A Clean Slate

This was written in 2016 but only being published now in 2017. Wanted to perfect it further and made sure I didn’t leave out any important events. But oh well, I should push the publish button already.

Here we go…

I’ve been wanting to write this piece of writing at the end of 2015 to celebrate a year free of depression but couldn’t find the time to sit down and pen my thoughts. It has also been slightly over a year since I last post something to this blog so here we go…

2015 meant a lot to me. It was a year where I celebrated my first wedding anniversary, a year where I could stay in a job with a small company where I worked on so many things and learned so much than I ever did during my previous 2 years spent working in a bigger company.

It was also a year where I began to practice yoga seriously. A year where I began to carry myself lightly. A year where I’m surrounded by more younger people but finding them more complicated than my older self. I guess it was also a year my thinking became simpler. I used to worry and think too much.

2015 was a crucial year for me because I wanted to make it count. I’ve lost 2013 and 2014 due to major depression. It was tough because the first time I was diagnosed with depression was around my birthday in 2013. Imagine taking your birthday gifts with you and placing them next to your pillow and crying yourself to bed on your birthday night. I had trouble remembering things, my memory was failing me. Coming from a person with good memory, it was a very scary feeling what depression can do to instil in me all the fear I’ve never asked for. I wanted to remember my big day and was so afraid that I’ll forget the people who celebrated the birthday with me. I wanted to wake up the next day, thinking about the birthday celebration that my loved ones had prepared with so much thought in it just to make me happy, knowing well the condition I was in.

I had to quit my job and stopped working for about 8 months because I couldn’t work, let alone get out of bed or the house during some of the worst days.

My birthday on the next year in 2014 wasn’t a great one either. I was down with dengue fever and had a depression relapse just about the same period. It was harder this round because I had two important milestones I was looking forward to. My registration of marriage is to happen in August and few months down the road, I’ll need to walk down that aisle in November. I just cannot afford to have this depression happening at that juncture.

I eventually managed to recover in time to walk down that aisle with God’s grace. I’m now God’s Grace. Sometimes amazing. šŸ™‚

I put in a lot of effort to be free of depression in 2015. I worked hard to resume my career. I wasn’t expecting a lot. I just took up a job that was being offered without thinking if it had the perks and benefits I used to have. I just wanted to get back up again and prayed that the environment and job would allow me to. I had to make sure I do not get too stressed up with work and to be able to withstand a good amount of stress when it happens at the workplace. 2015 was a year of being very conscious of my well-being, physically, and more importantly mentally and emotionally.

I knew what it’s like to be in the dark for a long time and once you’re there, you’ll never want to go back again. I was very sad about the relapse that happened in 2014 because I read somewhere that once you have a relapse, the tendency of another relapse is high. So my goal from then on is to make sure I don’t have anymore relapses.

I have a few poignant moments during my darkest period that I’ll never forget, in no particular order as below:-

1. I cried so much in the office toilet, feeling sad that I was feeling sad for no particular reason. My now husband, then boyfriend took me to the temple after work, I sat there, with a calming feeling sweeping over me with the chanting sound coming from the temple. I cried even more, this time with even bigger tears. I call it the biggest cry of my life up till now. I could literally feel that big drop of tears forming around my eyes, dropping down one by one with much weight.

2. I actually suggested to my boyfriend to bring me to see a psychiatrist. I was searching on the Internet of what could be wrong with me. I stumbled upon an article on depression and the symptoms I was experiencing matches the list. It took me some time to acknowledge that I may be suffering from depression. The first visit was tough because the doctor so easily proclaimed I was suffering from severe depression and it would be hard to recover on my own without the help of medication. But still, I told him I will try and he gave my boyfriend some medication in case I changed my mind. I didn’t touch any of it.

3. No matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t going anywhere. I finally gave in when I was trying hard to not cry in the food court while eating with my colleagues. I excused myself immediately after lunch and walked superbly fast to get out of the building. I had another cry this time and I was shaking. I tearfully told my boyfriend who was trying to pull me together that I want to go see the doctor. I couldn’t do it on my own anymore.

4. I started going on medication. I slept so much in the first week like I’ve not slept for years. I began to have appetite which I’ve lost for I don’t know how long. I put on weight because the medication makes you crave for food, in my case, sweet stuff.

