Depression is difficult to comprehend for those who have never been plagued by it. Often time, people dismiss the illness and call the depressed victims to “snap out of it”. Well, if you are one of those people or think that depression is “just a phase” or “an attention seeking gimmick”, we hope that the story of Doreen Kho can change the way you think about the disorder.
Doreen Kho’s journey battling against depression is an ordeal that stretches almost her entire life but the vertex that changed her to a different person today was when her eldest son, Evan, took his own life due to depression last November. A depression which believed to be influenced by her depressive presence or genetic reasons that run inside the family for the past three generations.
“Mommy, are you okay?” asked her loving son a few times a day before he leaped down from a 16-storey residence. Evan cared about his mother’s well-being at a very young age and tried to help her but there was only so much an eleven-year-old could do, “Why are you sad, mommy? Why are you always sad?”
Following his death, Doreen braved up last month to tell the world about her story so that her beloved son wouldn’t die in vain.
“I don’t want him to have died in vain. I want to justify his life, it was too short.
“I want people to be aware of depression, which is still a stigma. I want them to know it is nothing to be ashamed of because depression is as much an illness as cancer… I hope by talking about Evan’s death, more people can be saved.”
She added softly: “I’ve always thought I can do everything but I couldn’t save my son.”
In a report with The Sunday Times and a long written post on Facebook, Doreen hoped that by telling the journey which led her eldest son’s demise, more people can understand the gravity of depression and how it affects people around you.
When Doreen was 14-year-old, she lost her mother to stomach cancer and she grew up watching her father crying alone in the living room as he struggled through years of depression. Despite growing up from a difficult adolescence and forced her to shoulder heavy responsibilities at a young age, she persisted and went on to become a successful entrepreneur.
When she married to an army regular at 22-year-old, she already possessed a myriad of experiences from insurance and advertising industry. But her family life was pulling her string. Both of her grandparents were diagnosed with strokes and her intelligently disable aunt needed caretaking.
With many successes in her career and later become her own boss in an interior design business with her sister, she started to have the time for her family. After three years of successful business runs, she set out to another venture with her sister—one that made her known as a prominent entrepreneur today.
Doreen secured the Singapore franchise of the popular beauty company Korean cosmetic and skincare business, The Face Shop, with her sister. As the CEO of the company, she put herself back into endless toil while juggling family and her depression at the same time.
“My closest staff would have seen the times I broke down in front of them. But to others, I was invincible. A lot of it was a front that I needed to put up because my job requires that of me. I was fulfilling a responsibility to my shareholders, to bring back the bacon, and for the people who worked with me.”
A year into running the new beauty franchise in the country, Doreen had Evan and the labour was a difficult one. Evan was born 13 weeks earlier than a normal pregnancy. At 24 weeks into her pregnancy, Doreen water bag leaked.
“The doctor told me if I gave birth then, my child would be dead. It was too early,” recalled Doreen, who was then put under observation. “I remember having meetings in the delivery suite because I had more than 10 (The Face Shop) outlets by then.”
Three weeks later, Even was born prematurely. “I didn’t even get to hold him. I heard the doctor say ’10 fingers and 10 toes’ and they just pushed him into the intensive care unit. His lungs were in danger of collapsing and the doctor warned that he might have problems with his hearing, speech and sight.”
Evan was under intensive care for a month and when he finally came to a stable condition, Doreen was delighted and called Evan a fighter.
Fast forward to two days before Evan took his own life, Doreen revealed that Even texted her saying that his maths results were not good.
“I told him to try harder as it was his PSLE the following year. We ended the conversation with the usual ‘I love you’ and ‘I miss you’. Everything seemed normal,” she recalled.
The next day, he fibbed and told her there was no school. Doreen realized Evan was lying, thus she told him not to lie. Evan said there’s something stressing him out at school.
As he left the apartment, he told the family’s helper that he would wait for his mother at the foot of the condominium so that she could take him to school.
Evan shut the door with a thud and Doreen felt something was not right. She immediately told the helper to get him back to the apartment but he was nowhere to be found.
Panic by the situation, she and her helper ran through the building shouting his name. When she heard her daughter screamed “mommy, oh my God,” the unthinkable happened.
