At the end of every summer, while my friends get excited about sweater weather, fall foliage, pumpkin-picking, baking/eating pies, skiing, and the holidays, I am filled with a sense of dread. Aside from my dislike of cold weather, the autumn means despair and pain for me, and the feelings come and go unpredictably. But that is depression.

Although I was never formally diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, one of my former therapists suggested that the fall and winter months might trigger my depression due to the short daylight hours. As I had written before, my other main trigger is stress, so the two combined makes life harder for me.

Years later, now that I have a better understanding of my condition, I can recognize and manage my symptoms better. As the sun sets earlier and earlier, I can feel the coldness creep into my bones.

  • I have very low energy.
  • I isolate myself.
  • My anxiety gets worse.
  • I can’t concentrate on work or any task that requires a long attention span.
  • My sleep schedule gets screwed up. I either don’t sleep at all or I sleep for 10-12 hours—every day, not just on the weekends.
  • I don’t have an appetite. During my depressive episodes, I can lose anywhere from 5 to 20 lbs. depending on the severity and length of the episode.
  • I skip out on activities I normally enjoy (i.e. food).

People who don’t understand would say things like, “Why are you always so tired?” and “You’re probably not eating because of stress.” I’ve learned to just nod and smile and agree, knowing fully that they’re all wrong. Yes, stress is a huge factor for those of us who live with depression, but stress affects us differently than “normal people.” Sometimes, I feel bad even when I’m not feeling stressed.

So what do I do?

  • I check in with myself throughout the day. How am I feeling when I first wake up? In the middle of the work day? In the evening? While I’m getting ready for bed?
  • I try to sit outside and feel the sun on my face for at least 15 minutes.
  • My energy reserve for people (and socializing in general) gets very low so I’m extra picky about who I spend time with. I stay away from toxic people. I know I have a tendency of attracting narcissistic personalities so I avoid such people as much as possible. If it’s someone I work with, I keep it strictly professional and I don’t spend time with them outside of work hours.
  • Likewise, I surround myself with positive people. Talking to friends who understand what I’m going through is extremely helpful, and (thankfully) I’ve had two friends who have filled that role and continue to.
  • Although I have people to lean on, I know that my happiness doesn’t depend on one person and neither should another person’s happiness depend on me.
  • I give myself time to feel the emotions and wait for them to pass. Sometimes that means calling out sick from work. If someone with a physical illness can do that, why should it be different for a mental illness?

Ever since I was diagnosed with clinical depression 10 years ago, I noticed that I suffer 2-4 depressive episodes each year. On my best days, I feel normal. I’m energetic, I have an appetite, and I am my usual, extroverted self. On my worst days, I have a hard time getting out of bed, I can’t talk to anyone, I can feel the pain of the world on my shoulders, and there’s a heaviness in my heart. On most days, I can honestly say I’m doing fine. During the winter months, I do struggle to have better days. I spend all of my energy putting on a smile and just to… function.

I’m hoping this winter will be different because I have become more self-aware. I had a long depressive episode earlier this year that started in January and didn’t end until early July. In those months, I had lost two friends unexpectedly, I was working under a narcissistic boss, and I spent all of my remaining energy on finding a new job. Today, I’m no longer working in a hostile work environment and I have my new job, but that doesn’t mean the self-doubt, negativity, and heartache doesn’t creep in.

No Turning Back


My first 4th of July in Washington, DC (July 4, 2011)

Today marks my five-year anniversary of being a DC resident. On May 28, 2011, I moved to Washington, DC from Brooklyn, NY with a couple of suitcases. Two weeks later, a moving truck with the rest of my belongs and a long drive with two unhappy cats (and my unhappy mom) in the backseat made the transition final. There was no turning back. I had no job and just enough savings to barely get me by for the summer.

