In September 2019, after returning to Singapore after 3 years in the U.K., I fell into a deep funk.
I had no job, and was anxious about having no structure to my day. Daily, it would start with me waving goodbye to my mum at 8am as she went to work, before I tried sitting down to find a job.
After 30 minutes, I would get so anxious that I would start finding food to distract myself.
I would wolf down cakes, cookies, and chocolates. Soon after, I would feel so guilty that I would go to the pool to swim.
It was becoming a problem. But when I saw my therapist, he suggested that I go to a psychiatrist.
I thought that all I need was more therapy, self-help books, and self-help techniques (visualise your recovery, from the likes of Rhonda Byrne).
It didn’t work. I ate more. Within a month, I was 8kg heavier.
I refused to go to a psychiatrist because I thought:
- It would land me with a mental health record, and mean that I wouldn’t be able to get jobs.
- It would give me ‘fake and artificial’ happiness with antidepressants.
If that’s you today, my thoughts are with you.
I’m sorry for what you’re feeling.
Why are you ashamed?
If we look beneath shame, Brené Brown, the famed researcher, describes it as,
as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.
We feel like something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.
You may feel ashamed because you’re afraid that people might find out that you’re going to a psychiatrist.
Or even if you do not tell them, you may feel that going to a ‘shrink’ may make you unworthy of love and respect.
It was what I experienced.
I thought that going to a psychiatrist meant that I was weak, and couldn’t use the mind to overcome this mental distress.
But my therapists (yes, that’s plural, because two therapists both recommended that I seek medical attention), suggested that therapy worked better with medication.
It’s a question to do with how you see the psychiatrist.
If you had a flu today, you wouldn’t hesitate to see the doctor, right? Why are you so afraid then of a psychiatrist?
Rather than framing it as ‘weakness’, or ‘failure’, it might be better for you to frame it as ‘I’m learning how to get better’.
That could help you feel less ashamed.
But what about your family and friends? How would they feel if they knew?
If your family and friends stopped supporting you if they knew you were seeing a psychiatrist, you might be better off without them.
I’ve not had friends who have shirked me because I told them I was taking antidepressants, nor have I had parents who have stopped loving me just because of this.
If they do, it might be their issue, not yours.
What are you scared of?
Maybe you’re scared because of the potential repercussions it could have on your job.
There’s still a strong stigma attached to seeking help. In Singapore, there are still some job forms that ask you to declare if you’ve had treatment for mental distress before. That can make it feel like you’re putting your future employment at risk by going to the doctor.
But you also need to realise that what’s more important is getting well first, before getting a job.
And you may meet an employer who’s willing to look past what you’ve declared. Of course, the other option is not to declare it on the employment form.
Perhaps what you’re afraid of, is getting better
Please don’t throw your mouse at me.
But I’m suggesting this because there’s this therapeutic theory of ‘self-sabotage’. Sometimes, when we are so accustomed to feeling horrid, we may want to continue feeling this way.
Even though we are outwardly professing that we want to improve things, we are not doing the things that help us get better.
We want to throw our own pity parties, and continue staying in the rut.
Why? Because it feels somewhat comforting to feel sorry for oneself.
I know it can seem ironic, but in my clinical practice, I’ve seen quite a few clients who maintain this veneer of ‘I want to get better’ but don’t take the steps that lead them there.
Self-pity is a deep well to climb out of.
And unfortunately, until it becomes painful enough to keep slipping down the well, you’re not going to get help.
What can help?
Project into the future. Ask yourself if you still want to feel this way in 5 years’ time.
If you do, great for you.
If you don’t, get help.
Shame, may be a function of your history
You may remember Daddy once saying,
big boys don’t cry.
Nah. Big boys do cry.
Grown men cry too.
And it’s in showing vulnerability, that one begins to break the chains of shame.
Being willing to share, open up, and seek help can be one of the biggest journeys one can take, but it is worth it.
One evening as I sat in a Toastmaster meeting, I couldn’t stop laughing. It had been 4 months after starting the course of antidepressants. And I wasn’t sure if I was getting better. But that evening, I knew I had.
Because the sun had broken through, and the darkness was no longer that steep.
Take a step out in faith, in vulnerability. You will see yourself getting better.