Letter to an Editor

I wrote this response to an article I read in one of the local newspapers here back in May. The links to the original article and my response are at the bottom of the page.

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I refer to the letter “Collective effort to curb youth depression” (May 2), where the writer said: “We should start being happy and encourage others to be happy.”

I am bipolar and I say this from experience: When you’re dealing with anxiety and depression, you cannot just “start being happy”. Depression and similar mental health disorders are fundamentally a chemical imbalance in the brain.

“Choosing” to be happy is a preposterous idea when the chemicals in an individual’s brain are not properly balanced. It is like asking a person with asthma to just stop having asthma attacks.

One of the things I have learnt to master is disguising my pain. I smile. I say “Good morning”, I say “I’m good” when people ask me how I am doing. And I can deceive those closest to me without their having a clue.

In order to truly understand and help those around us with mental health disorders, we must be willing to inform ourselves about mental health and be unafraid to ask questions when we see someone in pain or suffering.

It is casual attitudes and fears of breaching another person’s privacy that can create situations where an individual feels the need to take his or her life. With no outlet to discuss our desperate situation, we feel trapped and helpless and see suicide as the only way to end our pain.

It is society’s responsibility to educate themselves now — not after they have heard about someone who has committed suicide or find out that someone they know suffers from a mental health disorder.

If we wait for a time when we feel comfortable or the topic becomes salient to us, it will already be too late.

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http://www.todayonline.com/voices/collective-effort-curb-youth-depression

http://www.todayonline.com/voices/how-society-can-help-those-mental-health-disorders

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Death and All of His Friends*

In 1992, DC Comics published a storyline titled “The Death of Superman”. In it Superman dies but is later resurrected.**

Ever since then comics, books, television shows, and movies have been “killing” characters for dramatic affect only to have them re-emerge in the final act.

While this relieves us of our initial emotional sorrow when watching or reading, it is not an accurate reflection of death and its affects in life.

Regardless of whether or not you have religious or spiritual beliefs that give you hope for seeing passed loved ones in another life, death is a closed door. When someone dies, they are not going to show up at your door in thirty years or come speak to you secretly after a few days because they have faked their death as part of a conspiracy plan to save the world.

And by making death not final in fiction, it makes us ill-prepared for death in the real world. Without realizing it, we come to expect unfinalized death.

This week, Cynthia Hurd, Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, and Daniel Simmons Sr. were killed in a tragedy that has raised unanswerable questions, hateful accusations, and indescribable grief for the family and friends of the victims.

Death is terrible. It leaves us feeling hollow, angry, depressed, and a whole host of other emotions we cannot describe.

But it is part of life. To quote a regenerating robot from Battlestar Galactica, “To live meaningful lives, we must die and not return.”* The end of a life is just as important as the beginning of a life even if the end is more painful.

I hope writers of any type of story understand that the correct portrayal of death is not a “downer” or something to be frowned upon. It’s quite the opposite.

Writing about death the way it happens in real life gives us avenues to process and talk through our own pain.

And maybe, just maybe, it can help give us closure.

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*Title taken from Coldplay’s song of the same name.

**Synopsis summarized from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Death_of_Superman.

***Said by a Number Six Cylon named Natalie in season four episode ten of the 2004 television series Battlestar Galactica.

An Analog Thinker in a Digital Age

She sits at a nail salon. She is working on her novel, using pen and paper as a conduit for thoughts and ideas and emotions.

The woman next to her looks at her phone and has headphones on. She pauses only to sign the receipt for her pedicure.

As the woman stares at her screen, reality and the life behind pixels becomes blurred. She scrolls through her Facebook feed and looks at clothing. She hears only the steady beat of music in sync with the rhythm of her heart.

The woman who writes listens to what is happening around her: two people speaking in Chinese, the hum of the air conditioner blowing, and an advertisement playing on the television. She is lost in a world of sounds and sensations inspiring her swiftly scrawling sentences.

Words dance off the pages of her notebook and float around her like fireflies just let loose from a jar. Her notebook now sits on a tree branch with roots spreading around her. The tree leaves drop and melt into ink spots on her page forming new ideas and mysterious places.

Next to her, the woman and her phone are slowly being enclosed in an unseen box. The phone grows tendrils anchoring her and itself to the invisible prison. Lights dim until the only source of illumination is the small screen. More tendrils sprout from her headphones and attach themselves to the box. She is now completely inseparable from the cage she refuses to see.

One woman will always be listening and looking and imaging as she walks through her life–an analog thinker in a digital age. The other will never see the box she lives in–a prisoner of the digital era never to see the light of day.

Home and Now

I remember when I was growing up and moving every few years. People would tell me I was lucky and I was being afforded so many opportunities.

They weren’t wrong. But what they didn’t see was the crying and frustrated questions and pain from a child who just wanted to belong. They didn’t have the memories of her parents (who worked for a non-profit organizations) struggling with money or her older brother trying to understand the political, social, and cultural aspects of a place he was “supposed” to understand because he had been born here.

Those people never saw behind the beautiful red curtain to the chaos of backstage. They didn’t see the truly unglamorous nature of it all.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I have been afforded opportunities to see and do amazing things. I have been given a unique perspective on the world. I see the beauty in other cultures more easily than others might. I understand why cross-cultural anything–politics, families, institutions–will always be more complex than mono-cultural dealings because I’ve experienced it first hand.

I would be a completely different person without my time living between worlds.

But now, as a young adult, I find myself longing for stability. I want to have a tangible answer when people ask me when I will leave Singapore and settle down in the US. I guess I feel like if I’m in one place for longer than four years, I’ll no longer have the awful feeling in my heart of being pulled in all different directions because of all the places the people I love live.

But the truth is my heart will always feel that way. Maybe one day it will be less painful or more manageable. But there will always be a place or a person or a memory tugging at my heart reminding me of who I was, where I’ve come from, and who I am.

It really sucks sometimes but I think I’ll be okay.