TRIGGER WARNING: Mental Health (SUICIDE), where did she find the noose?

I went to Anna Akana's stand-up comedy last night - her run spun off the topic of mental health, particularly suicide, her sister's.  I felt it glorified it just a little, which was disturbing, but that was the reaction she was going for.  It was funny but weird?  But it definitely triggered my relations to suicide...

One of my childhood memories of my grandmother was actually a potent smell coming from the bathroom, oddly placed in the kitchen of our four-plex in Frogtown - one of the poorer neighborhoods of Saint Paul in the 90s.  I think I might've threw up from the bitter stench.  My grandmother was perming her hair.  It turned out amazing - I really have no idea how she did it...since it came from a box. Her hair was black, fluffy, and thick.  She looked like she belonged in a 80s workout video - actually like the guy with the frizzy hair who leads the workout - you know who I mean? 

All the Asian women of her age at the time were perming their hair.  I love that no matter how poor we were, style was still a priority for my grandmother.  Looking good even when you have the world against you and you're working a dead end job, trying to support your large Hmong family...looking good and feeling good was STILL important to her.  Side note: when I was in Vietnam, I saw a dated picture of a Hmong woman wearing ginormous silver hoop earrings helping to cut down a tree in the middle of the jungle.  I'm like, yea girl - doing it in style!  Fashion and style doesn't go away when you're a struggling Hmong woman.     

But, after family dinner one night in our new house (we moved out of the four-plex into our first section 8 house that we didn't have to share with others), my sister screamed from the basement.  My parents rushed down the stairs and found my sister staring and shaking at my grandmother's limp body on the cold cement floor, a noose around her neck.  Years later, I am thinking to did my grandmother find the material to make a noose (she knows very little English and doesn't drive) - or how to tie that knot?  All I could think of was, she had been very determined.  Anyway, my mom is a nurse so she immediately performed CPR.  Everything after that was a blur as I remembered my body going into shock and feeling so scared - but the ambulance came grandmother survived.  

This would be the first of other suicidal attempts.  From a young girl's eyes, I saw my grandmother as a crabby but quirky woman who took care of us with great hair.  But as I grew up, my mind became aware of who my grandmother was and its ultimate impact on my own identity.

She had been an ostracized woman in her community - talked about by other women, flirted with by married men, and turned away from her family.  My grandmother became a divorcee when my dad was a toddler.  In the Hmong culture, divorced women are thought to be discarded scraps, unwanted material, and perhaps too loud and unloveable.  They are treated as outsiders as they are not traditionally welcomed back into their immediate family after they are married off.  So, my father had no kin after the divorce (he was also an only child).  The only option was to become a third wife to my step-grandfather - which ultimately, wasn't the preferred or a happy life. 

I was very close to my grandmother.  For most of her life, she battled depression, anxiety, and feeling unwanted.  She took Western meds to pacify her pain.  In the end, when she finally passed away on the hospital bed from a stroke, she was ready.  It was more like, she had been waiting for this moment.  For her, she felt ready because she had found church, God, and finally - she would get her peace.  

I was angry for many years as I struggled with trying to make sense of her cultural status.  I showered my grandmother with love, coming home to make her laugh when I was on breaks from college and helping her clean the house.  My Hmong is fluent but basic, but I remember trying to ask her in the hospital room after another suicide attempt, how many times she had fallen in love in her lifetime.  I already knew my time with her was quickly slipping away.  In the end, it didn't matter who loved her besides her immediate family.  Her biggest fans were her grandchildren.  

I am now a huge advocate for self-care, self-love, and healthy living (and a feminist) because I've realized no one else's perception of you matters.  The system (the Hmong culture) didn't allow a divorcee to provide for herself in addition to being treated poorly by others at that time.  However, in America, at least women have the rights now to do so - women can find jobs, drive cars, get around, and survive.  In Southeast Asia, Hmong divorcees are still struggling to be self-sustainable.  The men can own land, but once the women are divorced they own nothing and cannot return home to their immediate families either.  With little education and means to make a living, it really is hard to just live.  

I am just going to slip in here that I am featuring a Hmong women entrepreneur soon who employs Hmong divorcees in Vietnam so they can earn some income.  Stay tuned for that!  

For now, keep loving yourselves, women.  Give yourself grace and the room to be imperfect to societal standards.   Pass the love around!  And, I hope this blog will spark some thoughtful conversations and some reflection.  <3

Some resources for those with suicidal thoughts or ideation:  

National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: Dial 988

Your County Crisis Lines (google your local #s) - they can even come out and see you: 24 hours

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