I’ve Taken the First Step

By Joyce Yin
New Organizing Project blogger 
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“Asian American teenage girls have the highest rate of depressive symptoms of any racial, ethnic or gender group according to a report released today by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).”

 

Last week, I shared my story growing up with ‘Tiger Parents‘ and the ongoing struggle I’ve had grappling with the effects of my childhood in my adult life. After my blog post went up, I received messages from friends who expressed how glad they were I shared my story and how much they could relate. Reading these warm words from my fellow AAPI friends not only brought me a sense of comfort that I was not alone but also sparked conversations about how much the issue of Tiger Parenting really isn’t talked about, at least not seriously and certainly not in an any in-depth way until Amy Chua’s article came out. My friends and I discussed the ramifications of just how damaging Tiger Parenting can actually be and how seemingly commonplace it is to joke about what might seem like abuse to a fair amount of people.

Granted, I realize that the issue of ‘Tiger Parenting’ is a complicated one that has a history from which it comes from and is rooted in cultural values, so it wouldn’t be fair to write it off automatically as one way or another. However, there is something to be said for the effect ‘Tiger Parenting’ can have on one’s mental health.

A friend and I were talking about the blog post and she revealed to me how relieved she felt that I’d put my story out there. As someone who grew up with a ‘Tiger Mom,’ she had gone through similar situations as I did but felt like she was the only one, that she had no one else to talk to about it. Another friend of mine who is currently in therapy so that she can begin to deal with her childhood trauma admitted to me that she felt ashamed for seeking help; that she felt like a baby for doing so.

As I continued to discuss these issues with them, I became more and more cognizant that, you know what, the AAPI community really doesn’t talk about dysfunctional relationships within our families or the ensuing mental health issues that follow. Biggest understatement of the year, right? Articulating your feelings or even giving the  mere hint that you might indeed be a real human being with emotions is a big no-no; you just don’t talk about these things. You’re expected to put on a poker face all the time and pretend like everything is alright. Repression is a skill you learn to become very good at. For me, I’ve seen this manifest itself in that it’s hard for me to talk about my feelings and be really honest with people. I get uncomfortable and end up unintentionally laughing and minimizing whatever issue I’m talking about so we can move on to another topic. I feel like I’m burdening the person I’m talking to and as much as I might want to talk about it, it’s easier to put it in the past than to actually confront it. Believe me when I say that I acknowledge that this is unhealthy.

I’ve recently begun contemplating seeking out therapy to help me work through these issues but I’ll admit that I wasn’t always open to it. I was one of those people who thought that therapy was only for those with ‘serious’ problems and that it was a sign of weakness. ‘I can deal with my problems on my own,’ I told myself. Truth be told, I was a little embarrassed that I wasn’t seemingly strong enough to just suck it up. But as I’ve gotten older, it’s become increasingly apparent that no, I can’t adequately deal with these problems on my own. I need help and that isn’t a bad thing.

As I researched general overviews of AAPI’s and mental health for this blog post, it came as no surprise that reoccurring themes included AAPI’s having lower rates of mental health than white people but also seek it out less often, many AAPI’s not seeing harsh ‘Tiger Parenting’ as a serious issue, wanting to ‘save face’ and lack of access to culturally-sensitive care. There’s a lot working against us, telling us that we’re weaklings for wanting to understand ourselves and become better human beings. This is not an uncommon problem.

After having conversations with multiple friends who are dealing with similar problems, it’s become clear to me that the reticence to come forward and/or have dialogues around these issues has to do with the stigma associated with mental health and the facade that they are the only one dealing with these things, creating a sense of isolation. But you are not alone. As painful as it might be to share your story with others, it is even more painful and harmful to not do so at all. There is something to be said for the healing power of community. And although others might tell you otherwise, there is nothing wrong with getting help for your problems. To be better advocates, organizers, parents, daughters and so forth we need to be able to first tackle our own personal issues head on in a healthy way if we are to expect to any good at the various other life roles we play. And in order to do so, the first step is to admit that you might have some problems. And that’s okay.