Lessons in Recovery

“I know from the way you stroke my hair, the way you talk to me, the way you look at me, that you really love me,” Chérie said to me yesterday as we laid in bed.

That made my heart melt. As someone who constantly feels like I’m never enough for anyone, it made me realize just how my girlfriend – and also others – see me. Just from the things I do, and the things I say to her, she could tell that I cared about her greatly.

Although my school life has been a huge mess lately, being with Chérie has brought a different kind of clarity and stability to my personal life – this has made it a lot easier for me to deal with the distressing situation that school has become.

I was lucky enough to have gotten the weekend off from work that I was able to spend almost a week with my beloved at her apartment. Her family even invited me for Thanksgiving and I got to meet her parents, and some extended family. Although nerve-wrecking because this was the first time meeting them, I also settled in comfortably without much difficulty shortly after. It was the kind of ease that I never got from meeting my ex’s family.

I was supposed to leave for home tonight but I found that I couldn’t. I had been crying the whole day today because I didn’t want to leave. The pain of separation from Chérie for the next 2 and a half weeks was great and unbearable. I am glad that she’s strong enough for both of us to not cry with me because that would have made it even harder.

I finally decided on a compromise – I would leave at 5am tomorrow morning instead, to make it in time for my shift at the MAC. This has given me a few more precious hours with her. My friend, El, told me that though it’s hard, it must also be a great feeling knowing that there is someone amazing I could look forward to seeing. She’s right. I never looked at it from that perspective because I’ve always just been so used to seeing life from gray-tinted glasses.

The changes that Chérie has catalyzed for me in my life has been so drastic that I really just can’t imagine life without her anymore. I know that I am so much better than I was just a month ago. Even S has noted that several times – telling me how proud he is of me and of the changes I’ve made in my life.

Last session, he asked, “Do you think you could’ve done the same a year ago? Maybe even 6 months ago?”

I shook my head as soon as the words left his lips. “No! No way!” I responded almost immediately. “I couldn’t have done this a year ago… Not even 6 months ago. I feel different. And I can see that I have come a long way…”

“You have!” S said, smiling. “I’m so proud of you!”

His words made me smile. It made me feel proud too – I am proud of myself for how far I’ve come. I know that he and I have done a lot of hard work – he would also often remind me that most of the hardest work was done by me – but I also know how much Chérie has helped catalyze things for me as well.

Most of the hardest work in my recovery happened over the course of a year and a half with S. However, not even a week after I met Chérie, I had managed to take all the groundwork that S and I have laid down and made leaps and bounds of progress. It’s amazing just how one person can make a difference in your life.

Despite that, I am still struggling with many more things – there are days when I still wish that my marriage had worked out; that I didn’t have to struggle as a bisexual person; that I didn’t have to struggle with understanding my faith and the judgments I’ve had to deal with; that I didn’t have to feel so insecure about myself and what I have to offer. It’s just that despite the struggles, I am able to work past them – with Chérie by my side, I am able to let myself see the positives that she sees of me. She’s able to help me accept who I am, and learn new skills to cope with life as a non-neurotypical person.

The last 5 and a half weeks that I’ve been with my girlfriend have been the best time of my life – not only have I been able to learn to value myself more , I’ve also learned that it’s much easier to go through difficult times when you have someone to help you. Through it all, I’ve also learned that it’s okay to still struggle and that recovery doesn’t mean that everything is 100% fixed.

I’m thankful for this amazing woman in my life. I am sad that in just a few hours I’ll be packing up to leave, but I also know that like El has said, I have someone incredible to look forward to seeing again in a few weeks’ time.

Impassioned Desires and A Sense of Purpose

Psychotherapy, joining the Peer Educators’ Program, and the divorce are three things in my life that have changed me for the better.

I was talking to my friend, El, and I marveled at how much I’ve changed, and how much I’ve done just in the space of one year. I thought about how the divorce had been a catalyst of even more exponentially growing change for me. It’s only been 4 months but the kind of things that I started doing, and the way I’ve started behaving have improved.

