Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Mental Health

Love in the Time of Stubbornness

I’ve been thinking lately a lot about dating. Why? I don’t really know, but I’ve discussed it with friends to try to puzzle out my feelings. I’ve written before about how I realized in my early twenties that I didn’t want children. That’s also roughly the same time I realized I was sexually attracted to women as well as men. In my late twenties, early thirties, I decided I didn’t want to get married. It’s only recently that I’ve questioned whether I want to be an a monogamous dyad relationship or not. I’ve been in an open relationship before, but it was more because that’s what my boyfriend wanted than because we both agreed, so I don’t really count it when calculating my metrics about what I want from a relationship. I also realized in my mid-twenties that I was more comfortable with casual sex  than are many women, but I didn’t really know what to do with it.

Now, I’m questioning whether I want a traditional romantic relationship or not. I’ve been reading a shit-ton of Captain Awkward, and I must admit that the letters she gets makes me very disinclined to date. Intellectually, I understand that she’s seeing the worst of the worst because you don’t write to an advice columnist if your relationship is peachy keen. However, the steady stream of women (let’s face it. A vast majority of the emotional labor done in a heteronormative relationship is done by the woman) writing in with horror stories that curl the very straight Asian hairs on the back of my neck confirm my bias for just snuggling down on the couch with a good book, a mug of tea, and my cat instead of venturing into the dating world.

I hate dating. I always have. I know most people don’t love it, but I hate it to the point of revulsion. I don’t like making small talk with people I know, let alone people I don’t, and there’s the possibility of rejection constantly hovering in the back of my mind. It’s hard to not feel as if I’m auditioning for the role of girlfriend, and it’s only recently that I’ve realized I have veto rights in a relationship, too. In other words, I’m not just auditioning for them–they’re doing the same for me. Even so, the thought of having awkward  conversation with someone while sipping coffee makes me cringe. When I used to meet people online for dating (read, sex) purposes, I was very comfortable with the emailing portion of the ‘courting’. I’m a writer, and my strength is in my words. I can be witty, vibrant, intelligent, and fearless in my writing. It’s quite different when I actually open my mouth. It’s the same with me and my Twitter persona. No, I’m not being someone different, but I’m being a more confident, more brash me. I’m sure if people on Twitter met me in real life, they would be slightly (or not so slightly) disappointed that I wasn’t as dynamic as I am online. Also weird–I swear way more in writing than I do in real life.

The real me is low-key to the point of inertia. I have low energy, and it takes a great deal for me to do something that it outside my norm. Take going out dancing with my bestie, for example (when she used to live here). We would set a day to go to First Ave. I’d be up for it when we set the date. Then, when the day arrived, I would think, “I don’t want to get dressed and leave the house. I have to drive to bestie’s house, which, ugh. Then, I have to dance around people I don’t know and maybe fend off unwanted advances. Then, I’d have to drive home again in the wee hours of the night.” I didn’t want to do any of it in the moment, and I’d have to force myself step by step. I had a great time when I went, and I love spending time with my bestie, but my depression makes it seem like going out is a mountain when it’s really a molehill.


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Learning to Tolerate Frustration

I hate weeding. I hate it so much. If I had a top ten list of things I hate to do, well, it wouldn’t be on it, but it would be close. I especially hate it when it’s sunny and dank out as it is today. I sit there, sweating, resenting the hell out of the glowing orb in the sky. Let me be clear. Even though I’m a cold weather kind of gal, I like te sun shining in the sky. However, not when it’s dank. I fucking hate humidity because I sweat like a pig. When I used to read ‘health articles’ , one of the general tips was that you should workout until you break a heavy sweat. I break in a heavy sweat just by stepping out into the sun, so it’s not a good barometer for me.

