Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Wellness

Never normal, always a freak

Reading Ask A Manager, there’s a call for simple potluck dishes. Homemade, not bought. I sigh because I know what is coming. I love reading about food and different recipes, but I make a bet with myself how many of them I would be able to eat. I have an odd list of things that I can’t eat. Gluten and dairy, which aren’t that weird, but it’s difficult to find dishes that are both gluten and dairy-free. Add to that cauliflower, onion and garlic, and cilantro.

Side Note about the cilantro: I realized many years ago that I hated cilantro. I didn’t know why, but it tasted like shit to me. Not like literal shit, but something unpleasant. Any time I mentioned it to anyone, they could not believe that I did not like it.

When the NYT article about cilantro came out, I felt vindicated. Before that, my mom dismissed my feelings about cilantro, saying I must be imagining it. Imagining what, I don’t know. The bad taste? Not liking it? No idea. But she shook her head every time I mentioned not liking it. When I showed her the NYT article, she exclaimed, “Oh, so it is a thing!”

That’s her in a nutshell. Me plainly stating my displeasure with cilantro was waved aside and dismissed. An article by NYT is taken as sacrosanct. At any rate, she never bugged me about cilantro again. It gets tiring, though, all the people who just can’t understand why someone would not like cilantro.

This is how I feel in general about all the things I’m allergic  to. I rarely mention it because the list is long and boring. But, I get a bit impatient when people express incredulity about what people are allergic to/don’t like what they like. There was a thread on AAM about what to give your employees for Christmas (or any other gift-giving occasions). Some people mentioned that it’s best to just give money because of all the things people are allergic to/can’t have. One person said dismissively that those people could just give away the thing or throw it away.

But some people are allergic to being in the same room as something. Peanuts is a big example of that. I am violently allergic to poinsettias (which I found out in a very memorable way). So getting rid of something I’m allergic to could include a violent reaction.

And, more to the point, why the fuck not give money? Everyone loves money! If the point is to make the employees feel valued, then giving them something that they are allergic to/cannot use will not accomplish that goal. I don’t know how this is even a question. And it’s discouraging that once again, people are like, “Fuck the people with allergies. Who cares about them?”

AAM is a blog with very liberal readers, mostly women, and they’re always trying to be aware of diversity. This is a good thing, but the above comment (from a man, btw), shows that there are still areas in which they’re weak–and this is one of them. So many people were dismissive of allergies or more benignly, don’t think anything of it. Not that they should. It’s really not on anyone but the allergic person (or they’re family).

But it’s alienating.

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A feather in my fan, er, cap

I finished the Fan Form! And by finished I mean teaching it to myself. I started it after my medical trauma–two months after at least–and taught it to myself in…six months? Five? Probably more the latter than the former. Either way, I’m super proud of myself–I just looked it up. I got the videos from my teacher on February 15th of this year so it’s not even been three months! It’s not that long, but still. I’m impressed with myself.

I’m trying to find a video of the Fan form I’ve learned, but haven’t so far. My teacher’s teacher has created several forms of his own and I think this might be one of them. The video I’m including is from him, but the form he is doing is not the one I taught myself. It’s similar and I’m sure it’s at the root of his form, but it’s much more elaborate and lengthy. It’s fascinating to watch because his form is much more concise, but still maintains the essence of this form–except the leaning forward and sticking your leg out in the back (which I’m sure is form over function). Master T.T. Liang, one of his teachers, was very much into the beauty of the forms and how they were performed to music so I am not surprised that this form is very visually pleasing. (You can hear Master Liang doing the counts in the background.) That was one of Master Liang’s big passions–dance. So he made all his forms fit to music, which is why they all have even counts. When Sifu Ray (my teacher’s teacher) started creating his own forms, he chose function over form, so the counts are uneven. I like the fact that some of the movements (postures) have been cut down and some have been expanded, depending on what makes functional sense.

