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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:

When Your Teeth Tells a Story

Last week I had my visit to the dentist in 2 years. Yes, I know it is waaaay too long to not see a dental hygienist or a dentist. I know that now. Growing up, I remember the first time I learnt how to brush my teeth in school. In Malaysia in the mid-80s, 7 year olds, will sit crossed legged on the concrete ground, one hand brandishing a new toothbrush, while the other a tube of Colgate toothpaste. We were each given a plastic cup, either a blue one of red one. No one had the option of choosing the colour of preferences. Our cups were filled with water. As you remember, I did mention that we sat crossed legged on the concrete floor. So, no bathroom sinks or a mirror on the wall. The whole cohort of 7 year olds, eyes glued to a nurse that showed us how to brush our teeth properly. Whether or not I knew what I was doing was beyond the point. I was just excited to sit with all the other 7 year olds, imitating the movements of the nurse, as my mouth is flooded with tooth paste foam and the taste of mint on my tongue.

You must wonder why I am telling you this story… I am telling this story to immortalise this somewhat mundane occurrence, because I realised something in therapy today. This exact moment was when I learned how to brush my teeth for the first time.

My therapist made me realised that I never had the experience of learning something this mundane from my parents. My mother did not show me how, neither did my father. Somehow, I can understand why my father never took the initiative to teach me, as he only brushes his dentures once a day… in the morning. My father has been wearing dentures for most of his adult life. As for my mother, I have no idea why she never took the time. She would shout from the kitchen or from whichever room she was in around bed time to remind me to brush my teeth. I was never interested in brushing my teeth when I was 4, 5, or 6. There were many nights that I would fall asleep without brushing my teeth.

After that morning in school when I was 7, I remembered that I actually felt ‘excited’ in the mornings and before bedtime, when I needed to brush my teeth. Like a lot of things, it was novel, new, exciting! It takes so little for a child to find the wonder in things. As adults, this magic only happens when we take note of the little things around us.

So… back at the dental clinic… I opted for no anaesthetic before the procedure. I knew it was going to be uncomfortable and of course, it would hurt. But, I just wanted to feel the pain, the physical pain… so, it would numb out the emotional pain. As the dentist drilled and chipped away the decay in my molar, I winced and clenched my fists. This went on for an hour. There was a lot that needed to be done.

The dentist sat me down, in front of large computer screen, with multiple snapshots of my teeth, as well as frames of x-rays…I am not a dentist, but what I saw on the screen, tells me that my teeth is not doing very well. The dentist looked at me, her surgical mask on, that split moment before she spoke, I could see in her eyes that… ‘this does not look good’. She was kind, professional and there was not a single tone of judgement, while she explained what the pictures on the screen are showing. Still, despite her her kindness, I was embarrassed…. I can’t put all the blame to my parents for never showing me how to care of my teeth as a child, but, I know there is truth in what my therapist told me this morning, that my the damage to my teeth, is a bigger reflection of the kind of neglect that I have endured as a child.

A Small Win

For the past two weeks, I wanted to buy something, anything… a new tech… that’s my go to whenever I my mood drops. I’ve written about this in my earlier blog post. I was restless, numb and indifferent. The ‘need’ to buy something expensive was very strong. My impulsive brain was going on overdrive.

Well, I didn’t cave this time around to this impulse. Went out with my partner yesterday afternoon, stopped by a tech shop that I usually get my tech gadgets from, and I was able to resist that gnawing impulse to buy something.

It wasn’t that bad afterall.

Can’t Believe it’s Been A Year

WordPress sent me a notification that my first post was exactly a year ago. My first reaction was, “Has it already been a year?!”

A simple notification such as this can jolt and remind us that time is so fleeting. It is so easy to just live my days, moving through the motion that ‘I am walking through the path of my mental health recovery’. I do realise that my mental health is no longer as bad as how it was exactly a year ago, but this realisation does not discount the fact that the daily struggle is utterly exhausting.

New Zealand is currently in lockdown due to community cases of the Delta variant of COVID 19. Even though I am concerned about COVID, I can’t help but also feel a sense of deep relief that I can stop struggling so hard every day, just so that I can function at work, and be my best for the clients I work with.

I just have to keep reminding myself that “things will get better.”

Exhausted

Everything I am doing is towards mt recovery. Every decision I make on a daily basis is rooted on ‘doing the work’. The constant juggling of emotions, thoughts, exercise, work, studies and self care is exhausting. My therapist reminded me that I have come a long way from where I was at 13 months ago. My rational brain knows that what he said holds true in my recovery journey, but, I haven’t reached a point where I feel totally comfortable in acknowledging that just yet.

