Today, Anna Akana came to my school and gave a talk about Asian Americans in media. Last year, I watched her videos on depression, and she helped me realize that…feelings are valid–or that you can’t help much the way you feel–and so why be so self-conscious and apologetic about it all the time………..I had this paralyzing fear that I was overreacting, being a drama queen, griping at every minor hardship in life. I was so terrified of recognizing my own feelings–a recognition that felt voyeuristic, maybe narcissistic, and perhaps contrived to even think that I had depression. After all, so many people have it so much worse. I hadn’t become entirely dysfunctional to the extent that I couldn’t at least get out of bed for a meal, and I hadn’t truly, seriously attempted to take my own life. Who was I to suspect that I was clinically depressed then? How could this be valid amongst the backdrop of all the people who are suffering so acutely?
This has really stuck with me: nobody is out there playing depression police. If you tell someone you’re depressed, nobody’s going to fire back “You fraud! You’re not depressed! I know the precise chemical balance of your brain, and there’s no way you have depression, you liar.” When put like that, it all becomes so simple and obvious. I was spending so much time worrying about how my feelings might be perceived by others that I couldn’t recognize how irrational my fears were.
I felt such a strange, self-conscious sense of revolt at my narcissism, a reluctance to recognize my own feelings, and frustrating inability to convey in earnest my tangled mess of thoughts. How do you explain you don’t want to exist anymore or begin to describe your sense of depersonalization, disconnect, and self-apathy? These nebulous feelings seem so uncomfortable, ineffable, and out-of-place.
My heart is so full. Anna Akana is just as endearing, insightful, and cheekily honest as she is in her Youtube videos. She’s made me think more critically of media representation of Asian Americans and how this shit actually matters. We consume these TV shows, movies, films, and episodes on a day-to-day basis. The tropes and motifs shape our own perception of ourselves and how we fit into the world. People shouldn’t walk away from superhero movies with the impression that some white man is always the guy to save the day. Rather, movie-goers should feel kick-ass and empowered themselves, a feeling that has to stem first and foremost from a place of connection. I don’t know about you, but as a 5 foot 2 Asian girl, I don’t particularly identify with a middle-aged white man.
During the follow-up Q&A, a lot of questions came up about mental health. Hearing Anna talk about her sister’s suicide and the time a girl walked up to her at the DMV and started crying while explaining how Anna’s video made her reconsider committing suicide brought me back to that strange period in freshman year when things seemed hopeless and eternally dark. I think that I’m growing healthily these days, and I’m grateful that time kept inching forward back then and that I was able to stumble upon Anna’s videos.