Woman sitting on the edge of the cliffs

Depression and Anxiety Don't Discriminate

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My name is Veronica Lombo. I am the daughter of two Filipino immigrants. My parents moved to the United States from the Philippines in the 1970s with hope for better opportunities. My parents worked hard, and although my family was not wealthy, we were comfortable. With the help of financial aid, my sisters and I all attended private Catholic school and graduated from college. We may have fought for time in the single bathroom of our small home, but we had a home, and it was full of love. There was a roof over our heads, and we had beds to sleep in. There was always, and I mean always, food on the table.

I am a recovering self-harm addict, who continues to suffer from depression and anxiety. I started cutting myself when I was 15 as a way to “deal” with my problems by burying them internally. My parents had already sacrificed so much for me and my sisters that I felt responsible for handling my own issues, rather than burdening anyone else.

Cutting became the most efficient way. I could lock the door of my bedroom, muffle my crying and use a safety pin to inflict physical pain onto myself, pain that alchemized into release. I kept this ritual a secret for the next two and a half years.

To someone who has never experienced them first hand, it may seem like mental issues are a plague of the white, upper-middle class. But the truth is, these conditions don’t discriminate. It’s the validation of mental health and proper attention given to it that, unfortunately, is a privilege denied to many minorities.

The idea of seeing a therapist was unspoken of in my household, not necessarily because no one had dealt with depression or anxiety, but because it wasn’t considered a problem worthy of discussion. My parents had faced and overcome, I believed, far greater adversities than the ones in my head. My mom, the eldest of eight children, moved to the United States and helped most of her siblings obtain visas to move to the US, as well. My dad was raised by a single mom, lost two sisters to the Bataan Death March of WWII, and left everything behind to make a better life in America. (Side note: My mom has casually reminisced about a time she hid from the “rebels” in a hole in the ground under banana leaves.)

The fact that something has never been a problem before doesn’t lessen its validity today. The past doesn’t dictate the present or future. Once I opened up to my parents and asked for help, I was met with love and support. My mom helped find psychologists and psychiatrists covered under our insurance. She and my dad drove me to and from my appointments. They neither claimed to understand what I was going through, nor accused me of imagining things. They were simply always there for me.

Help is a funny thing. It’s always there, maybe not necessarily in ways we may think, but it’s ever present. All you have to do is ask for it. For years, I thought I could handle my problems alone. I thought I was strong enough but strength takes different forms, and sometimes true strength and courage come from asking for help when you need it. They come from surrendering and being open to grace.

Regardless of skin color, mental health problems are real, and need not be measured against other more visible struggles. As minorities, we must understand there is no hierarchy of trauma. A problem is a problem, and it must be acknowledged to be transcended. There is nothing to be gained from remaining silent.

This post originally appeared on www.holisticlioness.com for National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.

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

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When the Darkness of Depression Feels Like Home

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It appears as if from nowhere. A black mass, a cloud, a swirling mist of darkness calling out to you with its sweet siren song of comfort. You inch closer and breathe it in, careful not to let it envelope you. Slowly, you let the fog touch your skin, grazing over your body, your hair, your clothes. Rolling through you like air, your senses come alive. Nerve endings tingle, and the tips of your fingers and the end of your nose are suddenly alive and aware. You breathe deeper, inhaling the pain, the shadow, the familiarity.

You come to the edge and look over. You see little pieces of yourself there. You see parts of yourself you lost through heartbreak, missed opportunities, things that were taken from you, lies you were told, stolen moments and sins committed. You see the dignity, respect and virtue you gladly handed over to the darkness are there existing without you.

You believe for a moment if you could just go down into the darkness, then you might have those things back. Somehow you could go back in and this time it would be different. You tell yourself you can step in and out, that you can move freely. You tell yourself you can take with you the things it stole and leave behind nothing. Even as you say this, you know it is not true. You cannot exist in both worlds.

The choices you could have made, if it had never existed at all, pulse there in the blackness calling out to you. You step closer and real life fades away. For a moment, it’s as if reality does not exist at all. All that is, is this blackness, this darkness. It is comforting because you know it, because you have been there. You have lived there.

You would think such darkness would be scary, that you would want to turn and run, but when it calls to you it is like home. You are grateful it has returned, thankful that it has come back for you. It reminds you, keeps you grounded and makes you whole.

The lost moments of your life, the misery you have faced, it becomes easier to see yourself in the misery then in life. Life becomes too bright, too stimulating. You take a tentative step toward the edge and try to step into the darkness for just a moment. Just to have that brief reprieve from actual living. Just one moment where you can stop trying, stop swirling, stop forcing yourself to exist in a world that has no place for you, a world that has ceased to make sense. The darkness reminds you it has never made sense.

Life has never worked for you. You have never been a part of anything other than the darkness. As you stand there at the edge, seeing the real you swirling there, pressing up against the light, your two realities existing for once in the same space, you move slowly. You are not quite sure if you believe what the darkness is telling you. You hesitate for a moment and with a jolt you are called back, called back to this life that holds nothing for you. You are forced to step out of darkness.

