Hope is Within Reach

By Elaine Peng | Dec. 18, 2017

 

For over 20 years, I had a loving family. I married my high school sweetheart and we raised a beautiful, clever daughter. I worked hard to take care of my family and be the best wife and mother I could be. But life doesn’t always follow the path we think it will. In my life, my challenge was mental illness.

My husband was only 41 years old when he died from alcoholism. My daughter and I felt this loss deeply. Soon after his death, my daughter was admitted to the hospital with psychosis and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She went to the hospital four times in five months.

I was crushed. I couldn’t stop crying and always felt panicky and extremely anxious. I was afraid to leave the house. For an entire week, I could not sleep. I collapsed with what I thought was a heart attack. Worst of all, I experienced suicidal ideation and wanted to take my daughter with me. Eventually, I was diagnosed with a panic disorder and depression.

Reflecting on My Husband's Life 

After listening to my family history, my daughter’s physician told me that my husband likely also had bipolar disorder since college. He was probably using alcohol as a way of self-medicating. Unfortunately, during our 20-year marriage, I never realized what was wrong.

Looking back now, I can identify the symptoms. My husband would often say that he could accomplish projects that other people could not, but at other times, he would be very down and unwilling to do anything. I didn’t recognize the symptoms then, nor was I aware that alcoholism is a mental health problem. I never sought professional help for him.

If he received help when he needed it, our family tragedy might have been avoided. In the years since, I have often blamed myself for not noticing the signs. To this day, I still feel guilty. But at least I learned from this tragedy how to support both my daughter’s and my own mental health.

Helping My Daughter and Myself

After my husband died, I discovered the NAMI in Chinese programs at my local affiliate. I latched onto this opportunity to gain knowledge about mental illness and how to support my daughter.

I became actively involved in her life, including dealing with her school, seeking professional help, monitoring her medication and making sure she kept her weekly therapy appointments. I kept a record of her progress and helped her rebuild her social network by enrolling her in a support group for teenagers with bipolar disorder. Most importantly, I tried to be supportive and understanding. With time, her symptoms have improved.

After learning more about mental illness for my daughter’s benefit, I realized that I needed to seek professional help for myself as well. And through taking medication and attending therapy weekly, I gradually recovered as well.

Spreading the Word

After my experiences, I knew I wanted to help increase awareness of mental health in the Chinese community. It’s my hope that if I can get these NAMI programs into the Chinese community, what happened to me won’t happen to others. I’ve been a NAMI volunteer for four years now and I have helped establish the NAMI Chinese Community Service Committee in the San Francisco Bay Area. More than 10,000 people benefit from our free programs every year.

During my years of volunteer work, I have been constantly reminded that I’m not alone. After struggling on my own and feeling helpless for a long time, I now know that there are so many people experiencing similar struggles.

Recently, my daughter got her driver’s license. Three days later, she happily drove her grandma to a medical appointment. It’s incredible what a difference I can see in her life. Just four years ago, she was supervised in a psychiatric hospital 24-hours a day. My daughter and I are living proof that treatment works and recovery is possible. And NAMI can help get you there.

 

Elaine Peng is a dedicated mental health advocate and educator. She provides education to reduce public prejudice against mental illness, decrease stigma among caregivers. She has started five Chinese support groups and developed the first NAMI Chinese website www.namichinese.org in the U.S. Elaine is a leader and developer of multiple NAMI programs for the Chinese Community. As a consumer and family member she helps to promote mental health services and provide peer support within the underserved Chinese Community. She was the recipient of the 2016 NAMI National's Multicultural Outreach Award and the 2017 NAMI California's Multicultural Outreach Award.

Comments
Zach Schleien
Hi Elaine,

Here’s a story I think would be perfect for NAMi Blog:

When one of my closest friends took his own life after his battle with schizophrenia, I resolved to do something constructive for people living with mental illness.

I decided to start a free Slack community called 18percent, where those suffering from mental health issues could connect with and help each other.

The community’s name alludes to the 18 percent of Americans living with some kind of mental illness.

18 percent has grown rapidly: We are up to 100 users in five weeks, with over 9,000 messages sent. We’ve been making a life-saving impact already, but we’re not satisfied.

