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I Am Loveable

As the kilometres tick along as I ran earlier this evening, my mind drifted to my childhood and bad memories started flooding into my mind. The podcast I was listening to started to drone on in the background, my breathing becomes shallow and fast, while my legs continue to turn, my cadence increasing.

My father has tried calling me 2 weeks ago, and I ignored it. It was the second day of Chinese New Year, and I think he wanted to send me good wishes for the new year. This year, I opted to only wish him via text on WhatsApp. It does sound like I am a terrible daughter, for ignoring his calls and not wishing him in person via a video call. I am trying not to beat myself up too much about it because I no longer want to do what I am obliged to do. I want to be in control over my mental well-being and not let anyone muck that up. I did not even respond to his voice message on WhatsApp informing me that he has remitted some ‘ang pow’ money into my bank account. It is my money to begin with anyways. He lives off the rent money from my house in Malaysia and pocket money from my other two sisters. Reading what I am writing all sounds really bad. I have to admit, the voice in my head that tells me that I am an ungrateful daughter, visits me each time I feel angry and resentful towards my father. I try hard not to self-flagellate, but that voice in my head haunts me.

This whole idea that a good Chinese daughter will bring honour to the family still rings true. I think it is an antiquated virtue that does not relent, no matter what. The more I process what happened long ago, the more I realise that I no longer can keep being the filial Chinese daughter to may father. I have to contend with knowing that I have done my duties as a good daughter, caring for both my late mother, as she succumbed to cancer and to my father, when he suffered a heart attack soon after my mother passed. I must believe that this is good enough for me to rid the pangs of guilt I still feel whenever I feel angry towards my parents. It is all a paradox to me.

So, what were the memories that flooded my mind when I was running earlier? What is was, simply put, was that I am still coming to terms with the reality that I was an unwanted child, an after thought, an accident baby, as I have been told by my mother so many times: “We didn’t plan to have you after your brother. But, then, papa and I thought, maybe you’d also be a son.” Instead, I am their daughter. Such a disappointment.

I have to believe that I was loved. But at the same time, I know that if I continue to hold onto this belief, I will never feel the pain from being unwanted. As my therapist reminds me: “We can’t heal without feeling the feelings.” I am loveable, I am loveable, I am loveable. This will be my new mantra from now on.

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Feeling Overwhelmed

It has been awhile since I’ve updated my blog. I haven’t been able to do much of anything since my last post. I’ve since stopped working and have been given sick leave from my psychiatrist since mid September. My follow up appointment is mid Oct, and I feel that I am no better than when my sick leave began. I no longer feel that I can go back to working as a mental health nurse at this point. I am unsure if I ever will be able to doing this work.

While running today, I finally decided to listen to a podcast by Tim Ferriss that was aired on September 15th, 2020 with Debbie Millman, the host of a very popular podcast called Design Matters. It was a difficult listen because both of them shared their experiences of childhood sexual abuse, their experiences of realising that they needed help to cope with mental health issues, and what strategies they have used and are still using to assist with their recovery.

What struck me most is what Debbie Millman said earlier on in the podcast, and I quote:

And when I got older, talking 15, 16, 17 years old, at that point, I thought, “Well, I’m not going to let this impact me. I’m not going to let him win my life. I’m going to try to have the best life that I could have.” Not realizing at that young age, as you’ve mentioned, the body keeps the score. You cannot outrun your own psyche. It is not possible. It is just not possible.

Your psyche is too strong to just take those experiences and sweep them under a rug and never ever look at them again.

– Debbie Millman

This has been my default thinking to minimise what has happened to me throughout my early teenage years to early last year when I first was officially diagnosed with clinical depression. I was working in a locked mental health ward and has just started my job there for only 4 weeks before I got unwell. This was definitely not the first time I have had a mental breakdown. I have remembered numerous depressive episode throughout my teens, young adulthood, and throughout my 30’s but I did not think of seeking professional help at that point because it was just unthinkable. It just was not something that I would have done because of the stigma surrounding my culture and where I was brought up (All I can say is that I grew up in a Asian family in Southeast Asia). Even if I did seek out help, I would not have known where to begin, as the health care system where I grew up did not have a robust mental health service due to the stigma attached to it. Somehow, my coping mechanism through believing that what happened to me was nothing and it was in the past and how I would not let it affect my life, kept me going. But, as Dr Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book “The Body Keeps the Score”, my body has found a way to finally show signs of the abuse and everything started crashing down on me.

