When Did I Cease to be a Person?

A few weeks ago, Dr. T asked me to think about what would nurture me as a person. I had no idea what she was talking about. Nurture? As a person?

I said that I did plenty of things I enjoyed – Hapa Papa gave me plenty of free time (more so than he had for himself). I wasn’t sure I needed any more time.

Dr. T replied that things I enjoyed doing such as reading or watching TV or hanging out with friends wasn’t necessarily the same as something Life Giving. Or something after which I felt refreshed and renewed.

I just stared at her blankly.

I thought all week about it and got sadder and sadder.

How could I have no idea what would nurture me? How could everything I thought of only address the surface of things?

Every thing I thought of, I came up with an excuse of how it would be too hard logistically to implement. Or how it depended on too many other people.

And finally, I just wanted to cry.

When did I cease to be a person?

When did everything I do revolve around getting through the day and making sure my kids are alive at the end of it?

How is it that I long for deep connections with my children yet cannot stand spending time with them without constantly checking the clock or texting or Facebooking?

And when I think about what would make me feel like a person, it seems like all those things aren’t actually what would make me a person. Just things I think a person outwardly resembles.

How can I not even know what I want? Or what would make me happy? Or what would give me life?

I feel like I’m a hollowed out discarded exoskeleton, seemingly whole but with no real bones. Fragile.

All the things that I think would make me happy, “If only I did XYZ, then my life would be better…” type things – they pile up and add to guilt and feeling bad and inadequate.

Dr. T believes that I constantly feel bad about myself. I have to take her word for it because it is like background noise to me – a situation that I am likely to only notice once it has ceased.

This week, Dr. T wants me to stop myself when I feel guilty. She says guilt is an indication of moral judgment so she wants me to examine what I’m feeling guilty about, what the underlying moral belief is, and whether or not I truly believe it. If I do, great. If I don’t, to throw it away.

I just nod and say, “Ok” even if I’m not really that sure what she’s talking about.

Am I the only one? The only non-person amidst a sea of Real Persons?

That may explain why I am so, so lonely.

 

 

Verboten Music

One of the most regrettable parts of no longer constantly being depressed is the music. There are entire categories of music I love deeply but am afraid to re-listen to other than in passing on the radio due to an intense fear that if I start listening again, I will be dragged down into the awful, desperate dark spaces in which I used to be mired.

Like an addict returning to old haunts or old friends, that’s how I view certain artists and albums. Little triggers. Hidden minefields.

I used to lock myself in my room and listen to Radiohead, Erasure, The Cure, or Tori Amos on repeat for days – even weeks. All in the attempt to wallow. (And quite frankly, what an enjoyable wallow it was.) There was something beautifully broken about being gloriously depressed. Reveling in pathos. Tragically melancholy.

Seductive lies about art and sadness. I mean, seriously. Why can’t our culture glorify art and joy? As if only true art stems from a dark, broken place.

What is my fear, exactly? That I’ll be drawn back to the lures of tragedy. To want to go back to the siren song of drama, insecurity, and unbearable sadness. There is something still so dangerously enticing to that old life. The lie that angst and brokenness and irreparable damage are more beautiful than wholeness and healing and vibrant living.

I turned in my Manic Pixie Dream Girl Card ™ a decade or so ago. I don’t want to lose my fourteen year sobriety chip just because I miss some tunes. (Plus, who’s going to take care of my three wee ones?)

However, I’m slowly coming around to the idea that I can listen to this music again without triggering a depression spiral. That enough decades and healing have intervened and the music is no longer a minefield and back to just beautiful music.

Sadly, I can’t say the same for movies or fan fiction. Entire broad categories of Spuffy BTVS fan fiction (especially those by the incomparable Herself) and certain angsty Alias Sarkney fanfics (but especially the Complicity fic by Behind the Red Door) are now either unavailable except through the Wayback Machine or by personal choice. Now by all means, these are not my favorite fan fics, just ones that particularly trigger my angsty self. There’s a reason why I tend to read Regency Romances nowadays.

And as for movies, no matter how much I loved it on first viewing, I will never again be able to watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I think fiction and movies get me too invested in characters and I just can’t divest myself from the feelings. THE FEELINGS!!

Actually, I feel somewhat embarrassed at just how much I have geek-checked myself in this post but WHATEVER.

Anyhow, since I’m the one with the trigger problems, there’s no need for YOU to deprive yourself of some awesome (albeit, somewhat older) music. Here then, a sampling of songs with which I would put on repeat for days:

– Radiohead: Fake Plastic Trees, High and Dry

– Erasure: Rock Me Gently, Piano Song

– Tori Amos: Winter (ok, pretty much everything)

– Delirium: Innocente (ft. Leigh Nash)

– Sarah Mclachlan: Fear

By no means is this list all-inclusive. It’s only what I can easily recall late on a Sunday night.

