Fighting depression with dance and community service
Oh Jin Ziv, 20, shares how dance and community work helped him regain his purpose while battling with depression.
Trigger warning: This story discusses alcohol addiction, depression, self-harm and suicide.
Picture this: The day before your final examination, your parents tell you that they’ll be filing for a divorce.
Before you can even process this information or fully grieve over the loss of what’s been so familiar to you since day one, you begin to worry about how to make ends meet now that the sole breadwinner of the family is leaving.
That’s exactly what happened to 20-year-old applied drama and psychology graduate, Oh Jin Ziv. In early 2019, Ziv’s parents broke the news of their divorce to him and soon after, he began a slow spiral into dysthymia, otherwise known as depression.
“I got diagnosed in 2020. I think I got a referral from CHAT, which is the Community Health Assessment Team at *SCAPE. Then I got diagnosed by my psychiatrist at NUH,” he shared.
Since then, Ziv’s life has been full of twists and turns. While his road to recovery has been anything but easy, he has found ways to not only work on himself but also help those around him.
Youthopia met up with Ziv at The Red Box in Nov, 2021. Seeing how amicable and easy-going Ziv was, it was hard to imagine the struggles he had to overcome in life.
As he opened up about his past hardships, it was evident he’s no longer tied down by them but instead views them as important life lessons.
Making ends meet after his parents divorced
After the divorce, Ziv had to shoulder some of the financial burden as his dad no longer lived with them and he had to help take care of his mom and younger brother.
He said: “I remember how the semester break was from September to mid-October and during the whole one and a half months, I only had two days of break for myself. I was working every single day.
“I think I really didn’t allow myself to grieve over the divorce. That’s why it was so hard.”
As his life began to take on an unfamiliar change, Ziv’s desire to fit in with his peers in polytechnic also led him to overexert himself. The social burnout he was experiencing only exacerbated his mental health condition further.
Ziv struggled to cope and eventually resorted to drinking alcohol, which soon turned from friend to foe as his drinking habits worsened.
He said: “Back then, I was trying to earn money to pay off my school fees. However, I was only earning $6.50 per hour from my part-time job so that was a huge struggle for me — trying to earn enough money to be financially stable while also managing my addiction.”
This habit went on for five months, and while he knew that his alcohol addiction was an issue he had to fix, he couldn’t help himself as it was the only way he thought he could relieve the stress from his personal life.
A wake-up call from old friends
As Ziv fell deeper into the rabbit hole and saw no way out of his misery, he resorted to self-harming acts, and eventually a failed suicide attempt.
Thankfully, Ziv got an unexpected wake-up call in June 2019, at a gathering with his old secondary school friends.
“I told myself that I wouldn’t drink but because there was alcohol offered at the restaurant, I couldn’t resist the urge and ended up getting drunk,” he recounted.
While his memories of that day are hazy, Ziv distinctly remembers the moment when a friend, whom he had previously lost contact with, teared up when he opened up to them about his suicidal thoughts.
It was his first time verbalising his feelings and seeing his friend’s reaction, and it hit him that there are people who genuinely cared for him despite everything he’s been through.
“That was the first incident which made me realise that I needed to start working on myself,” he said.
Finding the right avenue to channel his negative thoughts and emotions
As Ziv embarked on his journey to recovery, Krump, a genre of street dance, helped him find his purpose in life again.
Before this, he had tried to find various activities to help ease his feelings of frustration. He did martial arts as well as breakdancing but felt the former was not of much help and the latter was not his crowd. He stopped dancing for a year and it was only in 2020 that he revived his passion for dance through Krump.
The inspiring origins of Krump – which was created in 1990s America to help youths from going astray and lead better lives – deeply resonated with Ziv. Learning about the art form also felt almost like fate for the youth who had previously struggled to express his feelings freely.
He shared: “Krump allowed me to be more honest with myself. I realised it helps me to release emotions I never knew I had. Sometimes, I reflect and think to myself, ‘What was I really thinking or feeling at the time which made me do this?’
“Through the rawness of my dance, I’ve become more reflective towards my emotions and my thoughts and also more self-aware of my behaviour.”
