Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Taiji

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.


Continue Reading

Acting Like an Adult For Once

mantra mantra mantra
Going to my happy place.

It’s hard to see progress sometimes because it’s not something that happens in huge leaps and bounds (usually). It’s slow and incremental, and it takes a lot of time to accumulate into something tangible. It’s the same with anything that increases over time, and it’s only easy to see in retrospect if you live with it every day. I’ve talked about this before, and I have a great anti-example. I only see my parents once a year at the most, and it’s easy to see how they’ve aged from year to year with such a gap in between. However, when I dare look in the mirror, which is probably once a month or so, I’m astounded anew at how old I am because I feel like a twenty year old inside. I know that’s trite, but it’s true. How the hell did I become this middle-aged woman staring back at me? I look at my age spots, wrinkles, and faded skin, and I wonder where the time has gone. But, since I live with myself, I don’t notice it on a daily basis.

I’ve written about my fraught relationship with my parents, and I’ve also written about how it’s improved in the last few years. I really noticed it when my parents and I sat down to have a talk about my future last night, something I was dreading. It happens every year, and it usually ends in recriminations and tears. There’s shouting and hurt feelings on both sides, and it twists my insides for weeks. This time, my mom informed me the night before that my father and she wanted to have the talk before my father went back to Taiwan, and I was expecting it to go much the same.

I resolved just to nod my head and agree with whatever they said in order to make it go more smoothly. There was no point in arguing, and it wouldn’t be an affront to my core just to say whatever to get it over. The problem is, my parents know how to push my buttons. Of course they do because they’re the ones who installed them. My father, especially. He makes baseless assumptions about me, well, his basis is, “I feel this way, therefore you must, too.” He even brought up the classic fight we used to have throughout my childhood, something we’ve argued about since.

I used to wash my hair in the morning, and then go outside with wet hair. He would say, “Put on a coat; I feel cold”, and it still bothers him that I would refuse. He said I said it was because he didn’t ask nicely, but that wasn’t all of it. I wasn’t cold, so why should I put on a coat? He said he felt cold for me, and I retorted that he could put on two coats and feel warmer. I added that I was right in that I had hyperthyroidism when I was a child, which meant I was never cold. I’m hypothyroid now, but I still rarely get cold–though my threshold isn’t the same as it was when I was younger. Anyway, to him, it’s an example of how I was a recalcitrant youngster not minding my elder. To me, it’s an example of how he’s a narcissist and can’t imagine someone feels differently than he does.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.


Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

Just Call Me Mulan

When I was younger, I used to go to bed praying I’d wake up a boy,* and I would be severely disappointed when I woke up still a girl. Even as I grew older and stopped believing in God, I thought I would have been better off as a man. Let me be clear: I never felt as if I were trapped in the wrong body. It’s all about the rigidity of patriarchy and how punishing it is to people who don’t fit in. I played with dolls, but I preferred stuffed animals when I wasn’t running around playing softball and other sports. I was what was called a tomboy back then, hating dresses and anything feminine not because they were feminine, but just because they didn’t interest me.

As a teen, I didn’t care about makeup and clothes, though I tried desperately to fit in. I had a Farrah Fawcett flip, and I’m wearing a powder blue sweater and pink eye shadow in my senior photo. I look like a freak and not at all like myself. I curled my hair, used hair products, and applied makeup like it was spackle. Also, I’m allergic to everything, and most makeup was rough back then. Literally and figuratively. I was allergic to whatever was in it, which was not a pretty scene. In addition, I hadn’t perfected the skill of eating without eating off my lipstick, which made me constantly worried about walking around with my lips outlined in lipstick and nothing else. I also was allergic to whatever’s in shaving cream, so I would get bumps any time I shaved. Imagine how fun that was the one time I shaved my pussy.

I gave it all up at some point–makeup, shaving, and trying to keep up with fashion. The shaving thing happened when I was on my semester abroad in Asia and a shower was a hand-held sprayer. Plus, I’m Asian. I don’t need to shave as my body hair is pretty sparse. I haven’t tried makeup in decades, but I know it’s better now than it was when I attempted to wear it. I wore lipstick for longer than I did any other makeup, but I gave it up when, OK, backstory. Wand lip glosses were in for a hot second, and I thought, “I can handle that. It should be pretty easy to apply.” I bought a rich plum-colored lip gloss (I prefer dark shades) and tried it on in the parking lot of the glasses shop. I looked in the rear view mirror, and it looked like someone had punched me in the mouth. I blotted and reapplied, but it didn’t look any better. I concluded I was shit at makeup*** and gave it up that day.


Continue Reading

Finding a New Normal

look at me all healthy and shit.
This is me now.

It’s six months since I had my first round of flu/cold/whatever the fuck I had. I would say I’m at roughly 85%, but I’m still dealing with some digestive issues. When I went dairy-free, gluten-free, my digestive issues immediately cleared up. Yay, thought I. I solved my problem! Then, a month or so later, I started experiencing other digestive problems, and now I’m back in investigation phase. I know part of it was a mystery sauce that I didn’t refuse in time that probably had dairy in it. but now, I’m having trouble digesting something else. It’s either corn-based products, sunflower or canola oil, or something in salsa.

