This is a familiar story, but I’ve told it again and again. Growing up in a traditional Asian household, there were a handful of subjects I knew never to broach: Academic failure, acting more “American,” sex and mental illness. Despite my parents wishes, I was an observant child. By age 13, I sensed something atypical and malignant about the blank, weighty periods of apathy and sadness that stepped on my heels like an underfoot, imaginary younger sibling.

I rehearsed and then fumbled the words to tell my parents about how I felt and the avenues of treatment I had researched. Their response was dismissive, but not — as I later understood — in a neglectful vein. When I mentioned the possibility of medication, they became angry — the world that had shaped them was neither nurturing nor particularly nuanced. As Chinese immigrants, they lived shoulder-to-shoulder with poverty and near-starvation. Their experiences were reinforced by an ironclad culture that encouraged stoic endurance and regarded mental illness as a weakness of character, a shame borne not only by the individual, but by the entire family. And here was their daughter, who lived in a manicured middle-class suburban home and always went to bed with a full belly, complaining she felt depressed.

“It’s not real. Get over it” was the gist of their advice. Then and now, to our detriment, I’m certain many Asian-American kids have heard the same thing.

So I tried. In high school, I became the poster-child for a “high-functioning depressive,” as the terminology goes. I maintained a 4.0 GPA, won national writing awards and earned admission to an Ivy League university — things my parents wanted for my future. This made me a role model for the younger students in our community. I was even asked for lifestyle tips on how to succeed in school. Parents pointed at me and said to their children, “You should be more like her.” But the depression persisted, stubborn and malicious, leaching my motivation and compelling me to seek relief in terrible things. After school, I’d shut myself in my room and cut myself until I could no longer stand the pain. Those are some of my clearest memories of being a teenager.

Finally, I was hospitalized with suicidal tendencies four days before my high school graduation. Under a nurse’s constant supervision, I created many pages of artwork — scenes of forests and coral reefs — and was placed on an antidepressant. When I came home, my parents and I sat down and started to painfully disseminate the years of resentful, agonized silence. This was only time I’ve ever seen my father cry. They apologized for not listening sooner, and they began to read about depression and anxiety, trying to understand how my brain was different, how it could be made OK again. Gradually, after talking to doctors and therapists and me, they came to accept medication as a necessary cornerstone of my treatment. Then — in an act unthinkable just a few years before — they acknowledged the Asian-American community was in sore need of greater awareness and resources for mental illness.

More than two years have passed. Since then, I’ve been at college, having quickly decided I would study the brain to try and improve how we view and approach mental illness. I was also baptized into the Catholic Church. This past March, I celebrated a full year of being self-harm free. Recovery has been a long process, aided by the love and support of new and old friends, and I don’t take a single moment for granted.

I think I was fortunate to have parents who changed their minds when challenged with a truth that didn’t fit with their worldview. With this blessing comes a sense of responsibility to hear the stories of everyone who lives under the double pressure of mental illness and the “model minority.”


I have major depression disorder, among other things. There. I said it. Telling people I have depression feels like coming out of the closet — usually depression is perceived weakness as a weakness, and it’s not something people like talking about. I’ve come to the point where I don’t really talk to anyone about it these days besides my doctor and, sometimes, my husband. People make so many assumptions about depression that, frankly, it annoys me. I’d like to dispel some of the incorrect responses people make to depressed people here.

1. “You shouldn’t feel depressed — you have so much!”

This comes in many forms. People will say things like, “How could you feel depressed? You have so many great things going on in your life!” I’ve heard people comment on celebrities who “have it all” and then die by suicide. Money, fame and good families do not negate the presence of depression.

That’s right. You can feel depression even when you have a lot. The reminder that we “have so much” only makes us feel worse. You might feel like you’re helping, but you’re not. You’re providing a source of guilt when you question the existence of depression in this way.

2. “Everyone has the blues sometimes.”

