The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of COVID

I didn’t even realize I failed to post for June, so will post at least twice this month!  For all who read this post, I sincerely hope you are well.  If you need to reach out to me for help regarding insomnia after having a baby and postpartum depression or other related mood disorder, please do not hesitate to leave me a comment.  It may have been 16 years since I survived my experience, but I am always looking to help new moms!

Now, with today’s post.  Let me start with the ugly and work my way to the good.  As with everything, I try to see everything as REALISTICALLY as possible.  And try to appreciate silver linings.

The Ugly:

-I learned that people who felt inconvenienced with mask wearing, lost their jobs and/or lost loved ones harbor so much anger that they look to take their anger out on someone, and that someone is Chinese-looking people that live everywhere outside of China – that includes Chinese Americans who’ve never been to China (like me), Taiwanese, Koreans, Japanese, Malaysians, Filipinos, Singaporians, Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodians, Indonesians….you get the picture, right?
-I learned that there is still much to be done with respect to Anti-Asian sentiment and racism in this country; and much for people to learn with respect to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI)
-I learned that the so-called leader of this country deliberately caused the ramp-up of Anti-Asian sentiment and racism in this country by constantly referencing COVID as the “Kung Flu” and “Chinese Virus”….and it didn’t stop there…..his divisive rhetoric made people all the more hateful of people who aren’t white and the “perpetual foreigner” that legally-immigrated Chinese Americans (like all other legally-immigrated people of European descent, etc.) have been viewed as since they first came to this country in the 1700s

The Bad:

-I learned that COVID was not the only reason to be fearful of returning to NYC if you look Chinese, since physical and verbal attacks on Asians are occurring at an alarming rate
-I learned that COVID is ruthless with certain people regardless of underlying conditions or perfect health
-I learned that front line health workers have sacrificed so much, including their own lives
-I learned that many people were furloughed until their employers asked them to return or lost their jobs because so many small businesses around the country were impacted by the shut-down
-I learned that COVID has kept families from gathering in large numbers (well, at least the ones who believe COVID is a real issue) to celebrate and to grieve (when death takes a toll on a loved one)
-I learned that COVID can make people prone to depression even more so because people prone to depression should not be staying inside and being unable to have in-person social interactions for prolonged periods of time
-I learned that rates of postpartum mood disorders (e.g., postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, postpartum psychosis) went up during lockdown:

The Good (yes, there are a few silver linings in the mix!):

-I learned that working remotely can have benefits, like getting more work done and getting more sleep, and being able to pick your kids up from school
-I learned that one can save a lot of money by not having to commute; I save upward of $500 a month from not having to commute to NYC and spend money on breakfasts & lunches
-I learned that one can get hours back by not spending time commuting – that for me means 3 hrs commuting on average each day, something I claimed I didn’t mind doing for almost 31 years leading up to March 2020
-I learned that another silver lining to staying at home is focusing on de-cluttering my life’s belongings, a thing I’ve been putting off for years
-I learned the importance of staying close to nature by tending to our garden, going on daily walks, and visiting the abundance of gardens in NJ, NY and PA
-I learned that technologies such as Zoom can work wonders to keep people connected when in-person gatherings are not possible
-I learned that true friendships pick up where they left off before the lockdown

Stopping AAPI Hate

I started Asian/Pacific Heritage Month (APAH Month) with my last post about the month, and as it comes to a close, I wanted to share the following that I learned from a recent Zoom event held by our company for its employees in the wake of the rise in anti-Asian hate around the country. I am grateful for my company’s leadership in the messages it has been sharing in support of Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders (AAPI) and for my colleagues who have been working to organize such events.  I know I am digressing yet again from all things postpartum depression on my PPD blog, but as some of you know, I have blogged previously about experiencing racism while growing up, and it’s an issue that is even more important to me now than ever before due to the alarming rise in anti-Asian hate incidents around the country since COVID started.  I can’t keep quiet about this.  What’s happening isn’t right, and I fully blame the past administration and its racist rhetoric for where we are today.  We must counter the uptick in anti-Asian hate with an uptick in education (in schools, in social media, in companies, in communities) about Asian American history.  There must be an uptick in flocking (read on to find out more about flocking) and advocacy among the AAPI around the country.  We can’t just simply rely on a handful of advocates who are actors, like Daniel Dae Kim, or in government, like Grace Meng. 

