My therapist commended me for not putting on makeup before our session — I walk out with raccoon eyes every time so…bout time I learn. I reply in true Daria deadpan fashion — I wore silk tho so…yea. And we both laugh because we know there’ll be salt water all over this goddamn dry clean only outfit within the hour. And we laugh because those tears mean progress.
I won’t lie and say it’s all giggles. It’s exhausting emotionally and physically. I feel more pain than ever before and am constantly fatigued. But at least I’m finally discovering who I am outside of the events that, to this point, had come to define and control me. I had no idea how much my small and inconsequential body was holding in this presumed act of protection for my mind and its memories. I was bulldozing through with laughter and sarcasm, denying everything my physical body was trying to tell me.
It saddens me that this journey took so long to begin. Growing up Asian American (and people of color in general), mental health or even seeking help is rarely discussed, if at all. I didn’t seek external help because that’s not how we were raised. Resilience. Perseverance. Saving face. Community over self. Those were the mantras we lived by. Most people of color I know get uncomfortable when discussing mental health. Most insist they don’t need therapy. We “just deal with it”. Anything else is considered weak.
But more likely than not, we are not equipped with the tools to deal with trauma and/or various psychological conditions. And y’all…people get masters and PhDs for this shit. This requires years of training. You’ve heard this before — we wouldn’t try to fix a broken bone on our own, why doesn’t that same logic apply to our minds and hearts?
We’re so lucky to be part of a generation that actually considers the self. Generations prior truly were simply existing to survive, especially communities of color. Each of us carry so, so much weight. I never considered myself a victim and assumed PTSD was something only veterans experienced. We weren’t taught how to identify symptoms or default processing mechanisms. I’m just learning about negative and core beliefs. I’m just learning about psychosomatic symptoms and it blows my mind that my memories could actually be so tightly wound in my muscles, trying to stay small and hidden and geez…maybe that’s why all the specialists couldn’t explain the chronic pain.
None of it makes sense and yet…all of it makes all the sense in the world. Our bodies will do extraordinary things to keep the mind and itself safe, almost to its own detriment. And it’s absolutely ridiculous to think that we can handle this complexity on our own. And it breaks my heart that most of us believe we have to.
Because we really don’t.
My therapist patiently informs me again and again that “this” (this being a whole slew of habits & reactions) is a well-studied, common after effect. Many people exhibit symptoms like mine. While comforting to some extent to know I’m not alone and totally broken, I start crying even harder.
How many of us are there? And how long did it take for each to seek help? What else is going on in everyone’s minds? Would I have sought help earlier had I known I wasn’t alone?
Maybe if we talked about mental health more openly or just start by reaching out to each other. We could then create a safe space for future children, so they would know that they’d be believed without hesitation. We could create a safe space for women, so they would know that they’d be believed immediately and without doubt. We could eventually create a safe space for each other. Because, the reality is, not having to be strong all the time is strength in and of itself.