This Loss Could Be Any Parent’s Loss

I just posted the next paragraph on my Facebook timeline, but I wanted the post to reach more people, as this loss could have been any other parent’s loss.  Although it has nothing to do with postpartum depression (PPD), remember that I do occasionally post about teenage matters, including teen angst, self confidence and depression arising from a combination of environmental and biological factors.  How good or bad a teen’s experiences are, how well they are able to communicate about/share what they are thinking/feeling (with anyone, not just with our parents), and how well they are educated PRIOR TO adolescence on what to expect concerning our physical AND emotional changes that come with adolescence….these are all KEY in helping teens get through any challenges they face.  Here is where I want to quote an excerpt from my book: “Knowledge is power. That is one of my most favorite sayings, simply because it makes so much sense. Knowledge, which has a tremendous normalizing effect, is key in keeping fear at bay, since fear typically rules in the presence of the unknown.”

A fellow alum’s 8th grader, Cayman Naib, from the Philly area had gone missing last Wed night. I do not know his mother, but I have been having a very hard time processing this young boy’s sudden taking of his own life.  [And so here I am, blogging to let my feelings out]. It is so important to be alert and sensitive to our kids’ emotions, especially as they grow older and enter their teens. We’re all adults, we’ve been there. But I believe today is much different than when any of us grew up. It seems there is more pressure than ever before academically, athletically, socially, etc. Being a teen is a time that is filled with much turmoil that we may or may not even realize what our kids are actually thinking, as they may not understand their feelings and feel unable to share them with us. Impulse and emotional roller coasters reign. Such difficulty in controlling emotional impulses (with depression possibly mixed in) can cause a young individual who doesn’t know any better to feel like it won’t get better and they just want to end their pain the quickest way possible. So, please, talk to your children and make sure they understand what emotional changes may accompany physical ones once adolescence comes.

Like so many that have been following this story, I was praying for a different outcome.  My heart breaks not just because this is a loss suffered by a fellow alum.  My heart breaks knowing that this is a tragedy that would easily have happened to any parent with a young teen.  My heart breaks remembering how many times I myself had contemplated running away from my problems as a teenager because I didn’t know how to cope with them, I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to that would understand what I was going through, and I felt like I just wanted to end it all (but thankfully never did).  Tragedies like this make me want to dedicate the rest of my life to preventing other kids from wanting to (and succeeding at) taking their own lives.

If you are a teenager and reading this, please know that:

YOU MATTER
YOU WILL GET THROUGH THIS
YOUR LIFE IS FILLED WITH SO MUCH PROMISE
I DIDN’T FEEL THAT WAY AS A TEEN
BUT I’M TELLING YOU NOW THAT LIFE IS WORTH LIVING
PLEASE STAY STRONG

121Help.Me – A 24/7 Youth Helpline

Facebook can be such a great resource, let me tell you.  Today, I saw a post from Stand for the Silent, which I had heard about from watching the Bully movie. The post announced this 24/7 helpline, 121help.me (Call 1-855-201-2121 (toll free) that is available for youth in need of someone non-judgmental to talk to, someone who will listen and provide some counseling over the phone.  Note that this is not meant to be a crisis/suicide hotline (for emergency situations, dial 911).  Calls at 121help.me are answered by counselors affiliated with the North American Alliance of Child Helplines.

Stand for the Silent is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2010 by a group of students from the Oklahoma State University after they heard the story of Kirk and Laura Smalley’s son Ty Field-Smalley.  At the age of eleven, Ty took his own life after being suspended from school for retaliating against a kid that was bullying him for over two years.  Ty’s story was one of those featured in the Bully movie.

