Minutes into this world, infant Alan opened his eyes to look for me the second he was placed on my chest.  Sweet. Extraordinary. That was the future I saw in Alan’s beautiful, bright, dark eyes. I can still see it, right here, right now. 

“Alan, you are wonderful! We are so proud of you!”
“You are my parents, of course you will say that.”
We often had this exchange with Alan. The truth is, Alan IS wonderful.

Alan was free to choose his own path and he chose to be compassionate, honest, brave, self-driven, and loyal to family and friends. He was sweet, independent, gifted, poetic, musical, creative, and athletic.

Alan learned to read at age three, and read everything he could get his hands on ever since then. He made exquisite origami flowers and vases for my birthday by reading origami books, performed big magic shows for the whole family by reading magic trick books, and set up the garage door opening button by reading car manuals. Once he told me about the Ebola virus that he read from a book. “It is one of the scariest diseases in the world.” Seeing my surprised expression, he quickly comforted me. “Don’t worry. It is very rare.” We didn’t know until a few years later that there would be an Ebola epidemic in Africa. We were sure with Alan’s passion to read and the ability to apply the knowledge read from books, he would find his way out from any difficulty.

We encouraged Alan to explore different interests without forcing him to keep on doing any of them. He was a quick learner with many interests, such as violin, chess, baseball, Spanish language, Chinese language, Tae-kwon-Do, archery, swimming, piano, Kung Fu, martial arts, cello, tennis, and weight lifting. For some he took only brief lessons, while for others, he invested more time and energy. Alan often complained that something was wrong with the rented cello, but we couldn’t hear anything wrong. When he started private cello lessons, he came home from the first lesson and told us that his teacher said something was wrong with one of his cello strings. We were amazed. After taking two months of private cello lessons, he performed so well at his middle school orchestra seating test that he moved from last row to the principal seat. He still worried, “I’m good at many things but I’m not a top player in of any of them.” We said, “It is ok. You can focus on any of them and develop more skills when you are ready.”

Alan’s favorite childhood games were sparring and Nerf gun fights. He once hosted a Nerf gun fight party after successfully persuading us that such a party was completely safe. His little friends came, having spent days of work on home-made shields and with “woke-up-early-in-the-morning excitement”. Laughter flew as freely as the Nerf gun bullets did. He also hosted a water gun fight party with splashing merriment. Then, there was the epic fun time Alan and his friends had in our messy garage, dubbed by them as “the epic playroom”.

Alan treasured his family and friends. “My brother is the coolest kid in the world, and everybody should get to know him.” Alan never missed a chance to promote his little brother, Michael, to his friends. He loved him to pieces. Alan loved to take pictures of his father and I holding hands or dancing together. “You two are so cute together,” he used to say. He always brought home gifts for everybody from elementary school holiday gift shops. I knew a lot about his teachers and friends because he constantly shared their stories with me. He saw the best in his friends and made sure they knew that. He always put his friends’ needs before his. To Alan, friends were his family, too. Listening to the way Alan talked about his friends, I felt they were the most awesome people in the world.

Alan came to us multiple times to ask for our permission and signatures for him to become an organ donor. I vividly remember the story he relayed to me about a police officer’s father fulfilling the officer’s wish by donating his heart after he passed away on duty. When Alan described how the father put his head on the chest of the donation recipient and listened to the heartbeat of his son, I could see admiration and inspiration twinkling in Alan’s eyes. We had reservations about organ donation because of our religion and told Alan that there was no rush to give our consent. Furthermore, he could always make his own decision about organ donation when he grew up.

Alan did not want any gifts for his fifteenth birthday. “I have everything.” He often said that when talking about gifts. He wanted each of his friends to donate ten dollars to his favorite charity. He did some independent research and determined that Charity: water was one of the best charities. Alan was passionate about how clean drinking water could save lives.Alan’s Birthday H2O campaign received an incredible response from family and friends, and raised over two thousand dollars!

Those were the days that Alan shared with us — pleasant, peaceful, full of life, love, laugher, and hope. There was no reason to believe that life would not continue like that.

