I experienced my first anxiety attack right after my mum passed away in front of me — from a brain haemorrhage in a Hong Kong hospital.
For once in my life, things had actually been going along relatively well. Having moved past the delinquent years of teenage-hood, I was walking a better path at 22. I was finishing up my National Service in the Police Force, I was getting ready to return to school, I was leading and growing well in Church …
But all that came crashing down with one phone call.
I was on shift as a police officer when my cellphone rang sharply one night. I looked at the familiar number that was calling me and realised it was my dad. This was surprising because since we had a dysfunctional relationship and my parents worked in separate countries, none of us really spoke at all.
I picked up the phone and said my first hello in months, “Hi Dad.”
“Your mum collapsed at work, and it’s due to an internal haemorrhage,” he said. My mind went blank and I could barely respond, but he continued without relent, “Can you fly over?”
I borrowed money from my aunt and took the next flight out to Hong Kong. I was in such a rush that it was only on the plane that I realised I was still wearing my tactical belt!
When the plane landed, I emerged from the airport’s doors to the sight of a sizeable contingent of my mum’s colleagues. They were waiting for me anxiously, faces ridden with worry. After I squeezed into one of their cars, we sped off to Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
It had been awhile since I last saw my mother. When I finally did so that day, she was unconscious, surrounded by strangers who busied themselves over her shaving her head and checking charts. Wrappings of various sorts were pulled over her face and from where I was, I could see numerous tubes running through her.
Looking at everything, looking at all the blood … I couldn’t speak.
As I stared at the scene before me in disbelief, someone tried explaining to me that the blood vessels in my mother’s brain had burst. And in a lowered tone, they told me they didn’t have the technology to fix the clot.
There was the option of a certain kind of operation, one that would likely paralyse her and severely impact her quality of life. Where they would operate was just over the location where the brain sends signals to the rest of the body to do things — and that meant my mum wouldn’t be able to do a lot of things when she woke up. If she woke up.
And now I had to choose. As my dad was unable to reach Hong Kong till the next day, he told me that he wanted me to make the decision.
I told everyone I needed some time.
JUST AWHILE MORE
By the next day, most of the people who mattered to my mother were filling up the ward she lay in. I could tell she knew we were around, but she couldn’t move or respond.
She pulled through the next few days, but by the second week, most of my external family had to fly home. Eventually it was just my father and I taking turns to be with her. One of those days, he had returned to his hotel to rest, so I took over and watched over my mum.
It sank in then that her time had come. I knew in my heart that God was about to take her home. But I held on — I was reluctant.
“God … Just awhile more.”
He said nothing in reply to me. But just then — for the first time in days — my mum moved! I realised she was actually awake when she squeezed my hand in hers. She squeezed it as tightly as she could. Hope surged in me as I squeezed back, and we looked at each other.
There were tears in her eyes as she smiled one last time at me. And just as suddenly as she had returned to me — she left.
As I started wailing, the walls of the ward seemed to shift and move steadily towards me. The cramped room I was now alone in began closing in on me, and I remember feeling small. So, so small.
Nurses burst into the room and attended to me as I lay on the floor, hyperventilating from the first anxiety attack of many to come. In between the hot tears that streamed down my face, I could make out in the corner of my eye the shape of my father standing silently at the door of the ward.
When we returned home to Singapore, I tried to slip back into the rhythms of life. I looked for semblances of normality in school and in ministry, where I was serving in a leadership position.
The overwhelming stress I experienced in my polytechnic years were often a trigger for my panic attacks. Nobody knew I was struggling from anxiety until I told a small group of people in Church. But they weren’t equipped to help someone with anxiety — and they regrettably made a few mistakes with me.
They told me, “Chris, your life isn’t right — go back and pray”, and then they sent me for spiritual warfare class. I said it was a mental issue, but they told me God could heal me.
So the panic attacks continued to plague me, and all I’d hear were the words “you are worthless” over and over each time they happened. I’d be crossing the road and the anxiety would arise out of nowhere: You see that car over there? You should go to the road and let yourself be knocked down. You’re not worth a single thing at all!
