Stories from the Heart - Ron

07 Jan 2022

Since his teenage years, Ron Yap would visit the toilet over 20 times a night and would spend hours at his void deck replaying his day's social interactions in his mind.

It was only when he stumbled upon an Instagram post on mental health that everything suddenly clicked into place.

After the post prompted Ron, now 25, to seek professional help, he finally had a diagnosis — obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety.

Today, the communications graduate is "getting better", he says, and is a strong mental health advocate. In fact, he has even applied for a Masters in Counselling.

Ron tells us that his passion for mental health advocacy stems from feeling alone before he received the help that he needed, and his wish to prevent others from feeling the same way.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder: More than just hand washing

For a long time, he'd resist seeking help, he admits.

"I believed that what I had was normal," Ron says self-deprecatingly, "that it was not deserving of attention and especially medical attention."

It also did not help that his idea of OCD was initially coloured by stereotypes and generalisations — he confesses that like many, he had thought that OCD was all about frequent hand washing, neatness and perfectionism.

In actual fact, OCD encompasses way more than what's commonly portrayed in the media. Those with OCD can have both obsessions, such as intrusive thoughts, and compulsions that drive them to repeat certain rituals.

Obsessions can present as skin picking, hair pulling, and yes, hand washing.

And compulsions often involve rules or repetitive behaviour that one carries out to relieve their anxiety, such as repeatedly checking if doors are locked or if the stove is off.

For Ron, he pinpoints several moments in his tween years as the root of his symptoms.

The first was having to choose a secondary school that wasn't his first choice after he "didn't do as well as expected" in his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), he recalls.

"That kind of led to decision paralysis in a sense, because I thought to myself, what if I go to this school, what are the pros and cons.

"I was trying to predict the future, when obviously no one can do that."

Another pivotal moment was the night before a school camp in his secondary school years, an activity that he was "really dreading".

At the time, he was so anxious about the event that he couldn't fall asleep, and ended up going to the bathroom again and again.

The repetitive behaviour didn't stop that night — it became something Ron would find himself doing constantly over the years, and it's still something he's working on, he shares.

"Years later, I realised I was trying to distract myself or give myself something to focus on instead of being overwhelmed," Ron says.

The turning point 

It was only in Ron's early university days that he began paying more attention to his mental health, and had an inkling that "there was something wrong".

"At that point, I realised that if I didn't seek help, it would probably stay with me for the rest of my life. And I kind of want to enjoy my life. "

Still, he never had a name for his condition. That is, until an Instagram post detailing the symptoms of OCD serendipitously turned upon his Explore page.

Finding that he resonated with many of the traits listed, he wasted no time booking an appointment with a counsellor at a polyclinic. Before long, he was referred to a psychiatrist and was able to receive medication. He also began receiving therapy.

As he began opening up about his mental health condition with his university friends and received support instead of judgement, his social anxiety also began to improve, Ron shares.

"It was the first time when I felt like I could be the person that I was, without any sense of judgement."

Becoming a resource for others

This newfound acceptance also inspired Ron to put himself out there online and try to help others along in their own mental health journey.

In 2019, he started @mentalhealthceo, an Instagram account sharing self-help tips and mental health resources.

He explains, "I realised a lot of people weren't even knowledgeable of the fact that what they had was a condition.

"Especially in Singapore, it can feel like anxiety is the default state of mind."

What he hopes is for others to be more aware of what mental health conditions can look like, and seek professional help if they need it, he says, cautioning that self-diagnosis can be a "slippery slope".

Having symptoms do not necessarily mean that the person must have a psychiatric diagnosis, explains Dr Lee Cheng, the Senior Consultant and Clinical Director of the Office of Population Health at the Institute of Mental Health.

Not only can people over-diagnose themselves or self-medicate unnecessarily, they may even confuse medical issues and psychiatric conditions.

For example, Dr Lee says that a person with anxiety symptoms may actually have an underlying thyroid disorder.

"Self-screening tools can be used as a guide but the results should not be used for self-diagnosis nor self-medication because these tools cannot substitute a clinical consultation," added Dr Lee.

Along the way, as Ron picked up a whopping 140,000 followers, he's also branched out into tackling the stigma attached to mental health conditions and those with lived experience.

As his account has grown, Ron shares that it's not the numbers that keep him going, but rather the positive messages that he receives.

There's no shortage of naysayers who leave ignorant comments telling him to "suck it up" or doubting the importance of mental health advocacy. But Ron says that he turns to his folder of heartwarming messages as a constant reminder that the love he receives far outweighs the hate.

And if there's anything he has learnt from his advocacy journey, he says that it's that education and equipping people with knowledge is far more important than calling them out.

He points to the few times he's gotten attacked for saying "I'm so OCD" by people who assumed he was being flippant, only for them to back down once he reveals that he does, in fact, have OCD.

"We shouldn't go and try to call people out. Sometimes, they don't have the right information or the knowledge.

"Kindness, empathy and understanding is much better than being angry or being forceful."

If you or anyone you know is overwhelmed with stress or anxiety, or is experiencing signs of mental health conditions, find the help you need via Belle, Beyond the Label helpbot. Take the first step to recovery by seeking help early.

Also, learn more about how we tackle mental health stigma through the Beyond The Label movement.

Read more about the personal journey of our Beyond the Label campaign ambassadors.

This article is brought to you in partnership with Beyond the Label by National Council of Social Service with AsiaOne