What is the story related to mental health, suicide, and/or resilience that you’d like to share?
Growing up, I struggled with balancing two cultures while trying to figure out how to be a pre-teen and young adult.
My family and siblings came to the US as Vietnamese refugees in the early 90s, and shortly after their arrival to their new home country, I was born. I came from a very strict and conservative Vietnamese household where I am the youngest of 5 siblings, with a 10-year age gap from my closest sibling. Growing up I had my mom and dad, but also older siblings acting like my parents so I often felt very alone and couldn’t talk to anyone. I was conditioned to keep my thoughts to myself, be respectful and to always listen to my elders and obey their orders.
When I was young, I had suicidal thoughts where I can vividly recall my sister calling the cops on me when I threatened to harm myself because I felt like no one in my family was willing to understand me and be supportive. I remember yelling at my family, “Your life would be SOOOO much easier if I wasn’t alive!!” I know at the time I was in the heat of the moment, but those words were truly a cry for help.
People show love in different ways, and now as an adult, I may not have heard the constant words of affirmation from my family that they were proud or loved me, but I know they were and just showed it in a different way. Even though our family didn’t have much, I know my parents worked so hard to ensure I had a better life than they did. They weren’t the type to tell me they “love me” verbally, but they truly showed me they loved me in many other ways.
Reflecting back, I know speaking up and sharing how I felt helped me feel better, but also let others who I love know how I truly felt, even if the situation was chaos and/or not ideal. I know my tantrums and threats of self-harm were a call for help, and though I felt at times that my loved ones “didn’t care about me,” their actions really came through to show that they love me and want me to be safe and well.
What resources have helped you to address this challenge?
Truthfully, the resource that has truly helped me address life’s challenges has been taking that initial step in asking for help through my friends, teachers, and other adult role models in my life. Talk it through. Confide in someone you trust. When I was going through family drama, I thought of my boss at Golden Dragon and called her sobbing, and she was there to help/listen. You don’t have to be super close to anyone, and even strangers are willing to listen and show that they care. You are not alone.
Based on your experience, how can we work to build resilience in ourselves, our loved ones, and in our communities to better face life’s challenges?
People need to become better listeners. When someone comes to you, they are not always looking for a solution. They just need to vent/talk to someone. When someone approaches you in desperate need, first just be all ears, listen, and show compassion. Then, depending on the conversation, ensure you are asking questions to gauge if they need additional help. It is okay to ask, “Do you plan on harming yourself?”, but that shouldn’t be the first question right away because the person may get defensive. I think we, as a society, need to be better listeners and not judgmental. I think fewer people would need therapists if they felt like they had a supportive group of folks surrounding them always that they can talk to and confide in. Isolating our thoughts is no bueno.
What is one thing related to mental health, suicide, or resilience that you wish everyone could understand?
You are not alone. Even the happiest looking folks may appear they have it all on the outside, but in reality, may have their own internal battles that are relatable to others.