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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

If I Survived PPD, I Can Survive Most Anything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BE PROUD OF YOURSELF.

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.

We Need Empathy and Anti-Bullying Programs in Every School, Not to Mention Make Our Mental Healthcare System a National Priority!

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

Today was a day that will go down in the history books as one of the worst school shootings in this country.  So many young children and school employees killed.  I write with a heavy heart.  I am praying for the families who have lost loved ones in today’s tragedy.  And I am praying for all the survivors who witnessed what happened.

It’s very coincidental that I have been planning to put up in the next day or so another post about bullying, teenage angst, empathy, and the state of our current school culture and what I believe we desperately need if we are to make a difference for our children.  They are our future.

The way it works for me is, as I come across articles in the news/blog posts that catch my interest, if I don’t have time to blog about it right away, I save them to my “Next Posts” folder to provide inspiration for future blog posts.  I have the following 6 links about bullying and empathy saved in that folder:

Onward to Change:

Support for Teens:

Educational Info:

Links to Resources:

  • Please refer to the Anti-bullying/Teen Resources links I list on the right side of my blog
  • 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 PPD blog
  • Start Empathy Facebook page

I’m writing this post to help me process the news that hit me as I left work today.  I had no idea this had even happened until after 3:00 pm today, hours after it took place, because I never had a chance to go onto the Internet, as it was a really busy day at work and no one at work brought it up…..not until a colleague mentioned it to me shortly before I was supposed to leave the office for the weekend.

I posted this on my Facebook timeline on my way home from work:

We really need to do something that will end these senseless killings. More mental health programs, for one. More empathy programs in schools too. In all school systems, for all school-aged children. I think if we made these changes, we have a better shot at making a difference.

It will take a few days for the investigation to determine the circumstances that led to this tragedy.  But seeing how it happened in a school, like so many of the other school massacres that took place in the past decade, I am pretty certain that it’s issues stemming from school days/environment that drove the shooter to choose this school as the backdrop for seeking vengeance or playing out whatever was going on his mind, spurred on by what could have been years of bullying and/or other emotionally scarring incidents that occurred in school.

I cannot even begin to imagine what the families who lost their children are going through.  Tears welled up in my eyes during my commute home and before, during and after dinner with my family.  And now I sit here with a lump in my throat. And then I see my news feed show posts and links to blog posts criticizing anyone who would express any opinions on the tragedy.  In all honesty, I’m not writing this post out of disrespect for those who were senselessly killed today or their families now grieving.   I am so sad, I had to get my thoughts out.

I suffered from postpartum depression (PPD), and now I’m a PPD advocate.  I wasn’t about to let my experience merely fade away with my recovery.  I want to share my story and try to help others, to make a difference for other moms by making them feel less alone in their experience and help empower them with knowledge so they can understand why it happens so they feel less guilty and more empowered to recognize symptoms and know their treatment options.  I want to help spread awareness and stomp out the stigma associated with mental health issues (not just maternal).  Bottom line, I’m trying to prevent other moms from suffering the way that I had suffered.

Back during my school days, I was a victim of prejudism and bullying, and now I’m an anti-bullying advocate.  I want to do what I can to make a difference for children and teenagers who feel alone in their experience, lack self esteem, and don’t know where to go for support–all of which describes the nightmare of my teenage years, from the time I started 7th grade until I left for college.  Bottom line, I’m trying to prevent other youth from suffering the way that I had suffered.

As I conclude this post, I just wanted to ask that we all hold our loved ones closer as we struggle to process this senseless tragedy.   If you’re wondering, like I’m wondering, how we can put an end to tragic suicides and shootings in our schools, ask yourselves:

