Finding Strength in Vulnerability: Gen Y Perspective on Feminism and Mental Health

Finding Strength in Vulnerability: Gen Y Perspective on Feminism and Mental Health

If you had told my 20-year-old self that one day I would willingly take a 75 percent pay cut and abandon my decade-long career to embrace the role of a childless homemaker, I would have vehemently argued that such a decision contradicted my feminist beliefs. Growing up, I was ingrained with the idea that as a girl, I was privileged to receive an education. Society dictated that I must pursue a career to ensure my financial independence, to safeguard against the possibility of being left by a man. I was told I had to excel in my professional life while also maintaining a spotless home, raising children, and preserving my physical appearance—all in a bid to prevent abandonment.

At 19, I embarked on my first full-time job in advertising while simultaneously pursuing my degree part-time. For nearly three years, I endured the grueling routine of working during the day, attending school in the evenings, and continuing work late into the night, only to rise again at dawn for the gym before starting the cycle anew. I sacrificed countless family gatherings, toiled away weekends, and proudly flaunted my exhausting lifestyle on social media with cringe-worthy captions boasting about my dedication.

By 22, I had moved out of my parents' home, determined to assert my independence. At 24, I experienced the thrill of working in Shanghai for a brief stint. By 25, I was earning a salary that surpassed that of many peers who were just embarking on their careers. Fresh out of an abusive relationship, I adamantly proclaimed my aversion to marriage. By 28, I had achieved my personal goal of attaining a senior planning position before hitting the age of 30, enjoying a six-figure salary—and I even got engaged. I thought I was conquering life.

Little did I know, after nearly a decade of proudly brandishing the "Hardworking Feminist" badge, I was silently battling severe anxiety. In 2019, my fiancé Josh and I had just moved into our modest resale flat, barely scraping by financially. As I rode the lift to our floor, carrying a secondhand Muji bench we had purchased off Carousell, I felt the telltale signs of a panic attack creeping in. The quiet conversation of the two other passengers in the lift felt stifling. The moment the lift doors opened, I bolted out and sprinted down the corridor, my hands trembling as I let myself into our apartment. Collapsing onto the living room floor, I struggled to catch my breath, the hum of the ceiling fan only exacerbating my distress. There was no respite; nowhere felt quiet enough. I longed to disappear into the floorboards, yearning for an escape from the overwhelming pressure I had placed upon myself.

I dialed Josh's number, my words barely coherent as I struggled to articulate the turmoil raging within me. He was thousands of miles away on a work trip, and although he had never encountered a panic attack before, he remained steadfast and patient, enduring my frantic, shallow breaths and tearful pleas for him to remain silent.

Why am I freaking out?" I questioned myself in confusion. At 28, I seemingly had it all—a coveted job title I had diligently pursued for years, a salary that elicited pride from my parents, and the imminent prospect of marrying a remarkable partner while sharing a cozy abode. It was the epitome of everything I had been taught to aspire to throughout my upbringing. I even had houseplants adorning our home, for goodness' sake.

Yet, despite this facade of success, I found myself drowning in an inexplicable sea of anxiety. My partner, sensing my distress, suggested a radical departure from my career and urged me to seek professional help. But I, clinging fiercely to my identity as an Independent Feminist, scoffed at the notion of needing assistance. I convinced myself that I could soldier on, that I needed to maintain my career at all costs.

When he proposed the idea of taking a sabbatical, my indignation surged. "Do you realize how ludicrous that sounds in this economy?" I retorted, my fears of potential unemployment and financial instability bubbling to the surface. Deep down, however, beneath my facade of strength and independence, lurked a gnawing fear: What if he decides to leave me?

I berated myself for what I perceived as weakness and fragility, furious at my inability to live up to the lofty expectations I had set for myself.

In the midst of my internal turmoil, I began to realize that true strength isn't measured by the ability to bear burdens alone, but by the courage to acknowledge one's vulnerabilities and seek support when needed. With Josh's unwavering love and encouragement, I gradually learned to shed the constraints of societal expectations and embrace the path of self-care and introspection. It was a journey fraught with uncertainty and self-doubt, but through it, I discovered that true empowerment lies in the willingness to prioritize my mental well-being and redefine success on my own terms. So, as I embarked on the daunting yet liberating journey of self-discovery, I finally understood that being an Independent Feminist doesn't mean forsaking help or slowing down—it means forging my own path with authenticity, resilience, and the unwavering belief in my worthiness, regardless of the societal norms that once bound me.