While this statement is somewhat true (not everyone suffers from the “blues” sometimes, but a lot of people do), it does not compare to depression. If you look at DSM criteria for depression, you’ll see that in order to obtain a diagnosis of depression, the symptoms must last longer than two weeks. Not only that, but you must have five or more of the criteria listed. Depression feels like more than the blues. It’s a lack of interest in everyday activities, depressed mood nearly every day, significant weight loss or gain, insomnia or hypersomnia, fatigue, either restlessness or the feeling of being slowed down, feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt, lack of concentration and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. You can feel most or all of these things to get a diagnosis, but it’s certainly more than just the “blues.”

3. “Can’t you just ‘snap out of it?’”

Actually, no, we can’t just “snap out of it.” It takes a lot of work to climb out of depression. Diminishing our feelings by assuming it’s as easy as telling ourselves we should just feel better, doesn’t help.

4. “But you seem so happy!”

Maybe. Some people can function in society with depression and others cannot. Sometimes it’s easy to put on a mask so that other people don’t see what we feel or ask any questions. For myself, I feel an obligation or duty to my children and my job that makes me power through it. When I get home and the kids go to bed, the breakdown occurs.

It gets exhausting putting on a happy face so we don’t bum other people out. Most of us feel guilty just for having depression.

5. “What’s making you feel depressed?”

Sometimes it’s good to have someone ask this question, and sometimes it’s not. I often cannot verbalize or figure out what’s triggered a bout of depression. Why? Because there’s often not just one thing. When someone asks me this question, my mind starts to circle around everything going on in my life. It’s an endless circle of thoughts I cannot escape from. Honestly, sometimes I don’t know what caused it. This makes me think things like, “What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel this way?”

6. “People who die by suicide are cowards.”

When you feel like a burden to everyone around you, sometimes you think your family, friends and other loved ones would be happier without you. That’s the warped part of depression, honestly. But it’s hard to shake. That’s why it’s so important to make sure a person with depression gets help sooner rather than later.

7. “But you’re on medication. Shouldn’t that help?”

Another variation of this is whether we’re taking our medication. If a person has just started medication, then it can take weeks for it to come into effect. On top of that, the medication may not work for that person, which means trying another medication after waiting weeks for the medication to work. Even with medication, the negative self-thoughts become ingrained and difficult to fight. If someone with depression does not also see a therapist, then it’s difficult to learn the correct coping skills for dealing with those feelings of hopeless and worthlessness. Medication alone does not make a person with depression lose those feelings.

What can you say to someone with depression?

The most important thing you can do for someone with depression is just being there for them. People who have depression easily become isolated. Friendships dwindle because they don’t want to deal with someone else’s seemingly endless sadness. Family members who don’t understand unintentionally hurt us. Sooner or later, there might be few people left to support us because it seems we’ve pushed them away.

Just offer to listen and offer a shoulder to cry on. Don’t question why they feel depressed. Accept the reality of depression and offer to go with them to a therapist, if they’ll try going to one. Recognize that depression can last a long time, but it’s not always forever and there are moments of sunshine in between the rain. In other words, be supportive because support is often the thing people with depression lack in their lives.

This post originally appeared on Embracing the Spectrum and was also featured on The Huffington Post. 

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

What is depression? It is a serious mood disorder. It makes doing everyday things difficult. There are different levels of severity of depression. Some people find it almost impossible, if not impossible, to function on a day to day basis. Others might function well in most situations but can have a depressive episode triggered by anything. Whether it is if someone criticizes your work, disagrees with you or even raises their voice. Some people, like me, have high-functioning depression.

What do you think depression is? Most people think of depression as a state of sadness and that’s it. Depression is so much more than sadness. Depression can take many forms of emotions, sad, irritable, angry, inconsolable or anxious. Depression is so much more than a general definition you might find online.

But, there is such a thing as high-functioning depression. What is high-functioning depression? My definition is being in a depressed state but able to live your life in a “normal” way. It is when someone is depressed, but they are able to get out of bed. They are able to work full time or go to school. It is being in a depressed state but able to function well. People just deal with depression differently. What do people need to know about people with high-functioning depression?

