Worthy of Time

Serendipitous find on Instagram that I think has been very helpful at articulating thoughts and feelings that I would not be able to find words to describe for myself.

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.

Unrelenting Sadness

For as long as I can remember, I have always felt sadness. This feeling of sadness is like a fog that transcends and envelops me, like a thin veil, always there, always looming, waiting to swallow me whole. Growing up, I was a tenacious kid, curious, playful, always longing for my mother’s attention and love, but never quite getting enough of it. Play with my neighbourhood friends and books, were my way of escaping the sexual abuse that was disguised as play time by my brother, and the emotional and physical abuse that I endured from my mother, every time I pushed the limits of my curfew, so that I could stay out playing with my friends, just a little bit longer. Despite knowing that I would be punished for staying out too late and breaking my curfew, I continued to stay out late because the joy and freedom I felt, for being a child, savouring each play time as though it would be my last. It was bliss before the storm – the pain endured after was worth this playful freedom.

In my teens, play time naturally ceased as my mother’s academic expectations of me skyrocketed. There was no time for play. My mother was relentless in keeping me on a strict study schedule around the house chores that was expected of me. Also, sexuality was confusing for me as a teen. Sex was to me, a form of brotherly sisterly love, and this was all I knew. I felt his love being stripped away when my brother suddenly stopped ‘playing’ with me. As my girl friends in school talked about boys with such fervour, I on the other hand, did not shared those proclivities, and because of this, I was quite the outlier that way. Books then were still my best escape from this sadness that I don’t quite understand and when I read, I felt free to explore the worlds that are so eloquently described. I devoured any book that I can get my hands on, be it in the school or public libraries or books that I rented out with food money that I saved. I hardly bought books fresh from the shelves as I never had enough money to do so. Nourishing my mind and soul with words were more important than feeding hunger. Sadness became more pronounced as I tried to numb myself from the gnawing loneliness that I felt and frequent masturbation became a substitute for the lost of brotherly ‘love’, to fill the void inside me.

When I turned 17, I flung myself into my first romantic relationship with a boy that showed me interest because I wanted to drown away the sexual attraction I had for my best friend in school, who is a girl. I wanted to cure my ‘homosexual tendencies’, per say and this boy was my get away ticket. I clung to his love like my dear life depended on it. The relationship lasted 7 years and finally, he could no longer love me, as I have put all my hopes and desires to be loved onto him and did not notice that I was suffocating him with my neediness and my need to squeeze every drop of love from him to substitute the lack of love that I never got from my parents. When our relationship ended, a part of me died with it as I was convinced that I was and never will be loveable and the sadness became all consuming.

In my twenties, I cling to any affection that I can get from anyone that showed me any flicker of romantic interest. I was open to dating any guy that wanted to date me and I would be sexual with them, if that is what it takes to feel wanted and loved. Ironically, it only left me empty and when it is all over, feeling of shame and guilt would wash over me. Paradoxically, I continued to plunge myself into these relationships, knowing fully that it would only end up hurting me even more. It was like an itch that needed scratching.

Being in my early forties now, I am just in the beginning of my journey to lick the wounds of the past. I am only just beginning to put the pieces together and make sense of my life that has passed me in a blur. It is hard not to grief the lost of time and what could have been. This sadness that resides deep inside me will always be my most loyal companion. This sadness pops it ugly head with each day that I take, totally out of my control. Because of this, I let myself ride its wave. Somehow, there is a morbid sense of relief that I know, the option of suicide is possible, it is something within my control, that I can bear to continue living in this sadness, just knowing that I have that option.

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.

Acquiring Stuff Does NOT Fill the Void

“Maybe buying this new iPhone would make me happy!”

I am sure I am not the only person that has ever uttered this rationale to themselves, whenever they feel the need to perk themselves up with a new gadget, a new car, a new bike, a new laptop, a new anything. But, I am not going to write about everyone else. I am going to write about my inability to control these impulse purchases, whenever I feel depressed, and I never seem to learn from the credit card debt that I get myself into, over and over and over again.

