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.
By Eileen Ramos
I received the rock you see several years ago when I graduated from group therapy. I was there due to my second psychosis, resulting in an emergency hospitalization and missing my spring semester as a senior in college. On that same day of my graduation, a member of my therapy group called me the little sunflower and another told me I was the second daughter he wishes he had, all while also serenading “You are so beautiful to me.” I was taken aback and didn’t feel I deserved such wonderful recognition, but seven years later I finally realize I do.
That rock was a wish for my inner and outer peace. And that reddish bump on my ring finger signifies the thousands of virtual and physical pages I filled up to make sense of myself and this reality we live in. I gained much clarity from that silent immersion of my words, but I don’t think I found outer peace until this year. I discovered it onstage when I performed my monologue “Psychotic Break” for In Full Color in February. Where I shared my darkest secrets in front of strangers, friends, and family, where I confronted my mental illness and proclaimed that it would never be the end of me and I deserved to be happy, despite the voices in my head.
Despite what I’ve always told myself.
There’s liberation in confession and in acknowledging that I will live with being bipolar for the rest of my life. That I could face another depression, suicidal impulses, or psychosis at any time. That I might depend on medication to keep me sane and afloat until I die. But I won’t let any of that hold me back from loving who I am and from loving this life.
I don’t regret any of it. There’s nothing to regret. Not when it led me so many opportunities and beautiful pathways. Not when I found so many dear and loving friends. Not when it brought me closer to God and to my family most of all.
Every flashback and trigger brings me old horror. And I face that every single day, usually multiple times per day. But I always recover and get back to this wonderful reality and I’m stronger and more resilient than ever. They no longer paralyze me with catatonia nor with shame. I broke free of its horrifying grasps just by writing to you, dear stranger. Memories of my delusions are continuous reminders of all the good that I currently have. That I will always have.
The game show and late night TV hosts no longer taunt me. My Facebook newsfeed and celebrity tweets have no hold. There is no correlation between my reality and Filipino soap operas. No bombs are hidden in my sister’s bus. No alarm systems masked as bird chirps signaling my arrival. No soft rock radio or Verizon commercials tracking my loved ones and their impending assassination. No “Let’s Make a Deal” or “Wheel of Fortune” dividing the dwindling secret wealth and the torture of my powerful family and those I know. No time travel or raising the dead powers flowing in my veins. No giant mob marching to my house, waiting to rend my body apart to win the Powerball. No.
I don’t believe I’ll ever forget these horrible memories. But I do know that at the height of the terror I ran away from home, in the middle of the night, to sacrifice my life for my family’s wellbeing. And in that instance I know I was a good person, despite the TV telling me I was an empty shell, the Antichrist, the cause of 9/11, and an Aswang demon. The knowledge that my love still exists despite every frightening delusion telling me I never loved gave me my peace. It gave me back my heart and the necessary foundation to build towards this astounding and bright future I’m making for myself.
Because not one of my friends or family members abandoned me despite my disappearance or disturbing behavior. No one I loved has ever told me they’re disgusted by me, by my confessions. My admissions brought us closer together. And that reassurance and sturdy faith is a peace that no demented hallucination can break. I became more outspoken about my mental illness and against the stigma. I became more open about who I am and what matters most to me.
Because I know that sanity and stability can be very fragile. And I’m never as isolated and ostracized as the paranoia and delusions made me believe. There are enough people just like me and together we shared a named condition. To know that I belong somewhere, no matter how fucked up, is a beautiful feeling. Something I never want to let go of.
I am not weak. I am not timid. I am not the fragile little Filipina girl you think you see on the street. There’s more to these words than I can fully express or encompass and I discover more each passing day. Every day I get closer to the real me, when writing words can be admitted aloud, where I perform the necessary tasks to live out my passions and calling. And I’m privileged to be exactly who I am and to love as much as I do.
With each performance onstage, I become louder and more pronounced and though I shake every time, I know it comes from a place of power and not so much anxiety. And now that I know the great volume and power of my speech aloud, I can say I achieved outer peace. I’ve built up the courage to share my struggles and trauma. And knowing I’m indeed strong enough to share it with anyone is the greatest gift I can give myself.
I love myself more with each passing day, with each action that brings me closer to myself and sharing my story with others. Because we all find peace in belonging and I belong in this wonderful, fucked up world more than anywhere else.
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
New York, NY 10001
212 . 243 . 2830
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
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.
(Counselors Helping South Asian / Asian Indians)
ASIAN AMERICAN PSYCHOTHERAPISTS
Marcia Liu, Ph.D.
26 Court Street, Brooklyn NY 11242
Melissa Corpus, Ph.D.
103 E. 86th St (b/w Park/ Lexington)
New York, NY 10028
Motoni Fong Hodges Ph.D.
144 W 86th St Suite 1D
New York , NY 10024
Jarron Magallanes, LCSW, ACSW
Specializing in LGBT Issues
817 Broadway, 9th Floor — East Suite #19
New York, New York 10003
Shamir A. Khan, Ph.D.
19 West 34th Street
New York, New York 10001
Joseph S. Reynoso, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
120 Riverside Drive, Suite 1W
New York, NY 10024
Ellen Simpao, Ph.D.
14 E. 4th Street, Suite 401
New York, NY 10012
Alma Villegas-Schwalbenberg, Ph.D.,
406 East 176th Street
Bronx, NY, 10457
Regina A. Lara, MD
669 Castleton Avenue
Staten Island, NY, 10301