A few days ago, while at work, I was able to stand my ground during a minor altercation with my co-worker who was accusing me of stealing his tables. I not only stood my ground and adamantly protested his accusations as being wrongful, I also yelled at the guy for being ridiculous, for not watching his section closely enough, and that because of his incompetence, that I had to greet a table for him and take their orders. I didn’t yell very loudly – I just raised my voice – but it was enough for him to recognize that I wasn’t about to be bullied by him – even if he stands a full head above me. He recognized that I meant business and quickly shrank back down and apologized. He offered me a handshake to signify a truce. I had half a mind not to accept it but I did because I felt that he had learned his lesson.

For the first time in my life, I was in a public confrontation with someone who is much bigger than me in stature, and who has a very strong personality, and I didn’t shrink. I mustered all the courage I had and stood up for myself!

The divorce hurts. And I use the present tense because it still hurts me to think about what I’ve lost. At the same time, it also has empowered me to do all kinds of things that I would have otherwise never have done because either I would have been held back, or that I wouldn’t have felt it was appropriate to be off gallivanting on an adventure without my husband.

I don’t think I’d have been able to spend as much time on campus as I have been doing lately because I’d be rushing home. Nowadays, I have the freedom of being single and doing whatever I want, whenever I want. Sure, many days, that is actually overwhelming because many days, I don’t know what I want. However, I’d like to believe that I’m getting better at that…

I also had a chance to speak to my Director about my time as a Peer Educator, what I’ve learned, how it’s impacted me, and how I want to continue to grow. She had taken an hour of her precious time off to talk to me and for an hour, I gushed about how amazing my experience has been as a Peer Educator, how great it is to be able to create change and make a difference on campus, how I now have a clearer idea of what I want to do in the future, and a little about my background and how much the Peer Educator Program has impacted my mental health as well. The Director was so happy to hear me share all these things. She in turn shared some wisdom and some of her own passion. She kept telling me how much she wanted to cry because of how amazing my story was – she also told me that I’m so resilient and so strong.

I also self-disclosed my suicidal tendencies and tell her more about how much I’m struggling. Despite that, I have also decided to keep pushing on and to keep fighting. The part of me that doesn’t want to get better still fights back but I feel like she’s getting weaker by the day. It seems like it at least, when I’m on a good day like today.

The Director then said to me, “You are a a woman of color, like me. You are going to make an impact in the community in ways that all the Caucasian Peer Educators can’t. You’re going to reach the women who never speak up or come forward as sexual assault survivors. You’re going to inspire a new generation of “Jules”. As a woman of color, you give a face to what is possible. I gave a face to what’s possible for the other Peer Educators who struggle to find their place. Take JJ for example, she came up to me one day and said, ‘What? But you’re a black woman. How could you be in such a position of power? Wow… That must mean that I can do the same too! I want to be just like you!’ You will do the same for someone else”

I was just so awed by her. She is only 4 years older than I am but her depth of experience and the wisdom she’s gained from her years of experience really shows. I was so thankful that she had taken her time to talk to me today. It renewed my passions, and made me even more determined to follow through with my recovery. I felt fired up.

Later, I felt even more fired up when an old high school friend of mine messaged me. She had been in contact with me for months now because she had wanted to improve her English skills. As I was the person who had constantly gotten really good grades in English back in high school (and was even the only person in my school to have gotten the highest grade possible during the Malaysian University English Test), she had contacted me for help. I agreed to help her on a regular basis because she showed so much initiative and so much drive to change. English is not an easy language to learn as a non-native speaker so I was awed by her desire to improve despite the difficulty.

Today, she messaged me and said some really inspiring things. It made me even more fired up!

With her permission, I post these screenshots of our conversation here:

untitled-1-copyuntitled-2-copyuntitled-3-copy

I erased her full name and photo just to protect her privacy.

This conversation was a God-send. I was just so amazed at the timing. It was what I needed to hear. It was validating and urged me on even more. It humbles me to know that I can inspire others just by being me. It humbles me whenever people tell me their story. This is one of the reasons why I keep doing what I do.

I want more people to be successful. I want more people to be cognizant and mindful of their lives, mental health, and emotions. I want more people to care about others and give to others the way I am doing. I want people to pay it forward and keep doing so until all lives have been touched and changed.

What a world that would be!

