Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: family dysfunction

Dementia, dysfunction, and depression

Dementia is brutal. I knew this, of course, but I didn’t know this until my father got it. I wrote yesterday about not knowing when it was dementia and when it was dysfunction, and let me throw depression into the mix. Depression for my father because of course the dementia is making him depressed. I’m saying that sincerely, by the way. I’m not being snarky, though it’s hard to know the difference with me sometimes. Ofcourse it would be depressing not to know who you were or what was happening or who was around you on a regular basis. It has to feel so unstable when things are constantly shifting as to what you think you know.

So, yaeh. Of course my father is depressed! And my mother isn’t helping when she tries to insist on reality. I know it has to hurt her that my father doesn’t recognize her (or thinks she’s Ecco, his wife, but not Grace, my mother. Both are her names, by the way. The former is what he calls her in Taiwanese while the latter is her American name), but her trying to correct him over and over again is just making things worse.

This is something that frustrates the hell out of me. She is a psychologist. This is Dementia 101. Don’t argue with someone with dementia. It’s not being kind–in fact, it’s actively cruel. I couldn’t believe I had to tell her this. THat is something even people without psych degrees should know. But, no. She said she could not lie to him, and I got so impatient telling her it wasn’t lying. He wasn’t going to remember it in five seconds, anyway.

When I talk to him, I agree with whatever he says. Even if I don’t like it. This is where it gets tricky for me. He has been nasty all my life about women in general and me in particular. He’s said things like ‘the common housewife can’t figure out CostCo’ and boy did I have several things to say to this. This was the last time he was here. He was not in dementia when he said it so I felt no restraint in arguing with him. I still shouldn’t have because it was pointless, but I couldn’t help it. He’s so good at pushing my buttons, mainly because he (along with my mother) installed them.

Another thing he said that was more pointed at me demonstrated the layers and levels to his manipulation. At the dinner table, he started talking about how he was not a doctor while having that look on his face. It’s hard to describe, but I know he’s going to say something spectacularly out there when he has it on his face. Something that is going to annoy/irritate/anger me because of how baseless/uninformed/mean-spirited it is. This time, it was him rambling about how germs worked. In his opinion, the pores on your skin opens up more when it’s cold.

That in itself is factually untrue. This is not something you need to be a doctor to understand. Steam opens up the pores. Steam is hot. Therefore, the converse is true as well. Cold makes your pores smaller. I said this to my father, and he just sat there with a blank look on his face. I knew the folly of what I was doing, and yet, I could not stop. This was one of my big flaws–I got sucked into arguing with my parents when I knew it didn’t make a whiff of difference. In this case, I didn’t know why he was bringing it up, anyway. The pores being bigger or smaller when you’re cold/hot, I mean. It had nothing to do with what we were talking about, and he had brought it up apropos of nothing.

Continue Reading

When dementia meets dysfunction

Dementia is brutal. I’m not making an inflammatory statement by saying that, I think. It takes no prisoner and leaves everyone it comes in contact with hurt, battered, and bruised. Emotionally, if not physically. There is no reasoning with it nor is there any way to get around it.

In the last post about this subject, I talked about how my mother made me her emotional support person when I was eleven, and it’s only gotten worse since then. Well, to be more specific, that it’s only gotten worse in the last few years. Not coincidentally, it’s when my father’s dementia took a turn for the worse. I remember before the pandemic, they came here in 2019. Yes, my father was forgetful back then. Yes, it was clear (to me) that he had dementia. Yes, he slipped now and again when it came to who I was. But he was still mostly there.

I do remember, though, the one example that drove home the point that he had dementia.  We had gone to the C-PAP provider because he nedeed a new mask. I drove them there and was waiting in the waiting room. I was called in because my father wasn’t understanding what the rep was telling him. So I had to explain to him–in English–what the rep had said to him–also in English. It was really bizarre.

Later that night, my father came into the living room where I was. He had the mask in his hand and a puzzled look on his face. He asked me to explain it to him. I did, and he went away satisfied. Until the next night. Then, he came back with the mask again, the same look of puzzlement on his face, and he asked me to explain to him how the mask worked. He did this every night he was there, and there was no indication on his face that he had any idea he had asked the exact same thing several nights in a row.

That’s when it hit home that he actually had dementia.