For the first month, I spent most of my days searching for a job: sending out applications, attending networking events, doing informational interviews, and meeting with temp agencies. I took breaks by wandering around my new city, getting lost downtown and using the White House, Washington Memorial, museums, and myriad equestrian statues as landmarks to learn my way around. I loved the heat and humidity of that first DC summer. I remember the quiet and stillness of the city, two qualities that were completely new to me. For the first time in my life, despite all of the uncertainties that came with not having a job, I felt at peace. As I had written before, I felt free.

The physical act of moving from one city to another was only one of two transitions that I was undergoing at the time. I was also transitioning careers. After six years in marketing, I was entering a completely new field: international affairs. Although I was unemployed, I felt optimistic. I was happy with the direction I had taken because I was entering a new career that would make positive impacts on people’s lives.

In the past five years since I first arrived in DC, I’ve had to overcome many hurdles, both personally and professionally: multiple job searches, a couple of awful bosses, making new friends and developing new friendships, losing several family members and friends unexpectedly (each under different circumstances)… I’ve grieved and mourned, but I’ve also celebrated achievements and milestones, including new jobs, new births, and weddings, including my own. I’m finally living.

In DC, I very quickly found a tight knit community of like-minded people working in foreign policy, international affairs, and international development. It was very different from the two major moves in my life (Brooklyn to Baltimore and then Baltimore to Brooklyn) when I struggled for years to find a place to fit in. Although most of the community are transplants like myself, many of my DC friends don’t call DC their home. Instead, home is where their parents or families live. Over the past five years, some of those friends have moved, either back to their hometowns or to other places. For me, I still consider New York and Baltimore as my two former hometowns (I still love and root for the New York Mets and Baltimore Ravens), but DC became my home on May 28, 2011, and I never looked back.


I have 1,204 friends on Facebook, and my guess is that at least half of them are females. On average, I see one post a week from a female friend sharing an experience with street harassment. These have ranged from sexist comments, to verbal assaults, to unwelcomed touching and physical assault.

I’m glad my friends are sharing their experiences even though reading these posts make me upset. And I hope others feel upset as well. Many of my friends know I’ve been followed home before on more than one occasion, I’ve been groped on the train, and I’ve experienced a barrage of catcalls, whistles, and other noises that men employ to try to get my attention. I’ve been called slut, ho, and a litany of other names that the male species keep on reserve for women. Even though the occurrences of street harassment have gone down for me since I moved out of New York, I still get them in DC. I’ve been followed home and I’ve been grabbed while walking down a crowded street at night. (I also have plenty of examples from traveling, living, and working abroad, but I don’t want to detract from my main point.)

Although there has been a growing movement to reduce street harassment in recent years, IT STILL HAPPENS. And it happens because there are no laws on the books to deter such behavior. If someone can get a $250 ticket for jaywalking, why can’t we fine someone $250 for whistling at a woman?

Of course, I can’t just blame the men and legislators here, I should also point a finger at women who are part of the problem by 1) welcoming the behavior or 2) not teaching their sons to respect women.

Amongst all of the frustrating stories my female friends share on Facebook about getting harassed while simply going about their days, I have one “friend” who boasts proudly about all the compliments she gets on the street and while riding the metro. She stops to carry on full conversations with the perpetrators and she thanks them when they “compliment” her. When I see these posts, my blood starts to boil almost as much as it does when I’m harassed on the street because she’s a part of the problem. Maybe women like her enjoy the attention… or maybe they come from a small town where everyone greets everyone and they think that’s normal in all parts of the world. Regardless of the reasons, I want to tell these women to STOP encouraging the behavior.

Then there are the parents who do not discipline their sons to respect women. I’m not a parent so I don’t feel like I have the right to school parents here, but I am a woman who suffer from the negative consequences of street harassment. So mothers: Please teach your sons respect. Tell them it’s wrong to touch a woman without consent. Tell them they don’t have a right to tell a woman to smile more. Tell them it’s not flattering to compliment a woman on her physical features. Teach them to share this etiquette with their friends so that it becomes a norm.

