I remember taking my first SATs when I was nine, my feet swinging under my desk, in a room of giants.
I remember being grounded from Christmas gatherings with my extended family because “I had to study,” an excuse my cousins still never fail to tease me about, more than 10 years later.
I remember spending my summers indoors, armed with the following year’s textbooks and the task of finishing every problem so I would be ahead of my class.
I remember being sent to school with 102-degree fevers and ear infections so I wouldn’t miss class. I remember inevitably ending up in the nurse’s office for the day, restlessly tossing on her cot.
I remember the gut-clenching dread I always felt on report card days and being screamed at for bringing home an A-minus.
I remember my shelves lined with books titled 100 Successful College Application Essays and rows of Princeton Review guides.
I also remember sneaking my Seventeen magazines and ’90s boy band CDs, pilfered from well-meaning friends, into the house and hiding them between those blessedly-thick guides.
I remember applying to 10 colleges, the perfect ingrained number: three unattainables, four middle ground, and three back-ups. I remember only being accepted into my back-up schools.
I remember the shame that followed and continued to flow through my veins for many, many years.
I lived in constant fear of failing and disappointing. My worth was calculated by my ability to be better than everyone else in everything I did. If I wasn’t the best, I was punished simply for not being good enough.
I vacillated between depression and anger, and became so emotionally stressed that I developed stomach ulcers. For all the preparation that was drilled into me, when I reached that pinnacle of what I’d been working for my whole life, I floundered spectacularly.
In college, armed without the fear of punishment or threats, I didn’t know how to function independently, I couldn’t fulfill what was expected of me, and I constantly fell short. I failed out of one major and barely graduated from another. All my life, I’d been so singularly focused on this path laid out for me that going with a plan B caused me to mentally implode.
My saving graces were my faith, my husband, and my discipleship relationships. It’s taken years of working through the repercussions of my childhood to finally name the emotional pressures and abuse I experienced, recognize my triggers, and make steps to move forward. After all, when you’re raised to feel like you’re never good enough, how do you find the confidence to go on?
In hindsight, though I respect my parents for providing financially for me, that privilege came with a price. A childhood of tiger parenting makes it hard to ask for help and even harder to admit defeat, but I’ve learned over the years to forge my own way.
After college, I taught myself graphic design (anything art-related was not an option when it came to education). I am now running a successful freelance business from home.
I finally went to my midwife and admitted I was struggling with depression (mental illness is a big stigma in Asian culture). I am now happily functioning on antidepressants.
For a long time, I was fearful of becoming a mother and what my future relationship with my kids would look like. Now, as a mother of two little ones, while I still have no idea what I was doing, I do know this: My kids will feel valued and supported. They will know home as a place of safety and refuge, joy and fun. They will never wonder whether their mother’s love is transactional or conditional. And if they decide to play in a rock band or not go to college, you can bet I’ll be right there cheering them on.