Thank you in advance for taking the time to read on. But before you do, here is a fascinating read I stumbled across today.  It’s a research paper titled “Anti-Asian American Racism, COVID-19, Racism Contested, Humor, and Empathy” written by Peter Huang of the Univ of Colorado Law School.  

In 2020, Dr. Russell Jeung launched Stop AAPI Hate, which tracks Covid-19 related discrimination in order to develop community resources and policy interventions to fight racism.  The tracking starting from 3/19/2020-3/21/21 reveals statistics summarized in this report. Other initiatives he’s working on include working with Disney and Tik Tok for messaging to reach young audiences, as it is critical for our future generations to understand the importance of embracing diversity and understanding Asian American history in this country.

Dr. Jeung has been a professor of the San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies Department since 2002.  He is the author of 5 books and co-produced the documentary, The Oak Park Story (2010), about a landmark housing lawsuit involving his fellow Cambodian and Latino tenants.  His research interests include the Sociology of Race, the Sociology of Religion, and Social Movements. Dr. Jeung is extensively engaged with his students in conducting community-based, participatory research with Asian American communities.  See his complete bio here: https://faculty.sfsu.edu/~rjeung/

Dr. Jeung was invited to speak to employees at my company via Zoom.  Below is a summary of the information shared by him, which I wish more people from my company would watch, as it contains such valuable information that I myself didn’t even know before!

PERPETUAL FOREIGNER STEREOTYPE

Dr. Jeung starts with the explanation of the perpetual foreigner stereotype.  It is one in which those who look Chinese are objectified as outsiders not to be allowed into the United States.  This is different from how Europeans have historically been treated.  People viewing Chinese as a threat arose when they first immigrated to the U.S. and this view has always been in the racial subconscious of America.  Back in the 1800s, there was yellow peril fear that the Chinese were invading the West with diseases (cholera, etc) and were objectified as outsiders.  People yelled racial epithets at the Chinese due to differences in skin color and eyes (and unfortunately that still happens all too often today). The stereotype was based also on the fear that the Chinese were taking away white people’s jobs.  This is why the U.S. passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  During the bubonic plague in 1900, the Chinese were segregated from whites due to the fear at the time that all Chinese were disease carriers.

As a result of the perpetual foreigner stereotype, Chinese and other east Asians have feelings of self doubt when it comes to belonging in the U.S.   People are being racially profiled because of political rhetoric and the words “Chinese Virus” and “Kung-Flu” deliberately uttered by the former President to prompt citizens to cast blame on all Chinese. Unfortunately, all those who look Chinese are being lumped together to be victims of the anti-Asian attacks that have been spurred on by the President’s words. The biological virus of COVID has been racialized, causing the assumption and association of all Chinese being disease carriers (and back to the 1800s and early 1900s we go). Such automatic assumptions and racial schema on ways people perceive the world is referred to as implicit bias.  When we see the President and hear him say these words over and over, the terms become chemically hardwired in brains that determine how individuals perceive and relate to others based on their race.  So, when people see Asians, they think coronavirus.  They think of Asians as a threat and they go into fight or flight mode (again, back to the 1800s and early 1900s we go).  They either attack or shun us. The physical appearance of looking Chinese is triggering others not necessarily due to intentional racism but implicit bias. 

For example, I used to believe an Asian person with a mask on is more likely to be sick with some kind Avian flu simply because we are not accustomed to seeing people wearing masks in the U.S.  That is just a conclusion that is drawn based on minimal knowledge of how another culture behaves.  The Chinese tend to be more conscious of others and therefore wear masks out of consideration for others.  They tend to wear masks to not only protect themselves from getting sick but to ensure that they don’t pass on an illness to others.  As we all come out of lockdown, with people looking for someone to blame and take their pent-up feelings of fear and anger out on someone, people who look Chinese are on the receiving end. The previous administration institutionalized the perpetual foreigner stereotype via his racist rhetoric, stopping immigration Visas, banning Chinese scientists from coming into this country, and cutting refugee resettlements.  These actions disproportionately impacted AAPI individuals.  The repercussions have been insidious and pervasive as with the thousands of verbal harassments and physical attacks registered with Stop AAPI Hate since March 2020 to date…. and even deadly (as with the Atlanta shootings).   Stop AAPI Hate was founded to track incidents and hold government accountable (that there would be no exclusion, segregation, detention, deportation and instead proof for governments to do something to address what’s happening).  7% of the cases reported were of people coughing/spitting. 11% of the cases reported were of people pushing, shoving, throwing rocks/bottles and even attempting to run people over with cars.  

