Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Family

Family dysfunction is not a good function

Family dysfunction has been on my mind lately because it’s the one thing that has gotten worse since my medical trauma. Well. Let me restate that, but in a minute. The only lasting injury I’ve suffered from my medical trauma is a slight issue with short-term memory. It’s not a big deal as I can take notes to shore up the gaps. When I first got out of the hospital, I had marked short-term memory issues, but they’ve dissipated in the following months.

But with my parents, well, that’s another story. Part of the issue is that I’m not willing to shine them on as I once was. I shouldn’t say not willing because it’s more not able than not willing. I open my mouth to say the platitude, but I just can’t force it out. All the anger I have built up inside surges into my throat and I have to work hard not to let it out. There is always a thin edge to my voice when I’m talking to them (or thick, depending on how well I can hide it).

Here’s the issue. My father is getting worse. I think it’s partly because of his fear about COVID (which is rising rapidly in Taiwan). They went from no cases in 10 months to nearly 7,000 cases in one day. And if one of them gets it, the one who has it has to be isolated in the hospital or a hotel by themselves. Which would be terrible because my father cannot live on his own.

Side Note: That is one of my frustrations with his pontifications. He likes to talk all this big shit when he can’t live on his own. He used to be the president of a research company, so it’s not that weird that he has an overinflated opinion of himself. Plus, he had a secretary who did everything for him while he was president, including printing out his emails and putting them on his desk for him to read. And my mom does everything for him at home. He’s a paper tiger who thinks he’s a lion.

In addition, when he dumps this shit on me, he doesn’t actually start the conversation. He just assumes I know what he’s been thinking about and continues a train of thought. So, for example, last night, he started talking about these two people he knew who were doing some kind of business. They may or may not needed an editor, but he couldn’t say for sure because he never asked them, but they did do things in English, but he wasn’t sure how they did it, but one of them, it might have been private, so he didn’t know how to approach them about it because they might consider it privileged information…then he started looping with the same information. Mind you, he never once mentioned why he had brought all this up in the first place. Yes, I could intuit it, but still. He never once said clearly that he was suggesting I edit for them–and again, he hadn’t even talked to them about it, yet!

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Hearing the unsaid

I love my stories (advice columns). One reason is because there is so much that is not being said. Most people write a couple hundred words and leave it at that. I think Alison Green from Ask A Manager has a limit of 800 words (though I could be pulling that number out of thin air). She’s received some fairly meaty letters and even then, there are things that are not being said. I’ve been rereading old letters and one that has stuck in my brain is from 2016. It’s not that long being only three short paragraphs.

It starts out with an eyebrow-raiser when they  say: I applied for the job of my dreams, no, the job of my life — the best job you can ever have in your wildest dreams!  Then they go on to say that they got rejected and became overly eager in emailing the hiring manager. They saw more positions on Craigslist and want to apply.

Sounds fine, right? Again, the starter was wince-inducing, but I just chalked it down to a fresh-out-of-college grad who is looking for their first job. The second paragraph sees them spouting a bunch of pop psych babble about how they ‘need to do this for myself’. They say they must just take charge’ and ‘step outside my comfort zone’. This is firmly in cringe territory and I started to suspect that it was more than just a young and naive job seeker. They ask what they should say and do. Then, they say, “As a side note, the HR manager told me I was no longer allowed to email the lady I was emailing, and if I do, they will take immediate action and may call the proper authorities.”

After dropping that bombshell as an aside!, they ask whether they should call or visit in person or or email (the HR manager, who is apparently not the ‘lady’ he’s been emailing) or what in the third paragraph.

The fact that they included that bombshell as an aside is mindboggling. The commentariat agreed that that aside was doing a lot of heavy lifting in that paragraph. And the fact that they thought it was just an aside and didn’t actually list what they had done to raise the alarm like that!

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First do no harm

Mother’s Day brings up many complex feelings for me. I try to find the most anodyne and bland card I can find, one that is filled with platitudes. One that has flowers or animals or something equally generic. I pick out some Muzak, scribble a nice note in it, then email it to my mother. I do the same on Father’s Day for my father before calling it a day. I dread picking out a card and I try to do it as quickly as possible.