The difficult thing is that my father has been a raging narcissist all his life. He doesn’t care about anything that doesn’t affect him. If he’s not interested, he simply won’t listen. You cannot MAKE him listen. So, there was part of me that thought he was just not listening. Until the third or fourth night when he asked me yet again. That’s when I realized that he actually couldn’t retain what I was saying, and it wasn’t him being a jerk.

Continue Reading

I’m so tired

I’m so tired. Not physically, though that as well, but of being my mother’s emotional dumping vessel–which has been my role in her life since I was eleven. You know that saying, “Not my monkey, not my circus”? My mother would trounce all over that statement and throw it in the trash. She once complained about my last therapist because she (my therapist) was turning me against my mother (in my mother’s point of view).

“We were so close,” she lamented, with thet unspoken addition of ‘until SHE came along’. Which was completely untrue. We were never close. She meant that I was more docile before I saw my last therapist–but that wasn’t true, either.

The reality is that my mother and I have never been close in the sense of knowing, trusting, and respecting each other. We are close only in that she has made it a lifetime habit of dumping all her shit on me and acting all hurt and victomized if I dare say that she should not do that.

To make it even worse, a few decades ago, she apologized for it and said that she should not have done that to me when I was a kid. Which, fine, but it didn’t stop her from doing it. In other words, it was horseshit. It’s the same as when she was last here. She would complain about my father and then say that she shouldn’t do it. Then she said she wouldn’t do it again. I finally had to tell her to stop saying that because we both knew it iwasn’t true. And it was just making me angrier for her to keep apologizing with no intent of stopping.

It was the only thing she knew how to do, and it had served her…not well, but she deluded herself into thinking it did. Here is my post from yesterday wihch is tangentially related. The thing is that she has learned she can often get what she wanted by simply persisting. Basically, nagging me into submission. I had to learn that it was better for me to stand up on the big things and give in on the small ones.

Yes, it reinforced her belief that it was the way to get what she wanted, but it also gave me peace about the big things. So going on the cruise for my parents fiftieth anniversary? That was a hard no. Going back to Taiwan with my brother’s family? Hell to the no. I nearly killed myself the last time I went to Taiwan (and that is not an exaggeration), and I was not going through that again.

The story I always give about the last time I went to Taiwan to show how little I mean to my mother is that I asked to do exactly one thing on that trip. I wanted to go to the National Palace Museum because I love museums. I had been there once before, but of course once was not enough. It was the only thing I asked to do in the ten days we were there.

Continue Reading

Going low or no-contact with faaaaaamily

One of the problems with a society that gives lip service to family is that it will often be resistent to any negativinty surrounding faaaaamily. Any time you need to defend something that heavily, it means that fundamental thing is broken.

An example that I ofen use. When I was twenty, I realized that I did not want kids. And, more to the point, that I did not have to have them! It was the best realization of my life (at some point, I will do a comprehensive post about how the best realizations of my life were negative ones–meaning, that I realized I was NOT something or did NOT want something, rather than positive ones), and I felt a lightness that I had not felt beforehand.

And, at the time, I naively thought that it was a one-and-done decision. I wasn’t going to have kids. Boom! That’s it. I was a sweet, summer child, but in my defense, I was raised by wolves. I did not know much about societal expectations because my parents did not have any interest in being a part of American society so did not impart any of those norms to me. Yes, in my ancestral culture (Taiwanese), there is the expectation that a female-shaped person will have kids, but I didn’t think it was as strong in American culture.

Like I said, I was a sweet summer child. So yioung. So naive.

Women started asking me about it when I was mid-twenties. I will note it was only women. Men just wanted to get in my pants and probably didn’t care want me to get pregnant from it. But women would ask, and I would honestly answer. I never brought it up myself, but it was a common topic of conversation. I want to emphasize that I never, ever, got into a rant about my thoughts of having children. I simply said that I didn’t have them/wasn’t going to have them. They would press and ask why. I wouuld say that I did not want them.

That was it. I never elaborated more than that. And you would think that would be the end of that, but it never was. For some reason, the women felt the need/urge/compulsion to arguue with me. And the one that got to me the most were the women who were angry at me because “You must think I’m a loser to have children/want them.” Uh, no? I don’t think about you and your progeny at all? It literally is not on my mind–at all. I don’t care if someone else has children or not.

This was so confusing. Why were they angry at me for making a decision (that they dragged out of me) that had no effect on them at all? It took me a decade or so to truly grasp what was going on. It’s beacuse they were invested in the status quo and societal norms. Or that they had never questioned them all their lives. They grew up assuming they would get married and have children, and that would be that. Then, they were vaguely dissatisfied with their lives (or not so vaguely) and could not figure out why.

