put on regular medical treatment, and scheduled visits with social workers and a psychotherapist at the Institute of Mental Health.
But a year later, she suffered a major blow.
She spiralled downhill when her two-year relationship ended abruptly, and the planned wedding was cancelled. She was then unemployed after graduating from GA, which offers training in tech, data, design and business.
Lynette, who now works as a UX designer, recalls, solemnly: “Ten days after the relationship was over, I found out that my ex was in a relationship with another woman. My mind just exploded. I was alone and wondered if I should end my life.” She woke up the next day and told herself, “Enough is enough”.
“I was alive but dead inside,” she describes. “I felt like a ghost ﬂoating around, and I would pass out in bed half the time. I hated myself then because I didn’t know who I was anymore.”
Lynette weaned herself off medication last year, and changed her lifestyle to a healthy and active one. She reconnected with friends, and picked up pole dancing and rock climbing. Occasionally, she hikes at Bukit Timah Hill and Penang Hill.
This year alone, she participated in the Shape Run and Great Eastern Women’s Run, as well as completing The Stadion, Sprint and Super Spartan obstacle course races.
Lynette even got back to her favourite childhood hobby – skateboarding. In February, she was a volunteer at the Singapore Mental Health Film Festival, by local non-proﬁt initiative The Breathe Movement.
The festival aims to break the stigma of mental illness through inspiring and thought-provoking ﬁlms, panel discussions, and workshops.
“I tried new things that I had never done before,” she says. “I even went hiking with a newly acquainted friend at Bukit Kutu in Kuala Lumpur – and we got lost. It was fun, though!”
She adds: “I’ll go out for a run when I feel myself getting upset. It always helps.”
Lynette, who is now in a better place, says being stronger physically and mentally has helped her battle negative thoughts, and changed her perspective in life.
“Now, I know what selflove is,” she says.
2 NICOLE KAY
She never wanted to admit that she was suffering from mental issues even though all signs were there. Nicole Kay was constantly falling ill and stressed out.
It all came to a head when her general practitioner referred the then 24-yearold to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with major depressive disorder and generalised anxiety disorder.
Her ﬁrst reaction, she recalls: “I was disappointed with myself as I thought it was because I was generally weak.” Upon her diagnosis, the management and social psychology graduate quit her ﬁrst job as an administrator in the banking sector. She was always working overtime, and workplace bullying was prevalent.
“I was stressed, with the constant sense of wanting to please people and to live up to their expectations,” the introvert remembers.
At home, Nicole had to deal with her parents, who were going through a divorce.
Nicole took up part-time English tuition jobs, and started penning a journal. She explains: “It’s the best therapy, and writing helps me to externalise things when I’m down – like unclogging a choked pipe.”
Through writing, Nicole articulated her emotions and thoughts with her psychiatrist and psychologist.
Her growth as a writer – and gradually, with a better grasp of managing her emotions – led to Nicole founding The Tapestry Project SG in 2014. The online platform gives those who suffer from mental illness a voice.
She says: “I wanted every person and household with Internet to have access to mental health information, especially personal stories that weren’t readily available a few years back. It empowers people to take ownership of their own story.”
She adds: “People who used the platform told me that they felt relieved, and that it has helped them in their journey.”
Besides humanising illness and recovery, eradicating the stigma behind mental illness was another reason she set up The Tapestry Project SG, emphasises Nicole. Last year was a big year for the writer, now 37: She started her Masters in creative writing at Lasalle College of the Arts, and was engaged for National Library Board’s writing workshops.
She says: “Most of my life, I felt that I was not heard, thus I turned to writing. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Ignorance breeds stigma, and it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. I hope to change people’s minds about mental health.”
3 EILEEN CHAI
When ex-national athlete Eileen Chai left her sports career, she thought she would never ﬁnd her footing again. She was a sports prodigy: At seven, she became the youngest artistic gymnast who qualiﬁed for the 1985 SEA Games, and went on to compete in another four SEA Games in gymnastics, trackand-ﬁeld and springboard diving, for a decade.
But the multiple emotional and physical setbacks made her put an end to competitive sports in 1995. She was 17 then.
What she didn’t know was that she was suffering from social performance anxiety, a mental disorder.
Of her early life, Eileen, now a musician and music teacher, recalls: “My anxiety probably began when I was training gymnastics in China. The training was tough and I put a lot of pressure on myself.” That anxiety ollowed her into adulthood.
When she entered the National University of Singapore (NUS) and started playing the violin with the NUS Symphonic Orchestra, she was often on edge, worrying and overthinking. Her bouts of anxiety became so overwhelming that she ound it hard to leave home without bursting into tears, or no reason.
Three years ago, she was diagnosed with social performance anxiety.
“My husband saw my actions as a cry for help and convinced me to meet with Dr Ken Ung, a psychiatrist whom he knows. This was after I stormed off from the band (we had formed) when someone said something that triggered me,” says Eileen, 41.
Her treatment included cognitive behavioural therapy. She was given a diary to pen her thoughts, and was assessed according to what she has written.
Eileen was able to let go of her past after attending a spiritual talk. “It was about throwing away the self-doubt and my sports past,” she says. “It was a smoother climb to recovery. I’m no longer angry all the time and I’m able to articulate my feelings.”
Eileen wants to help others like her. Last year, she and her hubby founded 3am Music Collective.
She adds: “We want to collaborate with medical associations to promote support for victims of mental illness. We want people to realise that getting help isn’t embarrassing. It can happen to anyone.”
DAWN WONG & HAYLEY TAI