Kevin Huang, BSc Pharm Student
“Love yourself. No matter what, always remember to love yourself.” That’s something my mom always used to say, and honestly, I always used to laugh whenever she did. My mom’s always been quite the character, and although I appreciate her daily encouragements, it doesn’t take long before I start rolling my eyes. That said; it’s nice to have someone who believes you. The journey of depression is no cakewalk but having someone by your side can make the fight easier.
Ever since I’ve become open talking about my depression, I’ve been overwhelmed with support. Nights of tears would often be brightened up with laughter, and to be honest, it’s hard to recall when I last struggled with an episode. But I occasionally wonder what it would’ve been like if my life took a different direction. What if no one believed in my story? What if no one simply cared?
Last week, I had a patient who walked into the clinic. He was a well-dressed elderly man who approached us with a smile. “I’d like to get my flu shot today.” With a simple nod, I guided him to our consultation room. Despite his cheerful manner, something felt off about the way he acted. The smiles, nods, and bright attitude all felt ever-so-slightly deliberate. Like he was just putting on a good face.
Upon arrival, I reviewed his consent form. Before any flu shot, we always clear a few routine screening questions. One by one, we crossed the items off the list. Finally, we came to the last question. “How are you feeling today?” Normally, we use this to assess people’s physical health; if they’re feeling sick, we’d ask them to come back later. To my surprise, he whispered “Unwell.” I was briefly taken off guard. Truthfully, most of the time, asking someone how they’re feeling is like asking someone how their day’s been; you expect to hear “good,” and just going. But unwell? What does that even mean? Was he alright?
I began to probe him with some more routine questions. Is he experiencing a fever? Did he catch the flu? “No…” Puzzled, I stared at him. It wasn’t long before I realized the meaning behind his response. “Sir, hows your sleep been?” His eyes cleared with vulnerability and his mouth shaped into a bitter smile.
At that point, it was like someone had opened a door. At once be began to open up and share his story. For most of his life, he’d had a happy, fulfilling experience. But several years ago he’d lost his family in an accident, and since then he’d found himself struggling with anxiety and depression. Despite the sleepless nights, loss of appetite, and lack of motivation to even get out of bed in the morning, he’d tried to maintain a positive spirit. But to no surprise, he’d run into a few rough spots. He told me he’d made attempts to seek professional care, only to find people reluctant to help. Apparently, no one had taken him seriously because he didn’t fit the definition of “at risk of self-harm.” For five years he struggled. For five years he smiled in pain. “This isn’t a way to live life. To not to be believed. To not even feel like loving yourself.”
Loving yourself… something that almost sounds silly for how simple it is. Yet when it feels like the entire world around you couldn’t care less, it becomes the hardest thing to do. This is the reality for many people struggling with mental illness, and a simple answer or just one person reaching out can make a difference.
In the end, despite how sad this entire thing felt, there was one positive takeaway. Over the past five years, feeling alone and hopeless, this man had kept going, and the fact that he was here getting his flu shot meant he hadn’t completely given up yet. To me, that took strength. And through all of what he had to say to me that day, I found some inspiration myself.
I reached out and reminded him that he’s not alone and to have faith in people believing in his story. “Perhaps,” he smiled again – and at the risk of sounding dramatic, it seemed just a little more real this time.
That night I reflected on my own experiences in life. Not too long ago I was in a similar position. There were countless times I’ve encountered people who disregarded what I was going through and told me I need to toughen up. Truthfully, no matter how hard I try, I’ll never be able to describe how disheartening that feels. But, when I finally did find the one person who believed in me, my entire outlook changed. Was it something they did? Was it something they said? Hardly. All they did was listen, and now I’m in a better place for it.
There are many people out there struggling with mental illnesses, and someday, you might find yourself in a similar position as myself that day. When you do, you might feel it’s up to you to give them some sort of advice or to help them change their life. But it’s not like that, sometimes you just have to listen, and sometimes that can make all the difference.