Alden Boon

How My Dog, Clifford, Uplifts and Gets Me Through My Chronic Depression and Generalised Anxiety Disorder: Rajes Balachanther



The wonders of the Happy Pill

My psychiatrist gradually increased my dosage of Lexapro, until it reached the maximum of twenty micrograms. But over time, my body developed a tolerance. So, I began formulating my own prescription: a potent combination of cigarettes, whisky and Lexapro. I derived such a high from it. The addictive nature of nicotine aside, smoking was therapeutic. The wisps of grey smoke going puff and vanishing were like negative energy being cleansed from my body. Each time I’d down half a bottle of liquor. But afterwards came the crash. I just got very tired: it was like I had just swum a hundred laps. I also had a terrible hangover. When I lost my job, I told my psychiatrist that Lexapro was not helping me, and that I wanted to switch to Prozac. She insisted that I continued the former. I decided to bypass her, and I went back to the general practitioner whom I first saw when I was eighteen. He started me on Prozac.

Prozac was awesome. It was the first time I was soaring on the wings of limitless happiness. I got to appreciate this joy that everyone else was always harping about. It is akin to relieving your aching back of a very heavy bag. I chose clothes that were of bright colours. The inner voices telling me this or that were silenced, or only a whisper. I laughed at everything. I was living in the moment. I went fishing, I baked and I read books — all the activities that I used to hate. All the hurts that my parents, ex-classmates and ex-colleagues did to me I expunged from my mind. I took Prozac every morning, and so by the time the effects wore off, I would pop a sleeping pill to get some shuteye — the negative thoughts rarely had a chance to creep up on me.

But a part of me knew that the happiness was artificial. It wasn’t the happiness you get from a true love’s kiss, enjoying a homecooked meal or from a proud achievement. I was very aware that it was manufactured by a pill. Being on medication also made me forgetful: it was an inconvenience not being able to remember my personal identification number for my bank card or my passwords.

Inverted Comma

When a depressed person says, ‘I am tired’, don’t just say, ‘I’m tired too. Get over it.’ Our tiredness stems from not being able to eat or rest, and we cannot eat or rest because our mind is inundated with many thoughts. We feel the negative emotions more, which is why we have depression. Just be supportive. If you cannot do that, at the very least, just step away from it. Don’t make the person feel even worse with careless words.

Inverted Comma Bottom

Suicide attempts

When your mind is flooded with suicidal thoughts, there comes a point where you can no longer suppress them. There have been four attempts throughout my life. At the behest of my psychiatrist, my parents locked away the knives in the house. They forgot about the penknife, which I took and cut my wrist. But it wasn’t like the movies — one slash and the blood would come gushing. Maybe it was a hesitation wound, but there was very little blood when I did it. What others who have experience with self-harming say about wanting to feel something, anything, resonated with me: the mutilation gave me a sense of ownership over my body.

The second time, I was riding my bicycle along a pavement when suddenly the thought came to me that I should accelerate my speed and get T-boned by the oncoming bus that was travelling at a fast speed. My legs began to pedal quickly, but that was thwarted when I hit a curb, and I fell and scraped my knees. The third time I was on Prozac. Yes, even on Prozac the suicidal thoughts still persisted like rust on stainless steel. I thought: if I overdosed and didn’t wake up, at least I’d have died happy (even if faked), not sad. It was a warped yet very encouraging thought. And so, I imbibed an additional tablet. With forty micrograms of Prozac in my bloodstream, I became loopy. There I sat in the living room, my long hair covering my face. I must have looked every part like Samara Morgan, like a demonic spirit had possessed me. I laughed uncontrollably, with bouts of crying in between. My mother was alarmed, and so she called my aunt. The latter, who was more educated than she, ventured a guess that I had overdosed. She told her not to downplay the severity of it. I was rushed to Singapore General Hospital’s (SGH) Accident and Emergency, where I was put on an intravenous drip.

While I was under observation, the SGH psychiatrist shared her medical opinion that I could be suffering from borderline personality disorder. It would explain my uncontrollable outbursts. I could be enjoying a day with my parents and suddenly I’d just snap at them, accusing them of being nice to me only because they had an underlying motive of wanting my money. There also was my severe fear of abandonment. And because I had many recurring thoughts, she thought that I had obsessive compulsive disorder too. Good gracious me! A suicide attempt and a hospital visit later, all I had to show for were two new disorders. When she called my regular psychiatrist, the two got into an argument. That is the thing with mental health issues — it is very easy to be misdiagnosed. When they had finished arguing, I asked them bluntly: ‘So, do I have the two disorders or not?’ The reply was disappointing: ‘Because we do not see you enough, we cannot give you an official diagnosis.’

After I was discharged, I had to go off Prozac. Even though it is not chemically addictive, patients are likely to develop a psychological addiction and become overly dependent on it (as I did). It needs to be taken under careful supervision, which my family was unable to provide.

The fourth attempt I finally succumbed to the lure of the windows, the very first suicidal thought the seventeen-year-old me had while on Lexapro. I wanted to jump off my building — it would be final, unlike the slashing, poorly orchestrated accident or overdose. I remember saying this to my parents and my then girlfriend who was living in the same house as I: ‘The voices are calling me. I have to go.’ And I strode towards the window. My father grabbed me from behind and stayed me while my girlfriend called the ambulance. At the hospital, for four hours, and well past the wee hours, I was left unattended on the gurney like garbage. When the emergency-room nurse finally approached me, she said: ‘Since you haven’t tried to kill yourself in the past few hours, I think you are stable, so you can go now. Go to the Institute of Mental Health if you still need help. Now, you can make payment at the counter.’ That such a crude answer came from a healthcare professional made me feel even more hopeless.

There was one silver lining to this fourth and last attempt. My father told his work confidante about this incident, and the latter made him aware that depression is a real mental condition, and that people with depression do commit suicide. From then on, he began communicating with me more, as did my mother. My relationship with my parents mended, minuscule by minuscule.

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Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.