Why Mental Illness Is Stigmatised in Asian Cultures: My Struggle With Anxiety

Mention metal illness in Asia and chances are you’ll get odd looks. It’s a topic usually unspoken here and within many Asian cultures, it’s a topic shunned and hushed.

I was born in Australia to stereotypical Chinese-Malaysian parents. No one in my household brought up the subject of mental health when I grew up. For a long time, I thought it couldn’t exist in the family. But earlier this year, I was diagnosed with both social anxiety and panic disorders.

Mental illness is one of life's curveballs, a time when you may feel alone | Weekly Photo Challenge: Curve.

Mental illness is one of life’s curveballs, a time when you may feel alone | Weekly Photo Challenge: Curve.

Anxiety is feeling stressed or worried on an ongoing basis. There are many forms of it, just as there are many kinds of mental illnesses – depression, anorexia, substance addiction and bipolar disorder for instance. Mental illness can affect anyone, and support towards overcoming it is all around today. But for someone from an Asian background, reaching out for that support doesn’t always come easy.

Long-held traditional values play a part in the stigma towards mental illness among many Asians. Admit having depression or anxiety and one may feel as if they are a failure, losing face and pride. In Chinese culture, success is commonly measured by attaining achievements and material possessions, and expressing emotion and thus shortcomings are seen as a disgrace.

Something felt amiss on a 35’C summer’s afternoon a few years ago. I was walking home from university after my last maths tutorial for the day. My head felt dizzy. With each step, my heart pounded faster and sweat dripped down my forehead. With each step, I slowed my pace as a pins and needles sensation overcame my legs. A feeling of impending death and hot flushes washed over me. All the signs of a panic attack. When I walked through the front door, my mum yelled at me, “Why is your face so white?! This is what happens when you walk under the sun! Go shower and then study!”

Many older generation Asians worked hard (from the early days of the Han dynasty where the Chinese tirelessly performed manual labour on farms and irrigation projects) to provide our generation with the modern life we live today. According to professor Amy Chua, Chinese parents tend to emphasise developing a strong character in their children while in contrast Western parents pay more attention to their child’s psyches. In Asian cultures, there is the idea that by working hard, mental illness is a state of mind that cannot not be overcome by conditioning the mind to focus on goals and put aside emotion. Staggering through the door that afternoon, my mum essentially told me: pick yourself up, get on with life.

When we feel down, we might not know where to turn to.

When we feel down, we might not know where to turn to.

Often in Asian cultures, mental illness is also seen as an embarrassment and a burden to others. Family and the notion of togetherness is a virtue to many Asians, the notion that if we’re down, we bring others down too. Shame yourself, shame your family. After that panic attack, I had another one a few months later in a maths lecture. This time I sweated, shook and tried not to throw up over my notes for 20 minutes and did my best to sit upright as the lecturer rambled on about formulas. I didn’t tell my parents or anyone about this that day, and no one reprimanded me for feeling poorly.

Sometimes we don’t talk about mental illness because we’re afraid of it. Illness is commonly tied to the notions of death, decay and evil spirits, and in Chinese culture, talk of either is taboo and avoided as a mark of respect to ancestors. It’s no surprise then some typical Asians find it hard to talk through their state of mind.

Coming from an Asian background and living with mental illness, we might feel constrained from getting help but more importantly, constrained from being ourselves and expressing our voice. We keep quiet about mental illness and in a way we box ourselves into the quiet and passive Asian stereotype. When we continue on the path of hard work and ignore conflicting thoughts racing though our mind, we might believe that perfect is possible – that the (Asian) model minority myth is achievable for everyone.

Quite a few of us will experience mental illness in our lives. Almost 1 in 5 Australians will experience mental illness in a 12-month period. In parts of Asia, a number choose the silent way out when they feel mentally overwhelmed: 90% of suicidal victims in Korea have diagnosable psychiatric illnesses and only 15% seek treatment prior. Around 70 reportedly commit suicide daily in Japan with the majority being men unsure about expressing their emotions.

Consequently, all of us cope differently with mental illness. Some of us have a set of techniques to help us reach a more positive mindset, while some of us need professional help to get there. Sometimes it takes someone to pick at our mind for us to realise we need help. Last year, I went for a job interview and felt chuffed about my responses as I chatted to the employer…all while my legs felt tingly, my chest swelling with impending doom. At the end of the interview, she told me point blank, “You have solid experience and credentials. You are very intelligent, and sometimes intelligent people speak fast. You need to slow down.”

I felt like someone punched me in the face. But I didn’t object because she was right; I struggle to feel comfortable around most people. My mind flashed back to two years ago when I couldn’t walk into a shop without feeling the shop assistants would eat me up – and avoided shopping. To the time when a guy at university fancied me, chased me for two years and I loved it all and him but every morsel in my body screamed “Stay away, stay away!” – for fear of being suffocated by another’s touch, physically and emotionally. Didn’t get the job, didn’t get the guy.

When we reach out and speak to the world, we may see another perspective.

When we reach out and speak to the world, we may see another perspective.

Speaking up has always been alien and nerve-racking to me, and this probably stems from my constant desire to be polite and let others speak, the typical Asian trait my parents taught me…which I still believe in. There’s also not forgetting the times when my white Aussie classmates teased me when I stammered reading aloud books during reading time in pre-school. As author Shannon Alder said about our past experiences:

“Your perspective on life comes from the cage you were held captive in.”

Acknowledging having mental illness as someone of Asian background, we might question the values we were brought up with. We question those closest to us including family and the trust we’ve put in them. As hard as it may be, sometimes we simply have to swallow our cultural pride, forget where we’re from and what we’ve known in order to move forwards. Our background is just one part of us, personality another, and personality we can change.

That sentiment gave me the push to see a psychologist earlier this year. We talked about my panic attacks, how nervous I feel when responding to comments on my blog, how self-doubt puts me off writing my book again and again and ongoing health issues that anxiety has brought me. First world problems. Not once did she – or me – bring up the topic of my heritage. With the help of my therapist who seems like the non-judgmental listening ear I never had, I realised someone’s opinion is their opinion, their values are their values and not necessarily ours. With each generation, our heritage is ours to make and ours to define through our unique experiences.

A different, non-judgmental opinion often helps us look beyond our own mind. But we have to stand up and speak out first. On reaching out, Shannon Alder offers:

“Never give up on someone with a mental illness. When “I” is replaced by “We”, illness becomes wellness.”

Our stories and thoughts are meant to be shared with each another. When we do, more often than not we'll feel loved.

Our stories and thoughts are meant to be shared with each another. When we do, more often than not we’ll feel loved.

Some might say I’m a rebel for seeking help and speaking out about my anxiety based on the fact that I’m Chinese. But fact is, not all of us will fit stereotypes given we have our own strengths and talents, and we all change as people as time goes by. Today, I still have yet to land a stable job, still haven’t gotten the guy. But I’ve built this blog, connected and met you, and it’s still going. None of us are perfect; we’re all a work in progress.

No matter where we come from, perhaps we need to reach out to better ourselves mentally, emotionally. We can’t hide forever about how we feel or who we really are. We’re all meant to love each other and ourselves, and all that’s meant to be shared.

How did you cope with a low point in your life?

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299 thoughts on “Why Mental Illness Is Stigmatised in Asian Cultures: My Struggle With Anxiety

  1. Past me wanted to wrap my arms around you and let you know it was okay, everything was and will be okay. *HUGS* I cant imagine arriving home after your panic attack and being told to shower and study, that would have broken my heart. You really are a little solider Miss Mabel, I admire that you broke the rules, saught help and that you have found a way to keep moving forward and that you are talking about the hard stuff too. When life gets hard for me, I tend to stock the fridge with delicious food, find a tv series that I can escape into and retreat. Sleep as much as possible, because that stops the awful thoughts circling in my brain too.
    I do hope you are doing okay little sis, I think of you often, you are in my prayers for good health and happiness always. Lots of love headed your way. Mwah! xox

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    • You are a great friend and pillar of support, Anna. No wonder you are always the life of the party and you work where you work. You bring sunshine wherever you go. My first panic attack was indeed scary, but I’ve heard about panic attacks before and guessed what was happening. It wasn’t my worst panic attack. One of the worse ones happened right after a job interview when I arrived home and I shook on the floor for an hour. But, like when most of us hit rock bottom, we get up.

      I like your way of cheering yourself up. I am sure that fridge includes some ice-cream, chocolate and more importantly healthy food to keep your body happy. Sleep and rest in bed is always, always a great idea too 😀 Big hugs and lots of kisses right back at you, big sis. What would I do without you 😀 Catch up on IG soon ❤

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  2. Very brave of you to share your own personal struggles about your social anxiety and panic disorder. I myself wouldn’t know what to look for or the signs if I was experience something like that. As for your question about how I cope with a low point in my life. I just keep fighting on and deal with it the best way I can. Probably not the best way to deal with it, but so far it work. Sometime walking and reflecting on the situation also help.

