Growing up Filipina-American, I was taught to not really show my emotions. If I had something bothering me, I always kept it in. Because I kept it in, I felt burdened by thoughts that I should have released and conversations I should have had. I’ve always been quite the emotional person, and my mom knows this, but I suppose she never knew how to deal with me. Quite frankly, I didn’t know how to deal with me either. This is when I decided to seek out therapy. I knew it was time to get the help I had been seeking for years.
The fall semester of my senior year of college, I decided to make an appointment at the Tang Center, UC Berkeley’s health center. I had extremely expensive insurance I never used so I thought “Hey, I have 5 free sessions of therapy. Why not try it out?”
When I first arrived, I had to meet with a counselor that walked me through my answers to an intake questionnaire I took online before the meeting. They wanted to understand what brought me to therapy and my past history with certain experiences. Volunteering at a crisis hotline prior to this, I knew that this intake questionnaire was to also gauge suicidal tendencies in case there was an emergency. I answered all of the questions truthfully and patiently waited for us to talk about the next steps. She asked me if I had any preferences for my therapist, and I told her that gender didn’t matter but I needed someone culturally competent and sensitive. She looked through the available therapists and matched me with someone she thought was culturally sensitive. I didn’t think anything would go wrong since I took a questionnaire that showed them everything I wanted, right?
I was in for a total surprise. My first meeting with this therapist was the following Tuesday, and I did everything I could to mentally prepare for it. I knew that I needed to figure out how to deal with my mom and the post grad stress I was anticipating. That’s all I wanted. But it’s not all that I got. I walked into his office and already began to feel uncomfortable. I’m not sure if it was because he was male or if I had first therapy session jitters, but regardless, I was scared and felt unsettled. I sat down and he asked me what brought me to therapy. I told him what was on my mind, and rather than continue with what I had brought up, he decided to bring up a specific response I gave on the questionnaire about my history with sexual assault. It was a conversation I wasn’t expecting on having.
Before I knew it, I felt attacked, vulnerable, and couldn’t help but cry. I stormed out of the room, with my therapist telling me that I could “come back to talk about more issues during [our] next session.” It felt unreal. I was pretty sure you had to develop rapport with your client before touching base on such a sensitive topic that I didn’t ask to talk about in the first place.
After this incident, I told myself I wouldn’t go to therapy again. I thought that I could seek out my friends, family and relationship at the time as forms of emotional support. This worked for a couple of years, but then I came to another breaking point. Issues rooted in relationships, my self worth, and my professional goals came tumbling down, and I told myself that maybe it was time to consider the option of therapy… and that two years later, the experience would be different. (Spoiler Alert: It certainly was different).
When I started going to therapy and found the person I vibed with the most, I was hooked. It felt invigorating to be able to let out pent up feelings and emotions, to have someone dissect them with me, as well as help me heal. But something did bother me at the end of the day, and it was the fact my mom didn’t know why I was busy every Wednesday from 5-6pm. That feeling slowly ate away at me, despite the progress I felt I was making.
At the time I was going to therapy, I brought up a lot of topics, but one of the main ones was my job at the time. I was already having issues with it and felt stuck. I kept a lot of it to myself, not talking to my friends, family or even my partner at the time about it. As that stress built up, I knew that my time to leave the workforce temporarily was approaching. Flashbacks to my concerns pertaining the future and my mother’s expectations hit me, and I found myself in a highly depressive state. Reminders of my senior year in college trying to get help from a therapist and not receiving what I expected came back, and I just wanted to hide from it all.
“My mom doesn’t need to know,” I told myself.
I truly felt that hiding my struggles from her was the right thing to do. She really didn’t need to know. She wouldn’t understand. (The single mother who worked three part time jobs all her life, with 40+ hour weeks just to provide for children wouldn’t understand my struggles with money… yeah, Eril. That makes sense.)
But it did make sense, in my mind that is. And that was because I created a narrative in my head that stated my mom’s stance on this issue, without even giving her the actual opportunity to “prove” my narrative right or wrong. That’s the thing about narratives — we create a reality that doesn’t serve us, and we speak it so much into existence that we believe it’s the truth without having concrete evidence.