Before I learned any weapons, I was drawn to the fan. Why? Because you can’t carry most other weapons around with you. A cane, yes, but not a sword, saber, or double sabers. But anyone can slip a fan into their bag or take it on a plane without any eyes being blunk. Er, blinked. Not the big fan, maybe, but definitely a small one. Which isn’t as flashy as the big one, but it functions in the same way.

I bought a big fan (black) over a decade ago when I was at a demo. It might have been the same time I bought my sword, but I don’t remember. I held onto it throughout learning other weapons first.

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Gratitude–and guilt

I was reading Ask A Manager and there’s a question about COVID, working from home, children, and more. The context was a letter writer who moved during the pandemic and now was unhappy as to be asked to go back to the office. The comment in question is from someone who had a stroke at the beginning of this year and can’t drive any more.

It got me thinking about my own stroke (which I rarely even think about unless I’m thinking about my medical trauma in general). I felt guilty reading this comment because, well, it should be obvious why. This person had a stroke and can never drive again. They can only type with one hand and they can’t work in an office again.

Me, on the other hand, was never forbidden to drive except for a few days after having my angiogram (and I was in the hospital, anyway). In fact, it was deeply funny to me (in a dark way) that while my parents were warring over my father’s ability to drive (very poor) and my mother’s ability to drive (problematic), the person most capable of driving was the one who had non-COVID-related walking pneumonia, two cardiac arrests, and a stroke.

I have slight memory issues, but nothing to complain about. Plus, I have a workaround that isn’t difficult (writing things down) and I feel blessed that I can still type 100+ words a minute. My eyesight is back to where it was before the medical trauma (poor), no longer blurry. I had no rehab. None.

While I was in the hospital, I talked to the chaplain. I made it clear that I was not a believer, which did not faze him at all. I told him that I didn’t question why the medical trauma happened to me. I don’t take the best care of  myself and I have bronchial issues. I’m not special and exempt from bad things happening to me. I’ve never questioned that. But the fact that I came back without a scratch? That eats at me from time to time. Why the hell was I so lucky when others have suffered so much?

I should be dead. There is no way I should have survived what happened to me. When I Google similar situations, I  come up with nothing because there is just no parallel. When I tried to find a support group for people who had gone through what I had, I couldn’t find any. Not even any who had just survived cardiac arrests with no lasting effects.

I am called a walking/living/literal miracle every time I mention what happened to me. People who are in the medical biz just are amazed that I survived what happened to me, let alone thrived. People not in the medical field are floored when I tell them. I’m not bragging or even humble-bragging when I say that I am one of a kind. I have done hours of research and cannot find anything even close to what I went through.

I should be dead. I don’t think I can overstate that. I should not be here.

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Oh the lessons I’ve learned

It’s been seven months since my medical trauma, and it’s been heavy on my mind in the last  week. Probably because of my birthday because I should not be here. I made it to the second half of my first century, which is incredible. It’s not something that I can really quantify, though, or offer to other people who are going through something.

Before my medical trauma, I hated it when people tried to chirp positive tropes at me. “Life is what you make of it!” “Live and learn!” “Mind over matter!” and the such. It still sounds trite to my ears, but I can at least understand the sentiment behind it now.

The problem is that it’s not actionable. I mean, I can tell people that they should just live their life, but that doesn’t really help. I will say that Taiji helped before I had my medical trauma. I was in a minor car crash in July of 2016. That was roughly nine or ten years into my study of Taiji, and when I saw the car hurtling at me, I thought, “I’m going to get hit” and immediately relaxed. My car was totaled, but I only sustained a large bruise on my stomach–probably from my seat belt. My body was fine other than that, despite the dire warnings that I would inevitably get whiplash. Which I did not, thank you very much.

That’s when I first realized that my body was pretty damn cool. It’s sturdy and strong, and it’s seen me through some shit. Taiji also helped me with crippling back pain and other assorted physical problems. But, again, it’s not immediate. With my back pain, it took a few months before it started easing up after my teacher showed me one specific stretch that she said I should do every day (three times to each side). After a year of doing this stretch, the back pain was completely gone.

