I’m a wife and also caregiver to my husband Daren who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I found out when he was in his early thirties and we all know what they say right? About artists, you know, having their mood swings and stuff like that. But yeah it wasn’t a shock. It was more of a gradual awakening. I was a caregiver to my sister-in-law, Faith who has bipolar disorder. When I first started dating her sister her sister briefly informed me of her condition. So over the course (of our relationship), Faith herself told me more about what bipolar disorder was. It’s not something you tell someone and immediately they have a good grasp on. I just saw someone who was obviously feeling very down. It was quite obvious from the outside. I’m a caregiver to my brother who has schizophrenia. Initially when he started to paint and draw everybody was very happy and excited for his talents. But he started to talk to himself. So at first they thought some spirit went into his body until one fine day there was a group of mediums that came to our house and started him on this spiritual cleansing and the temple owner told my parents that he actually needed to see a doctor. I was quite frightened then because he was about 13 and I was only 12. He felt so much pain which I couldn’t fathom. I would be hearing him knocking his head against the wall as if he was screaming for help. So those were symptoms or points that we took note of and that we had to make that decision to get help. Well, they are my family now so it’s part of the deal. Her primary caregiver would be her mother. She’s got a huge well of emotional strength you know, to be there day in day out, providing support, is not easy. (Faith) has what we call, rapid-cycling bipolar. So that means her mood switches at the frequency of a couple of weeks or even every week. So you can imagine that’s very disruptive. She’s highly intelligent, much smarter than I am you see. So it’s like God has given you a pair of wings but at the same time you’re shackled to the ground and you can’t fly you see, so I thought that was such a, such a cruel irony. Why did I want to continue caring for him? Because he’s my brother! [Laughs] Right? In my family, I think I’m the only one who’s close to him we grew up together and I think I’ll still be able to care for him. The word “caregiver”, I have a little bit of uneasiness about because I really feel that as a partnership in a marriage or a family we are each caregivers to each other. You naturally step up step up to hold the helm. I wear the pants and he wears the apron. So my stepping up would be how we can then work around to survive. Of course, who doesn’t, right? I mean when the pressure gets so, so, so deep, right? I mean such thoughts like, “Hey, I’m not your therapist”, you know? So those hard moments can be very draining and I have walked away. But somehow I came back and we tried to work things out. I never thought of walking away. Kah Lim, to me, just has some character problems. He can be very caring and he can be very nasty too. Sometimes he tries to irritate me by saying something bad. Yeah, but I think that’s fine. I am assigned with this responsibility. I have to carry on. As long as I’m around I think I still can take care of everybody. Basically, because I think she sees me as a brother so if I were to leave that would be like your brother leaving the family. I mean when she was having a really bad episode it was hard, I mean, even for me to see that there was any light at the end of the tunnel. All of us have external triggers, right? Things that happen to us and we feel angry or sad or happy. So for a person like Faith who has bipolar disorder at least for her I’ve seen that external triggers have triggered an amplified emotional response. We had a family vacation in Japan and the kids were in the car and you know how kids are like, right? There’s very little peace and quiet, very little sleep it was cold and we didn’t eat on time. Basically, I think this was primarily my fault I assembled the perfect storm for her. There was certainly a fallout. You just do what you can do or you can try to get better at what you do. I mean, how much time does it take to ask someone how he or she is doing, right? What made me turn back? Okay, the fact that I care? I just had this conversation with him two days ago. I think I said, “You know what? Love. To say ‘I love you’, ‘I really love you’ It doesn’t justify (my feelings enough) because ‘care’ it encompasses all those feelings, ‘I care’.” I mean surely, if you have seen the best of someone you you just can’t walk away. Definitely, he can. He can make friends with many people. Financially, if he can continue painting beautiful paintings I believe he can continue to support himself. I have reserved some of his paintings for his retirement, future retirement use. Career-wise, she’s a peer support specialist. She wants specifically to help people who are suffering from mental health conditions. She’s actually studied, prepared for, and applied for a medical degree and that to me is pretty amazing. I’ve seen some of her notes. It makes no sense to me you know? So that’s an example of her of her intellect, and why I have such a great respect for her brain. For sure. He can survive. I guess as we grow older you are just going to take it one day at a time. So when Daren talks about suicide if it were really to happen it’s a preparation on my part to believe that I have as a caregiver, I’ve done my best and that, I cannot control the situation. So if it does happen that I am not responsible for it. Oh gosh. Iyta: I don’t think I can remember.