I know it’s just a meaningless card on a made-up day. I know that there’s no reason to put much energy into it or emotion around it. But, it just reminds me of the fractured family I exist in and how exceptionally dysfunctional we are. I Zoomed with my parents and my brother earlier tonight. My brother has decided that the best way to deal with my parents is to feed them a steady stream of trivial tidbits. This time, he showed them a bunch of pictures he had taken on his previous two trips to Taiwan (I went on one of them) , and I got bored about ten minutes in. Ten more minutes later, he mentioned that I looked really interested (sarcastically, but it’s surprising that he noticed), which made me snap that there were so many pictures. I get what he’s trying to do, but he was dragging it out for far too long. I should have just used my words and said something, but I revert to a petulant child when I’m around my parents.

I can’t forget what I discovered about our family during my health crisis–and how deep the dysfunction runs. Everything that we had all shoved to the very back of the closet came bursting out during my medical trauma, and I can’t unknow that.

Before the Zoom call, my mother called me to thank me for the card. My father mentioned something about a German study saying you should gargle with warm salt water to prevent COVID. Which, I mean….I didn’t even have to Google it to know that wasn’t true. I Googled it, anyway, and, yeah, that’s a lie. You will not be surprised to find out that there is no such study that says any such thing.

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The refinement of me by the decade

I’ve had many big realizations throughout my life. They started when I was in my twenties and have continued throughout my fifties. Actually, they started when I was a kid, but they were more incoherent back then. And more in the vein of realizing what I didn’t want rather than what I did want–which is very much my M.O. Such as not liking dolls. I rarely played with them and I especially did not like the realistic crying, pooping, eating ones. I had a few Barbies (plus a Dorothy Hamill doll and a Oscar Goldman from The Six Million Dollar Man/The Bionic Woman). I hacked the hair of my Barbies and used black shoe polish to make their hair darker. I had them have sex with each other, which was  my extent of playing with dolls. I much preferred plushies which I could squoosh and cuddle.

I was taught many sexist beliefs by my parents throughout my childhood. One, that my main purpose was to marry and have children. Yes, I had to go to college and have a career, but that was a distant second to the whole breeding bit.

Side Note: My niece decided to not go straight to college after graduating high school. My mom wanted me to talk to her and convince her to go because we’re close. First of all, that’s my mother who saw her maybe once a year and had no day-to-day interaction with her. Second, I really resented being made to feel like I had to go to college right after high school, so, no, I wasn’t going to do that.

This was several years ago. This year, my nephew, her brother, is a senior in high school. He does not want to go to college because he thinks he’s too smart for it. Which is funny, but beside the point. My mom told me she emailed him with all the reasons why he should go to college, but he didn’t answer. Which, of course he wouldn’t. He has even less a connection with her than my niece does and what a boundary break that email is. And it shows her narcissism that she thought this was a reasonable thing to do.

Anyway, I realized when I was in my early twenties that I was Asian and that racism existed. That was followed quickly by the discovery that sexism was a thing. Then, that I did not want to have kids. Which is still the best decision of my life. Then, I realized I was bi, but put that on the shelf because, frankly, I could not deal with biphobia as well as sexism and racism.

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You’re the inspiration–aaaaaargh no!

When I was in the hospital, so many of people on my medical team had to comment as to how I was a miracle. When I got out of the hospital, any time I talked to medical personnel, the phrase, “You’re a miracle!” was pretty inevitable. One of the nurse aides who came to my house once a week to check on me had to take a basic inventory for me because she couldn’t find it on her app. I told her what happened to me and she started ticking things off on her chest list. I was half-listening when I heard, “And you had heart surgery.” Wait, what? No. I hastened to correct her that I hadn’t had any surgery at all, and she set down her phone so she could look at me in shock. She placed a hand on my arm and said, “You are literally a walking miracle.”

