By Beverly Grafton
3am Music Collective, with their 10 song series, document the journey through experiencing and eventually conquering mental health issues. Having lent my voice to I've Got This Together, the 6th track in the series, I've been encouraged by my long time friend and founder of 3am Music Collective, Eileen Chai, to share my story in the hopes that those who can relate, will educate themselves and seek help like I did, before it's too late.
A lightweight, portable supercomputer, practically the smallest and only of it's kind, made of organic matter, capable of storing decades of information, constantly launches and runs multiple programs at a time in just nanoseconds. Impressive? That's just the tip of the iceberg. What sounds like the next gen IT gadget must-have, is actually that magical thing suspended within your cranial cavity. Yet, this magical item, meant to imbue me with the faculties to live out my life in peace, has instead caused me much misery until I started to educate myself and seek help.
I know what you're thinking. Isn't this supposed to be a music blog? Who died and turned Bev into Bill Nye - The Science Guy?
Well, Bill Nye, I may not be, but I do suffer from a condition that, in extreme situations, has caused psychosomatic symptoms to occur. In simple English, my brain is has the balance of an elephant in stilettos. (Anyone else agrees that I'm hilarious?) Anyhow, these psychosomatic symptoms resemble a heart attack, so I used to think that my heart was the issue. Until test results said otherwise.
Fact is, I am clinically diagnosed with a panic disorder. According to medlineplus.gov, "Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. It causes panic attacks, which are sudden feelings of terror when there is no real danger." What I will say, is that all those episodes of hyperventilation whenever I experienced trauma, suddenly made a lot of sense.
Now, while I'd like to believe that I've come to a point in my life where I'm managing the condition well, baring one's vulnerabilities can be more than emotionally harrowing; so, this may end up being the hardest piece I'll ever have to write. Not many will say this but you must know that what I'm about to say is more common than not, I never wanted to believe I was depressed. I never wanted to recognized the signs. I just chalked it up to some reason or another. The worst part was telling myself that I was just being dramatic. So many times, when someone asked how I was, I desperately tried to say something. But I always got in my own head, saying there was no point to repeat myself and they wouldn't understand anyways.
I gave myself no sympathy, no empathy. I kept chanting this mental mantra that I'm getting things done, I can't be depressed. I don't hear voices in my head, I can't be depressed. I have a kid, I can't be depressed. I can laugh at jokes and enjoy my food, I can't be depressed. But I was wrong.
I got things done, sure, but the effort that went into getting up to do them should've been a sign. I always thought that to hear voices in one's head meant that you had to hear actual voices, like on TV. So I figured I had to be crazy for that to happen. Or haunted. (Hah!) But the voices in the head they speak of isn't necessarily audible like the movies. In my experience, they were a choral culmination of all the verbal abuse drummed into my head by traumatic experiences and even the people around me. The very same people who I used to think loved me. Instead, I was drowning in emotional toxicity. Instead of doing the right thing and parenting her, I kept feeling like I was failing my daughter any time I couldn't give her what she wanted. The jokes were my way of deflection from real issues and the only way I knew how to cope when I got overwhelmed was to run away, by going out, binge drinking, spoiling my daughter and also bringing her to go eat what I wanted and when I wanted.
Bottomline,I never knew there was such a thing as high-functioning depression. On the surface, I was all smiles all the time when I went to work, I cried at K-dramas, met friends for drinks, ate when I was hungry, I was capable of logical reasoning in arguments...etc...I looked like I functioned like a normal human being. I looked normal, I sounded normal, I held normal conversations. So I figured what I was feeling was totally normal. No, it's not. If you ever feel like something doesn't add up, get a second opinion. ALWAYS. You'll see why soon enough. Just keep reading.
By the third abusive relationship I was in (eventually resulted in him leaving a week after breaking my ankle in an argument), being in a gig that gave me no joy, working with egos left right and centre, I didn't realize I was dreading the rhetoric of "that's life, that's how it's got to be, we're all adults here who can't have our cake and eat it, so suck it up." That's why, after years of inching closer to the edge of the diving board, to dive headfirst into a downward spiral that led to depression and a panic disorder was pretty much a given.
Here's the hard part to admit. I've tried to end it all. Twice.
It starts innocently enough, watching the blade slice through my skin as the blood rushes up to collect on the surface, in the hopes of distracting myself from the overwhelming emotional pain. I graduated to cutting myself because smashing my fists into my head wasn't enough to dispel the ocean of frustration that threatened to swallow me whole. I need to stop for a bit because it's like I'm reliving the experience.
At this point, it's really hard to continue writing ‘cause I can't see through my tears. These aren't tears of sadness or pity. They're tears of disgust. I still feel the humiliation and the embarrassment that comes with admitting something like this. Yes, it's still very tough to admit to being so weak that I was willing to throw it all away. It's still hard to face this IS my truth, my past and therefore, IS A PART OF ME. Admitting that the "Strong Bev" everyone expects to show up (because they only always see my larger than life personality where I'm always smiling and joking) was just a facade, a coping mechanism, is humiliating. Because it made me feel like I was an impostor. I still feel like that in the quietest of times.
As time passed, I ended up lugging all my emotional baggage around and pretending I had nothing to “check in”, panic attacks became frequent. Out of the blue, my shoulders, neck and jaw would go numb, I'd lose movement of my lips. I would also get heart palpitations and then I’d get lightheaded. By then I had to sit down or risk passing out. The worst was when it happened while I was singing. Slack-jawed and dizzy are the worst things to have on stage unless they’re the names of your band mates.
