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.
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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.
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 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.
Photo by Kaitlin Maree Photography
Hold her when she is crying, when words no longer work. Acknowledge the fact you cannot fix anything at the time, but you are there to support her. You can only do so much. Tell her of all the good qualities she has such as, she is kind. She is beautiful, and wonderful as she is. Understand and mention that you are always on this journey with her, and that God always protects her and loves her for who she is. Be active in her progress in her recovery, and cheer her on for every good step of the way.
Be supportive and encouraging, always.
When things get tough, and it feels like neither of you understands each other; take a breather, and re-evaluate and see that you are not letting your emotions and feelings dictate the choices you make for each other. It's okay for both to embrace solitude, but not isolate each other. Be creative in her recovery, not just like the visual arts; but be pro-active in her journey, not overwhelming her with too much information, as it can be overwhelming.
Photo by Kaitlin Maree Photography
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.
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.