Friday, October 14, 2016

Sharing of stories of loved ones with mental illness will promote caregiving as a noble job

Ms Chan Li Shan wrote an article for The Straits Times that focused on caregiver stories.  

In her article, “When sharing stories of mental illness that are not your own”; Friday 14th Oct 2016,, the writer who is also a mental health advocate, questions whether it is proper to reveal accounts of their loved ones with mental and physical illnesses.  In retrospect, I do not agree with her– at all, and let me explain why.  For it is only proper and professional to provide different perspectives when reports and articles are published.  In short, there are 2 sides to a coin.
Before my wife, Doris Lau Siew Lang died 2 and a half years ago, she authored 8 books – a pretty remarkable feat for someone with a severe mental disorder. And I am damn proud of her!

Caregiving is never an easy journey and unfortunately many people – educated ones included, view caregiving as a burden.  If a caregiver has the unenviable task of looking after a spouse with mental illness, they can be encouraged and motivated to give unconditional love to their partners by fondly remembering the sanctity of marriage which speaks of caring for a spouse “in sickness and in health, for better or worse.” This is exactly how I brought my late wife, who coped with schizophrenia for 44 years, to a full recovery.

In the case of a caregiver looking after a parent or sibling with health conditions, adopt the filial piety concept to walk the journey with conviction – and share their stories.

Caregiving requires understanding, lots of patience and sacrifices – and the willingness to demonstrate empathy – often 24/7.

Caregivers who have the courage and conviction to share their stories will of course have to seek consent from their loved ones before making the revelations – be it through the media, books or talks.  It took a while before my wife was comfortable for me reveal her struggle with schizophrenia, but after some persuasion from me, she gave her blessing.  Doris realized that she should not ‘stay hidden’ just because she has a mental disorder.  It was then that my novel “Loving a Schizophrenic” became a hit, a bestseller, reaching out to 4,000 readers here in Singapore as well overseas – in countries like Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan and even as far as America.  

The success of my novel motivated my wife to share candidly her own journey with the illness, and that too became a hit, with a gentleman from Czechoslovakia wanting to have her novel, “Beautiful memories, precious love”  translated into the Czech language.  

The true and candid sharing of our stories inspired so many people, who included caregivers and patients. They came to our home, contacted me by email and on social media when my wife and I did not shy away from telling it all.  Together, we gave encouragement to caregivers and patients and they all willing went for treatment to manage their mental health conditions.

Such true accounts can inspire other caregivers, especially those who are novices, to embrace caregiving as a noble job; something which I have always advocated for. 

People having to travel the caregiving journey must hear and see success stories to be motivated, just as in marriages.   

So let us be matured enough to open up freely – with the approval of course of the patients who have recovered as it’s an excellent way to not only raise awareness of such conditions, but an opportune way to de-stigmatise mental illness.

In closing, even if resilient caregivers are not recognized for their sacrifices, dedication and commitment and when people who do not understand fully the caregiving journey become so judgemental, Jesus will always be the Silent Listener to every conversation, and the rewards will come slowly, but surely. I have benefited from His love as well as that of my Doris. .
Model Caregiver 2007 , Mental Health Champion 2010 & Singapore's leading Advocate for Mental illness

From a former journalist from The New Paper who just wrote to me: "Hi Raymond, after all these years, I still remember the afternoon I spent with you and Doris at your house when I was a reporter for The New Paper. It was a privilege to be there. I was touched by the love you showed your wife. I remember you mentioned you saying how difficult sometimes for you to bring her to an appointment by taxi, when she resisted. And how you married her even though you knew she was suffering from the condition then. " -Ng Tze Yong -



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