A picture is worth a thousand words because everyone who looks at it sees something different. They notice things in a different order and they have lived different experiences, which influence their perspective. When multiple people look at the same picture and share their thoughts, we can see that they build on what has already been said (and what hasn’t been said). Moments and events in life work the same way and memory is a tricky thing
I view things from the perspective of the oldest of three siblings, the only girl, and the first child of an immigrant family. I grew up not speaking any English and when I went to school, I hear I couldn’t understand a word my teacher said. Luckily my teacher didn’t give up on me. I graduated from mandatory ESL classes in about the fourth grade and I often didn’t have things that my youngest brother takes for granted now (one year I used a portable stove’s case as my bookbag. It looked like I was carrying a briefcase so that was cool). My brother and I were often left in the care of sitters or even at school in order for my family to get their work done.
Because of this, I often didn’t see my parents. I remember my dad would always sleep during the day because he worked all night and I would only see my mom in the mornings because she worked all day (until midnight and got home at ungodly hours). I never thought too much about this arrangement. After all, I got to spend time with my friends whenever my parents weren’t home
As I got older and my parents started to get more financially stable, I started hanging out with my dad a lot. He used to drive to different states and I would tag along…if I was able to. My favorite thing to do was count trailers, which is a habit I still have to this day. Around the time I turned twelve, my dad had tried out a few business ventures where I was always involved in some way. Some worked for short periods of time, others failed, and one was a success.
By the time I was fourteen I was translating for my dad regularly and going to work with him. He was a contractor. Still is actually
I mention all of this to give a bit of perspective of where I’m coming from. I was never very close to my mom when I was a kid. She was always the one who imposed rules and disciplined me. In fact, there was a moment when my parents considered going their own ways and I instantly decided I would go with my dad. After all, my dad was way more fun. But in a sense, my relationship with my father was only superficial and I started to realize this when I was in high school
That was around the time my family – as much as it pains me to say it- became the biggest stressors in my life. But then the question is, were they? Or was I the biggest stressor for seeing one picture when in reality it was something else? After all, looking back, I lived a good life. I always had what was necessary and even now I don’t lack for things like food or shelter or luxuries
possible tw. mention of manipulation and threats, psychological not physical
While all the seniors in my high school year were busy filling out applications for universities and getting acceptance letters, I was telling everyone that I wasn’t applying anywhere; that I was going to a community college. It was a decision that was made very last minute, as it seemed the best option financially. This was after I had already gone to multiple university open house visits and after I had gotten excited about submitting my freshman application to DePaul
Not only that but when I was filling out questionnaires and writing up career projects as a junior, I was certain I would be a math teacher. Preferably for high school juniors and seniors because I couldn’t stand the idea of a class of freshman. Now, so close to graduating, and those plans had changed. I was going to go into business, a high chance of it relating to construction, real estate, and my dad.
I ended up going to Harold Washington, the apparently best community college in Chicago. I was there a year and a half thanks to some AP credits
In a way, nothing stands out in that time for me. Since I had moved out of the city my last year of high school I’d been commuting regularly with my dad. This pattern continued into college and I still translated verbally, sent messages between my dad and his associates, went to buy materials with him, viewed his projects, and did some paperwork for him. Then things changed when I finally had the chance to go to DePaul
I applied as a business major, however, when I started classes in January 2013, I didn’t take any business courses. I avoided them like the plague and since I still needed a few liberal arts courses, I took those first. The next quarter I had decided to change my major to something I truly enjoyed: art
Unfortunately, this caused some strain with my family
Like most people, my parents had their thoughts on art, which was basically that I would never get a job or make enough money to sustain myself. They constantly tried to change my mind so that I could go into real estate, some sort of construction management, or business administration. And if I wanted to continue with something art-related, architecture was an acceptable alternative. Since my family was providing the funds for my education I always felt some pressure to do as they said, but I still persisted
When I started at DePaul, the pressure raised exponentially because tuition was no longer just $1,000 a semester but $10,000 every quarter (10-weeks). I couldn’t apply for FAFSA and I wasn’t of the age to apply as an independent student. My grades were average and I all the scholarships would slip through my fingers. I also pulled back from helping my dad with his business because I had to commute, work, go to class, and the turnover in work was twice as fast compared to Harold Washington since the quarter was about half the time a semester.
My dad didn’t like this. I often found myself on the receiving end of arguments about contributing more, after all, I’m paying for your school, the least you can do is help out
I tried to help out but my days were usually the following: waking up around 6am to commute for at least an hour, being at school up to two hours before classes started, classes until afternoon where my commute would last (on a good day) about two hours, and the rest of the day was split between doing homework and working with my dad. On some days I went to bed closer to midnight. When I started my job at Dunkin’ I would have to be at work at 4am and I’d have to book it to school right after. I was still going to bed around the same time and sometimes later depending on how long it took me to get school work done
But the things that stressed me out the most were the constant reminders that the financial help my family was giving me could be taken away at any moment, and the constant arguments my dad and I got into because he always wanted me to put the business before anything, including school.
