Day 30

Hangnails. Holy annoying fuck.

Probably should print multiple copies of this and stick them around the house as a reminder to myself

They have always been my weakness and I can never let go of one until my nail bed turns into a bloody ruin. But it’s never really been about the hangnail itself though.

When I get into a mental vortex, I start to feel my skin catching on things. Suddenly my skin gets that much drier, catching on fabric, scraping against the clothes that I wear. Suddenly my nails that weren’t brittle before, now are. I can feel every single hangnail when I run my fingertips against each nail. And lord, don’t even get me started about how they feel when I knit or when I write.

And they are so very grating.

I start peeling. I start grinding. I start scraping.

I get at a good one and continue as I let my thoughts swirl around me. It helps me go deeper, it helps me chase the thoughts further.

Further? Where, you ask?

Deep.

Ah shit, and now I am bleeding.

Like I said, it’s not really about the hangnail.

Image: nail_sunny/Instagram

Sunday lists n.2: 5 things I do when the anxiety gets too much

Today is SUNDAY! Sunday means my beloved is at home. Every other Sunday means that we get the house to ourselves for some precious alone time. Sunday means writing lists for this blog. Sunday means reading. Sunday means really appreciating the things that I am grateful for. And as silly and trivial as it may sound, especially in the face of this global pandemic we are facing, I am truly happy that my anxiety has been relatively manageable these past few weeks.

Here are some things that I find helpful, for me, for those times when shit gets rough.

Clean

I find cleaning to be akin to sorting out thought’s in one’s brain. As you are decluttering your desk, you are also decluttering your mind. As you throw out old receipts, candy wrappers, backs of band-aids and so on, from your bag, you’re also sorting out your memories. When I can afford it, the best way for me to calm down is housekeeping. The act of mopping the floor (I do it on my hands and knees) becomes meditative, and the same goes for washing the dishes. Even if the anxiety hasn’t gone away by the end, I can look around at a clean space and feel less overwhelmed by visual clutter.

Cook (a lot)

Since quitting the kitchens, cooking has become restorative for me again and I will work my hardest for it to stay that way. When my internal freak-out alarm is at its loudest, the kitchen is where I find my solace. The calm begins with choosing, or creating, a recipe. But the best part of it is meal prep. Chopping everything and getting them ready in their bowls is so calming. Making something so that your family’s fed and loved is so crucial to me and the way I love. When everything seems to be falling apart, knowing that I can be relied upon to make a big batch of pasta and meatballs, or curry, or chicken karaage that everyone will eat up in a split second is reassuring.

Exercise

Right, so sometimes I’ve done the first two and I would still find myself bouncing my leg up and down and picking at my cuticles. This is the time to bring out the big guns. And by big guns, I mean some good ol’ HIIT and weightlifting. Full disclosure: I have been living with a seriously banged up knee for more than 20 years now, which means I have to maintain my weight at around 50kg. But to complicate things further, there are A LOT of exercises that I can’t do. Still, there is no better way to feel alive than feeling your whole body moving like an engine and then having sweat pour off of you. I know at that moment that I exist, and that life is a bit crap right now, but if I can do 10 pushups in 10 seconds, then maybe, just maybe, I am fucking awesome.

Maybe.

Write

So I only did the first three things for almost as long as I have had anxiety. I couldn’t keep up with something like journaling and I was basically writing for a living, so writing when I was panicking seemed like a busman’s holiday. Or, in this case, a busman’s nightmare. But sometime last year I got back into writing, but writing poetry to be specific. I really got into the groove of it and it helped to have a little notebook and pen on hand to whip out at any moment– on the street, on the metro, in a cafe, at a party– to sort of expunge myself of any panic I might be feeling at any moment. It worked until one of my exes told her mother that I was a poet when she was asked what my profession was. That lie, among many other screwed up things that were happening at the time, just made me want to stop writing. That is until I stared this blog 11 days ago!

Writing is like cataloguing one’s memories and thoughts. It’s better than a photograph because you need to describe everything that you are going through, in your own words.

Writing is cathartic.

Writing heals.

Plan ahead

Let’s be real, I have always been a planner. Sometimes the best part of a holiday is planning for it: the places you’ll go, the outfits you’re gonna wear, the things you’ll eat, etc. But I digress.

