World Mental Health Day might be months ahead but there is never a right time to raise awareness about mental health. We are living among many others who are silently suffering from emotional and/or psychological distress, and we can never tell because they have blend in well with us.
A shocking number of people are living with mental disorders from stressful work environments, family abuse, or traumatic situations that leave them feeling disturbed and distressed. Unfortunately, many of them often go without consulting professionals out of shame, fear of being judged, fear of feeling like a weakling, a failure, and the reasonings go on.
Eventually, they end up using drugs or alcohol to numb their pain, or they decided not to go on with life.
This is a true story about a girl who is living with a mental disorder.
The thing is, you can never tell that she has a psychological issue just by looking at her. She has yet to seek professional help, and so we can’t put a name to the mental disorder she is having.
Jacqueline*, a good friend of mine, is one good living example.
This story that you’re about to read is based on her true-life circumstance, and whom I’ve gotten her consent to share.
Every day, Jacqueline goes around running her chores like every ordinary day. Bringing her 3 kids for their activities and interacting with everyone else just like a normal person would.
However deep down inside, she has a mental disorder that can be easily triggered with no warning signs.
Jacqueline has been struggling with this mental disorder for 12 years and probably still counting. At 19 years old, right before her then-boyfriend, Alaric* was about to be enlisted, they found out that she was pregnant.
Jacqueline had just lost her mom less than a year ago and knowing that she is with a child left her with mixed feelings. On one hand, she felt blessed and comforted that the child might be a reincarnation of her mom, on the other, how is she going to bring up a child on her own while Alaric is serving National Service (NS)?
No one understood the adverse effect Jacqueline experienced, and how a simple situation such as serving National Service can turn into a traumatic experience for Jacqueline.
In Singapore, all males above 18 years old must serve National Service for 2 years. In most vocations, they can only be home on Friday nights, and back to camps on Sunday nights.
On top of this, being from a traditional Chinese family, it is considered a shameful situation when the girl gets pregnant before marriage. Her dad was extremely upset when he found out and having just lost his wife, he was struggling with anger issues himself.
Thinking that she has no family support, she took it upon herself to find a way to have the child and support him.
Through her insistence and the blessings from Alaric’s grandma, they kept the child and that is when the nightmare began for her.
Despite wanting to follow her initial plan of getting married at 25, Alaric’s father insisted that they get married and assured her that Alaric would be able to be home daily throughout the 2 years.
Being young and scared, she believed him and went on with the marriage.
Sadly, things never got easier.
Jacqueline was looked down upon even by her relatives, and outsiders were very judgmental of her. There was a stranger who even spat in her face for no reason while she was waiting for the bus.
She was in the final year of her Diploma, and she bit the bullet to make it to graduation. Fortunately, a couple of teachers who knew her situation was supportive and helped her whenever they could.
After graduation, it was nearly time to welcome the baby to this world. During her struggle with her studies, Alaric had also just started NS. The first three months of the training were conducted on another island, and every day she would mark off each day on her calendar to count down to the end of his training.
She was lucky that her in-laws loved her like she was theirs, yet she felt a big hollow hole in her heart as the days passed. She would cry herself to sleep every night, and she frequently wondered if she will be able to pull through this crisis.
Marriage to every girl is a fairytale dream come true. However, Jacqueline never had that fairytale dream.
She wanted it to be over quickly, and they had the ceremony in Alaric’s home. She never felt more miserable on her matrimonial night knowing that Alaric will be gone the next day.
When the baby finally arrived 3 months later, Alaric could only accompany her for 3 days. Forcing herself to appear happy in front of Alaric and the others, she tried to suppress all her emotions, hoping not to make things more difficult for him.
The thing was, the more she suppressed her emotions, the more she felt she was going crazy.
She tried talking to her girlfriend but all she got was negative comments. She was called ‘insensitive and weak’, and ‘not understanding towards Alaric’. Feeling mentally drained, she felt her world turned darker with each passing day.
Finally, out of desperation, she decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Clinical Psychology hoping to find a solution to her downward mental spiral.
There, she met a bunch of great people where she felt accepted. One particular friend was her pillar of support during the study, and she was full of gratitude towards him. Without his support and persuasion, she knew her marriage would have gone down in flames.
Fast forward 2 years, amidst all the heated quarrels and arguments in texts and person, Alaric finally finished his National Service training.
Jacqueline, however, did not manage to find the end of her tunnel of negative emotions.
These negativities have built up a great load of hatred towards Alaric and her life, and the only reason she was still alive was because of her son.
She was graduating with her bachelor’s and she knew that she needed to find a job soon. Because she promised her boy that she will always be there for him, Jacqueline was never able to settle in a job for long.
The longest job she held was as an Interior Designer where she was able to bring her son to some of her projects. Jacqueline tried hard to be her cheerful self as much as possible, however, she was having flashbacks so often it drove her to act crazily.