You are back, blinking and exhausted. Life is too moving to quickly and it makes no sense. No one understands you and you question if they ever have. Your skin feels foreign, loose, like you are playing dress up in someone else’s body. You begin to crave the darkness, to yearn for it, to lust after it. You begin to want nothing but to be left alone so that you can go back.

People try to hold on to you, but you run. You push them aside because they do not understand. They have never been to your darkness. They cannot see the real you lives there. It makes sense there, you say, lashing out, railing against anything that tries to keep you. You rationalize and justify your wanting to go there, convincing yourself it will be but a brief visit this time.

Eventually, the struggle becomes too much for those who are holding on to you and they let go. You slip willingly through the cracks. You hurdle yourself over the edge, weightless, you let the fog cradle you like a long lost soulmate. In the darkness, there is peace. When you are fully there, there is peace, a peace you cannot and will not experience anywhere else, peace like you have never known before.

Familiar sounds and smells rush up around you. The parts of you that have been living there come out to greet you, and you gather them around you like stuffed toys. Propping them up next to you, touching their edges, running your fingers over them, feeling their softness, wondering why you ever left them there in the first place.

You see in the darkness everything you could have been but never were. You see everything you said you would do but did not. You see the broken promises, the forgotten dreams, the aspirations you let die because life was just too hard. It feels good to see them again.

There is no pain in the darkness, no regret, no longing because in the darkness nothing else exists other than the darkness. You are grateful for just a brief moment of peace.

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The One Thing I Will Never Get Used to as a Person With Depression

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Depression has been a part of my life for so long, at this point it feels almost normal. Crying for no reason in particular is a daily activity and having no interest in leaving my bed is more common than not. I’ve dealt with it for so long I’d like to think I have a pretty good grasp on my condition at this point. Yet, the one thing I will never get used to is people telling me I need to “choose to be happy.”

The idea that being happy is something we decide on each day is a distressing misconception. We need to stop broadcasting it to everyone who has ever been sad. Sorry to break it to you, but there will be mornings when you wake up and the comforter wrapped around your body feels like the only thing holding you together. For some of us, those mornings are the norm. You should not be expected to constantly hold all of your broken pieces in place, while forcibly curving the edges of your mouth just to make everyone else think you aren’t screaming inside.

Know this: Every time the sunlight starts creeping through the blinds you never open, you don’t need to choose to be happy, you simply need to choose to live. Choose to get up, go outside and live. If that means you fall apart, then one day you will need to find the courage to put your pieces back together.

Stop letting people tell you to choose happiness. The darkness in your mind isn’t wired to an on/off switch you can control. I know that isn’t always the case. But today, even if you aren’t smiling, you are living. Keep making that choice.

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Pale man in black hoodie, looking toward the camera

5 Ways I Relate to 'Mr. Robot' as Someone With Depression

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Mr. Robot,” the excellent USA show that has garnered critical acclaim and several awards, follows the plight of Elliot Alderson, a cybersecurity engineer and hacker who struggles with mental illness, specifically a hallucination of a man known as Mr. Robot. After eagerly awaiting Season 2, I found myself comparing the show to my recent major depressive episode.

For instance, in Episode 2, Season 2, Elliot comes to the following realization, “Mr. Robot has become my god and, like all gods, their madness takes you prisoner.” Just as Elliot feels trapped by Mr. Robot, I often feel imprisoned by my mental illness, unable to reach out for help.

1. I lose control of my mind.

When I experience a major depressive episode, my depression takes hold and controls me. Similar to Mr. Robot, my depression likes to take control of my mind for long stretches of time. It changes the way I think and act. I become a different person to the people who love me. However, instead of becoming a technology sabotaging genius, I drift into a cloud of darkness, withdrawn and uncertain of my every step.

2. I self-medicate with alcohol.

I often drink to self-medicate when I’m depressed, which results in the loss of chunks of my memory. I’ll wake up wondering what I did the night before. While Elliot cannot recall the periods of time when Mr. Robot seizes control, I cannot recall every moment of when I drink to subdue my feelings of worthlessness.

Most recently, I posted a lengthy drunken rant on an online mental health forum. Aside from the misspellings and skipped words, I genuinely expressed how I was feeling in the midst of a depressive episode: “I go to a psychiatrist who prescribes me medicine, but then I forget to get it refilled. I feel sick when I stop taking it. I feel barely better when I am taking it. I think about how this is how my whole life is going to be. I feel uncomfortable all of the time, at work, at home, with friends. I’m tired of feeling this way. I’m tired of feeling that my life doesn’t matter. That I’m a f*ck up. That I’ll never meet someone who I can truly connect with, who I can truly open up to.”

I reread my post the next morning and cringed, much like Elliot does when he learns of Mr. Robot’s actions after a blackout. I cringed because I chose to self-medicate with alcohol, instead of cope with my depression in a healthy way. In Season 1 of Mr. Robot, Elliot often self-medicates with drugs. He sees a therapist, but rarely opens up to her about how he’s really feeling.

