Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: taiji

I’m my own worst enemy…again

I’m an idiot of the highest order. I have been feeling pretty shitty for three or four days, and I skipped two taiji classes over the weekend. Yesterday (Monday), I woke up feeling markedly better. Not my best, but better. Enough better to try taiji class. I was fine during the warm-ups which, as you may imagine, are gentle. Then, we got to the chi gong, and this is where I fucked up.

My teacher has told us more than once that if we’re sick, we have to be careful of breaking out into a heavy sweat. If it’s a light sweat, that’s fine. If it’s a heavy sweat, we should immediately quit. During chi gong, we did 6 of 8 postures. First three, no problems. Then, four, which is the most difficult, complicated, and involved. I immediately broke out into a heavy sweat and was shaky on my toes (literally. Most of the posture is done with the heels lifted). Normally, I do not have a problem standing on my toes, but yesterday, I was terrible. I almost fell over several times, and I was very hot and sweaty.

Here’s the thing. I knew immediately that I should stop, but I didn’t. Why? A few reasons. One, I’m very loath to appear like a quitter in front of other people. I phrased that very carefully because I am a quitter. I quit when things get hard because, well, again for several reasons. One, I am naturally good at many things. I never really had to learn how to persevere at something that I wasn’t good at because there were relatively few things that I *had* to learn in that manner. Two, my family of origin is not very forgiving of mediocrity. When I was in school, they never had anything to say when I got As, only when I got anything less than an A. I graduated college magna cum laude, and my mother said I would have graduated summa if I didn’t get a B in my Intro Psych class.


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Mental and physical health in the time of you-know-what

It’s May. I’m having a hard time grasping that little fact. I’m also having a hard time remembering when my personal lockdown started. I want to say it was…March…early? Late? Not sure any longer. I know it was before my birthday which was nearly a month ago. Time has lost all meaning, and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way. It’s also interesting how many people are having vivid dreams, which was something I assumed was only happening to me. There are reports of people dreaming about people who ignored social distancing, making the dreamer panic. Mine have had nothing to do with COVID-19, but they are very intense. It’s weird because I used to have extreme anxiety dreams and before that, outright nightmares. Now, however, my dreams are intense but not anxious dreams–well, not in the classic sense. They are the least-troubling aspect of my sleep at the moment, which is saying a lot.

I’ve given up on trying to regulate my sleep. I go to sleep whenever I go to sleep, and I get up whenever I get up. If I snooze at any given point, then I snooze. I’m of the mindset that whatever gets me through at this point is fine. Within reason, of course.

Side Note: I read all these people joking about drinking 24/7, and I don’t find it funny at all. I already thought people in America drink too much (let’s not talk about Britain), and I don’t like that the pandemic is being used as an excuse to get plastered. I do sympathize with self-medicating, but….Yeah, I’ll just leave it at that.

I mentioned last time that the one bright side to this mess is that my allergies and sinus issues have been drastically reduced, which strengthens my theory that nature is trying to kill me. I mean, it makes perfect sense that if I’m allergic to everything in nature, keeping it at bay will be better for me. Now that I’m able to test this hypothesis, I’ve found that it’s true. What does it mean for life after this pandemic clears (if it does)? I don’t know. It’s not realistic for me to not ever go anywhere ever. I mean, I could do it, but I don’t think it’s feasible for the long run.

I’m also thinking about what to do about life in general once the restrictions ease. People in my neighborhood are pretty lax about best practices, and it’s tripping me up whenever I see it. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone wearing a mask in my neighborhood, including when I went to the pharmacy. It’s bizarre, and it makes me angry. I’m working on letting it go and reminding myself that I’m hermetically sealed for the most part.


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Letting go and moving on organically

I have difficulties letting go of how I see myself. I think of myself in terms of absolutes such as, “I am a negative person”, and “I am lazy”. Once I get an idea about myself, I can’t move past it. It’s fine with such things as, “My favorite color is black” because it doesn’t really matter if I change that or not. It’s not so fine when it impedes me, such as, “I hateĀ  people.” I mean, it’s ok that I hate people, but it’s not realistic to think I’m going to go through my life never talking to people at all. Also, it’s not completely true. I don’t hate all people or even most people. Just certain ones, and if I have to be around lots and lots of people, then I hate the idea of it and not necessarily the people themselves.

