ANXIETY, lingering worries about the outcome of events she could not control and unhappiness over not hitting her targets in life.
Such feelings of despair were messing with Dency Flenny’s mind before her boyfriend convinced her she needed professional help in December 2016.
She returned to Sarawak two years earlier after completing her five-year PhD studies in the US and started working as a lecturer.
She suspected the melancholia might have already started while she was doing her PhD. She had also broken up with her boyfriend, just started working, and trying to adapt to life here.
“I guess it all added up – things did not go as planned – not the way I imagined. I pushed myself hard at work. That’s because I put such a high expectation on myself and felt really down when I fell short.
“I was also looking for a life partner – settle down and start my own family. My relatives were also pushing me to get married,” the 38-year-old related.
Relationships were the biggest factor as she had gone through several and of her latest, she said, “I tried to win his heart but ended up hurting myself.”
Back then, she didn’t dismiss the suggestion she might be depressed.
She felt a bit scared but once it was confirmed, she heeded her boyfriend’s advice to go for treatment.
She was grateful for his concern but they had a falling out during her treatment.
“Still, I would like to thank him for helping me find the courage to see a psychiatrist,” she said.
Before her diagnosis, Dency was working as a lecturer and she was still holding the job while receiving treatment.
She said her bosses and colleagues knew about her condition and she had her workload reduced.
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However, public perception of mental illnesses depends on how well they understand them.
Those who are not aware think it’s a fake illness while those in the know can understand and accept it.
“My advice is to learn more about mental illnesses. If you have the symptoms, don’t wait until the last minute to get treatment,” Dency said.
Mental illnesses usually take longer to heal and Dency is still on treatment after almost three years.
She took unpaid leave in 2017 to go on a solo drive from Kuching to Sabah, trying to find peace. The journey took 40 days.
She had a relapse around June this year and decided to take a second unpaid leave – from last month until the New Year to focus on her recovery and start something new – like taking up a hobby.
While on therapy, she picked up her paintbrush again – something she had not done since Form 2.
Starting last August, she painted what she felt in her heart after recovering through a change of medication.
She did two drawings to depict her feelings during the relapse. The first was titled ‘Love and Hope’ showing her sitting on the grass with three angels standing in front of her.
“I painted myself with one wing – the other was broken. Mentally ill patients need love from people close to them as they try to cope and recover,” Densy said.
Her second painting was called ‘Grey Brain’, showing a brain in grey with a colourful background. The grey brain belongs to a mentally ill person while the colours represent happiness.
There was a third drawing, featuring the late actor and comedian Robin Williams with quotes on mental illnesses.
“Right now, I want to focus on myself before getting into a relationship. I realise you can’t force it – just let it come naturally,” Densy said.
Her story has been written into two Malay songs through collaboration with her composer friend, Sulu Sarawak, and a friend of Sulu’s. Recorded by a local singer, the songs will be released next year.
Dency’s artworks were on display at the Karya Kamek Urang during the What About Kuching Festival 2019 at the Old Court House.
They portrayed people with mental health conditions to raise awareness of mental health and mental illnesses.
The festival was jointly organised by the Mental Health Association of Sarawak and Hospital Sentosa during which free mental health screenings and private consultations were given on weekends to those who had high scores on their questionnaires.
Marly Agoh has been suffering from anxiety disorder for years without realising it.
The 30-year-old said it was the root cause of her physical ailments such as stomach aches, diarrhoea, constipation, headache, muscle stiffness, and panic attacks.
“There was one time I had a severe panic attack. I had chest pain, breathing difficulties and I couldn’t think clearly.
“What went through my mind at the time was ‘am I going to die?’ But when I went to see the doctor, my vital organs were normal and the doctor said there was nothing wrong with me.
“I got treated two years ago. I didn’t know a mental illness was causing the other ailments. I saw many doctors and was told I wasn’t sick. Finally, I decided to see a specialist and was referred to a psychiatrist,” she recalled.
