Why I Blog and What Social Media Means for Me

I am a part of the way through something I am working on this summer that is causing me to have no time to follow the over 500 Facebook pages whose news appears on my feed on a daily basis that takes, easily, up to 4 hours a day to read through.  Reading everything in my Facebook feed requires me to be on Facebook on my commute to and from work (about 1 hour each way), plus 2 or so hours after I put my daughter to bed each night.  I’m fairly certain that all my Facebook friends–at least those that have NOT hidden me from their feeds–are relieved at not having to see every single time I Like a post with a Global setting (thank you, Mark Zuckerberg, for this ridiculousness).  Ha!

A couple of friends recently asked me if I plan to cut back from Facebook on a permanent basis, like I did with Twitter a couple years ago because that became too time consuming (and I was getting tired of the cliquey snark and popularity contests that left a bad taste in my mouth….and I don’t have time for that sh*t), and as a full-time employee with a long commute to/from work each day, I found it impossible to keep up with it.  At this point, I do not know.  I will have to see how it goes.  I must say, though, that it is so freeing not to have to feel like I MUST get through everything in my news feed every single day!  More time to do what I have to do.  Less stress.

A couple of friends also asked me if I planned to keep up blogging, to which I indicated that I will always keep up my blogging and advocacy for maternal mental health and anti-bullying.  They indicated it seems I have reached the end of my journey of documenting and processing my emotions and experiences that occurred before, during and after I had my daughter. But I told them that I will always need an outlet and I will always be passionate and outspoken about these two topics.  And after all, the origin of the word “blog” came from web log:  an online journal or diary, a means to get one’s thoughts and feelings out and at the same time sharing with individuals who can appreciate your posts.

I may not have amassed that large of a following, but what I do know is that I am reaching people on a daily basis who find me via certain key words.  I am content knowing that I continue reaching and helping others feel less alone with their experiences and I continue to spread awareness so fewer new moms will go through what I went through…..the original intent of this blog.

I am not using social media for popularity purposes.  In fact, on Facebook I choose to keep a very small circle of Facebook “friends.”  I limit this small circle to those I know IRL (in real life) or with whom I have corresponded regularly online for a certain length of time and with whom I feel very like-minded.  And if I know the person IRL, I have to have a positive relationship with that person (this is pretty logical, no?).

I’m not blogging strictly to see how many Likes or Shares I can get or friends I can make.  If that were the sole purpose, I would’ve stopped a long time ago.  Despite the fact that I have been blogging for over 5 years and people still haven’t heard of my blog–even in the field of maternal mental health–and certain individuals who used to support my blog but don’t any longer, I am going to keep on doing what I’m doing.

I’ve said this in previous posts that my blogging style (as straightforward, down to earth, genuine, no BS, and “what you see is what you get” as you’ll ever come across….which reflects the kind of person I am IRL) isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay.  Everyone is different. I am staying true to myself.

I care about new moms who feel as lost as I did when I first had my baby.

I care about teens who get bullied.

That is all.

Why Do People Feel Compelled to Bully and Cyberbully, Anyway?

TO THE BULLIES / CYBERBULLIES OUT THERE (and if you’re not completely convinced or aware that you are, in fact, a bully or cyberbully, read on):

Does bullying make you feel better about you, as a person?

Does cyberbullying make you feel more powerful, knowing you have X number of followers/friends (or shall I say groupies) that will jump at your beck and call and support you without question?  Even if what you are doing is tearing someone else down?

Picture a bully facing off with their target, in a hallway, in school.  This bully takes a swing.   The fist impacts the other person’s face.  The group surrounding the two grows, and witnesses start chanting “Go, go, go!”  The bully beats furiously on that person until his fist is all bloodied and bruised, and his anger has dissipated since he’s taken all his anger (from whatever was on their mind – may or may not have been related to the person they beat up) out on the poor individual he so furiously beat up.

It’s a shame people have such problems processing their emotions and getting a grip before unleashing their fists (or words, for that matter).   Or perhaps it’s an attempt to show that they are more dominant/popular?  Either way, it is a clear sign of a lack of impulse control, emotional intelligence, maturity in coping with whatever issue is going on…which is why you hear about all too many cases occurring in middle school and high school.

When I think cyberbullying, I instantly think of the teens online that are being taunted and hated online.  TEENS.  But it also happens among grown-ups.  Grown-ups TEND to have more of a better grasp on communication skills, they TEND to be more mature than children/teens, and as people grow older, their emotional intelligence TENDS to increase (but not everyone achieves emotional intelligence, without first resolving any of their own emotional/psychological issues first).  But yes, cyberbullying does occur among adults.  I haven’t really seen much of it myself…..and had the misfortune of witnessing it today.

cyberbullying

Why does the bully do what he does?  What makes a person want to beat down another person so bad that they aren’t happy until they see him all bruised and bloodied….or in cyberspace, completely alienated, humiliated with everyone turned against him?  Could the bullying have been triggered by something that occurred at home?   Not coming from a nurturing environment growing up?  Low self esteem reaching a boiling point he couldn’t stand it anymore and had to try to make someone else feel worse than him? Or on the other side of spectrum, a grandiose sense of being better/far more important than the other person and therefore having the right to do and say anything he feels like, even going so far as belittling, mocking, stepping all over that person (literally or figuratively), just because he feels he is more entitled, superior to the other person, and popular?

