know what you need to know
May 25, 2020
Nalini remembers her childhood in colors. There was the occasional swash of Pepto-Bismol pink which decorated the walls of her neighbor’s home, the soft, mint green of her cousin’s favorite sweater. She especially missed the deep red kumkum powder used to mark the foreheads of her family. If her youth was comprised of color, though, her adolescence was defined by a lack of it.
At fourteen, her family left for America. While building a new life in a new country, her parents struggled to sustain Nalini and her little brothers. She recalls the thick layer of stress that seemed to permeate the walls of their apartment. Nevermind the gray, overcast days that hovered over their tiny New England town or the muted tones of washed-out beige and brown that repeated themselves throughout her residential area.
“I used to hate coming back home,” she explained. As she wrestled with the unfamiliar sounds of English, so, too, were her parents. “There was always so much tension… not because of one another––but at the same time, directed towards one another.” From having to complete homework in a second language to the pressures of building an entirely new social life, the emotions Nalini felt churning inside her stayed pent up and restricted. “I didn’t know how to express to my family the kind of isolation I felt. And I’m guessing as adults, my parents didn’t know how to do that with us kids.” Her father and mother had also grown up in the bustling, loud streets of South Asia for most of their lives, where generations of their families existed before. Uprooted from home, her parents had no other choice but to bear their own loneliness in quiet solitude as they dealt with the constant misunderstandings that arose from their accents, ethnicity, and being.
For many immigrants, Nalini’s family story is quite common. As Lauren Hodges observes in a recent piece for NPR, between working towards citizenship and undergoing the process for legal residency, immigration is an arduous and anxiety-inducing experience. Immigrants themselves deal with a variety of unique pressures that are conducive to mental health problems. Hodges mentions how issues like financial barriers, social stigma, and privacy concerns can all add up to prevent immigrants from being less likely to seek help when they need it. In turn, here’s a list of her suggestions and others’ for how to begin the search for counseling services:
Although finding a therapist may seem like a daunting process, ignoring your mental health is just as dangerous as ignoring your physical health. When Nalini reached eleventh grade, her anxiety had gotten so bad that she’d lost a significant amount of weight. Eventually, she decided to seek out her school’s counseling center. Over time, she realized that therapy wasn’t just helping her; it was helping her family as well. She recalls, “I had built up all this resentment towards everyone in my household for having to manage their emotional burdens on top of my own.” Therapy sessions taught her how to effectively communicate her feelings to those around her. As the old saying goes, you can only do good for others once you start doing good for yourself. Nalini emphasized, “By opening up to my brothers and parents, I was able to understand them better. I might’ve been fighting to make sense of the world around me––and it most definitely was hard––but so were they. And it was important that I recognize that.”