I was talking to my brother last night about this and I still couldn’t quite grasp what had happened to me. He said, “You are incredibly lucky to be alive. You should be dead.” Which, yes, it’s true, but how do you really internalize it? I call my life now my bonus days and September 3rd is my re-birthday. I am much better psychologically since that day than I’ve ever been. I’m cute AF and my body is STRONK. The anxiety that used to flow through my brain has cut down by three quarters. My depression is almost gone. I get eight hours of sleep a night rather than 6 1/2, and I may wake up once rather than three or four times, but I have also slept through the night as well. More often than not, I sleep a solid eight hours, which is unheard of for me.

I started resenting being told I was a miracle. I understood why everyone thought that, but I was still just me. I still had to live my life and go on with it. My mom got it into her head that I had to write a screenplay and get my life made into a movie because it would be so inspiring for other people. Now, I’m not objecting to having my life be a movie, but something about the way she said it rubbed me the wrong way. Like she was fetishizing what happened to me, which made me uneasy. I should have just smiled and nodded (which is what I tell myself every time I talk to my parents), but it’s hard not to want to straighten the record when talking to her. I want to be seen for who I am–not just as a symbol.

Besides, I don’t see how I’m an inspiration. Someone who is a quadriplegic and works hard so they can walk again? That’s inspiring. Or someone who is homeless because they’re gay and their family didn’t want them any longer and managed to become the president of their own nonprofit? 100% inspirational. I can see finding  something someone did inspiring. But, I didn’t do anything. I’m not being falsely modest here. You know what I did? I called 9-1-1 and unlocked the front door. That’s the extent of my involvement. I spent the next week unconscious and was high as balls when I woke up. I was scared, discombobulated, and ready to fight someone. I had no idea who, but I was sure someone needed fighting. Then I spent the next few days getting tested and regaining my strength before I was released a week after I woke up. I went home and resumed my life.

That’s it. There was nothing miraculous about what I did. I think that’s my biggest gripe with being told I’m miraculous/inspiration–I didn’t do anything to earn it. So, again, I get why my story is miraculous and why it might be inspirational to some people. But, for me, inspiration means there’s something I can take away from a story and do myself. What can someone take from my story? Have walking non-COVID-related pneumonia, two cardiac arrests, and a stroke? Hope you don’t suffer any side effects from all of the above? Not losing any ability to talk, walk, or type? None of that is actionable!

I would love t o be able to tell people that so much of what we worry about on a daily basis is just meaningless. I would especially like to tell women that your body is fucking amazing and you are beautiful just as you are. But, I know how that sounds–facile and flippant. Also Pollyannaish. And we don’t live in a vacuum, sadly. We lived in a society that does judge fat people harshly, especially women. But what if we all just did not give a shit? If we laughed in the face of fatphobia (whenever it’s safe to do so)?

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Getting meta with it

Hi, I’m a writer. I have been a writer since I wsa seven. I have written poetry, short stories, novels, novellas, screenplays, and more experimental works. I read House of Leaves back in the day (did not care for it) and really dug the idea of it. I also read other experimental authors, less famous and female, queer, of color, etc. I like the fresh perspectives, but it’s not for me. I will say that I was turned off poetry because it seemed so antiquated and stale. Plus, I had a teacher who told me I had to capitalize and punctuate (never heard of e. e. cummings, apparently), must have a title (I just used the first sentence of each poem as the title), but at least she didn’t say I had to rhyme. It was a terrible class, though, and nothing Advanced or Creative about it.

I’ve read books about writing and suggestions from authors about how to write. The most common are tips such as write at the same time every day, write first thing in the morning, and have an outline. In fact, the latter is one of the most consistent pieces of advice I see given about. Make an outline. You have to have an outline. Outline all day long.

Now, I want to make it very clear that I am not anti-outline. If it works for you, have at it! I’m sure it’s helpful for many writers in part because it’s given so frequently as the number one tip. So there has to be some value in it. What I AM saying is that I don’t use outlines. Ever. I don’t find them useful and in fact, I find them restrictive.

