Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Self Esteem

I can’t accept the new me

One of my flaws is that I have a fairly rigid way of looking at myself. I tend to think of myself in terms of absolutes, which does not allow for any change. I’m grumpy, cynical, depressed, fat, and  introverted. That’s who I am. Taiji, video games, writing, and reading. That’s what I do. More specifically, blades, Souls, mysteries, and mysteries (respectively). It’s a weird tension because when I ignore what I know about myself, it doesn’t usually go well. Some small examples–going to see Pulp Fiction with a boyfriend (many years after it was released). It was his favorite movie, and he really wanted me to see it. I warned him that I was not going to like it. I knew I wouldn’t, but he was convinced that either I would like it or he would be ok with me not liking it.

Reader, I didn’t like it, and he wasn’t ok with it. Not only did I not like it, I fucking hated it. I loathed it with every pore of my being. I thought it was shallow, grotesque, and painfully hipster. I hated everything about it. When my boyfriend asked me what I thought about it afterwards, I made the mistake of telling him. Not in the terms above, but more as what I saw about it that was problematic. After I was done, there were several seconds of silence. Then he said he couldn’t be with someone with that kind of worldview and dumped me on the spot. He wanted to be ‘just friends’*, and we saw two other movies together. Both that he loved and insisted I’d love (we are both slow learners), and I hated both.

Here’s the weird thing about me. I don’t always know what I’ll like, but I know what I don’t like. Not sure what that says about me, but there you go. When I hate something, I hate it hard. If I hate something from the start, I do not change my mind. The biggest glaring exemption to this is Dark Souls, the original. I hated it as I was playing it, and now, it’s one of my favorite games of all time. You know what? That’s not entirely correct. When I first started playing it, I was instantly hooked even though I was so bad at it. That is unusual in and of itself because I normally refuse to do things I’m not good at. For some reason, however, I kept playing Dark Souls. I nearly quit once (Bell Gargs), quit for months once (Gaping Dragon), and came thisclose to quitting for good (Biggie & Small), but I overcame all those hurdles and felt like a goddess. Then, the second half, which I hated every minute. I was sick and tired by the end, but I made it through the whole game, including DLC. I remember saying in my brain once I was done, “I never have to play this game again.” Ah, how young and naive I was back then.

I actually held to it–until Dark Souls II was announced. For whatever reason, my lizard brain said I had to play that game. In order to prepare for it, I decided to play the first game again. Why? I don’t know. That’s how my brain works. Also, I wasn’t going to buy the second game on release, so I had time to play the first game at my leisure. Considering it took me nearly 150 hours to play it the first time, I needed as much time as I could to play it again. Playing it a second time made me a complete 180 on the game, and it’s now the game to which I compare every other game. I’ve played it probably a dozen times, and I’ve played the third one twice that.


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Alienated isolation

In reading Ask A Manager, I have come to realize how truly weird I am for a variety of reason. In this post, I’m going to focus on gift-giving. In the case of AAM, it’s work related, of course, but I can extrapolate in general. Or, conversely, ponder it as yet another reason I wouldn’t be a good fit for a 9-to-5 job. There are always questions about giving gifts, sometimes about to whom you should give them, but also often about what to give. Obviously, nothing personal, and most people said stick to consumables or flowers or some such.

Um. No. I can’t consume most of the popular holiday consumables–cheese and chocolate. I also don’t drink so wine is right out. As for flowers, well, I’m allergic to almost everything known to womankind. I still remember working for the county and every Christmas, the administrative assistants got poinsettias. That’s when I learned that I was really allergic to poinsettias–to the point where I had difficulty breathing. There were four administrative assistants in the area I was in, so the scent of the poinsettias was very overwhelming. I put mine as far from me as possible, but I couldn’t escape it. When I mentioned it to my boss, she shrugged and got me one the next year as well.

I’d like to point out that this isn’t just me being difficult. It’s not me saying, “I don’t like this thing. Please don’t give it to me.” Well, ok, in the case of wine, it half is. Yes, I don’t like drinking, but I’m also allergic to it. I understand that a work gift isn’t the same as a personal gift, but it made me feel very unimportant to keep getting poinsettias after I pointed out that I was allergic to them. And, yes, it’s different than food because I’m not allergic to any food–just intolerant/sensitive. I’m not going to go into anaphylactic shock, and I won’t have to be rushed to the hospital. My throat isn’t going to swell shut, and I’m not going to die from any of it. I’m just going to be miserable as I sit on the toilet for hours, shitting until I’m dehydrated, sore, and exhausted.

