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  • Chapter 2: and Again in High School | Lilian’s Story on Bullying

    We shared Lilian’s story last month of her experiences with bullying when she transferred to an international kindergarden in China. Lilian, born in Fujian China, is now studying at Madeira High School in Virginia, the USA. Today, we want to share her story on bullying in high school when she first moved from China to the US. Lilian’s now actively involved in mental health advocacy work and is part of our Teen’s Mental Health Program. We hope that her story could bring teachers, parents and school’s attention on improving the environment for teens, and support new students better in navigating through changes. Xiaojie Editor in Chief When the plane touched the ground at Dulles airport in the USA, my mind was occupied by the wild visions I had of living abroad during high school. No more practice exams, and no more teachers forcing me to study things I don’t like. I was excited to focus on activities that I liked, like joining many clubs and making lots of friends. The reality was different from my dream. Coming from a middle school in the normal Chinese education system, I didn’t have much in common with my peers who were local or came from international schools. I found it difficult to fit into the cliques at school. I didn’t get acquainted with my peers until one day I asked some of them to have some late-night snacks in my room. That night proved to be disastrous for me. When everyone was ready to return to their dorms to sleep, two people in my grade had a conflict with some upperclassmen in the hallway. The residential assistants asked me what had happened, and I told them about it, hoping they could solve the conflict. Rather than resolve the conflict, the residential assistants became involved in the fight and I became the target. I didn’t realize the severity of the event until I received the first notification from my phone. Then, the second, the third… Bombarding notifications showing that everyone left the group chat—except for me. The notifications came in like a flood. As I stared at the screen, my mind went blank. Just as suddenly, I realized I was being left out on purpose. The next thing that came to me was rumors. It should have been easy to prove my innocence, but it wasn’t. By the time I heard about the whispers, they’d already grown into a “fact” many people believed. I had tried to speak up once during lunch. I wanted to talk to one girl first. But before I had a chance, I saw the person who spread the rumors coming toward me, staring at me. I immediately gave up. There was an invisible hand covering my mouth tightly. No voice could break through that firm cover, and nobody listened. I suppressed my feelings to avoid crying in front of the crowd. When I tried to talk to my classmates, they wouldn’t reply. Everyone was talking to each other and laughing. I was like an invisible person at lunch table. I sat there awkwardly with two empty seats beside me. To avoid being in an embarrassing situation again, I kept my mouth shut unless someone else talked to me. I began to have the feeling of loneliness and believed that everyone avoided me on purpose. After a month, the situation escalated further. I ended up being questioned and threatened by a small group of people in the school cafeteria. I said sorry again and again for things I didn’t even think I did. They just left and didn’t accept my apology. At that moment I felt exhausted and empty. I wanted to find a place to escape so badly. I thought of going back home for a while. I even told my parents about what happened, and they agreed. Yet, I hesitated. I chose to study abroad and I didn’t want to give up so quickly. I knew my parents wanted to help, and we were messaging every day. I was afraid to call them because I was my classmates would eavesdrop on me. My parents gave me lots of advice. They told me to be strong and to talk with the people who treated me badly. But none of these really works since I had already tried all of them. Fixing the relationship was impossible, and I felt resigned. Changes in my physical and mental stage happened, even though they weren’t immediately apparent. After the night I got kicked out of the group, I felt it was more difficult to fall asleep. I was so traumatized that when I lay on my bed and gazed at the ceiling, I had flashbacks of my past childhood experiences of being bullied. I thought the insomnia would end quickly, but it did not. I used to lay on my bed for hours and couldn’t fall asleep. When I managed to fall asleep, I would wake up several times a night. The sleep deprivation left me exhausted. I was tired and often fell asleep during the daytime. The emptiness I felt made my heart ache. The stronger the sense of loneliness I felt, the more reluctant I was to talk to other people. Even though I wanted to make new friends, I was worried about others’ thoughts about me and I did not trust my abilities to make new friends. My anxiety related to interpersonal communication worsened at that time. I began to think that I was not as good as my peers. For a long time, I didn’t know what to do. The hopelessness was eating me alive snip by snip. Sticking to a daily schedule was the key for me to not becoming overly immersed in my negative feelings. I tried to fill every time slot so that I wouldn’t have too much time to let my mind wander. Instead of locking myself in the restroom during breaks, I signed up for several clubs and forced myself to show up. I also found that after running, I felt a little bit more relaxed. I exhausted myself on purpose by running every day in the afternoon. Most of the time, running helped me fall asleep much easier. In the evening, I filled my time by doing extra work outside of school and even planned to transfer to another school. As I became busier, I finally became friends with some of the day students. When I returned to the dorm at night, the loneliness came back to me. I was still uncomfortable with the situation I was in; however, things were improving a lot. I was lucky that I realized that there were still some people who trusted me, but I wished I have more support. I remember some people noticed my social isolation. Several of them had come to me and told me that they trusted me. Some of them were even close friends with the people who hurt me. Since every one of them came to me alone, I never know how many people they meant when they said “we.” I wanted to be friends with them, but I didn’t dare to step forward, and neither did they. I thought my life might be better if one of them would be a mediator of this conflict, or would spend some time with me. Still, I was so deeply thankful for their kind acts. They made me believe I wasn’t alone and there were people willing to help me. It took me about one year and a half to be fully recovered from this traumatic experience. After I came back home, I felt better and better. I could fall asleep, I was no longer anxious. It was like my true self came back to me little by little. Instead of pretending to be happy, I eventually felt happiness like I used to do. However, every time I’m in a situation that reminds me of what happened in the past, my emotions suddenly breakdown and I can’t control my tears from pouring down. This led me to finally going to a counselor. Now, I can look back at my experience and appreciate it. I view this experience as an opportunity for personal growth instead of a sad story. When facing difficulties, I now think positively. I believe in my ability to overcome difficult times, but I am also prepared for failure because I know the setbacks always result in comebacks. Self-care became part of my life. I pay attention to the beautiful things around me, whether it’s a warm breeze or fluffy cat. I found the pace for my life that I make little progress every day. The biggest gain for me is to be confident. I trust myself as a person and nobody other than me can define who I am. The experience of bullying can have a long-lasting effect on a person's mental health. Whether verbal bullying, rumor-mongering, or social isolation, it usually leaves the recipient with complex negative emotions, ranging from intense self-doubt to feelings of loneliness and frustration. Moreover, bullying often occurs in adolescence, when our sense of self-identity is not yet fully developed. This can often have a long-term impact on our self-esteem and social experiences later on. When faced with bullying, it's important to try to maintain a sense of order in daily life, seek help from family members, or seek counseling, as Lilian does. For parents, teaching children how to deal with bullying is the first step in protecting them. For example, role-playing school bullying scenarios at home to teach children how to express themselves assertively, going over ways to report to school staff for support if necessary, giving children more support, praise and recognition to protect their self-esteem, and helping kids build other relationships outside of school are all great ways to start. While bullying can be a traumatic experience, many, like Lilian, transform the traumatic experience into an impetus for post-traumatic growth. If you have ever encountered bullying, learning how to deal with it may be an important life lesson. CandleX’s Resources Are you or a friend in a Crisis? Crisis Support Your questions on mental health | CandleX Classroom Depression stories from our community members (both adults and teens) CandleX Column | Community Writing A CandleX production on Depression The Tiny Little Box | A Documentary on Depression CandleX Wechat Groups all ages, add our admin: Zingyzinger for 15-22 year old, add our admin: amaraprenderyya Peer Support Group biweekly meetings

