Excerpt for Boys' Moods Matter: Overcoming My Struggle with Depression by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

What people are saying about

Boys’ Moods Matter

“In this inspiring and uplifting book, the author speaks out about an increasingly common mental illness among teenagers - depression, all from his own personal experiences. His amazing stories and reflections will help many teenagers with similar struggles and help parents understand the mind of a teenager during the difficult and uncertain adolescent years.”

-- CAROL L., M.D., Ph.D., Board-certified physician

“The universe comes to a complete stop the moment you realize your child is on the edge of suicide. Joseph’s book gives an exceedingly insightful understanding into the mysterious turmoil of a teenage mind. Through Joseph’s experiences, we are equipped with the compass of communication to navigate these turbulent teenage years.”

-- ALEX L., youth minister

“Anxiety and depression are prevalent among teenagers. Unfortunately, they are still taboo subjects in our community. I applaud Joseph for his courage to seek professional help and to share his story with others. My son is also sensitive, introverted, and intelligent, and he too faces many challenges that Joseph had mentioned in this book. As loving parents, we strive to provide our best to our children. However, when we are busy trying to pave the straightest and shortest path (that we could perceive) for their success, we might have neglected to hear our children’s voices along the way: The pace may be too fast and they need time and space to find their own paths and identities. Joseph, thank you for being a voice for the many boys who are silently struggling with depression. Yes, boys’ moods matter.”

-- YING Y., mother of two boys

“Joseph provides an engaging personal story in relation to a rising issue among youth that often gets dismissed as teen angst. I found his perspective very relatable, and find that it's crucial for parents and school administrators to start acknowledging mental illness and depression as an existing issue in teenagers, especially against the stigma that boys shouldn't be sensitive.”

-- STEPHEN H., age 17

“Joseph's book is an empowering book on depression from the point of view of a teenager. In a competitive learning environment with the pressure to get the highest GPA, Joseph’s underlying message on how to cope with depression is inspiring to read. It shows that therapy is always an option. As a high school student, it is empowering to know that it's not just me trying to cope with these problems.”

-- AARON H., age 14

“Every teenager goes through a rebellious stage for a variety of reasons. Joseph’s book highlights that if teenagers do not find a timely and effective solution to release their frustrations, they may suffer from irritability and eventually, depression. When the depression escalates, it may cause teens to give up on themselves and commit suicide. I believe that Joseph’s memoir should be read by all teenagers, but more importantly, it should be read by all parents. Teenagers have the opportunity to learn from Joseph’s experience and seek the help that they need. Parents have the opportunity to learn how an adolescent’s physical and mental health can be affected by social and academic pressures and can thus provide a nurturing environment for their child.”

-- JASON X., professor of mathematics and Educator of the Year







By Joseph D. Lou

Copyright 2018 by Joseph D. Lou

Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of

the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial

purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own

copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.

First Edition, 2018

Published in the United States of America

Table of Contents


1 - Introduction

2 - The Intervention: Therapy Time

3 - The Person: The Sensitive Guy

4 - The Label: The Genius

5 - The Challenge: Community College

6 - The Comparison: My Harvard Sister

7 - The Rejection: Signs of Depression

8 - The Expectation: Conflicts with Parents

9 - The Lesson: Finding a Voice

10 - My Self Therapy: The Piano

11 - How Things Are Today

12 - Boys’ Moods Matter

About the Author

Connect with Joseph Lou


You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

-- Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

As a practicing School Psychologist who has done individual and group therapy with many Preschool through 12th-grade students, consulted and held meetings with many parents and teachers, and intervened in many mental health crises, I have seen first-hand the stigma that can be associated with mental/psychiatric illnesses and the negative consequences the stigma can have on a child or adolescent’s life. As a result of the stigma that is frequently attached to mental/psychiatric illnesses, it is a topic that often goes unspoken. Due to cultural norms and expectations, this is especially true for male adolescents.

Joseph Lou’s book provides a rare insight into the mind of a teenage boy who has struggled with depression and suicidal ideation and overcome it. As a result of therapy and self-introspection that has led to self-awareness, Joseph is able to reveal the innermost part of his soul to the public and give a voice to the voiceless with his book. In this book, he discusses his personal experiences of what triggered the onset of his depression, what it was like to go through it, and what it took to overcome it. Joseph’s selflessness and desire to help others have allowed him to disregard any shame or embarrassment that might have come from writing this book and sharing it with his readers so that others can have the resources that he wished he had while going through depression.

Of course, Joseph’s strong cognitive abilities, diligence, and hard work speak for themselves in all contributing to his academic success. However, it is even more important to recognize the mental strength and resilience that it took for him to go through and overcome his symptoms of depression, including suicidal ideation. Not only did his symptoms of depression not hinder him from succeeding academically, but they also made him a more mature and empathetic person than he was before. Joseph has been able to combine both his strong cognitive abilities and his social/emotional intelligence to not only share his story with others, but also to help other children, adolescents, and parents of children and adolescents who have gone though, are going through, or will go through symptoms of depression. In Joseph’s own words, “Mental health affects all human beings in one way or another, no matter the scale.”

