DecorativeVietnam

 

"It is important to have a strong will to cope with mental illness. Please remember you are not alone and I am one of them too. There is light at the end of the tunnel..."

My cultural background
Effects on study
My work experiences and illness in Vietnam
Adapting to Australia
Relapsing and dealing with it
Doctors, hospitals and medications
Getting better
A piece of advice to others
Download a PDF version of Kenneth's Story here (99.4KB)

 

 


My cultural background…

I have an older brother and four sisters; I am the fourth child in the family. My older brother passed away in 1998 and my eldest sister died in 1997 in America. My three other sisters live in Los Angeles and San Diego, California. My grandparents and my father passed away some time ago, my mother died in 2003.

Danang was the city our family lived in since 1954, after Vietnam was divided into two parts, the North belonged to the Vietnamese Communists, while the South was under democratic rule (It was called the Republic of Vietnam).

Danang is a commercial port city and it is the second-largest city in Vietnam. It is located in the central part of Vietnam. Vietnam is divided into three parts (North, Central and South) and Danang is about 800 kilometres north of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).    

During the war in Vietnam, Danang air base and naval base played an important role in the war. Danang was the headquarters of Military Zone, consisting of five provinces and was well defended. City life was not much affected by the war. There was not much difference before or during the war, but if you travelled further out, say about 20-30 kilometres from the city, you might put your life in danger.

Danang city was generally a friendly place to grow up. I would say better than Saigon. My parents spoke Cantonese, Teo Chieu, our original language, part of Quangdong province, China and Vietnamese. We, the children, spoke Cantonese, Mandarin, Teo Chieu, Vietnamese and English.

We communicate with our children in Cantonese and English. I only learnt French for a very short period of time. I learnt Chinese from my Chinese high school. It was a private school. My house was not far away from school, most of the times I just walked to school, sometimes I rode my bicycle there. Whenever I had free time, I would help my mother run the grocery store. How it started I suffered from depression when I was 17-18 years old after I completed Chinese High School in my home city of Danang in central Vietnam. I was feeling depressed and could not sleep well. The sickness was quite mild and I did not take medication. The sickness lasted for 2-3 weeks and I was back on my feet again helping my mother run the grocery store.

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Effects on study

After staying home for almost two years, I went to Saigon to study in English High School for more than two years and I was doing well at school and I was quite happy about my health condition. Nevertheless when it came to the third year, probably due to pressure in study, I became sick again. I was not good at mathematics at school and I was worried about the ranking in the class. I also worried about the business of our grocery store. I think these were the reasons that triggered my sickness for the first time. As a teenager, I worried quite a lot.

I felt depressed again after enjoying quite a long period of good health. This time the sickness also lasted for 2-3 weeks and I did not take any medication, I just let it cure by itself. I managed to pass the final exams with average marks. I did not try to study too hard in case I would get sick again.

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My work experiences and illness in Vietnam

I came back to Danang after I finished school in Saigon in 1964. Before long I had enlisted in the combined US and Vietnamese Special Forces working as an army interpreter. I enjoyed good health for a number of years while I was working for the Special Forces Unit. I was mainly doing administrative duties but sometimes I was required to go on operations.

I found that Americans (both military and civilian personnel) were quite friendly to work with. During the war in Vietnam, most Vietnamese welcomed the Americans and allied forces. There were no suicide bombings and terrorist attacks like those that are now happening in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 1967 I was sent to work for the Rural Development Section in Quang Ngai province, which is about 300 kilometres south of Danang. I did not find the work at Quang Ngai very stressful. Somehow after I’d been at Quang Ngai for a year (I think it was in mid-1968), my sickness came back. I think the security in the city where I worked and personal safety might have brought me the stress and as a result I felt sick. Maybe there was medical help available through work. I think at that time I believed that the sickness came and went like before; also it was not a serious sickness, so I did not pay it much attention.

I felt depressed again and my mood was sometimes quite low, apart from this I was feeling all right as my appetite was good, I was eating OK and I was still somehow able to go to work. Again I did not take medication for my depression and the depression lasted for about a month and I was then back on my feet again. During the time I was sick in Vietnam, both my family and I lacked mental health knowledge, so we did not seek any medical help. If I had had medical help, perhaps I would have been in better condition. After this episode of ill health in the middle of 1968 I did not have many other health problems. I met my wife for the first time when I went to attend a friend’s birthday party some time in September 1969 and we became good friends followed by dating and we married in May 1970.

She worked for US Army & Air Force Danang Area Exchange (a similar supermarket chain to provide grocery supply, necessary items, and radios, sound systems for US and allied forces personnel and civilian personnel).

Local Vietnamese people were not allowed to purchase. I married in May 1970 and my wife and I had three healthy children. I continued to work for the US and Vietnamese Navy working as an interpreter/ translator during the early 1970s. When South Vietnam fell into the hands of the Communists, my family and I still enjoyed good health despite the hardship of Communist rule.

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Decorative

Adapting to Australia

Our family arrived in December 1979 and at first we settled in a country town in NSW for one-and-a-half years. After that, we moved to the western suburbs of Sydney and both my wife and I were working in a factory. At the end of 1982 while I was working at the factory producing air compressors, I got sick. I felt quite depressed, could not sleep well and my appetite was poor. I went to see my family doctor, who referred me to see a psychiatrist, who prescribed me some medication and after taking it for about a month, I was well again. Once I was well, I stopped taking the medication. Now I think perhaps I should have consulted my psychiatrist before I stopped taking it.

Anyway I was feeling well, going to work and helping my wife with the kids at home. In 1984, I passed the entrance exam to work for Australia Post; I started work there and underwent some intensive training of sorting mail. I got sick again in the middle of the training course.