I keep thinking about how I didn’t care about Christmas this year, in a positive way. Short explanation: I hate Christmas. Or rather, I did. For many reasons, I became grumpy about it right after Thanksgiving, and it lasted until New Year’s Day. I would notice all the Christmas bullshit around me, and I would gnash my teeth at my hatred of all things Saint Nick. This year, I didn’t even really notice it was Christmas until a few days before when my brother invited me over for dinner Christmas Eve. I wasn’t going to go, but then, to my surprise, I thought, “Why not?” I went and had a good time, and that was the end of Christmas for me.

I know it doesn’t sound thrilling, and in some ways, it scans as a subtle neg. “I didn’t even realize it was Christmas until it was over–that’s how little it means to me!” But, you have to take me at my word when I say it really is a positive thing because it freed up so much of my mind and heart in the months leading up to Christmas. I say it started the day after Thanksgiving, but oftentimes, it was earlier than that because Christmas commercials start earlier and earlier every year. I don’t watch any TV and rarely listen to the radio, but that doesn’t mean the collective unconsciousness doesn’t seep into my brain as well.

My point is that I didn’t force myself to be chipper and cheerful and to pretend that I love Christmas while internally seething. I didn’t grit my teeth and endure it while resenting it with every fiber of my being–which I’ve done in the past–I just didn’t care about it. It was so freeing, and it wasn’t something I could make myself do it. Which is one of my issues with how obsessed with positivity this country is. Don’t worry. That isn’t the main point of this post, but I had to throw it out there.

It was strange for me not to choke with burning resentment against Christmas this year, and I was at a lost as to what to do with it. I mean, being anti-Christmas had been a part of me for such a long time, I felt as if I lost a part of myself. It’s not a bad thing, but it is an adjustment. An absence of a negative is still an absence, and I still think about it from time to time. Fortunately, it’s not something I have to replace with something else, but it’s still something I have to adjust to.


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Sand slipping through my fingers

I’ve been thinking about the demo for the past week because I love weapons. There I’m just going to say it. I. Love. Weapons. I love them with a passion that is probably unseemly, but I don’t care. I don’t talk about it much because I recognize that it’s not interesting to many people. Fun fact: whenever I mention weapons on Twitter, I get women freaking out and men drooling. It’s an interesting dynamic, and a commentary on societal expectations. I’d read that female cops had a problem with men when they found out that the women were cops. There were usually two reactions. One was, “Oh, hey, now, that’s too intimidating for me.” The article I was reading said that was a disheartening response, but the other was even worse. The guys who found it hot and made assumptions about how the women would be in bed.

In my case, the women who tweeted me were appalled that I was into weapons. How could I be attracted to something so violent? There was an undercurrent of me being a bad feminist, and that’s something I strongly denounce. I started learning taiji as a matter of self-defense, and now, ten years later, I feel like I could actually use what I’ve learned to defend myself. I see weapons as an extension of that, even though I probably won’t be carrying them with me on the regular. I am currently learning the Cane Form, and a cane is something I could use in my daily life. Even better, a sword within a cane!

When my teacher taught me the 8 Palms of bagua and walking the circles, I had a flash of ‘that is my opponent, and I am going to kill them’ while doing it. I t shook me because I considered myself a pacifist at the time. The idea that I would even think something like that made me question myself, and I brought it up to my teacher afterwards. She assured me it was natural and that it didn’t mean I was going to become a homicidal maniac. In fact, she believed that having a safe place to express your anger and aggression was healthy, and I’ve come to agree with her.

At some point, I also had to examine what I meant by self-defense. or rather, how far I would go to defend myself. I realized that i would go all the way, meaning if it came down to someone else or me, I would choose me. This was a big breakthrough for me because I was so used to thinking my life didn’t matter and that everyone else’s life was worth more than mine. I don’t want to get into the whys and the wherefores, but needless to say, this was a heavy mindset to grow up with. When I first thought, “I will defend myself by any means necessary,” something shifted inside me. I could no longer claim that my life was worthless because my natural instinct was to do defend myself. It should be everyone’s natural instinct, but so many people get it beat out of them–especially women. We are taught to put ourselves last in every situation and to demur that we need more than what we are given.


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The more things change…part two

In part one, I talked about my frustrations with things that do not change over time. In this post, I want to talk about the things that have changed without notice from me. I’ve mentioned some of them in the past such as my sleep. To summarize briefly, when I was in college, I rarely slept more than three hours a night. Then, when I went home on breaks, I slept for fifteen hours the first night. Partly because it was my sleep deprivation catching up to me and partly I would get sick, but fight it off until I got home. In my late twenties, I slept maybe four hours a night. I will say I have thyroid issues, but at that point of my life, I had hypothyroidism and not hyper, so insomnia should not have been a problem. If anything, it should have been the opposite. I got my thyroid destroyed when I was fourteen (radiation), so any insomnia before hand could be attributed to hyperthyroidism (well, at least partly), but afterwards, it should have course-corrected.

