By Hope Chookazian
This profile is part of our “Faces of Depression” series, in honor of Depression Awareness Month.
TW: Depression, Anxiety, Child Abuse
“I had to fake an illness to go to the hospital,” BingQian Tang recounts of the time she wanted to seek help for suicidal thoughts but her family refused to acknowledge her struggles.
First-generation Chinese immigrant Tang emigrated from Fuzhou, a rural town in southeast China, to the Upper East Side of Manhattan when she was 11 years old. This relocation proved to play a pivotal role in the isolating feelings she would feel throughout her life.
“I barely spoke English, I felt extremely lonely,” Tang said. “I always felt isolated, you can’t build a friendship when you don’t speak the language. I didn’t have friends growing up.”
Tang’s family felt being Americanized was very important and enrolled her in an all-white middle school, but that also led to more feelings of loneliness.
“There was little to no Asian culture in the Upper East Side,” she explained. “It was hard for me to connect with my culture or find anyone who speaks mandarin.”
Tang recalls being bullied and stigmatized so badly throughout middle school that by the time she was able to speak enough English in high school she was too scared to try and connect with others.
“I felt like everyone thought I was the smart Asian person who knows kung fu, that eats bats and rats,” she said. “If everyone thought that there was no point in reaching out to make friends.”
This social isolation was only the tip of the iceberg for Tang. She describes the treatment she received at home made her feel as though she should be isolated.
“Everything I did, or even if I didn’t do anything they would just find anything negative,” she explained. “From my weight to how my hair looked that day, any aspect they would find something.”
Tang was primarily raised by her father and paternal grandmother. She acknowledges her father was dealing with a lot of toxic masculinity and suppressing his emotions which played a pivotal way in how he raised her. “He wanted me to be like him, so he forced that on me,” she said.
“My family always stressed they are the only people that loved me,” she explained. “My family keeps telling me negative things about myself, I felt like if the only people who know me say those things it must be true.”
Tang, now 20, was diagnosed with depression four years ago.
“I didn’t believe I had depression,” she said. “In my culture depression is being crazy.”
One lesson she’s learned in therapy was that her family doesn’t represent her culture.
“Family has a unique culture of its own,” she explained. “The way they treat me, universally, is not okay. They use the Chinese culture as an excuse.”
Her home life was toxic for her mental health ever since she can remember, and at the age of 16 Tang remembers being admitted to the psychiatric ward in Bellvue hospital for a month due to suicidal thoughts.
Before being allowed to go to the emergency room to seek help, she recounts being met with criticism and disagreement from her family.
“She’s okay, she’s not sick, why does she need to go to the hospital?” they told her.
But she persevered and found the strength to get to the hospital without their support.
“It was nice, I was able to meet friends and I was told it was okay to have feelings,” Tang reminisced about her hospital stay. “That was something I never heard before.”
The average stay in the psychiatric ward could be anywhere between two or three weeks. Tang details staying longer because she did not feel safe going home.
CPS eventually got involved, however, mental and emotional abuse was much harder to prove. “My family denied ever doing harm to me,” Tang said. “Without bruises and scars on my body, it was hard to prove they did anything to me.”
Tang later chose to enter foster care instead of returning home. “I was very lucky to get a supportive foster mom,” she detailed. “I know other people have been through homes that were not good and didn’t provide good shelter or food”
While Tang maintains contact with that foster mom, she explained she just opened contact with her family again. “I got in contact with my mom during Christmas of 2020,” she said.
Tang’s mother wasn’t in her life up until 2020. She believes her father to be responsible for that. “I think my dad’s family held resentment for the divorce and said to not talk to her, she’s evil,” she said.
This caused Tang to grow up with the belief that her mother did not love her, and only her father’s side of the family did further isolating her.
Now she talks to her mom every Sunday and her dad once a week. Though there is an open line of communication, it still isn’t healthy.
“I felt comfortable and opened up to my mom a little bit,” she explained. “I told her I cried due to stress and she said ‘why would you cry? Only weak people cry.’”
Tang came to the realization this mentality wasn’t true. “By suppressing yourself and now allowing your emotions out, that’s weakness, not the opposite.”
As Tang got older and entered college, she felt as though friendship was a foreign concept. “I think socialization is a skill to practice and learn,” she said. “I didn’t ever do anything with anyone other than my family, this was all new to me.”
Due to the negativity throughout her formative years at home, she recounts having reservations around building friendships.“Why would these people want to be my friend? Why would I want to be friends with someone that sucks so much?” she detailed.
By taking baby steps, Tang has allowed herself to be more open to friendships and connections. “It’s not that scary!” she exclaimed. “It’s good to have people around you that you can trust, and hang out with.”
Despite the obstacles, Tang spent time reflecting on how far she’s come in her mental health journey. She is able to deal with her anxious and depressive symptoms differently now. “I used to shut down, not deal with anything and block everything out,” she said. “And now when I get upset and depressed I tell myself you need to talk.”
Depression is very complex and everyone experiences it differently. While uncommonly known, but very commonly present in individuals, depression can show up as irritability or anger.
Tang has expressed experiencing those symptoms “I would go through a period of calm then explode then go back to calm again.”
Similarly, Tang was able to attribute most of her past experiences, and feelings back to her depression. “Me not able to focus, not being able to shower, not wanting to talk to anyone, crying all the time, and feeling weak or fatigued despite having enough rest,” she explained. “all of that can be explained by depression.”
Due to the adversity she faced, she has become an advocate for therapy and is very vocal about expressing the importance of reaching out.
“I couldn’t do it without my therapists, psychiatrists, or friends,” she said. “Don’t fight alone, everyone wants to see you at your best, reach out you will be surprised how many people are there for you. The ability to trust and open your heart is a beautiful thing.”