Saving Face, Losing Control (Alone? Part 2)

Well, my post has been up for over a week now, and no response from anyone. Hmm … the power of words wasn’t strong enough I guess. Really, I can’t complain. I’m seriously not trying to fish for comments at all. In fact, the reason I started to blog was more to get all these intense feelings and emotions out into the world. And in doing so, I do admit it feels good.

So why am I still feeling alone? Well, after posting my latest ramblings last week, I happened to stumble upon an article at work that helped explain a little about why I continue to feel the way I do. And now I’m sharing this information with whoever wishes to read on.

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The article discussed the reluctance of Asian-Americans to seek or use mental health services. It even goes on to cite that when Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders eventually seek professional help, the severity of their problems tend to be high, most likely because of the delay in seeking treatment until their problems reach crisis proportions.

It also states that Asians are not used to meeting with strangers and discussing their problems because many of their cultural beliefs go against this. Traditionally, Asians with mental health problems tend to speak first with a family member and then maybe with a close friend about their issues. Only after that might they consider involving someone outside their networking community. While talking to a therapist would be more accepted by a second-generation Asian person, many of the traditional values of their culture, such as seeking help from an “outside source,” still permeate their belief systems.

The reason, as the article states, that many Asian cultures associate seeking mental health services as a “weakness” is largely from the fact that these cultures stress “saving face.” According to the article, if a person was found to be talking to a therapist about issues that cannot be solved amongst family or close friends, this would be considered “losing face.” Once a person “loses face”, they can no longer function in his or her social network and are therefore not considered useful in certain situations.

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The findings in this article aren’t anything completely revealing to me, a second-generation Filipino-American. I have always, in some way, known that “saving face” was always something that our culture did. Growing up in the Filipino culture in the US, I have witnessed some situations where family or friends have had to “save face,” but I never had the “opportunity” to experience it myself. That is, until now … as I continue to struggle with infertility.

To give you a little more background, my husband and I are both Filipino. We both grew up in a typical Midwest suburb, met each other in high school, and married shortly after college. We started trying to start our family within a year of after getting married with (obviously) no success. Two to three years into our marriage, I was already on Clomid and doing the whole ovulation charting. We didn’t tell anyone about our problems because we figured that it was only a matter of time. And I’ll admit it now, we also didn’t say anything because, well … frankly, we didn’t want to “lose face.” For a while, it wasn’t a big deal with our parents that we were having “issues” until other family friends started to ask them when my husband and I were going to make them “grandparents.” And well, I can’t imagine what it was (or still is) like to have to try and “save face” for them.

Now the Filipino culture, like many other Asian cultures, places emphasis on family and on being a parent. Women, particularly, are seen as the nurturer’s in the family and are expected to manage the household and raise the children. The woman can still have a very successful career or work outside the home, but the expectation is that she is still the primary caregiver for the children.

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If infertility gets thrown into this mixture, many times it is “hush-hushed” because it isn’t an issue that: #1 other people, let alone Filipinos want to talk about, and #2 it’s a matter of being able to “save face.” If we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist and therefore those affected by infertility can still be connected to their social networks.

Now “saving face,” in my own personal experience, only works for a period of time until there’s a feeling of losing control. When no one talks about the problem, then the feeling of anxiety increases until loneliness starts to settle in. Questions like “Why am I going through this?” and “Am I the only one that has this issue?” suddenly become “I’m so alone” and “no one understands what I’m going through.”

For lack of better words, there is no support. There’s no one there to talk to about such issues and no one to empathize with what I’m going through. And it’s mainly because no one wants to talk about infertility. It’s a disease that no one, especially those who have a strong cultural upbringing such as Asians, can get a firm grasp on. I seem to think it’s because literally … there is nothing to grasp on to, as a person going through infertility isn’t visually sick. And that’s certainly different then, let’s say, my nephew Liam who is still in the NICU, or someone who is suffering from cancer.

Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to belittle any of these health problems because they certainly are life-altering events. These just happen to be health issues that people can readily understand and empathize why someone can be sad or depressed over. Infertility is not.

So this is another reason why I’ve been feeling alone in this journey. My husband and I do talk about these issues quite often and he certainly continues to provide me with much support. But sometimes it’s nice to be able to talk to someone other than my wonderful husband about these things.

6 Replies to “Saving Face, Losing Control (Alone? Part 2)”

  1. Just so you know, I DO read your blog every time you post up something new. And though I never leave a comment, know that I do care and hear every word you say.

    Having said that, I understand that your feelings of being alone are your own despite the obvious truth to the contrary. At the very least, know that I’m there, too, for you. In whatever capacity you and Bobby might need me.

    It’s funny, lately I’ve been thinking about our friendship. And it struck me that, even through we grew up together, and I did consider you both friends, I never felt like ours was a real, true friendship until recently. I think it was in my head. I always looked up to you and Bobby, alot of it having to do with how we were all raised to look up to our elders (not that you guys are old) and so, I was detatched from the “friendship”. I felt like I was just the little snot-nosed kid that just hung around and wanted to play Bobby’s Atari and read his comics.

    Now, older, I’ve got my own comics to read : ) But seriously, over these last few years, I’m finally feeling like we have a REAL friendship… one based on mutual respect and love for each other. I feel like I can turn to you guys if the need ever arose… and I hope that you feel the same about me.

    Alone is a state of mind. Whether you choose to feel that way is up to you. And how long you choose to feel that is up to you, too. But know that, despite your feeling of loneliness, you are not ever alone. The path you take is your own, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a travelling companion to talk Zombie Monkeys with.

    Love always to the both of you : )

  2. Em —

    I’ve been remiss in keeping up with your posts, and for that I am sorry. But I do read them, and like Jay, my lack of commentary does not signify a lack of concern. If you ever need to talk about anything at all, you know I am always here for you.

    As we’ve discussed before, the problem with Filipino culture is that the only mental d/o it recognizes is “crazy” that gets locked up in the basement/attic/back bedroom. Anything else is an anomaly. Depression: snap out of it! is their attitude, as if mental health is a matter of will. Sigh …

    Anyway, even though people are so busy with their lives, remember that you are not alone!

  3. Hi Em,
    So I’m a novice at this whole blogging thing and leaving comments. I unfortunately dont read it as often as others for reasons as you know.(Liam being in the hospital) But tonight for some reason I was thinking of you and wondering how you had been doing. And it is at this time I decided to read up…
    Wow…where do I begin? I knew you had been going through a lot especially after “our talk”. But still after that talk, I still didn’t know how to be there for you. I tried but at times it felt uncomfortable, like I wasnt sure what to say or do. And wasnt sure if you wanted me to be there.
    So I”m truly sorry if you felt alone or feel alone, but like Jay and Gigi said-you’re not.(You have great support I see from lots of friends)
    And though I may not be able to empathize with you (nor you to me), I still care. You are my best friend after all…through thick and thin. So please know that I am also here for you whenever you need someone to listen.
    Yes, despite my grief over Liam, I am here for you.
    By the way, I think the reason for your blog is very therapeutic. I know, for me, joining a support group helps me to connect to others that have gone through what I have. I think we get help in the best way we know and not have to feel uncomfortable about it.

    w/luv-J.

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