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Choose a career destined for success

“Choose a career destined for success and make lots of money.” Those are the words that have been embedded in my brain ever since birth. I grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia and have lived a life of incredible privilege. My parents came to Vancouver from Taiwan 10 months after I was born. They made many sacrifices for my sister and me, from enrolling us in private schools to scheduling endless extra-curricular activities to help broaden our minds and increase our knowledge, so we could get into a respected university, resulting in an even more respected career. In my family, it was all about hard work, success and money. Growing up, punishment was always meted out when our achievements did not meet our mother’s expectations. Hours and hours were spent on violin and piano lessons, Science, Mathematics and English tutors. And the rest of the hours were spent practicing my musical instruments until my mother perceived perfection. Only then was I only allowed to spend some leisure time alone or with friends, of course after I had finished my homework from school or my tutors. I grew up thinking how little purpose I had in this world, and how few role models I had in my life. A workaholic mother with anger issues, and a stay-at-home dad who took on way too much stress so my sister and I didn’t have to.
No surprise, in my early teens I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety. I dreaded waking up in the morning to venture out into an even more dreadful day. I was sick and tired of pretending this was the life I wanted to live. The punishments I endured were endless, both verbal and physical violence. “You’re so lazy, if you don’t work hard, you’l achieve nothing in life.” I grew up always second guessing myself, whether I was doing this for me or to get the approval of my mother. School became difficult because friendships were sparse, and I had little or no motivation. “Nobody wants to be around a nobody; so become a somebody with a respectful career. That’s the only way to gain friendship.” Apart from the verbal abuse I endured from my mother, the physical part was even worse. Sometimes my mother would hit me on the bare skin with her hand, sometimes with a belt or a stick. “I usually use my hands until they go numb, then I turn to belts or hangers because you require more discipline.” My depression became more severe once I graduated from high school. I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. A mental illness characterized by unstable moods, behavior and relationships. I was unable to maintain stable relationships with people, I was recklessly impulsive, and my emotions, mostly anger, couldn’t be controlled. At my lowest point I got into a car accident, paralyzing a 65-year-old woman from the waist down, and killing her dog. She was helicoptered to the nearest emergency hospital, and my story was plastered all over the media. Later on, I was admitted to a psychiatric ward multiple times in Vancouver, and later in Montreal, as a result of suicide attempts.
The staff there not only watched over my mental health, but genuinely cared about me. For once, I was in an environment that assessed my needs, not the needs of my mother. I was taken care of, talked to, and monitored. I gained friends there who helped me feel less alone, who motivated me to get up in the morning, and put a smile on my face when I went to bed. Activities were set out, lessons were taught about coping methods, and goals were set. For once, I was living my life according to what I wanted.
I would be lying if I said it was easy after I was released from the hospital, I spent days alone in my room, alone with my thoughts, being haunted with the words of my mother. “You are fat and worthless. You need to be smarter, skinnier and prettier. There are no such things as real friends or relationships. Friends only care about what you have to offer them, so make sure you have lots of money. Find a career that will overflow your bank account, and don’t focus on passion but on dollar signs. Relationships are an illusion, every man will cheat on you, because there is no such thing as love. If you don’t pull yourself together, you will be alone and worthless for the rest of your life.” I read cognitive development self-help books, I attended weekly sessions with a psychologist to deal with with my Borderline Personality Disorder. What helped me the most was the support system that was there for me when I was willing to reach out for help. I started out by applying to Concordia University in Montreal. At first I was enrolled in Economics, Bachelor of Arts; something that would impress my mother just enough to gain her approval. My first mistake was to choose a program that I was not passionate about. “Choose a career destined for success with lots of money.” After dropping out of school, and turning to drugs as a coping mechanism, I was back where I started. I had no goal, no school, no job, no friends and no approval from my mother.
One early December morning in 2015, I woke up feeling fed up with feeling like a nobody. I’d had enough misery, I’d hit rock bottom once too often. Once you hit rock bottom, you can either wallow in misery or climb up. I immediately tried to get back into school again. I went to Concordia and explained my situation, applied for a Late Withdrawal for all my failed courses, and put together a file with all my doctors’ notes and hospital admissions to help me get back in. Now I was truly motivated: I didn’t want any child to go through the things I had gone through. Every child deserves to be brought up in a world free of abuse. Mental illness isn’t something you are born with. Of course there are hereditary factors involved, but environmental factors also play a huge role. I decided to take Applied Human Sciences at Concordia so that I can become a social worker for children from abusive homes.
A large number of Asian-American children grow up emotionally stunted as the result of family stressors. Parents often set unrealistically high goals for their children, because in Asia many people live below the poverty line, and respect is given when you have a successful career. Therefore, many Asian parents push their children to become doctors, lawyers or engineers. But those are unrealistic expectations for children who want to pursue other interests. From birth, their lives are filled with endless tutoring and studying. They are often expected to achieve unrealistically high grades to gain their parents’ approval. According to the American Psychological Association, suicide is the eighth leading cause of death for Asian-Americans, in comparison to it being the eleventh leading cause of death for all racial groups combined. When I first came across this information about the high suicide rates for Asian- Americans compared to all racial groups combined, I was baffled. It was from that moment on that I decided the world needed some change.
My vision for the future is to ensure that fewer Asian-Canadians commit suicide. After I finish my degree at Concordia, my mission is to seek out an organization that helps prevent suicide attempts, and to focus extra attention on Asian communities. Many families from Asia believe that violence is an acceptable way of discipline. Many Asian children grow up without seeking any professional help, because it is generally frowned upon in Asian culture to talk about family matters with a stranger. I want to spread awareness that there are many ways to get help even in a restrictive Asian environment. In the western culture, it is normal for a social worker to intervene in a home situation, to get involved with a family. But as Asians, my parents did not believe in seeking outside help. I was frowned upon for telling a “stranger” about my family issues. Little help was offered to my family, other than anger management courses for my non-English-speaking mother. My mother was given instructions about how to handle her family according to western standards, but after the social worker walked out the door, nothing changed. I believe that my mother wasn’t willing to change her Asian attitudes on how to bring up her family, especially according to western standards.
The organization that I hope to join will focus mainly on Asian-Canadians. Children will be taught how to handle pressure at home, despite unrealistic expectations. Coping mechanisms will be taught early on in school to help these children transition into the western world, where verbal and physical abuse are not tolerated. There will be events to help empower the Asian-Canadian culture. Asian-Canadians will be shown that there is more to life than good grades and a good job. There will be many volunteer opportunities that will teach these children that helping others is more important than money and success. It will teach them that opening their hearts is more fulfilling than getting A’s on their exams. That no matter how much pressure Asian-Canadians endure from their strict families, suicide is not an option. Because no matter how hard it is to live up to their culture, it is more important to be who they want to be. It is more important to make a positive impact on this world, than to cave in from the stress. Most parents who immigrate to Canada from Asia have deep cultural roots that are very difficult to change. Therefore, my organization will focus more on the children and less on the family, with the goal of dramatically lowering the rates of Asian-Canadians deaths by suicide.
I might have continued to journey down a self-destructive path, but I was lucky. Certain people who crossed my path helped me to overcome the worst. I could have continued to live up to my mother’s goals instead of my own. I could have just given up, called it quits, and ended my life. I could have decided to stay mired in my own misery. Instead, I took a step back and looked at the bigger picture. I chose what I wanted my future to look like, and I looked at the needs of children who struggle with the same ethnic challenges. “Choose a career destined for success.” It all depends on how you define success.

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