A Letter to Love Yourself

You tears will sow the soil where you stepped,

And all of the Earth’s elements will return to itself.

The energy of pain has not been lost to nothing.

That growth has been given to everything that is missing.

 

Love will not be lackluster,

For people will love you despite all your plunder.

And your flaws will never feel like a chasm between you and others

Because flaws made the stories that you will both remember.

 

Love all your relationships without holding back—no matter how small—

But you have already done that,

Which is why you are sad.

 

No accumulation of flaws can ever be enough to make you worth less than.

Your resilience to heartbreak and disappointment will always make you a whole and better person.

 

And you have known what sacrifice looks like your whole life

As you patiently wait for The One to finally arrive.

 

Now you want that person to see all that you have given.

Yet,

Despite your abundance and warmth,

You often feel like a skeleton.

 

Harried and hollow,

Still searching for a haven to rest your head safely,

Weep your tears and freely express your sorrow.

 

Nothing.

Nobody.

 

Nothing is ever enough to win their affection.

If they ever made you work for it,

Then it was already lost from the beginning.

 

You sought the light in others that you hoped others would do for you.

A light that is loud and unfiltered.

Unbothered by the perceived compatibilities of your spectrums,

Giving only white light commitment.

A light that does not believe that things are ugly,

Which is also not afraid to meet you in places that are uncomfy.

 

You have already made yourself vulnerable to them.

Please just make it as painless as possible.

Just hand us a life vest before this ship sinks.

Don’t steer us into an iceberg while saying you love me.

 

You are looking for the patience to love you through all this.

You bury yourself in all these good memories,

The Bad sometimes still lingering at your fingertips.

 

It’s like a sci-fi movie

What these memories do to you.

You are transported back every time wondering how you could have changed the truth.

Make them change their mind.
But

It was already made up.

Nothing you can do.

 

You can only hope that karma will return the kindness,

But you wish karma could grant you blindness,

So that you would never be blinded by love again.

 

It’s easier to be cold,

But just the slightest bit of warmth is enough to light your hopes.

Without much hesitation you will go back to kindling the fire

Crafting that dangerous cycle of despair and desire.

 

I could go on and tell you more,

But I know this is not the kind of love you are looking for.

I don’t want to see you do what you would never let me do to myself.

Let’s forget all our troubles,

Remember our own advice.

And accept that our mistake was in being too nice.

Too patient.

Too kind.

 

Your hand has been mangled

Bruised

Beaten

Neglected

Scarred

Before you ever let go.

Even though you were the one to cut ties

You were the one who hurt the most.

 

I could never hold myself together if I didn’t have you.

You’re my last resort and my first love too.

You taught me that patience and pain are what make us people

We let ourselves hope with the utterance “I need you.”

 

It’s ok that

We all feel sad sometimes

But I will never let that be the reason we say goodbye.

Truly it is the only reason I still have you by my side.

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My name is a big deal

Rejection is a big deal.

When I’ve applied for dozens of jobs

That lead to dead-end after dead-end

 

Insecurity is a big deal.

When I’ve been told that the name of my school will definitely land me a job

And then when it doesn’t, I start to think there is something wrong with every decision I’ve made

 

Shame is a big deal.

When my parents keep asking me if I’ve gotten a job yet

And I keep reassuring them I’ll get an offer eventually even though I’m not even sure myself

 

Jealousy is a big deal.

When that girl got a better opportunity than me

Even though I’ve worked with her before, and I think I’m way more competent than she is

 

Excitement is a big deal.

When I send out just a handful of resumes with someone else’s name on them

And I get an immediate response

 

Desperation is a big deal.

When Janet and I apply for the same position with the same credentials,

And Janet accepts the interview offer because Phan hasn’t heard back

 

Confusion is a big deal.

When Janet goes in for her first interview

And the interviewer is “impressed” by her resume

 

Fear is a big deal.

When I have to double check my emails, my greetings, my meetings, my voicemail, my—everything

To make sure that attached to every single thing is the wrong name

At a time when I wasn’t ready to change it

 

Annoyance is a big deal.

When all my friends with English names call my dilemma “interesting”

Because they couldn’t come up with a better word to describe systemic oppression

—uh, I don’t know, let’s say, like “fucked up,” for example

 

Crazy is a big deal.

When people around me say it’s not a big deal,

And I feel like a crazy conspiracy theorist who is unwilling to simply let my name disappear quietly

 

Pride is a big deal.

When I have a story and meaning behind my real name

That I can’t share with other people

Because my identity has essentially been erased.

Because my name is Janet now

 

Guilt is a big deal.

