Stir Fry of Emotions – Fighting the Stigma

stigma

I was on a business trip not long ago. We had a 3.5 day annual company conference filled with key-note speakers, company information and team building.

One of the team building was quite emotional. We broke out into small groups of 8-10 people and had to discuss our highest and lowest moments of our lives.

Ouch. Not easy. It’s sometimes difficult to even come clean with friends and family. But to be vulnerable in front of co-workers is a different level all together.

Yet, I decided to go first… I told my group, with a quick apology of not-so-pleasant news I was about to disperse, of my suicidal state a few years ago.

There’s one thing I have learned, dealing with anxiety disorder and depression – it’s a battle to break through the stigma on a daily basis. And it’s so easy not to realize the person next to you is suffering mental illness. I just read 2 of the 3 main symptoms of depression can not be seen so most people are walking around with no support, no treatment and at the risk of falling deeper into the hole.

It is NOT easy to talk about myself out in the open.

So what pushed me?

Knowing if I can open up and just not care of what will be said behind my back (should that happen it would be out of my control), will help one person who is suffering alone hear what I have to say, which may lead to that person getting help, well, it’s worth it.

I not only talked about what I went through – but about how I got help. And while it did not get rid of my anxiety and depression, as there are triggers everywhere which will not cease in my lifetime, I at least know how to get help now. I was able to talk about something extremely important:

HOPE.

It’s not as easy as I’m painting it. But should my words give even a glimmer of hope to the one suffering beside me, isn’t the vulnerability worth it?

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Lets Talk (about Suicide Prevention)

I was thinking of staying quiet for a bit. The world just lost another great soul, especially after police investigations confirmed SHINee’s Jong-hyun passed away from taking his own life. Yet this all leads to something that has been on my mind a lot.

When I first started to learn about kpop, I was of course interested in the entire sub-culture. As many kpop fans already know, these idol lifestyles are very different from mainstream entertainment/artist lifestyles. Maybe the only similarities compared to mainstream boy bands are:

  1. They are a group of boys whom can sing
  2. They are put together strategically by a company/producer
  3. Their fandom does not consist of just people who like their music but heavily crush and obsess about them

And then everything else differs drastically. At first, I wanted to just understand this world so I could know what my daughter was getting into. She is young and I wanted her to know the reality. Because when you see these idols, they appear to lead perfect lives to the young and impressionable. I’m not saying their lives are horrible but it’s somewhat easily fragile and at high risk for depression and anxiety.

I’ve said it before during discussions with my husband and my daughter. The suicide rate for youth and young adults in S. Korea is high. These idols are no different from this risk – perhaps even at a higher risk!

At a young age, they are taken from family (many outside of Seoul) and placed in dorms. They train… hard. With no guarantee they will debut. Should they debut, the 10-year contract is extremely hardcore. I imagine even harder than young Disney artists (as I have heard Disney can be quite controlling as well).  Diet, who they get to date (or really, can’t date at all; forced to break off existing romantic relationships), curfew, scheduling, little time to see family and friends, etc.

The point is, there’s the side that is remarkable – they need to get along with the other group members as a very solid team as that will be their main source of family and friends for a long time to come should their group succeed in the industry. For those lucky groups whom succeed in this, they really do have a loving relationship with one another, looking out for each other even if they do fight and disagree (like any blood family goes through). They keep each other grounded, humble and polite.

For the unlucky ones, well, they seem to put up a convincing front. I can only imagine how much lonelier they are if they do not find themselves in a tight bond with their other team members.

Yet, this is the only world many of these idol grow up in. The more popular they are the more sheltered they are forced to be. Being famous is already difficult, I would imagine. The criticism is extremely harsh – even for the best and most talented artist. With social media, cyber-bullying on top of everything, it can be brutal. I read BTS’ Jungkook stays away from reading social media about himself/BTS as much as possible because the internet is a harsh world. I don’t blame him and if that’s what he needs to stay mentally healthy, I applaud him for taking care of himself first.

With all kpop idols, their fame can only last at a certain peak for so long. Aside from the few whom last ten years, it’s difficult for them to stay on the path of high-success for more than 6 or 7 years I would bet. At some point, they are older and there is always a younger group of idols coming into the spotlight. Always. The industry has created this reality.

