“Turn Limitations into Possibilities” - PhD student Andy Fung strives to excel despite physical barriers
We often assume that people with physical impairments live a miserable life, thinking that they have fewer choices and more “barriers” in their lives than an average person - but it is not always the case. Andy Fung, a PhD student who suffers from a genetic muscular disease, commenced his research on trauma and dissociation at the Department of Applied Social Science (APSS) in 2018. With lots of perseverance and an appetite for knowledge, he managed to overcome many challenges in life to realise his potential in academic pursuits.
Be curious and keep learning
Andy was diagnosed with a genetic muscular disease called Congenital Myasthenia Gravis (CMG) during his childhood. CMG affects almost all the muscles of his body, especially voluntary muscles and muscles that are often used (e.g. muscles for breathing). In some critical moments during his infancy, emergency treatment and intensive care were required as he had difficulties in breathing due to weak muscle strength.
“Of course, I could not remember all of these moments. My mother told me about them. She is the one who supported me the most when I was young,” Andy recalled. Fortunately, his condition improved as he grew up. He can now handle his daily life well and gets around using an electric wheelchair.
“What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger” – this famous saying is so true for Andy. He has always been an enthusiastic student with a curious mind. “When I was in high school, I had a chance to meet people with different disabilities and needs. I also knew some persons suffering from emotional problems. They had some ‘strange’ symptoms, including amnesia, hearing voices, identity switching, and medically unexplained physical symptoms.” These experiences triggered his interest in mental health issues, and made him eager to learn more about this topic.
In many cases, people suffering from mental health problems are not well understood. “Their problems might be related to their trauma histories. Other than treating them with medications, is there a different way to look into the matter?” Andy is curious to explore further. Upon completion of his social work training in 2016, he decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Psychology and further his PhD study on mental health subjects at PolyU.
“In these years, I learnt about the concept of dissociation (referring to a failure in the process of integrating certain biopsychosocial experiences), which explained the sufferers’ experiences.” Andy commented that in Hong Kong as well as in many other places, people with trauma and dissociation are not well served in the health and social care systems. Their core issues (i.e. trauma and dissociation) are sometimes overlooked.
“I learnt a lot from the sufferers’ real-life experiences. I wish that I could do something to support this specific group of underserved people,” Andy said.
Be grateful and do good works
Understanding the lack of support for people with trauma and dissociation, Andy founded the Hong Kong Association Concerning Dissociative Disorders (HKACDD) a few years ago to facilitate collaboration with various organisations, media groups and scholars on public education. He then also wrote a book titled Be A Teammate With Yourself: Understanding Trauma and Dissociation with Dr Colin A Ross to offer self-help resources to those in need.
“Dr Ross is an expert in the field and was the first who encouraged me to do research when I was still an undergraduate student.” Andy is grateful that he chose to become a researcher, and is happy to dedicate his efforts to helping others. His hard work gained public recognition as he became the only awardee of PolyU in the academic year 2019/20 honoured with the Sir Edward Youde Memorial Fellowship for Disabled Students - one of the most prestigious fellowship schemes in Hong Kong.
“I hope that my work could further improve the understanding, assessment and treatment of different mental health problems, especially those trauma-related problems that are in fact preventable and can be better managed,” Andy added.
Be thankful for what you have
To Andy, studying at PolyU is a rewarding experience. He enjoys the convenience of the University’s facilities and the support offered, and feels blessed to have a good supervisor and team around him.
“People at PolyU are very supportive. My fellow classmates are hardworking and they make steadfast efforts to contribute to the community.” Andy also wants to express his gratitude to his supervisor, Dr Chitat Chan, Assistant Professor of APSS. “He is a caring and considerate person. He allows me to work in a flexible environment so that I can save my limited physical energy and focus more on my research.” The team in which Andy is working also adds merits to his experience at the University. “We tackle challenges as a team, and we welcome new ideas and possibilities. I’m glad that we always come up with new solutions and work creatively.”
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