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
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"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.
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.
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.
I wonder if I still have schizophrenia.
I hear voices at times, and I at times hallucinate. See things that aren't there, feel things that may be a 'figment of my imagination'. Or is it just another diagnosis there for me to take medications? Whether I have been diagnosed with Bipolar or Schizophrenia, I feel some symptoms can overlap in some places. I have been taking medications for almost a decade now. I am a little tired of medications at most points in my life, but I feel now I have the right combination of medications at least.
I haven't had such a good 6-months-period for so long. This year has been a good year for me, another year of me discovering myself. From discovering my love for art, to changing my diet and exercising almost every day. I wonder if life can get any better than this, cause at the moment everything seems like smooth-sailing and I don't want to fall into a downward of spiral and depression with no control whatsoever.
I believe I have the right set of coping mechanisms for everything now. I learn about DBT and the skills I could use to deal with the difficult, emotional turmoils that I sometimes have.
So I wonder if I still have schizophrenia.
Cause everything/life seems to be so good right now.
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.
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.
My parents divorced when I was six. And I am stronger because of it. I have learnt to survive for myself, although I am a little rough around the edges, I am still able to live through the year, and will continue to do so. I have found my purpose in life, what I love, what I enjoy. Also, my coping strategies when I am having a rough day such as hearing voices. I still see my parents and I still love them. I don't blame them for what happened, it was meant to happen, and only God knows what should happen or not.
I believe some of the most resilient kids grow up with a tough childhood. I wasn't abused as a child, I was given all the love that my parents could give me. They did their best they could, even emotionally and mentally. Who am I to blame my parents, when they did their best?
If we talk about beautiful disasters, you could say my grandparents stepped in and took care of me when the divorce happened. They exhibited and showed true care of love and affection. Always believing, always supporting me, and always loving. My grandparents are the true pillars of my life, they taught me valuable lessons of hope, resilience and love.
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 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 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.
(R): Photo by Neil Woodwards
Dear High School Teacher,
I clearly remember when you told me to quit changing things. To quit making extensions on assignments that were 'simple' just because I couldn't keep up with the class and preparation work of the assignment. I may have forgotten what the other things you said, but I haven't forgotten about how you made me feel. I felt my last two years of high school was a living hell. I did not understand why my other teachers were so understanding and focused on my strengths than weaknesses, but you couldn't do that. You picked out my weaknesses, and I felt you magnified them.
But thanks to you, and when you said, "Suzanne, you need to quit changing things", I believe it has more importantly impacted on my life in a positive way. Thank you for saying that. Thank you for pointing out for something that I thought was to no degree helpful at the time, has become so meaningful to me almost a decade later.
Confidence in oneself doesn't happen overnight - in one's flaws, imperfections, weaknesses. Learning to use those weaknesses, and turn it into your own strength will take days of mental training, weeks of hard work, and years of maintaining. In high school even though I felt I was the most 'unattractive' girl of all - I was shy, quiet and never learnt to disagree with anything. I wanted to be different, I wanted to change things - especially in myself, in my behaviours and my interaction with people. So I went on to pageantry, modelling, fashion to build confidence in networking as well. And it's been interesting, even though I don't participate in pageants/modelling anymore.
Photo by Alex Ate Paper
I have been very busy in my life. From being involved in my church a bit more, keeping active in my exercise regimes, and frequent visits with my local mental health service. Yes, I still do see a mental health team. I have started a Gratefulness Diary, as well as, starting a 'written first-aid kit' - where I write anything, almost everything, down into this book - from how I'm feeling, what time I got out of bed, any voices I hear (that's not of God, especially), and any notes from my counselling and mental health clinicians' appointments. Etcetera. Etcetera.
To sum it up, I have been quite active in my recovery. I have a list of contacts I call when I'm distressed, or stressed - I have to be mindful that's only been a few months past since my last mental health ward hospital admission. I haven't reached that baseline yet. I pray that I will maintain a steady pace after I reach that baseline for myself.
I have noticed my weaknesses include rushing things, being impatient with some things and people in particular. Not everything works for me in my recovery, but I am happy to try it as long as I can make an informed decision about it. I am working on my weaknesses and flaws.
And remember to be gentle and kind to
myself. Not everyone is kind in helping with my recovery, but it's important to keep on focusing on the positives.
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.
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.
