The recent decades have remarkably changed how people view mental illness, particularly depression and anxiety. However, there is still stigma around it. Comes with it is the battle many of us fight alone, in silos. After her discharge from the psychiatric department, she then was faced with the battle of living with a condition but having to cover it up. To understand the life events that contributed to this story, please read Chapter 1: “Crushed and Misunderstood” on the author’s arrival to Canada again at the age of 13, and ‘Chapter 2: Depression is Treatable, Doctor Said’ on her hospitalization.
Author: Katelyn (pseudo name)
Written in 2020
“You’ve been gone for so long! What happened to you! Cancer?” Brooke’s eyes lit up when she saw me, as she practically flew across the hallway. Her tone was accusative but I could see the corners of her mouth curling up. “Ha, something like that,” I tried to brush it off.
I never told people about my depression. I was afraid they would misunderstand me and see me as weak or crazy. It’s not as straightforward as breaking a bone, after all. Almost no one knew about my mental illness in the new English school I’d been attending for grade 10. The school agreed to let me skip grade 9 after I was assessed. I was no longer a year behind my peers. Even then, I was well aware of the stigmatization around mental illness, probably because so much of what I’d experienced was internalized. I did tell one girl there about my depression, but that’s because she was depressed too. “Someone so bubbly and outgoing like Brooke wouldn’t understand,” I thought bitterly, determined to not let anyone find out about why I was away for a month.
I became a regular at the mental health department for teenagers in my local hospital. I’d just been discharged from my longest period of hospitalization. We had established very clearly that suicide was off the table, but I just felt like I was stuck in a never-ending hellish purgatory. I would go to school for a week then stop for a few days, and the cycle would repeat. Needless to say, I didn’t get good grades, which made me feel ashamed and worthless. By the end of grade 10, I lived every day drowning in hatred, directed both towards myself and to the world I lived in. Every breath I took felt like a reminder of how much of a failure I was, and I wanted to end everything.
“Why don’t you come with me to China, where you can start afresh and have a change of scenery?” my dad suggested, glancing at me surreptitiously, searching for signs of agreement on my face.
I was a bit taken aback by the suggestion. I turned my head and saw my reflection through the glass window: greasy hair from not taking a shower for weeks, a scrawny silhouette from microwaved ramen at midnight, her stare weary and spiteful. I resented this image of her, and I wanted desperately to be that happy and carefree girl again.
In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, it is believed that the avoidance of experiences distracts us from living a fulfilled life. That means, our pursuit of happiness as a goal to avoid all other normal feelings including sadness, frustration, disappointment, anger in life could hinder our mental wellbeing, quite counter-intuitively.
That being said, as a parent, your attitude towards feelings is ultimately important.
Are you able to accept the whole range of emotions as they arise, and not just happiness? Your children are the most imminent people that are influenced by your attitudes.
As a society, we have co-created the compelling concept through advertisement, social media illusions that lasting happiness is the goal of life.
What’s your experience in pursuing that goal? Fortunately, we have also seen an exploding trend of mindfulness practice, which helps us stay intuitive and embrace our feelings regardless.
Whether you are a parent, a teenager, a teacher, or someone who builds a community, it is important to ask the question: what attitude do I have towards emotions, and how does that attitude unfold in my daily operation as an individual?
1. Hays, S. C. & Strosahl. K. D., (2004). A Practical Guide to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Springer.