Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Family

Out on a limb

My brother is fearless. He has the mentality of ‘why not try?’ If something doesn’t work, he shrugs his shoulders and moves on. He rarely lets a failure bother him, and he takes what he has learn with him into his next venture. The downside to this is that sometimes, he wastes time, money, and effort in a project that he doesn’t take to completion, but it doesn’t bother him at all.

Now. Part of this is the  fact that he is a man and that means he has much more leeway in the two culture in which we live. Boys are heavily favored in Taiwanese culture, so much so that even he has noticed that my parents give his opinion more weight because he’s male (than mine, that of a lowly female (in their eyes). It’s one reason I have gender issues, which is not the point of this post). Ian commented that my mother would ask for my opinion, but then ask my brother without accepting mine. I actually think that’s more an anxiety thing as she’s done the opposite, too. She never accepts the first answer as correct on its own. But, yes, she does give more weight to what my brother says than to what I do.

I can’t tell you how much it means to me that my brother sees this happening, too. It’s one thing to realize it on my own, but it’s another thing to have back-up on my opinion. It’s easy for me to gaslight myself and say that they don’t mean it, it’s just their culture, etc., but when my brother says it out loud, it validates my feelings.

My mother is a Debbie Downer in general. Any idea you bring up to her, she immediately crushes down. K and I have talked about our respective upbringings. Her mom was of the mindset that everything would work out no matter what choice you made (which came with its own issues) whereas mine believed that you were fucked no matter what choice you make. Not that she would use the word fuck, but that’s her mentality. K’s mother always sees the bright side whereas my mother only sees darkness.

I take after my mother in that I can always see the flaws of something, but I’m getting better at realizing I don’t always have to bring it up. And I try to make it constructive and not just complaining. If I want to complain, I do it here!

When I told her I was bi, she asked me what’s next, animals? By the way, I have no idea how that became a thing. Going from same-gender relationships to fucking goats. When I told her I was getting a tattoo, well, let’s just say she voiced strong disapproval. The times when she doesn’t actively say she’s against whatever I’m doing, it’s clear in her tone of voice or her face. Oh, and when I told her I was practicing Taiji, she said it was a way to invite the devil to dance on my spine. And she was being earnestly sincere.

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My life is not a movie

About a month after I came home from the hospital, my mother said I should write a script based on my life. I dismissed the idea for many reasons, not the least because no one would care about an Asian queer/genderqueer person. She got angry and said I would be an inspiration to people, as if that meant I was obliged to do it. Which, come to think of it is pretty much the case for her. Martyred service.

It’s interesting because in Ask A Manager today, there are two questions about serving others (in a way). One is the term ‘servant leader’, which is an AGILE term, apparently, but for me, it’s an Evangelical Christian one. In addition, I don’t think ‘servant’ anything should be on a resume. It just invokes old-timey British period pieces, which is probably not what people want it to say. At any rate, there was too much diversity in opinion for people to use the term without checking to see if it’s a valid one in their field.

Side Note: Someone in the discussion was saying she didn’t think it was a dog whistle because she had never heard of the evangelical Christian version before. I nearly had an apoplectic fit reading that comment because that’s what a fucking dog whistle is. Something that can pass for normal to the uninitiated, but that makes a point to those in the know. I mean, what the fuck do they think a dog whistle is?

I am getting angry about it all over again. I know it’s a case of someone is wrong on the internet, but this is the actual definition of the term! For fuck’s sake. I can’t even. It just makes me agog. AGOG, I tell you!

The other question was about making a comment to a student that you ‘know’ has an eating disorder. But you’ve only known them for three days. Sigh. This is something that seems very counter-intuitive for empathetic people, but here’s the brutal truth–many times, doing the empathetic thing is for the empathizer, not the other person. I’m saying this as someone who is a huge empathizer. Oftentimes, it’s the distress of feeling bad that is the motivator to push forward and help someone else.

Eating disorders are really hard to heal from. I’ve dealt with anorexia twice (with a side helping of bulimia once), and I went from that to compulsive overeating. And, at a certain point, I didn’t do any of that, but I still had body issues. As I’ve detailed several times here, it was me dying and coming back to life (twice!) that got me over my body issues.

