How music paved the way for this 23-year-old’s recovery from Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Depression
Stanley’s initial GAD diagnosis developed into depression as he got older, and it’s something he’s been fighting ever since.
Most kids at 11 would spend all their time having fun with their peers in school. But Stanley Seet would struggle to take even a step outside of his house.
He shares that he often felt a “wall” blocking him, and this paralysing fear also manifested as physical pain.
“That’s when my parents knew something was off as well – otherwise, why would an 11-year-old constantly refuse to go to school?”
A year later, Stanley was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, where he subsequently started seeing a child psychiatrist.
GAD is an anxiety disorder characterised by chronic anxiety which interferes with the patient’s daily life. Beyond unpleasant mental symptoms such as apprehension, confusion and worry, GAD also triggers a range of physical symptoms like heart palpitations, tense or weak muscles and breathing difficulties, according to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).
When asked if getting a diagnosis helped him in any way, Stanley, 23, says it “brought more clarity on what was going on with (him)”.
“I remember being a child and getting unusual pain around the body…This always seemed to happen when I knew the next day would be a schooling day. It was as if my body was reacting in this way to stop me from going to school.
“Not to mention, there were a lot of messy family situations at home and that made it all the more harder. Eventually, we found out that somatic symptoms are linked to anxiety disorders,” he recalls.
Shortly after attending just one week of secondary school, Stanley dropped out. No doubt it was a big decision, but he says that with school out of the picture, it helped him a lot in terms of “not having the paranoia of school anymore in the back of (his) mind”.
The diagnosis also allowed for a treatment plan to get greenlighted, signalling the start of his recovery journey.
The psychiatrist he was assigned to at the time introduced him to the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) YouthReach, an organisation that provides psychosocial support and recovery programmes for youths aged 12 to 21 with emotional, psychological and psychiatric issues in the community.
Through SAMH YouthReach, he was able to get in touch with Christine Chiew, a caseworker who, till today, he holds in high regard and attributes most of his recovery efforts to.
“My caseworker played a huge part in my recovery. I was quite an awkward and anxious kid – she brought me out a lot when I didn’t want to step out.
“I also had the chance to interact with other youths at the centre and realise I wasn’t the only one struggling with my emotions.”
It’s been 10 years since then and Stanley still keeps in touch with Christine.
“These days, she feels like an old friend. We’re both adults talking about anything and everything, and she’s still the same as ever, giving invaluable advice on navigating life. I’m very thankful (to) her for believing in me when no one else did.”
While it seemed like things were progressing just fine, internally, more problems began to arise.
“All of my peers were graduating, living life, discovering themselves as a teenager, but all I did was stay home most of the time and drown myself in games or any distractions I could find.
“Isolating myself like this and knowing my life wasn’t going anywhere was detrimental to my mental health and my anxiety manifested into depression.”
Stanley eventually stopped experiencing symptoms of GAD and instead faced “more of a downward spiral of (his) mood and sleep” where he functioned on four hours of sleep a day for a huge part of his life.
As he gradually lost purpose in life, that was when his diagnosis changed from GAD to depression – a condition in which one faces symptoms like persistent sadness, difficulties falling asleep and excessive guilt, according to IMH.
While his caseworker was always within reach, sometimes he found it hard to open up as there was still that “fear of being seen as weak or useless”.
The situation at home wasn’t that great either, he recounts.
“My dad wasn’t fully supportive at the start since he had his own opinion on mental health.
To his father, whom he describes as “the most traditional Chinese man (he has) ever come across in (his) life”, “the concept of mental wellness was unheard of to him”.
“It was more of a myth in his generation,” says Stanley.
However, as the years passed, his father gradually became more open-minded.
“I believe because of his love for me and his genuine wish for me to get better, he started slowly opening up to the idea of it. These days, he has been reading more on mental health in Chinese newspapers!”
Above all, the constant that has kept him grounded all these years, especially during his “darkest moments”, is his passion for music.
“Not only has music given me a purpose and goal in life, but it has paved a way for my recovery, too.
“There’s something so personal and authentic about music – especially if it’s written by someone that has similar experiences with you,” he shares.
As someone who listened to a lot of singer-songwriters growing up such as Taylor Swift, he began dreaming of being just like them someday – and it’s an aspiration he has come to realise.
A LASALLE Diploma in Music alumnus, 23-year-old Stanley works as a freelance musician. Just last year in 2021, he released an extended playlist (EP) titled Fragile Voices on Spotify.
“The Fragile Voices EP was written in a way that each song tackles upon a specific stage in my mental health recovery. Since it’s quite a short EP with only three songs, I decided to focus on three things: Recovery, Relapse, and Acceptance,” says Stanley.
Off the EP, his favourite lyric is “maybe things won’t go my way, but on my way I’ll go”, a line from the first track titled Rewind.
“I feel like that’s my mantra for things these days – I’ve learnt to let go of perfection and have things go according to plan all the time. It’s okay to go with the flow and enjoy the process. (Life is) much less stressful that way.”
While Stanley admits that life can be hectic as a freelance musician, with constant gigs and classes to conduct, he still feels fulfilled. However, he notes that “mental health itself is something (he needs) to keep being mindful of” as he juggles his career with his condition.
“Just like how we try to eat healthy to prevent getting sick, I’ll need to keep up the healthy mindfulness habit to diffuse stress and stay in good mental shape!”
Stanley has also taken on a role as an A Beyond The Label (BTL) ambassador. BTL is a movement to address the stigma faced by those with mental health conditions in society.
On top of advocating, he also performed at the BTL Fest on Oct 7.
“I think we’re on the right track. It might have been because of COVID-19, but in the past two years, there has been more focus on mental health, especially in schools and the workplace.”
That said, he does hope that in the future, we could see more wellness modules in schools and for the workplace, as “building an understanding and open culture helps”.
To all those grappling with mental health issues, Stanley says: “It’s tough, I know it is. I may not know exactly what you’re going through because everyone’s journey is different, but I know you’re trying every day.
“If you need to switch off and just recover for a day or two, do it. Put yourself first and think about everything else later. It’s okay to let yourself be human and feel things. We’re not born to adhere to these harsh societal standards and internal pressure. I hope you get well soon.”