Dropout bounces back from bulimia with 5 O-level distinctions
She appeared to lead the perfect life.
Although her Japanese father died when she was 10, she had a loving family and many good friends.
The talented tennis player studied at Raffles Girls' Primary School before going to Singapore Chinese Girls' School (SCGS) through the direct school admission programme.
She was prominent in SCGS as the vice-captain of the tennis team.
But Miku Seko, now 17, was not happy -partly because of her average grades and partly because she had body image issues.
She had trouble sleeping and suffered from fainting spells because she was not eating well.
By the end of her Secondary 3 year in 2012, the usually bubbly girl was suffering from depression and bulimia.
Miku, who is Singaporean like her mother, ended up in hospital for a month the following year because of her fragile mental state.
Her doctors recommended that she return to school but she did not feel ready.
After a long struggle, she decided to take a break and dropped out of school.
Although she could have gone back to SCGS last year, Miku decided to continue her studies at City College, a private school.
On Monday, the private O-level candidate was pleasantly surprised to have scored distinctions in all five of her subjects.
Sporting hair that she had recently dip dyed blue, the eloquent young woman was in good spirits when The New Paper met her on Monday.
She said: "I'd always thought that I wasn't good enough but after I went to City College, I thought maybe I wasn't that bad after all.
"I've never done this well before. And although it was intensive at the end of the preparation for the O-level exams, it was one of the best periods of my life."
Of the 2,133 private candidates who sat for the GCE O-level Examination last year, 89.5 per cent passed at least one subject.
As a private candidate, Miku could concentrate on just her strong subjects.
But she was worried about the higher cost of her studies.
Her mother, Mrs Amelia Seko, 50, a cooking instructor, has been the sole breadwinner since Miku's father died.
Miku has two sisters - Aiko, 18, who is in polytechnic, and Yoko, 21, who works in the film industry.
She joined City College after it helped her to secure a bursary given by the Community Foundation of Singapore.
Her school fees, which would have cost about $6,000 a year, were nearly halved.
Miku found the new environment "strange" at first because the students were of different ages and backgrounds.
"But looking at the bigger picture, it was a platform for me to complete my education. Besides, we were all working towards the same goal," she said.
Though she enjoyed the "relaxed" environment at City College, she does not regret her years at SCGS.
"Sometimes, it (depression) just happens. I had good friends and teachers at SCGS and I wouldn't trade that for the world," said Miku.
Her physics teacher, Mr Kenny Low, who is also director of City College, said students join the school for many different reasons.
"Miku's past is something that she had to overcome and her future will depend on what she is capable of.
"She is an independent learner and her good grades were no surprise. I'm happy to see her empathy towards the weaker students and how she was always willing to help them," he said.
After her ordeal, Miku said she has a new-found passion for helping others.
She hopes to pursue a diploma in Business and Social Enterprise at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
She admitted that it took her a long time to face up to her problems, but she hopes that her story can inspire other girls in the same situation.
"It was not just about academics. I just felt pressured by my own expectations," Miku said.
"But I'm more open about my emotions now.
"After all I've been through, I finally feel healed."
Mum backed her up
Mrs Amelia Seko, 50, never suspected that her youngest daughter was feeling depressed.
Miku Seko, 17, was a perfectionist and seemed capable in school, so Mrs Seko did not give her any special attention.
But the widow, who lost her husband in 2008, took every effort to deal with Miku's condition once it became known.
"Depression is a sickness that you can't see, but it is a sickness nonetheless. We sought medical help and took the advice of the doctors."
Although the doctors later suggested that Miku return to her school, Mrs Seko supported her daughter's decision to take a break.
The family took a three-week trip to Kyushu, Japan, to visit her father's hometown.
Mrs Seko said: "I listened to her and supported her no matter what. I trusted her and knew that she wanted to get better."
She thinks that enrolling Miku in a private school last year was a turning point.
"Miku was feeling negative about herself and used to think that people were judging her," she said.
"She was in an elite school and she was just an average student. The private school was a different environment, where she was surrounded by friends who were more down-to-earth and of different abilities."
Mrs Seko also believes that the change helped Miku excel in her studies.
"She already had a good foundation at Singapore Chinese Girls' School and the private school brought out her ability to study."
Mrs Seko admitted that there were times when she had been scared that she would lose her daughter.
"There were cases where people lose their children because of depression. We were very lucky to have support from family and friends.
"Recovery also depends on the individual and Miku was very brave."
Sufferers often high achievers
People with eating disorders are quite often high achievers, said Ms Frances Yeo, the principal psychologist at Thomson Paediatric Centre.
"They set high expectations on themselves, but it may not always be realistic. Coupled with a distorted body image, they will try to gain control of their lives by dieting or exercising excessively," she said.
To complicate matters, high achievers are usually more determined than most people and can follow an excessive dieting and exercising regime.
Ms Yeo said: "Depression can set in when they eat a little bit more than usual and feel guilty."
She recommended that patients go back to school after the medical aspects of the eating disorder have stabilised.
"It is important for these children to go back to their usual routine once their medical condition is stable."
Treatment for eating disorders takes time and family support is important so that they can get through this period.
"Working with the child, the therapist will help the child understand her difficulties, alter body image issues and set achievable goals for her," said Ms Yeo.
Ms Selena See, a trained counsellor at City College, said that it took a while before Miku Seko opened up about her problems.
"I consistently asked her how she was doing and assured her that it was okay to share her emotions," said Ms See, who was also Miku's chemistry teacher and mentor.
"Beyond academics and grades, kids need to be reminded that they have their own strengths and are better than they think they are," she said.