Anyway, I was weeding today and just thinking nasty thoughts towards the weeds I was pulling out of the backyard. It seems so pointless in that even if you get the roots, there will always be more weeds to take their place. I will say, however, that I like breaking down boxes with a box cutter. There’s something immensely satisfying about destroying boxes to their basics. I also will say that I like manual labor as it makes me Zen in a way. I don’t think about anything as I’m working with my hands, which is a relief for me. My brain is constantly humming, and the more I try not to think about things, the more my thoughts race around in my brain. To be able to have it blessedly free of thoughts is a miracle, but is it worth doing the manual labor? Box-breaking, yes. Weeding, no.

I’m working on being more flexible in general, but it’s difficult. I find comfort in my routines, so anything that fucks with that garners a massive side eye from me. However, doing a few hours of housework every day has been good in that besides giving me time away from my thoughts, it also makes me feel productive in a way that I don’t with doing mental work. Clearing out the garage and seeing the actual progress is satisfying in a way that writing two-thousand words isn’t.

As many of you know, I don’t cook. Many years ago, I did bake, though, and there was something so soothing about handling the dough. It’s tactile, and it feels wonderful to have it ooze through my fingers. Then, placing the lump of dough (or lumps) in the oven and waiting for it to form into something delicious and edible was great, too. The smell wafting from the oven would tantalize me until I pulled it out, all brown, smelling earthy, yeasty, and sweet, and ready to be shoved down my gullet.

I did do a little bit of cooking. I made a seven-layer dip, a potato corn chowder with a whole tub of sour cream that was fucking amazing, and kung pao chicken. They were all tasty, especially the chowder, but it was so time-consuming. It made me feel good, though, to have this huge pot of chowder ready to be eaten, and what’s better on  blustery Minnesota winter day than a steaming bowl of corn chowder?


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Exercise, Activity, and Mood

I have struggled all my life with depression. At times, it has been chronic and crippling, to the point where me brushing my teeth was a major accomplishment. Right now, I would say I have a low-grade enduring depression that flares up into serious depression from time to time. It’s my go-to when I’m under stress, and the difference is how alien the encompassing depression feels now as in comparison to how comfortable it was back when I was in the middle of it day-to-day-to-day.

I would love to say that I worked on my depression and that’s why I’ve gotten better. I would love to be able to give a list of things you can do to feel better. I would love nothing more, but I can’t because that’s not how I emerged from the suffocating embrace of depression. Sure, I did my due diligence by seeking out therapy and medication through therapy, then starting taiji which has helped a great deal, but it was an outcome, not the main intent, but nothing I did consciously to help my depression mattered as much as the indirect results of other behavior such as the aforementioned therapy and taiji.

However, I’ve been in and out of therapy for the past thirty years, and I’ve been practicing taiji for almost nine years. Neither are an easy or quick solution, and I didn’t go into taiji with the intention of easing my mental health issues. That’s just been a nice side bonus. I will say, however, it makes me more aware now how fragile my mental health balance is. I went through a period recently of deep depression, not as bad as it was before, but still pretty intense. I knew it wasn’t from within me, which made it almost worse. Rationally, I knew there was no reason I should be depressed, but I also knew I couldn’t talk myself out of it. It lasted a few weeks, and I just gritted my teeth and powered my way through it. I was terrified it would last forever, but it faded after two  or so weeks.

On Saturday, I had to get up early to pick up Ian from the airport. Without thinking, I checked my social media. Then, I remembered that it was my day not to be on social media, and I quit. I felt bad, but not too bad. I can’t tell you how much better I feel on the days when I stay offline. I don’t think it’s viable for day-to-day life, but it’s nice to get a break twice a week. It’s too easy to get overwhelmed while scrolling through my TL, thinking that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. I mean, it is, but not more so than it has been in the past. There is a lot of shit in this world, and there always has been. Having it flash past my eyes on a continuous basis leaves me in a state of numb depression. It’s something I’ve railed about before–how overwhelming all the bad news can be. It’s easy to feel hopeless about the state of the world and think that there’s nothing you can do to alleviate the pain.


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Taking People at Their Word

I ran across the video below last night as I was surfing YouTube. It was on my YouTube front page as a recommendation, and as my friend, Ian, has met and interviewed Dee Snider (which he, Ian, was in the army. he said Dee was a good dude), I clicked on it.

