What is your diagnosis? How do you feel about it?
I have been having depressive episodes for eight years now (since the age of 12) and I was diagnosed with major depression and seasonal affective disorder when I was 15. I was never officially diagnosed with an eating disorder, but I practiced restrictive eating on and off for four years. I remember feeling relieved to finally have a name for all the awful things I was going through, because having a diagnosis meant also having recovery.
Have you ever experienced stigma?
Growing up as a first-generation Asian-American, there is a huge stigma around mental illness. I was so scared to speak up about my depression for so many years. My parents have always fought but always refuse to go to couples therapy or even talk to their other family members about any problems they're having, because they said that family problems stay in the family and are solved by the family. Even when it became clear that nothing was getting solved.
How has your life been affected by your illness?
My relationships go through stress when I'm having a bad day/month; my depression isolates me and makes me hard to reason with when all I feel is the certainty that I deserve no one and that I'm not good enough. Stress from school and family becomes hard to deal with once they start stacking up; I have few coping methods that work once my mood falls and I'm depressed. In the wintertime I lose so much motivation, and most days I find myself lying in bed staring at the ceiling unable to get up and get things done. Because of my eating disorder, gaining any kind of weight and seeing my body change is a difficult process and I still eat in small bites.
When did you realize what you were experiencing wasn't typical?
When I was 12 or 13 and one of my friends saw my self-harm marks on my arm, he started crying and telling me not to hurt myself. I didn't realize the self-mutilation and the starving myself was so destructive until that moment.
Early on, why didn't you seek help?
The stigma against anything being wrong, the pressure to be perfect and to succeed and to not cause problems, and imagining the reaction my parents would have if they knew all the things I was doing to myself. I was so scared.
What types of reactions are not easy for you to hear? What reactions do you appreciate when you share with someone that you live with a mental illness?
I'm not close to my parents so it hurt me more when they didn't believe me at first when I told them everything that was wrong. It helps to know that people support me and offer kind words of encouragement when I share my story, or even a story of their own. I just want to be able to use my experience to help others.
What do you wish others would understand in regards to mental illness + mental health?
We can't control it. We can't "just be happy." Sometimes (or even most of the time) there isn't a tangible reason for why I'm depressed; I just am, and it's frustrating and makes it worse when people don't understand that. I wish I had a reason.
What treatment or coping skills are most effective for you?
Sunlight exposure, making to-do lists to manage stressful projective thinking, self-care time—skipping a class/not doing a chore here and there to write in a journal or listen to music or some other calming, peaceful activity.
What are a few goals regarding your mental health?
Better self-regulation of emotion and thought processes, recognizing triggers such as PMS.
What does progress + recovery mean to you?
Progress: on days that I'm down, knowing the next day will be better, not succumbing to self-destruction, talking myself through the sadness. I don't believe in recovery; I believe in regressive periods and knowing that my depression can't be cured, so to just take everything in stride and enjoy the good and wade through the bad.