Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: life

Living a charmed life

I was reading the weekend thread on Ask A Manager. Someone asked for the happiest memory you have. It was an interesting question and my mind went immediately to dying. Not because it was a happy memory, per se, but because it’s my strongest memory. Not the dying part because I don’t remember that. And I probably never will, sadly.

Side Note (is this the quickest detour I’ve taken in a post?): It’s the oddest thing–having a week and a few days missing from my  memory, I mean. My brother has told me everything he knows; K and Ian have filled in the blanks as best as possible. My Taiji teacher has added what she knows, and there are still gaps.

I remember sending an email to my Taiji teacher the Tuesday before I collapsed, saying I was exhausted and would not be in class. I remember messaging Ian the Thursday before about the Nioh 2 (Team Ninja) boss we had both just beaten. I do not remember the Wednesday between.

Then, I was unconscious for the week after I collapsed. I remember waking up, scared, angry, and ready to fight whomever needed fighting. I had a breathing tube in my nose and was pumped full of drugs.

I remember one minute not being and then the next moment, being. That was a shock to my system, I can tell you that much. That will be my most memorable memory for the rest of my life, I’m sure. But. Until reading this thread, I had forgotten about another time I had almost died.

I was in Taiwan with a group from my college–we were studying Buddhism in the Far East. About four of us women (how I identified at the time), decided to swim in the Hualien River. The current was strong, and I was not a good swimmer (still am not). The tide caught me and started carrying me away. One of the other women grabbed me and pulled me to safety. I was shaken because I knew that if she hadn’t grabbed me, I’d be dead.

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Making like Elsa and letting go

So. More on my family because it’s heavy on my mind. I wrote about it at length in the last post and I want to continue with it now. I’ve written at length about what a jerk my father is. I’ve written less, however, about the betrayal of my mother, probably because it hurts more. I expect my father to be a selfish asshole. That’s his brand. He’s been that way my whole life. He only cares about me because I’m his daughter, heavy emphasis on ‘his’. I’m a female-shaped girl child in his mind–my actual personality doesn’t matter. In fact, it’s just a hindrance in his mind. He has very set ideas an what a woman is and he’ll cram me into that rigidity, come hell or high water. Now, while in general, it wasn’t directed at me, in some ways, it was worse because he expected me to agree with him. Or at the very least, he had no compunction about saying it to my face.

The one that is burned into my brain happened a day or two after my brother took them to Costco. I didn’t go because this was a month or so after I left the hospital and I knew I wasn’t ready to brave a Costco run yet. My parents were tired when they got home, which I had expected. Costco is huge and can be overwhelming. A day or two later, my father mentioned going to Costco.

Side note: Here’s the thing you have to know about my father. He’s a shithead. But I’ve been very clear about that. It’s that he gets this look on his face when he’s about to say something offensive. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a cross between a smirk and a cold stare. I’m sure he thinks of it as his thoughtful face, but that isn’t what it is. At all. It’s more a “I’m better than you are in every way even though I’m a sack of shit” face than anything else.

Side note II: The recent visit from my parents really allowed me to see my mother for exactly who she is–an enabler and a martyr. I realized about a decade-and-a-half ago that she was a narcissist, too ,but not to the degree that she really is. It’s been very hard on me to accept that she’s just as damaged and cruel as my father. More so in some ways because she knows that my father is full of shit and protects him, nonetheless. It took me dying for me to realize that my mother would shove me under the bus to preserve the fiction that my father is not what he is.

I told K a month or so after I returned home that my mother would choose my father over me if she could only save one. My brother and I have known since we were little that my father always came first in my mother’s life. And, while I have never wanted children just because I never did, a large part why I never had them was because of how fucked up my mother was as a mother. There was no way I was putting any child of mine into the position of being anywhere near my parents, and even when I was twenty and fucked up, I knew that the best thing I could do for my nonexistent children was to not let them be born. Again, I never wanted children, so it was all theoretical, but my desire to stop the abuse was a big reason I was able to stand firm against my mother’s manipulations and cajoling (for me to have a kid) for fifteen years.

