“Instead of Paddling Frantically, I Turned Onto My Back and Began to Float”: On Drowning … and Finally Seeking Mental Health Care on My Own Terms

Like most children of self-employed immigrants, I didn’t have health insurance, so I was amassing a massive debt in hospital bills and medication ... No one seemed to be truly listening, just switching my medication and raising the dosage. I lost faith again, this time in psychiatry.

This article was originally published in Mochi Magazine as a part of a series commemorating Mental Health Awareness Month and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. We recognize that the stigma around mental health care — in Asian American communities, in particular — often keeps people from seeking help or having transparent conversations about the importance of mental health care. Mochi believes that caring for our mental health is an essential piece of caring for our overall health and well-being. We hope this series will shed light on how mental health care positively impacted these writers.

“Instead of Paddling Frantically, I Turned Onto My Back and Began to Float”: On Drowning … and Finally Seeking Mental Health Care on My Own Terms, May 27, 2021


I had never realized how loud hospitals actually are. The first thing I remember hearing when I woke up was the incessant beeping of my heart monitor and the sound of infants crying. Their rage and agony rattled the glass boxes that defined their whole worlds, and their wordless cries seemed to protest along with mine: “Why am I here?”

While the IV drip set my veins on fire, shame itched underneath my skin. It’s one thing to suffer a mental breakdown at 18 years old; it’s another thing to survive and have to put the pieces back together again in a pediatric unit surrounded by young children with conditions that further break your heart. The mental health stigma didn’t help. Apathetic clowns shrugged as they handed me balloon animals, and art therapists quickly dropped their kindergarten teacher voices. Nurses came to my room solely to gossip with whomever was assigned to suicide watch that hour.

Although I was legally an adult, the hospital I’d been admitted to sent all incoming patients under 21 years old to pediatric. This meant the doctors only attempted to communicate with my parents, whose limited English could only carry them so far. My mother’s response was to call every Korean doctor she knew in the tri-state area to try to get me discharged early. “She doesn’t belong here,” my mother insisted. “There’s nothing wrong with her.”

Read the rest here.

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