Fake it ‘Till You Make it


re: Feeling Fearless at 21

… not actually faking it. But pretty close! Since vowing to be riskier and fearless on my birthday/as my new years resolution, I’ve done just that.

I got hired as a marketing intern at Locks and Mane, a start-up in Toronto that is revolutionizing and changing up the WHOLE hair-extension game. At first, I was incredibly reluctant. I’ve been to Toronto plenty of times, but only for weekends at a time and for leisure purposes. I have a few friends in the city right now, but would for the most part, be living by myself. I’ve never worked in a workplace that was directly related to something I wanted to pursue, and have miniscule experience in marketing. Everything was unfamiliar– this wasn’t one of those Communitech start-up’s in the Kitchener-Waterloo Region (no offence to them!!) that’s doing something data analysis something machine learning client-side user friendly buzzword buzzword buzzword, that I was used to. Locks and Mane is truly an entrepreneurship with real people, real beliefs, and a very real history that started from the bottom. I was so scared of letting them down.


On top of that, I was a little late to the game this semester. I had to find a sublet for my room in Waterloo, and find reasonably-priced, reasonably-placed housing in Toronto. If you’ve read any news in the last few years, you know that the housing crisis in big cities is off the charts. My chances felt really slim, but in the course of about 3 days, I got a few other interviews for other marketing positions (because Locks and Mane is only a few days a week, I wanted other work), found someone to sublet my apartment in Waterloo, and found a lovely place in Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods neighborhood. All of the stars were aligning– I just had trouble convincing myself that this is what’s best for me.


Zuko, the office cat at [s]advocacy. Cats >> Dogs don’t @ me


This was a cuter boomerang that WordPress doesn’t let me upload.

Every night leading up until the day I moved, I would have a mild anxiety attack and get cold feet about moving. I didn’t want to be without my friends, my free bus pass, and the crappy Chinese restaurants a 5 minute walk from my apartment. My mom was upset that I was deciding to take off a few terms of school in order to gain valuable work experience, and that made my decision all the more difficult. Thankfully, my close friends and older sister were there to talk me down everytime I wanted to give up on the whole ordeal. They told me that I’m strong, smart, and capable– and they truly believed that I would be successful in whatever I decided to take on.


My BFF’s/roommates/high school friends and I had a DIY paint night for my last night in Waterloo. These girls are my rock!!

So, on February 1st, I started my first day at Locks and Mane. On February 2nd, I went in for an interview at a legal start-up, [s]advocacy by Caryma Sa’d. On February 3rd, I had my first day at [s]advocacy. I fell in love with the people, leaders, and clients of both of my workplaces and the neighborhoods that they’re in. Turns out, the offices of [s]advocacy are in the heart of Toronto’s Chinatown, so the crappy Chinese food that I was missing out on in Waterloo, was replaced with amazing and unbelievably cheap (also a little sketchy) Chinese/Vietnamese food of Chinatown.

Although it may sound like it, my time here so far has not been all rainbows and butterflies. It’s cold. I hate public transit and I don’t understand how streetcars work. I’m so exhausted every day that I close my eyes when I get home from work intending to nap, and wake up 5-6 hours later with a full face of makeup, lights on, and still fully dressed in work clothes. With that being said, I’m slowly adjusting, and am really thankful that I threw myself into the learning process.

Work ethic is something that I’ve always had a lot of, but was unsure of how I can take it to the next level. While it’s easy to want to break old routines in place for trying new ones, it’s easier said than done. I’ve had to learn to measure my success against my own definition, not my parents, friends, or the institutions of society. I’ve had to make decisions that literally pained me to make. But, by putting myself through this, I know that I’m learning so much (even if I fail), and the potential for learning more about myself as a person, my interests, and my career, are limitless.

My Experience with Persistent Depressive Disorder


In honor of #BellLetsTalk and my last blog post, I thought I’d share some of my experiences with being diagnosed with PSD (or dysthymia), and how I’ve been trying to cope with it. It’s a work in progress, but it has certainly taught me that there’s virtue to rejecting complacency. A tl;dr of the post would be that mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes, as does the treatment and ability to cope with it.

High-functioning depression is a double-edged sword.

On one hand, I felt like it was impressive for me to be able to continue to go to class as an honours student, actively participate in multiple clubs/organizations, work part-time, and attempt to maintain an active and social lifestyle. On the other, I often felt like I was letting a lot of people down, especially myself, when I couldn’t drag myself out of bed to go to a meeting, or left a paper until the very last minute because I had no motivation. Sometimes it feels like a never ending cycle of my mental illness getting in the way of something I knew I wanted/needed to do, me getting angry at myself for not having more strength, and the bottomless pit of self-loathing begins. While I was trying to enjoy the pleasures of life by immersing myself in it, I was only half-engaging myself in things. As a result, I was half-enjoying things too.

