Victoria Ma

Name: Victoria Ma

Graduation Year: 2017

School: NHS

Major: Healthcare Management and Policy

Editor’s Note: We sat down with Victoria and talked about a wide range of topics. Since she had so many great thoughts, we decided to edit the interview as little as possible so the full force of what she said can be shared. We broke up what she said in order to make it easier to read.

Victoria Ma is on a mission. Through her website, ADILAI she is aiming to encourage a conversation about mental health and mindfulness within the Georgetown community. We spoke to her to learn more about ADILAI, why she started it, and her own personal journey with mental health and wellness.


I think it was freshman year, beginning of spring semester, when I came up with the acronym ADILAI. I was really freaked out being a freshman on a really social floor - I consider myself a really deep introvert. I just thought “Ah, if I could write about a day in the life of an introvert maybe I wouldn’t feel so invisible”. And then I was like, “Wait a minute, maybe there is an acronym in there”. And that was how the name was born.

I didn’t take any action until spring of my sophomore year during a really low point in my life when I just felt like I wasn’t existing. So in order to keep track of my life, and to prove that I was doing things, I would take snapshots. Little video segments throughout my day, and I would piece them into YouTube videos. But I did that for a month straight with barely any sleep, so it was hardly healthy. I went straight from that into a mental health crisis. The summer after sophomore year I really took a look at mental illness, realized I needed help, and got the help I needed. Fortunately I had a really great network of support back at home. I’m glad I scrapped all my summer plans to really focus on getting healthy.

After that, the focus of ADILAI has changed from proving my existence to actually exploring and writing about mental wellness, physical wellness, my own passions - which consist of anything art-wise, plants - I sell plants, if you want to buy plants, let me know - and just things that interest me. The site includes a category I title “Stories” which is a place for people if they want to be anonymous to submit stories of their own struggles. Or if they don’t want to be anonymous that’s fine. I’ve had somebody submit “12 Things to Do to Make College Unforgettable” It’s just a place for people to submit stories of their own and not feel like they will be judged.

That’s something I really needed that summer, to tell my own story without being judged. But putting myself on the Internet means that I will be judged. I am totally fine with that because I feel that people need to have support when they are struggling with mental illness, especially if they don’t know what exactly it is and why they are feeling a certain way. I certainly didn’t know that I was clinically depressed until I was sitting in class my sophomore year or freshman year and we were discussing mental health services on campus. And I realized as we were talking about the steps needed to connect a student to relevant services that I was experiencing a lot of symptoms that my professor was reeling off for mood disorders, such as anxiety, bipolar, depression. And I was like, wait, maybe the fact that I can’t get up out of bed isn’t my fault. Maybe the fact that I really don’t have an interest towards anyone or anything is not my fault. Turns out it wasn’t my fault, and it had a biological root, which was a happy thing for me because then I could really throw myself into getting better.

On mental illness

Just speaking from personal experience, for people who are struggling with something and they don’t feel like life is really interesting, or their mental state impedes them from living a productive and meaningful life, that may be a sign that they have a clinical condition. I’m not an expert, but for me personally, I went through some group therapy where people who had mood disorders did not realize it until they had a breakdown at work where they couldn’t do something because they were so paralyzed by thoughts. Which is something that should not be happening.

So I think my advice is don’t be hard on yourself for not knowing that you may have a mental illness or not. And if you do feel that you do, don’t feel bad for it because a lot of people do. It’s an illness, so it’s not because of your personal faults or anything. It’s just because some chemistry in your brain is not working right, maybe some hormones are interacting correctly. There is a biological basis for it and it is treatable if you are compliant and willing to improve. Or maybe the causes are environmental factors, stress, trauma, and more and you need more things than you think people need in your personalized treatment plan and that's ok because it's what YOU need".

In my opinion, some people can get better with just psychotherapy, which is like talking out your problem and going to see a therapist. Some people need a combination of the meds to stabilize them and therapy. And some people like really really need meds, maybe because the chemistry in their brain is messed up and they need meds to fix it. And that’s not something to be ashamed of. For people who are considering talking about this, I would say talk to someone who is trusted, maybe a faculty member in particular, who you trust. And ask someone how you can get resources. Chaplains-in-residence are great, RAs are great. They are trained for this. And there is just a whole network of people at Georgetown who can help you.

On the term “mental illness”

Mental illness right now is widely used - like a "person with mental illness". People-first language is if you say “people with something”. So like people no longer say “a disabled person” any more nowadays, they say “a person with disabilities”. So you can say “a person with mental illness”. It’s better to err on the side of objectivity. I know some people say “My schizophrenia is a part of me, it has shaped who I am and I am not ashamed of it. Why are you trying to medicalize it?” But overall, I still think it’s better to say “a person with schizophrenia” not a “schizophrenic”.

I met a nurse who told me that more and more science is backing mental illness with evidence of actual physical anomalies, or chemical things that happen that cause certain mental illnesses. In her opinion, the term we should be using “brain illness”, which puts it in the realm that it is no one’s fault, it is just what is happening in your body. So I think that is interesting. If I used “brain illness” it would not be recognized as much as “mental illness”. But I think it is a more accurate term, in some broader senses. Because I think it may help someone feel like it is less their fault, because it isn’t their fault.

On her terrarium building workshops:

I’m doing terrarium building workshops because they really help people with mindfulness, which is being in the moment. I got really good feedback after my first workshop, which I did in conjunction with Primary Care Progress, which I am leading. We talked about mental health and also primary care and what it means to receive primary care, and how the health care systems in American treat it, There is a stigma that comes with being a primary care doctor because you are supposedly not paid as much, and it is supposedly a lesser job because you are mostly thinking. But it is really the most important foundational checkpoint in the healthcare system. That’s where they receive the full coordination of care, the doctor is supposed to know their whole life medical story, that’s where the whole person gets assessed, instead of in bits and pieces by surgeons and specialists.

I think the biggest reward of the terrarium workshop for me was afterwards some people were so focused on building the terrarium they were still just sitting there, picking at it, and after they were done they were like “Whoa, I don’t feel stressed anymore. Like I came here stressed, I started doing this, and I forgot everything except what I was doing.” It was something that really needed your attention and you really needed to focus on getting plants in a bottle with a chopstick, which is not something you can easily do. I was really happy that people benefited greatly from being there, being mindful, and just being in the moment, and that it helped them free their mind from a constant treadmill of stress. And I hope to do more in the future, maybe ask a coffeeshop if I can do one after hours. And I am going to try to start an online shop, but that’s in the works. Really I just want to promote wellness and the things that I do.

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