A Fulfilment in Life
Ha! I had made it! After nine years of struggling I finally made it at the age of fifty-seven—graduating at the University of Auckland and got myself a Bachelor of Art degree.
At the day of capping my sister came all the way from Alberta to watch the ceremony. I prepared a “cheung sam” and matching heels for that occasion. I thought the weather would be warm and so I prepared a summer gear. However, just two days before the ceremony it rained cats and dogs and the temperature dropped two to three degrees. I finally ended wearing a turtle neck pull over, corduroy jeans, leather jacket and sneakers. My husband actually counted how many graduands wore sneakers—there were six only. I felt warm and relaxed and comfortable in my attire. The procession from the university to the Aeota centre, where the capping took place, was a memorable one. Nobody cared about the drizzle, at least I didn’t. People cheered on both sides of the street all the way, hugging their friends and relatives, putting lays onto them and screaming with joy. I laughed. What a wonderful sight. It was like the procession in the city after Sir Peter Blake and Team New Zealand won the American Cup—only I was among the cheerers then. I held my head up and walked so confidently. Our procession was welcomed by a brass band when we reached Aeota Centre, I felt so important. That night my daughter treated us to a superb dinner and I was made the star of that night!
Many friends had wondered what I was doing at this time of life when many would be thinking about retiring and enjoying life. More so, when I was having the treatment of Hepatitis C. Would a mother and housewife for so many years make it to graduation? Wasn’t housework enough to keep me busy?
I had always wanted to get a university degree; even as early as when I was doing primary school in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, I did not work hard enough at school; and then later, when I had a chance to further my studies I blew it because I was sick—mental illness to be exact. My story is full of hardship, tears, love, support,
perseverance, despair, success, happiness…
Being diagnosed as schizophrenia and later bipolar is nothing easy for me. The horrible side effects of medication for schizophrenia followed me since I was in my early twenties. When they came I was so scared. I could not do anything, not even have the confidence of crossing the road; nor could I have the bravery to think freely. I was afraid that those most inner thoughts would be disclosed even though no one would force me to.
What is the most dangerous idea harbouring in a mentally ill’s mind when they are depressed? You’ve guessed it, suicide. I tried it once and luckily I was saved. I had four breakdowns—twice in Sydney, once in Hong Kong and the last one here in Auckland. Why I said this is the last one? Because I did something different this time. I helped myself to get well, of course I also have the help of psychiatrists and the medication they prescribe—I am one of those who believe in medicine. I cannot just ignore the years of studying and training the professionals have gone through. But honestly I do not believe medication and counselling alone could lead me to recovery.
I do not need to describe how being “mad” had affected my family. I ran away three times. My husband and daughter searched for me in hotels, motels, bus station and airport. I was ripped off by a cunning jeweller when I sold my diamond to get money to run away to Wellington. I ended up in jail for trespassing. Do you think my husband still had the patience with me? Definitely not; and I can’t blame him. I had lost the love and respect from my husband and daughter (or so I thought). I was like a puddle of mud on the ground.
But! I am a stubborn person and I thought I should not give up without a fight. A psychiatric nurse suggested that I should go to Toi Ora, a place where those have experiences of mental illness can take courses free. So, I pulled myself together and took creative writing, music, art and drama courses. I liked them. I gained back my confidence, self-esteem and integrity. Then I thought it was time I should do some serious studying. This was the beginning of the long journey to recovery and getting a degree.
Besides English, I chose psychology as my minor and the subject totally killed me. Imagine a woman in her late forties and fifties who had bad memory, lost the skill and technique of studying, trying to learn, understand and remember something like hormones, cells, neurons, ADHD, autism… You’d probably understand why I failed a psych paper even though I worked very hard. It was the Learning and Behaviour Paper. I failed by three or four marks(cannot remember exactly how many). Some of my classmates suggested that I should ask the lecturer to may be let me pass. The suggestion was just too tempting and I went. But he refused me straight away. When I asked him what I should do because I honestly did my best. He said, “Do it again”. At that moment I could no longer hold back the tears of despair, sadness, helplessness; I was at a lost and began to cry in front of him. He just kept silent. I hated myself for showing my weakness to him.
It was a most difficult journey, but getting the degree is an important milestone in my life and a dream come true. This has helped me to recover from mental illness because I have found meaning in life; and my relationships with my family have improved greatly.
Now I am engaged with voluntary work. I go back to Toi Ora for painting and poetry classes. To compose music is something I love. Regular exercise keeps me young and healthy. And writing is my chief passion. Tell me if you think that my life is unfulfilled. I wish I have more time to attend to the things I am passionate about. I can proudly declare I am a happy person!