While play can provide space for new beginnings and exploration, it can also give us the chance to be reminded of our “why” and gain perspective in the midst of the muck and messiness of life. While writing this book, I experienced one of the most intense seasons of burnout in my life. The convergence of world events that deeply affected me—George Floyd’s murder; the massacre of Asian spa workers in Atlanta—coupled with the steadily increasing exhaustion and worry from the COVID-19 pandemic sent me into a tailspin, physically and mentally. Of course, I couldn’t have anticipated all these life events—and all of them left me burned to a crisp.
So, I did what felt like the most counterproductive thing I could do, as deadlines loomed: I booked a trip to visit college friends for a weekend in San Diego. It felt like I was digging myself into a deeper hole, but I needed to find my way back to myself again. I was having serious doubts—about writing, about my work—and I wondered if I should just call everything off and go back to focusing on the more regular parts of my life. While packing, it took every ounce of willpower to leave my laptop at home, ignoring the voice in my head telling me that my time on the flight would give me ample opportunity to write. I brought a novel instead. I forced my body to rest and invited myself into play. During dinner one night, fully present for the first time in months, I burst into tears and said, “This might be the first time I am enjoying food in a really long time.” I had run myself ragged, and at that moment I fully realized how tattered I had become. I had lived with such strong blinders that I had forgotten how to enjoy and savor food and my life. This thought was extremely depressing. My friends held me in love and nonjudgment for the whole weekend. They reminded me of who I was, of why I was writing this book, and that I was capable of it. It was exactly what I needed—a necessary pause and permission to play without having earned a thing.
Whatever your life circumstances, can you find the time to allow yourself to consider how you might introduce play as a healing practice for exhaustion and as a form of medicine for our epidemic of over-functioning, loneliness, and burnout? Perhaps for you this medicine may come in the form of planning dinner and a movie at home with your kids, where you put away your phones and just savor the evening, or taking an hour out of your day to go for a leisurely walk with a friend and notice every smell of fall in the air. Play does not have to be a lavish trip to an exotic location; it can be found in the ordinary moments, if you are willing to create magic within every day.
Excerpted from Permission to Come Home by Jenny T. Wang. Copyright © 2022 by Jenny T. Wang. Reprinted with permission of Balance Publishing. All rights reserved.
Dr. Jenny Wang (she/her) is a Taiwanese American clinical psychologist speaker and mental health activist who works from a social justice and trauma-informed framework. She is the founder of the @asiansformentalhealth community on Instagram and is passionate about destigmatizing mental health for Asians. Her clinical and professional interests focus on Asian American identity, mental health advocacy, and racial trauma. She created the Asians for Mental Health therapist directory to help Asian Americans find culturally reverent mental health care. She has been featured on NBC News, NPR, Houston Chronicle, and several other publications discussing the unique mental health struggles of Asian Americans.