How depression has affected me
A baby in difficult living conditions
My wife gave birth to our son the year after we were married. Both of us were working in a big city and we didn’t have a big room. We only had one single room and shared the kitchen and bathroom with other people.
After birth complications
After giving birth, my wife almost died of bad haemorrhaging. Our living conditions weren’t good for her recovery or the baby, so as her mother was a doctor, her parents agreed to take her back to get recovered. My mother also went to her family to look after her. We were in two different places, but we called almost every day.
Then 100 days after giving birth, my wife suddenly died. There were rumours in the military college I used to work in that she committed suicide, but I didn’t believe that. She had written to me that she felt pain because the baby was beside her and she could not take care of the baby because of her weakness – why would she leave her son like that? So her death is a mystery.
This was the second death in my life, and in both cases I was not present. At the beginning of my undergraduate studies, my grandma who brought me up passed away. While I had been preparing for my entrance examination we had had some conflicts, then when she was diagnosed with lung cancer my family didn’t tell me so as not to interrupt my studies. I still remember clearly the feelings like a very heavy blow on my head when I was told she had died.
Guilt and blame
My wife’s parents blamed me for my leaving the military college. I felt so guilty that my wife had been so supportive to me and I was so grateful for that, but I would never think of her. Sometimes I think I am recovered from this – it happened ten years ago now – but it’s still there and still upsets me. Her death was also the death of part of my life.
I continued to work at the college, but I was numb, dead inside. I hid myself in my room and didn’t want to communicate with people. For four years I refused to participate in school activities except for teaching. I was gloomy and didn’t pay attention to my personal appearance.
Seeing my son in summer holidays
At that time, my son was staying with my parents in another city. The only thing that kept me going was seeing my son in summer vacations. He was so innocent and cute, and looked so like my wife. In my mind I think I was living only for him.
Suicide not an option
Somebody in my mother’s family, my uncle, had a mental disease and committed suicide. When I was younger I still remember how my parents helped him to calm down or to heal him, but it seems it didn’t work and he committed suicide. I remember my grandmother was so painful when she learned this news. I don’t think I would ever want to give any painful things to my family, but only the thought of my newly born son brought me courage to live on.
Enjoyable student life
As a student in China, I studied British and American literature at my local university. I enjoyed the spiritual and academic freedom there. I got every prize in the local university and was one of the top ten students in the province. I was a monitor and vice president of the students union. I helped drop-out students in the minority areas by donating my scholarship to them. I was at the pre-stage of becoming a party member.
Abilities not used in working life
However, I then went on to work at an army college and found the transition to strict military discipline very difficult. Though I had a Masters degree, I was assigned a very basic teaching job, teaching English at a very basic level. I didn’t feel my ability was being fully used, and I was not encouraged to pursue my academic study, which was a very big problem for me.
Pessimistic about the future
I was quite pessimistic about my future at that time because I didn’t see a bright future from my position there. I couldn’t see me working my whole life there, or having any meaning in my life working there, so I was quite depressed.
Every day was the same. You were not encouraged to think creatively. You were not allowed to speak freely. I felt suffocated and couldn’t express myself. Sometimes, now, when I talk with my former classmates or friends I say it seemed like at that time I was in a tomb, or something like that.
Met my wife
I met my wife at that time. She used to work in the library at the college, and she was also under pressure and not happy about her work there. We both felt quite lonely and isolated, without much help, so we encouraged and supported each other. Through this we developed a very intense affection for each other and got married.
Pressure from family
I was determined to leave the military college, but it was very difficult. Both my family and my wife’s family didn’t understand why we wanted to leave the army, because it was stable and it was well paid. I don’t think they understood how we thought.
Not allowed to leave
There was a rule that if you had a Masters degree you were not allowed to leave the army, because they tried to keep the so-called ‘talents’ from the university. They finally agreed to let me go because they regarded me as someone who didn’t obey the rules, and thought I was trouble.
Obstruction by employer
But they couldn’t find a proper excuse to let me go. I had told them I needed to read the bible because in studying British and American literature a lot of phrases and words are from the bible and you need to understand the literature at work. But they said no because it was forbidden to read the bible in the army. In order to find an excuse, they went to the local church to find somebody to write a kind of proof to say that I go to church frequently, but I didn’t. Eventually they used the excuse that I came back a few days late after I had got married during the spring festival.
I was persecuted because I wanted to leave the army. They did something very bad to prevent me finding a proper job in society, outside. With how the political environment works in China, this also sentenced any political career to death.
I am a person who always prepares for the worst so that I will always get a surprise, but this time was very difficult. I applied for some teaching jobs in good universities, but because of my former military school saying something bad about me, they didn’t accept me. I was sent to a new college which was not very good at that time. I think they wanted to punish me.
