I've been getting some recurring comments about how I look 'normal' and it seems I don't have a mental illness.
Being mentally ill has nothing to do with looking normal. I can have my moments, and have my mania and depressive episodes and still look 'normal'. I've been told I look like there's still life in me, and which makes me 'normal'.
If anything, I take these comments quite offensively. Or I could take it another way - don't give a f*** what they think. Whether or not I have life in me, I still have a chronic illness.
Mind you, there have been times I have been iller than before, to the point I couldn't bathe myself and feed myself. That was a long time ago.
I still acknowledge that I have a mental illness, and although I may be 'better' now, I am managing this illness better - than IT managing me. I learnt to have a safety plan installed when something is going wrong. To be insightful of my triggers and side effects, and now a right action plan to solve problems to problems.
Photo by Nina Timonen of Smile And Keep
"So you hear voices? Is it female or male?" - the psychiatrist asked me.
I told him I couldn't differentiate whether they were female or male or not at the time. The psychiatrist continued to ask me more questions.
"Is it inside or outside your head? Do you think they control you or you control them?" - he continued with more questions.
For those who don't hear voices, I've been told it's very hard for people to understand someone who
hearvoices. I learnt voices can appear when trauma is present in someone's life. Like for instance, the sexual trauma that I received.
Sometimes the voices have commanded me to do things to hurt myself and I had acted on it, to hurt myself. It can also be triggered by a lot of stress too. I started hearing voices when I was 14. At that time I wasn't aware I was hearing voices, and it was this age that I first attempted suicide. Looking back, I definitely was hearing voices - just wasn't aware of it.
Throughout my twenties, I had episodes where voices were present and I had to be admitted to hospital for them and take specific medications for them. I try not to rely on
these kindof medications too much, cause I think they can be quite addictive. I try other strategies like using my DBT ( DialeticalBehavourial Therapy) skills, mindfulness and deep breathing. But the most effective way to 'get rid of them' was to take olanzapine.
There is a connection with hearing voices and God too. As a Christian, I believe at times the voices were the works of Satan, and I have mistaken it for God's voice. It is very distressing to have these voices, and it tests my faith in God too. I have been offered prayers for against these voices. Sometimes I question whether I am a 'weak' Christian in some people's eyes - at times I felt judged by other Christians who didn't understand me or understand that it's all part of my chronic illness.
Having an invisible disability doesn't stop me from falling in love with someone. Of course, it wouldn't, as someone who is disabled, we can't limit ourselves to these sort of things. I haven't had 'much luck' when it came to romantic relationships. I first fell into an abusive relationship, emotionally and mentally when I was 19. I thought I was 'in love' with this person. We had met at a University social club, and he chased me and said 'I was hard to get'. In the first year, there was 'a lot of love', and I felt I was being heard all the time. The second year went downhill fast, there was a breakdown of communication, and I was abused sexually, not just mentally and emotionally. What had I wish I told myself before I 'dived into' in the relationship. I would wish someone told me these things:
1) If I think this person is right for me, think again
People change, and once they find something out about you that they don't like, they might possibly find another reason to forget you and move on. Don't fall easily into any relationship.
2) Don't rush into it. Wait it out.
Peoples' true colours will appear in due time, they might be all great and loving one year, and be abusive in the next (which I learnt the hard way). Take it easy and spend time knowing the person first.
3) Find someone who is understanding and patient
Having mania and depressive episodes, I need someone who has a listening ear and understands what I am going through. Don't jump into that relationship, if you find one thing good about the person, they might not overall be a good person
4) Love hurts
Love isn't all about exchanging pretty flowers, gifts and kisses. It's more than that. It takes hard work to build trust, be a strong communicator, to understand each other and compromising. Love will eventually hurt if one part or another is not fulfilled.
Photo by Nina Timonen from Smile and Keep
When I was in high school, and if there was an oral presentation, I would always to try to make up a reason to not do it. Like many, I had the fear of public speaking back then. I was doubting in myself and how I delivered the content of the speech. But as I grew older, and learnt that I had an interesting story to tell, I wanted to challenge the fear of public speaking - and just do it. I have been on stage talking about sexual violence and how it impacted me. I have talked on the stage about my mental and fashion blogging. I also recently was given the opportunity to talk about my art at an art exhibition called "Lunar Down Under: Asian Art" at Arts From The Margins. I felt my heart was about to jump from my heart, but I received feedback on the same day that I spoke and look confidently.
I was thrilled to hear this sort of feedback.
Maybe public speaking isn't so bad?
There was something about beating the doubts and nerves after doing a public speaking gig. I felt accomplished. I felt successful, in my own ways. I grew confidence as I tackle each speaking gig that I received. One after another. I crave for more, I want to educate people about mental health through my story. I want to change and make an impact. And I am doing it.
I can't believe one year has passed already since coming to this mental health rehabilitation place. I have learnt and experienced so much. I have failed at times in my mental health recovery, and every experience whether it's good or bad is a lesson to be learnt I believe. I choose to stay positive, despite some challenges and hiccups along the way.
This was probably the hardest part to get right. I tried many antidepressants, antipsychotics and mood stabilisers in the past. It's taken many months to get the right dose of medications. I am grateful to have good doctors who help me find the right combination of medications that suits me. I am really happy with the combination of medications I'm taking now.
Without this, I wouldn't be where I am now. As a resident in a 20-unit (apartment-like complex), I have made some very meaningful friendships and we all encourage and cheer each other on for all of our recovery. If it weren't for the community, this place would be pointless - dead and dry. It is so important for me to have social support from good friends. When I leave this place, I will, of course, miss everyone sorely when I leave.
Rehab has taught me and showed me gifts that I thought I wouldn't have. Since coming here, I have started painting actively. I have been given the gift of art and painting. I love getting creative and let the creative juices run free. This year I saw how my art took me to different opportunities - even one opportunity where I sold my first "large" canvas for $300 at an art exhibition showcasing works of people with 'invisible' and 'visible' disabilities. It was like a dream come true.
