The Face Behind This Blog

I have just changed my profile picture from my cat’s photo (her name is Lexi, if you’re curious) to my personal photo. I have been mulling about whether I should be open about who I am or continue to hide behind the comforts of anonymity that the Internet can offer. I have only just started this blog about 2 months ago and some of you might be wondering why would I want to come out of anonymity? It is not an easy decision to for me to make. There is a lot anxiety surrounding putting myself out there on the World Wide Web, because nothing gets erased on the Internet. Things stay on the Internet indefinitely (unless, one day, we enter a apocalyptic era where the world no longer exist!). Another reason to not put myself out there was also a worry I have about my profession as a mental health nurse. Would someone at work come across my blog? Would my boss come across my blog? Would it affect my career in the future? So, if there are so many negative repercussions of coming out of anonymity, why do it?

To me, it feels right this time around. I just turned 41 last November and I am tired of hiding this little part of who I am. I am not just what depression, anxiety and past trauma make of me. I am much more than these challenges put together. Aren’t we all complex being?

Being Asian of Chinese descent, mental health issues are just not talked about. This taboo does not just belong to my ethnic and cultural background, but it is present in every other culture. Another voice that talks openly about mental health struggles, is another space to normalise it. It is not something to feel ashamed of and it should not be discriminated upon. There has been a lot of shifts of attitudes in Western cultures, where levels of stigmatisation might feel less in the forefront, but, in reality, the stigma and shame is still very much the reality for people like us, who struggle to stay mentally healthy. Strangely, and quite saddening is that, a lot of those who work in the health care system are the agents for perpetuating this stigma. This creates a problem because many who work as mental health professionals are the ones that do not seek help, or like me, who waited until things unravelled out of control to seek help. I am not saying that ALL those who work in healthcare stigmatise people with mental health struggles, but in my experience, it festers underneath the surface.

So, to my followers and readers, thank you for giving my blog a go and for the virtual support via likes and comments these past couple of weeks. I know that my writings have been quite dark and negative since I started, but, I believe, my musings will be lighter and more positive as I continue to process the past trauma and come through the other side via a long recovery journey. Hopefully, you’ll stick around for the ride.

Back at Work…

After almost three months away, I returned to work this week on Dec 1st. Since I last saw my psychiatrist on Nov 17th, I have been struggling with the growing level of anxiety about returning to work. Just the thought of facing my duties at work, my colleagues, my manager and patients felt dizzyingly terrifying. I was the one that told my psychiatrist that I should go back to work. It was my idea. I should not be feeling like this. The brain never wins when it comes to dealing with depression and anxiety. Rational thought only works well, when one is not struggling with mental illness.

I only worked three days this week, but it felt like a lifetime. I felt mostly like an extra prop in the office as there was nothing much I could do. Groups have started two weeks ago and for me to facilitate a group is not ideal. Keeping the frame is more important than letting me get back to my duties straight away. Mostly, I feel relieved that I was not involved in any groups this week. It wasn’t a task that my colleagues are expecting from me. The clinic on Wednesday felt like I was of some use. That was something that was expected of me to do.

I knew I was finding ways to isolate myself. I did not want to engage with anyone. I did not want to talk. I did not want to do anything. I avoid eye contact. My physical body is there but my mind was in constant fight of flight mode and my cognition was on auto mode. That’s why I am relieved that I was only expected to clinic duties.

At this stage, I can only manage part time. Two days would be ideal, but I negotiated for three days a week with my manager. The likelihood of a part time contract seemed unlikely from the conversation. I am ambivalent about whatever outcome when I meet my manager next week for a confirmation. However, I have just decided that if I am offered a part time contract, I will continue working until I no longer can hold the fort.

Hopelessness

Sharing a poem that I wrote on my Tumblr blog Confabulatingthoughts. I wrote this on January, 1st, 2015.

There are times when I feel all is dark Engulfing my heart and my soul

And no matter how hard I try to climb out I fall deeper into the murkiness of the darkness that unfolds

I know that life never pans out the way we plan it to I know that life is mostly tough and sometimes blissful I wonder if the Buddha understood this

When suffering is abundant and relief is nowhere to be seen

What makes humans so persistent

That positive thinking is the perspective we all need

To survive life’s tribulation, affliction and grief?