  • Do we want to end bullying and bullycides?  If so, then realize we have the power to make a difference….don’t just continue to sit there and complain about the incidents of bullying and bullycide. Let’s work within our communities to come up with ways to prevent these incidents from happening.  We can’t wait for schools to do it because schools are dependent on budgets, and as we all know, budgets now are being cut down to the lowest levels ever.  We have to think outside the box.  Where it concerns the safety of our children, we can no longer tolerate the “Oh, but we can’t establish anti-bullying / empathy programs because it will cost us money that we don’t have” attitudes we’ve had for years.  If it takes state anti-bullying laws to be passed, like in New Jersey, then so be it.  If state laws are not passed, then we need to work with the Board of Education and district schools to incorporate empathy in each school’s curriculum and/or establish empathy programs for all school-age children from Kindergarten through 12th grade.
  • Do we teach our kids to treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves?   If so, then be a positive role model and lead by example.  Model empathy in our daily interactions with others.   Have your child be kind to and accepting of his/her fellow students, and avoid excluding others because that, after all, is a form of bullying.  Encourage him/her to stand up for others who are being bullied, rather than acting as merely a bystander.
  • Do we want to help our children/teens find the right help/support when we realize they are experiencing challenges in school and/or emotional/behavioral issues (e.g., lack of self esteem, depression, cutting, eating disorders)?   If so, then we need to find the right resources (i.e., counseling, mental health professionals, online support) for him/her as soon as possible.  Do not assume that it must just be some passing phase/part of growing up, being in denial that your child may need such help.  DO NOT WAIT and think that things will resolve on their own because they WON’T.  Put aside any qualms about stigma relating to mental health issues, as it’s not going to help your child.

We need to strive to make our schools safe for our children and for the staff to whom we entrust the care of our children.  In the words of our President: “We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”    Granted, we are no doubt in need of stricter regulations that will help prevent the wrong people from getting access to guns.  But much more importantly, we are in dire need when it comes to improvements in mental healthcare.   Former First Lady Mr. Rosalynn Carter’s book “WITHIN OUR REACH: Ending the Mental Health Crisis” is a must read if you want to get a better understanding of the reality of our mental healthcare system as it stands today.  I’m sure there are many other books that can be read about this, but her book was the only one I’ve read (she signed my copy of it at the Postpartum Support International and Marce Society conference I attended in 2010).  It’s a quick read and  does a very good job summarizing today’s state of affairs.  This article I just stumbled across on Alternet.com titled “In the Wake of Another Mass Shooting, Let’s Talk About America’s Dangerously Gutted Mental Healthcare System,” by Lynn Stuart Parramore is also a must-read.

WE NEED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE!   Or we are going to continue to see bullying and cyberbullying–and unfortunately shootings–claiming the lives of innocent young people.

October is National Bullying Awareness Month

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

Boy, am I ever late in writing this blog post, with only 2-1/2 days left to October!   Things have been ever soooo busy in my neck of the woods!   While there are so many articles out there about bullying from not just this one month but in general, I wanted to focus on a few things right here, right now.  It took me a couple weeks to process the Amanda Todd story and feel ready to post my thoughts in a blog post.

Here goes…

1.  The frequency of bullying is increasing.

2.  Parents and other adults are crucial in role modeling and raising the younger generation to be empathetic.

3.  Twitter and Facebook must find a way to help monitor activity for suicidal warnings.  There must be a way for these 2 extremely popular and key social media sites to partner with an organization like National Suicide Prevention to intervene when there is a clear risk for suicide in a tweet/post.  Either that, or it’s simply a matter of parents and/or other loved ones who also use these sites to “friend” their kids on Facebook  and open a Twitter account to “follow” them (plenty of people use pseudonyms).

4.  Parents need to be engaged and aware of their children’s activities, especially their online activities (including blocking inappropriate sites that are a breeding ground for disaster when it comes to their own children’s well-being and–should their children be the ones tormenting someone else’s children online–the well-being of other children).

5.  Bystanders–be it other students, people online (if this relates to cyber-bullying), and/or teachers–should speak up when they witness any bullying incidents.  If everyone maintains the attitude that it’s “Not my concern,” we will stay in this rut that we find ourselves in, with children feeling unnecessarily alone, desperate, and hopeless….and feeling like they have no other options to help them escape their torment and pain but to end their own lives.

