Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Self Esteem

When Perception Becomes Reality; An Infinity Loop

when perception is reality.
Is this how you see me?

About a week ago, I received a frantic email from my mother. She needed a new password for a website, and she was having a hard time making one the website would accept. She sent me their requirements and asked me to clarify what they wanted. She added that maybe I could just do it for her because she was having such a hard time with it. I looked at the requirements, and they were pretty standard. The password must be at least eight characters with (at least) one uppercase letter, one lowercase letter, one number, and one special character. I sent her back an explanation and an example and told her to try it one more time; if she still couldn’t do it, I would help her. She emailed me back asking if the number counted as a character, and I said yes. Everything you input, I told her, counts as a character.

A few days later, she called me. She had tried and tried, but couldn’t get it to work. She asked me to help her, and I reluctantly agreed. I hasten to add that I was reluctant because I thought she could do it on her own, and I didn’t want to baby her, not because I didn’t want to help her. My mom is, in her own words, a bit of a technophobe, and she she becomes irrationally freaked out and anxious any time she has to do something on the computer that is outside her comfort zone. In addition, English is her third language, and she doesn’t speak it on the regular these days, so having to do all this shit in her third language probably doesn’t help, either.

Let me tell you a little story about when we both worked at the county (different departments). She called me up one day and said, “I can’t get this website to work.” I walked her through it. I said, “Put the address in the address bar.” That took more explanation. Then, “Did you press Enter?” Mom: “I have to do that?” I’m telling you this to show you my mom’s mentality when it comes to computers. It’s so strange to me because she’s an extremely intelligent and competent woman. She was the first psychologist to practice sandplay therapy in Taiwan–in fact, she brought it to the country all by her damn self. She has a two-year waiting list of people wanting to learn it from her (at least she did when she first started. It might have eased up now that there are more certified sandplay therapists in Taiwan, all trained by her). It’s hard for me to understand how something as simple as a resetting a password can reduce her to such despair.

Yes, I know it’s partly an age thing and a not having grown up with computers thing, but I didn’t, either. I didn’t touch my first computer until I was in college, and everything I know is self-taught or gleaned from the brain of my techie brother. I don’t know nearly as much as he does, but I know more than average about computers I would guess. Again, this isn’t to slag on my mother, but to point out that there’s no reason for her to get so upset about computer basics. It also makes me sad that it’s so anxiety-inducing for her. I can bet that when she was told she had to reset her password, she started freaking out, which makes it all that much harder. Then, she probably started obsessing over it in the back of her mind. She built it up so much, when she sat down to tackle it, she was already in a state of panic. Then, with each successive failure, it only reinforced her helpless and hopeless feeling.

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The Monumental Silence

shhhhhhhhhhh!
Don’t say a word.

I like to discuss ideas and learn new things. I may not always be receptive right away, but I will think about what someone says to me and change my mind accordingly. I have pretty firm ideas, but I’m willing to have my mind changed. If I feel that there’s no exchange to be had, however, I shut down.  It’s one reason I rarely talk about abortion. I have no give there, so it’s pointless for me to have a discussion on it.

Let me give you a relatively minor example. I hate summer because I hate heat. You would think in Minnesota that liking cold and snow would not put me in the minority, but in the recent years, it has. All I hear is bitching and moaning about the winters and how glad they are when it’s finally spring. During spring, I’d hear some version of, “Aren’t you glad we finally have good weather again?” all over the damn place. I used to reply, “No. I like cold and snow.” Then, I’d get the bemused and/or flustered looks in response, and I’d feel like an idiot. In the past year or two, I’ve simply started nodding and smiling because it’s not worth my time to protest. I’ve bowed down to the overall culture because I’m tired of feeling like a freak. It doesn’t change my mind, tough. Today, it’s already 81 ‘feels like’ 84, and I’m grumpy as hell. I can actually feel the energy drain from my body when the sun’s rays mercilessly beat down upon me, and my limbs actually start to sake.

I know that’s minor, but it’s alienating on a microscopic level. Small talk is meant to be a way to instantly connect, but you need a common ground on which to relate. If I’m at Cub buying my groceries on a blazing hot day, and the cashier smiles and says, “Enjoy the weather!”, it’s not going to warm the cockles of my heart, no pun intended. It just reminds me how much I hate hot weather and how I wish it would die in a fire, and, yes, I know that makes no sense.

