Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: anxiety

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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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!

 

Oh the lessons I’ve learned

It’s been seven months since my medical trauma, and it’s been heavy on my mind in the last  week. Probably because of my birthday because I should not be here. I made it to the second half of my first century, which is incredible. It’s not something that I can really quantify, though, or offer to other people who are going through something.

Before my medical trauma, I hated it when people tried to chirp positive tropes at me. “Life is what you make of it!” “Live and learn!” “Mind over matter!” and the such. It still sounds trite to my ears, but I can at least understand the sentiment behind it now.

The problem is that it’s not actionable. I mean, I can tell people that they should just live their life, but that doesn’t really help. I will say that Taiji helped before I had my medical trauma. I was in a minor car crash in July of 2016. That was roughly nine or ten years into my study of Taiji, and when I saw the car hurtling at me, I thought, “I’m going to get hit” and immediately relaxed. My car was totaled, but I only sustained a large bruise on my stomach–probably from my seat belt. My body was fine other than that, despite the dire warnings that I would inevitably get whiplash. Which I did not, thank you very much.

That’s when I first realized that my body was pretty damn cool. It’s sturdy and strong, and it’s seen me through some shit. Taiji also helped me with crippling back pain and other assorted physical problems. But, again, it’s not immediate. With my back pain, it took a few months before it started easing up after my teacher showed me one specific stretch that she said I should do every day (three times to each side). After a year of doing this stretch, the back pain was completely gone.

Taiji has also helped me with navigating relationships and the emotional minefields thereof. I almost said mindfields, which, while wrong, is also apt. I’ve gotten better with being in crowds even though I still don’t like it, and I am not as hypervigilant as I used to be.

Mental health-wise, my depression and anxiety eased up little by little as I studied Taiji. Then the pandemic hit. And, honestly, for me personally, it actually lifted my depression and anxiety. Why? Because it made the outer world match my inner world. I was in mental crisis all the time, so it was weirdly comforting. And it didn’t change my day-to-day that much except Zoom Taiji classes and online grocery shopping.


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The worst of both parents

I talk often about my parents and my difficulties with them; I’ve written countless posts on the topic. What I don’t talk about as often is how I’ve incorporated both the worst and the best of my parents. In this post, I want to focus on the former. Why? Because that’s’ how I roll. And because I’ want to work on myself and not just sit on my laurels.

By the way, I was wondering how much time I would be given before the ‘what are you doing with your future?’ questions started in again from my parents (mostly my mom). It was two months. I was hoping for being freed of that discussion this visit, but I wasn’t. And we’ll probably have another. Add to that the underlying anxiety of me dying plus just general family dysfunction, and, yeah, the next week-and-a-half cannot go fast enough.

I talked yesterday about how family dysfunction is so intricate. It’s hard to focus on one aspect of it because it leads to another aspect. I feel the same here. I can talk about the traits, but then I need to give so much backstory about it. Oh well. That’s how we’re going to do it. My anger. I’m the Hulk when it comes to anger–I’m always angry. I just try to hide it from the world at large. Both my mother and K told me to fight while I was unconscious. They told me I was a fighter and that I needed to fight. I woke up ready to fight someone. I didn’t know who I was fighting, but I was ready.

It was good for my recent experience to be angry, but it’s not good on a regular basis. It’s exhausting and it makes me tense. I feel like I’m on tenterhooks and I’m ready to snap at any moment. Right now, I’m defensive around my mom because I know she’s just looking for reasons to be worried about me being alone. She can’t accept that what happened to me was a freak accident that I couldn’t have predicted. I asked my brain doc if I could have prevented it and he said no. Which was comforting, oddly enough.


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The meaning of life

I’ve always had a weird view on life. Whereas most people have goals that they want to reach at certain points of their life, milestones, if you will, I never have. Partly, it’s because I don’t have the same goals as the normies. Marriage, kids, promotions, etc. I never wanted kids and was relieved to realize that I didn’t have to have them, despite the pressure from society (and my mother. So much pressure from my mother. She spent fifteen years trying to knock me up. I’m not kidding that every time we talked, she had to bring it up. That was fine when we talked every few weeks. Not so fine when she was visiting and she mentioned it every day. Her desperate gambit: “You can adopt a black baby to match your cats.” Which is horrifying in several ways, but not the least in that she said it in a kidding tone when she was clearly not kidding.

