Sunday, 4 March 2018

Ms Kho, her boy Evan, and the struggle for the mind.

I don't know whether you have read this article, "Help me Mommy. I'm very lonely". It's about depression.

Evan, only eleven, was diagnosed by a psychiatrist as being depressed and was prescribed anti-depressants. 

On top of that, Evan was also suspected to have Asperger's Syndrome, "a neurological disorder on the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum."

His mom (Ms Kho), a successful entrepreneur, assured her son this:-

"We made a promise to take our medication together (she was also diagnosed with depression due to stress of business). I told him we would get well together."

Then, that fateful day happened. 

Evan told a lie quite unconvincingly that there was no school, and his mother reprimanded him softly for it. Evan explained that he was stressed at school. 

Evan then told the family helper that he "would wait for Ms Kho at the foot of the condoninium so that she could take him to school".

And that was where he took his own life at elevan. He plunged eleven stories down. 

Wong Kim Hoh who wrote the article penned this:-

"Her memory of picking up Evan's lifeless body is something Ms Kho can never erase. She is also tormented by the thought that she didn't do enough for him as a mother."

Lesson? Just one, and I start with this quote.

A heartbroken Ms Kho said:-

"It's difficult to say he's in a better place. Not when he often told me how much he loved me and how his best place was with me, and nowhere else...I don't want him to died in vain. I want to justify his life, it was too short. I want people to be aware of depression, which is a stigma. I want them to know it is nothing to be ashamed of because depression is as much an illness as cancer...I hope by talking about Evan's death, more people can be saved."

Recently, I read a book by Johann Hari, entitled Lost Connections, who himself battled with depression for decades, and I believe is still battling it - to some extent. 

He wrote that for the past 18 years of his life he was told that depression is all in his head. It was an imagined disorder. 

And then, the next 13 years, he was told that depression is a malfunctioning brain, that is, the lack of serotonin in the brain. It was a chemical imbalance. 

Now, he got a breakthrough in thought about depression and it is in his latest book.

It is all about connections, he wrote. 

It is not an imagined disorder. Neither is it some malfunctioning brain, although there are cases that show it is more pathological than about losing connections, and a visit to IMH will clarify somewhat. 

But for the majority of us, Johann is of the view that our lost connections with work, people, meaningful values, respect, nature and secure future are the driving causes for our depression.

To be honest, there is really nothing new here (but you will have to read the book for yourself because I run the risk of oversimplying it. And it was a relishing read for me). 

My point is that I see three classes of people here.

Firstly, the depressed because of a serious brain injury. 

Second, the depressed even when they have most of the connections Johann talks about. 

And third, the depressed because, in their economic and social station in life, they will find it quite insurmountable to find the connections they so sincerely sought after. 

Most will die, sadly, unconnected.

Giving due credit to Johann for a good read, Everyday reality cannot be so neatly captured in 321 pages, even if proven researches and interviews with successful people seem to point to the direction that connections are the missing link. 

There is also no one-size-fits-all type of depression because to some people, they are introverts and they rather be alone; and to others, they are social dynamites and explode with confetti colours when they are socially connected and engaged. 

And then, there are the circumstances perks and pains. 

We may find an interim reprieve for depression when we make the connection only to find that at the end of that rainbow over time is not a pot of gold, but a pot of grief, disappointments, or betrayal. 

What I am trying to say is that life can be really unpredictable, and one end of the stick is about relief from feeling down and at the other end is the pain of a lost connection because of circumstances beyond one's control. 

Some people can take it and bounce back remarkably. And others plunge down even further and take to their grave the pain they never recover. 

Alas, life throws you lemon and lemonade, curve balls and easy catches, a bouquet and rotten eggs at every turn, and in my view, connections definitely help to a large extent, but not for all. 

But I guess what Johann is trying to say is that these connections fortify your perspectives, deepening them. 

They also strengthen your resolve, and more importantly, they don't protect you from being broken, instead, and most meaningfully, they break you to pieces, even repeatedly for a season, so that that which doesn't kill you will make you stronger, wiser, more grateful, hopeful, more giving, and more faithful.

As humans, we are not asked to be invulnerable, but fragile (as we are) yet resilient. 

And at one point of his book, Johann wrote that depression is not necessarily a bad thing. It can keep you alive to certain things that are not stamped with a materialist value. It goes beyond titles, money and estates. 

More relevantly, it turns your attention to family, friends and faith. 

For this reason, depression to some extent forms a protective shield over you to keep you from delusionally pursuing happiness in a way that is understood by this world only to find that all that running around, for what seems like ages, leads you back to where you first started, that is, in the midst of loved ones who had never asked to be happy, but just your presence and attention.

Let me end with Ms Kho's own words, which I think holds the key:-

"What I took for granted, I don't anymore. I was with Evan that morning, and just like that, he was gone. Now, every hour, every minute with my children counts."

That reflection led me to think this morning about my eventual and inevitable mortality.

When I die, I only crave for one thing, that my loved ones miss me, and miss me enough to never take those still with them for granted. The dead don't need comfort, its the living that needs it. 

And I pray by then, they will come to know that my legacy is not about a certain material inheritance, but a love (although imperfect in many ways), but is at least consistent throughout to demonstrate just one thing: I have been faithful. 

For like what the late neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi wrote in When Breath Becomes Air:-

"We can never reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving." 

And to ceaselessly strive for that, for a love that is overcoming regardless of circumstances, is what makes for the best life conceivable in this world. Cheerz.

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