For two months, she was haunted by three female voices in her head telling her to hurt her four-month-old baby.
One voice would say: “He’s just a burden to you.”
Another would go: “Why not you hit the baby? Then your life will be back to normal.”
That was what Miss Nur Hafizah Kamarulzaman struggled with when she was 19 – an age where many are fretting over their studies.
The single mother was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder – a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Now 23, she helps people who face the same struggles she did and is a part-time programme executive at Club Heal (Hope, Empowerment, Acceptance & Love).
It is a charity that assists and empowers those with mental illness to regain confidence and reintegrate into society.
Despite knowing that tongues may wag, Miss Hafizah decided to share her battle with her inner demons.
“For me, whatever happened is already in the past. If we are not willing to share, it means that we’re not willing to forget about the past,” she said.
“What I’m facing now is not a death sentence. It’s a common illness. It’s just a matter of how the public sees us.”
When she was 18 and five months pregnant, she was diagnosed with depression.
By then, her boyfriend at the time, the father of her baby, had left her.
She declined to dwell on the details of their break-up.
With her baby’s father out of the picture and her family angry with her over her pregnancy, Miss Hafizah became suicidal.
She said: “I even beat my stomach to try to take the baby away because I told myself that I didn’t want to live anymore.”
When her son was four months old, things took a turn for the worse.
“That’s when I started hearing all the voices. I even saw a tall lady in my bedroom. The voices asked me to hit my boy, who was crying. The voices told me my baby was to blame for the situation I was in,” she said, adding that her family still ignored her after she had given birth.
A few times, Miss Hafizah shouted at the voices in her head to shut up, out of frustration.
The three female voices only grew louder and more distracting.
“Just to shed the voices, I followed what the voices told me. I slapped and pinched him.
“When I realised what had happened, I was shocked. I’m not this kind of person. I really adore kids,” she said.
Racked with guilt, she promised herself never to do it again.
Miss Hafizah added: “But each time the voices came, I would do it again. I thought I was a bad mum. No mother would beat her children like this. I felt useless.”
The vicious cycle went on for two months before she sought help from her social worker and psychiatrist at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH). That was in 2012.
Looking back, it felt like two months too late to seek treatment, she told TNP.
Diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, Miss Hafizah was warded at IMH for a week.
Her son was placed at IMH but in a different ward as there was no one at home to care for him.
The incident helped her reconcile with her parents in an unexpected way.
Miss Hafizah’s mother Maryati Hassan, 52, shared in a separate interview that she cried at learning of her daughter’s diagnosis.
Nine years ago, Madam Maryati, a housewife, had herself been diagnosed with the same condition.
Said Madam Maryati: “I felt guilty. How could this have happened? Did I pass it on to her?”
She now attends the daily rehabilitation sessions that Miss Hafizah conducts at Club Heal.
Madam Maryati is proud of what her daughter has achieved.
She said: “she has a pure heart, and loves to help others using her experience. I’m so happy and proud of her.”
Miss Hafizah’s colleague, Ms Yohana Abdullah, described her as strong yet gentle and down-to-earth and added it showed in her interaction with her rehab session participants.
She is firm and commands attention when she conducts psychoeducation, but never fails to engage in friendly banter with her rehab session participants.
“For me, I just want to be with them throughout their recovery, and prove to them that it’s not the end of the world,” said Miss Hafizah.
“I always tell them that even if their condition improves by just 0.1 per cent, it really means a lot to me. It makes me determined and motivated to strive together with them for more.”
Next page: What is schizophrenia?