On a fateful Thanksgiving weekend in 1999, I stumbled on this website, VIETMEDIA, which changed my life forever. (The site is no longer in service.) On this Vietnamese website, I was able to read and write. I felt an amazing connection with the Vietnamese netters through this community. For the first time in my life, I could feel the human connection, warm and gentle. I needed it. From that weekend until now, I have been passionate about writing. It is therapeutic for me and has helped me heal the deep wound I had inside. It helped me open up and release the intense feelings that had built up within me for so long. It was the door that opened up to bring in light from the outside world for a confined prisoner who had not seen a single ray from the sun for many years.
When I first began to write, it was only as a pastime, but I soon realized that it meant the world to me to share my stories with the public. I decided to become a professional and self-taught writer in Vietnamese. I only had a few years of formal schooling in Vietnam, yet I never learned how to write a composition or a story. I enjoyed reading Vietnamese literature very much. After a short time, I was able to write poetry and stories in Vietnamese. It came naturally to me. I loved it so much! Whenever I had the chance to sit down and create a story, I felt as if my life was worth living. Through writing, I started making friends from my Vietnamese writers’ group. Now that I had some friends, I felt so loved and happy for the first time. They had similar backgrounds and interests as me. To this day, we still have a solid relationship.
Six years into writing in Vietnamese, I decided to write in English in order to reach a bigger audience. This was a very painful transition because I had to stop writing in the language I loved so much. Writing was no longer a pastime; it became a career that I want to build on for as long as I live. The English language was still very alien to me. My expressions were very awkward because I didn’t read, write, or speak English often enough. The moment I started the transition, I wanted to quit. I asked myself, Who am I kidding here? It took me almost ten years to build up my self-confidence and skills. To practice writing, I translated stories and passages from English to Vietnamese and Vietnamese to English and also wrote in a daily journal.
One of the books that I translated was a prayer book with a prayer for depression in it. It hit so close to home. Prior to this, I did not have a name for my problem. I just knew that I felt blue a lot. When I read the symptoms of depression, I recognized almost everything about my problem: anxiety, hopelessness, loss of interest, mood swings, sadness, excessive crying, social isolation, repeatedly going over thoughts, and more. As I was translating the symptoms and prayers for depression late one evening, I cried so hard because I couldn’t believe that I had suffered from it all my life without knowing. The words of the prayers as I asked God for intervention to help this poor soul were so powerful. I felt each word echo to heaven as I begged God to rescue this dying soul. Suddenly, I saw a bright light, so real, so powerful, that entered my body in a millisecond. I shuddered from this powerful force. From that night on, I truly found my purpose in life — to shed some light into darkness through written words.
Through writing, I learned a lot about my behavior: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I clearly saw how my behavior resembled my father’s. When things did not go my way, I became violent and out of control. When I was upset, I hit myself very hard against a moving vehicle several different times. I did it until my hand hurt, and the gold band on my finger bent out of shape. A couple of times, I almost opened the car door to jump out while it was rolling. I once used a hammer to break the dressing mirror in my bedroom. Luckily, the mirror was too thick, so I could not break it. Rage and anger built up in me like an angry fire, engulfing innocent lives for years.
My behavior grew even worse when I had children. I dealt with all the following emotions: anger, frustration, stress, feeling overwhelmed. These emotions came and turned me into a monster, a horrifying image projecting to my poor young children. No, I did not want what I despised. I wanted peace. I wanted to love and to be loved, but I was like a wild, injured animal under stress. I did not know how to control my behavior. I screamed my lungs out when my loved ones did not listen to me. I did not want to scare them. I did not want to repeat the history of my father’s behavior. I wanted nothing but peace. The constant yelling, crying, and throwing things across the rooms seemed like a war zone. I wasn’t only dealing with stress because of my children, but I also felt constant madness inside. Lack of sleep might have also made me crazy, and I might not have been aware of it. I did not want my children remembering me as angry and crazy. I begged God to stop the madness. I prayed for the strength to overcome the demons in me. I knew deep down that I was a kind, sweet, gentle, loving, and caring person. I did not want to hurt anyone, not even a little ant crawling in front of me, let alone another person. I had no reason to harm anyone. I cried many nights when I felt out of control. l was on my knees, praying sincerely for this madness to stop before it became a vicious cycle. It took me several years before I learned how to control my temper and violent behavior. My constant writing and prayers helped.
The traumatic experiences that I had still affect my behavior to this day although to a lesser degree. I realize that whenever I overwork my brain, watch violent movies, or have a verbal argument with someone, I had a hard time falling asleep. When I finally did fall asleep, my sleep was interrupted at night. Most of the time, I could not go back to sleep if I woke up in the middle of the night. The bad effects followed me the next day. For the whole day, my head was spinning with negative thoughts. Everything seemed gloomy and depressing. The world seemed so dark. Not only did it affect my thoughts, but it also affected my behavior. My actions were meaner, and my words were as sharp as a knife. For my whole life, I had many negative thoughts that I wasn’t even aware of. Thanks to my constant writing, self-evaluation and meditation, I could clearly examine my behavior and the effects of sleepless nights on me. For a healthy individual, a sleepless night might make them tired. A cup of coffee can help them function and act normally, but not everyone is born healthy. I accept my imperfections and am willing to work on them.
So many homes are broken and many lives are destroyed due to mental illness. In our society, we readily accept and provide support for many health issues, such as cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and more, but we hardly talk about mental illness. It is taboo, not only in America but in many countries. Somehow people feel ashamed to tell anyone that they have mental health issues. For that reason, no one is ready to help the patient. Mental illness is like any other medical problem. But it’s okay to take medication or use other alternative methods, such as meditation and maintaining physical and emotional well-being. Whatever you need to do, take good care of yourself. What causes you to be sick and emotionally vulnerable is not your fault. Be strong and stand up for yourself. Take your life back and live a happy and productive life. I know what it’s like to be in a dark place, but I refused to stay there any longer. I feel liberated by talking about it. Without the freedom to express my deepest sorrow, I would probably have ended up in a mental institution or in prison for killing someone out of rage. I cannot thank God enough for giving me the ability and opportunity to write to share many touching stories.