Our world and Mental Health
I am not sure what comes to your mind when the term “Mental Health” is mentioned.
“Mental health” has become a sort of a buzz word in the recent years. But…How much do we really know about it?
To begin to even understand the magnitude of the situation, let’s look at some facts:
-Poor mental health costs the world economy between 2-5 TRILLION USD. These costs come from fall in productivity and treating poor health.
-Suicide is the leading cause of death for those aged 10-29 in Singapore. Globally it is the 4th leading cause of death for those aged 15-19.
-Mental health issues significantly reduces one’s quality of life
-There is still significant discrimination and stigma attached to mental health issues
How is this relevant for you?
ANYONE can face mental health struggles and issues at ANY time in our lives. It can arise from…
-Serious/Chronic health conditions
-Distressing life events (E.g. Death of those you are close to, serious accidents, divorce, job loss etc…)
-Prolonged stress factors (E.g. Bullying, abuse, unemployment etc…)
They can feel overwhelmingly painful and impossible to cope with. We should be careful to detect if our friends and family are struggling. We should also be more self aware and be more open to talk about it and seek help for it.
I’ve had my fair share of struggles with my mental health over the years. It isn’t the easiest thing to talk about. I’ve also witness close ones struggle with their mental health. Many of these struggles are kept very very private. Culturally it still feels like it is like a dark secret that should be hidden. It is shameful and wrong to share your struggles and weakness.
There is still a dangerously dismissive attitude toward mental health struggles in our society that makes it difficult for people to seek help. It is real and we urgently need to fix it!
Being a man, I’ve been told that guys who struggle with their mental health are just WEAK. (This is precisely why men are more likely to kill themselves!!!)
Instead of offering any form of concern, my wife was told by people (who were close to us then) that I’m a danger to her and my children. She was also told that she should protect herself because I was struggling with a condition.
Then there’s that generation that goes…“My generation just do it lah, what depression this and that! Nowadays all just strawberries!!!”
It is NOT okay to be dismissive of one's mental health struggles. IT IS ABUSE.
We need to call this behaviour out and be there for those we love.
The impact of his death
My journey of grief didn’t begin when dad passed on.
Allow me to recount my journey…
My daddy is a product of his time. Born in the 50s, he is a stubbornly responsible man who never took an MC even when he had a fever. He never let the lack of sleep or exhaustion of having just finished a night shift stop him from serving at church the following morning. He always made sure he cleaned the house floor until it squeaked when you walked over it. He would ride his bicycle from Eunos/Kembangan to Punggol (and back) just to see his grand children for awhile. That changed when his body began to give way and was first hospitalised for more than a month in 2019.
It was also when his knees started to give way and he would have episodes of suddenly losing all strength and collapsing to the ground while walking. I was able to be his chauffeur and caregiver on his many visits to the hospital. If you’ve been to a public hospital you’ll know that specialist visits are long drawn affairs that can stretch the entire day. I was there when countless tubes of blood was drawn from his arm. I was there when my stubbornly independent daddy refused to be held as he walked unsteadily. Scans, biopsies, putting a huge needle into his face to draw a sample etc etc….I was there.
His rare blood cancer also meant he caught on many different infections. At one point, I think he had appointments for close to 10 different specialists in different departments. All of us held on to hope that he will get better. But he didn’t. The treatment and drugs didn’t sort his illness out and he was hospitalised so many times we lost count. Each time he stayed for weeks with little positive outcome. In fact, he had a major infection once that left his right arm with nerve damage. He lost function of that arm and wasn’t able to write for a long period.
It was heartbreaking to see daddy frustrated at his disability. It was heartbreaking to see him so frustrated being “imprisoned” in the hospital. Being a cancer patient also meant he wasn’t allowed to have his Covid19 vaccine. The full blown social distancing measures prevented us from having family dinners. He also couldn’t visit malls or head out. I remember there was a time we had to eat our take-out lunch standing up in an open air garden because dining in wasn’t allowed and his appointments stretched from 8am to 5pm. Thinking back, I do cherish the times we sat in the SGH foodcourt and had our lunch, coffee and discussed various topics of life.
