Last night I was sprawled on the bedroom floor, agonizing over a sharp pain that felt like miniature ninjas were stabbing by lower back — no lie, I wanted to cry.
But instead of accepting defeat, I put on a brave face, muscled my torso upright, looked up at my wife and said, “Fuck it, I’m going to the gym.”
“Babe. Look at you!” My wife sneered accompanied by the biggest side-eye. “You can’t even sit, how are you going to box for an hour? You’re going to get hurt again and you’ll be upset.”
Two weeks ago I pinched a nerve during kickboxing class. It was one of those moments where your body moves in a new way and all of a sudden you feel a pop and you whisper to yourself, “Welp. I’m fucked.”
My wife was right. I was mad as hell, but she was right. But I wasn’t mad because I’m some boxing fanatic with aspirations to become the next (un-homophobic) Manny Pacquiao and my pinched nerve shattered my dreams of becoming a great Filipino boxing star with tons of cash, political influence, and all the lechon in the world.
I was upset because I wanted to lose more weight.
For the past two months I’ve been on the most intense workout regimine in years. Which isn’t saying much since my workouts in the past consisted of ten minutes of lifting, negative minutes of cardio, and twenty minutes of awkwardly sitting on the yoga mat thinking, “What’s that one Taeyang song that’s super hype to workout to? Was it Wedding Dress? Fuck, it’s not Wedding Dress. I can’t workout unless I find that song!”
That was the old me. The new me bought a fancy adult membership at a fancy cardio boxing gym. The new me sweated profusely for the first time in years and felt empowered by his salty, sweat-drenched clothes. The new me did extra workouts at home. The new me looked at himself in the mirror after the shower and thought, “Goddamn, is that an ab? Are we going to Ab City right now?!”
I stocked my freezer with Lean Cuisine frozen meals because I knew I’d be too lazy to meal prep. Me, a shameless foodie, learned to tolerate Lean Cuisine frozen dinners because seasoned food and flavor were less important than a one-way ticket to Ab City.
But then I started skipping meals. I’d wake at 9 a.m. and work till 4 p.m. and realize, “Oh shit, I haven’t eaten!” I knew I was hungry, but I was way more hungry to drop those last 5 lbs. So I skipped more meals. I ate smaller and smaller portions, lowered my daily caloric intake, and finished the night with chewing gum to stave off my hunger.
I chewed till my jaw hurt.
It got to a point where I would lay in bed at night, eyes glued to my phone, and I’d try my hardest to ignore the pain in my stomach and think of anything but food. If I could just trick myself into thinking that my stomach pain came from fat literally burning off my tummy, I could fall asleep, wake up, eat breakfast and everything would be okay.
I looked good, I felt good, and after a month of boxing and dieting, I could see the progress in my body. But I was still unhappy. I needed to lose more.
My family would notice and talk shit.
Asian families always talk shit.
At the end of the year, Asian families join forces during Christmas to compete in a series of “Who is living the best life” competitions. This gluttonous tradition consists of Aunties gloating about their new Mercedes, siblings asking you how much money you make, and grandparents making off-hand comments about your weight.
“Hoy! You look so… big and strong! You eating enough? Haha! *pinches stomach*”
“I’ve been busy investing in Bitcoin and traveling to Switzerland. How about you? You still in school?”
You’re prepared for the bullshit, but you’ve been dreading this moment. You’ve groomed your career, made new friends, got more involved in politics, volunteered at the homeless shelter, got a raise, traveled the damn country and lost over fifteen pounds. You changed. You’ve improved. You’re better than you were last year and you want to show everyone how awesome your life is.
But in the land of Asian family Christmas, happiness isn’t a respected currency.
Even though you graduated years ago, visiting your Asian relatives feels like you’re being evaluated for your performance. Only this time, instead of getting graded on Algebra, you’re judged by your salary, your weight, and material possessions. Conversations transform into round-about ways for relatives to pry into your life and judge you.
“Is that necklace real gold? You know, your cousin has a real gold necklace.”
I hate this bullshit but at the same time, I understand why it happens.
For many Asian American immigrant families, Christmas is a time for adult children to return to the nest and show off all the wonderful things we’ve accomplished. I know it’s not just me, but as a son of immigrant parents, I feel a constant pressure to make our migration to America worth it. I’ve heard my family’s immigration story a million times. I want to avenge their struggle in America with my own success so I can finish the immigration story my family started.
“Yup! That’s my mom! She came here with only $100 and now I’m a doctor! It’s all thanks to her!”
But shit happens. We get into car accidents and fall into debt, we get into bad spending habits, we get fired from our jobs, we take side-gigs flipping burgers at In-n-Out, we have anxiety attacks, and we struggle to lose weight. Sadly, you can’t say any of this for fear of looking like your family’s weak link.
But maybe we should start talking about our struggles.
Maybe what needs to happen among Asian families are less fake discussions about how awesome everything is, and more uncomfortable conversations about trying to get by. Maybe we need to say fuck it and just admit to our relatives that we’re not okay, and that we’re struggling with money, health and stability. Maybe we need to come into Christmas 2017 saying, “Fuck all these vapid discussions about cars and flatscreen TVs. Let’s talk about my depression. Let’s talk about uncle’s drinking problem. Let’s talk about why Auntie Lauren likes to share racist articles from Breitbart News. Let’s talk about grandpa’s declining health.”
Asians are so used to speaking in coded, passive aggressive language to avoid stepping on people’s toes that we often forget to express ourselves plainly. I’m worried about mom. I’m proud of you for checking into rehab. I appreciate you always cooking for us. I’m struggling with finances. I’m having a hard time losing weight.
Asian mental and emotional health is rarely acknowledged among families. Perhaps the best gift you can give your family this year is the gift of transparency — a chance for everyone to speak openly, for the first time, about what’s really going on so we’re not all just bottling it up.