Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Mental Health

Life lessons I’ve learned

I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned in my 51 years on this earth. First, there were some things that my last therapist told me that have stuck with me.

Before I was tthinking about moving to the East Bay in order to attend grad school, I was obsessing over all the negative things that might happen. My therapist listened to me patiently for roughly five minutes before cutting me off (she had to, otherwise I’d go on forever). “Minna,” she said. “Half of the things you imagine will never happen, and you can’t imagine half of the things that will.” Her point was that I was needlessly worrying. It was also that I was trying to frantically apply control where I had none.

The illusion of control is somethnig I think about often because me dying twice underlined my lack of control. Twice. (Both dying and underlying.) There is no use worrying about shit I cannot change–which is almost everything. Life is short. That’s a trope, but it’s true. And it can be over in a blink of the eye. So, yeah, plan for the future–but don’t forget to experience your present at the same time.

Another thing that really struck me was when my father and I had this huge fight over whether I was grateful or not to him for all he’d done fro me. When I said no (because I felt pushed into being performatively grateful), he asked why he should love me then. Which showed how nakedly transactional he was. I told him it was part of his job as a father. Like, did that need to be explained? To a raging narcissist, yes. My father did not do anything that did not have any apparent value to him, which included ‘loving’ someone. I put ‘loving’ in quotes because he’s not capable of actual love.

This argument was in the car as I drove him to the airport so he could fly back to Taiwan. He called me when he arrived in LA for his layover and hesitantly said he loved me before hanging up. I felt nothing at his announcement because if I had to force it ou of him (which I wasn’t trying to do! I was just answering his question) and because I was beyond caring at that time.

I brought this up to my therapist, and sh esaid, “This is a big thing to him and a small thing to you. Two things can be true at the same time.” That hit me hard because I thought that an experience had to be the same for everyone who experienced it. Which, I admit, was a naive and childish viewpoint, but one that many people had. I wasn’t even astonished that he viewed that moment differently than I did, necessarily, but that they both could be true at the same time.

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Neurospicy is the new neurodiverse

Neurospicy is the new word for neurodivergent. I’m not sure how I  feel about it, and I say this as someone who is pondering whether or not I am–neurodivergent, I mean. In the last few years, I have heard it being called neurodivergent, neuroatypical, and neurodiverse. Neurospicy is a newer one, and I think I like it in a casual setting, but not for something like an office. Just like I wouldn’t use queer in a more formal setting, but I would with my friends.

I only started thinking about this issue seriously in terms of myself a few years ago. Why? In part because I did not present in the typical way, which I learned was more based on male behavior than female behavior (as are most medical diagnoses, sadly). I learned about a decade ago that the hyperactive thing was a drastic simplification of the matter. There was also a hyperfocus aspect that people overlooked when they talked about the inability to focus. Those two things (not being hyperactive and being able to focus with a laserlike precision) made me dismiss the idea that I had ADHD for a long time.

I kept getting drawn back to it, though. Things like being repeatedly told you’re lazy because you wouldn’t (couldn’t, actually, but it looked like wouldn’t) do simple things like check the mail or recycle empty boxes (the ones my cat, Shadow, doesn’t want). I would castigate myself for being lazy, which didn’t help, of course. I didn’t even learn of the term ‘executive function’ until about five years ago.

I did hear about hyperfocus before then, but I still didn’t think it was me. Until I read more and more about it. How it presents it women, I mean. I no longer identify as a woman, but I definitely grew up being treated as one. Oh, and it’s often talked about as a kid’s thing, when it’s definitely not.

The other complication is that I have trained myself from a young age to overcome some of the symptoms without even knowing it. I have, er, had a phenomonal memory. So I can overcome the shortcomings like being bad with details by brute force. I was also trained to take care of other people’s emotions so I was forced to pay attention to other people to an unnatural degree. I also have an off-the-charts EQ and can read people like books to an extent that makes them uncomfortable.