3. I withdraw from family and friends.

Elliot’s mental illness causes him to forget his connection to the people closest to him. A major plot twist in Season 1 was when Elliot realizes that Darlene, a fellow hacker, is not a mere acquaintance, but his sister. Although I do not completely forget who my friends and family members are, I often forget they love me. Depression makes me think they resent me and I’m a nuisance to them.

4. I self-harm.

In Season 1, Elliot as Mr. Robot harms himself in anger and awakens in a hospital to learn about his injuries. I’ve overdosed on medication after drinking to drown out the thoughts in my head, screaming I was worthless. I hurt myself in anger and frustration, thinking there was no other solution to my pain. Characters in Mr. Robot voice their concern for Elliot when they notice his downward spiral. Similarly, people in my life are worried and upset when I self-harm. However, depression blinds me to the love that my friends and family have for me.

5. I isolate.

While Elliot thinks he can block out Mr. Robot by taking Adderall and staying awake, I often think I can hide from depression by sleeping. I go to bed early and have difficulty waking up for work the next morning. I think about getting up and trying to be productive, but I’ll remain in bed feeling fatigued. I avoid socializing, thinking that I wouldn’t be fun to be around. Depression dominates my life in the same way that Mr. Robot becomes the focal point of Elliot’s life.

When a mysterious new character, Ray, tries to talk to Elliot about Mr. Robot, Elliot becomes flustered and gets up to walk away, telling Ray he doesn’t want to talk about this. Ray replies, “Yes, you do. Because you’re smart enough to know that keeping this inside isn’t going to last.” I’ve also learned it’s important to talk about how I’m feeling when I’m depressed. If other people are aware I’m beginning to descend into a depressive episode, then they will encourage me to talk to a therapist and psychiatrist. My parents will remind me to deal with my depression in healthy ways, instead of ways that are harmful.

“Mr. Robot” is important to me because I feel less alone while watching it. Now that I’m feeling better, I can watch “Mr. Robot” and recognize the unhealthy ways I’ve dealt with my depression in the past. Although I can’t predict Elliot’s fate, I can look ahead to a more hopeful future for myself knowing I have a support system to guide me and helpful tools to fight depression.

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.

Lead Photo via Mr. Robot Facebook page.

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Falling Into the Pit of Depression

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The pit is ruthless. Once you fall in, it feels like there is no hope.

Sometimes giving in is easier. Maybe this is the only way to truly feel.

You tripped and fell in, or you got tired and saw the dip in the soil, knowing what it was. Your feet carried you there just as much as your heart.

Your heart feels swollen. With pain, darkness, fear, sadness… the list goes on.

You see, in your minds eye, the bottle of little tan pills on the countertop. You take them, but sometimes the pull of the pit is stronger.

You don’t know if there is a way out, and quite frankly, you don’t know if you care. If someone threw a rope to you, would you catch it and hold on? You are uncertain.

Here, you sit with your pain. Your thoughts are on a repeating loop. You want to hurt, you want to feel.

The pit hasn’t always been here. This ground used to be flat and predictable. Safe. You don’t know where it came from, or what made it. An act of God? Or is it an apparition?

Maybe it’s all in your head. The twisting in your gut tells you this is real though. The hatred, the endless, fierce hatred tells you this is real. The walls are rough and crumbly. Maybe you can find a foothold.

No one told you about this place. You didn’t know a place like this even existed. Sometimes you feel a flicker of hope, but you dash it out. Better to feel dead inside, hollow.

You hear voices, shouts and hollers. It is the ones you love. Are they upset, that you have ended up here again? Are they tired of this pattern you can’t seem to break?

You know others have fallen in too, at different times. You see where they have chipped away at the rocks and scooped out dirt in an attempt to get out. They’ve survived, and you will too. It’s just a matter of how long this will last.

A few days go by, and you are so tired of this place. You make an attempt to rally your spirits, your eyes search out the handholds from years past. You think you see a way out, but it is never certain.

Believing is half the battle. The air up here is so fresh. How you’ve missed the blue sky. Everything looks better on solid ground.

Your path isn’t the same as anyone else’s. There’s no “cure,” no quick-fix. You can’t even say how you got out of that dark place.

There’s no saying when you will return to your wallowing and hiding. It creeps up on you like a shadow. It’s not the unknowns you fear though, it is the actual moments when you are down in the pit that are the worst.

You can warn someone about the dark holes  they might one day find themselves in, but you can’t take their place. You can tell someone “I’ve been there too” or “it gets better,” but words don’t always heal. You can go into that pit with them, but you can’t pull them out.

Being in the pit isn’t a choice, but you can choose to try to get out, over and over.

Here’s to those who do. Here’s to those who don’t. Because this isn’t a contest, it’s an illness. Here’s to you, the hurting and broken down. Gather your strength. See yourself through another day.

You don’t have to live your whole life in the dark.

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

Image via Thinkstock.

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What It's Like to Be an Asian-American With Depression

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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.”

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