For more information and statistics on street harassment, please visit: www.stopstreetharassment.org.

The Story of How We Met

Just as other couples do upon meeting new acquaintances, Kyle and I often get asked how we met. The short version is that we met online. The long version is recounted below in this blog. Kyle and I love to celebrate our dateversary and, I speak for myself here, it means a lot more to me than our wedding anniversary. Since I’m in Kabul this year and can’t celebrate our dateversary with Kyle, I’m putting our first date down on paper (I think there’s a version in my diary, too).

In 2011, before I moved to Washington, DC, my best friend was getting ready to move to Munich. She told me she purchased a Groupon voucher for a new online dating site called howaboutwe.com. The voucher was for a 3-month subscription and it was going to expire at the end of the year before her 6-month assignment in Munich was supposed to end (she’s still in Munich to this day), so she gave me the voucher. I didn’t do anything with it until November 2011. Thanksgiving weekend to be precise. I was a temp at a non-profit with a Monday to Thursday schedule and I spent the rest of my time job searching for a permanent job. That weekend, all was quiet on the job hunt and the group house I was living in at the time had emptied out (all four of my roommates were visiting their families for the holiday). So what to do? I decided to finally use the voucher.

Between Thanksgiving weekend and Christmas, I went on dates with three guys whom I had met through the website. One in particular seemed promising. We had gone on three dates in December, but after Christmas things quickly lost momentum. After that, I was almost counting the days until the end of February when the 3-month subscription was due to expire.

In early January 2012, the website was just a fun distraction for me during my downtime between my job search, dead end temp job, and my volunteer work. I continued to receive some hits and messages from guys I wasn’t interested in. I also got some views but no follow-up, but of course I had to check out their profiles, too. One of those views was from Kyle. His profile photo was of him in a black polo shirt, carrying a backpack, and wearing a pair of black shades. The photo didn’t show much of his face or physique, but I liked his date ideas so I clicked on his proposed date for smoking hookah. (Later on, he told me it was a photo of him in Israel.) To my surprise, he sent me a message almost right away to ask me out. We made plans to meet at Soussi in Adams Morgan after work.

Although I loved Adams Morgan (it reminded me of the West Village) and I love hookah, I was just not feeling it that day we had planned to meet. It was a cold January day and I was emotionally spent. Two hours before we were supposed to meet, I almost canceled on Kyle. So here’s how I talked myself into going: 1) I didn’t want to stand him up; 2) I only had a month left on the subscription so I might as well get some more use out of it; and 3) I was already dressed for the date.

I underestimated how long it was going to take me to get up to Adams Morgan from downtown and showed up 15 minutes late. (Months later, he told me that he thought he was going to be late because he had left his wallet at work and didn’t realize it until he was halfway home.) My first impression of Kyle was, “He has nice eyes. I wonder why he hid them in his profile picture.” Over hookah, we quickly learned that both our families moved around a lot, although his was far more nomadic than mine. He was studying abroad in Germany in summer 2005, at the same time I was on my Semester At Sea voyage going around Europe (Germany was one of the European countries I didn’t go to). We learned that we both love to travel and we have a strong interest in the world in general.

After hookah, Kyle proposed we go get dinner. It was the perfect opportunity for me to test him. I suggested Nepalese food across the street. If he said it was too “strange,” “foreign,” or “ethnic,” it was an automatic deal breaker. However, he agreed and he later told me that he had actually been to the restaurant before and really liked it.

After dinner, he had to walk back to the U Street metro which was on the way back to my house. I thought I knew a shortcut but got us lost instead, leading us east to Meridian Hill Park instead of south to  U Street. (Much later on in our relationship, he told me that I was taking us the wrong way, but he didn’t want to tell me at the time.) On the way, we discussed Chinese food and I told him about a place in Chinatown that my cousin had recently recommended to me. He said maybe we can check it out next time. I was surprised that he was planning our second date already, but being the pessimist that I am when it comes to dating, I didn’t get my hopes up.