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    • I’ve read about panic attacks before, so when I had my first panic attack I was guessing it was just that. Though I must say part of me did think “Is this the end” and would I trip on to the road ad get run over… When a panic attack comes over you, you do feel out of control.

      Fighting on. That is a strong trait to have, determination. Good for you that it works for you. Sometimes we just need to be alone with our thoughts, no judging around us, in order to work things out and see what matters to us.

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  3. I hope you will be able to let it out despite what people in your culture think about. You will be much better to yourself and the society if you resolve your anxiety and panic disorders. It was nice of you to share these thoughts.

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    • Thanks, Valetina. I often wonder if I will be able to resolve these incidents. My panic attacks do sometimes come out of the blue. Maybe that’s how my body reacts to events around me and that’s the way I am.

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  4. How simply you’ve talked about a major major issue Mabel! Kudos to you… And not for once have you let your illness creep up while you replied gracefully to the several beautiful comments you receive here 🙂
    Yes unfortunately it is true that Asians do not speak or encourage the discussion regarding mental illness, I’ve seen it enough around myself! And we need to break out of this stigma before harming more lives by simply not extending the support! You’ve taken a wonderful first step and as a fellow Asian I stand right behind you.
    With your beautiful thoughts and your lovely attitude towards life, I’m sure you’ll bag both, the job and the guy, son enough… Cheers and have a lovely day dear!

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    • To be honest I felt like I could raise so many more points about the topic of mental health. But maybe for a future post!

      Support is something can make one feel loved and welcomed. I am sorry to hear that those around you think the same of mental health. You are right. If we don’t, some of us might harm ourselves and perhaps even those around us when we feel mentally overwhelmed.

      Thanks for your kind words, Aishwarya. I STILL get the shakes when I respond to comments here and other blogs. But I try 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Mabel, thank you for being so brave and sharing. What you have been through and are still going through is something I know so well. I have had 2 nervous breakdowns in my life both resulting in constant panic attacks and being unable to leave my house without feeling shaky, sweaty and nauseous. It’s a horrible feeling and something that takes time to overcome but I can honestly say you do get through it. Meditation was the number one thing that helped. The second thing was having a job or somewhere to go everyday. Even though it was difficult to get to work sometimes, I found once I got there I felt better because I was distracted and the more I kept doing it, the more the anxiety lessened. Seeing a professional is great and sometimes just talking it out and gaining the knowledge makes all the difference. You have anxiety because you’re a sensitive, wonderful, beautiful human being who is aware of the world around her. There is nothing wrong with this, you just need to find tools or ways to manage it. I am always here if you need to talk about it. Unfortunately it’s a subject I know all too well. Much love to you xx

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    • I am so sorry to hear of your nervous breakdowns. They sound terrifying and I would never wish that on anyone. My therapist did suggest meditation and breathing to help calm nerves, and good to hear they work for you 🙂

      “the more I kept doing it, the more the anxiety lessened”. I think so too, and perhaps the body focuses on “doing” rather than “reacting”. I too have found work distracts me from negative thoughts and instead think of my team. Much love to you too and talk soon x

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  6. Mabel I am standing and cheering. Bravo to you for being brave enough to share your personal struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. My heart ached at the reaction of your Mom even though culturally it might be understandable. I applaud you for reaching out to get the help you need and doing it early on in your life. Although I have not been as brave as you, we share similar struggles. It took me decades to reach our for help. Not only are you getting healthy but you are inspiring others. Sending love , hugs and admiration across the miles. Xoxo

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    • I don’t blame my mum for brushing aside what I have. After all, we all have different perspectives and come from different backgrounds. Now, you ARE brave if not braver than me. You are now living life positively and to the fullest, traveling the world and reaching out to so many bloggers. Love the phrase “…across the miles”.

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  7. Mabel, I’m so happy you feel comfortable talking about these issues here. It’s when we start sharing our stories that we realize just how much support and common ground exists throughout all countries and cultures. Panic and anxiety attacks touch every one of us and I wish you all the best as you work towards balance.

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    • Thanks, Lisa. I am working on getting better each day Sharing is caring, as the cliched saying goes but it is so true. We can all learn from one another, both up and down times. You said it so well.

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  8. Go, Mabel! Way to stand tall and be brave. And no kidding, there is a huge stigma attached to mental health issues. But the more people admit that they, too, have experienced depression (that’s me!) or social anxiety or panic attacks, or borderline personality disorder, the less unusual such an admission becomes. Hopefully more and more people find it less taboo and seek the treatment they need.

    An estimated 35 million Americans use coffee to manage their untreated depression. Only Starbucks wins when my fellow depression sufferers substitute caffeine for psychotherapy.

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    • I hope your depression hasn’t been too bad. But as the strong, independent woman you are, I am not surprised if you are on top of it. Agreed. The more we talk about mental health, the less scary it will be

      Coffee as a means to treat depression? Such an interesting thought. I wonder how…well, I suppose coffee jolts the mind being alert and seeing the real world for the way it is.

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  9. Mabel…I remembered you today morning…for you had mentioned in your last comment on my blog that you’re unwell. Was worried about you and here you are…will read your post later.

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  10. My dear Mabel, I wish I was there to just give you a hug and to tell you that it’s okay, you’re not the only one who feel that way. Yes, there are many of us who struggle with depression and panic attacks. All in various forms. I am also very unsocial and can’t handle too many people around me. When I do have contact with people, I become irritated, impatient and get terrible headaches because all the muscles in my neck tenses up.

    It’s not only in your culture that mental illness is frowned upon. Even here in South Africa most people feel that way. If someone knows that you’ve been seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist, they go around telling people you’re ‘crazy’. Why, I don’t know. These are professional people who only help you talk through your emotions and make you realise that what you’ve been feeling is normal at the time. That you’re not the only one and that you are not alone.

    Some of us have depression because of hormone imbalances or childhood problems. Whatever the case, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. We are all human and it’s like you said, none of us are perfect. Having a mental illness is nothing to be scared, afraid or ashamed of. Panic attacks are awful and I don’t wish that for anyone.

    As always your stunning captures wow me. Absolutely stunning with those reflections and I can see what a sensitive, kind and loving soul you are through them. You see the world through different eyes and the world needs more souls like you dear Mabel.

    We all handle our life situations the best we can and there’s also no shame in that. Some give up and some pushes forward because they are rebels like you. There’s no giving up. Some care, some don’t care, but in the end we are all the same, we’re all connected and we all need love and understanding.

    You hang in there darling. I love your blog and you, your awesome writing talent and your absolutely stunning photography. ♥ Hugs ♥

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    • That is interesting to hear that in South Africa if you have depression or anxiety or anything of the equivalent, you’ll be frowned upon. Perhaps it is due to a lack of education or some prefer to think solely on the positive side of things. “talk through your emotions” I think that is such an important part towards managing any degree of mental illness – we have to understand how we feel in order to find our triggers and why we react that way we do. Though admittedly, sometimes panic attacks can just happen just, like, that – and it’s simply our bodies’ way of reacting to the world.

      Yes. You are so right that hormone imbalances and childhood experiences can affect our mind and the way we act. So too medication that we may take. No wonder we feel so out of control when we have depression or anxiety or panic attacks. Also yes, I would never, ever wish a panic on anyone. Not even my worst enemy.

      Some days I’d rather spend a boring night in sitting on the floor for five hours straight rather than a watching a movie in a theatre or eating in a restaurant 😀

      Thanks, Sonel. I always appreciate every comment from you and my photography can never measure up to yours. So insightful, but above all so honest. Believe it or not, all these shots were taken on the same night. They are composites. I took long exposures and hoped people would walk by…and they did 😀

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      • I think it’s all over Mabel. I think it’s not where people come from, but the way they think and of course their culture that makes the difference. I also think it’s a lack of education and empathy that make people react that way. Yes, it does help to stay positive but you can only do that when you have the support of your loved ones and of course when nothing serious happens to upset that equilibrium to try to keep up. I have depression and are not on any medication as nothing works and with the CFIDS and menopause it’s sometimes a battle, but my loved ones keeps me going and of course my camera. 😀

        I totally agree on that. It’s easier to treat a disease or symptoms when you know what it is. When you don’t know, it drives you crazy and it worsens the problem.

        In this fast paced world of ours, it’s not strange that many people do have panic attacks Mabel. Lots of people are working 2 jobs or the work of 2 people and everything is becoming more expensive and the economy is up to you-know-what, etc. etc. So yes, our bodies want to tell us to slow down and relax, but we can’t or won’t.

        In a way I am glad that no meds help for me, especially when I see all the side-effects most of the meds have. It doesn’t help treating one condition and in the end you have to be treated for the side-effects as well.