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People always tell on themselves

In the last post, I was talking about how people have a hard time looking at their own flaws.  I said that I was comfortable with mine, but that’s not completely true. There are flaws I have that make me uncomfortable, but I at least know I have them. I know I can work on them if I want.

It boggles my mind how other people don’t see themselves as they are. I mean, I know the brain is inclined to see the best in itself because that’s how humans are made. But the extent to which some people deny their own flaws or project them on other people is endlessly fascinating to me.

It’s one reason I read advice columns. The letter writers often tell on themselves without realizing it. The thing they’re writing in about is not the thing that is actually the problem. A good columnist will see that and answer the real quesstion, not the one being asked. Captain Awkward is pretty good at this as is Ask a Manager. The two of them collaborating was the best thing ever. I also love that Alison (AAM) will answer a question just because it interests her, even if it doesn’t really fall in the category of work-related. She’ll be honest about it, too. That she picked it because it tickeld her fancy.

Captain Awkward tends to write reams in her response, which is one tihng I like about her. I am verbose, and I appreciate a thorough reply. Plus, I read quickly and she writes very readable text. Alison’s replies are longer than average, too, but also highly scannable. They both have an engaged style of writing–like we’re having a conversation. It’s a skill that not everyone has, unfortunately.

The thing I really appreciate about Alison is that she will admit when she is wrong and take other people’s points into consideration. I have read her for several years and have delved into her archives. She has expanded and grown, and she’s wiser and more mature now than she was when she first started (obviously). I like that she has a sense of humor and seems eminently human. She’s warm, even in her writing. She’s compassionate and no-nonsense. She’s a nice blend of pragmatic and caring. Her one flaw is that she’s pro-pranks, but we all have our shadow sides. (To be clear, not harmful pranks, but the ones that those of us who don’t like pranks would consider annoying. And she’s made it clear that she thinks pranks are opt-in and not opt-out).

Both of them will get to the root prablem, rather than get caught up in the face of the issue. To me, part of my enjoyment from reading AAM is because of the commentariat. What people bring into the questions is the most interesting part by far. There are some questions that have a pretty much universal answer (such as the repost today about a woman who was wilding out at the medical office in which she worked. The letter writer was her boss. The employee was taking naked pics of herself at work, including in front of her boss’s (the letter writer) desk. That’s not the whole story, but that’s the main gist. Consensus: fire her), which are usually highly-entertaining, but there isn’t much room for discussion.

The best ones are the ones in which you can look at them from several points of view. Maybe the LW (letter writer) is correct to be upset with her coworker. Maybe the coworker has a reason for being the way she is. There was a letter (and several updates) from a woman who was the boss of someone she (the LW) was jealous of. The LW clearly stated this in her letter. She didn’t hire her employee and never would have if it had been her choice because of the way the employee looked. She openly admitted she was jealous and probably made her other employees think the attractive employee is bad aat her job because of the way she (LW) treated her (employee). The LW was in therapy for anxiety and an eating disorder. She was doing better until this employee was hired.

She stated in this letter that she lied to her boss when her boss (the one who hired the attractive woman) asked if she was jealous of the employee. She said she wasn’t, and the boss believed her. In other words, according to the writer herself, she was jealous of this employee. And yet, in the comments, there was a sizable minority of women who were skeptical about the employee saying that her boss was jealous of her. “Who would say that?” “She thinks too highly of herself.” These were the comments, paraphrased, and when it was pointed out that the LETTER WRITER HERSELF had said that she was jealous of the employee, these commenters doubled down. Well, yeah, but the employee sounded full of herself for saying it out loud!

Here’s the thing. I knew when women were jealous of me. They were not subtle about it. At all. It wasn’t because I was full of myself; I hated the way I looked, but I knew that some people found me very pleasing to the eye. I couldn’t help but see it. I also couldn’t help but see that some women were snide about me because I didn’t fit what they thought a woman should be, but the guys liked me, anyway. These were hetero women who believed the  attention of men was the pinnacle of success.

