6-minute read

When Illness Is a Stepping Stone Towards Positive Experiences

Support from family, friends and counsellors convinced Kurtle that suicide wasn’t the answer and set her on the life-long path to recovery from depression and psychosis.


The Tapestry Project SG

The Tapestry Project SG is an independent, not-for-profit online publication that champions mental health recovery through the power of first-person stories.

I used to cope with my troubles by self-harming. I have been self-harming since my teens when I was studying in Junior College. I later pursued my studies in Melbourne, where I fell ill. Hence, part of my recovery story happened in Melbourne, Australia, and then in Singapore, where I decided to come back for treatment.

I was diagnosed with depression in March 2012, and was later diagnosed with psychosis in June that same year. I still remember how shocked and scared I was when I was diagnosed with psychosis. I thought it meant “psycho” and to me, “psycho” meant crazy. I felt that life was meaningless and that death was the only way out. My sleepless nights caused my concentration in school to be reduced greatly. Getting out of bed to school was a big hassle. However, I still managed to force myself to get up. However, during that period, I felt like a walking zombie, dragging my feet and staring into space during lectures. I was battling with managing with my fast-declining studies and the negative voices asking me to kill myself.

I surrendered to the voices and attempted suicide a couple of times. But each time I did, there seemed to be another side of me that pulled me away from the brink and seek help. I once heard a low tone voice asking me to walk into fast moving traffic on a busy road. All it took was one step … suddenly, I ‘woke’ up and pulled myself back and called my school counsellor for help.

I asked myself why I thought that death would solve all my problems. I asked myself why I always sought help and why I always woke up and pulled myself back. As fighting this monster was very taxing, soon, I decided to let go of the ‘rope’ and stop playing tug-of-war.

Another time, when I was at the train station staring into blank space again, I heard the voice saying this: ‘’Jump off the tracks and you will end all your misery. You are a burden to everyone and you will definitely fail your examinations, so just jump off the tracks’’.

It just kept repeating itself over and over again, with an increased intensity each time. Soon, I lost myself and walked towards the tracks. One step was all I needed.

At this point, my phone ‘beeped’ and it was a message from my friend. It saved my life by ‘waking’ me up and I sought help.

This time, I called my case manager in Orygen Youth Health, and after thorough assessment, I was admitted to the inpatient unit that day.

I was so afraid to tell my parents that I had been admitted to the hospital and lied to them that I was in a three-day camp. Despite them suspecting that something was wrong, I still stuck to my lie and refused to pick up their calls.

After much persuasion by the nurses, I called my cousin, who was a Permanent Resident in Melbourne where I was warded. I told her that I did not know what to do but felt really scared. I also told her not to leak a word to my parents.

With a lot support from my cousin, I finally broke the news to my parents about one week into my admission. Being parents, they were worried and wanted to fly over. But I did not want them to see me in that state or be a further burden. I was just not thinking straight. Going against my will, they persevered and flew over to visit me. In retrospect, I am thankful they did.

Besides getting support from my cousin and my ‘never say die’ parents, the staff (especially the occupational therapist) never gave up on me despite my reluctance to attend groups and my silence in groups (when I attended). This calming and friendly therapist made me break my silence eventually.

Upon knowing that I like to do art stuff, she enhanced and worked on art sessions and allowed me to do arts and craft stuff as and when I requested it. That was when I soon opened myself up to other activities such as yoga.

It was through that stay that I realised that I have support all around me.

I had my friends who were willing to travel to visit me and teach me what I missed out in school. I had my cousin to whom I could tell anything. I had my parents who were always there for me despite me not seeing this fact at that point in time. And lastly, I had my medical team constantly encouraging me come out of my shell besides treating me medically.

This was when I finally realised that there was still some light in my life and that it was worth living. I decided to fight my illness.

I decided to fight it by moving forward with all the support I had from others.

Of course, I faced lots of obstacles and even have had to make detours. For example, I had to defer one year of my university studies and even forgo my dream of becoming a vet. There were a lot of times when I really wanted to let go and give up. However, my case manager and occupational therapist in Singapore never gave up on me and constantly tried to make me comfortable in releasing my emotions and supporting me in all ways.

For example, one form of my release of emotions involves texting it out. Upon knowing this, my occupational therapist willingly let her inbox (be it email or hand phone) be my ‘dustbin’, so I did not need to bottle up all my feelings and could express them to her.

Another example that deeply impacted me was how my case manager would stay connected whether I was in Singapore or in Melbourne. When I was in Melbourne, she was always reachable via WhatsApp and even had meet up sessions with me via FaceTime.

All these actions may seem tiny, but to me, they touched my heart and pushed me on.

Besides the medical team, my family played an important and big part in my recovery process.

They secretly researched my condition and tried their best to understand my emotions and condition fluctuations. They were always there to support me whenever I felt suicidal or had the urge to self-harm. They acted as a 24-hour medical staff and were always there for me.

Lastly, my friends also played an important part in my recovery by constantly teaching me what I missed out in school. They also provided lots of support by checking in on me to make me feel that I was always supported, especially in Melbourne. Despite me dropping out of the veterinary science program, my peers never looked down upon me. Instead, whenever I felt inferior, they would tell me that we were still of the same status and no matter what, I would still be their friend. I even have a high school teacher, who is aware of my condition, who constantly supported me and made sense of things for me when I was ‘blinded’ by my own sadness or anger.

I can confidently say that without my parents and without my medical staff, friends and teacher, I will not be where I am right now.

I have gotten a Masters in Counselling, and am under an apprenticeship programme to work towards being a full-time counsellor. It is not an easy process as it involves lots of changes, learning and adapting. But no matter where this illness takes me to, I believe that this is a learning journey.

Completely free from negative thoughts and obstacles? I do not think this will happen but there is one thing I believe in – as long as I persevere, I can confidently say that I tried my best.

Like this illness, my story does not stop here. I have accepted that it can be part of my life and I do not aim to be fully recovered. In fact, I am thankful that through the illness I had once-in-a-life time experiences that not all can go through. It also helps me grow as a person, bringing a positive experience with each negative experience.

Thank you for taking time to read my recovery story. 

Kurtle is a Peer Support Specialist and has successfully completed her apprenticeship. She enjoys creative expression and advocates for mental health through her art on Facebook.

This first-person story was originally published in October 2018 in The Tapestry Project SG, an independent, not-for-profit online publication that champions mental health recovery through the power of first-person stories. This voluntary ground-up initiative is run by persons-in-recovery who share a passion for mental health awareness, education and empowerment. Their stories are written by, and for persons who are touched by the realities of mental health challenges.

Our Better World is grateful to The Tapestry Project SG for the permission to re-publish this story as part of our series on Mental Health, Silent No More: Giving Voice to Mental Illness.


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