Beware: THIS IS A RANT
Chinese culture does not believe in or talk about emotional health or mental health problems. People with emotional and mental issues are considered “lazy” and “stupid” or “weak” or “sick”. In terms of physical appearance, a woman is supposed to look like a well-groomed woman with a delicate, petite, slender body, perfect makeup, and hair. Anyone who does not meet the standard gets “helpful” criticism about diets, clothing choices, skin care, and exercise regimens from family members. Also reminders and reprimands for shaming the family pride by not meeting the family standards and embarrassing the family in public with a not perfect physical image. And other Asian or Chinese people who see a bald Chinese woman walking down the street will stare in fear and horror before walking across the street to avoid her, whisper about her ugliness and shameful behavior, and shun her for fear of being contaminated by her presence.
How do I know this? Because I and the other alters in my system have experienced this first hand over and over by family members and community members and people in the street who are visitors to the United States. In fact it happened a couple hours ago while I was walking back to work from getting lunch. Two young women saw me stop next to them as I waited for the light to change and decided to step around and risk crossing the street instead of waiting next to me. They were both between 18 and 30, Asian background, with long dark hair and perfect makeup, and backpacks that signaled their student status. It hit hard today since I was already feeling anxious about some other negative encounters on the train and at a library that left me feeling frustrated and wondering when people will stop harassing me because of my past.
In essence, I get treated poorly because I am female, Chinese, a survivor of trauma and domestic violence with a “mental illness”, bald, and a well dressed nerd. This comes from people of all ages, races, cultures, etc. because I am breaking taboos and ignoring biases. Most of the time, I am okay with that. I’ve learned to pick my battles and find like-minded people to spend time with instead of other types. I don’t take it personally when people cross the street or don’t acknowledge me when they see me walking towards them (since I didn’t choose to avoid them) because a lot of times I do the same thing to people around me. My walking time is part of my solitude regimen and a time for me to spend with my alters before having to engage with people. The anxiety and triggers come when people’s body language signals that they are engaging or avoiding me for other reasons besides politeness or avoidance.
My parents marked me as different and shamed me for being myself from the time I was born. My mother’s family did the same. I was compared to my cousins and sibling and found lacking. My elementary school teachers, peers, and neighbors found me lacking and bullied me because my parents approved of it by not interfering or defending me. So I decided to be different. And embraced my differences.
But choosing different is not easy.
Sometimes the secret shame and sense of worthlessness comes back to haunt me. It happens a lot in summer when everyone is wearing less and spending lots of time outside. And it’s more than body image or low self-esteem. It’s about a sense of self and the values that self is based on. My sense of self was battered and broken and torn apart until the shreds gathered together and hid deep inside where only the non-verbal alters could reach. Seven years of therapy and self-reflection brought those values back out and repaired the foundation of that core sense.
These days I am secure in my sense of self because all of us alternate personalities agree with the core values that we live by. That sense of self makes itself known to others subconsciously in how we choose to treat ourselves and others around us. It makes others nervous to be around us sometimes. And other times it sparks other feelings too. But that core sense of self has helped me help my alter partners and the system in general survive and become the woman we are today.
A lot of the time, it’s easy to remember that most people’s reactions are about them and their internal conflicts than about me or one of the alters or the system as represented by our body. And it’s easy to ignore those people and move on.
Other times, like today, I wonder what it would be like if I wore a wig and dressed dowdy or slutty or ultra feminine and then passed them on the street. Would they treat me differently? Or would they treat me the same? And how would I feel about it? People used to treat me worse when I had hair than they do now. But also, I was in a different situation then. And surrounded by people who supported my abusers.
But then I think to myself, I like how I look bald. I like talking about my coping strategies and my challenges – sharing information with others to help them get through rough times too. And I like being me.
How do I still be myself, stick to my values, achieve my goals and work with administrators and others with biases who have influence over my ability to get into school, pass classes, learn, and so on?
EXAMPLE: But if I want to work in traditional Chinese medicine field and go to graduate school, I will have to deal with people who are biased against my appearance, attitude, and mental health. The administrators at a school I tried to apply to earlier this year blocked my application and didn’t tell me until I reached out with an inquiry. Then they told me it was a “miscommunication” and that I was all set to apply next year.
I followed up 3 days ago with another email addressing that “miscommunication” and some other hypothetical questions from earlier conversations. I also pointed out my upset about how the miscommunication was handled and that the experience will influence how I interact with them and others at the school in the future. Yes, it was aggressive, and they will probably take it to mean I am holding a grudge even though I said I am not.
To me holding a grudge means treating these people poorly and maintaining anger; lashing out at them and finding ways to make their lives harder if I do become a student there. That is not what I mean. Remembering what happened and being wary of trusting them again; being more diligent about clear communication and wary of trusting them at face value when we talk – that is what I mean.
Yes, picking battles is important. Remembering that this has more to do with them and their internal monologues than me is important too. But still, spending time with people who act like that goes against our core values. So the conflict remains…
I am determined to succeed.
My path so far has taken me on many adventures and introduced me to wonderful people and experiences. Something good will happen. And this will work out, maybe not on the timetable I want, but it will happen.
thanks for reading my rant 🙂