And the Cement Cracked and Crumbled Away


Reprinted from "Stigma" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2(5), pp. 25-26

stock photoIt 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

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.