I’m thankful for resources such as this that are available to help youth that may feel like they have no one they can talk to about their feelings.  Had I known about this resource when I was a teenager, I more than likely would have called this helpline.  I know, since I’ve been through the angst that comes with the isolating experience of adolescence–especially if you don’t have many friends–that having support is crucial.  If I didn’t have the Chinese teen club and Chinese church that I belonged to at that time–despite the fact that I didn’t quite feel like I fit in with those groups either (both groups were not made up of kids from my high school)–my loneliness might have completely taken over me.  As I mentioned in prior posts, I had no real friends in the high school I attended.  I was constantly fighting with my parents and one of my brothers.  I had no other relatives that lived near me or who were in a position to be of any help.  There might have been a couple of individuals that I sort of confided in about what I was going through, but I could only divulge so much to them.  What I needed was to talk to someone non-judgmental and neutral….someone who didn’t really know me.  Someone I felt comfortable confiding in, without that person potentially using the info to my detriment later on (as I learned that, unfortunately, girls tend to be backstabbers and gossipers).

If you are a teen that is going through a challenging point in your life, please remember that it is very important to find an outlet for your emotions.  Whether it be talking to a non-judgmental individual or journaling (writing thoughts down)…..you have to let it out.  Journaling (or even blogging) can be very therapeutic.  In the process of blogging or following a Facebook support page like Stand for the Silent, you will come across others who are in similar situations, so you will see that you are far from alone in your experience.   You will see that there are many good and caring individuals out there.  You will see others, like me, who have been where you are and have survived and have used their past experiences to help others by increasing awareness of the importance of resources like this for our youth, as well as starting up anti-bullying initiatives or support pages for teens.

My personal wish is to see more support services for teenage girls, as I feel they go through so much physiologically (and emotionally as a consequence) with the hormonal changes that come with the onset of menstruation and certain behaviors/emotions (aggression, moodiness, low self esteem, eating disorders from wanting to appear attractive, mood disorders like depression).  See my past post on why it’s so important to educate girls early of the physiological changes they will go through and the difference between premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).  The more support services and awareness, the less stigma and struggling through these physiologically- and emotionally-challenged years there will be among teenage girls….and the less risk there is for postpartum depression (PPD) onset down the road, as a history of depression is a risk factor for PPD.  It’s a vicious cycle I talk about in my book that we need to address early on.  Being proactive, rather than reactive (waiting til you’ve become depressed to do something).  If we were successful in doing this (along with seeing a growth in the numbers and types of postpartum support services), I fervently believe we will see a reduction in numbers of mothers suffering from PPD.

I want to see less suffering, more empathy, and more standing up for the silent (those that are being bullied…and I’m not solely referring to schools as the backdrop because bullying happens among adults at work too).   There is really no excuse for us not to achieve these if we put our minds to it!

The Mental Cost Behind A Nomadic Childhood Experience

Thought you’d never see me post again, eh?   I think this is the longest (2-1/2 wks) I’ve gone without posting since I started this blog up in February ’09.  I just got really, really busy.  One would think that the summer would be all fun and stuff, but nah, not for me.  Work has been crazy busy, and I had to get my house ready for about 30 guests this past Saturday, which meant a week’s worth of cleaning.

I rely in many cases on what my blogging friends post to give me inspiration on what to blog about.  I also rely on tweets.  But since I’ve been out of the loop– as far as the Internet is concerned–for the past 2-1/2 weeks, I don’t have the latest scoop on anything.  So, I am going to blog about something that caught my attention 2 months ago.  It was a NY Times article titled “Does Moving a Child Create Adult Baggage?” by Pamela Paul.  

Without a doubt, the answer to the question is “YES!”  This is from personal experience.  Now, before you think I’m digressing from the topic of postpartum depression, read on…and read on all the way to the end of my post, and you’ll see why I am writing about my nomadic childhood experience.

When people ask me what my home town is, I can’t say North Caldwell, NJ, even though that is where I spent the majority of my life.   Plus the fact that I didn’t care to live there at all…I don’t have any pleasant memories of my 20+ years as a resident there.   Before North Caldwell, I had lived in 7 other places.  That’s 8 homes by the time I was in 7th grade.   For a while, I was moving on average once a year. 