The feeling of loss and regret as she picked up Evan’s lifeless body is a moment Doreen could never forget. She is also tormented by the thought that she didn’t do enough for him as a mother. Evan’s body was found at the foot of the apartment.
“My logic and intelligence, which had been the basis and foundation of my life for so long, have deserted me, and cannot help me deal with my emotions,” said the mother, who is now seeing a counsellor weekly.
Four months before Evan’s demise, the mother and son made a pack that they would fight depression together. The duo reminded each other to take their pills every day and always told how much they loved one another.
No one could tell Doreen’s journey better other than herself. Read the full extract where she recounted her lifelong struggle with depression that ultimately led to her eldest son’s suicide. The post went viral with over 930 shares at the time of writing and it gathered a lot of encouragement from netizens:
I am sharing one of my deepest secrets in hope that it could make people more aware and please seek help. I’m doing this so my Son didn’t die for nothing. I hope through his death, many could be saved.
When I used to hear of people dying from depression, I could never comprehend how anyone could be sad to death. Till it hit me and my family. My dad had it, I had it, my Son had it. Doctors say it may be genetic. That the chemical in the brains are off track.
Many think it is something we can just snap out of. An elaborate melodramatic appearance for attention. But many do not know that many people who are depressed actually keeps it quiet on the contrary to what is being portrayed as a call for attention. So much so that people around them may never know they were depressed till something happens. Even in children. If I had not experienced depression myself a few times, I would also think it was just a personality change, puberty, growing up, or even just rude tantrums. But I knew Evan was probably depressed because he showed less interest in activities. He was tearing more often and defensive.
When I was depressed, the only person who knew was my Sister. She brought me to see a doctor and I started on medication. I didn’t tell anyone because to many, I was the CEO of the company.
An invincible woman who feared nothing. I was the pillar of the business and I can’t falter. But no one knew I was also just a human being with feelings and fears and worries.
I loved my job because I loved what I did. I loved the people I worked with. They were my security and comfort zone. But with the job came lots of other things I was incapable of doing as well. Many people didn’t know that I didn’t know how to open up to people. Make new friends. I wasn’t comfortable in new situations with new people. I was only comfortable with the people I knew and was close with. With every staff that left meant a loss and change of environment for me. With every new staff who came was a challenge to get to know. I wasn’t the jovial, chirpy person everyone thinks I am. I think in a way, depression left me socially challenged. Many smiles people see were a front.
My closest staff would have seen the times I broke down in front of them. But to others, I was invincible.
A lot of it was a front that I needed to put up because my job requires that of me. I was fulfilling a responsibility to my shareholders, to bring back the bacon, and for the people who worked with me.
When a few other close friends knew, came kind words and advice like find things to do to distract yourself. Find a hobby. More logical ones will say, snap out and don’t wallow in self-pity. But the trouble with depression is, nothing seems fun. Going out is a chore. Meeting people sometimes even friends is stressful because that meant that I had to pretend to smile and joke again. It was tiring to pretend to be happy. It was difficult to hide the sadness. And many know I can’t act. If I’m happy, you’ll see it on my face. When I’m sad, it’s also written all over. I don’t want to join friends because I was afraid I’ll spoil the mood. A simple task like going for a meal was a chore to me. I kept moving houses. Because with every move, I imagine there’s the hope of a better positive change. But unfortunately, with each change, I felt worse. I felt instability. So I try to move again. I organize my life thinking that a system will put everything in place. I wanted everything perfect. But perfectionism also means disappointments when things don’t go as planned.
I think the worst thing I felt was guilt. Guilty over everything that went wrong. Feeling I have failed people who expected from me. Guilty over everything that went wrong. Disappointed that I have disappointed others. I looked at Facebook posts of parents bringing kids to the zoo and wondered where they get their energy to do that. I felt bad that I couldn’t give my kids the same or did the same for them.
I think that’s Evan felt. He was an intelligent boy and the most caring. I remember him telling him that parents only engage tutors for kids who don’t do well. And he was the one who gave me the least worries so he needs to set the right examples and love the rest. Maybe that’s why he always felt he had to try to be good in front of me. My sister tells me that his behaviour is different when he’s with me and when he’s not. He’s always trying to impress me and make me happy. He’s worried that I’ll be sad.