First, high-functioning depression seriously concerns psychiatrists. If someone has a great life, why would they kill themselves? They have no reason to, right? Their life is wonderful. Wrong. People with high-functioning depression need others to know that:

1. We are extremely hard on ourselves.

We are constantly fighting an internal battle of self-hatred. If we mess up, even on something small, we beat ourselves up for a long time. We think of ourselves as the worst person in the world. We don’t always think about things logically.

Someone with high-functioning depression might go shopping, buy a small something for their personal enjoyment and then beat themselves up about it for the rest of the day or even days after. Why? Well, usually we don’t think we deserve anything for ourselves. We have a low view of ourselves and we take it out on ourselves. Loved ones can tell us how great we are but we don’t believe them. We can always find something wrong with ourselves.

2. We feel that we waste a lot of time.

If someone has high-functioning depression, then we feel the need to be busy all of the time. There is a problem with that. We can not relax. We do not allow ourselves to relax. Some of us don’t even know what relaxes us. Maybe nothing does. People like this might sit down and watch their favorite show but are thinking of all the things they could be doing instead of “wasting time.” We feel like time spent not working is not good for us. We are constantly “fixing” things that do not need to be fixed.

3. We thrive at work and/or school.

We might be depressed, miserable and have a crippling hatred of ourselves, but we can perform as well as anyone else. Many people with high-functioning depression find they are top-notch employees or students. People tend to overlook people like this and never think they might have a severe internal struggle going on.

There is such a stereotype of depression that people only look for people who are constantly sad. They never think the employee who “has it all together” would ever be depressed. The student that makes all A’s in school couldn’t be depressed. We function well in situations and are constantly looked over.

The problem with people like this is while we might be doing fantastic, we think we could always be doing better. We are always looking to improve ourselves. We beat ourselves up over a 98 on a test because we didn’t get a 100. If we are told by our bosses that there is something we could improve upon, then it destroys us.

High-functioning depression is a dangerous disorder. People who struggle with this get looked over a lot and people do not realize the seriousness of it. People might not understand why someone who has a “great life” would struggle with depression. Just because we don’t show it on the outside does not mean we are not just as depressed.

Depression has a stigma already we need to fight. We need to inform people of the different types of depression. People with high-functioning depression want people to know we are struggling too, whether or not you understand why. Please, don’t overlook us.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Related: Mental Health on The Mighty Podcast

Growing up as a Christian, I learned valuable concepts like self-love, community service, selflessness, the power of prayer and forgiveness. One of the biggest lessons I learned in church and from my family was about the power of the tongue. Through scripture, I understood the importance of speaking positivity about my life in order to make my dreams become my reality.

While I attribute many successes to the morals and values I developed through Christianity, “speaking positively” all the time became pretty difficult for me. I started battling depression and anxiety at the age of 12. I often felt on edge and I was in a constant state of worry. I battled with suicidal thoughts, but I didn’t know those were signs of my mental illness. So I went undiagnosed for 13 years.

In my experience, I noticed through the years many black Christians were uneducated about mental illness. Thus, they do not realize how detrimental their words could be. Here are some of the hurtful things folks said to me:

1.“You are speaking it into existence.”

In other words, some folks told me I was “giving” myself depression and anxiety by saying I was depressed. I was told I was in a constant state of worry due to my depression and anxiety disorder. For a long time, I was terrified to say I was depressed and worried at all. This was incredibly damaging to me because I could no longer express myself, and I suffered in silence. It does not mean I am speaking depression into existence by saying I am depressed. Rather, it is my reality.

2. “Worrying shows a lack of faith.”

I hated hearing this because it constantly forced me to question my faith, and it made me think something was wrong with me. I heard this more than 50 times last year during sermons.

