Personal Testimony

Dear friends, this is my story about how Guitarworks got started. I also want you to know that I am on an ongoing journey to overcome anxiety disorder and depression. Although my condition is well, I am on long term medications and there is no shame about it. Sometimes I get relapses, but each time I learn to overcome and manage my condition better. As the title implies, I would like to share God's work in my life as someone who continues to battle with mental illness.

First, if this testimony can save a life from destruction, it would be well worth it. Depression and anxiety is like a giant whirlpool which sucks the life out of you and you just cannot get out. People who have been through it themselves know how painful it is. It feels as though darkness overwhelms you. There is really no easy solution for depression and anxiety. I can fully empathize with people who are suffering from it. Whatever happened to me made me want to help those are suffering. You need hope. In what? If not for yourself, then for those around you, especially your parents and close friends. Remember your existence means something to them. If you have nothing else to live for, live for those who loved and believed in you. Cling on to that hope that you will see the light one day. It can and it will happen.

Second, I am just as human as you are. Life can be very broken sometimes. I was a victim of it too. You need to come to a point of acceptance. In other words, if I may use this term "Coming to terms with yourself". The healing can only happen when you start to accept this is a part of your life. Whatever has happened is in the past, you cannot change it, but you can change your future. Stop asking why me? This was the question that kept me spirally and got me nowhere. I'm sorry if this might sound harsh but it is the truth, at least to me. This is also not the time to keep silent and be alone. You need help! Please find someone you can trust and start talking about your problems. Talking about your problems lightens your burdens, even when they are not resolved. If you need professional help, start looking for the appropriate channels and engage them. These are not permanent solutions to your problems, but you need to live on with that little bit of hope you can find. I believe in medicine. In my opinion, taking medication does not solve your problems. However, it does provide chemical balances (called Serotonin) in your brain to make it less clouded. Your emotions are affected by this chemical in your brain. When your emotions are better managed, you tend to see clearer and make better decisions. With this, you can buy some time for yourself while you embark on a journey to find your solution.

Last, I believe there is a God out there who listens. If you have tried all ways and means but failed, why not turn to Jesus? You have nothing to lose. Christ gave me answers to the major questions I have in life. Origin, morality, meaning and destiny. I hope you find your answers to them too. Personally, I want to help others who are going through what I've been through. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

A little background about myself to begin with:

I first received Christ in 1999. Ever since, I've attended church services and cell group regularly in a local church. My highest qualification attained was a Diploma in Chemical & Pharmaceutical Technology from Nanyang Polytechnic, Class of 2005. In the same year, I did my national service and completed it in March 2008. Following April, I enrolled into Bible School and graduated with an Advanced Certificate of Theology in September 2008. My first employment was an assistant project engineer in October 2008.

Since April 2008, I started facing issues with the church leadership while in the midst of bible school. This affected my relationship with my ex-girlfriend. We broke up eventually. It was my first relationship and I was hurt to the extent of having emotional trauma. I took responsibility and apologized for the mistakes I made throughout the relationship. However, there was an extreme sense of guilt, accusation and shame following the aftermath. I struggled to forgive myself because many things could been prevented had I been more careful and patient. Expectation versus reality caused my emotions to sink deeper into darkness. I expected more from myself, but things did not turn out this way.

From October 2008 to April 2009, work became overly stressful for me. I started experiencing acute chest pains and panic attacks frequently. Family members could not understand how I felt and could not be of much help. Long story short, this was the beginning of something I thought could never happen to me.

On 23 August 2009, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder at Institute of Mental Health (IMH). I was in a state of panic, anxiety and depression. This was a result of snowballing many hurts, setbacks and disappointments overtime before I eventually broke down.

This was how I felt back then:

I was stuck in life
I don't know my direction in life
I don't know what I want, and what I don't want in life
I had to stop working because of my condition
I was angry with myself, family members, church members, church and God
I fear for the future
I fear I could not fall asleep every night
I was afraid to speak out, even if I did I feared no one would understand
My finances were running low while I still had bills to pay
My heart was shut by walls of negative emotions
I hated myself, my life and God
I was in despair and hopelessness
I contemplated suicide
Complete darkness

As of now, my condition has improved tremendously by the grace of God. I was then discharged from IMH Specialist Clinic. Currently, my condition is stable and I am on regular follow-up from an appointed GP by IMH for medications. It may sound surprising to some of you because you would not have thought I had mental illness before when you first know me. Truth be told, there are many things we often don't see just by looking at people physically. There's more to a book than its cover. As I narrate the pages in this book, I hope my story will encourage you to not give up in life despite what it does to you.