Our Dog Boyd

Boyd came to live with us a day before New Zealand went into a state of emergency due to COVID-19. Our previous dog, Marlow, has just passed a week prior, and I was devastated. I knew that I needed to adopt another dog to fill the void. I was in a bad place at the time, still recovering from a concussion and my mood started to slide into a depressive episode. I found Boyd on the Dog Rescue Dunedin (DRD) website and instantly felt a connection to him when I read his profile. It was probably due to the fact that Boyd has had a difficult life prior to being put up for adoption. He has lived with 3 other foster homes, and things has not panned out well for him. I emailed the DRD coordinator (whom will be referred to as Donna) to enquire about Boyd, and she rang me on a Saturday evening. From the start, Donna was apprehensive and tried to describe how Boyd is like behaviourally; how he is anxious with other dogs, how he requires someone to slowly build a bond with; she told me about him being at 3 other foster homes. She describes that he will whine and howl loudly during walks if there was another dog in sight. Somehow, I knew Boyd would be the perfect dog for someone like me. He was unloved and traumatised in his youth. It was almost like I wanted to protect him so that in some way, I could recover from my own traumatic experiences.

Marlow and Hugo

Within a couple of days, I met Boyd and brought him out for walks, to get acquainted with him. Boyd came to visit my home and was slowly introduced to our four cats, just to see if he would tolerate them: which he did, almost perfectly. The whole adoption process happened very quickly, and Boyd came to live with us on the 24 March 2020. I spent a lot of time with him at home, working with him to get him settled. He was very anxious. I had about 8 months with him at home because I was recovering from a concussion and then in June 2020, I took time off work for almost 4 months before going back to full time work in December 2020. Boyd brought some calm in my life at that difficult time, and I knew that he too, found solace being with me. Throughout this period from the 24 March to November 2020, Boyd has bit into the aluminium window lock and jumped out the window, twice. Once was within the first 2 weeks of him moving with us. It was a windy night and our house rule about dogs is that, the bedroom is off limits. He settled quite well the first 6 days, sleeping in the living room on his own, until that windy night. That was the first time he bit and broke the window lock and jumped out. I woke up the next morning to a broken window and a missing Boyd. Luckily, he didn’t go far. He decided to take shelter at a bus stop just two doors down. He has been sleeping with us since that night.

This pattern of escape continued from the beginning. Just when my partner and I thought that he has finally settled and feel comfortable that we will always come home after work. When I went back to work in December of 2020, I constantly worry that Boyd would hurt himself, escape our back yard (which he has numerous times)… mending the broken fence each time has not deterred him. We couldn’t keep in alone in the house because he would break the window and jump out. Our garage is under the house, it’s quite a height and we didn’t want him to hurt himself. We’ve had neighbours put in complaints of him whining and howling to the city council while we are away at work.

Boyd is very attached to us now, especially me. I’ve noticed that his anxiety has gotten worse to the point that he cannot bear being on his own in the living room, even for 10 minutes if I move to the bedroom. There was an incident where I caught him just in time from jumping out the window again, when I was in the bedroom with my partner, putting fresh bed sheets on. We were away for only 10 mins.

Boyd is suffering. I know how that feels. He wants to be with us, love us, but the more he bonds with us, the more petrified he is of losing us because that is probably all he has known his entire life. He is 10 years old now, and I can’t bear to see him so stressed and anxious all the time. It’s cruel. It’s true what dog behaviourists say about dogs like Boyd: there are two categories: those that can be rehabilitated and those that are just broken.

I have to let him go. He will be in a better place very soon. We love you Boyd.

Me and Boyd

For more photos of our cats, Marlow and Boyd, visit our instagram page at: https://www.instagram.com/scorpioneolee/

Going back to Therapy

I have just re-engaged with therapy last week on Friday after taking a break from it to focus on psychological work with a clinical psychology for the past 11 weeks. I am still on a temporary schedule for the next three sessions while waiting for a more permanent slot when it comes up.

When I requested for a session with the therapist, I wasn’t in a good space. I could feel the depression descending and as it always does, it filled me with dread and hopelessness, that this is what the rest of my life is going to be like. I went to bed restless, with my mind, having a field trip of tormenting me. I did eventually fall asleep, albeit a restless one. Somehow, I managed through the next four days at work, with only moments of despair and dread. Only during therapy did I realise that I have fallen back into the habit of coping through numbing and busyness. I wouldn’t have realised this if I did not have a therapy session. Therapy was a good reminder that I need to be mindful to move towards switching to helpful coping styles when I am falling back to old habits of numbing, ambivalence and busyness.

On a good note though, I am starting to enjoy work much more. Anticipatory anxiety every night before bed time is still in the fore, making sleep quite restless. There is a lot of psychological preparation that I need to make to calm myself down and not go into a panic every time I need to facilitate a group. I am not sure when this is going to be less prominent, but, I am hopeful that with time, and lots of practice with grounding skills, it will get easier.