Content Warning: anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation/tendencies
I grew up in a constant survival mode since my father left when I was eleven. I was raised in a single-parent household with my mother and sister. One of the first things my mother told me when he left was to be independent, because all you really have is yourself. Since then, all I knew was to work hard in school, graduate from college, and find a good job. My father’s absence motivated me to take on his role within the family and look after my mom. It only seemed like the right thing to do as a child because I didn’t want to see my mom in pain. It also led to my mom being overly dependent on me and my sister. As a result, I couldn’t do things that people my age would normally do. It didn’t seem fair because I was always there to help her when I needed space to grow. I knew it wasn’t easy for her to understand this because of our different cultural upbringings as well as the fact that she was also dealing with anxiety and depression.
In spite of this, I still wanted the best for my mom. I didn’t want to see her work two jobs anymore and cry because she didn’t know how she was going to make rent each month. So, I worked hard in school, but I still felt that I had to work harder because my depression would interfere with my school work. My best friends became strangers, and I spent lunches alone in my teacher’s classroom or the restroom. During most nights, I tried to keep quiet as I sobbed in my pillow and called the suicide hotline to try to find hope. When I was in college, my family was struck by the deaths of three loved ones, including my father. I felt like I lost him twice, but this time it was for good. I felt paralyzed with grief when I heard about his sudden passing. The hope of ever seeing him again was gone. I felt so guilty of the resentment I had toward him. Being in survival mode, I somehow pushed these feelings aside and finished the school year strong before traveling for his funeral. My focus was still on my mother and doing well in school for a better future.
After graduating from college, I still felt lost. I followed the path laid out for me, but I needed to figure out what to do after graduation. I felt ashamed because I didn’t feel like I was where I needed to be in life. I spent most of my life putting others first and worrying about the next step. So, it took a long time for me to realize that I just need to accept things as they are at the moment. With this in mind, my mother and I found comfort in each other when she was teaching me how to cook Filipino food. I could feel the peace and happiness as she was passing down her traditions to her daughter. It seems that what I have now is a sign for me to take it easy and transition away from survival mode. Perhaps now I have the chance to engage in self-discovery, process my past, and re-parent myself. I am still unsure of my future, but I keep a baby photo near me as a reminder to finally give myself the chance to take care of her. In doing so, I trust that I will find a new path and that something good will come out of this.