Here’s the latest in our Community Writing Project. Lily, a 16-year old high school student originally from China, writes about her experiences with mental health as an international student in America. Thank you for sharing your story, Lily! If you have any comments about this piece, are affected by its contents or what to discuss with our community, scan the QR code at the bottom of this article to join our Wechat group.
I came to America by myself as an international student at the age of 13. I did not prepare much for my American life. I was too young to understand how big the challenge would be.
I landed in America with excitement, and everyone welcomed me. At that moment, I was truly happy because I thought I was free. My parents weren’t around anymore. I did not know what it meant to live in someone else’s house by myself. My freshman year flew by with numbness. I wasted my time, focused on useless things, made wrong decisions. On the last day of my freshman year, I lay on my bed and questioned myself: what did I do in the last 10 months, anything meaningful, anything worth telling my parents about, or anything to make me proud? No, I didn’t achieve anything. This sad mood lasted about two days, and I felt like I was stuck in a swamp. Looking back now, that was the beginning of my depression. But at that time, I had no idea about mental health and never thought that I would trip over mental health issues.
My sophomore year was when my depression really started. I started to understand that I needed good grades to go to a good college, to make my parents proud, and to make all the money they spent on me worth it. I think the only way to make up the mistakes I had made before was to work really, really hard. The time I spent studying time was the only moment in which I did not feel so bad about myself. I started to try to be someone else, someone who looks perfect from the outside, and that kind of mindset turned into jealousy. Bitterness and resentment from everyday life made me feel even worse. Every time I felt so tired and tried to relax or take a nap. I constantly questioned myself - would the people I admire take a nap at this point? No, of course not, so why would I be relaxing? I did not think that I deserved to relax anymore. I always told myself to think about how much money my parents had spent on me. So, I just continued to study even when I was tired, and because I was tired I could not focus well, which in turn meant my grades suffered. Declining grades make me even more frustrated with myself, and as you can see, I was stuck in a bad loop. During that time, I was also in our school's soccer team, but after all these late-night studies and pain in the head caused my health to worsen, I was no longer picked in the starting team. With the negative feedback from my teammates and coach, I lost interest in my only hobby, soccer, too. I carried all these heavy loads with me and felt like a coin dropped into the deep, deep ocean without any light around me. I worked really hard to cover up my mistakes. I lived in the shadow of self-inflicted blame every single moment. It was really hard, and the voice in my head questioning the efforts I made got louder and louder. The questions I asked myself: Do I work hard enough? Do I deserve happiness? Am I worth the money my parents spend on me? Those questions hit my mind hard, and I could not get rid of them for years. Eventually, I started to cover my negative thoughts by playing games. Winning in games gave me a sense of achievement. But just a few weeks later, I lost my interest in games too. Every moment of happiness made me feel guilty. I started to find everything in life boring. I could hardly find anything in my life that could bring me excitement and happiness. I should have done something to end my depression, but I did not. Instead of facing myself and talking to myself, I choose to avoid my problems because of guilt. Unfortunately, that made my depression even worse. I tried to talk to my friends, but I didn’t know how to start. Every time I tried to tell someone that I thought I may have depression, they just stared at me with disbelief in their eyes and told me that I am someone who will never have depression. Ignorance and incomprehension from my host family make me feel isolated from others mentally. I did not want to talk to anyone anymore, not even my parents. During the hardest time, I had a lot of suicidal thoughts, and I never thought that I could ever make it this far, but I did.
I am so glad that I could make it through. I finally talked to one of my friends who could understand me, and one of my teachers who studies psychology. Both of them gave me really helpful advice and I started to face my emotions, and get better. I started to talk to my parents and tell them what I have been thinking, and tell them that I feel sorry and wish that I could change. My parents told me that they have never expected me to be number one at any given time, they just wished me to be happy and free. Their comfort warmed the coldest part in my heart and words could not describe how much better I felt after talking to them. It felt like I dropped all my loads and finally had a chance to breathe. If you are reading this, and you think you may have depression or negative thoughts, I genuinely ask anyone who has mental problems to talk to others, it does not have to be your friends, or parents, it could be anyone that you trust. You never know how good it will turn out. It is also a good idea to see a therapist, they could give you really helpful instructions. In addition, from my experience, I sincerely wish everyone who has mental problems could keep going, and not give up. I know it is hard, but once you overcome the fear in your heart and the anxiety in your mind, you can crush all the adversities in your life in the future. Many people see my story as unfortunate, and they are right. What I have encountered has changed me a lot, but I do not see it as a curse. Everything has a positive side that needs us to explore. In the past years, I have gained courage and life experience to face obstacles in the future.
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