-Potential trigger warning: This post contains content that deal with childhood sexual trauma and self-harming thoughts. Note that this is also going to be a really long post.-
It is a strange thing that I feel that I deserve more compassion when I see myself as someone else than when I see myself in the first person. In the midst of raging thoughts of self-harm, my person, SH, messaged me on Facebook with two simple words, “You ok?”. I contemplated how to answer him.
I wanted to lie. I wanted so badly to lie so that I could go and hurt myself.
I saw someone’s post about how they just want to move to another country and start over where no one knows them and it inspired this post – which I had written initially as a reply to her post.
You see, I pretty much ran away. I moved to the United States in December of 2011. Sure, I had a valid reason – my husband is here. But at the same time, I also left quite abruptly. I gave my job a month’s notice – which was a no-no for that job since I was a teacher and I can only leave at the end of the semester per the contract I signed, not in the midst of it. I was supposed to pay the company (the institution I worked for) for breaking the contract but thankfully, my Principal, who had a soft spot for me, was able to negotiate a release from the contract with no penalty.
In a month, I packed up my stuff and left Malaysia for good. I left “friends” (well a few true friends, the rest all circumstantial friends mostly) and family behind. I left the people who have caused me so much pain and suffering (most of them did, not all. I’m just generalizing for the purpose of this post). I left the people who gossiped about me, the people who acted like I was their friend but then later turned on me, people who couldn’t bother to keep in contact, people who have caused me trauma in the past and the people who took me in and later rejected me because of a difference in opinions.
I thought I would be happy. For the first few months, I was. I felt free and I felt like I could anything and be anyone. I didn’t know then that I’ve been suffering from depression for years and that my depression was far from over.
Then things started to weigh me down. I started to miss people, food and places back in Malaysia. I started getting angry and bitter because I felt like I always had to make an effort to contact people -” Why can’t people contact me??” was a common gripe I had. I slipped into another depressive episode. The job I got here as a server was dull and unchallenging compared to my job as a teacher back in Malaysia. Suddenly, nothing was good enough when months before I was exceptionally happy to leave. I think this was when I started projecting blame on my husband because I felt like if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be in this place. I didn’t know it then but I had unconsciously harbored this irrational and unfounded anger towards him.
It wasn’t until this year when I started therapy that my psychologist brought up the issue of my move. I laughed at him then because I didn’t see the correlation (just like how I didn’t see why he wanted to bring my parents up so often in our sessions). I would just briefly talk about my move and leave it at that. I didn’t see the benefit of wasting previous therapy time for a decision I had made to leave.
It wasn’t until S left for his vacation in August that I started to entertain the idea that perhaps I am suffering because of my abrupt departure. In the first week of S’ absence, I started to realize that I have been unjustly accusing my husband for my loss of friends and family (though I didn’t verbally blame my husband, I was internally doing it with the way I treated him). It was an epiphany of almost epic proportions. I was distressed because I felt like this was the worst time to have an epiphany like this. I wanted to go in to speak to an on-call clinician but I felt like doing so would make my revelation to S when he returned from vacation to be less effective, less special even. So I waited. In anguish, I might add, because I didn’t know how to deal with this new information.
When S returned, I wasted no time in telling him what I’ve discovered. I told him that in the beginning, I doubted him but now I realize he had been on to something after all. S told me that I did not allow myself to “mourn” my “loss”. I did not allow myself to grieve the loss of friends and family even if I was the one who made the decision to leave. I had run away but I realize, it’s still not good enough. He told me that I needed to feel those feelings – to allow myself to feel sad and not deny it any longer.
I realize that there is no running away. Especially not when the very thing that I was running away from wasn’t the people who had grieved me but rather my own mind who projects fear and insecurities towards others. There is nowhere I can go to escape my pain. In my perceived escape, all I’ve done to myself is back myself further into the corner because the trauma, memories, pain, and depression is closing in on me. There’s nowhere left to run.
So now, I know that the only thing I have left to do is stand and face my demons. I’ve allowed all these things to back me into a corner long enough and it has led to me picking up knives and cutting myself. It has led me to think of nothing but death and dying daily.
