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Mental Health

How Being Asian American Defined My Experience With Depression and Anxiety

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A young dark haired Asian American lady with glasses stands in front of the camera.
Burlington, MA

The first time I recognized my depression was in the eighth grade. But, when I realized my insurance wouldn’t cover the therapist my doctor referred me to, I faked a recovery I didn’t actually feel. And, starting acting like this sadness was just a part of who I was, instead of an illness that affected every moment of my day.

My parents just wanted me to be okay. But, I didn’t feel like this was something I could put on them. I knew they would cover it out of pocket, but I rationalized it away.

Wouldn’t I feel worse, knowing I was putting them out like that? Wouldn’t knowing that they were paying so much get in the way of me getting better? I got awfully good at rationalizing away treatment.

Being Korean-American, I was always taught that mental illness wasn’t something discussed in Asian-American communities. While my parents supported me when I told them I was struggling, I felt like I was alone in my experience as an Asian-American dealing with depression and anxiety.

I didn’t know where my diaspora ended and my depression began. I still don’t really know. My confession is this: I’m still not in therapy.

I’m still not getting the help I know I need and deserve. Because even on my best days, it is hard to accept that I am deserving of help.

It is hard to think about all the ways I have changed to accommodate my depression and anxiety. And it’s scary to think about who I might be without them. And it’s easy for me to think that because I’ve come this far without it, I’ll be able to continue managing without it.

But I know that isn’t being fair to myself, and I know that I would never tell a friend that. So this is the year that I stop trying to rationalize or justify why I’m not in therapy. I know that people who are marginalized because of their race, gender, sexuality, ability, and class are the ones more affected by a lack of access but the ones who need it the most.

I’m in a graduate program that includes access to counseling sessions. I’m worried that if I don’t take advantage of it now, in my last semester of the program, I might not try again. Maybe, I am stronger and resilient knowing I have lived this long with my depression and anxiety.

But I know now that it’s okay to be gentle and soft. That being strong in a system that actively antagonizes you and denies your existence is exhausting.

I have tried for so long to be the strong one. I think I’ll try to be softer now.

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Mental Health

How I Overcame My Bipolar Disorder

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A young white man with a beard and brown hair shares how he overcame his bipolar disorder in his life.
New York City, NY

I became aware of my bipolar disorder when I was sent to a mental health institute after telling people I wanted to take my own life at the age of 16. They diagnosed me with it there after monitoring me for about 30 days and put me on medication.

Having bipolar disorder has made everything more difficult. Because of my severe ups and downs, irritability, anxiety, loss of interest/pleasure in things, difficulty concentrating, and tons of other issues that come from it, I had problems with skipping a lot of class in high school and ended up dropping out.

I’ve quit multiple jobs because I can’t deal with stress very well. Having a mental illness in general drains a lot of energy just to ‘stay alive’ & be ‘okay.’

Depression especially lies to you and tells you that you’re worthless, so that affects your mindset and outlook on life a lot , and when you think of the things you tried to do and failed, it makes it more believable.

But, that’s not to say that people can’t manage it better and be successful, because people can and do, especially with the right treatment.

I’ve learned a lot of coping skills over the years, both by myself and through therapy. Mainly, including calming myself down from anxiety by wording things differently in my brain, like if something didn’t go entirely right I can say ‘this part did go right’ or something.

I have to try to keep my mind busy/distracted from the negative thoughts, which sometimes even results in temporarily ‘disconnecting from reality’ by playing a game, watching science fiction once in a while, listening to new music, or just sitting/laying down trying to relax.

Other times, it’s great to have people who can relate to talk to about it; having social media where a lot of people relate to me has helped me a lot, and I feel good about being able to help them at times too which makes me happier. I’ve learned to manage my illness better by understanding it.

Instead of giving up on something because I’m frustrated, I take breaks and believe/know that I can do it. So failure is usually more successful now for one thing.

