As a Vietnamese-American at the University of Connecticut, I have a unique view through my lens of campus culture and life. As an Asian-American, my own personal views about the world are continually shifting for me. As I begin my third year as a college student, I wanted to share my thoughts on current events and discuss stereotypes about the Asian-American community in order to create more conversation and change.
I had a breakdown over the weekend. It crept up on me slowly. First, it was feeling the need to cry every day while everyone around me continued about their schedule. Next, it was the overwhelming need to do everything all at once yet the opposing feeling of not wanting to do anything at all. The final trigger came when I sat down in front of my planner and stared at it in panic.
This feeling of being overwhelmed was something I felt a lot towards the end of last semester, but it disappeared until I came back to campus.
This most recent episode was something of my own doing and something that has happened before. I did not give myself a break. I had all my organization meetings and homework assignments lined up, ready with an empty box to be filled with a checkmark. These back-to-back events, the idea of having to fulfill them sometime in the future, created a sense of need to get things done now. An urgency to move on to the next event, to the next assignment.
As an Asian-American, I already felt the pressure to excel at everything and then some. That means not only excelling in two things but 10 additional ones as well. This urgency and undue stress carried over from high school, and needing to join almost every club in order to get into college. Participation in extracurriculars led to “hidden” but very apparent talents that would help me get ahead in my next career move and beyond college. All these real-world skills, networking and personal growth will come from my class load and activities that I am a part of. Having a planner helps me organize not only all of those tasks, but to plan out my social life on campus as well.
The problem was that I never factored in a mental break for myself. I never accounted for the fact that I would have this sense of being overwhelmed because I was always on the go. I never felt as if I had a home base because I was always moving on to the next event.
I was wrong. I was wrong and I needed to go home.
I texted my mom and drove home the next day. Having the comfort of going home and being surrounded by family members was exactly the recharge that I needed. I took it one step further and cut myself off from social media for 24 hours. The only things I surrounded myself with were the everyday events of my family life that would occur whether I was in college or not. I could feel my stomach fill with my mom’s cooking instead of the knots of anxiety that came when I looked at my planner.
In the Asian-American community, mental health is brushed away as something that can be “dealt” with or as a sign of weakness. If the brain is a muscle, then that feeling of anxiety and being overwhelmed can just be worked out or pushed through. However, just like when working out, you need to take breaks. I grew up with this idea of mental health and instability being non-existent, something that can be brushed past. The breakdown I had and the smaller episodes I have had throughout my time at UConn has shown that that is simply not the case.
I dealt with these breakdowns on my own, without talking to anyone or sharing how I felt. I felt safe enough to open up with a friend. I felt safe enough to make the decision to go home. The next step is to really open a dialogue of conversation to the people who raised me, my parents, and talk to them about the pressures that I have been feeling throughout my time at college and the pressures I know I will feel in the future.
Asian-American parents have standards for their children, expectations of how their children should be and act. As someone whose parents are immigrants, there is added pressure to achieve more than what they accomplished in their lifetimes to make their sacrifice of living in another country (with a whole new language) worth it. I came to realize their experience is not my experience.
Starting the conversation can be intimidating. As a “good” Asian-American child, it is usually better to listen, to not question and then somehow figure out how to do what you want while still trying to follow your parents’ wishes. Unfortunately, with poor mental health, it is a little harder to do that. It is something that I am still trying to figure out. Maybe sending this article to my parents is one way to do that.
Being Asian-American comes with certain pressures of academic and social life. Don’t forget that taking breaks, giving yourself time to breathe and going home is important.
Kim Nguyen is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.