Moving on to more serious issues, let’s talk abortion. I said above that I don’t discuss it because my mind will not be changed on it. I’m 100% for allowing women to make that decision, no ifs and or buts. However, I used to write about it a lot because I was so passionate about it. After writing several posts about it, I lost faith that anything would change for the better, and it was killing me to spend so much time writing about it. It wasn’t a conscious decision to quit writing about it, but I just didn’t have the heart to do it any longer.  It’s still important to me, but I just don’t see how my ranting about it will change anything.

It’s how I feel about politics in general and one major reason I’m not going to write about it any longer–I just don’t see the point. Nothing is going to change. We’re still going to have a buffoon as a president, one who is systematically destroying our country and possible the world, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. I can’t write from a place of hopelessness because it’ll permeate my words.

On a similar tangent, one of my strengths is using humor to highlight the absurdity/atrocity of wat is happening, and I feel as if I’ve lost my sense of humor for politics in the past few years. I can rant with the best of them, and it feels cathartic to do so. However, rants don’t really do anything to change a situation, and they can feel stale when done too often. As I mentioned in a previous post, one reason I love writing my POOG posts is because I can be as sarcastic and funny as I want to be, no holds barred. All the restraints that plague me when I write about other topics are gone when I write my POOG posts.

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Hello Darkness My Old Friend

dark wet cold damp.
Depression as dark as night.

A friend recently asked me how my depression was, and the question stumped me. It’s not something I talk about, and I didn’t know quite how to answer. I said something like, “It’s better than it was before. I’m sleeping more, but I’ll probably have to deal with it all my life.” This is technically accurate, but it’s not the whole truth. I don’t like talking about my depression because it’s boring as fuck–much like the bronchial/sinus shit I’m experiencing right now. Who the hell wants to hear, “I’m depressed. I can’t get off the couch. I want to die.” over and over and over again? I certainly don’t, and it’s how I feel a lot of the time.

It’s tricky because on the one hand, it’s absolutely true that I’m much better than I was twenty years ago. I can sleep more than four hours in one block, and I don’t have the death nightmares that used to pepper my dreams on a weekly basis. I don’t constantly see all the ways I can die as I move along in my daily life, and more importantly, I don’t have to continually fight myself not to ram  my car into a concrete lane divider or anything like that. I don’t spend days catatonic on the couch, curled up in a ball, wishing I had the courage to kill myself. I don’t hate myself or think that other people hate me, either.

These are all good things, of course. In fact, when I think of how far I’ve come, I’m amazed. I’ve done a lot of hard work, including three decades of therapy, medication, and taiji (and writing), but the depression has alleviated despite myself–not because of anything specific I’ve done. I say despite myself even though I’ve worked on it because the lifting of the depression has crept up on me inch by inch. Here’s the thing about being marinated in depression for all my life. It’s my life. It’s what I know. It’s all I’ve known. It’s my norm as oppressive as it is. I got used to it, and I didn’t notice as it changed little by little.

It’s a truism, but change usually isn’t a big bang. It’s a minute more of sleep a night, rather than an extra hour. It’s sleeping with only four interruptions rather than six or seven. And, because I have anxiety as well as depression, it’s not freaking out when I say something I perceive as stupid to a complete stranger, or only freaking out for a minute instead of the rest of the day. It’s making a mistake and not berating myself for an hour afterwards, but only for fifteen minutes.

Because the change is so minimal, I don’t notice it at the time. It’s only when I look back that I can see how different I am now than I was even five years ago. I give a lot of credit to taiji, and I’ve recounted the ways it’s helped me in past posts. I’m pleased with my progress. But, and I bet you knew a but was coming.

But.

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Fringe Benefits?

Most of the time, I am perfectly fine with being on the edge of American society. I am *deep breath* a Taiwanese American, bisexual, fat, old, unmarried, childfree, agnostic teetotaling, makeup-free, taiji-practicing/sword-loving woman with four tats who hates shopping, cooking, and clothing, but likes video games, graphic novels/comics, and sports*.  It’s just who I am, and it’s not something I think about most of the time.

However, once in a while, I can’t help but think it’s would be easier and less lonesome if I were a bit more mainstream. Take alcohol, for example. I grew up in a non-drinking household, and I never had the desire to drink. First of all, I’m allergic as are the majority of Asians because we don’t have the gene that breaks down alcoholic enzymes, but that obviously doesn’t stop other Asians from drinking. I’m sure I had the random glass of wine or beer when I was a teenager, but I didn’t really experiment with alcohol until I was in college. Even then, the thought of getting smashed every weekend didn’t appeal to me. I had heard about beer that you just had to keep trying until you found one you liked, but that seemed stupid to me. Why dedicate so much energy to something that was so distasteful to me just so that I *might* discover something halfway enjoyable? It didn’t work, anyway. I remember a chocolate raspberry beer that was tasty, but that was because of the chocolate and the raspberry. I did find one beer that was acceptable to me–Bud Lite. When people found out that was my favorite beer, their usual response was, “It doesn’t even taste like beer!” To which I would retort, “That’s why I like it! It’s water with a waving of beer running through it.”