The Amanda Todd case raises awareness of how relentless cyber-bullying can be and how vicious people (kids, teens, adults) can behave when it comes to someone whom they DON’T EVEN KNOW.  Her case is an example of how a misunderstood teenage girl felt so alone in her suffering, was unfortunate enough (and to this day I don’t even know how this got as far as it did….where were the parents in all this?) to have encountered what was likely a pedophile (the police are still investigating and I truly hope they find this scumbag) who stalked her–and whose actions of taking advantage of a young girl online–started her off on a road of torment, harassment, and constant school moves to try to escape the kids who made fun of her and even beat her up.

EVERY SINGLE PERSON who contributed to Amanda’s torment must be held accountable and receive punishment befitting their involvement.  Their actions led to the death of someone.  In my book, it’s equivalent to a gang of bullies physically beating someone to death with their bare hands.  And the countless hate pages that went up after she died?  Instead of letting her spirit rest in peace, they are hell bent on tormenting it even after death.  These people are so rotten, so malicious, and so vile.  The pure evil and hate that exists out there is horrific.  How these people can stand to behave like this and feel good about themselves is beyond me!  Let’s just say that if justice doesn’t prevail with the police knocking on their doors, then I pray that KARMA will!

Rant over….

You may wonder how all this has anything 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.

  1. Nature Versus Nurture in Relation to PPD
  2. PMS versus PMDD

And you may be interested in checking out my prior posts relating to teenage years, some of which do specifically address bullying as an epidemic in this society (scroll down to see my links to Anti-Bullying/Teen Resources on the right side of my blog, along with all my other links):

  1. Bullying and Suicide…Teen Angst and Depression
  2. The Mental Cost Behind a Nomadic Childhood Experience
  3. Depression and Teen Suicides…It Will Get Better
  4. You are Perfect to Me, Says the Parent to the Child
  5. Empathy Makes the World Go Round
  6. New Jersey Leads the Way Yet Again
  7. Disturbing Teenage Trend…Hey Stranger, Do You Think I’m Ugly or Pretty?
  8. 121Help.Me – A 24/7 Youth Helpline
  9. I Am Titanium
  10. Join the Anti-Bullying Movement

I’m going to end this post with the following food for thought:
All of us have the power to make a difference.  We just have to work together to effect positive change.  Please.  Let’s stop this horrible epidemic.  Now.

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!

An Update to My February 29, 2012 Post

Just a brief check-in today. This was another very stressful week at work, though I did have a chance to take today off for my quarterly haircut and highlights.  I finally felt brave enough to ask my hairdresser to cut my hair to chin length…something I haven’t done since nearly 2 decades ago!  I feel like a new person!  It feels great! 🙂

However, I still have a couple personal matters that are causing me quite a bit of anxiety.  I am doing the best I can to keep the anxiety under control.  I am going to see my GI doctor on Monday to see what is causing all my esophageal discomfort.  Praying it’s nothing serious.  Still have very painful tendinitis in my right elbow, which my chiro refers quite logically to an occupational injury (i.e., computer overuse).

I have a few more posts lined up for the coming week.  The purpose of my brief check-in today is to point out that I added 2 photos to my post “Disturbing Teenage Trend….Hey, Stranger, Do You Think I’m Ugly or Pretty?”

An Update to My Last Post….

Just a brief check-in today, as I’m very, very tired. This week has been a stressful one at work.  I’ve also had a couple other personal matters that are causing me quite a bit of anxiety.  I am doing the best I can to keep the anxiety under control. On top of that, I’ve had post-mono and strep (I don’t remember if I mentioned I had them simultaneously since the first week of December) esophagus condition that seems to be lingering forever.  Feels like some sort of inflammation from the back of my throat down to my chest.  I’m on medication for that.  Then, over the weekend, my slowly deteriorating right elbow suddenly became 10x more painful than before, such that I had to see my chiro for the past couple of nights.  He informed me that I had tendonitis.  I love this chiro because the back/neck/arm numbness issues I used to have were successfully treated by him.  For my elbow, he used accupressure, electromuscular stimulation, and heating pad.  Got a couple more visits to go.  So far, so good.  I feel so much better now than a few days ago, that’s for sure!

Anyway, I will have a couple of posts up within the week.  The purpose of my brief check-in today is to point out that I added 2 drawings to my last post.  Please check them out!