By becoming more positive in general, telling myself those things, reading them, telling them to other people, it’s actually made me feel more positive. I’ve also become a more sympathetic/caring person because of what I’ve gone through and deal with. And I have learned how it can affect other people too.

I used to be a lot more of an angry person and took out some of my problems on other people. Now, I often care a lot about and make some sacrifices for other people, but ultimately if my mental health needs care, I have to put that first to be okay, then come back to what I was doing.

Sometimes you take some steps back, I suppose, but you don’t really lose the mental progress in what you’ve learned, and what’s made you strong to be able to deal with the future. It’s just more like a bump in the road, even when it’s a rather severe one that can send you off the road completely, you can get back on it with time/healing and keep going.

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Mental Health

How I Learned to Manage Stress

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A young lady with a dog explains how to manage stress.
Harrisburg, PA

Google defines stress as the ‘state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.’ As a student, I certainly know this feeling along with the emotional and physical damage one can experience due to significant amounts of stress. It can lead to severe mental disorders, like depression or anxiety.

Although I do not believe I have ever been affected by depression, I have experienced the side effects of increased amounts of stress. A time I remember being the most stressed took place in my senior year of high school. During this time period, I had not decided where I was going to attend college which scared me due to the unknown approaching so quickly.

At that time, I was president of two clubs and sat as a student representative on my districts board, while working two jobs to save money for my college expenses. All of this, on top of a relationship, where I felt trapped and unhappy in, pushed me too far.

I experienced shakiness in my body, increased heart rate, headaches, a loss of appetite, sociability, and disinterest in activities I used to enjoy. I believed that in order to get through this hard time in my life, I had to keep pushing through my stress, which I later found untrue.

A huge part of my stress came from being in this relationship. If I could give my younger self advice, I would tell her to break off this unhealthy relationship because of the anxiety he caused her.

I would tell her to learn to eliminate her stressors and learn to not wallow in her sufferings, but to advocate for herself and eliminate unnecessary origins of stress.

This, of course, does not mean stop studying for classes because they stress you out, but to learn to plan your day and better manage your time.

I believe one should push themselves to achieve great things, and put in the work to achieve those things, but always know that there are ways to lessen your stress. Through accommodating to your situation and eliminating people or extra activities out of your life that are triggers for stress.

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Mental Health

How I Learned to Control My Negative Thoughts

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A young lady explains how she has learned how to control her negative thoughts.
Orange County, NY

Going to an all-girls high school, you would think I did not have to deal with the normal problems most high school girls deal with. Wrong! I dealt with the same kind of issues just in a different way.

One of the many problems I dealt with was academics. During high school, I had to transfer from my old school because of budget cuts to a new school, outside my district, that I struggled with adapting to the new environment.

My teachers felt that I hadn’t had the proper education because of the district I came from. They treated me differently. I wouldn’t receive the same attention as the smarter kids.

Making friends was also hard since students tended to group up with who they thought were going to look good in terms of popularity, so I always felt like an outsider. Everything in school felt like a competition. It was very challenging.

My struggles at school led to anxiety and insecurity issues. I would always overthink everything. And I started stressing with the fact that I wasn’t good enough to attend my high school or even attend college.

The only thing that helped me get through this was talking to my friends and getting a lot of unhealthy thoughts off my chest. But even then, that wasn’t enough.

The thoughts of me not ‘being good enough’ for school escalated to ‘me not being good enough at all.’ These thoughts isolated me from my friends.

I thought nobody was ever going to like me, and that I would never develop a love life. I had to teach myself about self-love. It was not easy.

I tried really hard to make sure that any negative thoughts that would come to my mind would be replaced with positive ones. I had to constantly remind myself that if I cannot love myself then how can I expect anybody to love me. Repeating that to myself everyday helped me a lot.

Little by little, I started realizing that I was valuable. That I was good enough. I realized that I was loved and that I had supportive friends that were there for me.

My daily routine of just reminding myself that I am good enough has transformed my life. Since then, my insecurities and anxieties have slowly vanished.

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