An Open Letter to Those Who Are Struggling.
Updated: Sep 10, 2022
When no one else believes how tough it is for you, I do. I've been there too.
Hi I'm Hernping.
To whoever you are, thanks for reading this. I wanted to write this open letter in light of the recent series of incidents involving mental health distress amongst our youths in Singapore.
If you are struggling, then this letter is for you too.
Just two weeks ago, the incident at River Valley High sent a shock through all of us. We never imagined such a appalling incident would occur in our schools.
Today saw the development of yet another potentially public case involving a youth in distress.
Circulating quietly on our social channels, there is a video recording of a young girl, seemingly in her school uniform, who climbed over the MRT barriers and onto the train tracks.
We still don't know the full story, or her reasons for doing so. Whether she was attempting suicide, or whether it was a cry for attention - we don't know. Yet, one thing's for certain - it's another a genuine sign of mental distress by one of our dear Singaporean youths.
I felt a deep emotion crawl up into me as I watched those videos. I felt genuinely worried. I felt saddened and concerned for her.
"What drove you to this point?", I wondered.
As I thought this, I'll be honest, my eyes teared a little. An old emotion rose up in me. As I looked inward, I realised that this raw emotion came from a past version of me, a much younger form of myself that I still carry with me.
It made me reflect on a time when I found myself in similar shoes.
I was there at one point too.
For those of you who went through childhood with me, you probably thought of me as the happy kid who's always laughing and playing games on the bus. Sometimes, I can be a little quiet, but you still thought of me as the kid who genuinely loves life and who often effervescently smiles with his eyes.
Let me say this - you don't know me.
For those of you who went through adolescence with me, you probably thought of me as the youth who simply thrived being with friends and playing basketball. I always seemed to be happy, cheerful, and up for a laugh. At times I did get a little angry, but hey, that's what all youths are like, isn't it?
I'll say this again - you don't know me.
For those of you who went to army and university with me, you probably thought of me as the sociable, fun-loving guy. The one who goes all out on weekends, enjoying life to the fullest. In University, you'd know me as the hardworking student who sits attentively in lectures and classes. The one that always got the good grades, but somehow is always up to hang out on the weekends.
Again - you don't know me.
None of you ever did.
All of you only knew the "me" that I chose to show to you.
How could you blame me for not wanting to tell you and keeping who I really was to myself? I suffered from mental health issues since I was a kid. I had Depression, Anxiety and Borderline Personality Disorder.
For most of my childhood - I couldn't see a future. My mother passed away so suddenly when I was five, that in my childish mind, I thought I was going to die soon too. I thought that if life was that frail, why should I expect to live much longer?
At times, I was weighed down by a severe sense of hopelessness and emptiness. I saw other kids with their dreams and big plans. I secretly wondered, what's the point of any of this - school, grades, or pursuing a passion?
I pretended I had interests and my own passions too. But really, I was a chameleon, mimicking what the other kids liked so I could pretend I liked them too.
Then there was that deep yearning for connection with people, held back by my irrational fears of abandonment. What if I started to grow close to you and you suddenly left too? So I chose to be lonely instead.
Was it really okay for me to talk to you about all that?
No, I wanted to be liked by you. I wanted you to see me as a normal kid - who doesn't? I sure as hell didn't want you to see me as weak, fragile, vulnerable, weird, or an emotional mess.
Let's face it, people still feel this way about mental illness today.
Oh, it's gotten better for sure, but people are still going to look at you weirdly if you talk about how you can't take the pressure anymore, how you can't seem to control your emotions, or how you feel like giving up.
People still see this as a sign of weakness. Being damaged.
It's why I chose to keep silent about this. It's why I didn't seek out my closest friends at the worst times of my life. It's why I kept my problems to myself, as painful and lonely a struggle as it was.
It's also what drove me, at the height of pressure, at the height of grief, to want to just sleep it all away.
It's why I overdosed on sleeping pills at different points in my early life and ended up in hospitals.
With this, just maybe a bit more, now you're beginning to know me.
To you who are struggling, I don't know you.
I don't know what you're going through right now, but I'm sure it's been tough. Maybe you've stopped smiling for a while and each day goes by seeming like things are getting worse and worse.
Maybe you're facing an insurmountable sense of pressure - whether it is about school, or work, or grades or expectations. Maybe you feel like there's no chance of things getting better. The outlook is so dark right now. Maybe you think, what's the point of fighting when every time you feel a little happy, something always goes wrong.
Maybe you feel like giving up too, or wanting to sleep it all away, just like I did.
To you who are struggling - I don't know who you are, but at the very least, I can understand your pain and struggle.
As you've read from the above, I've been there. My experience will forever be different from what you're going through, but still, I can understand.
I'm not going to bullsh*t you with some popular trope like "This too shall pass" or "If you've hit rock bottom, the only way is up".
When the night gets so dark and there's not even a glimpse of a single light in the sky, how can you see anything other than what's right ahead of you?
If I'm ever going to say anything to you, it's that I believe you.
I believe you when you say that what you're going through is absolute turmoil. I believe you when you say that your thoughts are so painful that it feels like your head is being crushed in.
I believe you when you say that your emotions feel so heavy that you can't breathe. They are so heavy you can't even get yourself out of bed sometimes. I believe you when you say that it's so painful right now, it doesn't feel like it will ever get better.
I believe you.
I believe you when you say that it feels like there's really no one in your life you feel you can turn to.
I believe you.
I was once there too.
If you believe that of me, then please let me ask this of you.
Let's talk. Let me listen to what you're going through. Let me in on what's going on in your mind or what you're really feeling in your heart.
Yes, I am a Psychologist and a Therapist, and I'm qualified to give you therapy, but that's not what I'm offering.
What I am offering is to listen first - I'll give you my full attention and feel what it's really like to be you.
When there is nobody that really knows you, I would like to. I won't judge. I won't even give you advice.
I'm just going to listen and get to know you - it's the least you deserve.
In fact, opening up to someone was the best thing I ever did. It allowed me to heal. The very act of being heard, listened to, and being understood enabled me to feel like it was okay to be the real me.
So here's my offer. You don't have to be alone. You don't have to struggle through this all by yourself.
My doors are always open for you.
Please, let me listen and believe in you.
Let me know you. The real you.
It's what the young me would have wanted too.
Whatever you're going through, I hope to be here for you. You can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or otherswise, let's talk. I offer really subsidised therapy sessions at www.iash.sg and I'll be happy to adjust the rates if you really can't afford it. Just please, don't struggle alone okay? Hernping.