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.
(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 Erin Smith
I told in a recent interview with SBS (Vietnamese) that I didn't set out to be a mental health blogger. I never set out to be excluded from Nursing in University. If anything, I set out to become a registered nurse and help as many people as I can professionally. When I was excluded from nursing, I mentioned in the interview that it was my most traumatic experience in my life back then. I care about what others thought about me; my family, my friends. I never want to be an emotionless shell who doesn't get affected by what others think about me, especially from family and friends. I asked myself - how was I going to take care of my grandparents if I cannot take care of my career and myself? How can I be a good granddaughter which they raised me to be?
There's not much I can do in terms with the past, I have to accept the past cannot be changed. But I can change is my choice to be happy. I can choose to look at the past, and sure, it was a hard struggle, it was a good fight. I wouldn't be here today if I didn't have those negative experiences, and I choose to not let those experiences affect me negatively, and that's why I choose to be happy these days. I choose to look at my future, at the promises God has for me. What He has in store for me. I choose to respond to it in a positive way. Sure, I do get flashbacks from time to time again from my negative experiences and trauma I faced, but I cannot let it consume me. It's that simple. If anything, those experiences have made me become more resilient in life.
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.
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.