13 January 2013

Down but Not Out 憂而不傷


My big sister Ada is one of the bubbliest people I know. She has a contagious laugh and takes a genuine interest in people. A consummate hostess, she loves entertaining and throws elaborate dinner parties, the kind that are lifted straight out of a Martha Stewart magazine. On paper, the forty-something mother of two has it all: a loving family, a well paying job and a comfortable life. It is therefore all the more shocking when she told me recently that she is suffering from depression.

Depression is often a lonely battle

It all began shortly after she got a promotion at work. At first it was the usual urban angst: headaches, low energy and erratic eating habits – signs that she had reached a higher rung on the corporate ladder. Then her mood swings began. At home, she would sit idly in a corner and cry without provocation. Things she used to enjoy, like...


_______________________

Read the rest of this article in No City for Slow Men, published by Blacksmith Books, available at major bookstores in in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.


13 comments:

  1. I really like the Chinese translation of the heading.

    Jimmy

    ReplyDelete
  2. 出自蘇軾《刑賞忠厚之至論》: 「其言憂而不傷,威而不怒,慈愛而能斷...」

    Jason

    ReplyDelete
  3. I come across several close friends who suffered from depression / bi-poloar disorder. Co-incidentally, all of them are also very, very intelligent/smart. Perhaps not a good description, but then I actually found them very manipulative (if not playing victim) to get they ways/what they want; else they exhibit self-abusive behaviour; or, as you mention in your article, attempt suicide. My suggestion is to seek proper professional help ASAP & avoid helping on your own. Even if you believe you are emotionally stable/strong. Their suction force is tornado-like.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Jason,

    I really appreciated your latest offering. For what it's worth, I'm one of the 1/3: I've been on antidepressants for 9 years. I'm actually one of the lucky ones, in the sense that I got treatment and managed to find a medication that has worked and kept the worst of it under control. Even though I don't particularly like having to pop a pill every day, I don't miss the black holes I used to disappear into, either.

    And having dealt with this for years, I can recognize so much around me here in HK. You're right: this place is chockablock with people who are depressed out of their minds and too busy to know it, not to mention perhaps culturally hindered from opening up and getting the help they need. Anyway, thanks for choosing to talk about that subject. It's one that more people need to speak out about.

    Cheers,

    M.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks, M., for sharing your personal experience. V. helpful.

    Jason

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Jason,

    Thanks for sharing your sister's story. I'm glad things worked out for her and that she has such a strong support system. From personal experience, I know seeking help can be a real challenge given the huge stigma attached to mental illness. Rather than sympathy, which is often given to those who disclose having a physical illness (i.e. cancer), those who admit to having a mental illness are often told to just "get over it". Yet, the consequences of mental illness can be just as severe (i.e. death by suicide). I think we really need to start thinking about mental illness differently.

    A friend recently posted this video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54sDdNa9vek

    Cheers,
    B.C.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I can imagine how shocked you were when she told you about it. It is sad enough that ANYONE should suffer that, and it is all the more painful if it’s one of your family members. I felt upset already on reading up to that line, before moving on to the rest of the article.

    The pseudo-spiritual advice is actually the worst thing you can say to one in that position, you are suggesting that person is unappreciative of what she already has and putting even more accusations and blame on her, finger-pointing at a person who is suffering, especially if that is clinical or medical, is like pouring salt over an open wound.

    Do you realize how many people, whether they are suffering from depression at all, are keeping our condition under wraps as society demands this for us to survive and to climb upwards (for the ambitious ones). How many human beings are being turned into robots at the expense of themselves just to please everyone else? Even you and I are too, in one way or the other, to certain lengths. We would not otherwise be able to survive in a place such as Hong Kong at all.