You guys have no idea how much a shadow clone jutsu would have made my life so much easier at the time. I always prioritized attending school first, which caused my dad and me to grow further apart. But after classes, I had the obligation to help my dad out
Before I used to tell him all about what I was doing at school. Now I couldn’t even stand to be in the same room as him. We often got into arguments which ended in the usual, you guys don’t ever help me and I do everything for you guys. Because apparently everything I had done before this didn’t count…It also didn’t help that he wasn’t interested in what I was studying. To this day, his words on not understanding art haunt me. He implied that because he didn’t understand it, I shouldn’t tell him about it. He could have easily opened up, yeah tell me about it or something. For my senior capstone, he also didn’t show up even though I invited him…
I never realized how much I sought his approval (or interest, at that point anything positive would have been good) until that moment
I remember the first semester I had to take off from school and I was so afraid. My first thought was, he’s done it. He did what he’s been threatening all this time. This is as far as I’ll go. A few weeks later he pulled me aside and apologized and cried, and how could I say anything bad to that? I still felt betrayed but I said it was fine. Perhaps things would be different now
This pattern repeated many times, up until I decided to “drop out”
My dad liked to toss around the phrase you guys never help me and it irritated the heck out of me, especially considering everything I’d done to help him. My dad knows enough English at this point to communicate on his own with his business workers but when I was growing up, I was always the middleman. If my dad needed to talk with his boss, I would translate. If he had to speak to some manager or other head of a company, I would often be called to be present for translating. I looked through contracts, I made contracts, I wrote up project estimates (based on what my dad told me), and so many other things related to communication
In 2013, when I was already a student at DePaul, my dad asked if I would open up a construction company. After much talking and persistence on my family’s part, I conceded. I was a company owner for a year that I wish I could erase. It was during this year that I felt my dad was the harshest, as he constantly demanded my time when, originally, the agreement was that I would only be a placeholder. That he would handle everything while I focused on my studies and that I didn’t have to worry about tuition because he would pay for things in exchange for this favor
I decided to not renew the license because I was tired of being in arguments, taken away from my studies, being threatened, and (most importantly) the lack of legal organization. To this day I have no idea if I am clear of the IRS for something that happened years ago.
I spent time cleaning up debts that were under my name because of course, I didn’t just let my dad open up a company under my name. I also helped out with other things (not to mention I had to pay for my own expenses while at school including transportation, books, and art supplies). True that I didn’t have to worry about paying things like rent but I only made the minimum outside the city (~$8/hr) and I could only work so many hours depending on my school schedule (though I always tried to work as much as I could possibly fit, which eventually caught up with me)
Our relationship never mended. In fact, we grew even further apart. Nowadays, we don’t really talk if we’re in the same room unless there is a conversation going with someone else
These were the things I talked to my therapist about during my first two visits, but it was a challenge. My family has always grown up with the idea that we shouldn’t tell people outside of our immediate family about our family situation. I actually remember getting in trouble because of this when I was younger. Even writing this specific blog post is giving me anxiety because it’s something that goes against my parents’ wishes
I also grew up with the idea that family always had your back, but then, did they really? They were the ones who, I felt, kept hurting and rejecting me. Instead of support for the things I wanted, they kept trying to make me do things I didn’t want because it was convenient, not just for me but (as I saw) also for them, specifically my dad. They knew where to hurt me the most and they continuously did so
I didn’t want to paint my family as abusive or terrible because I am extremely lucky to have the things I have. My family has constantly told us so and I know it’s true. I know there are people who are thrown out of their homes as soon as they turn 18, possibly sooner. There are people who are homeless, who struggle to find something to eat on a daily basis, people who are abused so terribly that, well…the stories differ. I never had any of these problems
I felt like I was whining. Like I was complaining about things I should be grateful for. In fact, I still feel this way, and that’s probably why I cry. I never really knew why but perhaps it’s self-loathing. I want to be a good daughter. I want my parents to be proud of me, but I can’t seem to do things right. Why couldn’t I like studying business? Things would be much easier
Why am I not more aggressive? More confident? My parents left their families when they were sixteen and I am still so dependant on them as an adult. I like to think I could survive out there on my own. I’m hardworking and I’m not afraid to do physical labor if I need to. But there’s a part of me that can’t leave. My parents are all I have and as much as they say they don’t need me, I’ve heard the opposite.
When I stopped helping my dad, he moved onto my brother, offered him the same things. Promised the same things and now their relationship is a mess. They argue often and it hurts to see the same things play out with them that happened with me. After my brother refused to help, my dad would repeat his usual you guys never help me and made sure to say things weren’t working out financially whenever we were present
I feel a huge obligation to help out my family, but then, where does that leave me? Perhaps this is partially the reason my brother conceded with my dad’s demands recently. In fact, if he hadn’t conceded, I would have. But the saddest part is that it doesn’t stop here, I’m seeing things repeated with both my brothers
And that stresses me out too, especially with the youngest because I want him to succeed where I couldn’t. I’m so proud of everything he has achieved and it would be tragic if he were to find himself rooted like we are
But this is only the story told from my perspective. Perhaps it’s not even the truth. Does it matter though? It’s the truth I’ve grown up with and I haven’t seen anything to disprove this image and yet I try to refuse it. I keep thinking, what if the situation isn’t the problem? What if it’s me? If I was smarter and confident, perhaps I would be able to handle it all…maybe I’m the issue here…
Thanks for reading guys. From me, you guys can expect another “Let’s Talk About Mental Health” post on Saturday but for the rest of this week and the next, we’ll be focusing on Megan and Kristina’s stories. Don’t forget to stop by for those! Like always, if you guys want to share your stories in the comments section, I’m all ears. And if you’d like to share it on this blog, feel free to contact me. Anonymous posting is ok too
This is a general disclaimer. I am not a doctor or professional of any kind. I am just sharing and talking about my own experiences. If you are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, please seek help! You can receive help at your nearest ER or by calling the national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If there is someone that you trust to help you, also contact them to seek help! Remember that you are important, one of a kind, and to take care. Self-care is important for everyone!