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Feeling blue about being a weirdo

I’m feeling blue today for a few reasons. One, there are flies in my kitchen that I can’t get rid of. Tiny black ones that I assume are fruit flies. This happens every summer, and it stresses me out. I’m trying to get rid of them, but they just keep coming. Me being a slob does not help, and I need to give the kitchen a good cleaning.

Side note: It doesn’t help that my mother suggested I clean my brother’s house and cook for him to help him out now that he’s single again. I laughed out loud because I don’t even do that for me (I have someone come in every other week to clean, and it’s mostly rice cooker and microwave for me), so why the hell would I do it for my brother?

She never would have suggested that if he weren’t a guy and I weren’t female-shaped. She has such regressive ideas about gender, and it’s not her fucking business, anyway, what I do or don’t do to help my brother. But that’s my mother for you–a psychologist with absolutely zero sense of boundaries.

It really got to me, though it shouldn’t have. I should have told her it was none of her business and to fuck off (in a more polite way), but instead, I told her I was his life coach and his emotional support, which, while true, is none of her business.

That’s the narcissist in her. She cannot believe that everything remotely related to her is not something she deserves to know. My relationship with my brother is none of her business, honestly, and she does not need to involve herself in it. I know it’s more of a Taiwanese culture thing to have a close family, but still. I reject the regressive gender roles, especially of a culture that is not my day-to-day one.

Honestly, this bullshit is one reason why I am questioning my gender. If this is part of being a woman (having to be a helpmeet for any male in the family/close to you), then I want no part of it. I should not be surprised as my parents have not updated their views in half a century, but that’s the optimist in me.

Side note: When I was in my early 20s, I called myself a cynical realist. A friend of mine said I was an optimist, which had me sputtering indignantly. He said, “Minna, you expect people to do the right thing, and then you’re disappointed when they don’t.” I opened my mouth to counter him, then had to shut it again because he was right.

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The maternal blues

My mom called me last night to talk about things. It was fine until she brought up my brother. It was his birthday yesterday, which is probably why she called me (after calling him). I’ve explained that my brother is not an emotions guy. Nor is he a talk with no purpose guy (unless an idea comes into his head that he wants to ruminate over). My mother wants something from him that he is not able to give, and she doesn’t help by pushing it.

For example. Her birthday is ten days before his. She called him on her birthday and said, “What day is it?” I cringed as she told me this (she was laughing as she did, which is her way of indicating she knows she’s out of line, but is going to do what she wants, anyway) because I knew what she wanted, and I knew she wasn’t going to get it. My brother said he didn’t know and she told him it was August 5th. Which, I think he knows is her birthday? I’m not sure. But he certainly doesn’t care. For whatever reason, my parents have taken to pestering him about my birthday as well, and I really hate that. I don’t celebrate my birthday, and I certainly don’t need him to be guilted into doing something for it.

But this is a big part of my mother–she has a rigid idea of what should and shouldn’t be in a FAMILY, and fifty years of being in our family hasn’t shaken her beliefs one whit. They are very traditional with the mother being the homemaker and the father being the money earner (though, weirdly, my father insisted that my mother work fulltime their whole marriage). My mother claimed she wanted to stay home with my brother and me, but here’s the thing. She doesn’t like either of us. As people, I mean. My brother is not emotional enough, and three kids is too much. He was being reckless by becoming a realtor, and he never got an advanced degree (he mentioned he felt that made him lesser in our family). Me, well, everything about me. I’m not feminine in any way except my long hair and big boobs (which isn’t something I have control over), being queer, fat, not married, no kids, not religious, ad nauseam. This was really hammered home during my medical crisis. She may love me as her child, but she doesn’t like me, the person. She thinks Taiji is of the devil, and she thinks me doing weapon forms is ‘cute’.

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Coming up on a year

When I first woke up from being unconscious for a week, I counted in days. The first day I was awake, the second day, etc. I talked to both Ian and K the second day I was awake, and I remember both of the conversations. Or monologues, to be more accurate. I just babbled at them until I got tired.