Life isn't easy. We all know that. We have to work hard towards our goals and if we have any at the time. It sometimes phases me that for someone like me who have all these problems that it can sometimes be easier to die and end it all. Yes, I have attempted suicide before. I first hit myself with a rock against my head when I was 14. Didn't pass out or anything. It hurt, and it stopped me there. And I'm glad it did. I have so much to live for now. Cause life in itself is beautiful and it is precious to have life and be able to function. I believe everyone's struggles make themselves stronger as a person and it's up to them to decide whether they want to make positive changes in their life. Though in saying that, when I was really depressed and suicidal, I had reasons why I wanted to die:
1. Life is hard. Life isn't worth living for anymore
When I'm in this state, I don't have any clear views of what I want to achieve in life anymore. There is an emptiness that overwhelms and overcomes me. It lasts for a long time. Sure, I do think of my family, friends, or even pets I may have that are there for me. But sometimes people don't understand that it's easier to end it all. You feel like a burden to all your loved ones, for putting them through what you've done to them or so.
2. I feel like a big burden
This is a big one. Being a burden is normal for those who are depressed to feel this way about their health conditions. Some may even run away from their loved ones, away from their homes when they would be better off staying with their loved ones. I haven't personally run away yet, mainly cause I'm not too game enough to.
3. I am worthless, I am hopeless
Negative thoughts play a big part in my problems. The voices in my head are really important and what I tell myself each day is very vital to my mental health. Feeling worthless and hopeless in life just made me wanted to commit/attempt suicide even more. But of course some people don't understand this. They just want you to snap out of it which is ridiculous.
I feel I haven't written and been keeping up to date with my mental health blogposts/videos lately. So I'm trying my best tonight to squeeze out a story for you guys. I want to say that my experiences in the psychiatric/mental health ward was definitely different to everyone else's. Everyone goes through different experiences each day and respond to it differently. There were some ways I regret of doing/thinking while I was down in the ward:
1) I thought I was the worse patient
This could be interpreted in different ways. I thought I was the patient with the worse condition and everyone should feel sorry for me. I don't feel that way anymore though. I believe at the beginning I was a stubborn, and bitchy patient. I didn't want to listen to what anyone said to me at the time. But of course there's more to that, I just wanted to be understood at the time. With having new diagnoses at the time years ago, I had feelings of guilt and shame and more in me.
2) I always over-exaggerated the situation
The patient who pushed me into the wall deserved to be put in the HDU (High Dependecy Unit - believe me, you don't want to go there) I felt. I cried so much after the patient pushed me into the wall. I didn't want the patient to get away with it. I was glad the patient was moved to HDU after the patient attacked one of the head nurse. On another note, I remember I didn't want stop washing my hands cause I wanted a new diagnosis of OCD. I was then quickly caught by one of the nurses who physically stopped me and I shrieked and yelled back at him for touching me and getting into my personal space. I was bizarre. I was not my usual self.
3) I seeked constant attention
My first month of my first psychiatric hospitalisation, I was put on something called "Constance" where a nurse was there to care for me, watch me eat, drink, use the bathroom etc. Everywhere I go I basically had a nurse following me around. After I was put off it, I felt the urge or/and the need for my life to have that constant attention/care again from the nurses.
Understanding someone with a mental illness/es is a hard one. It takes a lifetime for someone to understand someone else's condition I would say. You don't just meet someone and the person with the condition tells you about their struggles and you say you understand what they're going through. Unless you've been in similar situations such as hospital admissions and similar diagnoses but even that there's not full understanding in my opinion. My normal friends got it tough. But I'm going to say I have it tougher. I have been through a lot, and although there's no point in dwelling in the past, the past has been journeyed and there's no way I can change that. What I can change is the way I think and the way I react to certain things. Like when someone tells me to 'Chin up' and 'Snap out of it', especially when I'm in an episode, it simply doesn't help. On normal days I just shrug it off and don't care about explaining my situation. But on those terrible days I just want to be understood and not be told those unhelpful statements said above. So what do my good friends say when I'm in an manic episode?
1. "We'll go through this hell together"
No one wants to be alone. No one wants to be misunderstood and for me having mental illnesses it's easy to feel lonely in your own mind and time. I learnt that recovering from mental illnesses has nothing to do with strength but it includes having a good routine of sleep, a good diet, exercise, and a healthy support network such as love from family and friends.
2. "I love you. I care about you."
How often have I have been in an episode and received a lot of love and care from my support network? A lot. Whether that's in a form of written text on card or over Facebook msg, it can mean a lot to me. For someone to just say that, it touches me on a very deep level. I think it's something that gets missed telling to loved ones everyday and it can be taken for granted for.
3. "Are you ok? What happened?"
Instead of jumping to quick assumptions about what happened, good friends ask these questions to confirm everything is ok and they truly want to know what actually happened. People can normally be quick to judge (even I can be a victim of this).
So there you have it. I have compiled three not-so-detailed points about what good friends say when I'm in a manic episode. I can think of more but I'll leave it to next time.
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.