I’m inspired, fired up, excited, humbled, grateful, and hopeful today. Despite the end-of-the-day struggle with depression and suicidality, I had had a very good morning/afternoon. Although I grappled with the idea of self-harm tonight, I also had more strength to resist it because of the motivation I received this morning.

It’s amazing what just one person can do to another – in my case, I had two people do to me what I try to do to others all the time – they reminded me of who I am, what my purpose is, and how I can change the world.

Change Is Paralyzing

Change is terrifying.

I think anyone and everyone can attest to this.

No one likes change (not initially anyway) and for someone like me, who has been through a lot of traumatic times in my life, who struggles with separation anxiety disorder and a deep sense of abandonment through various periods of my life, change is downright debilitating. At times, I am so overwhelmed by the sheer notion of change that I am paralyzed with fear.

I don’t fear death. I don’t fear injuries. I fear change. I fear abandonment. I fear above all else, the sting of loneliness that no physical presence can cure – the kind of loneliness that happens only when no one cares about you.

So with the change comes all those fears.

Whenever something in my life changes, I fight tooth and nail to hang on to what I know to be familiar.

Lately, familiarity has been forcefully thrown out the window as a result of many changes in my life. I know as a Christian I should rely on God as my rock but a lot of times, He feels so intangible that it’s hard for me to cling on to him. So instead, I cling on to things I can see, feel, hear, touch, smell – I know it’s fallible, yes, but it’s all I have right now so I’m going to have to go with it.

For one, S has been on vacation for the past 2 weeks and I’ve been really missing him. In his stead, he had appointed J to help mitigate my emotional instability. Last week, he helped me reason through my suicidality and this week, he helped me realize something important about the dependence I have on people (he helped me see that just because someone is no longer there physically in my life, that it doesn’t mean that they don’t still care for me, and that they don’t still have a connection to me – this was very important because lately I’ve been feeling like I’m unimportant in everyone’s lives because I can never get a hold of someone when I really need them. That my messages are often not responded to). Despite having J’s help, I really need S because he provides the familiarity that keeps me functioning despite my emotional instability.

I told J today that in an analogy of a someone trapped in a raging river that’s threatening to sweep them away, that S is actually like the rock in the middle of all that that the person can hang on to. In that analogy, I’m the person that’s trapped in the raging river – all my emotions are threatening to sweep me away. Most times, I contemplate suicide over facing these overwhelming emotions because it’s so much easier to stop feeling. Being swept away would mean giving up – letting the current take me. Having S keeps me steady. I slip time and time again but even if I still have on finger on the rock, I’m still hanging on. S is my rock. And having S on vacation means that temporarily, I have no rock to hang on to. I’m slowly getting swept away. J is like the errant vine that I hang on to temporarily while I try to get back on solid ground. Solid ground will be back next week – familiarity that I need. Every Wednesday, at 10am, I spend an hour with S. I watch him react to what I say, hear his words echoed in my head, feel his warmth and compassion, enjoy his attention and care.

I’ve been packing my things into boxes and I’m overwhelmed by the number of things that I’ve amassed in 4 and a half years of being here in the States. And these are things that I’ve already condensed from my previous moves. So for me to still have boxes upon boxes of things really irks me. I am agitated by the amount of things I have to consolidate – my mental energy being expended on nostalgic reminiscing, and into trying to organize and decide what to keep and what to throw.

I’m going to lose this familiarity pretty soon. I know it’s for the best. I am mature enough to realize that change is good. Yet, the child can’t. The child hates it. The child rued the day she moved from the home she grew up in and lived in for 6 years. She rued the day she moved from the second home she spent most of her childhood and teenhood in. She rues every single day she has to move. She is so deeply dependent on familiarity that any little thing that changes it upsets her greatly.

Anyway, I’m going through a lot of changes – things that I wish could slow down a little so that I can take a breath of air but the river doesn’t flow like that. The river is relentless and if I don’t learn to tread water, I’ll surely drown. I’m learning to tread water. Slowly, little by little, I’m gaining the strength to climb up onto the rock. Eventually, I’ll have enough strength to swim against the current and go to shore. Eventually, I won’t need the rock to keep me afloat any longer. Eventually, the rock will be the very thing that will help me gain enough footing and strength to leave it.

