On writing this piece: I brain dumped a ton of ideas, then whittled it down to this. It took a very long time, not sure how long, at least six hours total. This was going to be a rant about how harmful the “just work harder” refrain has been for me, but I surprised myself when I found more peace than anger.
I don’t know how others will perceive my ADHD-friendly daily routine. Will it be mindbogglingly different to them? It’s just my everyday life. What I’m taking from this is that I am able to accept my ADHD tendencies, rather than force myself to work ever harder to be some “competent adult” that was never really me.
My ADHD brain is all I’ve ever known.
I find grocery shopping, getting a chai latte at a cafe, and any sort of cooking confusing and overwhelming.
Well-intentioned adults reassured me that all this would eventually get easier. Maybe it did for them, but adulting is still a daily struggle for me, even four years after graduating college and entering “real” adult life. In therapy and on my own, I’ve spent countless hours devising strategies and systems to help me do these tasks in the first place, rather than try to avoid them forever.
“Adulting” actually demands a lot of executive function (the ability to set and work towards goals), which I don’t have much of, thanks to my ADHD. I’m never going to coast through life with the dutiful ease and unflagging attention that I attempted to achieve for so long. This brain is all I’ve got, so I might as well give it what it needs to do its best.
And guess what? I have finally brought wellness into my life, not by following the perennial Chinese advice of WORK HARDER, but rather with acceptance and carefully selected strategies I know work for me.
Here’s the gist of my day:
I am asleep in bed.
My phone alarm rings and wakes my unsnoozable dog Odie, who then steps on me to wake me up.
“Okay, okay, I’m up!” I sit up. “Wait a sec, let me take my meds.”
I get out of bed.
“Okay, Emily go pee.”
I go to the bathroom and come back.
Odie is laying on his mat, utterly bored.
We head downstairs and don our walking gear.
“Walk time! Let’s go!”
Odie is the gym I actually use. (On my own, it can take me more than a week to summon enough executive function to walk around the block or do 20 minutes of yoga, if I somehow don’t give up or forget.)
After our walk, I have no idea what I’m doing for the rest of the day. (My calendar knows, but I haven’t bothered to check it.)
I always go sit at my desk after our morning walk though, so I do that.
I’m not entirely sure what I do between sitting down at my desk and realizing multiple hours have passed and I should probably bring Odie out to pee. These days, my desk is probably the site of some meandering combination of emails, writing, watching YouTube videos, and coloring. (My brain doesn’t keep time accurately, and I haven’t bothered to look at the three analog clocks in my room and therefore have no idea what time it is. It’s an easy summer day, so whatever I do is okay, as long as I’m not hangry—then it’s a mad dash to feed the Emily before she gets even madder.)
After dinner, I mess around at my desk for at least an hour before I’ve gathered the energy to go brush my teeth.
That process goes like this in my head:
“Gotta brush my teeth…”
Some time later: “Maybe I should brush my teeth…”
Even later: “Haven’t brushed my teeth yet…”
And so on, until, at last, “ugh, FINE, I’ll brush my teeth.”
At some point, I’ll take melatonin to ensure I get sleepy and not be catapulted by some online article into a late-night reading rampage.
These are my good days, when adulting doesn’t give me overwhelm-induced headaches, panic attacks, and confusion that morphs into self-loathing. These are the days I feel at peace with who I am, that I deserve to give myself the ample time I need to do things at a pace I don’t have to sacrifice my sanity for.
Perhaps the way I go through life is more circuitous, slow, and effortful than for most. I’ve absorbed more than my fair share of messages urging me to work harder, hurry up, remember better, and contort myself into someone more “prepared for the adult world.” Whose adult world?
In my adult world, it is okay to forget, be confused, and take days, weeks, even months to do things many people could do in an hour. These things need to be okay, because however much I work to avoid them, my tangles of executive dysfunction are a core part of who I am, and I need–and what a relief!–to be okay with being the real, unadulterated (pun intended) me.