Guitar lessons Singapore testimony

Medication every 3 months. Top left, Omeprazole (20MG) for chest pains caused by gastric reflux. Bottom left, Fluvoxamine (25MG) a common anti-depressant. Top right, Hydroxyzine (25MG) a common sedative. Bottom right (left), Imipramine (25MG) for anxiety. Bottom right (right), Diazepam (10MG) or sleeping pill.

In June 2009, God responded according to His timing.

10 years as a Christian and a bible school graduate, I had a lot of head knowledge about God. Sadly, I hardly knew Him until this particular encounter. I was on my computer randomly browsing through YouTube until I came across the "Prince of Egypt". It was the story of Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt. Deeply drawn by video, I began to tear as I saw how God did miraculous signs and wonders to deliver His people out of Egypt. When Moses plunged his rod (representing God) into the Red Sea, the waters parted. I burst into tears in front of my computer screen. The emotion was intense. Then came a word of wisdom from the Holy Spirit.

He spoke gently to my heart, "One day I'm going to use you to bring forth a miracle like how I did through my servant Moses." This didn't make any sense to me. What was God trying to say? In response, I replied with a host of questions. "Are you kidding? How can You use me with the state I'm in now? Is there anything in me that You can use?" Of all the questions I've asked, only the last one came with an answer. It was revealed through a word of knowledge. He said, "I gave Moses a rod to represent Me, what do you have that can represent Me?" Immediately, something came to my remembrance. The only thing I had left was my guitar.

Coincidentally, guitar is made from wood and so was the rod. The cross which Christ died on was made of wood. In that split second, I received my revelation. I was blind but now I see. God removed the veil from my eyes. Things started to make sense. God already saw this was coming. He had also made the provision 8 years ago when I first picked up guitar. Being brought up in a fast paced culture and rigid education system in Singapore, I was completely blinded from a destiny God had long prepared for me.

I was taught once I completed my studies, I will begin the vicious cycle of life like every Singaporean does. My thoughts were so calculated, logical and rationalized. Never would I expect myself to be struck by mental illness which totally derailed my path. God had a plan for me but He needed me to be completely broken. In brokenness, I saw that one thing I had with me many years but never really paid much attention to until now.

I could still remember the song playing in the background as I watched the video. The title is "When You Believe" sung by Mariah Carey and the late Whitney Houston. I want to share with you the lyrics of this song, perhaps it will speak to you.

Many nights we prayed with no proof anyone could hear
In our hearts a hope for a song we barely understood
Now we are not afraid although we know there's much to fear
We were moving mountains long before we knew we could, whoa...

There can be miracles when you believe
Though hope is frail it's hard to kill
Who knows what miracles you can achieve
When you believe somehow you will, you will when you believe

In this time of fear when prayer so often proves in vain
Hope seems like the summer bird too swiftly flown away
Yet now I'm standing here my hearts so full I can't explain
Seeking faith and speaking words I never thought I'd say

There can be miracles when you believe
Though hope is frail it's hard to kill
Who knows what miracles you can achieve
When you believe somehow you will, you will when you believe

They don't always happen when you ask and it's easy to give in to your fears
But when you're blinded by your pain can't see the way get through the rain
A small but still resilient voice says love is very near, oh...

There can be miracles when you believe
Though hope is frail it's hard to kill
Who knows what miracles you can achieve
When you believe somehow you will
Somehow you will, You will when you believe
You will when you, You will when you believe
When you believe
When you believe

With that encounter, it sparked me on a journey to better my guitar skills both technically and theoretically. I decided to start teaching guitar as my career even though I wasn't fully sure this was God's direction. The only thing that I knew was I had peace. I humbly began my search for possible guitar students, starting from ZERO. The road was tough. I struggled with believe and unbelieve at the same time. I believe because I knew the magnitude of that encounter had to be God. It changed my life and gave me hope. I struggled with unbelief because I started to see things through the eyes of men as not being practical. How can teaching guitar make you a living? Furthermore, I'm not a famous guitarist, no networks, no contacts and lack the skills to start a business. How do I even get started?