What makes humans so delusional

To belief that what we’ve lost is meant to be?

I don’t know the answers to these questions

Neither am I going to attempt to answer them

As I only know that we should live life as it comes

And not hide behind philosophies that cloud the mind

And the realities we all have to endure

Just so that it makes it a little more bearable

When it really isn’t at all.

Here is the link to my tumblr site if anyone’s interested: https://confabulatingthoughts.tumblr.com/post/106739048043/hopelessness

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.

Depressed: Don’t Feel Like Doing Anything? Do It Anyway.

I have always enjoyed participating in sporting events. Marathons are one of them. After five full marathons, a few 21km and 10km events throughout the years, I have not gotten enough of the adrenaline high that would last 24 hours. The sense of achievement and satisfaction of completing a race is akin to crack cocaine (not that I have ever use that stuff). To put simply; I just love how it feels after a completing a marathon.

This past weekend has been a weekend that filled me with dread for the past couple of weeks. The thought of driving 4 hours, socialising during dinner before and after the event, not to mention, the 42.2 km run itself felt like a mammoth task to take on in a single weekend. Gone was the enthusiasm and excitement when the ‘Enter’ button was clicked a year ago. The sense of being in a good place mentally and looking forward to running a full marathon with a friend who took up running early 2019 has since dissipated.

The week leading up to the event, I kept feeling this sense of dread and foreboding that I have to complete a 42.2km run, despite feeling depressed and physically tired. The past month of training has been a struggle, not being able to keep up with my friend. My body and mind were too exhausted and broken to run any faster. My usual pace of 5’30″/km dropped to an average of 6′-7’/km. This physical sluggishness did not help with my mood either. After every training, disappointment seeps through my pores and my mood takes a dive. The blackness of the past few months have made running more of a to-do check list to be done thrice a week. The sense of calm and joy that running usually brings has been obliterated.

My partner and I left for Queenstown on Friday (20/11/2020) in the morning and I was preparing myself for a social weekend. That night itself we were going to meet with my partner’s colleague and son who did the 10km run. Then, the night after the marathon, we were going to have dinner with my running friend, her partner and her partner’s mother and sister. I kept worrying about being overwhelmed by the social encounters that I have to deal with and thinking about it, adding to the anxiety. I have had these experiences before and I know that I always end up enjoying myself during these social interactions, but it does not stop me from feeling anxious about them when I am depressed. And…as always, I did enjoy them, like I always do.

The morning of the run, my alarm rang at 0620 hours. Groggy from restless sleep, waking up twice during the night, the throbbing headache from the night before blurred in the background, I pushed the discomfort aside as I fumbled my way to the other side of the room to grab a drink, not wanting to wake my partner, the room remained dark. It was not long before another alarm went off and my partner mumbled and reminded me to fetch the breakfast tray from the dining area downstairs. Breakfast was underwhelming; full grain bread, Nutella, a pair of hard boiled eggs and a banana.

The run itself was somewhat disappointing personally. I felt tired by the 3km and could no longer keep up with my friend and by the 13th kilometre, I wanted to quit. Quitting a race was never an option. Pushing through the screaming muscles and pain was expected, not an exception. Quitting seemed so obvious in my mind that I really entertained it for the next 15 kilometres. This just added to the grunt. Each 500m sign to the next hydration station, became a beacon that to keep running, to quickly arrive the hydration station when my legs can stop turning, so I could drink and stop running.

Passing each hydration station and seeing the kilometres melt away, focusing only on my breathing and legs, reaching the last kilometre to the finish line, I sprinted towards the finish line. A melding of cheers from strangers, friends and my partner, a glimpse of their faces from the corner of my eye as I cross the finish line, made every painful stride worthwhile. The adrenaline flooded through my veins as I soak in the surroundings of people blanketing me from every corner, a volunteer placing the finishing medal over my head broke my reverie. I smiled at my partner as she approached me and asked for a hug while my sweaty body protested as she held on tight. What a wonderful weekend!

Surrounded by the people that mean most to me during experiences like this is what I have to keep close to my heart whenever that feeling of wanting to hide away in the blackness threatens to swallow me whole.

