Thoughts of Suicide and the Taboo of Discussing It

I think the title of my post speaks for itself, but just in case, I will add a trigger warning…

*** This post may be triggering if you are are emotionally vulnerable right now***

Below is an excerpt from a recent Facebook post over at the Angel Rehtaeh Facebook page I’ve been following since Rehtaeh Parsons of Novia Scotia died by suicide on April 7, 2013.  The cause of her attempted suicide has been blamed on the online distribution of photos of an alleged gang rape committed by four boys in November 2011, and subsequent persistent cyberbullying and bullying that took place that drove her to try to end her life.

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I am just as concerned about girls’ mental health as I am about maternal mental health because there is risk of postpartum mood disorders occurring when there is a history of depression, bipolar disorder, or other mental health issue.  And as many of my blog followers already know, since I was a victim of bullying while growing up, I am just about as passionate an advocate for anti-bullying as I am an advocate for maternal mental health.  And mental health/depression and suicide as topics for discussion?  Still very taboo in our society today.  Yes, they are still very hush hush and make for awkward topics to talk about.  But not awkward enough for my lunch group today, which I had the pleasure of organizing as a mini reunion of four fellow Postpartum Support International (PSI) members from as far away as Arizona in addition to Long Island and of course, New Jersey.  Yes, we talked about suicide, among a number of other maternal-mental-health-related matters….not to mention our books (3 out of the 4 PSI members are book authors).

Not speaking up about suicide is just like not speaking up about mental health….it doesn’t do anyone any good.  It just keeps it a completely taboo topic.  It makes people who experience it feel ashamed and alone, when in fact they are far from alone.   People with suicidal thoughts may feel like no one cares and no one will ever understand what they are going through.  That’s simply not true.  There are always people who care.  The key is whether you spoke to the right person about what you’re going through.  When I say right person, I mean a loved one whom you trust and can help connect you with someone who is trained to help those who are in a dark place say that there truly is a light at the end of the tunnel.

The following excerpt is being quoted with permission from Rehtaeh’s mother, Leah Parsons:

The sad part about thoughts of suicide and the taboo of discussing it is that so many people especially teenagers go through times where they have these thoughts. Instead of acknowledging that these thoughts are more common than we know…we make people feel like there is something “wrong” with them. That somehow they are “weak” and can not handle life’s pressures. Schools need more talk of mental health- not less. Not talking about mental health does not equal less suicides. Actually, talking with supports in place is the answer to helping peoples – especially teens deal with their emotional struggles.  So what would I say to someone who is wanting to leave this beautiful world?
I would say:

1. You are not alone.
2. This too shall pass….what seems like the darkest of days can lead you to the brightest light.
3. When we come out of darkness we have a better lense in which to view the world.
4. Find the smallest of things to look forward to everyday. It can be the feeling of crawling under your comfy blankets at night. Embrace comfort!
5. Ask for guidance to something bigger than yourself…even if you don’t believe in God, ask the Universe..you will get an answer but you have to be present. Listen,be present for that opportunity!
6. Look around you for beauty….it’s there and inside of you too.
7. Find one person you trust…find “YOUR” therapy whatever that may be…explore that.
8. Look around you at the people who love you…you matter to them even if it feels like your a burden…thats not true that is something you are feeding yourself to confirm your negative feelings. Its a trick your mind plays with you when you are down.
9. Life is hard and again YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
10. What seems like desperation and sadness today is not permanent….it will not always be that way.
11. Don’t compare your journey to another.
12. Someone else may seem strong and have everything going for them, but they too will struggle or are struggling.
13. You are loved…find the love in you and feed yourself the way you would a friend that is down.
14. Listen to your thoughts, is that how you would talk to a friend? Be that friend to yourself!
15. Please Stay there will never be another YOU!

I would like to end this post with a reminder to reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline if you are feeling like you are at the end of your rope, there is no hope, there is no way out of the situation that is making you feel so bad, and/or your loved ones would be better of without you.  Contrary to what you believe, your loved ones will NOT be better without you.

Let’s Face It, Your Kids Can’t Avoid Bullies and Mean Kids – But You Can Help Them Develop Problem Solving Skills

*** This post may be triggering if you are suffering from postpartum depression (PPD) and are sensitive to negative news events ***

I am so tired of feeling devastated, seeing the constant posts of children taking their own lives.  Reading about teen suicides that seem to be occurring more and more frequently is truly heartbreaking.

There’s 11 year old Michael Morones who was bullied (and is now in a persistent vegetative state from hanging himself) for being a My Little Pony fan.  Every time I see his beautiful face on my Facebook feed, I just want to break down and cry.

Then there’s Ashley Payton who was driven to bullycide on February 5, 2014,  just shy of her 16th birthday.  A girl who was so beautiful and yet was convinced she wasn’t.  Self esteem issues seemingly at play here, as is at the heart of all too many other teen-related issues like eating disorders (anorexia/bulimia), cutting, drugs, and depression….just to name a few.