Here’s the thing. I always have scenes racing through my brain. Before my medical trauma, it went like this. I would  get a germ of an idea. Say different species of beings (not necessarily aliens) who live in our world and interact with humans. They are superior to humans, but are treated as lesser. I really wanted to do a contemporary urban fantasy (NOT sci-fi) murder mystery. The main character was an Asiatic-looking creature who was part of the patrol for her species. And then it was revealed over time that many nefarious things were happening at the agency, oh, and it’s a trilogy. A very loooooong trilogy. But it started with a germ of an idea that festered and simmered in my brain for weeks.

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Hard truths about ‘but faaaaaaamily!’

In my last post, I talked some more about the dysfunction within my family. I mentioned at the end of the post that I wanted to talk about how being constantly abused changes you as a person–and not in a good way. I have been reading several posts on Ask A Manager about abusive behavior (in a relationship that spills over into work life) and a few on Captain Awkward as well. In one of them, someone said they hated their mother for not leaving their abusive father (the commenter’s  father). I think it was Captain Awkward because that is more the ethos of that site than of Ask A Manager, but other people quickly chimed in to agree. Each of them recounted the damage they had suffered in their childhood because their mothers rationalized staying by saying it was for the children.

To give my mother credit, she never used that as an excuse. In her case, it was religion (fundie Christianity) and culture (Taiwanese) that made divorce verboten for her. I started begging her to divorce my father when I was eleven (when she forced me into a confidante role), but that was just unthinkable. I gave up at some point, but it was still what I truly believed in my heart.

I learned how to tiptoe around my father when he was home and in a mood. Meaning, when he was angry at someone (usually my mother, but not always) and refused to talk to anyone. It wasn’t just that he would sit quietly. Oh, no. He made it VERY clear that he was UPSET by pointedly being silent AT everyone around him. You know how when a cat is mad at you, it will sit a few feet away from you with its back to you? An if its really mad at you, it will deliberately point its ear back towards you? At least, my cat does that to clearly express his displeasure. That’s my father when he’s mad. He’s scrupulously silent AT you. If you try to talk to him, he will pointedly ignore you and not say anything.

Here’s the thing. I’ve done it myself. The silent treatment, I mean. When I’m furious enough, I can’t say anything nice so I keep my mouth shut. And I go as still as a stone. I know I look like a statue. It’s not something I’m proud of; it’s what
I do, though.  I learned it from my father and I still do it, but only around them. Because abuse is a gift that keeps on giving.

While they were here, there were a few really bad fights that started with my father being angry at my mother for some reason or another. He is a narcissist who is edging into dementia and is exhibiting paranoid behavior (he thinks my mother, my brother, and I are trying to steal all his money). He has called me by my niece’s name and has forgotten who I am. Same with my brother (thinking he was my mother’s brother). It doesn’t help that my mother indulges his paranoia and tries to rope me in as well. Such as trying to find a document he swears he put in a certain place, but it wasn’t there. My mother spent hours looking for it because he would be unpleasant to her if she didn’t. But, I contended that he was equally unpleasant when she gave in and it only fed his delusions.

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We are *sigh* family

I’m back with more on that family dysfunction tip. I left off the last post with the amusing anecdote about how my father had told me after my return from the hospital that I didn’t know how hard it had been for him and my mother. As I said in that post, it surely was difficult for them; I’m not disputing that. But, I will 100% guarantee that as difficult as it was for them it was that much more difficult for me. I have said that I felt for my friends because they had to deal with everything while I just laid in bed, unconscious, but that doesn’t negate the physical carnage the trauma inflicted upon me. I can tell you with absolute certainty that it was harder on me than it was on my father. He got mad when I pointed out that I had been there and that what he went through did not compare to what I went through. He got upset at that, but it’s fucking true. More to the point, do not emote at the person who went through the experience and expect them to be sympathetic to you. That’s asking too much.

So I’ve outlined all the ways in which life has been better since the medical trauma. Better body image (better self-esteem in general), a better appreciation of life, less depression and anxiety, etc. I have less time for bullshit and am more ‘get to the point’ in general. I can affirm the good decisions I’ve made in my life (such as choosing not to have children) and be happy that I’m in a fairly comfortable place. I am tender towards my body after all it’s done for me, and I no longer hate my looks with a passion. In fact, I’m downright cocky in feeling that I am cute AF.