We also decided at a point that the treatment at SGH wasn’t working. We were very frustrated at the lengthy hospitalisations with no answers, explanation and updates. Not to mention the HOURS we spent waiting at the pharmacy for 5 pills or a tube of cream. The efficiency was NON existent.
We transferred him to Mount E where he was seen by another Haematologist. For some months, daddy’s condition saw some stabilisation and improvement. It was when he was also able to take his Covid vaccine and enjoy eating out as a family again. It was also when we spent evenings together playing board games with the children and enjoyed each other’s company. There was a glimpse of hope and some light at the end of the tunnel.
Sadly, that didn’t last very long. He had two emergency admissions and it became clear that the cancer had suddenly turned aggressive. It also became quite clear that survival was slim. He spent more and more time asleep because the cancer ate away at his blood cells. No amount of transfusion helped. I managed to share some last moments with him in PPE. Cutting his food into bite sized portions, feeding him, seeing him enjoy his last cup of delicious brewed coffee.
One day, they sedated him for a lung procedure to get a sample for detecting the infection but he never exactly regained full consciousness from that. Just like that he slipped into a coma shortly and a brain bleed was detected. The prolonged 2 years of having very little to no white blood cells (the cancer destroyed them) meant his blood vessels were extremely fragile. They opened his skull and tried to stop that bleeding but he passed on less than 24 hours after the surgery because the bleeding couldn’t be stopped and his brains were damaged beyond repair.
We were devastated. He was only 69.
He has been gone for 8 months, I’m still devastated. The grandchildren still miss him and talk about him every other day. It is still hard to accept that our beloved daddy and yeye is gone.
Have you ever felt like you are just so sick of feeling that dreadful feeling of defeat? Of being trampled over? Feeling like you’re good for nothing and nothing good will ever work in your favour? I’ve felt so much of that recently.
That gut wrenching sick feeling in your chest. Feeling defeated because I lost my dad to cancer. That glimpse of hope when he was better for a few months and then just absolutely ravaged by the aggressive cancer in the final weeks.
It has been 8 months but that feeling of emptiness and helplessness still happens when I get flashbacks of his lifeless body in the ICU. I would dream of walking the corridors and different areas in SGH and Mount Elizabeth with him. I would wake up feeling absolutely defeated.
Feeling like crap because we haven't been able to make a trip to NZ work out logistically and financially. Feeling exhausted from the world still being pretty much chaotic from the effects of covid. Feeling tired from the toil of building something from scratch, again.
Week after week, month after month you still feel that sinking feeling. You almost just resigned yourself to feeling it forever.
Mental Health, grief and our travels
Travelling has helped me process my grief. It has become the process of grieving. Travelling has given us space to feel, understand our sadness and to be with our loss.
It doesn’t have to be travelling, selling your house and changing your lifestyle entirely like us. Everyone grieves differently. The most important part we would like to encourage people to do is to TAKE TIME TO PROCESS YOUR GRIEF!
Starting this blog and talking about my/our journey has helped. TALK TO SOMEONE you can trust. Avail yourself to someone who is grieving, drop them a message to ask them how they are!
Being able to intentionally live our lives to the fullest doing something we are passionate about has brought much comfort. It brings much comfort because we know we are able to do what was to be my dad’s last encouraging words.
We’ve realised how much of grieving, depression and other mental health challenges require our ACTIVE participation to overcome. Passively “sucking it up” as many toxic people suggest we do is the very thing that will destroy you.
Apart from writing about our travels, we have been focused on writing books as a way to remember my dad.
I’ve written a book that is close to completion to remember him. (I’ll update more about it as we go along!)
With much encouragement, Debra has finally pushed through to work on her long time ambition and passion to publish her very own books. The first book of her very own bilingual book series is finally completed! We are posting a preview of that in our next post this weekend! You can check it out here: www.instagram.com/kwanslearntamil
Stay tuned for it!
We are always happy to discuss the topics we bring up on our blog! WE are happy to connect with you! Drop us an anonymous question on Instagram or click on the red chat button to chat!
Vincent & Debra Kwan, Founders of Hiro & Jack and stay-at-home parents with the odd life.
Drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org