A Most Painful Memory – Thoughts From Therapy #58

Just like Monday’s session, and every session I’ve ever had, Wednesday’s session with S started with him asking me how I was. I told him that I am not as good as I “should” be – to which he responded in an amused tone, “Not as good as you should?”

I then explained that I felt like I should be feeling much better since I’m now on medication and it seems to be working well for me – I haven’t had any side effects the way I did when I started on Adderall and Ritalin. In fact, many days, I often don’t feel anything – maybe that’s not such a good thing – and seem to be able to tolerate distress at a higher level (“They do increase your distress tolerance…” S had affirmed).

But anyway, due to the stigma (both societal and my own personal stigma), it’s hard to not feel like I should be much better than I really am. I told S that our Monday session  had been triggering and of course, he had asked me what the trigger had been. I told him that I didn’t know.

I’ve come to realize now that “I don’t know” is always my first response when I know the answer but just don’t really want to hash it out or talk about it. So when I told him that I didn’t know what triggered my distress on Monday, I realized that I did know. “I don’t know” is just a defense mechanism I default to.

As I start to explain to him what my distress was – that is, not knowing who I am, what I want to do or where I belong – he realized that my trigger had been my sharing with him the experience I had at that gay club; that I felt like I still didn’t belong despite being in a place where I could explore my sexuality.

As we continued to talk about that, I realized that I don’t really know myself. As my previous post explained, I don’t have a sense of identity and am not comfortable being me.

“I’ve never been happy just being me. I thought to myself, what is it that I want to do? I don’t know that part either. So that all was just a ball in its own self, its own interwoven kind of ball of confusion, I guess…” I had said. “What is it that I like that is truly what I want? Because so much of it was so influenced by whoever I’m with that it’s like, you know, I’m so um… Flexible in that sense. I can do whatever what everybody else will do and I’ll be fine with it. I’m so much like the weed, getting blown about by the wind. Just going whatever direction the wind is blowing… I try hard to fit in but am always left feeling like I just don’t…”

S then responded, “Seems like there’s a lot of pressure whenever like you do one of those things. It’s like, ‘Well maybe if I do this, then I’ll be belong, I’ll fit in’. Maybe it was that way last week, if you go to this club, maybe you’ll finally feel connected…”

He was right. There was that pressure. It felt like I needed to find myself now or else something bad will happen. It’s an unfounded fear and an unnecessary pressure.

I continued, “Um… So it’s like there’s always that feeling of needing that connection… And then and it’s like, it feeds into everything else you know? My self-esteem, my own view of myself… You know?”

“It’s like, ‘I don’t have this connection, there’s something wrong with me, I should do like what these people want and see if that works’” S said, continuing my train of thought and expanding it further.

“Mmhmm… And it’s like that feeds the suicidal like tendencies… Because I realize now that the biggest trigger for the suicidal thoughts is when I start feeling like I’m not normal, like I don’t belong, like that I can’t connect, um… And I start feeling like, I start feeling overwhelmed. And I start feeling like that it’s unfixable… That, that it’s too monumental a task to try and fix my life, because there’s too many things that, to me,  I’m lacking and so I get pushed to the point of just what’s the point of even trying…” I said, feeling like S really gets me.

“So it’s like this cascade of thoughts and emotions, that you can’t connect, that you do something to try and connect with people, and it doesn’t work, and that just starts the dominoes…” S said, validating my thoughts.

He was right about that too. The cascade of thoughts and emotions is what keeps me feeling like I’m Alice in Lewis Carroll’s story, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, where she falls in an almost unending rabbit hole. That could explain why I love Lewis Carroll’s books so much. Maybe I do identify with Alice in many levels.

Then I told him how I have so much trouble making decisions – hence his homework for me to expose myself to things that would force me to confront a myriad of choices to help me overcome the panic that I get into when I have to make a decision based on many choices.

“Well when you’re faced with those choices, how do you feel in that moment?” S asked.

