Notes on Adulting,  Slice of Life

The Challenges of a Filipino Millennial Immigrant

Healing. The word has become a kind of joke meant for the small stuff. A cheeky answer to questions ranging from how your weekend trip went, or how you found the beyond meat burger to be.

I joke about it too, I thank my friends for my week spent in Toronto and how healing it’s been. But looking back, I did mean it more sincerely than I thought.

I didn’t realize that I was actually hurting emotionally and mentally because of my move back to Vancouver. Up until I went to counselling I had been struggling with these emotions on my own and trying to work it out. My counsellor who specializes in immigrant counselling helped me see that it wasn’t me, but it was this systemic bias lived through by immigrants. I was also able to admit that I was hurt. Admitting feelings of hurt and resentment released me from blaming myself.

For anyone confused about how moving to a beautiful, first world city could cause so much anxiety and depression, here’s a bit of context:

Living in Vancouver can be difficult to navigate specially when you’re still figuring out what this city is all about. And I don’t mean it in the physical and obvious sense. I’ve familiarized myself with transit, automatic doors, standard practices etc. What I was trying to grasp at was its context, culture and nuance. This is why when a high school batch mate asked about how Vancouver is like, I blanked.

Do they mean, physically? Do I give them the generic tourist-y version or should I tell them about the constant micro aggression experienced by first generation immigrants by surprisingly or not, mostly 2nd generation immigrants. It wears you down and makes you think you’re not as smart as everyone else who grew up here. An example would be how I’m often interrupted in the middle of speech or action because of their assumption that I would say or do something wrong. Or they’ll take my word and interpret it in a completely different way because their assumption is I can’t have progressive views for a Filipino.

My batch mate said she always thought Vancouver was very cosmopolitan. I couldn’t find the words to explain this kind of duality about the city. Outwardly, it’s an international destination but at the same time, the inner workings can be far more provincial than one expects. Specially in the workplace. Or at least, in my current industry.

There’s that pervading thought that the west is far more sophisticated, advanced, and knowledgeable in many things. In more traditional work spaces, these biases and assumptions go unchecked and unchallenged. People who haven’t gone out of their bubble have these assumptions and biases even though they may have a limited world view. These people are the every day people you interact with. They’re not necessarily bad and that doesn’t make them any less, but it’s dangerous when their biases affect your mobility in the workplace and elsewhere. This is exactly what happened to me. Less than a year back, Vancouver wore me down.

My counsellor said that there will always be office politics anywhere but that added layer of one’s identity also affects biases. Not only that, the West’s culture is predominantly biased towards talkers. People tend to “gab their way up” in this culture. They immediately have something to say whether or not that statement is wrong. For someone introverted and Filipino, I’m the type who takes their time thinking about what to say first. But the goal wasn’t to change myself and be like my Vancouverite counterparts. No, that was the least thing we wanted for me to do.

So while I could not control the system or “them” I could control myself and how I reacted. So far, as per my counsellor P, I was doing a good job. Even though I was demotivated, I still continuously looked for other opportunities. There I was sitting in her office working really hard to figure out a solution to my career stagnation.

P talked to me about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy but I’m going to skip the science part and just explain what I was supposed to do.

I first had to start being kinder to myself. It was that simple. Thinking back I feel like P really felt bad for me because she saw a smart, hardworking young woman crippled by low self-esteem and anxiety. I was already being kicked by the system, I shouldn’t be kicking myself for it.

“Be kinder to yourself” was something I intellectually knew but didn’t understand or embody. I was often catastrophizing, so P taught me a trick on how to deal with my anxiety. I pat myself and thank myself for trying to protect myself, and acknowledge that there was no imminent threat to my safety. I whisper things like “It’s going to be okay. There is no threat, I am not going to die.”

Now this is only the first step and I don’t know where my counselling will take me next, I’m just thankful that it opened my eyes and helped me kickstart my healing.

One Comment

  • Yin

    This is so beautifully written. It articulates a lot of emotions and things I want to express but with compassion and understanding (I’d probably have vitriol and “justified rage”. lol). There’s so little of this kind of written work out there. I look forward to reading more. Hugs and pats on the back for dealing with this with grace.

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