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.

Ya Ya Sisterhood

Last week, I had the opportunity to go up to northern lower Michigan (oxymoron, I know … but Michigander’s would understand) to spend time with a few co-worker’s at one of their weekend houses. Her place is situated just west of Grayling right on the Manistee River. This is the third year in a row that I’ve went and it’s always such a wonderful time.

Despite the fact that I work with these people day in and day out and that I do feel pretty close to them , every year I find myself initially hesitant to go. Part of it is because I’m extremely close with my husband and, although he understands the need for “girly time,” I hate to be doing fun things without him. The other part is that sometimes I think that I’m not as in touch with my “female ya-ya sisterhood” side as most women are.

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I grew up as the only daughter in my family; the youngest of two with my brother being a couple years older than me. It was overall a sheltered environment; having been a first-generation Filipino-American and having gone through 12 years of Catholic school. Based on that bit of history, I feel many times that I grew up in two different worlds. There was the world of school; where most of my friends were caucasian and maybe never encountered another person of a different culture before. For example, I can recall being called “My Little Shogun” by one of my friend’s parents, as that Made-For-TV movie was quite popular when I was in grade school. How wrong is that? First of all, wrong ethnicity. Second of all, Shogun is typically reserved for a male military rank in the Japanese army. And being only 9 of 10 years of age at that time, how does one respond to that?

The other world was the Filipino Family and Friends world. These are the other Filipino kids that I’d hang out with whenever Filipino social events would be thrust upon us. They were probably the only other people that could relate to how it was like being the only “Asian” in our class, but none of them went to the same school as I did. Therefore, how could we fully support each other in social awkwardness if we didn’t even run in the same social circles outside of these Filipino events?

Having lived in the two separate worlds has made it difficult to get close to someone … anyone. I think maybe that’s the reason that I feel very guarded when meeting people for the first time. Heck, it’s probably the reason I don’t feel comfortable telling people my deepest darkest fears. It would’ve been nice though, to have that type of person growing up. To experience what it would be like to be really close to another female person. To experience some sort of sisterhood.

I’d say the closest I ever felt to feeling that sisterhood was growing up with my three female cousins (all sisters) in London, Ontario. There are many summers and holiday breaks that I can recall staying at each other’s houses for weeks at a time. During those times we would do just about everything together. But the older I got, the more difficult it was to maintain such a closeness. Life and distance just got in the way. We just couldn’t spend as much time together as we used to, especially once we graduated from high school. Now the only time we tend to talk to one another is at big family events like weddings. But whenever I see the three of them together, I can’t help but feel just a tad jealous that, despite their ages and the distance between them all, they still manage to remain close. They still manage to have that bond of sisterhood.

So it’s that lack of “sisterhood experience” that initally made me hesitant to head up north with my female co-workers. Would I be socially awkward in situations? Would I commit a social faux pas? Would I snore too loudly or make other embarrassing sounds of bodily function? And because I’ve been emotionally bursting at the seams for the past few years, would one conversation about how infertility has affected my life throw me into embarrassing sobs?

Well, it turns out I did turn into a blubbering idiot that weekend. And even though I was initially embarrassed by my uncontrollable sobs or my rants and raves about work issues, I eventually felt more and more relaxed around them. I think there will always be a part of me that feels that I missed out on the female-bonding experience, especially while growing up. However, making that trip “up north” and talking to these girls has made me feel more aware that I do have them opportunity to experience sisterhood … I just got to take that leap.

To see more photos of the weekend, click below:

Girl’s Weekend


The last time I saw Erasure was my senior year in high school. I can remember that entire day clearly. It was unfortunately the night after my Godmother (Ninang) past away. I hadn’t cried yet; I was still in denial. I was close to her, and particularly her son who was the same age as I was. During her sickness (she died of ovarian cancer), we spent a lot of time with her and those people that were close to her. After all, these were the Filipino families that I spent most of my childhood growing up with. It certainly helped they were the families that my parents would spend their weekends either playing in bowling leagues or otherwise gambling through the night playing mahjong. Us kids would spend those long nights either playing in the arcade room at the bowling alley or entertaining ourselves by playing board games, listening to records (yes, records), or even making random prank phone calls a la-Bart Simpson-style. So when we finally got the news of my Godmother’s passing, I didn’t know how to feel. This was, after all, the first time I had experience the death of someone really close to me.

Since I was a senior in high school (and therefore “old enough to make my own decisions”), I had every intention of still going to the Erasure concert as I had already paid for the ticket, and let’s face it … I knew every single word of their songs. My Mom, however, had other ideas. She felt that I owed it to my “God-brother” and Ninong (Godfather) to be there with them. That feeling of being torn between responsibility and escape was ultimately what broke me down into tears over my Ninang’s death.

I can clearly remember secluding myself in my bedroom closet and crying. At first it was over the argument that my mom and I had. Then it was about feeling guilty about letting my “Godbrother” and Ninong down. And finally it was about the loss I felt over my Ninang’s death. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t stop crying, why I suddenly felt so alone and so lost for any other emotion other than sadness. I must have stayed in my bedroom closet for what seemed like hours just crying and eventually napping on and off. Ultimately (and I’m not sure if she just felt bad for me), my Mom let me make the decision as to what I wanted to do. And well, as you already know from the first line of this entry, I chose to go to the concert.

I have a feeling my Ninang was looking after me that night. It’s as if she knew I needed the distraction of this concert to let me experience a little bit of happiness in the coming days. My friends had picked me up in the midst of what ended up being one of the biggest snow-storms that year. We ultimately made it to the Masonic Temple in Detroit (after our friend made quite a few unintentional 180-degree spinouts along the freeway) over an hour later than when the concert should have started. Lucky for us, Erasure also just arrived and still had to get the stage set up. An hour after arriving, Vince Clarke and Andy Bell treated us to a great performance, allowing me to forget for a moment how sad I was actually feeling inside. I sang my little heart out that night and was able to laugh at all the silly flamboyant outfits that Andy Bell would put on. And afterwards, as we made our way to Greektown for a late-night Pizzapapalis fix, my friends and I recounted all the adventures that we had that night. I didn’t end up getting home until after 2 am that night; well past my curfew. But the next morning, nothing was said. Again, I’d like to think that my Ninang had something to do with that as well.

Now, why am I recounting such a memory at this time? Well, it’s because this past Tuesday I had the opportunity to see Erasure again, more than 17 years since that winter evening back in high school. Come to think of it now, I’m more than twice the age I was back during that initial concert. (Yikes!) It’s also brought back memories of singing and harmonizing to Erasure songs on road trips to Chicago. And it brings back yet another memory of driving to Ann Arbor in the midst of another snowstorm just to visit hubby in college.

Anyway, the concert this past week was such a great time. It gave me the opportunity to sing all the classic Erasure songs that I used to harmonize back in high school and dance that “old-skool new-wave sway.” It’s also given me an opportunity to think of my Ninang again and remember her fondly … the way I do every time I sing one of their songs.

Click on album below to view more pictures from the concert:

Erasure Concert