Jk Couture VIP Night at The Morrison Hotel was a night to remember. Guests were welcomed into a special function room from 6.30pm. Seats were filled with goodie bags that left me smiling. There were entertainment from a magician, musical acts and platters of savoury and sweet foods. Guests were also spoilt with a full course meal while the musicians entertained everyone. Joanne Hasson's, (the person behind JK Couture) story and motive behind this charity night was based around her mother-in-law's cancer journey and experience, so Joanne decided to hold a charity night for cancer. There were plenty of raffle prizes to win, and I won a $300 Xennox Diamonds giftcard (woohoo!). The program ended at 9.30pm on the dot, and was perfect timing according to the program which was great. I can't wait to go to the next JK Couture's VIP night. They are just so much fun!
Above: Beautiful styling by Plan and Simple
Above: The program
Above: Delicious alcohol-infused cupcakes
Above: One of the guests, Martha Yuna Lay
Above: JK Couture dress
Above: Musical entertainment by Lucy Taylor Music
Above: Martha Yuna Lay and Joanne Hasson
Photography by Suzanne Dang
I remember I used to be really unwell. Like, really unwell. Unwell to the point I would update my status updates on Facebook, "feeling suicidal". I feel looking back, I was partly looking for attention... and on the other hand, I was crying for help. The comments I received when I updated my statuses were a bunch of friends who were worried and asked me if I was ok, and some even specifically said to me to "chin up" which didn't help much to be honest. Of
courseI did not reply to the messages anymore that I find not helpful. I feel looking back, my status updates were more of passive-aggressive threats. To see who would truly care about me and actually be there for me. Even one friend who I barely spoke to knew where I lived, and almost called an ambulance to my place to see I was okay.
Looking back, I feel Facebook can be used for certain uses, we see a lot of people only post the "best" part of their lives - photos from holidays, prestigious events, to graduation photos for example. But I am intrigued as to why (and how!) I feel the need to use social media as a cry for help. It's interesting
isn'tit? And at times, it has bitme back on the butt-side for "oversharing" too much. I guess it's also good to see who your true 'social media' friends are.
So I learned that posting suicidal thoughts has its advantages and disadvantages. But I choose to not use it when I am feeling suicidal anymore. I have different ways to cope without using social media.
Photography by Winston Boon
My confidence didn't happen overnight. As a teenager, like any other, I was trying to find myself and I got lost in the midst of it all. It didn't help that I was good at masking my feelings and emotions. I never shared to people when I was feeling down when I was younger, as I thought it was a weakness. But no - it wasn't that I was weak, but instead, I was strong for far too long.
Looking back at my first episode of Depression, I was ready to end my life but something didn't seem right. I knew something from my gut feeling that I was doing the wrong thing. So I didn't completed suicide when I was 14 - instead I found hope, and confidence in my recovery till now and each day I hone those coping mechanisms I have made for myself. And of course without the help of family, friends, certain doctors and nurses and other mental health professionals too, I wouldn't be where I am today.
I believe I am confident the way I am these days cause of my triumphs and mistakes I made as a person. Without it, I wouldn't be able to discover myself like this to this very day.
In reality, I could never be fully happy and satisfied with my body shape and size. When I was "skinny", I would want to eat more and so I can gain weight. This was before I started on antidepressants - I had a really thin physique before I hit 19 - one of the time I had my first bunch of mental health breakdowns and learnt about Depression and all these mental health illnesses.
And when I was considered "big" I wanted to be the opposite. It was a neverending battle with myself for the "perfect" body - when really, there is no such thing as the perfect body - only more like perfectly imperfect, right?
Each day I try to tell myself I am worthy, I am beautiful, I am gorgeous just the way I am (I even wrote and painted these positive affirmations!) - it's not healthy to self-sabotage myself with negative self-talk. Self-talk is just as important as anything but. No matter how much curves I gain or lose, the most important part is to love myself and body as who I am. Love myself for my flaws, and accept the changes as it comes.
1. Medication Management -
I learnt the importance of medications and I get educated by doctors and nurses on how having them to help me. I feel like I have tried every single antidepressant and antipsychotic so far, including
valium. If I wanted to have a medication withdrawal, this would be the 'best' place to have it I reckon, cause there is support and the doctors and nurses work really hard to be on the same page as me.
2. Exercising -
I know this a cliche one, but I have never exercised so much in my lifetime until since coming here for six months now. I feel motivated and I never found exercise was fun until I came here to this mental health rehab. I find it challenging too, in a good way. I never knew I enjoyed doing so many squats!
3. Reaching Out To My Support Network -
During the time here at rehab, I must remember this place is only temporary, I won't be staying here all my life, and I need to reach out to the community ultimately for support. I have friends and family who I can reach out for support. It's just important to connect
tomy friends and family and let them know how I'm going with everything.
4. Finding New Coping Mechanisms -
That includes diamond painting (
newform of visual art I discovered - it's so much fun!), using my DBT skills for stressful and distressing situations, and also reaching out to my support network. Also importantly, building the trust between my support worker and myself is just as important as reaching out to friends. When I get emotional and feeling distressed, the main person I contact are the nurses here.
5. My Safety Plan -
My safety plan is basically...my safety plan! Self-explanatory...I reach out and look at my safety plan to remind me during distressful situations on what I should do and the step-to-step process I should take to minimize any self-harm and people I can contact if I was running in trouble. I learnt to make this safety plan while being here at this mental health rehabilitation. It's a valuable tool.
I have learnt to have a Safety Plan which includes
to seewhat are my warning signs and symptoms when things 'get out of whack'. Also steps to take when I am feeling distressed. Living in a self-contained one bedroom unit has taught me a lot of things. Things like recognising when you're feeling your symptoms are getting too much of you and you need to contact the nursing staff for help. I go to the exercise programs here, and they really work you hard. I have learnt to enjoy it actually. So far I enjoy the 24/7 hour support and learning to be an independent person like how to do budgeting, learning about healthy food cycles and diet, cooking classes, every week. My favourite part (or one of them) is doing art at the rehab place. There are HEAPS of things to do in my mental health recovery, and this place has given me so many options to help with that. I am so so grateful to have this sort of support.
What one special thing I enjoy the most out of this place is meeting others who have mental illness/s like me and learning about their story and getting to know them. Some have been diagnosed with Schizophrenia, Depression, Anxiety, OCD etc.
Every oneis at a different stage of their recovery from me and there's no such thing of "Who's better?" and comparing their skillsets to mine. I respect everyone is at a different place in their recovery than mine. I have made some wonderful friends here, and some of them are the most beautiful people before I've ever met. And I don't mean 'beautiful' by exterior kind.
