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'I was not okay, but I had to pretend to be okay': One man on how he moved on from self-harm and suicidal thoughts

At first glance, Lino might appear to be a regular person, with a fulfilling job as an employment support officer and a loving father to two sons, aged 12 and 13. 

However, underneath that exterior is a man who struggles with his mental health — and it hasn’t been a walk in the park for the 37-year-old.

During a virtual interview, he tells AsiaOne that his father would tell him to “man up” as a young boy, because “boys don’t cry”. In addition, his parents also largely left him alone as they perceived him to be the more independent child. 

As a result, he found himself faking and repressing his own emotions. “I’d hang out with my friends in school, we’d laugh and be happy. But when I went home, I always felt very alone.” 

Unable to find a way to properly express himself, he turned to self-harm at the age of 11. “I wanted to express my emotions — but I didn’t know how to. Because every time I showed emotions, they were always shut down.” 

He shares that his tendency to self-harm started with him pinching himself whenever he was angry. When that was no longer enough, he turned to burning himself with his father’s lighter. 

“At that point, I thought it was the normal thing to do. I thought cutting myself was just an outlet, and maybe others did it too, because they couldn’t show their emotions.” 

Even when Lino’s teacher alerted his parents to his self-harming behaviour, little was done to help him. “[My parents and teachers] had a talk, after everything, the only thing they asked me was, ‘Why are you seeking attention? Why are you doing this?’” 

For Lino, the lack of awareness and support in those days meant that “nothing in the family really changed after that”.

“I could still go out and come back late, they wouldn’t really care because I was seen as the independent child.” 

Although things at home remained status quo, Lino doesn’t blame his parents for acting the way they did. “I don’t think they knew anything about mental health conditions or where to find help. Back then there was a stigma attached to mental health, and Woodbridge was considered a crazy place.” 

"I didn't want to be labelled as a crazy person. I was not okay, but I had to pretend to be okay," he added.

As Lino entered adulthood, more challenges would come his way. He was diagnosed with a heart problem in 2016 and lost almost $1 million to bad investments. 

“I had people investing together with me, and we lost so much money. People were calling and threatening me. At that point I just felt there was no reason to be here anymore.” 

Despite feeling terrible on the inside, Lino did not share his feelings with his loved ones as he did not want to burden them. He held everything in until he reached his breaking point. 

“I couldn’t tell dreams from reality; I had this recurring dream where I would see myself ending my life. It kept repeating itself and one day I found myself sitting at the ledge on the 16th floor,” he shares, recalling the harrowing moment where he was on the precipice of life and death.

“I can’t even remember how I climbed up. But when I was sitting on top, I looked at my arms and saw my children’s names, that was when I threw myself back. I lay on the floor and cried.” 

“That was when I told myself that I needed help, that this was not right.” 

Recovery is a journey of ups and downs

Lino began his journey to recovery in 2018, when he visited a polyclinic and was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. 

During the first six months of his journey, Lino saw different mental health professionals at the polyclinic, which made him feel like he was “a ball being kicked around”. Additionally, he had to try out different types of medication before finding a suitable combination. 

“It’s a lot of effort because everybody is different,” he explained. “It’s not an easy journey because it’s about meeting [a doctor] that you’re comfortable with and can relate to. It’s not just seeing a psychiatrist, it’s a mix of everything, including medications — that was how I was able to move on.” 

Lino also shared what he learnt throughout his journey, such as the difference between a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a counsellor. 

“A psychiatrist is the one who dispenses my medication. A psychologist is the one who helps to ‘Marie Kondo’ my mind, and my counsellor is the one who gives me hope and pushes me forward. Understanding the different roles of each healthcare worker and how they play a part in my recovery was also important for me.” 

With much perseverance, Lino pushed through the initial obstacles and started seeing some progress when he was transferred to the psychiatric clinic at Sengkang General Hospital and underwent counselling at Club Heal, where he now works. 

After regular counselling sessions, Lino started attending courses at Club Heal, which led him to secure a job with the organisation.

Lino also credits his family for being his main motivation whenever he faces struggles. “When I was jobless, my wife supported me financially, and through the times where I was just hiding in my room, she was really understanding; my kids are also another reason for me to move forward — knowing that they have so much more to experience and learn.” 

That said, Lino is careful to note that recovery is not “a bed of roses”, but rather a journey of emotional ups and downs. 

Expounding on his point, he recounts a particularly difficult time where his kids saw him overdose on medication, because he simply wanted an escape from reality. 

“It’s not a nice sight to see, because then I have to explain what’s going on, which is quite difficult.” 

“When I had to explain to why I [overdosed], it sounded really stupid. But when I was going through it, it’s something that I couldn’t control. I just wanted to disappear and be numb. It’s a different point of view.” 

“But it’s these significant moments in my life — although bad— that remind me not to do these things again.” 

Empowering others to speak up about mental health 

Now that Lino has the support that he needs, he is paying it forward by supporting others with mental health issues and helping them return to work. 

“For the first time in my life, I wake up and I want to go to work. It’s really rewarding, meeting the participants, motivating them and seeing through this journey of going back to work.”

As a father, Lino also makes sure to teach his two boys that sharing their emotions is important, even for a man. 

“We can tell them what mental health is about, we show them how to express emotions. But at the end of the day, it’s really up to them. We cannot force them to share their emotions. My wife and I try to be a friend to them; it’s not easy, but we try.” 

If you or anyone you know is overwhelmed with stress or anxiety, find the help you need here via Belle, Beyond the Label helpbot.

This article is brought to you in partnership with Beyond the Label by National Council of Social Service.

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