Support from wife
It was a very difficult time, but my wife supported me. We enjoyed our family life. Our time together and her understanding were very important. She encouraged me to live, and to pursue my dreams. She had confidence in me; she said, “I believe in you, you can do it.” That was very important to me.
Support at work
When tragedy struck, the students at my new college gave me a lot of comfort. They sent me flowers and letters and a lot of different things to comfort me. I was so touched by their care. Some students even shared their own experiences with me. The leaders of the college also treated me well and gave me a certain amount of money to show their concern.
No proper counselling
I looked for more specific help, but couldn’t find any. It was only some of the foreign teachers at the university, who knew something about counselling, who helped get me some books and articles – a pamphlet about how to recover and deal with death, for example. These were quite helpful and I have kept all those things still.
An alternative cultural view
The culture of these foreign teachers was very different from the Chinese way. In China, they came to me and said – You’re young; just look for another wife, there’s no problem with that. I didn’t like or accept this at all, and the foreign teachers said to remember my wife, which was better.
Crying to release sadness
I used to watch films in my room, sad films like Love Story, and cried with the story in the movie. Or I would listen to melancholy music. I think sometimes crying was helpful. It was good to release your sadness and mental pain.
Help from friends
One couple in particular helped me a lot. My neighbour at the military college had studied educational psychology at the university and his wife was a doctor. They helped me from the very beginning, and stood by me and gave me support. This gentleman’s understanding of life and his attitudes helped me. He held very critical attitudes towards the society and towards some people around me.
Eventually I got my own flat and as my parents had retired by then my father brought my son and came to live with me. So my father not my wife looked after my son and myself – he helped me a lot. After I finished my work for the day, I took my son and my father out to the parks or to go shopping, like quite a normal life. Because when you stay with a child you don’t have much time to think about yourself.
Put time and energy into work
I think in my mind I wanted to prove to people like my parents-in-law that I could do well in my life. I devoted my time and energy to my teaching and got a recommendation from the students and the college and was promoted. The president of the university had a high opinion of me and recommended me for some important positions.
Proved myself and found love again
I continued from there to be involved in a lot of work and activities, both in university as well as in society. People were amazed by the progress I made. I think on the one hand it was my own hard work and my ability and on the other hand the support of the university, which helped me achieve this. I also won the love of another girl, who was kind enough to accept my past and my son.
Coming to the UK
As part of my job in the university, I had the chance to get involved in a lot of international communications. Because of my ability and professionalism, I won the chance to come to the UK to study under the sponsorship of the British government. Before I left my country for the UK, I went to see my late wife’s tomb and told her I had not disgraced her and had made real the dream of what she believed I could do.
What I’ve learnt
Proper counselling service needed
I think a counselling service is very important in helping people deal with difficult life experiences and depression. There should be some organisation you can turn to, to help find some focus in your life.
Find a focus
You need to find a focus in either your personal life or in your career and to have some goal in your life. It can help to have a reason to be determined to make some achievements, like I had the motivation of my son needing me, to help you find your direction in life and to carry your burdens.
Lean on others
The support of family and friends is very important for both spiritual and material support. I was fortunate to have the unselfish support of my family, but you have to learn how to lean on others when necessary. That is part of maturity and growth.
Find a different point of view
Because I studied English literature, I got some different points of view from what I read in western literary work. I found the western system and ideology more ‘human’ than the eastern. But for anyone, I think it is useful to read stories about how people around the world in other places deal with similar things.
Identify with others
I used to get a lot of comfort reading the true life stories in the Chinese version of the Readers’ Digest. Also watching good films about love, family, friendship, death and war offer the opportunity to experience in your heart other people’s struggles with life and love and to realise that the hardship you yourself are experiencing is part of life which cannot be avoided. I learnt how to become strong and accepting of myself through others’ stories.
Consider inspirational writing and philosophy
I felt inspired by reading short philosophical reflections on the meaning of life, death, love and so on, like the poems and essays of Kahlil Gibran. I also remember an old lady once telling me, ‘The person who can really release you from your prison of pains is yourself.’ I think this saying comes from Buddhism. I gradually accepted her advice and tried to look for my way out.
Understand the dangers of suicidal thinking
The thought of suicide is sometimes just like a whirlpool: the more you want to escape from it, the tighter it will hold you. People who contemplate suicide can become obsessed with the very thought. Their vision becomes narrower and narrower, until finally there is no light of hope, but only complete darkness and indifference to what is going on in the world. For me, the way to get rid of the shadow of death is to work hard and treasure what I have now instead of what I had before.
Suffered and survived
Now I am proud to say I have walked out of the shadow of death and conquered it, I suffered, but I survived.