Side Note: It’s strange that in the floral world, being allergic to something means itchiness, stuffed nose, watery eyes, etc. It doesn’t have to mean a need to be rushed to the hospital. The same with animal allergies. But in the food world, that’s a sensitivity or an intolerance. No greater point to be made about this–just an observation.

This is an issue with other aspects of my life, albeit in a more subjective way.   I am a weirdo in so many ways, and I’m careful about letting it show on the regular. I know how to pass as normal, and I can do it for shorts bursts of time. For example, when I go to the grocery store, I can pass as one of the locals. I know how to speak the language, and I have a mantra that nobody needs to know the real me. So, yeah, I can nod and smile when someone groans about winter or snow. I can talk about the Vikes to a superficial degree. I can say I’m doing fine with the best of them, and I can nod sympathetically if someone else complains about something.


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Swimming under water when I’m not a fish

on a quiet basis.
Depression hurts.

Months ago, I read an article about living with chronic depression and suicidal ideation. More to the point, the article was about how it’s difficult to talk about it without people freaking out. I’m not saying it’s not understandable–mentioning suicide or not wanting to live is deeply uncomfortable to hear. The impulse is to rush in and placate the person, say it’s not so bad, or give them a half-dozen reasons why they should want to live. Especially in America, we are not comfortable with death, and my theory is because we are so removed from it.

The piece really resonated with me because I can’t remember a day when I woke up thinking, “I’m glad to be alive.” There were long periods of my life when I actively wanted to be not alive. Note that I did not say I wanted to die because I’m afraid of death, but I most certainly did not want to be alive. I liked to joke that my negativity is the only reason I’m alive–I had more fear of dying, convinced that whatever was on the other side was worse than what was in this one. I hated life, though, and everything about it. I hated me most of all, and I would go over every day in my mind what I hated about myself. The list was long and seemingly never-ending.

It’s weird for me to think about those days because I was a completely different person back then. It’s as if it weren’t me, and I feel that way about most of my earlier incantations. I don’t have any connection to them, and I don’t know if it’s normal or not. I feel some sympathy for the younger mes, but I don’t feel as if they were me. It could be dissociation or it could just be normal growth. It’s hard for me to say.

Recently, I had a bout of wanting to die, and it was really strange. It wasn’t me. I mean, I wasn’t consciously thinking it–it was an external pressure. Back in the day, it was me wanting to not live. This most recent bout, it wasn’t that at all. I mean, to get a bit more nuanced, I go through most of my days not wanting to be alive. Or rather, I’m indifferent to it. I don’t see the point, and I don’t know what I’m adding to the world by being here. I will say it’s a huge step up from I used to think I was actively toxic. I had the mindset that I started each day with a negative amount of points, and I had to claw my way to zero in order not to be a sum negative to the world. I don’t know why I had this mindset, though I’m sure it had something to do with my very critical childhood, but it persisted through my thirties.

It was a trap, of course, because I started every day at a negative (indeterminate) number. Even if I managed to make my way to zero (in my brain, which I never did), any good points would be wiped out overnight. I can say that now and see it with such clarity, but while I was in the middle of it, it seemed like the way it should be.

Side Note: For years, I had a voice in my head that I dubbed The Dictator. He (and it was a he) would order me about, saying what I should and shouldn’t do. He was capricious in that what he deemed appropriate was, well, pretty much the same as my family, but hardened into a rigidity that was dangerous. I felt helpless to stop it, and it took many years of therapy and taiji to quiet the voice. I don’t know when I stopped hearing it, but it’s been gone for some time. I’m glad about that, but what’s replaced it is more insidious. It’s not a voice, but just a feeling of general malaise. You would think it’s better, and it is in general, but it’s also harder to combat. It sounds so reasonable when it’s saying unreasonable things.