When my parents told me they will keep working until the day they die

Because I’m not making enough to support either of us yet

 

Betrayal is a big deal.

When I’ve been told my whole life that simply working hard is enough to get me anywhere I want,

That I will always be successful because of what I do, not who I am

And I find out that it is all a lie

 

Powerlessness is a big deal.

When I thought I could change the world

But in the end I had to change who I am simply to make myself noticed

 

Hope is a big deal.

When I still haven’t given up

Because Janet got her name from Googling “Most common names for CEO women”

Maybe, just maybe, it will become a big deal.

Ao Dai

I am loved by this dress.

She graces me with a special, irreplaceable variety of joy.

Her satin body runs across my skin as I adorn her.

She is kind and delicate.

She wishes to do nothing but empower.

She flows in the wind and ignores my flaws.

Her fabric is forgiving and demands very little from me.

She makes me feel beautiful, no matter what.
She is my own blood.

Who she is.

She is a part of me.

I cannot be myself without her.

Even on her bad days

I think she is beautiful.
Fashion is not my reason to love this dress.

Color is not my reason to love this dress.
It is a special occasion.

A moment to celebrate in the clothes that our ancestors wore.

A time to revel in our heritage instead of hiding it.

My sister is the reason I love this color.

My family is the reason I wear my pride.

I love this dress because I feel beautiful in it.

Hello, I’m suicidal. It’s nice to meet you.

Warning: The following post contains content that is extremely uncomfortable and may provoke feelings of confusion, judgment, and censorship. This content is not suitable for all audiences. This post represents the experiences and thoughts of one individual and does not reflect the experiences of anyone else. If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, please consider seeking help or calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

There are many reasons why I consider suicide.

I’ve struggled with my mental health for much of my life, and as someone who has read the criticisms from mental health professionals and parents about the “dangers” of the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, I’m actually offended by their asinine, ignorant, misaligned warnings to ban conversations about that show in schools. Their cries to censor the public, and more importantly their children, from this show and its corollary conversations puts more people at risk of committing suicide because it further stigmatizes mental health and sends the message that mental health is an “issue” that has no place in the public—if any place at all.

I want to emphasize that my thoughts about mental health are my own, but nonetheless I am compelled to inform other people who haven’t personally experienced severe depression to understand how a person’s mental health (in this particular case, my own) can deteriorate and why it has been so difficult for me to talk about it. When we talk about mental health, we don’t treat it the same way we would talk about the common cold, something that simply happens when the temperature drops too low and people start spreading a virus. Because that’s what depression feels like. It just happens. I don’t seek it out, and in fact I would even dare to say I’m healthy and successful with many reasons to enjoy life. Yet what is incredible is that by not talking about mental health we trivialize it while simultaneously stigmatizing it. And we rarely ask ourselves how we can help other people when we don’t think they are doing well. We, as a society, are always seeking answers to our own problems through “self help” books, yet there is no “Help Others” section in Barnes & Noble. Isn’t that strange? Shouldn’t there be more popular literature on the topic of how to be kinder to others?

I’ve never tried committing suicide, but even if I did, I would never dare call myself a “survivor of suicide” or someone who has “overcome” her inner turmoil or some other dumb thing that glamorizes how strong I am for continuing to live, what I often feel, is a shitty life. For one thing, I don’t feel as if I can ever ever shake off this “cold” one hundred percent—I do have occasional flare ups, some days much more strongly than others. Second, assuming the “survivor” narrative supports the idea that there was ever something wrong with me to begin with. Sure, I can accept scientifically supported explanations of genetic predisposition for certain mental health conditions. I can accept that I might have lower than average serotonin levels, which would be one contributing factor to my mental health. I can even accept that my perspective on life can be a bit pessimistic, jaded, or cynical. But none of those things make me defective or broken or anything less than that of a full human being, right? At least, that’s what I try tell myself every day. In fact, that is the essence of one who lives with suicidal thoughts fueled by an empty tank of self-esteem: every day is a battle to remind myself that I am enough. To accept even my own assertion of healthiness is easier on some days than others. Some days, I adamantly believe I’m fine and that I can get through whatever life throws at me. Some days, I’m happy. Other days, I get triggered by the most seemingly trivial social interactions or events that set off a flood of emotions and self-loathing. I have thoughts about suicide because I struggle to believe that nothing is wrong with me.

