From Diagnosis To Catharsis

Three schoolmates shed light on their medical conditions and how their lives are shaped by them.

By Koo ii (21S05A) and Ray Lim (21A13A)
Cover image by Koo ii (21S05A), featuring art installation Only Skin Deep by Loke Sun Yi (21A01B)

“Quite bad ah,” commented the lady at the ice cream counter of a fast-food chain, after asking Loke Sun Yi (21A01B) if she had chickenpox.

The truth was, she didn’t have chickenpox. “I just wanted an ice cream!” recounted Sun Yi. Rather, she has eczema, a condition that causes skin to be itchy, dry and inflamed. 

This was but one of the many chance encounters that Sun Yi has experienced, where strangers comment on her condition. Some even “go the extra mile” to offer advice on how best to treat it. 

While such advice comes with good intentions, Sun Yi shares that it makes her annoyed and embarrassed—especially since it makes it seem as if she hasn’t been trying hard enough to treat it. Little do we know of the efforts put in by our peers to live comfortably with their conditions. 

Sun Yi’s sentiments were echoed by Bryan Loh (21S03B), who is colour-blind. “I would like people to know that there are many different forms of disability. Disabilities do not just range from the physical to the mental domain, but note that they also vary in whether the disability can be easily noticed by the naked eye or not. No matter how big or how small a disability is, it is still a disability so please do not underestimate the implications any disability can bring to a person’s life.” 

To celebrate their efforts and triumphs in dealing with their conditions as JC students, we invited three of our schoolmates to shed light on their trials and triumphs.

NOT A “LEARNING ISSUE” 

These conditions form an added dimension to their JC lives. But what is perhaps unbeknownst to many of us is the varying extent to which these conditions shape their daily interactions and experiences. 

For Bryan, his colour-blindness does not present a significant challenge in terms of his education. In fact, he shared: “My disability does not really hold me back too much, because my parents and most of my relatives are aware of my condition and have been accepting [of it]. I am also able to look at the surroundings around me and can still see colours.”

“The only time it has held me back was during chemical experiments in school, when I would be told to identify colours of reagents and precipitates to determine their identity. If the colours fall under red, green, or yellow, and are of close shades, I might not be able to differentiate between them.” 

While this might seem like it poses a great challenge, especially within the context of science practicals such as chromatography and quantitative analysis, he is most thankful, sharing that “the school itself has already done a good job levelling the playing field for me, by giving me special accommodations, allowing me to ask examiners and teachers for help when [I need] help identifying colours, which I feel is right and sufficient for me.” 

He genuinely feels that “not much more needs to be done”. That aside, he pointed out that it would be great to see more people “bringing the issue of colour vision deficiencies to the table, and actively bring in related conversations,” which would help to better level the playing field.

Jamie (not her real name), a Y6 student with dyslexia, shares a similar experience in dealing with schoolwork and assessments. However, she doesn’t wish for it to be seen as a “learning issue”.

“It makes you seem different, or that it’s a big deal,” shares Jamie, who receives Access Arrangements (AA) for examinations, including the A-Levels. When it comes to daily schoolwork, she explains that she takes a longer time than others to complete tutorials or read lecture notes.

In particular, the font of the text is one major contributing factor to the amount of time she spends; certain fonts are easier for her to read than others. For example, Arial and Comic Sans appear less uniform to her, which allows her to easily differentiate the letters. Times New Roman, on the other hand, takes her longer to read. In general, Sans Serif fonts are friendlier for dyslexic readers, while Serif fonts complicate reading with their decorative hooks. 

With eczema, Sun Yi says that it is her skincare routine that takes away her precious time. She shares that most people do not realise how much time she spends dealing with eczema, and how that it affects both academic and non-academic aspects of her school life. 

In fact, she used to spend even more time when she was still attending regular phototherapy sessions, involving the exposure of the skin to controlled amounts of ultraviolet rays that ideally reduce skin inflammation. 

