May was Mental Health Awareness Month. It was also Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Additionally, folks have also celebrated May Day, Star Wars Day, Cinco de Mayo, and Mother’s Day. Aside from Star Wars Day, when I feel compelled to respond to every meme and greeting of “May the Fourth be with you” with “May the Horse be with you”, each of these events and highlighted issues feel complex to me in how we honor and/or celebrate them. I’m aware of conflicting emotions around how I might identify, or not, with the issue and my struggle to be intentional in how I engage.
As a therapist, of course I want to bring awareness to mental health issues. I want to challenge the stigma that is so often associated with needing mental health support. I want to humanize rather than pathologize those with mental health diagnoses. I want to highlight the discrepancies in levels of care and the obstacles to treatment for those in marginalized groups. Most of all, I want folks to understand that there is hope and a way out of the darkness of the depression, isolation, and shame that they might be experiencing.
But mental health isn’t only about medical diagnoses. It’s about recognizing our own limitations and the expectations that we set ourselves, while also knowing that the ability to attend to self-care is a privilege many do not have. It’s about acknowledging that we are not superhuman and that the 40-hour work week was never designed for us to do it on our own, and that the system is skewed by patriarchal values to leave many women with the larger burden of care while chasing after the myth of a work-life balance. Mental health awareness is in understanding that the American Dream is built on the backs of those who disproportionately do not have access to mental health care and are often also those who need it the most.
As an Asian woman in the United States, and as a newly sworn in citizen, this is the first time that I am celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month as an Asian American. That terminology feels both familiar and alien to me. Am I American now? I have an American passport so legally and technically I am, and I have lived in the United States for over a decade now, but I am also aware that I do not share the experiences of many Asian Americans, their struggles, their identities, or their history. I’m conscious of not co-opting the experience of Asian Americans with my British Chinese way of being in the world, which is an entirely different heritage. This nuanced awareness and intention of not engaging in cultural appropriation also showed up in my lack of desire to celebrate May Day and Cinco de Mayo. For me, the history and heritage of these celebrations are sacred and not a vehicle for commercialization.
All of these dates are celebrated and commemorated in different ways within the cultural communities that honor them and yet so often become co-opted by mainstream culture into a commercial venture without acknowledgment of the meaning behind the celebration. How many people know the heritage and meaning behind Cinco de Mayo? How many of us have participated in celebrations with drinking and festivities without thought to what we are celebrating? Or joined in with May Day celebrations without awareness of the cultural differences this day represents? Are we reveling in the start of the summer season or are we revolting against the tyranny of capitalism? Are we celebrating Mother Earth from a Pagan tradition or honoring those who fought valiantly against unjust labor laws?
I happened to be in Europe on May 1st this year and was reminded that May Day is a public holiday, akin to Labor Day in the States. I had forgotten the significance of May Day and it was a great reminder of how easy it is to become centered within one’s culture/environment/nation perspective to the exclusion of a more global view. I’m thankful for the privilege of experiencing different perspectives.
I was moved to tears when a friend sent me a text on Mother’s Day. Knowing that this day is always accompanied by grief for me, she wanted me to know that in her mind, the definition of a mother is an important female figure in the origin and early history of something who shapes and changes the lives of those in her care, and for that reason she wanted to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day on behalf of all those I have cared for as a human educator and therapist, and guardian of my non-human children. This shift in perspective feels so precious to me and allows me to hold both grief and gratitude simultaneously.
So, as we transition into a new season, I’m attending to this process of (re)evaluation. What and who do I identify with and/or want to be aligned with? How do my values and beliefs show up in my actions? How might a shift in perspective help me to understand another’s experience? What actions can I take to challenge the status quo to help dismantle systems of oppression? What am I moving towards and who am I journeying with? And, how can I take care of myself while doing all that? I invite you to join me in this quest to increase awareness, alignment, and alliance to what matters most to you.