Yet because we have accepted that having suicidal thoughts is the textbook definition of something inherently wrong with a person, we pathologize mental health in ways that make it more destructive on those who are actually suffering internally. Because my friends and family believe that my suicidal thoughts are a symptom of your garden variety sadness, believe that there is something about me that needs to be “fixed,” I become more convinced and self-loathing of my own deficiency. How could I ever find evidence for and affirmation of my sanity, wholeness, and worth when the discourse surrounding suicide revolves around deficits. Not enough serotonin. Not enough confidence. Not enough exercise. Not enough counseling. Not enough trust in others. Not enough optimism. As if I am the one who is not trying hard enough. Whenever I become closer with someone, I reflexively start building walls around myself because I believe that I am not enough.

As genuine as I want to appear, as open as I want to be about my mental health and show everyone that I’m simply a flawed person, I always stop myself from ever opening up Pandora’s box because I ask myself, “Would people even care? Is my personal pain even something people would want to know about? Are my relationships better off with this part of me never seeing light?” Because I know that if I talk about my struggle with suicidal thoughts, I’ll be labeled as attention-seeking and narcissistic on top of being broken. Bringing forth the conversation of suicide is like a choking hazard for me because I become silenced by people’s requests that I should not take things too seriously. Last, but not least, some people even have the audacity to suggest that poor mental health is a sign of weakness, frailness, and instability. And it is strange to me when people think that those who experience suicidal thoughts don’t know where help is, as if we’re too dumb to know how to find the suicide lifeline, counseling, or a friend to talk with. We’re not dumb. We are not ignorant of our resources. Stigmas are only one aspect to my hesitation for speaking up; I choose to keep these thoughts to myself because I know those resources can’t make these thoughts go away completely. The “plethora” of resources available to me simply aren’t the help I am looking for.

Conversely, I am not baring my thoughts with the intention of wanting “help,” per se, but there are things that people can do to help alleviate the pain of this ordeal. My insecurities are not a cry for help. They are a call for kindness, compassion, and patience. I don’t want people to tell me not to think a certain way as if I’m doing something wrong. Not to worry, not to stress, not to cry. I don’t want people to ask me if I’m okay because the answer will almost never be a simple yes or no. I am okay, but I’m not. When someone becomes so hurt by everyone they had trusted, how can you expect them to simply ask any random stranger for help? I am not delegitimizing the potential benefits of counseling services, but I also don’t believe they can ever truly undo the knots inside my heart. I’ve thought about suicide because the same people who are supposed to help me are the ones who hurt me in the first place. The people who were supposed to be the solution were the root of the problem in the end. All I want is for people to remind me that I’m enough, to know that someone out there cares enough to listen and give kindness without needing to be asked for it. To know that I am a human being with feelings that get hurt sometimes. Because when people forget that, am I really worth anything?

There are many reasons I choose to stay alive. These are the thoughts that rescue me in the middle of the night when the idea of death pays a visit. But the thoughts that keep me from killing myself are not the reasons you might think they are. They are not always positive reasons to be alive. I choose not to kill myself because I don’t want people to know how much I hate myself. To think that I am weak. To think that I am broken. Even though I don’t think there is anything broken about me, it still feels like there is. Even though I don’t want to call it a struggle and invoke the persona of the traumatized survivor, it still feels like a struggle. Plus, I don’t want my family to have to contend with the aftermath of my death because, newsflash, grief is not the only problem to deal with once a person dies. They would have to move my shit out, throw away said shit, figure out what to do with my dumb, dead body, and probably feel like they had wasted their money, time, and energy on me. Those are the things I think about as I mentally plan my own death. Those are the burdens that I would never want to impart on someone else. Call it guilt. Call it compassion. Call it pragmatism. I call them reasons to stay alive. I would rather suffer on my own than wreck other people’s lives.

As hard as I try to find some meaning to these struggles, to point a finger at something other than myself so I can feel less guilty about what seems like my own goddam fault, I falter. I keep blaming myself. No other explanation is ever sufficient enough except for the one that points the finger at me. Yet, I know that the mental health crisis at large is not rooted in the individual any more than the cold is the fault of the person who got caught in a room full of sick people. People passed on and encouraged that ability to loathe oneself. Sometimes I think I just got dealt a bad hand. And fuck everyone who tells me that death is not an option. That “suicide is not the answer.” The last thing a suicidal person needs is to be reminded of the “choice” to be happy, as if it’s a switch that I can turn on as I’m wallowing away in the pitch black dungeon that is my mind. I already have a library of reasons not to live, and someone is going to take away my choice not to live, too? That’s a rather pretentious and tactless way to save my life.