Emily Chen (she/her) 陳怡君 is a Taiwanese American mental health activist, writer, and singer based in Newton, Massachusetts. Check out DisOrient, her YouTube series on Asian American mental health!
One of our YIP interns, Wendy, looks back at the internalized colorism she was forced to swallow and how it contaminated the way she perceived her own sense of beauty throughout her entire childhood.
At my core lies impulsivity and a satisfaction with riding the flow of the universe. Living under a Filipino roof has conditioned me to appreciate the full capacity of the present moment and cherish my loved ones with the utmost respect and joy. From endearing jokes about who’s most likely to finish the banana chips first after shopping at Serramonte to peaceful moments at the dinner table as we thank the universe or God for always providing us with enough food at the table. I was a free spirit for most of my childhood, and all I really wanted out of life was to smile and laugh with the people I cared for.
C’mon, don’t take things too seriously.
I was also raised to be tough, to have resilience as an excuse to cover up the blemishes of my own internalized colorism. Staying strong and choosing to ignore the hurtful garbage certain people tossed at me seemed like the only viable option. As early as elementary school, I was bombarded with statements from my inner circle that gaslighted my painful experiences.
Why can’t you just take a joke? That’s just who they are, so why do you care so much? People are always going to say crap about other people, just forget about it.
My friends and my family all taught me how to not let anyone get to me, which, in retrospect, is only healthy if the way you filter those negative energies come from a place of self-love. I honestly didn’t really know what that was. For me, the filter was rooted in fear and denial.
In second grade, I was part of a vibrant group of friends, all of whom were Filipino except for this one girl (there were quite a lot of Filipinos at that school). We would all eat Popeyes together on the colorful benches of the upper yard playground and play hide and seek tag with “the boys” because apparently, that’s how you flirted as a seven-year-old.
One day, the girl who was not Filipino initiated a verbal attack on me. Up until this point, I’d considered her a close friend. It was an incredibly clear, beautiful day and we were all happily eating our chicken when she suddenly asked me, “Why are you so dark?”
What’s wrong with that huh?
Your skin looks like Obama’s!
Why is that so bad?!
You’re too dark from playing in the sun too much!
Well, I guess I have the same skin color as the president, then.
I didn’t handle that too well. I called them “dumb and stupid,” (truly the cruelest of all curse words) and then they snarked at my reputation as a “smarty pants.” I ran away to the lower yard. I felt like my hands were tied. I needed help, but I also didn’t want to rat my closest friends out, especially my bestie.
What actually hurt me was when my other close friends started laughing with her and proceeded to make fun of how dark I was in comparison to all of them. Seeing my best friend side with her hurt more than the words themselves.
I told myself that I shouldn’t let such obscene statements lower my self-esteem, but truthfully, I just buried the pain because I didn’t know how to handle it properly. From that day forward, I was nothing but my darker skin to those so-called “friends” of mine.
My best friend came to my house everyday after school, so after seeing her tease me at the playground, I didn’t know what to feel.
I was sensing some lingering animosity, but we didn’t address it. It was like it never really happened. Then one day, she admitted she didn’t believe any of those painful remarks she had said to me. I believed her. She cut herself off from the girl who started it all. I understood that those hurtful comments she’d made didn’t come from a place of truth; they came from the fear that she’d also be made fun of if she didn’t take a side.
That girl was a bully. She was two-faced and manipulative. A lot of the internalized colorism that I juggle with today is rooted in the light-skin superiority that she was perpetuating. I was always an easy target for her, but of course I never let her truly see the way she exacerbated my insecurities.
Now, reconnecting with what I felt during the heat of that moment has led me to examine the colorist lens that has tainted my perception of what is considered beautiful. From using the notorious Likas papaya soap to harmful, whitening exfoliating scrubs, I subconsciously accepted a truth that I was forced to swallow at such a young age.