5. The first depression was long and it took quite awhile for me to recover. The relapse was shorter but more intense and scarier. I had thoughts of me committing suicide. It seemed real and feels like a bad nightmare at the same time. I’m definitely not the kind of person who would do such thing so when these thoughts started appearing, I was very very scared.

6. My family … What would I be without my family? My sister brought me to see a psychologist on top of the psychiatrist that I was already seeing. The psychologist made me sign a pledge that I will not take my own life. I was ashamed that I was actually signing that piece of paper because like I said, I’m not that sort of person to take my own life. However, it was real that I had such thoughts appearing in my mind and so it served as a reminder and also a promise to myself that I had to make sure I choose to LIVE. Another thing that I can relate a little and understand when I read on the news about people taking on their own lives, is that it may not be something they want to put themselves through. But when depression hits you like a truck, you suffer so much that you just want to end it. It is not about not having any willpower. You don’t have anything anymore inside and it takes someone who has experienced severe depression to understand what it is really like and how it makes you feel.

7. I’ve always thought that I’m a burden to my parents. When you are in depression, you would feel like a burden to everyone, particularly people closest to you, due to the fact that you loved them the most and similarly you don’t want them to see you suffer. My mum was with me, making sure I ate well and for the first time, I made her drive in KL because I had panic attacks that will happen unpredictably and I couldn’t drive. She had to drive me to the doctor with me navigating and directing her from the passenger seat.

8. My dad gave me lectures and reminded me how important I am and that I matter when I told him I felt useless. I must have broke his heart for saying that to him when he sees something entirely different in me than what I saw in myself.

9. My family went with me to China to see a doctor. They would move the highest mountains and cross the deepest ocean just to help me get up again. I live with that in mind each time darkness looms and I cannot see any light at the end of the tunnel. At times, it felt like there was no end to this darkness.

10. I even told my to-be-husband at that time not to marry me as I didn’t feel like I was going to make him happy. Again, I told him I was a burden to him. He never gave up on me and so willingly and lovingly take me under his wings.

11. I still have no clue what is the main cause of this depression. It could be genetic, accumulated stress or both.I have been very well-protected by my parents and I would say my life has been quite smooth-sailing. I did well in school and I performed well in my job. I haven’t had any significant hardship (well, there’s one but I survived it and so I thought I wasn’t affected by it but who knows it could be post-traumatic stress too).

12. I do the things I want to do now without thinking too much. You only get to live once and for me, I felt like I’ve been revived from my dead soul. Depression was the worst experience I’ve ever gone through but it was also the best because it taught me a lot, made me understand myself better, showed me the unconditional love of my family and friends. I used to be very timid, shy and fearful growing up as a kid. Most of my life up till I had depression has always been filled with fear, anxiety and worries. But now, I can feel courage and I’m building to have more of it. I am not that fearful anymore because there is nothing scarier than the scariest that I’ve already been through.

13. I’m very busy with my life now and I religiously stick to my weekly yoga class. I’m going to practise yoga for life because yoga gave a me lift and boost my recovery. It makes me calm and it makes me love my body and mind.

What is coming is better than what is gone.

Depression #31: The Relapse, The Reminder

It’s been 2 weeks since I’ve started making exercise almost a daily affair for me. I’m very happy with myself and my progress. I’m just enjoying food and enjoying workout at the same time. At times, I find myself falling asleep on the sofa after an hour of solid tennis playing. Mornings pass by very quickly now that I exercise.

Looking back at the past, I have some new realization now that I can see things clearer. When I had my first major depression, all that mattered to me was to recover as soon as I can, it took me about half a year to finally rise again. I had the help of medication and I was happy that I found a name/term to the condition I was in.

Never would I have thought a relapse would happen and when it did, it was scarier than the first because I knew what the feeling was, I followed the feeling from being ok to spiralling downwards again. You know you have to get up and get out but you just can’t. This time around, I bounced back within a month or two, much faster than the first. The relapse was a message and a reminder to me. I didn’t only focus on getting well, it taught me to get down to the root cause, to understand my mind and body better, to be hopeful, to be positive and to just live my life without fear and anxiety. I was always looking for an answer but I wasn’t able to find it and I wasn’t even sure what kind of answer I was actually searching for. I stopped looking for an answer and to just allow life to unveil itself. Sometimes I still have a little discomfort tugging at my heart when I’m about to do something new but it doesn’t bother me that much anymore, I just let it be and told myself I can do it. I need not be perfect. I just need to be ok with the imperfect ways should I bump into them.