So tell me, am I crazy? Am I the only one?

 

Fear and Loathing

Author’s Note: Not sure how to preface today’s post. For my friends who may worry about me, please know that I am ok for the most part. These thoughts are not the usual state of being for my brain. They do tend to run this way when I spiral into shame or when I despair. (As was the case when I wrote this.) When I was younger, these bouts would last days or weeks. But now, they last for at most, a few hours. 

This is not to say that I am perfectly fine. But mostly, my thoughts are manageable and I am not sitting in pain throughout the day. I am grateful that is the case because I know for many people, this condemning internal monologue is the norm and any respite from it is the deviation.

If you are suffering from Depression, please, GET HELP. You are not alone.

Deep down, I am deeply afraid.

What if they’re right? That I am nothing but a bully. Not good enough. Bad. Causing untold trauma to my kids.

I want to scream, “I can be good, too! I am not all bad!”

But I drown.

I want to stop breathing. Black out. Cease to exist. Except that would cause further trauma to my children.

How can I want another baby?

Jesus, have mercy. Jesus, help.

How do I get out of this dark, closeted space? Could this darkness be a mercy? If so, it is a severe mercy indeed.

I want my heart cut out. I want the earth to open up and swallow me whole. To curl up in a corner and die. Literally die.

Depression lies. 

Please let that be true.


Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255. (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)

Coveting Thy Neighbor’s Life

A few weeks ago, I posted on how I almost spent an additional thirty years of our lives while on a routine walk to my kids’ preschool and our eventual decision to be content with our current home. (Yes, yes. No need to remind me of our first world problems. And not only that, our 1% problems.)

While I ultimately agree with our decision, there is nothing like catching a glimpse of what your life could be like (and only the good parts, of course) to make your current life seem utterly unsatisfying. More than unsatisfying. Horrible. Constraining. Bereft.

Ah… nothing like class privilege early in the morning.

I am an ungrateful ass. I know this. And yet, when I go over to people’s houses and see their awesome four car tandem garages (I didn’t even know this was possible!!!), their large square footage, or whatever else I see and want inside my greedy little heart, I cannot help but sigh and regret not getting the house.

Whenever my house is a disaster of strewn toys, pillows, crafts, junk mail, and life detritus, my heart gets all squelchy and all I can think of is that in the new house, I would have plenty of space for all our junk. In our new house, I would have the perfect life and be the perfect wife and perfect mother.

Is this how affairs start?

I feel like I’m having an affair with another house.

I mean, sure, double the square footage with all that lovely, empty space. All young, and sexy with nary a child in sight. I mean, it’s being shown to potential buyers for Pete’s sake. Of course all its best features are on display!

But once I leave my old house and actually live in a new house, it’s not like all my old problems won’t follow me there. I am sure to acquire more stuff and run out of space to put things. I will have double the square footage to vacuum and bathrooms to clean and rooms to pick up after and get lividly angry about. I will have to spend more money buying more furniture and customizing the house to my liking.

And not only that, my REAL problem isn’t with my current house. It’s with myself. And sadly, moving into a fancy new house will not fix me. It will mask the real problem for awhile (maybe years, if I’m lucky), and after the shine has worn off, the increased mortgage becoming a realer and heavier burden, I will pine after my old house, so perfect and lovely with the haze of sentimental memory.

I think there’s a good reason why Thou Shall Not Covet is one of the Ten Commandments.

I used to think it was such a stupid, bullshit commandment. The only use for it being a shout out in The Silence of the Lambs. But now, now I realize that coveting is a rotting seed of discontent, whispering lies and fantasies into our treacherous hearts.

If only I had so-and-so’s life/job/car/house/children/husband/wife. My life would be so much better.

It’s no secret that I’ve been having a rough go of it lately. My house, my kids, my very existence seem to conspire against me. I am floundering, wrapped up in a bundle of seething frustration, anger, and bitterness. In the midst of all this, I fantasize that if I remodel my house, or trade up for a bigger one, had older children, had another baby, had more free time, ate better, took better care of myself, whatever – that if only I did such things, my life would be drastically improved.

It’s not true.

The things I covet will not make me feel better. The things I covet will only paper over the gaping chasm in my heart, its breadth and width startling me as its edges yawn and sag open.

(Don’t worry, friends. I am getting help. I have the immense privilege of a supportive spouse, health insurance, time, and money so that I can do so.) 

I can only hope to respond in one of two ways to the things I covet:

1) Follow my own advice and if I want something, to shut up and go get it.