When I find myself spiralling, it helps me to have visibility on the future. It doesn’t even have to be that far ahead. It could just be planning for the day, or for the afternoon, even. It helps to tell myself I have these non-negotiable things that I need to accomplish, some things that I would perhaps like to do, and a couple of things that I would include to treat myself with if I happen to get everything done. It helps me focus on the immediate and it also gives me motivation to keep going forward.

Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot.

One of the things that I tell myself when my anxiety is riding dizzyingly high is that I need imagine myself walking on a tightrope. The tightrope walker makes it to the other end by placing one foot after the other. Sure, on a long piece of metal string (ok rope. fine, cable), but that’s basically the action. Dwelling on the height, on the morbidity, on its dangers, just renders the act impossible. To me, it’s kind of like managing anxiety. What matters in the end is that we keep on walking.

Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot.

Image: © Getty Images/Unsplash

Day 9

So you’re ethnically ambiguous?

Get ready for strangers playing Russian roulette with your origins, as if where you’re from is a game, even when you have your headphones on and it’s bloody 7am on a cold winter’s day.

“Konichiwa? Sawadeeka? Annyeonghaseyo? Nihao? Alright, be a bitch.”

There will also be enthusiastic randos coming up to you to ask if you’re from such and such a place?

“Oh, hello! Excuse me, but are you from Nagaland? No? But you look so much like it…”

When they finally get a terse answer from you– let’s be clear: it’s not because you want to satisfy their curiosity but because it’s clear that they won’t let you go until they get an answer– shit gets real.

“Oh, so you’re from Hong Kong? Do you know Jackie Chan?”

or

“Oh, Hong Kong! I have a friend, Johnny Appleseed, who’s from there. Do you know him? He’s real nice. You guys should meet.”

Shit could get even more real when you least expect it.

“Man, Hong Kong. I heard they don’t have TVs there.”

or

“Hong Kong. You guys are part of China right? So that means you guys kill girl babies?” (Yeah, shit for brains, and that’s how I am here.)

or

“You from China? I heard your pussies are bushy as fuck and are sideways. Is that true?”

or, my favourite

“You know what I love about your people? Who? I mean, you Asians. It’s that you guys put your families first and that you are really in touch with nature. I mean, just look at zen and Buddhism.”

Now that we’ve covered encounters with strangers, let’s talk about the people who’s meant to have your back. I am referring to the people who live in the same town as you.

Fucking. Bloody. Malarky.

They also get in on the “guess the origins” game.

“Oh, your skin is so dark/fair/something-that-is not-theirs! You’re not from around here, are you? OH! You are? Then you must have grown up out of town! You didn’t? Are you mixed? No?”

or

“Where are you from? The States? Wait, what you are from around here? You sure? Maybe there’s someone in your family from abroad? I swear you are mixed.”

Once that’s down, they get on with picking on your language even if you speak it perfectly.

“See you are mixed–well, not mixed, but you know what I mean. You know what I am talking about. Your pronunciation! It’s so…clear and enunciated! What, your parents are professors?”

Sometimes even family members get tempted to give you their two cents, usually about your body.

“Growing up abroad has really changed your body. You’re so big now, you really got to diet or you’re going to be obese when you’re older. What? Oh, yes, you grew up here. I forgot. You just look so…dark. I forget sometimes. You know how it is.”

or

“You got all those freckles on your face. I have this great lightening cream. Wait, you like them? You’re going to regret it when you’re my age.”

A perfectly fine house party between friends and roommates can turn hella awkward especially during Halloween because they forget that you’re from the country from which they appropriated their costume.

“I am a geisha, can’t you tell? What do you mean geishas don’t dress like this. I even got those chopsticks in my hair. I got this dress from Chinatown. What? You’re saying this is a qipao that Chinese women wear? No one cares, you get the general idea. So freaking glad it’s just for the day, can you imagine wearing this all the time? No wonder they get all sorts of weird diseases all the time, putting eating utensils in their hair. Sure, ok, no one wears this all the time. Fine, I get it. Who called the PC police up here? OH SHIT, you’re from CHINA?! Ok, not China. But bro….! I’m sorry!”

Never-ending BS, from all sides.

Putain de chintok

Stuck-up slanty-eyed bitch

Race traitor

Pawn of the western media

Chink

Now that you know, steel yourself. Face the day with your head high.

Open the door.

And breathe.

Image © Lyubov Ivanova/Getty Images

Day 6

Holy Batman anxiety. A trip to the pharmacy this morning where I made a mistake in cutting the queue after having thought that there were two, instead of the one, has left me with a shaky hands, heart palpitations and stars and butterflies.