It’s frustrating because I’m not a very patient person. The smart thing to do would be to eat only one of the things at a time so I can eliminate an ingredient or identify it as the problem. Actually, I’ve somewhat done that with tortilla chips, and they’re not the problem, though they sit heavily in my stomach. It’s getting to the point when I don’t want to eat because I know I’m going to pay for it afterwards. Like, right now, I’m eating sesame rice thins, and it’s uneasily roiling in my stomach.

I will say that one unintentional side effect of changing my diet is that I’m losing weight. I don’t weigh myself, but I can tell by how my clothes fit and how my towel wraps around me. I feel better in general, too, which is a bonus. I just hate that I have this general feeling of malaise with my digestive tract, and I’m hoping I can figure it out soon.

Taijji-wise, I’m slowly working my way back to my daily routine. When I was sick, I stripped it down to the bare minimum, but I can tell I’m getting better because it’s not enough. When I was sick, I did the first section of the Solo Form because it’s the one I know best and could do in my sleep. Lately, however, I’ve returned to teaching myself the left side of the Solo Form. I nearly finished before I got sick, so I started from the beginning again.

Side Note: I also taught myself the left side of the Sword Form (the whole thing) before I got sick, but I haven’t practiced the sword at all during my sick days. The sword is a weight-bearing exercise, and I just didn’t have the energy. I mention this just so I can reference it easily later on.

Back to the left side of the Solo Form. The way I teach myself is to start from the beginning of whichever section I’m learning and going as far as I can before I get hopelessly fucked up. When I revisited it, I was resigned to having to take quite some time to reteach myself. I breezed through the first section, which wasn’t surprising. I didn’t have to teach it to myself because we’ve done it in class often enough. In the second section, I hit a snag with Fist Under Elbow (which was the hardest posture for me to learn on the right side as well), but it was brief. I moved steadily through the second section with only a few hitches. I was astonished how easy* it was to relearn. I did the whole second section in two days, and I only stopped because I got tired. Then, the third section. Oh, the third section. I had taught myself maybe two-thirds of it before I got sick. My first trouble was with the My Fair Ladies, one of the harder postures in the Solo Form. My teacher’s teacher has refined the posture twice, once to the arms, and once to the footwork. It’s much simpler now, and the arms are much more intuitive, but I liked the old footwork better. In addition, there’s some pride in learning to do it the difficult way, but that’s not important.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

Health and My State of Mind

I went to taiji for the first time in a week, and I was going to take it easy. Honest! I know that the worst thing to do when I’m sick is overdo it, but it’s easier said than done. “Don’t overdo it.” OK. The problem is, I don’t know what that is in the moment. Let me explain. I have the capacity to put off the pain/discomfort/exhaustion in the moment (to a certain extent. I have a very high pain threshold), but it’s not an end, only a means. I’ll feel it later, much to my chagrin. My teacher is very sensitive to my health issues and to making sure I don’t do more than I’m able. Her guide is, “If you break out in a sweat, stop.” The problem with that is that I sweat profusely at the drop of a hat, so it’s not always easy to discern what is illness-sweat and what is exertion-sweat.

In addition, my endorphins kick in whenever I’m out and about, plus, I tend to put on a happy (happier) face when I’m around other people, so I don’t appear as sick/tired/depressed as I am. I can laugh and chat brightly, then feel the hit later. Again, if I’m really sick, this goes away, but that has to be a very bad illness (as I had a month ago). I hate to say it, but I’m a complete bitch when I’m sick. I’m not proud of it, but I have to accept that’s how I am right now.

I can tell when I reach that point because my ability to can completely disappears. It happened a few days ago. I had to run to Cub to stock up on groceries, and my patience was already thin when I entered the store. Then, I had an interaction with an employee that stretched my patience to the limit until it snapped. I raised my voice at him (not yelled, but definitely put force behind it), and then immediately felt shitty for it. Yes, he was making things more difficult, but he was only trying to help. If I had been at optimal health, it would have irritated me, but I would have shrugged it off. That’s when I renewed my vow to not interact with people when I’m at my worst.

Anyway, back to taiji. We did some warm-ups and then the kick section of the second section of the Solo Form. It’s my favorite section of the form, and it’s fairly short. It’s a workout, though, because it’s filled with kicks (obvs). I like to joke that it’s my favorite section because it’s the hardest section, but that’s not far from wrong. My twelve years of dance lessons pays off in this section, and there’s something that just sings to me in this section. By the end of it, however, I was shaky. Taiji is deceptive in that it looks and feels easy to do. It’s slow and smooth with no obvious exertion. However, if you do it correctly, it is a real workout, and I was feeling it in my legs by the end of the kick section (which makes sense. The kick section works the legs really hard).

I stopped at the co-op on the way home, and my brain was in a fog. The cashier asked me what my cat’s name was (I bought cat food), and my mind went blank. Cat? What? When I realized what he was asking, I felt a momentary pang of sadness. Normally, my answer would be, “Raven and Shadow. They’re brothers, and black.” Instead, I said, “Shadow. He’s a black cat.” It turned out that he also had a black cat named Snowball. Which made me laugh.

My legs were trembling by the time I got home. I had my oranges which helped, but my legs still ached. I’m doing ginger honey lemon tea and chill today, and I’ll probably see the doctor soon  because I want to know what the hell this is. I also have to get my thyroid levels checked, anyway, so might as well do both.

Anyway. Enjoy the newest Mazzy video. She and a friend are making Earl Grey cookies. Yum!