        When you do that, you are actually meditating and it’s good. It’s the same when I sit and watch the birds enjoying their food I give them every day. I can sit and watch them for hours. 😀

        You are very welcome and no ways! You are an excellent photographer and if I can take photos like you, I’d be a very happy lady.

        They are simply amazing Mabel and they all tell a different story. I just love it. 😀 ♥

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        • So glad to hear that you do not need medication to help you with your depression, Sophia. As you said, sometimes they give us side effects which may do us more harm than good. Then there is also not forgetting that these medications give the wallet a beating too.

          Support can certainly be a valuable thing to have in challenging times, and glad you have that. A simple hug or touch can mean so much in hard times. Sometimes even someone’s presence can make us feel so much better.

          Health issues over the last few months have probably hit my mind a bit more. In some ways it has been frustrating getting checked out over and over, but my therapist has helped me stay positive. As she suggested to me, if you can’t change or control something then don’t think about it.

          Mr Wobbles likes to think he is a good support to me through all of this. He tries to smile 24/7 😀 Haha, I do have a looonnggg way to go before I can call myself a photographer. But thanks, Sonel. You are very kind ❤

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          • Some days I wish I could Mabel, but I get through it with the help of lovely blogging friends like you and my loving family. I am one of the lucky ones. 😀

            Oh yes, you can say that again. We don’t have medical aid, so if we need to, we have to go as state patients.

            That is so very true and a hug or touch and love definitely helps a lot. Some aren’t that lucky or blessed.

            I am very glad to hear that and yes, that is the best advice ever. Sometimes we tend to overthink.

            I am very glad Mr Wobbles is there for you. He is such a darling monkey. Smiles definitely go a long way. 😀

            Oh no, I think you are a great photographer. One of the best I’ve seen. Believe me. ♥

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  11. The way your mother reacted when you walked in sweaty and thingly reminded me of all the times my mom has treated me the same way. I can laugh about them now, only because so much time has passed. I could never be sick from school. Truly. I know you understand. I remember my mom dragging me to school while I kept saying with my head hung low, “I’m sick. I’m sick.” and it wasn’t until I threw up just before we got to the classroom door did she finally say, “You’re sick. What are you doing? You need to be in bed!”

    I think part of the reason why Asians stigmatise metal illnesses is because Asian cultures are a collective, nationalistic culture. Unlike Western countries that pride individualism. As a result, Asians are family-oriented. We help each other out. So it seems odd to have someone who doesn’t fit into the community or have some sort of role that everyone respects on a particular level. Hence, why you rarely see a homeless Asian. We take care of our own, etc.

    In any case, I can only imagine how terrified you were to hit ‘publish’ on this post. But, you have such a strong following and everyone will be cheering for you. I wish you wouldn’t be so hard on yourself. Maybe you should bring up your heritage w/ the psychiatrist. It seems very important, don’t you think? Maybe your family is pressuring you too much. I don’t know. Only you know.

    To be honest, I feel like I’ve learned to accept and navigate low points as best as I can. Things were much worst when I was younger, and things have pretty much gotten easier (if I can say that). Email me if you want to chat in more details, no pressure though. The door is open. xxoo

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        • i don’t want to sound rude here but there are different parenting behaviors classified as abusive not by me but by mental health professionals such as psychologists. If you google types of child abuse you will see.

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          • True that. Sometimes ignoring a child’s needs is not the best solution. Not all of us can help ourselves. The ideal scenario would be something like, “you help me, I help you” or “help me help you”.

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    • I am sorry to hear that your mum took you all the way to school when you were in no condition to. But, yes, I understand. The only time my mum allowed me to stay home sick from school was when I had a 39’C+ fever coupled with chills. And she always demanded antibiotics from the doctor for me. “Sick” in our parents’ eyes means when you cannot physically go the geographical distance anymore.

      “…Hence, why you rarely see a homeless Asian. We take care of our own,” Spot on and you say it so much more eloquently than me (and for that reason I cannot wait to read your Asian American book). A great observation. You know, even if we hate each others’ guts, we help each other out. Because if we don’t, there is a stigma against that as well.

      You know me well. It was scary to hit publish and let this baby fly. I have wanted to write about this for a while, but the timing never felt right until recently. Perhaps one day I will bring up my background with my psychologist. We seem to be working together well. I wonder if she will read this – I told her about my blog 😀

      Love how you touch on your low points in your first book, Lani. Love how you kept on going and trusted your instincts and now you are a published author. Yes, we will chat soon x

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      • Glad to hear that you told your psych that you have a blog! Quit pressuring me to write this damn book 😛 Seriously, it’s s l o w going, but I’ve decided to take the pressure off of myself, ask for help and try new things. I have to, otherwise I’ll go crazy about not having done more. Ug.

        No worries about my mom. It was so long ago. Thanks though! And cheers for writing this post! xxoo

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        • Lol I am not pressuring you to write your next book, Lani. Take your time. I think we are on the same page on writing our books. Ever since the health issues have cropped up this year, I have been pushing it further and further way…and by doing other things I find that I am living important stories, stories to be told

          Talk soon x

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  12. Hello Mabel,
    It was a really informative post from you, and I can understand what you are trying to say about the Asian mindset. In our country also people shy away from expressing their anxieties and hence suffer from mental illness. Generally the reason is they believe that mental disorder or illness means that they are crazy or mad, which is not true. They take it to their ego and hence avoid its treatment..
    Thank you for this..
    Shreyans

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    • Thanks, Shreyans. “means that they are crazy or mad, which is not true” So true. So many are quick to jump to this conclusion in Asia. The way we think can change. I think a lot of us are afraid of what others will of us and so are hesitant to seek help for mental illness. I hope it is not something that has affected you. You have deep, meaningful thoughts in your posts, so I hope not…

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      • Not up to that level, but at one point of time i too had these issues and the worst part is you can not talk about it, because if you do then you are definitely crazy. But I soon came out of it, and the thing which helped me was knowledge. When you try to find the answers then you will definitely get them…
        You also mentioned that you too came out of such situation, which is great and we need to create such conditions that people don’t shy away from these things..
        Thank you Mabel, you always bring something different and important..
        Shreyans

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  13. Mabel- you know I love you. You stand tall and share interesting and difficult topics. Insightful and strong. A brave woman much needed in this world.

    You must know that mental illness is too little talked about in the whole world. And yet, this something that hits or touches us all. It is the most common illness in Sweden. And in a job interview it would mean not getting the job if you talked about it…

    I have had two exhausting depressions – both from tge combo too much work with studying simultaneously. You know: being the good a nd industrious woman, always on top. My two children have unfortunately inherited this trait of wanting to always work hard and stay on top – not feeling when their bodies and minds tell them “enough”. No pressure from my family on me and I put no pressure on my children. Somehow we do that to ourselves. I do not know how or why. A difficulty in saying “no”? I and my two children are struggling to say “no” more often, and as the years go by, we are improving. My son is not very social and has experienced panic attacks, but went to a very good psychiatrist and got help. My daughter is very shy, but working on it. Both are very intelligent, IT- graphic and dentist.

    In a way I believe deep thinking people are the ones more likely to have mental problems, but it might also work the other way around. Anyway, artistic and creative people often suffer from various mental problems – have you noticed that? When you manage to take control of this, you can use it in your creativity. So, try to look at it in more positive way (not easy), and use professional help if needed! In this crowded and intricate society it woukd be strange if people did not feel dizzy sometimes. I do not believe we were made for this …

    My remedies have always been walking in the forest, cleansing my brain and mind. And writing poetry.

    Love you, Mabel. Believe me, believ e in yourself. Because we all admire you. You are an astonishing young woman.

    Have a great midsummer weekend. This waa written on my tiny phone, so there might be some words missing or spelling mistakes…

    And Mabel, a dinner with you is at the highest on my wishing list…

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    • Sorry to hear that in Sweden mental illness is frowned upon. Maybe one day that will change. The younger generation these days are more open to acknowledging it, talking about it and getting help. That is exactly what your son and daughter are doing, and it is so encouraging to hear them become more confident about who they are and how their body responds to the world and events around them.

      It sounds like you work very hard, and that is a good trait to have. But sometimes, our asset and strength can be a double-edged sword. Too much of anything isn’t good. So glad to hear you got out of your depressions and come out stronger. From your blog, it looks like these days you are taking things slower and more importantly enjoying what you are doing – like teaching and photography. And your love for it, and contentment, shines through. And for that reason, I think it is important each of us do something we love and it will keep our mind away from negative thoughts.

      Such an interesting observation. I do remember reading about creative people experiencing mental illness a while back, it was such a great article. You would think that with deep thoughts one would be more in tune with their emotions. But the challenge is often putting some emotions out in words – some things can only be felt with the heart.

