Monday, January 14, 2013

Cause and cure for depression - I, Sijie

Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist nor a clinician.  So, if you are clinically depressed and on the process of looking for cure, you may have landed in a wrong place.  I am here only to talk about what I know about causes and cures of depression that I've learnt from my personal experience.

I have decided to take an emotional break because last post had drained my mojo.  So, be patient.  I have too many things in mind, but too little time to tell.  I do remember my other promises though.  So today, I want to start a new topic with some depressive stories in our family.  You are the judge to determine whether depression has a genetic component.

I used to think the world is consisted of only two kinds of people: sane and insane ones.  In the city, the insane ones lived in special hospitals, where they could not go in and out freely - I saw one of these on the way to my train watching.  In the countryside, however, the insane people would be everywhere on streets.  They were not bothering anyone in particular.  Most of the times, I saw them talking to themselves, dancing in broken clothes, or searching trash cans for food.
But soon I came to understand the world was more complicated and people were complex, their state of mind could not be simply described as sane or insane.  The existence of a spectrum of people with different levels of craziness challenged my concept of normal.  I started to doubt whether there were truly normal people in this world.  Aren't we are all more or less insane?  The real sane ones do not exist, they are just wearing thick masks all the time.  

Disagree?  Oh, well, cannot win you all.

Now come back to the story.

If you have read some of my posts, you probably already knew that we moved from the city to the countryside when I was 8.  One of the many good things came out of this move was that Daddy frequently traveled out of town.  No, I did not mean that I did not like him home with us, I meant that I loved the clothes, toys, and candies that he would bring back from each of his trips.  Clearly, being the first girl wearing a polyester pink shirt in town had brought me a lot of pleasure (for the younger readers here, synthetic fibers once were considered more fashionable than cotton ones!)   One day, Daddy came home without bringing us clothes or toys, instead, he brought us a beautiful girl.  She was wearing a sunset red shirt made of some kind of special synthetic fiber that felt like silk!  I felt like that I was watching xiannüxiafan (a fairy coming down 仙女下凡!)  The girl got everything that I wished for - her hair was long, black, and shinny, her face was round with fair color, which emphasized her rosy cheeks perfectly, and her eyes, my god, the enchanting eyes, were big, black, and bright, with double eyelids!

"This is cousin Xiaosi from Guiyang.  She will be staying with us for a while."  Daddy told Bing and me who were too busy to study the girl from head to toe.  We completely forgot our manners.

 "Call Sijie, don't just stand there looking silly."  Dad said to us.

"Sijie."  Bing and I greeted her.

Si (四) means the number 4 and the fourth; Jie (姐) means older sister.  Sijie does have a name, but in China, younger siblings are not encouraged to call older ones with their real names.  So, Sijie is what we know of her.  She is the fourth child of Aunt San and uncle Playboy.  As I said before, Aunt San and uncle playboy were phenix-dragon marriage (龙凤配), thus, all 5 of their children are extremely beautiful (three princesses) and handsome (two princes).  However, I noticed a bit gloomy look under Sijie's charming smile.  Oh well, that could be simply from a long and exhaustive journey, I thought.

But later, I found out that I was not being overly sensitive.  Sijie was indeed quite sad - she was troubled because she had failed the entrance exam to high school and was worried about that she could never be able to get a decent job.  In the city in early 70s, a middle school diploma isn't not worth much, which could also lead to no decent husband in the future for a girl.  She was devastated and the family was devastated.  She had stayed home for an entire year already after middle school without doing anything useful.  Slowly, she developed a severe depression (but we did not give her that horrible name, of course.  We were just told that she had not been happy at home.)

Aunt San and her family situation was one of the affairs that Mom worried about the most.  She had been separated from her family when Mom was only 16 when the big family split in early 50s.  Aunt San might have kept Mom updated about the uncle Playboy's situation, but Mom had a lot of her own troubles to deal with already at that time and did not want to get into worse troubles keeping the tie with her "black" family.  Plus, Mom was a lazy writer (she had never written a single letter to me during my 4 years of college study!  Not one!), so she never really found out what it meant that "uncle Playboy's lost his job and Aunt San was raising 5 children with her single income as a department store clerk".  When Daddy finally got a chance to Guiyang for a visit on one of his business trips, he witnessed the extent and severity of their financial hardship.  So, Daddy decided to take Sijie with him.  On the one hand, this would help her to forget her own troubles (Daddy's words were let her Kaikaixin/开开心 (to feel happy).  On the other hand, this would also release Aunt San's financial burden.

So Sijie followed Daddy to our family for her first visit.  That was the summer of 1973.  She was 17, Bing was 13, I was 11, and my little brother Yanghe was only 1.  Since Mom and Dad often went out to the crop fields to help the peasants to grow rice, Sijie was home babysitting Bing and I and helping out with other house chores - I remember her cooking at home while Bing and I went swimming in the river - that seemed to be the only thing we did for summer holidays.  But she did not need to take care of our infant brother because he was the responsibility of my Dad's Mom.  Yes, our grandma was at our home also at that time (surprised?  Well, you should be shocked if you know all these people lived in only two bedrooms: each room had one big bed and one small bed, so it was better than most of other families.  In the room 1, Mom, Dad, and the infant shared the big bed, Bing had the small one.   in the room 2, Sijie and I had the big bed and Grandma had the small one.)

