Depression is not something that is clearly and rationally defined, diagnosed, or treated. Yet at some point you realise it has become your life partner, present at all times, sometimes evident, often hiding. This is what the ones closest to you frequently forget, and it is mainly because they only appreciate the illness at times when it is most damaging. I can’t imagine it is easy to empathise, even if you suffer depression yourself, because human beings are naturally self-interested and sometimes the most self-interested are depressed.
This is written in reaction to the end of a long relationship, my first serious grown-up relationship that was stable, secure, and in a lot of ways supportive. At the same time, though I deeply craved all these things, it was too stable, too unwavering, too stifling. In the end I think I tried too hard to break the pattern that was inhibiting me, and rebelled by threatening that security in meek little ways that never achieved the purpose and disappointed myself more than anyone else. The depression, however, had been with me long before the start of this particular relationship and I think I lulled myself into an expectation that I just wouldn’t suffer any more in the right emotional environment. I never gave enough credit to the strength of my own personality.
I was a child of the 70s. 1976 was a leap year and the Year of the Dragon, and I was born on St. Patrick’s Day, to Chinese immigrants in a working-class city just ten minutes away from Hobart, the capital of Tasmania. There were no Chinese people in the early part of my life and me, my older brother and younger sister were never taught or encouraged to learn the language and culture of our parents. Very little information was given to us about my parents’ histories, so I can’t say how relevant it is to my own. Their parenting style was essentially a product of their own upbringing and it is unfortunate that their own children reacted in the same way that they did, turning away from people that could not or would not offer adequate support for their offspring. In a lot of ways this story is of patterns repeated despite desperate attempts to break them.
The first few years, as I recall, were pleasant. Infants have very little social awareness, and as such have very little social anxiety to contend with. We were bright kids, perhaps with fairly broken English to begin with, and parents who knew at least how to clothe and feed little beings. My brother Peter was five years older than me, and my sister Jodi just sixteen months younger, but when we were very young we were quite close – perhaps out of some learned distrust of those outside of the family home. My parents had very few friends, and our home was eventually so rundown they never invited anyone over. They consistently referred to anyone other than the five of us as ‘outsiders’ and, at times, growing older and more socially aware, I never knew if it meant white people.
Their English was not great, which made communication with their own children increasingly challenging as we all rose to the top of our classes at school, by which time we were limited by a dependence on them for food and shelter as well as being highly distrustful of the outsiders. It was a dilemma whenever one of us misbehaved. If we challenged our parents the worst punishment was to be closed out of the house by the front door, where outsiders passing by would often loudly proclaim “it’s a Chink!” or, “it’s a Jap!”, and make noises in what they thought was an accurate imitation of an Asian language to the amusement of no one but themselves. To be locked out of the house at the front door was terrifying to us as infants, but it got us to stop wailing and be let indoors again. I don’t know if my parents ever knew what horrible monsters we were afraid of. It simply could have been that the front door was closer to the family room. In any case, by the time I was a few years old, ‘outsiders’ came to stand mostly for the racism that seemed innate in the folk belonging to that little insular city of 6000 people, just ten minutes from the capital of Tasmania, which many of them had never even visited.
Insularity. Depression. Love and identity to follow.