A lot of people bemoan turning 30, mostly, people who have yet to turn 30. I used to feel like that too, believing in the notion that it is officially ‘old’ and thus no longer cool and fun. While that could still be true, it no longer bothers me. I am excited to turn 30. I don’t care if it’s ‘old’ nor do care whether it’s ‘cool’ and ‘fun’.
Birthdays always tend to be a little introspective, don’t they? That’s perhaps why a lot of people celebrate, despite the fact (or rather, because of the fact) that we tend to feel melancholic on our birthdays. Another year older, another year closer to death, perhaps another year in which we feel like we’ve failed ourselves. But we don’t have to be so pessimistic. We tend to forget the simple fact that growing old itself is a privilege, that not many get to experience.
Every day now, I am thankful I am still alive. God knows, for so long, every day was a close call. For so long, I wouldn’t know whether I would win or lose the battle for my life.
Now, this is where I will tell you dear reader, friend, family, or acquaintance, that I’ve battled depression for most of my life. Two particular eras I would identify as significant lowlights. Me, around 15, as well as 26-29 years old.
In the years 2016 & 2017, I was fighting for my life every day. The worst part was I was afraid to even admit that was how I was feeling. Trying to push down all the negative feelings and dark thoughts just pulled me further and further into the darkness. I felt worthless, useless and hopeless, and I was wrought with guilt over ever feeling that way. It was a maddening cycle in which I saw no end. I couldn’t see, I couldn’t breathe. I was caught underwater, eyes blinded, limbs bound, weighed down with no escape. Some days I felt numb and wouldn’t shed a single tear nor crack a smile, some days I felt intense physical pain in my chest, intense hatred towards myself, and I would break down crying after everyone had gone to sleep. That was how overwhelming and hopeless I felt. Every day – and I mean every single day – from the 9th floor from which I lived, the balcony beckoned me. It’s hard getting anything done when I was doing all I could to stay alive. It’s not that I wanted to die. I just did not want to exist. I did not want to feel the way I felt anymore. I wanted the pain to stop.
When I was younger, whenever I felt depressed or down, I wrote. I locked myself in my room, dreamed up poems, songs, stories, and wrote and wrote and wrote. There was immense catharsis, as I unloaded the weight off my chest. It’s during these periods in which I was very creative. I created a lot of art, poems and songs.
However, I couldn’t do that anymore. I hadn’t written since 2012. During 2016/2017, I couldn’t imagine writing. I couldn’t even really admit to myself how I was feeling because it scared me immensely, let alone write about it, with the words staring right back at me, confronting me. I couldn’t do it. I wrote a total of 2 short poems during that period, yet I wasn’t being completely honest with myself. So catharsis = not achieved. I’ve carried this dark weight of all those years without release — until recently.
I used to say — still, do sometimes — that my current workplace saved my life. I knew I had to get out of that state, so I looked for a job and found one I loved. And though I was happy and it did help for the most part, whenever something big and immensely stressful happened that put my work-life and personal life at odds with each other, I would relapse. So I knew while it helped, there was still something there that I needed to fix.
I was ready for battle. I was finally ready to tackle these demons, face on. I was sick of feeling sick and hopeless, and I was sick of relapses pulling the rug from under my feet. And so I made it my personal mission: do more things I have never done before, and take better care of my mental health. I started playing futsal, tried kickboxing class, sprained my ankle, ran a 7km run, and finally mustered up the courage to do the thing I’ve been needing to do: I sought professional help.
I was officially diagnosed with clinical depression in January 2019, and started therapy and antidepressants. It has helped tremendously. Here’s a thing people misunderstand about clinical depression: it is very different than just ‘feeling down’ or ‘feeling sad/blue’. It’s very different than when a normal person feels down. A normal person will be able to feel down, ponder a bit, and pick themselves back up again and move on. With clinical depression, one cannot simply ‘just think positive thoughts’. One can’t simply ‘suck it up’, ‘get over it’ or ‘snap out of it’. It is literally, physically and chemically impossible to do that on their own. Those words, while seemingly harmless, could do more harm than good.
When I started therapy, my therapist told me to start journaling. It was hard. After many years of not writing, it was hard. There was just too much to unpack. The anxiety was overwhelming at times. I also feared I was no longer a good writer – or that I have never been a good writer. Ridiculous thoughts to have considering journaling has always been private for me anyway. There were many false starts. So I opted to do audio journals. A lot of the process also involved looking through my old journals, looking for ‘clues’, perhaps find a pattern. I was trying to figure out why I was like this, and whether I’ve felt like this before, anything. Whilst the beginning of the journey into my old stuff was embarrassing, it was also enlightening and helpful. I realised that as I grew into my twenties, I would dismiss my teenage self. I was a moody teenager, it was teen angst, whatever. I realise now how wrong that type of thinking is. What I’ve learned is that your feelings are valid, no matter how seemingly trivial they may seem. The experiences and feelings I had were real, and it shaped me to who I am today, for better or worse.
Looking through those old words must have stirred something up. Then one day, I wrote a poem. The poem had actually been floating around my mind for several days. I finally jotted it down on my phone. All of a sudden words just started pouring out.
My mind was like a dam, holding it all in. But when the dam finally broke, it was a damn avalanche. Sometimes I can’t sleep before I write down the thoughts and ideas that are bumping around my head. I write jostling between commuters, on the train, standing up. This is very different from how I used to write: in journals, in the privacy and quiet of my own room. This is a more spur-of-the-moment, more casual approach with zero expectations. I used to write a whole thing in one sitting, vomiting out words. Now I may write a sentence as it randomly enters my brain. The next day I may add on a sentence or two; sometimes a whole verse whilst walking towards the train station. I may be writing up to 7 pieces simultaneously throughout a couple of weeks. Somehow the verses seem to find their way, even though they come in at random times.
For the first time in a long time, I feel inspired again. For the first time in a long time, I am hopeful. I don’t know if I will ever be fully healed, but I do know it gets better. I don’t know where this is going or what I might create, but I am excited to see where it leads.
As the process involved re-reading pieces I wrote from when I was 14 up to 23, I want to honour that. In this new… shall I say, ‘era’, I am also revisiting some of my old pieces, breathing new life to them. 15 year old me wished she could share her writings to the world but was too scared.
I want to create a safe space where I can create, share my experiences and thoughts on mental health, art & creativity, intersectional feminism, parenting, and other topics I care about… and hopefully, create positive conversation. I have much less fear. I want to be heard. I hope you will join me on this ride. But if not, that’s ok too.
More than anything, I am doing this for me. For 15-year old me who was creative yet never had the courage to share it with the world, and for 26-year old me who despaired whether I would ever be creative again. For the first time in a long time, I finally can love myself. This is for you(me).
If you or someone you know is at risk or suffering from depression or negative thoughts, do seek help and treatment. I personally have been going to PPUM. You can contact Befrienders for emotional support, through the hotline 603-79568145 or email email@example.com