    You must be so shocked to learn of L’s attempted suicide then. I actually had a friend who committed suicide about a decade ago: the obvious / blatant reason to everyone was that her boyfriend since University days broke up with her, but other friends told me later that family problems were involved as well. I remembered that day very well coz’ I was working in the same firm and department as the guy then. He went screaming like mad down the corridor suddenly after lunch and I thought it was just another client who’s making ridiculous demands and chasing him for something again. It was only later that day when a colleague or a common friend told me that his girlfriend has committed suicide. The guy was totally guilt-ridden and he certainly hasn’t forgiven himself then, I don’t know whether he has forgiven himself since. Some of our friends may never have, I don’t know, and I still felt sad for all he has suffered and the blame he has shouldered all along. Even though the girl may not, strictly speaking, have been suffering from depression before, guess she was unstable emotionally partly due to her family problems. And it only took one further trigger to drive one to commit a totally unthinking, and unthinkable, act. If only we would all appreciate that our lives are larger than any problem that we have to face. And once we overcome it we’ll only be stronger. Though I know from experience how hard it is to accept the situation if one is the protagonist and facing the prejudice through the coloured-glasses all around oneself.

    [To be cont'd]

    Christine

    ReplyDelete
  8. Yup, Hong Kong is the richest cauldron for mental disorders, from its living conditions and professional rivalry. It seems if you can’t emulate Li Ka Shing you are already living below the poverty line. The unsettling thing is, as you said, we are so conditioned to it already, that if we are to be blamed if we cannot take the stress well. It is as if we are the ones at fault for seeing a doctor if we suffer from a fever rather than if we just letting the fever die naturally. And of course, in many instances, the fever never does, and it kills us off one way or the other first.

    I have met people who may be suffering from depression, or on the verge or one, or a breakdown, but who still refuses to admit there is a problem or to seek medical help at all. Apart from being a career or social death sentence, I believe it arises partly out of fear as well. The fear that one has to face the truth and that one is suffering from a “mental illness” with the stigma attached. We never want to expose our weaknesses, or our “wrongs”, if you talk to the Catholics and their fear or unwillingness to go to Confession you will understand that mentality very well. And one labours under the wishful thinking that it will go away sooner or later before one resorts to medical help, self-deceiving as that is. This almost reminds me of people with leprosy in the bygone eras, and you know what hell they and their families went through.

    Really respect Ada, she trusts you and Margaret enough to talk it out and she is courageous enough to heal herself and to help others in the process. I really like her for that. Send her my best regards and salute to her courage!!!

    The laundry list, so to speak, of the symptoms of depression, is far, far too common. Practically every ailment touches upon one or other or all of that, except maybe for low self-esteem and guilt.

    As for the mood-stabilizing drugs, similar to some others, once you started taking them, they have to live with you for life. This is the case with people with depression or those who have had a stroke or something.

    Hope I don’t sound mean, Jason, but I think Ada is lucky in that she is suffering from clinical depression and not the more serious type such as that suffered by L, and she is backed by such a loving family and supportive boss. I can’t imagine that ever happening in the Hong Kong workplace. The boss may give one extra time to rest, but whether he / she will share his / her own experience is by far and few, I would say. He / she would not want the “stigma” to be made known to others too, right? And one never really knows what the other thinks about you behind your back.

    Christine

    ReplyDelete
  9. Guess it doesn't help when one realises that we live in a world when there are no second chances given to us as well...

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks for this....it is honest and sympathetic. Best wishes to your sister.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Jason, I cannot agree more with your observation that most people see depression as "an excuse for the lazy or a condition of the crazy". I tend to think at least 70% of people walking on the busy streets in Central are suffering from depression of different extents, just that they are ignorant of it, or (even worse) choose not to admit it. Depression, to me, is like flu. Going to doctors' for treatment is a wise thing to do. I really admire your sister's courage to realise the existence of an issue, face it and most importantly, deal with it. I wish her all the best.

    I do hope people will start waking up and bravely take responsibility of their lives. It is not unheard of that depression becomes infectious, e.g. one spouse is suffering from depression but chooses to avoid facing the reality; then he/she starts putting the blame onto his/her better half, pushing she/he slowly into the depression path.

    I very much doubt managers / employers in Hong Kong would be able to treat an employee with depression as your sister's boss. Asking for time off for personal reason, except probably for taking care of a baby or young kid, is like waving a white flag to your boss on any career development opportunities.

    Thank you very much again for this encouraging article!

    MM

    ReplyDelete
  12. Thanks for your wishes, Isabel and MM. I'm glad you found the article helpful! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  13. Good article. I wish there was a "like" button i could press.

    ReplyDelete