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"Although my illness was discovered ‘by chance’, I am very grateful for the Women’s Refuge and being referred to the Women Centre by the Health Centre, as these services have been very helpful to me..."

Lao traditions
Meeting my husband
Feeling homesick and sad
Hearing voices and seeing black and white pictures
Getting treatment
If I hadn't been alone
Getting help
Download a PDF version of Kitty's story here (99.2KB)

 

 


Lao traditions

My name is Kitty and I am a Lao woman from a traditional Lao family. I have seven brothers and sisters; I am the secondoldest sister in the family with one older sister and fi ve younger brothers. I grew up within the Lao traditions and customs where a man is the “head of the family, a bread- winner, a provider and to be respected”. My mother did not work outside the home; she was a housewife. To us, men are encouraged to do well with their education and career, be leaders and have ambition. As a woman however, expectations are very different, we are expected to master all the “feminine” duties in the household, not to be assertive, and education was not viewed as necessary, as when women are married, they will be looked after by their husbands.

I left my hometown of Thakhek which is in the central region of Laos, about 300 km from the capital when I was about 14-15 years old to go to Vientiane, Lao’s Capital. I went to the capital just to live with my maternal uncle; there was no reason for the move at all. It was here that I met my husband in 1991 when he came to Laos for a holiday.

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Meeting my husband

I guess, though, I am not so traditional in the fact that I got married to an Italian-Australian man. I was 26 years old when I met Mr Elettrico and he was twice my age, being 54 years old. We were introduced by a friend of mine called Lan.

My husband did not have any family in Australia. He had one older brother and one younger sister with whom he communicated from time to time. They all lived in Italy. He came to Australia when he was young and was there alone.

After our marriage, in Laos, we came back to Wollongong where my husband was living and working. I never really asked my husband why he came to live and work in Wollongong. We lived there almost in isolation. I had some Lao friends coming for visits or get-togethers from time to time but my husband never had any of his friends come to our house.

When I fi rst arrived in Wollongong, I had 6 months of English lessons. I did not speak Italian and Dominico (my husband) did not speak Lao, so we communicated in English. We sometimes discussed the differences in our cultures and he seemed to understand so we managed to understand each other.

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Feeling “homesick and sad”

I arrived in Wollongong in 1991, and I started to get homesick. I was very homesick and had deep sadness and depression. I started to suffer from lack of sleep, mood swings and I seemed to talk less. In a way I seemed to lose the “urge” to communicate. I had constant nightmares.

I never spoke to my husband about how I felt and he did not seem to notice any changes in me. The reason why I thought that my husband never noticed any changes in me was because he never showed any reaction to my illness symptoms such as my being silent, not sleeping well and so on. Although my family doctor saw me for medical reasons, I did not seek any professional psychological help as I thought that I was only being homesick. There was no interpreter present when I saw my doctor but somehow I managed to make myself understood.

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Hearing voices and seeing black-and-white pictures

Some time in 1993, I started to hear voices, especially in the evenings. I actually thought that someone had put some ‘”black magic” on me. I had no idea who would have done this to me; but I knew that I heard noises. I heard voices singing to me in Lao, they were singing festival songs. I also started to see “pictures” and they were all in black and white. Again, I did not seek any professional or spiritual help.

The relationship with my husband started to suffer. There were arguments, misunderstandings and silence. We divorced in 1999 and my husband died later in 2004.

In 1993, I heard voices mainly in the evenings, but in 2003, I heard them all the time! Although I heard voices and saw pictures all the time, I still carried on my daily routines of shopping, cooking, etc. Sometimes the voice symptoms were so bad that I got annoyed with them but I never got angry. I somehow just coped with my condition.

Since arriving in Wollongong, I wrote to my family back in Laos once every 2-3 months. But I have never discussed any issues with them. After the divorce, I moved into a flat because my ex-husband occupied the house. My husband never showed any further concern for me, he did not even call me after the divorce…and he never remarried either.

After the death of my husband, I moved back to the house and stayed there until the Public Trustee came and moved me from there because there was some legal issue with me inheriting the house. The Public Trustee who removed me from the house in the first place then put me into a women’s refuge.

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Getting treatment

And while I was at the refuge, I was told that I was “not well” but at the time not told exactly what I was suffering from. In August, the refuge referred me to the Health Care Centre who, in turn, referred me to Wollongong Hospital. At the hospital, I was thoroughly examined and I was told that I was suffering from schizophrenia. Throughout the examination, there was a Lao interpreter present all the time.

For the initial treatment, I was given injections every 2 weeks. After some time, I started to take the medication orally. I was prescribed: Risperdal Consta. Now I am still taking the same medication every day. I find that the method of taking the medication either by injection or orally has the same effect. My sleeping pattern improved a lot. There are however some side-effects to the treatment as I shake and I seem to slow down in my body movement and I put on weight. But now the weight gain is under control.

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If I hadn’t been alone

Thinking back (after my treatment), had I had my family closer to me, I would not hesitate to talk to them about my conditions. As a family, we would fi nd the way to cure my problems, either a “black magic” or whatever. I don’t know how “black magic’” is cured but I believe that if that’s what happened to me, I would have to cope with it all my life. My family would give me support because I am “not well”.

As for the wider community, I believe that people would also understand and be supportive if the illness was discussed or told. However if the community was not aware of my condition, I do not think that I would discuss it with the community because I don’t really know them and am not sure how they would react to the illness.

Since I had nobody with me in Australia, I had to cope with the conditions alone and, somehow, I did it until I went to the women’s refuge where my symptoms were discovered and treated. I do not think that it makes any difference whether you are male or female because when my condition was discovered I was deep in the problem and I feel all those professionals who treated me could understand me.

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Getting help

As for advice to pass to other people to help them recover or manage a condition like mine: do not hesitate to seek professional help. You can also try some meditation or just talk to the general practitioner or your friends about it. People you talk to such as the monks, GP or your friends might be able to give you some helpful advice or link you to services like taking you to the hospital or referring you to appropriate professionals.

Although my illness was discovered “by chance”, I am very grateful for the women’s refuge and being referred to the Women’s Centre by the Health Centre, as these services have been very helpful to me.


Download a PDF version of Kitty's story here (99.2KB)

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