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One week

One week. Barring a positive COVID test, that’s how long I have until I get to return to my bachelor’s life. It’s incredible. At the six weeks to go mark, I was despairing of ever living alone again. Then, I realized it was only five weeks and suddenly felt freer. I don’t know why as it’s only one week less, but five weeks felt doable whereas six weeks seemed insurmountable. Now, it’s one week, and if history is any indication, this is going to be the hardest week to get through.

I don’t know why, but the last part of doing something is always the hardest. I mean, I have my theories, of course. It’s because the finish line is in sight, but out of reach. It’s right there! I can see it so why can’t I be there already? A week is nothing in the grand scheme of things. On the other hand, a week is how long I was lying in a hospital bed unconscious. It’s enough to change my life–and to not change it at the same time. Everything is the same and yet completely different because of that week. Or rather, because of the events that led up to that week. Me having pneumonia, calling 911, passing out in the front hallway, and then suffering two cardiac arrests and a stroke on the way to the hospital. That all took half an hour or so to occur, which is such a short period of time.

When I first left the hospital, my recent trauma was all I could think about. Even when I wasn’t focusing on it, it was poking at me in the back of my mind. Why it happened , what exactly happened, was it going to happen again, etc. I talked about it with my medical team and with friends and family. I wanted to know everything that happened while I was out. My brother was good for the basic information as he started a Caring Bridge journal in which he wrote daily of what happened to me. He noted all the things the docs told him and directed everyone to the journal when they had questions about me. He said it allowed him to have a nexus for people to consult rather than to pester him in several outlets. In addition, it helped him order his own thoughts about what was happening and keep everything straight. He’s not one to emote, but I know it was really rough on him. He was my default contact person because I’m not partnered, have no kids, and my parents live in Taiwan. He’s the closest person to me, both geographically and familial-wise. He was the one who made decisions as to what happened to me, which is a burden I would not wish upon anyone.

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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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I looked Death straight in the eye–twice–without blinking

We’ve all heard stories about how when people are dying, they see a bright light guiding them. Some hear the voice of a loved one telling them to go to the light. It’s all gentle, encouraging, and almost poetic.

Not me. I woke up from a week of unconsciousness with a gasp, ready to fight whomever needed fighting. I was mad as hell, scared, and disoriented. I didn’t know what the hell had happened to me, but I was furious, anyway. There was no gentle waking up. There was no coaxing into the light. It was me, instantly alert, ready to have a go at the nearest person. Fortunately, I was tied down or I probably would have started swinging, which I would have regretted later. This is actually how I sleep, come to think of it. I had a friend who loved sleep. She talked about drifting gradually into consciousness, feeling deliciously dozy as she slowly woke up. Not me. I went from sleep to instantly awake in a nanosecond, which is jarring. I don’t have any grace period between sleep and awake, much to my regret.

That’s what happened in the hospital. One minute, nothing, the next minute, awake and spitting mad. And I couldn’t stop talking. My id took over and ran with every thought that entered my mind. Because I’m aware that I tend to ramble, I keep a tight rein on my thoughts. In the hospital, however, when I was hopped up on sedatives and narcotics, and I  had just woken up, I had no control over my mouth.

I rarely think about the fact that my heart stopped twice, but it’s there in the back of my mind. It’s not something I can focus on for too long without getting a bit freaked out. Death is something I’ve been drawn to/repulsed by for my entire life. The thought of death freaked me the fuck out. But, honestly, it’s just like falling asleep forever. It’s the conscious me that is afraid of death. The unconscious me didn’t even know she was unconscious. I know that seems obvious, but I can’t stress enough how jarring it was to suddenly wake up from nothingness.

Back it up even further.

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Faking it, but not making it

too crowded!
My brain is not a great place to be.

“Fake it until you make it” gets tossed around a lot as a way to deal with overcoming low self-esteem issues. The theory is that our brains believe what we tell them, so by acting as if we’re confident, we’ll eventually become confident. I’ve done it my whole life, but it hasn’t made me any more confident than I already was. If anything, I think it’s hindered me from actually developing more confidence. From the outside (and if you don’t talk to me for very long), it seems as if I have my shit together. I had it ground into me that I was not allowed to show emotions, especially negative ones, and I still have difficulty expressing those emotions out loud.