Once I could hear God so clearly, but now every single day was a battle against the new voices to stay alive. And I grew more anxious and angry as time went by.
Some time later my cell leader backslid — he had been dealing with his own demons — and this fractured our group. So we split up. After that, someone actually told me that it was possibly because of my sins that this had happened to us.
I was seen as the source of all the problems in cell and ministry. They told me I would stumble all the people I led unless I got my act together. I didn’t know what to do. It took a few more similar incidents before I finally was able to see that my current Church wasn’t a healthy place to be for me. And I prayed for God to take me out of there.
Then during my Quiet Time, God spoke to me through Isaiah 43. He told me to specifically search for a Church with had a theme verse with the Greek word kainos (new) in it. I searched, and I found that Church.
But even after joining a new community, things were still rough. One year into my new Church, I was quarrelling frequently with the mentor assigned to me, I was battling daily anxiety attacks … The list of bad things seemed endless. The weight of life upon my shoulders was unbearable.
And it all finally broke me when I learnt early last year that the doctors had found a tumour in my father’s lymph nodes.
SON, I LOVE YOU
One night in March 2016, as I watched my father lie in his hospital bed — life slowly ebbing away from him — I decided that I was done with my own life.
I’d had enough. I didn’t want to handle all of it anymore. I didn’t tell anyone. I just made plans and went to a high building in my neighbourhood and got ready to kill myself.
On the highest floor, I put down all my stuff, placed my phone on the ground and began to climb over the parapet. As my legs dangled over a dizzying height, a warm and familiar voice spoke firmly in the quiet night.
Son, I love you.
I heard God tell me that — clear as day — like a friend. As a Father.
And it was enough. Weeping, I came down from the ledge.
Suddenly, my phone started buzzing on the floor. I wiped my tears and looked to see who would be calling at 1 AM.
It was my mentor who I’d been fighting with for most of the year.
Over the phone, he told me he had woken up to use the bathroom when he was prompted by God that he should call me. And then — he probably heard me stifling sobs — he asked me if I was crying. I remember saying not too lucidly that I was “perfectly fine” and simply enjoying the “high view” from where I was.
It must have been divine discernment, because even in his stupor he connected the dots and cried out, “But Chris — you stay on the second floor! You wait! You sit! I’m coming!”
When he found me, the first thing he did was to embrace me tightly. And as he held me — I think he knew just how much hurt and pain I’d been through — I cried my heart out.
I wept so loudly that a neighbour came out of her house to investigate. When she saw two grown men hugging just under the parapet, she was shocked, demanding to know why my mentor was hugging me and why I was in a pool of tears! She thought I was being violated until I quickly explained what had happened.
When she went back into the house I started laughing for the first time in a long time. Though still sombre from the emotional moment, my mentor started laughing as well. We laughed and laughed, and the darkness around us felt lighter.
That night I had found a true friend beyond my Father God. Just like Him, my mentor was for me, not against me. I haven’t forgotten his words to me before we parted: “Chris, how can I help you? How can I pray for you?”
God has taken me a long way since those dark days. I am laughing again — the life is back. I still struggle with anxiety but I believe I’m well on the road to recovery and that healing is on the way.
I have seen how God has used my story to touch the lives of those around me. Because I share openly about my past, people who also struggle from anxiety feel safe enough to share their journeys with me. And that allows for me to be a channel of encouragement and God’s love for them.
Now I truly feel like I belong in my cell group and my Church, and I am surrounded by people who genuinely care for my well-being and want to walk with me in my struggles. I live each day strengthening my spirit-man, my mind and my body. I work out and keep fit, I stay engaged with people, I stick close to God. I daily overcome.
And now I work as a social worker! I love that I’m not desk-bound, and that I get to make home visits and touch the lives of at-risk youth.
I look at everything God has brought me through, and I count myself blessed to still be here. I give thanks that I’ve survived. And then I look upwards. I see my Father God who has loved me since I was conceived in my mother’s womb.
And I know He has wonderful plans for me. I know He will use me to do good in this world.