A tormented soul is free to fly
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
It was 45 years ago when civil rights leader Martin Luther King delivered his dream speech. Since then, millions of those vulnerable, disadvantaged, oppressed and wounded people have been inspired to believe in themselves, and to have the dignity to alter the manner in which they lived, as well as the manner in which they were treated by others.
On a snowy afternoon at the CAMH lounge, Caroline Kwok, an immigrant from Hong Kong and a survivor of bipolar disorder of 25 years, told me that she was holding such a dream when she was at the lowest point of her life - during her solitary confinement in a psychiatric hospital.
“Those were the days when freedom was lost, when I was kept against my own will, in a world that I had not chosen, when I was called a ‘retarded ass’ by acquaintances and treated as an inferior who held a second class citizenship…Those were the days when I was like a timid mouse kept in a cage, but as a seagull, longing for the sky.”
Considering the prevalent social stigma that mental illness brings great shame and embarrassment to the patient and the family, it was extremely courageous of Kwok to have shared with me, through an interview, the first-hand account of her unique sufferings and some of her most vulnerable moments that resulted from intolerable human conditions.
“Hardly any words can describe the ordeal endured by a mentally ill and the family that is with mingled shame, guilt and fear,” said Kwok. ”I witnessed the most crucial medical treatment that a psychiatric patient has received - electric shocks, as well as the side effects they suffered from a heavy dose of drugs and shots… I myself had been in a close call of death -- induced in a coma for 3 weeks, after an overdosed prescription.”
Suffering a mental illness which required numerous hospitalizations, Kwok had been locked up in a hospital room with a security guard. Just like many other psychiatric patients, she was socially ostracized and stigmatized, and deserted by the man she deeply loved.
CAMH的精神病学家David Goldbloom医生表示：“许多人都无法理解狂躁忧郁症，精神分裂症这些病症…… 实际上，精神病患者也和其他人一样，也有爱人和被爱的能力。他们也拥有丰富的情感世界，享有平等人权和尊严。同时作为一个患者，他们需要更多的关心和安慰。但不幸的是，精神病患者很少会受到其他疾病患者所受到的他人给予的那种同情和怜悯。”
“Manic depression, schizophrenia… Many people cannot understand the mentally ill. In fact, they are, like any other human beings, capable of love and being loved. They have all emotions and feelings, with all rights and privileges. And yet as patients, they need more care and comfort. But unlike a patient with physically illness, mental illness rarely receives the same type of sympathy and compassion from others,” said Dr. David Goldbloom, a psychiatrist with CAMH.
And worse yet, historically, mentally ill patients have been discriminated against, perceived as having personality weaknesses or character flaws, or as being retarded, dangerous or violent. They have been beaten up, set on fire, and even murdered…
“We need to build up a society that provides social equity and support to the mentally ill, and constantly educate the public to understand the mental illness, and, particularly, help the patients and their family to believe in their own ability and capability to lead a productive and healthy life,” Dr. Sam Noh, Chair of the Diversity Committee with the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, told Chinese News.
“Evidence shows that people who are born with a higher propensity to develop a mental disorder but live in a supportive environment that is full of love and care may lead a healthy and successful life,” said Dr. Noh.
Revealing a tormented mind through her books, Kwok eventually won the sympathy and acceptance of those friends and relatives who had had so much fear about her illness, and who had ignorantly used bitter and cruel words to put her down. With the care and encouragement offered by support networks, psychiatrists, colleagues and friends, she gradually developed resilience to the outward stigma and built-up a strong inner-world of strength and endurance, with confidence that a wounded soul can be healed, and that a tormented mind is free to fly…
A Tormented Mind and Free to Fly are the titles of the books Kwok has published.
Kwok’s work has touched both mental health professionals and people who suffer from mental illness. She has also worked hard and published articles to increase public awareness of the cultural issues concerning mental illness in the Chinese community, hoping that more and more people will learn the truth about mental illness and extend a warm hand to unfortunate people in despair.
What has astounded and inspired me the most is Kwok’s compassion towards those who have a psychiatric history, and her faith and determination to give back to the community.
Kwok’s journey of a long road of recovery from manic depression has unfolded a Chinese Canadian woman’s odyssey from despair to hope. Today, many of those who suffer mental illness have a dream that one day they will neither feel shame nor fear in confessing their mental illness, that people will understand that the behaviors are the result of the illness rather than personal weakness, that people will accept them as members of the community, and offer them the respect and dignity that they deserve just as anyone else.
Kwok strongly believe that their dreams will one day be fulfilled.
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