Could he not have taken out whatever it was that was bothering him so by writing in, say, a journal…or even a blog?  A much more peaceful and cathartic approach, don’t you think?  Well, one would think, but evidently, words can be just as detrimental and damaging as a fist.  A fist brings physical damage.  Words can bring emotional and reputational damage.  If a person goes on a warpath on someone else in cyberspace, with or without that person’s presence, well, that’s CYBERBULLYING.  They think they have a right– on their own Facebook page, blog, Twitter, or whatever the social media preference du jour happens to be–to unleash their fury with the purpose of taking someone else down.  They have an audience who is chanting in their favor, supporting them with comment after comment, that they are absolutely in the right, no questions asked.

But wait a minute.  If you witness a cyberbully on the rampage, before providing unquestioned and loyal support, do you have evidence that the person that is being cyberbullied is in the wrong, before publicly participating in cursing him out and saying hurtful things that are personal, even though he did nothing to you personally…and chances are, you don’t even know him?   Think first before acting.  Don’t behave like a flock of birds and take off from (or mimic) the slightest movement of one bird in the flock.  Think about this:  What exactly did he do that was so bad that it justified being trashed and his name get dragged through the mud?   Yes, you may be very fond of the person that’s on the rampage, but you have a mind of your own, don’t you?  How would you like to be on the end of this online trashing?

Putting out there in cyberspace words that are hurtful and spiteful, and not even necessarily true, with the purpose of shaming, alienating and damaging a person’s reputation, is completely the wrong way of coping and dealing with shit.  Cyberbullying is NEVER GOOD.

And for those who feel attacking someone they have been friendly with form some time, but then all of a sudden, something happens that they don’t appreciate and voila, they leap in motion online…and before you know it, words are said in cyberspace that can’t ever be completely wiped out….because, wouldn’t you know it?  You can take screenshots of those words.  Thank you, technology.

What I would love to know the answer to is what exactly makes a person so spiteful that a past, positive relationship/friendship means nothing to you?  When you are passionate about something but this other person doesn’t do exactly what you do to share your passion about something, but he does it in his own way?   Or you are miffed about something he did or said, or didn’t say or do.  One thing said or done by a person doesn’t warrant your humiliating him– on your Facebook page, Twitter feed, or whatever the social media do jour happens to be–via cursing and a string of nasty opinions for all your friends/followers to see and scoff at.  You are essentially assisting your friends in formulating opinions about this person without your friends ever having to meet that person IN REAL LIFE.  How right is this?  WELL, IT ISN’T RIGHT.  NOT AT ALL.  If you can’t talk things through and come to an agreement, fine, then go your separate ways.  But don’t turn on him and publicly humiliate him via cursing and spiteful words.

If you are a bully/cyberbully and can’t see that what you’re doing is wrong, then you have a long way to go in growing up and achieving the emotional intelligence you are so lacking at this point in time.

STOP BULLYING.  STOP CYBERBULLYING.

Taking down another person with willful intent to make them suffer emotionally and/or physically is DEAD. WRONG.

If you are a witness to bullying or cyberbullying, then step away.  There is no need for you to join the fray, especially if you don’t know the complete circumstances.

I have ZERO TOLERANCE for this shit.  <Note: I don’t normally cuss, but in this case, I am pissed>

#liftoneanotherup #donttakeeachotherdown #bullyingofanykindisbad #adultswhodoitneedtogrowup

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!!!

Being Thankful and Paying it Forward

The inspiration for today’s post came just in the nick of time for Thanksgiving.

Have you stopped to appreciate any of the gifts surrounding you?  I know some people who regularly ask themselves and share openly with others the 3 things that happened that day for which they were most grateful.  Gratitude is an important component of self care.  Gratitude is important for good health and well being, in general.

First, I’d like to share the 5 things my daughter is thankful for in this picture (I’m so proud of her work):

syd_thankful

My daughter’s gratitude turkey

As for me, I am thankful for many things on the list of 60 (link above), but the 4 things I am most thankful for are:

  1. I’m employed and I actually like my job (except when people yell at me for no good reason other than they’re lacking in self control and emotional intelligence, and that I think I deserve a lot more recognition for my efforts than I actually receive).
  2. My family.
  3. My postpartum depression (PPD) and my bullying experience during my lonely, friendless junior and high school days.
  4. My ability to be highly empathic.

Wow, my teenage and 20-something self would think I’ve lost my mind for saying I’m thankful for both my PPD and bullying experiences.  No, I haven’t lost my mind.  My PPD and bullying experiences allowed me to cultivate the EMPATHY that I’ve always possessed but didn’t always realize I had.  Because by experiencing these negative events firsthand, I can say that I TRULY understand.  I KNOW what it’s like to be excluded, gossiped about, and made fun of.  I KNOW what it’s like to be blindsided by a sudden darkness at a time that should be so happy (my first few months as a mother).