  • Crisis Hotlines | Be brave! Reach out for help!

    Updated June 2021 If you or anyone around you is in a situation where you are in need of advice or help, here are three suggestions as to what you could do to resolve the situation. 1. Learn how you can help yourself and others: We’ve completed our online “Classroom”-articles we’ve written with the goal to support the community in taking care of one’s mental health and giving guidance on how to respond to depression. 2. Go to CandleX’s Mental Health Peer Support Group in Beijing: 3. Reach out to the crisis hotlines listed below For anyone in need of assistance in times of crisis, or just a listening ear, below are some recommended hotlines. They all offer anonymous, confidential support services. Some of them offer it in the form of live chat. All services are free of charge: callers only need to pay the normal phone call rate. 4. Domestic Abuse Victims For Those who are going through domestic violence, here is the list of full resources available: 反家暴公益热线全国版地图. The majority of services are in Chinese only. There are two services that offer them also in English, which were verified in June 2021. Alcohol Anonymous Group in Beijing: Read our interview with one of the members of our community writing project: Michael’s Journey to Alcoholism Recovery 5. International Hospitals in Beijing that could provide crisis intervention

  • Teens Open Letter | Music Therapy

    Hello there! Here’s the latest from our brave young people writing the letter they have always wanted to write, as part of our Community Writing Project sharing stories from our community. Our writer this week is Mary, a Beijing-based high schooler, who wrote a letter “to her parents” about a recent moving experience she had with music. If you haven’t already, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @CandleX_Beijing To my dearest parents, It's been quite a while since the last time I wrote to you. Last week, I attended an online session called “anonymous pen-pals”, where students write letters anonymously. It turned out to be great. Many students got to express their feelings freely. However, some students still couldn’t express themselves well and were still hiding their inner feelings deep inside their minds. My best friend Catherine is one of these students. On the last school day of sophomore, I saw Catherine walk straight out of the classroom during class time without the teacher’s permission. Watching her walking out of the room, I knew it was the bipolar disorder that gave her a panic attack. It was not the first time. I learned from a psychology lecture that bipolar disorder can increase a person’s blood pressure and could potentially lead to this kind of panic attack. I was sad about what happened to my friend, but I couldn’t do anything to help her. So I went to talk with my psychology teacher, and she advised me to play the piano for my friend. I did as the teacher told me, and with my music playing, Catherine was able to calm down. Music’s calming effect drives me to dive into how music can release people from their traumas and help them step out of their experiences. I asked my teacher about the power of music, and she told me about music therapy. She even introduced me to a Music Therapy program in Sabah, Malaysia. With great interest, I attended the program last summer and learned about basic music therapy with the local music therapist. The most memorable concept that I was taught is tuning in—patients and the therapist reach a musical harmony in melody and pitch. When practicing tuning in, I came to realize that music therapy uses music as a form of communication to guide patients to express their feelings. Without verbal communication, people use different instruments and tones to play harmonious music with a beautiful melody and perfect pitch. Tuning-in also means using different melodies and rhythms to stimulate different human emotions and to help music therapists understand patients’ traumas. When you heard that I will attend the program in Malaysia, you didn’t support me because you were concerned about my safety. However, I actually learned a lot during those music therapy workshops. I really hope that you can understand my wish and support my decisions in the future. Best, Mary Thanks for reading! Have you signed up for our online CBT learning course yet? San the QR code above to join us learning together about cognitive behavioral therapy via WeChat and Future Learn.

