Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Self Esteem

Anthony Bourdain and the legacy of depression

Content Note: In this post, I’m going to talk frankly about suicide, suicidal thoughts and ideation, and severe or chronic depression. Please don’t read if these things are trigger points for you because I want you to take good care of yourself.

I read about Anthony Bourdain’s suicide the first thing when I hopped on social media on Friday. I saw one of the people no my Twitter TL posting a clip of Bourdain and saying it was a good way to remember him. With a sinking heart, I Googled Anthony Bourdain and found out that he had died earlier that morning. For whatever reason, I immediately thought it was suicide, and I was saddened when I saw it was true. I felt even worse when I read that it was his good friend and fellow chef, Eric Ripert, who found him. I can’t imagine being in that position, and my heart hurts for Ripert.

I’ve always loved Bourdain, ever since I first saw No Reservations many years ago. His lust for life, food, culture, and people (not to mention alcohol and cigarettes) was fully displayed wherever he went. What I loved best about him is that he would approach every culture with respect, not viewing them as a curiosity or specimens in a zoo. He showed the good and the bad of the country he was in without sensationalizing it in either direction. He was a good ally, even though he probably would never use that word or recoil in horror if he heard himself being described in that fashion, which is one reason he was a good ally. But, this post isn’t about that. I will write more on that later, however.

I watched No Reservations voraciously, living vicariously through Bourdain. I like to travel, but I also…don’t. I’m very much a homebody, and I have a hard time with the actual travel. I love visiting new places and exploring, and very much like Bourdain, I prefer not doing the touristy things. I’d rather eat where the natives eat, see the funky local stuff, and go way off the beaten track. I am never as bold as Bourdain was, though, as my anxieties oftentimes got the best of me. I loved the way he would eat anything placed in front of him, and he was gracious about it, even if he didn’t care for it. He was a good model of how you should act when you visited another country. He was the opposite of an ugly American, though he’s painted as a bad boy in his own country. Or was when he was younger, at least.

I hadn’t watched his shows recently, but I saw him being fierce about #MeToo, which started because he was dating someone who had been one of Harvey Weinstein’s victim. Again, I will write more about that later, but for now, I’m going to focus on the suicide. Every time I saw a tweet or quote from Bourdain standing up for #MeToo, I smiled. Even though I no longer watched his show much, I still had a soft spot for him. And, yeah, I’ll admit I had a massive crush on him when I first started watching the show, and I still found him intriguing years later.


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Beyond freaks and geeks

Oh, you think the darkness is your ally, you merely adopted the dark. I was born in it, molded by it. I didn’t see the light until I was already a man; by then, it was nothing to me but blinding! The shadows betray you, because they belong to me. I will show you where I have made my home, I will be preparing to bring justice.

–Bane

I was born a weirdo, and I’m comfortable living on the fringe. Hell, more than comfortable–I thrive on the edges. I’ve never been a normie, even though I’ve tried hard to fit in. I wore a powder blue sweater for my senior picture, had feathered bangs, and wore makeup. Whenever I think about it or see a copy, I stare in wonder. Who was that girl, and how did I know her? When I spent a year abroad in Asia, I quit doing all the girly things I had started doing just because I felt I should. I stopped shaving my legs and armpits–I didn’t really need to especially since as a Taiwanese American person, I didn’t have much hair. I cut my hair short so I didn’t have to deal with it (and because it was too damn hot for my usual mop), and I stopped wearing makeup because it just melted off my face in a hot second, anyway.

I felt much more myself once I stripped away all that shit. I still wore earrings, but no other jewelry, and my style of dress was lackadaisical at best. In Thailand, I had someone tell me I looked like a gratui, which is a boy who dresses/looks like a girl.  It was said with a laugh and no intention of malice, but it stung. I had enough issues with my own femininity; I didn’t need other people questioning it as well. I never felt like I was enough of a woman, though to be clear, I didn’t feel like a man, either. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a boy so badly, I would pray to God to make me a boy. I mean, hey, He created the world, right? So making me a boy shouldn’t be any big thing for Him. It never happened, and I woke up every minute feeling bitterly disappointed. Again, I want to stress that I did not want to be a boy; I just didn’t want to be a girl. To me, I saw how much better it was to be a boy (in both of my cultures), and I was like, “Sign me up.”


