Not to stereotype but Asian parents aren’t the best role models when it comes to awareness about mental illness. Asian cultures aren’t the most exemplary when it comes to being vocal about how you feel. It’s almost taboo to do so. Dinner time conversations never start with a “so, how was your day?” instead its spent in front of the television with the news on.
When I told my mum about spending my BR1M to see a therapist, I knew I was walking on eggshells. I have been having trouble sleeping every night and my insomniac episodes are credited to anxiety, at that time it was work. Her reply to my decision was, “people can’t sleep, that’s normal what”. She then added, “those people only want your money”. I brushed it off. It was my money, it was my decision to do what I wanted to do with it and my decision was to get help.
I did not tell her about my first therapy appointment until the second one came up. I did not tell her my therapist referred me to a psychiatrist until I was on the third day of taking my prescribed medication. Part of me was afraid to be stigmatized as crazy for being clinically depressed and having generalized anxiety, I felt like as an only child, the image my mum had of her only daughter would have excluded those two diagnosis. The other part of me tried putting myself in her shoes, with my immediate thought being no mother wants to worry when their kid is sick. But does it count when their kid’s sickness isn’t physical? When a Panadol soluble can’t cure it? Does it count to her that what I’m going through can’t be seen?
I think that makes matter worse. How do you explain illness you can’t see, especially to a person who already has a prejudice towards it to begin with?
After a few weeks of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and being on antidepressants, my mum noticed a change in me. She asked me how did I have so much energy suddenly. I explained to her what each medication did and I started to bring home pamphlets for her to read. She even accompanied me to one of my psychiatrist appointments. It felt great to finally have her support. It felt like she was slowly accepting and understanding the process of me getting help.
Unfortunately, that was only in theory. In practice, it was a whole different story. When I had anxiety after coming home from a crowded public clinic all I wanted to do for the next day was to be alone to recover from what I’d gone through. My mum then gets a phone call about a small family gathering which I told her, “no, I’m not gonna go. I have anxiety”. Her reply was one of the overused, unsupportive ones that make me feel even worse; “everyone has worries”.
Yes, I get it. Everyone does worry. My head does this thing where I catastrophize that worry and it takes me time to rationalize that worry. It’s a process that happens every day and getting over it is a work in progress. But for my mum to keep repeating “don’t worry” after I thought I finally had her support on my health problems was just down right disappointing.
I know it’s disappointing to her to see me turn down an invite for a family gathering, but I just want her to meet me halfway sometimes. But every time I try to do so, I feel like she’s meeting me at some halfway house instead.
I’m sure I can’t be the only one who’s had trouble explaining their mental illness to their Asian parents. Educating them with pamphlets aren’t enough. Telling them to walk a mile in our shoes when they’re closed off and dead set on attaching the “gila” stigma to mental illness doesn’t help either. It’s no wonder countries the top countries with the highest suicide rates are come from Asia.
Having open conversations, devoid of any stigma is one of the first steps parents can take in playing a supportive role to a child with mental illness. So, Asian parents, do so and try to meet your kid halfway.
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