      I am flattered that you want to have dinner with me, Leya. I will buy you the meal. Anything you want. And for writing on such a tiny phone. You know, your mistakes are what makes you you, and they sound like cool-speak 😀 Thank you so much. I would be honoured to meet you one day. I think I will be star-struck.

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  14. Growing up in an extended Chinese family (with a strong medical element), mental illness was always discussed with hushed tones. Especially depression because in those days ECT was a commonly used tool to manage depression in certain patients. The most we would hear would be such and such has had a break down and as a child I never really understood what a break down was.
    Thanks Mabel for sharing your situation. Isn’t better now to live in a day and age when mental illness is more open. That said, I’m sure there are still many traditional Chinese people who will keep it quiet.

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    • I had to google ECT there…I come from a Chinese family with a strong accounting and numbers element. That does not sound like a pleasant way to manage mental illness. In my family, break down would mean living on the streets, and as Lani said earlier, you rarely see an Asian homeless person

      Thanks Gary for sharing too. Sharing is caring as cheesy as it sounds, and I hope more Chinese – and the general Asian population speak up about this topic.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. You are very brave for bringing this topic up. It is really hopeful to see asian people who face reality (because mental illnesses are part of our lives or the lives of those around us) instead of the usual reaction:
    1.denial
    2.minimizing
    3. trying to save face at all costs

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  16. This is all news to me. I never heard that mental illness is looked down upon (so seriously).

    Yes, you can have people not give you respect and all, but never thought they can make you feel so ashamed of yourself.

    Sad to read your story. I feel if you can cope with your self esteem, nobody can make you feel bad about yourself. That’s my take on it.

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  17. Reading this narrative of yours engenders the feeling of being a counsellor listening to one of his wards. You are quite right about the stigma a mental illness carriers in Asian societies, which is why legions of people hush up such issues and remain silent sufferers through life.

    But these attitudes are gradually changing as people now speak up if they face problems and seek professional help where routine remedies are not working. And you, dear Mabel, have done exactly that in taking the initiative to seek help. It may also be reassuring for you to know that there are many out there with similar handicaps; while some, like myself, manage to cope with it and mostly overcome it, others tend to brush it below the carpet, wherefrom it resurfaces in varying intensities through life’s challenges.

    Like you, I have also suffered from anxiety disorders and phobias. While I have successfully tackled my social anxieties to a great extent, my claustrophobia is an issue even now. I am still not comfortable getting into elevators and squeezing through narrow spaces. In case the elevator stops midway through mechanical failure, I can go into spasms and excessive sweating. It is the same in dark and narrow spaces, like, for instance, entering a cave. So I avoid getting into buildings with old elevators, badly lit and narrow spaces, to the extent possible.

    Anxieties are basically caused by chemical imbalance in the brain; it can be sorted out through regular outdoor exercise (regular hourly walks in the morning are more than enough), following your passions, and frequent healthy interaction with others, as these are all beneficial in building up endorphin and oxytocin levels in the body. Keep doing all this and you will be more than fine…best wishes.

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    • I am flattered you get the impression this piece reads from a counsellor’s perspective. I really am, and I actually think that in order for any of us to work on our state of mind, we have to step away and look at ourselves with new eyes.

      You are right in that these mental challenges may appear again. For some of us, it will be with us for as long as we live – and we simply have to find ways to cope and press on in life.

      It is very brave of you to admit you have claustrophobia, and good to hear that you know how to keep it at bay. It is understandable to hear you explain it – being in small spaces, we have less space to move around. Some might think that is cozy, but sometimes the smaller the space the less room we have to go the distance, literally and metaphorically.

      I like your scientific take on why mental illness may come around. It can be true, and at different stages and ages of our lives we may be more susceptible to it. You too keep doing what you love, Raj. Best wishes to you too.

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  18. Thanks for being so brave and fighting the stigma by sharing your story. I love your pics of the Yarra – so crisp and beautiful. I’ve struggled with depression most of my life, and I have figured out a few strategies for felling better – like physical exercise, reminding myself the feelings are temporary. You are right though that connection with other people is the most important thing.

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    • Sorry to hear you have depression, Maamej. But glad to know that you have learnt what makes you tick. “the feelings are temporary” Well said. This is such an important thing to remember. Although for some of us mental illness is a lifelong thing, some moments in our lives will be easier than others and it’s important to look ahead and tell ourselves there’s always a good day around the corner.

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  19. hey nothing to feel ashamed about. Intelligent people are often misunderstood. Our brains move at a much different pace than the average human being. And that is something good, not bad. The part where we need to adjust, is just simply understanding and respecting that others might have trouble keeping up. So with a humble mindset, and doing our best to communicate in a simpler way helps alot. Worrying about failure is normal. It means you want to succeed. But if you fail, it’s not the end of the world. I failed many times. It’s the failures that have taught me how to approach things better, what not to do, and eventually finding my answers. If ever you feel anxiety overwhelm you, just take a deep breath, slow down, and realise, you control your life’s outcome. Find a way. There’s always a way. Be a problem solver. 90% is of your life’s outcome is in your control, 10% is external factors. Focus on that 90%, that’s all that matters. Block out the noise, haters gonna hate. Find the people who will support you, plain and simple. Proof to the haters you can conquer what life and society says you cannot do. Doing that, in itself, you will start to find a like minded support crew gathering around you.

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    • “Intelligent people are often misunderstood.” And so are deep thinkers and the artistically creative. The world we live in is a rather monotonous one where majority of people follow a routine as they go about work and the way their approach their lives. Sometimes it’s no wonder some look down on those who are a bit more anxious than them or write them off easily as weak.

      It sounds like you have managed the hard times well, and those are some realistic tips to keep calm and reassess where we are, and how to move ahead. Just like the job interviewer told me, slow down. You are right in that there is always a way, and when we slow down we start to see what we have and we can then think of how to move forwards. I have no qualms about turning my back on the naysayers, but it can be hard when those who once supported you and you have faith in them decide to turn the other way one day. Still, nothing really ever comes easy in life – it is up to us to work for it. Thank you, Joshua.

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    • Thanks, Marta. It hasn’t been an easy road but I am determined to get better. I don’t know about my book but if it does come out, it will be like very sweet icing on top of a cake 😀

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  20. I have to think you are already stronger, more capable, and ahead of the game since you have built a successful blog and all the attendant connections to people across the world. I know it’s easier to do that sometimes than to do it in person, but it’s certainly a great first step! It takes courage to open yourself up to both your own resistant cultural norms and to strangers, and I hope you draw strength and confidence from that.

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    • I feel very humbled that people read my blog, whether if they read it regularly or stop by just for one post. Writing is how I feel I can best express myself, and I touched whenever someone leaves a comment – ultimately I do hope to inspire others to be who they are themselves. While responding to comments makes me nervous, the thought of not writing makes me even more nervous. Thanks, Lexklein, for your support.

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  21. Hi Mabel, mental disorders are often unaddressed because of self-denial, lack of knowledge and yes, cultural inhibitions. you are truly admirable for recognizing your weaknesses early on and addressing it properly by seeking professional help. I have my bouts of anxieties but am blessed to have a wonderful support group that provides love, compassion and understanding. you are on spot that we are meant to love one another and ourselves. that our stories are meant to be shared. great blog, as always. hugs 🙂

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    • A lot of the time I wished I sought help earlier. However, with professional help comes more bills and for a long time I simply could not afford it.

      Good to hear you have support around you. That can make all the difference in the world and they can be our light in the darkest of times. In short, they can be our hope and the ones that we live for. Thanks for your encouragement, Lola. So kind as always 🙂

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  22. Thank you for the brave post that you shared. I honestly wish I could climb through the computer screen and give you a big hug. You should never be ashamed of it. You are a lovely person and that’s all that counts. In South Africa, having a psychological disorder is seen as taboo, well, for older generations. However, my generation seems to create their own mental disorders all the time. While studying for my undergrad, and having my mom work at the psychological department at the university, I heard a good few people say “ugh, I need a psychologist because I’m depressed because it’s raining today. FML” or some other stupid excuse like that, but you could hear it was in a humorous way…

    From a young age, I’ve dealt with PTSD as well as bouts of anxiety… people would think I was overreacting but I couldn’t control it. I was fortunate enough to receive help from an amazing psychologist who worked with my mom and my PTSD is much better now, but occasionally kicks in… As for anxiety, well, that’s something that’s harder to deal with… Derek always thinks I’m overreacting when I feel my anxiety kicking in, but I think that’s more due to his traditional upbringing… it does make me a bit irritated though.

    I just want to let you know that if you ever want to talk, I am here ❤ I know we aren't super duper close or something, but I'm here if need be ❤

    Take care

    xoxo

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    • I have never heard about mental illness being taboo in South Africa until fellow blogger Sonel over there mentioned it in the previous comments. Now you said it too, but so glad that times are changing with the younger generation. However, it is sad to hear that some like to joke around about needing a psychologist. It goes to show that while mental health is more talked about, some of us might not understand just how serious it can be for some of us.

