In March 2021, CandleX director Xiaojie interviewed Kelly Yang on her experience with bipolar disorder. A year later, CandleX decided to present this interview in five chapters to commemorate World Bipolar Day. This is Chapter 4 of the interview. Check out Chapter 1, Chapter 2, or Chapter 3 if you haven’t already!
In Chapter 4, Kelly uses takeaways from her personal experience to give advice to people like her, the younger generation, and parents. Depression and bipolar disorder are commonly found in perfectionists and high-achievers, which Kelly believes she is. When giving suggestions to these people like her, Kelly emphasizes acceptance – accepting failure, accepting things to not be perfect, and accepting a more ordinary life. When giving advice to teens, Kelly mentions that knowing there are other possibilities in life is a critical aspect to growing a healthy mindset. When addressing parents, Kelly recommends them to not force their kids to complete their own unfulfilled dreams and to learn to see the different methods of child development, which is especially hard with Chinese education. In Chapter 5, Xiaojie and Kelly will talk more about Kelly’s changes after receiving therapy.
Interviewer: Xiaojie | Director of CandleX
Time of interview: 2021
Kelly: There are people around me who have similar experiences to mine. They are considered excellent kids who have always been good, with good families and successful careers. These people also experience symptoms of depression or bipolar disorder. I vividly remember my attending doctor telling me kids like us are extra susceptible to bipolar disorder or depression because there are obvious characteristics. One is how we've never experienced any major setbacks in life. Another thing is how we pursue perfection excessively.
Kelly: Exactly. It's this excessive pursuit of perfection. Actually, the perfectionism you mentioned isn't a derogatory term. Wanting to perfect things is a great quality, but excessively doing it adds a derogative sense to it. It's not like an A+ is good enough; excessive perfectionism means it needs to be an A++ or even more. They are most definitely good enough, but they think they need to be even better. When they're pursuing perfection excessively, they drain themselves and sink into deep emotions more easily. So, instead of giving advice to others, I think it's more appropriate to share what I've been doing myself. I try to reflect on myself more, stop sinking into excessive perfectionism, find my goal and a comfortable state. Then, I look for a goal in a state I feel comfortable in. Striving for wild accomplishments excessively will make you sink into extreme states, which is bad for your mind and body.
Xiaojie: Perfectionists or people who are strict on themselves have lots of trouble dealing with their failure or moments of disappointment. For perfectionists struggling with this, what would you say to them?
Kelly: To be honest, I can't truly accept my own failure yet either. I think perfectionists and people who have a smooth life may have never experienced failure. They can't accept to fail because they automatically put a "no failure" label on themselves. So, I've been slowly trying a psychological state where I accept being ordinary and being less than others. I accept that I just didn't do well on something. I think acceptance is one thing I've been trying to learn. I need to accept the lesser side of myself. I'm not always going to get an A+, be the best, and be better than others. There are also things I can't do well on. Once I accept that side of myself can I truly accept that life is multidimensional. So are other people and myself. My path also has many directions. This way, I see more possibilities in life. If I work towards one single path until I die, I would only see what's in front of me and miss the better things around me.
Xiaojie: There's a good saying that we are our own best friends. When we are our best friend and our best friend fails, how we comfort them is the voice that we should use on ourselves. When we fail, we need to be gentle, accept, and take care of ourselves. This is the meaning behind the saying. Many of our CandleX teens and parents are on this journey; the parents will successfully send their kids to study abroad. What do you want to say to families with kids who haven’t gone abroad and experienced depression or bipolar disorder yet? What would you say to these kids who are still in their teenage years, still in school, and still unexposed to big life setbacks?
Kelly: It's actually like what I previously said. I have the same realization now, which is how we suddenly question why things are certain ways at this age. This is because of something that was established during our teenage years. Everyone back then had this innate sense that I need to do the best, be stronger than others, receive an A+, and be the first in my grade. I need to be better than others in this and that. I need to apply to the top 20 colleges. Setting these goals is good because we need goals in our lives, but sometimes we need to allow ourselves to accept that we may not be able to achieve the highest goal. So, let's take a step back. We don't get it done that way, but what about another way? It's not finding an exit for ourselves, but admitting the other possibilities in life. I think if I could relive my teenage years, I want to be able to see other things aside from my grades or the Gaokao. This is genuinely what I would like to say to the younger generation. I want them to choose from more possibilities before experiencing adulthood.
Xiaojie: That is great. What about to parents? Because Chinese education is quite special in the way that parents tend to put a lot of effort, energy, and money into their child's growth. Do you have anything you would like to say to these parents?
Kelly: Since I don't have kids of my own, it would be a bit farfetched to give any suggestions to parents.
Xiaojie: Then let's change the question to: what do you want to say to your parents back then?
Kelly: Oh yes, that's better. Like I mentioned before, if I went back to my teenage years, I hope to see more possibilities. But if, back then, my parents could tell me, "It's okay to not score such high marks. There is both success and failure in life because it's not possible for you to always be the best in everything you do." and encouraged me to find my true interest and passion, I might be able to open myself up more and be more broad-minded. Because in my knowledge of Chinese education, everyone puts grades as the most valuable thing. They judge you on your grades and your Gaokao score. Actually, the sense that the Gaokao changes one's life is still an idea that needs to be adjusted. This is why our education is headed towards that one goal. As an observer, a small problem many parents have is how they force their own hopes and dreams onto their children. They like to say, "I couldn't do this and that. I couldn't go to a good university." That's why my child needs to attend a good university. By doing this, parents are giving their kids too much pressure. When they make their child live according to what they want in life, parents are ignoring the possibility of their child growing on their own. When you suddenly let go of a sprout you've been pulling up to help grow, saying the sprout is grown now, the sprout will lose sense of how to take root. Though it's been getting better these years, with everyone becoming more internationalized and open, the root problem still exists in China. So, for parents, they need to accept more possibilities to bring their kids more possibilities.
Xiaojie: We also want to remind parents that emotions like being depressed are caused by the lack of nutrition to our internal spirit and a constant search for external things, which are usually things that drain us. For example, I have to study and learn history and math, even though I dislike them. But there are more ways for children to develop. The child may love sports or music. I want them to be able to have more space to do what they love. This way, they stay farther from depression. A great point you mentioned was that we need to not only strive for success and goals, though goals can be helpful, but we also need to accept our chance of failure and see it as an okay part of our lives.