"Mental illness is not a life long sentence. It is not such a dreadful thing; it is often a period where you have some life difficulties for a time. These difficulties can be worked out and are treatable and people with mental illness can and do recover..."

About me
Finding love and moving to Australia
Settling in 
The ups and downs
Thoughts on recovery
Download a PDF version of Lily's story here (102KB)




I would like to share with you some of my experiences of how I recovered from schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder. How my family responded to my initial signs and symptoms was really important as this really affected what I thought about having mental illness and how this has affected my own life, and the lives of my children and my partner. I hope that I can give you some sense of what my own recovery journey has been like.

I’m doing this because I feel it is very important to send a message to other consumers and their families or carers that mental illness is not such a dreadful thing. It is treatable and people with mental illness can recover.

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About me

I was born in China. My parents and I lived in a very supportive, cohesive and friendly community. It was on a campus of Yunnan University. Everyone knew each other. I had a lot of friends in my age group. We played together and went to school together. It was a lot of fun. We shared a lot of our joys and unhappiness together.

When I was 18 years old, I sat the Chinese equivalent of the HSC certificate exams. During the exams I had a nasty incident with another girl. I was very upset about it. When I went home I cried a lot for days. I did not eat proper meals. I didn’t sleep well.

Then I subsequently enrolled in a four year teaching degree course at a university. I studied very hard, and sometimes I went to bed very late. That’s really when my problems started. I isolated myself, I didn’t talk with my friends and my parents. They did not know what was wrong with me. I did not know either. The next thing that happened was that I was crying badly in one of my major exams. The doctor from my university said that I was having a nervous break-down and I needed psychiatric treatment. So I was sent to a community- based psychiatric hospital in the countryside. It was not restrictive and there I received acupuncture treatment three times a day, was given herbal medicine to drink twice a day as well as Western medication daily. I enjoyed the country life and with the effective treatment, I recovered very quickly and was able to be discharged after four weeks.

I came back to live with my parents, and my friends were very supportive. I recovered, regaining my strength and went back to the university eight months later. But again I relapsed during my studies. This time it was much worse for me than the fi rst time. I was crying badly for no reason all day. I heard voices and did things which the voices told me to do. This time I was sent to a very restricted psychiatric hospital and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. However this time I was given many electro-convulsive treatments (ECT) and had to take many different medications in there. My forehead was burnt and I could not bear the thought of having to have any more ECT. So I wrote to my father and asked for his help. Then my father advocated on my behalf with the president of the psychiatric hospital. The president subsequently intervened with my prescribed treatment and cancelled my ECT treatment. I started to get better and was discharged. I decided to go back to the uni for the third time.

This time the president of the psychiatric hospital became my private psychiatrist. I visited him regularly and he really monitored my medications. With his help and the medication I successfully finished my four-year teaching training course and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree. I then started teaching at a financial institute in Kunming as an assistant lecturer for four years.

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Finding love and moving to Australia…

Then I met my now ex-husband. He was an Australian-born English teacher at the university which I graduated from. We fell in love. I told him that I had a mental illness and I took him to my psychiatrist. They had a very long conversation and my psychiatrist told him everything.

After that my husband said he still loved me dearly so then we married. Soon after this I migrated to Australia with my new husband and we settled in the Liverpool area.

Living as a person with two cultures, both Chinese and Australian, was not easy. In the beginning I found it very hard, as my husband went to work and I stayed at home with no one to talk to. I felt very lonely and isolated. I knew I had to adapt somehow and so I enrolled in an English course at Liverpool TAFE.


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Settling in…

I went to TAFE regularly and started to meet and interact with other people. I started to feel much better.

My living conditions in Liverpool were good, as I could shop for Chinese groceries nearby at Cabramatta so I didn’t miss food that I enjoyed..

However I still thought there was something major missing, as I did not have any Chinese friends. I really missed the friends who I grew up with, that used to share the joys and sadness with me, and I could not speak Mandarin with anyone.

We were both isolated really as my husband also had no extended family support in Liverpool as he came from Queensland. His family and friends were all in Queensland. Although we were isolated we loved each other and things slowly started to look better and easier.

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The ups and the downs…

In Australia I again experienced mental health problems after I gave birth to my first child. I could not sleep at night for days and days. I heard voices and did some very stange things which the voices told me to do. I laughed and cried without any reason. My husband then contacted the community mental health team through the baby health clinic nurse. The case manager of the mental health team came and visited me at my home. As my symptoms got worse, the nurse arranged for me to go into hospital.

Having ongoing periods of mental illness has really affected my life a lot. The biggest impacts have been on the people most close to me and myself. Initially my husband was very supportive and helpful, but after 11 years of struggling to cope he left me. As a result, my marriage broke down and my husband divorced me. It really affected my family life, particularly my children. When they were young my children didn’t know what was wrong with me and I don’t think my illness was ever explained to them. What they knew was that mummy was sad most of the time, mummy needed to take pills, mummy needed to see doctors, and mummy was not a cheerful person.

I feel my marriage broke down because of my mental illness and the most diffi cult and challenging adjustment I had to make was living by myself. My children are now only allowed to come to stay with me every second weekend. I also think I lost some work opportunities as I was really interested in working as a child-care worker but it’s not an area of employment that has broad views about mental illness.

I think the mental health worker and my GP understand my situation very well and they helped me feel it it was all right to be honest and open with them. I told them how I felt, about some of my dreams and what I wanted to achieve. I guess having set myself some goals that I thought were important they all were able in their own way to support me.

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I think that my recovery journey truly began after I separated from my now ex-husband. I lived at a residential support service where I met a Chinese friend. He took me to a rehabilitation centre and I really can’t praise enough the help I received from the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association. I eventually got a job as a part-time cleaner.

I got to know a consumer consultant. The consumer consultant introduced me to the idea of doing some training courses. These courses really enlarged my social circle and built the foundations of seeing I could start to have a career again.

I asked one of the occupational therapists to help me to enrol in a computer course at Liverpool TAFE. I really enjoyed these classes. After I had been discharged from Residential Service, my financial situation was not that good.

The occupational therapist helped me to set some goals – like finding employment. He visited me every week and we looked at the local newspapers together, checking every job vacancy. And one day I found a suitable job and he helped me to write the covering letter. My TAFE teacher also helped me to write my first resume.

Then I got called to go for an interview. I did very well at the interview and so I got a job at a hospital as a hospital assistant. I was very happy about this and I am now looking forward again.

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Thoughts on recovery…

I think the following are important things for people with mental illness to try:

  • Seek help actively
  • Persevere and get your message across to the professionals you meet
  • Set your goals • Listen to others and share your experiences with others
  • Actively participate in training courses or groups
  • Have some routines in your life
  • Make sure you give yourself a nice treat or something very little, e.g. a simple reward such as a nice cup of coffee, flowers, hiring a DVD
  • If any opportunities come along grab them, e.g. actively involve yourself with some organisations or try sitting on some committees
  • Listen to music
  • Exercise regularly
  • Give a supporting hand to others
  • Receive help when you need it

Download a PDF version of Lily's story here (102KB)

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