Christina Chen, Psy.D., School Psychology

Psychologist at Oakland Unified School District

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"In the end, everything will be okay. If it's not okay, it's not the end."

-- John Lennon

Everyone has a story to tell. I feel compelled to share mine because I know what I went through can be very similar to what other teens have experienced. The least I can do is to share my story in an effort to reach out to those who have felt as alone and frustrated as I have. Truthfully, my story lacks some of the drama that other teens go through in their lives: unimaginable terrors dealing with physical or sexual abuse. I realize that I have been blessed in many ways, but I have also realize that mental health affects all human beings in one way or another, no matter the scale. Being a rather sensitive person, my upbringing in an intense academic environment has brought forth its own set of challenges. To be completely honest, it is unnerving to publicly divulge my innermost thoughts and feelings in a book, and some things are probably too personal to mention in public; however, I feel that by sharing my story, I can disprove the misconception that seeking a mental health therapist is taboo. I believe that we are all doing the best we can in this journey called life, so why not get the help we need along the way?

This book has been organized by categories, which I thought could be relatable to most people, even though the specific experiences are unique to each individual. I think a lot of teenagers have dealt with being labeled, conflicts with parents, girl (or boy) problems, and coping with some sort of personal challenge. Whatever those experiences may be for you, I hope you will find my story to be helpful. If you are a parent, I hope my story will help you understand what your child may be thinking, keeping in mind that every teenager is different. But rest assured, seeking a mental health professional is nothing to be ashamed of, and I hope that everyone can understand how important it is to deal with one’s emotional well-being.

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The Intervention: Therapy Time

"Emotional pain is not something that should be hidden away and never spoken about. There is truth in your pain, there is growth in your pain, but only if it’s first brought out into the open.”

-- Steve Aitchison

I guess it started after my outburst in August 2016. My parents decided to consult a professional therapist after hearing me shout suicidal comments during a rather intense altercation between my parents and me. On the way to see Dr. Brown, I stayed quiet because honestly I was a little insulted and ticked off - why did I need to see this guy? There was nothing wrong with me. I couldn’t believe that my parents thought I had a mental problem.

When we arrived, we all sat down together with the psychologist. The doctor, a kind old man, began to talk to us, asking random questions and taking notes on whatever I said. The first few sessions involved my parents telling Dr. Brown about the incident and explaining what kind of child I was. My dad mentioned that I had been disrespectful to my mom, saying that I acted out of line. I admit, I acted like a brat to my mom, but she had accused me of not putting effort into a task which I had tried over and over to accomplish. My parents went on to tell Dr. Brown about my suicidal comments and concerning anger issues. After that, the doctor asked my parents to leave the room so that he could talk to me one on one. I was glad for the individual sessions because I could speak to him without worrying about what my parents might say.

Dr. Brown figured out that I was more emotional than other people my age, especially for a boy. After several sessions and some tests, it was no surprise to me when I found out that I was depressed; I had been suspecting it and saying so to my parents and friends for the past few months. I think I always knew there was something “wrong” with me, on a subconscious level of course, but I didn’t know exactly what it was. Since elementary school, I had been different from the other kids. From the outside looking in, it seemed like a fantastic difference. That was because, to most people, I was considered a “genius,” and who wouldn’t want to ace everything at school? Being called smart by my peers felt great at first, but eventually, it became a nuisance and a pain because it isolated me from other kids, and frankly speaking, I wasn’t someone who particularly enjoyed all the attention. In fact, I despised it.

When the therapy sessions started, my fears became real. I was mentally ill. There was something seriously wrong with me. My brain is messed up. Imagine that. I was given an official psychological diagnostic test which was 482 questions long and took me two hours to answer all the true/false questions. The results came back in a few weeks, and although a little more than I expected, they weren’t too surprising. In short, it said that I was socially introverted, depressed, slightly obsessive-compulsive (OCD), and again, socially introverted. It repeatedly mentioned that I didn’t like interaction with unfamiliar people, which I already knew. I also knew I was introverted and (kind of) depressed, but the OCD diagnosis was pretty cool. Due to my organizational tendencies and pickiness when it comes to the way things are done, many of my friends have joked that I had OCD, but they didn’t fully know what it was, so I couldn’t simply believe them. I know it’s odd, but I took the OCD diagnosis as a compliment.

Although the psychological test pertained to serious matters, to me, it was fun. I enjoyed figuring out my diagnosis, as if all the speculations I had about myself had been confirmed. Firstly, being “introverted” does not mean I literally want to be alone all the time, but due to my introversion, I prefer to hang out with my close circle of friends instead of being around complete strangers. Secondly, being obsessive-compulsive does not mean lining up your books in alphabetical order without a speck of dust on them. It just means you like to do things in a certain way, which takes on a variety of forms. Thirdly, depression is not something you can fix overnight. Just because you see a therapist does not mean he or she is going to solve all of your problems. In fact, your feelings of depression can persist even after therapy, but you now have more knowledge about yourself to cope with what you are going through.

