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Wei - Interview 31

Age at interview: 61
Brief Outline: Wei has been caring for her husband since he got mental health problems more than 20 years ago.
Background: Wei grew up in Vietnam and has lived in London with her husband for 25 years. They have three grown up children. She became a carer at age 39. Ethnic background: Chinese.

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Wei is 61 and lives with her husband in London. Born in Vietnam, they are both Chinese and moved to the UK in the early 1980s.  When they had been here just over three years, her husband became unwell. Wei describes the early signs as him being agitated, sleepless and restless. He would pace around the house all night, not sleeping for days on end. When she asked him what was wrong, he replied that 'nothing was wrong'. Not being able to speak English herself, Wei had relied on her husband up until then, and she found it very hard to know what to do. Eventually a translator from a Vietnamese community centre assisted her husband to the hospital where he was diagnosed with mental health problems. He husband was hospitalised, and for the next 15 years he was in and out of hospital.

Wei says she didn't really understand what was going on. With her youngest being only three years old at the time, life was a struggle. Not being able to read or write or to speak English, even finding her way to visit her husband in hospital was very difficult. At that time it was not easy to get interpreters or other help from Chinese speaking organisations. While at home, her husband would often refuse taking his medicine, which caused relapses and Wei had several times had to call the police when she was unable to deal with the situation.

Due to her husband's problems he couldn't work, and Wei had to look after him full time. She says thing were difficult financially, and she is sad that despite her children getting top grades at school, she couldn't support them through university. With the children now grown up and with families of their own, today things are a little easier.

Every day for the last four years, Wei has been getting help from relatives to bring her husband to hospital where he gets his medicine. Even if he is not back to his normal self, the medication is at least keeping him stable. Still, Wei finds it hard to deal with his lack of communication. He doesn't talk to anyone, so it is really difficult to know how he is feeling. She says he just sits by himself, smoking.

Wei finds that over the last few years, when she has been getting help from the Social Services by Chinese speakers, it is easier to understand what is going on and she says she feels a little better. Even so, Wei doesn't know the exact diagnosis of her husband's mental health problem.

Wei is grateful for the support family and friends have given her over the last 20 years. She is also relieved that there are more services available in Chinese today, and she enjoys coming to her local carers' centre once a week, taking part in activities and trips.

Wei had hoped to go and see her mother, who is 90, in China this year. When she applied for respite assistance towards the costs, she was told there was not enough money in the local carers' budget this year. She hopes she can go next year.

 

More help is available now, but when her husband first became unwell it was hard to get...

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Yes, I went to the doctor and dragged him over. I couldn't speak English and the children were very young at that time. It was very heart-rending. It was 1986 the youngest child was only 3 years old. I had to look after the kids and I also had to take care of him. What can you do? Years have just gone by.

Was there any interpretation service?

At that time, yes but it was difficult to access the service, not as easy as now. At that time, it was available in our community centre but they were always unavailable. It wasn't very good. Now here are many Chinese and even the doctor would help you to find one. Nowadays, if you need one, they found one available for you. It's easier now. It was really hard in the old days. The children didn't speak English and they were little, all were very young. Now, if no translator is found, the children can help. Ok, la.

 

She sought Chinese spiritual cures for her husband's depression, but they didn't work (recording...

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I don't have any religious belief. Our family practices Chinese ancestor worship.

So for this case, did you pray?

Of course I did. We are old fashion Chinese, we pray. When my husband first became sick, we were seeking Chinese fortune tellers, different mediums. We had spent so much money. Friends were very supportive, lent us money to seek guidance from Chinese fortune tellers as far as in China.

What was it like? Can you share it with us?

If you believe it, you believe it. If you don't believe it, you don't. You are from Hong Kong?

Yes.

You go a Chinese fortune teller to perform divination to find out what has happened to the family and requested to perform the necessary actions to counter the bad things. It was all scams. I went everywhere to seek help. When someone told me someone somewhere can help, I would go and seek that help. But all was in vain.

If all was in vain, why did you keep seeking such help?

I wasn't going to give up the hopes. It's taking chances. You wanted him to recover, he is my husband and I didn't want him to be like that for rest of his life. I wanted him to recover. When I was told such and such medicines are good, I went and bought them. When I was told which God was good, I went to pray that God. I've stopped in the last 2 years, I have no money. 

Just to buy some hopes?

Yes, it's a hope. If one is fine, of course you don't believe it. But when you have problems, if people told you that rock can save you, you'll go and worship that rock.

 

Since Wei's husband got ill, they have little money and are socially isolated (recording in...

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It was when he got this illness. He did not have it when he was a young man. When I married him, he was very hard working. He was never sick. He was always working when he was in Hong Kong. We went to Hong Kong and lived there for few years. When we arrived in England, he was learning English. He could drive. He was learning so much, had his driving licence. Once he became sick, everything was gone. His English has gone.

What was the toughest thing? Money problem. He smokes a lot, 2 packs a day, used all the money. Now the children are all grown up and working. When we want to go on holidays, they will give some money. Last 2 years, recent years, it's been better having this centre. The social service has this service that you can get £350 every 3 years for holiday money. I want to apply this year but was told they have no money this year, so can't get it. I was hoping to see my mum in China. She is old, almost 90 years old. Maybe I go next year. It would help if some contribution make towards the flight ticket, it would be easier. Yes, yes, then I'll have little bit extra spending money.

 

At the carers' group Wei meets other people and does things which takes her mind off her problems...

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Ok, la. I don't speak much English, only little bit. When we come here, we try not to think too much, just to enjoy ourselves. Not to think about our problems. Last week, we went to Harrogate. The organiser took us out, big group of us, for fun and afterward we came back here for dinner, than we went home. The whole day was gone just like that. It's nice to have this organisation, if this organisation does not exist, we would just stay at home, not much chance to go out and meet other people.

 

Wei's husband is not communicating with her and she finds that very hard (recording in Chinese).

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He doesn't need to go back to hospital often. We have no idea what is he thinking, he does not speak to any of us. All day long, he's just smoking, drinking tea and sleeping. Whatever we ask him, he just said, “Ok”. He doesn't say anything. I have no idea. It's hard, truly, it's very hard. When there is a problem, we'll go to the doctor. We have no idea how to take care of him. Let's see? It's hard. He really doesn't speak to you, even now. When asked him, “How are you feeling? Ok or not?” He just simply replies, “Alright, la”. That's all. He doesn't tell you how he feels, never. He doesn't like to speak to anyone. It's hard, it's complicated. Now, maybe the grandchildren are older, maybe he is happier. Sometimes, when friends came to visit, he would have tea and sit with them for about 10 minutes.

 
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Wei does not want her husband to go to hospital because it is part of her culture to care for him...

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I'm his wife. Who else is going to take care of him if not me? To find someone else to take care of him, it's not right. We Chinese are different from Westerners; we don't like to put him in old people's home. We can't do that. In Vietnam, there is Chinese saying, but I can't speak for the young generation, 'once married, it's till death apart', take care of each other until the very end. Who doesn't want to be taken care of? One takes care of each other whenever one needs it. That's the way it is. This is our culture. If you put him in that place and not care for him, it'll be quite sad. We are used to eat Chinese foods, western foods are not suitable. Never mind. Take care of him until old age. No other ways.

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