Depressed, for happiness

I think there is a huge misconception of depressed people. People think depressives are quiet, teary, incapable of humour, mopey all the time. Not many people believe I am clinically depressed, because if you were to meet me, I am as jovial and positive as a person can get. Do you know Robin Williams has/had depression too? Do you know Catherine Zeta Jones is bipolar? Do you know Abraham Lincoln was chronically depressed, even when he was the President of the United States of America?

I was a bit hesitant coming out publicly about my depression, because I was fearful it would make people think I was incapable of functioning. I just don't function the typical way people do. I get tired all the time, I find it hard to concentrate, I do slip into uncontrollable crying episodes, but when I am remotely well, I would like to think I am actually more productive than the average person.

Some days I feel fine, some days I can't even lift a finger. Recently it has gotten to a point whereby I was worried if I didn't do anything about it, it would eventually come to a point when I am truly incapable of functioning. It hasn't gotten there yet, but close. The days of feeling fine became far and few in between.

After a month of being on anti-depressants, I am glad to tell you that I am feeling a lot better, though still far from being well. I am also seeing my family sinseh to boost my general health, because altering your brain chemistry can only do so much. If your body is sluggish, it is just a matter of time that chronic health problems will surface no matter what western medication you can take. Recovering takes a lot of effort, patience and money. I read a depression memoir of this writer who had to run tens of kilometres everyday, practice yoga, take dozens of supplements PLUS her cocktail of anti-depressants, *just* not to feel like killing herself. She faces judgement everyday, even from a spa therapist, who thinks taking medicine is wrong and a few massages will do the trick.

I have learnt the hard way that in order to get better, it is a holistic effort. Just doing one thing alone is not going to help.

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I have been thinking and reflecting. I have been coping with ups and downs of my moods all my life, I simply thought it was my personality for being emotional and melancholic. Until my shrink told me a medical term for it. I have been through dark periods of my life when I was literally suicidal, but I naively thought that was a thing of the past.

For the past four years ever since I turned self-employed, I have been living the life I have always wanted to lead. I was still coping with my mood swings, but I assumed that was just part of me. Until the past year, for some reason, I started getting physically sick a lot. By a lot, I mean like every month, which became a weekly thing, and then it became alternate days. How sick? I get migraines which makes me want to bang my head against the wall, I get nausea as part of the migraine, I get chest pains and of course horrible 2-week flus at some intervals.

It was affecting my work, my life and I didn't like it a single bit.

For some reason. For what reason?

Honestly till now, I have no idea. Is it because of overwork? Poor diet? No exercise? Pursuing the wrong kind of work? Wrong motivation for work? Because I wasn't living out my purpose? But what is my purpose? Am I living in the wrong country? Is Singapore energetically wrong for me? Because I have dozens of bills to pay? Perhaps the stress of having to break even every month as an independent worker? Society getting too materialistic? War for senseless reasons? The rental market in Singapore getting crazy?

I don't feel alive anymore and I hate it. I am actually getting sick and depressed because I want so desperately to be happy.

How can I truly be happy? It is about being contented? But does being contented mean I shouldn't push myself to be the change that I want?

What truly makes me happy?

Initially, I thought I was over-working myself. So I stopped, took on less work. Then, I thought, maybe I wasn't working enough on projects that I care about. I am interested in social change, so I started to meet more like-minded people, started to churn out ideas with them, how can we actually have sustainable online initiatives for social change? I wanted to use my skills to facilitate change. I built connections.sg, which in its current incarnation is not even close to 10% of my original ideal, there were a few more sites in the pipeline that I hooked up with a few precious like-minded people to work with – all for the sake of building the community and sharing knowledge.

I was very tired, but each time I meet someone who shares the same ideals, I feel inspired and alive. I thought I was on the right path. Do more of this and my sanity/health would slowly return back to me.

One day, I imploded.

Nothing exactly happened, but something in me just clicked and I was like having a blue screen of death in my brain and I was no longer able to reboot myself.

I was confused. Frustrated. Angry. Upset. Annoyed. Heart-broken. I felt cheated. I looked up above (yup despite all my feelings I still believe in a religion-less God), I asked, why? All I did was to follow my heart and do what I thought was right. Instead of getting better, I got worse.

I am sick and tired of fighting a battle all the time. What is it I have to do exactly to be happy? If happiness was too much to ask for, or if I didn't recognise happiness in its purest form, then how about letting me have some proper health instead? Praying every morning I didn't wake up with a migraine is not exactly my version of health.

I lost all my drive. I looked at books that I bought, on topics I used to love so much and I felt dead. I tried watching some movies and I felt dead. I used to love watching hongkong cantonese dramas and I didn't feel like it. I turned to watching sitcoms and they didn't make me laugh like they used to.