Side Note: When I was younger, I was a sponge for all the negative emotions around me. I could actually feel them as I walked by people, and it made me physically ill at times. This was before I was able to erect good emotional shields, and it’s one reason I don’t like being in crowds. On occasion, I would flash on why someone was feeling the negativity they were (though, of course, I had no way to confirm it. I was not going to ask a near stranger if they were being abused by their husband, for instance), and it made me profoundly sad. It was exhausting for me to be around people because I would be drained from running the emotional gauntlet.

Cognitive Behavioral Theory (CBT) is all the rage right now, and I hate it. I wasn’t sure why exactly until I read someone explain their distaste for it in an Ask A Manager column (where they are overwhelmingly for it). She explained that it felt like gaslighting to hear the therapist say, “That’s just a feeling. It’s not real.” She was more eloquent and expansive, but that’s the part that really resonated with me. A big part of CBT is focusing on behavior (duh), and dismissing the feelings behind them. I’ve already spent a lifetime dismissing my feelings; I don’t need to pay someone to do that as well.

Side Note II: One thing I really hate about AA and all the groups that have sprung up that are based on AA, well, besides the fact that it’s success rate is no better than any other recovery program, is the insistence on powerlessness. Again, I couldn’t exactly explain why until I was talking about it with my then-therapist. I was participating in a CoDA program (Co-Dependency Anonymous) online, and I just couldn’t get past that (or the god shit. I hate the god shit). My therapist recommended a book to me by Dr. Charlotte Kasl called Many Roads, One Journey: Moving Beyond the 12 Steps. My therapist described the theory in a nutshell–for people who are not Bill W. types (i.e., white male Christian), we spend a lot of time feeling helpless/powerless, anyway. We don’t need to give up the power because we don’t have it. If anything, we need to feel empowered, rather than powerless.

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Live like you’re going to die tomorrow


fork in the road.
It could go either way.

Many moons ago when I was mired in a deep and chronic depression, I was contemplating suicide. I didn’t talk about it much, but I did mention it to my BFF. I’ll never forget what she said, though I haven’t quite followed her advice in the meantime. She said, “Don’t kill yourself yet. Give yourself a year to do whatever the hell you want and then see how you feel about it.”

Of course, she wasn’t advocating that I kill myself–far from it. She was trying to reframe the depression that had me feeling like complete and utter crap on a daily basis. Her point was that if I was going to kill myself (and, again, emphasizing that she was not advocating for it in any way), I should go out with no regrets. Her suggestion was that I make a list of all the things I wanted to do, do them for a year, and then see how I felt then.

Unfortunately, I was too far into my depression at the time to actually follow her advice, but I find it on my mind now that I’m in the midst of another depression. It isn’t as severe as the last one, and I’m very aware that it’s external rather than internal, but it’s still rather debilitating. There are several small things I need to do (new glasses, tire change, get a new insurance card), and I keep saying I’ll do it tomorrow, next Monday, etc. Rationally, I know that each one is no big deal, but they seem almost insurmountable in my mind.

I’ve written before how much energy it takes to do anything, let alone anything outside of my comfort zone. It’s easy to think someone with depression is lazy, but that’s because it’s hard to gauge the energy depleted from the outside. When I go to taiji, for example, I start thinking about it the night before. I remind myself when I’m leaving after running through my agenda for the day in my mind. Then, the next day, I have it in the back of my mind the entire time I’m doing whatever else leads up to the actual departure. Then, I get up at the assigned time, go out for a quick smoke, get dressed/shower/brush my teeth/go to the bathroom/do what needs to be done before leaving. I grab my weapons bag, my water container, my canvas bag (for the co-op), and my purse. Then, I place everything in the car just so, pull on my sunglasses, put on some lip goo, before finally opening the garage door.