It was nice to finally talk to someone in an honest and real way without the fear of judgement. I started to see why I was the way I was, why I started to resent my parents, and why I felt so isolated all the time. Meeting with Dr. Brown each week, although the agenda wasn’t always clear, and talking about my week helped me release some of the angst and concerns that I had been keeping inside all this time. Intuitively, I began to understand the significance of “expressing” one’s thoughts and emotions, and I also began to understand why unexpressed emotions can later become toxic, which many people express through drugs and alcohol to feel better. Thankfully, I was not in the least bit interested in doing drugs or alcohol.

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The Person: The Sensitive Guy

Quiet people have the loudest minds.”

-- Stephen Hawking

I doubt you can find anyone more sensitive than I was in elementary school. I remember those horribly awkward moments as a child when the entire class would get quiet and just listen to my sobs echoing around the silent room. The smallest, tiniest, most insignificantly irrelevant things would send my emotions plummeting. Once, in first grade, I accidentally mispronounced the teacher’s name in a funny way, and the entire class laughed. I could have easily laughed it off, but, embarrassed, I began to cry.

Of course, as I matured, I was able to better control my emotional outbursts. Ashamed of this “weakness,” I attempted to bury my feelings, which proved to be a bad idea, as my pent up anger, frustration, and sadness exploded from time to time. Sometimes, I did things I was in no way proud of (for example, shoving someone and almost hurting them for lightly teasing me), and that all resulted from the naive idea that one could escape negative emotions by pretending they did not exist. So I learned to laugh at jokes that actually bothered me to show people that I was not weak.

I was by no means severely bullied or taunted at by people. Most of the time, the teasing was about small, trivial things, such as making fun of my haircut or poking fun at my name. I wished I could have just rolled with the punches and took the jokes, but being overly sensitive, I did not know how to do that. In fact, I developed a huge sore spot for jokes aimed at my name, which made me stand up to anyone who dared to try to make fun of me. However, whenever I told people to back off, they never seemed to get it. Finally, I exploded in sixth grade, after years of probing, mostly from boys, creating a massive time bomb. This one kid had been teasing me for years, and after becoming tired of telling him to stop, I eventually just pushed him to the floor, which alarmed teachers and landed me in detention.

I realize I might have had some anger and expression issues, but as time went on, I learned to mature, although my sensitive nature never truly went away. I constantly felt hurt by minor details and actions made by the people around me, but I decided it wasn’t worth getting mad over every time. Because I didn’t want to appear weak, as I felt in elementary school, all I could do was to shove my feelings deep down and lock them away, then pretend to laugh it off.

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The Label: The Genius

Genius is seldom recognized for what it is: a great capacity for hard work.”

-- Henry Ford

Being a sensitive and introverted child, I never wanted to be in the limelight. I just wanted to be normal. Normal, like most kids. But in the 4th grade, I discovered that I wasn’t normal. My parents received a summons for a parent-teacher conference. Both my math teacher and the principal were there, which really caused concern and nervousness. There, they told my parents something they had not expected to hear: I was too bored in class and was causing a disturbance for other students. The only thing I remember was my mom telling me I was being disruptive in class even though I had no recollection of being “disruptive.”

Despite me constantly telling my parents that I was bored in math, this was shocking news. My mother, a professor at a community college, brought me in for an assessment, and, without any prior training or preparation, I ended up placing at a math level three years ahead of my peers. Feeling that my potential shouldn’t be wasted, my parents put me in two community college courses the very next year, Algebra and Geometry, instead of the fifth grade math class with everyone else. Feelings of isolation began to overwhelm me at this time. At my elementary school, during math class, I sat alone outside doing proofs and college homework while everyone else was laughing and learning about the order of operations. My friends would always ask why I wasn’t inside the classroom with them. People started to label me as “the smart kid” or the “math whiz,” and even the teachers started to have higher expectations of me.

In middle school, things only progressed. While only the top 15 percent of my class earned the privilege of moving up to Algebra I and the majority of kids took Pre-Algebra with the rest of the country, I was three years ahead, taking math with high school students. My new school was a relatively famous magnet school that already had a rigorous admission process involving an entrance exam. Therefore, with my advancement, I was quickly turning heads and drawing attention. People knew me as “the math genius.” At this point, it looked like things were going great. I was top of my class, had no trouble in school, and was known by my entire grade as well as some upperclassmen. People respected me and often asked me for help. In time, however, the label of “genius” began to catch up with me.

While it was true that I learned and understood things faster than most people in my grade did, everyone assumed that I had natural-born intelligence and consciously knew everything in the universe. If I didn’t know a single answer, or if I made a simple mistake, it was all over the news, so to speak. People would feign shock, saying, “Joseph Lou doesn’t know the answer??” Some would even turn to others, “Hey, I got this right but Joseph Lou didn’t.” In addition, no one seemed to understand the effort and work it had taken to get me where I was. I had suffered through fifth grade math class isolated and alone in college due to my advancement, and from there, I started to take extra courses on weekends and during summer breaks to advance in math.