“I feel kind of like panicky. Like almost like I’m gonna have a panic attack, just what do you choose?”

“You’re panicked, you’re scared…” S said – I find his reiteration of what I’ve just said comforting because it tells me that he had been listening all along.

“Yeah, and I don’t want to regret things. The biggest thing is I just don’t want to regret my decision…” I said, realizing now that I don’t like choices because I don’t like regrets.

“You’re afraid of making the choice or regretting…”

“Yeah, and like every time I go to restaurants, I always order something, somebody else’s food always looks better than mine. There’s always that feeling… And I know that that’s probably not an uncommon thing…”

“No, I don’t think so at all…” S affirmed, telling me that this is definitely a common feeling that most people have. “Well what’s… Tell me more about that fear… This may seem like a really silly question but why is the idea of regretting something like so scary?”

I had a long pause. This was a difficult question. As I searched my mind, I found the answer. Of course, my go-to response was “I don’t know” immediately.

“I don’t know, ‘cuz I feel like in some ways, it almost feels like I’ve wasted time and somehow time is a precious kind of commodity, you don’t have much of it. And the fact is, I feel like I’ve wasted a lot of time, I feel like I’ve wasted 30 years of my life not knowing who I am, not knowing what I want. So there’s this feeling of I can’t get back that time… And I feel like I’m running out of time…”

“So there’s this pressure to do everything right, now…” S said. I nodded.

Then came the question that brought back a 13-year-old memory that when I started to tell him still hurts a lot now despite the fact that I’ve blocked it out of my active mind for that amount of time.

“Did that fear of regret, did it come up before you were married?” It was a simple enough question. It was not that hard a question to answer.

“Kind of but not as strong. Because when I was in college, um, I was doing something I was really good at (this was college back in 2005 when I was studying Linguistics). That was really helping boost some confidence. But I had thought about how… I mean at that point, what had happened was I wanted really badly to be in the military…”

S sat up. He was surprised. I cocked my head to the side.

“Oh… Have I never told you this before?” I asked, suddenly realizing that I hadn’t talked about this part of my life. It had been so long ago. Even I had forgotten it until this session.

“No…” S said, looking quite taken aback for the moment.

“Uh… Yeah… That was something I wanted to do for a while. In part because of Stargate SG1…” I said.

“Oh that makes sense…” S said, with a soft chuckle. Of course it would make sense… Stargate SG1 was part of my life for more than 10 years. It was what helped me through my teenage years and gave me a semblance of an identity. It gave me something to aim for and work towards – it also gave me my passions then in astronomy, Egyptology, languages, the military and medicine.

“You know? And I wanted so bad to be like Sam Carter. I wanted so bad to be like her. And I wanted to join the military and so I’d applied for the Malaysian Military Academy (now known as the National Defense University since it was upgraded to university status in 2006) and I didn’t get it the first time, so I decided the next year to try again. So this was back when I was in the final year of high school. I’d applied and got rejected so I decided to go into Pre-University studies which is two years after high school. So the next year, I decided to try again. So the next year, they actually accepted me and they sent me a selections letter and I had to go for a selections process. And that was like a 10-day process…” I started.

It was a long story, yet as I started to tell it, I started to remember every single detail of that event in my life. I couldn’t stop the memories from pouring back into my active consciousness. It felt like  yesterday that my father’s car had pulled up into the compound of the Royal Malaysian Territorial Army Regiment (2RAMD) Camp that was located about half an hour from my home. I got lucky that the selections process was taking place so close to my home because other candidates had to drive in from other states.

I was also considering myself lucky because my father’s best friend was also great friends with one of the Sergeants in charge of the screening. My father’s best friend was at the compound, waiting for us as we pulled up and parked the car. He told my father that he had already talked to the Sergeant and that if all goes well that I’d be awarded a spot in the Academy. I was introduced to the Sergeant in question.

