As I write this, it is Father’s Day. I am back at my mother’s house, sifting through stacks of photo albums choosing which throwback photos to include in the obligatory memorial Facebook post for my father, who sadly passed away three years ago.
There were literally hundreds upon thousands of photographs documenting baby Samantha’s journey to becoming the still relatively tiny adult that is typing this. I took a two hour long stroll through memory lane; seeing me seconds after being prized from my mother’s stomach (I’m a C-section baby, don’t ya know), taking my first shaky steps, posing on the knee of many questionably wrinkle-free mall Santas, winning the sack race at sports day (I know! Me? Have a sporting achievement?) and clutching my Tarzan lunchbox in my school uniform. What followed was a succession of school photos, which became fewer and fewer as the years droned on until they reached a stop when I finally graduated high school in 2014 and moved onto college.
I’ve made no real secret about what a hellish time I had in education. Not academically, I always excelled in that, but my experience with constant bullying from such a young age. My mixed race would become the topic of every conversation, and naturally my peers would make comments about it. If I had a pound for every time I was told I wasn’t “Asian enough” because my eyes weren’t slanted enough or that I wasn’t “white enough” because I had what they labelled “yellow skin” that stood out like a sore thumb, I’d be a millionaire. I absolutely hated it. I remember wanting to be fully white because I would get so many comments about me being Asian, or would consistently be rudely asked ‘What kind of asian are you?’, and I grew weary of it. I was just a kid who wanted to be like everyone else. I didn’t want the spotlight on me, I didn’t know how to fend off endless questions about my culture. Do I speak Asian (one, it’s not a language and I do not speak a shred of Filipino so, no), do I use chopsticks (no), do I eat dogs (no) etc. And if it wasn’t about my ethnicity generally, it was about my height, the way my face looked, etc.
I was eleven when I first started having suicidal thoughts. Most, if not all, of my teen years were plagued with wishing I was dead and researching methods to find out which was the most foolproof – none of them are, in case you’re wondering. While it’s not been as prominent a part of my adult life, the desire to die crops up now and again in times of extreme depression because I’m emotionally still very much that little girl hiding in the loo at lunchtime, sobbing into a ham sandwich. I have and I haven’t outgrown the insecurities that were fostered all those years ago.
What struck me, looking at those photos, is how normal everything looked. I was there, in my school uniform, beaming away like I hadn’t cried myself to sleep that night or dabbled with the idea of taking my life. On surface level, anyone looking at those photographs, would have said that I was your average, happy teenager. But knowing what lay behind the ‘happy’ façade, I just found staring at them haunting. It’s chilling that a smile can really hide so much pain and sadness. That on glossy 5″ x 7″ paper, I was still the same relatively shy, but smiling baby from ’98, just with a fringe/bowl cut combo and better fitting clothes.
So, what is this post?
Well, the title lends itself from this Britannica article that comments on the absence of tragedy in Asian dramas, noting that “In Buddhist teaching, the aim of the individual is to suppress and regulate all those questioning, recalcitrant, rebellious impulses that first impel the Western hero toward his tragic course… [Japanese Noh plays] avoid directly involving the audience in the emotions implicit in the events portrayed on the stage. It gives only a slight hint of the spiritual struggle in the heart of the protagonist—a struggle that is always speedily resolved in favour of traditional teaching.” So, as someone who spent years suppressing my own inner struggles and emotions to the outside world, I found it quite apt.
You see, looking at those photographs of me and my expedition from childhood-to-adolescence made me deeply upset. Hence, why all the photos featured in this lovely post are pre the start of the worst bout of bullying and depression. My heart squeezes in agony as I stare at the face of my former self because that poor girl was so, so alone and so miserable. And in many ways, I still am. In my deep, depressive moments, I feel every emotion I did back then just as intensely and given the terrible male company I choose to keep, it’s probably just as, if not more, severe. However, things are slightly different.
For one, I have this outlet. Writing, whether it makes onto the blog or not, really has been a solace and is excellent for reflecting and unpacking big events from the celebratory to the traumatic. Also, I know now I am not entirely alone. I’m ashamed it took a recent active attempt on my life to really see that after being gaslit to believe all the negative perceptions I had of myself, but the support I have been inundated with makes me tear up just thinking about it. Not only do I have access to the mental health resources that I was too shy to seek out in my youth (I know, I’m only twenty-one, but I seriously feel sixty at this point – creaky joints and everything), but I am fortunate to have a fantastic network of friends, who are now essentially extended family after the heart-to-hearts we’ve shared, who also help to guide me through these lows and give me the life affirming validations I can’t give myself. I didn’t have any of that from twelve to twenty, and a lot has happened in those formative years that definitely shaped me for the anxious, depressed worst.
Tragically, it feels as though I’d almost had my childhood/adolescence snatched away from me by all the damage the bullying did. It prevented me from doing so much out of fear, from – for lack of better cliché phrases – finding my self and despite all the doom and gloom of recent months and weeks, I’m only in recent years starting to feel comfortable in expressing myself and my interests. Therefore, I look back on my youth and struggle to pick a few good memories per year because all I can associate that time with and remember are the depressive evenings crying into a pillow and suicidal ideation.
Part of me wants to reach into old photos and give the girl a tight hug. I feel so much sadness and guilt which is silly because I know a lot of it then was down to factors I couldn’t control. I was stuck in the school bubble with people who thrived on an easy target like me as opposed to situations now where I get walked all over and end up getting hurt because I let my naïve, trusting side take over due to not being used to people being interested in me as a person.
For all I joke about being a narcissist because of self-indulgent posts about my feelings and there being a lot of shots of my face here, there and everywhere, it surprisingly couldn’t be further from the truth. While I do feel a touch better about myself than I did at, say, fourteen, my own self-worth and confidence is still quite poor. However, it’s a work in progress. Everything about me is a work in progress. Starting with learning to not let manipulative assholes make you believe you’re so unworthy and bad of a person that you end up on a train platform! And understanding there is no ‘riding off into the sunset’ like I’d imagined.
I don’t ever want to be in that scenario ever again because it wouldn’t be fair on my family, my friends, everyone who gave up time and bent over backwards to support me post-suicide attempt. But it also wouldn’t be fair to her. The girl in the photos. Who despite barely ever going a week without crying, endured the taunts and the crippling self-doubt they induced. Who suffered through the worst of it because she believed there would be something good waiting at the end, that she’d be happy at some point in life and all of it would have been worth it.
So, to her, I am sorry.
I’m sorry you were depressed, angry and lonely all the time. I’m sorry you were made to feel like your race was a weakness or as if though that was the only interesting thing about you. I’m sorry that you believed that the horrible things the bullies would say were right. I’m sorry that you didn’t believe people could ever love you, I’m sorry that I still allowed myself to be made to feel this way. I’m sorry you let people convince you that were ugly – at sixteen, you’d never have guessed that you’d have boys from the likes of Made in Chelsea sliding in your DMs! What a laugh! I’m sorry you felt like your life wasn’t worthy or important. I’m sorry you felt like a burden to your loved ones just for existing, or for not being perfect and happy. I’m sorry you felt too ashamed to tell anyone how sad you felt because you were worried about being perceived as even more weak – the fact you survived all that proves you’re strong. I’m sorry you’ll never be able to experience even an ounce of the confidence I managed to find and have now.
I promise to make up for all the lost time from this moment onward because you’re my inspiration. You’re my life’s work… next to those two unfinished novel drafts with strong publishing potential.