So what happens when their success starts to dim? For the past 5, 6 or 7 years they have only known this one life. What happens when their kpop career ends? I see Olympic athletes in a similar way. They train all their lives but at some point, they are unable to compete with the next young, faster and stronger contender. They need to move on. Yet unlike kpop idols, they are not sheltered the same way. They still lead lives which allow a certain level of freedom.

I can’t imagine how lost some of these idols must feel at the end of their kpop career. Add to the fact they have little to no support in the form of therapy, and therefore, no way of receiving help.

This saddens me. Suicide CAN be prevented. Here is a list of global suicide hotlines.

I’ve also been stating for months now, kpop companies need to provide their idols with access to mental health care even if they require hiring a team of therapists to work for the company. Here is a petition to get these companies to listen up.

On a personal note I was suicidal a couple of years ago before I started to see a therapist. I am not 100% cured of having anxiety attacks and depressive episodes. In fact, I am fighting off one right now due to external and unpleasant people at work. A co-worker just passed away yesterday and a couple of months ago, I lost a friend who was only 38.

I do know, at least, there is a way out of feeling suicidal from getting the help I needed. I am not trying to make it sound easy. I get it. When one is that far gone, it can be very difficult to see any possible light at the end of the tunnel that does not end in them ending their lives. And this is through no fault of their own. I believe, however, as a community, even in the big global sense, we can do what we can to help prevent it happening to as many lives and souls as possible.

Peace.

 

Why “13 Reasons Why Not” isn’t THAT Bad

I was skeptical at first. Really skeptical. And not because of all the controversial talk about how the series glamorizes teen suicide. I wasn’t worried about that – mainly because after doing my own reading on the internet, most articles who claimed professional psychiatrist stated this show could spur real life copy-cats, no where did they even give any reference of credibility of such professionals or case studies. Once again, alternate facts looms over us again.

And of the few supposed copy-cats that surfaced on the news after the series aired, there was no direct cause-and-effect relationship tied to show and real suicide victim. And the fact is – leaving a suicide note is not a new thing. Of course, with modern-day technology, letters are, I suppose, old school. Video and/or audio recording is probably more realistic these days.

The show, 13 Reasons Why, was not a great show and had mediocre acting (though I will say the main actor, Dylan Minnette, who’s character, Clay – who we watch as he unravels the mysteries from each tape – was my favorite). It captivated my attention enough to get me to watch all 13 episodes. Yet, 1/3rd into the show, I really was just wanting to get to the end so I could find out what lead to her suicide (the tapes gradually explained how they were all connected – but there appeared to be this looming doom which broke her soul at the very end).

Why I continued to watch the show was basically because of this:

While the suicide was a main focal point of the show, the issues that surrounded it was what people should be talking about: drugs, alcohol abuse, bullying and rape.

Especially the last two – bullying and rape (or assault of any kind).

So while the masses are upset with the show, fearing teens will be easily swayed to end their lives in a dramatic, revenge-like “trend”, I ask this… Would our teens feel a need to even consider suicide if they did not have to go to an institution day in and day out, facing such risks? When they go home, with social media being such a huge part of their lives, can they even escape it when they are not at school?

What are we as parents, the community and the school doing to prevent this warped, criminal behavior from happening? I say this because before this show even existed, this sad reality has happened before. The one I can’t get out my mind was the teen girl who was gang-raped by four of her classmates. The rapists took photos during the act and the photos went viral. Shortly after, she was bullied. Like 13 Reasons Why, she was called a slut and her reputation from good, sweet girl, flipped 180. Just like that. This poor teen suicide victim not only endured a horrible and criminal act, but then went through significantly, cruel bullying.

So for all the parents out there, outraged by this show, I ask this – what are WE doing to try and prevent this from happening in real life? If the issues on the show were not a real concern in our society, would there even BE such a show? Did we shape our culture/society to basically, give birth to the plot line of 13 Reasons Why?

I’m a bit dumbfounded why everyone seems to be pointing fingers at the show, stating it is too dangerous for teens to watch and lacks any accountability of the message. Yet what about the discussions this show has cultivated? Are we going to continue and point fingers at a fictional show (or novel which it was based off of) and ignore the fact that we have the power to make a change in society? What about the good that has come from all this controversy? What about the teens who created a project called “13 Reasons Why Not?”

