Breaking the Silence: “Closed”

A reporter’s notebook at my desk, I look at it as a symbol of how far I’ve come

The following is part of NAPAWF*NYC’s “Breaking the Silence” Mental Health Photo Essay Series, featuring photos and written accounts by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders about their experiences with mental health. The series will run through all of May, which is both Mental Health Month and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

First off: I have a LOT to say, ALL the time. I have so much talking to do on an everyday basis that there are really only one or two times a year when I’m left speechless about something.

But I’m going to tell you about one of them, because it would’ve really paid to be loud just this once.

During my late sophomore year (so during 2012), I started writing for this online magazine focused on college-aged women. It was a site for college students who wanted advice on everything from fashion to landing their next internship, from decorating their dorm room to learning how to budget and navigate student loans.

But there was a certain mold and if you didn’t fit in, it was tough. Like going through an editing process where the editors might even ask you to somehow make body dysmorphic disorder sound “fun” and more “relatable to readers.”

(That did happen, by the way. My piece on body dysmorphia never got published.)

So anyway, two things happened during 2012: I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and they got an op-ed section encouraging women to share the challenges they faced. I figured this was the perfect time to really get my feelings out there since, as I was finding out bit by bit, although my own story with anxiety was unique (just as every person’s is) there were others out there with whom I could seek some common ground.

Let me stop for a second and have you read that again: My own story with anxiety was unique, just as each and every person’s story is. This is important.

I wrote up the first draft and sent it in. I actually thought there wouldn’t be too many changes since, well, the editors had actually been really nice about lightening my workload when I explained to them what was going on. But when the edits came back, I was less than pleased.

I really wish I kept those emails, but just imagine line after line of someone essentially telling you to make your anxiety disorder which, by the way, kept me from leaving my apartment at the time, more “fun.” More to the style of the publication, or whatever. The real kicker came when the editor furiously wrote to me that I had no business describing one of my psychosomatic symptoms as “my throat closing.” The reason: because her own friend had to be taken to the ER whenever this “actually happened” to her.

So here’s the thing: I really do still feel for her friend to this day when I think about this, because I can’t even imagine what it’s like to have to go through that time and time again, reliving the horror. But here’s something that they didn’t take the time to imagine: I described my throat tightening as “my throat closing” because in a time when I was living with so much fear, dread, hesitation and anger at myself, that was the one way I could think of that accurately described what I personally was going through. That was what my therapist and I called it because, again, this was my own personal perception of what I was going through, and this description was how I coped at the time. My therapist understood that.

Of course, now I could choose to describe it as “my throat muscles tightening.” But PLEASE, during that dark point of my life, it really felt like it was more than just my throat that was closing in on me.

Now here’s the part I mentally kick myself for all the time. I replied really nicely to her email, and I agreed to make the change. I agreed to hide something about my anxiety disorder that seemed so real to me at the time. And I didn’t even think twice about it because as far as I was concerned, I figured my anxiety was making me unreasonable. And then I deleted the emails.

Balls.

It wasn’t until I read the piece that I regretted it. Anyone who read it even back then would know that it was not how I talked, it was not how I wrote, it was not how I sounded, it wasn’t even how I thought. I read it through and couldn’t believe at how nicely I had responded when this part of me that kept me isolated in my apartment, kept me from seeing people, and kept me fighting for this sort of freedom I wanted back was pushed aside for something that was supposedly more relatable to readers.

Yeah, my throat definitely “closed” at that point, “closed” during a point when I had already become so silent. I let them get away with it, and I never said one word.

Who were they to think they could do this?

Fortunately, things are different now, and I’ve found that strength I would have needed back then to say something. But the key here is that I still think about it, and to this day I try to never jump to conclusions about someone else’s own mental battles since it had so painfully and publicly been done to me.

Hell, I can’t even write my name on this piece either, mostly because I’m so embarrassed about the final result that I really hope people will just, well, never see that article. My pride can withstand a lot, but unfortunately that terribly written piece with my name stamped on it isn’t one of them.

Maybe I’ll get over it someday.

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The following is a list of low-fee counseling services and Asian American psychotherapists in the New York City area, courtesy of Kevin Nadal. For more information about Asian American mental health, visit the Asian American Psychological Association at www.aapaonline.org:

LOW-FEE COUNSELING SERVICES:

Institute for Human Identity
322 8th Ave
Suite 802
New York, NY 10001
212 . 243 . 2830
info@ihitherapy.org

A non-profit psychotherapy and training center dedicated to fostering personal growth free of traditional gender, sexual orientation, and cultural biases.

The Institute of Contemporary Psychotherapy (ICP)
1841 Broadway (between 60th/61st Street), 4th Floor,
New York, NY 10023
(212) 333–3444

Offers counseling services for couples, families, and children. Fees are assessed on sliding scale.

Dean Hope Center for Educational & Psychological Services
525 West 120th Street (between Broadway/Amsterdam),
New York, NY 10027
Tel. (212) 678–3262

Services are open to children, adolescents, and adults. Fees for all services will be determined by self or family income and will be established after the initial consultation. A sliding scale is available in all services for those who qualify.

Chai Counselors
(Counselors Helping South Asian / Asian Indians)
https://chaicounselors.org/

ASIAN AMERICAN PSYCHOTHERAPISTS

Marcia Liu, Ph.D.
917–818–2284
26 Court Street, Brooklyn NY 11242
DrMarciaLiu@gmail.com

Melissa Corpus, Ph.D.
103 E. 86th St (b/w Park/ Lexington)
New York, NY 10028
(347) 731–5921

Motoni Fong Hodges Ph.D.
144 W 86th St Suite 1D
New York , NY 10024
(917) 514–4850

Jarron Magallanes, LCSW, ACSW
Specializing in LGBT Issues
817 Broadway, 9th Floor — East Suite #19
New York, New York 10003 
http://www.jarronmagallanes.com/

Shamir A. Khan, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
19 West 34th Street
Penthouse Suite
New York, New York 10001
(917) 817–9028

http://www.shamirkhan.com

shamir@shamirkhan.com

Joseph S. Reynoso, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
120 Riverside Drive, Suite 1W
New York, NY 10024
(201) 923–2458

Drjsreynoso@yahoo.com

Ellen Simpao, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
14 E. 4th Street, Suite 401
New York, NY 10012
(212) 254–6028

Alma Villegas-Schwalbenberg, Ph.D.,
Licensed Psychologist
406 East 176th Street
Bronx, NY, 10457
(718) 901–6849

aschwalbenberg@aol.com

Regina A. Lara, MD
Licensed Psychiatrist
669 Castleton Avenue
Staten Island, NY, 10301
(718) 442–2225