As an Asian Woman, It's Hard to Focus on Self-Care While My Community Is Grieving

·8 min read
What Self-Care Looks Like for Asian Women During a Time of Grief
What Self-Care Looks Like for Asian Women During a Time of Grief

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It's a Friday night, and my partner is in the kitchen.

He's busy finely shredding up some curly kale to marinate in champagne vinegar for my favorite salad, as our homemade red sauce bubbles away on the stove. Meanwhile, a neat wedge of matcha mille-feuille cake sits patiently in our fridge - a special end-of-the-week treat for me.

I'm fresh from the shower, rubbing myself down with watermelon body lotion with my wet hair swept up in a fluffy pink microfibre towel. It's been a long week, and my partner tells me that I deserve to have a quiet night in and just relax. "Do a mask," he encourages me, "You've been working so hard." And I have, I've been working very hard. I repeat this to myself as I soak a cotton pad with my favorite acid toner and begin sweeping it over my cheeks, jaw, and forehead. My skin tingles slightly, and I suddenly realize how tight my shoulders are.

An Asian woman was attacked by having acid thrown in her face, right outside of her home last year. And here I am, another Asian woman, willing to rub a skincare acid into my skin. Surely, there is poetic irony here.

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This last year has been a grueling one for the Asian-American community, especially for journalists. According to LAAUNCH, 37% of white Americans, 30% of Black Americans, and 24% of Hispanic Americans remain unaware of the rising rates of anti-Asian hate crimes that have taken place during the last twelve months. And I cannot tell you how infuriating this data is.

I have spent the last few months writing about the fear and the grief within my community - and it continues to go unacknowledged. Elders have been killed and children have been attacked. It's been months, and yet I cannot stop thinking about the toddlers who were slashed in the face in a Sam's Club, or the elderly Asian woman who was stomped out on the street as a security guard watched, before they simply closed the door on her.

It forces me to think of my parents, my sister, and my partner whenever these awful images crop up - what sound would they make if someone attacked them with a brick, or shoved them into live traffic, or threw acid at their faces? What if they had to be hospitalized, or worse? Whenever I think about the families of these victims, I always cry. Imagining these things happening is nearly unbearable for me. What must it be like for them to actually live it?

But I suppose that is what's kept me going as a writer. I could never abide by my loved ones' stories going unheard and uncared for. Every story I've written about anti-Asian hate, I'm honored and humbled to have that important responsibility. And in a strange way, I feel summoned.

Writing about Asian-American visibility and the Asian-American experience has always been important to me, and it has never been more important with our community dealing with such fear and grief at this current moment.

What Self-Care Looks Like for Asian Women During a Time of Grief
What Self-Care Looks Like for Asian Women During a Time of Grief

Westend61/Getty Images

But I'm so tired. I am so, so tired. I feel like I haven't slept in months, not properly at least.

My laptop has been my fondest partner as a writer, but it has also become my most stressful device. My phone has never given me so much anxiety before. And my social media has become a space inundated with videos of assault, fear, and rage at all hours of the day.

I see videos of women getting attacked with bricks, or men beaten on the street, or households with children getting viciously harassed all the time. Yet, at the same time, there's a crushing shame that I have when I actively choose to avoid looking at this violence or I block accounts like Nextshark. "How dare you?" a voice in my head hisses to me. "How dare you choose to look away from your own people?" Whenever I hear this voice, it's a struggle to even look at myself.

My bathroom mirror is particularly difficult to look into during these times, especially when I've attempted to manage my mental health with my long standing coping method: beauty. My skincare routine, which started out as a way to self-care and give myself structure whenever I was struggling through depressive episodes, has become a guilt-ridden practice that I want to avoid. Using makeup was a way for me to appreciate myself whenever I woke up with a knot of anxiety in my stomach, and learning to use it helped me embrace my monolids. But now, I was embarrassed to even look at my vast beauty collection.

"Who wants acids on their skin?" I heard the ugly voice in my head scoff whenever I used an exfoliating toner. "That woman in New York certainly didn't."

"Fox eyes aren't so popular right now," I heard the voice say whenever I applied eyeliner and mascara, "At least, not on Asian people." "Who wastes their time applying serum when our people are dying in the street and you keep sunglasses hidden in your purse to hide your eyes from violent strangers?"

Even my bed provided little reprieve. Whenever I'd lay my head down on my silk pillowcase, I felt so guilty for purchasing something so frivolous and asinine to prevent hair frizz or breakage. How dare I even think about myself, how dare I use valuable mental energy, bandwidth, and time to rest for myself, instead of devoting all of my energy to working and demanding more coverage on anti-Asian hate? Who was I to feel like I was entitled to such things? Who was I to dare think about herself when my community needs help?

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I went two straight weeks, mentally thrashing myself with those questions, sleeping about five hours per night, until my body physically forced me to stop. It was right after the Atlanta spa shooting, and all of my energy was invested in writing about anti-Asian hate, pitching anti-Asian hate ideas, and researching history for my anti-Asian hate stories. If I wasn't working on a story, I was on Clubhouse, speaking about anti-Asian hate and listening to Asian-American brand owners speak out.

When I wasn't doing that, I was reading other anti-Asian articles. Looking back on it, it's pretty impressive that I had the stamina to go so hard for two weeks, before finally passing out in the midst of an Asian-American history lecture on a rainy afternoon. It was a wonderful sleep. That perfect, deep, lulled kind of sleep that I wish I could get at night. The kind of sleep that slowly feels like sinking into calm water, before slowly resurfacing, gentle and peaceful. The kind that leaves you feeling so restored and clear-headed when you wake up.

I woke up from that nap feeling more like myself than I had in the last two weeks. I felt lighter, I had no more anxious knots in my stomach nor the oppressive weight of shame weighing down on my shoulders. It felt good to finally be able to sleep. My partner, who had been bustling about in the kitchen to make us dinner, gently encouraged me to take a shower and clean up before we ate. And perhaps it was the nap, but everything seemed heightened - from the herbal scent of my cleanser, to my favorite toner, to the luxuriously foamy lather of my shampoo. Everything felt so good. So good that even the voice in the back of my head calling me ugly, disgusting, and selfish for wasting energy on myself could not even shame me out of the warm bliss of the shower.

And underneath that warm spray of water and the sweet smell of soap, it dawned on me like lightning: I was never going to be the solution to anti-Asian racism. I was never going to be the silver bullet that fixed everything. But that was okay. Even if I wasn't the solution to white supremacy and racism, that didn't mean that I didn't deserve to smell nice things, or enjoy a soft towel, or to treat myself with cake. I didn't have to be bigger than myself to still be important and worthy of self-care and self-love.

But it's still not easy to remember that I can put myself first all the time.

My phone and laptop still make me anxious, and I'm always angry whenever I hear about anti-Asian hate crimes. However, I've accepted that it's simply a part of the career that I've chosen, and I'm proud to contribute to the fight against anti-Asian hatred with my writing, as small as it is.

However, I've learned that the moments I'm the angriest and I reflexively hate myself for not working, are the moments I need to consciously decide to love myself and take the time to take care of myself. So whenever I feel guilty for indulging in a face mask, or whenever I reach for my curling iron, I take a deep breath and I think about that wonderful, rainy afternoon and that nap that felt like sinking into water, and I remember that I deserve to rest.