EmpathyWas I born with empathy?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that I have a ton of it.  That, and after all these years, I can finally say I possess a high EQ (emotional intelligence).  Emotional intelligence is something you need to have if you want to succeed at work.  And I sure know quite a number of people who could use a greater dose of it.  Because these very same people cause my blood pressure to go up needlessly.  I keep my behavior in check and move along.  Previously, a conflict would have set me back, preventing me from being productive and making me dwell on the situation for days….basically causing me a great deal of angst.

In my recent blog post, I mentioned the two Facebook groups I belong to, in which I try to provide online support to teens and moms on a daily basis.  So, I won’t go into more detail on them now.  I just wanted to mention, since the spirit of this blog post is about being thankful, that I am thankful I have the ability to see things from someone who has had PPD and from someone who has been bullied.  That is why I have become so passionate in these two areas.

What frustrates me are conversations I have about bullying and PPD that go around in perpetual circles, like the conversation I tried to have with someone yesterday.  I cannot get certain people to truly see what it is like to be bullied or to feel hopeless to the point of wanting to end the suffering….permanently.   For every scenario I come up with — whether it be a child who is being relentlessly pursued online and being verbally tormented or stalked in person and physically attacked — these individuals will come up with a “Well, I would tell my child to avoid such situations.”  Okay…..but you can only avoid cyberbullying and physical/verbal bullying in school to a certain and all too limited extent by “unplugging” (staying off social media, not have smart phones with texting capability) and avoiding bullies in school (what about being ambushed in the bathroom or merely walking down the hall to get from one class to the next or standing at your locker?).  When kids want to bully, they can be vicious and persistent…and they WILL find ways to get around your avoidance of them.  There are some real sociopathic kids out there (take the case of the 2 girls in Lakeland, Florida, who bullied Rebecca Sedwick to death this past September).   True, as a parent, you can arm your children with approaches to minimize the likelihood of your being a target of bullying.  You can get your child involved in activities and friends–not just classmates but friends from activities outside of school like through Church, Brownies, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts,  Boy Scouts, sports, dance, gymnastics, music, martial arts — to give him/her the opportunity to make friends outside of school, give him/her a sense of camaraderie and fellowship with others who share similar interests, as well as build self confidence and identify what he/she likes to do and is good at doing.

ISL_I will always be there for you But if your child does in fact get bullied, then you sure as heck need to come up with ways to provide SUPPORT, SUPPORT, SUPPORT.  As a parent, that’s the FIRST thing you need to do.  Support would include things like thinking about strategies, finding resources/support groups (like Stand for the Silent), documenting incidents, and finding the right places to go to to report a situation and obtain results.  All too many school officials cover up incidents, turn a blind eye, and let bullying situations get out of hand just so they don’t have to deal with it.  There is absolutely NO EXCUSE for any of that.

So, for the people who don’t understand the impact bullying can have on a child and the impact depression can have on anyone–both young and old–and why all too many feel so desperate as to end their lives, I suggest you take the time to read some of the stories that get posted on social media and in the news.  Read about Rebecca Sedwick’s case and Grace McComas’ case, join the closed Facebook group Stand for the Silent and hear firsthand about the desperation, isolation, hopelessness that some teens feel.  All too many are at the end of their rope.  And it breaks my heart.  I want to do so much more for these young folks who have so many more years ahead of them to really learn about life, learn from their experiences, and really enjoy all that life has to offer — like the arts (music, literature, motion pictures, photography), sports, nature, traveling, and even helping and making a difference for others.  With the exception of sports (ha!), all these things make me see how I was given a gift of life and I sure as heck want to appreciate all the days I’ve got left.  I’ve got my bucket list, do you?

Unfortunately, not everyone is going to have the desire to pay it forward.  Their attitude is the following when it comes to situations like bullying and PPD:

Well, I suffered.  They can suffer much in the same way I suffered, without help or support, and feeling lonely, helpless and the end of my rope.  If I survived, they can too.  If they can’t, well then I guess we’ll call it fate.

Then, specifically for bullying:

It is, after all, a rite of passage….this thing called bullying.  Parents nowadays are overprotecting their children, and as a consequence, their children will be sheltered from valuable life experiences that are supposed to begin when they are young.  If they can’t deal with bullying, then how will they ever survive a day in the life of an adult?

gratitude

I would like to end this post with this as food for thought:

What are YOU thankful for?  Have you experienced PPD or some other life-changing event, and come out of it feeling thankful for the experience and determined to turn the event into a positive by helping others get through similar events?  Please think about it.  There are many people out there in need of support.  Would you have wanted to receive support when you were in your darkest moments?  If yes, then I think you’ll find, just as I’m finding, that paying it forward will give you a great amount of pleasure knowing you are making a difference for someone else.  In fact, you could be saving a life.

Thank you for reading this blog post.  And have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

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.

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.

Hey Doc, Ask Me Why

Happy New Year!  It’s been 17 days since my last post.  Christmas is my favorite holiday, but with Christmas comes a lot of preparation (e.g., shopping, decorating, having people over).  So much goes into preparation for a holiday that lasts as long as any other day.  And *poof* it’s over.  And then the new year comes around.  And I am NOT crazy about celebrating new years.  Nope, not at all.  It’s just another reminder that time is flying by at warp speed.  Speaking of warp speed, here’s a picture that popped up in my Facebook news feed from George Takei of Star Trek fame on New Year’s Day.  It says it all for me.

