I Spent 25 Minutes, Standing Still, in A Mental Ward

This post is to capture what took place at another mental ward in Selangor, Malaysia that I also visited along with the one on which I wrote a blog. Read here. No pictures were taken at this second site because I deemed it moral not to do so.

My first impression of the ward was that it was aesthetically appealing and equipped with ample security systems to monitor and prevent the admittees from wandering off-site.

This second establishment that we visited (I, together with Mr. Tan and his wife) right off the bat earned our assumption as a better-off ward than the first one I had mentioned. Hence, I did not offer to do anything for the center. But just like the first center, I asked to be in the ward where the mentally impaired children were staying. And in there, I spent 25 minutes in complete stillness and silence.

Here are the events I quickly jotted down after my 25 minutes inside the ward, where the mentally impaired children were roaming freely:

One boy wouldn’t stop talking to himself. He was very impassioned in his speech. But he was talking to no one.

One girl came close to me such that there was only a few inches of space between us. She stared into my eyes and kept humming. She waved her arms left and right and slowly rested them on my forearm, and was seemingly curious who i was. She returned again and again.

Another boy sat upright against the wall and wouldn’t stop jerking against the wall. Thump! Thump! Thump! But no one knew what the reason behind his doing was and no one tried to stop him from possibly hurting his own back.

Two kids, one lying flat and dormant, another lying normal to him and rested his head on his stomach and rolling his entire body back and forth while blowing raspberry. The dormant boy stayed the way he was

One boy would not cease intruding on Mr Tan’s wife, taking hold of her arm, leading her to the back of the room. After once, Mr. Tan’s wife hesitated. After approaching her a few more times, she had no choice but to leave the room.

One kid, in shorts, shirtless, was walking about aimlessly. It does not take a genius to perceive the damages his underlying conditions have done to his mental state and bodily figure.

A few boys would every so often slip their hands into their pants and shorts and rub their genitals.

Some were able to communicate with the wardens and joined them in folding clothes.

Another boy would always be lingering around me. He looked the most unaffected; none of his facial or bodily figure was ravaged by any of developmental disorders that had others. He was so intrigued by my watch. When he pressed the buttons and the watch beeped, he gave it the attention of the world.

I later learned that this boy was autistic; he was one of the few that did not deserve to be amassed in such a space….This last boy  was one of the remarkable that could possibly gain his social and life skills to mingle with the rest of his generation.

Over a month after, I still think about his gleaming eyes when he stared at the watch with his undeterring excitement. It reminds me of how a learning process should be and how a pursuer for an answer should be as relentless and focused to the degree as that boy had displayed.

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Figure 1. the watch that fascinated the young boy in the ward.  Picture taken inside a coffee shop in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

After witnessing the ward and conditions of the admittees, I have a strong belief that things could definitely be done to improve the quality of life for each individual in there.

I spent 25 minutes in there, and although I am not diagnosed with any of mental disorders (hopefully never), I could feel my consciousness and will-to-live slowly being extorted from me just by standing in there. An already impaired mind, deprived of its own command of its actions and will, being trapped in such a place will only have its essence further unwilfully drained from it.

It’s true to acknowledge the void you have and seek help. This is most-often heard in relation to those feeling depressed. But from whom to seek is also a factor that could determine recovery or deterioration. In the case of this mental ward, it will do the patients more good by re-designing its care programs to make them more individualized or condition-oriented; a Down-syndrome child may need assistance round the clock in aspects of taking care of oneself and managing his/her hyperactivity, but this program may not be necessary for a child of autistic conditions. Instead, a program to teach him/her to become the master of his/her own concentration and the application of this special attention may be crucial in determining recovery or deterioration.

There is a popular euphemism that associates with mental conditions, in that they are a form of gifts. And it is true. Many famous figures including Albert Einstein and Issac Newton also lived with autism of one form or another. And they grew up to be remembered, but by having developed in the right conditions. In other words, although autism may be a gift, it needs the right set of hands to untie the ribbons to unwrap the true capacities that are trapped within.

Although autism may be a gift, it needs the right set of hands to untie the ribbons to unwrap the true capacities that are trapped within.

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YS Charity Foundation: A Developmental Disability Center for Financially Challenged Families in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia

Seeing the developmental disability centers was my motive to travel to Malaysia.

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Figure 1. My visit to the center with the help of my newly-made friend in Malaysia

With the help of a couchsurfing.com friend, Mr. Tan, I was able to visit two developmental disability centers in Petaling Jaya, and one of which I got a chance to help the center reach out its resources to those who may benefit.