Whiter is better. To become more beautiful and radiant, I had to lighten my skin.
I had to scrub the darkness off.
I was told that the more they stung, the more effective these products were at getting rid of “the dirt.” I washed my face every night with the “magical” papaya soap. It felt like erasure. A fruitless attempt to become more white. Then I pondered: Why did I need to tailor my desires to fit standards I never really wanted to reach in the first place?
I no longer use those heinous whitening products, but there is definitely a wonderful lesson I learned that now aligns with the person I’m actively trying to become. The foundation of colorism is white supremacy and racism. It trickles down from the institutional level and infects our interpersonal relationships with extremely distorted views of who or what is better. It glorifies Euro-centric beauty standards and generates products that capitalize on its power. I found that actively practicing unconditional self-love is a direct protest to this system that aims to stifle our self-confidence.
Holistically accepting every dimension, every broken piece of your identity initiates the process of healing. It has brought me a sense of peace and stability within myself. This internal harmony has changed the type of energy I put out into the universe. The capacity of love I have for my friends, family, and community has expanded tremendously, knowing that I no longer chain myself or others to such detestable expectations of what we need to be.
Wendy is a high school senior, first-gen Filipino immigrant, joyful dancer, and music lover.
My life, as everyone’s life, is like a puzzle, full of wonder, challenges, beauty, and a work in progress.
Growing up in a transracial family from the age of 3 months in a predominately white town, I became accustomed to not looking like my parents and people being naïve enough to think my sister, who was also adopted from China though two years prior, and I were biologically related, even though we don’t look alike at all. As the youngest, I always felt like I needed to try harder, do better to be as good, smart, beautiful, athletic as my older sister. Our different body builds (she’s tall and thin, and I am short and stocky) and her natural talent at school and sports, in addition to already feeling like an imposter, living in a predominantly white community, being one of just a handful of people of color led me to a perpetual feeling of being an outsider and “not enough” growing up.
At a young age, I did not want too much to do with my culture. Sure the food and the traditions around the Lunar New Year were great, but I did not want to learn what would have been my native tongue if I were not adopted, and I did not want to partake in Chinese traditional dance. My sister, on the other hand, loved Chinese School and Chinese dance. As a result, I always felt like the rebellious child, the child who did not partake in what her parents expected of her and wanted from her.
What now remains from my own and societal preconceived notions, is that as an adult and a Chinese adoptee, not only do I feel the societal pressures of being an Asian American woman, but I also feel that at times I must work harder to prove myself to myself, my family, both my adoptive and unknown biological families, and the world.
However, I can fully express and work through these notions, in part because of a big piece of my life story puzzle: Chinese Heritage Camp, one of now 9 camps from Heritage Camps for Adoptive Families.
I do not remember the first time I went to camp as I was only three. However, what I do remember is that from a young age once I could remember what camp was and what it meant to myself and my family is this: every year when it was time to register for camp, it was pre-internet days at first, my sister and I would make sure my mom was able to fax in our registration first thing so there was no chance of being put on the waitlist.
I also remember driving up to camp in the mountains each year after school on a Friday, as Chinese Heritage Camp is over Labor Day weekend, and that feeling of excitement, happiness, and eagerness creeping into my belly as we passed landmarks along the way: the mountain pass, that Starbucks in a mountain town, the A frame sign on the side of the road, and finally the sign that read “Snow Mountain Ranch”, with each one telling me we were getting closer to our friends, community, and annual home over Labor Day weekend.
I remember stepping out of the car into the smell of fresh mountain air feeling embraced by love standing in the cool, crisp air and feeling excited as a little kid feels on Christmas morning.
I remember stepping into the Kiva (the main meeting place for camp) each year for the first time smiling ear to ear and looking around for the directors, the other campers, and most importantly the counselors (who were teens and young adult racial mirrors) some of whom would be assigned to my group for the weekend.
