I wasn’t the one who came up with the idea to take care of my mental health. During the aftermath of an unfortunate event in college, I was trying to process how I was affected with one of my mentors and I realized I couldn’t identify my emotions. I knew I wasn’t okay, but I couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong. After trying to go deeper, a lot of confusion arose leaving me very unsettled, and my mentor then suggested I try going to therapy. I was hesitant at first because I didn’t know much about it, but I was more bothered by the fact that I didn’t know what was going on within me. Mainly wanting clarity, I scheduled a session through some referrals I received and that became the first step that started me off my healing journey.
As I started attending therapy weekly, a huge challenge for me was the stigma surrounding mental health in my cultural and spiritual communities. As I struggled to process my past, I was also struggling to figure out how to live in the present. Communicating what I was going through to my friends and family seemed daunting, but I still tried because I wanted to connect and find support. Unfortunately, due to the lack of mental health understanding, I ended up bringing many into my confusion (which added to my whirlwind), so I decided to take a step back from almost all of my social engagements. As a college student, that was a major shift but I was determined to take ownership of my life and get through this mess. My therapy continued and many traumatic memories surfaced. Things became very dark as I tried to work through everything on my own. I was encouraged to try antidepressants but that didn’t work out for me and resulted in me ending up in the ER. As time went on, my confusion remained and it wasn’t getting better-- it was actually getting more complex, and now in addition to that, I was also beginning to deal with heavy emotions that I felt very physiologically. The months dragged on, and with so much time on my hands (since my social life was almost non existent), I decided to focus on my physical health.
To give you a better perspective on my mindset going into this, here’s a mini backstory. Growing up as a Korean, my perception of physical health was heavily shaped by the Korean culture. Looking “healthy” was more appearance-based, as it is in many Asian cultures, and that meant looking like I was doing well. I was already in college and working towards a career so that part was taken care of, but Koreans also focus a lot on looks, and I felt like mine could use some work. As a kid, I was never really into Korean media, but as I went through puberty, I started getting constantly compared to a lot of the top celebrities. People began to ask if I was a certain weight or height and I heard comments telling me to model or run for Miss Korea. Out of curiosity, I looked up who these people were and the requirements to do these things and was stunned. I could not see what these people were talking about and the more I heard their comments (which were meant to be compliments), the more I felt like I was never enough. As a junior high and high school student it bothered me, but my grades were my priority and other than restricting as much as I could every now and then, I never had the time to give those feelings more power.
So those were the thoughts that came up when I decided to work on my physical health. The “ideal” female Korean look was to be pretty, tall, and thin, but not too muscular AND with a good complexion. I was already pretty tall and my skin was okay but I felt like my body was “too big”, so working on my physical health meant getting smaller. I started watching my weight more often, dieting constantly, and exercising for long periods of time, which started to work and gave me something positive to look forward to. Something was making progress! However that didn’t last for long, as those behaviors soon became a distraction-- a way to deal with my pain. I kept losing weight and getting smaller and as I kept on, my physical health started to plummet. Soon enough, my outpatient therapist (who I was still seeing weekly) became concerned and ended up referring me to a higher level of care at a specialized eating disorder treatment center, and I was diagnosed with anorexia. Treatment was extremely expensive, but by a God-given miracle I was able to go and after dropping my college classes and spending my entire day there for 6 days a week, my health finally started to rapidly improve in all areas.
After six long months in treatment, I was finally discharged. During that time, I was able to sort through a lot of my confusion, experience God in greater ways, and reintegrate my social circles back into my life. I’ve been out of treatment for almost a year now and have been able to solidly maintain my recovery. Making peace with my past and moving on has been a process in itself, but I’m growing and I’m grateful for the lessons I have learned. Looking back, I find it fascinating to see how integrated our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health are. It wasn’t just mental health treatment that healed me, but a combination of many different medical professionals, the support of my faith community, and God’s guidance that has led me to where I am today. What began as a search for mental clarity became a journey into so much more and now that I’m out of the woods, I’m working to dedicate my life and career to raising awareness and helping others to find healing from their pain.
To those of you on your own journeys, I encourage you to keep pressing on. This was just my story, and what works for me may not work for you because everyone’s journey is beautifully unique. The work is difficult and the path is not always clear but I promise you it will be so worth it. You don’t have to do this alone, so reach out if you need support. You deserve to live a life that is filled with love, joy, and hope and you can find the freedom and peace that you are searching for.
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