I walzed along and blithely say that I’m not having children. I wasn’t questioning the status quo; I was just blowing past it. I didn’t care about having children. I didn’t care if other people wanted them or not. I didn’t understand agonizing over not having them or falling over yourself (as a woman. Let’s face it. Most dudes were not pushed to defend their decision to this degree to not have children. By other men, at least) to apologize for not having them. I didn’t want them, wasn’t having them, and it was glorious! It made me feel so good, I wanted to hire a skywrite plane and have it emblazoned in the clouds.

Continue Reading

A matter of perspective

Eminem, the rapper, has a notoricously difficult relationship with his mother. He’s written several songs about her, including one that he now doesn’t sing any longer, Cleaning Out My Closet. Which is a banger, by the way. The song that really struck me, though, was Headlights, ft. Nate Ruess, which I have included below.

Dang. I just Googled it. It’s ten years old. I still think of it as his ‘new’ song, even though that is most undoubtedly not ture. It really struck me for several reasons. One, it’s a really good song. Two, people took it as an apology song to his mother, which was not my take on it. Three, it got me thinking about my own troubled relationship with my mother, which is not good for my head space over time.

It got me thinking how we bring our own point of view into art. It’s part of what makes it such an evocative experience. If you have no inner tapestry, a painting is just a painting and a song is just a song.

I could not understand how people thought it was simply an apology/I forgive you song. I mean, it’s partly that. He said that he undrestood that she was mentally ill and did the best she could. He told her that he was ashamed of his earlier song and no longer played it in concerts. He told her that he still loved her because she was his mother.

But. He also said the following lines:

“And that’s when I realized you were sick and it wasn’t fixable or changeable,

And to this day, we remain estranged and I hate it though.”

“‘Cause you ain’t even get to witness your grandbabies grow”

“Now the medication’s taking over and your mental state’s deteriorating slow

And I’m way too old to cry; that shit’s painful, though”

“And although one has only met their grandma once”

“I hope you get this message that I will always love you from afar”

All these to me says that he has gone no contact with her. The fact that she showed up suddenly one day and the security questioned her (in the video) while checking a clipboard before shaking their head and watching as she drove off made it clear to me that she was not allowed into his house. Yes, that is conjecture on my side, but it’s pretty obvious to me.

I heard so often that it was a heartwarming song that I wondered if I was that off-base about the song. Yes, he said that he forgave her, but that was because he had given up hope that she would change. I know how that feels because at some point, you have to lay your burden down and stop hoping that your parent will change.

Continue Reading

Discussing family dysfunction

I come from two cultures that hammer home how important family is. Taiwanese and America, I don’t actually know much about the former other than what my mother and father have told me. The latter gives lip service to it, but doesn’t really put much effort into making it happen. In fact, during the pandemic, many companies showed exactly how much they cared about family (hint, not much if any).

There are many difficulties in discussing family dysfunction. One, there is a collective investment into pushing the narrative that family is everything (again, without actually promoting family. Many families had a really hard time during the pandemic, especially working mothers. This post is not about that, though).

For people with good parents, it’s nearly unfathomable to them that other people have different families. It’s the same for anything, really, in that people think they are the norm. For whatever reason, though, it’s even more the case with faaaaaaamily. You’re supposed to forgive behavior from family members that  you would never forgive from anyone else.

Every family has an Uncle Tim who is to be avoided for whatever reason. Whether he’s creepy or gross or racist or whatnot, everyone speaks about him in hushed tones, but put up with him because ‘he’s faaaaaaaamily’.

There’s a truism that you don’t ask the unreasonable person to change their behavior beacuse you know that they won’t. Instead, you pressure the reasonable person to adapt because you have a better chance of getting that to happen. This is why my mother puts up with my father and scolds my brother and me for not catering to his every whim.

The last time they were here, my mother sent a long and guilt-tripping email to my brother and me, saying that we had to love and respect our father more. The day before, she told us not to speak so fast in front of him because he could not keep up and it made him feel bad. My brother and I only speak English. and we both speak very quickly.

When I pointed out that my brother and I were just talking to each other like normal people in the language we spoke (in other words, we weren’t speaking English AT my father, so to speak), she said we should go to the living room to do that. I pointed out that it would make my father even more paranoid if my brother and I were to LEAVE THE ROOM in order to talk with each other.

