In high school, I first realized I had a serious problem with my brain. I got my driver’s license, started a job, got accepted into college, and was close to graduating – but I still felt despair.
I had no clue why I felt so heavy in my chest, failing to feel happy about all these milestones I expected to be excited about.
I grew up Catholic in a Vietnamese immigrant household. Mental health was a taboo topic and often dismissed as someone “being crazy” – and in our culture, if someone is showing any sign of “being crazy,” we should feel bad for them but not discuss it.
Growing up, my mother had expectations of me to follow traditions, present a certain way, and “act like a girl.” I developed an eating disorder and rapidly lost weight to achieve the “pretty” she wanted.
The need to please the adults I looked up to took over my mind.
Toward the end of my senior year, I went to the newly built school-based health center that protected me and helped me identify these feelings. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. My boyfriend at the time, who was white, suggested that I try to talk to my mom about my depression – he didn’t understand the cultural nuance of mental health not being discussed in my family.
Eventually, I gained the courage to confide in my mom and was immediately shut down. “You’re too young to have these problems – go to bed,” she said. My world felt crushed. It felt like all of my time and effort trying to please my parents was for nothing. My worst fear of feeling rejected came to life. I started self-injuring in subtle ways that increased in intensity over time. I felt like disappearing, but I was too scared to attempt suicide. When a friend asked about my injuries, I lied and told them it was an accident.
The thing that helped me the most was when my doctor was able to shed light on my depression. He informed me that it could simply be the neurochemical imbalance in my brain that can alter my mood and perception, rather than it being about events in my life. Finally, I felt like there was a biological explanation for what was happening inside of me rather than feeling like it was “all in my head.”
I am still figuring out the waves of my mental health journey and neurodiversity, but learning more about myself has driven my passion in wanting to help youth navigate their emotions.
I’m coming to terms with knowing I will need to rely on medication for the rest of my life. I’m different, and that’s okay.
By Jen, YouthLine Staff