2) Use them as a canary in a coal mine and find the root cause of my discontent. And then do something about it. (Be it therapy, life changes, or better living through chemistry.)

Alright, friends. Having a hard time ending the post as usual. Be well.

Have I Become a Cliché?

Lately, when I wake up in the morning, I feel as if I’m gearing up for combat and my enemies are my children and my life. I feel as if I am a cliché, existing in some hack writer’s mediocre opus to the banalities of being a cosseted, American housewife. My default state of being is annoyed. And wouldn’t you be annoyed if your entire day seemed structured to frustrate your every plan?

Children who refuse to sleep in, refuse to get dressed, refuse to eat breakfast, refuse to eat lunch, refuse to eat dinner, refuse to take a bath, refuse to brush teeth, refuse to get in pajamas, refuse to sleep. Children who have minds of their own – minds who do not magically, beautifully, fantastically, sync with your hive mind and do what you want them to do, how you want them to do it, and when.

I feel myself bristling, constantly on edge, spoiling for a fight. If I’m lucky, I can recognize it and identify these feelings in myself before I do too much damage. I try to remind myself that my children are so small, so tiny, so fragile. That it is hard to be small. To constantly be told what to do, how to do it, and when.

It must be hard to be so small. To constantly have to ask for help. To have such little autonomy.

I think of my friend’s moving article on being a more compassionate mother, reminding myself to remember what it was like to be one, three, or five years old.

It is hard. Both being big and being small.

That’s all for today. Be gentle with yourselves, my friends.

Why I Stayed

(Trigger Warning: Physical and emotional violence.)

I stayed because I was too young to leave. Because I didn’t want to cause my mother any more pain than she was already suffering. Because someone had to protect my younger brother. I stayed because I loved him. I still do. I stayed because he was my father.

It’s hard for me to classify my father’s behavior as abuse because hey, who doesn’t have a story about their parents beating them when they were younger? And shoot, we turned out fine, right? Wasn’t it just a different time? An Asian thing? A Christian thing?

But then, I look back on some of the things that happened and there really is no justification for what my father did to me.

I remember refusing to eat celery at dinner and my father just erupting into a rage, pushing my plate into my lap. I distinctly remember empty shrimp shells falling to the floor. I remember screaming at him and fleeing to my room, my father chasing after me. I locked the door to my room but he just kept slamming his body against the door that I was afraid he’d break down the door. I recall being more worried that the door would be broken. I was resigned to getting beaten and opened the door and scrambled into a corner of my room. My father grabbed the broken post of my four-poster bed and would have bludgeoned me repeatedly had my grandmother (his mother) not inserted herself between us. I remember being forced to apologize for making my father so angry.

Even thinking about this event over twenty years later, my stomach clenches, my heart races, my fingers tremble, and I want to huddle in a corner and weep.

This is why I recognize the defeated look on Cookie Monster’s face when I yell. It is like going back in time.

It’s hard to admit and really remember versus just reciting past infractions in a detached sort of nonchalance. It’s hard because who wants to be a victim? And maybe I was blowing it out of proportion? Maybe I was just super melodramatic and wanted attention? And if it was so bad, how come my mother didn’t know my father hit me when she wasn’t around (she maintains to this day that she didn’t – and I believe her, as incredulous as I still find it). How come my brother seemed to escape the worst of it?

I used to starve myself. Punch myself repeatedly in the stomach. Cut myself. Tear up my pictures. Destroy gifts my father gave me. I tried to slash my wrists but did it the wrong direction and too hesitantly. I tried to swallow a bunch of pills but was too afraid to die and of hell or purgatory or wherever it is that suicides allegedly go so I only took a few over the recommended daily dosage of Advil and then fearfully, prayerfully went to sleep.

I couldn’t even kill myself properly.

I still don’t understand why I would hurt myself as a way to say, “Fuck you” to my father. I’m not clear on how injuring myself would have done a damn thing to him, but that was my thinking at the time. I was only in junior high and high school.

But coping mechanisms are hard to shake. I starved myself when I was upset or did various forms of self-harm well into young adulthood.

And yet, despite living through what my father did to me, I still don’t understand why my mother stayed. My father smothered my mother with a pillow in some anonymous Chinese hotel until she almost blacked out. My father held a butcher knife to my mother’s throat while I called the police on a very memorable Father’s Day. Even when my mother finally was divorcing him last year, I feared for her safety.

But when I force myself to consider her situation, it makes a little more sense and I have more compassion. Likely, she stayed because she had two children. She had a mortgage. She grew up in a society that valued men over women, where violence against women was acceptable. She didn’t want her parents to be right (they didn’t approve the match). She was in a foreign country, away from all her family and support. She belonged to a church and a culture that considered divorce anathema and against God’s will. She was the age that I am now, afraid, alone, and so desperately sad.