Daren: Okay, I know this one. I: You know?
D: I know this one. Faith: Okay. Hi. Producer: Hello Kah Lim! Hello, I’m fine. Producer: What do you do in IMH (Institute of Mental Health)? I do a lot of artwork, but these few weeks I haven’t done any because I rested for a while, for one week and went back home to paint. Sometimes I can paint a lot, sometimes a little bit. There’s an arrangement for him to reintegrate back into society. He’ll be home for three weeks and back to IMH for one week. Luckily, he has some work to do there. So, so not too bad. My art is from my inspiration. I drew one dragon and one phoenix on the old IMH building, like a marriage between both. He’s also very capable. They allowed him to draw on the whole compound. I was already seeing a doctor there. So basically it was a voluntary admission. 15 years ago. Generally, I think that Singaporeans think that it’s like [In Mandarin] Woodbridge Hospital I mean now that I’m working there sometimes when we get a taxi in or Grab in the taxi driver will ask me “Oh, are you working there?” “Is it scary inside?” That kind of thing. I don’t know, like people just think that we shouldn’t get help there. Even a lot of people go to private care because of that as well. But that’s where the best doctors are. The last (time I was in IMH) was towards the end of 2010 at Sayang Wellness. I knew I was going to self-destruct. That’s why I had to make that conscious decision (to enter IMH). At least if you don’t heal completely you’d (still) have some peace. Cannot. Cannot snap out of it, anyhow. Can you? KL: Cannot.
C: Ah, cannot. He knows. You might be in that state of manic depression for a month. You know so the last thing anybody needs is judgment. “Eh, come on man, you’ve got a good life. You’re so rich, you’ve got money. Why are you (like this)?” The moment you lose your mind it doesn’t matter whether you’re a billionaire it doesn’t matter if you have everything in the world you lose everything. It is a medical condition. If you can snap out of cancer if you can snap out of your diabetes I can probably do that too. But it’s not something like that. Like what Adrian said, it is like an amplifier. I think there was one time I needed to go to work and I by the time I got on the train I started like regretting because the panic attack symptoms were coming I can’t breathe. You have people like right in your face, that kind of thing. It can be challenging for the best of us. Yeah, so I just got out. I just sat there and cried for about 45 minutes. Nobody came over to ask me what was going on or offered me anything. I just sat on the floor, crying. The thing about MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) or any public spaces, right? If you cry right, most of the time you’d definitely I never actually got any help but if I started vomiting, people would help me. So if there’s a physical symptom I get more help. I just need to wait for it to like, go back to normal. You just have to let it run its course. I mean there’s a category of people to whom you can’t say “Snap out of it, you’ve got a weak will.” It’s not the case in this example. Sadly, some give up the fight. You cannot blame them you know, you cannot judge them even for suicide because everybody has a threshold. So I consider myself like a veteran of the mind-field. A survivor. If I make it through today that’s a small victory for me. So how do I maintain my mental health? I think about the days’ events as if I’m a person observing myself and if I need to change, I will change. If I need to apologise, I’ll apologise. I have no regrets because every day I will say the things that I need to say. With the medication, their condition can be controlled. He used to hear voices saying that he’s not capable in certain things. (Saying) he’s lousy he’s bad, but he told me recently that when he stayed with me there were no such voices talking to him. Well, I think he’s recovering, that’s about all. Yeah. My sister has a lot of power. Her brain is very clever. She’s freaking number one. Oh, he said I’m I’m powerful! Consistently for many, many years, I’ve felt like a burden. I’m not earning a salary. I’m not able to do household chores very well because I’m always very unwell. In some sense, I feel that they can be better without me. The thing about feeling like a burden is it’s also a driving force as well. Because I’ve always thought since back then I said that one day I’m going to pay it all back to them. I don’t know whether that will happen but She bought me ice cream. I love ice cream. So I think it’s a driving motivation that I will be a