We’re not starting a cult but some followers on Instagram would be nice. Thank you.
“I’ve struggled with my own mental health, for most of my life actually,” local actor Adrian Pang, 57, candidly admits, just five minutes into our conversation.
Adrian, who is also the director and co-founder of local theatre company Pangdemonium, is a well-known name in Singapore, where many of us grew up watching him in various sitcoms and variety shows.
More recently, he was the creative director for Singapore’s 2022 National Day Parade (NDP), for which he drew inspiration from his own battle with depression.
His mental health struggles are something that Adrian has only recently opened up about, even though he recalls it starting as early as in his teens.
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In an interview with the Institute of Mental Health’s Imagine magazine in their Oct. 2022 edition, the thespian shared that things began to take a “dark side” in his teenage years, where he began to “question the meaning of life and pondered what difference it would make if [he] disappeared or died.”
The last straw
But it was really the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing Circuit Breaker that proved to be the last straw.
“I was just really not able to function. I couldn’t even get out of bed. When I was able to force myself out of bed, I’d just be kind of in a catatonic state all day. Then, come bedtime, I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep. And I would just cry to myself walking around in the park.”
While he appreciates his family for never having “nagged” at him to seek professional help, he eventually found himself going to his General Practitioner (GP) out of “sheer desperation”.
“I went to my GP and basically said, I’m really feeling terrible and I can’t even get through the day. So if you’re able to prescribe something for me just to just to help, even if it’s just a temporary lift, can you please recommend me something?”
Nevertheless, Adrian is quick to qualify that going on medication is not a straightforward cure-all. It is a process that has to be carefully monitored, and not something that might not work for everyone.
Ironically, potential side effects of certain medications, Adrian quips, include suicidal thoughts.
With careful monitoring and starting off at the lowest dosage, things fortunately began to take a gradual turn for the better after a few weeks.
Besides taking medication, Adrian also sought out a therapist.
“Sitting in front of your laptop, speaking to this woman and just crying your eyes out for two hours was a huge, huge, cathartic thing for me. But it didn’t solve the problem like that, you know, it took many more sessions. Eventually, I was able to sit in a room with her and talk. And gradually, the darkness lifted.”
The Pang family is no stranger to therapy and tackling mental health challenges.
In fact, Adrian’s eldest son, Zachary, had seen the same therapist several years earlier, when he was going through similar struggles.
Zachary had also starred alongside Adrian in the 2020 Pangdemonium production The Son, which deals with issues of youth mental health.
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“Five years later,” Adrian says, “It was Daddy’s turn.”
As a father to two sons—Zachary and Xander—Adrian speaks about the pressure of being a good role model to them.
“I want to be there for them for everything and anything, and I want to talk to them about anything and everything. And that’s when I realised I’m going to fall short. I’m going to fail at that and I’ve failed many, many times—as a dad, as a male role model, as a living example of how to deal with life and problems.”
His parenting style, Adrian says, is quite different from his own father, who he describes as “reserved and quiet”.
“My dad is a lovely, lovely human being. He made a lot of sacrifices for the sake of the family and never complained, not once. And probably at the expense of his own aspirations, his own dreams. I feel a tremendous amount of guilt for not being able to repay him for everything that he’s done for me… In his own quiet, quiet way, he’s taught me a lot about life.”
Throughout our conversation, it is apparent that gratitude is a cornerstone in Adrian’s outlook on life.
“Try and find the nuggets of good that are still in your life… There’s very likely somebody else who’s got it much worse than you. So being grateful for what you have, the good that you do have, I think it’s just so important.”
This, of course, is easier said than done, and Adrian admits to feeling guilt, especially when others may be facing even bigger obstacles than he is.
Yet, when his depressive episodes hit, he found himself being so caught up in his own “black bubble” that he was unable to feel empathy for those around him.
“When you’re in that state is almost very hard to to feel anything, let alone feel anything for anybody else… I took a little while before I was able to climb out of that, and then just make myself wake up to the fact that yes, you know, I may be going through this, but… people are dying, people are becoming so ill… and mine was just a different kind of illness.”
A work in progress
In addition to practicing gratitude, Adrian is also working on a “better version” of himself.
He confesses to having a bad temper and “awful” outbursts that those close to him have borne witness too, although he has never been violent.
“It’s very often not even about anybody else. It’s my own frustration, my own going into a place in my head where I have no control. So I’m really trying very hard not to allow myself to go there. It’s hard.”
Despite his mental health struggles however, he is clear that this is not “an excuse for bad behaviour”.
“I don’t want to use the excuse that oh, you know, I’m going through an anxiety attack right now. And therefore, this is why I behave in a certain way,” he says.
He’s come a long way, but Adrian is, by his own admission, still on “a journey of recovery and discovery”.
“I have good days and bad days. And interestingly, even as we’re speaking now, I will be honest enough to say, right at this moment, I’m not having a very good time. I’m going through a weird kind of period of just anxiety and periods of darkness. So, it’s a process.”
If you or someone you know are in mental distress, here are some hotlines you can call to seek help, advice, or just a listening ear:
SOS 24-hour Hotline: 1-767
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
Institute of Mental Health: 6389-2222 (24 hours)
Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788 (for primary school-aged children)
Top image via Saeyeon Lee
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