It hit me in the gut, and I cried while watching it at the rawness and the emotion. I shared it, then tweeted to Dee Snider my respect. He did it to help fund research for childhood cancer, and that’s an admirable thing.

Then I found out that Dee Snider was friends with this president, and I experienced a ‘what the fuck’ moment.  I Googled it and found out it was true. They became friends when Dee Snider was on The Celebrity Apprentice twice a few years back.  I  found out in the context of this president asking to use this song on the campaign trail, and Dee said sure. He said they were friends because they followed the adage to not talk about politics, religion, or sports (which, by the way, is not a luxury everyone has. Politics is not compartmentalized for many minorities, but another post, another day). When Dee started hearing this president on the campaign trail, he was confused because what the president was espousing wasn’t what he believed in, and more to the point, went against what the song is about. As he said, the first line is about the right to choose, which he elaborated meant a woman’s right to choose. So he asked this president to stop using the song because he didn’t want people thinking he (Dee) endorsed the hateful ideas he (the president) was spewing, and the president agreed. Dee talked about when Paul Ryan tried to use it and was flabbergasted the latter didn’t vet it. Dee:

I had to step up and say, ‘Wait a minute. Didn’t you vet the song? You’re singing the song, ‘We’ve got the right to choose’,’ and then railing against women’s right to choose. So I can’t endorse you using it.’ And that’s where I draw the line.

This was in June of last year, and Dee said he still liked this president, but couldn’t get behind him. Dee also sounded like he was struggling because he knew the president as pro-choice and a Democrat. That’s valid because this president has been all over the map, agreeing with the last person to present an argument he likes.
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Being OK With Letting Go

Yesterday, I came home from taiji and my mom informed me that my brother and the boys (his sons) wouldn’t be able to make it here for dinner. He suggested we go there. I immediately said no, and my mother said she knew I’d say that. She suggested we meet somewhere like Culver’s for dessert, but he decided to come here after dinner. Then, they came over, and my brother and I were discussing something while my mom and the boys were playing ping-pong. One of my nephews came up to say that my mom wanted to talk to my brother about something. He said OK, then we continued talking. I was marveling over that because I would have immediately gone done and probably resented it slightly. My mom can be very persistent when she has her mind on something, and it’s often easier just to give in than to defer. However, she also is more pushy with me than she is with my brother, probably in part because he’s very firm about his limits.

Anyway, after they were done playing ping-pong, they came back up. My brother, my nephews, and I were chatting about something when my mother said to my brother in a faux-whisper, “Can we go to Culver’s for ice cream?” A beat, “Or, we have bananas.” I started laughing, and my brother said with a big smile, “Can we go eat all the ice cream or stay here and have a banana?” He was making it clear that he realized there was really only one answer to that, which is something he wouldn’t have recognized before. We all started laughing and joking about it, and then agreed we would go, but in separate cars so they could go straight home. Then, my mom said, “Minna will have to drive.” She twisted her knee a week ago, and it’s still giving her problems. So, I said in a deadpan voice (because I mentioned it earlier, too), “Minna can drive to the place where she can’t eat anything!”* We all joked about that for several minutes, and then my mom said, “We should go now.” So of course, that got wrapped up into the joke (that my mom was making a suggestion she knew couldn’t be turned down, then adding layers of conditions to it), and it was a fun family moment.

To be clear, I was fine with driving even if I couldn’t eat anything. It was a moment of family teasing and bonding, and it felt great. I can’t help but compare it to how that shit would have gone down a few years ago.

Me getting home from taiji, quietly resenting that I don’t have space to myself.**

Mom (the second I step in the door which I still don’t like, but doesn’t send me up. the. fucking. wall the way it used to): Your brother wants us to go there instead of coming here for dinner.

Me (a bundle of resentment in part because I know that means me driving because my mom doesn’t like to drive at night, never mind that I don’t either, and my brother lives forty minutes away): NO I DON’T WANT TO GO JUST FUCKING GO YOURSELF GET AWAY FROM ME YOU EVIL COW ARRRRGH!

