Sad. Anxious. Lonely. Hopeless and in despair. These are some signs of depression. Nobody would choose to feel like this. Depression is not a choice, it’s a mental illness.
I have been a survivor of depression and anxiety disorder for 12 years. I am 36, married, and have two children. I live in Sacramento and I graduated from UC Davis. I love to stay active. I work out at a gym, and play basketball and tennis. I am involved with Toastmasters and also the PTA.
I grew up as the stereotypical Chinese student: quiet, obedient, respectful to my teachers but at home I was outgoing and talkative. My parents probably wished I was more respectful to them. I went to a Chinese Christian church, which was strict and conservative. I didn’t drink, smoke, or use drugs. But I struggled with feeling left out. I grew up in Maryland and faced prejudice and racial slurs being the only Chinese person in my whole school, except for my brother.
Mental illness: it’s not always what you think it is
I had my first suicidal thought when I was only 12. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to die or to kill myself, but I just wanted to disappear. I wanted the loneliness I felt to go away. I felt like I had nobody who I could share with. Depression was a taboo topic in the Chinese culture. My depression continued into high school and I struggled with high expectations, peer pressure, and fitting in. Maybe it was my accent, being poor, my funny clothes or not understanding American social norms. I remember wishing I had blonde hair so I could look more American. I also remember going back to China and even though I looked Chinese, they knew I wasn’t one of them. I was stuck between two cultures- neither culture fully accepting me. Even now, as I walk through my neighborhood in Sacramento, I wonder – when will I not feel like an outsider?
When I was 24 years old, I hit rock bottom. I had the “American Dream.” I had graduated from college after three years, had a job with IBM, married a wonderful and supportive husband, and had bought my first home at age 23. I had everything checked off on my list, but I felt so empty inside. It was December 2003 and I felt stuck in my job and that I didn’t have any close friends. I was physically ill with a sinus infection and it was the holidays. The holidays were a time when everyone is “supposed” to be happy, but I didn’t feel happy. I was tired of living. I started having racing thoughts, one thought after another went through my brain until was fatigued and exhausted. I was irritable and it was hard to make decisions. I felt hopeless and I didn’t see the point in living. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to die, but I wanted the pain to stop. I felt stuck and that there was no way out. Finally in desperation, I asked my husband to take me to the hospital. In the hospital I learned more about my condition, received medication, and tools for managing my depression.
I tried for many years to live without medication, but could barely survive. I did everything that the doctor recommended. I ate five times a day, exercised daily, reduced my stress and went to therapy. I didn’t drink, smoke or use drugs. But what made the biggest difference in my life is medication. Before, I felt like I was walking on egg shells, ready to crack at any minute. The medication just calmed me down a bit, took the edge off, and made me less irritable and anxious. I was a perfectionist, but with medication, things didn’t need to be perfect or go exactly as planned. For me, medication made a world of difference. As you can imagine my life became easier to live, and I probably became easier to live with!
Depression – it’s an illness, not a choice. Depression doesn’t care if you are White, Black, or Asian, poor or rich, male or female. Depression does not discriminate. It impacts all races and ages. I had everything I thought I wanted at one point in my life, but I was still not happy. It wasn’t until I took medication, went to therapy, changed my self-talk, and learned new coping skills that I started to feel much better. I became a public speaker to share my story to help others find recovery. For those of you reading this, possibly living with anxiety or depression, I want to let you know that you are not alone and that there is hope and recovery. It is easy to feel like you are alone, that nobody understands you or knows what you are going through. The truth is, you are not alone. One out of four adults will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, but many never seek help or take action because of the shame and stigma. Join me and Stop the Stigma! For more information, visit www.stopstigmasacramento.org.