  • Chapter 1: It Started in Preschool | Lilian’s Story on Bullying

    Lilian, born in Fujian China, studies at Madeira High School in Virginia, the USA. She wrote to us sharing her experiences with school bullying both in China and in the USA. Author: Lilian Huang (pseudonym for privacy) Wrote in: 2021 I will start my story from the last year of my preschool. I moved from a small town in China to the city and transferred to another school. The new school was different from the one I attended previously because it was a private school that taught some English and other courses. The first days of school seemed to go well. But things changed when the head of a group of boys began giving me trouble. I didn’t know why he picked me, whether it was because he did not like me or because he just wanted to have some fun. Most times, bullying happens without a proper reason. They began noticing how different I was from them. I was different because I didn’t know how to write or speak English, and I couldn’t do calculations well since my previous school did not teach these things. My appearance was also different. I had short hair like the boys, I was taller than other kids, and I was a bit chubbier than the other girls. These differences all became the reasons for them to insult me. They called me names like “bumpkin,” “stupid,” and “fat pig.” But that wasn’t all. They pulled my hair, pushed me, and punched me. These memories have faded, and I can’t remember the details of the entire story. However, there are some moments embedded in my memory. Those moments of helplessness seemed like I stayed in a deep black hole with no light at all. One day, when those boys had beat me up again, I ran to my teacher. I wanted her attention so badly, and I used all my strength to grab her by shaking her clothes. For me, I was firmly grasping onto my last hope of help. She was the only one who might help. She was standing beside the lockers writing something. I was crying while I told her what had happened. But no matter how much I tugged at her clothes and asked for her help, she did not even look at me. She was looking at the book, and her hands kept holding the pen and writing. She glanced at me for only one second and continued her work. I saw merely coldness in her eyes. Then, I heard the words that I cannot forget: “I’m busy right now. They are just playing with you.” My parents were always busy with their work and didn’t have time for me, even after telling them what happened. My dad was working abroad at that time and didn’t spend much time at home. My mom went to work before I got up every day and often came back home after I went to bed. We could only spend time together on the weekends. I told them what happened in school, but they thought there was only half a year left for me until I went to primary school. They believed I should either tell the teacher or solve the problem by myself. I also told my grandma about the bullying, who thought I should avoid trouble by not telling others about it. Growing up, my family only taught me not to cause trouble. They didn’t teach me how to set bottom lines when interacting with others, nor how to protect myself when needed. At the time, I didn’t realize this was bullying. Only when I look back at it now, I realized the influence it had on me. For years, this experience of being neglected made me believe that I’m not an important person. I made a lot of effort to try to make others notice me and like me. Regardless of how great my friends described me as a person, how good my grades were, or how well I was at many things, I was never confident about myself. At that time, my mindset contributed to why I was bullied again and why I continue to feel even badly about it many years later. Sources of the pictures:

  • Homecoming Through Yoga | Lian’s Story

    I still remember when the yoga class ended, Lian said it had been a while since she last practiced yoga. That was in 2018. Ever since then, I have witnessed her journey going back to the mat, going to mindfulness retreats, deepening her practice and growing as a person. I saw the power of yoga helping her through a difficult time in her life, just like the way it did to me. As a yoga practitioner and teacher, as well as a counselor, I have experienced and seen the healing and transformative power of yoga. I hope that by reading Lian’s story, it gives you a snap shot of what that looks life. Happy International Yoga Day today. Namaste Xiaojie Editor in Chief Author: Lian Copy Editor: Katie. M May 20, 2021 It was 6:15 am on a cold, dark winter morning in Beijing. The temperature was 6 degrees below zero. Still half awake, I stepped out of the door to go to my Ashtanga practice, gently closing the door so as not to awake the neighbors, like I had done for six days a week. Half an hour later, I arrived in the room, which was also dark, but with just enough natural light coming from the windows to let me see the mats and not the faces of other people in the room. The room was so quiet. The only sound I could hear was the deep, long breaths of two or three students already there. The teacher was sitting in the corner, his presence revealed only by his silhouette near the window. Then I stood on the mat, getting into the practice. “Ekam (Sanskrit word for “one”), Inhale.” I said it to myself in my head, as I raised my arms above my head while taking the first deep inhale for the very first sun salutation. I knew I was home again. I practice Ashtanga yoga - a system of yoga transmitted to the modern world by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009). There are two things that people love and hate about Ashtanga: 1. It follows a set sequence so you cannot add or detract postures. After a certain time of practicing, you are expected to memorize the sequence and do it on your own. 2. The traditional way to learn and practice Ashtanga is the Mysore style, named after the city from which Ashtanga originated, which requires you to show up on the mat six days a week, ideally in early morning, doing what you have learned over and over again. For five days, you practice on your own, in silence, while the teacher walks around the classroom and gives you adjustments in certain asanas. On the sixth day it’s a led class, when you do the full series, usually 90 minutes, with the teacher counting. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? I love it. When I first started practicing Ashtanga using an app, I did not know what I was getting myself into. It was a period of my life when I just went through a big earthquake in my life that threw me out of my old life and into a massive cloud of not knowing what I was doing and where I was heading. I was living alone in a small apartment, with plenty of time to study and understand myself. Anxiety and fear were my familiar companions, breaking my days into anguish and sadness. I needed something that I could do by myself, that I could manage according to my situation and that could make me feel grounded again. Then I found Ashtanga. It was not love at first sight, but love developed through many many hours in silence and loneliness. The Ashtanga “system”, with its fixed sequence, its requirement of daily, persistent practice and the magic of synchronizing breathing with postures, was a safe place for me to fall into, to feel and connect with my body on the most sensitive and delicate level. I practiced the standing sequence over and over again in my small room, in the midst of all the inner battles I was going through, and so I was not alone. Early morning practice in the woods. May 2021 I have practiced the full primary series 200 times over the past ten months since I started practicing regularly with an authorized Ashtanga teacher. To this day, the practice continues to speak to me in a profoundly emotional way. Every day, I wake up at the same hour, show up in the same place, do the same things, struggle with the same postures. In total silence. This silence is precious. Without a teacher giving instructions and the students trying to understand and follow them, like in most yoga classes, practicing in silence is the only two hours in my waking time when I am free from all the distractions in the world, free from the endless flow of information rushing into the mind. Then there is nothing left in these two hours but me and the practice. So I breath, extend, fold, over and over again. I learn to observe my breathing, my body, my feelings, my mind, the thousands upon thousands of subtle dramas going on about me. There is a universe within me, waiting to be explored and understood. I remember one time I had quite a few slices of cheese for dinner and the next morning my body felt so heavy and slow. My body changed, and so did my practice. And there were many days when everything seemed grey and lifeless, when the only thing I could do was to shrink away in my bed, but I knew I still had my practice. The same reason that brought me to yoga a long time ago would again and again bring me back to the mat. On those days when I didn’t have the energy to step out, I would roll out the mat next to my bed, and start from “Ekam, Inhale.” During those moments, the practice gave me a chance to experience compassion with my body, and through that, compassion for my being. I breath, extend, fold, still in silence, all alone, coming face to face, heart to heart with darkness. And I noticed how the practice lifted me up and brought me home. Home practice on a smoggy day The most beautiful words that touch me deeply come from Dena Kingsberg, a devoted student and teacher who has been practicing Ashtanga for over 30 years: “Each day, we breathe, we bend, we extend, we fold and unfold. The next day again we breathe, we move, we move a little further, we unfold again. Again and again in the same place, penetrating deeper and deeper, peeling away the layers. Letting go. The practice strips us back. Through the struggle of it, we disentangle from the bondage of conditioned existence. We shed the layers of cultivated self. You are neither your job nor your position in society. You are not your education or your image. You are not the people you attach yourself to. You are not simply body or mind. Stripped back of everything that separates us, blinds us, our awareness directed inward instead of outward. a spiritual awakening seems inevitable.” Then the practice becomes homecoming. Practice by the Yangtze River. October 2020 All photos from Lian