How did I even get here? When did I first begin to realise that this is a condition not everyone has?

Was it when I realised that I would get dizzier and dizzier when my parents pressured me to make calls to the charity hotlines when I was a kid?

No, because I don’t like peer pressure, that’s all.

Was it when I got shaky before I got on stage for concerts?

No, because I read The Berenstain Bears Get Stage Fright. If they made a book about it, then I shouldn’t make a mountain out of a molehill with my nervousness.

Was it when I caught myself going through the play-by-play of my mistakes over and over again in my head, as if I could go back in time and make it all stop before it had started?

No, because mommy said it’s important to review the mistakes we make every day so that we don’t make them ever again.

Was it when I got my first panic attack because of all the people and noise? Was it when I felt my stomach knotting up before going to a party?Was it when I would hide in the toilets before presentations? Was it when I would feel the world spin after turning red whenever I heard my voice crack from nervousness?

When was it? And does it matter?

When I was little there were some weekends where there would be a charity event on television. My father would always use it as an opportunity to try to toughen me up. There’s always the song and dance with him asking me if I would like to do a nice thing for the poor people out there, my responding that if we wanted to do nice things for people then we should just show it with our actions instead of donating money that would trickle down several middlemen and lose its meaning. It all usually ends with him throwing down an ultimatum before The Rehearsal.

The Rehearsal was where my parents would pretend to be the people on the receiving end and we would practice our lines before I actually make the call. A bizarre ritual in and of itself without all the rest of it. For reasons unbeknownst to me, they didn’t seem to realise that The Rehearsal just made it worse. Most times I can finish barely dialling the number and would start to be short of breath. Then I’d wheeze and then I’d start to cry. The rare times where I’d made it past the dial tone, my throat would close up and I wouldn’t be able to speak.

Then came the yelling.

There would always be the yelling afterwards: “Otter, it was just a tiny phone call to a stranger about something inconsequential. Why can’t you even do that? Are you going to avoid strangers your entire life? Is that it? You can’t hide behind us forever, you know!”

To be quite frank, I don’t really remember his exact words because it always happened in such a blur, his voice drowned out by my own crying and wheezing. They would try to backtrack when I would start to get the shakes, and then they would explain how they didn’t mean to hurt me and try to explain that they understood what I was going through. That was the worst bit, because they would always get it wrong.

The more they explained the more I shook. Then they’d babble and explain some more and it would get worse.

Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.

My mother likes to say that I get panic attacks because I have a “weak heart”. She said that again a week ago when I was on the phone with her. I am just too fucking tired to argue anymore.

Now, there are good days and there are the bad. But sometimes I really wonder if my anxiety would have been this bad if I had been able to stand my ground and had said no to them, at least once.

Checklist for the day

  • 1 empty water bottle on the coffee table
  • 1 bag of clean unfolded laundry by Big’s door
  • 1 unplugged night light sitting in the corridor
  • 1/2 load of clean laundry lying on the bed in the master bedroom
  • 3 pairs of shoes in the entry way
  • 6 dirty glasses, 2 dirty coffee cups, 2 dirty dishes, 1 dirty pot
  • 12 glass bottles to take down for recycling

Image: © Mykyta Dolmatov/Getty Images

Day 5

My introduction to feminism came later than most. I put that down to having grown up in a traditional Chinese family in a hyper-capitalist city. Political beliefs, existential musings and philosophical discussions were something that were restricted to late evening conversations and anyone who took them too seriously were immediately deemed as radical and sacrificing their livelihood for lofty ideals.

I wasn’t introduced to the words “feminist” or “feminism” until my first year of my undergraduate. It was so new and so foreign. It made so much sense to me from the get go (of course I don’t need to feel like I need to shave, of course I should be paid the same amount as a dude, of course I have the right to call out manspreaders), but it didn’t feel like something I could grasp. It felt like it didn’t apply to me, a seventeen-year-old. I felt as if I hadn’t suffered enough, or at all, for being a woman. I felt like the gross catcalls and leery stares I got were compliments. I felt as if losing my virginity to my first boyfriend, after he got me drunk and forced me to have sex when I was blacked out, was something dirty that had only happened to me. I didn’t understand how silly it was to feel that feminism is something that one can only identify with if something had happened to them.