In addition, the LW was paraphrasing what her boss had said to her, so that migth not have been the way her report had phrased it. The employee could have said, “I feel like I can’t do anything right with the LW.” The big boss could have prodded a bit and the employee could have realized at some point that, yes, the LW seemed jealous of her. It was fascinating and frustrating to see the women who insisted that the employee was full of herself when the whole letter was that the LW was jealous of her report and never would have hired her. I don’t think I was reading at the time because I did not comment on this, and I probable would have if I had been.

There were several updates, gathered here. It became clear that she had been minimizing what happened, even though she was always clear that she was responsible for what happened. Still. There were people who insisted her report overreacted, despite not knowing the details or any of the people involved. It was fascinating how she revealed a bit more each time, and it ended with her settling with her report on the advice of her (the LW’s) lawyer. And even then, theer were people in the comments who insisted the LW was somehow the one being wronged somehow. One person even said she thought the report was a jerk for suing the LW. As noted in the comments of that update, we all bring our own shit into these letters.

Personally, I could not get behind cheering on this OP because she did harm to another human being. Deep harm. In addition, she was such an unreliable narrator, I felt that I could not trust what she was saying. I understood why Alison and most of the commentariat wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt, but while I was glad she was improving, I couldn’t help but notice that the harm she did her report was revealed to be worse with every update.

That’s human nature, though. We don’t want to look at the nasty stuff inside our head until we’re forced to do so. Even then, most of us would find a way to ignore it or pretend it wasn’t happening. This LW was fired for her denial, which was the catalyst for her drastically changing her life. At least she found the strength to deal with her flaws. That’s more than most people can say.



Blah blah blah

The pandemic is not over, but I’m resigned to most people thinking it is. We’ve reached the point where it’s basically like the flu. And for most people, a bout of COVID means a week of feeling awful before getting on with their life.

I’m trying not to be bitter, but it’s hard. It’s not their fault. I understand that most people are able to move on and not think about it. I also understand that you cannot ask society in general to care about those of us who are more vulnerable. I know this, turly, in the bottom of my heart.

But people who just blithely say, “People get to assess their own risk level” irritate the fuck out of me. Yes, they get to assess their own risk level. I’m not arguing with that. But their assesssment affects other people, and it’s because of people refusing to be prudent in the early days that we’re still here at all. It really frustrates the fuck out of me that if we had had a hard lockdown in the beginning, maybe we wouldn’t have to worry about the next variant.

Or not. COVID has been cruel as fuck, not to mention persistent, It’s easy to believe that there’s nothing we could have to slow it down.

No. I don’t believe that, especially not in the beginning. Now that we have vaxxes, yeah, it’s probably going to be that a few thousand people die from it every year is what we get from now on. Like the flu. We’ll get jabbed every year and pray that it hits the strains that are actually prevalent that year.

Those of us with weak immune systems will need to be more careful, but that’s the case in general. I’m feeling punk today (and not in a good way). It’s been this way for a week or so. The annoyiing thing is that it’s not an actual cold or anything. It’s just me feeling rundown and tired.

This may be weird, but I’d rather just be sick. Then I can get through it and get back to life. This whatever has been lingering for a week, making me feel meh about everything. It’s not bad enough for me to just sleep, but it’s enough to make it dififcult for me to focus on anything.

Just a weird side note: It’s the day after Thanksgiving, which means it’s Black Friday. Does anybody even do Black Friday any more? I never did, but I can’t imagine anyone would nowadays. There are online sales at all times. Why go to an actual store at an ungodly hour to get something on sale? To be fair, not everyone shops online. In fact, probably more people don’t than do.

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Knowing you’re a freak

I am a freak. I know this. You know this. There is no disputing this. In terms of all the societal norms, I fail them. We’re not even talking about the biggies such as married, children, religion, etc. Those are a given, and it’s not something I think about much (despite my voluminous blogging about them). There was a time in my thirties when I was wistful about that part of my life. I was telling K that sometimes, I got jealous when I heard someone else had gotten married or had a kid. Admittedly, more the former than the latter. Actually, not the latter at all. I have never wanted kids. Ever.

