This article is part of a series of articles commemorating Mental Health Awareness Month, in partnership with National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF). We recognize that the stigma around mental health care — in Asian American communities, in particular — often keeps people from seeking help or having transparent conversations about the importance of mental health care. Mochi believes that caring for our mental health is an essential piece of caring for our overall health and well-being. We hope this series will shed light on how mental health care positively impacted these writers.
My name is Alexyss. I go by Lex because it is gender-neutral and it reflects my androgynous gender identity and gender expression. I am biracial, half Filipino and half European. I am a third generation American; my grandparents immigrated here in the seventies. I am a graduate student at St. Cloud State University, where I am pursuing a master’s degree in special studies and creating my own program, tailoring my classes to my future career as an intersectional conflict consultant, facilitator, and trainer. I have a passion for activism and advocacy, but I recognize that within numerous organizations there is far too much sexism, racism, heterosexism and other forms of discrimination. Ideally, I would like to work with organizations to make them more aware of intersectional marginalization within the workplace and teach them how to make it a more equal and equitable safe space for their employees.
For most of my life, I’ve suffered from Major Depressive Disorder, anxiety, social anxiety, and PTSD. The pandemic exacerbated the issues related to each of my mental illnesses and forced me to deal with isolation in addition to blatant racism and hate crimes. For almost a year, I attended school and worked remotely, including helping students with their papers and assignments online. This posed numerous challenges and difficulties that were hard to navigate, especially since I had never worked this kind of a job before. Most of my classes were hybrid (half in person & half online) until November, and then all of my classes became fully online due to COVID-19 restrictions. At first, I thought it was going to be great to work from home and not have to worry about commuting. At the time, it was convenient and enjoyable knowing I was able to stay home and safe from COVID-19.
This mindset quickly changed after a few months of remote work and school. I realized how much I benefited from and needed human interaction. In fact, getting out of the house was crucial for my mental health. In addition, working from home is especially difficult when you have two cats that constantly feel the need to interrupt meetings or join them. (Believe me, it was cute the first two times — I’m sure other cat parents know the struggle.) I struggled with maintaining professionalism and trying to ensure that my cats weren’t too much of a distraction during classes.
I fell into a depression for quite a while. I missed my friends, my family, my professors, as well as my classmates. I felt isolated and alone, despite having a roommate. I didn’t realize how lack of human interaction could affect me. I found myself also struggling with more and more anxiety as the rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders increased. The fact that someone could hurt others in my community because of our racial identity was horrifying. It was on my mind every time I left the house, while I was at the store or at a gas station. I felt like a target and it made me worry about who would be targeted by those with the heinous mindset that Asians were the source of the pandemic. I found myself having more panic attacks and struggling more and more every day.
Eventually, I felt the need to take action, so I decided to join NAPAWF, an Asian and Pacific Islander American women’s organization that focuses on multiple intersectional issues. The organization was introduced to me by one of my gender and women studies professors. It became an outlet as well as a community to help me and support me. Outside of my Filipino family, I didn’t have many ties to others in the Asian and Pacific Islander community. Through this organization I have been introduced to a plethora of incredible, strong, courageous and passionate women. I was immediately accepted and shown so much love and kindness through this group. We were able to bond over our marginalized identities and experiences. NAPAWF provided a safe space for me to be vulnerable and compassionate about the issues I was facing. This helped me feel less alone and instilled a better sense of self in me. One issue we’ve been working hard on is the HEAL for Immigrant Families Act. This will help immigrants get the health care they need by removing the xenophobic restrictions that prevent them from being insured and disproportionately harm Black, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander and other immigrants of color. Joining NAPAWF has helped my mental health tremendously: It has helped me feel like I’m doing something that matters and will ultimately help others.
In terms of other efforts to help myself and manage my mental health, I made it a point to get back into a routine and start working out consistently to help with my panic attacks. Slowly but surely over the course of a couple of weeks, I started to feel better. In addition to working out, I also implement positive affirmations. Every day I tell myself something kind and reassuring. Some examples would be “I am full of love and light, I am never empty,” “I am purposeful and my life has significant meaning,” “I am grounded and these negative feelings and perceptions will pass,” and “I am strong despite how weak my mental illnesses make me feel.” I realized that in a world full of chaos I needed to be my own best friend and support system. Every time I struggled with a negative thought, I would think of multiple positive affirmations to counteract it.
I also started seeing my therapist again. With them, I talk about my personal struggles as well as those associated with the pandemic. I made an effort to reach out to family and friends and to be real and raw about my experiences. Rather than sugarcoating the pain and misery I was experiencing, I told the truth. I explained how I struggled with my sense of purpose and questioned why I was still here. I talked about struggling to get out of bed on a weekly basis as well as feeling hopeless and fearful on a daily basis. I also talked about my daily panic attacks, which consisted of waking up every morning with my heart pounding and adrenaline filling my body with panic and fear.
Lastly, I got in touch with my spiritual side, one I had been disconnected from for a long time. When I learned I came from babaylans, Filipino shamans, numerous aspects of who I am and why I’m here clicked. For the longest time, I was told to be Christian and that was the only “right way” for me to be spiritual. I finally let that mindset and hindrance go and learned to embrace who I am. Many of the babaylan traditions had been calling me for a long time: I knew from a very young age I was a healer and I was meant to help others. The traditions that heavily resonated with me were the calling of leadership: advocacy, activism, teaching, increasing awareness, healing, spirituality and vision, and struggling and working for justice. These actions and motivations are deeply connected to the context of being Filipino. Through learning about myself and my ancestors, I was finally able to truly be in tune with myself and the universe. I learned that my ancestors and spirit guides have always been with me and that I am never truly alone, common feelings I felt because of my mental illnesses. That helped me to ground myself and restored faith in my sense of purpose. In addition to my spiritual awakening, I learned to be more mindful and grateful. This mindset helped me to try and find peace and love in every moment. In combination, all these different aspects of my routine helped me to gain a deeper sense of self.
Although this pandemic has wreaked havoc in numerous ways, it has taught me how to find and create peace within myself and to prioritize my own healing and mental health for the first time in a long time.
NAPAWF is the only organization focused on building power with AAPI women and girls to influence critical decisions that affect our lives, our families and our communities. Using a reproductive justice framework, NAPAWF elevates AAPI women and girls to impact policy and drive systemic change in the United States.
This article is part of Mochi’s Amplify, Align, Activate initiative. At Mochi, we are partnering with local and national nonprofits that serve our community of AAPI women and non-binary individuals to uplift and promote causes that matter to us and affect our everyday lives. For more information, see the Amplify, Align, Activate homepage. If you are interested in partnering with us, please email Giannina Ong (Activism Editor) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: Anh Nguyen//Unsplash