I am a self-confessed introvert. And I’m also an addict.
I was recently cajoled into attending a Psychodrama session. I’d heard things about it – years earlier, my then significant other lauded the raw emotional exploration her sessions afforded her. I encouraged her, it was good for her. Personally though, I found the idea of a group session’s ability to evoke genuine emotion alien. It was the antithesis of who I was.
I had never enjoyed group sessions. I hated them. The introvert in me screamed (silently) in indignation at being forced into a room with my peers, lorded over by therapists who would extol the heaven-sent power of vulnerability, hanging it over the heads of us sullen detainees. They would espouse connectedness with others, openness. To me, these were just unattainable states of being that I could never actualise. The years wore on, and I plodded along, entwined with my precious, thorny, addictions. Prison, pricey rehabs abroad. I took care to never bring my real self along to the banal group therapies – I merely presented them with an alter-ego. Faking it to get along. Or “faking it to make it”, in the parlance of addicts like myself who would say or do anything to achieve a discharge.
I was living an entirely unremarkable life, losing friends and embarrassing myself.
Then, I experienced a seismic shift in circumstances. To represent it as merely ‘mandated’ would be to deny gravity to what had happened. I had run afoul of the law again, and paid my penance with a 9 month long “drug rehab”. I got out, and three months later I was a year clean. Still, I wasn’t happy. I had done no soul searching, nor had I even begun to scratch the surface of my addiction, always lurking in the shadows. Of course, a large part of my reticence towards accepting sincere nudges in the direction of help could be attributed to personal and moral failings. But why was I the person that I was? That’s when I decided to attend a psychodrama workshop at the urgings of my boss, a sweet girl whose genuine concern had initially confounded me. Why did I acquiesce? To understand myself, I guess. So, I went in with an open mind.
Psychodrama is about exploring internal conflicts, by acting out emotions and interpersonal interactions. I wasn’t inclined to be the center of attention just yet, so I left other enthusiastic participants to play the protagonists. The director, a bubbly personality whose sharp wit was tempered by insightful, genuine empathy, herded a roomful of clueless attendees with a deft hand, schooling us in psychodrama’s basic concepts. I made myself small in the corner and watched as our director doubled volunteers, acting out scenes from their lives, giving voice to their unconscious. Revelatory perspicacity was the order of these moments. I watched as they were mirrored, experiencing themselves from the outside, drawing from a nonjudgmental pool of collective consciousness. I watched as roles reversed – mothers became their daughters, and wives their husbands. All of them seemed edified, comforted, even. Misty eyes and rivulet strewn faces, sighing into closures when none previously seemed possible. There was a woman pained by a frightful trauma, her repressed malefaction she seemed so sure she had committed driving her to seek expiation from whom had ceased to be able to give her any. From the outside looking in, I was sure her wound was self-inflicted – we all knew this, but one’s own guilt is deeply personal, often insidious. As her situation percolated in my mind, so did my own guilt. I hadn’t wept when I learned of my father’s and sister’s departures, I hadn’t wept at their funerals, I hadn’t wept at their memorials. I hadn’t needed to, because I had my addiction. Now, without the pernicious warmth of substances, these losses became some therapeutic cynosure of a starting point. I had begun to understand myself, through others. The cynic in me finally realised why, across addiction recovery literature, syllabuses are almost invariably characterised by the motif of benefits accrued by group therapy. I think it owes something to the collective experience of humanity, that no matter your guilt or your shame, there are people out there who have lived congruent experiences. It may seem cloying and mawkish for me to say that no-one is truly alone, but it’s true.
Requiring that potential job applicants declare their mental health conditions on hiring forms is now considered discriminatory.
In a much-needed move that’s been hailed by mental health advocates across the island, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) has updated its guidelines to better advance the meritocratic underpinnings of Singapore’s economy. Prior to this change, TAFEP had already nixed disability declarations on job applications – abolishing mental health declarations takes this principle to its logical conclusion.
In a firm but fair recommendation, TAFEP advises employers against asking potential hires for personal information “such as their mental health condition”, unless there is a “job related requirement”. Further, if employers are to seek information that may be seen as discriminatory, the onus is on them to elucidate the necessity of that information.
This isn’t toothless rhetoric – employers who flout the guidelines risk exposing themselves to enforcement action by the Ministry of Manpower.
Such measures are invaluable beachheads in the fight to destigmatise mental disorders, a movement which has gained traction among some Members of Parliament. Last year, Nominated MP Anthea Ong called on the Government to make mental health a national priority, pointing out that more people (1 in 7) were afflicted by a mental disorder than diabetes (1 in 9).
More Singaporeans are being diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and alcohol addiction, as evinced by the 2016 Singapore Mental Health Study (SMHS), with numbers increasing since the first and inaugural SMHS in 2010.
The relevant authorities encourage you to report work-related discrimination by calling 6838-0969 during office hours or visit www.tal.sg/tafep
In this episode of the Health Check podcast, Dr. Winslow reveals that he suffers from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. No-one would begrudge you your raised eyebrows, least of all him. After all, it is precisely his duty to educate you about ADHD.
Dr. Winslow joined journalists Joyce Teo and Ernest Luis at The Straits Times’ podcast studio, where the duo court the expertise of medical professionals to inform and enlighten. Armed with myriad perspectives, Dr. Winslow availed his own brain to help demystify ADHD.
It wasn’t until Dr. Winslow began to see the parallels between his childhood behaviour and those of his clients with ADHD, that he realised he too had the disorder. It didn’t seem to bother him too much – he laughs at being chided by his son’s teachers for his pride in his son’s ability “to pass exams exactly the same way” as he did, without paying attention in class.
Dr. Winslow says that in the brains of people with ADHD, communication between cells is difficult – that’s how they are more likely to lose focus, become distracted, or give in to impulses. Singapore’s regimented education system doesn’t help either. Students with ADHD face real disadvantages, in their inability to sit through lessons, and in the way educators see those who refuse to (or simply can’t) pay attention for long stretches.
Dr. Winslow recalls being forced to run laps around the school as a child by his teachers, who had hoped to wear his indefatigable energy down into submission in time for class. He admits that it worked surprisingly well. ADHD can be managed, as he would learn.
It is unfair to say that ADHD is “not a real disorder”, and that one merely needs to “concentrate on overcoming it”. That just doesn’t make sense. ADHD is a medical condition that can be tackled with correct tools and the right will. Dr Winslow says it’s possible to address the few big symptom groups (Hyperactivity, Impulsiveness, and Difficulty with Distractibility) with practical advice in the right contexts. For example, you might teach your always-tardy child about time management with to-do lists.
Dr. Winslow says parents should try and come to terms with their child’s ADHD, or risk more worrisome aspects spilling over into adulthood. Adult ADHD often comes packaged with low self-esteem, where inability to complete tasks due to inattention becomes internalised as laziness in a self-defeating cycle.
Overcoming ADHD is easy, says Dr. Winslow, when you understand this maxim: “The more you understand the complications brought by your limitations, the more you can do to manage your symptoms.” It’s an expansion of the classic “knowledge is power”.
Once you begin to appreciate the ADHD brain for its quirks, advantages become more apparent. The meandering thoughts of people with ADHD often help them develop novel solutions to problems – “thinking outside the box”.
The doctor’s recommendations? Don’t panic, try to understand ADHD, and don’t forget the fish oils!