Anxiety and Depression  |  Suicide  |  World Mental Health Day 2020

The Painful Character – A comic born out of brokenness

BY MAK KEAN LOONG

6 October 2020  |   6 min read

Trigger warning: This post touches on suicide which may be distressing for some readers. Please stop here if you find such information triggering. You can call the National CARE Hotline at 1800 202 6868 if you need assistance.

I would never have imagined that my first stay in hospital would be in a psychiatric ward, much less due to suicidal tendencies. As I struggled to regain my footing and to make sense of what my life had become in a matter of weeks, one thing became clear to me.

I was going to share my story about what I had gone through.

I still have that notebook with my notes on what had happened to me, written while I was recuperating in the safety of the psychiatric ward. Some memories still stand out to me: The hopelessness of continuing and the view of my feet as I walked across the road outside the Institute of Mental Health after getting off one stop too late. But what stood out the most to me was the conversations that I had.

Few people understand what really happen behind the darkened screen of mental health conditions. At times, it was hard for me to put words together— especially under some of the side effects of psychotropic medication. I met fellow sufferers who also could not express what they were struggling with. I made up my mind that if I could still speak after I get discharged, I would speak out. This includes explaining certain aspects of mental healthcare that are not usually talked about, such as therapy and medicine.

I do not think that I can represent everyone that is afflicted by mental health conditions, or even those suffering from depression. Every person’s mind is biologically different. Our experiences are different. As a result, there can be no single narrative that encapsulates what every person has been through. But narratives can be similar: while swimmers might find that they face similar challenges, a marathon runner might also be able to empathise with some of those challenges, though not all of them.

So, I set out to tell my story. I created a blog to write about my experiences and struggles. I did not intend to do more than that. Drawing a comic was never on the cards. Art was not something that I felt I could do well, and even though I had started my career in web development, I have always chafed at my poor design and layout choices.

Depression is a condition that saps concentration. I want to reach out to people who are quietly struggling behind their masks. I want to help those who were trying to understand why they felt the way they did. Words can sometimes become a barrier to entry, because of how complex they can be. Comics, on the other hand, speak differently from words as readers tend to find them less intimidating. Webcomics are also more popular now.

In the same way that I am clueless to how I landed up in a hospital, things just fell into place for me to draw.I knew that I did not want to focus on aesthetics as it will be a road to discouragement and failure. Stickmen thus became my choice of expression that can bring my message across better. After seeking feedback on social media, I went on to set up an online home for the comics and started to draw on a regular basis. Depressed Dave was born.

I had never considered turning the comic series into a book. When depression hits, many thoughts of the future just vanish. I dare not indulge in hope most of the time. But after drawing several comics, I wanted to collate them into a book to make the content as accessible as possible. Pulling material from both my blog and comics, I compiled them into a manuscript and began searching for a publisher. It took months for me to make my first submission to a publisher in Singapore. Unfortunately, that fell through. It was only after a year or so that my manuscript was picked up by Graceworks.

In effect, this comic — and now the book! — serves as a vehicle for me to express my inner feelings and frustrations about my condition. I am not certain about how much it helps with my recovery. On some days, I wish I had never done it. I feel that I am not worthy to speak on behalf of others, or even for myself. However, reading my own work helps me to remember that I am more than just a depressed individual. I am a person with feelings, hopes, and ideas — including the hope that the book will help someone to heal. Futility is a common theme in depression, and yet here is a book that I created, albeit with help. There were many times along the way that I could have given up. This book and my online comics are evidence that I did not give up, and that I can continue to fight.

I am learning to accept that I will not move mountains and that I do not need to. I do not need to be successful or be highly paid to ensure that my children will never worry about their future. It is more important that I am around for them and with them, rather than the alternative that faced me three years ago as I forced myself to walk into a hospital.

Even though I do not know where I will be in a week, a month or a year from today, I do not want my pain to be in vain nor waste my experiences.

My hope for the book is as simple as my hope for my comics, that is to help someone to smile a little, cry a little, and to then move on out of darkness. And if one person knows that it is okay to not be okay, perhaps my effort will not be in vain after all.

For more details of the book, please visit https://depdavecomics.com/issa-book/.

If you are facing a mental health crisis and require urgent help, please call

The contributor is a Mental Health Advocate.