Trigger warning: Suicide attempt
I used to think everyone thought about suicide from time to time, but it turns out, most people don’t.
I was never certifiably depressed because I never saw a psychiatrist, but it was after an almost successful suicide attempt that I realised there might be something broken in me that I could not fix.
I thought I was just tired. In 2017, my job scope had changed after my company went through a restructuring and I was thrown in for a loop, a fish out of water.
I had also just ended a three-year relationship and was on my own again with no one to lean on when I needed it the most. I was nowhere near achieving my goal of becoming a full-time artist despite years of trying to support myself with my craft, and the vision I’d had of myself was fading away day by day.
I felt trapped. There had to be more to life than wandering through it alone, toiling away and burning out at a nine-to-six job (with frequent OT) that I had zero passion for.
It seems cliched to play the tortured artist role. People thought I was noble or dedicated for trying so hard to fulfil my dreams while juggling a hectic full-time role in advertising.
Friends offered comfort and moral support — for my art and newfound single status – but it only made me feel more lonely. Their words — and my reply — felt hollow, and I found myself retreating into my own bubble.
There isn’t a specific moment I can pinpoint as to when I started becoming depressed.
Perhaps it was the quarter-life crisis a lot of millennials go through. Perhaps it was an amalgamation of everything that had piled up like a stone wall that eventually toppled on me.
Perhaps it was the sting of everyday disappointments, frustration and resentment that finally drained me dry.
I didn’t want to burden my friends with my problems, so I didn’t talk about it with them. I went about my days as per normal, went through the motions, even though there was nothing worth getting up for each day.
I’d drag myself into work but sometimes find myself just staring blankly into space or looking around me at my colleagues, so driven and focused, while I was cut loose and drifting. Sometimes, just being in the office was so suffocating that I’d go to the ladies to cry it out. I’d cry my lungs out and the tears just wouldn’t stop. Then I’d mop myself up and go back to my desk.
I’d barely survive each day, but inside I grew hollower and hollower. I lost weight, lost sleep, and lost my ability to make art.
One day, it just got to a point where I couldn’t handle it anymore. I’d been holding it in for so long, I had lost sight of happiness and I had forgotten a time when happy.
In 2018, I tried to kill myself. On a particularly bad night, I came close to downing a bottle of painkillers until my parents and roommate found me at the foot of my bed, sobbing next to a spilt bottle of pills.
The look on their faces shattered what was left of my heart. I had done this. I had hurt them this way. I had put that look of sorrow and fear in their eyes.
This wasn’t just about me anymore. I had to get better, if not for myself, then at least for them.
I was adamant about not taking medication, but I agreed to see a counsellor. The first step was in recognising that I needed help and that I could seek help. Help was out there — I only had to reach out.
The next step was opening up. It was easier opening up to a stranger, one who had no preconceived notions or expectations about me. I unloaded every problem, worry, anxiety, fear or frustration on my counsellor. It felt cathartic, almost like a cleansing.
Now that my problems were laid out on the table, I had to look at each of them in the eye and address them.
Meanwhile, my friends and family made sure I stayed on track, driving me to counselling sessions, spending more time with me, checking in on me, making sure I was feeding myself and exercising.
Everyone was on my side; they were all rooting for me. I didn’t feel the pressure to not let them down as I felt the desire to get better and lead a happier life — for myself — with their support. I could choose to do something about my discontent and misery. This was not a life sentence.
A long nighttime talk with my mother made me decide, right then and there, to turn my life around. I looked at the things that were making me feel trapped and hopeless and tried to fix each one of them like I was methodically exorcising demons.
I quit my job. I made art again. I had more late-night talks with friends and family, who were unfailingly there by my side whenever I felt myself inching closer to the edge. Gradually, I felt like I could breathe again. I regained control of my schedule, my life, and my mental health. I stopped stressing about everything that was out of my control.
Two years after my suicide attempt, I became a part-time art teacher and artist. I’m not earning as much as I used to, but I’m a lot happier living my life the way I had always dreamed of instead of forcing myself to live up to everyone’s expectations and fitting myself into the mould society has prepared for me.
I didn’t resort to alcohol to make myself feel better or medication to get better.
I understand that I’m a lot luckier than many people who struggle with depression and anxiety. But there are also steps we can take to take charge of our lives and not let our conditions control us. It all starts with self-care, listening to what your mind and body need. Life is simply too short for us to continue living in sadness and hopelessness.
I’m lucky to have my friends and family’s unwavering love and support. And the best way to thank them is by living well and living happily.
If you or someone you know is suicidal, here are some helplines you can call:
- Samaritans of Singapore (SOS): 1800-221-4444
- Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
- Touch Counselling & Social Support: 6709-8400
- Care Corner Counselling Centre: 1800-3535-800
- Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222
Text: Joyce Chua/Her World