Disturbing Teenage Trend….Hey, Stranger, Do You Think I’m Ugly or Pretty?

A Huffington Post article today written by Joyce McFadden and titled “Body Image: How Women Contribute to Girls Asking YouTube if They’re Ugly” grabbed my attention and finally convinced me I had to get my thoughts out, thoughts that have been brewing since the first article I saw the other day on Facebook posted by Mediabistro, written by Megan O’Neill and titled “Disturbing YouTube Trend: Teens Ask the World ‘Am I Ugly or Pretty?”

The latter article pointed out–what really goes without saying–that teens posting videos of themselves seeking stranger input on their appearance is just asking for malice, trouble, to be put down farther than before they posted the darn videos.  The Internet is laced with trolls who have nothing better to do than say the most vile things…things that you would never be able to get away with in person.  Trolls are cowards who have deep-rooted issues.  They need counseling…and badly.  Because the average person will not have the desire to say the kinds of vile things trolls say.  While there may be some nice people trying to convince these teens that they are beautiful just the way they are and at the end of the day it’s not necessarily about physical beauty but inward beauty (teens aren’t so concerned about that as getting approval about their appearance), this innocent–and desperate–plea is surely going to invite the worst comments imaginable from people.  There are all kinds out there.  We should know that by now.

I understand what these teens are going through.  They need validation, approval. Their self confidence is challenged by the physical changes they find themselves undergoing. They can’t go to their parents, relatives, or friends for objectivity; they need it from someone who doesn’t know them and can be truly objective…but they are seeking this objectivity from the completely wrong place.  I would call this misguided due to desperation of not knowing where else to turn.  It’s a shame they don’t for whatever reason feel comfortable with talking to someone like a counselor, good friend or loved one.

Here are some of the FB comments–from supposedly adults (I say supposedly when in actuality they could be teens posting with a fake profile, or they could actually be adults in which case I say they have absolutely no excuse to talk this way….they probably have children who are bullies as well)– posted in response to the Mediabistro article:

People who ask such questions get what they deserve.
If you have to ask… you’re probably hideous.
She should ask – “Am I stupid?”

My reaction?

[Insert 2 of the commenters’ names], that’s not very understanding of teens who have self esteem issues, now is it….What I want to know is where are the parents in all these examples? If they’re that hands-off and ignorant that their children are doing this, that’s indicative of a more seriously sad trend.

I sure as heck wouldn’t want these commenters as parents, and if they have children, they’re probably some of the ones posting these videos.  These comments actually sound just as bad as if they were coming from teens who don’t know better.  If they’re parents or grown-ups, they should be ashamed. If they’re teens, they need to grow up. Either way, these comments are completely lacking in empathy, callous (putting it nicely), and obviously said without any concern at all about these poor teenagers.  Therein lies the problem with videos like these seeking public opinion.  Sure, strangers don’t know you.  And they sure as heck don’t give a crap about you.

Anyway, unable to get objectivity from loved ones, they go to the only other place that many of these teens seek solace from….the Internet.  After all, we are in the age of social media.  But they don’t know the good places to turn to…Twitter folks who are there to exchange tweets with anyone needing support and encouragement, as well as websites like To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA). There are online resources that deal with self esteem, like Kidshealth.org.

If these teens are anything like I was when I was a teenager, they probably don’t have many friends.  I wonder whether I’d be on Facebook if there was such a thing back when I was growing up. Nah, don’t think so. I was way too shy for any of that.  Even if these teens were to reach out via Facebook to their “friends” (some teenagers these days have 500-1000 FB “friends” due to peer pressure to impress each other on who has more friends or for the semblance of popularity, but at the end of the day, there are only a handful of true friends)–what do you think some of these teen FB “friends” would say in answer to a question like this that appears in their feed: “Hey, just wondering….do you think I’m ugly?”  I have no doubt some would try to be funny by saying something stupid and hurtful.  Anyway, who’d want their peers in school to know that they’re asking these questions in the first place?  This is why I limit my friends on Facebook to a small circle of people….people I know I can trust. The saying “It’s not the quantity, it’s the quality, that matters” is highly relevant here.

