Professional painter Liu Fusheng had the distinction of winning a prestigious Young Artist Award in his native Singapore. Both museums and private investors have collected his work, and he’s been the subject of solo exhibitions in China and the US. Liu’s distinctive glasses, decorative crystal, and shoes hint he also might’ve made a compelling rock star or fashion designer. But a serious health condition that struck early in life almost derailed him. Here he talks about his journey:
I was seven years old in my backyard playing soccer when I first noticed it. And all of a sudden I fell down. I start hitting myself and screaming. And every night I saw a spirit. In fact, it was a dark shadow from a long time ago, many thousand BC.
It was a Chinese silhouette holding an axe and chains, and every night he whipped me until I cried. And when I woke up and told one of my parents, they said, “What do you mean?” I said that the spirit “was holding an axe and chains to take me away.” Singapore has four races: Malay, Chinese, Caucasian and Indian, and my father thought I was like Chinese children who, in the daytime, play too much, and at night are haunted by their dreams.
They thought it was just a nightmare. But it happened every night. So they went all over the country, and some Chinese people said: “Maybe take your son to see a medium, maybe pray and that might kill it.” But that got me more scared, because sometimes in Chinese stories the spirit went to a person, and he became sick. To heal me, they took a sword and a chicken and cut its throat right in front of me. This spirit that was haunting me was supposed to go into the chicken and be taken away.
One time we went to Indonesia, and they said there was someone who could cure me. He was four times my size. So he’s going around and around me. Then he started pulling my hair, and when I wanted to run or crawl away, he overpowered me. He sat on my back like I was a horse. He chanted and pulled my hair. I even went to a church, and the pastor said I was possessed.
By second or third grade, I was considered too tense to attend school. I took medication, which they increased. I went through so much, but I didn’t know what was going on.
THE GHOST HAS A NAME
It wasn’t until 1995, when I was studying in Tasmania, Australia, and “disturbing the other students” that I was told to go and see a psychiatrist. That doctor finally diagnosed me as having Tourette’s syndrome. (See sidebar.) He told me it was congenital. I said that’s bullsh*t. “Why can’t you tell me that there are ghosts that came into my body?” He said, “Doctors don’t believe in ghosts. It’s a medical condition.”
And of course, I was very resistant to the idea. It was very painful for my parents to see me go through this. No one wants his or her child to be ill. But we had to fight against it, that was the only way.
I realized that if I accepted my diagnosis, my life could be colorful. I was so used to being depressed. Growing up, I had no friends because I felt that they might not be able to accept me. I always felt inferior and alone. I always looked down at the floor instead of facing people. I felt so strongly that no one would ever love me.
What made me blossom was dancing. I love to dance. Of course I tried to talk to the ladies, and of course I wanted a partner on the dance floor and in life, but I didn’t know how to have a partner.
I always wondered if I had a future. Because I have a normal body, but I have jerky movements, and I was always hitting myself, being noisy and shouting. With Tourette’s you have to have courage to overcome it.
I told myself that God is crazy. Not in a bad way. God is fantastic. But God will make you move. He will shine through you and put you on a path… God doesn’t want anyone to take his or her life; He wants you to face your life.
by E. Thomas Chappell, MD and Gillian Friedman, MD