As time went by, I remember seeing the faces of dear friends and a community, stepping into the Kiva felt like stepping into a warm hug, both literally and figuratively, as many warm hugs usually presented themselves over the years.
I remember sitting on a big wall that separated the gym space and roller rink space with my friends just chatting, giggling, and feeling at peace in a place where we all felt like we belonged, because our families all were built the same way.
It was here, at Chinese Heritage camp that I was met with racial mirrors and role models, many of whom have become family to me.
It was here that I found out more about my heritage, the complexities of adoption, the importance of post-adoption services/ resources, and how important it is to recognize, celebrate, and look introspectively at these intersecting areas and aspects of my life.
Camp was full of other kids and families that looked like me and my own family from all over. There were so many Asians, mostly Chinese and Tawainese faces there. Throughout the weekend, I loved walking with my peers and counselors to workshops full of arts and crafts, food to cook, talks of adoption, and presenters who looked like me and knew about my own culture full of happiness to share their own experiences with us campers so that we could know and learn more about our own heritage. One of my favorite workshops, even to this day as my role at camp has come full circle with me being the counselor/ role model, is titled HeART Talks. In this workshop we always did some form of art that was about self expression, emotions, and/ or adoption. We always read a story together about adoption, and we always discussed what adoption meant to us and any feelings we had about adoption. HeART Talks has always been one of my favorites, because I always felt seen and like I belonged here, and as someone who tends to be more on the emotional side, I loved being able to express myself and share my emotions and story with others. I truly, and strongly, believe to this day that this workshop really helped lay the foundation for me understanding my own adoption story more and being able to cope and adjust into this strange, sometimes lonely world that we live in, especially during transition periods in my life, like going to college.
As I grew older, camp not only continued to feel like home for me, continuing to grow with excitement as we approached camp, but it became a place I realized I could also have an impact and be there for other adoptees. From evolving from camper to counselor to presenter to coordinator, I have truly become a part of camp, and camp has become a part of me in so many ways. I’ve seen how my own experience and bringing what I loved doing as a camper and child growing up in camp can be brought back and enjoyed by the next generation. I learned how important it is to have racial mirrors and people you can relate to with similar upbringings.
Growing up with this special place and community each year has allowed me to be innovative at different stages of my life. For example, when beginning college, camp allowed me to realize how passionate I felt about connecting with other adoptees and bringing awareness about adoption to others, and with my knowledge and experience at camp, I was able to create a student organization on campus so that adoptees in my new community, and others who wanted to be allies for adoptees or had connection to adoption, could have a safe place to go.
Furthermore, in my young adult years as a new professional, I was able to tap into my passion again for adoptees and those who have been separated from biological family by working on a project on children in the Foster Care System (Out-of-Home care) and how as healthcare providers we can do better for this community. If it weren’t for camp and the acceptance and vulnerability it has allowed me to express and experience regarding my own adoption journey, I am not sure I would have been so open or innovative in my later years. If it weren’t for camp, I don’t think I would be as passionate about finding and connecting to other adoptees or sharing my own story, because who knows how my processing about my own story would have changed. Lastly, through my own knowledge and experiences with camp, I have been able to serve as a role model for younger adoptees and be there for them, not only as an adoptee, but also as a person of color who grew up in a predominantly white community, went to a predominantly white college, and now works in a predominately white profession. Camp has allowed me to be there as a resource for other adoptees and also adoptive parents who are looking for more answers and connections for their own children.
For over 20 years now, Chinese Heritage Camp has been a part of me. It has watched me grow up into a confident, inspired, empowered young woman; it has watched me transition from camper to counselor to presenter to coordinator. Camp has given me opportunities to lead, reflect, and share with others. Camp has given me a place, both in the tangible and intangible sense, where my adoption story is just one of many, where I cannot only learn from others but teach others, a place where I can build upon life bonds and make new connections, a place where I will always feel comfortable crying to “Happy Adoption Day” and feel nostalgic for all the memories I had there growing up. Chinese Heritage Camp knows so much about me, more than I likely even realize.
