Breaking the Silence: Perfect
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.
CW: Suicide, self-harm
One cut. Not enough.
Two cuts. Deeper.
Three cuts. Almost there.
I dropped the single-edged razor blade as I sat there watching the red droplets slowly swell up before coalescing into a small red stream flowing down my soft, light skin. Thoughts would quickly pop up in my brain. You are not beautiful. You are not intelligent. You are not enough. You are not worth it. I wondered how I had gotten to this point. Me, aspiring valedictorian of my high school senior class, loyal daughter, and dependable friend to many. I cried silently with my head between my knees, bitter tears streaming down my warm cheeks.
Had you asked me why I was doing what I did, I would not have been able to give you an answer. Was I going to complain about my middle-upper class upbringing in a gated neighborhood? Did I have a reason to feel bad about my loving parents who would do absolutely anything for me? There would be no answer to that question of why. It was nothing, yet it was everything.
A few minutes later, I would quickly wrap up the razor in a tissue before hiding it back in place in the medicine cabinet. I would quickly wipe off my arm with a tissue before wiping the tears off my face. I would then flush the evidence down the toilet before examining myself in the mirror. Then, I would go have a lovely family dinner with my parents and sisters.
This turned out to be a cycle for the next few years, reaching well into college. I would constantly have internal debates with myself. Why are you doing this? What are you getting out of this? You want more attention or something? How is this helping you at all? In my sane state of mind, I knew that what I was doing was a horribly sad thing that no one should do to him/herself. And yet, cut after cut continued.
It became such a habit. Such a horrible habit and I hated myself for it. I was supposed to be the perfect daughter. And in some aspects I was. I had to be right? I came from an immigrant Chinese family. What were my problems compared to the ones my parents, grandparents faced? My grandfather who was persecuted and later killed in the Cultural Revolution. My father who had to soak his feet in cold water when he was studying because he couldn’t afford a fan.
My loving Asian immigrant parents would not understand self-harm. They would not be able to comprehend why I felt the need to inflict pain on myself. I also did not want to give them the burden of what I was going through. After all, I was the perfect daughter. And on the surface, I was. I graduated with straight A’s and was the valedictorian of my class of more than 700. I still remember being at the end of the procession carrying the school flag up during graduation. I was a happy, high-functioning, studious student. But I was also the insecure, self-conscious, quiet, and apprehensive young girl trying to find her fit in the world.
Self-harm is not something that is talked about in the Asian community. But it is extremely important and prevalent. At the time, I knew quite a few fellow Asian girl friends who self-harmed. They were straight A, full International Baccalaureate Diploma students as well.
Now, I am finishing up my first year of medical school. I haven’t felt the need to self-harm in over half a year now. I still struggle daily with what my purpose in this world is. But now, I think more about the positive things about growing up and I channel that positivity into long distance running. I recently ran my first half marathon and am running another race soon. I also signed up for a marathon at the end of this year.
And every day I tell myself that I am beautiful. I am intelligent. I am enough. And I am worth it.
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