After my conversation with J today, and after learning that people are still there and they still care for me even if they haven’t talked to me for a while because there exist genuine connections between myself and these people, I was able to come home and start packing. I’ve been putting it off for 2 and a half weeks now.

I packed 3 boxes full of school material and books that I can’t get rid of, and now I’m taking a respite from the overwhelming emotions I’m experiencing. I had a moment of tears when I found the farewell card that my brother had written me 5 years ago when I left Malaysia – my heart felt torn to shred as I read his sweet words – but that was it, just one moment. I know I’m getting stronger. I can feel myself getting stronger. I am crying less lately. I don’t feel as overwhelmed as I did 2 weeks ago. The desire to end my life still lingers and comes out fully when triggered.

Yes, I did cut myself again this morning but that was after an intense trigger and I’d just reached for the hunting knife I’d kept in my pocket. I’d like to believe that I have more sense now – especially after speaking to J. This had happened at 11am this morning. Had I kept my appointment with J at the time that I was supposed to at 10am, I wouldn’t have done it, but because I had to push my appointment back to 4pm, I had no buffer for my sudden fear/anger/sadness. So I reached for the knife. Oh child, I wish I’d paid you more attention. I’m sorry that you felt like you needed to hurt me to get my attention. But it’s okay now. I’m listening. 

I have a much clearer state of mind now. After realizing that things with JS (Ex) were never meant to work out the way I had wanted it to (happily ever after), and that it’s ok that it didn’t, I’m much calmer. When J pointed out that it’s not his presence that I yearn, but rather the connection, and that his connection with me as the greatest friends anyone could ever have is genuine, I realized how selfish and blinded I’d been all this time.

I wanted him to be around – even if it meant that both of us were miserable in the process. That was what happened for years. I refused to acknowledge the fear that I had that was keeping us together. I refused to allow anything other than the notion of happily ever after to exist – even when it wasn’t happy. For the most part, it wasn’t ever happy. I lied to him. I lied to myself. I thought I was happy. I couldn’t figure out why I was always angry. Now I know.

It’s because change is paralyzing. Anything other than the notions that I’ve constructed for myself, I had nothing else going for me. Without this happily ever after, I was just a person struggling with her sexuality and her faith, I was just a shell of a person, I was just the person that tries hard to live up to everyone’s expectations and fails, I was just me. Without JS, I was just sad, and broken me.

I see now that my worth is not tied to anyone. That his worth is not tied to mine either. That just because our relationship didn’t work in the form of marriage, that it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work in other forms. I have learned in the past few months that we’re better friends than we ever were as a couple.

I have also learned that just because I was married to him, it doesn’t mean that it took away all my struggles with my sexuality. In fact, it amplified it and made it all the more apparent that I was merely struggling to appear “normal”. If I could turn straight, I would. I think it’s what I’ve always wanted. To just fit in. To just be normal. The more I realize that I can’t do that, the more distressing it is. Believe me, no one wanted this marriage to work more than I did.

Change has come upon me and I need to accept that I can either be dragged away by it, kicking and screaming, or I can be cooperative, and have a good time with it, while learning important life strengthening lessons. The adult needs to convince the child that it’s ok to choose the latter because the people who matter the most to me, will still be there for me because of connections that are genuine.

The child needs to also realize that her favorite person in the world, S, will be back next week. So calm the heck down, child!

One Year of Psychotherapy

So today marks one year of therapy.

It’s been a long and arduous journey – through it all, S had been there to support me unconditionally. He was there to push me when I slacked, to call me out when I deserved to be called out, to encourage me when I was discouraged, to assure me that he’s on my side always, to help me reclaim parts of me that I’ve ignored, and to just be the best support system I could ever wish for.

When I had stepped into his office one year ago this date, I was extremely blessed because S and I hit it off immediately. It took us no time at all to dive in to the issues that brought me to therapy in the first place. I immediately felt a connection to him.

As we continued with therapy, we started to relate on different levels – notably, on a geeky level where we both would sometimes have nerd-talk and use nerd-talk to help me process my past. One of the most memorable moments of this was when S told me that I am like Luke who walked into the cave in Dagobah and came face-to-face with the fact that he has a Dark Side too when he saw his own face under Darth Vader’s mask. That moment has stayed with me since the first time he’s ever mentioned it and has made a huge impact on me.