What, you guess that we must have had a great summer?  

Yes and no.

Yes, because Sijie shifted the dynamics a bit of the balance.  Before she had joined us, Bing was my boss and he abused me a lot.  Now with Sijie's presence, Bing had to control his act because Sijie would fuss at him if he dared to abuse me.  In this sense, we indeed had a good time.  Bonus to that was that Sijie liked singing Beijing Opera, which I also enjoyed a lot.  She had learned it from her Dad (uncle Playboy) and his actor friends.

No, because she cried a lot.  She often seemed to be sad and upset about Mom and Dad.  She called Dad names, like "hanging corner relative (挂角亲戚)".  She would say to him, "If you did not marry my Yiyi [she called Mom Yi (Aunt) Yi (mom's first name), I would have never known who you were."  She also fought with Mom from time to time - for the record, Mom was a saint, no one in the world would have any problems with her!  Seeing Sijie was mad at Mom would be quite a shock to Bing and me.  Worst of all, she often would hide herself in a room, alone, which was scary to me.  What puzzled me was that Mom and Dad's attitude toward her.  They even seemed to be afraid of her.  Instead of disciplining her, they always would cheer her up by providing whatever they could get: food, fruits (expensive items then), candies... It seemed like Mom and Dad spoiled her to rotten!

"Mother, why Sijie is so thoughtless (不懂事).  She does not act like a big sister.  She is a big baby!"  I complained to Mom one day after she yet again threw a tantrum.  I thought that I had all the reasons to blame her: she was the oldest among us 4 children in the house, she should have known not to cause any troubles to the elderly; she should have been our role model; she should have always been obedient to our parents!  "She gets everything, but that still does not seem enough!" I added seeing Mom did not respond.  Then I said, "Why do you and Dad treat her like a Qianjinxiaojie (princess who is worth of thousand Jin (pound) of gold, 千金小姐)?  She..."

"I know that you are upset, but Sijie misses her family."  Mom did not let me finish my sentence since she know that I would have not stopped if she did not stop me - see, I could be a whiner, too!  Then she went on to tell me that she in fact had a disease called depression.  

It was serious, so serious that she did not like herself anymore.

I was scared.  Although I did not really understand what depression meant at that age, at least, I knew I should try my best not to trigger her sadness.  

Needless to say, our roles changed soon after that.  Bing and I were "taking care of the mood of Sijie" while she was taking care of our stomach.  Bing of course took much better care of her.  He would help her to get water out of a deep well and then to carry it home.  He also taught her how to bike and then together, they biked everywhere in town.  He even massaged her feet nightly (Sijie's inherited Aunt San's feet.  She has a bunion, a bony hump at the base of the big toe that hurts when she walks)...  

In this way, we had grown strong tie that summer.  To our major delight, Mom and Dad told us that Sijie was going to stay with us another year or more.  She was admitted to the high school in our town.  Our town was small, so small that there was only one high school for the locals.  Dad must have bribed some important people to get Sijie in without an entrance examination and a Hukou (户口, a local ID) of Sijie.  

So, slowly, Sijie had begun to change from crying more than singing/smiling to the opposite.  She was busy, day and night.  In the day, she needed to catch up with lessons.  In the night, she needed to go back to school to finish up some homework.  On weekends, she would also need to lead a group of girls to practice dancing and singing... She hardly had time to eat and sleep, let alone time to cry.    

I enjoyed the new big sister.  I loved to follow her to night classes.  Because I could play with her friends before and after each night class.  She always stayed a bit longer after classes to be socializing with her classmates.  They would gather together to knit gloves, scarfs, and socks while chitchatting.  So, I became a little friend of her friends.  Sometimes, they would tell each others scary stories about ghosts or international double agents.  Other times, they would talk about what we called "yellow novels" (黄色小说) that contained love making contents.  Those books were mostly hand-copied (手钞本) and forbidden to school pupils.  All in all, I was thrilled and proud to have Sijie to look up to.  Sijie also seemed to enjoy having a little protege.  

But our happy times did not last long enough.  One and a half years later, Sijie magically acquired admission from one of the high schools in her hometown.  So she returned home in Guiyang.  During my later visits to her city, I have heard from my other cousins (Sijie's siblings) that she only had few miner episodes of depressive moments, which happened coincidently with the time after her high school graduation and before she had found a permanent job.  She had not had depressive thoughts ever since she had gotten her a steady job as a department store clerk (her Mom's job slot, which was passed on to her upon Aunt San's retirement - it was the government's policy then.)

Sijie's story seems to me that her depression was caused by school-less or job-less situations.

Now, Sijie is retired.  She is happily living with the love of life who is a scientific publishing house associate editor.  They have given birth to one smart and happy boy, who is now one of the best accountants in the city.  Sijienow and still frequently appears on stage singing Beijing Opera to this day.

Indeed, life is good to her for a long while now without the dreadful depression!

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