      Thanks so much for sharing, Eleni. PTSD does not sound fun at all and so glad you are getting better at managing it. You have a great supportive team there who are the kind who won’t panic when PTSD apprears out of the blue (anxiety can do that too). It sounds like Derek is learning about it, and I hope he is also supportive of it all too.

      You are very kind, lovely. Hope to chat with you over Fb or IG some time. I have always been inspired by how many things you do and how many places you go to and be such a goof partner to Derek. I can learn from that. You take care ❤

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  23. Glad you are managing your condition effectively, Mabel.

    As for managing my low point, I have shut out sad people or maintain minimal contact with people who have given me course for concern. Negative energy is draining. Some people are high octane. There are others who take but give little.

    I have taken a liking for spa facilities but I have neglected it of late.

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    • I agree with you that negative energy can be draining. It not only brings up self-doubt but sometimes it can stop us completely in our tracks.

      A spa sounds like relaxing way to pass the time and calm yourself. It’s not for me, though. I am not a fan of being in water apart from being in the shower 😀

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  24. Hi Mabel,

    So sorry to get here so late…last night I was too tired to open my laptop.
    I can relate to these emotions so much as my culture too looks down upon those who mention the word ‘mental illness’…nobody can dare to share it openly and those who venture to get professional help are shunned, talked about and called ‘insane!’ No wonder the number of suicides is so high in Asian countries, many of which could have been avoided if help was sought.

    The disintegration of joint families too has escalated small mental illnesses, which could be worked through just with sharing and mentoring. Panic attacks or stress just calls for reassurance and moral support initially; they only become big issues when they are not dealt with on daily basis with loving advice. I had to steer my children through stressful situations many times when they were aiming to achieve high, trying to cope with the competition around them.

    I am glad you have got professional help. I know we can cope up with such phases as we go through such facets of life many times. Our own expectations and disappointments push us into those chasms. Just a loving hand behind us can do wonders. Sometimes that hand has to be that of our psychologist or psychiatrist.
    My best wishes dear Mabel and hugs. Look at the sky…even the setting sun is so beautiful and leaves us with the promise of another day, another hope. 🙂 🙂

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    • No need to apologise, Balroop. Sometimes life calls and we have to attend to what we have to do and most importantly, make sure we are loved and are okay 🙂

      Insane is certainly what many in my culture too describe anyone who says they have anxiety or depression – and anyone who is in a mental facility would be crudely referred to as that and “crazy”.

      Good to hear that you looked out for your children, Balroop. Sometimes some of us work too hard or get too focused on a few things that it’s not good for our state of mind.

      Competition is an interesting word. With competition we compare ourselves to others. That can encourage us to improve our skills. But we may then compare ourselves too hard and if we don’t measure up to someone else, we might be very hard on ourselves.

      Thanks, Balroop. Your support over these couple of years means a lot to me. I have been inspired by your writing and hope to be a published author like you some day 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  25. I’m so proud of you for writing about this, Mabel! Whenever you respond to a comment you are so polite, thorough and kind, that it never occurred to me that it might cause you angst to do so. My son-in-law has a serious mental health problem and it’s been painful watching him and my daughter try to deal with the restrictions it imposes on their life. They’re very lucky that their love is strong because the illness is destructive. I’m so glad you sought help, and I hope you find your special someone some day. 🙂

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    • I sincerely hope your son-in-law gets better soon and finds his way. It sounds like a challenging time but with conditional love and support, hopefully things will get better soon.

      Thanks for your kind words, Jo. There are times when I will sit and think for ages on how to reply to a comment, whether on my blog or after reading another blogger’s post. It is something I am working on. You take care and best wishes to your family 🙂

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  26. Everything will be alright Mabel. Why can I say this? Well because I suffered in a similar way.

    You probably still remember that my health wasn’t really as it should be last year till the beginning of the year. I won’t go into too much detail what all happened but at two occasions I was in intensive care at the hospital without much strength to continue the fight.

    As you might guess this caused a lot of mental stress and my psychologist found out that I suffered already before my illness with some form of depression which might very well have come from the time I gave up swimming due to all kinds of injuries and not seeing any success with it any longer. Anyways, with my illness the symptoms got worse and I also developed social anxiety and panic disorders that I could not even go to city for some groceries without breaking down. This all changed for the better when my health improved plus the good work of my psychologist (no need to mention the meds which are on a decreasing level now).

    This all showed me that something like this can get better. I know that there are many more severe cases than me which probably never can be helped/ cured. However there is in most of the times always a way to deal with it, learn how to overcome it and be hopefully without any symptoms later on.

    In my case is also something which worries me a lot as one of my uncles suffered extremly under the same symptoms and developed later on a drastic bipolar disorder until his untimely death so many years ago as he had in his eyes nothign to lose anymore…

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    • It sounds like a very hard time you went through last year, physically, mentally and emotionally, and I am very sorry to hear that you had to go through. Having a physical condition can certainly rub off on our state of mind, as in big changes in life. Your experiences remind me of Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe who a few years ago opened about about his depression, which I think has to do partly with the hard swimming training lifestyle.

      It is brave of you to share your story, Crazy. Being unable to do everyday normal things can be crippling. But you got help and came out the stronger end. Good on you. It amazed me last year that you actually blogged around once a week last year. I suppose that kept your hopes up then – in a way perhaps that was your constant through the challenging times.

      Okay. Yes, things will get better. It’s a bit hard to see now due to my health issues (I talk about it on my IG) but I am taking each day one day at a time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah I remember Ian thorpes case, was all over the media.

        I was only able to post regularly last year because I had back than so many ready blog posts / near ready drafts so I didn’t really had to do much. Nevertheless I wasn’t able to keep up my two blog posts per week schedule and thus far I haven’t picked it up yet.

        All the best for you, it will all work out in the end you will see 🙂

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        • Recognising having a problem is one thing, and the road to recovery is another. The blog must have kept you company when you were trying to get better 🙂 The road to recovery looks long for me, what with the side health issues and other things too. It feels like I’m in a tunnel but there is no light at the front or back.

          But in the end, I do believe it will all be okay. Thanks, Crazy. I trust you 😀

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          • Just do your very best, afterall we all depend on your regular blog posts and are waiting for your book! Nah don’t want to give you pressure, was just joking. Take your time and work things out, the heart and mind can only take so much

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            • Lol, Crazy. Last year I thought by now I would be shopping around for a publisher. Well, still a long way to go. But as cheesy as this sounds, health is wealth and hopefully things will be better soon. At this rate, your book will be out first 😀

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  27. You’re probably right. The only “mental illness” that we acknowledge is called “gone insane”, like stabbing yourself with a knife or setting fire to your own home. Those would need to be hospitalized in Tanjung Rambutan or Arkham Asylum.

    As for the symptoms you mentioned above, it is probably more commonly known over here as “worrying too much”. We don’t seek help not because it is embarrassing, but I suspect it is because we don’t see that as an illness, but more of a bad habit/state of mind. And… you know how Asian parents deal with bad habits. Yeah, “go shower and go study, stop thinking too much!”

    I think if you are at a stage where you realize you have these depression or anxiety problems, couldn’t you just, self help? Like, give yourself pep talks to snap yourself out of it? I have actually never explored what kind of help you can get for these. If you see a psychiatrist, isn’t that what he/she does? Pay them bucket load of cash to have them talk you through it? That’s another problem for the typical Asian mind. Pay loads of money for someone to have a personal chat with me? Well, thanks anyway. 🙄

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    • Gone insane. I’ve heard of insane, but haven’t heard of “gone insane” in such a long time. Gila or chi seen (黐线), as Malaysians would say if you dare to say you have anxiety or depression.

      I have tried self-help by reading motivational books, but like a lot of people I felt they come with their own biases. You can also say the same about psychologists and therapists too, but you’d trust they are professionals…

      Part of me does think about the loads of money I pay to my therapist. But the other part of me has always been curious about this kind of therapy.

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  28. A very interesting insight into what makes you tick, Mabel. I really love the Shannon Alder quote. I always enjoy reading your blog posts. You put so much thought into what you write and are obviously a highly intelligent woman. Maybe you’re like my daughter, a perfectionist, and ask too much of yourself. She finds it very hard to relax and just ‘be’. She is always striving to be better at everything she does, and worrying about the future. She has recently started going to an adult ballet and tap dance class, and I think this has helped her to relax a bit more. I don’t know what you do for recreation, but maybe you should consider something similar; perhaps even yoga. Thanks for sharing with us. I wish only the best for you. *hugs*

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    • Thanks, Sylvia. You are right in saying that I am a perfectionist like your daughter. When I am doing something I will often stick at it for a stretch until I am done with it – no matter how long it will take me.

