Last semester I really believed I wanted to die. I wrote a piece about it, titled “I Really Want to Die,” that no one will ever read. I had mad suicidal ideation — I didn’t want to kill myself because I thought that would hurt my parents, but I put myself in dangerous situations on purpose. I fantasized about death. My therapist wanted me hospitalized, but I don’t think I was ever going to go over the edge. I just wanted to stand close to it.
It was a combination of many things, bubbling up from my psyche and spilling into my conscious. I moved off-campus and was living alone. I was going through my first real breakup. I was addicted to something I’m too embarrassed to talk about. My issues with my Asian racial identity resurfaced. My acne became really bad. I realized I didn’t have any actual friends at college, because I had spent all my previous semesters with my ex-girlfriend. In short, I felt very alone.
I remember trying to fill the void left by my ex-girlfriend by asking girls on dates. Maybe my insecurity came across, I was turned down every time. The rejection hurt—it always does. I felt really ugly. I remember during one session, my therapist asked me to name 5 good things about myself. I stammered and looked down. I couldn’t think of anything, I wanted to cry. Later on, I wrote a piece titled “5 Reasons Why I’m Ugly,” that no one will ever read.
I finished up exams and went back to Cleveland to spend winter break. I was excited to see my Ohio friends. Everyone still lived in Ohio, I was the only one who left. But it became clear off the jump that things were different between some of us. I couldn’t tell certain friends about my life in New York City—which, though I was sad at the time, still felt absurd and exciting to me—without feeling some sort of judgment on their part. I’m not close to my family, so my high school friends felt like my family—they still are, and always will be—but the new distance between us made me feel even more alone.
Even though I was depressed all that time, I still put in work, like I always do. Some of my creative projects became much bigger, and required a lot more responsibility on my end.
By the time I went back to school, I had all these commitments piling up. I wondered whether I wanted all this responsibility so young. I was working two jobs, freelancing and studying science at a really difficult school. I would have to constantly work just to get by. There was a part of me that just wanted to give up and revert to my 16-year-old self of smoking blunts and playing long fantasy RPG video games.
Then that 16-year-old kid—who was depressed at the time, for different reasons, because even though he had a girlfriend and close friends, he had nothing going on career-wise that he could look forward to—who would be really proud of my 20-year-old self, and all the blessings and opportunities that are in my life, slapped me like an interrogator, gripped my chin and spoke into my face. “What the fuck Zach. This is what you’ve always wanted, dreams coming true, get off your ass and go to work. This is America for Pete’s sake. You’re the child of immigrants, immigrants don’t quit, never.”
I realized I had to be the man in the situation. In Asian culture, a real man is someone who honors his responsibilities and doesn’t complain. If I was to really handle all that was on my plate, I couldn’t be beat by depression. I had to be productive—socially, academically, career-wise, etc—at all times. I wouldn’t even have time to shower regularly—which, ironically, has cleared up my face, because I’m not washing away my pores’ natural moisturizing oils.
So I grew up. It felt like all this stress had been pulling me back, then I cut the cord and I was shot forward into adulthood. In a couple days I felt like I aged a couple years.
Don’t get me wrong—I still get extremely sad sometimes, and I’m virtually never 100% productive. But I’m doing better. I’m trying harder. I’m approaching things with the mentality of an adult, versus a child. I welcome obstacles and setbacks now. Adversity creates growth.
I’ve become more comfortable with my alone-ness. I’ve accepted that many people aren’t going to be able to relate to my experiences, and I won’t be able to necessarily relate to theirs. I’ve made decisions and chosen to live an incongruous life. It’s a price I pay. I accept it.
I don’t have anyone to put this weight on now—the way I did towards my ex-girlfriend, which is probably one of the reasons why we broke up, because I was constantly overwhelming her with my thoughts, actions, etc—but I get it out via writing, and exercising, and other things. I realize that no friend can be everything for me, but like a basketball team, they’ll fulfill certain roles. I have friends who I mainly listen to, I have friends who I mainly talk to. I have friends that I go out for dinner with once a month, I have friends that I just play NBA 2K15 with.
That remaining space, I guess that’s what a girlfriend would fill. But it’s okay, I don’t really need one for now. It was weird—as soon as I started to not care anymore, suddenly I had all these females in my life. I fucked around for a bit, then realized that casual hookups meant nothing to me. I’ve been going steady with this new girl. She’s creative and weird and confident in herself, which gives me life. But even if she wasn’t there, I’d still be fine.
Nowadays, I walk taller. I feel more secure in myself. My friends noticed the change in my voice, I speak assertively, a full tone. I look in the mirror. I don’t scrutinize my face for acne. I don’t hate the weird swirl of incongruous traits from being racially mixed—my Asian eyes, my curly hair—looking back.
I’ve embraced my Asian-ness. Last night, as I freestyle rapped to myself walking home, I rapped “These hos is curious / for an Asian / Japanese, Taiwanese, Korean / Mongoloid, Chinese, half-European.” I laughed to myself and repeated the whole thing. I’m proud of my cultural heritage. I gained knowledge of self. I’m taking Chinese in school and I enjoy learning about my culture.
I can name so many good things about myself. I think I’m attractive—I know I’m attractive—but more importantly, I’m smart, and funny, and interesting. Most importantly, I do my best to be a righteous person. I really do believe in God and believe that I’m here on Earth to do his work, even though I slip up sometimes. I know what I need to work on—I’m anxious and moody and I can be overwhelming. I’m not 100% productive all the time. But it’s okay. I’m working on it.
I’m not only becoming more accepting of myself, but the world. As I grow closer to a natural death, I’ve become resigned to the fact that in a day or life, I probably won’t be able to accomplish every single thing I wanted. Instead, I’ve become more attuned to the random joys of life. I’ll walk to school in the morning. Sometimes I’ll break into a skip because I’m so happy. I’ll stop to appreciate the aesthetic of the falling snow, the way squirrels look like rats without tails, the way my outfit looks reflected in a glass storefront.
I’ll look up at the sky towards God. “I’m doing this for you,” I’ll say.
At night, at the end of a long day of work, or attempted work, I’ll sit in my bed and listen to the sounds of New York. I’ll smile. This is what I’ve always wanted, since I was a kid in Ohio, a forest in my backyard, dreaming of bigger things. I think of that one line from “Only One” by Kanye West. “You got the world cause you got love in your hands.”
I don’t know, last semester when I was suffering so much my friend told me that “it gets better Zach, it gets better I promise.” Well it did get better, it usually does. If you can’t hold on, hang on, and I held on.
I really do want to live. I want to see how the Cleveland Cavaliers, my hometown team, do in the playoffs. I want to see if the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight happens. I want to see if I graduate college. I want to see who I am at 25, at 35, at 50. I want to see who I end up marrying, if I have kids, if I end up happy.
I study biology in school. We learn about how literally every organism on Earth is related to one another. We learn about how hippopotamus became whales, how dinosaurs became birds, how chimpanzees became homo sapiens. I want to cry. All life is beautiful, and rare, and worth saving, including my own.
I know there will be more hard periods in my life, but Jesus, I’ve literally never felt this good. I don’t need a girlfriend to emotionally validate me, or accomplishments to externally validate me. I’m starting to just become comfortable with who I am.
I’ve accepted that I’ll be sad sometimes, and happy sometimes. I’m only 20, and I’m excited for what’s to come next. I might decide to totally switch up my goals and become a hermit for 15 years, and that’d be okay too. As long as I just never give up on growing up.
And in this life journey, everything, everything I do, will be thanks to God and my parents. Only the mistakes will be mine.