The scripture Matthew 6:25-26 (NIV) comes to mind, “Therefore, I tell you do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food and clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

At times, that scripture reassured me that I would be OK, but there were also moments when my anxiety disorder got the best of me. Some days, it was impossible for my mind to go blank without worry. Now that I am in therapy, I have learned coping strategies to bring my mind back to a calm state. In the past, I did not have the tools I have now. When someone said I did not have faith, it intensified my episode because I could not control my anxiety. What I have learned is I have a disorder and it has absolutely nothing to do with my faith.

3. “You need to pray about it.”

So you may ask, “What is wrong with this statement?” Well, everyone automatically assumes I haven’t been praying for myself and/or about my illness. I am fully aware of the power of prayer and I believe in it. However, this statement was hurtful to me because I have been praying for years about my thoughts and emotions, and the prayers didn’t make it better.

Keep in mind this is not to say that my prayers have not been answered. Many of them have! I am referring to my mental illness, in this case. When I mentioned it to people, they often gave me an automatic and insensitive response, “It will happen on God’s time.” People were so busy telling me to pray that it never occurred to anyone that God could have been telling me to seek professional help.

In my experience, I find Christians can be so deep in spirituality they become out of touch with reality. I was never asked, “Have you gone to see a psychiatrist or therapist?” God gives us wisdom. Sometimes this means using your resources (seeing a doctor, taking medication and going to therapy).

4. “Suicide will send you to hell.”

This statement frustrated me because it was drilled into my head, even as a child. Considering I began struggling with suicidal thoughts at the age of 14, I feared I would go to hell as a child. My thoughts did not stop until I took medication 12 years later.

I do not know why suicide is considered one of the ultimate sins in the black church. “Thou shall not kill,” is one of the Ten Commandments. 1 Corinthians 6:20 says, “For you were bought with a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” With this scripture, many people argue if you have suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide, then you are not glorifying God.

Saying that suicide sends someone to hell is one of those myths that has been taught and passed on throughout the black Christian community for years. This statement made my illness worse. It made me pull away from the black Christian community because I felt judged and misunderstood. Instead of saying suicide will send me to hell, perhaps encourage me to seek professional help so I can receive treatment and get the proper treatment.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

Dear Friends,

You know me as a mom, a wife, a friend and an advocate for her children’s rights. Maybe you just met me, here in this new place I now call home. We’ve met for play dates with our kids, discussed parenting and politics. Maybe you’ve known me forever, since we were little and brown from the sun, running to get everywhere.

You’ve seen my happy Facebook pics, the ones with my kids smiling and laughing, the ones that share quotes of strength, wit and love. You know I have Asperger’s and anxiety. Still, you think I am strong don’t you? You think I am a mama warrior to my two children. I must be because I seem so positive. It all seems so lovely, doesn’t it?

It’s not all sunshine and roses, let me tell you.

I am a warrior, in a sense, because every single day is a struggle for me, a struggle to get out of bed, to get dressed, to make a dinner for a family that at times seems to need so much. It is a struggle to face the world and smile, with all that negativity running through my head. It is a struggle to welcome a new day that is just a replica of the last, no better, no different.

I have been strong and I have swallowed my pain, tears and frustration. For seven years, I have kept the darkness away. The darkness is depression.

It’s relentless how it seeks me out and latches on, but somehow it always does. It found me after my parents’ divorce and disappeared into the shadows after the hospitalization and pills. Again, several years later as a teenager. Yet again, as an adult in my early 20s, and it’s back, slowly creeping in through the cracks so that I simply cannot see any light.

I sit here writing this letter to you from the sunny outside, a place of tall green trees, chirping birds and a cool morning breeze. If you know me, really know me, you know I love being outside. Nature can be so peaceful and healing, not today. The darkness is everywhere and light is hidden in all I see. Things are darker in hue now, the birds irritating in their persistent song. The trees are ugly and threatening. The wind seems too cold, even in this 80-degree weather. Even in my favorite place, the sunshine, I can find no peace.

I am not writing this to complain to you, but rather to explain. I feel under water right now, out of sorts, ugly. I feel too much and too little. I am simply overcome with sadness.