As Ziv continued dancing, he was able to use it as an outlet to relieve his stress and gradually stayed away from his bad habits like alcoholism and self-harming acts.
Now Ziv dances two to three times a week at places like *SCAPE, Marina Square or even random car parks he stumbles across after work. He also attends Krump courses organised by his dance instructor.
Besides Krump, Ziv also credits his reading hobby, specifically fictional fantasy novels, in aiding his recovery.
Along with providing him a form of escapism, books have helped him understand the world, and himself better. Ziv even admits that many of his life values were gained from reading stories.
Coping with the loss of his friends
Just as things were changing for the better, around early 2021, Ziv received shocking news that two of his friends had died by suicide.
Seeing how grief-stricken he was, a social service worker reached out to him. However, instead of helping him feel better, she left him feeling infuriated.
“I remember her reply pissed me off so much. She was like, ‘If you ever need help, you can always call the SOS hotline.’ I remember I was so angry during that point in time. If it worked, why did they kill themselves?” he said.
The loss of his friends along with the unpleasant interaction with social services following the incident left Ziv feeling “very lost and somewhat jaded” about his work as he was initially planning to pursue a career in social service.
However, an internship opportunity led him to change his mind.
As part of his school internship, Ziv helped out at 3Pumpkins, a community arts and cultural development agency that supports families from disadvantaged backgrounds through arts activities for children and the elderly.
Through his internship, Ziv helped to make art programmes accessible to marginalised communities who may not have the financial means to enjoy such activities.
Working on such community service projects also allowed Ziv to direct his negative energy into something positive and worthwhile.
Reflecting on his internship, Ziv shared: “Anger was a very key driving force to where I am now. But I think as time went by and as my internship progressed, I was slowly able to decipher and pinpoint where my anger was at, exactly. I’ve realised that it was anger at the injustice the system has created.
“We are so caught up in being further ahead because we are the little red dot that we have neglected the marginalised communities.”
Now Ziv has a clear goal in mind — to own a community arts lab start-up. It’s a dream he has been working towards since being more involved with the community.
“If no one’s going to do anything about [this lack of support in social services], I want to do something,” he said.
The importance of self-discipline in the road to recovery
As Ziv recounted his journey to recovery thus far, he was proud of how far he had come.
“I have not self-harmed for almost one and a half years already and I have not binge drank either for roughly half a year,” he said.
But beyond these milestones, something Ziv holds in higher regard now is his relationship with himself, and considers his brand of “self-care” a critical part of his journey to getting better.
“By self-care, I’m not referring to what you see all over Instagram. I think something people don’t realise or know about self-care is that self-care is also discipline.
“It can be as simple as being willing to do the hard stuff like focusing on your work or forcing yourself to get out of bed. I would say that that’s the main highlight of self-care — being determined in what you want to do,” said Ziv, who believes that people should not blame themselves for their illnesses, but need to take responsibility for their actions in order to get better too.
As for his parents divorce, Ziv also views the situation differently two years later.
“I think I’m at the stage where I’m slowly accepting that I did what I could as who I was back then.
“I know that love is not an easy thing and my parents did what they did to be responsible for their own happiness,” he shared.
When asked about advice he’d like to give to those going through similar struggles, Ziv said: “Undeniably, the future will get harder. But the thing is that, as the future gets harder, you will also get stronger and harder – only if you work on yourself.
“You are not alone in your journey. Take comfort in the knowledge that there are people out there who will actually help you. But you have to be the one who takes the step yourself. And even if you regress, I think that’s perfectly fine. We all face regressions. What matters most is how you bounce back from it.”
If you are looking for more mental well-being resources, check out Youthopia’s resource page with everything from mental health self-assessments to tips for coping with challenging seasons in life.
Other helplines you may find useful:
- National Care Healthline: 1800-200-6868
- TOUCHline: 1800-377-2252
- Limitless: www.limitless.sg/talk
- Community Health Assessment Team (CHAT): 6493-6500/6501
- Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
- Samaritans of Singapore (24-hour hotline): 1800-221-4444