Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Mental Health

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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An Unsettled Mind

My brain is rumpled today. Now, that’s not unusual for me, but I’m feeling it extra today, and I don’t know why. Well, that’s not entirely true. Part of it is the horrible fiasco that is the American Congress voting to proceed on the reprehensible kill Obamacare bill–that isn’t even written yet. The Republicans keep sinking lower and lower, and there isn’t anything we can do about it. Let me rephrase that. We can protest and march and make a big stink, but if the Republicans hold firm, it won’t mean jack or shit.

I’m so tired. And so many of my online friends are tired as well. We’re angry, yes, but the rage is wrapped in layers of weariness, depression, and hopelessness. I’ve talked before about the weirdly American mentality of positivity when there’s no tangible reason to be positive. You can see it in most of our pop culture where the good guy wins in the end, and the bad guys are inevitably vanquished. That’s not the real world, and I’m very much afraid that the good guys are in dire trouble right now.

I’ve decided to add another social media-free day, and it’s going to be Wednesday (which is today by the time this is posted). I feel better when I’m not compulsively scrolling through my timeline on Twitter or my feed on Facebook. Huh. Alliteration. Cool. It’s weird how social media makes me feel simultaneously connected with the world and alienated from it. I’ve talked about it before, so I’ll move on.


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My Sword is My Life

so tempting, and yet, so wrong.
My new nemeses.

Health update first: I’m around ninety percent, but I’m having bouts of being besties with my toilet. It starts with stomach cramps, and it ends with me rushing to the bathroom as fast as I can. I sit on the toilet for up to half an hour, and it’s not fun at all. I had hope that by cutting gluten and dairy out of my diet that I’d not have to deal with this any longer, but it’s still happening, albeit much more infrequently. I bought some vegan Fettuccine Alfredo sauce from the hot bar at the co-op yesterday, and I was hesitant because it had noodles in it. However, the description card for it only noted it contained soy (I really appreciate they point out the major allergens in the food they provide), but I could SEE noodles. I didn’t see rice as an ingredient (a common substitute for wheat in noodles), and I didn’t feel comfortable enough to ask. I’m pretty sure they would have put wheat on the card if there was wheat in it, but it also said the item was just the sauce.

The other thing I’ve changed is that I’ve added more fruit back into my diet. This time, plums. I ate a plum after eating the vegan Fettuccine Alfredo, and I think it’s the plum rather than the Alfredo that caused the problems. I’m going to test it today by eating them at different times, and hopefully, that will pinpoint the problem. I’ve also had an issue with grapes and possibly cherries, so I’ve self-diagnosed the problem as either an intolerance/sensitivity to fructose or IBS. I don’t think it’s the former because there are fruits I can eat without problem. Oranges, apples, blackberries, and strawberries, for example. Watermelon, too. Also. I did have a bad reaction to a banana once, but only once, so maybe it was something else. It might also be that I’m not used to the amount of fiber I’m now ingesting. That’s another

I know I should see my doctor, but since I got sick after the last two times I went to my doctor, so now I have an irrational fear it’ll happen again. I know correlation is not causation, but it’s still in the back of my mind. I’ve been sick for nearly six months, and I don’t want to deal with another bout. For now, I’m just going to keep testing myself and hopefully come to the correct conclusions.

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Depression, Anxiety, and Stomach Aches

darkness becomes me.
Shrouded in sadness.

I am in a funk, and I don’t know how to get out of it. I’ve written before about how frustrating it is to be depressed when there’s no reason for it and it feels as if it’s coming from outside of me. I’m used to depression being a part of me, and this feels alien to me. I’m guessing a large part of it is my ongoing health problems. Last week, I had a sudden case of the runs that lasted for three days, but only hit at night. I blamed the shawarma I had because it was the only new thing I’d eaten that week. (I tend to eat the same food over and over again.) I felt OK a few days after, but now, I’m having a stomach ache again. It’s not as bad, and I’m not having diarrhea, but it’s very uncomfortable. I’m thinking it might be corn (tortilla chips and corn salsa), and it would make me grumpy to have to give that up as well.

I have to say that giving up gluten and dairy has been a good thing, but I wonder if I’m creating more problems by doing so. I know I’m intolerant to dairy, so I think giving that up is a good thing, but gluten is a bit more iffy, and am I creating more problems by cutting it out completely? I think it might be time to go to the doctor again; I have to get my thyroid meds dosage checked again. I’m tired of feeling shitty most of the time.