But the former, yeah. Or someone who was promoted to a high position. It would stir a ping of envy in me that I could not articulate. When I brought it up to K, she said, “Minna. You don’t want any of that. You would be so unhappy if you had that life.” She was right, too. It made me think about what I really wanted–and it wasn’t a spouse with kids in a cookie-cutter house in the suburbs. I do live in the suburbs and don’t have an issue with that part because I have access to the cities while also the quiet of living in the suburb.

She was right in that I wasn’t pining for the actual things that these other people had–but for meaning in my own life. It’s easy to overlook that because I don’t have any of the societal benchmarks to gauge my life by. I’ve seen some YouTubers talking about this because their job as content creator is a fairly recent thing. It’s not easy to explain to people who aren’t in the industry because “I make videos for YouTube” sounds simultaneously mundane and incomprehensible. It’s like writing is some ways. Everybody writes, so they think that everyone can do it. Which, yes, many people can write–but it doesn’t mean they can do it well.

My friends are all on the outside more or less. They may fit in for certain aspects of life, but they’re all creative types. I don’t get along well with normies. Or rather, I don’t feel comfortable with normies. I can get along fine with them because of my superior people skills–by the way. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that I can read people in a way that other people can’t. I wrote about it yesterday or the day before, and I have to say that it’s the core of my personality. I was born with the talent, but I honed it when my mother forced me to be her confidante when I was eleven. She had all these emotions that she forced me to deal with, which meant I couldn’t deal with my own. It also meant that I became even better at honing in on people’s emotions. My brother talks about me being really good about reading people–and it’s partly innate, but mostly nurtured out of necessity.

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Survivor’s guilt

When I was in the hospital, I had a chat with the chaplain. I was not asked if I wanted to have this chat beforehand, but I did not mind. At that point with all the drugs pumping through my veins, I would have talked with anyone.

He told me that I may feel survivor’s guilt at some point, which I didn’t while I was in the hospital. Wait. That’s not exactly true. One day, while I was lying in bed as I was for much of my first few days awake, I overheard my care team talking about another patient. She was a young woman in her twenties and had just died from COVID. I felt survivor’s guilt then because she was so young and had died. More info came out such as she had not been vaxxed, nor had her entire family. And it turned out her mother died as well.

Later, I realized that the whole thing probably did not happen. I hallucinated a lot while I was in the hospital, and this was probably one of the delusions. It just did not make sense that they would all be talking about this patient and that they all knew her outside of the hospital, even though the family were ranchers with a website. Yes, this was what my brain was telling me was the truth. I don’t think any of it happened, but it did make me feel guilty that I had survived while this mythical twenty-two year old had died.

When I went home, I was mostly profoundly grateful to be alive. I was amazed at how brilliant everything was. Well, not everything as I had to deal with the family dysfunction, but apart from that, everything was awesome.

I didn’t think about much of anything, to be honest, for the first month. I was just resting up and regaining my strength. I started slowly with my Taiji, only doing stretching the first few weeks. I did try the sword on day three, just three movements. That was way too much, but it also showed me that I would get it back again eventually.

That was the important part. I needed to know that I would still be able to do my weapons. I didn’t care about anything else, really, in the first few weeks. I could not see properly, so I could not do much online for the first week. My brother made the font larger so I could read websites, but that was for very brief amounts of time.

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Funhouse mirror of flaws

I’ve written about how my self-esteem has skyrocketed since my medical crisis. In general, I am happier with myself. My depression has disappeared almost completely and my anxiety is reduced by roughly 60%. Considering that I first wanted to die when I was seven, this is a massive improvement for me.

In addition, all my body issues disappeared. I can’t overemphasize what a big deal that is. My mother put on my first diet when I was seven. She made frequent comments about how fat I was and what a shame it was. But, because she was an Asian mother, she also insisted on feeding me too much food and making me finish the food on my plate. The conflicting messages did not help at all.