      Good to hear your daughter has found relaxation in ballet. It sounds like good fun, and I hope she enjoys it 🙂 Thanks for the kind words, Sylvia. You are very kind. In my spare time, I really just like siting around and listening to music and singing along off-key 😀

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  29. This article really resonates with me, as someone who has had depression and lives with anxiety everyday. I think today most people still stigmatise it, because they don’t understand it. It’s something we learn how to cope with everyday. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Mabel, especially on a topic that is not very often talked about. X

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    • I am sorry to hear you have depression and anxiety so often, and reading about it on your blog, glad you have found ways to cope with them. Understanding mental illness can be hard because it is so different for each of us. But the more we speak up, the more we can help each other help ourselves x

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  30. it is good of you to share this. here i have found that mental or physical illness, big or small, others can’t understand or relate to it unless it happens to them.
    btw lovely reflections in the pictures and your comments are always so nice, honest and positive 🙂
    take care 🙂

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    • Thanks, Joshi. You are very kind to stop by and read. Mental illness is different for each individual but the more we share our stories, the more we will learn about it all. The weather – and the universe – was nice to me the night I took these (composite) photos 🙂

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  31. Mabel, how brave you are to write this!! Do your parents read your blog? Does this post bring them “shame” if they have? I am in absolute awe of you right now, coming forth like you are admitting what you are struggling with. There is NO shame in that, only COURAGE. When we admit our weakness or that which is very troubling to us, we empower ourselves to take charge to change.

    When we understand why we have these conditions to deal with, we can then move forward in growing in ways so that we no longer have these debilitating conditions. I would never have guessed how you feel about comments. Never! You come across as intelligent, warm hearted, kind, and very open. I struggled for most of my life with panic disorder and I used to be so afraid of being out in public.

    Since I have really grown in the self confidence department, I do not have panic as often and when I do I know both what to do and how to get out of it. As for people, I don’t care anymore what others think of me. Although I must admit I do fall back into my old patterns of feeling not good enough and “what if …” type of thinking and right away I catch myself. If others cannot accept me for who I am, too bad. Did you read my post “Fear Defeated”? If you haven’t I urge you to do so to get an idea of the tough challenges I have overcome and still overcoming.

    I AM JUST SO PROUD OF YOU! You are breaking the “silence” which is so so so difficult to do!! I know!! I have begun to break the “silence” in my own life and, Mabel, you mark my words, a day will come when you will not be plagued by these conditions you write. I don’t like to use labels such as mental illness. We ALL have aspects to improve in our Lives. ❤

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    • As far as I know, my parents are not aware of my blog. My parents were never supportive of me doing a Bachelor of Arts in university (they are a big believer that number and science rule the world), and to appease them I majored in applied maths so that my degree wasn’t “a waste” in their eyes. Though I got distinction in maths, I enjoyed my arts subjects a lot more. They aren’t keen on me writing for nothing in return and so I don’t talk much about my writing at home – I don’t see the point of fighting fire with fire and getting my anxiety all worked up.

      “What if…” I think a lot of us think that than we like to admit. I read your “Fear Defeated” post. Such a great read and good to hear you have overcome so much pain and learnt to ignore the naysayers. What they think is their problem and it is so nice to see you give yourself attention and self love – and doing what is important to you to get away from negative thoughts.

      If you can see the light, I can too. Meantime, I will take my time and move along, move forwards. All you have to do is try ❤

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      • How sad that your parents don’t understand that real happiness is attained by doing what you LOVE to do. My mother is very similar in this regard in that, she too is very much work orientated. This is how I grew up and I have been getting away from this philosophy all my Life. I tend to be a workaholic and must still to this day remind myself to stop to enjoy the NOW moment and do what I LOVE to do. So, I have designed a Life where all I do, even if it is work, is something I LOVE to do. You can scratch off housework and cleaning off that list because I do not like doing those things yet I must in order to maintain a semblance of clean and order in my home. Since the beautiful weather has been here, I have put cleaning way down on my priority list and instead have been outside enjoying every moment I can.

        Mabel, you ARE seeing the Light!!! Just because you are still struggling with some inner aspects of yourself does not mean you are not seeing the Light. These things are like a grain of sand in an oyster shell in order to irriatate to get that perfect Pearl. You keep on improving yourself, and you live YOUR Life according to how you want. This is not your parents’ Life, remember that. And no guilt over that either. You have every right to be YOU and if you don’t fully know who that is, you will find out on the Path you are walking.

        Keep on going, dear friend. You’ll make it. Money is NOT the all powerful goal we attain in Life. No. Yes it is good to have for without it one cannot live too well. When we create that is where our JOY and Happiness exists and the more we create the more that JOY permeates our every cell. Much Love to you!!! ❤

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        • “stop to enjoy the NOW moment and do what I LOVE to do” This is such an important mindset, to enjoy the now and I think some with depression or mental illness forget about that. I think I do. But I’m learning and making improvements. I think the trick is to do one thing at a time and as you said, prioritise the things that make us happy and things that aren’t that pressing. That way we can focus more on doing than worrying on achieving everything.

          YOU are the LIGHT, Amy. Not just for me but for so many other bloggers around the world too. It amazes me of the physical and mental challenges you have overcome and to be able to go out into the world and do what you love, and share it on your blog – it is inspiring. Thank you for leading the way for all of us, and I will keep creating ❤

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          • Mabel, you give me far too much credit. We ALL are the Light, and if you see inspiration and encouragement in me and what I post, then I am pleased that my Life and my Art assist you. The more we overcome those things that hold us back to embracing all of us, the more freedom we give to us. The stages or steps to Freedom are often difficult, scary, and far from easy, yet when we continue to be determined to call all of us back, we in looking back truly are amazed by our progress. You keep on peeling those layers back in order to reveal the true beautiful you. Bless you, dear friend, on your Sacred Journey! ❤

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            • “We ALL are the Light” Ever so inspiring you are, Amy. I hope you keep on sharing your light with us – I love how you write certain words in capitals. Some might think it is shouting…yes it is, but positivity needs to be shared.

              Thank you, my friend, for lighting the way. I’ll always be cheering in your corner ❤

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              • When I put words in capitals, I am emphasizing that word as if I am speaking and putting more emphasize on it. There is no bold feature with these comments so I capitalize. If others interpret that as shouting, so be it. I write with emotion and straight from my Heart. This is who I am. 🙂 ❤

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                    • Honey, walk away from the labeling. This in of itself only feeds into those aspects of yourself that you wish to change. When we put a label on things and reinforce that label, our thinking becomes negative. See what you label as “mental illness” rather as a Gift for you to discover yourself more deeply and more intimately. Own your anxiety, your panic and thank them for teaching you what is for you to learn. Bless you, Mabel! ❤

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  32. Now, that you have published this post, hope you’ll look into supportive counselling. Does your employer offer a employee benefit for counselling services?

    Start not with a psychiatrist, since they inevitably prescribe a drug. Try a non-drug licensed counsellor. I benefited from 1 yr. of counselling in my lst yr. of university. There were a whole hosts of issues..the counselling gave me the inner strength.to leave home and transfer to another university. But life can/does have hurdles in a few decades.

    Having panic attacks doesn’t sound like fun.
    Methinks stigma of mental illness is also in other societies. But yes, I would aim to find a counsellor that is experienced/attuned to cross-cultural matters. The dynamic between yourself and counsellor is very important.

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    • My current employer does offer counseling services, but as I am not a permanent staff member that option is not open to me. It is interesting to see that therapy for mental health comes at a bit of a cost in Australia. If you don’t hold down a stable job, it can be hard to afford.

      Good to hear you got something out of counselling. Talking through your feelings can be hard but it sounds like for you, it has helped you move forward. That’s what I’m doing with my current therapist – talking through what’s on my mind. It is rather challenging in a way for me, since I feel writing is the best way I can express myself. She has never pushed me to do anything, but rather, suggested.

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      • Same problems in Canada since counselling is not universally covered in our public health care system if one doesn’t have benefit. However for low income folks, in some big cities there may be some non-profit organizations with trained staff.

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        • There is only so much one can get out of one-off, free counseling services. Many universities in Australia do offer this service but often it’s hard to get an appointment and there is no guarantee you can get the same counselor the next time round.

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          • I was a university when I took advantage of my benefit as a paying student to use university’s services. I regretted not taking advantage of athletic facilities there, but in hindsight I took advantage of counselling for help.

            Canada normally doesn’t offer that type of free counselling to general public at the universities. Instead for work co-op programs for graduate students in social work, etc., they would do internships at non-profit organizations, etc.

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            • “As far as I know, my parents are not aware of my blog. My parents were never supportive of me doing a Bachelor of Arts in university (they are a big believer that number and science rule the world), and to appease them I majored in applied maths so that my degree wasn’t “a waste” in their eyes. Though I got distinction in maths, I enjoyed my arts subjects a lot more. They aren’t keen on me writing for nothing in return and so I don’t talk much about my writing at home – I don’t see the point of fighting fire with fire and getting my anxiety all worked up.”

