A much overdue update

I have been very bad at updating this blog, I admit it. The consequence of my laziness is that I now have even more ground to cover, therefore dooming myself from the start. To avoid this becoming a boring round up post, I think that I am going to break it into three sections: research updates, a mental health check in, and then various miscellanea.


On the research update end, the most important thing is that I have moved into the interview phase of my plan. What this means, is spending every possible minute trying to track down interviewees. As a refresher, I am looking to interview women in the domestic worker industry: nannies, housekeepers, cooks, etc. The nature of their job makes them generally pretty hard to track down, they often live in their employer’s homes without a day off or scooter from house to house doing hourly wage work. Lately I have been feeling at wits end, as if I am searching for a needle in a haystack! This is partially because I feel like when I look around, there are nannies all over the place! But it would be very inappropriate to approach people on the street, and so I am contained to those who I can meet via my connections. Which leads to a whole second round of problems, convincing people to allow me to interview them once I have met them.

Going into this project, I was very aware of the challenges that I would face in trying to find willing interviewees. But, months in I am now just realizing that I underestimated the difficulty I would face. In fact, I have met plenty of women who I would really like to interview, but have not been able to pin down. In an effort to not be rude, many of the women I ask for interviews will make up gentle excuses, such as saying something along the lines of “I have nothing of value to add.” While I do not necessarily see these refusals as a huge setback, and view them more as another data point, I am interested in why they are uncomfortable being interviewed. Is it because I am not Chinese? Is it because I am American? Is it because their lives are so busy that they do not have time to talk to me? Is it because they do not see the value in missing out on paid work time? These are all the things that are flipping around in my mind. In fact, what makes me even crazier is the fact that when I ask people about it, I have gotten a million different answers. The one I get most often is that they don’t think they have anything of value to add, but I have also heard from several sources that the women do not want to shame China by bringing stories of their hard lives abroad, making the country look bad. Other women are simply unable to be interviewed because they work seven days a week living in the home of the employer. All in all, I think I am at the point of research where things are about to take off and make sense, but for now I feel as though I am wandering around in the bog.

From the left: 魏伟 (Wei Wei), me, and 吕斐 (Lü Fei)
Weiwei is the founder of 小小鸟打工助热线, a non-profit based in Beijing that runs a hotline for migrant workers.

Mental Health

Those of you who know me well, know that I have struggled with depression and anxiety for a large part of my life. While I do have it under control, it really colors my outlook on life in general, and I still have good days and bad days. I have found that dealing with my emotional health has been very hard working in an as unstructured way as I have been. There is no positive feedback coming to me from supervisors, there are no deadlines I have to meet, and the only critic I have is myself. That leads to me dealing with myself all the time, and I can be my own worst enemy! I think that is something we all deal with, but for me, that negative voice in my head can become all consuming and truly incapacitating. For example, I have days where I am so anxious that I cannot sit down and focus on doing work. Instead, I spiral thinking various negative thoughts, which are inevitably worsened by the fact that I am “wasting time” on my anxiety and should be working.

Some things that I have found that help: taking my anti-depressants (shout out to any Zoloft lovers out there!), working out regularly, and vocalizing thoughts and feelings to my friends. The way I experience depression is that negative thoughts feel like objectively true facts and really shape my outlook. However, just saying them out loud to someone who is willing to listen often will snap me out of my funk. That being said, something fun that depression does is that it makes you feel like you have no one in the ENTIRE WORLD to talk to, or tells you that you really shouldn’t burden those people who love and care for you with your thoughts and feelings and instead should just try and get through it alone. And so when I am in a depressive period, it can be really hard to even take a step toward reaching out. I don’t want to bother people, I feel ashamed that I am not having an amazing easy time because at the end of the day I live in Shanghai, one of the most beautiful, vibrant, exciting cities in the world! Why am I not having the best time ever? These feelings are all compounded by the fact that a lot of the people I love and trust are halfway across the world, spread across various cities.

Kim K crying is me when I’m not feeling well!

This all being said, I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am to have such lovely humans all around the world who are willing to listen to me be stupid. Also, to live in a cool city where there is so much going on all the time. For example, I go to free workout classes at 5:45 am that are only a 5 minute bike from my house! How cool is that??

Rebecca and me looking ridiculous at 5:45 am

Miscellaneous Things

Instead of trying to explain all the stuff happening in my life, I am going to put up a series of photos with mini descriptions in the caption.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Louise Keafft says:

    Hi Nellie, I am Louise, a friend of your grandmother Nancy. What an adventure you are having. I think it is difficult to get anyone who exists in such a closed environment to say much. But not impossible. You might write out a few questions that might spark a later conversation and hand it out to those you would like to interview. Include some contact details and explanation as to who you are, and what you hope it do. I think they would be just as interested in you as in them. Depression is a burden. This may sound crazy, but I find vegetables help hold it off.
    Lovely blog entry…please write again


    1. Thank you for the advise Louise! I think I just need to keep trying different approaches and see what clicks… I also really appreciate the vegetables tip. I also find that just living a healthier life in general helps!


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