Back to the email. She said in Taiwanese culture, kids were supposed to love and respect their elders (that this was the most important thing). Which, yes? I guess? But there are qualifiers to that. At least I hope there are. And maybe this is the American in me, but that’s fine. I am an American, whether I like it or not. I’m Taiwanese by lineage, but I have never lived there. Nor, quite frankly, have I wanted to. Given what my parents have told me about the culture, why would I?

Continue Reading

End of life decisions

My brother and I were talking about our parents. we don’t talk about them that often, but it comes up more often because my father’s dementia is getting worse. He can still recognize us, but we don’t know for how long. He is getting more and more confused about other things, though, such as where we live in relation to him. He doesn’t get that we’re in different countries, and he has commented that we could drive to see each other. Just a reminder, he’s in Taiwan and I’m in Minnesota.

Before the pandemic, I only saw him once a year for a month during summer. By the way, amusing fact. Amusing to me, anyway. Every year, they would plan on coming for six weeks. Every year, around the third week, my father would start grumbling about being here. then, they would go home early. I think he only came because my mother nagged him into coming. He never liked America–he only came for his MA and his PhD. I realized when I was in my twenties that he never wanted to stay here. I think he felt trapped once he had children, and he grew increasingly bitter because he could only move up so much in his career. This was thirty years ago when racism was more overt–even in Minnesota. Maybe especially in Minnesota beacuse it’s so overwhelmingly white.

Anyway, around the fourth week, he would complain so much, my mother would change their plans, and they would fly back to Taiwan early.

Then, the pandemic hit so they were not able to come back for summer of 2020 nd 2021. Then, they rushed here in the autumn of 2021 when I had my medical crisis and stayed for three months. That was a terrible time, but it clarified so many things about my family.

Number one, my mother has, does, and will always put my father first. She told me that my brother and I were number one to her (after God). I said that wasn’t true because she was always putting my father first. I mean, I would argue that she put my father before God, making him her god, but that’s neither here nor there. She answered by saying that my brother and I were first in her heart.

Which doesn’t mean a damn thing! It’s easy to say that, but you have to match your deeds to your words. A trite saying with which I agree is that love is a verb and not a noun .It’s something you do, not something you feel or say. Or rather, obviously, you can feel love for someone, but that does not matter if you don’t express that love and if you don’t show that love.

Continue Reading

Family dysfunction: the gift that keeps on giving

I have pretty much given up on Slate advice columns because I don’t like most of the columnists and, to be frak, the commentariat is….not my cup of tea in general. Or rather, I never know which way they’re going to swing, and it’s frustrating to me. For the most part, I can guess which way they are agoing to go, but every once in a while, they take me by complete surprise. Most of the time, though, I know what they are going to say. I’s usually pretty pragmatic, except when it comes to anyone who is a minority, then pragmaticism goes out the window and all kinds of isms come flying in. The only time when they actually acknowldege any ism is when it’s sexism–probably because more than half the commentariat are women.

We all know that people are self-centered. This is a given, and not even a bad tihng. Of course you’re going to thnk about things from your own point of view–that’s what being a human is. But, the problem is when you (general you) can’t see why/how someone else would think differently. and you assume that they are wrong/weird/crazy for thinking the way they do.

I really don’t like Doyin Richards from Care and Feeding because he relates everything to himself and because he’s, well, mean to his kid.s Such as telling them that their things are not theirs because he bought them, and he’s just letting them use them. That’s not tough love, that’s just cruel.

For whatever reason, I decided to read his column today. Much to my surprise, I actually agreed with his answers for the most part. But it might be because the first two questions were just so out there, anyone could have answered them easily. It’s the second question that really grinded my gears. The mother who ‘wears her heart on her sleeve’ and doesn’t want to stifle herself for her kids. She overheard them talk about how they didn’t go to her for anything because she was so sensitive. This was what she said:

I am deeply hurt that my kids choose to believe that they have to walk on eggshells around me, but this is who I am.

Are you fucking kidding me? Wow. She went on to say more words, but this just smacked my gob. If you noticed, she was fully invested in ‘this is how I am’, but she also said that her children were choosing to walk on eggshells around her. She couldn’t help who she was, but they could, apparently. The two kids (13F and 16M, the latter is the oldest. The way it’s phrased, there are other kids, sadly) were talking about how they she would freak out over little things like no more milk. The oldest son said that he learned in elementary school that he could not go to her for anything.