  • Supporting Her Family with Mental Issues | Agnes’s Story

    Jane became an active contributor to raise awareness after learning about her brother's chronic depression. She developed a sense of understanding that those around her have their battles and listened to their stories with compassion, affirmation, and support. She submitted this story of Agnes, who shared the stories growing up in a family where the father’s bipolar disorder and her husband’s depression. I was touched by the courage, strength, empathy, and skills Agnes shows while supporting her family despite all the hurt, pain, confusion, and uncertainty she felt. I invite you to read this story with a focus on what Agnes has accomplished; hopefully, it brings light to how you could support your family member who’s going through an episode of depression. Xiaojie Editor in Chief by Jane May 2021 Anges’s Story Agnes is in her 30s, a bright and intelligent lady. We frequently met during the past few months due to some shared interest in a project. At our first meeting, she briefly mentioned her father's bipolar diagnosis and her husband's anxiety and depression. It struck me immediately, but I inquired no further, as it was too personal. A few months later, after we knew each other more, she didn’t mind sharing how she managed to handle both her father and husband's mental health challenges. Below is her story, told during a recent conversation. With her consent, we hope the story can help people in similar situations to know that “talking to a friend about personal and family mental health challenges is not a shame, it is courage!” Loving Father, with Mental Health Challenges When Agnes talks about her father, all I heard is care, understanding, and love, blended with some worries. There is more confusion about her mother's ignorance of her father's wellbeing after their divorce many years ago, which led to difficulty within their mother-daughter relationship. Agnes recalled how her father took good care of her whenever he could—he treated her dearly and never hurt or hit her in any way. Agnes's childhood was filled with love. Her father used to spend a lot of time with her—teaching her Chinese poems and piano, driving her home from school for a nap during lunch break, and watching the meteor shower together at midnight—to name a few. Her father told her that she was a masterpiece and the greatest treasure in his life. However, she also witnessed the “dark side” of his bipolar disorder. When Agnes recalled the scariest memory in a clear but puzzling way, I knew it was time to listen without any judgment or advice. Talking is an important way to self-heal, I believe. I didn’t feel pity for her; instead, I felt privileged to be the one hearing her vulnerable stories of life. That takes courage to share. She said when she was still a university student, she went home one day for no particular reason. She happened to be the only witness when her father's mental health worsened because the rest of the family was too afraid to see her father again. Her father tried to break everything in the house and made the room as chaotic as he could, even threatened to kill himself while holding a knife against his neck. In the end, someone called 120, and her father was taken away. Agnes could not cope with the situation at that time, but now she understands that it was part of the necessary therapy. She now encourages her father to see a psychiatrist and take the prescribed medication to manage his bipolar better, but her father still resists that idea due to his previous unpleasant experience in the 2000s, and would rather trust his own mitigation skills. Battling a Spouse’s Mental Health In addition to her father's challenges with mental health, Agnes’s husband has severe anxiety and depression. Recently, her husband “fell blue and got lost” and stayed at home for a month to recover. During that time, he rarely talked or responded to any of her queries. At some point, he demanded a divorce and forced her to rehome her beloved cat, who was like her child. He questioned her care towards him and her capabilities to deal with the situation in the long run. She felt hurt but soon realized it was not his heart speaking but his depression and anxiety talking. She managed to stay calm and didn’t get angry or discouraged. Instead, she cooks for him as usual, initiates small talk, and checks if he needs anything particular. In a word, she provides company. Turning Towards the Challenges Facing those difficulties, she didn’t turn away but made up her mind to face them. She managed these challenges and discovered her capacity to live life in a better way. I said to her, “You are so strong!” By the end of our last meeting, she said she learned better now how to manage the difficult conversations with her husband and make the communications work, so he knows that she cares, and she understands better his inner sufferings too. Her story shocked me but encouraged me too. On the way back home, I said to myself, “Life is truly difficult, but we shouldn't underestimate our inner power to face it. New problems emerge every day, no matter we like it or not, C'est la Vie.”