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Relapsing and dealing with it

This time I was quite sick, I felt very depressed and had quite strong suicidal thoughts. I was admitted to hospital for three weeks and I was recovering at home for another month before I was ready to go to work again. Once I was well, I was off the medication again.

In 1988 after driving a fair way to Temora with the family, I had a short relapse again and after that I went to work as usual. Early in 1994, however, I began falling sick again but this time it was quite serious. I felt very depressed and had strong suicidal thoughts. As usual, I went to see my psychiatrist and for unknown reasons, he could not fi x my problem, however he suggested to me that I should go to Liverpool Hospital for treatment.

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Doctors, hospitals and medication

I was admitted to the hospital at the beginning of March 1994. It was there that my life turned upside down entirely and I experienced one of the most terrifying experiences in my life. I was shaking a lot, I had stiffness in my body, my mouth kept dribbling and I had no appetite. I could not sleep well and I was not myself at all. I could not recognise people and I was quite agitated and I was walking or running around the block every now and then. I even cut the telephone line and disturbed the hospital. I think it must have been the side-effects of the medication that made me feel so sick and horrible. My condition was so serious that the hospital staff and my family concluded that I might not survive this ordeal.

I undertook quite a few tests including memory tests and then I was transferred to the Prince of Wales Hospital for observation and care. Slowly but steadily I began to recover from my sickness. The doctors and nurses in the hospital were quite surprised that I could get over this life-threatening condition. I was discharged from the hospital after two months’ treatment there. The staff reminded me a few times that in order to keep well, I had to take medication as advised by the doctor and I have to take it on a continuous basis. The hospital also had arranged a case manager to monitor my condition. It was quite a miracle that I did survive the ordeal. My family and I could not believe that I could get through it. I worried when I was an adult and middle-aged man. When I recovered from my sickness in 1995, I started learning the method not to worry from doctors, psychologists and health professionals and now I am a less worried man.

During the time I was very seriously sick, my family had prayed to God to help me get over this most crucial moment in my life. I was a Buddhist from my childhood to adulthood in Vietnam. When the family moved to Australia and we settled in a country town and since our children attended Catholic school and the priest and the people in town asked us whether we would like to have faith in Jesus. Not long after, our three children were baptised early in 1980. My wife and I were not baptised until 1992.

I think I sort of believe in two religions, Buddhism and Catholic, and so does my wife. Sometimes we go to the temple, other times we go to church.

The two religions are quite similar and they all teach you to do the right things. I would like to sum up this way: In Buddha I believe, in God I trust but I also strongly believe in doing the right things for others and for myself.

I think people when they are young, they don’t have much faith in God but as they grow older and also their thoughts are more matured and through life experience, they have faith in God. This applies to me too. A person who is disappointed, desperate, hopeless, heartbroken or in great danger, he will pray to God for help. This situation also applies to those who have a sickness including mental illness. When a person says a prayer to God, his mind should be calm, relaxed. His being calm and relaxed has already made him psychologically better. I think if people with mental illness have faith in God, they have a better chance to recover more quickly. With God’s blessings, I was alive with my family and friends. It was lucky that things were turned around for the better for me and my condition was improving.

For the first year I was slowly recovering from my sickness at home. I felt kind of nervous and restless every now and then and sometimes I had suicidal thoughts. My sleep was all right, my appetite was good and I was able to do some housework including cooking. My doctor increased my medication a bit but it did not help my condition. During this time, I usually had two relapses a year and each time it lasted for about two to three weeks. When the relapse took place, I felt quite depressed and nervous plus I had suicidal thoughts.

With my family’s support I tried to manage as best as I could. In April 1965 I was referred to attend leisure activities at a local rehabilitation centre. At first I was a little scared and felt uncomfortable but after a few times I got used to it and made quite a few friends with whom I could share experiences. Not long after I started working for Enterpraise, who have an office at Warwick Farm. I started with a few hours a week and gradually increased my working hours and I have been working for Enterpraise ever since.

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Getting better

In about 2001, my doctor tried another type of medication and reduced the dose of the medication I used to take. To my surprise, the new medication worked for me perfectly well and since then I have been well and I have been doing more activities. I have been taking Lithicarb 250 mg and Tofronil 25 mg for the last six years. Recently my doctor changed Lithicarb to Epilim 200 mg because Lithicarb has done a little damage to my kidneys.

It is important to have a strong will to cope with mental illness. Please remember you are not alone and I am one of them too. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

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A piece of advice for others

When you are not well seek help from your case manager or doctor and other professionals. Find out the cause of each relapse and try to manage your sickness well as this will help you prevent relapses in the future.

Always remember to take your medication on time. “Healthy food, healthy body, healthy mind.” A “healthy body” depends on a lot of exercise. Walking and swimming are good exercise. Walking once a day for 20 minutes will be ideal.

You will save quite a bit of money if you don’t smoke and drink. The money you save can do a lot of good things and you will have a quality life. Try not to smoke or quit smoking.

Of course you should not get hooked in bad habits. Try not to get hooked on gambling, as you will end in debt. Try to avoid alcohol. Socialise with other people. To start with, you can either visit rehabilitation centres or leisure clubs for social and leisure activities. I have been attending these activities for the past twelve years and I have found them very helpful in my recovery.

Religion might also help you improve your recovery and listening to relaxation CDs or tapes can be helpful too.

Think positively. Open your heart and open your arms. Doing volunteer work might also help your sickness. As the saying goes: “Helping People Makes Me Feel Happy and Being Happy Is Good for Your Health”


Download a PDF version of Kenneth's Story here (99.4KB)

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