We want to reach more young adults and were wondering if you might be interested in learning more about our project, and possibly telling your readers about it.

Best,

Zach Schleien
Co-founder of 18percent.org
3/19/2018 12:20:35 PM

Kathy
Elaine is a very caring, knowledgeable teacher who has experienced terrifying loss and extreme struggle with mental health in her family. She is an inspiring example of how someone can bounce back from the lowest low and find meaning in life through helping others with their own mental health problems. I have benefited tremendously from Elaine's hard hard work on creating groups and programs for our community. I hope many more people can benefit from the programs.
3/9/2018 1:16:53 PM

Edward Lee
We are so deeply touched! Thank you for sharing your great story! Elaine. You and your daughter are certainly our role models! We are very grateful to know you and to be introduced to NAMI. We joined NAMI just a few weeks ago, but have learned a lot from you and our friends in the NAMI community. With NAMI, we do feel that “hope is within reach”.
2/10/2018 5:33:14 PM

Nancy Eng
Thank you Elaine for sharing your journey, and using your heartbreak to inspire, teach, support and give hope to so many, especially in the Chinese communities. I am blessed to get to witnessed first hand your caring, tireless and loving incredible work to truly improve the quality of life for loved ones and families living with serious mental illness.
2/1/2018 12:52:57 AM

Xindy Lin
I am a mental patient. I am extremely grateful to know Elaine. She has helped me to better understand my situation. She has compassion and motivation for the benefits of all the people she has encountered. Not just to patients but also the care givers. She is not just a leader but also a mentor. It would be a wonderful world if we have more people like Elaine!
1/27/2018 1:49:40 PM

Helen Hsu
Thanks for being a #stigma busting leader in our community Elaine!
1/27/2018 2:53:37 AM

Wilson
I am very touched by Elaine’s Story and really respect her kindness and courage.
I love to be one of the member to contribute to what Elaine is doing, and help more people!
Thank you very much!
1/25/2018 3:19:01 PM

Gloria Chang
Elaine came to our very first Chinese workshop in NAMI Contra Costa many years ago. Elaine is an extraordinary lady! She went through her personal tragedy: lost her dearly husband, shortly after, faced her only daughter and herself mental health challenges. It is out of people’s imagination how she could come out of the deep dark valley! With her diligent dedication via NAMI training programs, she surly turned the tragedy into positive energetic perseverance. Elaine devoted herself wholeheartedly into supporting, educating, and advocating the mental health in Chinese community. Her tireless and endless endeavor made it possible that many programs developed in Chinese community which brings the hope to people who desperately in need. Because of her superb leadership and empathetic heart, so many people were moved and inspired and willing to join the NAMI Chinese team. Surly enough, there are a lot of works ahead in Chinese community. We sincerely hope that NAMI will consider to have NAMI Chinese as an affiliate to serve the Chinese community.
1/22/2018 5:34:03 PM

Lina Lin
very interesting for this event
1/17/2018 10:05:30 PM

Carole Wang
When I found NAMI Chinese in December 2016, I had been struggling for a while to figure out how best to help my daughter. At age 16 she was hit in the head by a tree limb while doing volunteer work. She suffered a traumatic brain injury, followed by PTSD, major depression, trichotillomania, and anxiety disorder. I felt that I knew a fair amount about mental health but during the 12 weeks of the family to family class taught by Elaine, I learned so much more to help my daughter and beyond that I discovered a community that supports each other. I only wish I had found NAMI Chinese sooner.
There are many people in the Chinese community who face a struggle to access mental health education because of a language barrier. This is a problem for the individual who is suffering and their family, but also branches to society as a whole. When I found NAMI Chinese, I was stunned with Elaine's courage, passion, and selflessness in her dedication to address these challenges. I am so grateful for everything Elaine has done. She has encouraged me and countless others in the community. The work NAMI Chinese is doing is incredible and so very needed.
1/16/2018 3:00:22 AM

Tommy Guan
Elaine, just want to say "thank you" and express how grateful we are as a family for your help, support and love. Without it, it would not have been possible to endure during these difficult times. Wish you the very best of health and continue helping those vulnerable families such as ours.