It wasn't your fault that you chose the wrong man to date. It wasn't your fault you got raped and abused. He was never good to you, but yet you wanted to forgive him but you couldn't. You wish you knew you were strong enough to withstand anything that would come your way. You knew it was not easy to have relapses, and you didn't want to believe something was wrong with you. But there was something wrong with you, and although you didn't see the beauty in your failure with school and university, you came through and now you are a beautiful, resilient woman. I wish you would know that every tear dropped because of a man or an event was worth it till this point - I want to let you know you wouldn't be strong like this without the help of traumatic events - no matter how painful they were. You have grown/and growing to be a resilient, empowered young woman. Every traumatic event happened was meant to be.
You believe in God, and that He is the answer to everything in life. You look for guidance and comfort in God, even though you don't do very well at attending church. You know there is more than just attending church on Sunday. You believe He will protect you and shows you guidance. You only wish to see Him as the answer in your life.
You have come so far with helping
others,if only you knew at 19 years old that you would be advocating for mental health and doing speaking roles later which you would never have imagined when you were younger. People tell you all the time that you are an inspiration, strong-minded and caring. It was just you who didn't always believed it. You didn't believe it you when you were 19. At times you even thoughtyou were a monster, for having some bad thoughts ofyourself and other people.
I want to let you know that you a warrior, a very strong female warrior who will continue to inspire people. No matter how many bad relationships you've had, you still stand strong. You are empowered through your struggles, every time you fall down, you will get back up.
Please remember this.
I ended being in the hospital for mental health issues up until a bit of New Years - and for treatment especially. My doctors have noticed how unwell I have been in the last few weeks, and was concerned about me. No matter how many times I have fallbacks, I tell myself to stay positive and treat myself as much as I need it or even more during these times of hardships. For example, like buying flowers for myself, and smelling and appreciating them every day. I believe to not give up during the hardest of times, and remember the good times I spent with family and friends. My loved ones are the ones that I continue living for. It is really easy to say, harder to do; but I believe I can do it if I put my heart and heart to it. If I believe, I believe it will all be okay.
Recently they have caused a lot of stress and distress in my life and been escalating, to the point I was admitted into emergency mental health for them. My sleeping pattern has been good, I eat a 3-meal balanced diet, I exercise, I take medications and the question is why do I still hear voices? Wish I would knew with a click of a finger, but in all honesty I don't. What I do know is that I had some traumatic events happened in my life. For one example, my younger sister recently was admitted to the mental health ward for the first time, and this put a spun on my mental health. I have hope that while I am still in rehab, I can support her as well. I am living proof that this complex mental health system can be used to our advantage.
Recently the voices gave me commands. They told me to "Look left." whilst walking down the street, and I looked left. Startled by the genderless voice, I was shocked I acted on their command. I did not know why I did that. I have been startled by them again later that day, and they told me to burn my hand on the stovetop.
I am glad I didn't hurt my hand though.
Following that incident, my PRN medications were popped open and soon drowsiness
overwhelmed fromthe medications. I believe there are effective ways of managing and understanding these voices. But normally I just shout back at them,and talk to them like a friend at times. The former works, most of the time. But when it doesn't, I am in for a rollercoaster of a ride.
Photo by Winston Boon Photography
I always wanted to be independent in every way since I was a teenager. I knew what I wanted to be in life, how much income I wanted, who I wanted to support and how much to give back. I fixed my eyes on the goal and never looked back. Until the time I had my first episode of Depression, life became to crumble before me. No more solid career paths, no more being able to support my grandparents when I was the one who needed the support. I could not understand the neverending struggle I was facing, falling into the deepest darkest pits of Depression when I was a teenager. But looking back, it was probably the most significant event in my teenager years, shaping and sharpening on who I was
trulyto become in my adulthood.
I chose rehabilitation over staying comfortable in my family home for several reasons. The comfort of home was getting to me, sometimes triggering me to the depths of despair. I grew too comfortable in this home, living in the same environment for 26 years. Yes, I did say that, 26 years! I believe everything happens for a reason, and I did not keep on fighting with the mental health hospital system for 7 years, being hospitalised more than I needed. I needed quits for being in the hospital. Needed something else. Something that helps me step down from the mental health hospital system.
Then I found
Rehab is an amazing place, just amazing. Everything about it is amazing, but don't get me wrong. There are challenges as well, learning to maintain
balancebetween cooking, cleaning, exercising, socialising, relaxing is not as easy as the click of a finger. I am taught to build more resilience during these times. And here I found my independence again, with the help of some support is just, so so wonderful.
Photo by Kiss Me Photography
My recent check-in into the mental health ward challenged my religion and faith. For those who don't know, I am a Christian and I believe it's important to share the love of God wherever you go - practice it like a lifestyle. At times I think I am a 'bad Christian' and I don't pray for people even when I get that prompting from God. But during this admission to this ward, I have had the opportunity to pray for a few. I remember one patient who had deep wounds on her arms from self-harm - you could see she was hurting deeply. I have never self-harmed before - so I don't know what's it like to go through that - at least in that way anyway. I always asked God, "How can I help these people?" - they were so young, have so much potential, and are such beautiful human beings. I was in the all-female ward again and when I prayed for this one particular female patient who believed in God, apparently it was "powerful" and she felt a difference - in a good way. That brings me to the topic about whether I have healing powers through the power of God. I have only been through street evangelism a couple of times - I won't admit I am good at it at all - but I want to admit I am not accountable enough for these people I prayed for. I wish this Christian walk would be easier, I have been
baptisedby water and the Holy Spirit. But why do I feel so empty at times being a Christian and seeing these beautiful people in the ward who I still think about even after my discharge? But I hear God say to me, "Child, you can only help so much. As I have a plan for them."
I have been unemployed for over a
year,and been looking for a job. Since the last episode I have lost my confidence, my self-esteem is never the same again and I have a lot of time on my hands too. So I decided that for this month that a mental health month is ideal and crucial for my recovery. For those who are new to the concept of mental health month/s, it's a concept where you basically spend timeto recover, revive, rejuvenate yourself emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. You learn to touch on your creative side, your inner self, and learn to have self-compassion. It might be funny for some people to do something like this, especially when they have commitments like work, study, family etc. but everyone needs one of these one way or another I believe. Here are some of the things I did this month to help with my recovery:
Photo by Hiroko
intoan art workshop
intoa hand lettering workshop and it was so much fun! I love getting creative. I love learning new things.
