Death Becomes Us

For a couple of hours, I didn’t exist. I was under anesthesia during breast biopsy surgery.  I was wheeled into an operating room and started counting.  Then I was no more.  No dream, no memory, no me.  Slowly I came back into being.   It was the most peaceful waking up I ever had.  I smiled.  If death is like this, it’s a blessing.  No dream, no memory, no me, total oblivion, that’s what I yearned for.  I looked for the peacefulness I experienced during the surgery.  I found Ambien provided the similar effect.  When I didn’t take the pill my nightmarish dreamscape came back with vengeance.  Eventually the nightmare started to seep in to my peaceful Ambien coma.  I stopped taking it.

Death was my parasite twin.  He was always with me so long as I remember.   I don’t know if a 5-year-old can have a concept of death. Nevertheless I remember myself telling my aunt that I was considering to “leave” but decided not to because if I left I wouldn’t be able to have my favorite cake anymore.

I’ve never been suicidal.  I was pretty careful about self-preservation.  Still there never was a day I didn’t think of death.  Suicide ideation, DSM V would say.  There is a code for that.  But where did it come from?  I wasn’t depressed when I was 5.

When my father was about my age now, he started have a cough.  His X-ray image showed a legion in the lung and he had a surgery.  Everybody including the doctors were sure that it was lung cancer.  My mom called me to come home to see him.  Everybody thought he was going to die soon.  After surgery, they found it was benign.  Still he had a lobe of left lung removed.   After he recovered, he showed me the long scar proudly multiple times.  We were not close but I visited him at the hospital.  My mother left for some errand and I was alone with him.  He suddenly said, “I thought I was a goner this time,” and he cried.  I didn’t say anything.   Neither of us were used to show vulnerability and neither of us knew how to deal with it.  That day I realized my father was afraid of death.  “So you are afraid of death and your daughter wants to die, Ha,” I thought.  It’s a joke, isn’t it?

He passed away at the ripe age of 86.  I started to understand where his fear came from.  My father was diagnosed to be diabetic when I was about 4 and my mother was pregnant with my brother.  It was early 1960s and a diabetic was not expected to live a long life.  After my father passed, I heard the family history from my aunt.  He lost his father, my grandfather, when he was very young.  My grandfather was diagnosed with diabetic when it was a death sentence.  He quitted his job as a police officer and stayed home doing nothing and lived another 7 years.  My father only knew his father as a sick man waiting to die.  Soon after, his older sister was diagnosed as diabetic.  She was married and had a kid.  When she became ill she came back to stay with her mother, my grandmother.  She soon died from complication when the kid was still young.   My father took care of his young nephew for a while as his little brother.

Now my father found himself diabetic.  He had a 4-year-old daughter and his wife was pregnant.  No wonder he was afraid of dying.  For the first time, I felt sorry for him.  I grew up watching him have an insulin injection every morning.  With every syringe he must have been fending off death.

My younger brother was diagnosed with diabetic when he was in 30s.  Last year I was diagnosed with diabetic.  We are both physically active and not obese.  I’m sure we inherited it from my father, and my father’s father.  Neither of us has kids to bequest the gene or fear of death.

I still occasionally have suicide ideation when I’m depressed.  But most of time I just enjoy my life.  Every day is a beautiful day to live.

Recommended Reading if you are interested in this kind of stuff.
It Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle
by Mark Wolynn
Link: http://a.co/1lVnzy4

 

German Shepherd Next to Me

“Imagine you wake up in the morning and find somebody lying next to you.  What do you want to see?” my therapist asked.

“A German Shepherd” I said.

My therapist looked as if he were suspended in the mid air.  He didn’t expect the answer.  We were working on my relationship issue and he was trying to prime me for a new relationship.

“What do you expect from a German Shepherd?” he asked.

“He sees me as I am.  No more, no less,” I said.

My therapist seemed to be searching for words, and then said, “I was touched by your strong desire to be seen.”

