“On drowning…and feeling like no one can hear you”.

Jen Xu
5 min readNov 1, 2022

I wrote this 7 months ago:

I like the irony of this title because I’m a (relatively) strong water-treader. But that’s just the point. I’m used to fighting through stuff but for the first time in a long time, I feel like I’ve hit a wall. I feel like I don’t get a voice, and I can’t fight any harder because when I do speak up, I’m meek and timid and awkward because I’m worried that it won’t be a good idea…and by worrying about it, it comes out as a terrible idea.

I’ve had to realize that my “tough act” is a front. It’s something I’ve learned to put up so that people think I’m not the “quiet Asian girl”, but it’s easy to pretend to be tough when it’s…easy. But when it’s hard, it’s hard.

Wow. I wrote this 7 months ago. And it’s really powerful now because of how different I feel. How different life feels. How it’s so much better in some ways, and so much worse in other ways.

See, I started doing comedy exactly 6 months ago now. Before that first night I went up, I had been practicing bits about my concussion stories, and about being into bald men — very head-related, yes. I told myself I was going to just watch. Instead, I signed up, and I told the host that I had 0 experience when he asked me. Which was a bit embarrassing, but you’ve got to start somewhere, right? I do feel like I’ve proven myself over the past 6 months — not necessarily that I’m so much funnier now (maybe a little bit funnier!), but I’ve always worked at my comedy.

Earlier tonight I had told a friend “Ugh — I’m frustrated that my comedy is 75% hard work & 25% actually being funny”. But then we also discussed that comedy funny is different from conversation funny — so that’s kinda just how it is right now for me. But doing comedy has given me this confidence that I…have never felt in my life. I’ve never felt this powerful or assertive or confident in many facets of my life. It’s given me a voice in all of the darkness that I’ve been feeling.

I’ve even proudly been able to do some “off the cuff” humor and surprise myself. I am the type of person who over-prepares for everything & craves control over everything — but that’s been challenged when I can’t control what people laugh at. But I’ve had some opportunities where I was required to come up with stuff on the spot — and I actually did pretty good. In the sense that I didn’t cry or vomit, I did alright, and actually got some laughs. I also spoke my mind about a situation with another comedian, and standing up for myself in that way felt absolutely incredible.

Boy howdy, how much better life has gotten since I’ve started comedy. Even though it’s slightly ruined comedy shows for me now, or at least made them feel really different. Long story short, I reconnected with a friend after a few months of not speaking, about a month or so into doing comedy. And he told me more recently he could definitely see just how much more confident & assertive I’ve become. I’m a good deal better at conversing with people because even though I’m always thinking about what I’m saying…I’m listening a lot more to see what types of jokes I can crack. Listen, okay, we can’t all be perfect — at least I’m listening more in some capacity!

It’s shocking how much comedy has changed me. I mean, I’ve found a voice. It’s not necessarily in the thing that’s going to provide me with money/a job — but I’ve found a voice where I don’t feel meek or timid or awkward. Well I might feel awkward, but in a perfectly fantastic way. But I can still see my timid-ness come out when I worry about getting laughs…or when I keep my phone or notebook with me to look at because I’m worried I’ll forget stuff, but it ends up making me even more nervous.

But other things are more difficult than they were 7 months ago, for sure. Right now, handling school and research and meetings and my puppy and trying to stay sane — is really hard. And my lack of a social life is not helping. I haven’t even been able to work out most of the semester because I genuinely…cannot. I know, I know — people say you’ll make time for it if you want it. But honestly, my recovery was so bad with lack of sleep, lack of movement during the day because of my job, and the amount of walking I had to do with classes & my puppy. I had also lost 10 lbs. due to stress and it was just bad. Okay, so it feels a little bit like I’m making excuses, and I think it’s more for myself than anything.

Regardless, I definitely feel like I’m drowning in the work I have, because it isn’t something I can control. However, I can work on my confidence in speaking about my research and being an even more active member of my lab. I can’t control how well it’s received, but I can try harder, I can work harder, I can practice — I can improve my confidence, and hell, I will!

I’ve stopped recording myself at comedy because it became more about me being perfect & wanting stuff to post online — and I’ve come back to just wanting to get up there & be funny & have fun. I’ve been having a rough go at open mics but I also think my topics are all either about being Asian or dating (and often, a combination of the 2), so I need to switch it up a little. I also do need to dedicate more time to joke writing and practicing, so that I don’t have to have my “security blanket” of my notebook or the notes on my phone. There are situations where it would be good to have my notes, but I’m not there right now.

I’ve started to also talk about my research thoughts out loud to myself — and I’m working on finding people to talk about my research with so that we can poke holes in each others’ concepts & thoughts & opinions. I think these things will help me immensely. I can also give myself more grace & patience & not expect perfection immediately, and I can also remind myself that silence is okay. That I don’t have to explain every single little bit of myself — that people will understand the nuance in my statement, or they’ll give me room to explain it.

So, even if I feel like I’m drowning more and more as time goes on — I feel like I’m being heard more and more, as time goes on. It’s all going to be okay.

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Jen Xu

Athletic trainer, PhD student, coffee lover. I write about fitness, mental health, being Asian-American, and personal growth.