Judith shares with us the burden of unfulfilled expectations placed on her in her childhood and how it spiralled into full-blown depression.
I noticed a small dark spot on my toe, which soon became larger and larger. No matter how I scrubbed, the spot just would not go away. Initial curiosity soon turned into an overwhelming sense of fear.
I scrubbed and washed, scrubbed and washed till a layer of skin got scraped off, but it didn’t help. There was no blood. No! Instead millions of these dark spots poured out of my open wound.
They were everywhere, multiplying every instant, morphing before my very eyes – more and more dark spots, elastic – twisting and twirling around me, mocking and insidious
It wasn’t just on my body – they were everywhere: in my room, in my car, and even my dining plate was not spared
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I found myself drifting in the shadows of these dark spots, praying for relief, for death.
The psychiatrist says to me, “Share with me your happiest moment.”
“Share your happiest moments during childhood.”
The psychiatrist asks again, “Do you have any happy moments?”
I close my eyes and say, “When I knew that my companion (now an ex) was willing to be with me. I was the one who initiated the relationship.”
The psychiatrist continues with the questions: “Why did that make you happy?”
Staring at the table, I say quietly, “Because someone wanted me.”
Assigned the identity as a girl, I was taught from a young age how to look pretty and delightful.
Appearance was always a top priority. Therein lies the problem because I am fat, and my eyes differ in size; my nose is really flat, and my hair is as messy as pubic hair. Worse, I started balding from a young age.
I also picked up the habit of biting my nails from a very young age. Only now do I understand that my ‘bad habit’ is a manifestation of children dealing with pressure. My mother used to say to me, “If you continue with your bad habit, I wonder how your future bridegroom will ‘value’ you when he notices your horrible nails.”
Even as a child, I already developed a gripping fear that I would not be able to get married. I did not truly understand the meaning of marriage, but I always associated being unmarried with being unwanted.
In my class, I was not the only fat kid; there were others. I remember one of my teachers often twisted the ear of a particular ‘fat boy’ and said to him, “Even though you are fat, can you at least try to behave like her; she is fat but at least she is well behaved.”
Listening to that conversation, instinctively I knew in my heart that the only way I could be accepted, despite my unattractiveness, was to be as well-behaved and thus as likeable as possible. It was the only way.
Unfortunately, I am also an introvert, and I was never popular or welcomed among my peers in school. I learned to silently observe and to evaluate who would allow me to be a companion.
Often I found out, painfully, that the moment another person came into the picture, I would be automatically excluded from the circle and would have no space.
Acceptance seemed like an unachievable goal. I always had to follow other people’s ideas and frame of mind.
Sometimes, I was chased away and merely treated as a ‘stand-in’, a temporary companion until a better one came along. I never realised how painful that could be. Being on the outside, being rejected.
There is another way to be liked: get good academic results. My siblings were all in university on JPA scholarships. But in my case, I just managed to qualify to enter university.
I wanted to be liked so desperately. I constantly tried to be everyone’s best friend, but in the process I lost myself; I didn’t who I was, except there was a long list of things that I had to do and needed to achieve.
Sometimes, when I’m introduced to someone new, I get the response, “Your name sounds familiar.”
I get a sudden panic attack and waves of paranoia. My first thought is always, “Oh no! I did something shameful and terrible and someone shared this information out!”
Often too, if someone waves at me, my tendency is to turn behind to find out who is standing behind me. I am convinced that people don’t notice me.
I am aware that it is me, unwilling to let go of myself.
I feel I am walking along an endless corridor, and that behind every single door is just another wall.
In this endless corridor, I am the only person. I open up every single door and there is always my statue, hanging from the wall. It is a lifeless face, but then it changes. It is first filled with fear and then it twists to show anger and at the end, just an unbearable sense of hopelessness.
I try to tear down the statue. I want to destroy myself. I feel empty, dead, like a corpse.
Sometimes the corridor transforms into a cabin, and I find myself sitting alone in it. It feels like I am in a plane cabin that is shaking non-stop. The thunder and lightning is relentless and never-ending.
The plane shakes ceaselessly. I can only hear people crying but I see nothing besides lightning. There is no one I can speak to. Then the plane crashes, and I survive but I am terrified.
Every time I feel this way, it is a terrible experience, and I hope that it will not re-occur. When I am slightly calmer, I continue to open and close every single door, trying to search desperately for a way out, but I end up trying to dig into my statue with my bare fingers. There are blood stains everywhere.
The process repeats, again and again, and I just am helpless in stopping it even if it’s hurting me. I can only stand there helplessly, looking at myself and feeling my flesh rot and fall off piece by piece.
“I need to speak to you! Please don’t leave me alone in the house.”
No one hears my screams and pleas.
This desolation is suffocating. Nothing seems to be within my control; I cannot do anything; I don’t know what’s happening, and I don’t know what to do – and everything ifeels so hopeless.