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Matter over mind

Last weekend, my taiji teacher invited me to her place this Saturday (last night) because her husband was on a retreat so she was baching it for the week. When she asked, my brain immediately came up with a million reasons not to go (even though we are friends and I like hanging out with her), so I did the Minnesotan response* (which I then explained to her in another context ten minutes later) of saying I would have to see how I felt that day. Then, after I went home, I thought about it more and realized that I had a habit of naysaying because I had such a difficult time leaving the house. I had to convince myself that there was a good reason to leave, then talk myself through the actual leaving. I hate driving so that’s part of it, but it’s also just that I am not able to control things outside my house to the extent that I can inside my house. Except my cat. There’s no controlling him.

I emailed my teacher and told her I’d be going (betraying my MN roots) and if I could bring anything. All was well until Friday rolled around. I woke up on the wrong side of the bed as the saying goes, and I was in the worst depression I’d had in at least a decade. It wasn’t my usual general malaise; it was a serious I hate everything about the world feeling. Plus, I was physically drained to the point where I could barely keep my eyes open. I had no idea why I felt that way or what caused it, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Everything I tried to do was made impossible by the heaviness of my eyelids and my body. I would try to write, and my eyes would close.

I wanted to go to taiji, but I knew I would be putting myself and others at risk if I tried to drive. I emailed my teacher telling her I wouldn’t be in class, and then I immediately started worrying about whether I would be able to go to her place the next night. My brain told me I should just cancel (even though I told her I was still aiming to go) and promise to take her out for lunch later. I didn’t want to disappoint her, plus I knew that my depression made me catastrophize everything. I decided to wait and see because I might be better by the next morning. There was no reason to call it off with plenty of time to see if I’d get better. But, that’s how my brain rolls. It says everything is terrible and I might as well just give up because it’s no use. What is no use? Everything is no use.

The rest of the day was me struggling to get shit done. I did manage to do it, but it took about four times the effort, and the results were…not great. But I got them done. I went to bed or rather passed out against my will (I hate falling asleep sometimes), and when I got up, I felt much better. Still like shit, but at least it didn’t feel as if I were swimming in molasses. I decided I was going to taiji and my teacher’s place later, even though my brain was screaming at me not to go. Why? Because it hates me.

Side Note: I have a lot of anxiety, obviously. It makes me sympathetic to others with anxiety, but it also makes it difficult for me to be around others with a high level of anxiety. My mother also has a lot of anxiety, and while she used to keep it somewhat under control, now she just lets it run amok. Her constant stream of anxiety is the way the voices in my head sound, and I don’t need an outwardly manifestation of said anxiety.

I went to taiji, and it was productive. I will talk more about that later because it’s worthy of a post in and of itself. Afterwards, my teacher and I chatted for a few minutes before we went our separate ways *cue Journey*. I went home to relax a bit, but in the back of my mind, there was a little voice worrying about the evening. That’s the way my mind works. There’s always a little voice saying something negative. Over the years, I’ve been able to tame it to a great extent, but I can’t get rid of it completely. In the past, I would give in to the voices just to shut them up, but it was folly. It only stopped them for a second, and sometimes, not even then. It used to be a shout, but now it’s more a dull murmur.

At least I knew what I was going to wear. I have a new favorite pair of paints that I bought from Target. AVA And Viv. Burnt Orange. Pockets. Comfy waist. Wide legs. In other words, fucking perfect. Plus a black button down from Taiwan. The drive was terrific because I was able to take the freeway that is currently NOT under construction rather than the one that is a fucking nightmare right now. There was one other woman there, someone I had met before who is really kindhearted with a fey outlook on life that I found both fascinating and at times bewildering.

I bought two tubs of hummus, two packets of pitas, and one bag of gluten-free bagels. I also bought some dark chocolate hummus to try for myself, and it’s…ok. It’s bland and too gritty, though. I also currently have a dark chocolate vegan spread that is…ok. It’s too gummy, though. The best is from Peanut Butter & Co., but it’s a tad too gritty. They also have a dark chocolate hazelnut spread, but the shipping fee on a five dollar jar is ten bucks. Uh, no. I could get six for thirty from Amazon, but that’s too much for one person.