No one needs to attempt to “validate” their mental illness.

This is especially prevalent when I first came to terms with my diagnosis and decided to tell my close friends and family about it. It seemed unfathomable to my friends, many of whom I’ve known since I was in grade school. Finding out that someone close to you has been struggling to be happy for so long is hard to swallow. I’m sure that many of my friends wondered what they could have done to help, how they couldn’t see how I was depressed, and how they should start treating me now. My parents, still with a very traditional East-Asian culture outlook on mental health, couldn’t even begin to comprehend the concept. They told me to exercise, to not think about things that make me sad, and that I didn’t need to medicate myself in order to be happy. At first, I was impatient and frustrated with having to explain my symptoms to everyone, but then I realized that they’d either understand more as time went on, or continue to remain ignorant about it. These are difficult narratives to tell and basically uncharted waters in terms of research and public awareness. I barely even understand my own illness, how could I be frustrated explaining it to people who would understand it even less than me?

There’s no “one size fits all” treatment, and that’s alright.

Some people respond well to antidepressants, some don’t. Some people find certain kinds of therapy to be useful while others find it counter-productive. I honestly found solace in knowing that this was going to be a way for me to figure out what will help me cope. It kind of seemed like a new challenge for me to take on– what foods make me groggy on my meds? How much sleep is too much sleep? How often should I talk to a counsellor without feeling like I was investing too much time? Comparing myself to other people who I knew were going through a tough time or also struggled with mental illness usually made me feel worse about my lack of progress, especially if I was having a bad day. After I accepted that I need to do things at my own pace, I realized the truly psychologically daunting task of coping with depression is measured on my own timeline, and not someone else’s.

It’s okay to be a little selfish sometimes.

When I was at my worst mental state in December, one of my best friends drove from Toronto as soon as she finished work on Friday to Waterloo, and then spent the whole weekend with me until another of my friends picked me up to take me back to Windsor. I knew that it was a busy time for everyone, and while I felt terrible about it, they all assured me that they wanted me to bother them and for them to be there for me. I wasn’t a hassle at all, even though it felt like it. This also applies to being kind of a, for lack of a better word, flakey person sometimes. There will be days when I finish my day and I’m completely drained, and I have to cancel on my friends because I just can’t find the gas in myself to be around them. I do feel bad, but I know that having people be a little cheesed at me is better than me forcing myself to be somewhere and be grumpy the whole time, possibly resulting in me being irritable and mean to my friends.

With that being said, I want to give every one of you who are reading this permission to be selfish with regards to me. Please, please reach out to me if you need someone to talk to. If we’ve made plans, please don’t feel obligated to show up if you’re having a bad day. I want to talk to you guys if you need it, and give you space when you need it too.


#BellLetsTalk Is Not Enough


Every year in January, Canadian telecommunications company Bell holds a campaign called #BellLetsTalk, encouraging people to Tweet and post about the stigma surrounding mental health. For every Tweet, Bell donates 5 cents to a multitude of mental health initiatives all over Canada, ranging from community funds to major gifts.

While the impacts of the campaign are transparent by a quick Google search, I’m willing to say that it’s simply not enough, and in fact, might even be harmful. This is not a woe-is-me story, but I’d like to use my personal experiences to illustrate why we need to work harder and do more to support those who are suffering with mental illness, or may not even know that they’re suffering.

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Taken from the Bell Let’s Talk Website.

#BellLetsTalk Allows Institutions to Scapegoat Serious Systemic Issues

The University of Waterloo is one of the most prestigious schools in Canada. We have around 30 000 undergraduate students and 6000 graduate students. Last year in the course of 3 months, 2 students at the same dorm that I lived in when I was in first year killed themselves. These are just the suicides that the university has to acknowledge because they happen on campus. UW has a large population of students who leave campus every term to go on co-op, and an even larger population who live off campus, so there is no accurate way to gather statistics on mental illness within the school community. During the same time that the two students killed themselves, I tried to seek support from on campus resources, beginning with counselling services. After seeing an intake counsellor and a social worker, I was put on a waitlist and not offered an appointment until 3 months later, weeks before exam season was about to start.

I tried again with mental health services on campus (I don’t know what the difference is and honestly I’m not even sure if the people working here know what the difference between mental health services and counselling services). After a few sessions with a psychologist, I was diagnosed with Persistent Depressive Disorder and Anxiety Disorder. The psychologist started running down a list of my possible options for treatment on and off campus, most being followed by her saying “but.. there is a waitlist to get on these”, or, “This program doesn’t start until September”, or, “it might be out of your price range for treatment options”.

