China, mental health and me (part two)
Identifying a problem is step one of solving it. In Part one of ‘China, mental health and me, Natasha was able to acknowledge her struggles and dig herself out of the hole that she was in through the help of her community. It would be remiss of us not to mention the yin and yang of life because not only did Natasha face some major challenges but she overcame them and is now able to share her story in the hope of helping others.
Continue reading below to see how these experiences created some of the most beautiful moments of her life.
If you’re feeling hopeless, sad or depressed, please reach out to a medical professional or talk to your friends and family about it. Finally, opening up to my family and finding out about my mum and brother’s mental health journey was so freeing for me. The more we talk, the more it helps. The more we seek medical help, the better you will feel. The more black people who talk to therapists and counsellors, the more we will heal from our trauma and live fuller lives. So no matter what gender or race, I encourage you to reach out.
The racism in China affected my mental health the most but China was also the best year of my life, hands down. Just like within my African and British identity, there was a lot of duality in my China experience. I think it is important to talk about all the amazing things I did whilst I was there. I had so much fun. I went to a Chinese music festival and saw my favourite Chinese-speaking music artists: VAVA and 吴青峰 (Wu Qing Feng). I joined Shanghai Storm Netball team and made some amazing friends. I explored a bamboo forest and saw a marathon. I visited Taiwan and climbed Elephant mountain. I celebrated my first Christmas away from home with my friends. I travelled to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. I saw Hong Kong’s Lunar New Year Parade and Fireworks, which was the most incredible firework display I had ever seen. I played an afternoon of basketball with my friend’s cousin and his work friends. I climbed Huangshan Mountain with my friend who came to visit from the UK. I took part in cultural events at university. I made life long connections with people from China and all around the world. I remember when I was flying to Thailand during my winter break. I thought to myself; I never thought that this would be me. I never thought a poor fat black woman would ever be able to live the life I’m living. There were so many barriers in my way, but I did it. I got through. I had the best year. Racism and my mental health can’t and will never change that.
Natasha celebrating Christmas in Shanghai with her friends.
I have a lot of hope that, in the future, China will be a place where Black people feel comfortable, feel safe and can live and work alongside Chinese people and other foreigners. Organisations like Black Livity China are helping relations between Black and Chinese people. I also believe that Chinese people are some of the most hospitable people that I’ve met. My friend’s family welcomed me into their home for a week during 灯节 (the lantern festival after Chinese new year). I have so many Chinese friends that reached out to me and checked how I was doing after George Floyd’s murder (Rest In Power) and Black Lives Matter organisations hit global news. I know that it isn’t all Chinese people and we are moving in the right direction. Although that may be the case in the future, right now Black people still experience racism in China and across the globe. This is why these conversations need to be had. In societies across the globe, we need to support our Black community and encourage collaboration and friendship.
Natasha’s trip to Shandong province to visit her friend’s family.
My year in China changed my life, in so many ways. I made incredible friends, I had amazing experiences, I learnt more about my African identity (I’m trying to teach myself Yoruba and I want to spend my summer after university in Nigeria and Ghana, learning and exposing myself to my homeland. This wouldn’t have happened without going to China.) I fell in love with Chinese food and language. Learned and listened to a lot of Chinese-language hip hop and RnB. I was the saddest I’d ever been but I was also the happiest. I didn’t want to leave in the end. My expectations of China were correct, China is a country steeped in tradition and focused on Community. My time there brought me back to my own community, brought me back to West Africa. It made me realise how important it is for me to know my roots and to support Africa. For that reason, I have no regrets about how my year in China was. I wouldn’t change my experience for all the money in the world.
Natasha is a Black British woman who studied in Shanghai during her year abroad from her UK university. She currently studies Chinese and International Development and is planning to move back to Asia after graduation to become a Chinese to English translator. She hopes to continue writing about her life experiences and her time in China. She is a singer, writer and slightly obsessed with cooking.