I also learned yesterday that having vivid dreams is a symptom of not getting deep REM sleep. It was like a light bulb went off in my head. I used to have very graphic and disturbing dreams all the time when I was sleeping four hours a night. I woke up after two hours, usually in a cold sweat because of a weird and intense dream, and then I’d drift off into another uneasy, unsettling dream before waking up again. I knew I wasn’t getting REM sleep, so it was weirdly validating to read that I wasn’t just imaging things.

In the time I’ve been studying taiji–over ten years–I’ve slowly started sleeping more and more. I’m up to six hours on a good night, and I rarely remember my dreams any longer. If I do, they’re anxiety dreams. While not great, they’re much better than the murder dreams I used to have. Six hours is a huge leap for me, but it’s hard not to get fixated on the fact that I’m not getting the requisite eight hours unless I’m sick as I am now. Currently, I’m going from five hours in one night to nine hours the next. That’s how I know I’m sick. It’s actually one thing I like about being sick–I actually get a long chunk of sleep without disturbance. Other than that, though, it pretty much sucks.


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Being challenged physically and emotionally

Day three or four of waking up with a migraine. I’m lucky in that I can stand reading and writing when I have a migraine, but I have to keep all the lights off and any sound I have on low. Even then, I have a low level thumping in my brain and a general queasiness. Still, I consider myself very fortunate that I can function at all when I have a migraine; I know many people can’t. I just went to the store to stock up for Snowmaggedon (current prediction 7 to 12 inches, but it’s been all over the place), and I’m exhausted. That’s the downside to trying to operate while migraining–it takes everything out of me. Again, I’m lucky that I can function at all, but now I’m down for the rest of the day.

Is this my life? For the past few years, I feel as I’ve been operating at 75% or less* more often than not. I have a few days or weeks of feeling good, and then it all comes crashing down around me again. I know I need to get a thorough slate of tests, but I’m just…so tired. Going to the doctor is an ordeal for me in the best of times, which this is not. Why? For a plethora of reasons. Let’s start with the fact that I had thyroid troubles since I was young. I was hyperthyroid, though I didn’t know it at the time. I just new I was hot and cranky and couldn’t sleep. There were other reasons for it, of course, but the big one was discovering I had Graves’ disease when I was a tweener. Back then, it wasn’t really well understood (this was in the mid-eighties), and they treated it by shoving pills down my throat. I’m not sure what they were, exactly, but I was taking 27 pills a day. Nine pills three times a day. That didn’t work because my whatever levels were extraordinarily high. They decided they needed to go to the nuclear option (literally?) of radiation. They were quite forthright about the fact that they were giving me their best estimate, but that radiation wasn’t precise. Most likely, they were going to give me too much and destroy my thyroid. This is exactly what happened, and now I have to take a pill every day for the rest of my life.

During that time and thereafter, I had to get my blood drawn quite often. It was on a monthly basis for a while, and I have terrible veins. Again, this isn’t something I knew before I had to have my blood drawn so regularly, but I came away from it quite wary of anyone poking me with a needle (except my tattoo artist). I have many negative memories of that time, including the (male) nurse who insisted he could find my vein from inside my arm and kept wiggling it. It hurt like a motherfucker until I wanted to punch him. He kept saying he wanted to not poke me again (to prevent further pain), but at that point, I would have welcomed a thousand extra pricks. I mentioned that he’s male because the other time I had a really difficult poker was after I was in a car accident. The person doing the MRI was a man, and he was pissed that I hadn’t been poked already before I got to him. He was grumbling the whole time he poked me, and I ended up bruised and sore.

Side note: I am keloid. This is yet another thing I learned through experience. This means that I scar twice as bad as other people, and any time I got my blood drawn, I ended up with a massive bruise that lasted several days if not a week. I still have to get my blood drawn every year, and I tell the phlebotomist to use a butterfly needle and take it from the back of my hand. I don’t know when I learned this was a thing, but when I did, it was a life-changer. I remember a feeling of awe as my blood flowed with ease from the back of my hand. And, the prick was nothing–I barely felt it at all. I still have a few phlebotomists who insist on doing it the old-fashioned way first, but they always come around to the butterfly needle in the hand trick.