In spite of these questions that burned constantly in my heart, I decided to give it a shot. In March 2010, I registered this company and named it "Guitarworks". During the process of designing my company logo, I felt the leading to change the letter 't' in the word 'guitar' to the symbol of the Cross "†". With the cross in the middle, my guitar would represent God. It also serves as a reminder that as a Christian, we need to carry our cross and follow Christ daily. I sincerely wish to thank a good friend of mine for designing this logo at no expense.

At this point in time, I have decided to leave my previous church having found a better place. I received a word of confirmation from Gen 12:1-2 through a Christmas gift in December 2009. I obeyed instantly. I did not leave because of my disappointments. I left because my believes and direction didn't align with the leadership. Currently, I'm attending the Chinese congregation of another church. God has helped me understand what I was looking for in a church with regards to its vision and direction.

I faithfully attended every church service, cell and prayer meetings. I could be in church for up to 5 days in a week. Looking back, I realize that for the first 6 months in 2010, I was literally weeping in almost every single meeting I attended. God was healing my very broken heart. Jesus took away my hurts, disappointments, insecurity, pain, failures, low self esteem and sense of hopelessness. The healing was not instantaneous, but gradually over a period of time. God is more interested in the process than in the end result.

Things were slightly better when my emotions were healed. Guitarworks, however, was not doing well. By June 2010, I only had about 5 students if I recalled correctly. Looking at my income, I was only able to survive but not have any savings. Meanwhile, I received job offers to teach guitar in several music schools. The easiest solution was to accept any offer immediately. That would solve all my problems. For me, this was not so. I decided to pray and seek God for His direction, not mine. True enough, I did not feel the peace of God and thus I rejected all the job offers. There was no particular reason why, it was just a prompting in my heart which says, "Trust Me like Moses did." With that, I obeyed.

I decided to set a goal of having 10 active students before 2010 ends. I achieved it and was grateful to God for His faithfulness. After detailed planning, I realize that 10 active students is not enough. I decided to set another goal of 30 active students before 2011 ends. I achieved it again. At this point in time, I have decided to trust God fully that He will provide for all my needs by faithfully running Guitarworks. Just in last 3 weeks of April 2011 alone, I experienced a miraculous growth of students coming to take up guitar lessons. I was amazed because I had not experience such growth before. Now I can finally save some money with better income, give to my parents and pay my bills.

Why didn't God respond earlier when He already knew I was going to fall? God is a master architect. He works according to plan/timeline that only He had the power to execute. The old me needed to be to torn down and rebuild so that I had nothing to boast about of myself. It was a period of humility before the Almighty. It is possible to have an outward form of humility visible to men, but yet have a proud heart visible only to God. You can even fake humility before men, but you can never fool He who searches all hearts and motives. The only way for God to get my attention was to break me. It brought me close to the point of giving up my faith in Jesus. The Lord remembers mercy when chastening His children.

Rom 8:28 (NKJV) And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. If you know the story of Joseph, it was in prison that he began to realize he had the gift of interpreting dreams. Eventually he interpreted Pharaoh's dream prophesying that Egypt will go through 7 years of prosperity followed by 7 years of famine. Joseph became the saviour of Egypt. He was promoted to become the Prime Minister, second only to Pharaoh.

Life is full of ups and downs. Only valleys teach you how to become stronger, not mountains. You will definitely fall down in life, thus you need to learn how to get up again. The process of getting back up is to first identify your mistake before God. Repent and correct it.

God did not respond immediately when my life was on a downward spiral. I was using my methods to fix my problems. He was present, but only as a spectator. He was not Lord over my life. I wanted control of my life and do things my way. I did not seek His direction and His purpose. In other words, I am my own god. I issue a blank cheque and ask God to sign on it. As a Christian, we are created in the likeness and image of God. If this is true, then the purpose of our existence should be closely tied to our maker. It is our responsibility to find our purpose, destiny and direction in Him.

However, in this result-merit driven, ever-changing fast paced society, how many of us can afford the time to slow down and think about things like purpose in life? I thank God for the grace to live with anxiety disorder (my thorn in the flesh) which I still struggle with occasionally. Painful as it may be, this is the only way that kept me close to God. It stopped my life, literally a complete halt. It was only then I took time to seek after God without any personal agenda because I simply have none to begin with. Kindly allow me to share my experience.

Before I go on, I wish to reiterate that I am only sharing my personal experience. What happened to me and how I responded MAY or MAY NOT apply to your situation.

