We were on holiday as an extended family. It was just weeks before our only daughter’s wedding and days after I had started on antidepressants. We were playing Taboo, a game we had enjoyed countless times before, but I just could not concentrate. I was not sure if it was the medication or the depression, but I felt moody and lousy. It was awful.
The previous year or so had been rough. It was not just the amount of work that had driven me into depression. Rather, it was challenging relational issues that affected me the most and slowly generated negativism in my spirit. I was also struggling to cope with “losing” my precious daughter once she got married.
The combination of all these led me to feeling upset, tired, irritable and angry almost daily. I teared easily. Incessant negative, even suicidal, thoughts occupied my mind. I could not sleep well despite being so tired most days. I kept waking up at 4 a.m., which compounded my frustration, hopelessness, guilt, sense of worthlessness and exhaustion.
After being in denial for a while, I realised that carrying on without seeking help was unfair to my loved ones. I plucked up the courage to see a psychiatrist and started on medication.
Apart from medication, I also learnt to rely on the grace that God provides to sustain me. Christopher Ash reminded me not to pay lip-service to grace: “Despite being a dedicated gospel-hearted Christian who preached grace, the truth is that I was dangerously close to living a gospel of works, not grace.”1
Many born-again Christians claim to live under grace, but the way we conduct our affairs and our impatience with others seem to indicate otherwise. This tendency to strive often leads to overwork and is a recipe for burnout and depression. In contrast, one of the key ways God shows us grace is through His provision of rest. Instead of working myself to exhaustion, I now take regular breaks to maintain my mental health. Observing the weekly Sabbath intentionally as a time of rest from work and for worship has also been fundamental. I remember: “God needs no day off. But I am not God, and I do.”2]
The stigma associated with mental illness is still very real in Singapore. That is why I have chosen to be open about my own situation in the hope that I can encourage others, especially believers, to do likewise. Many people need to understand that mental health patients whose condition is well controlled with medication can function as well, if not better than “normal” people.
It is my hope that the Church, as the bride of Christ, will be a community that supports and helps those struggling with mental health rather than isolating them even more.
1 Christopher Ash, Zeal without Burnout (New Malden: The Good Book Company, 2016), 43
2 Ash, 61.
Dr George Khoo is a family physician his late fifties and a non-ruling elder at Zion Bishan Bible-Presbyterian Church. George is married to Mabel, and they have two adult children and four lovely granddaughters. Dr Khoo’s full story can be found in Mental Health & The Gospel Community (Good News for Bruised Reeds, Vol 2), which is reviewed on page 22.
Picture by Supawat B./Bigstock.com