Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: low self-esteem

Turn that frown upside down

One of the persistent issues in my life has been a low self-esteem. It stems from being told implicitly and explicitly that my opinions don’t matter. More than that, I was made to feel like I had to keep everything to myself. The only person allowed to be angry in my family was my father. And, since my mother made me her confidant when I was eleven (or earlier, but that’s when I first remember it happening), I learned that my feelings were secondary to hers. It got better when I was in my thirties, but it’s reverted now that my parents are elderly and my father isn’t in the best of health. And is still the same narcissistic, yet insecure person he’s always been. Some of the things she complains about are things he’s done their entire marriage, which is nearly fifty-one years in length. It’s frustrating as hell because I can remember her complaining about the same things thirty-five years ago, and I don’t have a better answer now than I did then. Or rather, my answer is the same. Divorce him. I know she won’t do that, however, so all I can do is–nothing.

I hate that she only calls me to complain about him. She might ask me about myself (or not), and she might even listen for a few minutes, but then it’s time to talk ad nauseam about him. I wouldn’t want to hear that much about him if he was a good person and they had a great relationship. The fact that he’s not and they don’t just makes it even more painful. I know that on my end, I should just give a couple nondescript answers and end the call as soon as I can. I don’t, however, because I feel guilty that she doesn’t have anyone else to talk to. I shouldn’t, I know, but it’s my programming. I’m only here to manage the feelings of others. I thought I had it under control, but the fact that my parents are in the last stage of their lives has made me soft. It’s ironic that I’m better able to deal with my father because I just accept he is who he is. I know that he’ll never change, so it’s easier to gray rock him into oblivion. I just nod and agree with whatever he says or state my case once and then move on. I can do that because I don’t expect anything better from him. From my mom, it’s another story. I know she’s better than what she’s displaying right now. She’s a badass woman who single-handedly brought sandplay therapy to Taiwan. She has a waiting list for clients that is over a year long. She’s the foremost expert on the subject in Taiwan. She’s highly respected in her field. And, yet, in her personal life, she’s reduced to being the helpmeet of my father.

I’ve said before that one of the reasons I don’t want to be in a romantic relationship is because I can see myself in her. I could easily be that person, and it scares the fuck out of me. She couldn’t call him at work because it would make him lose face (yeah, I don’t get it, either); he would get angry if she asked him to let her know when he wasn’t coming home for dinner (because he was fucking around); and his way of punishing her would be to angrily yell at her until she backed down or give her the icy silent treatment.

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If only I could see what others saw

a soup of negative emotions.
A peek into my brain.

Recently, I received two compliments from two women I admire and respect (my BFF and my taiji teacher), and I was really taken aback. For some background, I grew up believing that I was a toxic presence who had to earn my right to live on a daily basis. I believed that every day, I started with a negative number (never could ascertain what that number meant, exactly, but it wasn’t good), and I had to do good enough to get to zero and have no effect on the world around me. Then, I would go to sleep, and the counter would reset. Why? Well, that’s a story in and of itself.

Part of it was childhood trauma. Part of it was being Asian in a very white world. Part of it was family dysfunction, and part of it was culture expectations taken to the extreme. In Taiwanese culture, it was heavily frowned upon to say anything even remotely positive about yourself lest you look as if you were bragging. In the white cultural, I was ugly, weird, and a freak. I’m still a freak, but that’s beside the point. In my family, I was taught that my only worth was what I could do for others, and I had no intrinsic value in and of myself. Add to that a deep depression and an impressionable brain that twists everything into a negative, and it’s not surprising that I ended up firmly believing I had to earn my right to live.

In addition, I had all these elaborate rules as to what counted as a positive, and it was extremely hard for me to make it to neutral. I don’t think I ever did, actually, because I rigged the game in such a way that I was bound to fail. When I talk about it in the past tense, it’s clear to see how ridiculous it is, but at the time, it felt as real as the sun on my face. I was miserable because I was constantly failing, and I just wanted to die. I spent much of my childhood well into my thirties wishing I had the courage to kill myself.