After completing two college math courses in fifth grade, I participated in a rigorous Math Olympiad training program in the summer and then into the next year. The work I put in was rewarded when, in sixth grade, I won second place in a Math League at the California state level, and since then, have received national honors in Math Olympiads for five years in a row. Many people were impressed with my accomplishments, but assumed that I did not put any real effort into it and just “naturally” won competitions and jumped up to higher math classes. But in reality, I had done just as much work, if not more, as they had, only earlier.

Some people resented me because they thought my “genius” privilege was unfair. One of the hardest working students in my grade once said to me in the eighth grade: "I get self-conscious whenever I'm around you because I feel dumb and so I try to avoid you.” Multiple people have told me (throughout the years), "Why are you so smart? I hate you." Of course, it's not like they actually hated me, but there was still that lasting effect of, "Oh, people don't like me because of my intelligence.” Although I tried many times to explain my previous years of hard work, no one seemed to care. As a result, I started to resent my own achievements in jealousy of a life where people didn’t “hate” me for being smarter.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I just wanted to be normal. Even though I understood why my parents pushed me, the stares and the recognition that came with the advancements did not suit my sensitive and introverted personality. And although the attention felt great at times, I wondered if the work would all be worth it in the end.

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The Challenge: Community College

Your elevation may require your isolation.”

-- Unknown

I think the onset of my depression and feelings of isolation began in the fifth grade when I started taking classes at a community college. Oh, it was weird for sure: some random 10 year old trudging around a college campus with no idea what he was doing. I was taking Algebra and Geometry with adults, already well in their 20’s or older, and they all intimidated me. Even the professor, a nice blonde lady, made me feel out of place.

My mother worked at this college. She was a professor of Organic Chemistry and friends with my math professor. They would always talk to each other about my progress and how I was doing. My professor would often comment about my impressive understanding skills and clear superiority to my much older classmates. Even with such continuous praise, I still didn’t feel like I belonged.

The material wasn’t too hard either. I didn’t have trouble understanding the content and I finished the homework efficiently each day. Although the class itself posed no problem to me, being surrounded by college students was uncomfortable, to say the least. Many of the students glanced over at me or asked how old I was. One time, someone asked me to explain the Triangle Inequality Theorem to them, and I was so taken aback that my mind went completely blank for a whole minute. I had only ever interacted with kids my own age or adults who treated me like a little child. Here, I was an equal, despite the age difference and obvious lack of communication tendencies.

As the years went by, and as I took more and more college courses, I began to hate it. Before high school, I had already completed 22 semester units in college. To my young self, it didn’t seem like advanced music theory was going to improve who I was in any way, so why bother? Even though I agreed to attend community college at first, I felt that my parents’ eagerness to push me forward developed in me a “nothing matters” mindset, where I constantly missed the point of the benefits of these classes and competitions, blinded by my greedy, immature desire to be a normal kid. Thus, conflicts with my parents began, which years later exploded in an altercation between my parents and me that would eventually lead me to Dr. Brown’s cozy office.

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The Comparison: My Harvard Sister

Comparison is a death knell to sibling harmony.”

-- Elizabeth Fishel

My personal upbringing and the constant bickering between my parents and me would not make much sense without talking about my sister, who is two years older than me. Since she was little, my sister had been the supreme idol of success. She had many accomplishments, such as several international and national math and science awards, had also been accelerated in math and sciences like me, and was famous in our high school for being “the girl with a minor planet,” granted to her by MIT for winning a national science fair competition. And wow, yeah, good for her.

It was stressful having a sister who was so successful since her successes would often come back around to me. When I was in seventh grade, I met some upperclassmen, and upon telling them I was my sister’s little brother, I was no longer “Joseph Lou”, but “her little brother.” It was as if my identity had been replaced so that I was bound to my sister, just her measly shadow, no longer my own person. And I really hated that.

It didn’t help that I heard all about her at home as well. She had already far surpassed all expectations placed on her, and subsequently raised the expectations for me as well. With our close ages, it was pretty difficult to get along with her, especially as she entered high school. She thought I was immature, stupid, and annoying, and often told me so. My parents never seemed to care how rude she was to me, but a simple “shut up” from me to my sister was as if the world was ending. My relatives also praised her (no surprise), and our little eight-year-old cousin saw her as the best role model and would always follow her around, calling her “Science Sister.” And all that was before she got into Harvard.

The constant comparison between my sister and me messed with my head. Even though we were related by blood, I had no connection to my sister. I didn’t belong to her and she didn’t belong to me. I hated being associated with her just because we came from the same family. Basically, I hated having to live up to her standards. I mean, what did people expect, for me to have a galaxy named after me?