Obviously, I don’t say that, but it’s what I’m feeling. What I would say would be some variant of a huffy, “I’m not going there” in a very aggrieved tone.  I would feel I didn’t have a choice, which would make me really resentful, even if I did end up going. Also, my mom doesn’t believe she has the right to ask for anything (for many reasons), so she would never just come out and say, “I would like it if you drive us to your brother’s place.” It would be, “Your brother can’t come, but he said we could go there”, and I’m supposed to infer the rest. It’s actually part of what happened in the amusing family scenario above.


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When Positivity is Oppressive

I read a short rant by a Facebook friend on white spiritual workers (she’s white herself) being full of shit, and she ended it by saying Law of Attraction was bullshit. I didn’t know what that was, so I Googled it, as is my wont. I’ll get to that in a second. On this post, a friend of my friend posted how disappointed she was with the original post (OP), and she was being all airy-fairy about it, but I could easily read the anger under all her love and light words. Apparently, she unfriended my friend, which sort of proved my friend’s point. Many people who espouse to be all about love are some of the most repressed, angriest people I know. Not all, of course, but it’s easy to wrap yourself in the lingo as a away of avoiding your actual problems.

I’ve ranted before about Americans and our weird obsession with having a positive attitude. To me, it’s a way of coping with the fact that we have very little control over what happens, which is fine, I guess. However, we’re also a very repressive Christian nation at heart, which also believes that you get what you deserve, basically. When I was a Christian, I was told to pray to God if I needed something. If I didn’t get the response I wanted, well, then either I didn’t pray hard enough or I didn’t believe hard enough. It was always the fault of the supplicant and not of God.

That’s how I view positive thinking, at least the way many Americans interpret it. “If you think it, you can do it.” “You can beat this cancer if you just have a positive attitude!” “There’s nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it.” Even as a kid, I knew this was bullshit. I knew I could never be President of the United States, and this was before I discovered I was bisexual. I would never play in the NBA or be an award-winning photography*, neither of which I wanted to do, but still. I also felt I couldn’t be an actress which is what I really wanted to do because I didn’t see anyone who looked like me who wasn’t an extra on M*A*S*H, but that’s another rant for another time.

Barbara Ehrenreich, an author who is extremely conscious of social justice issues, had the same complaint when she got cancer. She went on all these online forums and was greeted with an onslaught of positivity that just made her angry because it seemed to be victim-blaming. One person told her to run to therapy because she was too angry. Being the researcher that she is, Ehrenreich dove into the positive thinking movement and wrote a book about it. She started a group called the Negatives, and they’re dedicated to debunking a lot of this bullshit. She makes it clear that she’s not a pessimist, but she sees a lot of problems with the positivity movement.


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The Art of Peace

“It was so much nicer this time. When you smile, you’re much….cuter? Is that the word?”

My father to me on the phone yesterday about why his trip home was more pleasant this time around. I started laughing as did my mother. I was talking to him through LINE, which mean she could hear him as well. He said, “Is that not the right word? Attractive? Is that better?”

By now, I’m flat-out laughing, but I tell him  I know what he means. He keeps pursing it, and my mom says the Taiwanese equivalent–kuh-ai. I say, “Yes, cuter, but that’s not exactly the right word.” I kept telling him I understood what he meant, and more importantly, I didn’t get pissed as I would have a few years ago or even last year, even though what he was trying to say is a literal meme about one of the most condescending things you can say to a woman.

Last year, I would have lashed out and told him angrily how condescending he was being, blah, blah, blah. He would not have understood what I was saying at all, and it would have gotten ugly. I would have felt pissed off and insulted, whereas he would have felt confused and affronted. It would have gotten uglier and uglier until one or both of us exploded in anger. We both have terrible tempers and are very bristly, so we’re like oil and water.

Or we were, anyway.

