© Michelle Chan
Let me start of by saying what everyone else is probably feeling... Things have been hard lately. Really hard.
On top of dealing with the devastating and wide-reaching effects of COVID-19 around the world and murder hornets making its way to the U.S., we are now faced with the most recent death of George Floyd.
It has been hard and heartbreaking to watch video after video and read article after article about not only the killing of George Floyd, but many other African Americans in our country as well. (And while I may be a person and woman of color, I am aware that I am afforded many more privileges than my African American peers.) Like many, I have been left speechless as I try to make sense of something so absolutely senseless. However, we need to be able to full understand a situation before we are can start on the path of making necessary changes.
Over the course of the past few days, it has become more and more clear that systemic racism and the fight against it needs to be seen as a whole. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I have been trained to see things through a certain "lens" of sorts. A systemic one. So I began to use that mindset to help me better understand, verbalize, and cope with all that is going on.
1. In therapy: Sitting down and having heart-felt conversations with loved ones can be hard, whether it's with a family member, partner, or loved one. Sometimes, even harder than maybe just yelling or arguing with the other person. And definitely harder than just literally or figuratively plugging our ears or giving the other person the silent treatment. But conversations are needed for healing to occur, understanding to be fostered, and change to take place. In the end, whether or not there's a resolution, there at least can be some understanding. And who knows? Both sides may find out that they've been wanting the same/similar thing! But we can never know, if we aren't willing to sit down to even speak.
In BLM movement: Without ongoing and in-depth conversations about the history of our country (e.g. slavery, segregation), those of us who do not have the lived experience of our African American peers simply cannot understand the true depth in which systemic racism exists in the fabric of our country. Without being willing to listen and to learn, we won't be able to heal the wounds that have been passed on from generation to generation. And unfortunately, there have been many who were either explicitly or implicitly unwilling to listen in the past. With ongoing cries for help and support having fallen on deaf ears.
This is why the Black Lives Matter movement is needed.
2. In therapy: Change is hard. You and I both know this. This is why I often tell new clients that things may get worse before it gets better. In relationships that are experiencing challenges, it is rarely one individual who is the sole "problem." More than likely, it is the relationship that needs work. Both individuals need to make some changes to make the relationship a better one. In other words, for there to be lasting change, the system needs to be changed. Unfortunately, there may be individuals who are unwilling to make changes in a relationship, whether they are benefiting from how things are currently or there really isn't much of an incentive for them to do the work that's needed. So, those who are unhappy in the relationship will have to initiate the changes they want to see, which will in turn throw the relationship into a place of unknown. This can lead to a bit of "chaos," especially if one is pushing for change while the other is digging their heels in for things to stay the same. This "chaos" isn't necessarily a bad thing though! This chaos has the potential to lead to the creation of a new system of rules/behaviors, improving the relationship as a whole. But of course, it can also return back to the same defective system it was before, or may even lead to the dissolving of the relationship (e.g. breakup).
In BLM movement: Systemic racism has persisted in the U.S. for decades, transforming how it appears in our laws, but nevertheless lurking not far underneath. For far too long, African Americans have been in a relationship with our society in which they experience all kinds of abuse (e.g. emotional, physical, financial), and sometimes even death. In this relationship, many of those who are in power and are privileged want to keep the status quo in the relationship, ranging from having little to no incentive to create change, to outright putting up a fight. All this to ensure that the relationship remains the way it is now. So for there to be systemic change to occur, chaos may need to happen to disrupt the "normal" way of doing things. This can potentially lead to there being a space for new solutions to be to create new solutions and new ways of doing things.
This is why the Black Lives Matter movement is needed.
3. In therapy: When someone is in an abusive relationship, whether it be emotional, physical, sexual, or neglect, we try to find ways to keep the individual safe. Whether that means getting help for the abuser, getting necessary agencies involved (e.g. child protective services, adult protective services, police, etc.), and/or safety planning (e.g. shelters or other places to remain safe). We also look for people (e.g. family, friends, colleagues) who can provide support (e.g. emotionally, physically, financially) to the individual who is in need, so that they can be safe. These systems are in place to protect the vulnerable and ensure that they get the necessary help.
In BLM movement: What happens when African Americans are in need of support and protection, but also have to fear being harmed by those who are suppose to protect them? When they, their loved ones, or people who look like them are shot and killed for just going about their daily lives. Where is their safety net? Where and who can they turn to, to get the protection and help that they need? In the end, they are left to their own devices, without the services and support that many of us are afforded.
This is why the Black Lives Matter movement is needed.
4. In therapy: Pain is expressed in many different ways. Most often, it presents itself as anger. This is because it's sometime easier for people to show anger than it is to show sadness or hurt. Society has made it seem "weak" to show when we feel hurt by someone or something, so instead, we act out in anger with our words and our actions instead. This can often be misunderstood by others who are experiencing or witnessing it from the outside.
In BLM movement: A huge majority of protesters who are standing up to systemic racism are doing so peacefully. Unfortunately, there are a small number of people who are choosing to express their discontent through looting and vandalizing. (Although there are currently also news about how some of the looting and vandalizing is done by groups who are not part of the protests or the BLM movement.) I neither judge nor condone these acts,
but instead choose to come from a place of understanding.
It is only when we ALL experience equality and feel there is such a thing as justice, that the Black Lives Matter movement is no longer needed. I hope I get to witness that one day. Until then, I will continue to further educate myself and do what is within my abilities to help ensure that all POC are afforded the same rights and privileges as our Euro-American counterparts.