Almost 10 years has passed since, and now I wake up every morning to find a 12 year old 80lb mutt lying next to me.  I adopted him about 2 years ago.  He is no German Shepherd and not a particularly affectionate type.  He does have a physical presence.  Warmth radiates from his body and I can touch his warmth without actually touching him.  Sometime I wake up in the middle of night and quietly listen to his steady breathing, hear him talk in his dream, feel his paws moving when he runs in his dream, and smell his stinky fart!  His whole physical presence make me feel safe and comforted.

Have you ever felt alone when your loved one is lying next to you?  I have.  That was one of the worst loneliness I had ever felt.  With my dog, I am safe.

Why do you want to feel?

Just like a normal ordinary Americans, I have friends who take anti-depressant.  I, too, take SSRI just as regularly as I take statin.  It’s all for maintenance, baby.  If you have high cholesterol level you take statin.  If you have low serotonin level, you take SSRI.  It’s plain and simple.

“I stopped taking meds,” my friend said. “Why?” I asked.”The meds make me numb and I want to feel,” he said.  “Why?” I asked.  Why do you want to feel?   Then I had exactly the same conversation with another male friend.  They want to feel.

I don’t feel numb.  I feel ordinary.  I feel peaceful and happy.  I admit I avoid to be moved.  I don’t watch emotionally engaging movies.  I only read scientific non-fiction.  Facts, only facts, ma’am.

I worked with my last therapist to build up my tolerance for feelings for several years.  My emotional life was in primary colors, bold and clear.  Anger was the easiest to handle, so every feelings were painted over with anger.  Then I learned there were something called undertone, subtext, and undercurrent.  Sadness, fear, loneliness, shame…vulnerability.  Those undertone colors were dangerous for my survival.

I knew sadness and joy were two sides of the coin.  My therapist (a Zen gestalt guy) taught me if I couldn’t tolerate the sadness of being, I wouldn’t really feel the joy of being.

I think I have built up enough tolerance to live an ordinary joyful life.  I just don’t want to risk my peaceful reverie.  Feelings could be addicting.  I sometime miss the feeling of standing on the edge of a sharp blade, when everything feels immediate and acute.

Then I say to myself,”I spent enough time in pain.  It’s time to allow myself just to be.”

 

 

A Skeleton in the Closet

I grew up believing my family was an ordinary one.  Nobody was particularly out of ordinary, so I thought.  My father was not an alcoholic nor an addict.  My mother was not a chain-smoking suicidal woman.  My brother didn’t smoke pot nor join a band.  I didn’t have an eccentric spinster aunt.  It was a quotidian kind of dysfunctional family.  Then I saw a play,  August, Osage County.  After the curtain, I turned to my friend and said, “That’s a terrible family.” And then I added, “That’s my family.”

Every dysfunctional family I saw on stage had a secret everybody knew about.  They lock it up in the closet and pretend it is not there.  Children born into the family can’t do anything but inherit it.  Adults may think kids don’t know about the skeleton in the closet.  We know. We see the ghosts lurking in the hallway, hear them whisper, and feel the cold air when they pass through us.  We grow up with the ghosts and adults tell us again and again that there is no such thing.  Silly child.  So we start to believe it’s us.  The dark shadows and crazy voices are inside of us.  We become the ghost of the family secret.

So I started to drink early, chain-smoked, cut myself, ate and vomited.  I started to live by myself when I was 18 and moved further and further from my hometown until I reached to the other side of the globe.  I’ve become an eccentric divorcee.

After several decades, funerals started to happen.  Older generation was dying out and they wanted to talk about the skeleton.

The irony is that I knew about it.  Nobody told me but I just knew it.  It’s silly to believe you can keep secrets from a highly sensitive child.  They just didn’t know I knew.  Once they knew I knew, they talked, and talked, and talked.  He said, she said, he said she said, and she said he said.  Everybody told a different version of the story.

So I found out that my family was not an ordinary family.  It could be the one in Yoknapatawpha County, could be in Tennessee Williams’ play, and definitely August, Osage County worthy.

Nothing was wrong with me.  It wasn’t me.

Fortunately, after decades of therapy I was able to be the shaman who could navigate between the worlds of the living and ghosts.  I listened to the stories they told, and returned them a story with a new and much gentler narrative, transformed it into a story where there was no skeleton in the closet.   Adults could talk about their feelings, how they loved and hated, how they got hurt and survived.  The mistake they made and how it affected their lives, lives which are running out ever so quickly.