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Walking a tightrope

i am not grace under pressure
SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP

I know I need to keep up on what’s happening in the world because I wouldn’t feel like I’m being a good citizen if I just poked my head in the sand and ignored everything around me. More to the point, it’s not in my nature to be willfully ignorant, which is why I’m never blissful. Before the 2008 election, I became obsessed with politics because I was #TeamObama from day one. The fact that a black man was running for president made politics immediately personal to me, and I had a vested interest in following his campaign.

Let me be clear. I have been a Democrat since I could vote, and I have only voted for a non-Democrat (Nader, 1996), and I made sure Clinton carried MN before casting my vote. I did it to make a point, and I didn’t like Clinton (Bill), anyway. I’ve voted straight Dem ever since. However, it was more because there was no way in hell I would vote for the Republicans rather than I was excited by anything the Democrats had to offer. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the basic tenets of the Democratic Party. Helping the poor and needy; equality for all; social justice, etc. However, before PBO, I felt as if I was taken for granted within the party. Being an Asian American bi agnostic woman meant I was invisible in so many ways, and I never really felt a part of the party.

When Barack Obama announced his candidacy, I felt an excitement I’d never felt before. In addition, Hillary Clinton also announced she was running, and while I didn’t care much for her, I was excited to have a female candidate as well as a black one. I really didn’t know which way I would go in the primary, but Obama won me over by being inclusive without making a big deal of it. He mentioned Asians when he talked about ‘all Americans’–probably because he has a sister who’s half-Asian, and he talked about nonbelievers without making it sound like a crime (this might have been after he was elected). He also actually uttered the word  ‘bisexual’, which made my jaw drop in amazement. No one ever acknowledged that bis existed, let alone said the actual word.

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I have a dream…or more like a nightmare

I have a dream that I’m June Cleaver with a loving husband, Ward, who goes off to work and does…work things all day long. While he’s gone, I take care of my two kids, uptight older kid, and the little scamp, the Beaver. Why is he called the Beaver? Who knows? The smarmy brat, Eddie Haskell, comes over from time to time to do whatever smarmy things he does, and I spend all day cleaning the house in heels because that’s what you do when you’re a white woman in the 50s, apparently. What the camera doesn’t show is me clutching a bottle of Valium, popping them like candy because IF ONE MORE PERSON WALKS ON MY CLEAN FLOOR I AM GOING TO LOSE MY SHIT.

Why do we never see that part of life in the 50s? How many women were sleepwalking through the day, just trying to get from one minute to another? I’ve been thinking about it for several reasons, and how in general, societal norms are so omnipresent and normative, we don’t even think to question them (society in general, not specific people). I’ve been thinking about it because of a few things I read online. One was a tweet by DJ Khaled about how he refused to go down on his wife, but expected her to do it to him because he was a man! He deserved it (but she didn’t was the implication), and given the one video of his I’ve seen, I can only conclude that it’s a business transaction for him. He gives her stuff; she gives him blowjobs. I tweeted a PSA to women who liked to get with men–don’t go down if he won’t, either. It boggles my mind that I have to say this in 2018, but there it is. I’ve also hoped that there would be less pressure on women to have kids, but apparently, it’s still pretty steady from what I’ve heard from younger women.

*sigh*

Another thing that really struck a chord with me was someone on an open thread at Ask a Manager was talking about seeing people her age (thirties) having all the ‘normal’ markers of adulting, marriage, house, kids, andd even though she didn’t want them, she was feeling as if she was falling behind. I totally empathized with that. I don’t want any of the trappings of the ‘normal’ life, but lately, I’ve been thinking how much easier it would be if I did. Not just in the big things such as marriage and kids, but in, well, almost every way.


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A general malaise

little pieces of me everywhere.
Feels like I’m coming apart.

I had two fillings put in on Thursday, and it wasn’t a big deal because they were in the front, and I had just had a root canal a few weeks ago. The dental assistant was telling me how much pain meds I could take at the end (Ibuprofen vs. Tylenol), and I said it probably wouldn’t be a problem because I didn’t take any for the root canal, and I had a Vicodin prescription filled for that. Both times, she gave me four Advil on my way out. It held me fine for the root canal, but I’m having a little more trouble this time around. My jaw still hurts–or rather, my gums–and I’m wondering if I inflamed it by brushing. I didn’t brush the first night per my dental assistant’s instructions, but I have been brushing since. I also wondered if it was because my dentist injected more numbing gel in my gums than for the root canal, but that doesn’t make sense. It might just be normal soreness, but it’s rather annoying.