Phototherapy eventually became “one of the many things [she has] tried… that didn’t work out in the long run”. She adds that while she was under phototherapy, she had to avoid PE lessons in the sun to avoid overexposure to UV rays.

She also avoids any other activity that may trigger a flare-up. For instance, she had to sit out of an Art Room cleanup during her secondary school days as her sensitive skin would not sit well with the dust.

“I felt guilty that I couldn’t do much. Yet, I must tell myself that it’s less about victimising myself; it’s about recognising that it’s a valid condition.”

Loke Sun Yi (21A01B)

SILVER LINING

While many fellow Rafflesians may not fully understand the situation or extent of disability, they have nonetheless been very accommodating and understanding towards our interviewees’ conditions. 

Jamie is heartened that her classmates will readily answer her quick questions on how to spell puzzling words, and that her teachers are aware and conscious of her condition. And when they’re not available, Jamie also credits her trusty mobile assistants Siri and autocorrect for correcting her spelling errors. 

In fact, all of them have also come to accept that their conditions are part of who they are—and they’re proud of their conditions too. 

“I won’t deny that I’m dyslexic. I can only learn how to cope with it and live with it,” Jamie says. Furthermore, she quips that dyslexia turns out to be a good conversation starter (did you know that Albert Einstein and Lee Kuan Yew were dyslexic?). 

While most might think that those with disabilities face significant challenges in their day-to-day life, it is most comforting that Bryan remains optimistic. “To be honest, my color-blindness does not affect much of my day-to-day life. On most daily occasions, I’m not required to identify between close shades of red, green, and yellow,” he said. Fortunately, he feels that he “can still carry out a normal life.” 

Of course, living with a disability is not always an easy experience. Bryan also shares that when his peers learn of his colour-blindness, “they generally understand what I say but they might not really understand how it is like to have such a vision deficiency since it is a rare condition, [hence they might] dismiss it as something minor and sometimes forget what I have explained.”

It undoubtedly helps that his loved ones have been incredibly supportive, and he says that “my family members and most of my relatives are already aware of my condition, and refrain from asking me to identify between close shades of red, green, and yellow.” 

For Sun Yi, she has even used her eczema as an inspiration for her art project done in secondary school. 

A HELPING HAND

As peers supporting Rafflesians with such conditions, whether they are evident or hidden in plain sight, what exactly can we do to help? To find out, we obtained professional advice from two experts at the Raffles Guidance Centre (RGC), the school’s counselling office. 

Ms Chua Kah Hwee, one of RGC’s counsellors, stresses the importance of showing up and being there for those with disabilities. “It is really about rallying around them and being open and honest to say that yes, I want to help. Put out the invitation to ask how we could do better.”

Ms Chua Kah Hwee also shares that the support shown should go beyond mere talk, highlighting the need for action. “For example, there is no harm in asking the PE teacher if every now and then, we could take turns to just sit with a friend who might not be able to be involved in PE lessons because of a condition that they have, eczema for instance.”

Ms Woo Mei Hui, in-house psychologist at RGC, adds that it is crucial to not over-step but instead be prudent in approaching peers with special conditions. “Even though you don’t know, you can ask them based on what you observe, such as when the teacher comes to them and they ask about the colour. Based on that, you can ask if there is anything that [you] can do to help.”

Emphasising the need for sensitivity, Ms Woo mentions that “it wouldn’t be right to directly ask them do you have a certain condition if the person doesn’t choose to tell you, but based on what you know, you can factually state what you have seen, and ask if there’s anything you can do given what you have observed, verifying the colours, for example.” 

There is no doubt that with the requisite understanding and support, we can all help our fellow Rafflesians with a diagnosis to not feel discontented or debilitated, but to truly find catharsis. 

In this way, their disability does not define them as being lesser-than or worse, inferior, but simply differently-abled. Beyond mere catharsis, their disability can even be empowering. It is all about taking it in their stride and refusing to be brought down by it, as our three interviewees have exemplified.

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