Taiji has also helped me with navigating relationships and the emotional minefields thereof. I almost said mindfields, which, while wrong, is also apt. I’ve gotten better with being in crowds even though I still don’t like it, and I am not as hypervigilant as I used to be.

Mental health-wise, my depression and anxiety eased up little by little as I studied Taiji. Then the pandemic hit. And, honestly, for me personally, it actually lifted my depression and anxiety. Why? Because it made the outer world match my inner world. I was in mental crisis all the time, so it was weirdly comforting. And it didn’t change my day-to-day that much except Zoom Taiji classes and online grocery shopping.

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Ever more bitter, rarely more sweet

When you’re in a situation that feels hopeless, it’s hard not to become bitter. There is a commentor on one of the blogs I read who is oozing in negativity. Having read about her situation, it’s understandable. Unfortunately, she’s at the place where she feels like she can do nothing about it but constantly complain.

I’ve been there. I am currently there re: my family. It’s funny because the medical trauma I recently went through* has been a boon in many ways. It feels weird to say especially because it included me dying twice But, it’s the truth. I realized a lot about myself during that time. Most of it good, some of it…sobering.

On the good tip: I fucking love my body. Decades of body issues disappeared in a flash. That’s not exactly true. They were already starting to mitigate with the help of Taiji, but when I left the hospital, you could not say shit to me about my body or my face. Not that my parents didn’t try, believe you me. They wanted to go there with my weight, which I had shut down decades ago. I explicitly told them they could not bring up my weight. Of course they moaned and groaned about it because ‘they were just worried about my health’. Uh huh. That’s straight-up bullshit, by the way.

When I was anorexic and my junior counselors in college told my mom, she had nothing to say. N-O-T-H-I-N-G. No words of concern or encouragement. The only thing she had to say was that she was jealous my waist was smaller than hers. So, health concerns? Hell, naw. That wasn’t it at all. It was purely weight and how I looked. She put me on my first diet when I was seven, saying I would have a beautiful face if I lost weight.

When I look at pics of me as a teenager, I was chunky yes, but I wasn’t grotesque as I was made to feel by my mother. I was thick in part because I have dense muscles, but I was fine. My mom monitoring every morsel that went into my mouth gave me a complex that lasted decades.

Taiji started making me feel at ease in my body. Then it helped me walk away from a minor car accident with only a big bruise on my stomach from the seatbelt. Or maybe the air bag popping. Other than that, I walked away without a scratch. I couldn’t say the same for my car, sadly.

That’s when I started to realize that my body was a wondrous machine. After waking up from my medical coma (walking pneumonia, two cardiac arrests, stroke), I was in awe how my body had taken a beating and kept on ticking. I don’t think  can overemphasize how bleak the prognosis was.

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The solution that I can never suggest

TW: Mention of suicide.

In reading my stories, I came across a letter to Ask A Manager about mentioning depression at work. It generated a lot of responses, varying in terms of what the OP (Original Poster) should do, but most of the answers were in agreement that their mention of suicide was beyond the pale. Even though they said that they weren’t actively suicidal, the mere mention of suicide was going to make most people panic.

And I get it. Suicide is serious stuff. It’s not something to take lightly. But, for those of us who have struggled with not wanting to be alive, there are levels to it.  There is actively suicidal–people who want to die and are working on it. There is passively suicidal–which is wanting to die, but not doing anything about it. Maybe not necessarily avoiding death, but not seeking it, either. Then there is what I was for a long time–not wanting to be alive, but not doing anything about it.

Antidepression meds helped–until they didn’t. Therapy helped–until it didn’t. Taiji helped, but it was very much help in small steps rather than a big boost. My depression (and anxiety, but more the former than the latter) steadily lifted, and I’m one of few people who did not go into a deep funk during the early days of the pandemic. Probably because my brain catastrophized everything on the regular, anyway, so why not throw a pandemic into the mix?