When we finally got to the U Street metro, Kyle asked me if it was okay if he didn’t walk me all the way home. Admittedly, I was disappointed, but I didn’t tell him that.

So, kids, that is the story of how we met… plus our first date.


Just as all moms like to do, mine loves to tell stories of me as a baby. She describes me as a generally happy baby who loved everyone, even strangers. I don’t know what happened between my infancy and the first grade. By the time I was six years old, I was no longer that friendly, extroverted kid. Instead, I would keep to myself in class and hide out of sight from the playground at recess.

Maybe it was because of all the bullying throughout elementary school, but somewhere along the way I became increasingly withdrawn and self-conscious. It wasn’t until my tweens when I finally learned to walk into a room and not imagine that everyone was staring at me, whispering about me. By then, I was on my school’s dance team and chorus. I had been in the school orchestra. I was in honors classes and received special attention from my teachers for my writing. Finally, I grew out of a shell I had constructed around myself between the ages of six and eleven.

After that, I cannot recall feeling panicky when I had to stand up in front of a room full of people. I continued to perform in school orchestras, continued to dance, and even aced the required public speaking skills prerequisite in college. To this day, I am perfectly comfortable doing all of that (well, except for perhaps playing the violin because I’ve been out of practice).

About two years ago, when I was 29, I noticed that my hands started shaking, I would break out in a sweat right, and my heart started racing whenever I had to enter a room full of people. Right before I attended events that other people organized, the panicky feeling would overcome me days in advance. Do they really want me there? What if I’m not good enough to be their friend? Are they really my friends or do they want something from me? When I planned parties and gatherings, I would panic weeks in advance that no one would show up. There were the normal party-planning concerns: Do I have enough food? Do I have enough of a variety of beverages? And then there are the irrational questions: What if everyone cancels? What if they don’t have fun? Will they leave early? I even started Googling “What if no one comes to my party?” The irrational thoughts go on and on.

I remember so vividly how I got a panic attack at an after-party in September 2014 (the impromptu after-party followed a gala I had a large role in organizing and running). I was sitting at a restaurant bar, trying to chat with my husband’s coworker/classmate when all of sudden, just like that, the negative thoughts rushed through me. Why aren’t my friends talking to me? Not a single one of them greeted me when I walked in. Are they talking about me? My chest tightened up and I couldn’t breathe. I grabbed my clutch and my husband, running out of there as fast as I could in my heels, the panic attack making my legs unsteady and weak. When I was outside, I wondered if anyone had even noticed that I left. Did they even care?

In recent months, that panic and anxiety have completely demobilized me. I planned a gathering in October that I had been preparing for since July. I sent out invitations a month in advance to give everyone time to respond and to make their plans. As the date drew closer, especially in the two weeks leading up to it, my panic attacks started. I started getting heart palpitations. What if no one shows up? What if only two people show up and think I’m a loser because I have no real friends? It was supposed to be a small gathering with just my female friends and I had invited about 25 ladies. I got a very small, disappointing turnout of only four. The planning, fretting, and disappointment completely wiped me out. Ultimately, it was the fact that people I considered friends validated my worst fears. From then on, I had little to no energy for socializing, for making plans with friends, and even for reaching out to my best friend.

As the holiday season is now upon us and the party invites are flooding in, I’m weighing each one with a new scrutiny I didn’t exercise before. In addition to the initial question of “Am I free that day/night/date?”, it’s followed by: Which events deserve my effort and energy? More importantly, who do I want to spend time with? Who will truly miss my presence if I’m not at their party? Which party and group of friends are less likely to cause a nausea-inducing panic attack and nasty, negative, paralyzing thoughts from arising?