It felt like a lifetime ago when Alan first came to me for help in June 2016. Something was wrong him. “It could be depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Asperger’s Syndrome, or something else.” Alan said. Apparently, he did his independent research as he always would, regarding anything that bothered him. For example, five-year old Alan once twisted his wrist at home mimicking the break-dancing moves he saw in New York City earlier. He refused our rush of care, but instead, dug out his first aid book and found a treatment suggestion. Only then would he ask for our assistance to treat his wrist.

I did not see anything amiss about fourteen-year old Alan. In fact, things were going especially well in his young world. He was growing taller and more handsome by the day. He passed auditions to continue as a talented cellist in a promising youth orchestra for the second season. He tried out, and made the competitive swim team at the varsity level. His academic performance was consistently excellent. At the same time, the once introverted Alan told me he was not shy anymore. He started to make a big group of friends. Quiet and observant Alan did not lack friends, but his social group had not previously been so large. Though I was surprised by Alan’s words, I trusted his insight about himself. Nevertheless, I took him to see his pediatrician right away.

Alan never had any serious illnesses or injuries. The only emergency room visit he ever had before age fourteen was because he had ripped the skin of his big toe. The wound was cleaned with sterile, saline wound wash. Topical anesthesia was applied to ease the pain, and an x-ray was taken which ruled out broken bones. Two stitches were required to sew up the wound. Alan came home with a specialized shoe to stabilize his toe, and instructions for how to keep the wound dry and clean. The prognosis was that his wound would heal in about four weeks. He also had an exciting experience to share with friends. The wound healed as predicted without complications.

We expected Alan’s mental disorders would be taken care of and heal, as the toe wound had. Little did we know that mental disorders were not like any other diseases we had ever experienced. We soon learned that the mental healthcare system was a totally different realm. After a blood test that eliminated any physical illness that might have caused Alan’s pain, there was no objective testing such as a blood test, x-ray, or MRI to diagnose his mental disorders. His psychologist and psychiatrist relied on his self-reports of symptoms to diagnose and treat him. Prescriptions of medications were trial and error. No prognosis was given to us.

Alan started treatment with an experienced psychologist who was also a university professor in August 2016. Alan worked hard with his therapist, who did his best to help. After a few sessions, the psychologist said Alan was in great pain and needed to see a psychiatrist. At first, we hesitated to put Alan on medication, worrying about their side effects on his developing brain. As Alan’s symptoms worsened, our focus shifted to finding one medication or a combination of medications to give Alan relief from his struggles.

Alan sought his counselor’s help whenever he did not feel well at school. He saw his psychologist four or five times a week at peak times. He continued to work extremely hard with the therapist, who did his best to help. He saw his psychiatrist almost every other week and took his medication on time. In four months, he tried seven different medications with no reprieve from his disorders. Darkness descended too quickly. Something we could not grasp, changed Alan’s brain in a way that sent him into a state of extreme self-loathing and horrifyingly intrusive thoughts that tortured him 24/7. Though he continued to work hard with counseling and treatments, Alan’s symptoms kept worsening. He quit the swim team and youth orchestra in September. He developed a self-destructive ideology and self-harming behavior for the first time in October. This behavior frightened us, but it frightened Alan even more. In December, Alan was hospitalized for posing a danger to himself. He was hospitalized again in February, 2017. Alan was traumatized by those experiences, and was failing 9th grade. Frustrated by the lack of improvement in his treatment, Alan stopped taking his medications and refused to see his psychiatrist and psychologist.

We switched his care to another psychiatrist who recommended psychological testing and prescribed medication based on the test results. The medication helped Alan somewhat, but then his improvement plateaued. When Alan began to work with a new psychologist, he distrusted psychotherapy in general. He used the initial sessions to challenge his therapist. With great skill, patience, and care, the psychologist gradually won Alan’s trust and the therapies slowly gave Alan some relief. However, before we could breathe easier, Alan stopped taking his medication in the beginning of the summer. He claimed that he did not want the medication to change his personality. It took the whole summer in 2017 for his psychologist to persuade him to get back on medication. Alan was still not functioning at school when 10th grade started. He asked for more treatment options and we sent him to an intense treatment center which apparently helped. After Alan came home, we started family therapy with his psychologist and untied some old knots. We found a Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) therapist who worked well with Alan. We registered Alan in a private high school which provided one on one teaching and very flexible schedule to remove his school pressure. Alan was happy with his psychologist. “I trust my psychologist. He knows what he is doing. Every time I went to his office, I told him everything that was going on in my mind, and he pointed out what was wrong with my model. I worked so hard that when I left the office my brain was blank. I could not remember one thing I said.” Alan also said in December 2017, “My psychiatrist is my healer. He found the right medication combination for me. I want to be a psychiatrist and be someone else’s healer. I will also revolutionize the psychiatric inpatient care system.” We thought he was on track to recover.

