As I looked at the photograph of our whole family, including my late mother, I couldn’t help but remember that intense feeling of sadness and confusion all mixed into one huge ball of pain manifested at my chest. The sadness not because she is no more, but because she looked a completely different person in that photograph than the one etched in my memories.
As she fought cancer, she rapidly slumped into depression. At first, I had blamed it on the chemotherapy and the medicines she had to take. I somehow guessed that some switch in her consciousness had tripped from all the medication, and her depression was medically induced as a side effect. What really hit me hard during this period, because she has never ever exhibited any signs of depression or frustration throughout my life, was how unexpected this personality change was as it was sudden.
My mother has always been the first to cry at funerals. She had been caught sniffing while her tears streamed down her cheeks watching some sappy Bollywood movie or Korean drama series on the television. But that’s as far as she would go. She never dwelled on her sadness longer than an hour. She was the first to look on the bright side of things. She was the first to chastise me if I was nursing some sadness or frustration long enough. She wanted me to always be in high spirits or as we Sikhs say “in Chardee Kala”. She always sternly told me that we can always choose to not be sad or frustrated.
“We always have a choice”, she would say.
I know realize that this huge departure from her nature during the last few months was severe depression that she just couldn’t help herself from. Depression is a disorder that is evidenced by excessive sadness, loss of interest in enjoyable things and low motivation. She was so stressed out about not being able to watch her granddaughters grow, to care for her husband, to care for her daughter, that it caused severe depression.
If a strong woman like my mother could go into depression for the first time after 60 odd years of her life, then I would argue anybody would be a victim of this silent killer. And it’s being more prevalent in today’s news. My favorite comedian Robin Williams, who gave joy and laughter to millions of people from different generations, committed suicide due to dementia with Lewy body. He had experienced depression, anxiety and paranoia. If a joyful funny comedian would’ve been suffering from it silently, it could happen to anybody!
But why isn’t it taken seriously, especially in our community? If someone complains of being depressed or utterly sad, especially within our Asian community, they’re somehow branded as being mentally weak. A weakling. The common argument is that none of our fathers or mothers from generations past ever had to deal with depression because they had no choice but to be strong mentally.
I struggle with this because it is common belief (not knowledge) that you couldn’t find anybody Asian from our parents’ generation that openly admit that they’re going through some sort of depression. There’s this stigma that the causes of depression normally happens to mentally weak individuals who have the luxury to be depressed, while the rest had no time but toil through the hardships of life. Never mind that the number of alcoholics and drug addicts were astronomical in their generations. Did we ever stop to think that they were masking their depression by abusing alcohol and drugs?
But in the case of my mother, and many more, it’s something to look out for. People who are depressed can sometimes hide it so well until it’s too late. Even myself, I find it hard to tell my family that at certain times of the month, I can’t snap out from having an extremely negative outlook in life. I try to repeat my mother’s words on the choice of happiness to myself. But more importantly, I need to hear words like hers from others around me today. And I need to also use the words of my mother to those around me who would need them to. Just like how she recognized it and reached out, we need to do the same with each other.
Jagdesh Singh, a Kuala Lumpur-based executive with a US multinational company, is a father of three girls who are as opinionated as their mother
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
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