But when it comes to family, that’s the sticking point. I love my brother and appreciate him taking charge while I was in the hospital. He did what needed to be done without complaint or question. He met with doctors, wrote daily entries on the Caring Bridge website, connected an unconscious me with my family and friends, and saw me twice nearly every day while simultaneously taking care of his family and his business. He was the one who had to make the decisions concerning what to do with me, medically. He talked to my medical team every day, and he was the one who had to absorb what was happening to me. He was the one who had to watch me lie in a hospital bed, unconscious, with tubes hooked up to me (including a ventilator).

The story that  I will never forget (that he told me) is that he had a talk with my medical team about pulling the plug. He was thinking it over, taking into account what my parents wanted to do (my father: keep me alive at all costs. My mother: waffling because she knew I would not want that), what he knew I would want him to do (pull the plug if there was no chance of me coming back intact), and what he felt about it himself (not sure). As he was thinking about it and fumbling with what to do, the hospital called him to tell him that I had woken up.

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More lessons I’ve learned

There are many lessons I’ve learned from my medical trauma. I mentioned some of them in my previous post and I want to expand on the topic in this one. When I started that post, my intent was to talk about my family dysfunction, but I got caught up in other things.

I would never wish what happened to me on anyone. It was terrifying, confusing, and messed with me on many levels. However, ultimately, I believe it was a net positive for me. Why? Let me count the ways. One, it cleared up the is there an afterlife question for me (no). Two, it made all my body issues disappear. Three, it helped me see that life is short and that we really do only have one life. Er, maybe not so much that as I did die twice. Four, I’m cute AF! Five, I don’t have the patience for nitpicky bullshit. Six, I have a point of view that is unique and worth expressing. There are some other ones, but they’re similar to the ones I’ve stated.

I used to have low self-esteem. I thought I had to earn the right to live. I was disgusting, toxic, and bad for the planet. Yes, that’s what I earnestly believed for decades. I thought that it would be better if I was dead, but I didn’t have the courage to kill myself.  I’m not saying this was sane or logical, but it was the way my brain worked at the time. Therapy couldn’t shake the belief that I had to earn the right to live.

Taiji helped me start inching my way to a healthier outlook. I could go into a crowd without flinching, even if I still didn’t like it. I was more at ease with my body, even if  I still avoided looking in the mirror. I didn’t like the way I looked, but I didn’t hate it, either. I had reached a detente  with my body (and my face), which was the most I could hope.

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The lessons I’ve learned

It’s been almost eight months since that night. It’s something t hat is always in the back of my mind, if not the front. I don’t talk about it much, but it’s there. I was reading Ask A Manager (one of my stories) and there was a question about what to answer when someone asked why they were still wearing a mask. Ask A Manager’s response was to educate people because there’s still a goddamn pandemic going on. My immediate snap response in my head was, “I died twice last year–I would prefer not to due it a third time.” I have always had a morbid sense of humor; it’s only gotten more so since the medical trauma.

I am pleased that many of my lifelong issues have disappeared since then. First of all, how freaked out I was by the pandemic. Granted, this was before there was a vax and reasonable. I did not want to get COVID because I have a weak immune system with the tendency towards bronchial issues. I got bronchitis quite often and every winter, I had some kind of cough for several months. I was terrified of getting COVID and rarely went out because of that fear. I went to get my meds once a month and that was it. I had my Taiji classes online three times a week and had my groceries delivered to me.

When I woke up in the hospital, I did not have to wear a mask, obviously. Except when I was being transferred from room to room, which wasn’t that often. Everyone around me had a mask on, but I did not. I was tested for COVID when I was first admitted and did not have it. I DID have walking non-COVID-related pneumonia, which started the whole mess. This may sound weird, but having something that terrible and traumatic happen to me freed me from my pandemic-related anxiety. I hasten to say that I was vaxxed by that time (twice) so that did help in my assessment of my situation. But, my point is that I realized there was more to life (and death) than the pandemic.

