For many years, I lived a double-life. Those around me only saw the side of me that I allowed to be on display – the one who is cheerful, strong, determined and confident—while the Cecile I kept hidden from many, including my friends and family, was insecure, vulnerable and destructive – the side of me that I despised.
There is a dirty word that only gets discussed behind closed doors, and the people who have experienced it often live in the shadows.It has always been around but there is still limited awareness around it because talking about it, especially in some conservative cultures, is often considered taboo.
The word I am referring to is “dirty” but not in the “Rated R” or “Fifty Shades of Grey” kind of way. It is a dirty topic because it’s something that people do not like to talk about but should really be talking about, and that is depression.
This is something I understand personally because I went through it. For many years, I lived a double-life. Those around me only saw the side of me that I allowed to be on display – the one who is cheerful, strong, determined and confident—while the Cecile I kept hidden from many, including my friends and family, was insecure, vulnerable and destructive – the side of me that I despised. I made attempts to keep it under control by finding solutions for some of my destructive behaviours. But as a good doctor would advise you: it is better to address the cause rather than the symptoms, something I wish I realised sooner before things got worse.
Last year, a friend of ours suddenly died from cancer. It was a late diagnosis. Within three weeks of getting hospitalised, he passed away. He was just months away from turning 30. His death was so sudden and unexpected; it really shook me to the core. It made me think about my own life, what I have accomplished, the things I still want to do, and what my purpose is in life. And one day, for reasons I couldn’t understand, I just came to a scary conclusion that my life was meaningless and had no purpose.
In fact, when I started going to a psychologist, I hid it from my family because I already knew what they would say, “You’re just lonely. You don’t really need to see a therapist.
After that, I lost my ability to focus at work, and began to feel exhausted all the time. I withdrew from people, and stopped enjoying the usual things I liked to do. I also struggled to sleep and my appetite changed. But the biggest change I noticed was that I started to really doubt myself. Deep inside, the confident, enthusiastic and vibrant Cecile was gone.
At that time, I knew something was wrong but I pretended as if everything was okay anyway. It was only when I couldn’t take it anymore, and talked to a trusted friend that I became really honest with myself: I needed help, and decided to do something about it. For a perfectionist like me who grew up thinking that my self-worth was attached to my achievements and success, admitting that I might be suffering from a mental illness was one of the most difficult things I did in my life. But if I had any chance of getting through it, I knew it was the most important step. So I took a break from work, and consulted a doctor who referred me to my therapist. That’s when I was told I was suffering from depression.
What people need to understand is that depression is more than just a low mood – it is a serious illness that impacts both physical and mental health, and any of us can get depressed at any time.
According to the World Health Organisation website, 350 million people across all ages live with depression, and it is the leading disability worldwide. Tragically, one million people take their own lives every year, and for every person who commits suicide, there are 20 or more who make an attempt. That means there are people out there who might be suffering from depression but do not get treated because they fear that they would be judged as weak, incompetent or worse, crazy. Let’s face it, in our society, especially in the Asian culture, no one wants to be labelled as “depressed”. We don’t want people to know that we’re not really superheroes; we are afraid to be seen for what we really are: vulnerable and imperfect humans.
In fact, when I started going to a psychologist, I hid it from my family because I already knew what they would say, “You’re just lonely. You don’t really need to see a therapist. All you need to do is go out, talk to people, pray, and it will just go away.” But it didn’t go away. I felt so alone, confused and ashamed. And this is often the case with a lot of people who suffer with depression.
But depression does not have to be the end. It can also be the beginning. In fact, my life started after depression.
Going to a therapist helped me understand what I was going through, and it gave me some helpful techniques on how to deal with it. And after a number of sessions, my therapist told me that I no longer needed to see her and that I can now manage it on my own.
Since then, I have become more self-aware and compassionate not just to others but most especially to myself. I can now openly discuss this issue with my family, friends and colleagues, and everyone has been really supportive. I have also regained my confidence, and now believe that I can be the person I want to be. But the best thing about my journey through depression is that since then, I have found my purpose, and that is to help other people. So now, I open up to people about my “dirty little secret” so I can raise awareness on mental health issues, and give hope to people who suffer from depression because there is hope.
My call to action to each and every one of you is to treat depression with the respect it deserves, and we can do this in two ways:
1. If you think you may be suffering from depression or any other mental health issues, do not be afraid or ashamed to seek help because there is no shame in seeking help. Go and see your doctor or local GP; or
2. If you recognise depression among family and friends, please try to keep an open mind, show compassion, and provide them with support because you will never know what your mere compassion can do.
Do not let yourself or anyone you know become a part of the tragic statistics. Remember, depression does not have to be the end. Depression can also be the beginning.
WHO – Depression Fact Sheets
This article is based on my speech, of the same title, that was used to compete in the Toastmasters District 70 Western Division International Speech Contest.