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.

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.

Chinadoll

Honest. Genuine. Happy. Extroverted.

How about Jealous?

I live my life with deeply buried feelings of insecurity burned inside me through years of bullying, and to have to mask that emotional scarring every day until I forget it’s there makes me feel disconnected from the persona I put on. Because I often feel that my social life is dissociated from my emotional being, my life actually feels ingenuine. I joke about not having friends growing up, being the least popular cousin in my family, and losing the few friends I did have, but sometimes I just want to break down and cry. And in those private moments of intense emotional agony, I cry out in my head, “Why doesn’t anyone love me?” I would physically collapse inward as if I’m a hollow Chinadoll whose bodily pieces were falling into the crevices of my being. The screaming gets so loud in my head, and my mouth would be forced open by the weight of those silent screams. But to anyone else in the house, the night is perfectly still. So these feelings of anger, frustration, and despair eat away at me on the inside without so much as an imperfection on the surface. On rare occasions, I feel this way when I see another person who is happily surrounded by friends and family (again, it rarely happens because I would also like to think I’m not constantly self-centered). When my emotions do flare up, it’s because I hear the voice in the back of my head asking me if I am as happy as the person I am comparing myself to.

And I don’t know if I can answer that question.

I have hated myself for as long as I can remember going to family parties as a young child. Time and time again these painful memories of feeling unwanted by my peers and family members who have ostracized me for one reason or another resurface. Easter egg hunts. Birthday parties. Tennis sleepovers. I was excluded from all of them. I cried when I read my sister’s school project in which she completely renounced me as her sister (I was eight). And I cried the summer after my freshman year of college because I realized that when I returned home, I had no one around me except the family members who aren’t really interested in seeing me again anyway (I was nineteen). The time between these two salient moments in my life is punctuated by many others just like them.

And I did everything I could to boost my self-esteem. I joined the tennis team and speech team in high school. I worked hard to get accepted into an elite private university. I have made many friends. I ran a half marathon. But even now, nothing can expunge this feeling of emptiness—this feeling that I am never enough, not for myself, but for the people who I care about. As I am trying to make sense of and differentiate between the insecurity of being enough for myself and being enough for someone else, I drive myself crazy. People have always told me that I only have myself to impress. That no one else’s opinion of me matters.

But to what extent can I truly accept that advice in the circumstance that I am happy with who I am but not happy with whom I’m around. The solution seems to be as simple as changing my social environment, but how can I truly forget those who share my blood? Forget that expectation of kinship and love? Forget the friendship that ended because of a misunderstanding that I desperately tried, but failed, to fix. Forget the desire to find closure from the relationships I leave behind? Forget my family when I see others with theirs? When family is the only thing I have—yet sometimes it still feels like I have nothing.

When some of the most important relationships I have had impart feelings of empty-handedness, some pathetic part of me tells me that I don’t, in fact, have any proof of my worth. That need for belonging continues to go unfulfilled, and I have dug myself into a ditch of self-consciousness that reminds me every day of my greatest fear of being unworthy of love. How far can someone go in life without feeling the love of others? Love for oneself simply cannot be enough, otherwise I would be a narcissist. But am I not a narcissist by longing for more attention from others? In which case, I feel wrongfully entitled by wishing for that unconditional love which seems to surround everyone else. To me, it comes to you the way a present arrives on Christmas, right? If you get it, you deserve it, if not then you don’t. It’s an insidious way to perceive how my world functions, I know, but it’s become so involuntary for my thoughts to stray to this because I have become chained to the affect of my past.

So when I analyze myself, I hold up a mental self-portrait. Sometimes I see what others see, but how much of it is really me? Is the reality of my outward self less material with the existence of my juxtaposing inward self? I guess I won’t know until I expose everything.

UAG

Edit:

After writing this, I realize now how these reflections as a second-generation Asian American may resonate with others who feel generational/cultural gaps within their families. I certainly attribute the thoughts of self-loathing I express in this piece to that identity, but I also realize now that condition I have lies on the extreme end of social disconnect. I feel comforted knowing that in spite the severity of my self-inflicted criticisms, people can relate to feeling conflicted around the issue of belonging. I would not have been able to understand myself better had I not written about this, and the feedback I have gotten from others has been an added benefit. Thank  you.

Romance: A Family Affair

“This time I’m gonna break out and be free/Stop needin’ what I want and start wantin’ what I need.”

—Clara C

I have learned that our romantic preferences are socially constructed, and when we ask ourselves why we like someone with a certain skin color, hair, eyes, etc. couldn’t we all find some possible, albeit obscure, answer to those questions that point to outside influences? The very meaning of beauty is socially constructed, we know that. Some years, big hips and hourglasses are hot; others, it’s Twiggy. The socializing source can be anything from societal norms to our own parents, but the growing counterculture tells us to marry whomever we love, regardless of appearance.

It’s unpopular of me to say, then, that I am purposefully selecting a partner based on physical appearance.