  • The birth of Great Human Connection | Interview with Matteo

    CandleX is constantly impressed by the work that other organizations or platforms in Beijing are doing, contributing to personal and community growth. CandleX believes the future lies in the younger generation, so we created a space for those mental health-oriented teens to sit face-to-face with community leaders, interviewing them on their vulnerabilities, intentions, stories, and work. This is an interview done by our 17-year-old teen writer—a child of an expat family who lives in Beijing. She sat down with the founder of the Great Human Connection, Matteo Casto, to learn more about why he founded the Great Human Connection. Interviewer and author: Nicola Interviewee: Matteo Gasto, founder of Great Human Connection Interview: 2021 Maybe you’ve been feeling unmotivated, alone, indifferent. Maybe you’ve enjoyed working from home, spending more time with your family members. Maybe they’ve driven you insane—whatever it is, for most of us, life has been different since the pandemic started. Maybe you’ve picked up baking or Sunday walks or started drinking tea to help cope with the changes. There’s no shortage of Covid-driven, or perhaps Covid-enabled, projects and coping mechanisms. Thinking about these Covid-enabled projects led me to sit down with Matteo Casto and his partner, Lisa Li, to discuss their own lockdown project: The Great Human Connection. When Matteo moved to China in February of 2019, he was determined to make his time here more meaningful than the business trips and holidays he had spent in China before. Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic threw a wrench in those plans. With everything locked down, people were confined to their homes and worried about the goings-on outside of our doors; Matteo felt stressed, limited and restricted—not how he had anticipated 2020 to go for him. The travel restrictions meant that he couldn’t visit his children or other family members for a long while, and it became harder to maintain his other relationships. He admitted feeling like he wasn’t living up to his role as a father or friend—because he couldn’t. Perhaps knowing his situation makes the Great Human Connection almost self-explanatory: determined to have meaning, let down by circumstances, and lacking the usual closeness of his relationships, Matteo decided he could simply make it happen, create meaning. That leaves the questions of exactly what the GHC is/does. The Great Human Connection is primarily an online platform connecting people with meaningful events, conversations, and get-togethers. It’s designed as a tool to enable people to understand themselves better and connect with others who find meaning in the same events. Based on the theory that there are five main areas of fulfillment/types of people (executive, validator, intellectual, director, and realtor), most of us a combination of two kinds, the GHC seeks to bring people closer to what they need to feel content. Follow their WeChat account and learn more at their event. In line with their motto, “Know yourself. Connect to your community. Change the world,” Matteo and Lisa believe that we have a responsibility to figure out who we are, what brings us fulfillment, and to seek that out and communicate our needs to others. A vital part of this process is self-reflection, as well as spending time with others. While the GHC has brought about positive experiences for those interacting with the platform, Matteo says that it’s been a positive experience for him too. Trying to bring others closer to themselves is inevitably followed by asking yourself what you need and want from life. For both him and Lisa, who runs GHC’s lifestyle brand, the Art Of Connection, founding their platform has given them opportunities to host events meaningful to them and gave this lockdown period more purpose. Incidentally, the manpower and talent needed to keep such an ambitious, kind initiative going strengthened the relationships Matteo felt had been slipping. He shared that two of his children are involved with volunteering and providing content for the Spanish version of their website, as well as friends helping with the general upkeep. While the GHC was born out of a place of unfulfillment and discontent—or maybe because it was—it’s taken root and blossomed into a genuine vehicle for connection, and both Matteo and Lisa have found meaning in what they do. Like the rest of us, the GHC is still getting to know itself. Coming up on its one-year anniversary (happy birthday!), Matteo and Lisa are contemplating where to go from here. The Art of Connection is staying; though they might be narrowing down the broad net they’d initially cast. An area that may be growing is the Modern Man—a series of workshops and a support group surrounding men’s mental health. His own experience in early 2020 made Matteo realize that mental health can affect everyone, anytime, and there’s quite a lack of resources plus some more stigma for men struggling with their mental health. He hopes to expand this section and empower and enable more men worldwide to open up, talk about their experiences and bring this power to others in their community. Definitely something to keep an eye out for! I encourage you to check out their WeChat account or website and see if you may be interested in one of their upcoming events! Not to bring personal bias into an article, but I found a lot of value in their mission to essentially help people create a better, more fulfilling life for themselves and those around them through the sheer act of knowing who you are and listening to who other people are. Where better to start than with the Great Human Connection? Thank you to Matteo and Lisa for the insightful conversation and for taking the time to sit down with me. Photos: from Matteo Gasto

