Sharline Chiang on Smiling Selfies and Other Lies

Photo courtesy of Sharline Chiang

At Hyphen, writer Sharline Chiang tackles the stigma of post-partum depression and how her race influenced her experience with the condition.

Four years ago I had three miscarriages. “You’re not careful enough,” my mother said. “You’re too active.” While I was pregnant with Anza, I learned I had balanced translocation, a genetic condition. We needed to get lucky. Even after explaining this to her, my mother would insist: “Go on bed rest so it doesn’t fall out.”

I couldn’t risk hearing words that sounded like blame. I already felt it was my fault: I was too soft.

My grandmothers combined had birthed and raised 15 children while fleeing the Japanese, the Communists, and poverty. What right did I have to fall apart?

So I took selfies of me and Anza smiling and sent them to my parents every day.

I lied because even though depression is so common in Asian American communities, we rarely talked about it. The message I grew up with: your mental struggles are our own; it’s up to you to find the inner strength to “ren,” to endure.

The character for “ren” 忍 is the character for “knife” over the “heart.” Endure even when there’s a knife in your heart.

In my thirties I discovered talk therapy, tried to get my parents to go. Their response was basically: “That’s for white people.” “They hook you in,” my mother said. “You can never be cured.”

I wish mental illness didn’t come with stigmas. I wish I could have told my parents that my mind had broken just as easily as if I had to tell them my arm had broken.

Whenever my husband would say, “You really should tell them,” I felt that chasm again (he’s white, son of hippies). To him it was unimaginable to suffer the darkest period of your life and not tell your parents. Meanwhile, everyone in his immediate family knew. His mother and brother moved down from Canada to help take care of me.

The fact that I could get PPD never crossed my mind. I had no history of depression.

Two years ago while pregnant with Anza, I had spent thousands of hours reading about pregnancy and birth and exactly five minutes reading about postpartum depression.

On the cover of the brochure was a white woman with long brown hair. She was staring into space under the words: “Feeling Blue?” I took one look and said to myself: white woman, sad woman, that’s not me and that’s not going to be me.

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