Anyway, back to my timeline: Three months into therapy, I contemplated quitting my job. Six months into therapy, I prepared to follow through with the action.
At this point, I was giving my mom mixed and vague signals about what I was going to do. She told me consistently that when I got stressed with work, it was just “how it was going to be” and that I should understand now why “[she] wanted me to go into the medical field,” so “money wouldn’t stress [me] out.” What she didn’t know was that I was partially stressed out about money because I paid out of pocket, without her help, for my therapy sessions. And it was so so expensive, yet I told myself it was an investment in my health that I deserved. Balancing both the financial responsibility I placed on myself and the lack of transparency with my mom, showing her that my money wasn’t being spent on coffee but instead my mental health, was overwhelming. And when I’m overwhelmed, I shut down. I overthink. I remain stagnant and feel helpless.
Based on my past experiences with my mom, I feared what she would tell me. Things like:
- Why are you quitting so early? You don’t quit things.
- Work is always going to be hard. You can’t just quit.
- You’re just being dramatic.
- Look at *insert tita’s name here* and what she did.
- You have all these connections at hospitals and clinics, why don’t you take these opportunities?
- I don’t want to say I told you so, but I told you so. You should have pursued medicine.
- Money now, passion later.
- Isn’t this what you wanted?
…. were all valid possibilities.
In the depths of my mind, I spiraled into an endless pit of condescending comments about my poor life choices and failure as an Asian daughter in America.
But what did she end up saying? Despite the narrative I created and the narrative I am telling you, the reader, what did she actually say when I explained to her my financial and mental health situation?
“It’s okay, Ate. You just need to let me know if you’re struggling financially, and if you need to leave this job, I’m here for you.”
Can you even imagine how many tears ran down my face when I was by myself? (I didn’t cry in front of her… I continued the conversation first and reflected afterward). Though this conversation was months ago, I can remember feeling so relieved having let this weight off my shoulders. The love I felt from her was something I was preventing myself from receiving. My mom was there for me all along, and I could finally see it after letting down my walls.
Now, before I wrap this up and everyone starts to say “awww,” one must recognize and understand the “tough love” aspect of my culture. As a Filipino parent, my mom didn’t really know how to comfort me as I confided into her and felt like tearing up. She didn’t come for a hug or tell me she loved me. To many, that would come off as her not caring about me, but that’s not necessarily the case. She showed her love in other ways. Her presence, her words, and her connection with me was all I could feel. It was powerful. It was evident. And it was strong enough to make me realize that everything was going to be alright. Her “tough love” had moments of toxicity in the past, but in that present moment, she was all I needed, and I’m thankful for her.
Ever since I went to college, I knew we were getting closer, but once I told her about how I was going to therapy, it felt like putting icing on the cake. I didn’t feel judged for my decisions anymore. The support she gave me, even if we agreed to disagree, motivated me and didn’t hinder my progress. To this day, she is still rooting for me and hoping I find the path I’m destined to be on. Honestly, I’m tearing up as I write this. Reflecting back on this entire experience, I have realized how fortunate I am to have such an understanding and caring mother. I know not everyone is able to go to therapy, to afford it, let alone tell their parents that they aren’t okay. But I’m glad that my mom is slowly increasing her presence in my life. I guess that’s what comes with age, time, and maturity.
So to those of you reading my story, I say to to you: Have faith & trust the process. Allow people to love and support you, but don’t force it if it feels unaligned. For me, I can confidently say I don’t regret telling her about therapy halfway through. If I wasn’t ready to tell her, there was no need to force it. But once I noticed it affecting my daily thoughts in a negative manner, I knew the only thing I could do to stop the situation from escalating was to act on my end. It takes emotional maturity and intelligence to recognize the responsibility one must take in their own lives and relationships, but know that high EI is not limited to older people. Working on self awareness, which is one big thing I strengthened through therapy, will help make the process of healing easier.
My love goes to you all — I hope if you are struggling, you will find help. I hope that if you’re scared of telling your parents, you’ll conjure up the courage to let them in and have that conversation. I hope that if someone tells you they’re in or want to go to therapy, you will affirm them of their choices and support them as much as you can.