Those negative thoughts and insecurities don’t just come up in large crowds and social settings, but also in smaller groups, especially groups of three because I always feel like the third wheel. Maybe in some cases, it was intentional. But when I think about it rationally, I’m sure that most of the time it’s all in my head. For instance, for my 30th birthday, I celebrated in Miami with two of my closest girlfriends from college. For most of the weekend, I felt like they were making sure they were always walking a part from me. Their heads always bowed together, whispering, conspiring, intentionally leaving me out of the conversations. To combat these negative thoughts, I tried to focus on the positives—two of my friends took time off to fly down to Miami in order to celebrate my birthday with me. Although I had invited others, they were the only two who made the effort because they cared that much.

I’ve written a lot about my clinical depression, but I’ve never written about my anxiety before. I’m not sharing this to garner pity and sympathy. In fact, I’m downright scared that people will read this and think that I’m a freak.

My hope is that people would understand me better. People who know me well might be surprised to learn this about me because I’m so outspoken about—well, pretty much everything because I don’t normally worry about what others think about me and my opinions. Plus, I’m comfortable in crowds and I enjoy networking events and spending time with friends. I also love doing things on my own that some might find strange, such as eating dinner out by myself or going to the theater by myself; I’m never worried about others judging me in many cases. So why the social anxiety? I’m trying to figure that out myself.

I also hope that if there are others out there with the same condition, so they can tell me how they’ve learned to either overcome social anxiety or learned to cope with it. So far, I’m treating it like I do with my depression: I embrace the feelings—no matter how horrible and terrifying they are, and then I breathe.


After my last blog post went live, several people thanked me for writing about such a personal experience. A couple of people opened up to me about their troubled relationships with their fathers. Others expressed shock that I would publicize such a personal matter. Both sets of reactions encouraged me to write this latest post.

As a woman, many assumptions are placed on me based solely on my gender. I’ve written about some of these before, such as cultural expectations on marriage. This time, I want to write about childbearing. Frankly, just how plain rude it is for people to ask me about having children (When? How many?) and telling me what to do with my life and my body. Family planning is a very personal matter, yet people take it upon themselves to make the following two assumptions about me as a woman:

1. I want to have children.

2. If I don’t want children, then I must hate children.

Both are utterly false and I’m tired of people giving me looks of pity when I tell them that I have no plans for children.

One acquaintance, in particular, is a great example of how this behavior is perpetuated. One of the first times she asked me about children and I told her I don’t want any (Example #1), she flippantly said, “You’ll change your mind when you get older.” Mind you, this woman was just two years older than me but she felt okay talking down to me.

Later on (Example #2), the same acquaintance accused me of hating children in response to a Facebook status I posted about about choosing a child-free life. I did not hesitate to set her straight: I’ve been raising my brother since I was 5 years old, I used to babysit my younger cousins at a very young age, I worked as a babysitter charged with infants when I was in high school, and I love my friends’ kids. I probably knew more about caring for children than she did at that point in her life.

This acquaintance gave birth earlier this year. After I met her new son, she said to me (Example #3), “I’m not in the business of changing people’s minds if they don’t want children, but you should have one.” Contradict much?

All three of these examples are common assumptions that people place on those who express that they don’t want to have children of their own, biological or not. There are plenty of other assumptions placed on us as well: selfish, immature, etc. This video with Susan McPherson disproves all of these misconceptions perfectly. Sure, Susan is not representative of all people who don’t want children, but the video demonstrates that there are a lot of misconceptions and false beliefs about the population that don’t/have children.

I’m so glad this has become a popular topic in public forums, in the media, and on social media lately, such as The Atlantic’s article on “Why Women Choose Not to Have Children.” The discourse on gender and family planning has to change. It holds back women’s rights when other women continue to place antiquated expectations on other women as baby-makers and even homemakers.