Relocating my physical body and removing myself from the negative influences was easy. Running away from the realities of the negativity back in Malaysia was easy. Yes, it has helped some not having to see or interact with these people any longer. But now, all I’m left with is myself.
Relocating my mind and removing myself from my own insecurities and self doubt isn’t going to be as easy. I still haven’t really grieved my loss – other things have come up that are far more painful and powerful for me to deal with in recent days – but I know that I will have to do so. I know that I have to acknowledge the pain of separation and rejection and admit that running away had not solved anything.
It’s not easy. But, I’m beginning to believe that I can do it.
So today, which is actually yesterday now that I’m looking at the time, has been one of the more stable days I’ve had this past week. It’s been quite a roller coaster for me – days when I was down, I was inconsolable while days I was high, I was almost too hyper to speak to.
Sometimes I wonder if this is what a person who has bipolar experiences. It’s completely uncontrollable and extremely exhausting, as can be expected.
I felt quite accomplished today – despite the setback with the minor panic attack that I was experiencing while my Color and Design instructor was giving her lecture and telling us her expectation of us for our next project due in two weeks. My class partner and I finished our study model in Architectural Presentation and I don’t think we did half bad for a model that we had not really learned to build before. I was actually quite proud of what I did with the fireplace and the stairs.
My speech went relatively well and I had received 98/100 for it which was a good thing since my grades dropped considerably for completing the test in 10 minutes last week (the test that I had spaced). And I’m excited to know that I’m only one speech away from finishing this class. Don’t get me wrong. I love talking – I just don’t care for speech class. I love my instructor but I’d rather hang out with him as peers than as student-instructor.
I’m still loving math despite the mistakes I keep making in my quizzes. I don’t want this class to end, to be honest. If anything else, I wish I could do more trig. I’m quite nervous for Calculus next semester as my class is going to be at 6.00pm after a LONG day in school and I barely remember anything about Calculus from high school.
My mood has been pretty positive this whole day (as long as we ignore the fact that I was pretty anxious) and I had bumped into an ex-classmate (I met him in Algebra last semester). He and I spent a considerable time chatting out in the cold but we were both super excited for each other. He’s doing a double major and a double minor and I marveled at his stamina. He told me that next semester he’ll be doing 21 credit hours. I’ll be doing 15 and I’m already freaking out. If I’m driven, he’s something else. We shared tales of how we lack people who could encourage us as being non-traditional students, it’s hard to make friends with our “peers” seeing as we are so much older. I then shared with him my idea of starting a club or sorts for people like him and I – and several other classmates I have this semester who are non-traditional. He thought it was a genius idea and was very interested in making the club into a formal one (my idea had been just to have casual hang out sessions but I’m not opposed to actually making a school sanctioned club too). I was really happy to hear his excitement and to hear his words of encouragement. I don’t have any plans yet but hopefully I’ll be able to figure something out – and at least just plan for a casual get together.
Speaking of clubs, I’m also highly interested in bringing Active Minds to campus as we don’t have any mental health activism groups on campus currently. I’d really like to bring the conversation of mental health to the students of my campus. The person in charge of running the recent mental health awareness campaign on campus mentioned that I should speak to her and the Asst Director of Outreach and Partnership of the Counseling and Psychological Services center about the initiative I have in mind. She told me that it’ll be a ton of red tape but if I’m passionate enough to start this movement, she would like to help me along. I don’t know how whether this will actually take off but it’s my plan. I told myself that if and when I get better, I will do this but at the same time, I also know that if I were just to wait around for my mind to recover, that really, I won’t want to do anything. The longer an idea sits in the mind with no action taken towards it, the quicker it dies or just goes to sleep. I don’t want this idea to die. I want to ignite it and spread it.
Anyway, those are just some positive things I wanted to share because I know my blog has just been filled with negatives lately. I’m beginning to get excited about things but I don’t know how much of it has to do with the fact that today just happened to be a stable day and I don’t know how how much of it has to do with actual recovery. But as always, we’ll see… Time will tell.
