AH: My Depression Journey & What I Learnt From It

Hullo, world!

Today is uncharacteristically sunny here in Raincouver, I went out for a run, and there are many daunting books waiting to be read. My perfect kind of day. 

 

It’s always exciting getting back into blogging after a break, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot–taking breaks. It reminds me of the time I understood the importance of saying no to good things to have truly great things, when I felt like I had to break myself trying hard, and living was hard. 

Yes, it’s that little thing called depression

I suffered from depression for the past five years. And while I wouldn’t say writers, in general, might suffer from it from time to time, it has been true for me. I wasn’t a depressed writer. I was depressed and wrote. 

So pour yourself a cup of tea and take a deep breath. It’s not pretty, it’s really tough for me to write about this, but I hope that this can be encouraging to someone out there who might be feeling like me. 

This is my depression journey

Year 1 (Grades 8 jumped to 10)

We moved from Japan to Canada. We knew no one (everyone we knew lived in other provinces), my father’s job position was tough, and overall, we were struggling. I was feeling burnt out but didn’t want to acknowledge it. As the oldest sibling, I thought I had to have it all together to set an example for my siblings. Housing search, new homeschooling system, and various other things sort of choked out our weariness and I kept pressing on. Writing sustained me in so many ways through this time. 

Year 2 (Re-grade 10)

I ended up ‘failing’ the entire year with the new online school system. (Looking back it’s kind of comical since we had a terrible internet connection and a low-speck computer. I think I’d fail a school year again if I had to use the same computer!) 

This was a huge blow to me because a large part of my identity lay in my academic rigour and strength. We switched to another school and I was determined to pull myself back together. I met new friends and found solace in extracurricular activities. This was where I began my Japanese blog. 

Year 3 (Grade 10-11)

Meanwhile, my depression kept festering. I worked hard, pushed myself to the limits in every part of my life, and in short, burnt myself off. My grandmother was in the ICU in the fall, so Mum flew back to Japan. I took on more responsibilities around the house. Even though my grandmother recovered and Mum came back, our family was falling apart due to many factors and I really wanted to rest. 

But I thought I couldn’t. 

If I stopped functioning in my dysfunctional home, I thought our family would fall apart. I met a really great writer’s community around the summer and finished my first novel’s draft. I went on to participate in my first NaNoWriMo and wrote my second novel’s draft. 

This was where things fell apart.  

A week before the end of November, I took 100 Advils in one day. It was a Sunday, I still remember it well. I was hoping someone at church would notice our family, notice me, but no one did. I felt really nauseous in the evening and told my family. I went to the emergency, but nothing was wrong with me. They sent me home that same night. To this day, I still think it’s a miracle. 

Year 4 (Grade 11-12) 

Because of my ‘suicide attempt’, I was sent to counselling. I think they meant it well, but I was in denial–I only wanted to rest, I kept telling myself–so I stopped going once they made sure I wouldn’t do it again. Plus, they kept on telling me there were worse people out there who was really on the brink of despair. Compared to them, my case was light. 

I think what I really needed back then was someone who would tell me that it wasn’t okay. It wasn’t okay what happened to me, it wasn’t normal the way our family was functioning back then, it was okay to take a break if I was tired. 

But I had no one. 

I remember calling the health lines when things got really bad, but they were like the emergency people–they offered first aids, but nothing more. Every day was so hard, waking up was a challenge, I just wanted to rest. 

Except I didn’t. I picked myself back up, went back to my insane study-extracurricular schedule, and began this blog. Yup, that’s right. Just when I should have been focusing most on taking a breath and recovering, I added more and more responsibility to myself

Year 5 (Grade 12 + beyond)

I ended up switching my online school again. This, added with other big changes, was the final straw that broke me. My relationship with the people around me was going down the drain; someone I’d trusted with my future had disappeared, and I knew I had to get out of my home. Except, my old teachers were not willing to write me any recommendations to American colleges, and my plans of over six years in the making came crashing down

Then the pandemic hit. 

I feel so bad saying this, but this was what ultimately helped me stop. Like, literally, the world hit a break, and I was forced to stop. I had to take a close look at where I’d driven my life to–off a cliff. 