STOP! Stop everything you're doing, shelf all your problems aside first, take a break or go for a short holiday. Spend some time with nature and God. By the way I quit my job for this. I did nothing for about a year. A Chinese proverb goes by saying “休息是为了走更长的路”, I fully agree. You are only resting for a short while to fuel your energy for the rest of your journey. Looking at life through a microscopic view will only magnify its problems. Looking at life in its entirety, will lead you to making the right decisions for your life as a whole! God always look at our lives from a bigger picture perspective. Surrender and yield to Him and let Him direct your paths.

Let me assure you that there will be times of suffering in life even as a Christian. The bible says that we do not only partake of Christ's blessings but also of His sufferings. Thus, bad things DOES happen to good people. We can never avoid it. When we are suffering, it does not mean that God is judging you. It could a season in your life when you learn to humbly carry your cross and suffer like Jesus did. No one likes to go through suffering. However, it is not up to us to decide how our life would turn out, only God can. We can never comprehend God's amazing wisdom that precedes the boundaries of time, space and matter given our limited minds.

Outwardly my appearance has not changed much, but my inward has went through a thorough renewal. Mental illness taught me so many things in life that I could hardly type every single detail out to share with you. I could only list the critical pointers for you to read and ponder. Your attitude towards life will be tremendously changed and you will learn to see things from a different perspective. Your values will go through a COMPLETE RESET. Lastly, let me encourage you by saying, don't be afraid to take hardships in life. Don't avoid it or run away from it. If there comes a time for you to suffer, pray without ceasing and ask God to walk through it with you. If you need to cry, go ahead and cry. Crying is a form of healing and release for your soul. Find friends who are willing to help carry your burdens.

Lastly, how do we deal with our past and all the painful emotions that still linger in your heart. God knows we are human. We have emotions that we need to face and deal with after the drama. It could be a bad relationship, a past failure, guilt, shame and a sense of worthlessness etc. You need God to point you to your new direction. Many a times, it is not because people cannot let go or move on from their past. It is simply because they don't have a new something to move on to.

It involves shifting your attention from all that was negative to all that is positive. If you don't know your next step, ask God to show you. Only God (your creator) can because He knows you from your beginning to end. When you mess up in life, God knows the exact solution. The evidence of that is the peace which surpasses all understanding that only Jesus can give. That "GOOD" will then begin to heal your past. For whom the Son sets free, he is free indeed. Be still and know that He is God.

Thank you for taking time to read.


Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing your life story! It encouraged deeply and I see and hear God through your story.I pray that God will continue to use you in His ways and blessed you in all ways and in your GUI"t"artworks! Jiayou! Read your featured guitar story too! Its awesome! Keep up the good work!


Alan Chen said...

Thanks Elizabeth! God bless you too!

Maureen said...

Thank you Alan for sharing this testimony of yours! From what you had shared, it really brought back memories how God had save me when I felt hopeless. Even though our journey in Christ is different, but I do believe that our hearts for God is the same. I like they way how you are grateful and thankful to God when times you were in your valleys. Your honesty and relationship with God is also something that is so precious that no one can ever take away from you:). May God continue to use you and bless the people around you with what amazing things He is doing in your life. You are a man that walks by faith and not by sight! Jiayous!


tracy said...

Dear Alan, I thank God for leading me to your website and reading your lengthy and honest testimony, not once but twice. Co-incidentally, I had depression the same year Guitarworks was set up. Guitarworks is so aptly named because playing guitar works in easing and calming the mind. 2 years ago, after much agonizing and self-doubt, I started on guitar lessons.

The cause of my depression, on hindsight, amongst life stresses, was my inability to prioritize family over work and inability and ignorance in setting a healthy communication culture in the family. Resulted in my daughter leaving home at the age of 23, 11 years ago. I was drown by an avalanche of guilt and sank into depression. For the first time, I went down on my knees before God. Although baptized in 2001 and attending church since 1993, life was pretty much the same, no change in/for me. God, through depression, broke me down, molded me, drew me close to Him.

Yes, my daughter is still away with no means of communications. I continue to pray for her return, but now I have a peace that I could not have imagined in my early depressive years. I thank God for His mercy and faithfulness.2

Alan Chen said...

Thank you Maureen. God bless you! Glad that my testimony encouraged you.

Alan Chen said...

Hi Tracy, I look forward to the day your daughter return to your family. Most importantly is that we have a change of heart, and that is exactly what God wants to do is us. If we have already done our part, let's trust God to do His, according to His timing. May He continue to bring comfort and peace to your heart.

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