It’s also therapy day tomorrow so I’m looking forward to that as well.
I also have a “new” design for the next two weeks. It’s a semi colon but I’ve included the word “Hope” this time.
Oh also, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned before but the bracelets I wear are actually advocacy bracelets – the teal/white one represents anxiety disorder, the orange one represents ADHD and the green one represents depression. It’s not only fashionable (IMHO) but also a reminder for me.
This is VERY powerful.
If you have 18 minutes, watch this:
It opened my eyes because I realize that loneliness is what I’ve been suffering from because I have this skewed perception that people around me just don’t care about me all that much.
Even when my husband shows me so much love daily, I still have this distorted perception that I’m a failure and that I’m not worthy of his love.
“So how are you doing?”, my therapist asked me as I settled in on his couch.
A million things ran through my mind although almost all of them were connected.
I started with something mundane, about how physically, my body’s been out of whack this week since I’ve been sleeping until noon a lot lately and I’ve been forgetting my medication a lot. So I told him how I don’t know what’s going on. Plus, my repetitive stress injury is back and I’ve started playing video games again. He said that he didn’t realize that I had even stopped. I told him I did because I felt like it did nothing for me anymore and I no longer found much pleasure from it. But the fact that I’m getting back into it somewhat worries me because whenever I play my video games, I switch off and stop feeling. So it would make sense now for me to get back into it because I probably am trying to prevent myself from feeling or thinking.
I then continued and told him how I felt emotionally and I hesitated before bringing up the guilt and shame I’ve been feeling. It was hard to put into words. It’s hard for me to verbalize things and having him in front of me, looking at me with his usual look of concern and care, is almost too difficult for me to handle. It’s weird because I seem to have a fear of real love and affection. I always feel like I’m not worthy.
Anyway, after some stumbling and stammering, I finally choked out how I have been feeling guilty and ashamed of going over time last week. I told him how it had triggered a bunch of thoughts and feelings that I haven’t thought about or felt in a long time. I also mentioned how the guilt had led to me feeling worthless and how I feel like I’m always responsible for anything bad. I also told him how my mind went so far as to thinking that he was mad me and that he was justified. I even thought about how he might terminate our therapy! I was terrified of rejection and abandonment.
It was then that I realized that I now understand why I can’t confront people or speak to them on an emotional level! I realized that my mind can’t distinguish between a simple argument or confrontation of an issue to fix it and a confrontation that ends relationships. So I’ve always just avoided confrontations because if there’s no confrontation, there’s no end of relationship or fear of it.
I realize that I can’t handle rejection and I have a major fear of embarrassment which stemmed from the way my teachers had treated me when I was a child (multiple teachers had pulled me up in front of the class to do problems and I couldn’t, thus causing me humiliation). I’ve always internalized the guilt and blamed myself for not being smart enough and not feeling like I can understand anything. I remember not being able to look my teachers in the eye anymore after such humiliating encounters and so I cannot speak to a person in a confrontational manner without fearing them.
I then wanted to steer the conversation into math and what happened last week when I had realized who my “pit guy” was but my therapist steered us back to the topic on hand. Perhaps he knew I didn’t want to deal with what came after.
“Now before we go into the math, I want us to talk about this a little more. How do you parents handle conflict? What did that look like in your family?”
A half laugh blurted out of my mouth. A response that I now realize is a defense mechanism. I get into almost hysterical kind of laughter or half laughs that betray my true feelings. I knew this was coming.
I sighed before explaining to him that my parents had many bouts of silent treatments. The times that they do get mad at each other, they’re usually loud and explosive. I also related to him about how my brother and my father don’t get along and when I was living with them, a simple argument would devolve into shouting matches all the time. I remember feeling extremely distressed all the time. Now I know it’s because of the anxiety.
“Maybe in some ways, you felt like your father was saying the things he said to your brother to you as well…”
Of course, I was bawling through all this. I can’t control my tears. I can’t stop myself from crying when I’m sitting in that couch.