In addition, *warning, first world problems ahead*, I had to run a few errands yesterday, and I wanted to do one before I went to taiji. That meant getting up earlier than usual, and I was waking up every hour or so because my brain won’t let me sleep if I have to get up at a certain time. I finally gave up and got up an hour and a half earlier than I had planned on, then it was a jaunt to the nearest UPS store. My Xbone controller has a sticky B button, which is not great since it’s the sprint/roll button in Dark Souls games. I’ve had to use either my fingernail or a mini-screwdriver to occasionally pop the button back out, which, as you can imagine, is not optimal gaming. Now, it gets stuck most of the time, and I have to hit the controller to pop it back out. It’s been interesting trying to play DS III without being able to consistently roll. Anyway, I bought a new wired controller without realizing it’s not the Microsoft controller. When I got it, it just didn’t fit right in my hand, and Ian noticed it was made by a different company. It’s official, but it’s not good. I really didn’t like it, so I decided to return it and get a controller with a cable set (nice, Microsoft. Squeeze out a couple more bucks from us for a wired controller), which is what I have now.

I love my Xbone controller. The minute I picked it up, it just felt as if it were made for my hands. I’m hoping my new one will feel the same. The fake one I bought most certainly did not. It felt cheap, and bumpy, and just WRONG. Anyway, Amazon told me I had to return it in one day in order to get the refund, so I hustled my bustle to get there. I sent the directions to my phone, and I generally know the area, so I thought it wouldn’t be a problem. It was. I couldn’t find it, and my phone wasn’t really helping. When I finally found it, it was a tiny hole in the wall, and I was frustrated by the time I got there. I missed the exit on the way home, and that frustrated me even more. I also stopped at the bank and the gas station, all of this before going to taiji. After taiji, I went to the coop and then to renew my tabs for my car. That’s six places in one day, which is six places more than I normally visit. I was so tired, I took a nap last night, which has thrown my sleep completely off.

I need to figure out what is going on with my digestive track. I need to get over this goddamn depression. I feel like nothing matters, and I know it’s not the real me. At least I am cognizant that it’s not me, but it doesn’t help me not feel it.

My Bowl of Empathy is Empty

I did a performance a long time ago in which I said the phrase, “My bowl of empathy (or compassion) is empty”, and I really like it as a way to explain that I do not have any fucks to give right now. That sounds more defiant than I mean it to be, though, because it’s more of a, “I’m feeling so low, I can’t extend myself to others.”

I tend to automatically think of others before I think of myself. It’s not innate, but it was drummed into me when I was a kid that my feelings don’t matter and that I had to cater to the feelings of others, especially my parents. It’s second nature to me by now, and I know I’m at the end of my rope when I’m impatient rather than empathetic. That’s when I have to pull back and replenish my inner resources. At least I’m cognizant of when that is happening.

The problem is, I’m feeling it more and more these days. A large part of it is our political situation and the helplessness I feel about it. Part of it is a depression that came over me a few weeks ago, and I don’t know why. Either way, I’m having a hard time extending myself, and it’s making me uncomfortable.

I will say that it’s not necessarily a bad thing to think of myself rather than others, but it’s makes me feel bad when I can’t be empathetic or compassionate. Intellectually, I know

That’s all I have for today. Here’s a Maru video.

I Believe I Can Fly

I was listening to NPR on my way to taiji on Saturday, and it was in the middle of a story by a guy named Jake who had interviewed his friend, Brian, about his (Brian’s) suicidal tendencies. I was dropped in the middle of the story, so I didn’t have all the background, but it was immediately gripping. Brian’s voice was flat, stripped of all affect. and I immediately recognized it as deeply depressed. I assumed it was recent, but soon found out that it was from 1999. That made more sense with some of what he was saying, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

It was fascinating to me because I think about death a lot, and even though suicide isn’t on the forefront of my mind that much these days, it’s still tucked away in a corner, ready to break its way out. I have never woken up and been glad to be alive. The best I can do is not be sad that I’m not dead. So, Jake’s interview with Brian after the latter tried to kill himself for the second time. Jake simply wanted to try and understand why Brian felt the way he did, so he lets Brian do most of the talking.

The thing that struck me is how rational Brian sounded in his explanation as to why suicide was the answer to his problem. The brain can justify anything, and his brain had honed its justification to perfection. When Jake asked him if he thought suicide was selfish*, he responded by saying that it was selfish in the way going to therapy was selfish. It was a way of solving a problem, he explained in a clinical voice. He wasn’t trying to convince himself or Jake that this was true; he actually believed it. He was convinced that his solution was no different that trying to work it out in therapy.

This is the insidiousness of depression. Listening to Brian, I could say, “What you’re saying doesn’t make sense. Suicide isn’t the same as therapy at all.” But, I understood where he was coming from. When I was deep in my depression, I was able to convince myself that I was toxic to the world and that it would be better off without me. It didn’t matter how many friends I had or what anyone said to me; I was convinced the world would be better off with me dead.


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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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