There has been much speculation from UW students on whether or not the school owes us proper mental health services. There has also been controversy regarding sexual harassment, pay, and working conditions for the mental health support workers here on campus. Of course, there is no public addressing of these issues, but the president of the school sends out an e-mail every #BellLetsTalk day highlighting the options and departments that students can reach out to, with no real action on addressing why mental health/counselling services are different departments with little cohesion.

It doesn’t address the stigma people have towards themselves

.. and it certainly does not address the stigma that doctors, nurses, and many of the front line mental crisis workers have towards those with mental illness. Before the holidays, I hit a rough patch and went to the Grand River Hospital because I felt incredibly desperate and at risk– I was at my wits end and felt my life was at risk if I stayed home. Can you just stop and think about how awful someone has to feel to go to the hospital to save themselves. I met with 5 different people- a triage nurse, intake nurse, crisis nurse, psychiatrist, and a physician. Each person I spoke with got increasingly less sympathetic and were asking me all the wrong and incredibly insensitive questions. When told that I have PDS, I was interrogated and berated for not seeking help earlier. It was my fault that I was there, seeking help. The psychiatrist didn’t even know my name. This further instilled the toxic and self-deprecating attitude that I had towards myself at that time.

It just blew my mind because people with mental illness should be able to say “it was my depression talking, not me”, and not feel bad about it. I can’t even convince myself that it’s something acceptable to say, how can I expect those who are close to me to believe it? The Bell campaign addresses how we should treat people with mental illness, but not how people with mental illness should treat themselves, or how medical professionals who don’t necessarily specialize in mental crises.

What can we do come January 31?

Think beyond what a person who doesn’t suffer with mental issues should do to stop the stigma, and more about how the stigma affects institutions, leaders of these institutions, and the people that suffer with mental illness. Post wisely, and consider how a toxic stigma really impacts how we shape the lives of so many people.


Feeling Fearless at 21


I’ve always hated my birthday. In fact, I still do, despite all of the amazing people and moving parts in my life trying to make it a special day for me. I think that the expectations that come with one sole day that is supposed to be a celebration of my life is overwhelming and to a certain extent, unreasonable. Graduation parties, celebrating a professional milestone, anniversaries of relationships, all make sense to me and all warrant the gathering of friends and family for good food. My birthday is just another day of the year. It’s usually way too cold to do anything enjoyable outside. I never know what to do with my face or eyes or hands when people are singing “Happy Birthday” to me. My parents usually forget to call me and wish me a good day.

Last year, I turned 20. It was the most dreadful and scary and awful thing that I just wanted to be over with. I felt like I was getting old, like I was damaged goods. 20 years old with no solid work experience, no meaningful relationship, and about 30 pounds heavier than I would have liked. I cried for hours on my birthday.

I tried really, really hard to make this year different. So I guess lumping New Years resolutions and goals for my 21st year of life is where I get some relief from the birthday anxiety. The last month has been the most insane emotional rollercoaster I’ve ever been on, and it still feels like I’m trying to recover from it. Setting goals and having something to look forward to has been helpful, but nothing is more helpful than sharing those goals with those who are closest to me, and having them hold me accountable when I start to stray.


Celebrating my 21st birthday at Miku Toronto!

This year, I’m vowing to take more risks and put myself out of my comfort zone. Since I started my undergraduate career at the University of Waterloo 2 years ago, I have not taken a break. While most students spent their 4 months of summer working or playing, I was in school. I just really hate living at home, especially after living by myself for so long. Like, why do I have to explain to my mom why I’m going to McDonald’s at midnight? Can’t a girl get her late night Junior Chicken fixed without being questioned? It also was in part because I’m not a co-op student, so internships aren’t mandatory for my degree. While I did try to look for work during the summer, nothing was fruitful, and staying in school seemed like the most productive and least-risky course of action. This has lead to many meltdowns, feeling burnt out, uninspired, and scared. While I was heavily involved in extra-curriculars, I found myself in the same kinds of leadership roles that were primarily coordination and logistics. I’m so thankful that I’ve had the opportunities to contribute to so many great things like Waterloo Orientation and UW Economics Society, but it was definitely my time with Hack the North that has been so so eye-opening.

Hack the North, Canada’s biggest hackathon, began with a group of inspired, ambitious, and keen students, and has developed a strong culture of pushing boundaries and innovation (in true Waterloo fashion, of course), and through its ~4 years of existence, the organization has never lost sight of this culture. This extends to everything we do, but most specifically, the people that we hire. Although my time as an organizer taught me a lot about working in a team, organization, and logistics, the most valuable thing I got was meeting people who inspired me. These were some of the brightest, fearless people that I’ve ever met, who were always more than eager to share their wisdom and advice with everyone.