And finally, there’s the article in the Clarion Ledger dated April 12, 2014 titled “Anti-bullying Laws Fail to Stem Youth Suicide” by Emily Le Coz, which is what motivated me to write this post today.  The article reveals frightening statistics of the numbers of youth suicides each year and how bullying is most often cited as the root of the epidemic, despite anti-bullying laws in place in most states.  The article mentions 15-year-old Lyndsey Taylor Aust, bullied for merely having acnie, was but one of THREE suicides in her school within ONE MONTH period (this is what is referred to as a “contagion effect”).

Sure, schools have some form of anti-bullying policy in place, but I have yet to hear about a school that has an effective one.  For one thing, instead of an environment of transparency in schools, you have one that is controlled by fear that stems from the stigma of depression and suicide. Instead of transparency and a culture that TRULY cares about the welfare of students, schools fear doing anything to change the negative culture, hence the sweeping of depression, suicide and bullying under the rug.  There is a price to pay for such willful ignorance.  Look at what happened at Scott County Central High School in Mississippi….three suicides in ONE MONTH.

The fact of the matter is our children are feeling hopeless and helpless enough to end their own precious lives.  There have been arguments that bullying is not necessarily the sole and direct cause of all youth suicides.  That it might just be “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” Well, there is ABSOLUTELY a correlation between victims of bullying and suicidal thoughts and attempts, according to a study published in the March 2014 edition of JAMA Pediatrics.  You can also review the booklet posted over on the CDC website titled The Relationship Between Bullying & Suicide.  Both parents and educators should familiarize themselves with this information.

If there are self esteem issues that are leading toward changes in behavior/sleep/eating, depression should be looked at and treated. In a number of recent cases I’ve read about recently, I noticed that parents indicated there was absolutely no sign whatsoever that anything was out of the ordinary.  Their children seemed like their happy, normal selves.  I don’t know any of these families’ situations, but there is a greater tendency to bully or be bullied in the following situations in which a stable support system is lacking:

  1. Greater numbers of single parents than ever before
  2. Dual-career parents who are busy working long hours at full-time jobs and spending less time at home with the kids and providing positive behavior role modeling, interaction, and simply listening opportunities
  3. Risk factors for depression and other mental health issues, like eating disorders, self esteem issues, family history of mental illness, extreme poverty, emotional/physical abuse, lack of nurturing, etc.

I am not in any way blaming any parents whose children took their own lives.  I’m imploring ALL parents to be more in tune with their children. If there is an underlying mental health issue, then PLEASE get help for them.  If you see that there are changes in demeanor, behavior, diet, and sleep, please observe, talk to and listen….REALLY LISTEN TO WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY AND REALLY OBSERVE THEIR BEHAVIOR AND MANNERISMS CLOSELY.  If they refuse to open up to you, please try to get them a neutral third party–someone experienced with teen issues and depression, like a family counselor–to talk to them.  Put aside any feelings of shame or fear from the stigma of mental illness.

If you are of the camp of parents who believes the best way your children will learn to adapt to and survive in this world is by doing it with very little to no guidance from you, I implore you to put aside any feelings you may have that, since you toughed it up and lasted through mean kids and got through tough times in school, your child can too.  Don’t think for one second that what you went through growing up back in the 60s, 70s or 80s is the same as growing up today in the 21st century when kids are heavy users of social media and can be cyberbullied day and night via texting, Twitter, Facebook, Instragram, and online forums in which teens “hang out” in an often anonymous fashion.  Anonymity affords cyberbullies/trolls access to an easy–albeit even more cowardly than in-person bullying–means to harass, intimidate and taunt in a public forum, and gives others to join in/gang up to make an emotionally vulnerable young individual miserable.  And put aside the belief that it’s impossible for them to ever have any mental health issues because “depression just doesn’t happen to anyone in my household; I wouldn’t allow them to be weak like that.”

In these cases–since we all know that middle and high schools are a breeding ground for kids undergoing hormone changes who, as part of the socialization process that goes with growing up, try to assert themselves in inappropriate ways–we need to ensure our children are prepared.  I’m  not saying we need to be like the helicopter parents that are so oft criticized in parenting articles, and solve all our kids’ problems so we can keep them out of harm’s way.  No, not at all.  I’m saying that we need to provide guidance to our children.  After all, that’s what parents do.  We use our own experiences and wisdom gained from living and learning….and from our own parents.  From the time our children are toddlers, we teach/coach/guide our children to feed themselves, go potty themselves, talk, stand up, walk, change themselves, brush their teeth, behave appropriate/use inside voices in public spaces…and so on.

