Making sense of ‘mental darkness’

So what is mental health?

What do people mean when we say mental health? According to Singapore Association for Mental Health’s website, mental illness is ‘a disturbance of the mind that impairs the way we think, feel and behave. It affects our daily activities, as well as impact the lives of family members and friends’. The same association states that at least 1 in 7 Singaporeans would have experienced at least a mood or anxiety disorder at some point of their lives.

Making sense of my own experience

The conversation with the professor came up at a time when I was struggling with the transition to university life. The student life that I was used to was no more. My friends from school had moved on with their lives in other countries. While I did well in some modules, I struggled and did poorly in others. I got to a point where I started unconsciously introducing self-sabotaging behaviour in class, in relationships and with myself. I would hear words in my head and believe them, even when friends and people around me share other perspectives of reality. I lost friends because I could not believe that they didn’t say bad things about me (the voice I heard said they did!). I lost at least 10kg within a short span of time, and went from a bit plump to mostly skin and bones. This was probably accelerated with not having enough food at the hostel, too much exercise and not having enough rest.

Teenage years ~

I don’t know how I survived my teenage years. If anything, it was only during the older teenage years where I found some reason to give thanks for life. This was thanks to a safe community of friends I had, where I chose to spend time with residents of one-room flats and like-minded school mates on a monthly basis.

Adult years ~

Moments of ‘mental darkness’ continued into my adult life. The moments where I howl in pain as a cry for help continued. These moments were strangely comforting as these were moments I was very familiar with. As years went by, I started feeling less helpless and wanted to find ways to feel better and more alive.

  • I would dream of home-cooked meals, but end up stoning outside for hours without having a proper meal or inwardly struggle with the food choices I end up making.
  • I would go through my days, aware of the importance of the work I do at the workplace or community, but seemingly drifting and struggled with unseen currents. I would tell colleagues that I felt like a plankton drifting with the currents and wished I was a fish that could swim strongly forward and go to a bay to have some rest.
  • I would have the most amazing things planned for the day or week, but feel that I couldn’t even pull myself out of bed. I had no motivation to do anything at all. I was in my room feeling stuck to the bed for hours, with no one at home realising that anything was wrong. Some people I know tended to label people who sleep in as lazy. I know from this experience that even mere minutes spent in bed could be utterly painful and difficult to bear.
  • More shockingly, I realised I could not speak. I would try to speak or sing, if only to get myself out of my head. Except, I would feel that something was physically coming up from inside and blocking sound from even coming out. My own body was trying to tell me something, and I was totally clueless on how to interpret it. This thought totally scared me. How do you even bring this up to anyone else, especially when I could still speak normally at other times, like in the workplace?
  • I started having difficulty breathing. Each breath became increasingly laboured. Depressive thoughts lingered at the doorway.
  • The body started having rash of all kinds, to an extent that I had never experienced.
  • … and so on.

Path to feeling well

In the last year since I chose to leave my former workplace, I have been learning, unlearning, re-learning what my latest mental darkness experience has taught me. I have been experimenting with ways to heal from the dark periods of my life, and intentionally making space to re-discover what it means to truly live and walk away from darkness that had been such a big part of my life.

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Cuifen Pui

Cuifen Pui

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Crafting a life path, and aspires to transform lives meaningfully. Life Coach. Co-creator of a social venture. Spends time shaping culture.