Malaysian content creator develops Mental Health Toolkit based on personal experiences

Wong advises those who struggle with mental health issues 'not to be afraid to open up'. Photos: Alexandra Wong

Digital content creator Alexandra Wong’s decision to become a mental health advocate happened quite naturally.

Wong, 48, says that her personal challenges were what prompted her to do so.

“I understand why so many recovered mental health patients end up as advocates. They want to spread awareness because they’ve come out from ‘hell’ and they want to spare others from experiencing the same thing,” she says.

“If sharing my story can save even one person, then I’m willing to,” she adds.

In fact, Wong has created an online Mental Health Toolkit based on her personal struggles with mental health.

She says that her first mission in producing her online toolkit is to dispel myths about mental health.

“It’s real and it’s not something that you call tell yourself to snap out of, so never say this to someone who is going through it,” she advises.

According to Wong, it’s a “chemical thing”.

“You might have gone through years of repressed guilt, anxiety and stress, resulting in a severe depletion of hormones that keep you happy and mentally stable,” she says.

She adds that in April, before she was clinically diagnosed by a psychiatrist as having a generalised anxiety disorder and depression, an inner voice told her something was wrong.

“I did a test at a clinic for the stress hormone cortisol and discovered that my levels were over the roof! I was diagnosed and put on a bunch of medications, but you can’t rely on drugs alone to get better,” she adds.

After a lot of research and seeking input from friends who had gone through similar experiences, Wong created her Mental Health Toolkit which details the things that have helped her personally: daily prayers, Pilates, purpose, setting boundaries, minimum screentime, eating well, sufficient sunshine, meditation and support structure.

Part of her Toolkit also details how to recognise the signs that someone close to you is going through mental health challenges.

These include behavioural and lifestyle changes, being excessively triggered, having a need for escapism, making uncharacteristic mistakes (such as forgetting simple stuff), insomnia and feeling lonely and misunderstood.

Talking to a professional

Wong adds that even though she’s much better now, she is still talking to a therapist and on medication.

“I still talk to my therapist because he is my safe space. He himself went through mental health issues and because of his experience, he’s better able to understand and help others who are going through the same struggles. He’s done a lot of studies on mindfulness and he does meditation too,” says Wong.

She says that she talks to him once every two weeks, especially when she has to face a potentially stressful situation.

“I’ll ask him for advice on how to cope, and should certain scenarios happen, how to handle the stress,” she says.

Wong advises those who struggle with mental health issues “not to be afraid to open up”.

“Most of the time, people are understanding and non-judgemental. Opening up has helped me to feel less alone.

“It has even created new friendships for me because people have reached out to me after reading my posts on mental health and my toolkit,” she says.

“By opening up, I’ve inadvertently created a safe space for people to share without being judged for it.”

How it all started

‘If sharing my story can save even one person, then I’m willing to,’ says Wong.‘If sharing my story can save even one person, then I’m willing to,’ says Wong.

Wong shares that her background and personality made her more susceptible to mental health struggles.

“I’m an only child, a perfectionist, people pleaser and a strong empath so I tend to internalise and absorb the pain and stress of people around me.

“And, as a creative person, I’m also an overthinker and my mind is always so full of thoughts,” she reveals.

“As a people pleaser, people tend to like you but they can also take you for granted. And as a perfectionist, I made myself miserable just because it was impossible to please people all the time,” she says.

Wong says that the last three years during the pandemic were especially traumatic for her.

“There were multiple hospital visits involving family members when I was living in KL before moving to Penang.

“Whenever I got a phone call, my heart would race and I would start to panic, thinking it was another emergency.

“That was already a physical sign of my mental health struggles,” she says.

Wong reveals that she started feeling extremely easily triggered, even by things on social media.

“I felt very triggered when people disagreed with me and said thoughtless or provocative things to me on social media, and I had people stalking and trolling me as well,” she shares.

Wong says she also felt pressured to “keep up with the Joneses” when people kept showing off their parties and outings on social media and she also felt inadequate when some of her friends excluded her from their gatherings.She adds that she also suffered from insomnia, which was one of the obvious symptoms of her deteriorating mental health.

“I didn’t sleep for seven days, my mind and heart were racing and I finally gave up trying to sleep. I got up and binge-watched Netflix which made it worse,” she says, adding that the lack of sleep was bad for her high blood pressure, and she was at risk of having a stroke.

Knowing the symptoms

Communication is important and you need to be honest with your friends, says Wong.Communication is important and you need to be honest with your friends, says Wong.

Wong advises those with mental health challenges to not give up but try and try again because “sometimes, you need to try a few times before you find the solution to your specific problem”.

“I went through several psychiatrists and my medication was changed several times too.

“The first medication made me nauseous and my head was in a mental fog constantly. I had no appetite and couldn’t eat for three days,” she recalls.

“When the medication was changed, it got worse and I had head spasms,” she says.

Wong shares that having the necessary emotional support is necessary and the most important pillar in her mental health journey was her husband whose unflagging support was crucial.

“One day, I giggled at a joke he cracked and he almost cried tears of joy because I had gone so long without smiling.

“And, when I was in Ipoh to visit my parents, their neighbours took really good care of me because they too had gone through similar mental health struggles before,” she says.

Wong reveals she went off social media since early this year until recently because she didn’t wish to get triggered.

“My Pilates teacher said: ‘We should only share from scars, not wounds.’ When it’s a scar, you’ve already healed, but when it’s a wound, it’s still fresh and open, and sharing too soon could make it worse,” she concludes.

The Mental Health Toolkit can be found on Instagram: @ipohbunny.

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