I bring it up because that’s my life in general right now. Nothing big or horrific is going on, but I’m feeling a general malaise. It’s hard because logically, I know I have no reason to feel this way*, which actually makes it harder to deal with. When things are shitty in my life, I can accept that depression is the way I respond. When things aren’t shitty (and they really aren’t right now. I have great friends; my relationship with my family is the best it’s ever been; I’m writing every day; and I’m also doing taiji every day), what’s my excuse? It’s one of the problems with being intelligent and more than conversant about psychological concepts–I’m aware where I’m fucking up and how. Usually. We all have our blind spots, and therapy has helped me figure out mine In general, though, I know what’s wrong with me, and even know the ways to fix most of the problems; I just don’t do them for whatever reasons. Even when I know the reasons, it’s frustrating and embarrassing to me.

I feel aimless. There are too many things I want to do, but I just…don’t do them. I have a lot of shame about the fact that I’m a lazy bastard, but it’s not enough to motivate me to change. I’ve written before about how I’m my worst enemy, and I can talk myself out of anything by listing all the things that could possibly go wrong. I’ve been brainstorming podcasts, streaming, live-tweeting, and YouTube ideas, and all of them sound good to me, but have I done them? No, I haven’t. I know what I have to do. After all my planning, I have to just pick one and do it. The way I got myself to move to California and get my MA in Writing & Consciousness was by agonizing over it for several months, and then just doing it. It’s how I make all my big decisions, actually. My BFF reminded me once about how it looked to her when I got my cats. She said, “I said to _____ (her husband), “Minna just got cats! It’s so sudden!”.” In thinking about it, though, she realized I’d been talking about it for years before actually doing.

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Getting out of my own damn way

I’m my own worst enemy, and I know it. I can think about a hundred things I want to do or should do, but when I actually get down to the nitty-gritty, I start throwing roadblocks in my own way. I immediately think about a million of things that will go wrong, and then, more often than not, I end up doing–nothing. One big decision I made in my life was going to SF for grad school in writing. Writing & Consciousness, to be more specific. Yeah, it’s SF. Whaddya going to do?

Immediately, I was inundated with doubts. I poured them all out to my therapist, one after the other. After listening to me for twenty minutes or so, she stopped me and said, “Minna. Half of the things you imagine will never happen, and things will happen that you can’t even dream of right now.” I know it sounds cliched, but it really hit me hard. I didn’t have much control in my early life, so now, I worry obsessively as a way of trying to feel as if I’m in control. Her timely reminder that I can’t control what happens was what I needed, and it emboldened me to go forward with the move. The results were mixed, but I at least fucking did it.

You’d think I’d learn something from it, like, yeah, do something, anything, and just keep it moving. I’ve said it before, but one thing I really admire about my brother is that he’ll get an idea and just do it. If it doesn’t work, he’ll move on to the next thing. Now, obviously, there are downsides to that (like wasting time on unfinished projects), but it also means he can shrug it off when something fails or when he goes to the next project. Plus, he actually finishes a lot more things than I do. He once told me he had no regrets in his life, which blew me away. I regret everything in my life–everything! Even the good things, I can find a reason for regret.

You know what? I should take a positive example in my life–taiji. I had taken it before, and it was a terrible experience. Once I was recovered from it, I decided that I wasn’t going to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I liked taiji itself, and I wanted to take classes again. Of course, my brain was telling me a million reasons why it was a bad idea, but I managed to push through it and started researching nearby studios. I had a few things I were looking for–one was Asian-led. I let that one go pretty quickly, though, because I live in Minnesota. the second one was that the teacher was a woman. That one was a bit more fruitful, and I was encouraged. The third was no payment schemes. What I mean is, there are some martial arts schools that are more interested in getting paid than in teaching. A common way is to have paid belts. (There are no belts in taiji, or shouldn’t be.) There was one studio that insisted on a uniform and that you had to buy everything through them. NOPE.

I came across my teacher after hours of searching, and I have to say, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. I’ve learned so much from taiji, and it keeps giving to me (even if I’m currently frustrated with it because of all the changes). It’s hard for me not to think of all the ways I’ve failed, though. All the bad decisions I’ve made, many of them in my personal life, are scarred deeply in my soul. Sometimes, I can’t help thinking about them and picking over what I’ve done wrong. Or, I Google my exes just to torture myself. (Not all of them, just the ones I regret where things went wrong.)