I can’t help but view a school as one huge boxing ring within which kids are forced to demonstrate their survival skills.  Because school ends up being where kids spend most of their time every day of the school year, it’s not unreasonable for me to say that every school district should help kids with training on how to cope with mean kids.  In fact, I fervently believe schools should be mandated to add to their curriculum–for first grade all the way through twelfth grade–a year long training on social skills.

It’s one thing that schools observe a Week of Kindness every October.  That’s only five days out of a 183-day school year.   Schools will generally have a mission that includes words like emotional wellness, appreciation of diversity, fostering respect.  But let’s face it, since we can’t even get the majority of schools in this country to deal with bullying effectively, the responsibility for teaching our kids coping skills rests on parents.

It is inevitable that there are mean kids in every school.  What we need to focus on is how to provide our children with guidance on how to cope with mean kids.  It is crucial that parents teach their children to adapt to and survive in this world by nurturing, guidance, and simply being there for them.  Providing guidance is not the same thing as making things easier for our kids and fixing all their issues so down the road they have no problem solving skills of their own. I’m talking about helping our children develop skills they need to fix their own problems. Self esteem is a huge issue for all too many teens. Not every teen is going to know how to let mean behavior slide like it took me years to learn how to do myself.

Resources I would like to recommend for both parents and educators (I am early in my research, so more to come in future blog posts):

Be Brave, Say What You Wanna Say

Every single word in Sara Bareille’s wonderfully inspirational song “Brave” has meaning.  Very important meaning.  Funny that this song has been out for a while, and yet I’ve only heard it on the radio a couple of times before today.  Before this song, I just knew Sara to be a former judge on The Sing Off, my FAVORITE show of all shows.  Then, a few days ago, she performed the song at the People’s Choice Awards.  Today, with some leisure time on my hands, I decided to blog about this song.  Wanting to include a link to the video for this post, I watched the song’s video on YouTube.  It is just as uplifting to me as the song itself is.  What a beautiful singer, video, and lyrics!  She absolutely deserves her five 2014 Grammy nods among which are Album of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance for such an uplifting song with meaningful lyrics….and a great beat, to boot!

I know this song was inspired by a friend of hers that was struggling to “come out,” but the words are totally fitting for bullying and everyday situations (see words below, paraphrased for everyday context):

No more running away.
     Free yourself from and face your fears.
          Be brave.
               Say what you wanna say, and let the words fall out.
                    Say what’s on your mind.
                         Don’t let your thoughts and words stay bottled up inside you.
                              What will silence accomplish?
                                   Speak up.

Words can have a powerful impact–both positive and negative.  People bully and say hurtful things to others in an attempt to make themselves feel better about themselves.  Bullies are generally proof positive that the apple tends not to fall far from the tree–the exact words used by me and a few others in a Facebook conversation I had earlier today regarding bullying behaviors of adults and children.  In other words, if parents are mean and behave in a bullying fashion to other adults and even their own family members–basically providing a non-nurturing environment for their children–then they are setting bad examples for their kids to follow suit and teaching their kids the wrong way to interact with others.  Kids in these households are often stuck in an environment that is short on love and long on abusive (emotional and sometimes even physical) situations.

Standing up for principle–and standing up for yourself– is important, especially if you know you don’t deserve someone’s negative comments.  In all too many situations in the past, especially during my painfully unpleasant teenage years and first decade or so of my career, I was the brunt of people’s jokes over my appearance, my ethnicity, and my name (“Poison Ivy”)…. and all sorts of other put downs.  As I’ve mentioned many times previously, I didn’t have any friends in my high school.  To this day, I refuse to acknowledge the town I spent over 2 decades living in, or even the high school I attended.  No point, really. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wishes there was a way to take the knowledge and experience we now have and time travel back to our teenage years and tell off the people who gave us grief.  If only I could time travel back to my high school and tell people exactly what I would tell them today.  If only…

Unfortunately, I only have regrets for what could have been.  But at least I now feel confident and empowered to say what is really on my mind.  From reading my blog–especially posts like the last one that touches on breastfeeding zealotry–you more than likely never would have thought I’d have any problems voicing my honest opinion on situations that irk me.  I certainly don’t hold back when it comes to writing.  However, responding to in-person situations is very different and has been a challenge for most of my life.  I’ve never been witty or quick-minded enough to reply to rude remarks with a spontaneous comeback.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I seem to have reached a turning point in the past couple of years in terms of being able to speak my mind–exactly what’s on my mind, unfiltered–and one example comes immediately to mind because it just happened two days ago…and ended up as a Facebook post I wrote during my fun commute home from NYC:

Me:  (addressing the guy in the row ahead of where I was trying to sit, seeing how there is like no leg room for me because his seat is so far reclined): “Excuse me, can you raise the back of your seat a tad? I’ve got short legs and they won’t even fit in that tiny space.”

Guy: (moves seat up a half inch, if that much)

Me: (squeezing underneath reclined seat): “Thank you……oh, and I’m being totally sarcastic.”