My parents then left me with some of my belongings – I packed exactly only what I was told to in the selections letter. I was nervous as I waited in the gathering hall. I sat at attention the whole time because I felt like the screening probably begins at the moment of arrival. It was hours before all of us were greeted and attended to. I learned by that night that waiting was part of the psychological torture they put us through to test our mental limits and to force us to voluntarily drop out. I didn’t know it at that point of course. I had only been waiting at attention for 4 hours.

Finally at noon, all of us were greeted by the Sergeant that I had been introduced to. There were 300 men and 100 women in the group but we were the most disciplined group of teenagers you’d ever meet. I realized as I looked around that almost half the number of men were all graduates of the Royal Military College (RMC) – that is, they had been trained as soldier since they were 13 in what is equivalent to secondary/high school for the rest of us. I felt immediately like I was part of the underprivileged because I knew that all of the RMC graduates would be awarded spots in the Academy automatically due to their participation in the RMC. This meant that 250 seats were already taken up. They were only looking to fill 300 spots in total – 250 males and 50 females (it’s been 13 years, I might have had my numbers wrong at this point but it was roughly at this range).

I looked around the female group and realized that I might have a better chance after all seeing as I was of Chinese descent and there were only a total of 3 of us who were Chinese. There were 2 of Indian descent while the rest were all of Malay descent. I thought for sure then that they’d admit all 3 of us because the Malaysian government has talked about increasing diversity within the armed forces and had lamented that the Chinese and Indians weren’t as ready to take up arms as the Malays were.

Since this was a memory that I had buried deep in the recesses of my unconscious, you know by now that things didn’t end well for me in this endeavor.

When we were greeted, the tone was steely and there was no smiling or friendliness to the Sergeant as he spoke. We were then instructed to go through all the paperwork that we had been told to bring with us. As we did so, he went through each page of the paperwork at a snail’s pace – reading every word slowly. I learned then that this was another part of the “torture”. He and his cadre of NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) definitely tested our patience for 2 weeks – for the first 2 days, they would keep us up until 1am to go through paperwork after paperwork; all this after an entire day’s worth of activities.

We were taken to tour the entire campgrounds and then taken to our first meal of the day at the mess hall. The food was terrible and I couldn’t believe that this was what the military served its troops. I’ve heard of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) and the food we were served the 10 days I was there definitely rivaled MREs in terms of flavor and consistency.

I remember the marching we had to do to go from one place to another. I remember the state of the barracks we were assigned to. I remember striking up a rapport with all the women in my dorm. I remember the small group of women that decided to join me and who had looked up to me to lead them. I remember how much admiration some of these women had for me as we got to know each other. I remember the woman who shared my top bunk; she would look out for me and I would look out for her. I remember the state of the bathrooms that we were forced to use and how I would wake up an hour earlier than everyone else just so I could use the bathroom without having to wait for my turn. I remember how thankful I was that I wasn’t menstruating during the 2-weeks because to do so in such an ungodly state of hygiene made my stomach churn. I remember the hours and hours of waiting that I did. Many people, including the men, broke down and cried during these waiting sessions. Even I did – I did it secretly; wiping tears away as I pretended that I was yawning. We were all pushed to our limits during this process.

I remember how slowly the medical assessments took and how slowly the medical officers moved. It was like they were all told to take as much time as they’d like. The medical assessments stretched over 2 days long and we waited. And waited. Sometimes the doctors would take little breaks which made our wait even longer. I nearly called it quits on Day 2. It was then that I had broken down and cried. The mental anguish was too much to bear at some points. Somehow, the women who had banded with me and I were able to help each other through. The group of us learned the ropes quickly and realized that if we were one step ahead of all the other women, we would do just fine.

Day 3 was filled with paper-based examinations ranging from IQ tests to personality tests to general knowledge tests to history tests. It was a lot of sitting down and filling in forms and answering questions. Then it was more waiting as we waited for our tests to be graded. I found out that I had done really well in all of the tests dispensed. I had a little advantage, being one year older than most of the candidates (plus having had one year of pre-university studying done). I was confident that I would get through the selections and be awarded a position at the Academy at that point.