              I agree, there’s no point trying to change their mind. It is IF your plan to use your gift of writing as a method of public advocacy for whatever issues that may affect them personally. Then they may realize the gift of words…can have the power to change minds of others.

              I am different from my siblings..that I was the only child of 6 to pursue a humanities/arts degree in English literature. Then a MA in library infomation science which allowed me to use skills for job market. This degree does have a strong element of advocacy for clients which requires strong commication skills and how to persuade others.

              Rethink the gift of writing..it is an extension of your blog writing…. Just a thought for the long term future.if your gift is needed one day. And it will be needed. Believe me.

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              • It is great that you followed your heart, Jean. You come across as a person with wholehearted appreciation for the arts and you do paintings and drawings well too. You were meant to go down the path of humanities.

                I don’t think I have a gift for writing. Most things can be learned in my opinion. It is just a matter of whether we are dedicated or not and sticking it out for a time to come.

                Like

            • It was great that you managed to take advantage of your benefit as a student. They can always be a starting point as to a solution to your problems, especially if you are not sure show to proceed and if it is a sensitive subject like mental health – affordable.

              Those co-op programs sound a bit like mentorship opportunities. In a way, that could inspire some of us who are feeling down and finding our way through life.

              Like

  33. Mabel, communicating with you on my blog, I suspected it to be something chronic and not a one off thing. Later I was already thinking I must ask you, that’s when I saw this post. Again got busy and I could read it only now. Although I haven’t read all the comments, your caring friends have already said it all, while showering much love and affection. Hugs and wishes from me too.

    You showed courage by sharing it with others. Many people go through such phases one way or the other but they keep it bottled inside. Anxiety is very common. Panic attack, though I do not know much about it, is probably extreme manifestation of this built up anxiety. Constant over-thinking occurs when there are some deeper issues troubling us, and I feel, social anxiety is a by-product of that. We shun people for we fear they will not treat us right, or they will ask us the same questions for which we have no answer. One has to resolve the underlying issue/s. If not that, then at least learn to compromise with a situation we cannot change.

    You are very young, you have a full life ahead of you. Many opportunities will come along. For now, you can wait for things to turn better. Keep trying for a better job or for stability in your current work but don’t pressurize yourself. Wait for right opportunities and once you are settled with that, probably even before that, some nice and kind guy will come into your life to take care of you. someone who will like you as you are. It’s a matter of time now, as you are already seeking help. Hope your psychological counsellor turns out to be a good friend, for only she/he would know. Do keep us informed! God bless!

    Like

    • At the end of the day, if anyone who has mental health wants to get better, they have to make the choice to admit they need help and seek help. “help me help you” is a phrase I often keep in mind. By speaking out, I am making it easy for others to see what is happening with me and they can offer suggestions on improvement and so, I see another perspective. I’ve also gotten help for other side health issues, and hopefully that will progress like how I’m working on my anxiety.

      You are right – “bottled inside”, and that can manifest into a bigger problem over time and can be self-destructive on many levels. I also agree with you that social anxiety can bee due to being uncomfortable with people judging us. After all, some of us simply like our privacy and left to do what we want to do…and in this world, at times (first) impressions can make or break a relationship.

      I always appreciate your support, Alka. Thank you so much for that. You are very kind. Finding stable employment is challenging these days in Australia. It is so competitive. And so is making friends and finding a special someone…then again, I am very fussy with who I chose to be friends with 😀 OtheYou take care, don’t stress and talk soon, my friend 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  34. I’m glad you’re seeing a psychologist, Mabel. I think that should help, especially with causes related to stress and to your heritage. I’m a strong believer, though, in taking a holistic approach. Our minds and bodies are extremely complex. There are so many interrelationships. There is almost always more than one cause of a problem and more than one treatment that is necessary to make improvement. Have you had your thyroid checked and your blood sugar? Either a hyperactive thyroid or low blood sugar can cause panic attacks.

    I had panic attacks every day for a year when my dad was sick with lung cancer. The strange thing about it was that I didn’t know he was sick for the first few months. I wrote about it in this post: http://nickichenwrites.com/wordpress/china/this-is-not-a-ghost-story/

    That was an unusual situation which I doubt you would ever experience. But I did learn a few things. I worked at controlling my breathing and my thoughts, and that helped. Although I haven’t had a panic attack for years, I think I’m still susceptible to anxiety. That may be why I developed asthma later in life.

    By the way, I think people all over the world hesitate to talk about their mental illness. In fact, it’s not uncommon to hide physical illness. People don’t like to appear weak.

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    • That is such an important point to bring up. There can certainly be more than one cause to a problem, and different ways to solve it. Each therapist has a different approach to their patients, and one therapist who works for someone may not work for another. I have had my bloods and thyroid checked recently. Nothing too abnormal over there which is good.

      Thanks for sharing that post, Nicki. That was an interesting experience for you. But good that since then you have picked up tips for controlling how you feel. It takes time to figure out what works for us and what does not, and especially what makes the mind tick.

      “People don’t like to appear weak.” I think so too, and that we most rather be show off our accomplishment. Then again, sometimes the most important lessons come from the most challenging times.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My husband worked for a very competitive institution, and he said his co-workers hid their health problems because they were afraid they would hurt their chances for advancement. And yet, when people are open about their situations, they often receive praise and encouragement.

        Two American presidents who hid their serious health problems were Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. And yet, I think they were two of our best presidents.

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        • Very good examples, Roosevelt and Kennedy. I think timing plays an important role when sharing about our mental health issues with an employer. It is an intimate thing, and I don’t think it is something one usually is comfortable about discussing at an interview – unless if it’s a condition that will see you take time off regularly.

          Liked by 1 person

  35. Mabel, I am so very glad you got help. Speaking from experience (I do not know now whether I had truly some mental illness way back when but remember feelingvery depressed in my mid- twenties, then always stressed and worried in my thirties), chronic anxiety is not a good thing to have.

    Your observations, as always, are on point. Growing up, people who have some issues were not looked at too kindly. Whatever the type of mental illness a person had, chances are he/she would simply be called insane or crazy or loony.

    I like the message of your photo series – from darkness to light (or so it appears to me). 😊

    Like

    • It sounds like you have a good head on your shoulders and have come through low points very well. Sometimes we may not recognise them because we are just so focused on getting things done around us. Sad to hear that mental illness is looked down in your community too. With the younger generation, maybe that will change.

      Thanks so much for noticing the images, Imelda. You are spot on 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • Time and being out of the stressful situations (more than a good head) helped me, I think. Based on what I am reading on my FB wall, it seems that mental health is coming into focus in the Philippines. Sadly, it is suicide incidents that put mental issues in the spotlight. Where I grew up, I heard of two young people who took their own lives because they were so depressed. Things may not have come to that sad point if the situation was recognized as an illness early on and not just plain feeling low which everyone goes through.

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    • I think you are right. I don’t think even two decade ago mental illness was discussed as openly as it is today, not sure about over there but at least in Australia. Maybe one day schools will have more mental health education as part of their curriculum so as to raise awarness.

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  36. I agree with others that you’re brave to share, Mabel. I recall you have shared some of the racial issues in the past, that was difficult to write up… I think you are on the track that you recognize it, share, and seek for support here. I know many immigrants other than Chinese carrying heavy pressure on their shoulders… some of them are not intentional hiding the problem, they just don’t know what they are facing. I agree with one of your bloggers that professional help maybe helpful. I also think each stage of our lives, we will face some kind of struggle.

    I had a friend who is white, from a middle class family, grow up in Connecticut, and graduated from MIT in Sciences. But, she had faced anxiety for a long time, but she was brave to work with the professionals; she is a lot happier. Hope this helps. Take care, dear Mabel.

    Like

    • This was a hard post to write, but it was a long time coming. I wanted to write about it last year, but felt no where near ready. I think some of us do hold back from sharing about our state of mind because it can be a heavy topic and we don’t want to rain on anyone else’s parade and be seen as excess baggage.

      Sounds like your friend has always stayed strong despite having anxiety. Good on her for getting the help she needs and doesn’t seem like she’s ashamed of it. A positive mindset and positive people can make a big difference. Thanks, Amy 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I watched the “Brain” program on PBS some years ago. It helped me to understand how the negative and position sides of the brain works, how that causes some problems like anxiety, depression, etc. Maybe a Google search can help locate it. (?)

        Like

        • The Brain sounds like an interesting program. I will have to look it up at some point. I hear that some of us use one side of our brain more, and that the right side of the brain is more creative than the left. Maybe if we use one side of the brain more we tend to feel more overwhelmed sometimes, I don’t know.

