Around midnight, I was crouched down against the bannister overlooking the stairs. I felt this overwhelming feeling of something that was taking up all my space, suffocating me, nearly causing me to jump over the bannister from the second floor to escape this feeling. I tried to get a grasp of this object but no matter how hard I tried I would not wrap my arms around it. I used to think it was all a dream; I was only 8 years old. I am now a 22-year-old nurse, and I still experience this same feeling: crippling anxiety and no sense of control.
The thing is, I have never been properly diagnosed. Just me and therapists with their social media posts allowing me to now realize I have depression and anxiety. My family’s first taste of mental health was when my older sister became depressed in college, and my parents did everything under the sun to fix her until I suggested my sister needs therapy. My mom broke down crying that night and nearly every night following until my sister graduated and came home, where my parents can control what happens to us and our emotions. Everything about this made me bitter; my realizations of what I considered to be a safe and caring upbringing to now be seen as a perfectly controlled and manicured childhood. So bitter I even wrote a ten page AP Research paper on the efficacy of Chinese tiger parenting. Spoiler alert: it leads to an increase of suicide among Asian American females. And this is all a bit ironic because we’re mostly Vietnamese and my parents aren’t as hard on me with my grades as I am to myself. Funny how it turns out that way huh?
Growing up with the height of teenage angst I thought it was normal to be anxious and depressed and it was almost lame if you weren’t. I thought that my strict parents were the norm and all my Asian friends had similar experiences, so I never put a label on it or took any of the issues seriously. Finally maturing, going to college, and having hard conversations with friends truly made me realize that not everything was as shiny as I thought. I assumed because my parents were around and loved me so much that there was no way I could have any type of mental health condition or have endured any trauma. Turns out my mom has severe anxiety, which also transferred on my sister, and in turn lead me down a spiral of insanity.
It is quite difficult to summarize the entirety of my mental health into one blog post. I never felt safe speaking of my mental status and my parents don’t understand depression is something you have no choice in. I never explicitly stated to them that I suffer from any of this because I have already spent years suppressing all sorts of emotions. I get scared. I don’t want to say the wrong thing and get yelled at because me and my parents can’t find the right words in the right language to understand each other. So I keep to myself. And it’s not to say I haven’t seeked out help. Once during nursing school, I decided I was finally going to use the free counseling services in secret, and the therapist was a white woman. I spoke about my mom the entire first session and described our relationship and my upbringing. Lots and lots of tears. And would you believe it, she laughed at me. What’s even worse? I laughed back. Apparently, my life is like a sitcom, verbatim. Despite that, she saw my case as so severe she cleared her schedule and told me to come in every week. Some of the advice given included to ignore my mother and not reply to her messages, take a loan and move out of my apartment with my sister, and to join the Peace Corps. Obviously, I didn’t do any of that and stopped seeing this therapist. It’s been over 2 years and I have yet to find another mental health professional.
I’ll save whoever is reading this the grief and wrap this up shortly. After a huge argument and lots of tears, I was forced into an agreement to live at home for one year after I graduated. Well that contract ends in March, so in ten days from today I am going to tell my parents I am moving out. It’s crazy to think one of the things I’m most excited about when moving out is finally having the space and capacity to receive psychiatric treatment. Sort of sad that I have to go to this extent to go to therapy, but I’m really tired of sitting on the floor of my closet to talk to my friends about my anxiety so none of my family will hear. Sadly there’s not much of a resolution to all of this, but it’s a start and I am beyond ready.
(22 years old/ female/ Vietnamese Chinese American.)