Editor’s Note: When I read this story, I was very moved by its simplicity and honesty.
Our contributor eloquently describes her lifelong struggle with persistent sadness, and the factors (nature + nurture) that contributed to seasons of ‘heaviness’.
It is my honour to share this beautiful story by S. Lim.
Indeed, there is beauty in our brokenness. I hope this story inspires you, just as it did me.
I do not have a tragic story to tell.
I come from a functional family, went to good schools, held leadership positions (as Head Prefect in Primary 6 and then President of an ensemble in junior college), and brought trophies home from debate and piano competitions.
Family History & Genetic Predisposition
My paternal grandpa suffered from depression in his early 40’s. My maternal grandma ‘lost her mind’ after my third uncle took his own life. My eldest aunt had depression and committed suicide.
Closer to home, my mom had a nervous breakdown (then diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder) when I was 12.
Research informs us that genes contribute to the development of mental health disorders. For me, that means possessing a moody disposition. Whenever I recall my childhood, a general shade of grey hangs over every memory, whether it is playtime in the park or stressful music lessons.
This escalated during the rainy season of September 2003 (bad weather played a part!). I was having great adjustment difficulty after a stint abroad. I remember feeling particularly heavy as I watched large raindrops pelting from cloudy skies.
That heaviness never lifted. For a good nine years after, through the most ordinary events of teenage and young adulthood, the moodiness persisted, an undercurrent beneath life’s ebb and flow.
At church I was a mentor to peers: my own emotional struggles made me feel deeply for others. Because of my family’s history with mental health, I was particularly sensitive to such needs. I became counselor to friends with eating disorders. It felt good to be able to help others, and distracted me from my own struggles at home and with how I was feeling.
This was not to be a permanent solution to my troubles. On hindsight, many ‘nurture’ factors had been adding to ‘nature’, so that cracks started to show by the time I was in junior college.
My parents struggled in their marriage, and high-strung emotions resulted in frequent, volcanic explosions at home. Academic expectations might have been self-imposed, but a low self-esteem borne out of feeling ‘not good enough’ for my stern, military father and teacher mom festered.
The stress of having to keep a track record in school, the hollowness of pride in trophies and achievements, the anxieties that came with the fear of failure, exhaustion and loneliness from battling extreme moodswings and shouldering others’ burdens finally took their toll.
Brokenness and Beauty
My mental faculties seemed to freeze.
I felt like I was swimming under murky waters, or trapped in a glass elevator. My head felt stuffed with tissue. Moments of clarity were few, and fleeting. I could sit for hours on end staring at my notes, absorbing nothing at all. I barely scraped through ‘A’ levels, which meant the painful loss of a long-time dream of pursuing psychiatry, or psychology on scholarship. Through the first two years of university, episodes of extreme tearfulness continued. The motivation for my dreams seemed to be the very obstacle that kept me from it, too.
By God’s grace and with the aid of medication, my mother had made good recovery.
In the years that followed her breakdown, we learnt to talk about the incident without fear or shame. My parents opened their hearts and our home as we shared in others’ pain and struggles too. This was pivotal in de-stigmatizing the condition in our home.
Though I inherited a susceptibility to low moods from my family, witnessing my mother’s recovery and the healing of my parents’ marriage gave me insight into what I was experiencing. I learnt to recognize triggers of depressive episodes, patterns of signs and symptoms, and from my mother’s example, gained perspective for my struggles.
Recovering from the chronic pain of depression is a constant work in progress.
There may never be a point at which we can say, “I’ve arrived”; it is a daily fight for joy.
Through the end of a long, painful first relationship upon which I had unreasonably pinned hopes of finally ‘being happy’, then a brief rub with a diet and exercise obsession in a desperate fight for control, I exchanged my fears – fears of being trapped in the prison of moodiness, fears of marriage, fears of failure, for freedom: freedom to embrace the challenges of Today, to choose Life, to excel.
Through navigating the uncertainties of a blank future having broken up and left my first job, I appreciated that I was not less or weak for missing the mark in general terms of ‘success’. I always valued the way my personal and family’s history with mental health has shaped my interests and giftings, but now I am learning to run with it.
Importantly, I developed disciplines that help me cope with the daily flux of highs and lows, such as exercise and maintaining a strong support network of close friends.
Living with depression is deeply humbling. It keeps life in perspective: that we are only human, and fallible.
It has broadened my worldview, taught me to see beauty in the broken, to celebrate small victories and appreciate the simple things. Because of it, being alive truly is a wondrous thing! For that, I am thankful.
S. Lim is a 26-year-old, currently taking courses in global mental health and holds a Masters in Clinical Neuroscience. She is excited about her future as a new job awaits, as do family, friends, and her boyfriend who has been a gift of light and life. She hopes to become an effective people-helper, and make a difference in mental health care through public education.
[CONNECT] Related Tapestry Stories:
[EDUCATE] Information on Depression:
Identify the possible factors that may lead to susceptibility depression in your life.
Confide in a trusted friend, family member or a mental health professional if you suspect you have depression.