Guy: (turns and glares at me)

Guy next to me: (turns to look at me with amused look on his face)

Me: (oops, I was supposed to think that, not say that out loud, while smiling back at my neighbor…ha!)

I truly surprised myself when those words “I’m being totally sarcastic” came right out of my mouth.  You should’ve seen the look on my face when I realized what I’d just done (i.e., speaking as if I were writing my thoughts down).  So, maybe this is a turning point in comebacks for me.  :)  Or….. as I get older, I’m finding that I’m spending less time filtering and more time speaking my mind.   GO ME!!!

What I Would Tell My 7th Grade Self

Inspired by the post titled “To My 7th Grade Self” at the blog ronkempmusic.

Just last week (and believe me, it had nothing to do with the post that inspired me because I only read it yesterday– but it further ignited my desire to blog about what I would say to my 7th grade self, if only I could)– I caught myself telling a colleague: “If only I could go back to when I was in junior high and react/behave like my 40-something self.  Things would’ve been so different.  I would’ve given the kids in my school a piece of my mind.  I would’ve reacted/behaved in a ‘I won’t take this crap from no one’ attitude.”

Yes, if only there WERE only such a thing as time travel!

180px-StrangeAtmosphereIf there WERE such a thing, then I would go straight back to 7th grade, when the worst period of my life began and went on for a good six years until I graduated high school.  I hated that school.  My classmates treated me like I was beneath them.  I was, after all, completely lacking in self esteem, shy as all hell, unattractive, poorly dressed, unpopular, friendless and last but not least….the only Chinese girl in a class of approximately 350 students.  And boy, it was the slowest, most painful six years of my life!  If it weren’t for my Biology teacher that I befriended in 10th grade, I would’ve literally been friendless in that entire high school system.  Note: I’m talking about friendships with classmates, not friendships outside of school, which I did have.  I had friends from my Chinese school, Chinese teen club, and Chinese church.  I found making friends in my extremely caucasian–and very racist– high school quite an exercise in futility.

Back then, I HATED my life.  HATED it with every ounce of my being.  I just wanted to drop off the face of the earth.  I was lonely.  I felt like life had no purpose if I was going to be such an outcast and people who weren’t of the same ethnicity were going to be so racist toward me.  That was not a battle that, back then, I had any energy or interest in fighting.  It didn’t help that my parents and I fought all the time, and my brother and I fought all the time.

My friends and blog followers know me to have taken up the cause of not only postpartum depression advocacy, but anti-bullying advocacy as well.  As you can see, the roots of my anti-bullying advocacy date back to my 7th grade to 12th grade years.  Back then–in the late 70s, early 80s– there was no Internet, and hence, there was no such thing as cyberbullying when I was in school….and thank goodness for that!   I wasn’t bullied to the extent that kids today are bullied.  Kids said mean things to me due to my race and appearance, and no one made any attempts to be friends with me.  Didn’t help that I had no friends going into the school because I was new to the area, having just moved there in time for the start of junior high school.  Talk about LOUSY timing!

Having no Internet had its pluses and its minuses.  What minuses?  Well, for one thing, where did a teen turn for help in getting through the angst and feeling like no one understands them and what they are going through?  Going to parents wasn’t really an option, in general, for most teens….and it still isn’t really an option, in general, today.  Why?  In my case, and in the case of many first-generation-born-in-the U.S. kids, the previous generation was born and raised in a different country with different cultural standards, perspectives and practices.  As in the case of my parents, they had it much tougher than we did.  Hence, there is a gap between their experiences and yours….and never the twain shall meet.  Even if the prior generation were born here, there is STILL a generation gap.  And all too often, there are plenty of challenges due to that gap….and never the twain shall meet.

Friends with whom you trust your feelings can serve as an outlet, but I didn’t have any close enough for me to confide in.  I pretty much kept it all to myself, feeling hopeless, lost and desperate to the point that I felt like ending it all quite a number of times–but thankfully was too afraid to carry it out–with frequent lashing out at my parents for not understanding and only making things worse for me.  The huge fights we used to get into tore a huge hole in our relationship that took until after I had my own child to mend.

A non-judgmental ear and someone with experience in providing guidance/mentoring is what is needed, and usually you would find that in the form of a guidance counselor or a mental healthcare professional.  The guidance counselor in my school was absolutely of NO help, and I went to a psychiatrist once, but I had zero patience with talking to someone who looked like they didn’t really care and couldn’t make a difference.  So I never went back.

Now, getting to what I would tell my 7th grade self.  Here is what I would say:

I know you are hating life right now, but please hang on.  I know you will find it hard to believe  that you will learn to really enjoy life.  It WILL have meaning.  You will adopt a work hard, play hard, live for the day attitude.  You will grab life by the horns, determined to explore different activities, fall in love with traveling and sailing, have a family, and experience life to the fullest.