BANG! The dynamite exploded unexpectedly and pulverized our world when our beloved Alan passed away due to mental disorders on January 7, 2018. He was fifteen.

Alan Hu

Alan was surrounded by doting parents, his brother and grandparents, supportive teachers and friends, but his mental diseases still made him felt extremely lonely.

Many people with different religions had been praying for Alan’s recovery.

When Alan was in great mental pain, he said, “I’d rather have cancer.”
“It feels like being in a dark room with no windows and no doors, with fire burning underneath my feet. That is two percent of the pain of depression that I can describe in words. It was like an evil twin lived inside me; he knows me the best, and there is no way to get away from him. Whatever I value the most, he finds the best way to attack. Whenever I have a good plan to fight back, he has better strategies to counteract.
“Depression, OCD and Borderline Personality Disorder come in waves. If one of them attacks, I can fend for myself. But if three of them attack at the same time, I am overwhelmed.”

His pain was real and unbearable, yet it was invisible. There was no thermometer to show a fever, no imaging to show a lump inside, and no blood test to show elevated white blood cell counts.

Alan once said, “My eyes have terrible floaters and I used to be annoyed by them. I learned to ignore them and focus on what I want to see instead, and they cease to bother me. I will learn to do the same thing to my OCD intrusive thoughts.” Alan had a strong will, but he could not will away his symptoms any more than one could will away their fever.

Mental disorders are real diseases. Severe mental disorders disable millions of people and even take thousands of lives. They should have equal treatment, such as physical diseases do. Mental disorders are also physical disorders of the brain. What causes the brain to send out extremely negative thoughts about the person, and sometimes self-destructive thoughts to the person? Better diagnostic methods are needed to check out the brain to find out what is behind the mental disorder symptoms. More fundamental research is needed to look for cures for such diseases. Mental disorders are far from rare, but talking about them is rare. They frighten people because there is too little understanding of them. People have overcome many other diseases because knowledgeable health care providers and appropriate treatments were available. The same thing will happen with respect to mental diseases when people start talking about them, paying attention to them and gaining a better understanding of them.

When Alan was in the intensive treatment center, he concluded his letter to his high school physical education (P.E.) teacher with this line, “Depression is terrible, OCD is worse, but I’m tough.” Alan was tough, but he could not tough out his mental disorders any more than one could tough out their fatal infection without the proper antibiotic.

At Alan’s funeral, his P.E. teacher said, “Alan was tough. Even someone as tough as Alan got beaten by depression. Something needs to be done about it.”

The Alan Hu Foundation is dedicated to helping to bring a better day to people who suffer with mental disorders.

—-By XiaoFang Chen

From Alan’s Friends

There’s no way to even start explaining the person that was Alan Hu. From the short time I knew him, it was clear that he was amazing. And this isn’t even me being flattering—it’s the honest truth. Ask any of the many friends he has and I believe they would all give him the highest praises any one person could receive. For although he had his depression, he was still the most caring and thoughtful person that I had ever met. Because he had depression, he understood the pain people go through and helped each and every one of us through our own. In this regard, I believe it would be accurate to say that he was the key that freed us from our own cages.

Alan was a genius—and we all knew it. There were times when another friend of ours told me that if Alan didn’t have depression, he would have been the most accomplished person out of all of us. Even so, he was still plenty ambitious. He claimed he would be a millionaire by the age of 25, and I believed him. He had his grand life plans, all of them lofty, yet believable, because it was him. Never had or have I since come across another person who just gave off such a sense of security and determination.

Besides, he was the one composing masterpieces of poems and playing mind-chess with a friend for days on end. His cello-playing wrung the feelings of anyone who cared to listen. And most of all, he was the essence of confidence.

For me personally, Alan was something precious. From sharing songs and dreams to eventually developing into something more, it seemed like he was always there right next to me. And although it didn’t last, he still gave me so, so much, and I will forever be grateful.

