In conjunction with World Mental Health Day 2015 (Oct 10), the Malaysian Mental Health Association organised an essay-writing competition for those with mental health illness and their caregivers.
The main aims of this competition were to educate and create better awareness of mental illness, promote early detection and treatment, and better acceptance of mental illness, as well as destigmatise such conditions.
Fit for life will be publishing the top three entries over the next few weeks.
This week, we present the essay by VishaLatchi, which came in third.
My story is simple, yet complicated. The complicated part is that I suffer from schizophrenia. The simple part is that it does not define who I am or what I will become.
There are themes of struggle, pain and frustration in my story, but the most important thread that holds it all together is perseverance and hope.
I’ll begin with where it all started, when I was a child.
Growing up, I was a very moody child, filled with fear and anger. I was extremely weak and underweight, and I used to get admitted into hospital very frequently for not drinking water or for stomach issues.
I had problems in school because I was slow, and the teachers in my kindergarten used to “whack” me. This left an emotional scar, and I needed to keep moving schools because my mother couldn’t find a kindergarten that did not “whack” little children.
Then, we got news that we were going to move to Bangkok, Thailand.
In Bangkok, I went to an international school called Bangkok Patana International School. However, on the first day of school, I didn’t say a word and I wouldn’t talk.
They thought that I had a problem, so, I was tested and they found out that I had a learning disability.
For most of my early years in primary school, I had an assistant. This was difficult at times, as when you are a kid, the worst thing that can happen to you is to be different.
And boy, was I different!
I decided that in order to overcome this, instead of being shy or embarrassed, I would be loud and fun. I was the tomboy and was friends with all the boys.
When it was time for high school, they couldn’t let me continue, so I went to a special needs school for six months. It demotivated me as the other children had very severe issues, and I felt like, why am I here?
But it also made me a mentor. I was the only one able to communicate with the children and I made friends. But soon it became apparent that this was not the right fit for me, so my mother found me a new school called St Andrews.
I made new friends and was no more a tomboy. I became girly, but also mean, nasty and gossipy. I became a rebel to fit in and my friends were a real bad infiuence. I also got bullied very badly, but managed to make it to Year 10, and then, as I couldn’t do the IGCSE, I moved to Australia.
It was then that I became independent and could study in a normal college called RMIT. They had help for special needs kids and I completed the Australian secondary school certificate and moved on to complete my Foundation Studies in Media and Communications.
But I did not manage to get my degree, so I decided to do a hair and beauty course, and my father asked me to go back to Bangkok.
This was the worst part of my life. I felt out of place with old friends. They stopped talking to me. I felt lonely and alone. So I enrolled in Academia Italiana and did fashion and design for a year, but it was so tough that I decided to quit.
This was very hard as I felt like I couldn’t cope. I started drinking and smoking a lot. I used to drink by myself in my room at night. I would sneak into clubs and bars, and I got a tattoo and piercings, and I became addicted to Facebook.
Finally, I didn’t want to stay in Bangkok anymore as I was slowly losing it, so I decided to come back to Malaysia.
Staying with my mother in Malaysia was a good thing. She knew that I was losing it, so she kept a close eye on me and also encouraged me to find a course and go back to school.
I decided to enrol with Raffles College. I told them about my disabilities, and they said that it would not be a problem and that I could cope.
I told my mum to let me stay alone while she went to Bangkok for a project as I wanted to be independent.
I ended up staying alone for three weeks. I started to shut myself off from the outside world. I didn’t eat or call anyone, and I wouldn’t answer when other people called me or I would switch my phone off.
I then started experiencing psychosis and went into a fantasy world. I would hear someone call my name and I started seeing things.
I thought that l was psychic and in love. But it was one-sided love. I had a friend whom I talked to a lot, until one day, he pretended like I didn’t existed, so it really broke my heart and he became one the voices.
When my mother came home, she cried when she saw me in this terrible state. I hadn’t eaten for two weeks or showered in a few days. She was scared for me.
Every night, I would talk to the door at midnight. The next day, I was so annoyed when my mother took me to a psychiatrist. I told him everything that I thought happened: that somebody came into the apartment; that I had a boyfriend, etc. He diagnosed me with schizophrenia.
None of what I thought happened was true. It can be a very scary and confusing thing to suddenly realise and be told that everything you experienced, the people you thought you knew, were all a fantasy, a delusion.
Imagine if your boyfriend didn’t actually exist. It took some time for me to accept this as I was in denial.
Treatment was difficult. I would initially flush the medication down the toilet. But I eventually came around, and I started taking my medication. I was very ashamed with myself, so I hid from the outside world and I would just be with my family.
After three years, I started improving. I studied make-up and completed a diploma. I became functional, and in 2014, I launched my autobiography, In My Shoes.
I started public speaking and was invited to give talks on World Mental Health Day, at the Mental Health Association, and on the talk show on Astro, VBuzz.
I was also invited by the Education Ministry to give a talk in Pahang to students.
I was featured in The Star newspaper, as well as other newspapers, online blogs and magazines.
I gained a lot of confidence and improved myself. But, I still lacked support and I walked the road alone.
I’ve had many relapses since then, but now, I am back to my functional self. I’m planning to go back and study hairdressing, nail art and creative writing.
I’ve become closer to my family, and this year at my birthday party, I gathered everybody to celebrate my success and to announce to the world that I am sick and I need help and a support group.
At the end of the day, the worst feeling of all is not to have an illness or struggle to achieve things, but to be alone with no one who understands your pain.
Being kind to a person and understanding someone who is different is worth much more than scoring all A’s or making money.
I am not crazy or possessed. I am unique and special. And to everyone else who has been bullied for being different, whose parents are ashamed of them because they have a mental illness or who have been shunned from schools and jobs because of their disability, my message to you is simple.
You are not alone. Never give up and always have hope. It’s the wonderfully weird parts of us that make us special.