From Childhood Trauma To Cultural Expectations: An Asian-American Mental Health Journey

Hailin’s mom died when she was six years old. When you deal with death at a young age, you don’t really understand what is going on around you. Her mother was dying from lung cancer.

Hailin remembers fragments: chemo treatments, her mom cutting off her hair, wearing wigs. One day she was there, and then suddenly, she wasn’t. As a child, to cope with the loss of her mom, she used friendships and boyfriends to fill the empty void. And often, those relationships had a level of attachment to them. She often became emotionally dependent on her boyfriends. Break-ups would leave her broken-hearted and lonelier than before.

Hailin, now a young adult, was finishing her senior year at an Ivy League school. She entered a two and a half year toxic, on-again-off-again relationship. To cope with the hurt, she smoked weed. Senior year was relaxed in terms of course load, but unhealthy from the habits. After graduation, she took an analyst position at a prestigious investment banking firm in New York City. 

And that’s when the Adderall addiction began. 

“At first it was for productivity, like a lot of people in investment banking do. It’s not a big deal. But then I started taking it because there’s this sense of happiness that you feel. It’s a sense of euphoria. I hated my job, but I was able to get a feeling of happiness momentarily.” 

But it quickly had negative effects. “I would have severe anxiety after it wore off. I found myself smoking cigarettes just to cut the anxiety and smoking weed to fall asleep. My friends noticed the change in my behavior. I was grumpy and short-tempered.”

She couldn’t do this by herself anymore. When Hailin had a friend going through their own mental health journey with the help of a therapist, it made Hailin feel like therapy wasn’t such a far away idea. When she finally committed to searching for a therapist, she found one online who specialized in alcohol and drug addiction counseling. Though she doesn’t think she had an addiction, it was clear to her that it had become a serious problem in her life. 

“There’s something about having a professional, unbiased, third party tell you your behavior is unhealthy and toxic.” She listened to her therapist. And it changed her life.

After the first session, she went home and immediately flushed all her Adderall. She hasn’t taken any since then. While she still smokes weed every once in a while, it’s not her coping mechanism. Her mental health improved. She wasn’t in a relationship for a long time, trying to focus on herself… And then she found a great guy. 

When she got a new job and suffered from anxiety, stress, nightmares, and lack of hunger, she knew it was time to re-commit to therapy. Her new counselor has an approach that focuses on her childhood and the root of her present behaviors. She’s able to unpack everything, like a strategist, and connect the dots. When we understand the root of the problem, we can develop a better behavior.

As an Asian-American, Hailin knows that therapy is taboo in her community. She didn’t go to therapy as a child, even after the death of her mother. And of course, typical to an Asian-American upbringing, she was pressured to do well in all aspects of her life. She made it to an Ivy League school and to a top investment banking firm, but therapy wasn’t even on her radar. There is still a lot of stigma around therapy in the Asian-American community. Even recently, when she entered her current relationship, her stepmom asked her cautiously if she was going to tell her boyfriend about therapy. It makes the community feel uncomfortable. But as a millennial, Hailin knows it’s a tool in her toolbox, and needing to focus on mental health does not make her weak. She wants other Asian-Americans to know the same: therapy is one of the tools in your toolkit. You can survive the pressure of the community, and you don’t have to do it alone. 

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