Depression and suicide are touchy subjects the same way that cancer can be a touchy subject. How much should we acknowledge this and dance around it? How do we become more comfortable talking about these topics without trivializing them? How am I, as someone who has personally experienced these things, allowed to talk about it? Sometimes I can’t help but poke fun at my own mental health and even poke fun at the thoughts of my own suicide, but that just makes others, well, uncomfortable. My suicidal thoughts are going to be as much a part of me as any other disease (again, not the word I would like to use), and how can I talk about it as anything less than that? How do I tell people that this will always be a part of me no matter how much I treat it? That it will always be present, and it’s hard, most likely impossible, to make vanish. Since I’m already being honest here, I’m just tired of holding this in, of feeling like I have to keep this part of my identity tucked away in the dark crawl spaces of my mind. I just need some space to talk about it or else I’ll never feel like a whole person in front of everyone. That’s all I need.

Rain

I ran out of class hoping I could protect myself during those 15 minutes.

I felt dumb for being unprepared

Because I usually have more foresight that this.

 

I knew I would have to run home by myself.

I couldn’t avoid it, and I didn’t want to duck under someone else’s cover.

But I was hoping, foolishly, that someone would be standing outside my classroom door.

I was hoping that a friend knew I needed help.

Even if I never asked for help, I wish my friends would know when I needed it.

 

I hoped she would be standing outside of class

And drive me in the car I lent her

Because that’s the least you can do for your friend.

You can fill up my tank.

You can buy me a drink.

Whatever.

But I wish you talked to me more like you cared.

Talked to me in a way that I could trust you with my own problems.

 

You can’t fight it

You can’t be mad at it either.

It just happens.

And when you get you finally step in a problem

That’s when you know.

Wet socks are the moment you stop fighting

And start accepting.

 

And I wanted to cry

Because I hated going through it alone.

The obstacles itself is not a big deal.

But it feels like you have nothing and no one to protect you.

And I ask myself, “Where are all my friends who can help me?”

And why do I feel like I have to walk through this alone?

 

They aren’t really there for the bad times.

Why would I want them there for the good times?

Why would I want anyone beside me?

Because I can get through this alone.

I have the patience to walk with wet socks

And still be grateful that I made it home alive.

 

If I go to sleep

If I go to sleep

I want to wake up in doggy heaven

And play with endless fields of pugs who don’t have breathing problems.

They would prance through a field

Filled with daisies

And I wouldn’t have to worry about shedding.

 

If I go to sleep

I want to be on the beach.

I want to do yoga on the sand and not fall over.

I want to stand at the water’s edge and sink in.

I want to watch the sunset and not

Get sunburned from staying out all day.

 

If I go to sleep

I want to see my friends every day

And we would dance and drink soju because

Those were the best memories I have still.

We would watch movies in a DVD bang and laugh.

 

If I go to sleep

I would want to see my family and laugh with them too.

They would be happy to see each other

And not fight.

My mom would go to parties and be happy.

My dad would love my mom.

My brother would play games with me and my sister.

My sister would be shopping.

 

If I go to sleep

I want to wake up in a cloud with stuffed animals.

They would be soft and squishy.

I would spend hours in bed with them watching Netflix and listening to audio books.

I would read poetry and pretend to be an actress.

Milk would never spoil so I could eat cereal all the time.

 

If I go to sleep

I want to be a dancer and a gymnast.

I feel too shy in real life to dance and

Too uncoordinated to do flips.

But I like gymnastics

And I’m flexible.

 

If I go to sleep

I wouldn’t want any boyfriends

Because boys are dumb.

I would want a prince who’s perfect, sweet, and kind.

He would do anything for me because he loves me.

He would never do anything to hurt me

And always make sure I am happy.

 

If I go to sleep

I would never go to boring vineyards

Or leave my friends by themselves.

I would hang out with all of them

And they would hang out with each other!

We would go to Six Flags, Cedar Point, have BBQs, and board game nights.

 

If I go to sleep

I’m not sure what people would say

If I never wake up.

I don’t want people to feel bad

Because I like sleeping.

I like it a lot because I get to do whatever I want.

I think I would be happier if I got to sleep all the time.

And sleeping would let me do the things

I don’t get the chance to do

When I’m awake.

 

I wish I could go to sleep

Without ever waking up.

It feels lonelier to be awake because

When I dream I’m around more friends.

I feel happier in my dreams than when I’m awake.

I just want to go to sleep and never wake up.

 

We Need to Stop Thinking Emotions are Irrational

Emotions are irrational. Rationality is emotionless. This is one of the most fundamental beliefs we have been trained to follow and enforce in our society. It is also fundamentally false. How is it possible that we truly believe that when a person of our intelligent species becomes emotional, that that person has actually gotten dumber? That is the primary assumption that we make when we think of emotions and rationality as mutually exclusive. But emotions are not irrational. And “rational” arguments are not always propelled by purely rational thought.

