**warning sensitive subjects**
If you haven’t seen it and you wish to maybe understand a little more about the pressure of first generation Chinese students (not all, but many) watch it… it’s on Netflix. This is how it impacted me.
For many of you this might be hard to read but I think it’s important I share this part of my history with you- perhaps so you may see why I am the way I am now and why I don’t take shit from anyone, because I would be dead now if I didn’t have the strength to be my own person.
Watching this episode and following the story line of the Chinese girl – Amy- suffering from migraines and then jumping in front of a subway train, because it was shameful to admit the daughter was suffering from mental health issues. The mother later even denies the girl jumps and says she slipped. This is common in Chinese culture. To save face and not admit anything was wrong.
The pressure of being not good enough, always having to be perfect in school, in demeanour, in obedience. The stress was causing her migraines but her mother dismissed mental health as being the issue. Because in Chinese culture mental health issues is in line with being seen as “crazy” and that’s just something you can’t have other people thinning about your family…. as crazy.
You follow the story of how the doctors just say “we can help give her therapy” and how they can try “hide it from her parents.” When they explore the girls side and how she can’t lie to mom about going through therapy because it would be more stress inducing it really hit home. She says her mother and father will judge her, she refuses because the shame would be unbearable.
“Why can’t you accept our help- we won’t tell your mom.” Western culture doesn’t understand that the sense duty, honor and being transparent is what governs us. Yes, we would rather die than piss off and dishonour our family .
Growing up my classmates and friends never understood why I would have mental breakdowns when I got below 90%. I would literally start shaking at my desk and trying to stop uncontrollable tears. I would put my head down on my desk and fight to not cry. At recess I would find a spot to cry to hit things, to pull my hair, muffle my screams.
They wouldn’t underhand why I would be terrified if I was 5 minutes late getting home after school, or why I couldn’t have friends over or why I couldn’t join clubs and teams. They always said it wasn’t a big deal. To chill out. Some eventually would lecture and yell at me because they were sick of my seemingly “over reactions.” They would tell me to just do it and ignore my parents- I couldn’t even imagine at that time… the consequences. I just wouldn’t do it.
They didn’t understand the fear and consequences of what would happen at home and forever. You see when I did something wrong… it was never forgotten it was always brought up day after day sometimes for years and everyone at home would bring it up. Mock me. Use it as precedence whenever I was in trouble. Every failure was added on to the last. Often, getting in trouble for one thing was a multi day shaming fest. Because it took that long to air out all the other times I failed at something similar. How crazy is that? Yes but when you live it. It was normal. That’s why every time I did bad at something it was exponentially worse- hence the break downs. They reflected the mass of terror that was about to be inflicted upon me.
I even had a teacher, my highschool social teacher pull me into the hallway and literally yell at me because he thought I was being ridiculous for crying over a bad mark. He told me it didn’t matter. He was over 6’ tall, loud and strong. A football jock in his heyday. Terrifying.
He made me sit in the hallway and told me not to come back until I chilled out. He told me to get over it. I had a panic attack.
- From the bad mark
- Having a teacher yelling at me because I was doing something wrong- the most shameful thing was to be yelled at by a teacher or person of high distinction. So many horrifying things.
It was one of the worst moments of my high school life. I was wrong for doing poorly on the test and then I was wrong for feeling bad about it. Everything I did was wrong. I couldn’t win.
The pressure. The expectations and the trouble I would get into when I went home.
I remember there was a time for years when I was probably 12-16, until I moved out. I thought about killing myself almost every day.
But it wasn’t like I wanted to commit suicide in the way many of you think it is, it was more like.. “ending it” I just wanted it to end and I dreamed of it stopping. The yelling, the psychological abuse from my step mother. The expectations, the worthlessness. Days upon days I would think and say “I want to die.” My friends were young they didn’t understand and would they eventually would get sick of me saying these things. And just tell me to relax, to stop. Back then people didn’t recognize how to help or ask for help.
In grade 11 my favourite science teacher- instead of seeing that the cause of decline in my grades as a sign of something more serious- just lectured me and told me he was disappointed and told me to step it up. I was essentially couch surfing at that time and working 2.5 jobs, eating second hand food from friends who couldn’t finish their lunches/ meals. Paying for my own bus, food, rent, phone bill. Much of highschool is a blur. I just remember the hard hitting moments and only a handful of classmates.
Anyways this episode really showed me how common this feeling was. We joke about how Chinese students are so smart, it’s because we were trying so hard not to let down a culture that worked so hard to give us a better life. Most families didn’t intend to create such mental health issues, they were just only doing what they thought was best. The sad thing is my story would not have ended on the positive note the characters of the mom and daughter did in the show. This was the western fantasy of a happy ending. Very few Chinese relationships that are this distressed and full of trauma can just end in happily ever after- life is not that simple.
I still work on battling the feeling of pressure.
Like when the girl goes into the monologue about waking up—- lying there and thinking about all the things she has to do that day and then thinking about all the things she will fail at. I go through that all the time. It’s something that was trained in me as a child and teenager and I fight it it ALL the time. The feeling of being overwhelmed. It’s not just your every day overwhelmed feeling… it’s much worse than that.
I still get anxiety regularly but it’s manageable. I used to have major attacks like weekly or monthly but now it’s maybe every few years.
I admit I don’t get that dark heaviness anymore- just a mild to moderate anxiety where I am able to focus enough to fight it out of me. It makes me sad to know it will be a constant process for me to work at it.
When these things are ingrained at such a young and developmental part of your life… it takes decades to heal and that’s if you’re aware and proactive about it.
Anyways, wow. This episode really hit home. Thank you for reading.