Well, anyway, I’ve been waiting for that one blog post / news article to inspire me to blog….and I finally found one today.  Today, my inspiration came up on my Facebook newsfeed from two individuals dedicated to the fight against bullying:  Jessica from My Kindness Counts and Mike Urry from His Name Was Steven.

Watch this (*** This video may be triggering if you are suffering from depression***):

The video shows several teens urging on doctors to ask “Why” a young individual is complaining of not being able to sleep and/or having chronic stomach aches and/or headaches and/or experiencing weight loss.  It’s because, as the video states,  “Sometimes what’s bothering your patients isn’t visible to the naked eye.”  Bullying is the cause of all too many missed days of school for kids/teens, both out of fear of being bullied and due to the oftentimes debilitating physical symptoms caused by anxiety and depression.  Doctors shouldn’t merely whip out their script pad and start scribbling out prescriptions for antidepressants and/or medications to relieve physical symptoms, like stomach aches and headaches.  They should ask “Why.  Why are you not able to sleep, have stomach aches and/or have headaches?  What’s going on?  How’s school?  If you feel the need to talk to someone about what is going on, I can recommend someone.  Sometimes, all it takes is for someone who understands what you are going through to help you see that you are not alone and you will get through this.”

All doctors who have young patients need to know the correlation of certain symptoms during certain times in a young person’s life might be tied to teenage angst/depression.  Here’s an excerpt in my book that speaks to all this:

[Depression] is misunderstood not just by the public at large, but by medical professionals as well, and largely because there is no singular cause. Though the word depression implies a mental condition that impacts a person’s thoughts and feelings, its symptoms—caused by a combination of biological and psychosocial factors—are physical, affecting the way a person eats, sleeps, and functions……..Before I experienced PPD, I…..thought feeling sad was the same thing as being depressed. But now I know better. I know that depression not only causes an individual to feel low and hopeless, it can also change sleep and eating patterns and cause a whole host of other physiological symptoms. I seriously think the difference should be taught in school at a young age so kids don’t grow into adults still confusing the two terms with each other. That would be one way to combat the stigma!

[Sleep] and appetite disturbances (including nausea, diarrhea, stomach pain) are physical symptoms of depression, while mood swings, sadness, and restlessness are emotional symptoms of depression.

Those who aren’t aware that these physical and emotional symptoms are due to depression and anxiety will, instead of seeking treatment for those mood disturbances, mistakenly think that the digestive system is to blame for the appetite disturbances, stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea. The diagnosis may turn out to be irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) that is usually caused by stress, with the goal of treating the irritable bowel, when the underlying cause, which is anxiety in this case, is not properly addressed.

And if you read the following excerpt from my book, you’ll see why this video got my attention so much.  It’s disturbing just how lacking in knowledge of mental health issues (or even teenage issues, in general) doctors were back when I was a teenager….and how it hasn’t changed much, apparently, three decades later.

With PPD, I suffered from lack of appetite and rapid weight loss. I never had that growing up. My teenage weight was always steady and under one hundred pounds. (Wow, those were the good ol’ days!) I was just prone to anxiety, which caused such physical symptoms as dry heaving, nausea, and stomachaches. You would think my doctor back then would have attributed those symptoms to anxiety, but it never came up. He never asked me questions to try to get to the bottom of it. Not much difference in the medical profession from the 1970s and now. What a shame! I can distinctly recall experiencing dry heaves each morning as I was getting ready for school, not having any appetite to eat breakfast but forcing it down anyway because my mother insisted I eat. Upset stomachs and a burning sensation in my gut were a regular occurrence…..ultimately my nervous stomach occurrences slowly but surely stopped after I graduated from high school. If you looked at my photos from my junior high and high school years, you’d see a shell of a person—all skinny, withdrawn, and unhappy looking.

So, are you hearing us, docs?  You go into the medical profession wanting to help others to stay healthy and to treat their health issues.  Well, I sincerely hope medical schools are ensuring that doctors-in-training recognize the symptoms of depression and treat their patients accordingly.  And for general practitioners who currently have young patients, I sincerely hope they are well aware of the issues that youths face and know when they should ask “Why.”

NOTE:  Please refer to my recent blog post 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 (PPD) blog.

I Am Titanium

I’ve loved David Guetta’s song Titanium since the first time I heard it on the radio several weeks ago.  And today I decided I had to blog about it.  Why?  Because the lyrics hit so, so close to home for me.  And the music (instrumentals by David Guetta, vocals sung beautifully and hauntingly by Sia) is awesome too!

This is my interpretation of the song………

You can speak as loud as you want, but I can’t hear you.
You can criticize me all you want, but all your words just ricochet.
Why?  Because I’m bulletproof.
You can try to shoot me down, but I will keep on getting up.
You can fire away at me with your words, but I won’t fall.
Why? Because I’m titanium.
You can cut me down with your mean words, but it’s you who have more to lose.
Why? Because sticks and stones may break my bones and words will never hurt me.
You are just wasting your time, and you will one day look back and realize what you did was wrong.
Oh?  And no one likes bullies.