I hated myself. I couldn’t find anything about myself that I liked except my hair and my intellect (though I saw the latter as a curse oftentimes). I couldn’t believe that anyone would like me for any reason when it was obvious that I was pure toxicity. I’m not saying it was reasonable or rational, but it governed my thinking for longer than I care to admit. I truly thought I was a worthless human being (while at the same time having an exaggerated sense of the impact I had on others around me, which is common with people who have low self-esteem), and I was miserable every day of my life.

Then, sometime in my thirties, I slowly started shedding this idea. I’m not sure how or why (probably because of taiji and therapy. I attribute most of the positives in my life to taiji with a shout-out to therapy), but a few years ago, I realized that I no longer had that mindset. I didn’t think I had to earn the right to live, but I wouldn’t say I had a healthy self-esteem, either. I still didn’t like myself, and I still didn’t like what I saw in the mirror (literally and figuratively), but at least I wasn’t actively thinking of ways I could passively allow myself to die.

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Navel gazing for the new year

One of the worst things about my depression is how it makes everything at least twice as difficult. I am my own worst enemy, as I have noted time and time again. For those who have never experienced depression, it can be difficult to comprehend just how time consuming it is. A small example: when I have to go out, say to taiji, I first have to convince myself that I will go. Even if I want to go, the idea of driving fifteen minutes to get there is daunting. On my worst days, it seems impossible. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve done it in my past. It doesn’t matter that I can do it in my sleep. Every fiber of my being does not want to do it ever again.

It used to be that way when my BFF and I used to go out dancing. Both of us suffer from depression and the overwhelming desire never to leave the house. We’d talk about how we both had to stop ourselves from cancelling, and we always had a blast when we went out. Not only was it difficult to make myself leave the house (my leaning towards inertia is high), but I would imagine everything that might possibly go wrong while I was out. Again, even for something as simple as going to taiji, I ruminate about will it drain me (not completely invalid when I’m sick), can I put up with talking to people for that long (an hour and a half. Not exactly earth shattering), etc. I go to the co-op afterwards, which brings with it a whole new set of worries. Even something as banal as talking to the cashier can tie me up in knots.

I mention this because there are two things I really want to focus on in 2019. As I’ve written before, I am not big on resolutions, but I do like to set goals for the upcoming year. The difference to me is that goals have steps with concrete actions that seem achievable. By the way, I hate ‘actionable steps’. I know what it means in context (something you can actually do as opposed to a theory or an idea), but to me, actionable means something that you take legal action on. It’s a personal pet peeve, but it sticks in my craw every time I read it.

All of that is explanation as to why I tend to have the same goals every year, even if I have concrete steps I can take to actually meet the goals. I  have to overcome my inertia to even get to the point of doing something about it. Then, I have to deal with the negative self-talk. No matter what I’m doing, there’s a voice in the back of my head saying, “What’s the point? Why bother? Nobody cares.” Some days, it’s better than others, but it’s always there. It’s happening as I write this post. Most of the time, I can ignore it enough to get what I need done if it’s part of my routine. But, if it’s something new, then it’s much harder. Or if it involves driving. Which is one of my least-favorite activities in life.


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Ripping off the mask

don't look behind the mask.
A perfect facade.

Sometimes, I feel as if I have a split personality. Not in the clinical definition of the word, but in the vernacular. There’s the me at home. I’m in sweats and a t-shirt, my hair in a sloppy bun. I sit/lie on the couch most of the day as I madly type away on my computer, and it’s only recently that I’ve been forcing myself to get up roughly every other hour or so to do my stretches. If you could see a picture of my brain waves, it would be a flat-line with only dips and no spikes.

I know it’s the depression talking, but I don’t see any reason to live. I’m not being dramatic. I don’t actually want to die (I never did. Not even when I was at my most suicidal–which I’m not); I just don’t see any reason to be alive. Nor do I think that many people would actually miss me if I were gone. Let me be clear. I am not going to kill myself, but I can’t motivate myself to do much other than meander through my so-called life.

