Recovering from Depression
Content Warning: Language and mention of suicide and eating disorder.
September is suicide prevention month, and October is depression awareness month. As someone who has dealt with varying degrees of depression and anxiety throughout their life (genetics, amplified by various life experiences), I am keenly aware of the deep, dark feelings and thoughts that can lead to death by suicide.
I struggled while growing up in both the U.S. and Tokyo, but I found my depression progressively worsened when I went to university in the U.S., particularly because I was also struggling with an eating disorder and was so far from home (Tokyo).
I became highly skilled at hiding my depression, putting on a happy face for others, and always doing my best to make people laugh (not always success #lolz). Behind that mask, I was often living in a fog, going through the motions of life and feeling like I was not really there.
While my depression has fluctuated throughout my life, I was at one of my lowest points three years ago despite being on medication. I felt so alone.
While waves of depression still come and go (and I still have dark lows), an increase in the dosage of my medication lifted me from the fog that followed me endlessly, reduced suicidal ideations, and made me feel like life was worth living. Self-care has also been essential to my recovery, and I was also supported by my therapist.
Life with depression is still challenging, but I am thankful to be in a better place. I often write in my journal about how grateful I am to feel as I do, oftentimes followed by tears of relief.
With that said, in the future, I may need to adjust my dosage again as our bodies are constantly shifting. I know I have to constantly check in with myself and monitor how I feel.
More recently, my therapist (in the US), psychiatrist (in JP), and I engaged in a dialogue about the possibility of a mild bipolar diagnosis. While a potential diagnosis scares me, knowledge is power. If that means I have to live with yet another label, adjust my medication, and/or gain weight from said medication, then so be it. l want and deserve to live a healthy, happy, stable life. And I am whole and worthy no matter what.
I am so grateful for my recovery, but I know many individuals want but cannot get the help they need because mental health care is both inaccessible and unaffordable (in the US at least).
Some of the many factors contributing to this are our fucked up healthcare system , lack of Medicaid funding, lack of funding for mental health services, a plain lack of mental health services, and greedy ass health insurance companies that limit mental health coverage and make therapists/psychiatrists jump through hoops to enter insurance networks and maintain their place within the system. Mental health care should be available and accessible to everyone (universal healthcare NOW).
Mental health care is most accessible to the wealthy (#classism) and least to minority communities, particularly our Black and Indigenous communities, who face racism and discrimination in our healthcare system, society, and economic disenfranchisement. They have been historically exploited by the very healthcare system they are supposed to “trust.” Black queer and trans women face multiple jeopardies of oppression as a result of their gender, race, and sexuality which exacerbates the obstacles faced when seeking care.
How is it fair that I can easily receive treatment and medication for my mental illness but others go without it and face pain, hardship, and sometimes death because they were not born with the same privilege and means as I was? It is beyond fucked, and it needs to change.
The mental health field is also still dominated by white providers. With this said, I was informed of several affordable BIPOC-inclusive mental health services after my last post, which has been incredibly encouraging to see. I often wonder how affirming it would have been to have had a therapist or psychiatrist familiar with the unique pressures that come with being an Asian or mixed Asian descent. (BIPOC therapy resources below).
While more affordable and inclusive services are springing up, we need to advocate for better healthcare, Medicaid funding, mental health services, funding for community care, and more. We also need to dismantle systemic and institutional oppression, while acknowledging how systemic racism and obsession with production and profit (#neoliberalcapitalism) contribute to mental health disorders and a lack of access to services. Our mental health care must address and consider these factors. We can try to rework the system, but perhaps we need to overhaul the entire system and start from scratch (#newbeginnings).
Let us also continue to be vulnerable with one another and work to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. As an educator, I also find it incredibly important to talk about mental health in my classes. While some people say the person should be left out of the classroom, I openly share my experiences with my university students, and we often engage in critical discussions surrounding mental health stigma and access in Japan and the U.S. I believe these conversations help reduce stigma on a community level and may also encourage those struggling to seek help.
Lastly, we need to care about each other. It is essential for our survival and humanity. Not just ourselves and those in our bubbles. We need to care and take care of each other. And I know we can.
Together, we are unstoppable.
Everyone’s depression looks different, and treatment routes vary. One strategy may work for some and not for others. Find the route best for you.
Depression is a terrible illness, and death by suicide is not selfish. Those who do not struggle with mental illness or suicidal thoughts may not understand, but that does not mean it is not a reality for others. Be kind. Do not deny their experiences. Encourage them to seek help.
For those struggling, please seek help or if you have and things still do not feel right, please try alternative routes.
Sending love and light to all
Inclusive therapists: who also have a BIPOC therapy fund you can donate to 🤍 https://www.inclusivetherapists.com
Better Help: has a range of therapists you can choose from and sliding scale fees https://www.betterhelp.com
Clinicians of Color Directory: https://www.cliniciansofcolor.org
Asian Mental Health Collective: https://www.asianmhc.org/therapists-us/
TELL Japan: https://telljp.com
Shine app: mental health check-in app @shineapp
Everyone’s depression looks different.
Hi! My name is Alecia Wallingford and I am mixed Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian, Thai, and white. I grew up in both Tokyo and the U.S. and moved back to Tokyo five years ago. I am currently pursuing my Ph.D. in Education for Social Justice through the University of San Diego and am teaching at a university.
Edited by Emiru Okada
Graphic by Satomi Shikano