"I struggle with anxiety and depression. Many friends would describe me as 'bubbly and joyous' but deep down, I struggle daily to get out of bed and face daily tasks..."
This week, we speak with #teambusywoman community member Khloe Leong. On the outside, she’s just like the rest of us; she attends social gatherings, runs her own business via Carousell, loves a good spin class, etc. Yet...
"Different days can trigger different emotions; some days I meltdown, some days I wake up feeling different compared to the day before, some days I feel suicidal, some days I feel like I’m incapable of doing anything. Despite feeling the ups and downs, though, I still try to put up a huge smile when I’m with friends to make them believe that everything is okay."
What are some misconceptions you feel others have toward mental health?
Many of my friends do not seem to understand how medication or treatment can be beneficial and necessary in treating depression. They think it is “normal” to be sad - but they don’t see that feelings of suicide, helplessness, crying for no reason, sleeping for the entire day… is far from normal.
Many also believe that depression is just overthinking and that there isn’t a need to take medication. However, it has been scientifically proven that going cold turkey in terms of taking medication can worsen the condition. I’ve witnessed this firsthand.
What does a day in your life look like? Has this changed since your struggle with anxiety & depression?
My day usually starts around 6am and I start work as a pre-school bus attendant around 7am. Once the children have been sent to school, I usually head home to handle my online business or spend time with my pets. In the evening, the typical routine involves sending the children home from school before meeting with clients and/or the occasional run or social meetup.
There has been a lot trial and error over the past 5 years with me trying at least 7-8 different roles to know what I want, don’t want, and what fits me the best. After trying out various things, I’ve come to find that working solo is what works best for me. Being a freelancer gives me the freedom to work at my own pace, and the self discipline to work with my own schedule.
In all honesty, it was not intentional to choose what I’m currently doing right now. I worked many different jobs before but had to stop all of them due to depression and anxiety; I tend to have fear and a lot of self induced pressure when working with people or when there are time-based commitments.
Can you describe your personal experience with mental health?
I was diagnosed with depression/anxiety about 5 years ago. The doctor initially prescribed me with some anti-depressants. It was a horrible initial phase; my body was adjusting to the medications and I felt like I was “hibernating” - I wasn’t alert and couldn’t even step out of my house… there was a lack of human feeling.
Over time, though, I got better… and I got overly confident, so I stopped taking the medication only to have the symptoms come back after a few months to a heightened degree. This cycle has gone on/off for the past few years.
How did you initially seek help? What was one thing that really helped you?
In 2013, I was not functioning and hiding in my room for days on end. My family, who was and still is a major support system, recommended I seek professional help and gave me a contact from my brother-in-law. I continue to see a psychiatrist in Paragon Medical Centre on a monthly basis.
In addition, I've grown to appreciate the philosophies of religion i.e. Buddhism in my life - partially due to the influence of my parents, but also how the teachings resonated with me during trying periods in my life.
To me, social support is of utmost importance.
Among my friends in Singapore Soka Association (SSA), we share problems & challenges, and this is where I started to open up to others with the right support of people.
From then onwards, I've been striving to take charge of my life and started to be more outgoing because I found my self-worth - to contribute to the nation and to the people around me by inspiring through my own struggles and challenges in life. For example, I participated in the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games 2015 as a performer for the opening act representing SSA, and became a trainer for the National Day Parade in 2016.
Do you still have low days? What do those days look like?
Yes, I definitely still have low days where I feel very tired and have a lack of motivation to do anything. On those days, I try my best to listen to bodily cues in terms of how much rest I need.
What would being recovered look like to you?
Being recovered to me would mean not having to be reliant on medication; in part due to the long term side effects.
What do you do to maintain a healthy mind & body?
I tend to look at four dimensions in relation to health - physical, mental, spiritual and emotional.
For physical health, I enjoy spinning, running and swimming. For mental health, journaling and video logging my thoughts via Instagram really helps. For spiritual health, I do my Buddhist prayers, which is similar to meditation. Lastly, for emotional health, I do my best to be in tune with my body, noticing when to take a break.
What are your views on technology & social media and their effects on mental health?
On a positive note, technology & social media help connect people who are facing similar struggles, regardless of location. They’re also great tools in terms of finding information on self help.
At the same time, there are many negatives to technology & social media. It’s easy to compare ourselves to others on Instagram who may seem “perfect”, which can sometimes lead to us feeling negative about our “less than perfect” lives.
I think it’s very important for us to draw boundaries and also remember what’s important to us personally; there are many ways we can achieve happiness without a branded bag, beach body, etc. Rather than comparing, we should appreciate and be grateful & content with our own lives.
What is a go-to mantra you have when you are feeling anxious or down?
One of my favourite quotes is from Daisaku Ikeda: “When your determination changes, everything will begin to move in the direction you desire. The moment you resolve to be victorious, every nerve and fiber in your being will immediately orient itself toward your success. On the other hand, if you think, “This is never going to work out,” then at that instant every cell in your being will be deflated and give up the fight.”
What advice do you have for those struggling with depression/anxiety?
Do something that makes you happy, without fear of judgement from others. Be open to trying different things that can help you in your recovery journey. One size doesn’t fit all, so don’t compare your journey and tools to others. Even if you take baby steps toward your goal, that is progress; the most important thing is not to give up!
You aren’t alone: there are many who love you.
What advice do you have for friends/family members who have love ones going through similar struggles?
Be patient with them and be there for them when they need you.
It may be difficult at times to communicate with those who are facing struggles you don’t understand - so be sensitive and careful with your words.
Try not to treat the individual as being “different” from others. For example, giving tasks and responsibilities to those struggling can actually bring out the strength in them and keep them going by helping them realize their true potential.
Support them by going out with them and doing things that will take their mind off what usually consumes their minds. For example, if the person has a passion for dogs, you may ask the person to help out in taking care of your dog or asking him/her for tips.
"Given the recent suicide cases of celebrities in the news, I hope The Busy Woman Project can help educate the community in terms of identifying symptoms, approaching people who may be struggling, and how to help someone who may need professional help.
I also hope that with this Mental Health Awareness campaign, people who are facing struggles will be able to step out and not feel ashamed of what they’re struggling with.
Depression, for example, is not a weakness. It is just an illness.. an illness that can be overcome."
Can you relate to Khloe's story? What are your views on social media & its impact on your well-being? Do you have other questions on mental health? Drop us a note at: [email protected]. We'd love to hear from you!