Pandemic Viewpoints: How Asian Women Around the World Have Been Dealing with Their Mental Health

Woman covering her mouth with a bandana staring out the window during the coronavirus lockdown

by Marj Ostani and Isa Almazan

As of writing, the death toll for COVID-19 has hit over 200,000. It’s the cold hard truth among many that the pandemic has had our world facing. With most nations on shut down, we find many economies deteriorating and government institutions struggling to aid the gaps in the medical response. And as the world tries to cope through social distancing, most of us now spend our entire days at home. Working from home has turned our living rooms into an office, Friday night-outs have become Zoom call night-ins, we get our sunlight by cracking a window open for fifteen minutes, and we’ve stopped hugging entirely. From our homes, we battle increased anxiety and uneasiness. Harvard Business Review articulates this as Anticipatory grief, “a feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain.” With this loss of normalcy comes a new reality: our life has been altered from now moving forward. We know that this is not something easy to digest so YLWRNGR has checked in to women around the world to find out how they’ve been coping and processing this situation.

Niki Torres
Singapore

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Trying this #selfiesaturday on for size. 👋🏼 Hello to those who started following thanks to a shoutout on the Creative Morning newsletter.⁠ ⁠ Anyway, it's been 2.5 months since the podcast launched, and 6.5 months since I openly talked about launching a podcast. It's crazy how much blood, sweat and tears have gone into this.⁠ ⁠ Do you ever feel that while time has passed, it also feels like it's just the beginning?⁠🤔⁠ ⁠ Putting myself out there doesn't get any easier, and if you're on the same journey, I want you to know that you'll learn to lean into the discomfort. Even now, having interviewed so many chief best friends, I still get nervous.⁠ ⁠ ⚡Feeling nervous and having self-doubt doesn't mean you should stop, it means you care enough about what you do. It's knowing the difference between fear and exhilaration. 🎢 The latter is usually what you experience when you're stepping out of the shadows, out of playing small and into the arena where you can be heard and you can be seen. It feels scary because it also puts you in the crosshairs of trolls and criticism. ⁠ ⁠ I have no easy answer to this. Although I do know that when we're doing something so perfectly attuned to our inner self, we can trip up others' insecurities AND at the same time lift others up. ⁠ ⁠ We can't choose who gets to hear and see our message but it's getting those few folks who truly feel and see you—your community—that makes everything else worth it. Thank you for being part of mine. ⁠👭👭👭👭👭👭⁠ ⁠ (photo cred: shot by @foliobylisa)

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I’m Director of Growth at an early stage startup in Singapore. We’re currently in a “circuit breaker” period which is a more stringent form of social distancing that the government has implemented. I’ve been feeling exhausted and I recently I realised that I was exhausted because I’m balancing expecting the worst and hoping for the best. On some days it swings too heavily on one side and it takes so much mental strength to get me off of there. Instead of being annoyed at the situation, I’m trying to embrace it. I’m using this time to apply for a Masters degree, trying to get all my pre-requisite classes finished, and learning coding and programming. Having something to work towards and look forward to is keeping me preoccupied. However, I don’t want to be oblivious to the current reality; therefore I’m still managing to keep my feet in the present while looking out to the future.

Karen Mok
New York, United States

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Hi, new followers!! Taking a moment to reintroduce myself! ⁣ 🌼I’m a mental health advocate. My dream is for mental health care to be accessible to all, especially to women and POC communities. I’m young in my journey of figuring out how, but I’m interested in:⁣ *policy interventions⁣ *partnering with practitioners
*untangling the confusing world of insurance coverage⁣ *creating more spaces for culturally relevant care⁣ *destigmitizing mental health care⁣ ⁣ 💌The best way I can contribute to destigmatizing now, in addition to building @jointhecosmos, is to tell my own story.⁣ ⁣ I am an Aries, and a Gemini Moon, which means I come off passionate, social, outgoing when people first meet me. That is a real part of me!! ⁣ ⁣ ⚡️✨But I also have depression and anxiety.⁣✨⚡️ ⁣ I was “diagnosed” 3 years ago, when I sought therapy b/c I was completely beaten down by tech burnout and work trauma. 😭🥵I am new to taking anti-anxiety medication (Lexapro, it’s working so far!). I go to therapy, thanks to generous friends and family contributions to my therapy fund!! But I haven’t been able to afford it for a while, cuz #entrepreneur life. I practice meditation for 20 minutes a day by going on “meditation walks” (LOL, I can’t sit still) when I wake up. I write myself 💌love letters💌 every morning to practice speaking to myself with compassionate language b/c ya girl has hella negative thoughts. I realize I need a lot of love and emotional support but I struggle to ask for it without feeling like a burden. Even with all this “mental health care”, I have bad days that are just hard and I disappear into a dark tunnel. 🌪Mental health looks different for everyone. I can look like a boss a la this photo😅, but still need mental health care! Let’s destigmatize together!! I’d love to hear your mental health story in the comments. DM me if you want to keep it 1:1!! ⁣💛