  • Screening of “The forest for the trees” with Goethe-Institut | Event Review

    On Saturday, April 10, 2021, CandleX and the Goethe-Institut China co-hosted the third Mental Health Movie screening, joined by psychologist Dr. Theo A. Cope. To embrace the diversity of the Beijing community, this event was conducted in four languages, including English, Chinese, German and Chinese sign language. The event was held at the Goethe-Institut China premises in the 798 district with a full turnout and fruitful mental health presentation and discussion afterward. The movie “The Forest for the Trees” (Der Wald vor lauter Bäumen)—directed by Maren Ade (2001)—was selected for the occasion, a touching portrayal of the struggles of a high school teacher who is confronted with a reality that is harsher than expected. Despite being Ade’s thesis for film school, it was awarded several international prizes, including the Indie Lisboa Festival (Portugal), the Newport Film Festival, and the Valencia Golden Jove Film Festival (Spain). The artistic value of the work consisted not only in its well-balanced esthetics but also in the deep psychological understanding and rendition of human-nature, interpersonal relations, and everyday difficulties and coping mechanisms. After the screening, Dr. Theo A. Cope, a psychologist from Raffles Medical Clinic in Beijing, presented the attachment theory (created by Psychologists John Bowlby's with Mary Ainsworth), and guided the audiences to understand it with the lead character in the movie. He also presented a conflict resolution model that we could use in everyday life to improve our relationships with other people. We ended the event with a Q&A session where many good questions on relationships, interpersonal communication questions were answered. The CandleX Movie Nights series was started in February 2021 to raise awareness and improve the understanding of mental health conditions through movies and documentaries. Each screening is followed by a Q&A session with a counselor or expert in the field, who helps the audience debunk false myths surrounding mental health and better understand what mental health conditions are to reduce stigma and discrimination. For more info on the CandleX Mental Health Movie series and our upcoming screenings, please add Laura on WeChat: LauraAmaranta

  • I Came to Know My Brother’s Depression | My Stories, My Emotions

    Author: Jane Written in : 2021 The biggest “surprise” came without any hints. That day was just another normal day. It began with our daily breakfast routine; my mom prepared eggs, bread, apples, and grapes, as I prepared the coffee. My brother came as he usually did without any prompts. As usual, I was the first one to talk. I enjoyed talking with my family, but I typically spoke about myself, my feelings, and my thoughts. My brother usually hesitates to make any comments or is reluctant to give feedback, especially on topics that don’t interest him. The day before, I had gone to an event about embracing our vulnerability and taking risks. To my surprise, one-third of the attendees that day talked about their own struggles with depression, not being able to enjoy life and work, and also their helplessness to speak about the truth with friends and family. As I listened attentively to the stories, it was hard for me to relate to them wholeheartedly; maybe I didn’t empathize properly. At the breakfast table that morning, I retold what I saw, heard, and felt at the event, and then without any consciousness, turned my head towards my brother and asked, “It was so unbelievable, women and youth are really having a bad time these days. How about you? Do you have depression?” This time without hesitation, he said, “Yes,” and no more. The world froze in that second; tears rushed out of my eyes. I felt lost, suddenly filled with fear, sadness, and worry. Before my tears fell from my eyes, I cried out. My mom was beside me, I was not even aware of her reaction (maybe I was not brave enough to look at her face at that moment), and I started to talk. This time, I spoke about my surprise and apologized for not knowing what my brother was going through. After a short while, my brother continued and told me he had suffered from severe depression for years, and he knew how to deal with it properly with the doctor’s instruction and medication. I kept apologizing, but he said calmly, “You don’t have to apologize, not about you. I don’t hide now because I am okay with it.” What he said soothed me, and I stopped crying and began to pay attention to my mom. She said nothing but looked worried. Breakfast didn’t last long, as we all had plenty of work to do that day. My bother left home; first, my mom started cleaning up the table immediately. I could feel my feet again, and adjusted my tone, and tried to comfort my mom, saying that depression is common nowadays, we shouldn’t worry too much. After all, we believe in medical science, and we believe in my brother. The days following that breakfast, I searched my memories for clues about my brother, such as why I always felt that he was in a low mood and unhappy, with little interest in others and talking to me. I thought about how he preferred to stay alone in his room for a long time, how he always looked tired and refused to go outside, how he seemed so detached from the surroundings. Now I see that I was too good at justifying his actions and telling myself he was just an introverted person with a different personality than me. We had a different mind, and I never thought about depression, not a second! How terrible, how shocking! I was filled with regret! The only positive thing my mind told me was that nothing “worse” happened before now; everything was just fine! (一切都是最好的安排!) I was surprised that my mom wasn’t that concerned; she said it was not a big problem (indeed, she had seen worse in her life than this). Maybe my mom had a much “bigger heart” than me; maybe she was too old to care about emotional suffering anymore; I did not ask her. More importantly, she is very open, positive, and supportive—she went on with her life as usual. She still goes to the market at nearly the same time as she always did to buy daily goods and cook us meals, especially the Happy Friday Dinner. I am more attentive to my brother’s feelings and enjoy buying flowers for his room and our living room, inviting him to go outdoors with us. He doesn't resist anymore; we have captured the beautiful spring of Beijing during our weekly outdoor explorations with our mom. Thanks to my brother’s open and honest discussion about his depression, our entire family learned more about self-care, caring for each other, and enjoying life. After all, everyone has low moments, disappointments, and frustrations. You name it; they are part of our life, accepting and understanding are all we need. If you are unsure of how to support friends and family who are going through depression, check out our pre-treatment guidance project. With the funds raised from our monthly dog event and monthly donation, we are now able to offer a few sessions with 70% cost overed. You can also choose to join our monthly donation group by scan the QR code below. CandleX’s Resources Are you or a friend in a Crisis? Crisis Support Your questions on mental health | CandleX Classroom Depression stories from our community members (both adults and teens) CandleX Column | Community Writing A CandleX production on Depression The Tiny Little Box | A Documentary on Depression CandleX Wechat Groups all ages, add our admin: Zingyzinger for 15-22 year old, add our admin: amaraprenderyya Peer Support Group biweekly meetings