I appreciate the music and David Guetta’s lyrics….but not necessarily the official video.  After I watched it a few times, I felt the ending leaves people hanging at the end.  Try as I might, I couldn’t feel positive about the ending.   What happens to the kid and the SWAT team?  The kid in the beginning is in a school setting, coming to after what appears to be a blast in the hallway.  When I watched it for the first time, I’m like, okay, was this a kid that was bullied?  I realize this video is about inner strength, but the whole supernatural powers theme is a bit of a stretch.  With these wonderful lyrics, Guetta could have made it all about bullying and inner strength, teaching youth–at a time that bullying is so much in the spotlight–that you ARE strong and you WON’T let the bully–despite all his attempts to exert dominance–get his jollies by making you feel like crap.

And it’s for that reason that I am posting a link to the YouTube video with the real lyrics rather than the official Titanium video.

Now, looking back at my teenage years, I wish I had had access to these lyrics and the many resources that exist for teenagers today.  Teenagers who, as I had blogged about in past posts, struggle with their self esteem, with other kids saying mean things, behaving meanly, isolating, backstabbing, laughing at you, and gossiping.  Those days sucked for me.  And to those who stumble on this blog post and are in the same boat, please remember that NOT ALL people out there are that way.  There are resources to help you deal with what is troubling you.

And just remember, you are MUCH BETTER than they are.  You have the ability to be strong.  Just like the song lyrics say, you can walk away/ignore them.  No matter what they say or do, you will stay strong.  Never mind what nasty things others people say.  It’s not you, it’s them.  They will eventually learn that what they did was wrong.

Those of you who have followed my blog know that I’ve blogged about teenagers being at their most vulnerable emotionally, adjusting to their physical/hormonal changes and having to cope with self esteem issues.  Depression rates climb in teen years.  For girls, depression means a greater risk for postpartum depression (PPD) down the road.  This is so important and I hope one day will be understood by the general population.  With understanding will come a reduction in the number of moms suffering from PPD and the stigma associated with maternal mental health issues.

Wow, Didn’t Realize My Join the Anti-Bullying Movement Post Comes Up First in Searches!

I’m surprised to say that, and I only realized this a couple of days ago, that the 1st link that comes up under the term “Join the Anti-Bullying Movement” on Yahoo and Google is mine!  It’s not as if I coined the phrase, and it’s not a new concept, so not sure why…especially since my blog is dedicated primarily to postpartum depression/maternal mental health issues and awareness.  But I’ll take it!  :)

This is an important issue, and it is so disheartening when you hear, just today that another child, this time a 14 year old in Iowa, has become another victim of bullycide (the term used for children who commit suicide as a consequence of bullying).   Bullying must stop!  The only way that’s going to happen, though, is for students, school staff, and parents to band together and prevent further tragedies from occurring.  No child should have to feel so victimized that they succumb to depression, low self esteem, cutting, etc.  I guest posted a few days ago over at the blog My Kindness Counts about my reflections on the movie “Bully” that was recently released.  My post includes things we can all do to to try to put an end to bullying. My Kindness Counts is written by a young girl named Jessica, whose mission is to encourage young people from around the nation to work together to come up with more positive ways to address bullying in our communities.   I applaud her efforts, as well as the efforts of a growing number of other young folks in this country, to try to help fellow teens get through what I refer to as some of the most challenging years of their lives.

The roots of depression most often stem from early childhood through teenage years.  Early bonding experiences with parents, stability of living conditions, quality friendships and an environment in which the parents serve as positive role models and are nurturing are key to minimizing self esteem issues that seem to be what so many youth struggle with.  Verbal, emotional and physical abuse, a parent(s) that is depressed and/or an alcoholic, and bullying in school all take a tremendous toll on a child’s sense of security and self esteem.  The result of low self esteem include eating disorders, cutting, doing drugs, drinking, and depression. It doesn’t help that the teenage years are a time in which physical and behavioral changes occur that challenge self confidence levels and a sense of identity (in which a sense of belonging is important) as well.  The way a young person reacts to adversity, like bullying for example, depends on his/her overall emotional health and level of self confidence.

Our youth represent our future.  Let’s help make sure their teenage years are positive experiences.  Let’s help make sure depression rates don’t continue to climb.  Let’s build a culture of empathy.  Let’s speak up about mental health issues and keep the attitudes about these issues going in a positive direction via the daily dialogues we have, rather than continuing to sweep them under the rug with a See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, there’s nothing wrong, they’ll get over it, attitude….and an attitude that perpetuates the stigma and ignorance that has kept us in the dark, all blind, deaf, and mute for far too long.  The statistics indicate that each and every one of us knows someone who is struggling with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, or some other mental illness.  We need to get a grip on reality, smell the coffee…whatever!  You get the picture….or do you?  I surely hope so!

Join the Anti-Bullying Movement

I am excited!  Why?  There is steadily growing support and realization that something must be done to stop the bullying that is so negatively impacting our youth.  Bullying hurts.  It hurts emotionally.  It damages self esteem at a time when kids are at their most vulnerable…their teenage years. Bullying causes depression.  Bullying has the potential to kill.  And this includes cyber bullying.