People are also upset about this fictional teen leaving tapes – as if she was being selfish.

She was in pain. People who commit suicide are not thinking logically. They are not behaving normally. To blame the victim (for victimizing others in the aftermath) is a moot point. However, let me ask this – what if those tapes stop these people from making the same mistake to others? What if it is enough to bring charges down on the rapist(s)? What if it saves another life?

Honestly, before I watched the show I did not have a strong opinion of all the controversy surrounding the topic of 13 Reasons Why because it sounded like a pretty bad show. I don’t mean bad in that the subject was a horrible subject. I mean… it just sounded like a really bad show!

And, while it was not as bad as I imagined it to be, yeah, it was still bad.

I am not too swayed with this fear of teens glamorizing suicide. If they were in a suicidal state to begin with, the problem was there way before even watching this TV series.

The topics, however, were important to me. As a parent of a teen who has started discussing this show with friends (even though she has not seen it yet – she told me she is not interested at this point), I wanted to be prepared. I wanted to know what exactly happens so when she has questions or want to talk about it, I am hopefully, more ready than not.

Perhaps this show sort of sucked – but the topics are very real. We must stop the ignorance and get to the root of this problem. Increasing teen suicide rates are NOT due to this show. And we need to do something about it.

Let’s Talk!

With the upcoming annual Let’s Talk (Bell’s campaign on mental health awareness and breaking down the stigma), I can’t help but use this time of the year as a personal check-point. They picked an excellent time of the year for me – Christmas is now over and seems far away (even though we have yet to take down our decorations – today, I promise) and the days are still at it’s darkest. The new year is ahead of us which can be a very scary thing for those who suffer from depression and anxiety.

Looking back this past year I admit I have not done a great job in trying to keep my mental health in check. I have allowed myself to get overly stressed at work. I have been moody to my family. And I have not allowed enough time for myself, you know, to do a variety of little things which gives me small moments from this world – like reading or blogging!

(Both these two things I have gotten back into during December and I’m hoping to continue as long as I can).

My awareness of myself, however, has been steady. I am as honest as I can be to myself.

I was never ‘medically classified’ as having anxiety and depression. I never went to some clinic to do a series of test. But I have been to therapy and I know that what I have is not normal. And it simply comes down to this…

I have to WORK at being happy. It is an everyday obstacle for me. Sometimes, it’s even an every hour or every minute obstacle. Some days I succeed – I’m able to make myself happy for maybe an hour or two. Sometimes a few hours! That is a lot. At least for me. And other days, I never can bring myself up to happiness. There are weeks where I give into depression. I just get so exhausted trying that I need a break. Or, I’ve been feeling numb for too long and even an evening of crying and then walking around all day with a heavy heart is better than nothing because at least I’m allowing myself to feel… something!

Let’s Talk” also lets me open up about myself to friends and family. About a month ago, I promoted it on Facebook. I even talked about it through my own personal experience! A couple of people ‘liked’ my post. Most either did not see it, felt uncomfortable to react or just read it and moved on. It’s weird. Only a handful of people know I went to therapy. And now I’m opening myself up on social media! Probably not the best way to open up but it’s a step. It’s a quieter way, maybe.

I’m getting closer also to talking to a friend who has always enjoyed really teasing me in front of others. I don’t mean the every-day type teasing we all do to one another when we’re in a small group. I mean the really embarrassing type teasing that mortifies me so much I feel like I can’t breath, my heart rate goes up and I literally just want to die right there and then!

Relentless teasing – of the same things over and over again.

I use to get so angry with him but I never knew how to bring it up! I want to shoot him down in front of everyone right there and then but worry what people will think of me. They might think, “Hey – Calm down! He’s obviously just joking!”

The fact is that he does not know what I have been going through. Or know what I’m still going through. And there are certain anxieties surrounding public situations that I don’t know how to handle. And a bigger problem – if I want to see some of my good friends whom I love, I sort of have to live with the fact that he’ll always be around.

So, it’s a big step. I basically have to prepare myself in talking to him before our next get together. And I have to do it in a way that lets him know that I’m not trying to lay blame. The hope is that he will understand I’m just dealing with my own stuff and all I ask is that he remains gentle towards my situation.

I believe he is a good enough friend to understand this. It’s just not an easy conversation to have.