I’m mostly numb these days. I know I need to see a therapist, but I don’t want to go through the bother of finding a new one. It’s been four or five years since my last therapist and I mutually terminated, and it took me forever to find her. I am not an easy client, and I can fully acknowledge that. I know too much of the lingo, and I’m very good at manipulation of people. I’m not proud of it, but I have to acknowledge it. I try to not do it because it makes me feel slimy, and I’ve watched my father charm the pants off people (especially women) throughout my life.

Another thing I made clear to my last psychologist is that I need someone to call me on my shit. I get into my head and the weeds way too much, and I can run in circles around most people when I choose to. I can use the psych lingo to justify anything or to explain anything, and to anyone with a lesser perception, what I’m saying makes perfect sense. i told my therapist I would try to do this to her, and I needed her to see through it and put her foot down. She was more than capable of doing so, but I had therapists previous to her who simply weren’t.

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Getting out of my own damn way

I’m my own worst enemy, and I know it. I can think about a hundred things I want to do or should do, but when I actually get down to the nitty-gritty, I start throwing roadblocks in my own way. I immediately think about a million of things that will go wrong, and then, more often than not, I end up doing–nothing. One big decision I made in my life was going to SF for grad school in writing. Writing & Consciousness, to be more specific. Yeah, it’s SF. Whaddya going to do?

Immediately, I was inundated with doubts. I poured them all out to my therapist, one after the other. After listening to me for twenty minutes or so, she stopped me and said, “Minna. Half of the things you imagine will never happen, and things will happen that you can’t even dream of right now.” I know it sounds cliched, but it really hit me hard. I didn’t have much control in my early life, so now, I worry obsessively as a way of trying to feel as if I’m in control. Her timely reminder that I can’t control what happens was what I needed, and it emboldened me to go forward with the move. The results were mixed, but I at least fucking did it.

You’d think I’d learn something from it, like, yeah, do something, anything, and just keep it moving. I’ve said it before, but one thing I really admire about my brother is that he’ll get an idea and just do it. If it doesn’t work, he’ll move on to the next thing. Now, obviously, there are downsides to that (like wasting time on unfinished projects), but it also means he can shrug it off when something fails or when he goes to the next project. Plus, he actually finishes a lot more things than I do. He once told me he had no regrets in his life, which blew me away. I regret everything in my life–everything! Even the good things, I can find a reason for regret.

You know what? I should take a positive example in my life–taiji. I had taken it before, and it was a terrible experience. Once I was recovered from it, I decided that I wasn’t going to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I liked taiji itself, and I wanted to take classes again. Of course, my brain was telling me a million reasons why it was a bad idea, but I managed to push through it and started researching nearby studios. I had a few things I were looking for–one was Asian-led. I let that one go pretty quickly, though, because I live in Minnesota. the second one was that the teacher was a woman. That one was a bit more fruitful, and I was encouraged. The third was no payment schemes. What I mean is, there are some martial arts schools that are more interested in getting paid than in teaching. A common way is to have paid belts. (There are no belts in taiji, or shouldn’t be.) There was one studio that insisted on a uniform and that you had to buy everything through them. NOPE.

I came across my teacher after hours of searching, and I have to say, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. I’ve learned so much from taiji, and it keeps giving to me (even if I’m currently frustrated with it because of all the changes). It’s hard for me not to think of all the ways I’ve failed, though. All the bad decisions I’ve made, many of them in my personal life, are scarred deeply in my soul. Sometimes, I can’t help thinking about them and picking over what I’ve done wrong. Or, I Google my exes just to torture myself. (Not all of them, just the ones I regret where things went wrong.)

I tend to let things happen to me rather than actually be proactive about things. There are things I want to do, but I have a real fear of actually doing them. All these doubts besiege me, and I end up paralyzed emotionally. Let me give you a current example. I blog (duh), but I know that podcasts and vlogging are the ways of the future. Or, having a strong social media presence and piggybacking off that. Or streaming if you’re into video games, which I am. I *know* all this, but am I doing any of it? No. Why not? I’ll tell you why, one by one.

