Prizewinner discovers artistic side and renewed lust for life

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 October, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 October, 2003, 12:00am

Schizophrenia sufferer wins recognition for creating items through recycling

For schizophrenia sufferer Helen Tsou Sheung-seen, winning a prize in the 6th Hong Kong Abilympics was another step in the journey towards rebuilding her life.

The Abilympics, known as the Olympics of the Abilities, is a competition to demonstrate and test the artistic and cultural skills of the disabled.

Ms Tsou's victory in the May competition was for a traditional Chinese sewing and needle box she made for her daughter. 'I'm happy every time I finish an item,' she said. 'It makes me feel that I'm a successful woman again.'

For the past 10 years, Ms Tsou has been making household items out of discarded or recycled materials. She says that with her medical condition under control - she is now on minimal medication - she feels like a new woman.

A stockbroker in the early 1970s, Ms Tsou worked 20 hours a day and made a fortune. But she decided to become a housewife in 1976 after the birth of her daughter when she had been married for a year.

She said the pressure and tiredness she faced after her babysitter quit wore her down and made her ill. 'I was annoyed by all the housework such as doing washing and cleaning,' she said.

'I loved my daughter and still do. But I felt upset about the change from being a successful stockbroker to a full-time mother.'

Between 1977 and 1980, Ms Tsou attempted suicide eight times. The last time she jumped from a 30-metre-high flyover, seriously injuring herself.

The effects of medication reduced her to a life of simply eating and sleeping nearly all day for five years, but a nightmare changed her life in 1985.

'In it, my husband did not like me and wanted to evict me from our house,' she said. 'I was scared and began rethinking my life. I didn't want to be lazy any longer.'

Since then Ms Tsou has become a busy person, going to various self-improvement classes including cooking, English, woodwork, computers and photography. 'I never play truant unless I'm ill,' she said with a smile. 'I like a tight schedule. I've already wasted a lot of time. Now I want to fulfil my life.'

In 1996, Ms Tsou became a member of the Hong Kong Baptist Kin Kwan Social Club, an association for those undergoing rehabilitation with mental disease. With the club's help, she took part in a Hong Kong essay competition that year and won a bronze medal.

After that, she became active in all kinds of contests and kept adding to her prize list. She now helps mentally disabled and mentally ill people, working as a volunteer in Queen Mary and Kwai Chung hospitals. She talks to patients and teaches them how to handle their life. 'I want to help them regain confidence in life,' she said. 'We can be useful to society.'