We listened to music, chatted, and had tasty food. The other woman brought corn chips, and my teacher made a great guac to go with them. She also had a tasty flavored drink made with cane sugar. I think it was cherry? I can’t quite remember. In addition, she provided dark chocolate-covered almonds and dark chocolate-covered nuts and Majula dates. For a second, I was concerned about the chocolate until I remembered that she was allergic to dairy herself so she would not buy anything that would trigger a reaction.

My teacher’s husbands has an impressive array of insects and lizards, and my teacher has an adorable cat. It was so cool to check them all out. There is a lizard, um, gecko, um, not sure exactly what species she is, but I told her she was me in lizard form. She’s stealthy and likes to hang out in the shadows, being more of an observer than a participant. The boy lizard, on the other hand, is gregarious, outgoing, and likes to show you his big testicles. I didn’t get to see them, but I cackled at my teacher’s description of him manspreading on the glass.

At the end of the night, I marveled to myself that I had gone through so much anxiety over the event because it turned out to be lovely and very low-key. That’s the way my brain works, though, and I doubt I will ever be able to get it to stop completely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Anything other than a yes is a no. “I have to check my calendar” is a no. “That sounds interesting” is a no. “I’ll talk it over with my husband/wife/spouse/dog” is a no. “I’d love to if I can ____” is a no. If you don’t hear an explicit, “Yes! I’m there!”, it’s a no.

The sins of the parent

One thing I hate when my parents are around is how I’m relegated to being baby once again. My brother is three years older, and he gets treated as if he were the font of wisdom whereas I’m…well, it’s complicated, and I’ll get to it in a second. One thing that everyone in my family has in common is that we all have Strong Opinions on things and will not let it go. It manifests in different ways with each of us. My father simply refuses to acknowledge points other than his own and hammers his own opinion over and over again. Over the decades, he has perfected the art of the blank look followed by simply repeating what he already said. He does not argue in good faith, and he’s not really looking for other opinions. My mother will acknowledge the other position, but then immediately want to drop the subject if it gets at all uncomfortable. In a way, it’s more frustrating because she’s vent for a half hour; I’ll give my opinion for five minutes; then she wants to change the topic if I don’t simply agree with her.

My brother states his opinions confidently, and while he’s willing to hear other opinions, it’s often hard to face his confidence with equanimity. Even when I know I’m right, I hesitate in the face of his certainty. One example that always stands out in my mind is Daylight Savings Time. For whatever reason, I had looked up whether the farmers were for or against it (I think we talked about it in taiji or something), and then it came up in a conversation with my brother and parents. This was a few summers ago, and I don’t remember the details. I do remember my brother stating the urban myth reason of farmers pushing for DST, which was what I believed before looking it up. Even though I knew he was wrong because I had just looked it up, he said it with no doubt in his voice, and I started thinking I had misremembered what I Googled. I looked it up again on, and I was right. Also, he does not get emotional reasoning at all (or thinks he doesn’t. He does it himself, but rationalizes it as logical), so he can’t understand why someone doesn’t just listen to all the facts he’s presenting and see the reasonableness of his position.

Me, I do one of two things. Either I say nothing at all or I forcefully state my opinion. There is no in-between for me, and I feel bad regardless of which route I choose. Nobody in my family can argue/debate without pushing it to the limits, and it gets really annoying when we’re all together. I’m working on my own issues around this, but it’s slow-going. I have a bad temper, which I try to keep under control. For the most part it works, but when my buttons are pushed, I blurt shit out without thinking about it because I’m pissed. Or at least deeply irritated. I get this from my father, and it’s not pretty. For many years, I just stuffed it down deep inside because I wasn’t allowed to show anger. Only my father was, and, oh, did he show it. Then, I was angry all the time and popping off about everything. I’ve managed to temper the rage somewhat with the help of therapy and taiji, but it’s still something I struggle with on a daily basis.


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Analysis in the aftermath

self-imposed timeout.
Who could resist this face?!?

The parental visit is finally over*. After I dropped them off yesterday, I did a few things, and then, I just vegged out for the rest of the day. I mean, I did the things I had to do, but I did them MY way. Shirtless, to be more specific. With my parents in the house, I couldn’t be as stripped down as I normally am. My usual wear in the summer is boxer shorts and a tank top or no shirt. When my parents were here, I wore gym shorts** and a t-shirt. It may not sound like much more clothing, but for me, it is. I have both sensory issues and heat issues, and I felt as if I were dying much of the time. I had a personal fan blowing 24/7, and it still wasn’t enough.