Side note: It took me a really long time to realize that my mother is an unreliable narrator. She is very uncomfortable with anything negative so she rewrites history by forgetting unpleasant things. So the summer when she visited and mentioned me having kids every day? Which was a private hell on my part and led to many arguments? In her memory, it was a nice summer we spent together. It’s crazy-making. Literally. I feel like I’m going crazy when I talk to her sometimes because she’ll deny to my face something I knew had happened.

My go-to example is when I graduated from college. I graduated Phi Beta and Magna Cum Laude. After the ceremony, my mother said if I hadn’t gotten a B in Intro Psych, I would have graduated Summa Cum Laude. Up until that moment, I was pretty pleased with graduating Magna, but upon hearing that, I was crushed. I confronted her about it years later and she denied ever having said it. And not in the “Oh, I said it, but prove it” way. She honestly looked puzzled. She said she didn’t remember saying that and that she was pretty sure she hadn’t said it. When I insisted she had, she said, “If I did say it, I probably wanted to reassure you in case you felt bad about not getting Summa Cum Laude.” Which, is obvious bullshit, but it also indicates another of my mother’s flaws–she can create a worry out of nothing. That’s her specialty! Worrying all the time. You would think as a psychologist, she would know that worry is useless without action and even with it, sometimes. But she’s a psychologist who says one thing and does another. Worse, she always has a rationalization for her behavior that she can ground in psych-speak.


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Wasting your life on regrets

I come from a long line of worriers. Or rather, one great big worrier–my mother. She is a champion worrier who can turn anything into a chance to fret. It doesn’t matter how big or small a problem is–she can inflate it into a catastrophe. For example. She and my father were at Fresh and Natural, a nearby co-op that has mostly local/organic food. They also have a variety of gluten-free/dairy-free food, which is good for me. Anyway, she called me to ask if there was anything I wanted. I said if she could find some gf/hf backed goods in the same place she got salmon and chicken, I’d be happy. Cupcakes and/or brownies. She called back saying she couldn’t find them and she sounded stress. I said it was no big deal and not to worry about it. But, of course, she had to continue to worry about it. More to the point, she had to voice her worry to me. Now I w as stressed over something that previously had no meaning to me. I told her to forget about it, but she kept ruminating over it.

The incident in and of itself is no big deal. The problem comes because she does this with every decision, big or small. K once marveled as she was taking me to the airport that I had packed for every occasion. I apparently had a roll of quarters and an umbrella and a bunch of other things I probably wouldn’t need for a short trip. I said it was the legacy of my mother. We compared our mothers’ attitudes towards life. Her mother believes that whatever you chose to do, you would be fine. My mother believes that whatever you chose to do, you’ll be fucked. There are pros and cons to both viewpoints, obviously, but growing up with a mother like mine means I’m constantly second-guessing myself. Especially around her.

She can’t just relax and take things as they come. I know it’s in part because of my father. He’s very judgmental and rigid in his view of how things should be. If you don’t follow his unspoken expectations, well , there will be hell to pay. Most of the time. Once in a while, he’ll not care, but that’s very rare. An example. One time, he was mad at my mother and wouldn’t tell her why. I think that’s bullshit in general, but especially when the reason can be as capricious as you didn’t say hi in the right tone of voice. Or more to the point, he didn’t hear you say hi because he refuses to wear his expensive hearing aids. In case he loses one. But, they run out if you don’t use them (just the same as you do) and it’s a waste, anyway. He can’t  see that.


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When mental health issues collide with reality

In the best of times, I have to push myself to do what needs to be done. This is not the best of times, and it’s even worse now. Add to that the fact that my sleep has completely reverted, and I’m a hot(ter) mess right now. I’m discouraged because it’s a vicious cycle. I’m going to bed around four-thirty in the morning, which is not good. More to the point, it’s a rather sudden change which makes it even more difficult to deal with. It took me several months, probably half a year or so, to go from going to bed at five/six in the morning to two. now, in the course of maybe two weeks, I’ve reverted back to almost five.

