Underneath my yellow skin

Mental health and boundaries

no trespassing!

In American psychology, they talk about healthy boundaries and how to delineate them. In theory, it all sounds good. In reality, it’s not as clear cut as it appears. Maybe it’s because I have immigrant parents (Taiwanese), but it’s not as easy as it’s portrayed. I mentioned  in the last post how Asian boundaries are much softer than American ones are. It’s difficult for me because I’m at least 90% American, but the 10% that is Taiwanese is really, really, really persistent. In addition, my family is…dysfunctional at best when it comes to boundary. A small example.

I am not a morning person. At all. I used to go to bed at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. and get up at noon or 1 p.m. I’ve been trying to push it back to a more normal type because, well, I’m not exactly sure why. I think maybe because I’m a such a freak, and it’s a way of being more ‘normal’. In addition, I was sick a few months ago, and I could not stay up past midnight. I vowed to stick to it, but I have not. I haven’t gone all the way back to six in the morning, but it’s definitely not on the bright side of midnight. It’s been one or two before my parents came for their yearly visit–and now it’s creeping back again. Two, three, and sometimes four.

The worst part is that my father’s sleep schedule is all over the place, and I am not happy about it. He goes to bed around nine or ten, then he wakes up at three or four in the morning, which means he’s awake when I’m awake. I know that part of the reason I’m going to bed later is because I need my personal time. I need time when I don’t have to brace myself for someone talking to me at any moment of the day. It’s Skinner all over again. Briefly, if something happens consistently, then you expect it. So, if they were to talk to me, say, at the top of every hour, I would know when it was going to happen. Of course, on the converse side, if they never talked to me (my dream), then I wouldn’t have to be tense at all. But, the worst is that I never know when it’s going to come. It could be ten times an hour, or it might be at the end of the third hour.

I had to tell my mom yesterday that I needed a half hour in the morning to do my routine before she and my father dove straight into pelting me with questions or telling me irrelevant information that was of no interest to me. I’ve told her before, but she has selective memory. To be fair, she has a bad memory. To be unfair, it’s worse when she doesn’t care to remember something. I mean, we all have that problem, really.

Side note: She was complaining the other night about how she was saying something to my father about a a headache* she was having, and he jumped into say something about his headache, and she told him to keep the attention on her. he got mad (of course) and said he was going to say what worked for him. She then said with a straight face that he always turned everything back to himself. I pointed out that she did that as well. She’d ask how I was, and I’d say I had, say, a cold. She would then veered off that she had had a bad cold for weeks and in detail for fifteen minutes. She argued, but then carefully thanked me for pointing it out. And I’m sure she promptly forgot it.

Where was I? Oh, yes, boundaries. I was in the bathroom yesterday morning going to the bathroom, brushing my teeth, and doing my leg lifts. My mom knocked to ask me…I can’t even remember because it was so unimportant. Oh, right. She wanted to know where my cousin whom we met up with a few days ago taught. Which college. Seriously? That couldn’t wait fifteen minutes? Of course it couldn’t because it was my father who wanted to know, and when he wanted something, she hurries to do his bidding. I know why she does it. It’s because he’s extremely unpleasant when he doesn’t get his way. As in shouting at her or giving her the silent treatment for hours, and I clearly remember him doing that in my childhood. We could not tell my father this, that, or the other thing because it might upset him.

I understand why she is doing it, but it doesn’t make me feel any better. Basically, because he’s such an unmitigated horror when he’s upset, she’s willing to upset me as the lesser of two evils. Because I’m the marginally more reasonable one. It’s the Missing Stairs problem combined with the ‘But faaaaaaamily’ problem with a unhealthy dose of pretending creepy Uncle Jimmy isn’t creepy. Many of the times when people write into advice columns about family problems, it’s a version of, “My brother gets drunk every family holiday, hits the children, and hits on all the women in the family. I call him out on it, and I’m considered the troublemaker.” Captain Awkward had a good point that everyone in the family knows the real troublemaker (in the fictitious example above, the brother) won’t change and might possibly react with violence, so to ‘keep the peace’, they tackle the person who doesn’t seem like rage personified.

It’s sad that I am the ‘sane’ one in my family. Or at least in comparison with my father. But it’s painful to know that my boundaries don’t matter to my mother if they are in contrast with the what my father wants. Another example is temperature. As many of you know, I hate heat. It’s not an emotional thing (though it elicits rage in me); it’s physical. My parents live in Taiwan. It’s fucking hot. My father insists on having the air set at 85 there, which is not tenable for me. We’ve had this argument before, and my mother started it by saying I wasn’t going to like the request. Note, my father wasn’t the one to ask, though he was the one with a bigger issue. My mom is not as cold-sensitive as he is, but she is his lackey who must do his bidding.

I have the thermometer set at 78. That is very high in the States. Many people have it set for 75 or less. I even had one person tell me she had hers set at 62. 62! In the winter, the opposite problem exists. I have the heater set at 62 during the day and 60 at night. The one time my father was here during the winter, I begrudgingly moved the heater up to 65, but I was not budging on 78 for the AC. My mom asked if I could turn it up one degree, but I knew that was just the crack in the door. I refused, and later, my father came to talk about it. When I wouldn’t do it, he got mad and shouted that the rest of the world is becoming more energy-conscious or some such bullshit. I said that in the US, 78 meant the AC went on five or six times in the summer. In addition, there was no talk of energy-consciousness when they wanted the heater on more frequently. Thirdly, I don’t have kids. I’ve done my bit for the world, thank you very much.**

The thing that really annoyed me about the temperature debacle is the way my mom framed it. She’s like, he’s old, blah, blah, blah, and how terrible it is for him. When she talked about me and the cold (and this came up at my brother and nephew’s co-birthday celebration last night), her implication was that it was something frivolous. She and my father’s sensitivity to the cold is SERIOUS! But my sensitivity to the heat? Trivial. I told her I knew she and my father thought I was being selfish, but it wasn’t a want on my part, either. She blustered that she didn’t think that, but I know it’s not true. Or rather, they think it’s a preference when it’s not. My father still thinks I should put on a coat when he’s cold.

Back to the morning thing. I made it clear yesterday that unless it was an emergency, that I needed the half hour in the morning when I first wake up. Honestly, I need more than that, but I at least want to make it through my taiji without being talked at. This morning, I went to feed Shadow and smoke before doing my taiji (which is part of my routine), and my mother started asking me something about her computer. One question, fine as I hadn’t started, but I should have known. It’s never just one question. She kept talking at me, and I reminded her of what I had told her YESTERDAY. I also went downstairs to make it harder to access me, though that did not stop my father the last time I scuttled away.

It’s hard to enforce boundaries when I’m used to having them trampled. I realized that one reason I react so defensively is because I know if I give an inch, a hundred miles will be taken. Whenever I try to set a boundary with my mother, she explains herself around it and why whatever she wants is perfectly reasonable. My father just looks at me blankly and doesn’t say anything. Did he hear me? Who knows. He refuses to wear his hearing aid at home. Did he understand what I had said? Who knows. His mental processes are no longer on lock, and he has had a habit all his life to ignore whatever he doesn’t wish to acknowledge. He doesn’t interact like a normal person. He doesn’t give any of the social cues that one does to indicate one is listening. It’s frustrating as hell.

One week down. Three to go. We’re in one minute at a time territory.




*Or backache. Or shoulder issues. I don’t remember because that’s my selective memory.

**That’s a joke, kind of. My thoughts on conservation are not the point of this post.

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