Photo by Yari
2. Travelling up a mountain
If you're lucky with me who lives near mountains, seeing the city from high up is relaxing.
Photo by Brandon
3. Playing with children
There is something special about children, and playing with them brings out my inner childishness. It's healing, and you get to have fun with them.
Seek God. Ask from Him from what you want. Ask for wisdom, courage, and healing from Him.
I love painting as a creative outlet. I love getting more creative each day.
takenby Suzanne Dang unless stated otherwise
Photo by Michelle Fleur
Seeing a friend be in there with me was a whole new level of overwhelmingness. I have seen this friend on her good days, during volunteering days. Now I didn't know the severity of her condition when I first saw her on the ward, but she 'seemed ok', and was being social with everyone, talking to everyone which could have been a good thing. I was reluctant to talk to her, cause I wanted to observe what she was like first while she was in there, plus I was already having mixed emotions about how much I could help her as a friend while I was in there. It was interesting. I watched her worsen as things 'got out of control' and security was called on her and she was sent to seclusion. The only thing I could do for her at the time which I found most effective was pray for her, and stand back and let the staff be.
I have learnt from these admissions that it's best to not get in the way of the staff there, no matter how much I wanted to help the other person. We are all here to recover, whatever our own definition of recovery is and helping another person as much as I wanted to as a patient, would and/or could potentially worsen the other person's condition.
Photo by Michelle Fleur
When I was younger I used to think I was on the right path before my first diagnosis of Depression. I have always been quite a positive person - so I've been told. I'm fierce and active in resolving and finding solutions for my problems, I am enthusiastic in my struggle and recovery with mental illnesses. I wasn't much of a complainer. I didn't show my personality much when I was younger, I was shy. But I was attracted to the idea of wanting to change - being always mindful and self-aware and overall interested in personal development. Which I am.
One of my first jobs was working at a fish and chips store run by a small family. I was taken advantage of and paid as little as $2 an hour. $20 for 10 hours work. It was downright illegal, I quit after a few days after when I couldn't negotiate with them - my naiveness overcame me and I could 1) Let it sabotage me and never work again or, 2) Be positive and believe not all jobs are the same. But seriously, that job did
scaredme afterwards for a good few months and I was unemployed.
Then I went on working with a high fashion retailer, the largest in Australia. I absolutely loved every moment of it. It was probably one of the first jobs I didn't cry in. I had to move on cause retail doesn't suit all my personalities. I struggled with maintaining my employment because of my illness. It affects me in every way. I may seem fine and highly functional for a few months, but I'm bound and have a very high rate of having a manic-depressive episode (I have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type I) after some time.
So the next employer who employs me, I will be straight up and honest with them about my invisible disability, and I even had job interviews where I openly and vulnerably told of my Bipolar to the managers for these companies. I think the response was good. They appreciated my honesty and openness.
I have yet to be employed. It's not about choosing any job and settling into it. There's a lot to think about, and how honest I can be especially with the employer in regards to my illness and what support is available and making it work for both sides. Because the last time thing I want is having a panic attack at work, or something worse.
Photo by Suzanne Dang
If you find this triggering, and you need help:
Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service: 1800 011 046 - http://www.vvcs.gov.au/
Lifeline: 13 11 14 - http://www.lifeline.org.au
MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978 - http://www.mensline.org.au/
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 - https://www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au/
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 46 36 - https://www.beyondblue.org.au/
Headspace: 1800 650 890 - https://headspace.org.au/
As a Christian, I have made the mistake of using the wrong kind of prayer for certain issues I have. From using a prayer of deliverance when I should have just asked God for something simple as peace and calmness over me when I was in the midst/road to of feeling suicidal. Either way, I think for me it's important to pray whenever I am having a problem.
Only recently I was feeling and having strong suicidal thoughts after stopping my medications, as much as I believed that God had healed me from my mental health illness. And I still believe that, to this day. I may be back on medications now, but I have already been healed. Jesus has already died on the cross for our all sins. The issue with medications is that once you start taking them for a long time, stopping them cold turkey is not physically the safest option for your body. So anyway, when I was feeling that way, I prayed for God's spiritual covering and protection - cause he is a loving God. He is never angry with the things I've done and even angry about my suicidal thoughts. He accepts me for who I am and knows my journey before I was even born. I prayed for mental and emotional strength. I prayed I will receive good flashbacks amongst the negative flashbacks after I was raped in the relationships and other reasons why I should live. Live for my family - my mum, my grandparents, my siblings. I asked God to help me see through Him and believe He has overcome it all, and I have nothing to worry about.
When I make an overcomplicated, some would say - a "fancy" prayer for myself, I always end up in tears. I believe I have done some mistakes, which let the enemy creep into my life, but I feel God's overpouring power of Love when I do these kinds of prayers against these attacks of the enemy. Actually, I think it was only a few weeks ago that this happened. I think it was a self-deliverance prayer.
Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken ~ Psalm 55:22
Photo by Suzanne Dang
There were times I was angry at God for making me this way, for putting me on this journey, where those times I idolise my wounds of the past bringing coldness to bitterness to others at times, especially to myself. The self-hatred I went through and the shame and guilt after being raped by my previous partners. I knew I did not have to understand it all, as everyone knows life is not easy. Everyone goes through and experience things in a different way. For me, I went through a lot of emotions, shame, guilt and even the thought of revenge to overcome the hurt I faced.
God continued to pour His Mercy and Grace over me, despite my challenges.
He brought me to the deepest and darkest pits of Depression, so I can find him with a whole, genuine heart and seek Him. I can't remember the number of times I cried trying to seek Him, even though he didn't respond at all times, but when He did - it was loud and clear. The tears were more than anything, tears of joy.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door and will be opened to you. ~ Matthew 7:7
Photo by Kaitlin Maree Photography
If you asked me three years ago what sort of guy I was attracted to, I would tell you someone with high intelligence, had a heart for people and was overall 'stable'. If you asked me now who I would choose, I would not hesitate and confidently say someone who loves Christ as much as I do. Before becoming a Christian (I used to be a Buddhist), I didn't plan/asked/expected to be raped by my first love. The faltering of the relationship in the breakdown of our communication led me into an emotional spiral of trauma. I had no idea what was going on at the time. I did not realise that this was happening to me, and why me. I believe everything happened for a reason, and it's taken me some time to recover from these incidents.