YS Charity Foundation is a new establishment that had been opened for only 3 months at the time of my visit (Jan 2017) but was already caring for 10+ individuals.

The admittees at this center were diagnosed with various mental disorders: ADHD, autism, depression, and Down Syndrome just to name a few. And all of them come from families that were not capable of nursing them 24/7.

After getting to spend some time to learn about the patients, I made a promise to the overseer of the center to assist him and his team in fundraising and gathering help from medical professionals by a  video about his center. Within my one hour visit, I called on the help of my action-cam Kodak SP1 and recorded footage for this narrative below.

To learn more about how you can contribute to the cause, or if you are personally a medical professional that is specialized in psychiatry, please click 

Credits:
I would like to thank Mr. Tan from couchsurfing for taking the time to ferry me to the centers and including me in his annual family’s charity event. Beyond that, he also assisted me in my subtitle translation.
I would also like to thank YS Charity Foundation for allowing me to take part in improving the quality of life of each admittee at the center.
I would also like to thank NCH Software for making its video editing tool: Videopad available at no cost.

The Mosquitoes and Us

You know you have not yet been officially welcomed in Cambodia unless you have been greeted by mosquitoes. On the night of my arrival, I received two bites within the first ten minutes of making my way through TSA. Even at 1am, the air felt humid. Mosquitoes could be seen left and right. My body begged for a splash of ice cold water and to bask in an air-conditioning room. After over 2 days of air transit to get to Cambodia, I was also ready to dive into a queen-sized bed. A mosquito-less slumber that followed that night was definitely icing on the cake.

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Aerial Shot of Central Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia courtesy of Cambodia UN

It then got me curious of this mosquito deal. You and I know very well and are fast to respond to a mosquito nuisance; we rush to a room of cold air and rub to soothe our irritated skin. And it’s always in the hot, clammy environment that we face these cold-blooded suckers. The current Zika outbreak, accidental discovery through my boss that only female mosquitoes bite, and their incessant attacks as I am typing this prompted me to write this up.  

 

To come to think of it, these “little flies” are rather smart, at least from a biological standpoint. By this, I don’t only mean it because mosquitoes capitalize on dusk when their preys are in the most vulnerable position. After getting attacked by them at a number of places, I have found that even though our face is just as exposed and contain comparably as many blood vessels as equivalent areas of certain appendage or torso regions, the face is rarely the targeted site. On the other hand, the leg, where the blood vessels are dense and heavily intertwined, is the most popular attraction for these visitors. Perhaps the mosquitoes do realize how quickly we will identify and retaliate for their bites. After all, given the abundance of cranial nerves and the time it takes for the sensory stimulus to travel from our face to our brain, their rate of success is enhanced, by a fraction of a second, if they home in on the region such as the leg, which is less innervated but blood vessels dense.

 

Another possibility is that mosquitoes are aware of the human body makeup, a knowledge possibly passed down from generation to generation, and therefore home in on the specific regions of their host for the extraction of particular nutrients. Should that be true. It is only to prove how much more clever mosquitoes are. And this can also imply that we both share some fragments of genetic makeup which mark for specific nutrients `without which the bug cannot survive. We’ll have to wait for science to unfold. Or, I have just simply gone mad to think of this idea.

 

Back to where I left off, I also find it fascinating that mosquitoes detect the presence of their preys by smell, sight, and heat as suggested by a Caltech study. The carbon dioxide, the waste product of our respiration, is the chemical messenger recognized by a receptor in mosquitoes that beckons them over. Breathing as a result is a callout to the mosquitoes that you are here. They also guide themselves to you by sight should you try to hold your breath. But thankfully (for now), if you are close enough to them, they won’t be able to spot you as a result of the anatomy of their orbits, which are separated by a lengthy glabella. However, since you are close enough, now they can sense your presence by the energy you emit, heat. These three triple feeding mechanisms complement one another and enable this insect to be an efficient sucker. What a “beautiful” creation.

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Triple Feeding Mechanisms courtesy of  Caltech

And I think, if I may, there is also an underlying symbolic, social significance between the feminine genes and perseverance/survival traits, as displayed by the mosquito “society”. Contrary to our anthropo-societal norm, the females are touted as the “breadwinner” in the mosquito world. Both genders of mosquito population feed on nectar. However, nutrients beyond those in nectar such as proteins found in blood are needed for egg development. For this reason, the females–whether guided by their genes or situational attribution, or both–risk their lives and scavenge for blood in the name of reproduction, in the name of preserving the species’ place in the evolution tier.