When I first started therapy, I didn’t think that sitting around and talking for an hour a week would do any good. I was very skeptical. After a few sessions, I started to see a difference. And pretty soon, I was hooked. I started to put my trust on S, and started to learn to work with him.

We’ve both worked really hard – probably more so I than he since I am always the one who has to feel the entirety of all my emotions and feelings though I can’t imagine it being easy to watch someone you care for go through pain. He has many times expressed how much he cared for me. And knowing that, feels good. I used to be so ashamed of even feeling that way but I am now better at admitting these intense feelings for him because not only is it vital to the therapy, it is also vital to the therapeutic relationship that we have.

Anyway, to celebrate my one year’s journey, I decided to make a HUGE change. Lately, I have been having an intense desire to change my hairstyle and the idea of having a faux hawk had been persisting in my mind for at least a week now. Ever since I saw Scarlett Johannson with her faux hawk a year or so ago, I had wanted one.

So I made an appointment to the hair stylist and with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, I went to get a haircut. When I was there, my hair stylist asked me what I wanted to do. I explained to her that it was my one-year anniversary for going to therapy and I felt compelled to make a change – to start afresh, so to speak. I explained my liking for faux hawks and how I wanted to also color my hair. I told her how I felt very attracted to the idea of undercuts as well.

With all that I explained to her, my hair stylist started getting excited.

“You’re sure about this?” She asked me as we sifted through some photos of faux hawks.

“Let’s do it!” I said, “If I don’t do this now, I might never do it!”

She cut the first lock of my hair and about 8-9 inches of hair fell to the ground. As she cut my hair, I practiced a mindfulness exercise that I had thought of myself. As she cut all of my long hair off, I imagined all of the burdens and pain that I’ve been experiencing falling off with the hair. As the hair got shorter and shorter, I felt myself feel lighter and lighter.

When she was done with the rough cut, I had a pixie cut. Interestingly, I wasn’t as nervous or afraid as I thought I would be. I was ready to do this – it felt like I was ready for this change. I think after what S and I discussed yesterday (how I don’t want to be better), I think maybe, just maybe, I am finally ready to accept that change is absolutely vital and that I need to either embrace it and welcome it so as to have the best time possible or I can fight and scream and yell all I want while the change will still happen.

As the hair styling process continued, I couldn’t help but smile through it all. I couldn’t stop smiling. Especially when the stylist informed me of how jealous all the other stylists were that she got to do this fun and awesome styling today. She told me how happy she is for me that I’m doing something so bold.

“I’ve always been very conservative so I think I want to step out of that. I want to try something new. I want to do something crazy. Something fun!”

When she was done, all the women in the salon stared and the stylists near me told me how amazing I looked. My own stylist was surprised at how well the colors turned out and how well the cut looked on me. I could’ve wept and I think for a short moment, I did tear up a little.

I looked completely different. And for once this year, I felt really happy, stable and even at peace. It felt right. Somehow, it just did. For once in 4 months, I didn’t have any violent, self-sabotaging thoughts.

When I got to work, everyone flipped out – in a good way. Everyone loved my haircut and they told me just how great I looked. It felt great to be at the center of attention and getting compliments on how I looked. I’ve never really experienced that before – not in the scale that I did today. It felt really good. I felt really good.

I started to stand straighter and felt more confident. I started to smile more. I felt energetic for once and I actually felt attractive. I was amazed at all of this – I still am. I can’t stop looking at myself and I can’t stop touching my hair. I feel great and I hope that this feeling continues because I think I need this.

Here are photos of how I look now:

I have a faux hawk that is a peacock color – blue with green tinge. When I went to work, I actually put on eyeliner too.

Anxious Ramblings

I don’t know about you guys but therapy days are hard for me. It’s hard for me to feel normal or okay after a therapy session – and it’s not because S is a horrible psychologist or anything like that. It’s more because of what we talk about during each session and the feelings I have to face and the things we deal with every week.

