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Worn Down
Anonymous
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After Christmas vacation last year, I stopped going to school. Every morning I would wake up to go to school and feel nauseous. The nauseous feeling made me too sick to take the hour train ride to school. I thought it was because I never got enough sleep or because I wasn’t eating well.

At first, my mom kept waking me up for school every morning. She would yell at me that I was throwing away my life. For a while I’d been going to school off and on. But after a straight week of me not going, my mother stopped trying to wake me up. She gave up on me.

I knew she was disappointed in me, and everyone else in my family expressed their disapproval. What hurt the most was that my brothers called me a high school dropout.

Every time my younger brother said I was a dropout, I wanted to smack him in the head and yell, but I never did that. I just felt like more of a failure and more anxious to become a success.

I’ve always felt like my family has high hopes for me—they want me to be the first person in my mother’s family to go to college. But I also think that they don’t believe I will do well. They seem as unsure as I am that I can succeed.

I want to prove those doubts wrong. I especially want to prove to myself that I can finish high school and go to college. But last year I felt like I couldn’t handle school.

At the end of January, I started getting really bad chest pains. I’d had those pains before, and they would just come and go. But the one I had in January was agony, like a vampire had driven a stake through my heart. After that episode, I told my mother.

My mom took me to the doctor, who poked around my chest and asked me questions like, “Have you been going to school? How many brothers or sisters do you have? Where are your mom and dad?”

In the end she told me that I might be depressed, and that the nausea and chest pains could be symptoms of stress. She said she knew a good social worker that I should talk to. She made an appointment for me to see him.

Feeling depressed explained a lot of the stuff that had been happening, like that I was feeling lazy and sad and sleeping too much. It made sense to me when the doctor explained depression. Since my mother didn’t know how I was feeling, I’m not sure she understood, but she always made sure that I went to my appointments.

The first time I went to the social worker I was scared. I was afraid that he might think I was crazy or that he was just a nosy busybody. I was uncomfortable the first four sessions, but the more I talked to him, the more I revealed secrets I never knew I had.

It made me feel better having someone to talk to who didn’t know my family and didn’t already have an opinion about which side to be on. Every time I talked to him I felt happier, like a five-ton weight had just lifted off my shoulders.

Mostly, I talked to my therapist about my responsibilities at home and my relationship with my father. I think a lot of my depression revolves around my father’s abandonment of my family when I was 7.

My mother always told me my father went to China to earn some money. It was supposed to be temporary, but he never came back to live with us.

For a long time after he left, my father would come back every couple of years. He would stay only a day or two, because his most important reason to be in the U.S. was business with his clients.

In my family, we never talk about him except when he calls. I don’t know much about his relationship with my mom because he left when I was little, but from what my mother told me, he didn’t treat her well.

With him not around, my mom has had to really struggle to support our family. She usually works 13 hours a day, seven days a week, in her parents’ Chinese restaurant.

We live in a small apartment above the restaurant that is too crowded. Nine people live in three tiny bedrooms, and until this year, I shared a room with my mom and my two little brothers.

I’m the oldest and the only girl, so I have to help my mom. A lot of responsibilities and expectations fall on me.

For years, I had to work almost every day after school and all weekend in the restaurant. I also have to translate for my entire family and read their mail.

Because I speak English, they drag me from one place to another—like to the DMV, citizenship tests, school officials, the health department, and doctors. Sometimes I feel so irritated that I want to grab one of the letters and throw it on the floor and stomp on it. I never do that, though, because they would probably think I went crazy. Plus, it’s disrespectful.

At the same time, I have to go to school and I’m expected to do well there. It might not seem a lot to some, but it’s a lot to me.

I always thought that if my father was around, I would be much happier. He would help support us, my mother would not have to work so much, and I would not have to help her work. I always wanted to do after-school activities or hang out with friends, but I never have the time.

If he was still here supporting us, all my brothers and I would have to do is concentrate on school and have a normal childhood.

We would probably live in our own house, I wouldn’t have stopped going to school, and I would be in my first year in college. But instead, we have to take his place and be the father while we’re still kids.

My memories of my father aren’t all so bad. I used to be his little girl, his favorite. I would cry for him when I had a nightmare or when my family would tease me about being fat. He used to yell at my mother when she would yell at me.

When I was younger, everything seemed normal about my family. My memories seem like a fairy tale. As I got older, I started to understand that my family was dysfunctional.

When I was in sixth grade, my mother was crying all the time and my grandparents were yelling at my father. I didn’t understand why, until I found out that he was cheating on my mom and that he had another daughter by that woman. He even gave that daughter my Chinese name. That hurt me so much.

At first I wasn’t sure it was true. And I couldn’t ask. I was a kid, and kids are not supposed to know about secrets in the family. But I became positive of his cheating when I visited him in China that summer and saw his baby girl. That’s when I lost respect for my father.

When I was little, my father would sometimes ask me how I would like having another mom. My mom used to blush and laugh when he asked that. We thought he was teasing. Now I wonder if he was already cheating on my mom back then.

Still, I always felt that some day he might come back to us again. Then, two years ago, my father came back because he wanted to get his marriage certificate. The United States government was about to take away his American passport since he had been living in China for such a long time.