The next few days were testing days. I met with different therapists to test what I could still do–and what I couldn’t. They tested my memory, my motor abilities, my occupational skills, and my speech. I passed everything with flying colors. I was normal/fine on memory and above that for everything else. The physical therapist (PT) who was helping me with walking said to me the second time we met that she had nothing else to teach me. I’m the most proud of that thought it was not anything to do with me. I mean, I didn’t DO anything to be able to walk like normal–I was just lucky.

One week after I woke up and two weeks after the medical crisis itself, I went home. That’s when it went from days to weeks. I mean, there were things that happened on certain days, but in general, it was, “I’ve been home a week. Two weeks, etc. Not days.”

Side note: It’s easy for me to be glib now about it, but those first few days home were frightening. I could not see very well. Everyone had one big, melted eye in the middle of where their eyes should be, They also had a mely mouth/nose (melted together) and everyone, including Shadow, my cat, looked like a monster.

I could not read the font on the internet websites. My brother had to enlarge the font for me, and I still had to squint in order to be able to read anything. As I messaged with Ian (which I did every day), I had to trust that I was tying the right thing. It didn’t help that I used the Dvorak system but still have a QWERTY keyboard. I’m a touch typist, which is no problem most of the time. But when I had to actually read what I was typing, it was a problem.

The first few days, I was scared out of my mind that I might not ever recover my eyesight. At least the tickertape synesthesia I had experienced in the hospital was gone by the time I left, but I still couldn’t read anything.

Reading and writing were my life. I didn’t know if I wanted to live if I couldn’t do either. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but I spend most of my time doing one or the other. I write at least 3,000 words a day, and it’s usually closer to 5,000.

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Free to be me

I’m weird. I have known this since I was a young kid, but back then, I thought there was something wrong with me. Why couldn’t I just be like everyone else? It wasn’t just a little bit different or in a few ways–it was in nearly every way. I read all the time, which many considered strange. I even read the dictionary (I stopped at ‘I’ because I lost steam) and started calling my bullies ‘unintellectual imbeciles’, which, not cool, but I was pushed to it, and did not do anything because they did not know what I meant (I was seven or eight).

I was fat and awkward, and I knew nothing about American culture. We only watched Scooby-Doo, Fantasy Island, and The Love Boat in our family. I don’t even know what other shows existed at the time. We never went to the movies and I didn’t hear my first pop song until I was in the sixth grade. It was Electric Avenue by Eddy Grant.

Here’s the thing. My parents, especially my father, did not like living in America. My father was fiercely Taiwanese and came here for his studies. He and my mother met in grad school and fell in love. Or rather, my father wooed my mother and won her over. She was engaged to a man in Taiwan–

Fun fact: She was engaged to him because my grandmother had very outdated notions about dating. She refused to let my mother go on a date if she wasn’t engaged to the man.

My parents had a whirlwind romance. My mother finished her MA and would have had to go back to Taiwan if she didn’t find another way to stay in the country. My father’s American housemother urged them to get married, so they did. Then they moved to Minnesota so my father could pursue his PhD in Economics.

I sometimes think about the sliding door version of life where they didn’t rush to get married. I fully believe that if they had dated for another year, they probably would have broken up. Or maybe not. I mean, they’ve been together for nearly 55 years. So, even though it’s deep dysfunction that binds them (not to mention codependency), they have established a lasting routine.

I used to think that my mother would be happier without my father, but now I don’t think that’s true. Her sense of worth comes from the fact that she’s a martyr (and that she’s superior to my father in almost every way). In other words, she needs him to feel good about herself, even though he’s abusive. If she weren’t with him, she would just find someone else like him.

Once in a while, she’ll let the mask slip and display her utter contempt for him and how little she expects from him. Such as when she said she realized he wasn’t smart. It’s true, but it’s not a nice thing to say about your husband, especially to your child. I will admit that it helped me see him in a different light. Arguably, a more realistic one.

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Sharing is not always caring

I’m obsessed with the idea of boundaries because my parents don’t have any. None. Nada. Zip. They don’t believe their children should have individual personalities. We are reflections of them and therefore must replicate their ideology identically. My brother is the favored child because he is a boy and the oldest. he also followed more of what my parents espouse, but he has come afoul across their beliefs more than once. The way they hold up their ideals makes it impossible to meet them. For example. my mom pushed my brother to have kids for years. Him and his wife. They didn’t have children until 6 years into marriage, which was unheard of in Taiwanese culture. They had three kids with a big gap between one and two, and during that time, my mom pushed me to have kids of my own.