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DC’s Female Super Star–Wonder Woman courtesy of DC Comics

The “culture” of these female mosquitoes could single-handedly depose the dominance of machismo, which has been perpetuating gender inequality in the human world. The gender role in population of mosquito can also serve as a model for us, the masculine who are historically and culturally wired to view females inferiorly, to view femininity with more appreciation, recognition, and respect. More importantly, it is to show that it’s due to the perseverance of those who bear through gestation that there is today for all of us. Male is no exception!

 

Robin Williams Inspired: Thoughts and Advice

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I think we all have witnessed this type of scene. A group of audience relishes a performance till the very end before putting hands together for the performers. It has been a norm, courtesy, or whatever you may call it, to wait for a process to conclude before we do our parts such as cheering and clapping. In the context of an individual’s life, shall we also stick to this convention and wait till an end to life takes place before we take our actions, or should we interject the process such that we might indeed make our actions count and possibly change the outcome of the life? “I think that will have to depend on where you stand with respect to your “closeness” to the victim in each case.”

This post was inspired by the incident of Robin Williams and the cause of his passing, depression. This is not entirely about Mr. Williams as we all know you don’t need another post to justify how influential he had been in many lives, both of commoners and celebrated. What intrigued me this time around after a celebrity’s death is the emergence of this question: why is a life recognized only after it has departed?

I used to have a writing mentor, Rothman, whom I really looked up to in college. He was a skillful, brilliant conversationalist in such a way that every time after you exchanged thoughts with him, you would never fail to notice how brighter you have gotten. He was the type of person whom you could talk to about anything: school, writing, philosophy, life. When the news sent from his wife to UC-Santa Cruz admins and then to email network got across everybody’s computer screens, it did feel like the world paused a little. On that very weekend of his death, I sent out a mass email asking peers in the STEM cohort who had been enlightened by Rothman to write a short note remarking on their transformations and feelings as a result of having crossed path with him. The responses I received were later put into a collage and sent to his wife as a condolence and proof of the differences he had made in every single student;

“Looking back at it, I did also follow the convention and waited till the life slipped away before I ‘clapped’……… In fact, that was all I could do as an outsider, to pay a tribute.”

In my opinion, when we choose to post-death recognize a person, we normally have accepted the life and death of the individual. There might be something we could have done to mitigate the agony leading to death, or to grant the victim’s last wish, but we have little to no rights as the priority of decision making is granted to immediate families first. Not to mention, the news of the person’s passing doesn’t often get announced to outsiders until later. So, a lot of times we don’t get to have any last words before the due time. Hence, as an outsider, however much emotional we become in the face of the situation, our domain in terms of carrying out our actions is restricted. We therefore can only wait till after the grand finale to do what we best do, to pay respect.

“Perhaps, life is recognized after its death because that is all an outsider can do for the victim, and because death caused by infirmity/natural cause proudly deserves this minutes of honor. So, waiting till the show to be over before you clap your heart out might be the most appropriate conduct as a spectator.”

Before I sign off and move on, I would also like to add that if you are in the front seat and entitled to voicing your opinion, do so for your loved ones. The suicide of Robin Williams should be the last record of a result caused by mental illness. And it should serve as a reminder for you to become more vigilant of those, especially families and friends, around you. It is very common for depressed individuals to be swamped in a state of negativity and to think short. It is an uphill battle and challenging for you and the person to overcome the slope, but the positive news is depression is a treatable condition.

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Also, when it comes down to confronting depression, it might be a better idea to break away from the conventional code of “waiting for the show to be over before you clap”. Instead, clap along the show to encourage life. Be one of those daring individuals who isn’t afraid to scream out loud during the show. This is because, unlike the post-death tribute, the power of ongoing-life tribute: your words, actions, and compassion may potentially rectify the thoughts of the depressed and help them steer away from taking a nonreturnable leap into demise.

When it comes down to confronting depression, a life should not be recognized after it has departed. Proactively recognize the life in front of you by playing a role and assisting your loved ones in fighting against destructive depression. I recommend Daniel G.Amen, M.D.’s Change your Brain Change Your Life for some insights into understanding the cause of depression from the standpoint of brain imaging.

Finally, if you are depressed, don’t brood over depression, seek help. Love yourself, love your family, love those around you. ^_^