28 Dec 2013 by Jason Law CM –
When others speak about people who are struggling with ailments like schizophrenia, what picture comes to you? Is your view tinted by the sensationalistic portrayals found in horror movies like ‘Psycho’ and True Crime books, or do you view them as humans fraught with real pain? Albert Wang’s ‘The Colour of My Mind’, written by a man wrestling with schizophrenia, tells his side of the story, and the notable thing is how poignantly simple and ordinary it is. The fact is, a majority of schizophrenics are not very much different from us, except for being humans who suffer with emotional and mental tribulations as well loneliness that are much vaster than ours. Many of them possess a really sensitive and vulnerable temperament.
Before Albert’s story, there is a foreword and a brief summary to bring more understanding to what many people view as a taboo subject. Datin Dr Ang Kim Teng, the president of the Malaysian Mental Health Association, tells that as many as 1 in every 4 families will have at least one member struggling with a mental disorder at any given point. The brief summary of Schizophrenia explains what it is, who gets it, what causes it, how it is treated, and the stigma the patients go through. Dr Lee Aik Hoe explains in the summary that anyone can get the illness, that it is either genetic or triggered by massive emotional trauma, and that by far the greatest challenge a schizophrenic goes through is the stigma from society that they receive.
For stories like these, told by what many people view as ‘The Other’, it is often most appropriate that we let them tell the story. Albert’s really touched me. He shared that growing up he was what the Chinese called ‘pak-pak kei-kei’. This meant that he was an ambitious boy, who had a happy childhood, and whom his parents loved greatly. However, Albert got to know trauma at a very young age. When he was still a young boy, his mother, a sufferer from schizophrenia, committed suicide. In his words
I was devastated and cried a lot because I missed my mother. I recall how she would take care of me dearly. On some nights she would take me to PJ Old Town for durians while she ran her errands at the Sensei shop. Mother was a good cook and I miss her cooking too.
Why my mother had to die, I could not understand. After the funeral, I did not attend classes for a week and my eldest sister took care of me. She bathed, clothed and fed me. Later on in life, she too became a victim of schizophrenia.
This incident affected him immensely, and made him very uncertain of life and his future at a very young age. Pushed by a typical traditional Chinese father, the type who stresses academic excellence as top priority, Albert struggled with identity issues, fighting for many years and to great emotional and mental strain to earn the highest grades he could. When he went to Canada to study, an incident there brought immense guilt to him, and all the past struggles came falling down on him.
Through his writing, Albert came across as a man with childlike simplicity. One time he related the frustration he felt of not having the understanding and infrastructure available to help him express his artistic thoughts and emotions. He brought a very honest and upfront account of his struggles. He explained that he wanted more from life than the normal life cycle (Infancy to Childhood to Adolescence to Graduation to Career to Marriage to Family and finally, to Retirement). He accepted the Lord merely by hearing a simple sharing of the Word. Albert is a man with childlike faith, the kind that the Lord loves.
Albert shared many stories that melted my heart for his experiences. He shared about the stigma attached to him as a schizophrenic, the struggle he had meeting expectations at work, the side effects of treatment, seeing his friends succumbing to suicide or languishing in hospitals for long periods. The thing that kept him going, and that improved his condition is his faith in a God of grace and love, and his confidence that God will pull him through.
As Christians, how we react and respond to such people whom we often view to be on the other side of the divide, is extremely important. For example, in an intensely competitive and rigid society like Japan’s, mental illnesses are a serious taboo and thus, an immense problem. Reports come out about the epidemic of hikikomori in that society, 30 or 40-something years old adults, without jobs, isolated in their rooms, away from society. Some Cosplay players can’t differentiate fantasy and reality. The suicide rate is high. The societal demands in that country is colossal, without much outlet for empathy.
When Albert had to forgo further education and return to Malaysia from Canada, it was the friends he had that bolstered him. Many of these friends came from Glad Tidings PJ. When Albert had difficulty coping or finding a job, it was the organisations like Shelter, Rumah Harapan, Malaysian Care, and the Malaysian Mental Health Association that gave him hope and a job, many of them Christian. Albert shared that it was this support that gave him hope and a future.
It took immense courage for Albert to write this book and share his story in a society where mental illnesses are still very much a taboo. He stated the reasons for writing the book, among which was the intent to appeal for understanding rather than sympathy and the people who have the authority to do more to help, to spread the message of hope, and to share his life journey as a testimony of what is possible through God and the support of people God brought into his life.
For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat; for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall,
Matthew 25: 35-40
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
Title: The Colour of My Mind
Author: Albert Wang
Publisher: Oak Publication
Address: Oak Enterprise, Unit B1-02, PJ Industrial Park
Jalan Kemajuan, 46200 Petaling Jaya
Selangor Darul Ehsan
References for pictures