Depression and Suicide: How I Chose Life


My mom used to teach me and my sisters songs every night. We’d be up and about singing and dancing.

My parents also used to play a music video of a Hmong woman singing for us. We watched her over and over and over again. She’d always be singing in a bed of flowers. My sisters and I would point to her on the screen fighting over which image of her we were.

I’ve loved music since I could remember.

I took piano lessons as a kid, but it wasn’t consistent because my family moved around a lot and we didn’t always have money to pay for the lessons.

My first generation Hmong parents didn’t know how to support me in my musical endeavors.

I don’t blame them.

They didn’t know how important it was for me to practice everyday in order to get any good. They didn’t know that they needed to stand behind me counting, “1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4,” while clapping to the beat and telling me, “close...but that’s not a G… it's a C” or when I finally learned a musical piece to say, “Oh you did such a good job dear!”

It just didn’t happen.

They didn’t know anything about formal music and they were too busy trying to keep me and my other 7 siblings alive by putting food on the table and a roof over our heads. 

By the time I got into middle school, I knew I wanted to sing and to play music.

But I felt like I wasn’t good enough.

I didn’t have enough practice and I didn’t have enough money to pay for the lessons. I had a dream but I didn’t believe that I could get there. I felt like I was too far behind already (so dramatic, I know).

So, although I was an extremely bubbly and outgoing teenager, laughing and giggling all the time -- no one knew that for years, I’d cry myself to sleep, feeling depressed and worthless.

I believed I wasn’t gifted enough, talented enough, or smart enough. I just wasn’t enough.

Top that off with a culture where parents don’t show much affection or say “I love you” to their kids much, and you’ve got a hot mess.

Because I believed that my life was already ruined, even at the tender age of 13, I thought, maybe it would be better if I wasn’t around anymore.

I’d lay in bed at night wondering what it would be like to not exist, to no longer burden my parents with having to care for me.

I thought to myself, “At least if I’m gone, that’s one less mouth to feed.”

Have you ever felt like that?

Have you ever felt like you’re just not good enough?

Like you couldn’t change your circumstances and so the best thing to do was to end it all?

Have you ever felt like your world was so dark that even the brightest light couldn’t illuminate your soul?

Have you ever felt like maybe suicide was your only option?

Last week, Kate Spade, a world famous fashion designer and Anthony Bourdain, a world famous chef, author, and television personality, both died by suicide. They were at the peak of their success. They were wealthy, famous, and created things that people loved.

Yet they must have secretly dealt with so much mental and emotional pain that they felt the only option they had was to take their own life.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. On average, there are 123 suicides per day. And the most common mental illness leading to suicide is depression.

We often think, “The better off you are, the fewer problems you will have.”

Yet, affluent kids are at a higher risk for developing depression and anxiety disorders which many times lead to suicide.

Suicide is not just something that happens “out there.” It is also something that happens in our Hmong community.

There have been multiple times where I’d be scrolling through my Facebook feed and see GoFundMe pages set up to help fund a young Hmong person’s funeral because they took their own life.

I’ve also talked with a number of young Hmong women who have struggled with postpartum depression, often having gone through it alone because their spouse and friends and family didn’t understand the seriousness of it.

As the Hmong community in the US becomes more educated and continues to prosper financially, rates of depression and suicide are also going up. Yet...we barely ever talk about it.

Is there anything that we can do to fight against depression which can lead to suicide?

Depression and other anxiety disorders are caused by so many different factors, such as genetics, chemistry, personality, and life events, that it can be overwhelming to even start thinking about what we can do to help. It can feel overwhelming.

But I believe the first thing we need to do is talk about it.

We need to be honest enough to talk about our struggles with depression and other mental illnesses so that others can feel safe enough to open up as well.

So, although I don’t have all the answers and I feel like this is so over my head, I want to share my experience and what has helped me. My hope is that, maybe, just maybe, it can help someone.

I want to let you know this important truth: 
you’re not alone.

I was depressed as a young teen and contemplated suicidal thoughts because I felt stuck. I felt like I couldn't change my situation. I felt like my destiny was predetermined and it was a bad one.

But a conversation I had with a friend changed my way of thinking forever.

He told me, “It doesn’t matter whether people like you or not, it doesn’t matter how good or bad you are at something, if you can do just one thing really well, nothing and no one can stop you from achieving your dreams.”

I realized that if I could make progress in learning how to play music, once I got to a place where I felt better about myself in that area of my life, I could do the same in other parts of my life as well.

That one conversation was a major paradigm shift for me and it changed everything.

I went from thinking, “There’s nothing I can do to change my circumstances,” to asking instead, “What can I do to get what I want?”

By changing my self talk, I was able to see a path forward.

Smart people call this mental shift going from a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset

This is one of the most powerful and valuable concepts I’ve learned. It has guided me through my life and has helped me get to where I am today.

Heck, it might be the reason why I’m still here.

So let me just take a quick moment to break down these two mindsets so you can better understand what they are...because, friends, this is POWERFUL!

Fixed Mindset

People with a fixed mindset simply believe that we’re all born a certain way and we can’t change that. Smart people are smart. Dumb people are dumb. Strong people are strong. Weak people are weak. We are what we are and we cannot change it.

Fixed mindset people often compare themselves to others. They feel like they need to prove themselves to others...and to themselves.

Fixed mindset people like to blame others for their wrongs, and when they are faced with their own shortcomings, they change the focus or swing to the extreme of beating themselves up over and over again.

They hide their flaws so others can’t label them as a failure. Why? Because fixed mindset people believe they can’t change and if they have a flaw, that means they are the flaw.