States like New Jersey are trying to keep bullying at bay with legislation. In fact, 36 states include cyberbullying in their anti-bullying laws.  But what I see happening here in New Jersey is that our school systems are struggling with the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights.  What we also need is awareness.  Kids and parents alike must all be aware that bullying is an extremely serious matter that can potentially have irreversible consequences.  Now with social media so prevalent, with technological capabilities like texting, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube videos, and the Internet in general, we need to consider cyber bullying as a huge concern.  Parents need to know how best to ensure their children’s safety while using such social media.  Speaking of which, I will be attending an anti-bullying and cyberbullying session for parents in my school district next Thursday night.

Some of my regular blog followers already know how I feel about bullying, as they’ve seen me blog in the past about it.  So, what’s it all got to do with postpartum depression (PPD)?  It’s important to remember that many cases of depression surface during the teenage years and follow you throughout life.  One of the primary risk factors of PPD is a history of depression. I delve into relevant statistics and risk factors in my book. And you may be interested in checking out this previous post about bullying, which includes many links to articles/resources.  Here’s another previous post you may be interested in checking out, written in the wake of Tyler Clementi’s suicide in 2010.

If you haven’t heard by now, the Weinstein Company is behind the new movie “Bully” coming to certain theaters throughout the country, starting with New York City next Friday, March 30th!   From the bottom of my heart, thank you Harvey Weinstein, for putting a spotlight on such an important issue!  You may have heard that there are efforts underway to try to change the “R” rating (due to the use of the F word six times) to a PG-13 rating.  I along with the over 463,000 people who have signed the petition started by 17-year-old Katy Butler, fervently believe that this movie must be seen by all middle and high school students!

I love Cynthia Lowen’s Huffington Post article titled “Give Kids the Respect They’re Due,” which supports the rationale for leaving the F words in the movie.

“BULLY bears witness to the violence, intimidation, threats, derogation and abuse 13 million American kids will experience this year. We made this film to give voice to those for whom bullying is a daily reality and to honestly depict bullying in such a way as to make it impossible to dismiss as ‘kids being kids’ or a ‘normal’ rite of passage…… To take away this language, or prevent kids from hearing the words that reflect their own experiences, is to look the other way, to gloss over the suffering and to continue to perpetrate the myth that has allowed bullying to become so entrenched in our communities. To pretend this language doesn’t exist denies bullied kids who wake up day after day, and get on that bus, or walk through the halls of their schools, knowing the gauntlet of harm they’re likely to face, the dignity and acknowledgement of bravery they’re due.”

What I’d like to ask you to do is to join me in the anti-bullying movement today.  Here are some of the ways in which you can do so, other than reading my two previous posts on the topic (links in the body of my post above):

  1. Click here to find out more about the movie and to watch the trailer.  Go see it, if it comes to a theater near you!  I will be going to see it soon after the New York City premiere happening on March 30th.
  2. If you haven’t yet signed the petition, please do so!
  3. Have you taken a photo with the NO BULLY sign yet?
  4. Become familiar with your state’s anti-bullying laws. Participate in your school district’s anti-bullying initiatives.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for joining the movement!

Bullying and Suicide…Teen Angst and Depression

I have been focusing my tweets on bullying and teen suicide lately due to the recent media attention on the topics due to the string of suicides—one of which is that of Phoebe Prince of S. Hadley, MA (which happens to be the town of my alma mater)–some of which were the consequence of bullying.  Now, before you start to think that perhaps I’ve digressed from the topic of postpartum depression (PPD), please take a few minutes to read on.   I hope you will do so, because I believe the message is extremely important. 

“Don’t wait for your child to come to you with information that she is being bullied. Watch for warning signs, and approach your child if you suspect bullying. Warning signs include unexplained injuries (including scratches); a lack of friends; fear about attending school/events with peers; suddenly beginning to do poorly in school; moodiness or change in demeanor; complaints of physical symptoms, such as stomachaches or headaches; and change in sleeping or eating habits.”

Most of these happen to be warning signs of depression.  Parents need to be able to recognize symptoms and understand the risk factors for depression and be on the lookout for them in their children proactively.  Parents should never make the assumption (you know what they say about assumptions) that their kid couldn’t possibly be struggling with a mood disorder –like depression, for one—because of their smiling and energetic outward appearances and involvement with activities, sports and friends.  My belief is that, if we all educate ourselves on the risk factors and symptoms of depression, we can help minimize and even help prevent the onset of depression when our children are at their most vulnerable emotionally, which is during their adolescent years.  Click here for what makes girls more prone to depression once they hit puberty.

These are my suggestions on what we can all do with respect to bullying in school:

  •  Parents need to serve as good role models of kindness and empathy, rather than the attributes I referred to in my last post as “Meow” behavior.  Parents also need to be proactive when they see their child or someone else’s child being bullied.  Don’t just stand around and think it will pass, it’s no big deal, and my (or the) kid can take it.  Doing nothing would support the already prevalent notion that bullying is acceptable and a normal part of growing up….when in fact it’s neither.
  • Society as a whole—including our school system—is culpable from not having enough educational campaigns on bullying and anti-bullying policies/laws….or even spotting symptoms of depression, for that matter.  The superintendent and principal in the S. Hadley high school should be fired. Intolerance for bullying behavior should be demonstrated via appropriate actions taken against those charged with the care of children. They should absolutely be held accountable for the behavior they knew about and yet chose to do nothing about. All schools should be required to develop anti-bullying policies. In my high school, I tried to speak to my guidance counselor, and she was of no help at all.  Well, then, make sure that people who hold such positions are properly trained to handle different circumstances of teen issues!