My Anchor

Ever since I started this blog a couple of weeks ago, I have only been writing about pain, trauma, depression and hopelessness. While out for my run earlier today, I feel like it is time for me to write something more uplifting, as a reminder to myself that everything is not all bad in my life.

I’ve been with my partner for almost 10 years now. For many years, I have made things so difficult for the both of us because I did not have any insight into my mental health. I was unwilling to admit to myself that I was depressed and anxious because I thought it was a sign of weakness, a sign that I was losing control of my life, a sign that was broken.Thus, I have inadvertently been needy and emotionally dependent on her all these years without even realising it. When she distanced herself from me during the times I was overbearing, I accused her for being insensitive and for not loving me as much as I love her. She has never raised her voice at me whenever we fight, while I would fly into a rage, make accusations and gaslight her. I became the ugliest version of myself and I was oblivious that I was hurting her and pushing her away, despite flailing desperately to bring her closer to me.

I just want to dedicate this post to her for her patience, understanding, tolerance, compromise and love for a broken person like myself. She has been my unwavering anchor and support all these years and I am forever indebted to her. I want to be a better person for her and no longer hurt her the way I used to. I know now what I need to do to be the best version of me when it comes to loving her.

A Little Bit of Fresh Air

I got out of the house today after weeks of being at home. I have been isolating and I am aware of this. I am aware that this is not good for my recovery, but at this moment, I don’t have the energy to struggle with this. I still go out for runs and I walk my dog, almost daily this week.

The main reason I got out was because I had a therapy session this morning. I stopped therapy with this therapist for 2 months now and today is the first session after that break.

The session today was difficult. It is always difficult for me because I find it very hard for me to talk about the abuse. Since this depressive episode, this struggle of finding words to talk about it has become worse. My therapist said that I stop breathing each time I said anything that relates to my past trauma. I did not even realise I was doing this and I do appreciate him pointing it out to me. Since then, throughout the session, I became aware that I did stop breathing each time I brought up past traumas.

I came away from therapy today feeling lighter. I always do, before things start to fog up and I feel weighed down again. What I took away from today’s therapy was that I need to take the time to work through everything that I bring up in therapy and not rush into jumping from one thing to the next. I tend to do this because I can’t sit with the discomfort, pain and tears whenever I am triggered by past trauma that I talk about.

In regard to the title of this post, I took a walk at the gardens after therapy. I did not stay long, but I am glad I went because I almost just drove home. I brought my camera along, took some photos and listened to the bird song… which always brings a sense of calmness. I wanted to attach a few photos, but wordpress doesn’t seem to allow that. There is no post processing, the photo is as it was taken. Maybe, by looking at the photo, it would encourage anyone that finds it difficult to leave the safety of home, to finally venture out and enjoy some fresh air.

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.

Acceptance and Grieving

I struggle with the idea of acceptance. I do understand that acceptance is necessary for healing from a traumatic past. My rational brain understands the reasoning behind this, but, it is never that easy with matters of the heart.

How does one accept and be at peace with past abuse and trauma? I ask this question often and have not arrived to an answer. My mind gets triggered to the past abuse and it takes me awhile before I can push the memories out of my mind.

The meaning of acceptance in human psychology is the ability for someone to acquiesce to the reality of the situation they are in without attempting to change or challenge it. Sounds absolutely rational and the right thing to do, but, how does one achieve this tranquility, especially if the person is needing to accept the abuse that they have had to endure?

Prema Chödrön, in her book “When Things Fall Apart”, wrote that to be able to be free of suffering, one has to ‘abandon hope’ and be in a ‘state of hopelessness’. She writes that if we hold on to hope, hope robs us of our present moment. We cling onto what might happen in the future in the hope that things would get better, but in reality, we have no control over what might happen in the future.

Since reading Prema Chödrön writings, I have formed a different perspectives on my feelings of hopelessness. I have been clinging to the notion that I can not see what my future is going to be. I have always liked to plan for my future, with the hope that it would be better and I would be able to actually, finally, live. My mind is always repeating things like, “If I do this, I will be able to gain that”. But, recently, I am beginning to doubt that this is even remotely possible. I have always used this way of looking at things and planning for the future, but what have I really achieved, apart from running away from the reality that I am suppose to face and accept? Would I ever be able to focus on my present moment and not be dwelling in the past and planning for the future? At this point, I am unable to do this.