By the way, the single indication of my father’s narcissism that stands out the most for me is how he keeps asking me if I’m cold/will be cold/might get cold. No matter how many times I’ve explained to him that I don’t get cold (for the most part, but he doesn’t do nuances), he can’t let go of the idea that if he’s cold, other people must be cold, too–especially someone whom he views as an extension of himself. On one of his many rambles, he opined on how he couldn’t understand people in India being able to tolerate living there. I admit I got impatient with him because he lives in fucking Taiwan! I don’t know how the hell people live there! (I mean, I do, but it’s a valid comparison.) I pointed out that people say the same thing about Minnesota and cold. He said you can put on more clothes when you’re cold (yes, you can, Dad. Which is my argument when he says 78 is too low for the AC), but you can only take off so many layers. I said only to a point. When’s it’s -35, there really isn’t much you can do other than go some place heated.

The point is, he can’t see anything outside his own purview, and it’s fucking irritating because it seems so basic to me. But, then again, that’s one of the characteristics of a narcissist–they literally can’t understand how anyone can be other than they are in any way. Also, a man. Too. As well. I try to tell myself not to get drawn in, but when he says something as egregiously ignorant as, “I don’t understand how anyone can live in India”, well, all my patience goes out the window.

I digress as is my wont, though.

This visit wasn’t the worst by far. Does that sound like damning with faint praise? Well, it is, but it’s worthy to note how much better than the worst it was and how I still passively felt like killing myself almost every day. In the past, I’ve actively wanted to kill myself during visits with my parents, and I’ve felt physically uncomfortable being in the same room with my father, so this is definitely progress. I’m not being flippant even though it sounds as if I am. Several years ago, when I was coerced into going to Taiwan on a ‘family’ trip, I had to stop myself from killing myself more than once. We’d be looking at the ocean–my spiritual home, the Pacific Ocean–and I had to restrain myself from walking into it until I could walk no more. When we walked across a bridge over the Taroko Gorge,*** the impulse to throw myself off it was so strong, it made me nauseated. Then, I thought, maybe I was supposed to have died there when I almost drowned in my early twenties, and I couldn’t shake that thought from my brain for the rest of the trip.

I was, to put it mildly, a hot mess for the entire trip, and the worst part was that I did it to myself. I knew it would be horrible for many reasons, but my mother wore me down. Every time we talked, she nagged me about it and guilt-tripped me about it until I gave in. That’s her M.O., by the way, talk and talk and talk until you agree just to shut her the fuck up. She did that to me about having children for fifteen years (going on and on about it every time we talked), and if I hadn’t been so deadset against having them, I might have given in. As it was, I once thought, “Maybe I should have a kid so she will shut the fuck up about it.” Fortunately, I realized that was a terrible reason to have children, but it just shows how much pressure I felt from my mother to even reach that moment.

By the way, my brother said on the way back from the airport, “Mom just won’t stop talking.” It was something I’d noticed over the past few years, and it was a tremendous relief to have it validated that it wasn’t just in my head. My parents are masters at the unconscious gaslighting (they don’t do it intentionally, but they are willful creators of their own reality), and if left to my own devices, I would question many of the observations I’ve made about our family. Then again, my brother can also do this to a certain extent, so it’s a double-edged sword. Everyone in my family, including me, is very invested in his/her own version of what our family looks like.

I asked my brother if it had gotten worse over the past few years. He agreed that it had. My mom has always talked a lot, but as he said, at least she would listen in the past. Now, she just goes on and on and on. And on. And on. It’s especially frustrating when she asks a question, but then will not pause to actually hear a response. My brother cuts in telling her she needs to listen. I cut in and tell her to stop for a second. Both of us say it in exasperated tones, which isn’t ideal, but understandable.