Marly said she did suspect she was suffering from some kind of mental illness but she didn’t expect it would produce those symptoms.
At first, she kept her illness from her family and quietly went to see a psychologist but now, they know and accept it and do not shun her.
But not everyone is that understanding. She was once asked if her condition was really so serious that she needed to see a psychiatrist.
“Someone even asked me if I was crazy. That’s why the association is holding this exhibition (Karya Kamek Urang) to create awareness of mental health,” she said.
Marly, presently working with the Mental Health Association of Sarawak, was in charge of the exhibition.
Before treatment, she said she always laughed awkwardly due to lack of confidence and avoided talking to strangers.
She pointed out that what was seen on the outside may not reflect the character of the person on the inside.
A case in point was Robin Williams who committed suicide in 2014.
She believed comedians may not be what they seemed to be, noting that despite their ability to tell jokes and make people laugh, they may be having some mental health issues.
Marly said people should not be afraid to seek help because mental illnesses can be treated, adding, “How long it takes depends on the individual.”
Today, when you talk to her, you will not think she has an anxiety disorder. She came across as a cheerful, bubbly person with a ready smile when I interviewed her.
Her two artworks – ‘A Light in the Cold and Dark’ and ‘Hypochondria’ – were displayed at the exhibition.
‘A Light in the Cold and Dark’ depicts a bright lamp in the dark which represents hope in times of difficulty, while in ‘Hypochondria’, she is depicted as being over-worried about having a serious illness. The painting also shows various bodily symptoms.
“‘Hypochondria’ shows me floating about, trying to reach for help while not knowing the reason for my many aches which are seen as flowers growing out of my body in the painting,” Marly explained.
The exhibition also featured Arabic calligraphy produced by nine-year-old autistic child, Muhamad Yaseen Ariffin, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
His mother, Mastuyah Jemo, said he had been in therapy since he was five, and had shown a talent for writing Asmaul Husna (99 names of Allah) and holy verses in Arabic.
“He will turn on the TV to watch the Arabic channel, looking at the Arabic words a few times and replicating what he sees accurately without referring to the Quran.
“Even for me, I have to refer to the Quran when checking his work. And surprisingly, he gets it all correct. He can write the Asmaul Husna in the correct order, memorise the words, and can even correct us (parents) in Arabic.”
Mastuyah added that writing Arabic is tricky because one wrong stroke or dot would change the entire word.
Yaseen, the second of four siblings, also loves drawing the Kaabah (great mosque of Mecca) and mosques.
According to Mastuyah, he also writes on the walls at home – in fact, just everywhere. He even uses plasticine to form Arabic words on the walls.
As Yaseen gets angry easily and throws tantrums, his doctor tried to dissuade his parents from bringing him to Mecca in May. But surprisingly, he was well-behaved and the eight-hour flight went smoothly.
“He was enthralled and different. Normally, he would become restless during the two-hour hospital visit. But on the trip to Mecca, he was very excited to see the Kaabah, especially the signboards in Arabic,” Mastuyah recalled.
Aside from Arabic, Yaseen is doing well in Bahasa Melayu and English, and is studying in a special school in Samarahan.
Mastuyah hoped that through the exhibition, parents with autistic children would try to unearth the latter’s latent talents and be more accepting of their condition.
“Don’t be ashamed to bring your children out. If they throw tantrums, control it well. Let them regain their composure and calm them down. Be more patient and spend more time understanding them. Then it will be more manageable.”
On Yaseen’s interaction with his siblings, she said he was fine with them, adding that they could play together as they know how to avoid triggering his temper.
Yaseen’s father, Mohamad Anis Wasli, is supportive of his interest and hopes to develop his skills in Arabic for which he plans to send his son to a religious school.
If there is any Arabic writing competition, he will let Yaseen join.
To learn more about mental health, contact the Mental Health Association of Sarawak at 082-231459, 016-8082015, email [email protected], or visit www.mhasarawak.com.