One upon a time, there lived a family, living a fairly typical Bruneian life. The parentals used to work in the government sector and is now enjoying their retired life. Kids have gone to uni. Now having their own jobs and families, they’ve flown away from the nest – not too far though. Perhaps just a few minutes car ride for some of them. Enjoying their retired life, the parentals go to masjid every evening before magrib. The kids have their own brood of lil kids, calling their uncles and aunts – ucu, uda, pak wa, mak wa, etc. Their life was, if anything, blessed and priviliged.
Without any warning, their dad, their sociable, amicable dad started losing weight. And was low in mood. He started to withdraw himself from his friends and family. He preferred to sit in the quietness of an empty room, not even with the fan switched on. He just didn’t seem to care.
Medical advice was sought. Darussyifa was seen. His physical health was deemed satisfactory. There is no spiritual beings that can be accused of in this case.
After some advice (read: forcibly taken), he was seen by the doctor again and referred to psychiatrist. He was diagnosed with depression.
This man is my father. He was your typical Asian dad. We dont talk about feelings or emotions. We talk about the football scores and whats up for dinner. Sometimes we talk about career and living choices. We dont talk about how he feels, why he was sad. That was the first obstacle – how do you make an Asian, middle aged man talk?
It was hard enough getting him to see a doctor. And then having to explain about depression. This is not your monday blues and I didnt get the bag I want kinda depressed. It is the kind of illness that many could not fathom, that they wish to say bawa besenyum saja, snap out of it. Even my mum, a retired nurse, knew the biology of the illness but having to live with it … your patience is tested. You cannot understand why they can’t help themselves. You want to help but can’t. How can you help someone who is so low down in their void that you cannot even talk to them? Their walls seems shut and nothing seems to matter to them. No amount of emotional blackmail could guilt trip them to get better.
For those who are in the same situation, bersabarlah. Be there for them. Do not give up. Sometimes there is nothing you can do except to let them know that you are there for them. Keep praying and keep trying. We tried to give small goals for him. Because if we let him, he would lie in bed all day – only waking up to eat and pray. We tried to encourage going out. It was hard to see him like that, but it must have been harder for my family in the same house. To see him like that day in, day out.
It was not easy.
It was not easy.
Bukan diceritakan untuk minta kesian, this is not for pity or sympathy but to give encouragement to those families going through the same thing. And to break the taboo in asian culture of not talking about mental health.
Mental health illness does not just affect the individual but also families. Your loved one has changed to someone you may not recognise and you pray they will become that person once again one day. Your loved one may not have the mental capacity or awareness of their actions. It is not easy to bear this, not in our tightknit community where people talk and judge.
But remember, stick together to your family. Air dicincang tak akan putus (a malay phrase that literally means you cannot break flowing water, and that is what family is).
My dad is much better now alhamdulillah. It has taken almost two years to where we are now. He is back to the person we know and love. He talked a little bit of his depression but not so much. I guess we’re just happy that he’s here again.
My dad was never weak. His depression did not make him weak. I see him as much as a hero as when I was a kid, because fighting your inner demons is harder than one thinks.
PS I actually wrote this months ago but did not dare to publish it. I’ve always wanted to talk about mental health in Asian community but at the same time, it is a private matter to my family. I guess, now seems a ‘good’ time to post this for reflection of everyone on how mental health affects someone and their family.