Here’s my theory. My father was forced to retire three or four years ago. That’s around the same time that my mom’s chattiness has gotten worse. My theory is that she’s gotten used to talking compulsively around my father because of their unhealthy dynamics. She’s always trying to please him, and he extends his approval and snatches it back at random. Well, not random exactly, but according to his byzantine inner rules about when someone has slighted him (which is more often than not). In addition, he’s probably in early onset dementia, which means he has no memory of anything said to him.**** So she has to tell him time and time again the most basic of information. In addition, his critical nature jabs at her anxieties, and that’s what the chatter is–her anxieties outwardly manifesting.

On the way to the airport the second time, I realized that she did not take a breath for the entire forty-five minute drive. There were stretches when I didn’t say anything at all, and there were other times when all I said was, ‘uh huh’ and maybe, ‘right’. I will admit at that point, I was doing a bit of a scientific experiment to see how long she would go without any encouragement, but it was mostly because I was exhausted and did not feel like talking. Also, she wasn’t looking for a dialogue. She just wanted to monologue about whatever it was that was in her mind at that moment.

I will say in that way, she and my father are alike. Neither of them cares about their audience–only in the reflection. What I mean is, with my father, he just wants to pontificate, and he wants you to reflect back what he wants to hear. You can tell by the way he crafts his questions that he is aiming for a certain response. That’s when he has a strong opinion on something (which is almost everything. Another thing all of us in the family have in common.) If he’s truly asking a question about, say, why squirrels go down the tree head first, then it’s a straightforward question. It’s still annoying because I don’t know and I don’t care, but it’s easy enough to ignore or to utter a platitude. It’s when he has an opinion such as America is so great and Taiwan sucks that I have a hard time just biting my tongue.

My mother, on the other hand, just wants what she calls a sounding board but I call a dumping ground for her woes. It leaves me feeling battered and worn, especially when I know that she will not do what it takes to change the situation. What’s more infuriating, she rewrites history so she ‘forgets’ what she was complaining about (or what I actually saw with my own eyes) happened. That’s what I mean about gaslighting, and that’s why I’m very particular about the truth. It’s hard for me to witness my father emotionally abuse my mother, and it’s even harder to listen to her deny it happened. Or ‘forget’ it happened.

I have much more to say, but this is running long as usual. I will save the meat of my musing for the next post.

 

 

 

 

*A day later than planned. My brother and I dropped my parents off at the airport Sunday at around 5:30 p.m. This was after having a tea at Starbucks for about an hour. I went with my brother to run an errand, and I made it home by 8:00 p.m. He called me ten minutes later to tell me that my parents’ first flight had been delayed to the point where they wouldn’t catch the transfer (2 hour delay), so they needed to come back home. I almost cried because I was so looking forward to having the place to myself and because driving back to get them–and then back home–was too much to bear. There is so much fucking construction that getting there and back nearly doubled the trip, and I hate driving in general. Fortunately, my brother was able to pick them up and bring them back here, but I was still irrationally pissed off at having to push off Freedom Day by fourteen hours or so.

**Both the boxers and the gym shorts I found in the men’s department. It’s hard to find women’s gym shorts that are baggy and have pockets (what the fuck is it with women’s clothing and pockets in the year of our lord, 2019????), and there is no such animal as women’s boxers. Unfortunately, men’s boxers seem to be dying out as well, sadly. Sigh.

***Where I almost died in my early twenties. I was in Taiwan during my semester abroad, and me and a bunch of the other women were swimming in the Gorge. Not a smart idea because I’m not a good swimmer. The rapids swept me away, and if one of the other women hadn’t grabbed me and pulled me out, I would have died.

****This is complicated because he’s always ignored anything that doesn’t interest him. So, part of his current not remembering things is hard to parse. Is he not remembering because he doesn’t care to remember or because he truly can’t remember? I think it’s mostly the latter because it happens even when he asks a question, but there’s also some of the former, especially if the answer is not what he wants to hear.

Point the finger back at me

There is a theory in psychology that something about another person that really bugs you is because you’re projecting, and it’s something you do yourself. It’s a simplified theory, of course, and it’s only one of the reasons, but I’ve found it to be true. The other night when I was pointing out to my mother that she wasn’t the savior of the world and that the world wouldn’t end if she wasn’t the one to help whomever it was in crisis at that particular moment. She came back with reasons why she HAD to do it, and I shut my mouth, even though I was fuming inside.