It made sense. I’ve always felt like I could never measure up to my parents’ expectations and I’ve always tried. My brother didn’t so it probably didn’t hurt him so much. I’ve never known what they want from me or what they expect from me. I went to explain that in my family, we don’t communicate very much. We don’t say how we really feel. It was all just assumed meaning. And when we do communicate, it’s with anger – to shout at each other.
I realize now where all my rage comes from. I used to pride myself in being able to keep things under the lid really well. I now don’t think that had been (or is) a healthy response to anger. I now understand that because my parents modelled negative responses to anger that that is how I now relate to others – especially my husband. I don’t understand what it’s like to express anger well and I don’t understand that just expressing anger doesn’t automatically mean rejection and abandonment.
Anyway, at the end of the tearful session where I had also expressed verbally what it felt to find out who my “pit guy” really was and how it felt to confront my ex high school math teacher, I felt spent. In fact, I feel exhausted now. I think today I’ve just poured out a lot of pain and fear I’ve had contained for a long long time. I can’t express just how grateful I am for my therapist and for his wisdom and patience.
In the end, he also explained to me how keeping time is his responsibility and that because of how he felt that our progress is going strong that he thought he would let me add one more thing at the end of our last session. He thought that it would’ve helped me to get another emotion out but he said that he realized that he had done more harm than good as I had been fixating over the guilt for an entire week. He told me that he is taking the responsibility from me. That he is not mad at me and that I shouldn’t feel guilty or bad anymore. He did commend me for taking steps to acknowledge my feelings. As I’ve said before, I like hearing him say, “Good”. It felt good.
Today was definitely a good session – a satisfying one, and one where I had also come to many realizations about myself, my background and why I feel the way I do. I also learned that I needn’t blame myself for everything and that just because something seems like it’s my fault, doesn’t always mean that it is. I need to practice not jumping to conclusions and blaming myself for everything. It’ll be a work in progress, definitely but I always feel like identifying the problem is the first step to recovery. In that respect, I’ve definitely identified a lot of problems today.
On another note, 5 days ago today marks 6 months of therapy for me – 6 months since I first met my therapist. Looking back, a lot has changed for me and sure, while I have become more depressed since September, I have also learned a lot about myself – more in the space of 6 months than I have in the space of 29 years and 11 months! It has been a painful journey but it’s also been a journey filled with positive affirmations from not only my therapist but also my husband and friends (especially the ones who keep coming back here to read what I write!). I am amazed at how fast time has flown. A part of me hopes that I will be able to finish out the next 3-4 years of school with my therapist there to support me but we’ll see. I doubt the school will want to let me keep seeing him if I’m better. But that’s a worry that I don’t need to concern myself with yet.
PS: I have a feeling that if my parents read this post, they might be really mad to discover the thoughts that I have had for them for the longest time. Like I mentioned in the post… We don’t communicate at all… So I have no idea how they really feel about me or what they expect of me and vice versa…
How many of you here are fans of How I Met Your Mother?
For those of you who are, you might remember an episode in Season 8 – specifically Episode 11 – The Final Page – where Ted Mosby was so worked up over his old architecture professor who had told him that Ted will never be an architect. Ted was very upset that said professor declined to attend a momentous ceremony at the opening of a building that he had designed. He decided to confront his professor and rub it in his face that he, Ted, is now an accomplished architect. This episode brought up the concept of the “pit guy” in which there is someone in your life that you’ve obsessed over for so long that you’d throw them into a pit like in the fashion of Silence of the Lambs. In Ted’s case, his “pit guy” was Professor Vinnick, the professor who had invalidated him.
When I saw this episode a year or so ago, I was stunned. It resonated with me. It resonated with me so much that I realized how much I related to Ted. I realized that I had put a bunch of people into a pit and had locked them away there (except in my case, it’s a basement with bars like a prison).
The reason I even bring this up in this post is because after years of trying to find her, I have finally found my high school math teacher on Facebook. It was all a coincidence too. I was just scrolling through my feed on my phone when suddenly the “People You May Know” section popped up and there she was. My high school math teacher. Someone I have thought about consciously and unconsciously for the last 10 years.