The incidents led me to a point where I wanted revenge, I wanted to avenge on the anger, hurt and trauma that was caused by this person - the STI I contracted (and I thank God it was a curable one). Yes, before becoming a Christian, I was involved in a lot of dangerous activity of hypersexuality, even afterwards - the times my faith was weak and I did not want to seek God - I rejected God in my life and Satan came creeping in more.
I want a relationship where Christ is at the centre of it all.
A relationship where both of us can encourage each other on our devotions, on our quiet time with God and serve in the house of the Lord. I have been transformed through the love of Christ. I used to go clubbing a lot, get involved in drinking parties. But I knew deep down something wasn't right, but I thank God I have moved on from that.
1. Your growing up journey in Australia as a Vietnamese second generation in Australia?
Growing up in Australia and of Vietnamese background, I always believed in always connecting with your roots and heritage. My grandparents raised me after my parents divorced and they played a huge role in keeping my cultural identity. Although I did not have many Vietnamese friends when I was younger, I believed with the help of my grandparents, I got to learn about the values, morals and beliefs of a Vietnamese person, as well as the language. I learnt the importance of
family,and the value of working my hardest and to never give up. Australia has such a vast variety of cultures, being a multi-cultural nation, I also got a glimpse into the food and culture presented in the Vietnamese cultural events in Australia too.
2. Your profession (your study major)?
On my third year of a Bachelor of Nursing, I was excluded from nursing for academic reasons in 2010. I felt this was one of my biggest traumatic failures in life, and although I couldn’t graduate, I did instead try to find employment to have a sense of belonging in the community. I miraculously found a job and worked as a nurse assistant specifically for people with spinal cord injuries for three years, and didn’t really enjoy that too, so I left. Although I haven’t had much luck with my tertiary studies and employment, I still love the idea of studying and making education a top priority in my life, as I believe in life-long learning. I have had the pleasure to take glimpses and enrolled into other tertiary studies such as; Fashion Design, Photography and Sociology too.
3. Why do you choose to work in the mental health field?
I never planned to be an advocate for mental health, it was always meant to be with the grace of God, and one of God’s miraculous plans for the greater good that despite through all the pain of my academic failures in life, I am able to achieve something and help others through the power of story-telling. Although being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type I, I have suffered a lot of pain, not just mentally, but emotionally too, but only through the strength of God, I can have an interest in mental health, because being in the mental health ward for almost eight times now, I have seen people from different spectrums of life and I want to see what I can do to help them through my suffering too, give them hope that they can recover from mental health issues. I believe people with mental illnesses can recover too, and I just want to set an example.
4. Why do you choose social media platforms to promote your work?
At first, it was more of a cry for help. I began using social media as a cry for help in sharing my stories
toothers and I use it to give myself a voice for those who don’t have one. From then on, I expanded out using the platforms to share safe mental health information, especially on my blog, cause not all mental health information is safe and effective to help others online.
5. Working as a mental health advocate, what are the common mental health symptoms you have often faced with, especially for young people?
I am no doctor or mental health professional, but young people have so many pressures from life these days, I have met young people in the mental health ward who are as highly functional as me, and because their symptoms get in the way, I think they are unable to recognise it soon enough and get the help they need. Something as little as getting out of bed can be the hardest thing for a young person to do, not getting enough sleep, and disconnecting with their social circles are some of the things I noticed.
6. You're also a fashion, beauty blogger. Are there any links between fashion, beauty and mental health in your work?
Again, I did not set out to be a blogger of very different interests, especially in being a mental health blogger. I think it’s important to always be open-minded to different things in life, and take what you need from it, and turn it into how you can help others. When I attend fashion events, I always introduce myself as a mental health and fashion blogger, emphasising on the mental health part and also say that through my journey of Bipolar I hope to give hope and light to those who are suffering from something similar.
7. Working in the mental health field, have you ever feel stressful?
Yes, of course. I attended a youth mental health workshop one time, and I ended up feeling so stressed that I ended up in the mental health ward a few days later. But I received a lot of support during and after the workshop, plus many follow-up calls and messages from the youth mental health organisation which was great. I learnt a lot from that experience, I learnt it’s not about how much strength you can muster up to work or volunteer in mental health, but more about knowing yourself and recognising your triggers when things go sour (for example I called the Mental Health Department at
hospitaland Lifeline that I needed help). It’s about taking baby steps to getting the help you need.
8. I heard that you were nominated for Best Bupa Blog Awards? Also you were invited for a role of 'Conference Consultant' at the 12th Biennial Asia Pacific International Mental Health Conference. Can you talk more about this?
I am blessed to have the opportunities and finding different ways of getting my work out there. I was nominated for the BUPA Blog Award “Health” category, and the conference was my first time accepting the role as a ‘Conference Consultant’, but unfortunately I could not attend the three-day event for health issues, and being in the hospital. I just helped with sharing information about the conference through the use of my social media platforms though, that’s all.
9. Do you have any plan for the near future? (For example expand your work)
I plan on recovering to the fullest. I want to heal from my mental health issues, and although I am better, I feel there’s always room for self-improvement. Learning to practice self-compassion, self-love, self-gratitude; and taking small steps in life every day, and taking it easy.