  • Dog Event Review | Hutong Walk and Lunch

    When you think of what you might enjoy doing on any given weekend, what comes to mind? Relaxing with loved ones, family, or friends? Taking a pet for a leisurely walk outside and enjoying nature? Learning about something new? Eating a big and delicious meal? Well, it just so happens that on March 21st CandleX was able to combine all of these activities into our very successful third dog event! For this outing, we took our time strolling through the Beijing hutongs with our furry family members, learned some interesting bits of history along the way, and at the end of our walk sat down to a much-anticipated meal at a wonderful Yunnanese restaurant. We began gathering around 9 a.m. at Shichahai subway station, waking ourselves up with warm beverages and good conversation. All our doggies received snacks for the walk, provided by Real 鲜食宠鲜粮. Once everyone arrived, we set off on our adventure! As expected, the dogs took the lead! We started with a relaxing walk along the beautiful Jade River, which really stands up to its name! Some of the dogs were keener to explore than others, but everyone enjoyed the scenery and the clear, refreshing morning air. Soon we moved into the winding alleyways of the hutong neighborhoods in the heart of Beijing. This was the most educational part of our day. Our doggy friends were probably less interested in learning the history behind how the hutongs got their name, or the important information doorway architecture and decoration can provide (Have you ever wondered what the different numbers of beams above some doorways might signify, or why a house might have stone drums or books on either side of its threshold?), but the human participants soaked up these tidbits with interest! As our walk progressed, we didn’t limit ourselves to looking and learning history. The time also gave us an opportunity to get to know each other. What a wonderful way to make new human and canine friends!After about an hour and a half of exploration we sat down to the wonderful food and homey atmosphere of Yun’er Town, nestled among the buildings and shops along scenic Beiluoguxiang.What a fantastic place to rest after our walk and build upon the friendships begun in the morning. Great food, great conversation, and plenty of play—definitely among the best ways to spend a weekend morning! Thank you to everyone, dog and human, who participated.We will be hosting dog events throughout the year, so if you missed this one and are keen to join us in the future, please join our Dog Event WeChat group to stay in touch! The funds raised by our dog events and donations go to a good cause—the CandleX Mental Health Pre-treatment Guidance Project. Your support enables CandleX to keep our mental health resources and services accessible to those who are in need, regardless of their financial capability. We would like to thank our photographer, Yang Zhou, for capturing all the fun of the day. We would also like to thank our sponsor, Real 鲜食宠鲜粮, for their continued support, for providing the dog snacks and for donating a portion of their sales to our project. Special thanks to Lost Plate Food Tours for providing us with the hutong walking route. Feel free to check out their authentic local food tours in Beijing! CandleX’s Resources Are you or a friend in a Crisis? Crisis Support Your questions on mental health | CandleX Classroom Depression stories from our community members (both adults and teens) CandleX Column | Community Writing Pretreatment CandleX Wechat Groups all ages, add our admin: niama_elazzab for 15-22 year old, add our admin: amaraprenderyya Peer Support Group biweekly meetings and biweekly hangout

  • Event Review | “Running from Crazy” screening with Camera Stylo

    In 2021, we aim to host monthly movie nights with different partners to raise awareness on mental health. We kicked off the program with Camera Stylo on Sunday, 7th of February 2021. We had a full house of attendees gathered at Camera Stylo to take in Mariel’s account of her troubled family history. The documentary screened, Running From Crazy (2013), chronicles the multiple mental illnesses running through the Hemingway family, from the esteemed writer through his son, his model granddaughters right down to the youngest generation with both nuance and emotion. Following the documentary, counsellor Rachel George took the stage to answer questions from the audience and provide thoughtful insight into mental illnesses, mental health and how we perceive the struggles that might come with them. The documentary, directed by Barbara Kopple, was a decently hard pill to swallow, tackling a myriad of personal difficulties. Camera Stylo provided a mellow, ambient backdrop (and wonderful drinks during the intermission!) to allow us the peace of mind to digest what we were seeing. The film hung in the air after it was done, prompting a lot of thoughtful questions from the audience members, which were skillfully, empathetically and competently fielded by the evening’s guest, Rachel George. Rachel started the Q&A off with a short briefing on the notes she took during the movie, cautioning against the use of the word “crazy”, as it perpetuates stigma around mental health issues. The questions quickly evolved into a respectful and engaging back and forth between her and the audience. Topics addressed included how one might tell when someone you know is struggling, whether or not there is a genetic component to mental illness, what to do when someone close to you is refusing treatment or in denial, and how familial relationships with mentally ill people can be very nuanced. Overall, the night seemed to be a success, and we give special thanks to Rachel George for her time, engagement and enthusiasm, to Camera Stylo for the amazing venue, and to everyone who showed us support by showing up, donating, asking questions and/or listening. In honor of World Bipolar Disorder Day on the 30th of March, we will be hosting a movie on that topic next month. To do this, we are partnering with “World of Bipolar”, who use personal story-telling to raise awareness about bipolar disorder in China through writing and documentaries. Stay tuned! In the meantime, if you are looking for information on community support or treatment availability on mental illness in China, check out our “pre-treatment guidance” program and our “peer support group” program.