I want to stress that I don’t think the coworker did anything wrong in the AAM letter. It’s rough to have someone dump that on you, especially if you don’t have a close relationship. And when you’re chronically depressed, it’s easy to underestimate the effect it has on other people. It’s just something you live with, so it’s really not that big a deal to you. Hm. I’m not saying it right. It’s still a big deal, but it’s normal to you because you’re living it.

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Knowledge is power

I was reading my stories and one of the questions was from a parent whose daughter was clearly neurodivergent. The letter writer realized it and as soon as the daughter’s teachers suggested it, they jumped all over it. The problem was their husband. He was adamant not to do it because of the stigma of a diagnosis and because he felt it was the easy way out. Their daughter needed to buckle down and fit in, basically. And his spouse needed to accept they (the spouse) was doing parenting wrong.

My hackles went up for so many reasons. Before I get into that, however, I do want to acknowledge that stigma around neurodivergency is real. There is a lot more awareness of the issues these days, which is a good thing, but there are still plenty of people who see this awareness as coddling. The world is cold and harsh, they would say. Kids today are too soft! They need to learn the world won’t always cater to them. Which, yes, the world is, indeed, cruel and they have to know that they will be viewed as different. However, the answer is not to pretend the neurodivergency doesn’t exist and force the daughter to act ‘normal’ whatever that means.

I spent most of my childhood bewildered and frightened because I was so different from other kids. Not only was I Asian, I just didn’t think the way other kids did. I tried to emulate them, but I felt as if I was trying to speak another language without having any lessons in it. I was miserable and my efforts to fit in fell flat. It didn’t help that my parents were first generation immigrants so they didn’t know the culture any better than I did. I was sensitive enough to know I was doing everything wrong, but I didn’t have the tools to make it better.

I became aware of death when I was seven. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with it ever since (well, until my medical trauma). I started feeling suicidal when I was eleven. I developed eating disorders when I was eighteen. I have suffered anxiety and depression all my life as well (again, at least until my medical trauma). I hate clothing. I can see you thinking, “Wait, Minna. What does that have to do with the other stuff?” I didn’t realize until much later that I have sensory issues. Like, severe sensory issues. Bright lights bother the hell out of me as do loud sounds. It can be literal agony to have too-loud music or too-bright lights. Clothing is another issue and I have to keep it really simple and basic. I am allergic to almost every scent on the planet as well as many foods and alcohol to boot. I basically need to live in a bubble is what I’m trying to say.

In addition, my brain doesn’t think in a normal way, either. Over the years, I have found a way to make it seem like I’m a normal person, but it comes at a severe cost. It’s one of the reasons I prefer to live alone–it’s hard to keep wearing that mask all the time. I’ve known almost all my life that I’m a freak. I didn’t know why for the first thirty years. Then, I started to realize that it wasn’t that something was WRONG with me, but I was definitely different. I still couldn’t put any label on it, but I had my suspicions.

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Sublime happiness as a Cuisinart

I’ve officially surpassed the threshold of how much Taiji weaponry I do a day–meaning I do more now than I did before going into the hospital. My biceps are bulging in a very pleasing way (I’ve always found it easy to build muscle) and I’m STRONK. I love my biceps. I told you that I’m really feeling myself lately and I’m CUTE AS FUCK. It’s the weirdest feeling, but I’m soaking it for everything it’s worth. Hey, after a lifetime of feeing fat, ugly, and worthless, I’m going to embrace the positivity for as long as it lasts. I know it’s gauche and Just Not Done, but I don’t care. As a female-presenting person, I’m supposed to take great pains to make myself look hot and available, but not slutty or as if I put in the effort  because then I’m a slut and/or trying too hard.

I don’t care. At all. Also, I’ve fallen completely in love with the guandao, which is a big glaive-like Taiji weapon. Here is a martial arts movie featuring it. It’s tremendous.

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Confidence versus arrogance

I’ve really been feeling myself lately. As I wrote in a recent post, I’m cute as fuck! Which is nothing notable, except I spent all of my life before going into the hospital either absolutely hating myself and thinking I was grotesque and ugly to determinedly neutral (but not really neutral) about it. I was able to say that I liked my hair and my eyes and maybe my smile, but that’s it.  I hated my body even when I tried to be neutral about it.

