May We Finally Feel <3
An Organized Mess
(By Katrina Fenner)
There should be a name
for the fragility we feel
when our parents shame
us for weeping, saying
“crying is weakness.”
I get it, they were raised
to hide truths, swallow
tears with pride.
I fold myself up in my
room, thinking of all the
times I had to pack my
feelings in a bag, wishing
I could run far, far away
Far from the culture I was
raised in. Far from the
organized mess that I am
when I’m around them.
I unfold myself and spill
my emotions on the floor.
I beg my parents to pick
them up, for once.
Katrina Fenner (IG: @inkdroplets)
May is both Mental Health Awareness Month, as well as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. I am passionate about the former, and identify as the other. And because these 2 topics are extremely personal for me, I decided to write about it.
Growing up as a Filipina-American, I have always lived in a household where mental health is seen as taboo. It was completely shunned. Or, that those with it are only seen as crazy, shameful, or too weak. My upbringing consisted of constant suppression and repression if emotional processing was ever introduced, or if I felt sadness.
Things were always pushed under the rug, which only led to emotional turbulence and chaotic, explosive (inner and outer) turmoil.
I had to constantly bury my feelings away within the deepest parts of my core, within my bags to travel amidst daily busy life, where I thought it would eventually disappear. But it never did.
In retrospect and thanks to my experiences with therapy, I now realize that many micro-aggressions were made about a plethora of topics that I can’t even count.
As for body image, saying “you’re fat” or “you need to lose more weight” was tossed casually into conversation, yet it broke some of my self-esteem and confidence.
As for mental illness, my relatives would disregard those who had them if they had ever told them the truth.
As for crying, it would be immediately shunned, and the blame would be put on me for “being too sensitive” and “not strong enough.”
Although these comments may seem small, they cut deeply and formed some of my inner wounds, which I am aware of and actively trying to be the best I can be.
You never know how much words can mean to someone, so such micro-aggressions and tonality of voice is essential to live through mindful observation and action. However, experiences with my Filipino family has made me question if they truly understand the latter (and maybe for yours, too).
If my arm were to break, my family would immediately encourage seeking help at a hospital for necessary recovery and healing. However, if the injury was invisible (such as depression or anxiety), it was not seen as valid or important enough to do anything about it.
Physical therapy was accepted, but mental therapy was not. And things were never discussed or talked about. Why?
I was born with a family history that lacked emotional nourishment, support, and solace. With my origins stemming from the provinces of the Philippines (an impoverished country), everything was and always felt like living in survival mode. In terms of my emotional needs, they were simply not met due to the scarcity mentality that became so engrained within my ancestors.
Consequently, it took me a very long time to figure out the importance of boundaries and how to establish them, because I was so used to pleasing those around me. It became normalized to try and ease the constant surrounding tension that always felt like walking on eggshells.
My environment was always a “go-go-go” atmosphere in which there was never any time dedicated to talking. Heart-to-heart talks, and discussions about comprehending the significance of our experiences, were deemed pointless. It is no wonder why communication issues can be so common, or that open conversations always led to arguments. To slow down, was to be perceived as lazy.
Frustration built within me over the years as I continually heard and experienced this over and over again. I do understand that there are cultural differences to take into account (such as any references to body weight or physical appearance are merely seen as observations, not judgements).
But just because someone understands where someone is coming from, does not that they should no longer listen to what hurts them.
I don’t mean to promote ethnocentrism, but I do mean to stand up and advocate for oneself.
Your pain is real, and it is valid. If it hurts, it hurts.
And considering the fact that Filipino-Americans rank as some of the highest of Asian Americans to experience depression or other mental health issues, and yet the lowest of them to seek help, that should already say something.
Maybe this greatest flaw stems from a lack of awareness in mental health. This is precisely why education is essential for Asian elders and older relatives to truly understand how mental health encompasses a major aspect of overall well-being (including the future generations too!).
Time has changed perceptions of health derived from the mind, so now it is time to finally align.
Align with ourselves.
Align with our internal dialogues.
And align with our hearts to propel others to do so, too (instead of deeply forming inner wounds).
No one is perfect, for the arena of emotions, intersectionality, communication, and comprehension will never be cut clear.
We are not responsible for our trauma, pain, and the cards we have been dealt with, but
we ARE responsible for our healing.
Shame is in everyone, for it is the core that fuels every individual’s trauma.
When you peel back all the layers of the negative and triggering experiences that have happened, you find it there, hiding within everyone’s heart.
But to feel ashamed is not shameful. Rather, is a shame itself, to be ashamed of your shame.
Never do I want anyone to feel shameful of their sensitivities, or to judgmentally criticize those who have gone through experiences I can never comprehend.
I feel like seeing the worth in others, when they are struggling with seeing it within their own selves, is one of the greatest tragedies. And I do hope that one of those individuals isn't you.
To all my Asian Americans and mental health advocates, I stand with you.
It is okay to feel hurt, and it is okay to ask for help.
To be vulnerable is to be strong.
Let yourself be free from the cultural cages that entrapped you for so long. Let your bags full of emotions finally spill.
You deserve peace.
May you be heard,
may you be loved,
and may you be understood.
Recommended Resources, Reads, Videos:
Filipinos & Mental Health (I thought this was a very powerful video)