Thank you !!
1/14/2018 1:49:26 AM

Lily Wang
Elaine Peng is our community hero. She works tirelessly to educate, to advocate, and to lead. The torch Elaine carries has lighten up so many candles. One candle lights another and can light thousands of other candles. We see light. We see hope!
1/13/2018 2:15:34 AM

Liping tan
Dear Elaine, Thank you very much for sharing your story.Your story is very inspirational and encouraging! THe education and the support groups you lead are very helpful .
1/13/2018 12:12:15 AM

Cindy Lin
I feel deeply gratitude with all of Elaine's effort and support for Chinese Nami. She has helped me tremendously! I would be lost if not for her guidance and help! She is a great leader and deeply cares and empathizes with all the patients and their family!
1/12/2018 8:54:47 PM

stella w
Mental disease is the field derserve more people's attention and understanding. To achieve this goal , people need education and advocacy. And I find Ms. Elaine Peng has taken the leadership to educate and advocate for mental disease. Her persistency and dedication is recognized and appreciated.
1/12/2018 2:56:15 AM

Valerie Jackson
Thank you, Elaine for sharing your story. You give voice and courage to so many other people when you do this. You are a true advocate and inspiration!
1/10/2018 9:40:41 PM

A. Au
Thanks for all your hard work in orchestrating as well as the maintenance of the Chinese NAMI chapter. Your passion towards your serving of the Chinese mental health communities is evidenced by the dedication and altruistic effort and time that you have put forth. You are indeed a Godsend to those families who have mentally challenging family members, who have no ideas of where to turn to for help, prior to the existence of the Chinese NAMI. May the Lord continue to bless you and your ministry in your endeavor.
1/8/2018 1:10:02 AM

James MacDonald
Very proud of you Elaine! Your honest and heartfelt story truly shows what led you in wanting to help so many others in the Chinese community. You are a very valuable person, and hopefully you are inspiring more people to go out there and educate others about how they can help with mental illness.
1/8/2018 12:40:47 AM

Susan Power
Elaine, you are such an inspiration for all of us. Thank you for your hard work and dedication!
1/4/2018 12:18:20 AM

Albert Wu
Dear Elaine, thank you very much for sharing your story. Your story is very inspirational and encouraging! Yes, "Hope Is Within Reach".

Your dedication and leadership are awesome. Chinese community benefits greatly from your remarkable dedication and leadership, especially in the mental health education and support groups building. People and families are changed because of you. Thank you so much!!
12/24/2017 1:24:36 AM

Jimmy Chi
I think the problem with my daughter mental illness has given me a huge turning point in my life that really forced me to fully dump out my existing perception and ideas so as to face up with my daughter . Moreover, I’ve gained lots of information from NAMI Chinese in Fremont where I can meet up with parents who have same issues and who are willing to share their opinions and experience with me . That is so awesome!
12/23/2017 11:02:52 PM

Catherine Lee
I don't know how difficult is to have depression... But you know the most because you have experienced lost of your beloved one and daughter and have gone thru so much mental health challenges yourself. I greatly admire your courage and never hesitate a moment to stand up and speak our for the families that share the same pain but feel hopeless to speak out. You protect them, heal with them and give them unconditional support to open up door of hope! You are such an inspiration of your fearless spirit to face any challenges and never be swayed by any turbulents ! I hope to support you and accompany you with the rest of my life on this path of unconditional love and give my all to contribute to people.
12/23/2017 10:01:35 PM

Trung Hua
Excuse me, Elaine! Thank you for sharing your story to us! I am a consumer, but I am very active. In 2015 I joined NAMI Chinese group. I got trained to become a in our own voice presenter in Chinese version. I got trained for Peer to Peer, Family to Family, Mental Health 101. All those things give me a big help in my life. I hope that NAMI National will provide some more information for Elaine Peng, so she can help us better and better! Thank you very much!
12/23/2017 12:16:23 PM

Ruby Wang
Your story could always encourage me to keep on going! Thank for your dedication!
12/23/2017 1:23:26 AM