There is still a lot of stigma around mental illnesses. Although it's getting better, we still face these challenges - for example, with everyday conversation - how easy it is to say "Good" to the typical question we see every day when meeting someone new, "How are you?", when deep down in ourselves we are not actually ok and actually need someone to listen to us. Even from a stranger at times, cause why not. How often do we find in this rushed society, it is hard to meet a stranger who actually genuinely cares about you and your mental health? And what actually would happen if we answered, "No, I am not ok." and the self-stigma we may face that prevents us from continuing that conversation? Living with Bipolar Disorder Type I has many disadvantages, I am challenged every day with myself whether to share to a stranger I meet on the streets that I have Bipolar Disorder on those "I"m-not-OK-days". I ask myself, am I putting myself up for trouble by sharing 'too much' about myself? Why am I trying to connect with this person in this way? Cause I do find I have the tendency to share more about myself than the average person, not in an egotistical way, but more like my struggles in life and so on. But in the midst of all the disadvantages of oversharing to a stranger (and perhaps the dangers in it), on the lighter side, I found five positive things I learnt since being diagnosed with Bipolar:
Photo by Erin Smith Photography
1. The better people stay in your life
And the people who don't understand you won't. I have lost a lot of friends in this fight with Bipolar. But I have also found some very genuine, and authentic friends as well. I am lucky and blessed to be surrounded by positive people.
2. Your creativity in art heightens
I always had an appreciation for art, but it grew since being in and out the mental health ward almost eight times now that I am learning to appreciate it even more. When I think about my art, I think about my photography, my painting, my mindfulness colouring-in. It's all very therapeutic.
3. You have more insight into yourself
I'm becoming more self-aware with my thoughts, feelings and emotions. I act on them much sooner if I sense something unhealthy is about to come my way. When I feel suicidal, I have self-coping mechanisms like praying. If they're not working, I reach out for support such as Lifeline 13 11 14 and talk through it with a counsellor, if need be.
All photos by Suzanne Dang unless stated otherwise
Photo by @alexatepaper
1. Because you are loved, and cherished
Know that no matter how much emotional and mental pain you are in, someone out there is thinking about you. They accept you for who you are, they don't care how you wore your makeup that day, what you thought you said that might have sounded 'stupid' or 'bad'. You are accepted for who you are as a beautiful, human being.
2. Because things will get better
Know that you have a bright future ahead of you, and every challenge and milestone; small or big, it will shape you for who you are. You may feel deflated, tired, anxious from all the noises of life, and it's dragging you down but know that when you are dragged down to the point you can't get up, you will learn to crawl, yell, or even scream through the pain and get right up where you need.
I wouldn't be here if I didn't go through the trials and tests that life throws at me, even it means going to
hospitaland be admitted into the mental health ward. The mental health ward tested my willpower and I didn't go by a day thinking, "I want to give up already". So I screamed, cried and even yelled through it if I needed to, to get the help I wanted.
3. Because every challenge will make you stronger
They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. You are to the point you are ready to give up, you want the exit emergency door, you want to scream out and yell to the world why life has been so unfair to you and you don't understand why.
But you know what?
Your 1% battery (like an
iphone) lasts in the last very minute of time, you use it to get the help you want. You learn to master an episode of Depression or Bipolar. You know when you start feeling depressed and down and you seek help straight away, whether that's medical or from a family/friend. Your 1% willpower wins all. And at the end of the day, you become stronger.
4. Because you have a story to tell
Everyone has a story to tell, and you will inspire and empower those around you who may have gone through the same thing as you. You understand their journey of being diagnosed with mental illnesses and you empathise them and help them cause you know what it's like to be in the deepest, and darkest pits of despair. You believe in the art of story-telling and helping others.
5. Because we are all in this together
Our lives are limited to less than 100 years. Only some of us have the fate and luck to live to that
long,but know that while we are all still living and breathing, there will be people who will help you with what you need, your destiny will change as soon as you believe it will get better. You have the support you want and need.
So just look up, and be hopeful.
I received a distressed phone call early in the morning. It was one of my friends, who had a bad incident and experience. I was about to head to bed, and be knocked out from my medications I take for my Bipolar Disorder. I listened out in the phone call and tried to think of how I could help. As soon as my friend said she wanted to go home, and she tried contacting her boyfriend and family, but no one could pick up, I knew it was up to me to do something.
I didn't hesitate for even a moment at the time to call Uber and fetch her where she was over an hour away or so. I had absolutely no money in my account, my account was already in the negative. I thought to myself, what if my friend was about to go in danger? What if something happened to her and I didn't act in time when I could have?
I wanted to sacrifice my money, which I hold so dearly (even though I don't have much!) every day and help a friend in need. Helping a friend/saving a life is more important than money and material things in life. After all, we are all in this world of madness together. Let's help each other out, and not be selfish in our own ways.
Though I do think that a lot of people may think I am stupid for making this decision in my life, and my financial planning is not as planned out as everyone else's. But I have no regrets. I have won and influenced a friend in a good way, and I would give all the money in the world to help a friend in need. By the grace of God, I will be able to overcome this financial madness I put upon myself in due time too.
Photos of myself beginning from 2007 to 2016.
I remember in 2007, I was a very insecure girl, not confident and always had issues with my own body. I compared my own image to other girls. I believed and told myself I had the 'worst' body in high school, no matter how much I would eat, my body seemed to never gain weight.
Fast forward a few years, I had my first episode of
Depression,and started on antidepressants. My body's metabolism started to slow down, and I (joyfully) watched as my body weight increased. As I became more sedated, and the dose's treatment for my mental illness increased, my appetite increased.
But deep down, I was hurting and angry, and asked God why did He put me in this position? I was angry at God, and so I left my church for a while. I found myself to be in more emotional turmoil, having watched myself be admitted and discharged from hospital several times already.
As I gained more weight, I found I wanted to battle with the modelling industry I was then in and help reshape the appropriate body image of models in the industry. And try to be a role-model for younger girls and people who were interested in modelling. I helped be a role-model and hopefully inspired those who wanted to try modelling. As of this year, I found myself started to having medication withdrawals. Withdrawals so bad that I couldn't eat, see all my friends for two months and crying almost every night, and in turn, I lost 7 kgs 'naturally'. But I ended up in
hospitalfor a month as of recent.
I want to reach out to especially young people, whether you are on antidepressants/pharmaceutical drugs or not, there will always be a silver lining. Bodies will always change physically, it is just inevitable. My journey has been a rollercoaster of a ride for sure, and although my memory is somewhat fragmented I feel at times due to the side effects of meds, at least I still have a story to tell.
I try to tell myself these days that there's no such definition as a 'perfect' body. I pray to God that I will always remember these words, and I ask God for his spiritual covering and protection as my body will grow or/and shrink later on and that I don't have to be on these medications for the rest of my life, so I can live a 'natural' life.
My current self. Taken in November 2016.
