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HomeHealth & FitnessSherry Cola on How Her Identities Impacted Her Mental Health | Health

Sherry Cola on How Her Identities Impacted Her Mental Health | Health


Sherry Cola knows how to make people laugh. The 34-year-old comedian and actor, who recently starred in “Joy Ride” and “Shortcomings,” is passionate about bringing joy and representation through her acting roles, comedy, and social media.

But her work presents a “bizarre dichotomy” when she’s dealing with the ups and downs of her mental health. In 2021, she was “so fulfilled” filming “Joy Ride,” but at night, she would go home and cry in “fetal position” about a recent heartbreak, and then go out again to perform stand-up.

For APIA Heritage Month, Cola opened up about growing up as a queer, Chinese American immigrant woman, and how those identities have impacted her mental health. Read it all, in her own words, below. And read more mental health journeys from APIA perspectives here.

Growing up as a Chinese American immigrant, we bottled up a majority of our emotions. With the added layer of being queer, where do I even start? People ask me about the conversations I had with my parents about being queer and I’m like, dating wasn’t talked about at the dinner table, let alone sexuality.

Like a lot of Asian immigrant mothers, my mom went the classic route of prioritizing putting food on the table and having a pure motivation of survival in this country. She wasn’t exposed to shows like “Good Trouble” growing up, as opposed to my social-butterfly dad, who was passionate about absorbing everything America. So when I came out to him, he was like, “Lady Gaga loves LGBT! so I love LGBT!,” while my mom took a few years to wrap her head around it. Now, she’s on board and her love has always been unconditional, but it took me being patient and empathetic to the fact that she had their own process.

In my senior year of high school, this guy I liked asked me to prom. Shockingly, I didn’t want to go, so we went to California Pizza Kitchen in the Santa Anita Mall that night instead. He asked me to be his girlfriend and we kissed! My first official kiss, with a heavy amateurish serving of tongue. When I got home, my mom asked, “Wasn’t there a dance today? Why didn’t you go? You could have met someone.” Right then and there, I could have said, “Actually, I have met someone. I have a boyfriend!” and jumped into the juicy details. The information was dying to come out of my mouth. But I didn’t say anything. Here my mom was, handing me a microphone to spill my cloud nine feelings and I decided not to. For what?

We’re naturally hesitant about our parents seeing us in a different light. For a while, my mom thought I was an anti-romance robot who had never seen another naked body. When really, I was living my best life, if you will. But it’s because I never shared that side of me!

When you’re young and discovering who you are, you’re struggling to have conversations with yourself. I dealt with micro-aggressions growing up, like the kids calling me chino in the playground. There was always that foreigner feeling within, which caused me to be embarrassed about my parents’ accents. I’m furious at myself that I ever felt less-than, because now that I’m a grown woman, I realize their accents were a symbol of how hard they worked and built something from nothing. And despite the fact that they didn’t know the language, they still prevailed. I definitely know that now. But I remember being so aware of it back then, and wanting to hide when they picked me up at school in their beat-up, bright turquoise minivan. All those little things, I never told my parents. But the realization is, they must have also been self-conscious about it, and they were dealing with their own anxieties and mental obstacles.

The point is — mental health — those words weren’t even in my vocabulary as a kid. As these discussions around mental health have become more normalized, I’ve gained an understanding for my mom. I have to give her more credit because she had her own traumas to deal with, which is why she might be defensive sometimes or think it’s easier to choose the safer route. But after three decades and thanks to a simple concept like communication, she fully understands me, as well.

Saturdays at 9 a.m., that’s my moment to shine. A safe space to scream into a void, get things off my chest, and practice my 1-hour comedy special, frankly.

Now, I’ve been in therapy for three years. I’m not sure if there was an incident that pushed me to officially see a therapist. It’s like procrastinating an oil change, I guess. It was something that was overdue, that had been on my list for a long time. (That reminds me, I need to freeze my eggs.) But I just finally did it! Saturdays at 9 a.m., that’s my moment to shine. A safe space to scream into a void, get things off my chest, and practice my 1-hour comedy special, frankly. It’s absolutely necessary. We have support systems around us, of course, but they can only carry so much. Because they’re carrying their own stuff!

I went through a devastating heartbreak a couple of years ago, so therapy totally came in handy. I can’t believe how low I was. It felt like rock bottom. That’s when I truly discovered that pain and joy can exist simultaneously. I happened to be in the midst of filming “Joy Ride” and I was so fulfilled in that regard, yet I was consumed by this unexplainable hurt. I was hosting galas where Sandra Oh was showering me with love backstage, and then going home to cry. I was in tears most days, dry heaving in the fetal position, and then going out at night to do stand-up shows. It was such a bizarre dichotomy that therapy really helped me with.

Today, in 2024, I’ve never felt more comfortable in my own skin. My identities of being a queer, Chinese American, immigrant woman, these are things that society never rooted for, Hollywood never prioritized, but I’m embracing as superpowers. We were brainwashed for years into thinking they were weaknesses. Because I’m this elevated-but-still-evolving version of Sherry now, I look back and I’m beyond proud of myself. I think I’ve always stayed true to who I was, even at the times that I didn’t know who I was yet.

Mental health can be directly correlated to your identities and how you feel about yourself. I feel grateful that I get to represent my layers in so many ways, from my Instagram to films like “Joy Ride” and “Shortcomings.” Representation affects how people perceive their own personal journeys. Representation makes older folks open their minds to ideas they’re not familiar with. Representation, especially when it’s multi-dimensional and authentic, can single-handedly change lives. I get to express myself through my craft and make things that my 12-year-old, queer, Chinese American immigrant woman self only dreamt of seeing. I’ll never take that for granted. I can’t wait to tell more of these specific, but actually universal, stories on the screen!

I’ve always been a firm believer that if you have a stage, you simply can’t waste it, whether it’s one person or seven million people in the audience. You can always make an impact. The ripple effect that we’ve witnessed in the last few years alone is powerful and inspiring. We can’t stop now. Let’s unpack it all and talk about it!

— As told to Yerin Kim

Yerin Kim is the features editor at POPSUGAR, where she helps shape the vision for special features and packages across the network. A graduate of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, she has over five years of experience in the pop culture and women’s lifestyle spaces. She’s passionate about spreading cultural sensitivity through the lenses of lifestyle, entertainment, and style.

Image Sources: Natt Lim / Getty / Phillip Faraone & Matt Winkelmeyer and Photo Illustration by Aly Lim


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