Logically, there’s no reason I can’t follow that timetable. I t’s not like I have to be anywhere at any specific time (except for my taiji Zoom classes–and most of them are in the afternoon). But, I wanted to be on a more normal schedule. That seems to be but a dream now. And I’m discouraged by it. There is little I can do about sleep that I haven’t done before.

Ugh. I am so not feeling it today.

Slipping away

I’m done. My sleep has been a hot mess, and how the hell did I ever deal with this in the past? I can’t believe I used to get by on four hours of sleep and that I used to go to bed at eight in the morning. One thing I was working on before the pandemic started was getting my sleep on track. I wanted to be more like normal people because…I don’t even know why. I think because while I like being awake when other people are sleeping, I do feel like even more of a freak for being on the opposite side of sleep for most people. In addition, normal life was hard to navigate when I was on the late night tip. If I had any appointments, I tried to make them as late in the afternoon as possible, but it was still hard to make it to them. And it would throw me off my game for the rest of the day.

It’s not a matter of restfulness, either, because I’m always tired. It’s just a fact of life. Much like I used to always have headaches. They were lowkey and I was able to ignore them most of the time, but they were there. It’s the same with sleep. I’m always tired. It doesn’t matter how much or how little I get. There are days when it’s worse than others, obviously, but it’s always there.

Anyway, I was making strides in my sleep pattern before the pandemic hit. I started pushing my sleep time…back? Forward? Earlier. Since I was consistently going to bed around five-ish, I pushed it back to four. After a week or so, I pushed it back again to three. In this fashion, I managed to get it to one/one-thirty. My goal was midnight, but I was ok with where I was at. Then, during the pandemic, it began to become a bit more elastic. It was one-thirty to two, which, while not great, was fine. Then, the phone call. My meltdown. The immediate panic.

Side note: Briefly, my mom called, and I knew immediately that she wanted to say something she knew I wasn’t going to like. I could tell because when I asked how she was, her voice got that tone that it gets when she has something unpleasant to say and she added a little laugh, which is also a tell. Of course, that put me on guard, and I was predisposed to dismiss whatever she had to say. I tried to be patient, but let’s face it. Things were tense between us whenever we talked, and I was not in the mood for difficult.


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To not be or not to be

I’m struggling. The reasons are long and complicated (and, yes, family-related), which I’m saving for another post. I will note that I had an actual meltdown while last talking to my mother. The result was my sleep immediately going to hell (had my first four-hour night sleep in a while, and how the hell did I EVER used to live on that? Regularly?), my brain fragmenting, and my energy completely dissipating. But,  again, not the focus of this post.

In this post, I’m musing about all the ways I’m just…not. It’s hard to explain, but I’ll do my best.

Every since I was a wee little Taiwanese American girl (well, not so wee and not so little) growing up in the lily white suburbs in Minnesota in the 1970s, I was different. Some of it can be seen in the previous sentence. Hell, a lot of it. I was fat, unhappy (difficult childhood), Taiwanese American, super smart, and just…weird. I didn’t watch much TV and we rarely went to the movies. I didn’t listen to pop music until much later. I have an apocryphal story about how the first pop song I ever heard was Electric Avenue by Eddy Grant when I was in the sixth grade.

Side note: I just spent a ridiculous amount of time Googling exactly when the song came out and discovered it charted in America in April of 1983, so my apocryphal story could theoretically be true. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. It’s just a way of underling my otherness.

My mom made my clothes including dresses which I hated. Still hate them. Skirts are fine-ish, but not my first choice. I wore one to my nieces wedding, but honestly, if I had some really swish (both literal and metaphorical), I probably would have worn them instead. I don’t wear makeup or use beauty products of any kind. There’s a reason I’m mentioning this, which I’ll come to later.  I got fun of for bringing Taiwanese food because this was waaaaaaaay before ‘ethnic’ food became so popular.


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