Wellbeing Wednesdays: Tough love, by Melissa Phu

In this fortnight of The Auricle’s Wellbeing Wednesdays series, Melissa Phu describes her upbringing, and her journey of discovery in understanding her own family’s past. We hope you enjoy reading.

Growing up as the eldest daughter of an Asian family, some would say I had it rough. My parents had always told me to do well in school and pushed me to achieve. As a kid, much of my self worth was measured based on my mum’s approval. In highschool, she would never allow any sleepovers. In university, she would call me a ‘hooker’ when I went clubbing with my friends. I used to get so angry and would rant in my diary or to my friends. I would become numb to her words, as a means to protect myself. As a teen, her rules only made me crave the unknown even more, and as a result, I rebelled against her.

Only now that I’m older, do I realise why she did all those things. She set those rules as a means to protect me (although in some ways unhealthily). Later on, I realised that my mother had grown up in a dysfunctional family. She grew up in an environment with domestic abuse, of which she had to call the police on her father many times. She was thankful that the police had actually arrived, as nothing like this would have occurred back in her hometown in Vietnam. I could understand why she was so cynical about men and the world as a whole. Understanding where she came from could help me empathise with why she was the way she was. It helped me acknowledge and critically think about the damaging values she instilled in my siblings and I, the ones that made me feel shame rather than pride. It’s also helped me to acknowledge the cultural differences between how my family was, compared to my peers who grew up in more openly loving, freeing and more accepting environments that aligned with progressive Western values, such as accepting LGBTIQ+ identities and the freedom to pursue any career.

In hindsight, all the arguments, and as some may call it, ‘intergenerational trauma’ projected onto me, has made me who I am today; determined, receptive and very in tune with my emotions. Understanding my tumultuous relationship with my mum has explained why I used to seek chaos in relationships or would push away anyone who would actually show me vulnerable affection. Understanding her past and dissecting what healthy love is meant to look like, has allowed me to forgive and educate her in ways that are kind and productive. In a sense, the relationship has provided me with many life lessons, ones in which have helped me change very difficult habits or coping mechanisms to allow for a more peaceful life. I’ve also acknowledged the more Asian forms of love that she has given me, like cooking yummy meals, cutting up fruit for me while I study or driving me to uni. Although to this day, our relationship is a little rocky, it is better than what it was, and that is okay with me. Baby steps.

To those of you who may also have strained relationships with parental figures, hang in there. They may reject your identity, beliefs or values, but may still show ways to care for you. Take those moments to forgive. Keep on having those conversations. It’s okay to set boundaries and distance yourself. It’s okay to cry.

If this message resonates with you and you need someone to talk to, my dms are always open.

“It’s always our self we find in the sea” – a reflection by Faizah Alam

“It’s always ourself we find in the sea.” These words by e.e. cummings are a beautiful prelude to this weeks’ Wellbeing Wednesdays’ piece by MUMUS C&W’s Faizah Alam. Happy reading!

Over the summer, I made the trip down to Dromana for a short and spontaneous road trip. Therein laid the foundations for my obsession with going to visit blue spaces (be it waterfalls, fountains, oceans or even reservoirs) on every free weekend I could spare. These were preciously guarded trips that I kept constant throughout the first semester this year.

The beach in particular, is one of my favourite places. I get to the beach and I’ve seen it a million times before. Yet some part of me is still imbued with wonder each time at the sheer vastness of what I’m seeing. Most of the time, I go to see a calm sea with waves lapping on shores to leave behind shells, seaweed and little eddies of water trapped in dips of sand. There are however other times when I go to rock formations or cliffs and the controlled violence of the waves hitting rocks is beautiful in its own terror.

I have even found myself voluntarily waking up at 5am to see the sun rise over the shores, and to see that cinematic sunset moment over the full scale around the ocean.

Blue spaces, and in particular, seeing the sea are things that have never failed to reduce my anxiety and stress and just let me be in the moment. With the ebbing flow of waves, it is easy to let go and just not think about the overwhelming responsibilities and tasks that I’ve procrastinated on completing for a while. A systematic review found that there is a positive association between blue spaces and mental health and well-being as well as physical activity. In my own experience, water has always been a way to use all of my senses – sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste – to reduce depression and anxiety. It’s a way to disengage from the constant panic of the world brought on by rushing people around us or even social media and our phones.

It is no wonder that we are drawn to blue spaces as simple as water features or man-made lakes. The small lake adjacent to the Med Building was a favourite lunchtime spot of mine when we were back on campus.

Studies have found that being exposed to oceans, lakes, fountains and other blue spaces may be associated with increased time with family and friends as well as increased social interaction in general. It has been positively linked to hallmarks of social interaction such as a sense of community, belonging and participation. All of these are protective factors and enhance wellbeing and mental health.

Research in this area is in its beginning stages, with the need for more longitudinal research and the distinction of confounding variables required. However, on an individual and personal level, I can’t refute the calming nature that going to these areas has on my wellbeing.

The simplicity in just being and not having or being expected to do anything is what has always drawn me to the ocean and to water in general. To me, it is the perfect description of the ever-changing nature of human emotions. It’s okay to be calm one day then upset and angry the next. It doesn’t make you any less beautiful, any less special and any less in any way.

There is something about the sea that turns us back in time, an implicit need to point it out and just to stop in our tracks with the perspective and wonder about our part in this world.

Studies quoted:

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1438463917302699
  2. https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/18/5/2486/htm