"Do not take for granted the strength you see in others. Because you’ll never know how much effort it takes to garner that strength..."
Just the other day, my youngest son fell and got a deep gash on his forehead that needed three stitches. He was unbelievably brave. Me? Not so much.
When our children hurt, we hurt a million times more. So when I first learned about Doreen Kho’s story, I could not even start to imagine how she must feel.
This Singapore mummy – who is also the well-known co-founder of a popular beauty company – recently lost her beautiful, 11-year-old son Evan, to a condition that affects 1 in 4 young Singaporeans: depression.
Doreen wants to talk about what happened to create awareness among all of you reading this. She wants to make sure her beloved son did not die for nothing.
Here is her eloquent post – she writes from her heart, leaving me with nothing more to describe or explain:
“He would say I love you more than the stars in the sky, I would say I loved him more than the sand on the beach…”
I am sharing one of my deepest secrets in hope that it could make people more aware and please seek help. I’m doing this so my Son didn’t die for nothing. I hope through his death, many could be saved.
When I used to hear of people dying from depression, I could never comprehend how anyone could be sad to death. Till it hit me and my family. My dad had it, I had it, my Son had it. Doctors say it may be genetic. That the chemical in the brains are off track.
Many think it is something we can just snap out of. An elaborate melodramatic appearance for attention. But many do not know that many people who are depressed actually keeps it quiet on the contrary to what is being portrayed as a call for attention.
So much so that people around them may never know they were depressed till something happens. Even in children. If I had not experienced depression myself a few times, I would also think it was just a personality change, puberty, growing up, or even just rude tantrums.
But I knew Evan was probably depressed because he showed less interest in activities. He was crying more often and defensive.
When I was depressed, the only person who knew was my Sister. She brought me to see a doctor and I started on medication. I didn’t tell anyone because to many, I was the CEO of the company. An invincible woman who feared nothing. I was the pillar of the business and I can’t falter.
But no one knew I was also just a human being with feelings and fears and worries.
I loved my job because I loved what I did. I loved the people I worked with. They were my security and comfort zone. But with the job came lots of other things I was incapable of doing as well.
Many people didn’t know that I didn’t know how to open up to people. Make new friends. I wasn’t comfortable in new situations with new people. I was only comfortable with the people I knew and was close with.
With every staff that left meant a loss and change of environment for me. With every new staff who came was a challenge to get to know. I wasn’t the jovial, chirpy person everyone thinks I am. I think in a way, depression left me socially challenged. Many smiles people see were a front.
My closest staff would have seen the times I broke down in front of them. But to others, I was invincible. A lot of it was a front that I needed to put up because my job requires that of me. I was fulfilling a responsibility to my shareholders, to bring back the bacon, and for the people who worked with me.
When a few other close friends knew, came kind words and advice like find things to do to distract yourself. Find a hobby. More logical ones will say, snap out and don’t wallow in self pity.
But the trouble with depression is, nothing seems fun. Going out is a chore. Meeting people sometimes even friends is stressful because that meant that I had to pretend to smile and joke again. It was tiring to pretend to be happy. It was difficult to hide the sadness.
If I’m happy, you’ll see it on my face. When I’m sad, it’s also written all over. I don’t want to join friends because I was afraid I’ll spoil the mood. A simple task like going for a meal was a chore to me. I kept moving houses. Because with every move, I imagine there’s the hope of a better positive change.
But unfortunately, with each change I felt worse. I felt instability. So I try to move again. I organise my life thinking that a system will put everything in place. I wanted everything perfect. But perfectionism also means disappointments when things don’t go as planned.
I think the worst thing I felt was guilt. Guilty over everything that went wrong. Feeling I have failed people who expected from me. Guilty over everything that went wrong.
Disappointed that I have disappointed others. I looked at Facebook posts of parents bringing kids to the zoo and wondered where they get their energy to do that. I felt bad that I couldn’t give my kids the same or did the same for them.
I think that’s [not what] Evan felt. He was an intelligent boy and the most caring. I remember him telling me that parents only engage tutors for kids who don’t do well. And he was the one who gave me the least worries so he needs to set the right examples and love the rest.
Maybe that’s why he always felt he had to try to be good in front of me. My sister tells me that his behaviour is different when he’s with me and when he’s not. He’s always trying to impress me and make me happy.