Crying when you're depressed is a good sign. At least it shows you still have emotions and you care about how you feel. When you reach the point whereby you cannot even cry, that is the time to be worried. Or at least I was. I am a crybaby and I don't even feel remotely sad. I just felt dead.

I wondered how I was going to pay my bills if I continued waking up with a migraine everyday. Then I decided that I couldn't care less, because if I continued my migraine pattern, I was as good as dead. Bills really don't matter when you would rather die. I thought about all the projects I was going to work on, the ones I was so excited about, and I felt guilty abandoning them. Then I realised what's the point when at this rate I was not going to be alive anymore? Obviously a dead person cannot effect change no matter how much guilt I feel. I forced myself to work an hour or so on my client's projects, because I'll rather be dead than to let my clients down, but I was going through the motions. I could technically still work for my work depends on a lot of logic and reasoning which I still possessed, but I couldn't do it for more than a hour at one go without feeling my brain was going to burst into flames any second.

I felt a lot of guilt for feeling dead even though I had tons of reasons to feel alive for. There are people starving to death for god's sake. But no matter how much I tried to reason with myself, I still felt dead.

That's what depression is about I guess. When your brain decides to stop transporting chemicals correctly, whether you have reasons to live or if you're rich or famous, you're incapable of feeling happiness.

What exactly did I do for my brain to break down in such spectacular fashion? I felt cheated because to me, I have tried my darnest to live a good life. I didn't know what else I could do. It is not as if I just lived like a slob or I didn't try hard enough. I felt like I have given my all and that was not good enough. And if that is not good enough, what else can I give? I might as well be dead.

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Today, I feel much better with the anti-depressants, the sinseh medicine, plus some supplements I take. I exercise more and I try not to work too much. It has only been weeks since I felt like I was going to die. I still think a lot. I still wonder what exactly went wrong.

I realised that it could possibly be I was trying too hard to fix things. To be better. Happier. Feel more alive. My brain shutting down was not because of the events that transpired for the past few months. It was accumulative for years. Perhaps there wasn't an exact reason what was wrong. It was a cumulation of choices I have made. Do I regret making those choices? No. I believe I made those for a reason. I still retain faith that we all learn from mistakes and failures.

I tried too hard to change myself. So that I can be the change that I want. But sometimes everyone of us has our own time and space to grow. Perhaps you may think I am making excuses for myself. That's fine. I think it is okay to be judged by others because everyone has their own beliefs and opinions. But it is not okay to be your own worst enemy.

It is okay to fail. I don't know why we're all racing against some invisible timeline. It is as though if by 30 we don't achieve 'reasonable success', we're condemned for life. But why? How many successful people now have picked themselves through multiple failures? Me trying too hard not to fail, was ironically the reason why I failed. If I have gone more with the flow, trusted my own feelings and intuition, instead of always trying to do 'the right thing', perhaps things could be better. Perhaps. I wouldn't know unless I lived through it. And even if I lived through it, it may not be the right way for everybody. Because all of us are unique. We have our own stories to tell. Your way to success does not make mine.

Life should be enjoyable no matter the circumstances. I mean, I have read a memoir of someone who was imprisoned at a Nazi camp during world war II, lost all his family, saw plenty of people being tortured and dying, and yet he found the strength and meaning to be happy.

Not everybody has to be an activist or a change-maker. If you're into past-life regression like me, you may learn that not everyone is incarnated to lead purposeful lives. Some of us take uneventful lives in between for a break. There should not be judgement.

I comfort myself that authors like J.K. Rowling and Paulo Coelho went through tons of hardship before they became famous at 40. I remain hopeful, not to be famous, but to find something that I truly care about and do. Is it social change? I don't know. I am not sure if I am strong enough. Maybe it is not time yet. Maybe it could be in the next few months. Who would know? Maybe I would only find my calling when I am 60. So be it. What's with the obsession with age anyway?

I look at the people around me and I feel useless. Why can people around me work 20 hour days, do 20 things at the same time and still remain sane? I know of people who work two jobs and still find time to do social work. But I have to understand I am not them.

I believe I have the right intentions and heart, but perhaps I need more time to find the right balance between staying sane and trying to push myself to my limits. I have experienced burnout so many times that I think there is something wrong with me. But maybe not. Maybe this is my life I was meant to lead. Maybe I will never be well, and I could experience burnouts frequently for the rest of my life. So what?

Maybe this is me living my purpose. Being so sick that I have to write and share about it. I don't know. It doesn't matter I guess. As long as I learn to enjoy the process.

We cannot change the hand we're dealt with, but we can choose how we can play the cards. All the best.