Eileen
This is a wonderful story. you know I find with disease its been the last year I'm into compulsive spending, and I don't have the money on disability, ive been in debt up to 3 to $4000 and I don't remember how all incurred. But, its been that or compulsive eating. But, I have a hard time sitting home face my life. if I'm home its on the computer online shopping or looking to shop,pretend, just to past time, and then its all nite, insomnia. I realized it one night and thought why am I avoiding my life.??
But, like you I love people and from this I would love to give back. I have EXXCELLENT customer service skills, maybe because I have a lot to give inside. I would do anything to help someone but, yet right now my eyes cant seem to help my self. Why NAMI tell me than I can help others. and heal.
AMEN
12/22/2017 8:14:47 PM

Jack X. Song
This article provided such sad but stimulated story. Elaine’s experience was strongly indicated that NAMI is such helpful organization that saves many life and families falling victim to the mental illness. However, due to different cultural and language there must be many Chinese (including all other kind of people with English as 2nd language) who are suffering the mental disease unable to get help from NAMI. Hence, in order to save and help more Chinese I strongly appeal to NAMI to establish a formal NAMI Chinese organization in USA or our California.
12/21/2017 2:35:29 PM

Jenny Liu
I have known Elaine for many years, she is truly one of the heroes in the Chinese community with her devotion to serve the mentally ill consumers and their families, she has equip herself with the right training from NAMI, is available to help not only by emails or phone calls, but also by traveling to visit needed at their houses, hospitals or various support groups located at different locations, she speaks fluent Chinese with a keen knowledge about what are the embedded cultures or belief that might impact to the individuals, families and the community to understand and to reach out for treatment, education, or community support. She has tirelessly served and developed the NAMI Chinese that is so helpful not to the Chinese community, but also inspire other community members to join NAMI and to help each others to develop support and strategies to improve the quality of the life for the consumers and the families! She is my hero, and the hero of the community! Thanks to your much needed service!
12/21/2017 11:59:40 AM

Ruby Sung
I joined NAMI CHINESE in 2016. I learned more knowledge about mental illness and received major support from Elaine and all the volunteers. I realized that I am not alone. NAMI Chinese is like a big family where mental illness patients family members share their painful experiences and support each other where is warm loving hearts. Mental illness is an invisible killer and serious problem that people don‘t see I would like to be a volunteer and advocate mental health to bring up peoples awareness because one out of five people have mental illness.
12/21/2017 1:01:54 AM

Sophia Cheng
Such an inspiration story.
12/20/2017 1:41:49 PM

Tommy Chan
Thank you for sharing your story Elaine. Your courageousness and dedication as a mother is admirable. Sorry for your loss.
12/20/2017 3:18:19 AM

Bela Cohen
It's a wonderful story, and you are an inspiration to so many people.
12/19/2017 10:43:50 AM

Karen Farmer
Love you girl
12/18/2017 10:05:48 PM

Jen Hong
Thanks for your sharing and dedication to educate and empower Chinese Community on mental health. Your witness and leadership definitely bring hope for all people who need help.
12/18/2017 7:21:51 PM

Janet Lin
Elaine’s story touched my heart. Many, myself included, are caught by surprise and totally unprepared when someone close first becomes ill. My daughter was popular and graduated as one of the best students in her grade. She started to show some abnormal behavior during the second year in college. We were at loss. It took us about one year before we took her to a psychiatrist. With many professionals’ help and support from her friends, she learns to cope with her condition and try to be independent. However, I wish we could have been more informed earlier so as to avoid some of the damage which was irrevocably done during the first period of my daughter’s illness.
12/18/2017 6:04:49 PM

Bettye Foster
I am the Program Supervisor for the Family Education and Resource Center; we are a program of the Mental Health Association of Alameda County. I have been working with Elaine Peng since May of this year. For quite some time I have been aware of the wonderful work that she does with the Chinese Community. The mental health support and education that she provides to the community through the NAMI Chinese program is invaluable; a much needed program for the community that she serves.
12/18/2017 3:48:18 PM

Veronica Liu
The Elaine that I know is a dedicated, remarkable and strong advocate for the mental health consumers. One can tell by reading the personal story and journey that she has shared, that it is moving and one can definitely relate it to his/her own life. She is remarkable, strong and unequivocally generous and kind. She sets the bar so high for herself and developing the different NAMI programs in Chinese is a great testament of her leadership. Thank you, Elaine!
12/18/2017 3:33:09 PM

Elaine Peng
Here's the Chinese version of the NAMI blog "Hope is within reach" by Elaine Peng.