Some people might assume that I was jealous of my sister for being so great, but it wasn’t that; living under the shadow of my sister, I felt that nothing I did mattered. She had pursued Computer Science and a little bit of Chemistry in high school, winning olympiad competitions in both, but I had done those too, taking on Physics as well. As a freshman, I took the AP Physics 2 class offered to seniors and sometimes juniors, but definitely too advanced for an average freshman. While calling roll on the first day of school, the teacher had glanced up at me and said, “You’re the kid that’s not supposed to be here.” I self-studied for three AP Physics exams and scored 5/5 on all of them by the end of ninth grade, a situation that was completely unheard of in the history of my high school, and I wondered why that didn’t make the news at the dinner table. I felt that I was a good student too, but it seemed as if my accomplishments were not as worthwhile as hers, and this drove me crazy.

And that wasn’t all. I also have a younger brother who always sided with my sister in her teasing sessions. As a result, I felt I was constantly being attacked by my two siblings, one from each side of the age spectrum, while my parents seemingly turned a blind eye and only came rushing over in anger whenever I said something mildly insulting to one of them. What felt like a constant mental beating led me to strongly believe in what is known as the “middle child syndrome”: being taken for granted and/or neglected because the parents are too busy fussing over the older child, the perfect angel, and the younger child, the spoiled baby of the family.

As a result, I learned to be more independent than my siblings, but the indirect rejection I felt eventually took a toll on me. I felt as if I wasn’t even second place (as by age) but third place in everything when it came to my siblings. And I subconsciously blamed my parents. Why didn’t they care about me? I was just as much their child as any of them. In fact, I was older and thus more important than my brother, so how come he always received the royal treatment while I was left to fend for myself in the wilderness of life? This kind of thinking brought me to resent my parents as well as my siblings and ended up making it easier for me to blow up in the end.

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The Rejection: Signs of Depression

You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.”

-- Ray Bradbury

Besides the academic pressure, as a kid in middle school, friendships meant everything and relationships meant even more. In the second half of seventh grade, I had this friend with whom I developed an interest. It was already a well-known fact that she was interested in me too, and everyone pestered me day after day to go ask her out. At the end of the year, I finally did, and we started an awkward relationship of face pokes and little smiles.

As summer break rolled in, I continued to talk to her happily, feeling as if nothing could dampen my mood, even my difficult summer biology class I was taking in college. However, one day, she misunderstood something I said and stopped talking to me. Without knowing what was going on, I became highly paranoid and worried, wondering what was wrong and why I was being neglected. Without my haven of happiness, the summer course began to wear me down, constantly worsening my mood until I no longer saw any meaning in the things I did.

At that point, my depressive thoughts first surfaced. My constant worrying was giving me unbearable pain, and the stress of maintaining a good grade in the course just added to my troubles. Unfamiliar with these strange feelings of hopelessness, I ended up saying stupid things like, “Ugh I’m going to kill myself” and “I’m such a failure, I should go die.” Barely 13 years old, I didn’t really understand how to deal with the situation, and I ended up dejectedly saying these things to my friends, who all told me that things would get better.

That year, I had been selected as a junior high ASB officer for the next year, and during one of the summer workdays, I got called to the office. I mean, how sad was that, getting in trouble before school even started? I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but it became painfully obvious when I walked into a room with three school administrators, the principal, assistant principal, and one of the counselors, all with serious faces.

The conversation went as expected. They told me about the email they had gotten from my friend, about how they were worried for me, about how they wanted to help. They asked what was going on, why I was feeling this way, whether I was at risk of hurting myself or others. I stayed silent for most of the talk, slightly nodding or shaking my head. I wasn’t ready to open up to adults and was honestly a little scared of the consequences of telling them.

Let me be clear, when I said “I want to kill myself,” I didn't mean it literally, although I did feel hopeless at the time. Frankly speaking, I did not think it was necessary for me to be called into the office. Being quite sensitive by nature, I just wasn’t sure how to deal with such feelings of rejection at 13 years old. My parents asked me if I wanted to move schools, but I told them that it was okay. Even I knew that it would be ridiculous to move schools just because of a girl. However, feelings of depression began to surface as I struggled to juggle both a personal life and the academic pressure that was building up in my life.

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The Expectation: Conflicts with Parents

Rebellion is a sign of a child fighting to be seen as who they are.”

-- Carol Turtle

The conflicts I had with my parents always seemed to involve a girl. I liked her and she liked me too. Although there were tons of problems in the way, I didn’t really care. I just wanted to be happy, you know? But on the first day of ninth grade, she told me that she just wanted to be friends and confessed that she liked my best friend. And yeah, that’s great. Fantastic. Lovely.

I took some time that day to reflect on myself and think about what an absolutely horrible person I must be for someone to do that. Feelings of shame, frustration, and hurt consumed me, and I couldn’t really focus the entire day. As a result, I ended up starting my homework at 11 PM. (It was only the first day of school, but of course we had homework.) My mom got mad at me for staying up so late to even start homework, and thus started the arguments and fighting with my parents.

The next day, I was playing some pop songs on the piano for some friends in a video call (including the aforementioned girl), and my dad called down for me to play the classical songs I was supposed to practice. I was just having a bit of fun, fully aware that I had to practice for my actual piano lessons. Not wanting to feel like a little kid who had to be constantly watched after, I got mad and stormed outside.