So with that in mind, I’m a little nervous about my coming semester because my therapy session had to be moved to a Wednesday due to semester scheduling changes for S (his schedule changes every semester). I’ll have class on Wednesday from 11.30am to pretty much 8.00pm and therapy will be at 10.00am.

Since I don’t drive to school and have to rely on Hubster to drop me off and since I live about an hour away from campus, it’s difficult for me to coordinate a time that’s outside of my existing school schedule either – especially since I’ll be starting work on campus (I got hired at the Math Assistance Center!) and will need to coordinate a minimum of 12 hours of work there too.

Simply put, I don’t have a choice on the day I should go in to see S except the one we decided on. I know, I know. I’m being a whiny baby about it and I should just suck it up. It’s not even a rational thing to be upset about – but isn’t that what depression is all about? Everything being super irrational?

Anyway, I think a lot of things are just bugging me lately – between being extremely tired all the time from the Strattera I’m taking (incidentally today I’m on my second day of it being in the target dose of 80mg a day) and all the new things I need to be prepared to do next semester (which starts in a few days), I’m stressed out. I have a feeling that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew and I’m afraid that I won’t be able to chew them all without choking.

Next semester, I’ll have Calculus – which I’m nervous about since everyone talks about how hard this class is , Computing 1 – which I’m nervous about since it’s a completely new subject that I’ve never even contemplated before until a month or so ago, History of Interiors and Furniture – which, let’s face it, is a history class, and Space Planning For Interior – which though taught by a Professor I get along really well with and like, will have huge project requirements on top of being trained as a Peer Educator, working as the Front Desk Receptionist for the Math Assistance Center (as I wait for a promotion to Tutor next semester), going to personal therapy as well as starting group therapy while working as a Server on the weekends I feel spent just typing all this down. I know I’m letting my anxiety get the better of me at this point but I’m so high-strung, it’s hard for me to unwind.

Thankfully, typing all this down and “verbalizing” what I’m feeling right now is helping me organize some of my thoughts a little and make things a little bit less daunting as I tell myself, “I can do this!” over and over. I know at least two other people who believe that I can – I now just need to convince myself that I can too.

Don’t Bring It Up

It just occurred to me today that if I don’t want my psychologist to read into something or ask me how I feel about it to talk about it, that I shouldn’t bring it up. I just realized that every time I go in to speak to my psychologist, almost everything we talk about has a purpose of being there in the conversation. Somehow, he’s always able to tie everything back in together in a neat way. Even the things that I thought were just throwaway comments always end up back on the table and tied in with other more “important” things that I’ve talked about.

Today, I wanted him to help me figure out why I was so upset on Saturday when I was telling someone about something matter-of-fact about leaving Malaysia. I had nearly cried as I told this person the story that I had talked about before. I didn’t understand why I felt the way I did and so I brought it up in today’s session.

Of course, S asked me why I felt the way I did. I told him that I didn’t know. I mean, dude, I just told you I don’t know, why ask me again, right? But somehow, him asking me that made me think a little harder than I did on Saturday when I first experienced this feeling. And somehow, I figured out that the reason why it hit me so hard this time around despite having already talked about it before was because of one small detail that I had forgotten about until last Saturday. Talking about it with S today made me remember it again.

And as I left the session today, I realized that if I don’t want to talk about something, I really shouldn’t bring it up. I brought up an issue that I didn’t really want to talk about today which led to me bawling my eyes out uncontrollably for 10 minutes.

I know I know. If you don’t talk about it and bring it to light, you can’t learn from it, grow from it or change your life. I know all that but sometimes, I think I just want a break from facing my demons, y’know? Anyone else feel this way?

Btw, sorry for the sporadic posts here lately, guys. I’ve been struggling with my ADHD pretty badly lately. I can’t even focus on conversations much less sitting down to write blog posts. Also, I’m in the middle of finals so I’ve been less inspired to write as I haven’t been thinking about anything but studies lately.

On a happier note, I have received the highest grade for math in my life! I got an A+ with 107.69% and got 84/80 for my final exam which landed me with the title of “Best in Section”. I got into the 99th percentile out of the 700+ student too. I have never been happier or more excited in my life. I was shaking and out of sorts for hours yesterday when I found out. It has to be my biggest achievement to date!