DecorativeChile

"My final words are ‘Nowadays, mental illness does not mean you are crazy as people often believed. It is a sickness, which can be understood, helped and treated..."

My cultural background
Adapting to Australia
At the beginning
Dealing with it
Doctors, hospitals and other supports
The hardest things
Getting better
Thanks to
A piece of advice for others
Download a PDF version of Clementina's story (95.9KB)

 

 


My cultural background….

I grew up in Chile in a traditional family. My father was the breadwinner and my mother was a housewife and took care of us. I have a sister and two brothers.

My father worked very hard during his life. Before he retired he was a pilot; then after he retired, he was self-employed and owned and ran his own liquor shop.

The family idea of working hard was passed on to us. We all had good jobs, my sister is a hairdresser, one brother is an accountant and the other brother owns a hotel and is in the tourist business. Before coming to Australia, I was a primary school teacher. I also had a second job as a typist /secretary at a medical school. I did not have psychiatric illness at this time.

One day, when I was at work the premise was occupied by the military. The soldiers threatened us with guns. This life-threatening situation was like a psychological earthquake for me. The total freedom of speech in Chile was abolished by this military coup.

At that time Canada, Australia, Sweden and Spain were all offering humanitarian visas to Chileans. As a consequence, I decided to migrate to another country. I applied to all of these countries. Australia was the one of the countries that accepted my application and the Australian Embassy provided a special flight for us to leave the country.

It was 1974, and I was only 22 years old. As I migrated to Australia as a single girl I was placed into a special shelter, called the YWCA, which was provided by Australian Government for only seven single girls. The other Chileans who were married with family members went to stay at the Villawood migrant hostel.

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Adapting to Australia

I have adapted well to Australian culture and the food. The Australian government provided us with job opportunities, and opportunities to learn the English language. After a while I met and married an Australian man whom I met through my friends.

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Decorative

At the beginning

My husband has neither creed nor religion. He is an atheist. I on the other hand am a Christian and I believe in God. One day, I wanted to ask him to go to church with me on Saturday. He got angry with me and asked me to go by myself. I suffered from homesickness. I always wanted to pray for my family in Chile. I cried sometimes because my husband did not understand me.

I always carried a Bible with me as comfort. Because my husband doesn’t have a religion, he did not like this. I used to carry a rosary and a Bible to bed, I cried sometimes and often I could not sleep.

He said: “You are always crying. You are sick. You need to see a psychiatrist.” It seemed to him that this illness does not make sense at all.

When my first child (my daughter) was seven I was pregnant again with a baby son. In the seventh month of pregnancy I miscarried and lost the baby. This really increased my homesickness and my husband did not support me at all.

 

One day, one of our friends came to visit us. My husband said to him: “She is so sick. We need to take her to see a doctor.” They both took me to see a doctor and I found myself in a psychiatric institution. The staff at the hospital told me that I was not allowed to practice my religion there. Then took off my rosary and removed my Bible. They were very nasty. They made me cry even more. At one time, I remember I was sent to a room with 12 other people. They all asked me different questions. I did not know where I was. I didn’t know what the questions meant.

None of my family members have any mental illness so I don’t know if I have inherited this illness. My family felt it was outrageous that I had a husband who took the decision to institutionalise me. They too have been through a lot of pain and suffering. They supported each other as family members.

While I was in hospital I was told that I suffered from depression. At other times I have also been told that I suffered from mania and that I suffered from schizophrenia and from thought distortion. Even today I am not certain which one of these was the correct diagnosis.

Being institutionalised made me experience more suffering. I felt that the doctors and nurses had the same reaction as my husband: they “did not listen to me”. The staff there did not encourage or suggest me using traditional remedies such as practicing prayer for me to get better. Instead they asked me to take more medication.

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Dealing with it

This illness brought me to my marriage break up and I ended up divorced. After divorcing from my husband, I did not hear from him.
I also lost the custody of my daughter as a consequence of my illness. The law allowed me only to visit my daughter one hour for each Saturday. However, my ex- husband never complied with this order. I did not ever see my daughter as was detailed in the agreement. My former husband often wasted my time and let me wait on many cold days…

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Doctors, hospitals and other supports

I did not have any support from my ex-husband at all. I was prescribed numerous medications with side effects having different symptoms.
The injections made me depressed and gave me an allergy and profound sleepiness. The doctor also ordered a community treatment order (CTO) so treatment was mandated for me. All of my life for a period seemed to be about dealing with doctors, nurses, tablets, and needles…

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The hardest things

I found the hardest thing was when staff members did not understand me at all and they imposed a Community Treatment Order (CTO) treatment on me. Furthermore, medication side effects were the most difficult things to deal with. They created more problems for me. The sedation and mobility side effects affected my ability to study and work. The lack of employment and career opportunities for me as a result of my mental illness are the most difficult things that I have to deal with.

I feel the hospital staff did not understand the perspective of a woman about mental illness. They only understood that “they have to do a job” and that’s all…. Furthermore, I still do not feel I’ve found any useful information about my condition. After being in the hospital I found the most useful and helpful thing was going to an Outreach Program of Living Skills. At the program I went for outings. The staff taught me cooking skills and referred me to TAFE course.

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Getting better

One day after 20 years my daughter came and knocked on my door and said she was looking for her mum and was that me. I felt a lot of joy in meeting her again after 20 years. At that time she was pregnant. When I met her again I was very surprised. Since then we have continued to meet each other about once a month.

When daughter came to visit me, she often said: “Mum, you are normal”, and that made me feel much better.

Before I went to Outreach services I was sent to a therapist for painting therapy to help me express myself. I would feel much better if my treating team did not misinterpret my intentions, or if somebody could have explained what “expressive words” meant to me. As a result of going to Outreach, I could prepare my own meals again and I started to write. I was encouraged to do exercise, to write poetry and music. I also participated in meetings and group work, and learnt from other people in the same situation as me, even though they might speak another language. I learnt how to live independently.

I feel better when I go to sleep and pray quietly.

To get better, I have had to find strength for myself by playing music, trying relaxation, going to bed early and consulting different doctors including private doctors.
To keep my mind busy I did some studies in social welfare and computer courses at TAFE. Luckily, I have not been readmitted and hospitalised. Now I only visited my doctor when I need to.

I found remembering all the good things in my past also helped me with my recovery. I always remember the good way my father brought me up and how close we were.

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Thanks to

I would like to especially thank my GP who understands my situation. Also thanks to my friends who have helped me.

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A piece of advice for others

Today stress management workshops and support groups exist for women and children to deal with loss and also to assist women to deal with marital separation. Having good nutrition, good sleep, and support can help a lot.

Learning a new culture and the English language requires help so that you can adapt to a multicultural society easily. You also need help with job opportunities. I also believe that grieving is a process of crying, and you need to show your emotions or to speak out about what you are thinking. If I had had my family closer to me, I may not have ended up in a mental institution.

My final words are ‘Nowadays, mental illness does not mean you are crazy as people often believed. It is a sickness, which can be understood, helped and treated.


Download a PDF version of Clementina's Story here (95.9KB).

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