productive member of the family. I never thought that I would be an overseas scholar. I never thought that I would come to a point where I could be so secure. I have had people who you know, who told me that they were in denial of their condition. After knowing me they decided that “Okay, I can accept my diagnosis. I can be like Faith.” They said, “I want to be like Faith” and I’m glad to be that someone. I wish he’s more normal, but I think with his kind of weird character, that’s why he can paint. He said he wants to get the [in Mandarin] Nobel Prize. Whoa. [Laughs] He’s quite fine, just a bit weird and he’s talkative. Cannot speak like a chicken’s backside (always open). [Laughs] He said he cannot speak like a chicken’s backside. [Laughs] My friend taught me, he said There’s this four-letter word that gets me through which is hope. This condition makes you feel like you’re alone. But actually I had my moments where I reflected and I realised you know what, I was never alone. I had my two boys and my wife fighting alongside me. We self-published a book called “The Boy Who Hated The Sun”. There’s a synopsis inside it in which I clearly mentioned that I have bipolar (disorder). And the reason I did that was because I wanted people who bought the book to know that this was written by somebody with bipolar (disorder) So don’t, like I said earlier on, don’t let the label define you. You’re more than that. (I hope that society will) protect me, change my behaviour to be a new kid in a new world. Harmony Majulah Singapura (Onward Singapore) People with mental illness we only need to be patient with them and speak to them slowly and we should try to understand them. I think everybody can heal if they are given a more caring and loving environment. We didn’t have anything back then. We had nothing back then. And now, we have almost everything! If you want to have job rehabilitation, you have somewhere to go. Psychologists are easily accessible. I think the only thing that I hope to see is you know, (less of) the discrimination against people with mental health conditions when it comes to looking for jobs. A lot of people are scared to look for jobs not because the job is scary but because there is a line that you have to declare (in forms). It’s like a Catch-22. Like if I write down (my condition) they will reject me for the interview. If I don’t write down (my condition) and I get the job and if I get caught, I would be caught for lying. Humanity has too much mindlessness and too little mindfulness. Perceptions have to change. It will take you a while to reach that point where you can say “You know what? Damn, I embrace it all. I embrace my imperfections. So what? I don’t care what people think of me.” I do. I love my sister because she’s my only meimei (affectionate term – sister) Nobody can take care of me if she can take care of me. Producer: Have you ever told her that you love her? Never said it before. Producer: Why, are you shy? No, I cannot say that. [Laughs] Yeah, he’s shy. So many guys here. [Inaudible] She took care of the whole family whole Singapore people. No, what “whole of Singapore” no no no. They all admire all admire my sister. His way of showing love is different. He likes to go out and buy food and certainly he will buy food that he likes so in case I don’t want to eat it, he can eat it. [Laughs] KL: Where got?
C: He’s very clever, right? He’s very clever, right? [Laughs] I think, in some sense my family always has this very conservative kind of view like they don’t talk that much. My sister never really asked “How are you”. Adrian has always asked “How’re you doing?” “How’s your new job?” “How’s everything?” and I think I love him for that because I appreciate conversations and he became like someone who actually started all this conversation. I mean, they’re us. They just have an additional card dealt to them. In the face of those challenges, she has come out on top. I mean my challenges pale in comparison to what she has faced so I am proud to be associated with her, you know. Associated. This is my sister-in-law, the genius. Hey, I’m the brother-in-law. [Laughs] She’s my Dark Phoenix. [Laughs] No. She’s my Jean Grey. I wouldn’t say she’s just a caregiver. She’s more, beyond that. Beyond even being a wife. You know? I think most importantly she’s been my my friend. You know, for all these years. That’s all you need, right? I appreciate Not the big things that you do but all the little things that you do. You care for me. She does. I can be a b**** too. [Laughs] I mean that goes without saying. [Laughs] But you know what? I am the luckiest guy.