Having attended an elite school, it would seem that Jolyn had many good things going for her. In truth, she was struggling academically and socially. “I didn’t have any [godly] role model since I wasn’t from a Christian family. I was not sure of my values and didn’t have a compass for life. Eventually, I stumbled into bad company. I also had a lot of relationship problems; I think that was the main thing that broke me as a young girl. I wanted to find love and acceptance, but it quickly unravelled and bordered on sexual abuse. I was very broken and felt rejected and worthless.”
At 16, Jolyn’s life took a hopeful turn when she encountered Christ at a youth camp. But though she had hoped her relationships would be different from then on, she was soon disappointed. “I thought that a Christian guy would be different in relationships. However, the guy I was dating led me to fall into sexual sin. When I stopped it, he broke up with me.” To add on to this, two of her friends in church also started distancing themselves from her.
“I think these two incidents were the trigger (for depression). It brought back a lot of my past hurts and my feelings of worthlessness and abandonment.”
Thankfully, Jolyn had a friend in her cell group who was a professional counsellor. One day, her friend carefully broached the topic: “Jolyn, I think you might have depression.”
“I didn’t really understand what that meant so I said no, I don’t have depression. I thought depression was something uncontrollable, but I was still functioning. She explained that ‘depression is an illness, like a fever. You know anyone can get a fever, right? But some have a lower immune system which makes them more susceptible to having a fever. It is possible to recover without medication or treatment, but it might escalate or be more painful.’ She asked if she could bring me to a psychiatrist to get diagnosed. She also offered to call my parents and explain the situation to them. I was directed to her counselling centre, where I received therapy for a few months. That was how I was officially diagnosed.”
THE LOWEST POINT
Despite undergoing therapy, it was not sunshine all the time. She likens it to taking two steps forward and one step back.
One night, after months of seriously contemplating suicide, Jolyn reached her breaking point. Pensively, she recounts, “My good friend was going to Nepal for a mission trip, my then-boyfriend was going to Malaysia for a Christian camp, and my sister was leaving for a choir camp in Hong Kong. All these close friends were leaving the next day and I just couldn’t handle it.”
She spent the night writing farewell letters to different people. She also wrote to God saying, “I want to honour you but it’s so painful and so difficult, I cannot do it.” The next day, while out with one of her friends, she abruptly left and texted her friend not to look for her. Aware that Jolyn was in a raw mental state but unable to accompany her, she called another friend from church to be with Jolyn. This other friend followed Jolyn around and refused to leave her.
“I ASKED, ‘IF YOU REALLY LOVE ME, WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO SEE ME SUFFERING AND IN PAIN?’”
“I was very angry. I told her to leave me alone. I asked, ‘If you really love me, why would you want to see me suffering and in pain?’ She responded, ‘Jolyn, how do you expect me to leave you?’ Her tenderheartedness made me cry.”
Jolyn’s parents, who had been alerted by her friend, were also frantically searching for her. When Jolyn’s mum finally found her, she was at breaking point.
“When I saw my mum, she broke down and said, ‘Please, can we just go to the hospital? I don’t know what to do. I cannot help you.’ When I saw how broken and helpless she was, I agreed to go to the hospital.”
Jolyn was hospitalised for a week, and upon her discharge, she had to work with social workers for a few months. While she acknowledges that overcoming depression looks different for everyone, she highlighted three things that have been instrumental in her recovery.
The first was education. She explains: “Imagine a line with two spectrums — extreme happiness and extreme sadness. Everyone is on this line; most people are somewhere nearer to the happy side on normal days. But there are also bad days and you veer towards the sad end. It happens to everyone. When you stay too long and close to the sad end that it begins to affect your daily life and how you function, that’s when you get diagnosed with depression.”
The second was counselling, which she credits as the biggest factor in her recovery. “I had a recurring nightmare about someone who wanted to catch me in my home. I had another nightmare where I was getting raped. I told my counsellor about them and as she is a Christian, she said, ‘Why don’t we both kneel on the floor and pray?’ Since then, I’ve never had those nightmares again!”
The third was people who cared. “Someone from my cell group would call me at 10 p.m. daily to pray with me. Some days I didn’t feel like picking up the phone! But over time, I realised that I was held together by a group of people who cared.”
"CAN A STRUGGLE WITH MENTAL HEALTH EVER BE TRULY OVER? I DON'T THINK SO."
Today, Jolyn acknowledges that her life is good. She got married in July last year, and continues to think about how she can grow her business in spite of the stress and difficulties associated with a start-up.
When asked if she thinks a struggle with mental health can ever be truly “over”, she pauses, before stating, “I don’t think so. I won’t say that I struggle with mental health now, but I still struggle with bad thoughts and how to cope with overwhelming emotions.”
When she feels herself slipping into negative patterns of thought again, she is able to recognise it and put a conscious stop to it. “I am someone who feels things deeply and is very sensitive to the world. When I am affected by something, I tell myself that these intense emotions will pass. It can just be a bad day or week, and I don’t let it shape my entire outlook on life.”
Now, Jolyn describes herself as “a small person with big dreams of great love being shared”. With each daily step and every artwork she puts out into the world, Jolyn aims to live up to the motto of Actspressions, inspired by a quote from Mother Teresa — to do small things with great love.