Wine is even worse. I hate it, and I’m the most allergic to it. I don’t know if it’s the tannins or what, but there is something especially repugnant about wine to me. When I did drink (infrequently, maybe twice a year, three times at most), I preferred hard alcohol–it’s the one I’m least allergic to. Gin & tonic or rum & Diet Coke were my go-tos, with an amaretto sour thrown in for variety. Even then, I disliked what the alcohol did to me–made me red all over, and I became short of breathing. It all came to a head when I was celebrating a birthday, I want to say my 40th, and I had some kind of ‘dessert’ drink with chocolate, whipped cream, and probably Kahlua and/or Irish whiskey. I found myself thinking, “This is tasty, except for the alcohol.” That’s when I realized that I could have a delicious dessert drink without alcohol because I was a fucking adult, damn it, and I could drink what I pleased.


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The Sound of Silence

all i do is write, write, write.
The pen is still mightier than the sword.

When I was in my twenties, I had stories in my head all the time. They were clamoring to be heard, and I couldn’t wait to sit down and write. I could write for hours with the words just pouring out of me, and my biggest problem was knowing when to stop. It’s the same when I started blogging. I had so much to say, and there seemed to be so little time to say it in. I was passionate about my opinions, and I wanted the world to know what I had to say. Even when I was depressed, I could write. It’s the one thing I didn’t have to force myself to do. I couldn’t make myself take a shower, but I sure as hell could type thousands of words.

When I first started writing at the tender age of seven, I wrote poems. They weren’t great poems, but they were heartfelt. I never much cared for rhyming or more traditional poetry, but I loved free-form, and I wrote what I considered prose-poetry before it became a thing. I found it limiting, however, especially as I did not enjoy reading poetry, and I eventually switched over to prose. Part of the reason is because I loved to read, but I never saw anyone who looked or acted like me. I’ve nattered on about representation in popular culture so I’ll skip that whole spiel right now, but I felt a longing in my heart any time I read to see someone, anyone, who looked like me and/or had a life experience that was at all similar. There’s a Toni Morrison quote that has stuck with me about this sentiment:

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

–Toni Morrison

She also has said unapologetically that she is a writer for black people, and she doesn’t have a problem with that. She said it was “in the same way that Tolstoy was not writing for me, a 14-year-old colored girl from Lorain, Ohio.” I felt the same about much of what I read. Even if something was exquisite literature and moved me, there was always something missing. There was an explosion of Asian immigration stories when I was in my mid-to-late twenties (I blame Amy Tan), but they didn’t feel that relatable, either, because they were  about Chinese laundries, broken English, and three generations of suffering women. It became so prolific, I remember standing in the middle of Modern Times (used bookstore) in San Francisco, seeing another spate of books like this, and loudly declaring, “If I never see another book about three generations of suffering Asian women, it would be too soon!” My friend shushed me, but I was fed the fuck up.

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Feeling Like Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde

hiding behind my mask.
The best of me and the worst of me.

I am periodically reminded that other people have a vastly different way of viewing me than how I see myself. They see me as charming, witty, fun to be around, attractive, lively, political, sympathetic, and a good listening ear. I know because I’ve heard all of these things from other people, and twenty years ago, I would nod my head but cringe inside because I thought they were completely wrong. Well, not completely, but mostly. They only thought that because they didn’t live with me or even worse, because they weren’t me. They didn’t understand that what I showed them was a facade, one I’ve perfected over the years. I felt as if I were a living doll, carefully created to give the perfect response to any given situation.

Charming? I couldn’t deny that, but I saw it in a negative life. My father is an extremely charming man, and I saw how people (mostly women) flocked to him as if moths to a bright light. He could make you feel as if you’re the only person in the world, and, yet, to him, it was just a way to boost his ego, and not because he actually cared about the other person. I knew I had that in me, that ability to make someone feel as if they’re oh-so-special. I have a fantastic memory for names and details, and it was almost automatic for me to use my arsenal of knowledge to impress and dazzle other people. Because of what I saw in my childhood, I didn’t trust the charm I could effortlessly pour in any given situation. In addition, I have a psychology background, so I know people’s weak points. I struggle to keep my temper under control because I could destroy someone with a barrage of well-pointed barbs if I so choose.

