A love big enough

There’s a small, ruby ring that I wear on my right hand — a simple gold band with a ruby embedded in it that’s no larger than a freckle. It’s the same ring my father gave to my mom after they dated for two months — as legend goes, he took her to a jewelry shop and proudly told her to pick anything she wanted. My mom asked the cashier for the cheapest piece of jewelry in the store. They were married in less than a year. Three decades later, my mother unearthed the ring from a dusty box and slid it on my finger; now, I hardly take it off. She giggles when she sees me wear the ring now; it’s a representation of the love she shares with my father, worn by me, the product of that love.

When I’m nervous or anxious, I tend to fidget and spin the ring around my finger to quiet my thoughts. I think about how the ring was the first in a series of promises to love deeply between my parents, and how they extended those promises in our family. I promise to let you live your life, though I’m concerned about your safety, my father tells me as he presses a canister of pepper spray in my hand. I promise to support your dreams of being a journalist, though I worry about your job security, my mother reminds me.

To me, an emotional truth was suspended in those promises: that I am loved by my parents who convinced me that I was worth that love.

But for a while, that truth was burden. In the fall of my junior year, I battled through intense bouts of depression and anxiety. I was grieving over the death of a friend yet smothering my emotions in hopes of normalcy, while in a demanding job that pushed me to my limits. I felt insecure and unhappy, and my facade was cracking; I would see myself in the mirror and not recognize the girl that I had become. I saw weakness in the mirror — a girl who was hurt and worse, too apathetic to care about her wounds.

I knew I was in a bad place, I knew I needed counseling, but I felt overwhelming shame and disappointment as I tried to reconcile the person I had become with the daughter my parents loved.

Deciding to go to counseling was like exhaling a deep breath I never realized I took. It was hard for me to rationalize taking an hour out of a week to go to a counseling appointment; I didn’t even think that I deserved that time to heal.

There is a lot of discussion as to why mental health is an under-discussed issue within Asian American communities. Some attribute it to the pressure to succeed, and others point to the reasons many Asians were pushed to immigrate to America — war, lack of opportunity or restrictive regimes — and how in comparison to that, other issues, like mine, may pale in comparison. I cannot speak to those reasons, but maybe I can talk about why my mental health was a topic I hesitated to bring up with my parents. I didn’t want them to think they had somehow failed because I was seeking help outside of our family; I didn’t want them to think that their love wasn’t big enough, because it was. But sometimes healing has to be found, not given.

So when I found myself in counseling — sobbing in front of a nice man who pointed to his chest and said, “It hurts here, doesn’t it” as he handed me tissues — I thought, through tears, about how I would tell my parents. I remember the note of panic in my mom’s voice when I made that phone call. Are you sure you need to go counseling? Is this something I can help you with? she said. I’m not OK, but I think I will be, I said to her.

There is no pepper spray against depression, and the only things I could carry with me during that time were the understanding of their love and their promises to support me as I climbed out of the hole I was in. That was enough for me; enough to set the stage to become the person I used to know — the woman who wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable.

A year later, I feel stronger, healthier and happier than I have in recent memory. It is still hard to ask for help, and maybe it always will be. I still have strains of stress and bouts of anxiety, but it’s not something that weighs me down anymore. I take a deep breath, spin the ring on my finger and I call my parents. It’s good to hear your voice, my mom says to me. And I respond, it’s good to be back.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall semester’s regular opinion columnists have been selected.

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