At one point, she was talking to my brother on the phone about being upset that I wasn’t having children. Yes, she did it where I could hear her, probably unconsciously on purpose. She was saying there was a bond between mother and daughter when the daughter had a child. And, there was a saying in Taiwanese about the difference between a son having a child and a daughter having a child, and she was so sad that she wouldn’t get to have that. My brother joked that he could have more children, to which my mother quickly said that he had done enough.

See? You can’t win with her. She was upset that I didn’t have children and upset that my brother had too many.

Side note: my mother has a disconnect between what she thinks she wants and what she actually wants. She has said repeatedly that she always wanted children and being a mother was the most important thing to her from since she was young. She extended that to having grandchildren. It was so important to her, she had to nag me about it for fifteen years (and my brother for the first six of his marriage).

Here’s the rub. She never liked me as a person. She certainly did not like me as a child. I was fat, gawky, awkward, deeply depressed, and a bookworm. She made dresses for me to wear, which I hated. I liked to run around and climb trees, but that was looked down upon by her and the other women in our (Taiwanese) church. I was too boyish, which was not acceptable. Except for playing sports. For some reason, that was fine for women/girls to do, but only in strictly circumscribed circumstances. But I wasn’t supposed to run around, laughing, shouting, and climbing trees. I was supposed to be quiet, sit with my legs shut, and be small. Both physically and mentally.

I spent most of my childhood, miserable for so many reasons. I was fat. Well, I wasn’t really, but my mom was convinced I was. I was chubby. I was solid. I was thicc, yes. But when I look at pictures of me as a kid, I wasn’t grotesquely fat as my mother constantly made me feel I was. She put me on my first diet when I was seven and told me that I would be so pretty if only I lost weight. When I was seven.

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Triangulation strangulation

My mother called the other night. She wanted to complain about my father again. She knows she shouldn’t, but she can’t help herself. I tried to be sympathetic/empathetic, but we’ve been doing this dance for forty years (ever since she made me her confidante when I was 11). This time, though, instead of dancing around it, she flat-out said that kids should be their parents’ confidantes as part of taking care of them. I was flabbergasted because she had never actually said it out loud before.

She mentioned her clients helping out their parents (taking them to appointments and such) and she slated being a ‘confidante’ fell under that. I’ll counter that in a moment, but just wanted to comment as I did to her that it was women doing this , which was sexist as hell. She got that sour tone in her voice that said she did not like what I said. She did admit she needed a therapist, but then said a million reasons why she couldn’t get one. And why she can’t leave for the one hour a week a woman comes to take care of my father. She says how upset he gets when she leaves, which irritates me every time.

Here’s the thing. Intellectually, I know that abuse warps the mind and enforces a learned helplessness. But at the end of the day, people still have to take some autonomy. And if not, don’t dump about it constantly on their children. My mom is never going to leave my father. I realized that when  I was fairly young, and it only gets stronger the older I get (the feeling that she won’t leave him). Fine. Whatever. It’s her life. But I don’t want to hear about it. At this point, I’m just sick and tired of it after being a forced confidante for nearly a half-century.

Here’s the other thing. It may have been beneficial to her that I’ve been her confidante (which I think is dubious, anyway), but it most emphatically hasn’t been for me. Which my mom knows. She’ll apologize for dumping it all on me, but continue to do so. Once in a while she’ll say she won’t do it again. She said it more than once the last time she was here. I told her angrily to not say that because we both knew it wasn’t true. That actually made me angrier than the initial dumping.

Her trying to justifying making her confidante only underscored her own narcissism. Her comfort and need to vent superseded my comfort and need to not have her vent at me. In addition, and I didn’t realize this until much later, her constant venting about my father made me feel even more negatively towards him than I would have without it.

