In Year 2004, I was in Year 2 of my studies, pursuing my diploma in Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. I was also working part-time at Borders bookstore, as a retail assistant. I had to balance both my studies and work concurrently – although tiring, it was fulfilling as I was doing something which I enjoyed: the arts. Retail work also enabled me to interact with people from all walks of life and brush up on my interpersonal skills.
The Life-changing Stroke
On a night in February 2004, when I was on the phone chatting with a friend, I suddenly found myself unable to move – a blood vessel in the brain had burst and I was down with a stroke. My family members found me lying on the floor, called the ambulance, and rushed me to the hospital. Little did I know that the trip to the hospital would be a life changing one – over the span of 6 months in the hospital, I went through 6 major operations. It was a devastating, life-altering experience; even after being discharged from the hospital, I was transferred to a community hospital for rehabilitation. Every day I struggled to come to acceptance that I was paralysed on my right side of the body. I was unable to use my right hand, could not see through the side of my right eye and walked with a limp in my right leg. It hit me hard, not only on my physical and mental abilities, but also on my confidence and self-esteem. I felt that my life was completely destroyed.
Despair and Denial
The early rehabilitation sessions were a realisation of my disabilities; everyday was a depressing day – words could not describe the emotional state that I was going through. Rock bottom was where I was, and I isolated myself for almost two solid years. I did not want to meet and communicate with anyone, even though close friends tried to visit me. During that time, there was nothing which I appreciated; all I was feeling was shame and embarrassment. Eventually, I found myself in depression and had to see a psychiatrist for counselling treatments.
Every single daily activity became a challenge. As I was partially paralysed, I had to learn how to adapt and move about, even with simple tasks like walking to the washroom, having my meals, and sitting up on the bed. I struggled and there were many times when I broke down as there were many questions with no available answers. As days went by, I came to accept that life was going to be different, and I realised that I needed to re-learn every single thing. Denial finally became acceptance.
Back to Basics
At the start, l had to train myself everything right from the basics. l trained myself from being a natural right-handed person, to using my left hand to function – for writing, typing, using the computer mouse, bathing, changing clothes, making my bed, etc. l spent six months to learn all these daily needs. l even learned how to cut my own nails with one hand. Firstly, l would sit on a chair by using two knees together to hold the nail cutter, and slowly move my knees to control the cutter to cut the nail. It was really tough and time consuming, but l had to do these things to make myself independent again. In due course, I went on to more advanced learnings – I took up a computer software class at SPD's Infocomm Accessibility Centre to refresh my computer knowledge.
Going through this, I am thankful that my family members and friends were very supportive, and religious beliefs also helped the whole learning process get easier. Throughout these episodes, I learnt to be determined and patient with my progress; all tasks had to be thought through on how to be executed before I was able to accomplish them.
Remembering the Dream
Since young, art design had always been my interest; I was studying design before the stroke and I was determined to pursue a career related to design. Even though the stroke disrupted my pursuit of a design career, I am still determined to find a related job as I believe I can still contribute to a design project, no matter how small the task is.
The Treasured Opportunity
I am blessed that I was given a chance to work in Make The Change, a social enterprise in Singapore that applies design for social good. My employer and colleagues have been kind and patient as they understand my situation and are ever willing to guide me along in my daily tasks. I acquire new design skills which I am most interested in learning and I get to exchange ideas with my colleagues which makes the work a lot more exciting. Most importantly, I am able to make productive contributions to the company.
One of my contributions in Make the Change is designing and printing the New Year greetings cards for companies, and also making stickers for commercial use. Besides the design work, we have to also ensure that delivery is on schedule and maintain the quality of the end-product. I learnt a great deal from this experience and also gained a great sense of accomplishment when the work was finally completed.
Today, l am able to manage my own living needs. l take the public transport on my own, to and from the office. I have opened up and rebuilt relationships with friends and classmates; taking part in activities like visiting art exhibitions, catching movies, going for meals and coffee sessions, and occasionally I take up new courses for self-enrichment. I slowly regained my social circle and more importantly, my purpose in life. I am thankful and content with the life I am living now.
I am also forever grateful to my family members and close friends for their constant encouragement and support during this difficult journey. Looking back, this life-changing experience made me a stronger person and I am proud to have overcome it. I hope my story brings hope to those who are currently struggling with challenging circumstances.
Special thanks to Eloise from Make The Change for this article.