Growth Mindset

In contrast, people with a growth mindset believe anyone can be good at anything because they believe our abilities and skills can be developed through dedication and hard work. Our abilities are simply a result of what we do.

They understand that no one ever does anything great without years of practice and learning.

Instead of focusing on how good or bad others are, they focus on becoming the best versions of themselves.

Growth mindset people see failure as lessons to learn and grow from. Their flaws are things they simply need to work at.


Being cognizant of our mindset is extremely important because, it’s so common for people who are depressed to feel like they are helpless. They feel like they have no control over anything in their life.

And when we feel like we have no control, we stop doing things to change our circumstances. Instead, we become angry, anxious, depressed, and potentially suicidal.

When I moved from a fixed mindset toward a growth mindset

I started to see the possibilities instead of the impossibilities. When I had a fixed mindset, I would continually focus on what I didn’t have or what I couldn’t do. When I chose to have a growth mindset, I began focusing on what I did have and what I could do.

I didn’t simply go from being pessimistic to optimistic, I was empowered to move forward instead of feeling trapped.

I decided to go to college and major in music. I joined choir and band and even started writing music again.

My depression and suicidal thoughts stopped.

My confidence in my musical abilities grew, and as a result, my confidence overall started to grow as well.

I have not in any way perfected a growth mindset, but I am a completely different person from that little girl, crying in bed every night, contemplating suicide.

I live empowered, knowing that I have the opportunity and RESPONSIBILITY to create the life I want to live, to achieve my goals, and to pursue my dreams.

Now that I have children

I see why it is even more important to have a growth mindset.

I know what it’s like to be in that dark place where you feel like you have no control over anything, where you feel like ending it all is the best option, and I don’t want my children to ever experience that.

One of my biggest fears is to lose my children, and I can’t even imagine if it were due to suicide.

So one thing that I’m going to do is cultivate a growth mindset in my children so that they will be empowered, knowing that they have so much more power than they realize in creating their life.

How do we help our children develop a growth mindset?

One simple way to change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset is to change your self talk.

And this isn’t just for our kids. It’s for us too. We need to be cognizant of what we say to ourselves so that our children can learn from us. We are their models.

Here are a few examples of how we can change our self talk:

  • Fixed mindset: “I’m going to look ridiculous doing that.”
  • Growth mindset: “I am brave for trying.”

  • Fixed mindset: “I can’t do it.”
  • Growth mindset: "I can't do it yet but I'll figure it out."
  • Fixed mindset: “I’m not smart.”
  • Growth mindset: "I can learn."

  • Fixed mindset: “I’m not good at it.”
  • Growth mindset: "What am I missing and how can I get it?"

  • Fixed mindset: “You’re such a natural!”
  • Growth mindset: “Keep practicing and you can become a master at it!”

  • Fixed mindset: “You’re so smart."
  • Growth mindset: “You’re hard work in math really shows.”

Our children need words to help them develop resilience and confidence which will give them a growth mindset.

“The words you speak become the house you live in.” – Hafiz

Get our Transforming Self-Talk PDF so that you can print it off and put it on your refrigerator. The more you see it, the more you will be prompted to change the way you speak to yourself :)

 

I am not a doctor or a therapist and I am not giving medical advice. I’m just sharing my experience and hope that it might be helpful to some of you.

If you are wrestling with suicidal thoughts and feel like you have no one to turn to, please call the Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

Don’t give up. Choose life. You are worth it.

Have you ever struggled with depression or suicide and how did you get through it?


11 comments


  • Bao Xiong

    love It! It’s always nice to have a support system and your biggest supporter will have to be from within “yourself”. Totally Team “Growth perspective”.


  • Chia Moua

    There’s more work to be done than to just solely alone educate just the youth on mental health. I think it’s much more than just understanding the culture and the perspective of our parents. It is also important to help older generations come around to the idea that mental health is real. It’s easy to understand that cancer is real because often times we can see the outside affect. However we cannot always see the signs of one’s deteriorating mental health. I remember growing up I felt a similar way and when I told my parents I wanted to end my life my mom laughed at me and my dad told me that no relatives can hear about this. Quite honestly this is sad. But unfortunately this is the world most kids are brought up in because our parents struggle with showing us that needed affection and support. And I know this stems from their own parents not really showing our parents this kind of love. Thus going forward we must do better. As the oldest child I was always yearning for my parents emotional love. So I constantly always made the effort to try help them do so. For example I would always tell them I loved them and told them to say it back. I always encouraged them to not be too quick to compare me to other cousins and look at how great of a job they have done in raising me. And this journey was not easy. My parents didn’t understand where I was trying to come from and we always argued about one another’s perspectives. Fast forward 7-10 years later, now my parents don’t always accept but they understand that we as their kids just see the world a little different. My mom now after having just recently lost her father now tells me she loves me and expresses to me her struggles of being a Nyab. This is just my story. But the real question is where does the work begin? And quite frankly I don’t know. The journey of breaking down our cultural norms and bringing these taboo conversations to surface is different for everyone. But I encourage these conversations just as I’m speaking of mental health now and my own experiences. It must start somewhere. So do you have enough courage to ignite a conversation?

    #breakingnorms #igniteaconversationnow


  • Julie Yang

    Yes and yes! I studied Psychology during my undergrad and have seen this as a real problem within all ethnic minority groups, but I especially want to help our Hmong people. I believe this is a step towards opening ourselves to mental health. I appreciate all you written and ending with a way to encourage others.


  • Ying

    You are truly right. Loved this piece. I also watched the live set and remember you talking about this too. Sometimes the most simple and basic is the most difficult. Fixed mindset to growth mindset.


  • Michelle

    Loved this post. If you can email me, I’d like to share something personal with you regarding this topic. :)


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