I tend to let things happen to me rather than actually be proactive about things. There are things I want to do, but I have a real fear of actually doing them. All these doubts besiege me, and I end up paralyzed emotionally. Let me give you a current example. I blog (duh), but I know that podcasts and vlogging are the ways of the future. Or, having a strong social media presence and piggybacking off that. Or streaming if you’re into video games, which I am. I *know* all this, but am I doing any of it? No. Why not? I’ll tell you why, one by one.

Podcasts and vlogging: I hate the way I sound and look. Now, I know the former is pretty common because we can’t hear our voices as they sound to others. I’ve accepted that I have a voice that others find soothing and pleasant, so I can deal with it. Barely. As for the latter, I hate the way I look. A lot. For several reasons. As I’ve noted before, I don’t look in the mirror unless I actually have to, and every time I do, I cringe. I don’t know if I can get past that barrier, either for vlogging or for streaming, but I know that people respond better to face cam than when there isn’t one (for streaming), especially with women, but that brings up another issue with women and streaming–the rampant sexism that women have to face online. On the one hand, there’s the death threats, the rape threats, the ‘you don’t belong here, bitch’ threats, and such. On the other hand, there’s the stalkers, the obsessed fans, and the “I want to get in your panties” assholes. For whatever reason*, misogyny just spirals out of control online.


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Writer’s block/Being too hard on myself

butter wouldn't melt in my mouth.
Lily White in the house!

I am having a hard time writing these days. I keep thinking that everything I write is stale, boring, and redundant. Fiction and non-fiction. Why say anything when it’s all been said before? Or, conversely, why say anything when no one gives a fuck what I have to say? Not me personally, though there is a dose of that as well, but someone in my demo. I’m an old, fat, bisexual Taiwanese single woman, and when you put all those together, it adds up to one big pile of who gives a fuck?

I’ve been reading some old posts/fiction writing I’ve done, and I used to be really good. On social media, I’ve made a declaration that I’ve changed my name and my party because being a right-winger as a writer is waaaaaay more lucrative than being a bleeding heart liberal. I changed my name to Lily White, and I changed my avatar to a stock photo of a blond woman conservatively dressed, sitting in a prim pose. I’ve included it at the top of this post. In doing so, I remembered that I had threatened to change parties before for the same reason. I dug up some old posts I wrote on the subject, and damn it, they were fucking hilarious. Here’s an archive of the posts if you want to peruse them.

What’s changed since then? Too much online consumption. You probably think I’m being facetious, but I’m not. Most of my Twitter feed is very politically involved, and while that’s generally a good thing, there’s a downside–I’ll get to it in a second. One of the things that tripped me up growing up was how constantly I was told on a subconscious level that my opinion at best didn’t matter and at worst was full of shit. For many years, I felt as if I didn’t have a core, and whatever anyone else said automatically was right regardless of what I thought/felt. I’ve gotten better at it, but it still lingers.

Twitter reinforces those feelings when I get a million* tweets saying something with which I don’t agree. I start doubting myself, and I stop wanting to talk about that issue. For example, policing how other people talk, the liberal version. People trying to show how woke they are by constantly pointing out how oppressive other people is wearing me the fuck out. It’s a good thing to think about other people, but it’s taken to an extreme that makes me uncomfortable. Also, just because YOU think something is problematic, it doesn’t mean it actually is. One example, the word stupid. I don’t use it about people (“He’s stupid”), but I do use it about ideas, actions, experiences, etc (“This is stupid. I’m not doing it.”). Some people strenuously say that it’s ableist, and while I can maybe see it for the former, I don’t see it in the latter case.

Some words have multiple meanings and focusing on one to the exclusion of others is ludicrous. One I can speak even more definitively about is depression. Some people who have it get upset when people use it in this way, “I was so depressed today that I had to work late.” They say it’s appropriation, diminishing what actual depression feels like. As someone who has experienced severe depression as well as low-grade depression, I call bullshit on this. Even if the other person isn’t using depressed in exactly the ‘correct’ manner, you know what they mean. That’s half of communication–getting your meaning across.
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Awkward dancing in my head

Ian had a thing yesterday (he’s here visiting me) with his old colleagues at Game Informer (GI) for their 300th issue of their print magazine. He asked if I wanted to go, and I said sure both because I wanted to meet the GI crew and to support him. Immediately, I was assaulted with anxious thoughts about the event. Would I look stupid? Would I sound stupid? Would I embarrass him in front of his old colleagues? Objectively, I know I’m decent at small talk and mingling with people. In my brain, however, I’m THE WORST PERSON EVER AND NO ONE WILL LIKE ME. It hearkens back to my days as a kid–fat, friendless, and endlessly picked on. It’s hard to escape that mentality, even forty years later.

