“What will they think?”
That’s what my parents would say to me growing up. They being family, friends, acquaintances, including strangers. I grew up being cautious of how other people would judge me because that was important to my parents. Being their only daughter, I felt like it was my duty to impress my parents and bring a good image to our family. I thought I was making my parents proud if I achieved the best when in reality I was suffering inside.
Since I was a little girl my parents constantly compared me to all family members. They wanted me to be like them and strive to be at their level of success. I know they were just trying to help me by setting goals but I could not realistically achieve them. Because I’m not them.
All through my school years, I’d study hard to get straight As, get into the best schools, and receive what I wanted: praise from my parents. I filled them with success and achievements that they could brag to all their friends and families. But what did that leave me with? How did comparing me to other people prepare me for the rest of my life? It left me with debilitating anxiety.
What will they think? They who used to be people outside my family now included everyone but me.
When I was in college, I had a difficult time settling into this new stage of life. Roommates who were strangers. No friends or family nearby. I called my mom crying that I wanted to come home and yet, received little to no support. My dad said, “No one will invite us to family parties because you dropped out of college.” But I didn’t want that, I wanted to transfer closer to home. I never felt so alone yet so ashamed of myself.
I crowded my mind with thoughts of what others people would judge me about and I couldn’t see what I needed for myself. Into my adult years, I continued to please everyone around me but they didn’t give me praise. So I wondered, “What am I doing wrong?”
As I fought through anxiety and depression, I couldn’t tell anyone especially my parents. Mental health isn’t something you talk about in their culture. I know if I told them anything about how I was depressed or having panic attacks they’d brush it off because if anyone found out, they’d be so embarrassed. “They’ll think you’re crazy,” they’d say. I didn’t know which was worse? Embarrassing them or me suffering alone.
Since then, I’ve sought the help of a therapist; however, the scars of my childhood still burn. I’d be lying if I say it doesn’t affect me present-day. I’ve learned that I can’t change the past but I have control of how I see my future. So while I try to do my best every day, I wholeheartedly try to put other’s opinions after my own. Now, as a mother, I make it a priority to have open discussions with my children. I will take time to ask them how their day was and really listen to what they’re saying. Also, teach them that grades are not synonymous with success. And that they can come to me with their problems and I will support them 100%.
We need to normalize talking about mental health like we talk about going to the doctor for our annual checkup.
Instead of prioritizing what others think of me, I change “others” to “I.” What will I think of myself? At the end of the day, will I be happy with the decisions I made? Will I be satisfied with my work performance? Will I be proud of myself? Because at the end of the day, I live with my own thoughts. When I put myself first, I’m able to give more to other people.
So I ask you: what do you think of you?