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Ever Optimistic, Come Rain or Shine

Robert Wong is a caregiver to his wife, who suffers from schizophrenia. His caregiving journey began in 2013, when he observed signs of his wife undergoing a gradual change in behaviour. It started out with her complaining about various things more than she used to, which annoyed Robert. Although he noticed his wife acting differently from in the past, he did not understand the reason and did not attribute it to her suffering from a mental health issue.

Over the months, his wife’s behaviour took a turn for the worse. She began voicing fears that people were out to harm her. She also took to carrying a whistle around with her, and would display violent tantrums at times, occasionally throwing various items and slamming doors. Soon after, she started to make official complaints. First, these were to the police. She would go to police stations frequently to make reports about things she was worried about, but these claims were usually dismissed for not being credible, and Robert would be called to fetch her home. She was eventually disallowed from entering police stations as officers stopped taking her claims seriously. In response, she made calls to the police from her own home instead, resulting in officers coming to knock on the door of their house to check on them. Aside from the police, Robert’s wife also made visits to see her Member of Parliament (MP). The result of this was that she was referred to various voluntary welfare organisations for support.

Robert started to live in fear of receiving calls from the authorities about his wife. He could never be sure of what she was doing, and worried about having to answer for her actions. Around 2014, Robert’s wife was sent to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for the first time after being arrested by the police for an incident. She was eventually discharged after three months, but had to report to the police station every month for a year. Robert was made to pay a $5000 bond. The time at IMH did not improve things by much for them. Robert’s wife continued to be afflicted by various fears, and in response, her behaviour remained erratic. Robert had to put up with it, although he struggled with this. Once, while they were in a car, she even tried to strangle him. Robert found CAL through a recommendation from Singapore Anglican Community Services (SACS), a founding member of CAL. At his first Caregivers-to-Caregivers Training Programme (C2C) session, he noticed that the majority of attendees were men. He was told that this was unusual, as most C2C classes had a good mix. Nevertheless, being in a class with many other men who had similar experiences was useful to him, as it helped him to relate better to the other caregivers. Listening to the others share their problems, he realised that he was not alone, and this gave him hope.

After graduating from C2C, Robert went on to become a volunteer with CAL for three years. Being part of the CAL community helped him to see that life goes on, and to accept whatever life throws his way – no matter how difficult. He has been an unwavering pillar of support to his wife, supporting her through her subsequent visits to IMH. Although his wife’s behaviour remains challenging to deal with, Robert’s persistence is proof of his love and commitment toward her. Today, if you look at Robert’s left hand, you will notice a stump in place of his thumb – a mark of the injury he sustained when his wife slammed their door on him while his hand was still holding the frame. His thumb was severed. Despite the unpleasant memory of the incident, Robert does not display any anger or grief over it, showing his optimism and resilience as a caregiver. He continues to look after his wife, and even manages to stay working full time despite having a lot on his plate.

Robert has become a great advocate for CAL in helping to conduct C2C classes, and encouraging other caregivers to hold on and to have perseverance.

Photo courtesy of Robert Wong (photo edited)

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