That’s why, in desperation, I finally went to see a doc. I thought I was lacking iron, having a heart attack and/or my hormones were throwing my body and mind out of whack.
There I was, at Outram polyclinic, results in my hand, refusing to accept the fact that there was really nothing physically wrong with me, as I ransacked my brain for something, anything, that would solve this health mystery. If it's not a heart attack then it had to be my hormones. I was tired of the symptoms and thought my dizziness could mean lack of iron as a result of my monthly cycle. But the results said my iron levels were fine. That left my mood swings and so, they referred me to the Health Wellness Clinic (HWC) to sort that out.
I made my way there and waited until my number was called. Sure, I might've seemed like the perfect vision of calm but deep down I was a mangled heap of uncertainty. A huge part of me wanted to bolt and never come back. I didn't want the humiliation of being told that there was nothing wrong with me again. Because I myself still didn't feel like there was anything "wrong enough" that would warrant a visit to a therapist or psychologist.
I was arguing internally with the voice in my head but thankfully I was too embarrassed to get up and leave. I still hate drawing attention to myself in this day and age. Shocking, I know, given that I'm a performer. I'll expound on that in another article.
Blessedly, my therapist was soft spoken. She didn't egg me on to tell all, she didn't pressure me, she let me take my time to open up and so I spoke to her at first, of my symptoms and how in the end, it wasn't a heart attack like I thought. All throughout, she maintained a kind yet detached demeanor which put me at ease and at the end of the session, she had me referred to a psychologist in SGH, for further observation.
My visit to the psychologist was not the best clinic visit I ever had. The doc had an intern in there with him and I felt more like a lamp post than a patient that needed to be diagnosed. During what felt like an eternity of pregnant pauses between questions as the doc continued to pry them out of the intern, I thought to myself that I had never been so ignored in my life. I was close to walking off when he eventually diagnosed me, through the intern, with a panic disorder. While my brain was reeling from the surprise, he gave me my prescription and sent me on my way. As I left his office, I internally decided I would never go to him again. On hindsight, I should’ve made that decision about my ex as well at that time but that's a subject for another time, or book.
By the way, don’t get me wrong. I am a huge supporter for getting help and I continued to. I just never went back to that doc because of his lack of an appropriate bedside manner.
Anyways, armed with my pills, I head off to work, hoping I'd soon begin a new life. But, I didn’t know that I wouldn’t be ready for this because nobody told me what it would mean when the pills worked. And boy did they work. They worked so well that for the following week, I felt absolutely nothing.
If I was in any other career in the world, it wouldn't have mattered. But I'm a vocalist. I'm an artiste. My job is to entertain, to set the mood, to go forth and breathe color and life into the gray. But being on those pills, I couldn’t feel anything. No joy, no happy giggles, Dada. It's like trying to push a baby out of your body AFTER you get an epidural. You just can't feel ANYTHING.
In order from left to right: Beverly performing the very powerful "Rise" from Katy Perry at NDP 2019, Rob Collins and a grinning Beverly at The Bellini Room (Courtesy of Andrew Penn), Beverly giving all she's got with The Countdown band (Produced by @engnsingapore)
I realized I couldn't do this to my career. I already hated that I was not where I wanted to be and the last thing I needed was to be UNABLE to feel what I needed to feel. That’s when I chose to stop taking the pills after a week but kept them near enough, just in case. I still got my happy ending, just not with medication. There's more than one way to battle, you know?
Well, even though it was only a week of medication, I was no longer the same person. I recognized the problem, I might have waited longer than I should but I finally sought help. And because I made the choice to get help, stuck through the clinic visit and didn't run away, I was able to be diagnosed. That in itself is a small victory. Though the drugs don’t work(I love that song) for how I wanted to function and I chose to stop taking them, I continued my journey to elevating myself to a higher vibration and head space. Now, when I look back, I barely recognize me.
It's been over half a decade since that first step and I'm proud to say that I'm mentally in a much safer place than I was in those days. I am now married to the man of my dreams, my daughter is growing into a beautiful young lady and though she still faces issues like any other teen, we’re working on it together. I’ve given up smoking and I don’t drink more than 2 drinks a week, if I even drink that week. I've started to write professionally, I've started teaching again and instead of singing other people's songs in a smokey bar, I'm writing and recording my originals in a studio. I've basically surrounded myself with legitimate positive people, some who have suffered their own stories with mental health and we do our best to pay our successes and sanity forward.
This is especially apparent in my collaboration with 3amMusicCollective, labeled so because, according to fellow mental health survivor and founder of 3amMC, Eileen Chai, "it is the darkest hour where unhappy thoughts and thoughts of suicide often start". I should know, I've spent many sleepless nights sitting on my washer dryer wondering if anyone would notice I'm gone. If it wasn't for my daughter and the guilt that came when I thought of her, my husband would've walked right past Warehouse Clarke Quay on the day he met me. Because I wouldn't have been there. I wouldn’t have been anywhere.
I know this was a super long read but if my story resonated at all with you, please allow me and the rest of us involved in 3amMusicCollective, to gently urge you to embark on your journey to mental well-being. You don't have to do anything drastic. Start small and start here. No one else needs to know. The only person that needs to know, is YOU.