On Our Radar: I Thought Being Miserable Was Just Part of Being Chinese American
Chinese people didn’t see therapists. Spend $100 to tell a stranger your problems? Are you crazy? Why, yes, maybe I am. But I don’t know because my mom won’t give me the money to see a shrink. Western psychology and “seeing a therapist” (especially one that you have to pay megabucks by the hour to tell your secrets to) is still a completely foreign concept to people of my parents’ generation who believed seeing a therapist would prevent you from getting a job. And mind you, my parents were born in America.
I ran across a statistic in 2004 that reported Asian American women as having some of the highest rates of suicide in this country. I decided I would make a theater show about it and call it “Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” When I received major arts grant funding to make it, my mother said, “I’m so proud of you. Just don’t talk about me or the family in your show.”
Doing a show about Asian American depression without mentioning your mother is like making a porno movie without sex. A curious thing happened when I announced in 2005 that I was “working on a show about depression and suicide.” A lot of women came out of nowhere to tell me that they had been depressed and contemplated suicide. These were total strangers who found me by email – college professors and women I had known as professionals, all telling me things I had not imagined could be shared.
Every time a woman shares her story with me, I think the same: Where were you when I was younger? How would have things been different if we were there for each other?
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