Would I have wanted to go through what I did? Meaning walking non-COVID-related pneumonia, two cardiac arrests, and a stroke? Hell, no. It’s why I have some difficulty talking about it with people who struggle with, say, body image issues. I had those all my life. I hated my body for many reasons and spent most of my life studiously ignoring that I had a body. I hated it and would prefer to think that it didn’t exist. Taiji helped me become neutral about it, but that was the best I could do. And it was a conscious choice to deliberately work on not hating it. However, I still didn’t look in the mirror and I still didn’t like my body. I put up with it, like a long-term partner whom you did not love any longer, but were mostly comfortable with.

Then, the medical trauma happened as I mentioned above. A week of unconsciousness, followed by a week in the hospital while I was awake. One minute I wasn’t, and then the next minute, I was. I was scared, upset, and mad as hell when I woke up. I was angry and ready to fight. I didn’t know who needed fighting; I was just sure that someone did. I had a conversation with Ian the second day I was awake in which I rambled about being like the Dark Souls III ’80s video (staying true to my fandom even when I was drugged to the gills). “When you pick a fight with the devil, you better be stronger than hell.” I told him that I did it–twice–and I won twice!

I apologized to him later once I had myself under control for rambling on and on like that for hours. He laughed and said it was only two minutes and that he would have listened to me talk about anything because he was so grateful I was alive. Which, you know, I was, too. Profoundly so. I was grateful for the ice water in the hospital–repeatedly. Every day, I was thankful for the best goddamn ice water I’ve ever had.

My hospital stay was also when I completely got over my body issues. I had a team of 2-4 people watching me 24/7. No, they weren’t there every minute, but they could be there in five seconds with one press of a button. They took my vitals every four hours or so, which was the opposite of fun. But, understandable. I was hooked up to several monitors at all times. I had a shit tube literally hooked up to my ass. When I could totter off to the bathroom, I had aides literally wiping the shit from my ass.

I cannot tell you what a vulnerable position this is to be in. Being weak on my legs, shaking, as I walked to the bathroom. Having to press a button to have someone come in to wipe me. It could have been deeply humiliating, but it wasn’t. There was one guy who treated it like one of his chores that he wasn’t particularly fond of, but he was still fast and efficient about it. He wasn’t rude or disrespectful–just completely divorced from the process. He didn’t make me feel like a non-human, though, which is all I cared about. And I appreciated that he was really good at it.

All the rest of my aides were fantastic at taking care of me and making me feel like a human being. They were respectful and cheerful, warm and efficient. They kept my humanity in the forefront of their duties, which was much appreciated. I had no control over anything for the week I was in the hospital awake (and the week before, but I was unconscious then and didn’t care). They could have been nasty about it or even just disinterested, but no. They were engaged and respectful, warm and caring. Did they care about me, the person? Probably not. Did they care about me as their patient? Yes, they did.

Imagine waking up from a void, being scared and angry, not knowing where you are. Also, being drugged to the gills. Surrounded by a bunch of people you don’t know. That was my reality and having a bunch of professional, warm people doing a top-notch job of taking care of me ameliorated much of my discomfort.

Side Note: One of my favorite stories from that time is still talking to my heart doc three months after I was out of the hospital (for the second time). He mentioned for the second time that I had been funny when we met in the hospital (which I didn’t remember). I finally asked what I said that was so funny. He said that he had introduced himself and went through what happened to me as he always does because his patients don’t always remember. I interrupted him to ask if that meant I had died. He said, yes, and I said, “That’s so fucking cool!” which sounds exactly like me. He said it was hilarious, which relieved me because I’d rather be funny than offensive. But I can see how that might not be a reaction he was expecting.

That’s me, though. Morbid sense of humor that has only gotten more so since that incident. I died twice and came back twice. That’s bound to change my view on many things. I’m thrilled that I no longer have body issues. In fact, I have nothing but love for my body because of what it saw me through. My body took all that shit and acted like it was nothing. I now have nothing but mad respect for my body.

Damn. I was going to talk about family dysfunction, but I didn’t make it there. Oh well. Next post!