Recovering from Depression and Anxiety - Charmaine's Story
Being diagnosed with depression and anxiety in early 2017 at age 15 changed my life. I’ve hit lows I never thought I would reach but I’ve also accomplished things I never thought I would have. Now, in 2019, I glad to share that my medication dosage has been lowered and my therapy sessions have been spread further apart. The treacherous road to recovery has felt like the journey of a lifetime.
Dealing with depression and anxiety has given me an insight into how mental illness can very much ruin lives. My experience with mental illness has shown me, time and time again, that it holds you back. It robs you of everything you of the ability to live. My mental health deteriorated slowly and I didn’t sense that anything was wrong until it blew up in my face.
My first trigger was the start of a new school year, in an unfamiliar environment with classmates I didn’t know. An intimidating teacher and our syllabus for the year projected on the screen made my throat dry up and tighten. Downing water did nothing. My hands started to sweat and I started to heave like I had just run a marathon. I chalked it up to being nervous and tried to ignore the physical warning signs. I had my very first panic attack a day after.
During my first week of school, all I did at home was cry. I wasn’t sure what I was crying over. Maybe.. my fear of not making friends? Or maybe I was stressed out by the upcoming school year? All I knew was the feeling of confusion and fear. I was never one to cry easily, but now it seemed like my tears never stopped coming.
This eventually led to me dreading school. And I don’t mean the normal student’s sense of dread towards school - my dread towards school was a ‘I-would-rather-die-than-go’ kind. Now, that didn’t make sense and I felt stupid.
‘Everyone has to go to school so why am I making such a big deal out of it? I’m so unappreciative of the privilege I have.’
The big question was still unanswered. Why?
I was very lucky to have the support of my parents. They supported my decision to see a doctor. Through multiple sessions with my psychiatrist and psychologist, we worked towards the solution. I felt ridiculous for having such strong dread towards school and leaving my bed in general, but I slowly understood that the real issues I faced were beneath the surface.
Even then, my mental health continued to worsen. After all, no doctor can work a miracle, especially when the issue at hand is so complex.
Depression and anxiety can surface in various forms, and it differs from person to person. I think my most prominent sign was withdrawal from social situations. A large part of my struggle with my mental health was loss of identity. I couldn’t comprehend how unlike myself I had become over the course of mere months. Mental illness really does have the ability to turn you into a shell of yourself.
However, like my therapist says, there are two sides to a coin. My struggle has also brought me much joy. For example, I had the privilege of attending IMH’s 90th anniversary carnival where I spoke to a small audience about my journey, and was even part of a documentary regarding mental health in Singapore. Choosing to put myself out there and advocate was certainly not an easy decision, but it gave me a sense of purpose when I was struggling.
I’ve also learnt to count my blessings. I will never stop being thankful for the people who supported me on my journey, and for the good days. As someone who could barely climb out of my bed on most days, I celebrated every single day I got out of the house to attend school. It may sound ridiculous to celebrate something everyone does, but celebrating even the smallest successes it the best way to find love for yourself.
Recovery is a terrible process. Some days you’re on the top of the world and some days you feel like you’re sinking to the bottom of the ocean. I celebrate the ups but the downs often make me feel like a failure. But that’s how recovery is. And I’m working on myself, step by step