I marvel at how effortless it was to keep my temper most of the time during this visit. The thing is, I’ve changed. He has as well, though he’s still more himself. One of my father’s biggest flaws is that he cannot imagine someone else not feeling the same way he does, but for whatever reason, I didn’t take it personally this time. I was able to see that’s just him. His narcissism. His prickly skin. His shaky sense of self and pride.

The thing is, I didn’t have any plan. I mean, I told myself to be chill about it, but I’ve told myself that in the past and failed miserably. He would say something incendiary, and I would explode without even thinking about it. This time, he could say the same thing, and it didn’t push my buttons. I was able to not react to the words and see the intent instead. I was also able to remember his limitations and firmly delineate his issues from my issues.

I know I sound like a broken record, but I credit taiji for the ability to deal more effectively with my father. It’s given me a sense of self that I didn’t have before, and, more importantly, it’s taught me how to relax.

I will admit there are still a few things that have made me snap or that have me on edge. One has to do with my mother. I’ve said before how she has a habit of narrating events from her life as if she’s Morgan Freeman. It’s fucking annoying especially if I’m trying to do something else. Another is her laser-like focus on my father’s ailments. It’s a tricky line because he’s failing in many ways, so it’s understandable that she’s concerned. However, she focuses almost all her energy on him, and I think it’s one way for her to not have to look at how lopsided their relationship is.


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Learning to Bite My Tongue

finding my peace.
Just breathe….

Remember when you were a kid and your mom told you to count to ten before saying anything when you were angry? Or maybe she was a ‘think before you speak’ kind of woman, instead. Basically the same thing. If you’re like me, you probably scoffed it off as trite. Well, it is trite, but I’m finding value in it these days. Sort of. I’ll explain.

In the past, my relationship with my parents consisted of them saying something and me immediately snapping back defensively. It didn’t matter what they said–I would take it as an attack and respond accordingly. It’s partly because my family is highly critical is the way we talk to each other (me included), so there is a sense of being on the defensive baked into any conversation between any of us. In addition, I have PTSD for several reasons, so I’m prone to lashing out, anyway.

The basis of taiji is to respond to any action with an appropriate reaction, using just enough force to repel the attack and nothing more. It’s called the lazy martial arts because you want to expel the least amount of energy possible for the biggest result. It’s not something I consciously dwell on, but after eight or nine years of study, I’ve soaked it in. In the past, I was near suicidal when one or both of my parents would come visit. You might think it hyperbole, but it isn’t. I couldn’t sleep for days before they came*, and I thought about killing myself to get out of it. I was tense the whole time, and I felt as if I had no control over my anger. I would tell myself to be chill, and next thing I knew, I’d be flying off the handle over the stupidest thing. That would make me feel worse about myself, and I would quickly spiral downwards into the abyss.

Now, I’m tense before they come, but not to the point of wanting to kill myself. It’s more because I really, really, REALLY like to be alone. I’m a happy single, which is one reason I never want to cohabitate with someone, not even a partner. Come to think of it, especially not a partner. A friend, maybe, but not a romantic partner–hell no!

The thing is, I’ve noticed that while I still get irritated by my parents, I’m not flying off the handle nearly as much. I may snap at them one out of ten times, but that’s better than ten out of ten. Half the time, I can give them a calm and reasonable response, and the other forty-percent is filled with a terse, but not angry answer. I find that after they say something, my brain automatically tells me just to digest it a second without saying anything. I’m not consciously telling myself to count to ten or to think before I speak–I’m just automatically doing it. It’s one thing I’ve learned about the way I learn things. I think/work hard about/on it for years, and then it just ‘suddenly’ takes. I don’t consciously decide to do it–it just becomes a part of me.

Same with my interactions with my parents. I’m more able to be calm and to give a reasoned response. Even when I’m upset about something, I’m mostly able to talk about it without shouting. I’m using my words finally! It’s easier with my mother because she’s a psychologist and I was a psych major. We speak the same language, even if it’s her third language and not her first. We can talk about projection and codependency and shit without having to explain the terms. It really is easier when you have the jargon in common.