Podcasts and vlogging: I hate the way I sound and look. Now, I know the former is pretty common because we can’t hear our voices as they sound to others. I’ve accepted that I have a voice that others find soothing and pleasant, so I can deal with it. Barely. As for the latter, I hate the way I look. A lot. For several reasons. As I’ve noted before, I don’t look in the mirror unless I actually have to, and every time I do, I cringe. I don’t know if I can get past that barrier, either for vlogging or for streaming, but I know that people respond better to face cam than when there isn’t one (for streaming), especially with women, but that brings up another issue with women and streaming–the rampant sexism that women have to face online. On the one hand, there’s the death threats, the rape threats, the ‘you don’t belong here, bitch’ threats, and such. On the other hand, there’s the stalkers, the obsessed fans, and the “I want to get in your panties” assholes. For whatever reason*, misogyny just spirals out of control online.


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Awkward dancing in my head

Ian had a thing yesterday (he’s here visiting me) with his old colleagues at Game Informer (GI) for their 300th issue of their print magazine. He asked if I wanted to go, and I said sure both because I wanted to meet the GI crew and to support him. Immediately, I was assaulted with anxious thoughts about the event. Would I look stupid? Would I sound stupid? Would I embarrass him in front of his old colleagues? Objectively, I know I’m decent at small talk and mingling with people. In my brain, however, I’m THE WORST PERSON EVER AND NO ONE WILL LIKE ME. It hearkens back to my days as a kid–fat, friendless, and endlessly picked on. It’s hard to escape that mentality, even forty years later.

Another problem is that I don’t interact with people I don’t know very often in my real life. Online? Sure. But it’s much easier to curate an interaction online and to end it when you’re done with it. It’s not as easy to do in real life, and I’m not good at gracefully extracting myself from uncomfortable situations. I’m the one who gets cornered at the party and has someone talk her ear off for hours about a problem I could care less about. I’m also the person who has cashiers pouring their hearts out to for no apparent reason, and yes, I’m working on curbing this behavior in others. I know part of it is my own fault for asking follow-up questions, but it’s ingrained in my head. Also, eye contact. It feels rude not to look someone in the eyes, though.

Anyway, my point is, I was fretting about this shindig for the whole week leading up to it. Not constantly (which is an improvement), but once in a while, I’d think, “Oh shit. I’m going to make a fool of myself.” What helped was to shove it in the back of my head whenever the thought popped up. I haven’t been able to do that successfully before, but I was able to this time. Then, the day of the shindig, I started telling myself things such as, “You aren’t that big of a deal. No one is going to give a shit about you.” I know that sounds horribly negative, but it’s not in this case. One of the problems with having a low self-esteem is that, paradoxically, you think too much of yourself. What I mean is that I simultaneously think I’m the worst person in the world (which is low self-esteem) and that everyone must be thinking of how horrible I am (which is egotistical if you really think about it). When I was at my lowest, I thought everyone was constantly thinking about what a terrible person I am. The minute they met me, they’d say it to themselves, and they wouldn’t let up until our interaction ended.

This is pure horseshit, of course, First of all, most people care more about themselves than they do about you. I’m worrying about how I’m coming across to others, and they’re probably doing the same to a greater or lesser extent. Even if they aren’t, they’re not laser-like focused on me, waiting to pounce on any misstep I may have.

The other thing I told myself is that if I get stuck, just get the other person to talk about themselves. This is something I’m really good at, and I can do it for hours on end if need be. It works ninety-nine out of one hundred times because as I said, most people hunger to talk about themselves, and for the last one out of a hundred, well, that’s a bit more difficult. I have only run into that person once or twice, however, so it’s not a big deal.


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Fake It Until You Make It, Part II

Hi. I wrote the first part of this post here. I have more things to say about it, so this is part two.

