READER OF THE MONTH: I am the captain of my soul
Hey gang, here’s another Reader of the Month story, all the way from sunny Singapore. This is one of the most powerful stories I’ve shared here, it’s of a young man who overcame a serious bout of depression and rediscovered his love for writing.
My name is Aden, and I’m a 23-year-old writer from Singapore. This is about the comic that saved my life. Your original adaptation of Invictus. As you may know, Singapore has mandatory military conscription. It is something I’m not very fond of. I went in to serve my time in late 2012, and for the next year and a half, I faced one of the biggest challenges in my life. No, not military life, that was fine. It was depression. More specifically, the major depressive episodes of having bipolar disorder and a suicidal period that lasted for a full year. But first, a quick background.
I’ve followed you since the beginning of Zen Pencils and it was around 2011 when I experienced one of my most serious depressive episode that ended up nearly taking my life. But through a series of events, both of mis and fortune, I survived. This included you posting the original Invictus, which I was entranced by. I was severely bullied as a child, and I knew from experience that sometimes in life, there is no way to go but through. The comic re-lighted the fight from my childhood and probably was one of the reasons I lived long enough to overcome that bout of depression.
Usually, it’s recommended to take about two years off from stressful work or studies before returning to full society, but I was not seeing any sort of professional help back then and remained undiagnosed, so life played a cruel joke and I was enlisted four months earlier than I was expecting, just half a year since I overcame that 2011-12 depression. Within three months of enlistment, I felt the shadows creeping over me again, and was suicidal again by January of 2013.
Psychiatric help in Singapore is still somewhat lacking, and the cost of getting help was not within the budget of a conscript soldier. I did not have the budget for hospital or clinical care. So, for a very painful month, I fought to be allowed to see a free army counsellor. And after that, another 4 months to be allowed to see an army psychiatrist, with help from the counsellor. It was a long and devastating uphill battle to get help. My journals from those few months read like a drugged man wandering through the apocalypse.
Then one day, I was up on the roof again, thinking of jumping. My mind hurting, my body aching, I wanted to end everything. I cried, hard, and fell to my knees. And something happened. From some deep recess of my mind I dragged a memory out. I said aloud, “I am the captain of my soul.” And something inside me clicked.
I remembered the image you drew of the little boy. How he stood up with his face bruised and battered. How he stared straight at the insurmountable obstacle before him. And with that, I stood up and walked away. And for that day, I did not kill myself, because I remembered the comic. I survived one more day. There were plenty more near misses after that, and I lost count of how many times I have had to walk away from jumping or cutting myself. But I would not have more battles if I had ended it that day. I would not have won the war if I died then.
After that day on the roof, I got seriously back into writing. I started a new story, 139: In Evening. I’ve now finished it, and have managed to self-publish it, with two more books in the works. It’s not a success, but at least it’s out there, and I’m hoping it would be the first step to realising a bigger dream.
I also started a blog to talk about my experience with mental illness. I hope to help others who have experienced it and to give those who haven’t a glimpse into the life of someone with severe mental illness. I still have bipolar disorder, and mine is likely to be lifelong. It will never go away and I will be prone to relapses. But I’m making do, and am still trying to live my life, no matter how insignificantly small it may be.
So don’t be too hard on the original Invictus. It saved my life twice, and because of that, I am still buggering on in life. Because sometimes in life, you are punched and kicked and brought to the ground for absolutely no reason aside from existing. And when that happens, sometimes you have no other road to take except to fight through. And when that time comes, it is really good to have a strong battle cry to rally behind.
And I can think of nothing stronger than “I am the captain of my soul.”
Thanks so much for sharing such a personal story Aden. I wish you all the best with your writing. I’ve actually met Aden twice, as he came to both my signings in Singapore, but he was too polite and shy that he just got his book signed and left, without sharing any of the story he wrote here.
And for those wondering what Aden meant when he wrote “don’t be too hard on the original Invictus” – I have expressed my disappointment with how I adapted the poem the first time. I’m not proud that the comic ended with ‘revenge by hammer’, especially as the character was a child. I don’t regret drawing it, I just wouldn’t adapt it that way if I had to do it again today. But if it’s managed to make such a huge difference to Aden’s life, then it might just be the most important comic I’ve done.