Sharline Chiang of Hyphen Magazine is a survivor of post-partum depression. Yesterday, she wrote a powerful article today about the months following the birth of her daughter, in which she discusses the depression. More importantly, she writes about why she — like so many Asian Americans battling depression and related mood disorders — carry their struggle in silence:
I wanted to say: I’m not okay, Mom. I’m so tired it hurts. I feel like I’m being electrocuted in a tub of ice water. I sweat. I shake. I have panic attacks. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m so scared.
I didn’t know I had postpartum depression—postpartum anxiety to be exact. Even after I found out and was diagnosed with severe PPD a month later, I lied. Even after I was put on anti-psychotic medicine, even after I was registered at the mental hospital in Berkeley, I lied. I lied, because I didn’t want my parents to worry. It seemed the right, Confucian, filial thing to do, to protect one’s elderly parents from one’s own suffering. Most of all I lied because I didn’t want to be judged. I already felt like such a failure. I was failing as a mother and I was ashamed.
I lied because even though depression is so common in Asian American communities, we rarely talked about it. The message I grew up with: your mental struggles are our own; it’s up to you to find the inner strength to “ren,” to endure.
The character for “ren” ? is the character for “knife” over the “heart.” Endure even when there’s a knife in your heart.
Sharline talks about the very real differences between Asian and White cultures in talking about mental illness. She talks about how among Asian Americans (as arguably with many minority communities) there is profound shame not only with the label of “depression” but even in the simple act of talking about one’s feelings. She alludes to the fact that depression, like all mental health concerns, are viewed as a sign of personal “weakness” — one that can be cured by “toughening up” — rather than as a biological ailment. She confesses to the acute pain — physical and emotional — of her depression, and the embarrassment she felt in even recognizing there might be a problem. Above all, she confesses that even now, on a regimen of anti-depressants that seem to be helping, she hasn’t admitted her struggle to her family; importantly, Sharline is more comfortable talking to us, the Internet stranger, than she is telling her mother.
I get why Sharline lies. I get it, fundamentally and almost without the need for explanation. By contrast, Sharline’s White spouse can’t grasp Sharline’s hesitance: a problem that speaks to the cultural disconnect between White vs non-White communities in how depression is perceived and treated. This disconnect also speaks to the need for culturally-specific resources for minority patients battling depression.
Continue reading “Hyphen Magazine: Lying to your mom about Post-partum Depression”