My mom didn’t want to give him the certificate. She thought that if he didn’t have a passport, he would stay with us in the United States. So she went into hiding because she knew my father would badger her until she gave in.

He came at night and waited for my mother until the morning.

“Damn woman,” I heard him mutter to himself. “Morning and she’s still not home.”

He started to shake me awake. “Where your mother went?”

image by Amaury Almonte

“I don’t know,” I said, my heart beating so fast. I cursed at him silently, thinking, “Damn him! Why did he have to come?”

He started cursing and went to wake up my brother.

“She’s at little aunt’s house,” my brother said. “Go away, I want to go back to sleep.”

I was shocked. “Traitorous brother telling him where our mother is. I am going to smack him later,” I reminded myself.

My father came in the room again.

“Where is your aunt’s house?”

“I don’t know.” I was beginning to sound like a parrot.

He looked at me like he wanted to smack me. He knew I was lying but I didn’t care. Then he began ranting and raving like a little boy whose candy was stolen from him. I pushed myself against the wall to get as far away as I could. I was afraid he might hit me. But instead he looked at my brand new computer with a crazed look.

“If you don’t tell me, I am going to grab the computer and smash it on the floor,” he threatened. I started crying. I never cry, but I couldn’t take the stress of having to handle this situation all by myself. I thought, “Why did Mommy leave me to deal with this?”

“I am going get some guys,” he threatened, “and have them beat up your aunt’s family.”

I was afraid that he would actually do that and I didn’t want my family hurt. So I told him that I would call her house. In the end, my dad got the papers. My mom didn’t say anything, and we didn’t talk about it.

And I never told my family what he said. I didn’t want people to know that my father is the kind of person who would have his own family beaten up. After that, I didn’t want to see him anymore.

Some might say that I have to love him because he is my dad. But I don’t. He stopped being my father when he left. I might sound bitter and angry, and I am. He is the father, not me. I want to be a child.

Part of me does sometimes wish that he would come back to help, or at least send money, but I don’t want him disrupting our lives. Usually, after I’ve seen him or talked to him, I just feel worse. He only calls when he needs something.

Everything with my father makes me feel angry, betrayed, and confused.

Though he doesn’t know how I feel, I want him to know. I don’t like having him think that he is welcome back in the family any time. I don’t like my mom having him think this way, either. I want to be able to scream and yell at him, but I never have the courage to.

All this anger at my father, combined with the stress of my family responsibilities, made me feel very depressed. I really wanted to escape from everything. Around the time I left school, whenever I felt down, I would think, “Why can’t I just die right now?” At times, when I was feeling really sad, I’d think about getting a long piece of rope and hanging myself.

When that thought was racing through my head, I was scared. I was never close to killing myself, because every time I had a weak moment, the thought of someday becoming a success kept me strong.

If I killed myself, I would never be able to prove that I am not a failure, like I sometimes feel I am. I would never be able to make my father regret leaving us.

I guess I started thinking about suicide so much because I felt like I just couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to be able to get as far away as I could from everything that was making me feel so angry and stressed.

Finally, I told my mom that I couldn’t work in the restaurant anymore. She said we couldn’t afford for me to stop completely, so now I only work on Saturdays. I have more free time to get away from my house, to do my homework, and to see friends.

When I started high school, I never hung out with any friends after school. I felt really lonely. So this is a big change.

Other times, I just walk around from store to store window shopping, or I go to the library and read. I feel so free going out and doing whatever I want and knowing that no one can contact me if they want something done.

I know I feel better than before. Last fall, I went to a new school. Now I do things I never could have imagined doing, like intern at different companies for school credit and talk to complete strangers.

Going to the counselor has helped me figure out what’s bothering me and let some of those feelings go.

I’m not completely over my depression, though. Lately, my mood has been going up and down. One moment I will be laughing with my brothers and the next I will be throwing things at them.

The littlest thing that happens at home can cause me so much anxiety. The other day, my brothers were coming in and out of my room to ask me stupid questions. I was feeling irritated with them, but I didn’t want to yell at them because that might end up as a fight.

But finally I had to scream at someone. That someone was my mother. She called and started bothering me and I exploded. I started yelling at her to leave me alone.

I hate yelling at people I care about, but when I get stressed I just can’t seem to help it. I get bottled up so tightly, I snap at anyone in my way.

Sometimes I feel like hiding under my blankets. Other times I feel like embracing every event that is going on.

What I really want now is to finish high school so I can go to a far away college and get away from home. It makes me happy that I have actually gotten accepted to a college. It’s not the best college in the world, but it’s a start.

I want to become successful, or at least graduate from college, so I can prove to my family that I can make it. I still feel unsure about myself, though. Sometimes I worry that I’m not smart enough to get good grades or that I will screw up like I did during high school.

I want to say that I have complete confidence in myself that I will be OK, but I can’t. I don’t know that I won’t mess up in college.

I want to be able to tell my father that I have become a successful person and that he had nothing to do with it. And it’s important to me for my mother to be able to say, “My daughter is in school and she’s studying to be a doctor or a computer expert.” I want everyone to look at me and think that my mother did a wonderful job.

DATING VIOLENCE OR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN THE FAMILY
To talk to a crisis counselor about domestic violence, call 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) or live chat at thehotline.org.

DEPRESSION/SUICIDE
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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(NYC-2000-05-22)

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