It is a compulsion. It is like I am compelled to purchase stuff because I feel it is justified. So I could compensate from all the stuff that I ever wanted, from the ‘deprivation’ of getting things that parents would buy for their children when I was growing up. There were things I coveted growing up, mostly, toys and books. Lego sets, game consoles, a Gameboy, a Nintendo, action figurines, a telescope, Enid Blyton’s books… Books! Not even books! I never could understand why my parents would not get me books. Till this day, I still cannot make sense of why would any parent not buy their child books when they ask for them from time to time.

I am in my third credit card debt situation. Fortunately, the amount is not as bad as the previous two times. I have been avoiding this debt since my concussion Dec 2019. Being off work in the early months of the concussion, caused a reduction of money I made each month. As the months passed, my could only work part time as the recovery took a long time. Then, when I finally could go back to work full time, a major depressive episode knocked me down again and I could not function. I have been off work for so many weeks now, that I have lost any sense of time.

I am going back to work tomorrow. I am not ready. But, it is the right thing to do. Today, I was reminded of my credit card debt. It did not feel good when someone reminds you of your incompetence with managing expenses. There is only so much you can hide from yourself before someone points it out to you. However, it does not mean this reminder did not hurt. I am struggling to crawl out of this self-loathing, it’s just pathetic. “One step at a time, one day at a time”… I tell myself. But, really?? Am I really taking one step at a time? If I am, it does not feel so. I feel stuck, stagnant, surrounded by muck and mud.

Thinking Differently about Loneliness

Loneliness has been my close friend for most of my childhood, adolescent and adult life. I have always felt a gnawing sense of loneliness for as long as I can remember. I was the quiet one in school, which teachers and peers concluded that I was a shy kid. But, really, I was just introverted and a little eccentric. Books has always been my best companion as it allowed me to travel into places away from the sexual abuse.

I did not have a lot of pocket money growing up. My mother was very strict and felt that giving too much pocket money means spoiling the child. I was given 20 cents for school days and none for the weekends. That money was just enough for me to buy a bowl of plain noodle soup, but I never did spend that money. I kept it so that I could rent books or buy them. The public library where I grew up was small and modest. It didn’t take me long to finish reading all the books that it had. My school library was similar as well; small and modest.

I was fortunate to have a friend in school that would let me read her Enid Blyton books that lined her bookshelf at home. She used to invite me over after school to read, and I will always remember those moments. Since we parted ways for university, I have lost touch with her. I have no idea why I have never initiated to rekindle the friendship. It would be so easy with Facebook. I saw her profile some years back, but never reached out. Maybe, I was afraid that she could no longer remember how close we used to be when we were 9 years old.

My mother was never keen on encouraging my love for reading. She always pulled me away from bookstores as she was afraid I would want to buy a book. She felt that books are a waste of money because you only read them once. She also felt because of this, books take up a lot of storage place in the house and we didn’t have a bookshelf at home. As a child, I have always felt that my mother was unloving as she never showed much affection for me. As a child would, I equated her resistance of getting me books as part of her indifference towards me.

So, I was a lonely child. By the age of 7, my sisters have moved to another city for university. I was left with my brother as a “play mate”. He was 14 at the time. As he was the only siblings that I could play with, the abuse was inevitable. It didn’t stop until I turned 13. Throughout the years of the abuse, I felt more and more alone because it was not something I could tell anyone, as my brother would always threaten that he would hit me if I ever did say anything. He had a temper. I was terrified of him as a child.

I have been trying to think differently about loneliness but it only fuels my thoughts about how lonely I feel. I’ve got a loving partner but that doesn’t mean one would not feel lonely. Loneliness is our perception of how connected we are with other people compared to what our idea of what level of social connections we think is ideal. I have tried getting to know new people via volunteering, clubs, sports & work. But, nothing really have worked. Maybe, there is something fundamentally wrong with how and who I am. Maybe it is also the cultural barriers as I am Asian and a migrant in a western country. It is a murky conundrum.

Finding One’s True Self

I have just finished reading Alice Miller’s “The Drama of the Gifted Child” late last night, after an 18 month gap from when I first picked up the book. I cannot quite recall how I got to know about this book then, but, what still stays fresh in my mind was the wave of emotions that it evoked the first time I picked up the book and started reading it; put it simply: it hit too close to home.