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Smiling through the stress at Hack the North 2017. Courtesy of Toby Thomas.

One thing I learned is that you’ll never experience anything different if you keep doing the same things. This is literally why so many students graduate from university with no idea of what they’re doing and have no job prospects. Of course you’re not going to know what to do after a 4-year undergrad in biology, if all you’ve been doing is studying and working retail during the summer. So, I’m finally going to take 4 months off and try things that make me feel uneasy. And I’m going to do everything I can to rid of the uneasy feeling so that when an exciting opportunity presents itself, I’m equipped to take it. And I’m truly ready to take on my twenties. I’m a young adult now!!!! I can do things. I can be self sufficient. I have many years of learning and experiencing ahead of me. And I want to thank and welcome all of you into the adventure of my attempt at feeling fearless!


Can’t forget to have some fun and get my daily dose of caffeine in the process!

I’m Proud of my Parents’ Accents- and you should be too

Lifestyle, Uncategorized

When I was younger, my parents often told me stories about their life journey. Sometimes these stories came up when they were scolding my sisters and I, saying that they used to dodge bombs while walking to school, and that I have it good to be living here, and sometimes it was a chance for my parents to teach us where our true roots came from.

My parents left their hometown of Hai Phong, Vietnam with my newborn sister during the post-war era. Things looked shaky in terms of economic stability, and there were rumors of western countries filled with opportunity for new beginnings and creating a life for oneself. One day, they snuck onto a cargo ship filled packed to the rim with other people fleeing Vietnam. After grueling days at sea, they finally landed in Hong Kong and settled in a refugee camp, where my other older sister, Linda, was born. From there, they went to another refugee camp in the Philippines, and when Canadian officials visited the camp, my mom decked my sisters out in Canadian gear, giving them the chance to apply and get accepted to immigrate to Canada. This entire journey, which this paragraph truly does not do justice to, took around 6 years. These 6 years were filled with uncertainty, isolation from family, nostalgia, and heart-break, as my parents made sacrifice after sacrifice, missing out on integral family events back in Vietnam because they wanted so badly to provide a fruitful life for my sisters and I.


My sisters and parents visiting the Niagara Falls shortly after arriving in Canada (prior to my conception, a much sadder time for everyone, I’m sure)

In 1995, they came to Canada and started their new lives. My mom babysat the other Vietnamese (and not Vietnamese!) children in the neighborhood, many of them with parents just like mine, while my dad worked odd jobs, studied for his G1 (which he failed multiple times because of the language barrier), tested for his G2, and purchased his first car by 1997, which was when I was born. Eventually, my parents found more fulfilling and better paying work, and we moved to my current home in the lovely and quiet neighborhoods of South Windsor. Here, they made sure my sisters and I attended good schools and got good marks while they continued to support us.


My family getting their Canadian Citizenship (sans moi, I was just there for moral support in the middle).

I know that this story is one that many can relate to, and one that strikes a chord for all. It’s the story of the immigrant’s dream. It certainly does not come without struggle, even now. Sometimes it’s big things, like the fact that my parents celebrate Lunar New Year over the course of one evening, as opposed to the week-long celebrations that happen in Vietnam. Sometimes it’s small things, like the cashier at Burger King who rolls his eyes when he asks my dad to repeat himself because he didn’t understand him the first time as a result of English that came from a mouth that was born and raised speaking Vietnamese.

Honestly, I am incredibly ashamed that I’ve ever been embarrassed to hear my parents speak English. Growing up, I’d hate having my friends over in fear that they would mock the way my parents speak to me, or the way that the conversation was just.. a little harder to get on, due to the slightly broken English that my parents spoke. This eventually turned into indifference to their accents in my adolescent years. I didn’t harbor negative feelings, but I certainly would rather not think about it. It wasn’t until I moved out for university that I truly began to appreciate the symbolism behind their accented English.

For me, their accents represent a life and culture that they know like the back of their hand. The accents represent the families that they left behind in order for me to seize the land of opportunity. They represent my mom spending hours on the phone catching up with her siblings and parents on Christmas and Lunar New Year. They represent my dad missing the funeral of his parents because he had newly moved to Canada, with no money and no documentation to fly back home to be with his siblings. They represent the long and crazy hours my parents worked to afford the house we live in now, the clothes I wear, and the education I am so honoured to receive.

While you can tell that English is my parents’ second (but certainly not inferior) language, you can also tell that their lives are incredibly rich in experiences, success, failures, love, and sacrifice. So when I see my mom practicing her Tim Horton’s order before she gets to the drive through so that the worker understands her, I can’t help but beam with pride.