AAPI have had their own fight versus flight response to what is happening.  Our fight response is learning self-defense and carrying mace with us.  Our flight response is telling our grandparents to stay indoors and children to stay home from school.  But we’ve also had a “flock” response in which we flock together to grieve and find solace, strength and support and to magnify our voices / amplify our concerns with fellow AAPI.  Our voices coming together has been critical to the creation of a collective voice, which has not only prompted Biden to create a White House initiative but the DOJ to make policy changes as well.  We should flock back to the community in support of Asian-run restaurants and nail salons that have suffered disproportionately (from people fearing they’ll catch COVID from these businesses) with daily early closures to allow employees to go home earlier for safety reasons and with unfortunate lay-offs due to lack of business.

A SYSTEM OF BINARIES & THE MODEL MINORITY STEREOTYPE

During the Zoom, Dr. Jeung showed us a slide depicting the white / black binary on vertical axis and insider (model minority stereotype) / outsider (perpetual foreigner stereotype) on the horizontal axis, and where AAPI fit in.  Because we are neither black nor white, we all too often feel invisible and excluded from race relations discussions.  We’re either insiders or outsiders.  We’re asked where we’re from because the assumption is we’re outsiders and don’t belong here (i.e., perpetual foreigner). We look different, eat different foods, talk differently (some AAPI citizens have accents if they’re not born here and can speak another language fluently), and have different religions (if we’re not atheist or Christian). On the other hand, sometimes we’re perceived as the model minority –i.e., “You’re successful because you’re Asian and hardworking” – and as belonging in the U.S. as white adjacent (we’re doing as well as whites).  But when times are tough, AAPI are scapegoated and treated as perpetual foreigners—e.g., in times of war (Japanese incarceration), times of economic downturn (laid-off auto workers killing Vincent Chin), and times of COVID (anti-Asian hate crimes now up over 150%).  AAPI are not perceived as real Americans (even though a large percentage of us are born here), and are told to “Go back to China, you fxxxing chink! Go back to where you came from. You don’t belong here.” This is happening to other AAPI that are NOT Chinese—for example, a Latino in LA was punched and shoved and told to go back to China, and an indigenous person in Vancouver was punched and shoved and told to go back to China. There are tons of other cases of this registered via Stop AAPI Hate.

AAPI are not seen as individuals but characterized one way or another based on stereotypes and boxed into this binary situation. On the one hand, many AAPI partner with BLM to dismantle the system that created the white/black binary.  On the other hand, many AAPI want the status, power, and privilege of being white. Many AAPI want whiteness to better fit into the society they live in. In my personal opinion from lifelong observations, there are many  AAPI who don’t flock with other AAPI because they don’t want their status to be jeopardized.  They may shun the Asian parts of themselves and prefer to identify as white Christians, with predominantly white friends living in a predominantly white community and feel no need to identify with other AAPI, acknowledge their ethnic heritage, learn their ethnic language, attend cultural events, and relate to others of their ethnicity, period.  In fact, some of them poke fun at other AAPI as if they were white themselves!  And that, my friends, is a shame but the unfortunate consequence of the insider/outsider binary.  You’re either on one side or the other.

In terms of what we can do to help ourselves, Dr. Jeung encourages us to teach our children about empathy, self-respect, pride, and awareness of systematic injustices and why certain groups have more power. We should teach them how to address micro-aggressions /bullying behavior.  If they receive such comments as “I bet you’re good with math” or “Where are you from” they can challenge the stereotypes at hand with “Why do you say (or ask) this?” 

ALLYSHIP

In terms of how others can help, Dr. Jeung encourages the following:

  1. Don’t be a bystander, be an upstander.  Those who see something can say / do something.  Go to the assistance of the one being targeted and don’t give the attacker any platform to share their racist perspective.  If you don’t do anything and stay silent, you’re basically complicit.  You can report the incident to Stop AAPI Hate, which is a means to document the extent/types of racist attacks. 
  2. At work, colleagues can reach out to fellow AAPI employees to check on them and show their concern.  Management can organize events (like this Zoom event and others throughout Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month) to give AAPI employees space to speak up and share. It would help if Asian styles and perspectives were acknowledged in the workplace, not to mention an awareness that different races are seen and treated differently due to implicit bias. 
  3. Schools can include Asian American history in their curriculum. Speaking of Asian American history, Grace Meng is working on legislation for NY schools to include Asian American history in its schools’ curriculum.  Illinois has already done this.
  4. You can donate to different groups like Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
  5. You can vote for politicians who promote racial justice.  
  6. Communities can form a diversity group (like my community did last year) to educate residents, advocate for the different ethnic groups that live and work there, and ensure a more inclusive and tolerant environment (race, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc). 
  7. Last but not least, realize that words do matter. Just as “Kung flu” and “Chinese Virus” spoken by the leader of the country normalized hate towards anyone who looks Chinese, leaders of companies can put out messages in support of its AAPI employees to normalize respect towards them and acknowledge their experiences.  Faith-based groups and schools should follow suit.  Parents should teach their children to be empathetic and to treat others the way they would want to be treated. 