I will be turning 41 this November and listening to Debbie Millman and Tim Ferriss talk about their lifelong struggle with mental illness and how Debbie talks about being in therapy for the past 30 years, somehow, made me feel that this is going to be my reality as well, and I feel defeated mostly, but, at the same time, there is a glimmer of hope for me as others have gone through similar journeys. The feeling of defeat mainly comes from the hopeless that I feel and how this cycle of depression will come and go, and come back again, and there is nothing much I can do about it apart from learning new coping strategies to help manage and hopefully prevent another depressive episode by being more mindful of when my mood is starting to dip. I also feel that, does it mean that I need 3o years of therapy to be able to finally have some semblance of actually living life, and not just going through the motions as what I have been doing the past 34 years? This is something that I will only know as my journey continues towards seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Here is the link of the podcast transcript from the podcast I mentioned in my blog, if you’re interested:

Being Quiet of Late

Since being back at work full time in Dec of 2019, I have not been able to sit and write as much as I would like to. There is so much going on that I’ve had to prioritize my mental capacity to focusing on getting through work and juggling part time study as well. At times I am aware that I keep myself so busy because “being busy” has been my go-to coping mechanism. I have taken some time off work early April by working lesser hours. It does help take some of the pressure off. Ideally, I would like to just stop working and just focus on being a student and on my recovery. It’s a luxury that I can’t afford at the moment with credit card debt to pay off (I’ve written about this in my earlier blog post).

I’ll try to write more because it helps. Till the next time. Thank you for staying tuned.

Roller Coaster Ride

Last Thursday, I felt the best I have felt in a very long time. Why did I feel good about myself last Thursday? The reason is simple enough: I had enough mental reserve to provide a distressed client the mental and emotional support that she needed at the time. I can’t say more about the encounter due to confidentiality, but, what I can say is that it felt good to be able to support someone else and direct my focus away from my own mental health struggles to give another some reprieve from theirs. This warm, fuzzy feeling lasted for the rest of Thursday evening. It was short lived though…Come Friday, my mental health started to take a dive and at this very moment of writing this, I can feel myself plunging into the depths of darkness, the darkness that pulls you in, deeper and deeper, until there is nothing left to feel, apart from the emptiness and vast open void that you feel inside.

I am getting hooked with so many thoughts and feelings and I know what I need to do to diffuse and unhook myself from these unhelpful thoughts and feelings. Believe me, all I have been doing since Friday morning was that every chance I get an ounce of strength… to ground, re-centre and bring myself back to my present self… damn it! I even have a worksheet that my psychologist have given me to jot down how it went each time I used diffusing and unhooking strategies… it isn’t working. I think the reason why I am writing this post is because I need to try and quiet my thoughts, quiet my feelings … suppressing and numbing is not really working for me anymore. Supressing and numbing was all I used all these years to cope, and it isn’t working anymore. What do I do? What do I do?!

Here We Go Again… An Endless Cycle

For the past month, I have slowly found my mental health deteriorating. I could feel that slow, dread and despair, just lurking around the corner. From my work as a mental health nurse, I know the theory and concepts behind ‘unhooking‘, a term used in ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy), where you ‘unhook’ from difficult thoughts and feelings by acknowledging that they are there, but instead of focusing on them, you let them buzz in the background. The idea is to focus on the present moment, and not be dominated by these difficult thoughts and feelings, in order to live the life we want. It does work, when it works. As with many other coping strategies, unhooking is another skill that requires us to repeatedly practice and use and make it so automatic, that our brain automatically uses it as a positive coping mechanism when our thoughts and feelings becomes unhelpful. It’s great when it works, but for me, at this point, it’s a hit and miss at most times. So, what I am trying to say is that I am not quite there yet!

The irony of it all is that I teach my clients these skills. From various grounding strategies, such as physical grounding, object grounding, safe space visualisation and unhooking, to name a few. I understand the concepts behind them and the reasons why they work for some and not others, but, I find it difficult to use and practice them for myself.

My psychologist has given me a task to practice ‘unhooking’ on a daily basis. I have been trying, but, it hasn’t really worked out the way I thought it would. I am quite frustrated with myself. Maybe it’s the stress of work and the stress of an assignment that I am currently racking my brains to try and complete…Maybe my concentration is so bad that I can’t focus on any of the tasks I have in hand at the moment… Maybe it’s just the simple fact that I am slipping into a depressive episode again. The thing is, I have not even surfaced to the light from the episode 8 months ago. It’s just an endless cycle of ‘I’m ok’ and ‘I’m not ok’ and this is just so f***king exhausting!

