Woman battled mental disorder for years to overcome voices in her head
When Nur Afiqah Mohd Azman was in her second year at Nanyang Technological University in 2014, she would often break down in tears at the staircase and isolate herself from her peers.
Though she knew something was wrong, she was too embarrassed to seek help.
Years later, while working as a relief teacher in 2017, she still could not brush off the constant feeling of despair. Crying was a norm for her by then, and she knew that her mental state was far from stable.
In 2018, she finally sought help and was warded in the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for a month.
Ms Afiqah, now 31, was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a mental illness that affects her thoughts, moods and behaviour. She experienced symptoms such as depression, mania and psychosis.
She said: “I had hallucinations and heard voices in my head, and I always felt that someone was following me. I felt sad all the time and would cry for hours.”
Ms Afiqah sought support from social service agency Club Heal, where she participated in different therapeutic activities and built up social skills. She operated a push-cart at IMH to help her step out of her comfort zone and interact with customers daily.
With the help of counsellors, she explored some possible underlying causes of her condition.
“I was always told to do well in my academics, so I would put immense pressure on myself and break down after exams,” she said.
Her experience in polytechnic made her feel like she could not be herself.
“I am an introvert, but I felt like I had to change myself just to do well in school since we had graded presentations every day. I felt like I had a bit of an identity crisis.”
Caring for her grandmother amid the demands of her university studies took a toll on her condition. Ms Afiqah helped the elderly woman with daily tasks like bathing, eating and changing her diapers.
“I had to cope with a lot of aggression and vulgarities every day because she suffered from dementia. It caused my condition to get worse.”
Just as she thought she was getting better, Ms Afiqah had a relapse during her internship with Club Heal in 2021. She found herself lashing out at friends and experiencing manic phases where she would lose energy and fall sick.
She was warded for 10 days in IMH. After her discharge, Ms Afiqah decided to stay home for a year to recuperate.
This year, Ms Afiqah felt ready to step out into the world again. While she is still on medication, she no longer hears voices or experiences other symptoms unless she is very stressed.
“I hope to be able to face the world no matter how tough it is, and get a good job to support my parents,” she said.
“I feel like I can cope well now and manage my condition better. I handle my life better and I no longer crumble. I am choosing to turn pain into purpose whenever life hits me hard.”