Another problem is that I don’t interact with people I don’t know very often in my real life. Online? Sure. But it’s much easier to curate an interaction online and to end it when you’re done with it. It’s not as easy to do in real life, and I’m not good at gracefully extracting myself from uncomfortable situations. I’m the one who gets cornered at the party and has someone talk her ear off for hours about a problem I could care less about. I’m also the person who has cashiers pouring their hearts out to for no apparent reason, and yes, I’m working on curbing this behavior in others. I know part of it is my own fault for asking follow-up questions, but it’s ingrained in my head. Also, eye contact. It feels rude not to look someone in the eyes, though.

Anyway, my point is, I was fretting about this shindig for the whole week leading up to it. Not constantly (which is an improvement), but once in a while, I’d think, “Oh shit. I’m going to make a fool of myself.” What helped was to shove it in the back of my head whenever the thought popped up. I haven’t been able to do that successfully before, but I was able to this time. Then, the day of the shindig, I started telling myself things such as, “You aren’t that big of a deal. No one is going to give a shit about you.” I know that sounds horribly negative, but it’s not in this case. One of the problems with having a low self-esteem is that, paradoxically, you think too much of yourself. What I mean is that I simultaneously think I’m the worst person in the world (which is low self-esteem) and that everyone must be thinking of how horrible I am (which is egotistical if you really think about it). When I was at my lowest, I thought everyone was constantly thinking about what a terrible person I am. The minute they met me, they’d say it to themselves, and they wouldn’t let up until our interaction ended.

This is pure horseshit, of course, First of all, most people care more about themselves than they do about you. I’m worrying about how I’m coming across to others, and they’re probably doing the same to a greater or lesser extent. Even if they aren’t, they’re not laser-like focused on me, waiting to pounce on any misstep I may have.

The other thing I told myself is that if I get stuck, just get the other person to talk about themselves. This is something I’m really good at, and I can do it for hours on end if need be. It works ninety-nine out of one hundred times because as I said, most people hunger to talk about themselves, and for the last one out of a hundred, well, that’s a bit more difficult. I have only run into that person once or twice, however, so it’s not a big deal.


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Medium-grade depression

I’ve been depressed all my life for as long as I can remember. My mother talks about me being a happy child, but I don’t remember that at all. My first real memory is when I was seven. I realized I was going to die, and I jumped out of bed and ran screaming from the room. I fell into a deep depression that year (not because of that, though it didn’t help), and starting when I was eleven until roughly mid-thirties, I wanted to die every day of my life.

I never had the courage to kill myself, but I saw the opportunities everywhere I went. Driving was a struggle because I constantly had to stop myself from running into embankments and such. If I walked on a bridge, I thought about how I could throw myself off it. These weren’t conscious thoughts, but stray thoughts floating in and out of my brain. I had no control over them, and they felt as if they were driving me.

Sometime in my mid-thirties, I started to stop having suicidal thoughts. Or rather, suicidal impulses. I was still depressed, and I still hated my life, but I didn’t have to stop myself from driving into embankments any longer. Again, it wasn’t a conscious thought, but it just happened. I think it’s at least in part because of starting taiji, but whatever the reason, it was a welcome change.

Starting in my early forties, I began to stop having suicidal thoughts as well. Let me be clear. I’ve never loved life, and I doubt I ever will. But, it was a relief to stop having intrusive thoughts all the damn time. I downgraded my depression to low-grade, and I muddled on with my life.

Unfortunately, in the last few months, the depression has ramped up again. Not to the extent it used to be (which was crippling and chronic), but more than I’m comfortable with. Intrusive thoughts of hopelessness and self-disgust. Thinking that life is worthless and why am I alive. I don’t feel as if I’m contributing anything by being alive, and I have a hard time dragging my ass out of bed (off the couch) in the morning (afternoon).

I’m discontented with, well, everything. I was always the girl with so much potential, but my own self-doubt and loathing has held me back. I’ve always had great ideas, but major difficulties in implementing them. It’s part of the problem of being very intelligent, and that is NOT a humble brag. I never formed good work habits because school came easily to me. I work for myself, so I don’t have to stick to someone else’s timetable.

I need to figure out what I want to do with my life, and more to the point, I need to stick to something and give it more than the good old college try. It’s time to see what I’m made of–and maybe the depression will subside.