How Can I Help If I Can’t Tell If My Friend or Loved One Is Struggling with Postpartum Depression?

That’s a really good question, especially if the new mom doesn’t even know she has postpartum depression (PPD) and many new moms (I am guilty of this) want to hide the fact that they are struggling because they think that that would be a sign that they’re not as good of a mom as they’d imagined themselves to be.

You just have to trust your instincts, be proactive in looking for signs that the new mom is not herself/extra exhausted and/or just ask her how the new mom is feeling. It can also be tricky, as just because she doesn’t look depressed doesn’t mean she’s not depressed. I’d blogged about that previously here and here.

It can be particularly tricky now with COVID and people not seeing each other face to face, and people wanting to take extra precautions to protect a new mom and her baby from exposure to the virus.

Megan Markle’s interview with Oprah and Huffpost article dated March 18, 2021 titled “How to Tell if a Friend is Struggling with Depression or Anxiety During Pregnancy motivated me to write this blog post. It reminded me how even I made it difficult for people to gauge that I needed help.  For those like me who don’t like to be the center of attention/make a big deal over something that causes embarrassment/want to inconvenience anyone and who want to appear a capable and strong woman and mother, we tend to try to shrug things off and shoulder on. Then there’s also the fact that PPD symptoms are different for different women, which makes it all the more tough to tell if something is wrong.  Heck, even medical/mental health practitioners find it challenging to diagnose a perinatal (during pregnancy and postpartum) mood disorder in many situations. 

Megan admitted she experienced suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide).  According to a study published in 2020, there has been an increase in suicidal ideation among pregnant women in the United States in recent years.  Although I didn’t really experience suicidal ideation, I did get to the point that I felt the urge to disappear to escape the God-awful combination of feelings and fears that I found myself experiencing. That may have been one step shy of suicidal ideation, and I shiver to think of what could’ve happened had I not gotten medical help when I did! Because I was feeling at the end of my rope. It really was beyond awful.

New mothers struggling with a perinatal mood disorder should focus more on getting better and getting help than on feeling bad they even need help or are struggling.  It would help if everyone realized that depression and anxiety in expectant/new mothers is very common, and they should not feel any shortcomings if they do experience it.  They (and you) need to know that they need to get help if they experience any/combination of these symptoms, because it can go from bad to worse suddenly if they do not see a doctor and help:

  • Persistent and mostly inexplicable sadness/tearfulness and feeling empty inside
  • Loss of interest/pleasure in most of your usual activities; inability to laugh
  • Overall impaired functioning*
  • Sleep difficulties (either insomnia or sleeping too much)
  • Weight loss (usually fairly quick) associated with a decrease in appetite
  • Weight gain associated with an increase in appetite
  • Excessive worrying (e.g., about the baby’s well-being)
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Feelings of guilt/inadequacy/of being a bad mom
  • Urge to run away/disappear/vanish into thin air
  • Onset of panic attacks
  • Sense of despair and/or hopelessness leading to thoughts of death/suicide

The Huffpost article lists the National Institute of Mental Health website and of course Postpartum Support International (PSI) as helpful resources that list common and unfortunately under-recognized signs.  PSI can also help an expectant/new mother to local support groups/mental health professionals.

It is extremely common for a pregnant/new mom to feel (and look) fatigued.  After all, there are a lot of hormonal changes going on.  But if she is really struggling, seems not her usual self and/or seems much more anxious than they normally are–to the point of not being able to carry out their daily activities and/or are having trouble sleeping—then you should suggest she see someone who works with perinatal (during pregnancy and postpartum) mood disorders.