Photo: Tuan Thai Photography
I was recently hospitalised down in the psychiatric ward. Again. This isn't a secret guide or anything like that if you're purely interested in how "getting out" of the Psychiatric Ward, it's just my experience and each case and person is different from each other. I just want to give a few points on how I made it out of the psychiatric ward without taking no medications at all.
I was suffering from short-term memory loss (I lost my wallet twice this year), hair loss, shakiness in hands, and daily constipation from the medications I was taking for the past 6 years or so.
If you're not aware, the psychiatric ward is a really different place. I have met some of the most fascinating people (patients-wise) yet "scary" as well. In my last admission, I was wrongly accused of stealing of another patients' pants/leggings and I was shocked to hear that same very day that my roommate was told by that patient who accused me to steal my pants at night time when I am sleeping. This shook and scared me, I thought the patient/s were playing psychological games with me. I did the right thing straight away and told the nurse and the nurse in charge about what had happened. I don't argue with patients, I am polite to them but distrust them in most ways I would like to add.
Anyway I didn't take my/any prescribed medications when I was in the ward. I had the right to refuse as I was a voluntary patient mainly. I know the nurses loved and respected me as a patient, I would help the Bed Warden with some tasks such as making beds for new admissions for example. They know I was kind, respectful and wouldn't hurt anyone. But the doctors and nurses would still prescribe and administer me medications whenever I told them I was "anxious" and not "calm".
I remember in my first admission I would learn to say things the doctors and nurses wanted to hear, take the medications they prescribed no matter informed I thought I was in taking the medications I was prescribed. But this time, I wanted to do things differently and Suzanne's way...of what I think is best for my body, and of course being aware of what the doctors and nurses tell me about medications and taking care of myself at the back of my mind. I am a grown adult, I have a lot of support from family and friends and sometimes it feels I am treated like a child in there (especially in the first few admissions).
So I decided to stop my medications cold turkey and I was discharged earlier this week. I am able to sleep better, I don't feel sedated when I take the night medications as I also love to burn the midnight oil and work at night on things I'm passionate about in life. I study full-time, and work as well. I have been able to maintain employment longer than I used to.
Just saying people don't realise how highly functional I am as a "mentally ill" person.
This time during the admission, my room was the cleaniest (so I was told by the nurses) out of all the mental health patients in the ward, I dressed well enough that people told me I looked like a doctor or/and nurse. It was quite hilarious actually.
I accepted the past and know that there was no turning back (I don't live by regrets) in telling the GP seven or eight years ago that I've been feeling "suicidal", have a loss of appetite and my sleeping pattern has been getting worse and worse. I simply diagnosed myself with "Depression" during that time when I was nineteen years old. I had been failing my University subjects for nursing, that the next year or so, I was finally excluded from the program and school.
A spiralling tunnel of darkness going down overwhelmed me.
I had no hope in studying again for a few months, I did not know what to say to my grandparents who poured their hearts and soul in teaching me and supporting me the value of education. Sure, I still valued education, but I found it all too "difficult" to comprehend - the assignments and exams.
But of course it's more than that. University life is more than...university. You need to find a way to maintain a balance of social life, family life, university life and most importantly, time for yourself to rejuvenate. Rejuvenation is the key to anything. As I am someone who wants to keep my loved ones happy, I do feel the pressure of putting on a mask sometimes and doing...things, to keep them happy. Back to being excluded from nursing, I had already failed the same nursing subject three times, and fast forward a few years; I attempted on taking Childcare then Photography then Fashion Design at TAFE Brisbane.
Failed all those courses too.
It was an awful experience for me.
My HECS debt was getting higher and higher.
I would try and try again. But something was always wrong, and I would fail, academically.
...until I found out about disability support at University/TAFE. Disability support was the most amazing discovery I have found up to date. With the disability support, you have to promise to yourself and be on the ball with things. I mean like, you have to book an appointment in early with a Disability Support Officer, include lots of medical documentations. I included my Clinical Neuropsychologist Report which cost me a fortune which I did when I was nineteen. The report and my current medications list, report from my therapist and psychiatrist helped me write a report how I am stable and managing my "illnesses" well. Also be on the ball with things in regards to updating your tutors and lecturers about how you're travelling. I did that this semester for my current University course (I am taking Korean and Sociology as majors) and I received tremendous help in regards to exam and assignmenta adjustments. Both universities I go to are very supportive. So make it clear with your tutors and lecturers about how you're going cause the only way to do well at University and graduate is to be active with your learning and know your strengths and weaknesses, which is what I did.
Because of disability support, I have been receiving good grades too.
Photography: Tuan Thai Photography
Make her feel beautiful every day you see her. Tell her that she's beautiful. Don't judge her for the cycles and seasons she goes through. Believe that part of her recovery is you being there with her through the storm. Understand and listen to her feelings and emotions. Don't be quick to judge her and tell her to snap out of it. Don't tell her to change her way of thinking.
She is a strong woman, for going through what she's experiencing.
I speak from experience, and it's not an easy journey to date someone with mental health problems. Not saying you shouldn't date someone with mental health problems. A mental health problem is just like any other problem, like cancer and other physical problems.
My two year relationship was like an emotional rollercoaster for me, I was and still am a person who has low self-esteem. I act all confident on the outside but on the inside that is really the important part. I get jealous very easily. My partner at the time experienced many times where I approached him about him being unloyal to me. He's allowed to have female friends, as per normal. I felt I was the one to blame for being jealous. Jealousy is about you, I learnt. It's not about the other person and psychology studies shows that jealousy is exhibited from low self-esteem, and not trusting the person and among other things.
I would get jealous at the slightest things, my partner talking to his other female friends and when they're laughing together, I was perhaps, a bit delusional (I have been diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder) and I would think they are purposely flirting with each other. It's like little things that makes me go mad.
I don't know where I am going with this. It's just another blogpost with ramblings.
Photography by Vee Photography
"Where are you from?" - someone asks me for the first time in our first meeting. I stutter for a bit at the answer, trying to quickly process in my head whether to say if I'm Australian or Vietnamese.
Growing up in the city of Brisbane, I've always been proud of my cultures. But sometimes I am torn between the two cultures and deciding which I feel I identify myself more as is, in fact, quite difficult and makes me feel torn between the two cultures.