So thank you for having been born, for being strong enough to get to where you did, for having played such a stable and secure role in our lives. Thank you for having such unwavering confidence in the face of despair, for believing in me, for deciding in that one moment that you finally found something to live for, even if it was short-lived.

In turn, I hope we were able to be, at least for a while, those stars in your sky, attempting to brighten the night even if you didn’t have your moon. I really miss you, and forever will.

—By Alan’s Friend

Alan was in my life for a short time, but it was truly the most important time of my adolescence. He taught me patience and virtue and love and kindness; daily he would display these traits that I needed to see and be around. I believe God lead me to meet Alan because he was an angel so to speak. He was there to teach others many things that he was well versed in beyond his years. Not physical things, but traits of the mind, body, and soul all together that I would otherwise never learn. I miss him dearly and daily, but I know he is with me in the way he shaped me as a person and the way he has taught me to lead my life. I hope his legacy is passed on and cherished by not only myself but those who hear his story as well.

—By Jazmine

“The skies are painted with unnumbered sparks;
They are all fire, and every one doth shine;
But there’s but one in all doth hold his place” ~Shakespeare, from Julius Caesar

Alan was a shining star from the very beginning. He was a bright kid, and he made sure everyone knew it. Despite being 13, he spoke like an intellectual, using unusually complex vocabulary in his daily speech. Because of his curious mind, he always found himself bored in school, unsatisfied with the dull classes we were forced to take. His insatiable hunger for knowledge prompted him to reach for books, soaking in everything he came across like a sponge. He burned bright, fueled by his love for learning and his infinite amount of curiosity.

When I look up at the sky, I see the stunning constellations and I am reminded of the pictures he painted with his words. He painted a masterpiece, a picture of unbelievable beauty of his soul. Every word raw with emotion, carefully strung together in the way God would have strung the stars in the sky so long ago to create the constellations that leave us in awe.

When he was happy, his eyes would twinkle like the stars. He would hug his beloved bear Dada and dance around the room with a huge grin spread across his face. There was always a spark of mischief in his eyes, an unstoppable light that glimmered in his obsidian eyes. He had the light-heartedness of a child, yet he had the profound wisdom of one who had many stories to tell.

Alan Hu, the North Star of our night sky. He was always there for those he loved, someone who silently shone his light in our times of darkness. He was constant, reliable. Whenever my mind was overwhelmed with thoughts that drowned me in confusion and chaos, he was my anchor. We’d sit together and look toward the heavens above, quietly soaking in the peace of the sky as the tumultuous world continued on.

As he continued to burn through the night, a darkness threatened to extinguish his flames. His “demons” caused him to feel unfathomable pain, yet this pain was invisible. He had an undetectable illness, one that showed no physical symptoms like a cancer would. It was scary seeing him in so much pain, frustrating that I couldn’t do anything. And no one in the world knew how to cure him.

He was a fighter. He made sure he was in the best physical shape in order to battle his mental illnesses that plagued him. By sophomore year he was able to deadlift 300 lbs. Alan told me of how he spoke with many psychologists and psychiatrists and considered countless treatment options that included different combinations of medication. And no one was sure that it would work.

There were ups and downs. He had relapses and was hospitalized for some time, and he was increasingly missing school. However, there was a glimpse of hope when Alan started on new medication that seemed to put him on the road to recovery.

January of 2018, Alan joined the stars in the heavens above. Just like that, he was no longer by my side. The boy who was like my brother, my best friend. Gone. I would never see his sparkling smile again, hear his voice dripping with sarcasm. I’d never read another one of his poems or go on photo adventures with him.

Even on a cloudy night when not a spark can be seen in the sky, we know our star is there, shining more brightly than ever, never moving from our hearts. In the darkness of grief, I found him within all of us, the light he ignited inside of us. His story–his legacy–continues to burn on.

Unfortunately, there is an increasing number of people being diagnosed with mental illnesses, and despite technological advances, mental illness remains an unexplored world. Lack of awareness and research leaves us without a known cure. Countless people are affected by mental illnesses; about 40 million adults in the United States are affected by an anxiety disorder, about 16.1 million are affected with Major Depressive Disorder. In addition, family and friends of those diagnosed with mental illnesses are impacted. However, we live in a society where mental health is disregarded, preventing those who need treatment from seeking professional help.