I know you’ve probably heard this from other friends and loved ones and out there on the Internet and in books (but surely not the highly unhelpful beauty magazines that focus on none other than physical appearance), but I am going to say it anyway….beauty is not merely about physical appearance.  Beautiful physical appearances are made ugly by personalities that are mean, selfish, contemptuous, disdainful, condescending, hateful, and greedy.  I don’t know about you, but I believe in karma.  I believe that these negative attributes in the long run will come round and bite you in the a$$.

Don’t grow up giving a crap about what other people think about you and your appearance.  Ever hear the story of the Ugly Duckling?  Well, the duckling wasn’t ugly, just in its juvenile form.  But when it went and became a swan?

It was like, wow!  All the other creatures around it didn’t think it had it in him to become so beautiful.  Just like that ugly duckling, your beauty will also shine through when it is nice and ready.  When you find yourself–just like I found myself and started to love myself and know what I enjoy doing and have a better sense of the direction my life is taking–your beauty will shine through for all to see.  You need to graduate through various stages in life first.  Let yourself bud and mature. As teens, you are only just beginning your life’s journey.

As a teenager, I was quite the ugly duckling. It didn’t

help that I couldn’t afford to wear anything but the 5 or so sets of clothes I remember having to cycle through on a weekly basis, dreading to wear them around the attractive, preppy kids who had all the beautiful fair isle sweaters and the popular kids who wore trendy stuff.  I was skinny, unhappy/anxious looking, withdrawn, lacking in self esteem…just downright miserable all around. It took me until my mid 30s to find the road that was meant for me to travel–i.e., find the right guy to marry, move to a wonderful town, start a family, become a blogger and author with a mission (not forgetting to enjoy myself in the process), etc.

Now, as a parent, I am going to do my darndest to ensure that–knowing the inherent dangers of Internet use, the challenges faced by teenagers seeking to be accepted by their peers, the angst teenagers experience as they find themselves and deal with their changing physical/emotional selves a la puberty–my daughter’s Internet usage is monitored, she has a balance of activities she enjoys and studies, and I am ever mindful of her self esteem and overall mental health.  I will do the best I can to be nurturing, to parent in moderation (no extreme parenting), and to make sure her school life is a positive experience.  I am going to try to make sure she does NOT follow in my footsteps!

You may wonder how all this has anything 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 my prior posts relating to teenage years:

  1. Nature Versus Nurture in Relation to PPD
  2. PMS versus PMDD
  3. Bullying and Suicide…Teen Angst and Depression
  4. The Mental Cost Behind a Nomadic Childhood Experience
  5. Depression and Teen Suicides…It Will Get Better
  6. You are Perfect to Me, Says the Parent to the Child

Let me end this post with a very insightful passage from Joyce McFadden’s article:

We focus on beauty at the expense of all of the other things we could be encouraging and celebrating. Our girls are having trouble finding their own value because we ourselves struggle with the same. In her beautifully moving article, “Smaller Than Before,” Dr. Jessica Zucker (who trained under Carol Gilligan at Harvard and specializes in mothers, daughters and body image) shows us just how much we limit our appreciation of ourselves and each other with our narrow appraisals of what’s important.

Don’t let what society believes is important make you lose sight of what’s really important here:  YOU.  

You Are Perfect to Me, Says the Parent to the Child

Two songs with meaningful lyrics, by two of my favorite artists, P!nk and Bruno Mars, have been at the top of the Billboard music chart.   

Bruno’s lyrics were a remake of the original (and I love this rendition, just like I love the video…one of my favorites), with this phrase catching my attention:  “You’re amazing just the way you are,” which he tells his girlfriend all the time because she doesn’t see the beauty that he sees in her.  The lyrics go on to say “When I compliment her, she wont believe me, and its so, its so sad to think she don’t see what I see.”   Looks like some low self esteem, though I’m not too sure whether the public has been thinking that deeply about what the lyrics actually mean.  