It was so bad that once, she was so mad when Alaric did not bid goodbye to their son, and she called him up to shout at him on the phone. This was a sign that she needed help, yet no one discovered she might be suffering from a mental disorder.
Jacqueline never told anyone about her trauma or her depressive thoughts.
Alaric knew she was in misery, but he did not know the depth of it. He gave her a promise that no matter how much she hated him, he would make it all up to her. Wishing that she could find any miracle to forgive him and forget about the entire trauma, she seeks her methods to try to overcome her depression.
The flashbacks got lesser as the years passed although minor details will still trigger her anger and hatred. She continued making peace with her disorder, hoping that one day it will all be gone. People often tell her “Time will heal all odds, just forgive and forget”. Yet, any events to do with the army or even a conversation about the army could trigger Jacqueline’s train of negative thoughts.
When Jacqueline was 23, she lost her dad to a fatal heart attack. She has no immediate family left besides Alaric and her son.
Alaric quit his job to help her tide over the period and to give her the support she needed.
Having no other family members left in Singapore, the burden of looking after her aged and dementia grandparents laid on her shoulders. Alaric and her had to deal with social workers, home care, and the rental of her grandparents’ home themselves.
Despite her grandparents having a daughter who migrated to Canada decades ago, her aunt backstabbed Jacqueline without blinking an eye. She changed their Will and got all assets before Grandma was officially diagnosed with severe dementia.
Feeling very tired of everything, Jacqueline decided not to fight with her only ‘family member’ left for her rights.
As the years passed, Jacqueline and Alaric had another 2 sons together and, on the surface, it looked like they were a happy family.
Jacqueline, though, knew otherwise.
Although 8 years have passed since the trauma, Jacqueline was still living in the pitch-dark tunnel. She could not see even a glimpse of light, let alone the end of the tunnel.
Alaric had gotten a few jobs over the years, but he could not stay long in each job because of her out-of-this-world reactions.
At that time, Alaric did not know the type of flashbacks she will have, like as if she were re-living the trauma by the second. He did not know that she had painful pangs in the chest each time she was reminded of an awful thought, and sometimes she would find herself crying in the showers.
Alaric having to go to work each day felt like abandonment to her, and many times they will be arguing their way to a divorce.
Because Alaric valued family over his career, he has been sacrificing his career progression over the years. He kept his promise to be by her side physically for the past 6 years and up until recently, he has since found a new job.
Yes, she is having difficulties accepting the change. One thing that has changed is that she is working hard to change her mentality to embrace this change.
Another issue Jacqueline struggles with was being a perfectionist. Unknowingly, this has also been adding to her depression. Until she felt bare again without Alaric to ease her insecurities, it has never occurred to her that she had this condition.
Her mind started racing on survival, and soon she finds herself in fight-or-flight mode again. She has been interrogating herself daily, beating herself up by feeling like a failure despite all her success.
In truth, she successfully ran a business in the pet industry, taught herself to create websites on WordPress, content writing, content creation, etc. yet she felt she had achieved nothing. In any outsider’s eye, the knowledge and skills she had learned are impressive.
Jacqueline’s story has been an awakening call to me that there are people out there who are not as fortunate as us. When I first met Jacqueline, she has such a cheerful vibe to her which blew my mind when I got to know her story behind the smile. Here is a woman who works hard to maintain her figure, working out 5 times a week, with three wonderful sons and a loving husband. No one would ever guess how ‘screw up her life and mind is’ as she always puts it.
Although she still keeps many self-doubts in her, she has been opening up to Alaric and I could tell that it has changed her mental health. Rather than blaming Alaric, she has since been doing much self-reflection and keeping a journal to pour out her unhappiness.
Although Jacqueline still has not dared to consult a professional regarding her psychological issue, she is a strong warrior who does not give in to negative emotions. Not many can pull themselves through these traumatic conditions without falling into severe depression.
Although I sincerely wish that she will still seek professional help, I hope that she can successfully overcome her mental disorder and understand how much she deserves to be happy.
Living with a loved one with psychological or emotional issues can be tiring, and frustrating. The amount of sacrifices Alaric made for Jacqueline, be it out of love or guilt, is unimaginable. Jacqueline is lucky to have found her soul mate who will not leave her side, but not everyone can be as lucky as her.
I hope that Jacqueline’s story has made a small impact and inspiration on your dark tunnel. I also hope that more people who can relate to her story will also have the same courage to continue fighting for their happiness.
Life is too short to be drowned in darkness. Do not drown yourself in pain as there will be no way out of it. Drugs and alcohol will only numb the pain, not get rid of it. There is nothing to be ashamed of by seeking help, and many helplines are out there to assist you with your crisis. Know that you are never alone no matter what. If you or a loved one needs emotional or psychological support, here is a list of helplines that will be there for you: https://www.gov.sg/article/call-these-helplines-if-you-need-emotional-or-psychological-support
*Names mentioned above are not their real names to protect their identity