Who knows just how many teenagers want to commit suicide because they feel alone in their experience, miserable because no one seems to understand what they are going through? I’ve been through all this, I know. I’ve been bullied in school. But it was nothing compared to what Phoebe had to suffer day in and day out…..literally, because with Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and texting, you can’t escape the bullying.  It all follows you into the privacy of your own home. Not only that, but the whole bullying thing opens up to a wider audience on the worldwide web. This is what kids being bullied now have to deal with. If I felt as miserable as I did back before the days of computers, God only knows what would’ve happened if I were a teenager today, being bullied via text messages, Facebook, Twitter, etc.?  I might have ended up like Phoebe. 

My Miserable Teenage Years

I had a lonely and miserable childhood.  It didn’t help that we moved eight times before my family finally settled in North Caldwell, NJ, right in time for my brothers to enter elementary school.  I can certainly understand how children of military families feel in terms of instability and no one place to call home.  My parents didn’t sell that house until both my brothers moved out of the house and I got married.  Great childhood experience for both my brothers.  Lousy one for me.  Unlike my brothers who are still friends with their childhood friends, I do not have any childhood friends from school, as I never had a chance to develop any long-term friendships.  It got to the point that I was scared to make friends.  It didn’t help that I was painfully shy.  And it wasn’t easy making friends from scratch at a junior high school where everyone already had their cliques and where I was the only Chinese girl in a class of approximately 350 students.  Prejudice was rampant at West Essex Regional School.  I had to endure people making fun of me, taunting me constantly.  I’ll never forget the day I walked by a school bus and someone spit at me through a window.  I may have survived all those taunts, and they indelibly molded me into the person I am today, but those memories still exist like scars from old wounds that won’t completely heal.  The instability, lack of nurturing and support and friendship, and prejudice were the basis for my low self-esteem that I have been trying hard to boost all my life.  I might’ve liked school more if I wasn’t so troubled, not trusting anyone, feeling isolated and facing racism every day.  Perhaps I would’ve done better.  Who knows?  I’ll never know now.  There’s no point dwelling on the past. 

 If it weren’t for the friends I made at church retreats, my Northern NJ Chinese teen club, and Chinese School, I would not have had any friends during my teen years.  It was bad timing in terms of when my father decided to move to North Caldwell.  I was a pretty unhappy teenager having to cope with my Asian identity being brought up as a first generation Chinese girl in a predominantly Caucasian and prejudiced community.  It was even tough for me to make friends at my Chinese church in Montville, NJ.  Surprisingly, some of the kids there weren’t necessarily the friendliest bunch either.  I didn’t fit in with the “in crowd” there who for some reason refused to welcome me into their group, yet another clique I had neither the patience nor desire to try to fit in with.  But at least I shared something in common with these kids.  My Asian ethnicity.   

I survived most of these years without talking to anyone about what I was going through.  As with most Chinese parents of my parents’ era (i.e., those born and raised in China), feelings and emotions are not expressed.  They are kept inside.  That was just part of their culture and upbringing, which was in complete contrast to the Western way.  I couldn’t talk to my brothers because they were mere kids, one of whom was nearly half my age.  I didn’t have close friends or relatives.  And I could never get anywhere talking to my mother, as she would defend her behavior and my father’s, insisting over and over again that they were doing the best they could to raise the three of us.  This is why I’ve always had the tendency to withdraw into my own world.  It’s because I had nowhere else to go.  No one to talk to.  No one to listen.  No one who could provide me with advice.  No shoulder to cry on.  No one who could understand me.  My high school years were so lonely, and why I abhor looking back on those days.  I so wanted someone to understand and listen to me, but there was no one.  Not a single soul.  Every once in a while I would get a momentary flashback that would cause me to shiver and grimace.  I hated my high school and pretty much everyone in it.  I hated and saw no purpose to my life, if I was going to be this miserable. 

Like many teenagers, I thought about suicide a lot because I was so unhappy with my life.   I wanted a quick way to escape from my miserable life.  Luckily, I was always too afraid to carry out my thoughts.  I never had insomnia, didn’t experience any significant weight loss (though I was always thin throughout my high school years), and didn’t experience constant sadness or restlessness (though I constantly worried, which was my nature which I inherited from my mother).  I was able to make it to school each day—though with anxiety and dread—and despite my angst, I even managed to make it into the National Honor Society.   Despite my misery, I never developed any kind of dependence to sleeping pills or alcohol.  I never tried drugs and never picked up a cigarette in my life, which given how unhappy I was, was quite a remarkable feat.  Looking back now, I have to give myself a lot of credit.  I’m a much stronger person than I ever imagined I was capable of being.   

The defense mechanism I developed over the years was distancing myself from all those around me.  Many a person has admitted to me how difficult it is to get to know me. Even my closest friends have never seen me cry.   There always seems to be this invisible barrier around me that prevents me from truly confiding in and trusting anyone with my emotions.  This would ultimately work against me as I found out during my PPD.   I couldn’t ever let my friends know how down I was, let alone see me while I was depressed.  Unfortunately, it was during the throes of PPD that I needed support the most.  Because I never confided much in any of my friends to begin with, why should now be any different?  It was partly my fault for not confiding my experience with my friends.  So I can’t fault them for not talking to me or coming to visit me more often. 

