by Tan Swee Heng
I’ve had moments of difficulty growing up, a life fraught with droughts of confidence and floods of depression.
When I was born on that difficult 27th day of January in 1988, doctors had to cut open my mother’s tummy because of an abnormality in my head, only to diagnose me with spina bifida. A few months later, they had to put a shunt in my head to drain fluid.
In primary school, studying was peppered with the distractions of multiple operations to my ankle, knees and hips to release my tendons. Then, I was diagnosed with a neurogenic bladder.
In secondary school, knowledge of my condition depressed me greatly. It was hard to know why I had to be on a wheelchair while my friends ran around playing sports. I watched them from the sidelines guarding their wallets and phones.
To make matters worse, I was then diagnosed with scoliosis. In my third year, I decided to switch off. You could call my long hours spent in the school library playing Internet games an act of rebellion. While repeating Secondary 3, I underwent an operation to correct my curved spine. A bad infection prolonged my hospital stay but I managed to progress to the next year.
It was the year of my first crush on a girl, the first time I volunteered to take a fall for someone I liked when she was punished, and when she rejected me, I lost all interest in studying.
At technical school, I landed my first job, went through more depression having to undergo more medical appointments and having to be kept under close watch by my parents for five years. Then, at the Society for the Physically Disabled, I finally learnt how to take the bus and MRT around. I met people and life started to change.
This year, being involved in the creative process has helped me deal with issues, and I gained confidence since participating in my first art exhibition. I met an art mentor who filled my mind with ideas and positive energy, making me feel young and alive again. “Never try, never know” she kept telling me. And I kept trying, and I kept making new friends and reconnecting with old ones.
Medical social workers like those I’ve been fortunate to meet and work with play an integral part in the lives of people like me. They’ve shown through kindness, helpfulness and creativity how I can deal with problems positively.
My life may have its problems, but it’s alway a little easier to cope with it when there’s support.