Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Taiji

Applying Taiji to My Mental Health–and Finishing The Sexy Brutale

One of the hardest things about being sick is how depressed I get over it. It didn’t used to be this way. Or rather, I used to be depressed all the time, so getting sick didn’t really add to that depression. Also, I mistreated my body so badly, I really couldn’t expect it to be kind to me. I was a hot mess in general, so having bronchitis for months at a time (not an exaggeration) wasn’t that noticeable of an added detriment. However, two things have changed that. One, I hadn’t been sick in years. For about five years (during the middle of my taiji studies), I was blissfully cold and flu and bronchitis-free. Then, I got a cold or flu one winter, and it was hellish. This was three or four years ago, and it’s happened every year since. I get sick (undefined. The one year I went to the doctor, twice, she wasn’t able to pinpoint anything. In fact, I got even sicker after visiting her. Rightly or wrongly, I blame going to the clinic for getting even sicker. It was really awful), and it lasts for weeks. Even worse, I get better, go back to my normal life, and then I get sick again. That’s what happened this time, and it’s discouraging. I didn’t think I overdid it this time when I got well again, but I could be wrong.

I’m coughing a lot. I get this coagulation in my throat, and then I have to hork to try to get it out. It immediately settles back in again, and it’s infuriating. It’s better today as the ball of snot (that’s how I think of it) lodged in the back of my throat is smaller, but it’s still there no matter how much I hork. I have mentioned a time or a hundred that I am a huge control freak, and not being able to will away my sickness pisses me off. It’s not rational nor reasonable, but I still get irritated when I can’t hork out the snot ball for good. I get pissed that I tire so easily and that going to the store drains me completely. I wake up, and the only thing I want to do is go back to bed.

I know that being mad at my body isn’t helping. It’s not going to mend faster simply because I internally yell at it. It’s frustrating because in other areas of my life, I’ve been able to relax and not get so uptight about what’s happening. The example I pull out every time is when I got in my car crash. The second I realized that I couldn’t prevent it, I relaxed and suffered no more than a massive bruise on my abdomen from the seat belt and the airbag. The key was to realize that there was nothing I could do to prevent it, relaxing, and accepting that the crash was going to happen.

I wish I could do the same with being sick. Do the things I know that will help me get better, then just ride it out. Getting mad doesn’t help. Berating my body doesn’t help. You know what does help? The Sexy Brutale. OK, not really, but I finished it recently, and I needed a graceful segue into talking about it. Spoiler warning: I’m going to try my best not to spoil anything about the ending, but I can’t talk about it without a few minor spoilers. In addition, I want to include pictures from the end game, and if you’re going to play the game, you best just skip this all. Everything about the game is below the cut.


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The Art of Relaxation

My cat, Shadow, has developed a morning ritual since his brother died* in which he meows loudly at me, gently gnaws at me, rubs his head against the blanket in which I’m encased, and then hops up on my hip (I usually sleep on my side) and stands there. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a fifteen-pound cat just stand on you, but it doesn’t feel great. When I try to roll back and forth to get him off, he simply rolls with me. It doesn’t matter how quickly I roll, he sticks like glue. Funny side note: One morning this week, he wasn’t around when I woke up. I was puzzled, but went into the kitchen to get his wet food for breakfast. I open his cabinet, and he still didn’t come. I was starting to get worried and was about to go after him when he came running towards the kitchen as fast as his chubby little legs would take him. He opened his mouth to meow, but it was cut off by a huge yawn. It was ridiculously adorable that he had fallen asleep on the job!

Anyway, I was thinking about that in taiji class yesterday when we were talking about relaxation. It’s one of the most important tenets in taiji, and it’s something I struggle with all the time. I’m a tense person by nature (and nurture), and I carry all my tension is my shoulders and back. It used to be my upper back, but now it’s mostly my lower back. The way to relax your back is to drop your tailbone, and every time I check in with my tailbone, it’s ratcheted up an inch. Every damn time. Even if it’s a minute from the last time I checked in. I think it’s less ‘up’ than it has been in the past, but it’s still tense. The problem is, though, that I can’t always think about my tailbone. If I did, I wouldn’t have time to think of anything else. I get easily frustrated when I can’t do something, which is one reason I love Dark Souls games so much. I’m not inherently good at them, and they’ve taught me not to give up when things get tough. I’m still inordinately proud of beating Biggie & Small (Ornstein & Smough) after almost giving up on the game.

Anyway, we were talking about breathing in class. It’s important, obviously, and there are many different ways to breathe. Our teacher told us about the man who owns the Guinness Book of World Record for holding his breath, and one of his practice techniques is passive breathing. You inhale with your abdomen, and then you just let the breath passively exhale. I’ve tried it, and I’ve ended up feeling choked or lightheaded. I mentioned it to my teacher, and she said not to do it then. She said that focusing on your breathing is important, but it shouldn’t be laborious or painful. My problem is that the passive exhale is an anathema to me, which makes me angry. As I said, I don’t do well with things I don’t understand or can’t do on the first go. While I can conceptually understand what passive breathing is, I can’t do it in practice. I don’t understand how to let my breath out without actively pushing it out if I’m concentrating on it at all.


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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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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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Break From the Ordinary

I had another post planned for today, but sometimes, reality takes precedence. My mom fell this afternoon, twisting her knee. She tried to tough it out by icing it, but it was really hurting. I took her to the Twin Cities Orthopedics (Coon Rapids) because they have Urgent Care that is open until 8 p.m., and I’m relieved that nothing is broken or torn.

However, because of it, my whole schedule is in shambles, and I’m not up to writing the post I was originally working on. Therefore, today, you get Shironeko (white cat with orange markings in the background) and his buddy just chilling.

I could do with a little serenity, and Shironeko helps me get there.

Odlly enough, however, for all my PTSD worst-case scenario catastrophizing, I’m actually pretty good in a real crisis. Instead of overreacting as I normally do, I’m calm, focused, and relaxed. I concentrate on what needs to be done, and I’m not upset or flustered by what is happening. I think it’s because I’ve practiced in my mind for a disaster so many times, actual terrible things are easier to handle.

It’s also taiji. I’m always going to give credit to taiji for making me calmer and more able to deal with stressors.

The doctor told my mother that all she needed was ice and Tylenol. She (the doctor) did give my mother crutches, which she’s using to hobble around. The doctor looks twelve, by the way, but she was terrific, as was the technician and the front desk person. All in all, it was an easy and smooth experience, and I would recommend them to anyone who needs orthopedic work.

Here’s an extra video of Maru relaxing in a hammock plus various other activities, including laying flat on his back with his tail lazily swishing back and forth. Bonus appearances by his sister, Hana. I can’t with the cuteness!

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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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.

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