And instead of providing a quote at the end, I shall share the voice and wisdom of Trevor Noah below. (If you don't have the patience or don't want to put in the time to watch the entire 18 minutes, fast forward to 5:40 to hear his thoughts about what happened to George Floyd, 8:15 to see hear thoughts about the protests and the why for looting, 17:26 to hear his closing thoughts and questions we all need to ponder about)
© Michelle Chan
What the month of May represents hit close to home and is my heart and soul. If you didn't know already, May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage month as well as Mental Health Awareness month. In the midst of COVID-19, what May represents seem more important than ever before, at least to me and the communities that I'm a part of.
I have been deeply saddened by what I have heard and read, on the news and in social media, about the mistreatment and abuse of people of Asian descent. I have heard loved ones express increasing concern about their safety as they go about their daily lives (e.g. getting groceries, mailing things at the post office, being at work). Quite a few friends who are in the medical field have shared with me that they are purposely wearing their scrubs to run errands, in the hopes that it serves as a protective factor.
I know they're not alone.
Many people of Asian descent across the country, and the world, are being more cautious of where they go to get their groceries and run their errands. And not just because of concerns about COVID-19. Many have become hypervigilant when they go out, taking into consideration what neighborhoods certain places are located, looking to see who they're surrounded by, trying not to speak in any native tongues to loved ones and family members when others are around, etc.
Blame is a dangerous and deadly game. No matter what the issue at hand is, blaming only leads to division among us, with no "winner" at the end. It only delays solutions from being found, and deprives us of the sense of support and community we all long for.
If you are feeling as though you are more anxious or on-edge, experiencing nightmares, having flashbacks of other traumatic experiences, being more cautious or hypervigilant, feeling scared for the safety of you and your loved ones... Know that you're not alone in having these experiences. You are not "crazy." Our physical environment has a very real and direct impact on our mental well-being.
Take notice and acknowledge these emotions and things you're experiencing. Engage in activities to help you release some of the nervous energy (e.g. meditation, exercise, art, etc). Reach out to loved ones. They may need you just as much as you need them. And of course, therapy is always an option worth exploring during this extremely challenging time. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health if you want to "be okay" through all of this.
"The things that go unsaid are often the things that eat at you." - Celeste Ng
© Michelle Chan
As most people already know, last Wednesday, March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic. But ever since the start of 2020, we can already see on TV, YouTube, news articles, and social media posts, the havoc that COVID-19 has been wrecking half-way across the world.
Over the course of the past few weeks, the impact of COVID-19 has increasingly began to affect us and the communities that we live in, physically and mentally. Everyone is having to constantly adjust to a new "norm," as more news, updates, and mandates roll out across the United States.
Whether you believe it will gravely impact you, your loved ones, and your community, or whether you believe everything has been blown out of proportion, the truth is, everyone is/will be affected. In times of uncertainty, people tend to act on emotion rather than logic. Some people may run out and purchase vast amounts of things (e.g. toilet paper, food, water) as a way to ease their anxiety, while others may feel so overwhelmed that they can't seem to do any essential preparation. As with anything else, people deal with things differently, and there is often never an absolute right or wrong. (Unless of course it's someone who is trying to profit off of others' fears by purchasing large amounts of supplies and up-selling them. That would be a definite no-no.) Some people may prefer to wear masks as a precaution when going out, while others may believe that masks should only be worn by those who are ill or are medical professionals. Before we judge, remember to come from a place of openness to understanding and learning.
Unfortunately, some people have resorted to racial profiling, engaging in verbal, emotional, and physical abuse/harassment of others based on their physical presentation. Many of these victims throughout the country have been of Asian descent. And in the San Gabriel Valley, Asians make up a large part of the community. While it is understandable that people's anxieties and fears are more heightened during a pandemic or crisis situation, it is never acceptable to succumb to displaying racism and inflicting harm onto others.
We are not one, but a community. We are all in this together.
In times of hardship, there can be many opportunities to let human kindness shine through. We can all be a model of what we want to see in the world, passing on hope and joy to others when it seems unlikely and almost impossible. Lending a hand or a ear whenever possible.
And of course, before each of us can care for others, we must be sure that we are cared for ourselves. Self-care is a necessity rather than a luxury, especially at such trying times.
Whether you are trying to engage in "social distancing," being mandated to remain at home, or are quarantined, having some downtime may not be totally terrible. It can be a time to cut out the outside noise, step away from the daily grind, and allow time for introspection and reflection. Being at home doesn't mean you have to stare at a blank wall until COVID-19 is gone. There are many things you can do to keep yourself occupied and even be ready to hit the ground running once COVID-19 is a thing of the past!
What am I talking about?
*Mind in need of stimulation? Read that book you've bought but never read because you "haven't found the time" or "didn't have time" to over the past few years.
*Tired of your current job/career? Search for that new opportunity you've been wanting!
*Feeling lonely? Don't text. Call up a friend, host a group videochat through Google hangout or Facebook Messenger.
*Bored? Catch up on all those movies/shows you've been wanting to start/finish!
*Stressed out from all the constant bombardment and updates about COVID-19? Limit your consumption about it (e.g. reading 2 articles a day and/or watching only 15 minutes of news/online clips a day).
*Family members/roommates getting on your nerves? Have a talk about how you can respect one another's space and privacy a bit more, as you'll be continuing to remain in a confined space for a period of time.
*Feeling lethargic? Open the windows for some fresh air, or better yet, step outside to your back yard and walk around for a few minutes while you aborb some sunlight.
Social distancing is essential in keeping not just you, but also individuals who are at higher risk, safe.
To reiterate... We are not one, but part of a community. We are all in this together.
During this time, of all the things you can be... Be careful. Be well. Be considerate.
"The whole is greater than the sum of its parts" - Aristotle