I’m not going to list my reasons here to justify why I don’t want children. Maybe that might change or maybe it won’t. Regardless, it’s no one else’s business but mine and my partner’s. So… Don’t tell me I will change my mind. Don’t tell me I should have at least one kid just for the experience (this was actually said to me by a man). Don’t tell me not to wait because my biological clock is ticking. Don’t cite statistics on birth defects to me. Don’t tell me I will die alone and I need someone to take care of me when I’m older. Don’t tell me I will regret it. All of those have been said to me by multiple people, including friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, neighbors, my cousin’s husband’s aunt’s grandfather… I am willing to have candid conversations with people about this topic—as long as the participants don’t come with preconceived notions about me and my gender.

I respect your decision to have children (and I may even love these kids), so please respect my decision to not have children.

Planning my wedding was two of the most emotional years of my life. On top of the usual wedding drama and stress (i.e. guest list, budget, vendors, decor and details, etc.), I was mourning and grieving the loss of two father figures in my life, plus a father-in-law I was looking forward to spending many years with. I asked God many times why he took away all the men in my life who mattered to me. I thought perhaps it was a sign to finally make amends with my biological father.

In the two years leading up to my wedding, I only heard from my father when he needed confirmation from me that I still acknowledged his existence. This came in the form of phone calls–rare and infrequent, and (thankfully) short and brief. He never asked how I was doing. He just wanted to make sure I picked up the phone when he called.

At my Uncle Gan Jon’s wake and funeral, my father showed up dressed in khakis and sneakers. That was only one example among many transgressions committed by him in my adult life. It especially stunned me that my father did not shed one tear at his brother’s funeral. They had spent the majority of their lives together, migrated to the US together, lived together as adults for many years, and then lived across the street from each other. My uncle was always there for my father no matter what he did. Yet, at my uncle’s funeral, my father did not show an ounce of gratitude or pain.

As the anger I’ve harbored my entire life against this man was stirred and reawakened, I was also not the least bit surprised. By now, I had learned not to expect much from a father who disappointed and hurt me for most of my life, especially during my formative years. He was the man who would use force on me when I acted out, dragging me across a room or down the stairs with a tight grip on my arm. He was the man who would throw food and plates at me during dinner for no apparent reason. He was the man who not only assaulted me, but also my mom and my brother. He was the man who cheated on my mother more than once. I remember how he would flirt with my mom’s best friend whenever he thought he was alone with her.

For most of my life, I resented my mom for not leaving my father. Although I still don’t understand her reasons for staying with him for 22 years, I realized I don’t have to make the same mistake she did. Unlike my mom, I refuse to remain a victim.

That was how I realized that making amends with my father was not–should NOT–be the plan. Instead, I did the complete opposite. Right before getting married, I had my last breakup; and it was with my father. I broke up with him by blocking him on my phone. When he found me on Whatsapp and sent me messages (and a voice recording) demanding that I respond and call him, I blocked him there as well. I cut all ties with him without any hesitation. I finally took back the one thing he had on me–control.

There was no question about whether he was invited to the wedding or not. For the ceremony, I walked down the aisle by myself. First, to make a statement that I’ve had to stand up for myself for my entire life until I met my husband. Second, I did not belong to anyone to “give away” or “to take.” Third, if I had ever wanted to follow the tradtion, the only two men who I would consider asking to walk me down the aisle were now gone.

It’s been almost a year since I’ve ceased all communications with my father and I feel like a weight is lifted off my shoulders. I feel like I can breathe again–the same way I used to feel after getting out of an unhealthy relationship with a guy I was dating. It was the best decision I could have made in my premarital phase.

Finally, some happier memories are resurfacing, such as how my father was present at all of my school graduations with his camcorder in hand. How he used to take me and my brother to the park on Sundays to fly kites. How he always knew what my favorite dishes were and would cook them up for me on his days off (which was only one day a week). How hard working he was; when he owned his carry-outs, he worked 7 days a week, including holidays. How he encouraged me to develop my creative talents by buying me art supplies and a typewriter (later on, computers).

On this Father’s Day, I’m remembering all the father figures in my life I’ve been blessed with, including the birth father who was not a good person but did the best he could as a father.