Then came Day 4 – 6 where we were physically assessed. During these 3 days, we learned of the overt sexism in the military – the men who had graduated from the Royal Military College were sexist and immature. They would taunt and harrass the women. I tried to stand up for the women who were most bullied but was told by the cadre of NCOs that they were just being boys and it’s all harmless. I was enraged because I felt that anyone who had graduated from the RMC should’ve had better integrity and honor. I learned that day that I was a very naive young woman. I had ideals that I thought the military lived up to – you know? Honor, integrity, strength, intelligence… That sort of thing?

During the physical assessments, I had showed good performance. I even ran the 3.2km circuit in under 15 minutes and became 1 of only 10 women (out of 100) to have finished in the top bracket. I showed tenacity as I tried the monkey bar test 3 times as I tried again and again to pass it. I was finally told to quit trying at the 3rd try when I fell into the muddy water. I thought that would be enough to show the NCOs that I was serious about getting a position in the Academy. I knew that Day 7 would be the day the Commandant of the Academy and his Executive Officer would arrive to interview each candidate to determine whether they would be allowed entry to the Academy. I knew I was close to victory so I made sure to show the cadre of selections officers that I was very serious about my desire to be in the Academy.

Although the cadre was tough on us, they warmed up to a number of us halfway through the selections process. By Day 5, we were also given more free personal time and also no longer made to wait for things. I was able to chat with some of NCOs and learn more about each of them. I learned their names, their positions in the branches they represented and their jobs. I learned more about what it meant to be in the military and I learned that a few of them were very impressed with my performance. The Sergeant told me that he was confident that I would get a spot. He told me that I had worked hard and showed all the qualities the military would want. He also told me to ignore the immature taunts of the RMC graduates. I was determined to get into the Academy so I wasn’t about to let some loud mouthed boys get me down.

On the final day I was at the selections process, I aced the public speaking test and blew every other candidate out of the water with my English speaking skills and my fluency with Malay (we had to present two different speeches – one in English and the other in Malay). It was after this that we were to meet with the Major, the Executive Officer to the Commandant. He would do the initial interviewing for the Commandant.

After enduring 7 days of hell-on-Earth, the Sergeant and the Major, along with the Corporal that I had grown close to pulled me and 2 others aside after the public speaking test. The three of us were told to pack our belongings because we were getting cut from the selections. I was shocked beyond words. I asked for the reason I was cut. The Major told me that academically, my high school grades were just not good enough. I think they were looking for a minimum of 2.0 and I don’t think my high school grades measured up to that (I was a very bad student in high school and struggled with every subject except English). I was fuming mad because the high school grades were the first thing they saw in my application – they could’ve rejected my application from the get-go. I didn’t have to go through 7 days of torture because they could’ve seen my high school grades and determined that I didn’t meet the minimum. The Major apologized and told me that due to my impressive score, he had pleaded my case with the Commandant but the Commandant was firm in his decision to cut the 3 of us. It sounded like horse shit to me – it sounded like sexism and racism all rolled into one. The Major also confirmed that they only wanted 2 Chinese women, not 3. He just had his hands tied and couldn’t do anything for me.

When he left, the Sergeant and Corporal apologized too – they felt really bad for me. The Sergeant was convinced that I would have been accepted. He told me that he was already ready to take orders from me 4 years from that point because he thought that I would, surely, graduate from the Academy and earn my commission as Captain. The Corporal expressed similar sentiments. Then they both told me that if I wanted to try again, that they would write me recommendation letters. The Corporal even told me that if I was still bent on joining the military, that I could take the path he did and go through the NCO program where I’d graduate as a Corporal and serve as an NCO. He also gave me the details of how to apply for that program as well as giving me his personal number so I could request a recommendation.