Of course, you can see where I’m going with this. I am the same way myself, especially with her, and while I can advocate setting boundaries all I want–I can’t do the same with her. In my last post, I talked about the period of our relationship when I held her at a firm arm’s length away. It was because I couldn’t set reasonable boundaries, so I just threw up walls. It’s actually the earliest stage of setting boundaries, and I thought I had moved past it by cautiously lowering the boundaries until they were appropriate.

I was fucking wrong. One and a half weeks to go, and I feel beat down. I’m so worn, and it’s because I can’t enforce reasonable boundaries with either of my parents. With my father, it’s because he’s a petty tyrant. If you don’t do what he wants when he wants it in the way he wants it, he either throws a major tantrum or he gives the silent treatment (which is where I get it from. Though I don’t go to the extremes he does, my immediate reaction is to shut down or lash out, the latter if I feel cornered). The latter can go on for hours, and he’s like my cat in that he makes it pointedly obvious that he is ignoring you. Unlike Shadow, however, my father is neither adorable nor lovable when he does it.

I have learned to choose my battles with him and only stand firm on the important things. One was the thermostat thing. I was not budging on it, no matter how pissed off he got or how ‘hurt’ my mother got. But, with other stuff, I just give him as minimal information as possible. Like today, for example. He wanted to get into his gmail account. He was trying to type in the password, and he asked me how to put a space. I told him that passwords usually don’t have spaces. When he asked me again, I told him to press the space bar. In my head, I added, “Like you do on a fucking computer”, but I refrained.


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Fool me a hundred times

My heart is heavy, and I’m grieving the loss of a relationship I never had. Or rather, two relationships. Or one relationship with two people. My parents. My relationship with my father has ranged from nonexistent to frosty to cordially distant. Right now, I would classify it as parent-child–with me being the parent. His faculties have diminished to what I suspect is early onset dementia, but it’s hard to say because he refuses most testing in that area. Funny because he’s a hypochondriac who goes to the doctor at a moment’s notice, but like most hypochondriacs, if there is a potential serious issue, then he refuses to go. And if it’s something that has a negative connotation about his brain, well, forget about even mentioning it.

To be fair, my mother told me that Alzheimer’s is looked upon as a personal failing and weakness in Taiwan, so I can understand not wanting to open yourself up to that. I suggested he get tested here, but his English is nowhere near as good as it used to be, and it wouldn’t be fair to use a test he took in English as a barometer. On the other hand, the longer he goes without treating it, the worse it’s going to get.

Do you notice how I immediately started talking about my father? I meant to talk about my mother as a starter, but my father is such the focal point of the family, it’s hard to avoid, even here. Why am I grieving my relationship with my mother? Sit back with your favorite cup of tea because this is going to take some explaining.

If you asked my mother, she would say we are really close. She made me her confidante when I was eleven, pouring out all her woes about my father and her marriage into my very unwilling ears. She would cry about how he treated her (very badly), and I would listen until I couldn’t take it any longer before telling her she should divorce him. Then, she would shift to how he wasn’t that bad. I would feel like a dupe, and I would vow never to say anything again. She also told me how depressed she was and how much she hated her life. Not in those exact terms, but that was what she meant.


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Family dysfunction in real time

My self-esteem, which is never really great, takes a beating when I’m around my family. My brother was over yesterday, and I could feel myself regressing more and more the longer he was there. I love my brother. We get along well these days. But. He’s still my older brother, and there’s a firm pecking order that we cannot escape.

Ian once commented that my mother listens to my brother when she doesn’t listen to me. It was validating because I had known it on some level, but was never able to articulate it. I’ve always felt it, but I never allowed it to come to the surface until Ian flat-out said it. Later on, though, I realized it was a bit more complicated than that. My mom is a questioner as I am. She also suffers high anxiety as I do. I’ve joked that her constant chatter is like the voice in my brain. It’s gotten worse in the past few years (for her), and I think it’s because my father retired so he’s around their house much more. He’s a petty tyrant with wildly variant moods (I come by it proudly), and she’s catered to him for fifty years.