Emotions are necessary for survival. What we casually refer to as feelings are actually displays of our affective system. Affects, a such as fear, anxiety, and depression originate within the portion of our brain called the limbic system. Being evolutionarily primordial doesn’t make it any less important to survival because we would be dead without it. We would not have survived to become the intelligent beings we are today, capable of cognition, if our limbic system did not propel us to act on our instincts; those instincts developed for a reason, specifically for survival, but a reason nonetheless. The state of our affective system also has real physical consequences to our health, and serious mental illness can reduce our lifespan up to 20 years. There is little room to question the importance of “feelings,” but we talk about them as if they were unimportant, as if they don’t drive many of our decisions, as if they were inferior to the realm of higher-level reasoning.

We may practice empathy—we may pat ourselves on the back for understanding and relating ourselves to another person’s experiences—but many people often fail to reach the point of having compassion, which is the point where understanding starts to influence the way we treat other people. It is actually irrational to expect everyone to have the same emotional responses to stimuli in our environment. It is unreasonable to expect that everyone has the same triggers, or lack of triggers, despite the obvious differences in lived experiences because such a thing is simply impossible. It is unreasonable to preclude issues of emotions from a conversation when we are social creatures. And while many people are capable of “putting themselves in another’s shoes,” people often fail to have compassion or perceive another person’s emotional experience as meaningful enough to change their own responses to the situation. The fact of the matter is almost all of us have experienced feelings of anger, betrayal, sadness, and powerlessness for different reasons. We have different reasons for our emotional triggers, and yet we continue to believe that emotions are reason-less, have no space in public, and should be invariably be superseded by rationality in order to be acceptable, functional, and whole beings.

We value emotional honesty in this society. We characterize honesty as “refreshing” in many contexts but condemn it to dark crawl spaces of our psyche. The only way to be a truly emotionless society is if we never retained memories. Memories of our values, our upbringing, our experiences, good and bad. The irony of this myth is the double standard enforced not only through gender, but also through our consumption of media. We watch movies hoping for an emotional connection with the actors. We think that movies which are capable of making us shed a tear are powerful and praiseworthy because we see the context behind those emotions on screen. We are privileged to the stories and reasons leading up to the most powerful displays of human emotions in movies and TV shows. We know the journey. Yet many of us fail to truly grasp and appreciate real life emotions in the same manner. We are cold and indifferent because we fail to see the context.

The most problematic dimension of how we view emotions in our society is its genderedness. It is perfectly acceptable for men to continue their facade if they wish. They have the freedom to remain emotionally repressed beings for all of eternity for all that we care. The issue arises, however, in the circumstance that men impose those values onto women (and other young men). Women must bear the brunt of the consequences to this misconception.

“She’s emotional. She’s not thinking straight. Just wait until she has calmed down. She is irrational.”

Conversely, women are complicit in reproducing these gender stereotypes—we are all guilty in some shape or form. We compartmentalize men as gay if they are emotional beings; we stigmatize men from ever crying in public; we celebrate and desire men who are mysterious, stoic, unkind, and just emotionally repressed. Yet, we, as women, often lament the absence of decent men who are “in touch with their feminine side.” Despite the non-innocent role that women play in this social process, I emphasize men here because they are primary agents for actualizing and enforcing this myth. They are most often the culprit of delegitimizing women’s experiences the instant they display any emotion and deemed incoherent and unworthy. They are the ones who tell us to stop being emotional and start being rational simply because they were discouraged from a young age from practicing empathy or compassion (which are two different things).

We need to stop thinking emotions are irrational. We need to stop thinking that another person’s pains are less real or valid just because they are not our own. If a person possesses so much rationality that they think they can impose their thinking onto other people, they can step back and use that “exceptional” mind to rationalize their way into caring about other people rather than masking reality. Someone else’s reality.

We need to change the language used around emotions and stop talking about sadness or depression as if they were problems. Granted, certain situations should not be treated lightly, but why should any emotions be treated lightly? We treat our choice of college seriously, or choice of classes, or choice of restaurant. Why not emotions? It wouldn’t be wise of us to tell someone to skip class, so why would we tell someone experiencing sadness to “get over” themselves? If we are so concerned about what goes into our heads, why not our hearts? Or someone else’s hearts? Emotions have real consequences to our daily lives and our long-term mental and physical health. They are a part of the human experience, and we should all strive to be better humans every day.