When Julie was 7 her family owned the only Chinese restaurant in Birtle, Manitoba. She would sit with white woman as they enjoyed cups of tea and coffee. The women would often tell Julie that she was exotic. She experienced this type of racial stereotype all the time growing up.
They were the only Chinese family in Birtle – so it was evident early on that Julie was different. She had black hair, “monolid” eyes (eyes that do not have a crease on the eyelid) and would bring “foreign” lunches to school – because of that she was constantly teased at school.
“I think part of it is just biological, but the other part was nurtured by my upbringing. I knew I wasn’t like everyone else,” says Julie, now 27. “That isolation and that sense of not belonging has a foundation in how I was treated due to my race and ethnicity growing up.”
She was 14 when she was diagnosed with depression. She would stay up till 5 a.m., skip school and lock herself in her room due to her mental illness. At first, her parents didn’t understand what was wrong with her.
However, they assumed that her depression would go away after seeing a doctor. They believed it was as simple as fixing a cold. The doctor would prescribe drugs; she would take the drugs and she would be all better. But that wasn’t the case.
“My parents have a lot of faith in the medical system. It was the most they could do,” says Julie. “At first it was hard because my mom didn’t understand why the medication wasn’t helping right away. She didn’t know why I wasn’t happy.”
Because Julie was living with depression and missing out on school she alienated herself from her friends. She felt as if she didn’t belong in their circle, and that she wasn’t good enough for them because she was different.
She was unhappy in Birtle. Her relationship with her parents wasn’t any better, so at the age of 15 Julie moved to Winnipeg and lived with her older brother.
She continued to take prescription drugs for her depression into high school and early university. But Julie struggled in university. She hated going to class and she didn’t have friends. She constantly compared herself to her peers and was always worried about how people viewed her.
To take control of her mental health, Julie sought out counselling. Her parents don’t fully understand the complexity of mental health but they’ve accepted that their daughter needed help.
She’s learned to be more straightforward with her parents in moments where her depression is at its peak. They understand when to give her space or to take her out for lunch on days where she doesn’t want to be alone. She considers her parents and siblings a strong support system for her.
“I’d be lying if I said I was a lot better, but some days it feels like I’m still 15 years old and have no idea what I’m doing or I haven’t progressed at all,” says Julie. “If I can go back and talk to my younger self when she was 13, I would tell her to find any sort of positivity. Don’t’ compare yourself to others because that’s when you begin to spiral.”
Despite her parents’ lack of knowledge about mental illness, she is grateful for their support in her seeking professional help. She still sees a counsellor and takes prescription drugs for depression, but acknowledges that her mental health is better than a few years ago.
She is able to cope with anxiety and stress better by listening to music she loves, spending time with her girlfriend and playing video games.