“What’s wrong?” one of my friends asked, worried. I didn’t answer, the words and tears getting stuck in my throat as I fought back the irritation combined with the feelings and hurt from yesterday. I wanted to run away. I wanted to die. I didn’t feel like living. Life didn’t seem fun anymore. My four friends were all trying to comfort me and tell me it was going to be okay. Hearing the girl who had broken my heart just the day before saying she hoped that I would feel better, I couldn’t really imagine things being okay. But not wanting to make my friends sadder than they already were from listening to me bawling, I ended the call and went back inside.

Over the next few weeks, the tension between my parents and me escalated. I grew pissed at their questions and reminders to do my tasks that I thought they knew I was responsible for already. I pretty much just wanted to disappear from the face of the Earth, and it was definitely not a fun time for me. Some things I felt were honestly unfair, but others were just the upsetting of an immature teenager who wanted to get his way.

But in my defense, I felt as if I was never appreciated for the work that I was doing and was instead always reminded of what I was not doing. Even after winning numerous math and science competitions, earning 22 college credits, and getting perfect scores on the ACT and multiple SAT subject tests to make my parents proud of me, nothing seemed to be enough. And of course, the rat race to the top felt futile without truly understanding the meaning behind what I was doing. I think my parents’ worst nightmare was to see me waste my potential, so they kept pushing me to work harder and harder. And one night, it was as if all the pressure that had been building up finally decided that I had had enough.

After about three weeks of non-stop bickering, I got into a major argument with my mom. We exchanged some pretty hurtful and rude words, and eventually my dad had to get involved. Suddenly, something I said made him snap, and he got up in my face. I had never seen my dad so angry before, but I still yelled out, “For the past three weeks I’ve wanted to kill myself because of you!” By the time it was midnight, I was sitting in a chair, my two siblings crying in the next room, and my parents trying to have a serious talk with me. It dragged on into the night, and I never got the chance to finish my homework.

I was probably out of line, but I felt as if they were too. And the last thing I want to do is to sit here and make my parents appear as if they are bad people (when they really are not), but yeah, at times, I felt they were unfair, very unfair. I wanted to run away from it all and for the first time, I really wanted to die. It seemed that death was the only way to stop the feelings of frustration and the anger that consumed me.

Nevertheless, after that night, my parents signed me up for therapy sessions.

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The Lesson: Finding a Voice

You are not a burden. You HAVE a burden, which by definition, is too heavy to carry on your own.”

-- Unknown

I met with Dr. Brown about once a week for approximately seven months. We talked about anything from my personal interests to his family outings.

Initially, I thought therapy was only for people who had gone through truly tragic and traumatic events in their lives. Although Dr. Brown was a psychologist, to me, he felt more like a friend who happened to be much older than me. Sometimes my parents joined in on the sessions, which I honestly did not particularly like. What I did like though was that Dr. Brown often came to my defense. He explained to my parents that some great innovators and scientists like Einstein had run into the same problems as I did. Apparently, their intelligence was far more advanced than their mental maturity, and they needed some time to catch up. With that, he told my parents to back off a bit and just let me be a kid - to go out and have fun and to even get a girlfriend, not to be solely focused on academics and extracurricular activities. Basically, he told them that I needed to become more independent. I think Dr. Brown understood why I lashed out at my parents, and it felt great to be validated by a professional.

Within the first few sessions, I found out that Dr. Brown himself was a gifted student and went through similar feelings of anger and frustration towards his parents when he was my age. He explained to my parents that he saw himself in me and that he understood how I felt in many ways. At the advice of Dr. Brown, my parents tried to give me more freedom at home, but of course, old habits die hard, and with the added pressures of high school, my parents eventually put me in several olympiads and extracurricular activities. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do any of these things; it’s just that I wanted to do them on my own terms instead of participating in them just because my parents said so. In fact, them suggesting it made me want to get as far away from it as possible.

A huge benefit of counseling was that I learned many things about my parents that I was not aware of before. For instance, I learned that my mother regretted sending me to community college when I was in elementary school. At the time, I don’t think she knew just how negatively it would impact me. And being a rather strong-headed person, I don’t think she would have realized this if I had not lashed out and met Dr. Brown. To this day, I cannot say if she fully understands how I feel, but I guess if she feels I cannot change my bad habits overnight, I cannot expect her to change hers instantly either. As for my dad, he expects just as much from me as my mom, but I think he realized more than my mom when enough is enough.

Through therapy, my depression did diminish and my parents now understand me more than before. Having a mediator helped bring to attention the problems that we faced in our family, and even though we all knew the problems on a subconscious level, Dr. Brown helped point out factors that both my parents and I were not keen on. One important realization I had was that no amount of therapy was going to fix all of our problems. In fact, half a year later, things got bad again at home, and I began to “act out” in a desperate attempt to break away from my parents. I was still overburdened with academics and felt that my parents gave preferential treatment to my older sister and younger brother. In addition, high school presented new challenges within my circle of friends. Overwhelmed, I fell back into a depressive state, and one day, I ran away from home… for four hours (haha). I don’t think my family even knew I was gone, another classic example of the neglected middle child. From there, negative thoughts crept back up again and I landed back in therapy soon after that.