I clicked on her profile and sent her a message asking her if she was indeed the teacher that I had been looking for for so long. She responded almost immediately and yes! She was the teacher!
At that point, I had thought to myself, “Good! Now I can show her just how accomplished I am now with my math skills! She was wrong to have said all those things about me and to tell me that I was lazy and hopeless! I’ll show her!!!”
I was so excited to tell her that she was wrong. That I was misunderstood since no one noticed that I had ADHD and was struggling to keep up with school. That I was not lazy or hopeless. That I received an A+ for Algebra and Trigonometry 1, I’m currently receiving A’s for my quizzes and tests in Algebra and Trigonometry 2, I’m now a registered tutor who is available to teach Algebra and I’m on my way to earning a Minor in Mathematical Science (yes, that’s my goal).
After making sure she remembered who I was, I went ahead and told her of my achievements in Math. It didn’t take long for her to respond with “Wow – :thumbs up: :thumbs up: :thumbs up:” She told me that I no longer have a phobia for math and that I must have had a really good teacher to get me out of that rut. She was genuinely happy for me and we spent the rest of the conversation catching up as she was very interested to know more of what I’ve been up to.
I even told her of my ADHD diagnosis and how that had contributed to my inability to understand her when she taught me math. She then confessed that she often feels helpless to assist students like me – the ones who are clearly smart but have no motivation or interest to continue. It hit me then that I had never considered how she must have felt about my failures in math and all the bad grades I got. I had never considered that she felt bad for me and felt bad that she couldn’t help me.
I had always thought of her as the harsh teacher – the one who was strict with grading, the one who expected a lot from her students, the one who had put me down and said some mean things. I still remember the time that she had scolded me outside of the classroom and that incident had brought me to my tears. I still remember how I could never face her after that and how fearful I was of her. Suffice to say, I didn’t have many positive memories of her. I mean, I like her enough to want to keep in touch. I respect her tremendously as I had always thought that she was a strong woman with amazing math skills.
After our short conversation, I realized that she had tried her very best to help me and her harsh words to my young ears had though been perceived negatively by me were actually words from a frustrated person who was well meaning but perhaps lacked the necessary vocabulary. After all, we were both Chinese and in our culture, we often don’t praise our young.
I had been so excited to contact her to tell her of my achievements and to rub it in her face – essentially to inform her of how wrong she was of me. Instead, I came face to face with the moment in the episode of How I Met Your Mother where Ted Mosby realized that in the end, the person you threw into the pit was really yourself all along. I had taken all of my math teacher’s negative words, internalized them, convinced myself that I was bad at math and will never amount to anything in life and had replayed negative scenes in my head over and over until all these thoughts became facts of my life. So for the next 10 years, I lived my life with the strong feeling that I was bad at math and was a hopeless failure.
I had effectively put myself into the pit of my mind to live in hopelessness and despair, to fumble in the darkness and to suffer in lonely silence. I realize that now. I realize now why that episode had resonated with me so much. It’s because at that point in time, I realized that I had put myself in a pit and I think it took an entire year and tonight’s conversation with my ex-high school math teacher to hit home.
I had expected fanfare and a tearful realization from my high school teacher that she had wronged me. I had expected to be euphoric like a boxer who had just given a knock-out punch and is now dancing around the ring like the winner deserves to. I had expected to feel good to tell my teacher that I am succeeding in math the way she had never expected me to. I had expected a sense of peace.
I don’t. Instead, I realize now just how much pain I’ve put myself through. And like Ted Mosby said, there is only one person who can let me out of the pit. And that person is me.
Perhaps now I can stop beating myself up and feeling guilty at every single thing. Perhaps now I can learn to face my shame, my anger, my frustrations, my despair…
At least one of the traumas in my life has now found its closure. Though I didn’t receive any fanfare or overwhelming sense of peace, it did bring about this epiphany which I am truly thankful for.