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I’m the COO & Co-Founder of The Cosmos, an intentional community for Asian women to make friends, feel safe & cultivate Wellness Confidence. I have depression and anxiety, so I’ve been on my own mental health journey even before COVID-19. But this time period has really allowed me to take the time to work on my mental health. Getting diagnosed with a mental health condition made me feel somewhat powerless at first so one of the biggest challenges was embracing that I do have the agency to affect my own mental health. One of the most impactful things I’ve started doing is re-writing my narrative and I’ve been doing this by writing myself daily Love Letters, inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert. I get to literally boost myself up with positive affirmations and compassion and I realized that the way I talk to myself can really change how I feel on a day to day basis. 

Bittymacbeth
Singapore

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I am a full-time composer and sound designer at a creative agency and I manage my artist career just as COVID-19 seemed to taper down in severity in Singapore. I’m still super thankful for my full-time job during this time of crisis. I have benefits, leave, Central Providence Fund payments, and a very supportive boss and work environment. As for my artistic career, I can continue composing and producing at home for work for my artist catalogue and licensing — I think I’m actually more productive at home — but I think I have it easy. I spoke to a record store owner a few weeks ago, before the lockdown was implemented, who had just come from his board meeting where he decided to shut down his store. And a prominent leader of a movement to help freelance creatives in Singapore get work also recently shut down his production company. Like most of my fellow musicians, I grieve the loss of performance opportunities and income — but now I have to settle for other online alternatives. 

Maddie Castillo
Philippines

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What got me the most during this quarantine season was the feeling of helplessness. Everything was out of my control: I got flu-like symptoms before the lockdown, I was stuck in my apartment, and my PR startup lost its clients. Amidst everything, I was reminded also to be kind to myself. I’ve been too busy with work before, and now I have time to re-discover myself as a writer, a dancer, a singer, a sister and a friend, and a woman. This experience is still teaching me that there is power in letting go. I found myself when I let go of the million other things that I couldn’t control. After all, when you’re not too busy chasing after something, it’s easier to look around and see things you might’ve missed.

Camille Alfaro
United Arab Emirates

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I’m an Overseas Filipino Worker and I currently live and work as a full-time photographer in UAE. Since the spread of COVID-19, everything has changed. We don’t want to risk our lives and we care about our clients. That’s why we’ve decided to halt the business and do our work in our own place. It’s hard for me because I can’t do the things that I usually do. Actually, half of me doesn’t feel scared. I don’t even want to wear masks or gloves when going outside but since it’s mandatory, I must do it. Another half of me is scared not for the family I left in the Philippines. Everyone knows that it’s hard to live and work overseas without your family. You don’t know what will happen and you cannot do anything because you’re at a great distance. When the pandemic ends, I will surely go back to the Philippines to spend my entire vacation with my family and friends. I will make every day fruitful.

Becca Siegel
New York, United States

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🗽Nothing is normal right now. The world isn’t normal, the cities aren’t normal, being home doesn’t feel normal. We took the photo on the left in summer 2017 at rush hour. It’s a view of East Broadway, which is bustling with cars, traffic, people, bikes, buses, vendors, commuters and action. Yesterday we both ran across the Manhattan Bridge, as to avoid the limited-schedule subways that we haven’t taken since March 12, and found all was quiet in Chinatown and in Manhattan. It pays to see things from above, right? Where are you now, and what’s your view like? We’d like to put forth a huge thanks to healthcare workers and other essential professionals who are risking their health and showing incredible bravery in the face of crisis. We are thinking about you and we applaud you all! . . . . . .. . . . . . . . #manhattan #viewfromhere #lastingvisuals #ig_newyork #picturesofnewyork #imagesofnyc #manhattanview #newyorkcityphotography #nyclives #socialdistancing2020 #socialdistance #selfdistance #wfh #selfdistancing #socialisolation #socialdistancingsaveslives #covidkindness #covidlife #selfisolating #ny #quarantinelife #quarantineandchill #emptystreet #emptystreets #ghostcity #notraffic #quietcity #emptyspaces #quietstreets #cityphotography