Chinese Heritage Camp has given me life, love, happiness, and a place to soul search and discover myself and where I can help the next generation do the same. Chinese Heritage Camp is, and always will be, a piece of my puzzle and heart, and without it in my life all these years, I would not feel complete.
Emily Quinn (she/her/hers) is a transracial, Chinese adoptee who was adopted at 3 months of age from Zhejiang Province and identifies as pansexual/queer. Emily grew up in Colorado, and she currently works as a pediatric physical therapist. Emily is passionate about connecting with other adoptees of all ages, and her own journey as a transracial adoptee has made her passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, including fighting for social justice for all people. She continues to volunteer with Heritage Camps for Adoptive Families, especially the Chinese Heritage Camp, and she enjoys rock climbing, being outdoors, spending time with family, and working on acts of self-care and self-kindness in her free time.
Heritage Camps for Adoptive Families serves as a post-adoption resource and advocate for children, adults, and families with diverse heritages. They focus on supporting international and domestic adoptive families, including adopted children, parents, non-adopted siblings, and extended family. Learn more about their work at https://www.heritagecamps.org/
The current COVID-19 pandemic and my family’s situation in it has inspired me to write this piece. Ever since the pandemic began in China, my family was already very cautious and nervous around the virus, collecting masks and information on testing. When it came here, my parents and I got laid off our restaurant jobs because the restaurants closed. That was March. After almost four months in quarantine, my parents are going back to work as part of the reopening process. In this piece, I hope to share with the Asian American community a little part of the lives of Asian Americans who is working at a Chinese restaurant, where I fear for their lives.
T-2 days. Mother is scheduled to go back to work July 1st, in two days. Mother works in a Chinese buffet restaurant. A few days ago, she went in to do some deep cleaning before the official reopening. When she came home with a huge yellow stain on her black work shirt, I glimpse her face. She looked different. Tired. Old. I never realized Mother had wrinkles around her eyes. That moment, I knew Mother is not superman. I always thought she was, working all day and everyday and never complaining about it. She said money is worth more than life. She still says it, and it infuriates me to hear it. I am mad at myself because I don’t have the ability to give her what she wants right now. Money.
There is another woman who is important in my life. I will call her D. She will also be starting work. I am not sure what the reopening of a buffet restaurant entails, but I know they will come in contact with lots of different people throughout the day. Close one-on-one sessions. Like therapy. I will a certain future into existence, but there is no answer. Every morning, I still hear the cheerful chirping of birds. Does my will even mean anything when so many people are dying? I’m sure those people’s families willed them to live too. Why should god, if there is one, listen to mine?
This is the first time in my life that I have become afraid. Truly afraid. Afraid of losing. Mother. D. There’s this saying in Chinese. 失去才懂得珍惜. This roughly translates to: when things are lost, they are cherished. For me, there is a possibility of losing Mother and/or D, and I am panicking. I am regretting. I want to cherish them, but I do not know how much time I have. It’s funny because both of them will die one day, but when death nears or the potential of death nears, I want to be good to them. More and more.
I wish so many things right now. Things that I haven’t done.
I’d been a better child to Mother.
I’d given Mother my money when she asked.
I’d treated D better.
I’d grown up faster because growing up means I can somehow protect them?
I’d earn so much money for them.
I could support them.
I’d hugged D and kissed her and spent all my money on a trip with her.
I’d propose or something.
I don’t know.
How does one enter a gamble with a loved one’s life?
I want to be good is what I’m saying. How?
Karen is a queer, first-generation Chinese-American undergraduate student studying English and Creative Writing. She writes poetry and occasionally creative nonfiction. In this piece, she explores her anxiety around the perhaps too-rapid reopening of restaurants that impacts her family’s livelihood.