Talking to Dr. Brown was always helpful and alleviated some of the tension at home. And things did get better, despite some occasional tantrums. Perhaps it was because I was maturing and a part of me had accepted things as they were. With that, I learned to release my angst by doing things that I enjoyed, such as taekwondo, for which I am trying to earn a third degree black belt. I also got a punching bag in the garage, which was nice because I could smash it as hard as I could whenever I wanted to. It was seriously the best feeling, enough to lift my spirits every time.

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My Self Therapy: The Piano

Life is like a piano… what you get out of it depends on how you play it.”

-- Albert Einstein

In the last couple years, playing the piano has really helped me feel centered. What used to feel like a chore has become a time of self-reflection whenever I find myself in a rut, especially when I play songs that I like. I started to look at the piano differently back in 2015, when my friend asked me to play a pop song, Sugar by Maroon 5, on the piano. Instead of the classical songs I was told to play, I discovered that I didn’t have to restrict myself because of what my parents told me to do. I could make the most of my skills by doing what I wanted with it. And so I started playing pop songs on the piano and uploading them to YouTube.

It started as just videos for fun that my friends could watch, but then they started asking for more, and I thought, “why not?” I got into lyric videos as well, and although they weren’t even that good, I got a lot of views. In fact, one of my videos, the lyrics to Stressed Out by Twenty Øne Piløts, reached 4.8 million views in a span of only eight months. I had never expected the video to get so huge, and with 5400+ subscribers, I was getting average views of at least 40k per video, which was extremely surprising considering all the mistakes I made while performing the songs for my friends.

Even though the videos got deleted due to copyright issues, the experience made me realize how a small hobby, pastime, or interest could define your personhood and affect your life so much more than you could have possibly imagined. Of course, no one believes that I could accrue so many views, and I just laugh now thinking about the irony of it all. Piano had started out as something I despised because it was just another task placed upon me, but in time, it became a fun hobby, and now, a passion. Today, I still play classical songs and continue to burn some time with the occasional, random pop song, which really helps me relieve stress, relax, and lose myself in the music.

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How Things Are Today

Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

-- Helen Keller

Today, I’m in the 10th grade and still an advanced student, probably more advanced than I’ve ever been. And honestly, I’m used to it now, and I genuinely enjoy the activities that I am a part of today. I’m friends with many upperclassmen, and I get mad respect from lowerclassmen and my classmates, especially since my sister is now old news. Although things are surely difficult at times, I’ve matured and can now appreciate the hard work I’ve put into my past which have led me to partake in projects I am proud of.

Just a couple of months ago, I had the idea to create an app called the Hawking Keyboard in memory of Stephen Hawking, the Cambridge University physicist who coincidentally passed away on March 14, 2018, also known as Pi Day. I thought of simulating the text editing and speech software he initially used after being confined to a wheelchair and losing his ability to speak. It required a lot of technical and coding experience, including the use of polymerization and Apple’s provided UIKit and SpriteKit. I diligently worked on the app for weeks after school, learning to overcome technical obstacles which I joyfully accepted. I learned a new coding language called Swift, which took my coding skills to the next level, allowing me to develop innovative apps instead of writing simple computer programs. With this app, I won an international coding scholarship from Apple to attend the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) this summer. I cannot believe I get to meet real Apple engineers and programmers who will present the newest and greatest software and developments made by Apple today. I have always felt inspired by Apple’s historical and significant contribution to Hawking’s speech solution, representative of Apple’s core value to promote accessibility and embrace diversity through technology. Today, I feel motivated to do the same: to use technology to improve the lives of others, especially regarding mental health.

These days, my passion for coding continues to grow. In my spare time, I have simulated various games such as 3D Tic-Tac-Toe, Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe (it is way more complicated to code than it seems), and Lights Out. I’ve written algorithms to solve Rubik’s cubes and the puzzles in the mobile game app No2g. Taking part in projects that appeal to me has helped me find the true meaning of learning, instead of simply doing things that are assigned to me by teachers or my parents. Now that I am older, I am beginning to see the value of these projects. Learning independently, I have come to realize that I still have so much to learn. Coding these games and apps are not only entertaining, but also, it is a chance for me to grow into a passionate and skilled coder.

Regarding my parents, they still expect a lot from me, and honestly, they haven’t changed much. However, we’ve developed a stronger relationship that has enabled us to communicate in a manner that benefits both parties. In fact, last year, prior to the Hawking Keyboard, I created OKNP (OK, No Problem) in response to the counseling I received with Dr. Brown. I thought it might be cool to create an app to help us communicate more effectively instead of yelling at each other at the top of our lungs. I figured, why not turn our problems into an opportunity to help other families in the same predicament as us? I wanted to help both parents and teenagers feel heard, and thought that it would be helpful to code prompts to help users type out their feelings in a clear and effective manner instead of lashing out with harsh words that they may later regret.