Focusing on the Present Moment

Firstly, I just want to say that this is going to be a short post. I have not have time to really sit and write; to just ponder and write. Juggling part time study and full time work is much more of a challenge now then a year ago when I was in a better headspace.

Today is my last day of the Easter weekend holiday. I am glad that I have some time off work, but the anticipatory anxiety of going back to work tomorrow, has started bubbling up since Sunday morning. I do like my days off, but at the same time, it is like a double-edged sword because I feel at edge, almost untethered, knowing that I have to function and face work until the weekend arrives again.

Saturday morning was supposed to be a relaxing and calm day, because I finally convinced myself that going for a short hike nearby would do me good. Unfortunately, I was not able to enjoy the hike at all, my mind would not quiet down. I tried grounding myself to the sounds of the birds and the feel of the breeze on my face, but it did not work. What was supposed to be a calming and mindful outing, turned out to be a stressful one.

Since then, I keep berating myself for not being able to just enjoy the present moment. Little things would bring my thoughts back to my past and my mind would start to feed into the self-loathing and feeling unloved.

Focusing on the present moment sounds simple enough. But, really, it does take a lot of effort to make it work. Sometimes, it doesn’t not work at all. I guess I just have to keep practicing.

Note: the photo was taken during the hike at Taeri Mouth.

Spiralling

I took time off work today and yesterday. Firstly, it was mostly because I am physically and mentally exhausted. Work has been extremely stressful the past 3 weeks, due to shortage of staff. Shortage of staff is a norm more than an exception in my department, due to a multitude of reasons that I won’t talk about here. Essentially, I have been the only nurse at the moment, juggling between clinical work, supervision of student nurses and a new graduate nurse, facilitating groups and administrative tasks. I have fallen back into my coping strategy of just pushing through and numbing myself, and it is starting to unravel me.

Since Monday this week, I can feel myself slipping back into a depressive state. My mood has been low and I feel flat. Concentration is bad and all I can do is distract myself with watching Netflix and vaping. This is not a good sign.

I have a follow up consult with my psychiatrist tomorrow and I am considering to discuss the possibility of her signing me off for a 3 day work week for the next 3-4 weeks. I think I need to slow things down. But, I am not sure if this is going to help.

There is Kindness in this World

Sorry for going quiet for almost 3 weeks. Works has been hectic and stressful since I started 40 hour work weeks since March 1st. I will try to write more often. But, it might be quite scattered for the next couple of months until I find my footing again, juggling a psychology paper and full time work.

When you have a childhood that is riddled with abuse, I guess, it’s only natural to grow up untrusting and cynical about everything that happens in life. Growing up, I craved acknowledgement and acceptance and was willing to bend over backwards for anyone who was willing to be my friend. I would go out on a limb to help a friend in need, never expecting anything in return. I learned to never ask for help, because I believed that I wouldn’t get any. The voice in my head would tell me: “Your own parents don’t even care for you, what makes you think that a friend would want to help you?” Despite believing this, I would still help those that I consider as close friends, because I know what it is like to not feel loved. I did not want my close friend to feel unloved, uncared for as well.

As a young adult, I eventually started to realise that my insistence of helping and always being there for my close friends at the expense of my own needs, was not a healthy way to maintain friendships or romantic relationships. My need to feel accepted and loved was so strong that I sacrificed my own needs to fulfil needs of those that I care most. Since moving to NZ, I have not had many opportunities to foster close friendships. I used to think that it is mostly due to cultural differences, but, lately, I am starting to realise that I have erected a wall in my heart, not wanting to feel ‘abandoned again’ by close friends that I have experienced most of my life. This feeling of ‘abandonment’ is probably just my inability to logically process or look at situations in a different perspective. Most times, I get blindsided by my amygdala (emotional brain), which takes over and the pre-frontal cortex (rational brain) gets stifled and muzzled. It all boils down to my anxieties about social relationships and what is expected of me to be a good friend.

My work has been stressful, but for the first time in my adult life, have I experienced genuine support and care for my well-being from my work colleagues. Since my depressive episode mid of 2020, I have been open to my colleagues about my mental health struggles and they have offered support and assistance on a daily basis, always checking in on me and asking how I’m coping with work. It still all just feels very surreal to me, and my cynical mind goes into overload, my critical/suspicious voice in my head tells me that these gestures of support can’t be sincere. But, I think tonight, I am going to bury this voice away into the deep recesses of my mind and accept the kindness that is being shown to me on a daily basis and to practice gratitude. Also, at the same time, I am going to allow myself to grief for the lost childhood and to feel the sadness that I feel because my parents did not extent the same kindness to me as how my colleagues have the past couple of weeks. Things are getting better.