Senigman Spotlight: Nuy Darmadjaja’s Lifelong Journey with Anxiety

Photo Courtesy of Nuy Darmadjaja

Photo Courtesy of Nuy Darmadjaja

When everyone else was running around the playground and fighting over the brightest shade of pink from the crayon box, Nuy was throwing up, dreading the thought of going to school. Nuy Darmadjaja is a 32-year-old writer, poet, and children’s book author based in the island of Bali, Indonesia. And all her life, she has persevered through a rollercoaster ride with mental health

“I actually knew that I was different since I was a kid; I have always felt anxious since I was seven years old,” she says. The mere thought of having to go to school every day and occasionally getting homework was too much for seven-year old Nuy. “It really drove me crazy to the point that I was psychosomatic.”

At the age of eleven, depression decided to tag along. Clueless about what was wrong, Nuy decided to do a lot of reading and ended up self-diagnosing.  “But I wasn’t really sure because I wanted to be diagnosed by a real doctor,” she explained. However, not everybody has the privilege to get access to the proper help they deserve. Even when she knew she needed help, she didn’t know who could help her. “And instead I started to cut myself when I was about thirteen years old,” she says. And that’s when she knew for sure that there was something wrong. 

Dark thoughts continued to haunt her like nightmares; but she wasn’t even asleep. “When I had issues with my parents, I had really intrusive thoughts about slashing my family and I didn’t know what it was,” recalls Nuy. Her dad eventually brought her to a psychologist and she did music therapy for kids, which worked for some time. Even then, the psychologist never mentioned anxiety or depression to her. She was only told that she had adjustment issues and that she tends to overreact when things don’t go her way. She was still unaware of the real reason for her constant struggles.

After moving in with her sister, things got better. College wasn’t as dreadful as elementary school and Nuy was doing fine. However, five years after graduating in 2008, her depressive episodes came back. “I was supposed to get married but I was sort of left at the altar and the depressive episodes came back,” she says. And like that, she was psychosomatic once again and couldn’t stop throwing up. “My dad is a doctor, but he kept saying ‘oh you just have a gastric problem’ so I went back to my psychologist but apparently she only handles teenagers and I was already a grown up.”

Even though she was certain that she was suffering from depression, she couldn’t get her hands on the proper resources that could help her fight this constant battle. “I couldn’t tell my parents about it because you know, there were all these stigmas and I was afraid that they’ll just call me lazy,” said Nuy.

Life for her never calmed down; constant waves of depression come and go, “I could sleep for 36 hours,” she says. Eventually, she decided to move to Bali hoping to get a change of pace. Once again, everything seemed fine until the end of 2014 when she experienced another depressive episode when she got triggered by her boss. “And at that moment, I knew that it was depression. It was real depression. It was real anxiety,” says Nuy.

“And at that moment, I knew that it was depression. It was real depression. It was real anxiety,” says Nuy.

Things only got worse after that. In 2015, she collapsed and was constantly in and out of hospitals. So, her parents took her to a hospital in Jakarta, and asked the doctor to conduct an endoscopy. Coming as no surprise to her, they couldn’t find anything physically wrong with Nuy. The doctor said that it was a psychiatric matter and after years and years of being undiagnosed,  – of being untreated – her parents finally took her to a psychiatrist. “I was diagnosed with severe major depressive disorder and severe anxiety disorder,” says Nuy.

After undergoing several treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) amongst others, Nuy was also diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). “My reaction was: but I’m super messy, I’m not tidy at all,” laughs Nuy.  

When people think about OCD, people often picture someone extremely neat and tidy – someone sweeping the floor for the tenth time in one day. There’s a common misconception about OCD. It’s not just about being obsessively tidy or neat; people who suffer from OCD experience obsessive and compulsive behaviors that differs from person to person. In Nuy’s case she gets overly obsessive thoughts, which are manifestations of her anxiety. “I used to work in PR and marketing, so I did a lot of copywriting and I could spend a whole weekend obsessing over one typo and I always end up going back to work super exhausted.”

“I could spend a whole weekend obsessing over one typo and I always end up going back to work super exhausted.”

Photo Courtesy of Nuy Darmadjaja

Photo Courtesy of Nuy Darmadjaja

When asked about the biggest changes that happened to her life after being diagnosed, Nuy answered that her biggest struggle was working. “When it comes to work, I can become very obsessive and I can’t separate my work from my life. My life becomes my work and my work becomes my life,” she says. Eventually, after undergoing Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) Nuy decided to be honest and disclosed her mental illness to everyone including her current employer. “Sometimes it’s surprising how people can be very supportive when you’re being honest with them.”

“But the struggles since my diagnosis was a lot to take,” says Nuy. With the existing stigma around mental illness, she had to educate people on mental illnesses. People constantly looked down on her for taking medications. “Normally in Indonesia, when you get depressed, people will say ‘oh you don’t pray enough’ and I heard that a lot from my parents,” she says. As if suffering from mental illnesses isn’t hard enough, Nuy also had to convince her parents that her illness is real.

Ever since then, Nuy was determined to find the right treatment to get better. Finding the right concoction of drugs and figuring out the most effective therapies were not an easy process. For Nuy, mental illnesses run in her family with almost every woman from her father’s side suffering from one form or two of mental illnesses.

“I lost many friends during my treatments in the past 4 and a half years and those who stayed are those who really understand, or those who choose to understand,” says Nuy as she shared her struggles after being diagnosed. Sometimes, it could be even harder for loved ones because they don’t understand how to react or deal with someone suffering from a mental illness. Every word you speak or every action you take needs to be considered very wisely.

“What I want is actually not much. Just don’t ever ask why I got depressed, don’t tell me to ‘snap out of it’ or don’t ask me to stop taking medication. If you don’t know what to say, just say ‘okay, I heard you and I understand,” says Nuy. Sometimes all you need to do is just listen, acknowledge and understand. “The hardest part after being diagnosed is losing friends. I lost many friends that I thought were close to me. But I don’t blame them. I understand that not everyone understands and that’s probably because of the lack of education about mental health – that people think those who have mental illnesses are crazy.”

“I think the best way to raise awareness is to teach about mental illnesses in school. Teachers should acknowledge the psychological state of their students and make sure that they are mentally healthy, especially teenagers. I think we need to educate as early as possible.” Education is definitely the beginning towards changing the stigma regarding mental illnesses. There are so many misconceptions around mental health in general – some might not even acknowledge mental disorders as real illnesses that could be treated.

“To raise awareness, we need to always speak up. Don't be ashamed of who you are – of what you are. Your disease does not define you – they are a part of you. If we warriors can’t speak up for ourselves, then who’s gonna speak up for us?”

Read one of Nuy’s Poems, 00:00, in the Senigma online gallery. Click here.


Written by: Dipa Karno