Another part of my problem is that my father has the inability to look at things from a viewpoint other than his own. He brought up an example that has been a sore point between us for many years. Rather, it was a sore point, but then it kind of got glossed over, and I eventually shrugged it off. He’s brought it up the last two times he’s visited, so obviously, it stuck with him. When I was a kid, he had a firm belief that having wet hair meant you’d catch cold. In addition, he has a lower set point for coldness than do I. And, in case I haven’t mentioned it a time or a million, he’s a narcissist. When I was a kid, I used to go outside after taking a shower. Or I would go outside without a coat on in the winter. He would say, “Put on a coat; I’m cold.” To hear him tell it, I rebelled because he didn’t ask me nicely such as, “Please put on a coat; it’s cold outside.” He’s framing it as a question of etiquette and culture. (Taiwanese culture it’s more acceptable to order your child around.) My issue isn’t because of the politeness, however. I still would have resisted because I wasn’t cold. I don’t care if he’s cold–that won’t change by me putting on a coat.

Now, I’ve come to realize that this coat thing is a power struggle between parents and children of different cultures, so it’s not strictly a Taiwanese thing, but the difference is, he told me to put on a coat because HE was cold (looking at me). Or, as he explained it, he would have been cold in that situation, so he just assumed I would be, too. Now, once, OK, I can see that. But, if the person in question tells you repeatedly that she isn’t cold, then wouldn’t you eventually believe her? The fact that I was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease years later (hyperthyroidism) validated my point of view. One of the symptoms is never feeling cold, grossly simplified, and it’s one thing I can point to now when I question whether I’m right to feel a certain way. I shouldn’t *need* outside validation, but when you grow up with two parents denying the way you feel, it can be helpful. I still hate the heat to this day, though I’m now hypothyroid, and I still don’t wear a coat in the winter except on the chilliest days.


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Fear and Self-loathing in Minnesota

Have you ever looked in the metaphorical mirror and hated everything you saw? I’ve been feeling that way for the past week or so, which is both bad news and good news. It’s good news because it feels foreign to me now. There was a time when it was the way I felt all the time. During my twenties and early thirties, I hated myself to my very core. The only nice things I could say about myself was that I liked my hair and my brains. Oh, and I could write. Other than that, I was convinced that there was nothing good about me. I was toxic, and I could feel it oozing out of my pores. It’s hard to explain if you’ve never felt this way. How catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror could spiral me into a deep abyss of depression, it took weeks to claw my way out. How I felt as if I was adding negativity to the cosmos every minute I was alive, and I couldn’t do enough good things fast enough to compensate for it.

It’s one of my frustrations about post-depression–it’s fucking impossible to describe what it’s like. It’s almost claustrophobic as it swirls around me, choking out all the fresh air. Sometimes, it feels like hands are actually around my throat, closing off my air supply. Other times, it’s an incredible sense of lethargy running through my body and draining out all my energy. I’m talking about it in the present tense because even though my chronic and debilitating depression is over, I still suffer from a low-grade version of it almost every day. Now, it’s more that I’m tired more often than not, and sometimes, I don’t have any interest in anything. I tend to calibrate for inertia, and it takes a lot to push me out of my natural state.

But I digress. I’ve been feeling this way in the last week, and I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that I’m also adjusting to a new dose of my thyroid medication and that I’ve been ill with the flu or a cold for the same duration. I have a fragile immune system, and when I get sick, I get SICK. I hate it because I instantly become a big baby about it, even if it’s only in my own brain. “Why am I so tired?” “Why don’t I have any energy?” “I can’t do my full taiji routine.” “Wah, wah, wah.” I like living on my own, but I will admit that when I’m sick, I like having someone else in the house to make me tea, bring me soup, and just cluck about me in general. The other day, I went to the store to get honey, lemon, and ginger to make honey lemon ginger tea (duh). I had to run to the post office after, and by the time I got home, I was almost in tears because I was so exhausted. All I wanted was for someone else to tuck me in bed and make me my tea. It’s been over two weeks since I got the flu or whatever this is, and every time I start to feel better, I have a relapse. It’s the weirdest thing because I can feel it happening to my body, but there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I feel better today except for the bone-deep weariness, but that’s normal for me, even when I’m not ill.