Then I ended up in the hospital and unconscious for a week. When I woke up, I was scared, confused, and freaked out. I wasn’t thinking about what I looked like, obviously. After several days awake, however, after being informed of all I went through, I felt so much gratitude towards my body for carrying me through that frightening time. It did it without a hitch. Seriously.  I have scars on my arms from all the needle pokes and a patch on my right leg that was numb for months and is now waking up with painful pins and needles. I have a bit of short-term memory loss, but it’s very little and I can compensate for it. That’s it. That’s all. I do more Taiji every day than I did before and my biceps are something to behold.

Some years ago, the change from hating myself to feeling neutral slowly started happening. I started appreciating little things like my hair, my eyes, and my smiles. Also, my biceps. And at some point, I noticed that what I had always called my flat yellow ass had gotten a bit of a curve to it. Then a bit more. At some point, I could definitely see that I had some junk in the trunk and I had to quit saying ‘My flat yellow ass’.

I still didn’t care for my body overall, though, nor my face. I was happy to reach the point of neutrality, just appreciating that my body allowed me to do most of what I wanted to do, especially concerning Taiji weapons. As for my face, well, I had to wear a mask when I went out any time in the past few years, anyway, so who cares?

I really was as neutral as I had ever been about it before I entered the hospital. I didn’t want to look at myself, but I didn’t waste any time moaning over it, either. I just pretty much ignored it and acted as if it didn’t exist. Not the best way to deal with it, but not the worst way, either, by far.

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I was kung-fu fightin’!

I attended my first Taiji Zoom class in four months and it was both familiar and not. The first thing I had forgotten was that it was an hour-and-a-half, not just an hour. That was a change made just as I had my medical trauma and I never attended one of those classes. Class started late and I was nervous because I wasn’t getting in. It took ten minutes before I was invited in and then I remembered why the classes were so frustrating. For whatever reason, her connection is not strong. That means that I have a hard time hearing her. It was also partly a problem because I had done something dumb. I switched my audio to headphone/speakers because I don’t know why. I have a Lenovo Bluetooth speaker that I thought was hooked into headphone/speakers. It wasn’t until after the class that I realized, no, it’s just headphone. I don’t know why, but that’s the way of the Lenovo speaker.

I was the only person on Zoom. I have a hunch that’s the way it is most classes. I don’t know why, but it just seems like most people have moved on from the pandemic. I need to get my booster and then maybe I’ll feel comfortable going to an in-person class again. I wouldn’t before then, for sure. When I got to Cubs, there are maybe a quarter of the people other than me and the workers wearing a mask. I know people are tired of COVID, but it’s not done with us yet.

It started with warmups. It was as if no time had passed at all because it felt so familiar. And yet, I had forgotten more than one warmup in the process. Plus, there was an added one. Or maybe it was later. At some point, there was a change, which was exciting. Plus, during the Long Solo Form, the counts are different in a few places. It was the first thing I learned and yet, I still don’t like it. It’s gotten better over time, but I still will choose to do just about anything else before the Long Solo Form. It’s never felt comfortable or relaxing. It’s the basis for everything we do and it’s something I’ve done hundreds of times if not more. I should know it like the back of my hand and yet, I don’t. It’s partly because it’s been changed several times and I don’t know where it stands as of now. Changed by my teacher’s teacher. I was teaching myself the left side–ok.

Let me explain. Everything we learn in class in the right side. All the forms, I mean. And then we’re supposed to teach ourselves the left side. I have taught myself the left side of the sword and he saber, but not the Long Solo Form. As I said, it’s partly because my teacher’s teacher has changed it periodically. I taught myself 2/3rds of the left side of the Long Solo Form when my teacher’s teacher  started really messing with it. He was changing so many things, I decided to wait until he was done before I finished teaching myself the left side.

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