Everyday, he would come to me a few times a day and asked, mommy are you ok? Do you need anything.
It is my fault I couldn’t hide my sadness and emotions in front of my kids. He has seen me cry so many times which he shouldn’t have. There was nothing in his life to distract him except for his computer and the one-quarter time I could give him for mommy and Evan Time which he never fails to let me know he cherished and loved. He lost all interest in swimming. He would be the first to say he wanted to go home after an outing. His most comfortable moment would be cuddling beside me watching CSI together. Or doing silly things like turning on Google translate and listening to the funny direct translations from English to Chinese. He loved to show me his new minecraft creations, the houses he built. Showing me his latest magic tricks or space creations. Those were his simple happy moments.
He shared the most complexes thoughts to comfort me. I guess we were two lost souls hanging on to each other for life support.
Depression makes a person forget the good things in life. That they are loved. Instead, it amplifies every single pain. Looking back, I think my depression affected him. The times I asked for a few minutes on my own. The times I lie in bed not wanting to wake up to face another day.
This little slots of absence probably made him feel lost because he feels his pillar is crumpling.
Caring for a depressed person is difficult. A lot of tolerance is required to put up with mood swings, unexplainable episodes, erratic thoughts. Every word that came out is always read badly. Just a get out of the room meant to him that mommy doesn’t want me anymore. It’s like treading on thin ice not knowing when the ice will break both for the depressed and the people closest to the depressed.
Before I guessed that Evan was depressed, I came to a point I let myself go. I stopped medication because I thought nothing was going to change or help. I allowed myself to wither away not realising the impact it had on the people around me. Afterall, I was the one depressed, not them. But I didn’t realised that the people who loved me felt my pain. Especially my soulmate Evan Low.
He was young but our hearts were so intimately intertwined that nothing could escape his innocent eyes. He always asked me, why are you sad mommy. Why are you always sad.
And I actually came up with an excuse as lame as, mommy’s Face is like that one. But I knew he felt every inch of my pain. And I felt every inch of his. He was a self-giving child. Self-sacrificial.
He always pretended to smile and I told him that he didn’t need to.
It was not his responsibility to please others. But that did not stop him from continuing to ensure others would laugh. Just a few weeks back he told me, “ mom, do you know why I’ve started to draw comics? Because my comics will make people smile and laugh.” That’s selflessness, isn’t it? Getting so involved and even making it a hobby so that others around him will be happy. Even when my helper is sad, he will go give her a hug and asks her if she was ok.
He’s a great child. One who cannot be replaced.
His heart of gold I wish the rest of my kids will inherit. That will live on in the image of his siblings.
After the doctors confirmed that he was depressed, I started on my medications again. I knew I had to save myself in order to save my son. I just wasn’t fast enough.
We made a pact we would get well together. That we would support each other and never leave each other. I reminded him to take medications and he reminded me to take mine. We promised to always confide in each other.
But I guess he was just too young to know how to communicate his feelings eloquently enough. The only thing he wanted me to know was, “I love you mama”. We had this challenge. He would say I love you more than the stars in the sky, I would say I loved him more than the sand on the beach and so on. Finally, I will say, I love u more than you love me. And he’ll say, you win. Every single time knowing I’ll end with this, he still brings out different units of measurement to let me know he loved me more.
Do not take for granted the strength you see in others. Because you’ll never know how much effort it takes to garner that strength. Take care of the stay home mom. Staying home doesn’t mean she has no stress. Take care of the working Dad and mom because they have to deal with the world to put food on the table. Take care of the children because I cannot even start to imagine the stress they go through these days. Gone were the days we only needed to pass our spelling. Now the pressure of excellence and being multi-talented plus the peer pressure of having everything others had or more. Take care of the parents who were there all your life.
Seek help if you suspect you may be depressed. Being depressed is nothing to be embarrassed about. You are not mad or crazy. It is an illness like cancer. Gone untreated, you’ll affect others around you. For a good quality of life for yourself and your family. Please seek help.
In memory of the best kid in the world, my loving son Evan.