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Related, But Not the Same

tatted up
My lotus blossom is on fiyah!

My brother dropped by the other night, and as always, I marveled that we’re related. I’m not a genetics expert, but I would think two people who’re related would have a few traits in common. He and I get along really well, but we could not be more different. By his own admission, he operates purely on logic. Or mostly, any way. I don’t think many people are 100% Dr. Spock, even if they think they are. He is very rational, though, so it’s easy for him to miss the subtext of what people are saying. I, on the other hand, skew heavily to the emotional side, although I can think rationally when I apply myself. My brother is extremely gregarious. To him, a stranger is just a friend he hasn’t met yet. To me, even my friends can feel like strangers at time. He can talk to people all day long. I get tired after about five minutes of human interaction. He loves to drive; I fucking hate it. He’s married with three wonderful children (one who’s now an official adult!), and I can only look at him in admiration and wonderment because I can’t imagine that life for myself. Nor, may I hasten to add, do I want to. I never wanted kids, and I never wanted to get married. Still. It leaves me out of many conversations because the vast majority of women my age are married and/or have kids.

My brother is a realtor. He’s very good at his job. He likes meeting new people and finding the perfect house for them. To me, that sounds like Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell. The one thing I had to help my brother with was how he emotionally connected with people. We role-played, and he practiced until he was markedly better at it. He likes to have three or four things to do every day. I consider it a job well done if I manage to do one thing a day. He’s better with numbers and computers while I swim in a sea of words. He once told me that he never regretted anything in his life. I stared at him, slack-jawed, unable to process what he’d said to me. Not regret anything? First of all, can anyone really say that?* I mean, not even getting the turkey on rye instead of the ham and cheddar? Secondly, I regret almost everything about my life. One of the reasons I have such a hard time making a decision is because I can always see the negatives about any/all of the choices. Even if it’s not conscious, I often see things as a lose-lose situation.

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Low Self-Esteem and High Self-Absorption: A Study in Contrast

moody
Softly, the rain falls.

I have struggled with depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem all my life. I don’t remember much of my childhood, but the memories I do have are mostly negative. I remember walking home from elementary school, my stomach in knots. There was a much older girl* who would wait for me to pass by, then she would taunt me as I did. I have no idea why she got off on picking on me, but I dreaded the three blocks I had to walk home from school. She wasn’t there every day or even most days, but in some ways, that made it worse. I never knew when I’d see her, which meant every walk home was a chore for the first block. I don’t know how long this went on until one day, I just burst into tears as she yelled whatever it was she chose to yell my way. She immediately stopped making fun of me and wiped away my tears, saying I had pretty hair. She didn’t bother me after that, and to this day, I have no idea why my crying affected her so much. Thinking back, my guess would be that she had an unhappy life herself and took it out on me. My crying reminded her that I was a human being and not a punching bag. Alternately, she might have thought she was teasing me good-naturedly, that we were buddies of some sort, and was mortified when I started crying.

I didn’t have many friends in elementary school. I was always the weird kid who’d rather read than play. In addition, I grew up in the suburbs in Minnesota in the eighties, so I was one of only a few nonwhite faces at my school. I don’t remember many instances of outright racism except the occasion chant of ‘Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these’ with the accompanying pulling of the eyelids, but nor do I remember many overt expressions of friendship, either. I was a lonely kid, fat, awkward, highly intelligent, and hiding a dysfunctional home life. I felt like an outsider for so many reasons, and I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to be friends with me. I wouldn’t want to be friends with me if I weren’t me, so why should anyone else? I spent as much time in my own head as I possibly could because I hated the world around me. I was seven when I realized I would die one day. It simultaneously terrified and relieved me. I couldn’t imagine being alive, and, yet, I couldn’t imagine living for very much longer.

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