All throughout life, I have had to keep reminding myself that it’s not possible to be friends with everyone you know.  I had to keep these thoughts engrained in my mind throughout most of my life:

  • Friendships are two-way streets. 
  • Life is too short to try to make a friendship work when it really wasn’t meant to be. 
  • In most cases, it’s not what you do or don’t do.  If you’re consistently nice to everyone, and some people aren’t for whatever reason nice to you or don’t want to be your friend, it’s not your fault.  It’s them.  They’re the ones with an issue with which you shouldn’t have to be bothered.
  • You can’t force a friendship to work. 
  • You can’t change a dead-end street into a two-way one. 
  • There’s a lot more fish in the pond, as they say.  Just move on.

Having grown up with 2 brothers, I’ve always found it easier to make friends with guys, since they are generally not prone to being driven by emotion, acting superficial, acting feline/catty, and being backstabbing gossipers.  A prime example was this Korean bitch (and that’s the nicest thing I can think of saying about this woman) that turned absolutely all of my friends from Columbia University against me by making up stories…..some people are just so twisted!  Needless to say, this behavior is the norm in high school, college and even into the 20s.  Luckily for me, Mt. Holyoke was generally not a breeding ground for this kind of inane and immature behavior.  Of course, there will always be exceptions.  For some people it never stops.  Some people are like that until the day they pass on. 

I’d had many people advise me that I will find, as time goes on, things wouldn’t be the same once all my male friends get married and have kids.  So I should try to make more female friends and nurture those friendships as much as I could.  For some women it’s a cinch.  For others like me, it’s not that easy.  It’s hard work, and sometimes I’d rather focus my energies on other things.  Little did I know back then that social support by other women in the community, including friends and neighbors, is very important during the postpartum period.

What I learned from doing the research for my book and from my experience with PPD, I am now certain I never suffered from clinical depression before.  I often felt unhappy and withdrawn, and tended to hide in my bedroom from the world that I felt was so cruel.  It is completely normal to experience sadness and cry in reaction to something negative that happens.  Depression, however, is an illness – experienced by men, women and children – that can be debilitating to the point of no longer being able to carry out normal functions.  Depression can also cause sleep disturbances (i.e., insomnia), appetite disturbances (e.g., over or under-eating, weight loss or gain), and digestive problems (e.g., nausea, diarrhea).  I never experienced any physical symptoms like insomnia, loss of appetite or weight loss.  Sure, there were times where I wouldn’t be my “energetic” (the term many friends/associates have used to describe me) self and felt so unhappy (usually about someone that was causing anxiety, like a co-worker, a boss or a boyfriend) that I wouldn’t get out of bed. 

There were times during my high school years in which I just wanted to disappear because I wanted to “escape” from the problem, the easiest way out without having to deal with it.  I’d cry a lot and felt safest in my bedroom.  My bedroom was my sanctuary.  You could only imagine how difficult and sad it was when my parents sold our house of over 20 years, the only home I’ve ever stayed in for longer than 4 years at a stretch.  Saying goodbye to that bedroom was so, so difficult.

Now that I’ve experienced it, I know that my very first depressive episode ever was the one I experienced after my daughter’s birth.  What I felt growing up was mostly attributable to teen angst, a need to be understood and to understand myself and like myself, unhappiness about my life in general, and hatred of school and all things related to school including everyone in my high school class.  With PPD, I suffered from lack of appetite and rapid weight loss.  I never had that growing up.  My teenage weight was always steady and under 100 pounds (wow, those were the good ol’ days!).  I was just prone to anxiety, which caused such physical symptoms as dry heaving, nausea and stomachaches.  You would think my doctor back then would have attributed those symptoms to anxiety, but it never came up.  He never asked me questions to try to get to the bottom of it.  Not much difference in the medical profession from the 1970s and now.  What a shame!  I can distinctly recall experiencing dry heaves each morning as I was getting ready for school, not having any appetite to eat breakfast but forcing it down anyway because my mother insisted I eat.  Upset stomachs and a burning sensation in my gut were a regular occurrence – both of which I self-diagnosed as lactose intolerance (I self-diagnosed even back then, since I had to endure a number of unsuccessful treatments that included kaopectate, milk of magnesia, some kind of medication for ulcers—none of which helped relieve my symptoms), so I haven’t had a glass of milk since 10th grade.  The cessation of milk drinking seemed to relieve some of my symptoms, but ultimately my “nervous stomach” occurrences slowly but surely stopped in the years after I graduated from high school.  If you looked at my photos from my junior high and high school years, you’d see a shell of a person, all skinny and unhappy looking. 

Nowadays, I have trouble keeping my weight down to the level I’m supposed to be at for my height.  There’s a direct correlation of happiness to weight.  The happier I get, the heavier I am.  The weight gain, personality transformation and general increase in happiness about my life started when I went off to Mt. Holyoke.  My first time living away from home.  No more parental pressures and nagging.  Freedom!    With the exception of my tumultuous relationships with men, I did not suffer from the kind of unhappiness that I endured all throughout high school.  I definitely do NOT miss those years!