He’s worried that I’ll be sad. Everyday, he would come to me a few times a day and ask, “Mommy are you ok? Do you need anything?” It is my fault I couldn’t hide my sadness and emotions in front of my kids.
He has seen me cry so many times which he shouldn’t have.
There was nothing in his life to distract him except for his computer and the one quarter time I could give him for mommy and Evan Time which he never fails to let me know he cherished and loved. He lost all interest in swimming.
He would be the first to say he wanted to go home after an outing. His most comfortable moment would be cuddling beside me watching CSI together. Or doing silly things like turning on Google translate and listening to the funny direct translations from English to Chinese.
He loved to show me his new minecraft creations, the houses he built. Showing me his latest magic tricks or space creations. Those were his simple happy moments. He shared the most complexes thoughts to comfort me.
I guess we were two lost souls hanging on to each other for life support.
Depression makes a person forget the good things in life. That they are loved. Instead, it amplifies every single pain. Looking back, I think my depression affected him.
The times I asked for a few minutes on my own. The times I lie in bed not wanting to wake up to face another day. These little slots of absence probably made him feel lost because he feels his pillar is crumpling.
Caring for a depressed person is difficult. A lot of tolerance is required to put up with mood swings, unexplainable episodes, erratic thoughts. Every word that came out is always read badly. Just a get out of the room meant to him that mummy doesn’t want me anymore.
It’s like treading on thin ice not knowing when the ice will break both for the depressed and the people closest to the depressed.
Before I guessed that Evan was depressed, I came to a point I let myself go. I stopped medication because I thought nothing was going to change or help. I allowed myself to wither away not realising the impact it had on the people around me. After all, I was the one depressed, not them.
But I didn’t realised that the people who loved me felt my pain. Especially my soulmate Evan Low. He was young but our hearts were so intimately intertwined that nothing could escape his innocent eyes. He always asked me, “Why are you sad mommy. Why are you always sad?”
And I actually came up with an excuse as lame as, “Mommy’s face is like that one.” But I knew he felt every inch of my pain. And I felt every inch of his. He was a self giving child. Self sacrificial. He always pretended to smile and I told him that he didn’t need to.
It was not his responsibility to please others. But that did not stop him from continuing to ensure others would laugh. Just a few weeks back he told me, “ Mom, do you know why I’ve started to draw comics? Because my comics will make people smile and laugh.”
That’s selflessness isn’t it?
Getting so involved and even making it a hobby so that others around him will be happy. Even when my helper is sad, he will go give her a hug and asks her if she was ok. He’s a great child. One who cannot be replaced. His heart of gold I wish the rest of my kids will inherit. That will live on in the image of his siblings.
After the doctors confirmed that he was depressed, I started on my medications again. I knew I had to save myself in order to save my Son. I just wasn’t fast enough.
We made a pact we would get well together. That we would support each other and never leave each other. I reminded him to take medications as he reminded me to take mine.
We promised to always confide in each other. But I guess he was just too young to know how to communicate his feelings eloquently enough. The only thing he wanted me to know was, “I love you mama”.
We had this challenge. He would say I love you more than the stars in the sky, I would say I loved him more than the sand on the beach and so on. Finally, I will say, I love you more than you love me. And he’ll say, you win. Every single time knowing I’ll end with this, he still brings out different units of measurement to let me know he loved me more.
Do not take for granted the strength you see in others. Because you’ll never know how much effort it takes to garner that strength. Take care of the stay-at-home mum. Staying home doesn’t mean she has no stress.
Take care of the working Dad and mum because they have to deal with the world to put food on the table.
Take care of the children because I cannot even start to imagine the stress they go through these days. Gone were the days we only needed to pass our spelling. Now the pressure of excellence and being multi talented plus the peer pressure of having everything others had or more.
Take care of the parents who were there all your life.
Seek help if you suspect you may be depressed. Being depressed is nothing to be embarrassed about. You are not mad or crazy. It is a illness like cancer. Gone untreated, you’ll affect others around you. For a good quality of life for yourself and your family. Please seek help.
In memory of the best kid in the world, my loving son Evan.
If you or a child need help…
Mums and dads reading this, Doreen has a message for you:
“Our children only live their childhood once. Do what’s right by then. Let their childhood be one filled with love, sensitivity, and lots of hugs and kisses. Something they will wish they had more of even when they grew up.”
We at theAsianparent would like to offer our heartfelt condolences to Doreen and her family.
Evan is now at peace.