I will not be available for play dates. I will not comment or like your Facebook posts because I will not be on Facebook. I will not want to chat or make small talk when I see you. I will not want to be asked how I am. You know how I am. I have told you, and I don’t want to tell you again, but not because I am ashamed. I will never be ashamed of who I am or of things I cannot control about myself. I don’t want to talk about my depression with you because I don’t want to cry in front of you.

I will not wear my mask of roses and happiness when I stand before you. So if my eyes seem darker, if my face appears longer and sadder, if I do not smile at you, you will know I am still in a battle with the darkness. You need not ask how I am doing.

This is the fourth round of my depression. It is a crippling circle of darkness that visits me time and time again. I am no stranger to the risks or to the knowledge of how to win this war. So fear not my friends, I know what to do. Phone calls have been made, appointments set with the proper doctors and the happy pills are soon to come.

I will not write the word, that ugly word I now think of hourly, the word everyone associates with depression. I will say this: I love my children. In other words, I will beat this thing and live. It is my first priority at this point, living, breathing, being here for my kids.

In closing, please, don’t be offended when I am avoiding you or dodging your phone calls. Don’t give up on our friendship, write me off or unfriend me. It is not personal to you. It is personal to me. I have to sleep, cry, drown and heal.

Thank you, my friends.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

 If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

I do everything possible to make the people around me happy. My children get my hugs, kisses and constant reassurances of my love for them. My friends, the ones I used to have, could always count on me. In fact, I used to take phone calls at all hours of the night to those in distress. Call me anytime. Let me help you. I’ll be there for you.

As a teacher, my students can believe I will never give up on them. As a wife, my husband knows, at least I hope he does, I love him.

Ask me if I’m happy, if I am OK, and I’ll tell you I’m fine. Yes, I’ve recovered from my surgery. No, I don’t feel sad. At church, people ask me how I’m doing, and I’ll provide the biggest smile I can muster and lie right to their faces. Of course, I’m fine. In reality, I lie a lot. Yep, I’m a big fat liar.

Why lie?

Recently, I asked some people on Facebook, “How often do you feel happy and fulfilled? What frequency of happiness do you think is acceptable?”

Here are some of the responses I got:

  • “I never thought of happiness as quantifiable. One happy moment to brighten a day can make all the difference.”
  • “Can one be happy while not feeling completely fulfilled? And vice versa?”
  • “I feel happy most of the time. To me, happiness is what is going on at the time. I try to stay with happy people. I feel [fulfilled] with the fact that I have very few regrets. My age has a lot to do with my answers. Another way to put it is happiness is a mood you are in. I have joy in my heart that stays there. I never understood the difference [between] happiness and joy.

Then, I thought about these responses. Additionally, I thought about the lack of responses. With 298 friends on Facebook, you would think more people would have something to say about happiness. However, I recognize the truth of the situation. First of all, I don’t really have 298 friends. If I really think about it, the only tangible friend I have is my husband.

Who checks in on me when I’m not at church? Who offers to take my phone calls any time I need them? Who really wants to hear how I’m doing? No one wants to talk to someone who is unhappy. It makes them feel bad. The last bulleted response indicates this truth. “I try to stay with happy people.” If I wanted to, then I could point out this means there are severely depressed people out there who feel alone, for exactly this reason. So, I lie.

Yes, I am a liar.

I did a Google search about depression and loneliness. To my surprise, Google has this nifty feature where questions are conveniently answered without going to a specific page. One of these questions was, “Can you really die of loneliness?” Answer: Yes. Yes, you can die of loneliness. In fact, in elderly people, the increased mortality risk is comparable to smoking. Actually, loneliness and social isolation kill more people than obesity.

I realized a long time ago if I wanted anyone to be near me, then I had to feign happiness. No matter how I feel, I am smart enough to know when people ask how you are, you are supposed to tell them you’re OK. In fact, you’re great! Oh yeah, life is copacetic! Let me tell you all the great things I’ve got going on!

