"Whatever feeling you have, it does not need to be for the rest of your life."
When I emailed my therapist in March, depressed out of my mind, I tried to make it all seem as glamorous as possible. “Imagine me,” I wrote, “as a Victorian woman of some status, lying on a velvet chaise with my hand on my forehead, shedding tears as fat as quails eggs.” Right before I admitted to wanting to die so I thought I needed a joke to lighten the mood.
My therapist was in Cabo at that time with a spotty wifi connection and her beautiful family of four. I was sitting on an unmade bed with sheets lined in snot from crying about a gallon of tears a day. I lay down a lot. I was cold all the time. I forced myself to eat bland food (bagels with cream cheese, congee fortified with tofu, avocado sushi) despite waves of nausea, and the cognitive dissonance of wanting to die but putting nourishment in my body. I emailed my professors begging for extensions and leeway.
I’ve always tussled with emotions, having both a lot of them as well as a Chinese family who told me feelings were to be compartmentalized then destroyed. Before being depressed, I dealt with emotions by dismissing their validity or utility. I would think, “As a privileged kid coasting through college on my family’s dime, I don’t deserve to be stressed out.” Or, “What’s the point in being sad? It’s not going to un-rape me.” Usually, it was fine. I hunkered down, got good grades, maintained social relationships, widely avoided any major hang ups or breakdowns. If I got really distraught I’d treat myself to Triple-Os or something.
My last year at UBC was crappy enough that didn’t work. I took too many classes, got too little sleep, had a few unfortunate breakups, and carried around the knowledge that in a few months, I’d be out of school; jobless, directionless, and living in Trump-ruled America. By March I was ready to give up. While I knew everything I felt was only temporary, it was intolerable to go on any longer.
I knew I couldn’t commit suicide. My high school, within which I had a very good time, has an unfortunate history with student suicides. In 2015 the Atlantic sent a reporter to Palo Alto to write a long article about the treachery of Silicon Valley school districts and the horrors of my high school. I felt that if I jumped off the Granville Island bridge someone would write another article about how Gunn High School destroys its students so thoroughly that even years later they succumb to its effects, and I couldn’t let that happen on my watch. I recognize it’s pretty silly, but it was enough to keep me on the 14 bus past the bridge and into downtown, all the way to my therapist’s office.
I started seeing my therapist in my third year at UBC, after I realized I never dealt with being assaulted at 18. I spent most of our sessions making blithe jokes about being assaulted (“Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, fool me three times, holy shit Christina! Get your life together!”) and complaining about my parents. Once in a while, my therapist would hand me a stack of tissues and say, “It’s okay to be vulnerable here.” I’d pack back whatever I was on the verge of and crack another grin.
This time I rolled into her office and went for the Cottonelles. It didn’t make any sense to invalidate or deny how fucking horrible I felt. I cried, we talked, I cried some more. I scheduled an appointment for the next week. Since I didn’t have any more therapy insurance for the year, I paid for it out of pocket, and for the next one as well. The tone of our appointments changed. While I was always honest and open during sessions, I didn’t always apply her advice to my life. It felt a little romantic to feel bad sometimes; I liked that I was stoic and humorous about pain. When I saw her in March my only goal was to stop wanting to die all the time and I was pretty much willing to do what I needed to get there.
Her solution ended up being pretty simple. I had to let myself experience a damn emotion for once, then take care of myself. Turns out, feeling bad about feeling bad really just makes the feeling bad even worse. I gave myself the space to ask for extensions from my professors, and to temporarily pause the job search. I leaned on my friends a lot. One day, a friend hauled her PS3 and TV to my house, and kept me company all day. My roommate lent me a much coveted fuzzy plaid blanket. I called a friend from high school for hours some nights, and she patiently listened to me ramble all the way from Berkeley, California. After months of feeling totally anguished, I slowly started to remember what it was like to be a little happy. I still liked to cook, even if I didn’t usually feel like eating. It still felt good to sing along to 2000’s pop music in the shower. I still liked the way I looked in a new red lipstick.
Telling myself it was okay to feel what I was feeling was a difficult shift, even though it was one I wanted to make. I always thought emotions were some great Everest I had to overcome. In actuality, emotions are just another vital aspect of being alive, like having a conscious or a sense of smell. My therapist told me to treat myself like I’d treat a friend (“Would you tell your best friend to just ‘get over’ a breakup?”) and from there I started to become more comfortable addressing emotions in a neutral, rather than destructive, way.
When I left school I was shaky but standing. I wasn’t really happy, but I wasn’t so much of a mess. When I arrived back in California after my last final, I found another therapist and continued where I left off.
