Growing up in the Vietnamese culture, feelings and emotions are rarely talked about in our family. We tend to deal with our emotions by burying our sadness and anxiety. But it wasn’t until one of my closet cousins, a bright-minded and talented boy with two doting parents, was diagnosed with anxiety that there was light shed upon mental health. Our family was in shock and panic about what will happen to him. Many were scared that he may harm himself, many thought that he was faking it to quit school. But I knew those were their ways to make sense of a situation that they have never experienced.
As I helped his parents with their insurance and in-network providers for a trustworthy counselor, I became resentful that it took someone who was dear to me to cave down by the emotional burdens for us to find them help. While I continued my research, a little voice in my head reminded me to be better conceal my own problems. “Don’t you see scared they are? They’re worried about him, so you better stay strong for everyone”. Somehow, I was the person in charge of contacting the insurance, talking to my cousin to cheer him up and bridging the cultural gap of mental to our family. Yet, at that moment, I wished I was able to tell them that I’ve been feeling the same way my cousin has for a long time now, “why can’t you see that I’m in need of attention too?”.
My parents were always busy working so I was alone quite a bit. I recall waiting up until 11 PM at night for my dad to come home before I would go to bed. Or waiting till 7 PM on Fridays for my mom to come to pick me up from my dad’s. I was alone quite a bit, so if I ever feel lonely, I wouldn’t have anyone to talk to.
My parents were immigrants trying to make ends meet, so they were working endlessly. I tried my best to do well in school and behave well. Whenever I ran into problems at school, I rarely tell my parents because I didn’t want them to worry. Slowly, I began to internalize many of my emotions without knowing how to talk about it. As I internalized those problems, I always end up blaming myself for them. And since I didn’t know any better or having anyone to share with, I was my own therapist. At the time it wasn’t a big deal, I was still a little girl, sheltered from the rest of the world.
It wasn’t until when I started college that my inability to talk about my emotions became a great hinder. I encountered problems in my relationships, such as being wronged by an ex-partner but not knowing how to convey that their actions hurt me. Before I can even defend myself, I was often shut down by angry words blaming me for what happened. I would internalize them, blame myself for things that weren’t my fault. Eventually, all of those unanswered frustrations built into a dark hole and the damage was beyond repair.
I soon realized that if I want to move forward and grow, I need to be able to talk about how I feel. I made a commitment to myself that I will start going to counseling every month. I needed help. So in December, I attended my intake session where I met my therapist. It was scary to open up to a stranger, but she was a stranger, she was unbiased. I’ve been visiting her for two months now, and each time, I can feel myself healing a little bit more.
Visiting a therapist is not easy, that’s why I said it was a commitment. To be honest, I questioned whether or not I was going crazy for paying $40 copay to talk to a person. Every time I went, I was ready to run out of her office, but I knew I won’t be able to make it far. My therapist is Vietnamese, and she is the only Vietnamese practitioner in the state of North Carolina. I bonded with her through our cultural connection, being females, children of immigrants, and love for our dogs.
Mental health to me is a form of self-care, and it is just as important as our physical wellbeing. It requires patience, kindness, persistence, and good faith. At the age of twenty-four, I’m on the journey to becoming my own best friend, and I can’t wait to find peace from within. What is your way of showing self-care? Please share your story with me in the comment section!