Commitment to his relationship led to him peeling and cutting heaps of pineapples, all for a good cause.
When Han Rong met his girlfriend in 2017, he learnt that she was suffering from bipolar disorder. His girlfriend Peirong, who was in her 20s, had difficulty controlling her emotions and would at times cry uncontrollably. Struggling to maintain her composure, she found it hard to be accepted by others at work and in her personal life. It was also hard for her to hold on to a job. While Han Rong knew very little about mental health, he was accepting of her condition and open to helping her in her recovery.
Nevertheless, the relationship did not start out smoothly for them, and the couple found themselves quarrelling very often. For Han Rong, a lack of understanding of what his girlfriend was going through made it hard for him to empathise with her struggles. This changed when Han Rong attended a Caregivers-to-Caregivers Training Programme (C2C), encouraged by Peirong, who had close friends that had gone through the course and found it helpful for understanding about mental health.
The C2C programme helped the couple to realise that disagreements were normal in relationships, but that their quarrels could be aggravated by Peirong’s inability to cope with large spikes in emotion. Han Rong came to accept that this was a result of the condition, and that it was neither of their faults. He also found that learning about the causes of mental health issues helped him to become more considerate towards his girlfriend.
While Peirong considers her father and a close friend to be her primary caregivers, Han Rong now also does his part as a caregiver to her. He tries to be understanding of her condition and supports her as best he can. One way that he does this is by standing with her in advocating for mental health. Shortly after Peirong’s diagnosis, she started baking as a hobby and as a way to occupy herself. She found that keeping herself busy helped her manage her condition better. By the time Han Rong started dating her, she had already established a baking business selling cupcakes, cookies and other titbits, using the home-grown venture as a chance to tell others about her experience.
Realising that Peirong’s business was important as a symbol of her recovery journey and a means of advocating for mental health, Han Rong readily got his hands dirty helping out in the kitchen. He would often take on the more gruelling chores like preparing the pineapples, to save his girlfriend from having her hands stung by the acids from cutting the fruit. His presence would be invaluable during the festive period from Christmas to Chinese New Year, when things would be extremely busy and Peirong could have orders that required her to bake over a thousand pineapple tarts. Their work would pay off when they finally produced beautiful containers of baked treats, often featuring messages of hope in the packaging.
Besides helping out behind the scenes, Han Rong also started actively volunteering as a trainer for other C2C classes. So far, he has volunteered at three C2C classes conducted in Chinese, and serves as a source of encouragement by sharing his experiences with other caregivers. To him, helping at classes is a good refresher and a chance learn more from other people. One of the challenges he faces being a Volunteer Trainer is the difficulty in handling situations where the care recipient has a condition that he is not personally familiar with, such as schizophrenia. However, he continues to grow and improve with each class he attends.
Meeting his girlfriend has opened Han Rong’s eyes to the mental health scene in Singapore, and the challenges that many caregivers and their loved ones face. Fortunately, he feels that he does not experience much stigma against mental health in his own social groups. In fact, his friends responded positively when hearing of Peirong’s business and supported her by placing orders. Learning about mental health issues so far has taught him the importance of self-care, and he has learnt to take time out for himself. He enjoys hiking, and sometimes brings Peirong along with him.
Photo courtesy of Han Rong and Peirong