by Christina Chia, Multicultural Ambassador for Mental Health Foundation Australia (MHFA), Victoria, MELBOURNE
Photo : Christina Chia, Multicultural Ambassador for Mental Health Foundation Australia (MHFA)
I said those words a lot when I was a little girl – only 11 years old.
I didn’t really have any other way of communicating the horrible feelings within me.
I was upset, nervous and scared. I just kept waking up feeling so bad. There were some days where I didn’t even want to get up at all.
Eventually, I found the words that best described how I felt, and to this day, they resonate with me still.
I have butterflies in my heart.
It wasn’t a word that my family knew. In fact, there wasn’t even a word for it in my language.
Mental health wasn’t much of a factor in life. As a concept, it was in its infancy, if that.
The 1980s was a period of great technological advancements, but mental health was an area that struggled to be anything other than barbaric. Not just in Australia, but also where I grew up in Malaysia.
‘Mum, wa sim kia kia’ I would say in Hokkien, which means my heart ‘flutters’ again like butterflies in my heart. (The direct translation from Hokkien means my heart is SCARED)
When I told my mum how I was feeling, she didn’t know or understand what was wrong with me. She told her mum who didn’t know what it was either.
However, they didn't take it any further. They couldn’t - because the stigma in Malaysia was bad. So, whenever I told my mum I had butterflies in my heart, she took me to temple. The priest would do little ceremonies to get rid of the evil spirits within me.
Flash forward thirty to forty years later, and I realise that I was feeling all those years ago was anxiety.
When I try to trace what caused my anxiety, these butterflies in my heart, I can see that they were a number of factors such as bullying at school, school exam stress and my personality factors on lack of self-esteem and seeking to control everything.
Photo : Christina Chia, joins us as our newest member of The Brilliant Foundation
The butterflies in my heart stuck around during University days in Australia. I suffered through horrible feelings of isolation when I first came to Australia. I was 19 years old. I didn’t know how to integrate with the people here. There were very few Asians in Australia in 1991.
When my daughters were born I started to get a better grasp on things. My daughters are my heart of hearts. I realised somehow that I wanted to break the cycle and give my children a good childhood.
It is important for my daughters and future generations of women that I break the mould for female Asian migrants – the need to own the vision of women can be successful in business, contribute to their community and retain their independent spirit.
I have made so much progress over the years. I have tried to invest my energy in individuals and relationships that really matter to me.
Photo: Christina Chia, MWCEI MIWFCI MAHRI AMICDA, Chief Operating Officer & Principal (VIC), North Shore Coaching College
I have created joy and love for myself and those around me. I made sure that every moment counts – particularly living through the COVID-19 pandemic. When I do that, when I look after myself, the butterflies in my heart don’t really bother me. Anxiety becomes just a passenger.
I am an optimist—I always see my negatives as a gifts because I learn from them. I have finally come to a place where I think my essence is beautiful. That took years and a lot of courage. This journey of my anxiety, depression —all these butterflies in my heart gives me strength.
Whether it’s anxiety or depression, I think the critical component we need to think about is - how we can reach out and create awareness. How do we help those in need? Creating kind conversations. Be part of a solution. Contribute and serve.
I don’t have all the answers. I think we best help our communities when we lead by example. We need to take decisive and empathetic action.
When I got tapped on the shoulder to be the Multicultural Ambassador for Mental Health Foundation Australia (MHFA), I couldn’t really say no.
After serving MHFA for the past 5 years as the Deputy Leader VIC for Multicultural Ambassador Program and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a greater need for mental health advocacy, well-being and support for our vulnerable community. We need to keep the conversation going to help others in this space.
We all take different paths to heal ourselves. Everyone can speak their own truth.
There is no shame in saying that I’ve had anxiety.
I think it’s also important to remember that anyone can have butterflies in the heart. Whether you’re young, or old, whether you are wealthy or Chinese or whether you are educated — it can happen to anyone.
When I accept my ‘butterflies’ and when I look after myself, the butterflies in my heart don’t really bother me. Anxiety becomes just a passenger.
Life is an ongoing journey, and while the butterflies in my heart have never left me, they no longer confuse me. I understand their purpose, just like I understand.
Your Brilliant Feedback
1. Do you identify with this article in relation to responding the mental health and well-being?
2. What can we do to help enable mental wellness in Malaysia or Singapore? Or in Australia?
In SINGAPORE – if you need help please go to Singapore’s website “I need help now”
The website provides a list of organisations that provide the help that you need for your mental well-being.
Singapore Online Resources
In AUSTRALIA – go to the website Beyond Blue’s website for immediate mental and well-being support
Beyond Blue online forums (www.beyondblue.org.au/forums)
QLife (1800 184 527, www.qlife.org.au)
SANE (1800 18 7263, https://www.sane.org/)
HealthInfoNet – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing (www.healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au)
Victorian Transcultural Mental Health (http://www.vtmh.org.au/)
Transcultural Mental Health Centre (http://www.dhi.health.nsw.gov.au/transcultural-mental-health-centre)
Life in Mind (https://www.lifeinmindaustralia.com.au/communities)
Head to Health (www.headtohealth.gov.au)
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Copyright@The Brilliant Foundation
Edited by Dr Renée Ralph, Co-Founder, The Brilliant Foundation