Sensitive, yes, I’ll give you that, and my mother often told me I was overly so. Personally, I think it was her way of deflecting responsibility when she was insensitive to me and my needs, but that’s another post for another day. I am what some people would call an empath, which means I feel other people’s emotions as if they’re my own. The worst part is that I feel the negative emotions more strongly, so when I walk into a crowded room, I’m overcome with anger, sadness, depression, jealousy, and pain, among other strong emotions. Twenty years ago, I had no ability to block out these emotions, so going anywhere was agony. I could just look at someone and know that she’s being beaten at home or that he has lost his job and feels utterly hopeless. I could feel the positive emotions, too, but they were more muted. I remember one time my mom talked me into going to the State Fair, which is something I abhor. She actually tells the story about how when I was a baby and my brother was three or four, she’d take us to the State Fair because my brother loved it (he still does), and she couldn’t get a babysitter for me. I’d scream my head off the whole time, which is still how I feel about it today. Anyway, that time my mother convinced me to go about twenty years ago, I lasted half an hour before I had to leave because I was overwhelmed by the flood of negative emotions swirling around me.
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Fear and Self-loathing in Minnesota

Have you ever looked in the metaphorical mirror and hated everything you saw? I’ve been feeling that way for the past week or so, which is both bad news and good news. It’s good news because it feels foreign to me now. There was a time when it was the way I felt all the time. During my twenties and early thirties, I hated myself to my very core. The only nice things I could say about myself was that I liked my hair and my brains. Oh, and I could write. Other than that, I was convinced that there was nothing good about me. I was toxic, and I could feel it oozing out of my pores. It’s hard to explain if you’ve never felt this way. How catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror could spiral me into a deep abyss of depression, it took weeks to claw my way out. How I felt as if I was adding negativity to the cosmos every minute I was alive, and I couldn’t do enough good things fast enough to compensate for it.

It’s one of my frustrations about post-depression–it’s fucking impossible to describe what it’s like. It’s almost claustrophobic as it swirls around me, choking out all the fresh air. Sometimes, it feels like hands are actually around my throat, closing off my air supply. Other times, it’s an incredible sense of lethargy running through my body and draining out all my energy. I’m talking about it in the present tense because even though my chronic and debilitating depression is over, I still suffer from a low-grade version of it almost every day. Now, it’s more that I’m tired more often than not, and sometimes, I don’t have any interest in anything. I tend to calibrate for inertia, and it takes a lot to push me out of my natural state.

But I digress. I’ve been feeling this way in the last week, and I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that I’m also adjusting to a new dose of my thyroid medication and that I’ve been ill with the flu or a cold for the same duration. I have a fragile immune system, and when I get sick, I get SICK. I hate it because I instantly become a big baby about it, even if it’s only in my own brain. “Why am I so tired?” “Why don’t I have any energy?” “I can’t do my full taiji routine.” “Wah, wah, wah.” I like living on my own, but I will admit that when I’m sick, I like having someone else in the house to make me tea, bring me soup, and just cluck about me in general. The other day, I went to the store to get honey, lemon, and ginger to make honey lemon ginger tea (duh). I had to run to the post office after, and by the time I got home, I was almost in tears because I was so exhausted. All I wanted was for someone else to tuck me in bed and make me my tea. It’s been over two weeks since I got the flu or whatever this is, and every time I start to feel better, I have a relapse. It’s the weirdest thing because I can feel it happening to my body, but there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I feel better today except for the bone-deep weariness, but that’s normal for me, even when I’m not ill.


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When It All Falls Apart

I have never felt so hopeless in my life, and that’s saying something. This time, though, it’s not a question of feeling hopeless about my own life (though there is that), but of feeling hopeless about my nation’s life. Eight years of incremental progress* under PBO, and now, that’s going to be gone in a flash. The best case scenario is that the white nationalists and the establishment GOP constantly clash and progress grinds to a halt. Nothing moves forward, but more importantly, nothing moves backwards. The fact that this is the best I can hope for makes me exceedingly glum.

I’ve read tons of articles about what happened during the election and why, but at this point, I just don’t care. I feel removed from everything, as if it were happening outside of me. I may be able to intellectually comprehend what happened and why people voted for Trump, but I cannot grasp it in my heart. I know all the *woke* people are shaking their heads over us poor fools who actually feel shocked, surprised, and dismay, but whatever. It’s one thing to know about the deeply embedded hatred that threads through the fabric of our society; it’s quite another to have it smacked in your face.