Anyway, she always needs a second, third, and fourth opinion. I think it’s partly because my father is so set in his thinking, he can make you question yourself. He’s very good at gaslighting without even doing it directly. If you say something to him, there’s a high chance he won’t even respond. You know how the good social thing to do when someone is talking to you is to nod or look or them or say goddamn anything? Oftentimes, he won’t do any of that. He doesn’t even change expressions, so it’s hard to know if he heard you.

That’s one of the issues–he’s lost his hearing and refuses to wear his hearing aids at home. I’d bet he doesn’t always wear them outside, either, as he’s vain. If he can hear you, he may not understand what you’ve said. There’s two reasons for that. One, his English isn’t great. He hasn’t lived here for over a quarter of a century, and he doesn’t use English unless he’s here. Two, his comprehension is going. His mental faculties aren’t what they used to be, and combining that with his loss of English means that oftentimes, he just doesn’t understand. I think he feels bad when my brother, my mother, and I are babbling at each other because we talk at top speed, and he can’t keep up. Last night, my mother had to talk to him in Taiwanese and him respond in such before she translated it into English for us. Third, he hates admitting he doesn’t know something. So, he’ll agree to something or say he knows or that he remembers when it’s clear that he has no idea what is going on. You can’t point it out, either, because he’ll either double down or go back to being silent.


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If you can’t handle me at my worst

I am not my best when I am around my parents. To be clear, I am not the best ever, but it’s even worse when they’re around. I find myself acting like a child again, and I have walls a mile high erected around me. “They know which buttons to press because they installed them” is so true, and I hate that I react to it almost every time. I wanted to be like David Attenborough and be the detached social scientist, but something in my lizard brain overrides as soon as one of my parents talks to me. It’s almost atavistic, and I feel as if I’m out of control. My mouth is saying things before I can censor myself, and it’s as if my filters are on the fritz.

Side note: I know the meme, “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best” is mostly lighthearted, but I really hate the message it sends. That’s what abusers say or imply, and there isn’t anything funny in that. In addition, that’s a strong component of codependent relationships, which is another big no for me.

Anyway, I remember with my last therapist during a yearly visit from my parents, I was saying how I feel like a complete failure as a daughter because I was nothing my mother (and father, but I wasn’t really talking to him at that point) wanted me to be. I wasn’t married (nor wanted to be), didn’t have children (nor wanted them), did not have a steady 9-to-5 job (nor wanted one), was not a Christian (and so did not want to return), and a litany of other things. She pointed out that they were not the parents I wanted/needed them to be, either, and it was as if the clouds had parted, allowing the sun to shine into the fog. I had been so focused on how I was failing them, I never thought about what I needed from the relationship.

That’s part of growing up in a dysfunctional family–I was never allowed to consider my wants and needs as valid. I was made to feel ashamed for wanting anything other than what my parents wanted (which was mostly my father as dictated by my mother). There’s an anecdote that my father still loves to tell about how when I was a kid, he would tell me to put on a coat, and I would refuse. He insists I said it was because he didn’t ask nicely (which, yes, that’s true, but not the whole point) whereas I know it’s because I wasn’t fucking cold at the time. How do I know this? Because I am never cold. I also had Graves’ disease (hyperthyroidism) when I was younger, and one of the symptoms is not being cold.

He tells it now to show how recalcitrant I was as a child, I think, but it reads very differently to me. It reminds me how unreasonable he was and how autocratic. He’s a raging narcissist, and he sees everything through the lens of how himself. My biggest issue with what he said to me, at least in the memory of it, is that he wanted me to put on a coat because he is cold. He couldn’t fathom that if he was cold, someone else might not be, especially a child of his.

I made my peace many moons ago that my parents don’t know the real me, can’t know the real me, and wouldn’t want to know the real me. I keep things close to my vest because I don’t want to expose the real me to ridicule, disbelief, or scorn. It’s difficult because Taiwanese culture in families is more porous than American culture. Much of what I took to be normal in my family is not in America, and there are parts of it that I think would even be extreme in Taiwan. However, everyone is much more in everyone else’s business there (again, within the family), so it’s hard to tease out what is specific to my family and what is culture.

What I do know is that I felt like a complete failure growing up and that feeling returns around my parents. I am the polar opposite of them in almost every conceivable way, and it’s hard to say if it’s more because that’s just who I am or if it’s reactionary. I think it’s a mix of both, but I can’t say with certainty.


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