  • Depression as a Superpower | Nathan’s Story

    Author: Nathan Williams Edited in 2021 “Hello everyone, I wish I could be there tonight to be among you all, you who want to know more, you who want to share and especially the men who are there, being brave. “Come over to mine tonight and we’ll talk it out”… …That’s what I said to my friend Alex after one of his deep depressive episodes. He disappeared for a week without a word. When he came back I wanted to really understand and help him. I thought all he needed was a good reflective session with a friend and time to find some solutions to all of his problems - or at the very least, a few ways forward to make the first step. After 4 hours and a few bottles of wine, we started arguing, he started treating it as a joke and I was annoyed that he mocked my help. I didn’t understand back then, but luckily he forgave me, we brushed it under the rug and carried on our friendship, which was by all accounts - was a truly fantastic one with many happy memories with many adventures! He was a brilliant actor, I made films, he acted in them. On occasion we would both act in the same play and after rehearsal we would go to the local pub “The Lichfield Vaults” or “The Barrels” depending on our mood - Alex’s usual was a pint of ale and a whiskey chaser… which soon became my go-to combination. In 2015 I had just got a promotion, my relationship with my girlfriend was starting to fall apart and my family was in the middle of a feud that was extremely vicious. I’ve always been the diplomatic one, I try to be kind and I try my best to put myself in other people’s shoes. Like my failed rescue attempt with Alex, I could not stop my family falling apart; I couldn’t find the right words to save my relationship and my work load increased almost daily. To make my family happy I had to pick a side and forsake other family members, my girlfriend wanted me to give up on a major part of who I was because she wasn’t willing to change - it felt like the entire world was bullying me to move and all I wanted to do was be still. Alex was the only person who noticed the change in me and encouraged me to go to the doctors. I had started to have random anxiety attacks in public, I broke out in tears queuing for coffee in Starbucks, I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning and I was gaining weight. The doctor put me on anti-depressants and Alex, for a time, was my only comfort. My girlfriend was no comfort; she had suffered from depression and anorexia as a teenager and consequently, never took mine seriously. It almost felt like the very notion I was depressed was an insult to her. At first, I struggled to take ownership of my reality - I hadn’t struggled to eat and been forced to like she had. Like Alex, I hadn’t booked out a hotel room with the intention of killing myself (that’s where he went during his depressive episode by the way). How could I complain? My depression wasn’t half as bad as all that, I felt like a fraud. After a few months the medication really kicked in, I felt more balanced yet numb; my weight came down because I was exercising. One night I had a seizure - a possible side effect of the meds I was on. I was worried it could happen at any time so I had to come clean - with everyone. I told work and they were actually really great, more supportive and understanding than I could possibly imagine. The first thing my mother did was hug me and for the first time in a long time, my family listened to what I had to say. One night, writing in my journal I realized that I was in mourning. I was mourning for the death of who I used to be. That version of me was a real go-getter, he embraced life with such energy - he was the master of his own destiny. But then the real epiphany came, that “go-getter” also lead me to this point. He was partly to blame for where I am now. So then I thought what if that old version of me hadn’t got everything figured out? Suddenly my opinion of depression flipped - I wasn’t cursed, I was given a superpower. What if, with this new view of the world, I could build a version of me that wasn’t going to break down like the last one did? Suddenly I saw myself as a vintage car: I need a new engine and sturdier tires- but I wanna keep the original dash board and leather seats. I thought about what I wanted to keep and what I needed to fix. Slowly, I began to build myself up. It wasn’t easy and to say I had my setbacks is an understatement, I’ve spent many a night drinking myself to oblivion and neglected my health. But 3 years on I am no longer on anti-depressants and as much as I can, I cut negativity and negative people out of my life. In 2017, Alex killed himself. At the time, I consoled myself that he wanted to do it, it was his choice. I’m not sure if I believe that anymore. Like myself, Alex didn’t hate life, he loved it, he had so much empathy and he cared for his friends and family. The weight of all that love became too heavy for him. He wanted to build communities and make people’s lives better - he just didn’t know how. In the wake of his passing, a trust was set up in his name “The Alex Evans Fund” - it helps young people who want to start something creative, be it a play, a film, acting lessons, music lessons - you name it. His older brother moved back home and set up “Powerhouse Studios” - an acting company he is trying to build what Alex couldn’t. Art was made in his name, songs have been written and performed - his legacy after his death is tragically the very thing he was searching for in life. I know Alex would have wanted to be around to see all of this goodness and be a part of his community. Alex was truly brilliant. For anyone hearing these words who are struggling with depression, do not lose hope. It is scary, but taking a chance on yourself could be all you need. When I saw my depression as a superpower, I took a gamble, I planted a seed in my head and I allowed it to grow. When you have depression you focus on how you can’t move forward - but sometimes a sidestep is better. So - think sideways, always, especially when you feel at your lowest. Some days I wish I could stay in bed, but so does everyone else. Most days, I still mourn for that old version of me, I long for him to come back in the same way I long for Alex to come back. The difference is that while I am alive, I have a chance to build something better. However, I will never be able to sit with my old friend and laugh at our jokes - our adventures have sadly come to an end. I’m not sure what anyone will take from this story. Maybe I just want to praise the man he was and say goodbye to the man I was. But from the bottom of my heart, thank you for listening.” If you (or someone you know) are struggling and don’t know where to go from here, our “pre-treatment guidance” program might help you. For a more social approach to support, consider joining one of our bi-weekly peer support group meetings. CandleX is also joining hands with DNC at the cross road of mental health and relationships. Follow them on wechat by scanning the QR code below for more. CandleX’s Resources Are you or a friend in a Crisis? Crisis Support Your questions on mental health | CandleX Classroom Depression stories from our community members (both adults and teens) CandleX Column | Community Writing Pretreatment CandleX Wechat Groups all ages, add our admin: niama_elazzab for 15-22 year old, add our admin: amaraprenderyya Peer Support Group biweekly meetings and biweekly hangout

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