Our family had officially broken down. I still tried to fill my life with more things–more blogging, more writing, more studying, anything, really, if only I didn’t have to think about what was happening–and this time, my family shook me awake. They banned me from doing anything. And I’m so grateful they did that, even though at the time I resented them. 

Through lots of prayers and finally meeting someone willing to mentor me, I began to realise that I’d been severely depressed…and I wasn’t okay. I finally took time to rest, going back to where I’d started–back to God. I still struggle from time to time with being an overachiever trying to mute everything with hard work, yet through taking life at a slower pace, I’ve learnt this vital principle: It’s okay not to be okay. 

The Things I Learnt:

  • When you’re burnt out, stop what you’re doing at that exact moment. The world won’t end even if you stop. 
  • When someone asks you, “How are you doing?” and you’re not doing well, don’t say you’re fine. Sure, you might make other people uncomfortable, but that’s better than making it a habit of lying to yourself. It will take h**l of an effort to break with God’s grace alone.  (Excuse my language. That’s how strong my sentiments lie.)
  • Don’t isolate yourself from others. Always make sure you have someone behind your back who’s in a better mental state than you’re in. If you feel like you don’t, try being honest and transparent in your struggle with someone you know. This might open new avenues and strengthen friendships. 
  • If you’re a believer, go back to His Word daily. One of the biggest problems I had was that I stopped taking time to soak in the Scriptures. Remember, God’s word is light and truth, offering comfort to those in need of it. Let Jesus carry your burdens instead of doing it all alone. 
    • Also, try reaching out to a pastor or someone at your church. (My first church experience was bad, but my second church family really helped me out. If you feel like you won’t be able to get the help you need at your church, maybe it’s a better idea to contact other churches. They’re still your family in Christ.)
  • Be mindful of what you’re consuming, not just food but also media, the people around you, &c. When I was depressed, I tended to take in super dark media just to assure myself my situation wasn’t that bad. This is a terrible strategy and I wish I can go back and shake myself awake. There were also a lot of toxic people around me. Since resting, I’ve learnt to draw boundaries and not allow these things to get to me. Sometimes, it’s necessary to follow 1 Corinthians 10:23–“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.

Lastly, I just want to add this: If you’re struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out to me, or anyone else in your life. There are always people out there who genuinely care about what’s happening to you and will forever blame themselves if they couldn’t notice you needed help. But sometimes, you have to take the first step. 

I see you. God sees you. You were created in His image with an immeasurable plan so wonderful we have no way of knowing its full extent.  You’re fearfully and wonderfully made, even before you were born, you were given a purpose and life. Trust in that. 

And that’s My Depression Journey & What I Learnt From It. 

Thank you for reading! Are you habitually taking time to stop and reflect? Do you practise mindfulness? What are some things that have helped you when you were feeling burnt out?  Let me know in the comments below; I’d love to chat with you!

Author Health: 5 Self Care I Like to Do

Hullo, world!

It’s October, meaning all the leaves light up like illuminations, then promptly fall within a week. Alas, such is autumn in Canada. 

Today, I’m back for my monthly installation of Author Health. So far we’ve looked at the importance of family and authors, and discussed a little about my rather chaotic life as an author

As I was looking through some possible things I could talk about in the Author Health series, it came upon my mind how vital self care is to authors. And not just actually authors, but anyone. 

After I do self care, I’m more energized and feel…well, recharged. Like when you plug your phone in when it’s dying. 

Without proper self care, we become that dying phone. 

So without further ado, I present to you 5 Self Care I Like to Do. 

1: Taking A Walk

I know, I know, I sound like some old lady with a walking stick. But hear me out. Walking is actually a very good form of meditation when you focus on the act of walking alone.  I personally dislike sitting around and meditating, because I automatically sit in seiza like I do in karate. And after I do meditation, I begin the gruelling training sessions. 

At least, that’s the feeling I get. 

So instead when I feel stressed or tired out, I take a walk. I like to take short walks around the neighbourhood that barely spans five to ten minutes, and super long walks spanning hours. 

