Alvin’s Recovery Journey

Written by Alvin Chew

Since young, I was quite academically inclined. I did well for both my ‘O’ Levels and ‘A’ Levels. My good results in the 1987 ‘A’ Levels earned me the Public Service Commission (PSC) scholarship to read Mathematics and Physics in NUS. I was supposed to become a teacher.

However, during my 1st year in NUS in 1990, my academic results decline, and I had to retake a Mathematics exam after failing it the first time. I cleared it and was promoted to the second year, but PSC issued me a reminder letter, asking me to improve on subsequent exams. Although the letter was a gentle and encouraging one, I felt heavily burdened. For my second-year exams, I put myself under intense pressure to do well, and although I passed all of them, the stress and fear somehow did eat into my well-being but I did not recognise the signs of poor mental health then. As a result, I had my very first episode during my semester break, prior to the start of my third year.

I became overly suspicious of my friends and people around me. I would view a man in a picture, and think he was alive and staring angrily at me. I had delusions and started imagining things that were not true, like people were coughing at me, and wanting to harm me.

I was hospitalized and diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia. I was also administered electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). I was first given anaesthesia, and the physician would pass a measured electric current through my brain, so as to calm my brain. My parents chose to put me in Adam Road Hospital, instead of Woodbridge hospital (the current IMH), because the latter carried a very strong stigma at that time.

When I was finally discharged after a few weeks in hospital, my mental capacity could no longer take on my academic obligations, and I had to stop my university studies. At this lowest point in time, I had to pick myself up and continue with life.

I told myself that it wasn’t the end of the world, that I still can fall back on my GCE “A” levels and look for a simpler job, maybe a clerical job. My salary may not be as good as my fellow peers who are CEOs, doctor surgeons, and lawyers, but in Singapore, as long as I am willing to work, with a basic mediocre salary, I can still be thrifty and frugal, and save up money for the future.

From that point onwards, I was on constant medication and visited the psychiatrist on a very regular basis, about once every 4 weeks. With good family support, I started living my life.

I was also fortunate that my parents were supportive of helping me find the right mental health treatment to help me recover.

As part of my recovery journey, | went in search for mental health support groups and organizations. | began to participate regularly in peer support meetings. Through these sessions, | discovered that | was not alone. There were others who were also facing similar challenges like myself. We began to share our recovery methods and coping strategies with one another, and forged good and meaningful friendships. Upon such encouraging mental wellness platform, | actually developed my own personal mental health support network, which was definitely a very important cornerstone throughout my recovery journey. 

Pertaining to my employment history, I found my first job as a store receiving clerk, and numerous other simple data entry jobs in my working life. I was mostly working in the administrative vocation, and later in the call-centre industry, mostly manning the telephone. 

During my stable employment in a call-centre company, I got to know a Christian girl, Susan, through a Christian Singles Organization. Before we went steady, I brought her to see my psychiatrist so as to be honest about my then “recovered and stable” mental condition. This Christian girl accepted me, mainly because I was financially prudent and in stable employment. My psychiatric condition was well under control, due to my very faithful and regular medication. Most importantly, we both trusted God.                                     

Today, Susan is my beloved wife, and we will be celebrating our 20th anniversary on 1st December 2021. God has kept us in good health and well all these years. In fact, we are also financially blessed, and acquired the “Accredited Investor” status. We first achieved financial independence back in year 2011, where monthly passive income first exceeded monthly household expenses. And later in year 2013, I went into complete retirement.

As per today this year 2021, at 52 years young, I am already 8 years into full retirement, doing activities that I love, and both Susan and myself are presently enjoying our fulfilling golden years, with many, many more wonderful years ahead of us. Recovery is indeed possible!