I’m paralyzed with fear, though it’s more mental than anything else. I still go about my business, but there’s a part of my brain that’s just frozen. I felt this way during the election any time I thought about Trump becoming president, and I feel it every time I think of him as president. Abject terror.

In class on Saturday, we started talking about the practical applications of taiji. It was because my teacher had seen a video of a woman, presumably Muslim, teaching Muslim women what to do if their hijabs are grabbed from behind. I’d seen that video as well as others in the same vein, and my teacher was critiquing the good and the bad of the technique. Then, we segued into talking about self-defense from a taiji perspective, which is something I’ve always loved. It seems relevant now, even more than before. In the past, it was a theoretical love. I had no reason to believe I’d ever need it (except for the reasons that most women have. As a back-up plan), but now, it seems like a realistic possibility.


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Think of the Children; Vote Against Hate

I saw my niece recently. She’s eighteen, graduated from an arts high school, has a full-time job, and has moved into an apartment with her boyfriend and his friend. She also got two tattoos recently. A small one on her hand and a larger one on her arm. She asked me if I had heard about her getting tattoos, which I had from her father (my brother). I asked if I could see them. She showed me the small one, then shrugged off her jacket so she could display the other. It’s on her arm in a similar place to the one I have on my right arm. It was beautiful, and she told me she had to get it touched up because all the color hadn’t taken. I asked if she was going to get another one, and she said, “Oh, yes!” with eagerness. I laughed and said that you can’t stop with just one, and she nodded in agreement. Then, she said something about getting it because of me. I didn’t really register it, and we kept talking about tattoos as I walked her and her father to the door. She repeated that she had gotten her tattoos because she’s liked mine* ever since she was a small child. I was touched, but also concerned. It’s not a good reason to get a tattoo, but I can’t deny that it was flattering to hear.

She looked like me when she was a little girl. People used to think I was her mother, and my family would sometimes confuse her name with mine. We used to tell stories to each other for hours, with her being the Fairy Princess and me being the Fairy Queen. She wasn’t waiting around for her prince to come, however; in fact, many of our stories were about how she would save her prince from perils. I watched as she grew up to be a creative, artistic, sensitive, intelligent, thoughtful, striking young woman. She’s always been more feminine than I am. In fact, I remember when she was eleven, she wasn’t happy that her mom wouldn’t let her shave her legs until she was twelve. Boys like it when you shave your legs, she informed me gravely. When I told her that not all boys felt like that and that I didn’t shave my legs, she said with as much scorn as an eleven-year-old could muster, “You’re not married, so it doesn’t count.” It made me sad that she had gotten that message from society, but the only thing I could do was continue to model a different way of thinking in the best way I could.


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Related, But Not the Same

tatted up
My lotus blossom is on fiyah!

My brother dropped by the other night, and as always, I marveled that we’re related. I’m not a genetics expert, but I would think two people who’re related would have a few traits in common. He and I get along really well, but we could not be more different. By his own admission, he operates purely on logic. Or mostly, any way. I don’t think many people are 100% Dr. Spock, even if they think they are. He is very rational, though, so it’s easy for him to miss the subtext of what people are saying. I, on the other hand, skew heavily to the emotional side, although I can think rationally when I apply myself. My brother is extremely gregarious. To him, a stranger is just a friend he hasn’t met yet. To me, even my friends can feel like strangers at time. He can talk to people all day long. I get tired after about five minutes of human interaction. He loves to drive; I fucking hate it. He’s married with three wonderful children (one who’s now an official adult!), and I can only look at him in admiration and wonderment because I can’t imagine that life for myself. Nor, may I hasten to add, do I want to. I never wanted kids, and I never wanted to get married. Still. It leaves me out of many conversations because the vast majority of women my age are married and/or have kids.

My brother is a realtor. He’s very good at his job. He likes meeting new people and finding the perfect house for them. To me, that sounds like Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell. The one thing I had to help my brother with was how he emotionally connected with people. We role-played, and he practiced until he was markedly better at it. He likes to have three or four things to do every day. I consider it a job well done if I manage to do one thing a day. He’s better with numbers and computers while I swim in a sea of words. He once told me that he never regretted anything in his life. I stared at him, slack-jawed, unable to process what he’d said to me. Not regret anything? First of all, can anyone really say that?* I mean, not even getting the turkey on rye instead of the ham and cheddar? Secondly, I regret almost everything about my life. One of the reasons I have such a hard time making a decision is because I can always see the negatives about any/all of the choices. Even if it’s not conscious, I often see things as a lose-lose situation.

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