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Patience, Grasshopper

I forgot I was taking Wednesday off social media and immediately checked my mentions and notifications when I woke up. When I remembered, I stopped. I hadn’t looked at my FB feed or Twitter TL, and I don’t plan on doing that today. I feel bad about it, but in my defense, I’m discombobulated by my parents’ visit.

Speaking of which, one of my biggest pet peeves is being talked at the second I wake up. This is an ongoing issue with my parents. They’ve been up for hours (usually) by the time I get up, and they have a list of things they NEED to discuss with me the SECOND I wake up. As I mentioned in my previous post, one of my favorite things about living alone is that I don’t actually have to talk to people most of the time. I work at home, so I don’t have coworkers, either. I don’t sleep well, either, so I’m usually groggy when I wake up. I feed Shadow his breakfast (which he didn’t care for this morning. Probably because it’s a day old and had been in the fridge. This is a new pet peeve of his); I smoke half a cigarette; I do my taiji routine. After that, I start on my big vat of Coke Zero (sob, we didn’t have enough time together), and I slowly start feeling like a human being.

After an hour or so, I can do any communications I need to do as long as they’re electronic. To actually talk to people in real life, I need at least two hours of silence. I’m not saying this is a good thing, nor am I saying it’s optimal. I realize I’m privileged because I can set this schedule for myself on a regular basis. That said, I hate having questions pelted at me the second I walk in the vicinity of my parents. Not only haven’t I had the time to wake up yet, my brain isn’t yet functioning. It’s yawning and grumbling and slowly stretching its metaphorical arms.

I’ve given up coffee for several reasons, one being that as I get older, it’s harder on my stomach. The downside is that I don’t get the boost drinking coffee gives you. I love my Coke Zero (noooooo don’t gooooooooooo), but it’s just not the same. I’m sure there’s nearly an equivalent amount of caffeine, but it doesn’t kick in the same way. I want a punch to the gut, which coffee delivers. Coke Zero (why, Coca-Cola, why???) is more like an ivy drip with its steady stream of caffeine.


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Time to Practice Some Mental Taiji

It has started. My parents are here for their annual visit, and I just snapped for the first time, but most definitely not the last. It was a soft snap, but a snap nonetheless. My brain said, “Don’t say it,” but my mouth opened before I could stop it.  This actually started the night before last when my mom called me at 12:30 a.m. just to chat before she left. Then, she called me a half hour later because she had a problem with her computer. She said maybe she should call my brother. I said, “Mom, it’s 1:30 in the morning.” We’ve had discussions about her calling me so late–just because I’m up, it doesn’t mean I want to talk on the phone–but she tends to focus on something to the point of disregarding everything else. She wanted to talk to me, so she did. My brother would not have been pleased had she called him at that time, but he turns his phone off at night, so it probably wouldn’t have woken him up.

My relationship with my parents is the best it’s been in–well, ever. Before you get too excited about that, however, I have to put it in context. My childhood was terrible for many reasons, one being that my family was severely dysfunctional. Add to that the insistence by my father on secrecy, and it’s no wonder that my chance of having a healthy romantic relationship is slim to none–and that’s with twenty-plus years of therapy under my belt.

I used to dread their visits because they would lead to epic arguments that lasted the entire visit. We are diametrically different in almost every way, not the least being culturally. They are American citizens, but they are Taiwanese first and foremost. I have Taiwanese ancestry, but I’m American, whether I like it or not–and I don’t. The difference leads to a clash of culture that is difficult to explain, but is easy to feel.

In addition, I live alone other than my cat, and I like it that way. I’ve never lived with a partner, and it’s not something I have any desire to do. I like my space and lots of it. I like not having to answer to anyone, and I like not having to talk to people every day. Talking to people in person makes me tired. I’d rather email or message in some other way, but not text–I hate texting. I go to bed around three or four in the morning and get up when I get up. I feed Shadow his breakfast, smoke half a cigarette, then do my taiji routine. Then, I write my blog post for the day if it’s a weekday, and that’s my early afternoon done.

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