Our lives are made up of stories–ours and others.
Within these narratives, we often find an intricate weave of experiences, insights, advice and memories. It is also through these stories, that we discover we are not alone in our life’s journey.
This knowledge is especially important when it comes to mental illness, which is isolating by its very nature.
Where It All Began
I like to tell people that The Tapestry Project SG unofficially started in April 2006.
You see, I was diagnosed with clinical depression then, or Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). This was accompanied by anxiety disorder, which caused me to be unable to leave house or sustain work.
Like heart disease or diabetes, MDD is an illness that has two components–the biological (nature) and biographical (nurture).
Biologically, it was evidenced through blood tests that there were biochemical imbalances in my body/brain. Because depression also runs in my family, doctors describe my condition as being ‘genetically predisposed’. In other words, I am more likely than most people to develop this illness, when given the right conditions.
Those conditions are part of my biography; what is deemed as external “nurture” factors, which include my childhood, home and school environment, friendships, faith and significant life experiences.
I was only 23 (going on 24) when I was diagnosed with the illness.
During then, I had just graduated from university and was looking forward to living an independent life; a life without limits.
I was unprepared for a merciless torrent of life-altering events that permanently shook the very core of my being. The extreme distress I endured, the lack of support, and inadequate coping skills resulted in a mental breakdown that robbed me of my dreams and all of life’s promises, as it were.
I felt utterly ashamed and overwhelmed when the doctor pronounced the diagnosis, not unlike a judiciary sentencing.
I wanted to cry because that meant it’s official I had a problem. But at the same time, I felt immensely relieved because then I knew what exactly was wrong with me.
As I wrestled with accepting the diagnosis, I took pains to ensure nobody knew.
With much difficulty, I went about my usual activities and kept my game face on. But inside I was swallowed up by an indescribable sense of sorrow and grief. Feeling angry and extremely scared, I constantly obsessed over what people might think of me.
So I withdrew from the world and became a recluse.
And there I was, hidden away in the safety of my own home, where no one would ever know my “secret”. But yet, I remained a prisoner of my own mind.
This prison kept me away from work, social activities, hobbies, church, and even my marriage. It became a real struggle for everyone, and it was especially hard for my husband.
Like cancer, it was something that can’t be seen by the naked eye. Yet you know it’s there, destroying you from the inside when without treatment.
Giving Voice To My Mental Health Story
Years after receiving proper medical care, I finally have the right tools to overcome my condition.
I began interacting with people again. It was slow, tenuous.
Then, that’s when I gave voice to my struggles–I told my story to people who would listen.
It doesn’t matter where, when or how you start on your road to recovery. What matters is that you do.
To my surprise, I received many stories in return. Stories about their own struggles with mental illness, or of someone they know. Stories so similar to mine which ran the gamut of uncomfortably familiar emotions.
I was very moved by how these folks risked revealing their struggles as a way of reaching out to me. It made me feel less alone, less ashamed… and less afraid.
Then I thought: what if my story could help somebody else, just as how others’ have helped me?
It is now January 2014.
It took me nine years to finally be comfortable enough to share my journey on a public platform.
I have to admit that I still worry about what some people might think and how they might (mis)interpret my words. And there are days when my illness gets the better of me.
So, I’m not a hero by any means. I’m just a regular person with a message.
By sharing my experiences on mental illness, the mental health system, what I’ve learnt about self-care, medication, therapy, and community, I hope to empower and encourage readers who might be a fellow sufferer, a carer for a loved one/friend with a diagnosis, a healthcare provider, or the general public.
This self-funded personal initiative provides us all the chance to create dialogue on ground level, and address some misconceptions of mental health and illness.
I hope one day you’ll find the courage to own and share your story with us at The Tapestry Project SG, just as I did. :)
Nicole K. is a 32-year-old freelance writer who enjoys a daily dose of java to get her creative buzz on. Nicole also gives talks and interviews on her personal experience with mental illness and recovery. She also possesses an academic background in Psychology, which has given her a deeper appreciation of the complexities of human behaviour and scientific research.