Right now, you may feel like life has no purpose, that you’d be better off not existing because then you would no longer have to endure the loneliness and each day of the tortuously slow and miserable school year for the next 6  years.  You may feel like you’re the only one who is having family challenges, but believe me, you are far from alone in that area!  So many kids have dysfunctional families.  Some are able to mend their relationships with their parents and/or siblings down the road.  Others aren’t so fortunate.  You will be able to have a much healthier relationship with your parents once you get married and have a child of your own.

I promise you that, even though you don’t feel as if you have any talents, you do!  You will find that your strength is writing, even though you will hate writing papers in high school.  You will find, with time, that you will sing in choirs for the next dozen years….all through high school, college and even in New York City choirs after you start working in New York City.  You will spend six weeks on a trip of your life in Taiwan, after which you will come back a changed person.  On that trip, you will find that you have the ability to make friends easily with anyone.  You will have a family, and in the process, have a life-changing experience that will result in your becoming a published author and blogger.  You will figure out that your purpose is to take your own personal experiences of bullying, lack of guidance/mentoring in school, and motherhood to help others.  To help others NOT to have to suffer the way you did.

You are NOT ALONE in your teen experiences.  Most teens go through what is referred to as teen angst that is the result of the hormonal changes that come with puberty.  These changes, in turn, cause emotional changes that impact behavior and even ways of thinking.  Yes, you will experiences feelings of pain and hopelessness like none other you’ve experienced to date.  You have NOT had enough life experience to develop coping skills and perspective on things that you will have after you have first gone through a number of challenges that will cross your path.  These challenges may seem unnecessary to you and only serve to make life harder for you right now, but in actuality, they will serve to make you a stronger individual.

You, my dear, are a SURVIVOR.  Believe me, things DO get better.

If only there WERE such a thing as time travel.   I wish it were possible to tell my 7th grade self ALL that, to spare the young version of me the pain that I had to suffer.  But….as Ronkempmusic blog post points out:

There are young people, right now!, right under our noses who need to hear what we would tell our like-aged self if we could…..And, more than anything else, they need to be taught that there’s nothing in the world more powerful than love, but it must start with self love……Since we can’t go back in time and teach our own younger selves, the next best thing is to pass it on to today’s youth.

This is EXACTLY what I’ve been doing lately.  Instead of merely wishing I could travel back in time to try to change the path my 7th grade self ultimately takes, I am paying it forward with kids who need the help I never got when I was growing up.  One teen resource that is part of a growing anti-bullying movement is the Stand for the Silent closed group on Facebook (more on this in an upcoming post), which has over 33,000 members from around the globe.  I joined this group a few months ago to help provide an encouraging word or two and lend a non-judgmental ear to the teens that reach out for support and encouragement.  I am now regularly commenting (for as much as time will allow) on posts others in the group–mostly teens–leave.  My goal, like many of the other members in the group, is to be there for someone, much in the way I wish someone had been there for me…in my most angst-ridden moments that started when I was in 7th grade and didn’t ease up until I went off to college.

Finding My Tribe

I know, I know….it’s been well over a month since my last blog post….the longest pause from blogging since I started this blog over 4 years ago.

I’ve recently mentioned that, as time goes on, I feel like I am losing momentum when it comes to writing blog posts.  After a while, you just feel like you’re posting the same ol’ stuff over and over again.  I can only blog so much about my  postpartum depression (PPD) experience and what I learned from my road to motherhood…. without sounding like a broken record.  I still look for media developments that give me hope that things are starting to change with regard to public awareness, as well as research that sheds new light on postpartum mood disorders.  My recent attendance at the annual Postpartum Support International (PSI) conference has inspired me to write this post.

Let me just begin with the fact that– despite the fact that I look Chinese– I act and speak very American.   I’d readily have a conversation in Mandarin with someone from China or Taiwan, and then just as readily turn around and speak to the caucasian person next to me with zero hint of being of Chinese descent (and not even of NJ residency, either, or so I’ve been told).  Standing next to an Asian woman from China or Taiwan, I am painfully aware of how different I am from them.  I am much darker skinned and a heck of a lot heavier.  Growing up, I was always described by my parents’ friends and relatives as “healthy looking” or “sturdy” via a specific word in Chinese.  That’s not really meant to be a compliment or anything.  Just a nicer way of putting the fact that I was “big.”  Funny thing is, when I was a teen (and compared to how I am now), I appeared frail and was always getting sick.  At one point, I considered becoming bulimic (forcing myself to throw up after eating so I could be slimmer), but luckily only tried it once.  It was gross.

Also, unlike so many Asians I know–those born in the states and those born overseas– I’m not reserved or shy with letting people know how I truly feel about something.  I say what’s on my mind.  There’s no holding my thoughts back and I’m finding that, as I get older, my filtering mechanisms don’t work as effectively as they used to!  I mean, c’mon, I blog and wrote a book about my PPD experience, for crying out loud.  I wasn’t like this all my life. It’s more of a recent development that began with my PPD recovery and peaked this past year.