希望就在不遠處

作者:彭一玲

20年前,我和我高中同學結婚,生下位美麗聰明的女兒,擁有了個可愛的家庭。我努力工作,操持家務,試圖成為一位好妻子和好母親。但生活並不總是遵循我們希望的路徑,精神疾病的挑戰不期而至。

我丈夫41歲時因為酗酒而去世,家庭已受了重創,雪上加霜的是女兒開始出現精神疾病的症狀。不久之後,她被診斷患有雙相障礙(躁鬱症),並在五個月內四次進出精神病院。我整個崩潰了,不停地哭泣,長時間失眠,不敢出門,恐慌和極度焦慮,痛苦無以言表,生命低谷中的我試圖自殺,想帶著女兒一起離開這個世界。最終我被診斷患有恐慌症和抑鬱症。

我丈夫的不幸
讓我震驚的是:女兒的精神科醫生根據家族史判斷,我丈夫在大學時已經患上雙相情感障礙,一直用酒精進行自我治療,而我卻在20年的共同歲月中卻對此一無所知。

回想起來,我丈夫在世時已經有很多跡象: 多年來他有時覺得自己很了不起,無所不能。但有時他又非常消極,什麼都不願意做。這其實是很典型的雙相情感障礙症狀。我也沒有意識到酗酒屬於精神健康的問題,從來沒有為他尋求專業治療。

如果他及時得到治療,就不會發生後來的悲劇。我一直在反省,為什麼沒有從精神健康方面想過他的問題。時至今日的我,仍然內疚不已。但至少從這個悲劇中我學到了如何幫助我女兒和自己的精神健康。

我和女兒的康復
在黑暗和絕望時,我接觸到NAMI中文教育計劃,從中明白了關於精神疾病的知識,以及如何來幫助我女兒。

我積極參與和她一起面對病情的挑戰,包括處理校區和學校的關係,尋求專業的幫助,監測她的藥物,記錄女兒在家的病情進展情況,確保她堅持每週的心理治療。幫助重建她的社交團體,並將她納入了一個青少年的躁鬱症互助組。我倆一直保持著平等尊重的關係。

在掌握了更多管理女兒精神病症的手段後,自己也積極尋求專業的幫助。通過每週一次的心理治療和藥物,我的症狀消退,逐漸康復。

推動社會
基於自身家庭的經歷,我在華裔社區擴大發展了NAMI的許多項目,大力普及精神健康知識,希望發生在我身上的悲劇不要發生在他人身上。目前,我已經做了四年的NAMI義工,幫助在舊金山灣區成立了NAMI中國社區服務委員會。每年有超過上萬人受益於我們的免費項目。

在志願工作的過程中,我不斷地被提醒,自己並不孤單,在黑暗絕望中摸索了這麼長的時間,猛然間發現,原來身邊和遠方都有這麼多和你一樣的同路人。那種力量讓人震撼人心!

不久前,女兒取得了汽車駕照。三天后,她高心地開車送外祖母去看醫生。想想看,眼前這位能幹女孩與在五年前在精神病院被24小時監護的女生真是天壤之別!我和女兒都是活生生的例子:證明了精神疾病通過治療是可以康復的! 而NAMI會幫助你達成願境!

希望就在不遠處,相信我。


彭一玲女士是一位資深的心理健康倡導者和教育家。她提供教育,減少公眾對精神疾病的偏見,減少照顧者的污名。她已經啟動了五個華裔互助組,並在美國開發了第一個NAMI中文網站www.namichinese.org 彭一玲女士是華裔社區多個NAMI項目的領導者和開發者。作為患者和家屬,她幫助促進精神衛生服務,並在服務水平不足的華裔社區提供同伴支持。她獲得了2016年NAMI國家多元化拓展獎和2017年NAMI加利福尼亞州多元化拓展獎。

From NAMI Blog "Hope Is Within Reach" by Elaine Peng
12/18/2017 1:30:23 PM

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