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Resolution in the Face of Indecision

I don’t have much use for New Year resolutions, but I’ve been finding myself at odds in  the last month or so, and I’m not sure why. It could be because of the anniversary of the lost of my beloved Raven, or it might just be that time of year. At any rate, I’ve been more morose than I have been in some time. Maybe because I’m closer to fifty than to forty, but I’m contemplating the end of my life and what I’ll have to show for it. I will say that on the familial front, my relationship with my parents has never been better, and as I’ve said, I attribute it to taiji. My teacher was recently talking about how tension makes you numb so you can’t physically feel things. Then, when you first start to relax, all you can feel is tension. You had gotten so used to it, you never even noticed how tense you were. When my relationship with my parents was at its lowest, I had my shoulders hunched up around my ears metaphorically all the time. I was so tense all the time. Then, with the help of taiji, I learned to release the tension. It was great, but I started noticing how great my tension was. My shoulders were like rock, and the small of my back was constantly aching. Talking to my parents made me tenser, which I also noticed.

Quite frankly, this was the worst of both worlds. When I was tense all the time, it was just a way of life. I didn’t know any differently, so I just accepted it as normal. Then, I learned it wasn’t normal or even sustainable, but I didn’t feel I could do anything about it. Rather, I could keep doing taiji, which I have, but I didn’t feel I could do anything more tangible. So, I felt more physically horrible than I did when I was tense all the time, even though I was ostensibly doing better. I felt the same emotionally. For years, I had defenses a mile high, and I was bunkered down behind them. Once they started falling, but I yet didn’t have anything to take their place, I felt as if my emotions were pinging all over the place. It was a really uncomfortable place in which to be, and I felt powerless to do anything about it.

Now, I find I am much more able to control my emotions and not be as controlled by them. I’m in a better place emotionally, even if I’ve been more morose in the past few weeks. I’m also healthier overall, my recent illness not withstanding. I am no longer defensive when I talk to my parents, and we’re actually able to have meaningful conversations without shouting on either side. I’m astonished, actually, at how far we’ve come.

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Staring into the Abyss

The other day, I was talking with a classmate about depression. I was saying how the thing I fear most is when I get hit with depression (serious depression, rather than the low-key depression I normally suffer) is that I’ll be plunged back into the darkness and not be able to come out of it again. Intellectually, I know it’s just a temporary state, but because I lived in it for twenty-plus years, it’s easy to feel as if it’s back for good. It used to be my normal state, and it’s weird to feel it envelope me again like a well-worn coat. It’s shabby, and it has holes in the elbow, but it still fits. Not well, and it doesn’t block out the elements as it used to, but it’s still my old coat.

I’ve stretched that metaphor as far as it can go. The point is, it feels familiar, but still strange.  I can’t believe I used to feel this way all the time; I don’t know how I survived it. I think it’s because I didn’t know any differently at the time. I’ve been depressed for as long as I can remember, and I assumed I would feel that way forever. When the fog started lifting, it was so incremental, I didn’t realize it until I was well out of the darkness. Going back to it, even briefly at ten times less the intensity, it shakes me.

It’s fucking horrible. I’ve tried to explain what it feels like before, and I’ve never come up with an adequate description. Everything flattens out so that when I’m looking at something, there’s a flat affect. Not that it loses color–that only happens when I have a migraine. It’s more like my brain refuses to register there’s color. I become detached from my body or rather, from my brain. There’s a slight wall between me and everything/everybody else, and I feel emotionally cold.

I used to have nightmares all the time, some of them narrated. It was strange to watch myself do something in my dream and to hear a dispassionate male voice say, “She is now walking into the room” and the like as if it were a movie. It often felt as if I were watching a movie, and I was semi-conscious it was a dream, but not enough to lucidly dream. To me, it symbolized how unconnected I felt from myself, and it was a manifestation of my mind/body split.

When I was in college, I started having dissociative states in which I would disappear for up to an hour at a time. I don’t mean physically, but mentally. I’d be talking to someone, and then I’d ‘come to’ and realize I’d lost a chunk of time. Apparently, the other person never noticed, which makes me extremely nervous to remember. Then, it started happening during classes. I’d be ‘out’ for the whole hour, my notes would be filled with gibberish, but nobody seemed to notice. Those were both bad enough, but then I started doing it while I was driving. I’d be on the freeway, then I’d ‘wake up’ several minutes later not knowing how I got there.

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