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Finding my way home

Today is gray and drizzling out, and we need the rain. I like gloomy weather, but it doesn’t do much for my depression. Which I still have right now. It’s not as bad as it was on Friday, but it’s still (ma)lingering. Friday was the worst I’d had in quite some time, and it freaked me out. I could barely get through the one day, so how the hell did I used to do this on the daily? I passed much of my twenties in this fashion, and I’m amazed I made it to the other side. There were days when I considered it an accomplishment that I brushed my teeth. That’s how I felt on Friday. I struggled to get anything done, and I’m feeling it a bit today. The last few days, it’s been difficult to get my writing done. I’d write a sentence or two, then stopped. My head felt heavy, and my eyelids kept closing against my will.

Today, I’ve had to push myself to get my shit together. My taiji routine should take a half hour to forty minutes. I’ve stretched it to ninety minutes before by reading my phone as I was stretching. Today, since I wanted to go to Cubs afterwards, I managed to do it in forty minutes. My routine now consists of 10 minutes of stretching, 10 minutes of warm-ups, 10-15 minutes of weapons, 5 minutes of Solo Form, 10 more minutes of stretching. As I was doing my morning routine, I thought, “I don’t have to go to Cubs. I can go tomorrow.” This is one of the more insidious aspects of my depression–I can talk myself out of doing anything. Now, granted, I didn’t *have* to go to Cubs today, but it would have been a lean day if I hadn’t. Nothing wrong with a lean day, but I probably wouldn’t feel like going tomorrow, either. I made myself go today, and now, I can eat fairly well (given that I don’t cook).

I’ve been exhausted since my parents left. I can barely keep my eyes open, and all I want to do is sleep. Yet, when I try to sleep, I can’t. This is per yooz for me, though. I can be falling asleep every minute of the day, and then when I actually go to bed, I’m wide awake. I used to get frustrated about it, but I’ve accepted it as a way of life. My weighted sleep mask has been a god-send for keeping me asleep (except for the bizarre fact that it doesn’t have a fastener, but merely a slit to pull one end through, so it falls off. I should sew a button on or something, but, that’s probably not going to happen), but it doesn’t help me actually fall asleep.

I’m really tired. So tired that my brain is refusing to brain. So, for today, I’m shutting it down. Here’s Vienna Teng’s Lullaby For a Stormy Night. I may need to take a nap.

 

I got my weapons on my mind

Let’s talk weapons. Not the gun kind that has been making the news with distressing frequency, but the kind that doesn’t shoot projectiles at a high velocity. We’re talking swords, sabres, canes, and fans. We’re also talking escrima sticks and karambits. I mentioned this before, but I want to delve more into it.

I never wanted to try weapons when I first started taiji. While I was all about the martial arts application, I thought weapons were…uncivilized. More than that, they scared me. I was a ball of rage at that time, and I felt if I did weapons, I would just beat the shit out of everyone with said weapons. It wasn’t rational, but it was how I felt. I kept a tight rein on my anger, but when I slipped, it exploded all over the place.

I’ve told this story a million times, but I fobbed off my teacher every time she brought up weapons for an uncomfortable amount of time. It was only when she put a wooden sword into my hand that I realized what the fuck I had been missing. The second I closed my fingers over the hilt of the sword, I knew this was what I was meant to do. It felt like an extension of my arm, and I bought my stainless steel sword pretty soon after.

I would like to say that I practiced diligently once I started learning the Sword Form, but this isn’t a fairy tale, and I didn’t experience a radical personality change. I still dragged my feet, but I *did* enjoy learning the Sword Form more than I did the Solo Form. I learned it fairly quickly, and I loved every minute of it. When I was learning the Solo Form, there were several times I questioned what the fuck I was doing and why the hell I was doing this thing called taiji? I don’t mind saying (and my teacher doesn’t mind hearing) that I resented the hell out of taiji, and one of the reasons I went to more than one class a week is because I didn’t practice at home at all.

Side Note: I have a new classmate who is challenging to me for many reasons. The one I’m going to focus on this right now is because she’s so gung-ho about taiji, especially weapons. I am the weapons person in my class, and it’s a poke to my ego to see her learning them before knowing the whole Solo Form. Back when I started taiji, my teacher was told by her teacher that weapons could not be taught until after the Solo Form. That is no longer the case, and while I think it’s a good change, it’s hard for me not to feel resentful. I know I sound very much ‘back in my day’ about it, but it doesn’t help to hide it. I try not to have attitude around her, but it’s difficult.