I was thankful for those suggestions but the moment I was rejected by the Major and Commandant, my entire world fell apart. All the ideals, fantasies and thoughts that I had of the military were crushed that day. Due to the racism and sexism that I had experienced, I lost all my respect for the Malaysian military. I was so angry that I was shaking. I cried many tears for the weeks to come as I thought about my experience at the selections process. I thought about how I had been unfairly treated and that I would’ve made an excellent officer in the military. A week later, one of the women in the little group that I had led called me and told me that there were some candidates that were accepted who had poorer high school grades than I did. The woman who had informed me of that had herself been offered a position and that was how she found out that there were other candidates that were offered a position who had poorer grades than I did. I received many calls from the friends I’d made during selections the first week after my rejection. I received many sympathetic comments.

I was broken. Nothing anyone said could change things for me. I was angry. I was sad. I think that might have been the onset of my depression – The depression I didn’t know I had until 2015. I was disillusioned and was not happy with the path through pre-university studies that I had to take because my first dream of being a military officer was dashed. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to apply again and I didn’t want to be an NCO. I had high goals – it was Officer or nothing. And nothing it was for me because a year later, I graduated from the pre-university studies and was accepted to University of Malaya to pursue my first Bachelor’s of Languages and Linguistics.

As I told S all this – of course, I gave him an abridged version – I was angry. My voice was flat and cold as I recounted all the things that had happened during selections.

“Right… So I never got to do that… And it became something I regretted for a while. I kept thinking about it, for a while in college, I was like, ‘What would I be doing if I was in that Academy?’ I mean ultimately, I got a Bachelor’s in Linguistics, I graduated with Honors, and I was the only one to do that too… And it was an achievement…” I had said to S.

“So that was a dream that you had that just got dashed…” S said. I felt the stirrings of tears in my eyes.

“Right… Right… And it’s always just, I guess, that was one of the things that I’ve always just thought about, what would have happened if I was in the military. I have a friend that I kinda keep in contact with, who managed to get in and managed to get through the program. She is a Captain now in the Navy… And I look at her life and I’m like, ‘well I don’t know if I would’ve wanted that either, now that I’m looking at her life now’… You know?”

“Uhuh…” S said, nodding.

“But then at that time, the regiment really attracted me because it was so disciplined. I think it was good for my ADHD and I didn’t realize it. Um, but, when I came here, I also had similar thoughts of should I enlist in the National Guard? And I thought about how I can’t leave Hubster behind for months of training and I just felt like I couldn’t leave and so I felt like I shouldn’t do that. And of course, my mother-in-law was like ‘You don’t get to join the military. You don’t do that.’ So… I then just kind of…” My voice just trailed off as I shrugged.

“So you still thought about it?”

“Yeah I did… And… I kinda gave up on that after a while…”

“So that’s a time where you really had this thing… It sounds like you wanted that for yourself and it wasn’t because of anyone else….” S said, his voice calm and gentle.

Just that simple statement made me cry. I started crying really hard. The tears were 13 years too late. I guess I never processed the pain I had felt after the rejection. I had buried it away and forgot about it, allowing it to make me bitter and angry.

“Yeah… I guess… I guess that was what I had wanted…” I said, sobbing.

“Seems like it’s hard to talk about… Even now…” S said, stating the obvious.

“Yeah… I didn’t realize it would be this hard,” I said as I wiped tears away, “It’s almost like I had it within my grasp, and that slipped away… Um… I wonder if that’s why, I keep thinking I’m running out of time, I’m too old for stuff… Because I am too old for the military you know?”

S nodded. “There’s that. The desire’s still there…”

“Yeah… I mean, I could’ve but I didn’t. So it felt like a part of me really wants to let this go. It was a dream that the teenager had. I’m not a teenager anymore. I thought I was done with that dream you know? That the boat’s sailed and that I need to let it go… I haven’t thought of this in years, S…”

“It sounds like you want to let it go…” S said.

“Yeah I do…” I said, realizing that hanging on to that memory, even if unconsciously, has been eroding me from the inside out.

“I wonder though, that was  a very significant time where you wanted something really badly and you went for it. And you didn’t get it. And it sounds like it was just incredibly, incredibly painful experience…” S noted, as he analyzed the memory I had just shared with him.