I’ve gotten tired of doing something just in the past year.  What is it, you ask?  Well, I have stopped feeling bad about not being able to make friends with Chinese women (from overseas) whose daughters are about my daughter’s age who are completely the opposite from my daughter in that they look and behave like they’re from overseas.  They speak Mandarin fluently, not to mention are already competitive and driven to succeed.  I get this vibe from these mothers that make me feel like I am on a completely different wavelength (or planet, even) from them.  I carry myself differently from them, speak differently, look different, and see things through a different lens than they do.  Doesn’t help that I feel like a football player next to them….all big boned and “sturdy” looking.  Ha!

All my life I have been looking for a group with which I could readily identify.  Sure, I get along with people easily, in general, but that’s not something I found easy to do until very recently.  When I was a teenager, I didn’t fit in with the rest of my caucasian class of approximately 350 students.  Nor did I fit in with the kids in my Chinese church.  I fit in more with my Chinese teen club because these were kids who were about the same age as me and who, like me, grew up in very caucasian environments as a Chinese American.  But I still didn’t closely identify with any of them. Nothing really changed in college.  Although there were Asian clubs at my alma mater and throughout the Five College area that my alma mater happened to be a part of, as well as at Columbia University and NYU (since I had friends at both those schools), I still didn’t really feel like I truly fit in with anyone in those clubs.  I learned that–we could be Asian-looking on the outside–but that doesn’t matter.  As far as women are concerned, the claws will come out and their lips will flap to turn others against you, and gullible guys (and women) who don’t know any better will listen to them.

And the working world in the Tri-state area hasn’t been that much better.  At work, it’s non-stop work, work, work.  In this day and age, the environment is one of high stress and very little time to have the opportunity to develop friendships with any co-workers.  Sure, I was part of a determined group that started up the very first Asian employee network in the NY metro area for our company, and I’ve made a good number of friends from my involvement with this network for many years.  But again, there was no meaningful bond.

And I won’t even go into detail about my ‘hood because I’ve blogged about this before, and let’s just say that I’ve found it hard to fit in here as well.  I always feel like I’m on a different wavelength with the majority of people living in my immediate area….perhaps it has to do with the fact that I am one of the few mothers that went right back to work promptly after my 3-month maternity leave was up.  Doesn’t help that–like I’ve said previously–I was raised by parents who never really mingled with neighbors or relied on them for anything.  I know I have the ability to change that tradition, but honestly, it’s hard when you work all day long and by the time you get home, it’s only a few hours before you gear up to start the cycle all over again the next morning.  It’s also hard to get beyond the feeling that you are just not as great as parenting as they all are…these mothers who seemed to lead perfect maternal lives, keeping perfect homes, cooking and baking for their families, carpooling with other neighbors’ kids to/from school each day, attending their kids’ soccer matches, etc.  O-M-G.  I’ve been having a hard enough time just scraping by–having emerged from my PPD experience back in 2006–in taking turns with the hubs in rushing off in a panic to drop the kid off  at before care each morning, coming home from work late everyday and trying to scrape a meal together for all of us before it’s time to put the kid to bed.

fence_ISLI refer to my predicament I’ve found myself in all my life as being on a fence.   A fence between people of different wavelengths…not really  fitting in with one particular group or another. Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve had good friends for many years, but there was always some invisible barrier preventing me from truly feeling like I was part of a cohesive group, which because of a common bond, that people automatically identify themselves a part of.  In other words, a tribe.  What is a tribe?  Dictionary.com defines it as “any aggregate of people united by ties of descent from a common ancestor, community of customs and traditions, adherence to the same leaders, etc.”

I’ve been a member of PSI since 2006 and have attended a number of PSI annual conferences to network with and pick up the latest information from subject matter experts. Here’s an excerpt out of my book:

It was at my first Postpartum Support International conference that I felt a sense of belonging, understanding of the pain I’d experienced, and validation that I wasn’t the only one who had suffered such an experience. I finally found a group with whom I shared the common bond of wanting to become more knowledgeable about PPD and wanting to help other women. I felt comfortable and comforted being in their midst. The attendees were, for the most part, PPD survivors who became impassioned enough about the subject to become MDs, PhDs, and social workers who treat women with PPD.

It wasn’t until this past conference that I just attended in Minneapolis that it dawned on me that….hey, wait a second, I think I’ve found my tribe!  I’ve always felt like I shared a common bond with the amazing ladies that are members of PSI, but I have to say I’ve never felt such a natural bond with people from different parts of the country and with all different personalities and backgrounds–than I felt at the PSI conference last week.  I felt incredibly comfortable and at home, despite the fact that I was in a city I’ve never been to (and had never previously thought of visiting).  Being with this group of women helped me to feel like I was at home.

