The story is real, the names are not.
As I was approaching the running track, a common place for students in the special needs school to exercise at, a teenage girl caught my attention instantaneously. At first glance, it was difficult to decipher her age, because even though she had the build and appearance of a teenage girl, she would give out the most candid and guileless chuckle in one moment, and in the very next, she would let out a disgruntled grunt, seemingly in opposition to something. The next thing that caught my eyes were her cheeks, her extremely rosy cheeks. For a moment, I was puzzled, thinking that makeup was not allowed in school. Holding her hand while coaxing her, was a spectacled middle aged lady, who had her curly hair bunned up, and as I walked closer, I could hear that she had a foreign accent. She must be the helper, I thought to myself. The teachers endearingly addressed her as “Didi” and the young lady with the rosy cheeks was Huiling.
I went up to the duo to introduce myself as the new teacher. From the side of her eyes, Huiling surveyed me with caution, while Didi warmly welcomed me. At closer look, I realised the unusually rosy cheeks of Huiling were tinted with bruises. I was taken aback. Could she have fallen? Suddenly, Huiling started hitting herself, hard, on her cheeks, because Didi momentarily let go of her hands to adjust her mask. I was shocked. Didi noticed my curiosity and started sharing more.
Didi from Indonesia has been taking care of Huiling since she was young. Prior to that, Huiling had many domestic helpers who would come and go, because taking care of her was not an easy feat. Since she was a toddler, Huiling needed to be held constantly, round the clock, she needed both her hands to be held, to be hugged, and for someone to always be there physically for her. If not, she would hit herself. And she would not stop even when her face was bruised or bleeding. It did not matter to her. Apart from the need to always be held, Huiling could not perform most of her daily routine tasks independently. She needed help with brushing her teeth, bathing, toileting, drinking and eating.
“How about sleeping? Does she need to be held?” I asked.
“Yesss, teacher. From baby, two helpers sleep with her, one left side, one right side, hold her hands, legs over legs. If not she cannot sleep, teacher, then she will hit,” Didi exclaimed as she gestured animatedly.
I was in disbelief. How I have taken my independence for granted, I pondered.
Didi went on to share that because of this awkward sleeping posture she was in all these years, it had given her aches all over her body, and of course, countless sleepless nights. In that moment, a wave of empathy washed over me. The amount of sacrifice Didi, whom others may think of as just a domestic helper, had made for Huiling.
Didi whipped out her phone and took out her reading glasses, momentarily letting go of Huiling’s hand. Like clockwork, the moment her hand was released, Huiling started hitting her head and grunted at Didi. “I’m still here lah, don’t worry,” Didi assured her.
After some scrolling, Didi showed me a picture of a young boy. “This is my son, ten years old already. Keep asking me, ‘mummy mummy, when you coming back?’ My husband also, say why I go so long, don’t want to come back Indonesia, say want to divorce me.”
My heart sank. Even though she seemed composed as she recounted, I knew this simple exchange could not even begin to express the love and frustration she felt for both her family and Huiling.
“Actually my contract end already, then M’am ask me stay, I say don’t want I want go back Indonesia, my family there. Then she tell me, ‘Huiling how? I cannot handle, I need you, Huiling need you.’ Haiyo, I hear already, I very sad,” Didi sighed.
I wonder how many of you can relate to Didi’s story or know someone who has sacrificed immensely for their loved ones or even for people who may not be their kin. If you are the Didi in this story, thank you for your sacrifices and you are very strong. My question to you is, if you are always taking care of the Huiling in your life, who is taking care of you?
Please never, ever, neglect yourself, your health – physically, mentally and emotionally. So many caregivers burn themselves out to care for others, but this shouldn’t be the case. You are as important as the one you are caring for.
If you or someone you know starts experiencing the following due to caregiver stress, speak to our psychologist / counsellor / therapist today.
- Feelings of resentment
- Reduced interest in hobbies
- Social withdrawal
- Feeling low or irritable
- Helplessness and hopelessness
Do not hesitate to reach out to us for counselling or therapies. A Kind Place supports and welcomes everyone from all walks of life, gender identity, orientation, and backgrounds. We offer 15-minutes free consultation for you to meet with your choice of therapist / psychologist / counsellor to support you on your journey of self-care. Bookings for consultation or services can be done here. For any enquiries, Whatsapp us or send them to email@example.com. Reach out to us today because self-love starts now.