I am not a ghost anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My own very personal storm

In Frozen, Olaf, the funny snowman, gets his own personal flurry to prevent him from melting in the sun.  Some of us were born with our own personal weather system. Having dysthymia is like having a personal weather which might not be so cute as personal flurry.

If your baseline is dysthymia and you have recurrent major depression, your life probably sucks.  A gloomy day is a good day and before you take one breath, voila! you are in a storm of one kind or another.  You can’t breathe, you barely can keep your eyes open.  You can’t see clearly.  You always walk against vicious winds.  Hail, lightning and heavy rain overturn what you know, and knock down what you hang onto.

You see your friends and wonder why they can move so easily; why they can read in the torrent of rain; why they can laugh in the sand storm without feeling choked while you taste the deadly ash of volcano eruption in your mouth even though you close your mouth so tightly shut that your face start to hurt.

What is wrong with me?  Am I weak?  Am I lazy?  Am I stupid?  Or what?  I am trying to do what they do as hard as possible, and still I can’t catch up.

What I didn’t know was my friends lived in a different land, where everyday was a normal weather day: sunny with some cloud, and slight chance of rain.  They have storms, but after a couple of days, it returns to normal sunny days.

What I didn’t know was that it takes a courage, endurance, and focus of athletes of extreme sports for us just to live a day in such a severe internal environment.

Once in a while, I experienced a beautiful day with blue sky as high as eternity and it scared me because if I would ever enjoy the weather, if I would ever even slightly believe it was real, then I would be punished multifold.  The storm shall follow and strike me down, on hands and knees, with my face in a gutter.  So I held my breath, close my eyes tight, and made myself hard.

So if your personal weather sucks, it’s not your fault that you can’t move gracefully.  And your friends who live in a normal weather land could never imagine how it is to be you. (They won’t survive in your personal weather.)

I hope you will find your way to change the weather.  It is possible.  After decades, I’ve changed my weather.  Everyday is just an ordinary weather day and it’s beautiful.   Even when a hurricane hits me, I now know it will pass and that I will breathe easily tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lifeline

I have never been prescribed meds for anxiety.  I have had severe anxiety but it was always a precursor or aura of major depression.  When I experienced anxiety attacks, I was already on the way to major depression and almost immobile.

I am one of the lucky few.  After years of psychotherapy, a straightforward generic SSRI and Crossfit have been working for me and I haven’t experienced a major depression for several years.

Still every night for a couple of seconds before I fall asleep, I feel anxiety.  It’s about nothing and everything.  It’s about being.  Suddenly I have a hole in my chest and I feel like I am being sucked into the hole in my chest into a heavy black mass of nothingness.  I know if I allow it happen, I will lose my sleep and fall straight down to the bottomless depression.

So I reach out and hold the tail of my dog sleeping next to me, as if it were a lifeline.  My 80lb 12 year old mutt’s tail is thick and feels substantial, warm and alive.  I feel tethered to his life.   And I fall asleep.

 

Yearbook

When I went home to attend my father’s funeral, I found my junior high yearbook.  I recognized faces of girls I haven’t seen for many decades.  One by one, they came back to life in my memory.  I knew those teenage girls.  They looked exactly as I remembered.   I turned pages looking for my photo.  I couldn’t find it.  I felt confused.  I was sure I was in the yearbook.  I started back from the first page.  Page after page, the faces of girls got clearer in my memory.  I still couldn’t find my face.

On the third try, I finally found my name under a photo.  She was a beautiful teenage girl.  I didn’t recognize her because I had been told I was an ugly, unattractive, miserable creature no boy would love and I believed the image the fucked-up mirror reflected.

Did I look ugly to you, Dad?  Or did I threaten you?  Did I look ugly to you, Mom?  Or did you also believe what Dad saw?

Anyway, it’s too late.  I lost my chance to live the life of a pretty girl.

Then I became a plain looking highschool girl.

When I remember my highschool years, I am cast as that unpopular girl with long hair hiding half of her face, Violet Parr in The Incredibles, believing that she is invisible.  My best friend is that popular girl who dates the football team captain.