I love getting outside because it allows me to come out of my head. And as authors, that is one of the most important things to learn since we get so caught up in our stories and works and whatnots. 

2: Having a Bath 

Yes, I used to have a bath everyday. Yes, I’m Japanese. Thank you for asking. 

Anyhow. 

It’s a little unrelated to the topic, but I have had terrible eczema since childhood. I also have like a bazillion allergies to keep track of, and asthma on top of that. So whenever I got particularly stressed, all of these factors would combine and attack me at the same time. Which, for your information, is not fun at all. (Rather dreadful, I say.) 

Having a bath with essential oil–like tea tree or lavender–always calms down my sensitive skin. It also helps my body relax. Soaking in the hot bath and just letting your mind settle down in the heavenly scents of aroma is one of the perfect self-care. Even if you don’t have a full bath, soaking your feet in hot water instantly warms up your body and re-invigorates your blood circulation. 

3: Throwing Yourself a Tea Party 

If you have been with me for a while now, you would probably know just how much I love drinking tea. (I drink coffee, but usually diluted with 70% soy milk and cream.) In fact, I probably drink at least five cups of tea per day…which is partly because I grew up in a tea drinking culture, and we always have a kettle full of tea. 

But what I’m talking about here is not just simple tea drinking whilst you bang out thousands of words. 

It’s called throwing a tea party. 

Me explaining tea parties

This is where you drop everything you’re doing, salvage a nice set of tea cups or mugs, excavate cookies and pastries that go along the occasion, brew yourself a wonderful cup (or cups) of tea, and enjoy that moment like you’re a sophisticated Victorian lady. 

And, you don’t even need to invite other people. (You’re more than welcome to, of course, but I find it much better when I am alone.) I mean, it would also depend if you’re  an introvert or an extrovert… *goes to hide my extreme introversion in the closet*

What I hope people will think of tea

4: Going out on a Date 

Didn’t see that coming, did you? Here you were thinking I was going to be your friendly old-maid fifty-years-down-the-road, and I pull up “Going out on a Date”. And you thought I was introverted!

I know that feeling…

Well, calm yourselves down, since I don’t mean anything like a modern date. What I really mean is, set up a date with one of your girlfriends (that would be my Mum and my sister) and go out into the world to have some fun!

For example, my sister and I are going out on a date this very afternoon. We’ll go to the wonderful central branch library to drop off books and pick up a few holds, go to Muji and drool over organic clothes and pens, perhaps get something to drink at a coffee shop, and go to a department store. 

See? Doesn’t that sound absolutely lovely? 

And even when we don’t go out “out”, we might throw a karaoke party and sing Vocaloid songs until our throats have failed us, paint our nails, do a little spa activity. That sort of stuff. 

(I do apologise to any of the gentlemen in the audience today. It is kind of turning out to be rather girly and all.) 

5: Reading Inspirational Books + Listening to Music

And lastly, one of the simplest yet effective self care activities: Reading inspirational books and listening to music. 

Notice here I don’t say just books. I said inspirational books. This is because, as authors, when we are so drained from writing or the work that comes from writing related activities, sometimes we don’t even want to read books. Let alone see them. 

I’ve been there a few times when I was so overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to make my story work (“Just please by the name of Aslan, work thyself out!”) that I didn’t want to read other people’s stories. I know, drastic. But it happens. 

So when you’re feeling extremely burnt out, sometimes the best thing to do is pick up one of those self-help books or a mindless read–perhaps a fluffy YA contemporary–and listen to music while you’re at it. 

I myself personally recommend reading the Bible or books like Carrie Pilby (my new book love) and play some Delius or Strauss or lo-fi. Chopin’s études are also fun to listen to. Tchaikovsky or Beethoven, Liszt and the like are too grand for my liking. 

Anyhow, the point is this: You pick up a book that you know to be inspiring, and listen to light-hearted music. That’s basically it. 

And with that, I conclude the 5 Self Care I Like to Do. 

I hope you enjoyed these tips! What did you think of the self care I mentioned above? What are some of your favourite self-care activities? Let me know in the comments below; I’d love to chat with you!