Here are some ways you can help:

  1. Being aware of perinatal mood disorders (refer to PSI link above).
  2. Frequently check in with her and ask how she is TRULY feeling.
  3. Realize that pregnancy/postpartum is NOT always smooth and happy, so if she is struggling, tell her it’s okay that she doesn’t feel happy and it is of utmost importance that she is doing okay.
  4. Ask her if she needs help (but I would just offer it—for example, just drop off food).  We all know it’s common for neighbors, friends and family to bring over meals for the first few weeks so the new parents don’t have to struggle to put meals together while they are busy caring for the new baby.  I’ve blogged about postpartum help here.  Less common is offering the expectant mom a prepared meal, but doing that especially if you know your loved one is struggling would be a particularly caring thing to do.  Bringing over food/groceries is another way to show you care and during COVID times, these moments of connection (albeit brief and socially distanced) can help stave off loneliness.
  5. Arrange to go on walks regularly with her.  Walking and getting out are extremely important during pregnancy and postpartum weeks.  I wrote about the importance of getting out here.
  6. Last and not least, just be there for her. Give her company so she feels less alone (especially important during COVID times). It doesn’t have to be a long visit. Nor do you have to have a long conversation or do much (which is hard during COVID times anyway). But dropping by a couple times a week (if you’re able), would mean so much. Check out my previous blog post here.

The Huffpost article does mention that “postpartum care in the United States is anemic” but I won’t go into this because this would take up an entire blog post on its own.  I have already written posts about this in the past, such as this one.

Ruminations during COVID19 quarantine: Am I an introvert?

In the age of COVID19 quarantine,
While working from home,
Which I’m thankful for being able to do,
I have time to think.

Freed from the daily commute to/from work,
I wonder to myself.
This transition to quarantine,
Including cessation of my daily routine
Of commuting roughly 3 hours a day by bus and subway,
Hasn’t been too big a deal for me.

Sure, I miss interacting with my co-workers in person.
Sure, I miss the structure of my daily routine.
Sure, I miss being able to go anywhere I want whenever I want.
Sure, I miss hanging out with my friends in person.

At the same time
I’m fine being at home with my husband and daughter.
I’m fine having Zoom sessions and texting with friends.
I’m fine only being able to talk with colleagues by phone, text and email.

When I’m not stuck on my computer working late into the night on all too many occasions,
I wonder more than ever before.

Am I an extrovert by nature?
Am I an introvert by nature?

Am I an introvert because I’m fine staying home (though frustrated at times with the lack of freedom)?
Am I an introvert because I can think deeply?
Am I an introvert because having chats on the phone is not a priority for me?
Am I an introvert because I’m sensitive and empathetic?
Am I an introvert because I love nature and can appreciate it alone?
Am I an introvert because I fear public speaking?
Am I an introvert because I am picky with whom I want to be friends (because I’ve been burned repeatedly in the past by “friends”)?
Am I an introvert because I find it difficult to approach a group because every time I used to do that, people would not welcome me?

Or……

Am I an extrovert because I’d rather be outside running errands, exploring, and traveling than being stuck at home?
Am I an extrovert because I prefer to go places with someone else, but it’s not always feasible?
Am I an extrovert because I always need to get things off my chest and not afraid to express my opinion?
Am I an extrovert because I can chat with a person I meet for the first time as if I’ve known them all along?
Am I an extrovert because I can make friends easily with anyone I sense a commonality with?
Am I an extrovert because I don’t need down time and solitude to recharge?
Am I an extrovert because I have no problems attending large, noisy gatherings and staying there for a long period of time and being unphased by the noise/crowd?
Am I an extrovert because I love to plan events, coordinate gatherings and I feel energized from the experience?

From the above, it may seem like I’m somewhere in between an introvert and extrovert.
At the end of the day,
I don’t believe in labels.
I don’t believe there is a clear rule that makes a person an introvert.
I don’t believe there is a clear rule that makes a person an extrovert.

We are all products of our genetics and life experiences.
I think I might be an introvert by choice due to my experiences growing up,
Being made fun of and excluded for my ethnicity,
Living in a place that was all white (poor choice made by my father)
Being sensitive and empathetic, as after all, that’s my personality,
Lacking a role model in the household that could teach me about friendship,
And lacking friends, even being excluded by other Asian Americans!

At the end of the day, I like hanging out in groups and enjoying others’ company.
I do not need to retreat to recharge.
I do not feel charged by being with others.
I make friends with people who share similar viewpoints.
My friends are usually those with whom I share something in common, which makes sense because
After all, birds of a feather usually fly together?
And not everyone can get along?

I am who I am and I am comfortable with that.
It’s not black and white.
There are all different hues in between.
People are all unique and have their preferences and experiences that make them who they are.

NO LABELS NEEDED