Young Adults’ Experiences of Depression in the U.S.

Maya

Female
Age at interview: 27
Age at diagnosis: 15

Brief outline: Maya (age 27) grew up in an emotionally abusive family and was diagnosed at age 16.. She also has complex PTSD, anxiety, and chronic pain. Healing strategies includes medication, holistic modalities, therapy and reading.

Background: Maya manages an adolescent program in a community center and lives with her boyfriend. She is Chinese American.

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Maya was diagnosed with depression in high school. She also has anxiety and complex PTSD, along with chronic fatigue and pain. She grew up in a Chinese American “academic family” that was riddled with untreated mental illness. Her family had high expectations and was emotionally abusive, which eroded her self-esteem and set her up to be a target for sexual abuse. By high school her anxiety, depression and health problems resulted in many missed school days; her fabulous grades plummeted. Eventually Maya’s parents got her connected with mental health services. She was prescribed and took Zoloft at various dosages through high school. With medication her “emotions just flat lined… no highs and … no lows”. But she could function in her household until it was time to leave for college.

In college Maya hung out with “the free thinker, misfit, creator types” among whom mental health issues were “almost a given”. Overachieving, which was “applauded in academia” and in her culture was her coping mechanism. While a fulltime student, she worked, volunteered, participated in several organizations, and maintained friendships and a relationship. She was constantly sick and stressed out. When her body “just crapped out”, her doctors prescribed Adderall and other stimulants.

Now a young professional, Maya has integrated holistic approaches to develop her own path to grow in the face of her depression and limited energy. She is kinder to herself and no longer measures her value by a punishingly busy schedule. Instead she works limited hours and takes time to “literally stop and smell the roses”. Through her extensive reading, Maya has come to question how medication is used to treat depression: “I think trying to medicate ourselves to the middle and …medicating women’s emotions to meet a masculine standard of emotions is really unfortunate. …I think that it’s a form of cultural numbing. …I don’t think that compassion is rooted in numbness and I think that kindness and compassion are two of the things that we as a culture, as a society, as a world need to cultivate the most”. 

Maya also believes that people with depression have special gifts. “The orchid hypothesis goes like this. Most people are dandelions, most people are really hardy. You can throw them almost anywhere and they’ll thrive. Some people are orchids. …If the soil is a little too acidic, if the sun is not just so, if the humidity’s just off, …they will wilt. They will falter and they just will just refuse to thrive. But if you get those conditions just right, just right, you get it just perfect, they will blossom in ways that a dandelion never could”. 

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