Jumaat, 14 Disember 2012
She spent 5 hours in the shower daily
Julia bte Abdullah 40, an outpatient of IMH, suffers from OCD.
For 20 years, Ms Julia Abdullah stuck faithfully to a set of self-cleaning rituals.
But the now-40-year-old had taken her routine to extremes: She started with 30 minutes of showering and worked her way progressively to five hours. She even shampooed her hair 25 times and washed her hands 300 times.
All of that in a day. Why?
"I felt that I (was) just not clean enough," said Ms Julia, an administrative assistant.
In a week, she would use up two bottles of shampoo and 21 bars of soap. The rituals got so exhausting that she had no energy left to do anything else.
Ms Julia suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) with an irrational fear of contamination by dirt or germs.
Compulsions are defined as behaviours or mental acts that are done repetitively to reduce an anxiety that a person faces due to the obsessions.
One in 33 people here, aged 18 and above, suffers from OCD, revealed a survey conducted in 2010 and released last year by the Singapore Mental Health Study.
Ms Julia first realised that something was amiss in 1992, when she was working as a laboratory technician.
As she handled urine and stool culture as well as blood samples being tested for HIV regularly on the job, she started spending increasingly more time on washing her hands, for fear of contamination.
Although she suspected that she had OCD, she did not seek help at first.
"I thought I could will myself off the washing," she said. Instead, her condition worsened.
Ms Julia eventually lost her job as she was constantly late for work. She had to find other ways to pay for the escalating home-utility bills.
She was so desperate that, at one point, she scavenged discarded objects from the void decks of neighbourhood flats at night.
Almost driven to point of suicide
"The need to sell old newspapers for money was so urgent that I did not care about cleanliness," she recalled.
"Those were crazy times."
Soon, she amassed a mountain of stuff: Clothes, books, and even plants she could not sell.
Everything ended up in her two-room HDB flat which she shares with her mother. She has three half- siblings who are not living with her.
The hoarding got so bad that her mother had to sleep at the stairwell as there was no ventilation or natural light in the flat.
"It finally got too much for me to bear. I got so angry that I stopped bathing for three months," Ms Julia said.
"I called the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) hotline in 2009. I was almost driven to the point of suicide."
Things worsened a year later as she did not turn up for her appointments. SAMH counsellors intervened and took her to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), where she was warded for 22 days for treatment of OCD.
She now undergoes a combination of cognitive-behaviour therapy and medication, and is in control of her condition.
She tells of her struggle in a photography exhibition called Picture My World, which is organised by IMH to raise awareness of mental illness, as part of its World Mental Health Day activities.
World Mental Health Day
World Mental Health Day, which takes place today, commemorates global mental- health education, awareness and advocacy.
The exhibition features photographs taken by 14 individuals recovering from mental illness.
In eight weeks from late May to early July, they picked up photography skills and learnt to use photos to express their feelings and thoughts, and how mental illness has affected their lives.
Ms Julia now has time to watch television, read and chat with new friends on Facebook.
"It makes me feel confident when people like my photos," she said.
"I am finally living my life."