Are we all liars?

Of course, I’m not suggesting no one is happy, but if I look at my Facebook feed, then I would swear to the fact that just about everyone is on top of the world. Why would I rock the boat? The real question I should ask is, “How many people lie about being happy?” Although, honestly, no one would answer that question either. Heck, if no one wants to talk about what amount of happiness is acceptable, why would they discuss sadness?

If you aren’t a liar and you’re happy, I am happy for you. Really, I am. Nothing breaks my heart more than seeing another human being suffering. I suppose that’s why I want to make sure everyone around me feels good, cared for and loved. Unfortunately, I also know other people lie just like I do. Other people out there silently have depression and tell no one because it’s just not a popular topic.

When I’m in church, I will ask for prayers for people who are sick, who have loved ones dying or who are about to go through medical interventions. Rarely do I stand up and say, “I’m asking for you to pray for me because I’m so depressed that I cry almost every day.” That’s private. I’d rather be a liar than “selfishly” ask for prayers for my mental health. It seems needy and attention-seeking. But is it?

Who wants to suffer alone?

As I sit there and tell people I’m OK, inside I’m screaming for help. Inside, I’m wishing someone would notice I’m hiding a pain no one recognizes. Even more, I want to feel less sh*ty about being depressed. I’ve written about this before. I write as if I am actually not feeling guilty about being sad, but I am. I touched on it some when I spoke about pretending to be happy. Yet, I lied again. The more I lie about the happiness I pretend to experience, the more skilled a liar I become. None of this helps me, and even on antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication, things just don’t feel right.

What kind of happy person ponders suicide and then shakes it off like a dog shaking off water from a bath it didn’t want? Above all, the loneliness and isolation, paired with the enormous stressors in my life, make me wonder often not only if I would be better off not existing, but if the people who are close to me would benefit from my absence. Do you know the symptoms of depression?

According to the Mayo Clinic, a person with major depression may have one or all of these symptoms “most of the day, nearly every day.

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
  • Changes in appetite, often reduced appetite and weight loss, but increased cravings for food and weight gain in some people
  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or blaming yourself for things that aren’t your responsibility
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

To me, the bolded symptoms cause incredible feelings of guilt when I think about the people close to me who actually see them. Honestly, I couldn’t care less about myself, and maybe that’s part of the problem. Despite this, I hate who I am most of the time.

When I snap at my husband for what seems to him (and to me) like nothing, I hate myself. When I get irritated with my son for repeating himself over and over, I hate myself. When I get frustrated with my youngest for complaining about his brother, I hate myself. When I look around my house and see all the things I haven’t done, yet feel too overwhelmed to even begin doing anything about it, I hate myself.

What can I do?

Listen, I’ve been through this major depression stuff enough times to know when I need help. I do. I have sought help. I spent hours waiting to see a psychiatrist the other day and then another hour going through all of this with him. To most people, I come off as an incredibly strong person. I get told all the time how strong I am. I’m superwoman. I can do anything. But what if I can’t? What if I fail? What if I just can’t hack it as a wife, a mom, a teacher, a grad school student or a human being?

People suffer from depression all the time, but no one really talks about it in person. Still, to this day, even though famous people like Robin Williams, Marilyn Monroe, Kurt Kobain, Jonathan Brandis, Jovan Belcher, Alexander McQueen, Johnny Lewis, Chris Benoit, Ernest Hemingway, Simone Battle, Sylvia Plath and countless others have died by suicide. Depression is an ugly word no one likes to talk about.

So what can I do about this nagging feeling? First of all, I can talk about it or at least, I can write about it. I can inform the public about it. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health has a booklet about depression for those of you who have no idea what you should know about it or how you can help. I still don’t know how to erase the feelings of worthlessness and guilt that come with depression, but I do take my medications. When things get really bad, I make sure I get in to see a doctor right away.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

This post originally appeared on Embracing the Spectrum.

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