I used to judge her so harshly. I still do, in my moments of frustration and anger.

The irony is that the main lesson I learned from my father was thus: Never be the victim. I refused to become like my mother, tread upon and used up by a horrible man. And so, I am become my father. (I hear this in my mother’s voice when we argue. I see it in her disappointment and despair. I hear this as a punishment in my depressed moments, when my brain only spews lies.)

But I fight the lies because I love my children. I fight my darkness so that my children will have less of this shit in their beautiful souls. I fight and fail but get back up because the same ferocity with which I used to protect myself and trammel over others in my selfishness has been transmuted to defend my children from my own worst moments.

I left my father three years ago around this time. My brother left a few months later. My mother finally left after that and the divorce finalized last March.

I don’t know how to end this post. It seems a bit artificial and contrived to take advantage of headlines and trending hashtags. I assure you, it is not. But since my last post, I have been thinking a lot and although I feel ill and trembly at the thought of pressing “Publish,” I also feel ill and trembly at the thought of not.

So, we’ll just leave it at that.

Temper, Temper

It has been a rough morning. Not sure exactly why since it really is your basic morning where my kids refuse to eat breakfast, I worry they will be hungry, then I scream at them at new volumes and crush their little souls and see them slump into their chairs, zoning me out as a coping mechanism because Mommy is yelling and mean and cruel and I know I am making things worse but my fury is so acute and I feel helpless and angry at myself and at my recalcitrant children and GAH. It’s not even 9am.

I always apologize and hug them and kiss them and tell them I love them, but you know what? It sounds really familiar. Both because I do it to my kids so often, and because I remember my father doing this to me. Well, perhaps not the apologizing. He never apologized. But he would say he loved me and hug me and kiss me after beating me or screaming at me or in general, making me feel worthless.

I feel the sweeping tide of violence rise up within me in moments of great frustration. It takes a lot of control to not want to physically throttle my kids – or worse. I abuse my power over my small children, using my voice and love like weapons to browbeat my kids into obeisance.

I make my children – especially Cookie Monster – feel small and helpless and incapable of pleasing me. He lashes out. I hear him change his voice to please me or just to clown around; insecure. Gamera will tell me not to yell at Cookie Monster and tell me I’m not kind. She will also cry so piteously. Glow Worm just stares.

I am a monster.

I am a tantrum throwing toddler.

I am my father.

I am sad and ashamed.

I realized something this morning. When I get this angry, it is the same type of anger I get when I am trying to assemble a piece of furniture only despite hours of sweat and labor, I can’t find the right part, or the piece doesn’t fit, or I’m done and there are too many leftover screws to be safe. Only when I kick the instructions or throw down my wrench in disgust and curse and bellow, I am mad at an inanimate object. I am mad because the things I’m trying to bend to my will aren’t bending the right way in the right speed with the right attitude. Except when I’m mad at my children, they aren’t things to be manipulated; my children are tiny people.

Tiny people to whom I’ve been entrusted not to break, to handle with care and dignity, and to protect (at a basic minimum). Even more so, my children are tiny people to whom I’ve been entrusted to nurture and teach and grow and help thrive.

It’s just, why can’t they be tiny obedient people?

That really would make my job a lot easier. With a lot less yelling.

Truth is, I like yelling. I mean, I hate myself when I do it, but I feel slightly less out of control (even though it’s the exact opposite). It feels like “parenting” to me. (Sigh. Just when you think you’re past a lot of brokeness, you blink and you discover even more.) Yelling makes me feel powerful. And I am. Yay me. Way to go. Yelling at small children. So strong and brave and courageous I am.

Ever since coming back from Taiwan, I have felt off. Either a mild depression or some mild dissatisfaction with my life. But I feel it seeping out in the ways I treat my family, the way my discontent sinks deeper and deeper into my bones. I’m not sure I have figured out what it is, yet.

I want to blame external circumstances and other people, but let’s be brutally honest. It’s me. I have a problem.

I want to believe that I can just power through and solve this on my own. I want to re-read good parenting books or just hope that re-reading the Bible or whatever trendy parenting blog will fix me and yay! I’m all better! But I know myself. I will get better for a few days – if I’m lucky, a few weeks, and then slowly but surely, I slip back into who I really am.

Water always finds its level.

Holy crap. I think I’m depressed. As in, not an emotional state, but a physical state of being. I will need to think on this some more.

I hesitate to end the post on such a Bleh note. Hopefully, I’m just in a funk and not a full blown episode of depression.

Wish me luck, friends! And Jesus. I’m sure I need lots of Jesus. And babies. Lots of fatty babies for me to snarfle and kiss and devour and then hand back to their mommies.