I dealt with two bouts of anorexia with a side helping of bulimia the first time. I’m not the usual person when it comes to eating disorders because…I don’t know how to explain it exactly. But when I decided to give it up, I  swung in the opposite direction and started overeating. It really is a matter of willpower for me and not the disordered thinking that other people get.

I’m not explaining this well. I had the disordered thinking as well, but it was more a byproduct of my willpower and not the central thing. I have read about anorexia and how difficult it is to treat. That it’s distorts a person’s thinking in a way that grooves new brain patterns.

I definitely had disordered thinking while I was dealing with anorexia (thinking I was a fat cow, even when my thighs didn’t touch), but once I stopped being anorectic, well, I stopped the thinking as well. Or rather, I swung in the opposite direction. Which is how I work in general. I swing to the extremes.

After I returned home from the hospital, my opinion of my body changed 100%. I went from being studiedly neutral about it (through many years of Taiji and I wasn’t really neutral) to being positively in love with my body. It might be the drugs talking. In fact, it probably is the reason that I felt kindly towards my body in the first place.

In those halcyonic days (daze?), I could not get enough of my body. It saw me through death–twice–without a scratch. Well, not quite, but close to it. I will sing it from the rooftop all day song. Walking non-COVID-related pneumonia, two cardiac arrests, and a stroke don’t mean shit to me! I can still walk, run, do Taiji, and drive. Presumably (and I’d like to find out soon), sex would be fine as well. I can sing and dance, and I sleep better than I ever have. Seven-and-a-half hours to eight hours a night, which is unheard of for me.

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Ever more bitter, rarely more sweet

When you’re in a situation that feels hopeless, it’s hard not to become bitter. There is a commentor on one of the blogs I read who is oozing in negativity. Having read about her situation, it’s understandable. Unfortunately, she’s at the place where she feels like she can do nothing about it but constantly complain.

I’ve been there. I am currently there re: my family. It’s funny because the medical trauma I recently went through* has been a boon in many ways. It feels weird to say especially because it included me dying twice But, it’s the truth. I realized a lot about myself during that time. Most of it good, some of it…sobering.

On the good tip: I fucking love my body. Decades of body issues disappeared in a flash. That’s not exactly true. They were already starting to mitigate with the help of Taiji, but when I left the hospital, you could not say shit to me about my body or my face. Not that my parents didn’t try, believe you me. They wanted to go there with my weight, which I had shut down decades ago. I explicitly told them they could not bring up my weight. Of course they moaned and groaned about it because ‘they were just worried about my health’. Uh huh. That’s straight-up bullshit, by the way.

When I was anorexic and my junior counselors in college told my mom, she had nothing to say. N-O-T-H-I-N-G. No words of concern or encouragement. The only thing she had to say was that she was jealous my waist was smaller than hers. So, health concerns? Hell, naw. That wasn’t it at all. It was purely weight and how I looked. She put me on my first diet when I was seven, saying I would have a beautiful face if I lost weight.

When I look at pics of me as a teenager, I was chunky yes, but I wasn’t grotesque as I was made to feel by my mother. I was thick in part because I have dense muscles, but I was fine. My mom monitoring every morsel that went into my mouth gave me a complex that lasted decades.

Taiji started making me feel at ease in my body. Then it helped me walk away from a minor car accident with only a big bruise on my stomach from the seatbelt. Or maybe the air bag popping. Other than that, I walked away without a scratch. I couldn’t say the same for my car, sadly.

That’s when I started to realize that my body was a wondrous machine. After waking up from my medical coma (walking pneumonia, two cardiac arrests, stroke), I was in awe how my body had taken a beating and kept on ticking. I don’t think  can overemphasize how bleak the prognosis was.

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The solution that I can never suggest

TW: Mention of suicide.