Even hearing the word “feminism” roll off my tongue felt like a transgression in itself back then. I still remember the day when I first became aware of International Women’s Day. It was a day off and a close friend and I were wandering around downtown. She was telling me about feminism and how important it is to her after my basically having asked: “why anarcho-feminism?” After hearing her becoming increasingly passionate as she spoke, I told her I didn’t identify as a feminist. I justified that by saying that I stand by everything that feminists believe in and identified with. But I don’t feel like I am living like one and putting what I believe in into practice yet. It’s a label that I don’t feel comfortable in owning, at least not yet. While she understood me, she accused me of being a bad ally. It is a conversation that has stayed with me and which I revisit from time to time.

“I am a woman, not a feminist.”

After the first time I was date raped, I tried to muster up the courage to go to the university police after having gone to the clinic earlier in the week. When the policeman began to question if I had had alcohol (I didn’t) and if I had invited the rapist in my home, I just wanted the conversation to end and left without filing a report. It devastated me. I tried so hard not to let it affect me and kept with the grind to pursue the career that I had dreamt of. I got a lotus tattoo as a gift to myself. A permanent one. To tell myself that like the lotus, I can also grow out of the mud and make something beautiful.

I became a more militant and more outspoken feminist. Why should I self-police the way I look when nothing mattered? Why should I play nice if what they want is to see us down, to see us weak?

Then it happened again. Date rape again, but this time when I tried to confront the rapist, I got a cease and desist. When I called the survivor’s hotline, they were bored with my trying to figure out if I had been raped or not and were only interested in ensuring that I wasn’t going to off myself when I hung up. 

I got my fourth tattoo to remind myself to stop looking for reason in what had happened to me. I tried to drown myself in work, to stop performing femininity and to fight for visibility in the workplace. But I was either too visible, by being too feminine, too Asian, too petite, too North-American, too outspoken, too loud, too much. Or I was not being seen at all. I was only one of three female postgraduates in my program. I had to fight to speak up when we had union meetings, or any meeting at all. People always assumed I was an undergraduate. It became even more ridiculous when I became a faculty member. I still remember the time when I was almost thrown out of the staff room.

A few years later, I got burn out. Like, serious burn out. It was only last year that I started to embrace it and not give myself a time limit to get out of it. I have since been using my time to take care of the kids, to nurture myself as I should have done all these years ago.

So why do I feel like such a bad feminist? Whenever I tell people I stay at home now, I get the weirdest looks from people. Where people would have usually gone on to talk to me about my work and projects, now the conversation would fizzle out and there would be an awkward silence before people talk about something else entirely and I would disappear into the background.

I choose to be a homemaker. I am not my work.

I am a feminist.

Checklist for the day:

  • Call gran
  • Expecting a package and sending out two other
  • Do the dinner shop
  • Tidy up the house
  • Feed me!
  • Move the basil
  • Pick up Little
  • Get dinner ready
  • Work out

Day 1

I write today to stop escaping and to start documenting.

To document the reasons that made me escape in the first place. To document the numerous checklists that I made in my head to make me stay grounded (but let’s be honest. If they worked, I wouldn’t be here). To document the darkness. To document the light. In doing so, I can come back here when the whirling dervishes of my head try to drown me, when I feel like I have nothing more to give, that it is okay because like everything else, it will all pass. When I am at my most stable, I know there are others out there like me, with worry and doubt behind their eyes, hoping for a kindred spirit out there.

I write today to start something.

When life comes at an unstoppable speed, when I feel like a grain of rice being washed, with both hand and water pushing me towards something greater than you, I just want to hit the stop button. If not “stop”, then “pause”. It is times like these when I would escape: into a book, under my covers, in my thoughts. A shelter for my brain so I can breathe again. This sort of escapism saved me from the worst of myself, but also made me incredibly vulnerable. I want to stop running and start living.

I write today to fight back.

There are often multiple sides to one story and there are moments, especially in this time that we live in, where it seems as if that whoever screams the loudest wins. Where I would once keep my head down low and my mouth shout, now I wonder why I feel as if I should do that? Would I not be complicit in shutting my voice down? Don’t I also deserve to be heard?

I do, we do.

I have always had the habit of making checklists in my head. It was/is a crutch for me when dealing with anxiety and when I was recovering from my rapes. Maybe I will stop making them one day, but until that time I am going to document them here. In doing so maybe it will banalise the process, free up some much needed headspace and also it’s all part of the archive.

Checklist for the day:

  • Heightened hearing: Y/N
  • Strained breathing: Y/N
  • Lowered appetite: Y/N
  • Knot in stomach: Y/N
  • Heightened irritability: Y/N