For 3 months, my mum was with me for 24 hours, considering I’m still not working and I get to spend most of the time with her. She made sure I have balanced home-cooked meals. At first, I felt like a burden to her. A 30-year-old something lady still having her mum preparing meals for her and to be by her side while she gets out from the depression crap. I finally came to terms with it and just see it as the love a mum has for her daughter. I didn’t want to feel bad because it wouldn’t help me anyway. Instead, I filled my heart with gratitude and love.

When my mum flew home after being with me for 3 whole months, I cried. I started crying a few days before she flew home, knowing that I’m gonna miss her so very much and that I had enjoyed the time spent with her. I was worried if I could cope being alone in the house, if I was able to prepare meals for myself and go about with my daily life since Mum made sure I had a routine and that we did things together.

I’m happy to be my independent self again. I’m happy that I’m cooking and preparing meals for myself and my sister whenever she’s eating. I made sure I do something everyday, whether it’s for the wedding preparation, cooking something, meeting a friend or just crossing things off my to-do list. I attended a concert with a friend on Friday. I’m thankful that I have 2 friends who are not currently working like me. One is on a long maternity leave so I get to visit her once every 2 weeks to check on her and see how she’s coping with taking care of her first born all by herself. The other is also on a health recovery journey that has been bothering her for a year now. We come out for meals and just share our thoughts.

I also used to think I am a failure if I am unemployed. I don’t think that way anymore because it isn’t because I want to be lazy and do not want to work but it’s because I really needed the time off, to put things down so that I can come back again, for real this time. I’m also not very bothered of what others would think of me. That itself removed lots of weight from me. They wouldn’t fully understand anyway unless they experienced the same thing I did. Even if someone doesn’t understand what depression is or how someone like me could land myself in depression, it doesn’t matter. Words cannot fully explain it unless you’ve been through it.

Depression #30: Exercise, Exercise, Exercise

I’ve been waking up by my jerks in the morning. It usually happens just around the time the brain starts the engine in the morning while I’m still in bed. It started while I stopped one of the medication that made me stopped worrying but at the same time made me ate a lot. Nothing scary that I felt previously but yesterday and today, I felt a little lost. Not wanting to let it grow into something that is out of control, I took out my yoga mat and did 5 sets of sun salutation. I felt better and looking back, I think it’s due to the lack of exercise. Yoga classes in the evening have been cancelled as there are not enough students so I’m going to replace it with tennis session, my own workout at home or just yoga session at home. I’ve decided that I’m going to do exercise everyday whenever possible, even if it’s just a 30-minute walk. It is a must. I think exercise is the only most effective way for mental healthĀ as itĀ reduces the body’s stress hormones. Relying on medication alone is just not enough because once you’re off medication, you’re back to square one. No matter how positive I think and if I stay idle with all the stress hormones accumulated in my body, I’m not making any progress.

I just played tennis at 6pm today and I’m going to play 8am tomorrow. This is also helpful in setting my day right as there’s something to look forward to. Something to kick start the morning and then that should get my system running and I can be more productive later in the day. My priority now is health, followed by wedding. I still think of the future when I sit on the toilet bowl a little longer but they are just thoughts and I would bring myself back and say, “I’ll deal with it when it comes. I don’t know how but I will deal with it when it comes.”

Depression #29: Ramblings

I’ve just finished reading a book which my dad bought for me when I had my depression relapse. It’s called “Take Control of Your Life” by Dr Gail Ratcliffe. It is a very good book that explains how stress affects us, how the stress cycle starts and ways to take control over it. It made me understand my condition better and there are things which I learnt from the book which I need to incorporate in my life. I’ve never been very conscious about my thoughts or how negative/positive they are. Now I’m starting to analyse them when I find myself thinking negatively about something. Sometimes the negative thinking comes in auto mode. We know we have to think positively but the mind would sometimes creep up with negative thoughts and these are times when I would be aware and then try to stop the negative thought from compounding even further. It’s when the compounding starts and loops that makes everything go out of control for me. I would ask myself how I could change my negative thought into something positive or if I can’t, what are the good things or lessons I could derive from this negative thought. So instead of zooming into panic mode when I have more than one thing going on in my mind, I try and calm myself with comforting thoughts.