Speaking of low self esteem, that’s where Bruno’s “Just the Way You Are” lyrics intersect with P!nk’s “F**kin Perfect” lyrics.  P!nk wrote her lyrics and created her video for a specific purpose, and it was a very emotional experience for her.   With the goal of promoting awareness and the desire to effect change, P!nk’s lyrics and video were designed to grab one’s attention, make people think and talk about the topic at hand–a lack of nurturing environment for children/teens that lead to feelings of isolation that lead to desperation and depression.  The words that grab my attention in the song are:  “Mistreated, misplaced, misunderstood…. Mistaken, always second guessing, underestimated…You’re so mean, when you talk about yourself, you were wrong….Change the voices in your head, make them like you instead.  Pretty pretty please, don’t you ever ever feel like you’re less than f*ckin’ perfect.  Pretty pretty please, if you ever ever feel like you’re nothing, you’re f*cking perfect to me.”  Click here to see the complete lyrics.

I love it when celebrities who have the platform, the spotlight and therefore the ability to attract the attention of so many people use them to try to bring attention to important topics.  Now that P!nk’s song is a #1 hit, she can pass on the message that depression is an extremely serious problem in this society, and we need to stop ignoring it and do something about it.   And it all starts with discussion.  After all, we don’t typically like to talk about things like depression, cutting, suicide and other mental health issues due to the stigma relating to all of that.   With more people speaking up, there will be an increased awareness of the problem at hand and a decrease in the stigma that has prevailed for too damn long.   People will be less bullying, more empathetic.  Less competitive, more caring. 

There are two possible tacks we can all take to address this problem (but obviously it’s the first one that is preferable): 

1.  Proactive and preventive: 

Help people understand how their actions can have serious consequences on others.  Love, nurture, provide emotional support and patience to your children.  Ahem, parents, that would be you I’m addressing this to.  See past post on teen angst and depression.  We can lower the depression rates by creating a nurturing environment for our youth and teaching them how to cope with issues head-on, building self-confidence and self-awareness, and thinking positively.   Yes, we have the power to lower the risk for depression in our youth…and subsequently, there will be fewer adults with depression..and that includes women with postpartum depression!  Granted, depression tends to be hereditary, but that does NOT mean that everyone with depression running in the family will develop depression.  The environment in which our youth grow up is KEY.

2.  Reactive and remedial: 

Ensure individuals experiencing low self esteem, feelings of isolation, and depression get the help they need right away.   Be educated enough to recognize the signs that something is not right, and ensure they gets the help they need immediately.  DO NOT WAIT and think that things will resolve on their own because they WON’T.  Today, we are in dire need when it comes to improvements in mental healthcare.   Former First Lady Mr. Rosalynn Carter’s book “WITHIN OUR REACH: Ending the Mental Health Crisis” is a must read if you want to get a better understanding of the reality of our mental healthcare system as it stands today.  I’m sure there are many other books that can be read about this, but her book was the only one I’ve read (she signed my copy of it at the Postpartum Support International and Marce Society conference I attended last October).  It’s a quick read and  does a very good job summarizing today’s state of affairs.

I wanted to bring to your attention an excerpt of P!nk’s message regarding the reasons behind her lyrics and video (and I’ve chosen not to embed her video in my post because if you haven’t seen it yet, it can be very triggering):

“Cutting, and suicide, two very different symptoms of the same problem, are gaining on us. (the problem being; alienation and depression. the symptoms; cutting and suicide). ….Its a problem, and its something we should talk about. We can choose to ignore the problem….but that won’t make it go away…..I support the kids out there that feel so desperate/numb/powerless, that feel unseen and unheard, and can’t see another way.. I want them to know I’m aware. I have been there. I see them. Sometimes that’s all it takes.” 

Amen, P!nk, Amen!  I know you were writing these lyrics with your own baby in your belly in mind, and you want to be sure your child grows up in a warm and loving environment….one in which you yourself didn’t have.  I am going to ensure that my daughter has a much different experience than I had when I grew up.

