Reprinted from "Stigma" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2(5), pp. 25-26
It was April: the season of rebirth. I stepped out of the hospital and into the sunlight, suddenly aware that I was no longer wearing a puke-coloured gown and disposable slippers. I was wearing the clothes I wore when I was admitted. I was a normal person wearing normal clothes and walking normally down the street. Given the unexpected and devastating storm that was my hospital stay, I clung to anything that reassured me life after hospitalization would be normal again.
The years leading up to April 2004 were marked by fear, anxiety and a drowning darkness. I began to have trouble in 1996 at the age of 14. For three years, my weight swung high and low; my eating habits were disgusting; and I ate inordinate amounts of junk food along with regular meals. I ballooned to a size 16. I had gripping anxiety attacks in the middle of the night; I flirted with suicide.
At age 17, I had so little will to live that I didn't apply to any universities, even though I knew that my Chinese parents expected no less. At home, I had built a strong and sunny exterior that belied the war raging inside me. My sister was shocked to find that I hadn't submitted any applications, and subsequently helped me with my application to the University of BC.
The next three years were marked by many new experiences, challenges and decisions. I sought help for my problems and I began to develop a sense of self-worth and empowerment. I switched from Commerce to Arts, which felt right in my heart. I joined the co-operative education program and was introduced to the professional working world. I was learning and thriving.
At the same time, I struggled with a mind-weakening and soul-crushing depression that went undiagnosed. I had no appetite. The world was tasteless, colourless, 'feel-less.' I was numb. I couldn't cry. I felt exceedingly guilty and reeked of self-loathing. Each morning I had to muster every ounce of willpower to pry myself out of bed and go to class. I would be wiped out long before the end of the day. Insomnia haunted me. Though it was clear to me that it was getting increasingly hard to live, I managed to stay on top of school and complete four co-op work terms.
I thought that if I could just give the appearance of a happy, high-functioning student, whom people thought was well-liked, intelligent and talented, my inner hell would eventually shrink away. But it didn't. It grew tall and large, ferocious and insistent.
The more depressed I grew, the less I saw my psychologist. I began missing work. Due to escalating problems at home, I fell into a suicidal crisis and was accompanied to the emergency ward at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) by co-op program staff. There, I saw a psychiatrist, then a social worker who connected me to the Domestic Violence Program (DVP). I had a history of physical and psychological violence at home.
Seeing a DVP social worker was helpful. After a few months of seeing this social worker regularly and my psychologist intermittently, I got marginally better. I landed a coveted, challenging summer job. Outwardly, I was doing so well. Inwardly, I continued to struggle for years with sleep and eating and mood disturbances.
Finally, a crisis counsellor encouraged me to get an assessment for depression at Student Health Services. Within days I was diagnosed with major depression and generalized anxiety disorder. I was put on medication. Easy as pie, as if they had treated many other students for the same reasons. Then why do I feel so alone?
The diagnoses didn't surprise me, but they were unsettling. I was ambivalent about antidepressants. I was a bad patient because I didn't take them as prescribed. I noticed improvement after about four weeks of taking medication, and was starting to feel normal again - whatever that meant. But when six months later they ceased to bring relief, I stopped taking the little white pills. And paid a heavy price.
About the author
Rosalyn is a fourth-year interdisciplinary arts student in Ethnic and Intercultural Studies at the University of British Columbia. An aspiring writer and social activist, she writes about life and mental health at www.back-space.ca/lite
Rosalyn would like to give special thanks to her high school teacher Joanne for recognizing and nurturing the seed in her, and for encouraging Rosalyn to tell her story.