Anyway, after the Sword Form came the Sabre Form, and that was a rocky road. It was nothing like the Sword Form, which shocked the hell out of me. Ignorant me thought, “Hey, it’s just a slightly bigger sword. It should be a snap.” It was not a snap. Not a snap at all. It was the opposite of a snap, and it upset me. There are very few things I’m proud of when it comes to myself, and one of them is that I learn things quickly*. Whereas the sword instantly felt at home in my hand, the sabre was just…dead wood. It never came alive. It never sang to me. It never thrummed with excitement, and I hated it.

I can say that now because I am past that hate and the resentment. Way past it, but I’ll get to that in a second.


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Falling in love…with my sabre

The first time I learned the Sabre Form, I was high off learning the Sword Form, which is my favorite thing in the world. Well, at least in the top three. The sword was like an extension of my hand, and I naively expected the sabre would be the same. I mean, it’s a sword, but bigger, amirite? I dove in with enthusiasm, only to find it wasn’t the same. At all.

I struggled with it. I can admit it now. The sabre felt clunky and unwieldy in my hand, and I was instantly disappointed. Let me tell you one of my biggest flaws: I will quit something that I am not good at in a heartbeat. I don’t like to look stupid, and I get embarrassed beyond all measure when I’m flailing about. There is also some childhood background on this. My parents were typical Asian parents in that they were way more apt to harp on my mistakes than to praise me for something well done. An example. I graduated magna cum laude from college. Not bad, right? My mom immediately says, “If you had done better in your first semester, you would have been summa.” Years later, when I confronted her about it, she denied saying it. Then, she added if she *had* said it, she meant it to comfort me in case I was upset about not making summa.

Well I wasn’t until you mentioned it, Mom, but I am now, thanks! That’s my mom, though. She has selective memory (putting a rosy tint on everything), and she allows her anxiety to overcome her common sense. I actually understand the latter because I have anxiety as well. I just learned to keep most of it to myself.

Anyway, I didn’t feel as if I couldn’t do the Sabre Form. One of my assets (which is also a flaw) is that I learn things really quickly. (That’s one reason I give up easily if I don’t catch on right away. Like badminton. It’s also one reason video games have been good to me. All the games I really like are ones that had steep learning curves.) The first time with the sabre, I learned the postures, now movements, easily. There are six rows, and we got to the end of the fourth row. I didn’t sweat the postures, but I felt as if I were doing them by rote.

The sabre never felt alive in my hand–it felt like dead wood. With the sword, I felt as if I were dancing with a partner. Every cell in my body would sing as I moved it around. Or let it guide me around. My teacher was asked by one of her classmates about if the sword should lead or the person should lead the sword (in the context of a certain movement). Her response was that there is a movement called ‘Step Forward to Unite With the Sword’. It’s in the beginning of the form, and she explained it’s meant to bring the two together so they work as one. Her classmate did not appreciate the response, but I did. It neatly summed up my feelings for the sword, and it was sorely lacking with the sabre. Granted, that movement isn’t in the sabre, but I still wanted it to feel the same way.

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I am done with sleep

My sleep has been shit.

I say this as if it’s news, but it’s not really. My sleep has been shit all my life for varying reasons. I had gotten into a semi-regular sleeping habit recently of going to bed by 2 am and getting up around 8:30*. Then, I got sick again as is my wont and my sleep schedule got all fucked up again. The sleep time started getting pushed back further and further until I found myself going to bed at 5 a.m. Then, two days ago, I could not stay up past 11:30 p.m. I crashed, but kept waking up every few hours. I finally got up at 6:30 a.m. or so, and I felt shittier than if I had gone to bed at my regular time.

If I could have one wish come true, it would be that I could get a solid eight hours of sleep a night. That I could sleep without tossing and turning for a half hour first. That I wouldn’t wake up in the middle of the night, my heart pounding uncomfortably fast. That I wouldn’t have nightmares, or more recently, anxiety dreams. That Shadow wouldn’t be in my face howling when I woke up in the morning/afternoon. That I would feel actually rested when I woke up. That my immediate response wouldn’t be, “God, I wish I could sleep forever.”

Some of that has to do with depression, of course. I don’t want to be alive, and that makes it harder to get up and go about my day. There was a program on MPR (or perhaps NPR) about suicide and how to talk to someone with suicidal ideation. The doctor said you had to first find out why the person was feeling suicidal. She mentioned there was a difference between someone who coped with the thoughts on a daily basis and someone who might have those feelings in response to a bad situation. She said in the former, it doesn’t help to tell them it’s going to be ok or to look at the bright side. She said it made them feel more isolated and as if nobody understood them. I wanted to shout an ‘amen’ from the rafters because fuck that bullshit.


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