The Unfortunate Need To Validate Mental Health Struggles
When going through hard times, it’s easy to fall into the thought pattern of “My life sucks. No understand me,” or “Woe is me.” Somehow we feel like these thoughts give our lives more meaning or worth. What I’ve come to realize however, is that the things I’ve gone through in life are not particularly uncommon; there are plenty of other people who deal with the same issues that I have. What I have truly learned though from asking other people about their experiences is that you are never truly alone and no matter what problem you might have, you should not be scared to find help. No one chooses the circumstances that they are born into and so we should treat each other’s problems with respect and compassion regardless of their background.
I’ve been pretty lucky having lived in New York City for most of my life and I certainly appreciate the things that my family has done for me. Growing up in a first generation Asian American family, there existed two prominent issues of understanding how to seamlessly incorporate two cultural lifestyles and how to respect the sacrifices that my parents had made for me. From a young age, there was a relentless cycle of being driven back and forth between swimming classes, Girl Scouts, tennis, and a never-ending list of other activities. I was expected to become a doctor or a lawyer and I was never to argue back with my parents since they worked very hard to provide me with a good lifestyle.
You can say that these were just “growing pains” or “tough love” from my parents, but children will struggle to flourish if their self-esteem is destroyed or if unnecessary stress is taken out on them. In many first generation families, parents have given up a lot in order to see their kids succeed. As a result, parents sometimes create a more stressful environment by setting high expectations for their kids while remaining blind to the toxicity that might be created at home. The toxic environment at home and other everyday issues lead me into having anxiety problems and developing self harming habits that have thankfully disappeared in recent years, but these were things I had to deal with my first year in college.
Along with the toxic environment that I grew up in, there was also a disregard for mental health in the house. When I tried to bring up depression to my mom for the first time, I was met with, “Depression doesn’t exist. That’s just a myth. You just don’t work hard enough.” And so I spent most of my senior year of high school believing that I was a horrible daughter who only kept disappointing my family.
Because of the issues that I had already been dealing with at home, my freshman year of college was one of the hardest transitions that I had ever made. From breaking up with my first boyfriend that I had been seeing secretly, feeling out of place for the first time due to my race, struggling to pursue the major that I wanted, getting poor grades, and being forced to give up my dream college, I wasn’t necessarily optimistic about going into my freshman year. I had heard from so many people that college is supposed to be the best four years of my life, but I unfortunately didn’t have this experience freshman year and I’m sure that there are plenty of students who struggled alongside me to fit in at school.
Feeling out of place due to my race though was the most unexpected event that I encountered at school. New York City had provided plenty of exposure to diversity, culture, and inclusion which made me feel comfortable, but I have learned since then that this comfortableness is a luxury. With Boston College being a school of 66% Caucasian and 34% AHANA (African American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American), it was a much different environment than the high school I attended. I ended up making more Caucasian friends than I did with the AHANA students, but this was only brought to my attention when during my entire freshman year, since other students would call me, “The Token Asian.” I had been judged for the people that I had hung out with. People would comment, “She just wants to be white!” behind my back or, “She’s so not Asian.” Along with the teasing, it was hard to ignore the Euro-centric course listings that Boston College provided and I definitely retreated from making a lot of friends since I didn’t feel welcomed in any culture club at school.
I had also wanted to switch from a Biology major to an English major since I really love English and I was getting poor grades on the Pre-Med track, but I knew that my mom would be very disappointed in me. Ultimately, I switched to being an English major, but I can vividly remember the emotional race of that first year that made me feel like I would never win in college.
I skipped classes during freshman year far too many times and often would just lay on the floor in my dorm room when I wasn’t in class. I lost almost twenty pounds since I barely ate and at some point, the few friends that I had made at school would have to help me get dressed and get out of bed every morning. At the time, I felt so ashamed of myself. I also felt guilty since I knew that my depression had been affecting my friends. When I finally decided to go to a psychologist for the first time, I remember crying for 40 minutes, an empty tissue box, and for the first time being told that my depression was real.
Realizing that I could get help and that there was a professional who was willing to listen to me was a giant step in my healing and growth at school. After switching to the major that I wanted, I have received higher grades with each semester and I have become more vocal in my classes. Accepting that I could be the only one to change how I felt about my identity at school, I pushed myself to join more clubs and to not be afraid of what people said about me. Naturally, as I began to branch out into things that I would rather do and stuck to my beliefs, I was able to attract more friends and find a more comfortable place at school.
Needless to say, there will always be problems that I will face at college whether it is with my depression or race, but realizing that there are people that I can reach out to and putting more faith in myself are important things that I try to follow. I believe that others should try to follow these steps too. No one will ever know what you’re dealing with unless you speak up, but I assure you that there are plenty of people who will not disregard your struggles.
This story is brought to you by
The Steve Fund is the nation’s only non-profit organization focused on promoting the mental health and emotional well-being of students of color. It works with colleges and universities, students, non-profits, researchers, practitioners, and with groups serving diverse populations. Learn more at http://www.stevefund.org.