I love Australia. I love the weather, I love the people and the vibrant cities and activities that the places has to offer. It's an amazing country to be part of and I'm proud to call myself an Australian citizen.
For Vietnamese culture; I love the history (not saying Australia doesn't have one), the food, the people and especially visiting back to the country itself helps me get a feel of the real culture that it has to offer.
It just feels a bit wrong sometimes to say I am Australian, and not Vietnamese. It makes it sounds like I'm trying to say to the other person that one culture is better than the other.
The main trouble with myself is that every time I get asked this question, "Where are you from?", I also want to sometimes explain to them all day that I am Australian by paper but I also can sometimes identify myself as Vietnamese as well. But of course, everyone is running out of time and not have all day to listen to me and ramble on about my troubles with cultural identity and the like.
Tuan Thai Photography
Michelle Fleur Photography
Holding the aluminium sheets of medications I was about to open, I take a moment; just the slightest moment to really try to think this is what I really wanted to do: to end my life. To end it all with overdosing on medications.
This isn't the first time I have tried to attempt suicide in my room. It's something that seem to come by as now a "normal" behaviour of mine it seemed. Knowing the fact that I'll leave everything behind: my passion for fashion, my family, my friends and my dreams and goals. The "happy" person, Suzanne, no longer wants to be part of this world.
I am writing this at this moment where I have just overcome another hurdle for this season and which that was the suicidal attempt I experienced in my very own bedroom a couple of nights ago. I did not manage to overdose, or else I wouldn't be capable of writing this blog post for my readers.
It was the self-talk that saved me.
It was not the phone call to my best friend, or to the hospital.
I looked at myself into the mirror and simple told myself, "You are beautiful, you are an inspiration" whilst crying my hearts out. No matter how much I didn't want to believe the positive affirmations, I still, in fact, found myself looking into the makeup mirror and whispering out those affirmations.
Lonely nights at home seem to trigger a lot of things in my mind, as it's quiet mainly. I try to occupy myself with studies, work, seeing friends and the like to help keep my mind busy. As we all know, our own mind can be our own enemy.
Friends, this post is to help you understand me better maybe, and perhaps help you recognise when I'm in an episode. It is also for me to document a bit of what's happened in the last couple of days as a reflection as well as it being therapeutic for me. In the above video, I mentioned that I have been diagnosed with depression, schizophrenia and bipolar. Sometimes it's difficult to understand when each illness is present. Today my therapist who I have been seeing for almost a year now told me that I don't have schizophrenia. It's just depression and bipolar. I'm still getting my head around this. I don't always have to get it, cause it's tough. After each episode, I learn more about my condition even though it feels like I've taken a big step back. When I have a manic episode, I notice that:
1. I lose hope
Hopelessness is a big factor to notice when my mental health is deteriorating. It can be accompanied by worthlessness and losing interest in things for the future. Hope is something I need everyday to help me survive. Without hope, there is no future. But how does one have hope when everything around them seems to be crumbling down? This is something I tell myself when I lose hope.
2. I think people are out to harm me
Not just emotionally, but physically, mentally and spiritually. Sure, it's normal to check your back if someone is following you when you're walking home late at night. But spiritually? What about the pastor who I thought tried to speak to me and make me feel guilty for what I have done in life? Those sort of things, if that makes sense. Sometimes when I am in an episode I think people are out to harm me.
3. I engage in risky behaviour/s
This is a big one and it can mean in so many levels. It could mean from myself going out clubbing and exposing myself in a dangerous environment where there's drugs, alcohol etc are involved. I am a spiritual person I tell you that, and I know for sure clubbing is not the most spiritual place to be for someone like me. Saying I want to quit clubbing will not work, especially if you have done it in the last 2 months and going out every weekend.
4. My mood flutuates like crazy
I have bipolar depression. I can get hypomania. Or even hypermania. Google it if you don't know the meanings to these words. So when I'm in a really low mood, it can be very lethal to my well-being, to the point sometimes I have suicidal thoughts. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, just the feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness arises.
This isn't all of the signs I tell you, there are more. But maybe I'll give it a rest now. This post is written from a very personal level but I want to share it with you all.
The fashion industry is very competitive, I tell you that. It is also difficult to keep up with the trends as it is already, plus sometimes you get added stress by "competing" with the other fashionistas in the industry. How do you give generously in the fashion industry without losing yourself? Well, first and foremost, I tell you it all depends on which part of the fashion industry you're talking about: it could be the fashion design part of it or the fashion blogging part of it. So I will cover briefly from my experience with the fashion design and blogging parts. As you may or may not know, I study fashion design and I remember in my first week of fashion design, we had to create a fashion garment out of scrap materials on a mannequin and can you guess what happened next? One of the "best" designs, well, although it was my friends' design - I thought it was the best; got torn apart a few days later by "someone". We suspected it was someone in the fashion school. Out of jealousy? Out of hate? So it's these kinds of things that makes me frustrated. You can't live and breathe fashion without teamwork, you see.
So I went onto a "mission" and started to think of ways I can be generous to other people in the industry. Here are three ways I thought of - I will state if it's a blogging or a fashion design one:
1. Fashion Design: Help out your classmates if you finish first in class
- It's true, help out your classmates when you can. We are told as students that once we finish the degree, there is big teamwork involved wherever we work. So in patternmaking for example, maybe you finished cutting out all of your paper/cardboard patterns? Why not help one or two of your fellow classmates to help them finish early or on time. I help them when I'm quite ahead of the class.
2. Blogging: Share your events with your blogging friends
- I'm really big on Facebook fashion events, I mean the ones created on Facebook, you know? I check my Facebook events almost everyday to see if I get invited or simply check when one is coming up so I can organise my outfit early etc. Share some (or maybe all, I don't suggest all but yes, however you feel like!) events that's coming up with your fellow blogging friends. You never know they might share some back to you that you don't know about! Karma.
3. Fashion Design: Support your classmates' design work
- Instead of ripping apart their work when they're not looking (note: story above), why don't you support your classmates' design work by suggesting them opening a Facebook business page, or website for their designs? If you have skills in those areas of opening pages or websites, put it to use. Also 'like" their work now and then on instagram and facebook if they have one. Support them. Make sure they have first tried to find the solutions before coming to you for help.