The psychiatrist asks me to describe myself.
“I am probably one of the few people available who can conduct training sessions in Mandarin within my profession.”
Next question, “If one day you are unable to conduct training, then who are you?”
“I can write.”
“If you couldn’t write anymore? If you do not have your arms and even your legs anymore?“
“Why did you come to the hospital?“
”I don’t want to give up.”
When I first started exploring the concept of a creator or God, I often asked why I was never consulted whether to be born or not? Hence one of my first lessons in appreciating democracy was to question God’s decision.
I don’t seem to have a reason to exist. I feel like I am waste of air. I exist, but I am not alive. Very much like a phantom. I want to disappear so much, but I hear my heart beat all day long. I wonder, why won’t it just stop?
I find that I am unable to accept mistakes in my work. I feel the tension building up. I cannot work because I am afraid I cannot work. The tension multiplies and intensifies. Work seems to be the only redemption, the only way I can prove my self-worth. I cannot rely on beauty and good academic results as I feel so inadequate about these traits.
So when I submitted my resignation letter, I cried like a child. Nothing seemed to make sense anymore. The only thing that was clear for me was, I wanted to resign because all I wanted to do was to go back home and sleep.
It sounded like a joke, and a very lame reason to resign, but after days of being unable to sleep, I began to understand why some people are addicted to drugs and alcohol.
As I lay on my bed every day, I look at the moon move from one side of the window to another, and listen to the morning Azan from the nearby surau, I seem to be reminded on a daily basis that I am a loser, that I can’t even achieve an easy goal: sleep.
It is insane; it is torture. I try to think more positively. As I have more time, I try to read but every single word is jumping in front of me and laughing at me. I try to smile at myself in front of the mirror, but I hate the reflection in the mirror ever so much.
I cannot sleep for days, and in this confused and disoriented state, I seem to morph into an angry creature, struggling to emerge from my body, tearing at my muscles and crushing my bones.
I do not want anyone to come close; they will find out the truth: I am a monster.
I earn a living via training, and I always end with a motivation session. How can I possibly train others anymore? How can I possibly motivate others?
It felt like I’ve just gone to hell and back. I stink of the smell of sulphur. ‘The Little Things’ talk to one another other in my head; it is chaotic and disorganised. ‘Peacekeeper’ tries very hard to negotiate with ‘Sad’ and ‘Angry’ – but it is pointless. They all take their own forms, and the war rages on.
I can understand ‘Peacekeeper’; I relate to ‘Peacekeeper’, but I cannot identify with the rest. Every single one talks non-stop and demands my attention; none of ‘The Little Things’ in me let me sleep, every single one crying non-stop.
‘Rationality’, whom I always considered as the strongest part of me, was defeated by ‘Angry’ and ‘Terrified’. ‘Sad’ does nothing much except cry, as usual. ‘Calmness’ has vanished completely. The rest mostly wander around with a blank face or in a confused daze, and there were even some that I am unable to even recognise.
It is as if a constant battle is waging in my body; blood, tissue and hair strewn everywhere.
I just don’t know what to do. I am just so exhausted.
I have not told my psychiatrist this, but I’ve thought of it often: “I will make myself disappear.”
For the longest time, I’ve wanted to disappear. The more the thought takes shape and increases in frequency, the more it starts becoming about death.
I decided that if I was not killed in an accident, then there are other alternatives to achieve death. I had known intuitively how I would leave this world and when I would leave this world.
Euthanasia seemed like a good choice to make: it accords us more dignity than other more common options for taking one’s life. Unfortunately, Malaysia does not allow or condone euthanasia, and I don’t seem to fit in the category of ‘people who are able to “enjoy” euthanasia’.
I have never shared with anyone how much I wanted to commit suicide, how much I wanted to die.
Perhaps I did not implement the plan because I am very sure that I would not be able to live with any permanent damage caused by a failed suicide attempt. I also sometimes wonder how much of my non-action is because I am still in love with this life of mine.
Staring at the psychiatrist, I suddenly realise that I have denied myself all this time. I have short-changed myself and deprived myself of a proper evaluation and diagnosis, because I thought that I wasn’t worth it.
I finally admit that I need help. I have depression. I need help.
Readers should rest assured that the author of the article, who has decided to use the pseudonym Judith, has been receiving counselling sessions and is currently in a much more positive frame of mind.
The author chose to share her experience in part to challenge the stereotyped expectations that many parents have of their children. Clearly, these expectations place undue pressure on children to conform in order to gain acceptance.
The author at the same time sought to express her thoughts and feelings descriptively and artistically, and that has been a cathartic experience for her. Life continues to be a challenge for her, but the good news is, she is well on the road to full recovery.
Perhaps others who might be going through a similar experience can draw hope from this, that all need not be lost if they seek help.