Alice Miller, born as Alicija Englard (12 January 1923 – 14 April 2010) was a Polish-Swiss psychologist, psychoanalyst and philosopher of Jewish origin. She was well-known for her books on parental child-abuse, notably for this book that I have just read. It has since been translated into other languages since its first English translation in 1981.

Alice Miller wrote that through experience, “there is only one enduring weapon in our struggle against mental illness: the emotional discovery of the truth about the unique history of our childhood”. She argued that the abuse that we experienced in our childhood would have irreversibly damaged us and the only way to “regain the lost of integrity” was by examining the the hidden memories of our past and bringing it closer to our conscious awareness. This statement does seem like a sweeping generalisation to make for the complexity that surrounds mental illness. Still, I feel that the over-generalisation in this context is necessary to discuss a subject matter this complex in order to elucidate the arguments that follow.

Therapy cannot give us back our lost childhood, nor can it change the past facts. No one can heal by maintaining or fostering illusion. The paradise of pre-ambivalent harmony, for which so many patients hope, is unattainable. But the experience of one’s own truth, and the post-ambivalent knowledge of it, make it possible to return to one’s own world of feelings at an adult level – without paradise, but with the ability to mourn. And this ability does, indeed, give us back our vitality.

Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child.

This quote particularly hits home for me because the past 3 decades I have managed to bury the abuse that I experienced in childhood by minimizing it and by deceiving myself that what has happened was not as bad as it seemed. By compartmentalising the abuse into various need boxes in my brain was how I managed to cope throughout the years, until, this coping method no longer works. When I first got depressed, I had no awareness that I have used compartmentalisation and minimisation as a way of dissociating the abuse from my reality. In retrospect, I now understand that this method of coping is dysfunctional and common amongst those who have experienced any form of abuse. Having this awareness that I have buried the abuse makes me feel sick in the stomach because I have practically deceived myself from the fact that the abuse inflicted on me was sickening and not something that was ‘nothing’, which I told myself to believe throughout the years. The whole notion of lying to myself has wasted so much of energy to maintain this deception that I have only been merely surviving on a day to day basis rather than actually living life. This is what saddens me the most: the knowledge that I have wasted so much time and so much of my life by deceiving myself. This quote was why I could not continue reading this book when I first picked it up 18 months ago. It was not easy this time around either, but, I persisted because I knew that I needed to read the whole book in its entirety this time around. I needed unbury the hidden ‘knowledge’ that has stayed dormant in the depths of my consciousness all these years.

It is a great relief to a patient to see that she can now recognise and take seriously the things she used to choke off, even if the old patterns come back, again and again, over a long period. But now she begins to understand that this strategy was her only chance to survive. Now she can realise how she still sometimes tries to persuade herself, when she is scared, that she is not; how she belittles her feelings to protect herself, and either does not become aware of them at all or does so only several days after they have already passed.

Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child

Next quote pointed out to me that this was the type of coping that I have been using all these years. It is a good reminder for me to be aware whenever I fall back into this thought pattern and tell myself that what happened to me has been having a huge impact on my mental and physical health. Since my most current depressive episode, I have caught myself multiples times when my thoughts went back to automatically minimising the abuse because it is easier to avoid the barrage of painful emotions that hits me each time I remember the details of the abuse. I have to keep reminding myself that I need to sit with this pain and discomfort in order to grief over the lost of the innocence of my childhood, so that I can start to heal.

Depressive phases may last several weeks before strong emotions from childhood break through. When it can be experienced, insight and association related to the repressed scenes follow, often accompanied by significant dreams. The patients feels alive again until a new depressive phase signals something new. This may be repressed in the following: “I no longer have a feeling of myself. How could it happen that I should lose myself again? I have no connection with what is within me. It is all so hopeless…it will never be any better. Everything is pointless. I am longing for my former sense of being alive”.

Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child

I think at the moment, the deep depressive moods have been muted somewhat and I do not feel much of anything most times. I feel mostly numb and then suddenly, I am overwhelmed by deep sadness that feels like it is swallowing me whole. When this happens, I just want to end it all. Suicide seemed like the only way forward. Even when I am able to catch my thoughts of suicide, I still mostly do not want to live. The quote above explains what it is like in my head most of the time. The sense of hopelessness, disconnect and indecisiveness makes everything not worth living.