In reading my stories, I came across a letter to Ask A Manager about mentioning depression at work. It generated a lot of responses, varying in terms of what the OP (Original Poster) should do, but most of the answers were in agreement that their mention of suicide was beyond the pale. Even though they said that they weren’t actively suicidal, the mere mention of suicide was going to make most people panic.

And I get it. Suicide is serious stuff. It’s not something to take lightly. But, for those of us who have struggled with not wanting to be alive, there are levels to it.  There is actively suicidal–people who want to die and are working on it. There is passively suicidal–which is wanting to die, but not doing anything about it. Maybe not necessarily avoiding death, but not seeking it, either. Then there is what I was for a long time–not wanting to be alive, but not doing anything about it.

Antidepression meds helped–until they didn’t. Therapy helped–until it didn’t. Taiji helped, but it was very much help in small steps rather than a big boost. My depression (and anxiety, but more the former than the latter) steadily lifted, and I’m one of few people who did not go into a deep funk during the early days of the pandemic. Probably because my brain catastrophized everything on the regular, anyway, so why not throw a pandemic into the mix?

I want to stress that I don’t think the coworker did anything wrong in the AAM letter. It’s rough to have someone dump that on you, especially if you don’t have a close relationship. And when you’re chronically depressed, it’s easy to underestimate the effect it has on other people. It’s just something you live with, so it’s really not that big a deal to you. Hm. I’m not saying it right. It’s still a big deal, but it’s normal to you because you’re living it.

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Knowledge is power

I was reading my stories and one of the questions was from a parent whose daughter was clearly neurodivergent. The letter writer realized it and as soon as the daughter’s teachers suggested it, they jumped all over it. The problem was their husband. He was adamant not to do it because of the stigma of a diagnosis and because he felt it was the easy way out. Their daughter needed to buckle down and fit in, basically. And his spouse needed to accept they (the spouse) was doing parenting wrong.

My hackles went up for so many reasons. Before I get into that, however, I do want to acknowledge that stigma around neurodivergency is real. There is a lot more awareness of the issues these days, which is a good thing, but there are still plenty of people who see this awareness as coddling. The world is cold and harsh, they would say. Kids today are too soft! They need to learn the world won’t always cater to them. Which, yes, the world is, indeed, cruel and they have to know that they will be viewed as different. However, the answer is not to pretend the neurodivergency doesn’t exist and force the daughter to act ‘normal’ whatever that means.

I spent most of my childhood bewildered and frightened because I was so different from other kids. Not only was I Asian, I just didn’t think the way other kids did. I tried to emulate them, but I felt as if I was trying to speak another language without having any lessons in it. I was miserable and my efforts to fit in fell flat. It didn’t help that my parents were first generation immigrants so they didn’t know the culture any better than I did. I was sensitive enough to know I was doing everything wrong, but I didn’t have the tools to make it better.

I became aware of death when I was seven. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with it ever since (well, until my medical trauma). I started feeling suicidal when I was eleven. I developed eating disorders when I was eighteen. I have suffered anxiety and depression all my life as well (again, at least until my medical trauma). I hate clothing. I can see you thinking, “Wait, Minna. What does that have to do with the other stuff?” I didn’t realize until much later that I have sensory issues. Like, severe sensory issues. Bright lights bother the hell out of me as do loud sounds. It can be literal agony to have too-loud music or too-bright lights. Clothing is another issue and I have to keep it really simple and basic. I am allergic to almost every scent on the planet as well as many foods and alcohol to boot. I basically need to live in a bubble is what I’m trying to say.

In addition, my brain doesn’t think in a normal way, either. Over the years, I have found a way to make it seem like I’m a normal person, but it comes at a severe cost. It’s one of the reasons I prefer to live alone–it’s hard to keep wearing that mask all the time. I’ve known almost all my life that I’m a freak. I didn’t know why for the first thirty years. Then, I started to realize that it wasn’t that something was WRONG with me, but I was definitely different. I still couldn’t put any label on it, but I had my suspicions.

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