My new therapist is really nice. She’s kind, and she’ll listen to me talk, but she also knows when to be firm (“When you’re done beating yourself up, we can get back to the topic at hand”). Even though I’m not a total catastrophe anymore, I still see her every two weeks just to debrief and optimize. It’s been eight months since March and overall, I’m doing a lot better. I have a job that I really enjoy, and I’m slowly figuring out how to function outside the structures of academia. I’m still friends with the friends that supported me, despite leaving Vancouver. I still have bad days, and really bad days, but I’m better prepared to deal with them. And I have plenty of good days as well.
Hey TTP community!
2018 is officially in full swing and I hope you're jumping into this semester well-rested and energized. Seeing as it's a new year, I'd like to begin with transparency and clarity.
Recently, I realized there might be some misconceptions about the TTP and what the organization and community is about. There have been many newcomers and new changes in the past few months and I want to make sure that there's no miscommunication or misunderstanding, and maintain the same high standard of transparency that TTP is known for.
1. The Tipping Point is currently and will always be a non-profit organization:
The Tipping Point Mental Health Society is currently, has always been, and will always be a 100% government-overseen registered non-profit organization. Anything we take in goes towards either our overhead costs like keeping the website running, renting meeting space, or other various expenses, like one day hopefully paying the team of volunteers that keep it all running. I have personally put in thousands of dollars of my own (and my parents!) money to build and maintain this society. Registered nonprofits have strict legal rules around its operations and we've always been careful to follow them.
2. The Tipping Point is NOT a medical service.
If you are currently struggling with suicidal ideation, please stop reading and contact the Crisis Interventions and Suicide Prevention Centre. TTP is not a counseling service or a peer support group. We are an organization that initiates the challenging conversations around mental health in academia, in an intersectional perspective. We originated with the mission of advocating for systemic change on the level of academic policy, but we have been shifting the central goal of the organization as we realized that advocacy within a large system like a university is going to take a long time to have an effect, and we currently do not have the resources to take on this exhausting feat. We'll get on it when it makes sense. That said, we do have a list of student-run resources on our website that UBC students have access to, should they feel the need to.
3. Ji Youn's Coaching Program, Formerly Tip Labs
First, a little backstory for context:
In the past few years, I have responded to messages from and talked to hundreds of students who struggle with overwhelming stress and anxiety. They are looking for guidance and solutions on how to manage their stress and build a work-life balance and hopefully not burn out. As many of you know, I was one of these students, and it was a painful experience because like these students, I found that schools, books, and existing programs did not fully help people like myself, people who sought personal growth strategies that were understanding of the limitations of my mental illness.
Fortunately, with a lot of trial and error, and after investing hundreds of hours (and dollars) into personal development tools and enrollment in coaching services, I figured out a system that can be incredibly helpful for a lot of people who burned out due to overwhelming stress and the inability to focus due to diagnosed mental health issues. People like myself.
This brings us to what I’m doing today:
I would love to be able to spend every waking minute offering free coaching and advice (and I do sometimes! I will take on pro-bono cases to help those who are in need on a case-by-case basis. If you feel like you need this style of coaching but can't afford it, please send me an email at email@example.com). Coaching is a time and energy intensive process, and I take my job seriously. I'm proud to be able to say that every single one of my clients has seen tremendous progress through this work and I'm deeply honored to be a part of their lives. If you'd like to read about their (unedited!) experiences, click here.
Most importantly, I do not take on the role of a therapist or counsellor to my clients. I am not a medical professional and do not have the credentials to offer treatment as such. In fact, I make a point to refuse to work with clients that have been diagnosed with mental illness if they are not already working with a counsellor/therapist. I help students optimize their focus, organize their commitments for work-life balance, and manage stress. I incorporate empathy, compassionate communication and disciplined self-care for my clients because I know how tough university can be on their mental health. However, I do not address the treatment of mental illness. This is personal and professional development, not counselling.
Like any other coaching and consulting service, there is no one-size-fits-all option. It's important that students find what is exactly right for them, from seeing a therapist, involvement in a club or other extracurricular, or the personalized coaching that I provide. Because of this I offer a 100%, no questions asked money back guarantee if clients try the first session and decide it's not for them.
4. Unbranding of Tip Labs
We are going to be updating the TTP website over the next couple months so it will accurately show the changes and improvements we have planned, and to phase Tip Labs out of the TTP brand and onto my own business webpage. We welcome discussion and any communication about this topic because mental health is so easily ignored, and because people who don't understand the experience can easily reduce it to "well counseling exist already so why does there need to be anything more?" It's important to remember that just because other people want to minimize your needs doesn't mean those needs aren't valid, and a solution that is right for someone else doesn't necessarily have to be right for you.
Hopefully that brings some clarity to The Tipping Point and my own individual work. As always, please feel free to contact us through our Facebook page or send me an email.
Have an amazing 2018.
Yours in love and health,