When I was on two medications – Lexapro and Olenza, I was slightly feeling upper than I usually would. This is in comparison of what I’m going through now that I’m only just on Lexapro. My mind was mostly about food then and being able to eat and enjoy the food that I’m thinking about made me happy. I didn’t have trouble sleeping at night even if I had tea before that which usually doesn’t happen if I’m not on medication. I could be very focused on one thing and on my mind I can only think of that one thing that I wish to complete and so farĀ progress has been good.

I’m also trying not to overthink now and not to be very angry. Anger makes a person stressed and not thinking straight. I was very good at overthinking that my whole system got jammed up. I don’t care if I’m not sophisticated or complex like a normal adult’s brain should be. For now, I need to keep things as simple as possible, especially my mind so that when I have something complex or complicated coming in, my brain has got space to move about and do the thinking. When it’s all crammed up, I can’t think at all. I also don’t care what level I should be in my career right now because what matters is finding a suitable one for the sake of my sanity. I don’t want to be too obsessed about my weight and appearance anymore. I know I’m fatter than my old skinny self and I may never get back to that skinny self once more. I don’t know but so long as I’m exercising then that’s good enough for me. I’m not going to skimp on food as well but to eat a balanced diet because I just read that a low carbohydrate diet doesn’t help in producing serotonin – a chemical that maintains mood balance.

Now that it’s October, I was a bit anxious on the first day of October because it means November is near. I suddenly have so many to do list running around in my head and I’ve been having the same thing going on for the past 2 mornings. But it’s good. It’s a time for me to practise how to stop those thoughts or put them into order. It’s going to be a learning process where my mind is able to think of more than one thing at a time and learn how to manage it again.

I’ve also been thinking about people around me more than being too self-absorbed. I’ve been spending time together with my mum for about 3 months now and it has been a joy to be with her. I know I won’t have the privilege to do this anymore when I move in to stay with another family so I’m cherishing every moment I get now. There will be times when my tears would visit me when the thought hits me but there is nothing I can do about it because I’ve entered a new chapter of life and life needs to go on. I’m happy that I’m able to feel all these emotions because it means Grace is back. I used to be very very sad when I thought about this especially during my last Chinese New Year where I was home with them because I know the next Chinese New Year wouldn’t be the same anymore. I won’t be home during the eve of Chinese New Year and to celebrate the first day of Chinese New Year with them. It would be with another family. Again, nothing I can do about this but to look forward to be able to still make a trip home despite being the third or fourth day of Chinese New Year. I just hope I would be able to sail through it with grace instead of being a crybaby. But even if I do cry, it’s just normal, isn’t it?

My most profound fear which I’ve never talked about here before is the thought of staying with in-laws. I have friends and people around me telling me all sorts of stories but I’m going to stop listening to it and even if I do come across stories again, I would need to count my blessings and to think of the good. I have always wanted to stay with just my husband and me and no one else. I value my freedom and independence. There are certain things that I want to do, a certain vision of life together that I envision. But we don’t always get to choose and it took me awhile to get my head around it. It wasn’t easy because I held on to my ideals too tightly and I wasn’t confident I was going to survive living in with another family. I had fears that appeared before it even happened or never happened. However, since I’ve had depression, I’m letting a lot of “I used to think / I used to want to…” thoughts go away and be more flexible and adapt to the changes that are not beyond my control. I cannot be stressed with too much thoughts and I can’t be living with a lot of my own ideals because each family is different and I just got to adapt to a different style. I think I can handle it. As you can see, I’m putting down things that weigh me, letting go thoughts that aren’t going to help me because I can’t afford to be too heavy in the head. I just want to be light and easy.

Depression #28: Bye bye Cravings

Happiness is…cutting down to just one medication from two and what a difference it has made. I’m no longer having all these cravings for unhealthy and fattening food in my head. No more cravings on weird hours of the day. No more increased appetite.

When I look at my round round face and a calendar that tells me my big day is just two months’ shy, I know I need to do some serious work. I started with my tennis lesson once again this morning and will be moving around to find ways to remove my fats on top of going for yoga classes.

I no longer feel worthless or useless for not working at this point of time. In fact I’m worried I’ll miss this period when I start to work again in the future. My days are occupied so it’s good. I love you, Grace!