Most of us are survivors of a postpartum mood disorder.  Most have dedicated their lives to supporting women from a research and/or support basis as social workers, lactation consultants, midwives, doulas, therapists, and founders of PPD support organizations in their local communities.  I am a PPD survivor, blogger and book author who shares their desire to spread awareness about postpartum mood disorders and providing mothers with the support they need during the postpartum period.  I’d like to do more, but I just haven’t figured out what exactly yet.

These ladies are caring, dedicated, down to earth, and amazing.   They are far from catty, competitive and superficial–attributes I remember all too well among fellow students and even among colleagues at work.  It felt good and natural to be with them, and I must say that I look up to each and every one of them.  I have so much respect and admiration for all of them.  They make me realize I have certain shortcomings that prevent me from doing what they do each and every day, working directly with women who need help.  They inspire me to want to do more for mothers out there!

I had such a great time in those 2 short days I spent at the conference, and so looking forward to seeing them all again at next year’s conference at the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill!

A Must Read: Emily Bazelon’s “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy”

Well, I am at a point in which I’ve got so many ideas, but not enough time to post anything.  Until, that is, I spotted in my Facebook news feed this morning the New York Times article by John Schwartz titled “Words That Hurt and Kill: Lessons for Society From Bullying and Its Psychic Toll” about Emily Bazelon’s book titled “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy.”

As the title of this book suggests, the author touches on bullying–a far-from-new-phenomenon–and the importance of empathy,  defeating the culture of bullying by acknowledging its complexity, and encouraging bystanders to be upstanders (those who stand up for victims).  Laws alone will NOT prevent bullying from occurring.  I hear all the time the lament that “Well, I don’t understand why everyone is making a big deal out of bullying.  Bullying has been around forever.  I grew up with bullying.  My parents grew up with bullying.  Back then, we just dealt with it.  Nowadays, kids don’t seem to want or know how to deal with it.  Instead, they’re copping out by killing themselves.”

Well, as I’ve mentioned in prior posts, don’t forget that we are now in the age of social media.  Back when I was a kid, there was NO social media.   Heck, there weren’t even cell phones.  With text messaging, Youtube videos, Facebook, Twitter, and a whole host of sites you don’t even want to know about but are popular among teens, the impact of bullying can be extremely devastating to a young person who hasn’t mastered coping, self care and real-world survival skills, may be lacking in self esteem,  and may not get much in the way of support and encouragement from family members and friends.  The bar has been raised in terms of the extent of cruelty that individuals are capable of carrying out because these are no longer face to face confrontations.  Take, for example, trolls.  We have all witnessed at least one troll in action in our interactions online.  Usually, it’s in the form of a nonsensical and completely outrageous and completely off-tangent remark that is filled with hate.  You wouldn’t normally see these comments spoken to someone in person, right?    Yes, it’s so much easier to be cruel online than it is in person.

In terms of the in-person bullying, the isolation tactics and backstabbing of cliquey girls, the racist remarks, the physical intimidation tactics, the verbal intimidation tactics….these still occur in school.  If schools and home life are anything like what I experienced back when I was a teenager–i.e., lack of school counselor support and awareness on the part of school staff, lack of support at home, lack of upstanders, lack of empathy–these behaviors (with or without the social media) can result in a very detrimental experience for the bullied child.  I believe depression rates are higher now than they’ve ever been before.  Maybe because more people are speaking up about their experiences and with the aid of social media, news and information on bullying incidents are much more accessible to everyone than ever before, there is the perception that depression rates are higher.  At the same time, access to mental healthcare services in this country is still so sadly lacking.  And then you have the extreme situations, like Columbine and Virginia Tech, in which the bullied exact their revenge.  I don’t remember incidents like those growing up.  Nope, I don’t.

Ms. Bazelon touches on some points that I have previously touched upon:

  • Some individuals are more resilient (via a combination of genetics and environmental factors) and will tend to come out of bullying and cyberbullying incidents much less scathed than those who are more susceptible to depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.  It would be nice if we can figure out just which students fall into each bucket to increase the likelihood of preventing situations from developing and/or getting out of hand.
  • It was only in the past decade that states put the first anti-bullying laws in place, in the aftermath of Columbine, Phoebe Prince’s bullycide (MA), Tyler Clementi’s bullycide (NJ).
  • There seems to be a tendency to label non-bullying behaviors as bullying.  In other words, people are using the word “bullying” so much that this overuse is diluting true acts of bullying.  We need to stop overusing the word because it is not helping matters.

