My eldest aunt called my mom yesterday. She said my cousin had come down with dengue and was refusing to go to the doctor, while my uncle was in the hospital because of respiratory complications from smoking. The doc told him he had to quit smoking or die coz his lungs had hardened…but it seems like a habit he is unable to kick.
My aunt was diagnosed with clinical depression last year. She has been to the doctor and gotten meds for it ,but treatment for mental illness is expensive at private practices, and at government hospitals, the wait often takes months just to get an appointment. So she stopped going. This is on top of all the old-age health probs like diabetes, high blood, joint pains, etc.
She talked about killing herself and not having the will to live, which alarmed us. I felt sorry for her, because she lives in a toxic environment – the husband she is so worried about is an abusive womaniser who gambles and contributes nothing to the household, her two sons work abroad and only come back to drop the grandkids with her, so she basically has no one to talk to. In such a scenario, no matter what meds you take or how many docs you see, you’re not going to get any better.
We tried to offer her solutions – “why don’t you take a break and come stay with us for awhile?” “Ignore your useless husband, he’s not treating you well” ” Try to relax and let go of things”, “Go back and see the doctor” …but she’d always refute each one.
- “I can’t, I don’t want to be a bother”
- “I can’t ignore him, he’s my husband no matter how he treats me”
- “I can’t stop worrying, I know I shouldn’t”
- “The doctor is too expensive and the hospital is too far”.
I know from first hand experience how difficult it is to get a depressed person out of that loop of pity and self-loathing. Most of them are incapable of pulling themselves out of it, and their calls for help are often brushed away, simply because relatives/friends do not know what to do or how to deal with it. I understand, because my own mother has depression, and for the longest time I didn’t know what the fuck to do about it. So I drowned myself in work, went home late when everyone was asleep, and basically avoided interacting with the fam. It was an extremely difficult time. I knew it wasn’t her – it was her disease – that was causing all the confrontation, the hurt, the rage that she would direct at us for no reason. I became angry and resentful. I’ve always had anxiety, but it developed into full-blown depression because of the daily shouting matches at home. I’d scream internally “”Why can’t I have a normal family like everyone else?!” – then feel guilty that I felt that way. It got to a point that was so bad, I was ready to move out and cut ties with them. Maybe that’s why studies show that people with close relatives that have depression are more likely to have depression themselves. A combination of genes and environmental factors.
It wasn’t until my mother finally acknowledged that she had a problem and talked to us about it – that she needed our help – that things got better. We actually sat down and discussed it openly and talked about how we could mitigate episodes from happening in the future. She’s on antidepressants now, and of course there are days where she is not herself, but things have mostly improved.
This is why it is so important to have someone to talk to when you’re depressed – but in Asian communities, there is still a strong stigma against mental health issues. I don’t know if it’s the whole ‘face’ thing: ‘face value’ is imperative in Chinese culture, and to admit that someone, whether it’s yourself or a person close to you, is suffering from mental problems, is akin to ‘loss of face’, something embarrassing that needs to be hidden. Also, some people might feel the need to hide it from others because they don’t want to be a bother or a burden – that’s certainly how I felt before (and still do at times).
My mom called up my cousin and advised him to look out for his mom. He agreed begrudgingly over the phone, but I think it’s mostly because it’s an elder and you can’t very well slam the phone down on them lol. Not sure if it’s advice he’ll take to heart, but there is only so much we can do as relatives. I suggested to my mom that we should probably go visit my aunt in Ipoh and bring her to KL – remove her from the toxic environment – we’re just worried that she might not be willing to come.
My neighbour’s dad committed suicide just a couple of months ago. He was 80 years old. So don’t think that this is something that only affects a certain demographic. It can happen to anyone.
People close to me know that I suffer from an anxiety disorder, something I have struggled with since my teens. Outwardly, I appear somewhat ‘normal’ – but I guess this is what they refer to as ‘high-functioning’ anxiety. There are bad days where I get panic attacks, especially in social situations. The sweating. The nervousness. The inability of the brain to process things or react accordingly. But there are also days where I don’t feel so bad, and I’d like to think that those days outweigh the rest… for now.
I know I said we should talk more openly about depression, but perhaps I can give you an insight as to why some people don’t, from a personal perspective. With my mom having depression herself (I don’t want to worry her more) and my very-Asian-dad having the emotional depth of a potato, there are not many people that I can talk to. My friends have their own problems. We are conditioned to believe that “hey, other people have worse problems than us”. If you know someone with depression, PLEASE DO NOT tell them that. They know there are people out there suffering from bigger problems. It does not make their own suffering insignificant, so please do not guilt trip them about it. IT DOES NOT HELP.
I’m lucky, in a way. I’m not eloquent or articulate irl, but I’m blessed with the ability to speak my mind in a different way – through the written word. When things get overwhelming, I pen my thoughts down here. Not because I want attention, but because writing is often cathartic and allows me release.
Is there a point to this ramble? Perhaps I just hope people will be more open about talking about depression, rather than trying to sweep it under the carpet. And don’t judge. You never know – a kind word and a listening ear can help to save lives. Literally.