aspergers, autism, culture, health, ideas, living abroad, psychology, travel

Eastern Attitudes, Western Failures

low angle shot of young woman
Photo by Jack Winbow on

Take it Easy on Asia

For the longest time I’ve been critical towards the way Asian cultures view mental health. They either don’t understand or act like it doesn’t exist. I’ve cut Vietnam some slack because it’s an underdeveloped nation. Thailand was more receptive overall because it’s a more advanced country. Thailand isn’t into keeping face as much because it’s neither a Confucian society, nor is it communist. Their culture is built around Buddhism and reaching nirvana. Thailand has also been a tourist hot spot for the longest time. They’re more accustomed to dealing with foreigners. You can’t compare the two. I mentioned in my last note most other Americans and I think of Asia what we see on screen, and that’s mostly Japan. Not all of Europe is like Great Britain or France, so it’s unfair to assume the whole of Asia is akin to Japan. Thailand and Vietnam are night and day from one another. That said, I’m not going to lie.

Club Med is Fully Booked

My life was easier in Bangkok regarding my mental health than in Saigon. There was a period in the beginning of 2016 when I had frequent anxiety attacks. It felt like my chest was exploding whenever I walked down the street. I thought I was having a heart attack a few times. I visited a doctor at the local clinic. During my session, he told me “No worry so much!” in broken English. Easier said than done I thought. I figure he was trying to tell me my anxiety was out of control. He prescribed me sleeping pills and meds to lower my cholesterol. The good news is I wasn’t going into cardiac arrest like I imagined. I asked if I could get some anti-anxiety or anti-depression medication, but he said I must go to the hospital for that. I wasn’t inclined to do that for fear I’d be institutionalized. If I knew then what I do now, I would’ve chosen otherwise.

Severed Thais and Sweet Little Lies

I’ve even had to tell white lies about my medical screenings and keep my autism a secret in Vietnam to get my visa. I’m not proud of this, but I didn’t have much choice. I’d already come here and had nothing else to fall back on. I couldn’t get hired in South Korea, Taiwan, or Japan because nobody there wants to deal with it. That’s where my tolerance runs out. Those are developed countries. They know about mental health; they just choose not to acknowledge it. They know better. There’s no such thing as doctor/patient confidentiality in South Korea, and I wasn’t going to lie on my applications like I did when I joined the U.S. Coast Guard. I wasn’t obliged to make that mistake again to become another cookie cutter person in a conformist society that treats people like robots. Unless there are antennas connected to my head and/or my joints make hydraulic sounds whenever I move them, I don’t deserve that kind of treatment. My parents didn’t make me on the assembly line. I’m not a cyborg, either.

My Way or the Highway

That leads me to my second point. It’s not just Asian cultures’ dispositions towards mental health that repulses me. Western attitudes aren’t much better from my experience. There were times in the military when I’d see a therapist. I wouldn’t tell anyone for fear of embarrassment. I should have been discharged long before I was. I would have loved to claim unsuitability, but it was too late when I considered that option. I realized I’d gotten myself boxed in. All I could think of was biding my time. Knowing that culture, I would have been shamed for it and branded a coward who couldn’t hack it. Either that, or they would have accused me of malingering. The military is awash of toxic masculinity. The last thing I needed was a bunch of meatheads already making my life hell having more ammunition. In the military, it’s tolerated yet frowned upon for one to seek professional help. The powers that be start second guessing that person’s competence and get carefree with the ridiculing and gaslighting. The counselors I saw meant well, but I knew they couldn’t help me.

Shape Up, Young Man

My father and others were the same when I was younger. They thought I was just a spoiled brat who needed extra discipline to ‘shape up.’ Deep down I think my dad knew, but he was too embarrassed to admit it. I wasn’t there when it happened, but my mother told me she tried to get Dad into therapy sessions when they were together. He wouldn’t go because he felt emasculated. I don’t know if that’s Dad and his insecurities or the old-school mentality people from his generation and before had, but I don’t like it. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. He even sent me to military school when I was a teenager. My dad in his infinite knowledge in wisdom decided that only after he realized he’d made a mistake placing me in the public schools but never admitted his faults. That’s who he is. I was placed in the same boat as a bunch of juvenile delinquents involved in drugs and gang activities when I should have been either in special-ed or a school for troubled youths.

Alpha Males and Alpha Men

He used to get preachy about my mother giving me antidepressants and other medications. I imagine he’s not the only person who felt that way. I don’t know everything about Russia, Eastern Europe, or Latin America, but I do know there are some factions of those societies convinced that any man who suffers from depression or anxiety is weak and less manly. Like the military, they show off their bravado and think bashing each other’s heads in over the Alpha male position is the only way to go. They have a tribalist mentality. I surmise much of that is because communism made those countries that way. They’d been in survival mode for the longest time and didn’t have the resources or know-how. If only they knew most Alpha males can only survive in their natural habitats.

On the Street or in the Clinic

Skeptics everywhere like my dad accuse the psyche system of giving people crutches to lean on. Psychiatrists and psychologists are wrong in their eyes. What would they rather I do? Visit a local crack dealer who promises a cheap vacation with no travel arrangements? That way I can inject all my problems away with a hypodermic needle and down it with some Scotch. Then I can wind up in the Betty Ford Clinic with Charlie Sheen and go on The Today Show telling everyone I’m a warlock with tiger blood in my veins and Adonis DNA. Since I’m not bipolar, I can’t be bi-winning. So if the interviewers inquires if I have Asperger’s, my retort will be, “I’ve got aspirations.” Because we all know Hollywood and the drug counterculture set a better example. I’m sure Pablo Escobar and Chapo Guzman had more to offer society than did any psychotherapist. If only mental health professionals drove around town in black BMW’s with wide rims and wore flashy clothing in public, people might take them more seriously. Of course none of those know-it-alls like my father from his generation wouldn’t know anything about abusing drugs or alcohol to drown their sorrows away, either. That’s the point I’m making. We live in a world where abusing recreational drugs and booze and becoming an addict is more acceptable than seeking professional help and taking prescription pills.


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