I’m no longer afraid to speak my mind, even if I know my parents won’t always agree with it. I now know that their intention isn’t to make my life miserable (although it felt that way for a long time), but to help me live up to my full potential. Through this realization, I try not to constantly oppose them anymore, and instead, be more open to their suggestions and thoughts. The most impactful thing I learned from our past conflicts is the importance of communication, which isn’t always easy. But with some work and a lot of patience, I have learned that things can get better.

As for my sister, before she left for Harvard, we didn’t have the best of relationships. We hardly talked at all, and when we did, it would often end in frustration and a “whatever.” I didn’t enjoy her company, and I’m sure she didn’t enjoy mine either. After only one semester at college, she came back home for winter break, and I found that she had changed. She no longer poked fun at everything I did (only some of the things) and actually talked to me extensively about her experiences at college and newfound interest in vines. I finally had a sister whom I looked up to instead of being a goal to achieve. And now that she is in college, I don’t receive as much pressure or teasing related to my sister and her accomplishments at my school, and I have started to enjoy the advanced classes I have with the upperclassmen who once knew her. I was able to make a name for myself, and my sister was no longer the poster girl, but a successful alumnus who wasn’t as relevant anymore. With time, I found that we had both matured and that I could now appreciate her for who she is. It was for sure a humbling experience that made me want to be a better brother, not only towards her but towards my little brother as well.

Finally, I’m aiming to apply to college a year early. These days, I think about college a lot and what it might feel like to be in a completely new environment. I’m honestly a bit nervous; my whole life, my parents have been looking out for me and taking care of all my basic needs. To be on my own feels intimidating for sure, but I look forward to being independent and finally becoming my own person. Despite everything that we’ve been through, I’m thankful towards my parents for always pushing me beyond my limits and believing that I could achieve more. I know it doesn’t seem like it, and truthfully, I still complain about a lot of things I have to do, but it got me to where I am today, and I just hope that I can take what they’ve given me and go far beyond their wildest expectations.

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Boys’ Moods Matter

You are not your illness. You have a name, a history, a personality. Staying yourself is the battle.”

-- Julian Seifter

During those dark, awkward moments throughout my childhood, I remember wondering why I felt so much frustration and anger over the smallest things. I questioned myself, thinking I was way too sensitive for a guy. And none of my guy friends wanted to talk about depression or anything related to any real emotions, so I often felt like an outsider. When I turned to the Internet for some answers, there seemed to be no resources at all for struggling boys, whereas waves of sites flooded the search results for girls. Curious why this was happening, I began to research as much as I could about boys’ mental health. I soon discovered that boys express depression and mental illnesses differently than girls. Boys are less likely to express their thoughts and feelings to other people, and instead, we show signs of frustration through anger and irritability. “Wow,” I thought, “so true.”

Learning this, I decided to create an information hub with resources that I could have used in my time of need. I called this site Boys’ Moods Matter because I believe boys’ moods really do matter. Boys are four times more likely to commit suicide than girls during their adolescent years, probably because we don’t know how to express our emotions in a healthy way. Also, according to the Center for Discovery and, about 20 percent of all teenagers struggle with depression but only 30 percent of those depressed teens seek support and proper treatment. Through Boys’ Moods Matter, I want people to know that a mental disorder isn’t something that happens to some of us, but it affects us all in one way or another. And in starting an open and honest conversation about it, I can show people that there is nothing “wrong” with having depression and that anyone can be vulnerable to these thoughts. I hope that Boys’ Moods Matter will help those in need when they have nothing else to turn to. Besides the few passions I found when I was young, this was the first time I put my heart and soul into a project. It is personal to me and it is personal to so many others who suffer from depression and other mental disorders.

It is my sincere hope that you found some relief and comfort in reading my book. Although I cannot provide any clear answers, in sharing my story, I hope people will understand that expressing one’s thoughts and emotions to a professional or simply a friend can provide the relief that they have been searching for. Let’s face it, problems are never going to go away by themselves, so it is up to us to deal with them in a healthier and more mature manner. And in that process, don’t deny your feelings; in fact, acknowledge them, and in doing so, you will feel more free to be yourself.


Thank you for reading my book. If you enjoyed it, would you please take a moment to leave a review for my book at your favorite retailer? Your thoughts are much appreciated!

Thanks so much!

Joseph Lou

About the Author

Joseph Lou is a high school sophomore who is passionate about math, science, and well, mental health. After struggling with depression and eventually breaking out through the other side, Joseph aims to raise awareness about mental health assistance, particularly for teenage boys. He has been striving to combine his talents in computer science with his knowledge of mental health to create innovative mobile and web apps to reduce the stigma of depression and stress the importance of expressing one’s emotions. His goal is to send the message that there is nothing wrong with getting the help one needs; in fact, it is a true sign of strength.

Connect with Joseph Lou

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