I started having drinking problem while I was in highschool.

A couple of years ago, I had an opportunity to attend a highschool reunion.  One guy, who was neither the football team captain, nor an academic high achiever, told me that I had been his crush in highschool.  I was like, WTF.  “You were a beautiful and intelligent girl,” he said, “and I admired you.”  Shit, I didn’t know.  I knew he liked me, but I did’t believe anybody would like me.

So I lost my chance to live a life of popular girl in highschool.

When we are surrounded with distorted mirrors, we believe the distorted images they reflect.  I wonder what it would be like to have a mirror on the wall that always tells me I am the most beautiful girl in the world.  I guess that would also fuck me up in a different way.

I still can’t believe 100%, but I think I am freaking gorgeous as an old gal of certain age.  It took me almost half a century to feel unugly.

“You are a catch,” a male friend of mine recently informed me.   “Really?” I said.  “Yes, you really are a catch.”  I believed him.

Restricted Access Area

I am an adorable three year old.  A perfectly happy little girl with natural exuberance radiating from her smile.   Whenever I post my baby photo on facebook, many of my Facebook “friends” say, “You haven’t changed at all.”

And I’m like, “Yes!!!!” crying out my victory.  By age four, she was locked up behind a heavy door.  I dedicated the last 30 years of my life to find and raise her to be a woman she was meant to grow up into.

“You are too skinny,” Dad said. “You are ugly.  No man will marry you,” Dad said.   “Having girls is a waste.   I shouldn’t have had a girl child,” Dad said.  “Why aren’t you a boy.  I wish you were a boy,” Mum said.  “Your skin is too dark for a girl,” Auntie said, “but strangely red becomes you.”   “You were a tiny thing.  A tiny wrinkled faced monkey baby.  I was sure this baby wouldn’t survive,” Grandma said.  “Look at this girl’s eyes.  Too small,” Dad said…

I was too short, too dark, too skinny, too fat.

I was ugly and nobody would ever love me.  (Then why did you touch me?)

Everything about me was wrong.

Don’t believe what they say, Girl.  They are defective mirrors.  They reflect distorted, biased images of you, or maybe perceived images of themselves.  It’s not you.  You are a perfectly happy little girl with natural exuberance radiating from your smile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crazy Making

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When your memory and somebody else’s memory don’t match, it’s crazy making. When my mom says we were an ordinary family, that her husband was a smart and sensitive man with a good heart, it makes me feel I am the crazy one, especially when my dad doesn’t recognize me anymore and he is much easier to deal with when I am not his child but a nice stranger who visits him.

We rewrite memories to survive.  That’s fine.  I do, too.  I’m glad you had a happy marriage, Mom.  And you guys did your best.  But it’s not my story.  You may not rewrite mine.  It’s mine, not yours.  I am not responsible for yours, neither do you.

Neuroplasticity and Netflix

Sawshark

Sawshark

Netflix/Amazon Prime binge watching is my choice of drug.  Once in a while I medicate myself with streaming mindless films for hours and hours and stay numb.  When I can’t tolerate feelings, mindless B horror movies or super violent action movies with serial killers, monsters, vampires, zombies, and werewolves are the most effective sedative.   I fall asleep with a horror movie playing.

Netflix learns.  If you watch Evil Dead 2 and like it, then they recommend Amityville Horror.  They recommend films I didn’t even know existed.  I click on one, watch 1 minutes, then move on to the next, till I stumble upon a movie which fits my numbness of the day.  Eventually my “You might like these” list looks like something a disturbed teenage boy would like.

When my friend apartment sat, she binge watched Netflix/Amazon.  After her visit, Netflix started to recommend something like Beckett, Elizabeth, etc. Since I don’t watch those intellectual films often, it eventually stopped and my Netflix personality returned to the normal.

Yet, the list does not represent who I am.

I guess our brain is like Netflix recommendation.  If I keep focusing on traumatic experiences of the past, my brain’s Netflix list will be filled with traumatic titles.  Eventually I would believe there are only traumatic experiences in this world.   It’s not true.

When Netflix recommended Sharknado and Human Centipede, I asked myself.

“What have I done to my life?”

Well, I chose not to watch Sharknado.