a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
Math and her by Anh (15, Vietnam)
Trigger Warning : depression, panic disorder, childhood trauma (verbal abuse), therapy
This is going to sound like a sob story. It’s tragic, it’s dramatic. Perhaps she is overreacting because it sounds like something that came out of a movie. And she was the main character.
The term “childhood trauma” had been thrown around a lot in her life. She heard it mostly from her friends who claimed their parents were strict with them when they were young. They received constant criticism, they cried when reprimanded. She saw how they joked around with their borderline traumatic experiences as a coping method. She dare not say they were real traumatic experiences with lasting effects because how would she know? The only thing she did know was that none of them confronted those experiences the same way she had.
It started when she was in 1st grade. The basics of addition and subtraction were printed on the textbook in front of her. It was so, so simple. But it didn’t stop her from sobbing uncontrollably. Snot dripped down her nose. Her body was shaking. She shouldn’t be tired, but she was. Her father’s shouts were loud and her mother tried to stop him but it was to no avail. She was weak, and her mother, weaker. She stayed silent. The torture continued.
3 years later, the simple equations faded from her notebook, now replaced by the areas of triangles and squares. Her father wanted her to study ahead during the summer because he claimed that she was not smart enough. “Why are you so stupid? Why can’t you get anything right? You haven’t been taking your studies seriously, have you?” he asked. She let those words beat her up then dragged her down into the spiraling hole called geometry and insecurities. She had gotten used to hearing such harsh words.
The image of her father and the subject began to merge unconsciously in her naive mind. Her family didn’t realize it. Her friends didn’t know about it. She constantly played a game of “guess the difference” and there seemed to be none. Math or dad, she was afraid of both. Seeing her distress, her mom told her, “Your father has always had a bad temper. You know he just wants the best for you.” Yeah, that did not help. It was a pity, really, that she stopped crying. Instead, she flinched whenever he spoke to her. But then again, what could she do about it? She stayed silent. The torture continued.
Then, it was everybody’s favorite, the pythagorean theorem. She was in 6th grade when the catastrophe struck. Her father stopped teaching her math. He wasn't aggressive anymore. Maybe it was because of those pills he started taking, she heard it made him less mad. This was supposed to bring her relief. But it didn’t. If she thought that the torture from her father was bad, she would soon come to realize that internal torture was worse.
Before she knew it, she was beginning to ask the same questions herself. Why can’t I get this right? She stared down at the homework in front of her. I’m not doing enough, I should be working harder. She looked at her report card. Oh, look, someone surpassed me again. She could only nod as her smarter, better classmates told them her grades. She was never enough for her father nor for herself. She stayed silent. The torture continued.
She wanted to tell someone of course. She knew the torture her dad put her through was bad, but didn’t know to what extent. She didn’t know the danger of her silence and the brewing storm that came entailed with it.
9th grade came along, she was now creating equations out of quadratic sequences. She found out about his problems when she told her mother hers.
The tears came back. They were stronger this time. Just the slightest mention, the slightest thought, hell, even the slightest breath of what experienced caused tears to spring from her eyes uncontrollably. She realized that perhaps, if she had said something, anything sooner, things would have been different now. But it was too late. She soon learned to regret.
She didn’t know, of course, that these traumatic experiences for her were unresolved and would later manifest into something much, much worse than she could ever imagine. She didn’t know that the term “Asian parents being strict” was a cover up for “verbal abuse”. She didn’t know that unresolved childhood trauma could have long lasting effects on its victim, including depression. She didn’t know that when her father stopped abusing her, she was already abusing herself. She didn’t know that she would later be diagnosed with depression. What she did know was that if there was anyone that she could blame this on, it would be him.
And the worst thing was that she couldn’t. Because he was diagnosed with panic disorder, and for 3 years, she didn't know.
She spoke up. The torture came to a halt. But it remained.
Those two weeks where she would question her will to live for hours on end were like hell. The 9 months of therapy she had to go through eventually nursed her back to life. Her life returned to its original order. She could tell the difference between them now. Math was the complicated numbers and variables. Her father was the 48 year old man who would lay on the creaking hammock and snore away on a Saturday afternoon due to the side effects of his sleeping pills. It wasn't perfect, but it was better. She healed herself of her trauma. The torture disappeared.
Looking back one year later, I’m mad at her, for not standing up for herself sooner. Because now, I have to bear the scars and the memories of what math used to be. But I am also grateful for her because she was brave enough to seek help when she needed it. She was brave enough to forgive her father and start anew. If it wasn't for her, I would never have asked my dad to help me solve quadratics today. It’s a miracle that he’s smiling while teaching me. It’s a bigger miracle that I’m smiling as well.
So, a word of advice. Say something. Do something. Because you will regret it if you embrace your helplessness. Do whatever it takes to stop your controlling parents from stripping you of your childhood, of your self esteem, of your life. Grown ups won’t admit they’re wrong until you’re crying and sobbing as you point out their flaws and mistakes.
Perhaps I am overreacting when I tell you this. After all, it does sound like something that came out of a movie. But it’s real, it happened. I know because I was there. I was the main character.
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