My brothers were basically born and raised there, so all the friends they made in preschool followed them through to elementary school and then onto junior high and senior high.   I, on the other hand, had to make friends from scratch when I started 7th grade for the first time in this school district.   I had to do that at the toughest stage of any person’s life, which is puberty–a roller coaster ride (and boy, do I HATE roller coaster rides) I wanted to get off of so many times but couldn’t.  I really hated life then.  It didn’t help that I was shy and sensitive.  Not sure if I was born that way or that was the consequence of moving so many times.  Plus the fact that I was the only Chinese girl in a class of about 350 students who were primarily of Italian or Jewish descent.   Why else do you think the producers of “The Sopranos” chose to base their show out of N. Caldwell, NJ?  Teenagers can be mean to begin with.  When you put a stranger in their midst, and one who is quiet, probably not the most attractive and definitely not the best dressed, and Chinese to boot, you get P-R-E-J-U-D-I-S-M. 

Now, back to the article.  Up at the top, the author writes “THE GIST: Moves in childhood may do long-term harm.”   I agree wholeheartedly.  The long-term harm it has done to me is a lifelong insecurity in terms of my relationships with others, which is key to my generally low self esteem that I have been fighting to overcome all my life and hasn’t helped my job situation all that much, believe me. 

“PITY the military or academic brat.”  

Everytime I tell people that I used to move a lot, I get the same ol’ question “Oh, is your father in the military?”  It’s gotten to the point that I beat people to the question with the explanation “We weren’t military or anything.  It was due to my father’s job situation.”   He kept moving because he couldn’t find a job that he wanted to stick with.  It wasn’t until he established his own company, which is when we moved to N. Caldwell, that he was content to settle down.  Timing was great for my brothers.  Lousy for me.

“Psychologists, sociologists and epidemiologists have long recognized that children who move often tend to perform worse in school and have more behavioral problems than those with a firmly rooted picket fence.”

I could’ve told people the same thing even without reading this article.  This is the reason why my husband and I intend to stay planted where we are now until our daughter graduates from college. 

“[Findings suggest that] serial movers tended to report fewer ‘quality’ social relationships. The more times people moved as children, the more likely they were to report lower ‘well-being’ and ‘life satisfaction’ as adults (two standard measures used to quantify that ineffable thing called ‘happiness’).”

That first sentence describes me.  I would say that staying rooted in one place is important to enable quality social relationships to develop, which is a key part of most people’s lives.  After all, humans are social beings. 

“[Frequent moves during childhood negatively impact] “certain personality types. Introverts and those [who are deemed] moody, nervous or high strung…..were adversely affected, while extroverts remained blissfully unmoved.  Though this is just one study, Professor Oishi said, ‘Parents who are considering moving need to think about their children’s personalities and the potential risk.'” 

Though this research is too late for me, I now know better as far as my own daughter is concerned.  She is, like me, on the more nervous and high strung side of things.  I know what I need to do is to give her a stable, firmly rooted, non-transient, non-nomadic lifestyle.  The kind of lifestyle I wish I had had while growing up.

“Relocating is much harder on middle schoolers, already wrestling with puberty, than on younger and older children.”

Well, there you have it.  Now that I know what I know now, I am going to make sure my daughter has an easier life than I did when it comes to things that are within my control.  Like moving, for instance.  My husband and I will do our darndest (knock on wood) to have our jobs revolve around where we live.   From experience and knowledge of the impact of decisions we make, we can try our best to pave the way for our children to have less stress during their formidable years, which are basically their school years, and minimize the risk for teenage angst the best we can.    I want to minimize my daughter’s risk for depression…and postpartum depression when she hopefully has her own child(ren), God willing (so I can be a grandma).

Finally, as I’d mentioned in a previous post, the predisposition for depression in many cases is genetic, but whether those genes are expressed, or turned on, depends on the following:

  • your experiences during childhood and adolescence
  • the overall environment in which you live during those years
  • the severity of stressors with which you are confronted early in your life
  • how much nurturing (support, positive role modeling and positive reinforcement) you get from your parents

If we want to keep our children free of depression, along with nurturing, loving, encouraging and spending quality time with them, we need to minimize the stressors that they face within reason, especially as they go through adolescence.  Be aware and supportive of your children’s school experiences and activities, and help them with any challenges they face.   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.

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!