Now. I am not a parent. But If I were and my kids said something like this, I would be mortified. I would take to heart what they said and work on changing it. She went on to say that she didn’t think it was fair that she be expected to change a huge part of who she was for something as silly as her children’s feelings. No, she did not phrase it taht way, but it was very evident in her attitude.

Doyin nailed this by saying while it was hard to hear, she needed to get a therapist ASAP to deal with it because she was making it unsafe for her kids. he also called bullshit on her saying that she did not ask her kids to change their own behavior. He said, “If you saw them hurting someone, you’d just stand by with your thumb up your ass and not say anything?” Paraphrased, of course, but pretty much what he said.

Continue Reading

Compassion is hard

In yesterday’s post, I touched on how we humans make things harder on ourselves. This is true in general, and even more so with family dysfunction. What we grew up with was the norm, and if it was unrelenting, then it can be hard to break free. In my family, women were subjugated to men (rather, my mother prostrated herself in front of my father. But, weirdly, she also argued with him incessantly about him staying out until all hours of the night. She told me not to tell him certain things, but she also stood up to him when he wanted to spank my brother. She also pushed to get my brother an Apple computer at a time when it was prohibitively expensive because my brother was techno-minded).

My mother has always been an odd mixture of rampantly sexist in general and believing herself to be above those rules. I guess that’s not odd, actually. Many people have a ‘not for me’ exception to their rules. “Oh, this is how things should be–except for me.”

It’s partly because people have plenty of context for their own behavior/ideas/views, but they don’t for other people’s. So something that they could justify for themselves, they would not do so for other people. In other words, it’s ok for me but not for thee.

My mother has dedicated her life to propping up my father’s ego. It’s really sad when you think about it from afar. I also think it has emotionally crippled him rather than helping him. Never allowing him to tolerate a moment of discomfort did not help him grow. Was he able to grow? I don’t know. Doubtful. But we’ll never know because my mother wrapped him in gossamer silk and never let him out.

It’s not entirely her fault. He was (and is) a difficult man. A full-fledged narcissist who did not think about anything other than himself. He had affairs from the time I was very young, and he and my mother fought about it endlessly.

Here’s the bottom line with that. My mother knew. She knew he was stepping out on her, and she accepted it. Yes, she fought with him about it, but she did not leave him. She did not enact any consequences for his bad behavior, so he learned that if he just waited it out, he would win in the end.

I can’t help thinking that her life would have been so much better if she had left him before my brother and I were even born, but that was never going to happen. My mother’s chidhood made it so she would never leave my father. Not just the sexist Taiwanese culture, but the fact that her mother was so domineering and withoholding of love.

Continue Reading

Actions, not words–and destructive coping mechanisms

My mom called me last night and as usual, started the conversation by complaining. Wait. To be fair, she asked me how I was doing. She didn’t care, mind, but she did ask. Believe me. She does not care. I give her a bland answer, and we move on to why she really called–to complain about my father.

Let me hasten to say that most of her complaints are valid. As I ‘ve said many times and as most people know, dementia is brutal on people. Not just the people who have it, but also the people who are taking care of them. I would not wish it on anyone. Period. I have heard enough about caretaking on a daily basis to know that I would not do it.


Here’s the thing. There are ways to make it easier on yourself. Not EASY, mind, but easier. They include putting the person in a facility or bringing in long-term/intensive care. No one should do it alone is what I’m trying to say. I told my mother to do this because she has asked me what to do. But, and I heard this from my brother, she thinks putting him in a facility will hasten his death. I think it will actually stabilize him–given a few factors. One, that it’s a good nursing home. That sounds very obvious, but so many are not. Two, that he’s moved in before he completely loses control of his faculties. Three, and this is very important, it’s a place that can deal with violent outbursts. My father has had two that my mother has told me of, and I fear that it will increase as his dementia does.

Saying all that, my heart sinks every time my mother calls. She gives that little laugh she always does when she’s about to talk about something uncomfortable or that she knows I don’t want to hear. This time, she mentioned that she had something wrong with her leg that she was supposed to get surgery on, but she postponed it because she could not leave my father to do it. She tried to say that it wasn’t necessary and that she could handle it, which just filled me with sadness.

She has given all her life to taking care of this man, and for what? He’s not grateful at all. Not that he has ever been. Even before he was hit with dementia, he just took it for granted that she should do everything for him.

Continue Reading