Depression and Teen Suicides….It WILL Get Better

I’m on a real roll right now with 3 blog posts in < 1 week!    Well, what has spurred me to post today is an article titled “Experts fear copycat suicides after bullying cases” by Geoff Mulvihilli (AP) that I came across today concerning the recent teen suicides….6 since Tyler Clementi’s suicide on September 22, 2010.  I am digressing from postpartum depression in that I am blogging about teen suicides, though suicides do occur in cases of postpartum mood disorders (PMDs) as well.   I did blog about teen suicide once before, and in that post, I wrote about what makes girls more prone to depression once they hit puberty.

The circumstances that led to Tyler’s suicide were disturbing, despicable and disgraceful.  The lives of those involved will never be the same, ever.  The good that will come out of Tyler’s story is the realization that something must be done to put an end to bullying that has always occurred among our youth but its effect has become all the more deadly thanks to the Internet and other social media tools, whether it be live video streams (as in Tyler’s case), chat rooms, texting, or Twitter.  President Obama and celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres have made public appeals.  The Trevor Project’s “It Gets Better” campaign has been very active in the past couple of months in reaching out to teens and providing them with resources and hope.   States that hadn’t previously had anti-bullying laws have since either put them into place or are in the process of putting them in place.  There are now only 5 states with no anti-bullying laws.  Click here for state-specific legislative details. 

Click here for a Photo Essay of the victims of bullying just from this past year.  If these pictures don’t make you want to try to help stop bullying, I don’t know what will.  Having been a victim of bullying, you bet I will do whatever I can to help spread awareness and join any campaigns against bullying.  From the time my daughter reaches first grade until she graduates from high school, I will be involved in anti-bullying matters at her school.  And if there isn’t any anti-bullying policy in place in her school when she’s there–or at the very least counselors adequately trained to recognize signs of depression and know what to do when there is bullying going on–I sure as heck will do what I can to make sure one is put in place.

Per the article, Laura McGinnis, spokeswoman for The Trevor Project, said that her group’s crisis hotline has seen a 75% increase in calls and an increase in requests from schools and community leaders for “survival kits” since Tyler’s death.  I’d like to highlight what Ms. McGinnis said with respect to–and this applies to all individuals who are troubled and in need of someone to talk to–crisis intervention:

“It’s important for people who are feeling suicidal to know where to turn to for help, whether it’s a hot line, a friend or a hospital.  There are people out there who can help you, who are willing to listen.”

Says Ann Haas, director of prevention programs at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

“If youth are struggling with depression, the impact of bullying can be quite different than if they’re otherwise emotionally healthy.”

And this, folks, is the one very big distinguishing factor between how different teens handle situations like bullying, teenage angst and/or a dysfunctional family.  When I saw a Facebook comment a few weeks ago from one of my “friends” who happens to be in high school how he could never, ever feel down enough to hurt or kill himself despite all that he had to put up with in high school, so what’s up with the new trend of teens killing themselves instead of dealing with their problems, I had to speak up.  I basically said that one who has never suffered from depression will never understand what it’s like to be depressed–to feel so alone, worthless, and desperate enough to want to end it all.   Just like this article says, it’s not just one factor (i.e., bullying) that may lead an individual to thoughts of suicide.   There is a whole lot more to it.  Personality (i.e., self esteem), the way a person was brought up to deal with issues, and support system among family/friends (or lack thereof) all have a lot to do with it.  People need to open their eyes to see when someone in their lives isn’t himself or herself, could use someone to talk to and provide a shoulder to lean on, and needs a hotline/warmline and/or professional help.

I am going to now draw a parallel with PPD here.  Moms who have never had a PMD will never understand what it’s like to have a PMD.  That’s a fair statement to make, but it shouldn’t keep people from becoming educated.  From opening their eyes.  From forgetting the dumb stigma that’s associated with depression, especially depression occurring after childbirth.  From forgetting the even dumber motherhood myths.  From recognizing when something is not right with a new mom and helping her to seek professional help.   From recognizing when a call to 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is needed.

What we all need to do is to become educated on symptoms of depression in the people in our lives and know what to do to help.   Everyone deserves help and support.  With the right help and support, any situation that’s troubling an individual can and WILL pass.  As the Trevor Project motto goes “It Gets Better”…..it really does.

Here are some important Suicide Prevention Resources:

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!