At her worst times, Rebecca* frequently got down on her knees at home.
Kneel to atone for your sins, she heard a voice telling her.
That was actually an auditory hallucination for the 37-year-old, who is diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Rebecca joined seven other candidates to represent Singapore in the recently-concluded International Abilympics. The team is due to arrive back in Singapore today.
The Singapore delegation clinched a bronze medal for outdoor photography. The team also competed in other events such as word processing, pottery, studio photography, bicycle assembly, painting and poster design.
When The New Paper spoke to Rebecca before she went to France two weeks ago, the graphic designer looked excited.
“It feels like a dream. I think it will be an experience,” she said, adding that she hopes to make friends with the other participants.
Taking part in the International Abilympics was a chance for Rebecca to showcase her ability and talent in graphic design.
These were previously undermined by her condition, said Ms Ang Suying, a senior case manager at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) who worked closely with Rebecca.
Rebecca was first diagnosed with schizophrenia about five years ago, after poor financial investments left her broke.
It is an incident she did not want to elaborate on, except to say that she lost all her savings from that decision.
First, Rebecca lost her appetite and had sleepless nights.
Then, she started hearing voices in her head telling her to kneel to ask for forgiveness for losing money.
Her father and brother spotted her talking to herself and realised something was wrong.
With little knowledge about mental health issues, they did not know where to seek help.
Said Rebecca: “They hailed a cab and asked the taxi driver if there was any mental hospital in Singapore.”
That was how she ended up being hospitalised for two months at IMH.
After being discharged, Rebecca was motivated to get her life back on track.
But life dealt her a second blow two years later, in 2013. Her father, who was in his late 80s, died from a liver condition.
Filled with grief and self-reproach, the same voice that haunted her back in 2011 returned, one that belonged to what Rebecca called a “24/7 friend”.
“I felt like there were so many things I could have done, but didn’t do.
“There was a lot of regret… A voice in my head told me my dad’s going to hell and it’s me to blame. It had quite an impact on me,” she told TNP quietly.
Rebecca was taken to IMH again, this time in an ambulance, although she does not remember the circumstances that led to her re-admission.
At IMH, there were times when Rebecca had to be strapped to the bed because she could not stop kneeling, she said.
Memories of her second two-month stay are few, partly because she felt groggy from the medication, she said.
“In the hospital, it’s not that bad. It’s when you step out of the hospital that you realise not only the losses you made in life, but also that you were in IMH…
“When you see your friends who have careers and a family, and you have nothing, you really feel like you want to go to a box to hide,” she said.
She considered job options that allowed her to avoid interacting with people, like a factory operator.
It was a friend, a man in his late 20s with two children who was into cosplay, who inspired her to get back on her feet.
Said Rebecca: “He likes anime and his mentality is that you have to try everything. He told me I could do whatever I like, too. His hobby inspired me.”
Said Ms Ang: “Rebecca has always been very open and willing to engage with people, which are attributes that helped in her recovery process.
“She has shown resilience when dealing with grief and losses brought about by personal setbacks and the impact of her illness.”
Rebecca goes for a check-up at IMH every two months and keeps her condition under control with a minimum dosage of medication.
Last year, she secured her job as a graphic designer, designing course materials for a school.
She said: “It feels like I’m at ground zero now, but at least I can now say that I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing.”
The International Abilympics is a skills competition that allows people with disabilities and special needs to demonstrate their capabilities in vocational skills such as computer assembly and poster design, and recreational skills like embroidery and pottery.
Held every four years since 1981, the ninth edition of the event took place in Bordeaux, France, on Friday and Saturday.
The Singapore contingent, among 35 countries in the competition, was made up of eight participants — four from the Institute of Mental Health, two from the Singapore Association for the Deaf and two from Bizlink, a non-profit organisation that helps disabled people find jobs.
This story was originally published in The New Paper on 28 March 2016.