“There is a saying that no man would wish his enemy to have depression. I would actually say it’s pretty pretty true. It can actually be a mini sort of personal hell on earth.”
At the age of 10, Chia Xun An found himself sitting against a wall at home, crying and banging his head on the wall. He knew that something was amiss with the way he was acting but could not stop himself. His parents then brought him to a child psychiatrist who diagnosed Xun An with depression. Growing up with it, the illness resulted in Xun An missing out on school very often and even his O’ levels later on, making it difficult for him to connect with his same age peers.
To add to the pain, Xun An was unable to tell people about his mental illness. He felt a lack of acceptance in opening up about his condition and was afraid that as a depressed male, he might be seen as weak. For those whom he chose to confide in about his condition, they did not take the news very well. He had a very lonely journey battling depression.
“I didn't really have a lot of support with my peers. With a lot of them, it is a sign of weakness and the general consensus is that you have to tough it out and if you don’t tough it out, you are not tough.”
Throughout his schooling days, there were multiple times Xun An wanted to stop his treatments. He felt that the treatments were not fast-acting and he disliked the unpleasant side effects that came with taking the medication.
At 20 years old, he set goals for himself to get good grades and complete a 6 months internship in school. He told himself that if he were to meet these goals, it would indicate that his condition was stable. Ultimately, he wanted to enlist in national service just like any other Singaporean male. Depression had made him miss out on many common experiences in life and he no longer wanted to miss out on any more.
“I wanted my depression gone, really really really seriously. It was something that was detrimental to my life and took up quite a number of years [in my life].”
With this determination, Xun An strived hard to achieve these goals and participated actively in CCAs and joined multiple competitions in polytechnic. He led projects in his modules and took school very seriously. His competitiveness and desperation to get rid of his illness led to high amounts of stress, which eventually set off yet another depressive episode.
“Put perception out of the window, put stigma aside. If I need help, I need help. I cannot be ashamed and I don’t have to be ashamed for helping myself.”
Counseling sessions and medication became the cornerstone of his help-seeking process. Re-engaging with his hobbies also proved to be another effective coping strategy. Growing up with depression, he learnt the importance of having to modify his hobbies to best suit his condition at that point in time. In secondary school, he read a lot and dabbled with scale-modelling. With an interest in historical conflicts, Xun An mostly built models of war tankers used in warfares. However, both activities were cognitively-demanding and when his condition took a serious downturn during his polytechnic days, he found that he no longer could absorb the huge amount of details that comes with reading and building complicated models. He then turned to building robots and drawing, both of which allowed more expression of creativity.
It took a long time but Xun An now sees his depression in a different light. Likening depression to a cut on his arm, he sees it as an injury that requires immediate treatment. If left alone, it may may lead to complications. He hopes that more males can learn to ignore the stigmas that come with mental illnesses and be willing to seek help for their condition.
14 years on, 24 years old Xun An is still battling depression but he has also realised that people are truly concerned but sometimes they may not know how to express themselves and as such, you would have to give them more time to come round.
“Not everybody may be supportive or may walk with you but you are never truly alone - you will never walk alone.”