Despite his demons, Alan wanted to help others. He wanted to make sure no one would have to suffer the way he did, live through the agonizing hell he did. He dreamed of being a psychiatrist who would dedicate his life helping those who lived in the darkness of mental illness.

It’s time for change. It’s time to end the stigmatization of mental illness and make mental health a priority. It’s time to devote research and money to battle these diseases; it’s time to show compassion and change our community through love and support. Let us be shining stars for each other, glimpses of hope in our world.

—By Alicea

A brother, and a little more.
That’s who Alan was to me.

One of the most inspiring, genuine, strongest people I’d ever known came into my life slowly and unexpectedly. He was brilliant and unpredictable; I admired him for his powerful confidence and extensive wisdom, but also for his bluntness and his poetic way with words. I’d never met someone so complicated and intricate as him. As I grew to know him better, I was convinced he would change the world to be better, be it through helping rescue dogs or helping others with their mental illnesses, because he didn’t want anyone to go through what he was going through everyday. But even though he can no longer continue that dream himself, it still lives on through  me, as do his memories.

—By Alan’s Friend

The Battle

It was January 29th and I was on my way to church
I called you when I realized what you were planning
I told you that you were loved and things would get better
I told you that people cared and there were other ways to ease the pain.
You said that your life didn’t matter
You didn’t think losing you would have an impact on so many
I stayed on the phone with you until I heard the policeman’s voice.
About a week later you texted me
“Thanks for saving my life.
A lot of people are responsible for me being alive right now—
You’re one of them.”

The next time you didn’t call
You had asked to hang out a few days before
But I was busy.
January 7th, 10:45ish
I was sitting at the dining table doing homework
I heard my mom’s footsteps coming down the hall
“Anna, look.”
It took me a few seconds to process what I was reading
“Alan passed away in the hospital”
“No, no, no, no, no!”
I collapsed into my mother’s arms
All I could do for the next two hours was shake and cry
I had to deliver the bad news to our friends.

I was in the school gym
Waiting for the rally to start
Thousands of kids packed the bleachers
Chatter and laughter surrounded me.
Suddenly I saw your serious face
And then you disappeared into the crowd
I spent fifteen seconds looking for you.
Afterwards, I realized it was impossible
My heart dropped 
And it felt like I lost you all over again.

Many times after you left us
I would walk into a classroom 
And see something that reminded me of you
A backpack that looked just like yours
Blue with grey trim 
And I’d think, “Oh, Alan’s here”
But then the disappointment would hit me
And I would remember.

After the funeral 
we were all sitting there on one long pew
Staring at your casket
And your father came with one of the many bouquets of flowers.
He handed us each a few
Crocosmias, daylilies, and red roses.
We each went up to say goodbye
I walked up to your casket and stared 
The lively, intelligent, teddy bear loving boy I once knew was there
I whispered “Goodbye Alan” and placed a kiss on the casket. 

A month later, my mom and I pulled up in front of your house
Last time I was there, you had invited me to pick plums
And I had sat in your room where you showed me your newest photographs
And I found your teddy bear and stuffed carrot.
This time I walked into your house and you weren’t there
I sat on the couch while my mom held your mom and I comforted your dad
We were helpless to their tears.
Before we left I asked to see your room
And your parents kept it exactly the same as the day they took you to the hospital
The blankets were a mess 
But the closet was spotless
The carrot you loved so much sat alone on your bed.
I fought my hardest not to let your parents see me cry
And as soon as the car door closed, I sobbed.

Looking back I knew you felt alone
You felt like no one understood you
We had issues going on but not as difficult as yours
We watched you struggle to live and to fight your demons.
We bounced back in forth
Feeling hopeful, then hopeless
Excited, then afraid
Relieved, then saddened.
When you took your life
You took some of ours too
Because your illness hurt you
and everyone who loved and cared about you.

Your battle made us all realize the realness of mental illness.
It’s a disease like cancer or heart disease or diabetes
It has to be taken seriously and treated
And even then, there are no guarantees. 

We have friends in our lives for a reason
We’re meant to support each other and build each other up
Talking about our issues isn’t being a burden, it’s being human.
Alan, you taught us that we have to be okay with not always being okay
And that if we’re going through something, it’s important to get help
because life is valuable.

—By Alan’s Friend