“Mmhmm… Yeah it was… I don’t even… I can’t even explain how badly I wanted it…” I said.

“I just kinda wonder, I mean, seems like it’s pretty deep that, going after what you want, making decisions like you said makes you panicky, makes you feel scared, and I wonder if that plays in if just the last time you really pursued something passionately was when you tried to get into the military and then had that awful experience,” S said, as he interpreted my experience relating to my fear of decisions. I don’t know how he does it but he is always able to relate all the things that I’ve shard with him in one session back together. Somehow they’re all related.

I had calmed down by then but hearing him say that made me start sobbing again. Just the fact that he said that I had pursued something passionately made me bawl. I didn’t know what the trigger was but it felt like knowing that I had actually done something for myself and worked really hard for it was very painful.

“There’s a part of you that’s like, ‘Well that could happen again…’”

“Yeah… It’s funny cuz every time you say that, I start crying!” I said, starting to tear up again. “Um, yeah, I think in the back of my mind, I’m like, it almost feels like, someone holding out… Like a carrot. And I’m like fighting to get to it and at the very last moment, I’m like reaching it and someone takes it away. And I guess, that’s something that I have in the back of my mind. That it could be taken away… Um, so I think I’ve always just lived very conservatively. Because I’m so afraid of that happening again because I was never able to get over that pain. I mean, I can now that I’m better with it, like but it’s been almost 13 years since then? So if it took 13 years to deal with that? How long is it going to take for other things?”

“So it feels like a very vulnerable thing, just to put yourself out there and decide that you know, ‘I want something’” S said.

“Yeah…” I said, feeling like S really does get me.

“I wonder if even, with the haircut, being more open about exploring your sexuality, if things like not connecting, not feeling as connected at the club, if it just, if you’re worried that’s like ‘Oh is this happening again?’” S said, as he wondered out loud.

I nodded and agreed with him, realizing that he was right. I didn’t realize that recounting the memory that I had long buried could hold the key to why I lived the way I’ve done thus far.

At the end of the session, S told me to ask myself what it would be like if I could stop running away from my own desires and my own needs. “Jules just, maybe let’s just think about, just for this next week, what would it look like for you to not run away? Whether from your feelings about your current life changes or the sexuality? Just give yourself an hour or two, just write down whatever your feelings about it are… There’s just a lot going on right now, and in some ways, I think it’s good that you kinda have some space just to deal with it…”

I told him that I would try. I haven’t yet processed my feelings of disconnection and loneliness. I haven’t really grieved that rejection from the selections process. I know what I have to do but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it.

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2 thoughts on “A Most Painful Memory – Thoughts From Therapy #58

  1. I know this, the not allowing yourself to want something because you are convinced you can’t have it. How we limit ourselves! And we are sure somehow that it is wrong for us even to want what we want. We should want, we think, what others think we should want. I can very much related to this.

    I’ll be interested to hear what comes of your homework, your exploration of what it might look like if you allowed yourself your own needs and desires.

    Liked by 1 person

    • JL says:

      I think our minds are such powerful things. It can be its own paralyzing agent and it can tell u what we can or can’t do. And then we self doubt over and over. It’s so maddening, don’t you think?

      I think for me, that little painful memory has shown me why I do the things I do. The fear that motivates my decisions often and also that desire to please others. I know it’s a pattern I need to change but at the same time, I don’t even know where to begin. Sometimes it feels too overwhelming….

      Yes. I’ll be interested to know that too… So far I’ve learned that if I do random nice things for people, it’ll give me a boost in happiness. Other than that, I’ve been working so much lately that I haven’t had time to do much contemplation….. I *did* take Saturday night off so I could join my friends at the gay club though. I’m attempting to give it a second try and see if I can feel like that’s right for me…. I also put myself on a dating site out of curiosity and have received a couple of messages… I’ve mixed feelings so far…

      Like

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