Sunday, May 26

Mending the broken pieces of depression


Letters on depression are collected from people who have gone through — or are still going through — the mental illness.

DEPRESSION is an illness that can affect a person’s emotions or behaviour for weeks or months at a time.

A depressed person has long-lasting low mood which affects his or her sleep, relationships, job and appetite.

It’s a mental health disorder, characterised by an obstinately despondent frame of mind or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life.

Consider the case of a 25-year-old local male. He always wanted to be a scientist. It was his dream since he was five. Being fascinated with animals and nature, he was certain one day he would be a biologist.

Visitors reading letters, written by people suffering from depression, which were displayed at the ‘Between the Broken Pieces’ exhibition at the second WAK Festival 2018 from Oct 10 to 14.

He studied hard and scored As in science and maths at every exam.

But depression robbed him of his dream when he 13. Against the consistent emotional abuse and neglect by his parents, coupled with failure to cope in his new school, he plunged into one of the lowest points in his life. To make matters worse, his anguish was shunned and he felt incredibly lonely.

No one believed he was suffering or that he had to ‘beg’ himself to not try and kill himself.

Subsequently, his grades plummeted, including for science and maths. He knew at that time his dream to become a scientist had all but vanished … like a puff of smoke.

He said depression took away 10 years of his life, stressing that one decade was enough. He was tired of hating himself and thinking he was the biggest mistake of his life.

He was desperate to change and this very strong desire to break out of his dark world led to him realising that where there is a will, there is a way. He decided to seek help. And thanks to his great determination, he won.

He said if he could talk to his younger self, he would say: “Thank you for not giving up on me. I know it has been hard. I know it has been lonely but I am who I am today because you chose not to give up,”

Curator Eugene Chin and project manager Joyce Pei.

Second story

This involved a 20-year-old local male who had experienced the pain of loss and hurt from his parents’ divorce when he was 10.

Back then, he was actually quite a spoilt child who only cared about what PS2 Game he was going to play next. He couldn’t care less about what was going on with his family.

He was raised to not meddle with problems of adults. He didn’t ask questions and was left pretty much to his own device.

In fact, he could have said and done something to save his parents’ marriage but he felt helplessly torn between them.

In the end, he was too afraid to try and do anything to prevent his family falling apart. He could not even tell what was right and wrong anymore.

For six agonising years, the one question that kept bugging him was “what if I had done something about it?” He could only imagine how things might have turned out had he said whatever was on his mind.

Until today, the unasked question still haunts him. But it didn’t impact that hard until earlier this year when bottled up feelings burst out after he fell out with a female friend.

He started to ask whether something was wrong with him because he felt the people he wanted to get close to seemed to shun him.

He began spiralling down a dark pit and had multiple breakdowns, especially when he was in bed. At that lowest ebb of his life, a feeling of extreme hopelessness was tearing him apart and he developed suicidal thoughts.

Finally, something deep down made him ask: “Is there nothing at all I can do to stop this nightmare?”

He turned to YouTube videos and came across amazing YouTubers like Casey Neistat and Peter Mckinnon who seemed able to inspire him to live life the way they did.

Even though he didn’t know them personally, the way they had presented themselves motivated him to emulate them.

He tried it out and It apparently has worked for him and today, he feels more fulfilled than any time in the past.

The symbol of the exhibition is the broken pieces of two plates which are fixed using the Kintsugi Art approach. This particular art piece, displayed at the exhibition, was donated by Kintsugi artist Jib Voharn.

Third story

A 19-year-old local female suffered from depression and social anxiety ever since she knew what it meant to have mental illness.

She remembers how hard it was for her to get through each day. She had to put on a bold front in public as she didn’t want anyone to know about her depression.

She had been told that having depression was just a sort of ‘attention-seeking’ syndrome.

But depression to her — as to all similarly afflicted — was like a dark room without doors where she felt trapped and was suffocating alone.

Many people told her they were there for her and though she felt she could tell them everything, in reality, she pointed out, it wasn’t that easy.