Ms. Bazelon is clearly objective in her presentation of situations she writes about in her book, even as far as showing what I refer to as a neutral take for the sake of presenting the science behind teenage behavior (i.e., the part of the brain that manages impulsiveness and judgment, referred to as the frontal lobe, is not fully developed as of yet) and why the punishment of teenagers is meted out in juvenile rather than adult terms.  Though that is far from an excuse for certain atrocious behaviors that bullying can all too often entail (and believe me, when I read about some of these bullying cases, I wish for every last person that has anything to do with a child’s bullycide to be punished to the FULLEST extent of the law), as they become adults and as long as they are provided counseling (instead of jail time), bullies can see the error of their ways and shed their bullying selves completely.  Some bullies have even gone as far as becoming anti-bullying activists with a mission to speak to schools around the country.

This book needs to be read by not just middle and high school staff, but by all parents.  I fervently believe as many people as possible should read it so there is a widespread understand of the culture of bullying, how to prevent it, how to support the victims, and how to inspire bystanders to become upstanders.

The article leave us with this nugget to chew on as we look at the road before us.  A road in which we need minds to come together to figure out how we need to handle bullying, given all the complexities Ms. Bazelon mentions in her book:

“Ultimately, Ms. Bazelon wisely warns us, we still have to try to let kids be kids.  [Otherwise] ‘We risk raising kids who don’t know how to solve problems on their own, withstand adversity or bounce back from the harsh trials life inevitably brings.’ And so, she says with a sigh: ‘It’s a tricky balance to strike, the line between protecting kids and policing them. But we have to keep trying to find it.’”

Please click here and here to previous blog posts for more links on previous posts relating to teen angst, depression, and bullying…and why I write about it so much on this postpartum depression blog.

If I Survived PPD, I Can Survive Most Anything

Since the new year began, I’ve had several situations loom over my head like a dark, ominous cloud.   All sorts of situations that I won’t get into detail here.  I’ve posted recently about and shared with friends in recent weeks the fact that I seem to have reached a turning point with the publication of my book.  A turning point in which I promised myself I would no longer let ghosts of my past continue to keep their stronghold over me.  My personal mantra has become “If I survived postpartum depression (PPD), I can survive most anything.”

In essence, ever since the start of this year–and it’s merely a coincidence that I’m vowing to stay on this path right now, at the beginning of 2013, but this is NOT any kind of new year’s resolution because I never make any–it’s like I’ve been self administering cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) by realizing how certain ways of thinking and behavior are self-defeating and highly detrimental to me and then telling myself to think and respond differently.  Basically, I’m going to be more self nurturing.  Because, you know what?  I’M WORTH IT.

So, what exactly am I going to do differently?  Well, for starters:

  1. I am going to say what’s on my mind when people say obnoxious things to me. I used to hold back, only to kick myself afterwards for doing so.
  2. I’m not going to let old crippling thoughts take control of me, like automatically thinking “Why me” and retreating under my covers (both figuratively and literally) in despair.
  3. I’m not automatically going to cower in defeat like a dog with its tail between its legs when I experience ANY kind of bullying–whether it be at work or online.  By “any” kind of bullying, I mean isolation tactics too, as excluding people deliberately is a form of bullying.
  4. I am going to continue my mission in maternal mental health advocacy, of helping moms feel less alone in their PPD experience through this blog.  I may be writing less frequently because, as time goes on, the anger that ignited the passion in this blog is waning.  Yes, anger used to fuel the stream of words that easily appeared in my blog posts.  Without anger, there is no passion.  Without passion, words fail me.
  5. I would like to increase my efforts when it comes to anti-bullying advocacy and providing support to teens struggling with issues of self esteem and bullying (support I needed but never got when I was a teenager).  For example, on January 30th, I learned about Noah’s struggle, and I immediately started to write a letter to him and didn’t stop that evening until I completed it.  I know and am very happy that so many caring individuals have written to Noah.  You can still do so.  He is turning 13 on Friday, February 8th.  Click here to see the Letters for Noah Facebook page where you can find out how you can help.
  6. And last, but certainly not least, I am not going to let my fear of speaking prevent me from speaking in front of people–be it on PPD (and my book) and/or on bullying.  They say some people fear public speaking more than they fear death.  Well, while that may not necessarily be the case for me, it comes pretty darn close.  I’ve been and will continue to keep the valuable tips I gleaned from Nicole of NWK Consultants in mind during speaking opportunities.

Basically, I am determined not to have any reason for karma to come biting me in the a$$ one day.  I want to live out the rest of my days knowing that I will do the best I can for my family, myself and whoever else I can help along the way.  I want to provide the kind of help I didn’t have when I was a teen and then a new mom struggling with PPD–both situations in which I felt alone and desperate.

This sign, which I stumbled across on Facebook and pinned a couple days ago, says it all for me.  I keep these words firmly engrained in my mind whenever there is a hint of thought that wants to derail my self esteem and put me on the glass half empty train.

If the words of this sign pertain to you, may it give you the strength to carry on as it is helping me.

BE PROUD OF YOURSELF.