As I grow older, I have physically grown apart from my parents, and I have had time to rationalize the crazy things that they say and do. The weight of their survival and selflessness began to set in when I learned about the dangers of escaping Vietnam in 1975 and my parents’ journey to America as refugees. My parents may live the “American Dream” but they have never enjoyed life the way my brother, my sister, and I undeservingly have. They never go on vacations if the purpose is not to see family. They never go to fancy restaurants. They never do anything “fun.” For them, the primary purpose of their existence has always been to provide for not only us, but our family members who struggle for money either here or in Vietnam. That is why I carry this guilt on my shoulders: my existence would be nothing without the courage, sacrifice, and wellbeing of my parents. So when people tell me to live my life for myself and myself only, I think, Isn’t that selfish?

Had my parents taken that advice, they would have separated years ago; I would not have had the means to go to a prestigious university; I would never see my mom and dad in the same room again; I would lose the home I grew up in; I would become family with strangers if my parents remarried. But that didn’t happen because my parents live by a different set of values that are uncommon—unpopular, even—in America.

They chose a life that they thought was better for their children. It’s still far from perfect (and sometimes I wish they would just take a day off work without complaining about the money they would lose), but in theory, what they did was selfless.

So when I arrive at the question of who to date, I have been socialized by this guilt, but whether that is right or wrong is a question of morality. My parents set constraints to whom I can date/marry, and although it contradicts popular meanings of liberation, obliging my parents along these lines also frees me from the burden of choice. Choice is often paralyzing in this era of unlimited option, and to know that respecting my parents with a choice that makes them happy ultimately makes my life easier and is worth more to me than preserving my “God-given freedom.” Freedom may be entitled to everyone, but not every one is blessed to live in it. In fact, I should be grateful for even having the privilege of choice at all and not have my choices revoked from me simply because I was labeled by society as undesirable by my skin color, a stigma that many Black women must live with. My American lineage is but two generations old, so it’s easier for me than for others to see where I came from. Many of us, at one point or another, lose sight of that. Maybe that’s why many Millenials feel so entitled to everything.

UAG

Beauty in the Heart, Heart on My Sleeve

People say to pay it forward. Pay for someone’s lunch bill, help someone carry his/her groceries, or give a compliment. Taking that moment to acknowledge the people around you to appreciate the world you live in and value the good you can accomplish through simple acts of kindness. But what if giving a compliment doesn’t do anything good for the other person? What if telling a girl that she is pretty only makes her feel horrible and remind her of her latent self-loathing.

This shouldn’t make sense, but to me, it’s how I’ve felt for a long time. I thank the people who compliment me on my looks, who tell me that I’m pretty, and often they are very nice people overall. But on that rare occasion that this does happen, it has never improved my own self-perception. Sure—sometimes I take way too many selfies at once and choose the best ones from a catalogue of pretend modeling and post it on Facebook or Instagram. Who doesn’t do this nowadays? But displaying my “best self” isn’t enough either. Not because I think I’m faking “it,” whatever it is—society’s definition of beauty—but because I have never heard someone who continues to be someone I truly care about tell me I’m beautiful on the inside.

Every day, we walk around and see other people’s faces. We see people we have never met regularly at work and at school, and we see our friends’ faces very often, which leaves very little time to be looking at our own faces. The logical conclusion is that we will go through life knowing our friends’ faces better than our own. So for me, simply looking at my own physical beauty does not invoke strong emotions the way that my thoughts and opinions do because most of the time, I’m not even thinking about how I look. In the mornings, I participate in the ritual of making myself presentable by our society’s standards, but throughout the day, the way I look is usually not my first thought. My mind is constantly wondering what others perceive of me as a personality, and although I generally do not let people’s judgments dictate my actions I can’t help but be conscious of the fact that how I act will have an impression on people.

I compliment my friends when they are not around:

“I love Hannah. She’s really nice.”

“Ted may seem self-centered, but he’s a great guy once you get to know him.”

“Let’s just say Katie is an interesting person. She’s a great photographer and writes really well, though.”

Do I tell my friends about these epithets? I guess I don’t do it enough. Maybe many of us don’t directly compliment our friends nearly enough. On social media, it’s easy to say someone looks beautiful in a picture, but how beautiful is that person on the inside? What do those epithets tell about my inner beauty?

Now, I don’t want to make this situation into a game of comparing people’s personalities and ranking one personality as more “beautiful” than another. But just like how physical beauty attracts attention through optical curiosity, inner beauty should then attract people via social curiosity. A physical trait, like a person’s face, may represent the item of attraction, but what are the personality traits that make a person attractive? Physical beauty can and does change drastically day-to-day, but inner beauty grounds that physical metamorphosis we all undergo and continues to be the essence of our existence. So if one’s inner beauty is not validated by others, does that person truly exist? Can her footprints be seen in the snow?

This kind of perspective is inherently self-centered, so the solution to it would be—coincidently—pay it forward. Put others before yourself. However, when it comes to complimenting a friend, the type of compliment may matter in generating the intended effect.

UAG