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  37. “When “I” is replaced by “We”, illness becomes wellness.” I love that.

    I’ve endured many bitter times in my life. I can’t say for certain if any of those struggles have be related in any way to mental illness but there were extremely personal and painful. Sometimes, I was able to get moral support from my mother or my older sister. Growing up back in the 80s the catch phrase in North America was to “talk out your feelings”; I tried that too.

    Ultimately, for every one of my problem that I’ve ever had to face I’ve had to acknowledge the problem, formulate my own plan to rectify the situation — typically without help from anyone, and make it happen (sound like your mum telling you to get on with life). Situations in which neither I nor anyone else couldn’t fix, I just had to accept the loss no matter what it was.

    I count my blessing everyday that none of those losses were so great that it cost me my life, health, freedom and ability to love others and hope for a better tomorrow. So far, I also haven’t lost daily opportunities to continue fighting for those blessings, even if I have to fight against my own shortcomings.

    Like

    • “I just had to accept the loss no matter what it was.” That must have been hard to accept and swallow. The phrase “too bad” comes to mind and it may not be a pleasant reality at all.

      Sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint whether a time in our life is related to anxiety/mental illness or simply be a bad few days/weeks. Mental illness can be ongoing, it can also be on and off.

      Formulating your own solution can be a way to distract you from what’s going on around and within you. That often translates to creativity…and I’m not surprised to see that you have that in you, what with your recent exhibitions. Keep fighting.

      Like

  38. Quite a powerful post Mabel – good for you for coming forward and facing up to issues. Seems to me you’ve found a wonderful outlet with your terrific blog and photography. Don’t give up, you’re doing great.

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    • Thanks, Tina. This post on my anxiety was a long time coming. It recently just felt right for my to publish it here. Maybe one day the time will feel right for me to finish my book. Now, your photography blows me away and I have so much to learn in that art aspect.

      Like

  39. I love how you illustrated this post with beautiful photos of the day slowly dawning and becoming lighter. I’m ver glad that you sought help, Mabel. It can seem like there is no way out when one is in the depths of it, but if you seek help, you realise that you can get better. A valuable read for everyone.

    Like

    • Thanks, BB. When I looked at the set of photos I took on this night out, they seemed to naturally fit in with this blog post 🙂 It does feel like no way out a lot of the time. But if you keep trying, sometimes that makes all the difference in the world.

      Liked by 1 person

  40. Hi Mabel,

    I have been your follower for a while now but have never left a comment. But this topic struck a chord with me, so here goes my first comment on your blog 🙂

    Thank you for sharing this story. In reply to your closing question, I surprised myself when I realised that my response was: my parents. While you were born and bred in Australia, I spent the first 19 years of my life in Malaysia and like you mentioned, it is a hush-hush topic when it comes to mental illnesses or the like. Malaysian-Chinese (Chinese-Malaysian, whichever way it is hyphenated) typically find it a source of embarrassment because they feel that perhaps, they have not done enough to ensure the holistic development of their children.

    It took me a very long time before I was willing to face my issues. Six months to nearly a year, in fact. My supervisor gently suggested I visit the uni well-being centre twice; my Dad pointed out over one of my visits home that I seem to exude a different aura to before; Mum just told me to toughen up when I seem to not cope with emerging matters. When I finally built enough courage to see a psychologist and my GP, who later wrote me a letter telling me to take 6 months off uni, it took me several months before I built more courage to break the news of my stress, depression and anxiety to my parents. It was so nerve-wrecking, I was crying throughout the phone conversation. I felt devastated because of the social connotations associated to those labels and my Chinese background didn’t help, either.

    However, I am extremely glad that I told my parents because they were the ones who helped me through it all. I realised that initially, they didn’t know how to react to the whole thing because they have never needed to previously. I was always the independent first child with stellar results who knew what she wanted in life from a very young age. They didn’t worry about me for there was no apparent reason to. But now, 30 odd years down the track, their daughter just broke into pieces. A little hard to accept, I would imagine. And I empathise that they had to learn as they went. Not any easier for them to negotiate my issues than it is for me.

    I am glad that you spoke up about your anxiety. Not a rebel despite being Chinese, or at least, definitely not in my eyes.😉

    And I agree with you – we are all definitely works in progress. Keep well.

    Like

    • It must have been a life-changing experience moving to Sydney, what with having lived most of your life in Malaysia. “the holistic development of their children” – really like how you describe the Malaysian way of upbringing children. On one hand, it is a practical approach to living being told to shut up and get over what’s bothering you at the drop of a hat, but on the other it might not be all that good for our ego in the long term.

      I don’t know if moving countries had anything to do with the way you felt, but that is yours to know. It sounded like a very long year of agonising for you, debating whether or not to see help and break the news to your parents back home. Good on you for finding the courage to do so. Telling our parents is one thing and having them understand our state of mind and behaviour is another thing altogether as you alluded to. I’m guessing you and your parents talked more when you told them you suffered from depression and anxiety, and that perhaps improved your relationship with them.

      “the independent first child with stellar results” I empathise. Having lived in Singapore and KL for a decade, my parents certainly instilled this trait in me and I lived up to it 😀 Then again, each of us can only handle so much pressure. Thanks for sharing, for the wonderful comment and for following, Shi Jing. You don’t know how much I appreciate it and it’s very humbling for me. Hope to see you again at some point and hope to see you blogging again soon 🙂

      Like

  41. A thoughtful post Mabel. Im glad you are writing about it – I hope it helps. We kill ourselves with stress that is uncorked. Culture defines us and can also box us in. Your photos infuse your post with peace.

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    • Thanks, Leslie. Bottled up stress can sure be self-destructive, and there is only so much pressure one can take. Glad you like the photos. I enjoyed working on them a lot.

      Like

  42. The post is an excellent advice for every one, regardless of nationality, at bedrock.

    I’m of an Asian descent too. The way we cope with this kind situation in our lives in the Philippines is more often than not the same as you. Illness, not to mention of mental nature, is something embarrassing and offensive to discuss even within the family. Hence, dealing with it is really a challenge. Based on what you said, it also makes it harder for someone, who has “it” or someone who is undergoing similar situation, to heal. There are exceptions of course but that’s the norm. The family where I came from in particular. Yes, we are free of any mental illness history but not from going through low times. We all are. Those made us emotionally strong in the end. The process of they made us strong is not the one I dreamed of going through though.

    See, we were not practiced to confide in our parents or siblings but friends. I just woke up one day and realized that’s not the norm and that’s not the culture. It was already too late for me to realize that it should have been better if I turned to someone in the family during the times I needed guidance. Such that up to now, seeking help from a psychiatrist when needed is not an option. My mind, as well as the rest of my kin’s, is still close to the idea of being open minded to seeking guidance from each other more so psychological help from experts. In my case, I’m content with friends and traveling to places with beautiful scenery.

    You’re so brave, Mabel, for disclosing the things you’ve mentioned in this post. I’m fervently hoping that you won’t feel the panic attacks with regard to responding to comments the next time around. I could just imagine…I’m saying this subjectively: You’re the only blogger I know who maintains intimate connections to her readers. You really give your heart when you respond to your comments which is something absolutely loved. But admittedly, the time you spend to do that will give you pressure–unknowingly. (My apologies if I contributed to it.)

    I assure you that I won’t get tired of visiting and reading your posts no matter what. It pains me not to read the whole thing each time, and I’d rather not respond immediately if I don’t have time. This has become a big thing for me. My apologies again if, sometimes, I liked the post but didn’t comment. I respond if I see that time is with me. I want not only to think of what to say but more importantly what to share with you, from the heart.

    “When we continue on the path of hard work and ignore conflicting thoughts racing though our mind, we might believe that perfect is possible – that the (Asian) model minority myth is achievable for everyone (Mabel Kwong).” One day, this quote from you will hold true to the majority and you’ll get the guy I’m sure. Stable job? That’s a piece cake for someone like you.

    Like

    • “It”. That is such a subjective yet…accurate way of describing mental illness for us. I say that because in Asian cultures the words anxiety and depression are taboo, and also because mental illness and our low times can be hard to put into feelings especially if we don’t have the support around us to help us face it.

      It is good to hear that you and your family are free from mental illness. Good on you for finding peace and calm within your friends and travels. Sometimes if those closest to us don’t understand our state of mind, the least we can do is distract ourselves withe something that we love or do something we are passionate about. You always exude such a positive persona and mindset, and I think that is what keeps you coming out on top of the low times.

      Thank you for your kind words. I do think I still am a timid person…well, I’m shy in nature but bit by bit I am learning to be brave and opening up, especially when it comes to talking about what’s on my mind and how I’m feeling inside. Take you time when it comes to reading my blog and writing comments, Sony. You really don’t have to, and it always baffled me as to why you keep coming back (and the others too). I suppose if it makes you happy and brightens your day, why not 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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