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Nine months and birthing a new person

It’s been nine months since that fateful night. That’s enough time to create a new person–which is pretty much what I did. Yes, I’m the same person as I was before that night, but I’m also–not. This is something I’ve had to live with for the past nine months–the tension between two seemingly disparate things. I’ve mused often about how everything is the same and everything is not the same at the same time.

I’m sitting on my couch, sipping coffee, watching YouTube videos (in this case, an infuriating video by Legal Eagle about how cops don’t have a legal duty to protect individuals) while eating grocery store sushi. Shadow is in his little cat house taking a long cat nap. The sun is shining, but it’s not too hot out. I’m sipping a low sodium V8 as I’m typing this post. This is on the actual 9-month anniversary and will be posted the day after.

Up until this point, I’ve been coasting along and just appreciating the fact that I’m still here. I call these my bonus days, savoring each and every one. I should not be here so the fact that I am with nothing more than a bit of short-term memory issues is truly miraculous.

The first two months, I worked on getting back my stamina. Wait. Getting even more granular, the first week out of the hospital, I was waiting for my eyesight to get better. I spent most of my time at my computer. Not being able to read computer fonts was frustrating, not to mention worrying. My brother enlarged the font on my laptop, which helped, but I still took twice as long to read something as I normally would have.

In addition, the faces of all people (and my cat) were melty/fused. Everyone had one big eye and a candle wax-looking mouth. It was really bizarre and disconcerting. I could gauge how my eyesight was improving by how Shadow’s face was doing. His was the first to revert back to normal. I rejoiced when he had two eyes and a distinct mouth again.

The first two months, I had a nurse’s aide who came every week to wash my hair. I didn’t need her after a month, but my mother kept pushing to have her (and the weekly nurse check). When I pushed her on it, it turned out that it was more superstitious than practical. She wanted the weekly nurse check because they could catch anything wrong with me. But that wasn’t their job. Yes, they took my vitals, but it wasn’t as if they were doing a full physical every week. my mom helped me dry off after my showers, but I didn’t need her help after a few weeks. I allowed her to do it for a few more weeks just because it made her feel better.

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Birthing a new life

It’s almost nine months since I died twice–and came back twice! The latter fact is very important to the narrative. Obviously. If that hadn’t happened, then I wouldn’t be able to write this. That still trips me up when I think about it, by the way. The fact that I should be dead. It’s also not something I find easy to talk about because it’s pretty much a conversation stopper. It’s not something I want to whip out casually, but it’s also very important. It literally changed my life, even if it didn’t change the day-to-day aspects of said life.

When I came out of the hospital, I said that I did not want to talk about what I was doing with my life for six months. I had the luxury and privilege of focusing on my recovery, not that I needed it. The biggest issue I had was my stamina, which was roughly 10% of what it was pre-trauma. But even that is lucky because so many people could not even get out of bed.

There was someone in an Ask A Manager thread a month ago who talked about having a stroke in January. She was unable to drive any longer and had to work from home on a reduced schedule. She had trouble typing and basically, her quality of life was dramatically reduced. Her whole life was turned upside down in the matter of minutes.

This is one of my issues with finding a support group. First of all, to put it bluntly, there aren’t many people who survive one cardiac arrest, let alone two–and a stroke. Those who do, have stories like the commenter on AAM. It feels almost cruel to stroll in with my story about evading death without a scratch. I know my story is my own and that I don’t need to feel guilty about it, but I do.

I’ve said many times that I don’t question why this happened to me. I’m not in great shape, don’t always eat the best, and am pretty sedentary. Why NOT me? I’m susceptible to bronchial issues, which is how it all started. Non-COVID-related walking pneumonia. That stressed my heart enough to trigger two cardiac arrests and then a stroke. I have no problem accepting that this all happened to me.

But, what happened next just may surprise you as it did me (yes, I just Buzzfeeded that sentence. What of it?).

I should have died. I did die. Twice. But I should not have come back. I. Should. Be. Dead.

You know what gets to me the most? Survivor’s guilt. I don’t ask why the initial events happened to me, but I question why I was the one who lived. Why me? My mom insists its because I’m a fighter, but that’s giving me way too much credit. I’m sure she also thinks it’s an act of God, but I think that’s giving ‘Him’ too much credit.

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