“I felt like a terrible person, raining on someone’s parade, especially if they were having a great day.”

When she was 15, she would carry a sharp object in her pocket every day. When she was alone, she would cut herself. She said the self-inflicted pain seemed able block out the emotional anguish she was bearing.

Every day, new injuries appeared in her hands down to her wrists — to the extent that she had to wear long sleeves shirts for two years or so to hide the cut marks. And that was before she started rubbing her skin with scrubbers when she showered, wishing the scars to fade away.

She knew what she did to herself was wrong. Cutting herself, as she discovered, did nothing to improve her mental welfare.

At age 12, she was already called fat, ugly, pimple-faced and more until she turned 18.

The constant taunting drove her perilously close to the edge, filling her mind with dark thoughts — like committing suicide by jumping down from a tall building.

She confessed even now, there were lingering thoughts of ending her life and she is at a loss about what to do with her persistent melancholia.

These three stories were collected from among a slew of letters, written by people suffering from depression, and displayed at an exhibition held recently as part of the second What About Kuching (WAK) Festival 2018 at the Old Court House in Kuching. The theme was Between the Broken Pieces: depression and its untold stories.

Through these letters, people with depression get a platform to raise awareness of their condition.

Most common problem

The curator Eugene Chin said the event was in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Month (October).

According to him, depression is one of the most common mental health problems that cause sufferers to lose the pleasure of living.

It can also complicate other medical conditions and be serious enough to lead to suicide.

Depression can happen to anyone, at any age, and there are just too many people not helping themselves to seek treatment mostly for fear of being stigmatised as a looney.

This can cause them to withdraw into their shell and suffer in silence as their condition gets progressively worse with an unchecked barrage of negativities bearing down on their frail psyche.

A lot of sufferers are also not being helped to alleviate their condition because people usually shun them.

“For people with depression, family members play a very important role in helping them to cope,” Chin noted.

“Family members can overcome the negative thoughts of a depressed son, daughter or sibling and help them regain their optimism by offering positive inputs, encouragement and lots of understanding.

“But sadly, as we have discovered, many sufferers are being shunned even by their own families.”


Chance to speak up

Chin said one of the biggest struggles a depressed person had to face was deciding whether or not to reveal his or her condition, and if so, to whom?

That’s why Chin, the founder of Story Kuching, along with project manager, Joyce Pei, decided to stage the exhibition to provide a good platform for people with depression to speak up.

“We want to address this health issue by kick-starting an open conversation on it. Hopefully, through sharing, we can offer some help,” he said.

Both he and Pei were moved when many of the letter writers told them they were the first persons the letter writers were sharing their stories with.

Chin said although feeling rather uneasy about sharing their stories, the letter writers still believed it was good a way to get the ‘weight off their chests’ and inspire others to do the same.

The ‘talking about it’ approach has apparently worked as inspiring stories from visitors to the exhibition kept rolling in.

“When the sufferers know their stories are being read, they feel people are empathising with them,” he added.

He also said the exhibition would not be one-off as he and Pei were already thinking of organising more such events to keep the ‘conversation’ going.

The symbol of the exhibition was the broken pieces of two plates which were fixed using the Kintsugi Art approach.

This particular art piece displayed at the exhibition was donated by Kintsugi artist Jib Voharn.

The traditional Japanese art uses a precious metal — liquid gold, liquid silver or lacquer dusted with powdered gold — to bring together the pieces of a broken pottery pieces, at the same time enhancing the jointed crack lines.

The technique consists of joining fragments and giving them a new, more refined appearance. Every repaired piece is unique because of the randomness with which ceramics shatters and the irregular pattern.

Pei, who is also a psychologist, explained: “The kintsugi approach makes the most of what already is — like highlighting the beauty of what we do have. The broken pieces we have in our lives can make us a better person”

Both of them thanked WAK for giving them the platform and supporting their cause.

“To the letter writers, our sincere thanks for their courage. And to those who offered their support, thank you for all the heartfelt and encouraging messages,” Pie said.

The duo can be reached at [email protected]