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I’m considering every day a very big gift, considering that I am healthy, have a roof over my head and food to eat, while many people in our country and in the world, do not. But I’m certainly concerned for everyone. I’m a freelancer right now. A lot of my content, work and social media was travel-related. Many of my industry contacts are in the travel industry. It’s all gone downhill and then taken a big pause. I’m not even feeling good about the travel industry. The world has to get back to normal first, and then, travel can resume. I’m being very realistic about when this will be — I’m thinking it could be a year, or more. I keep thinking, and I keep saying to anyone with whom I engage in a conversation, that it won’t be safe, nor a good idea, for travel to resume until the entire world is healthy again. The issue is that the world is only as strong as the weakest link. If we can’t be certain that the entire place is safe to travel, what good is traveling if you have to be worried? 

Quianna Baterna
Sydney, Australia

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I’m a working international student based in Sydney and I live with my sister.  Since Australian citizens and permanent residents are the only ones given subsidies by the government, those who have temporary visas like me are left to make ends meet on their own. I remember thinking of ways on how to budget with the money I have left, since I knew there could be a possibility that I could get stood down from my job. This took a toll on me, but good thing I have a good support system back home in the Philippines who never fails to remind me that things would get better. Talking to them has kept my mental health in check. Once this is all over, the first thing I will do is to visit my family at home. 

Eena Macaspac
Philippines

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To be honest, I haven’t really been taking good care of myself lately, I have been diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, so in that department, medication is the only thing that keeps my life sane. I am also in a long-distance relationship and I think the heaviest bit of all is that I am a small business owner whose business also had to pause. In the end, everything’s just too much. I know what I’m saying might not be the most hopeful bit because it is the product of my brain’s confusion; but I wish that we all still continue to show compassion even when this pandemic is over.  And if ever you cannot donate or you can’t just function, it is okay, because the most important thing that I’ve learned during this time is that, it is fine to also take care of yourself and every waking moment is already an achievement that we should all celebrate within us. 

Krizel Andal
Japan

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I currently live in Japan as a factory worker. It’s alarming to be residing in a country with a high count of Covid-19 cases. We have several cases 10 mins away from us so we take care of our hygiene seriously. Japan hasn’t issued a lockdown yet up until this time. I think it’s because they’re doing their best to contain the cases. They raise awareness by giving announcements 3 times a day to avoid going out as much as possible and cancel gatherings for safety reasons. There are no problems for us personally because a lot of shops and grocery stores are open in Japan while some malls and restaurants are still operating. However, we can’t deny that it’s still making us worry that this virus is easily spread. 

I’m hoping that this pandemic will end sooner. A lot of people find it difficult to live in a lockdown situation. There are also disruptions in businesses and it’s already causing a global economic crisis. I also hope the government will also take this as a lesson for preparedness not only in times of disasters. There should also be good platforms on how to help the poor. I hope we can help each other by providing what we have to those who lack. 

Camille Castillo
Philippines

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I run the Philippine arm of a Southeast Asian music website and I’ve been working from home for 4 years now. The lack of live music events affects our content, news cycle, and revenue. Since I’ve been working from home since 2016, the adjustment isn’t that difficult. In terms of work, content creation has been a bit challenging lately. In the early days of the lockdown, we’ve had numerous cancellation announcements, so that kept us busy. Now, we spend most of our days trying to come up with more creative content that hopefully inspires or helps people forget about uncertainty even for a bit. I just want to be with my entire family as soon as this is over and possibly go to a gig or my favourite bar in Makati for a drink or two. I never realised how I took some things for granted, like going out with friends, going to a show.

Vutomi Baloyi
South Africa

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Quarantine in South Africa is proving to be more difficult than I had imagined it to be. As a student, self-studying is proving to be very challenging! Luckily I have teachers by my side, therefore I’m able to ask them questions when there’s something I don’t understand. I really appreciate this because they not only motivate us to continue studying but are playing a huge role in our lives right now. I honestly cannot wait for this quarantine to end as I find being at home all day to be tiring. On the other side, I do find it is beneficial as I get to bond with my family more than I used to. Creating memories with my family is one of my highlights during this quarantine.

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