Advice, Family, Mental Health, Travel

The Noonday Demon: Dear sister

Dear sister,

The scariest day of my life was neither earthquake nor pregnancy. It was when I received a message from your best friend on facebook.

On May 26, you showed up to work. You stopped talking. 911. The ambulance rushed you to New York Presbyterian. From Boston to Brooklyn, our parents drove through pitch black. You were sedated most of the month. When you were lucid, you did yoga. You sketched. Faces juxtaposed upon faces.

Dad sent me an email about praying. I had no idea he believed in god. You refused to take medication. Every second we waited, you were getting worse.

We had to go to court. The judge ruled that you had to take medication. When you got out of the hospital, your first request was a large cheese pizza. Hope.

Fear

At the airport, your hands trembled. At the restaurant, you walked out. Mom ran after you. Earlier that week, you had opened the passenger door while she was still driving.

On June 12, parallel to the Orlando shootings, I had a nightmare. We were on a plane. Sordid yellow, oxygen masks dangled. I screamed for you to wake up. But you didn’t. I awoke to a silver lining. That day, you put on a coral blue dress and pearls for some fine dining at Not Your Average Joe’s. Glow.

Come midnight, you stopped feeling good. You were shaking so hard you couldn’t put your sneakers on. ER.

The meds were too strong, but you had to keep taking them. I’m so glad you came home the next day. I’m so sorry it hurts.

Frustration

The hospital bills were astronomical, even with insurance. There was a minimum 8 week waitlist to see a doc near home. What happens to those who cannot afford to wait?

On sleepless nights, you came to my door, wiggling the handle, asking over and over: “Can I come in? What are you doing?” I had to lock it. You’d walk over to our brother’s room and do the same thing. Whether I was teaching, laughing, talking, you’d tell me to stop. I never knew if something I said would trigger you. I took phone calls outside.

It was extremely frustrating when you said and did inappropriate things. I worked out every day to keep calm. When I didn’t react, you’d turn to mom. You could always get a reaction out of her. It scared me to see you feed off that.

When you weren’t sleeping, you were eating. I know what it’s like to feel powerless over food. Eating when you’re bored. Eating when you’re anxious. Before Ecuador, I tried to force myself to throw up. I’m lucky I stopped. For so many, it’s a life long struggle.

Change

While the rest of the family tries to change your behavior, I know it won’t make a difference.  You cannot force someone to heal. Mom worries. Dad lectures. Alex tells you to get off your ass. I want to tell them to leave you alone: “Can’t you see she’s depressed?”

But I don’t. I am also recovering from my codependency. I cannot control, fix, save others. I can only offer my unconditional love and support.

What can I do?

I use every tool I learned in therapy. I accept others as they are and build a fortress of solitude around my heart. When it’s too much, I make my muscles scream so I don’t have to.

During my cool downs, I think of our New York moments: your sharp, dry humor that makes me eyes rain. Tuesdays with Sherry.

What Would Nandy Drew Do?

I rummage through your room. Your shelves are stacked with LSATs when you were so determined to become a lawyer. “Drawn Out” shows hellish sketches by a man who lost his dad at a young age. He drowned himself in sex, drugs, rock n roll. When he finally sought a psychiatrist, he discovered he’d been reenacting a “living death”. 40 years old. Illumination. I know you’ll find your lightbulb.

Still, the million dollar question remains: What happened?

There’s no easy answer. Here is my educated guess. Only you, mei mei, can discover the rest.

You were 16 when you stopped talking to dad for a month. 6 years later, you stopped talking at work. Since graduation, you’ve felt pressure to figure out your life. Worked multiple jobs. Said yes when you felt no. Your law office boss made you her personal assistant and punching bag. “She says one thing, but means another.” A sense of inadequacy amplified. Great bosses are rare. Horrible bosses abound. Not only is their behavior is accepted, but promoted. We know the world does not operate on fairness: see season finale Game Of Thrones. Sometimes it’s good to be a quitter.

In the media, whenever something terrible happens, family and friends are shocked, “we didn’t see this coming.” Kill my cynicism. You don’t know til it happens to you. Any questions about whether this is an illness have been erased. It is a cancer of the mind. It is every bit as deadly. “Do you have any family history of this?” the doctor asked. Our parents were confounded. We don’t know what it looks like because it hides in plain sight. Remember when Nai Nai would talk to herself for hours? Her moods fluctuated at lightning speed. When I lost track of time playing outside, she hurt me worse than dad. If there happened to be a romantic scene on TV, she’d turn it off. “Do not trust men,” she’d rage-rant.

I was 12 at the time. Grams is 82 now. She didn’t get a second chance. You do. I’ll be here.

Hope

On June 29, I dreamed of Mary Lynne for the first time in years. Dressed in white, we stood in the kitchen. “Sherry will be OK,” she held my hand. I got my visa to Korea the next morning.

She’s right. I’ve seen you get better. You show interest in life. You hang out with your friends. You got a job at the deli. You go to the gym.

We laugh now. We talk about boys. L said he prefers me paler so I wrote a mini-novel back, loosely titled, “Best love me no matter what color F@$%^&!” You offered sage like wisdom: “tell him you’d prefer him…bigger.” Turns out I misread his message. Glad I didn’t hit send. PMS is real. (L’s still the greatest)

We whatsapp while I’m on Seoul’s, clean-as-a-dream subway. Free wifi, shopping, food stalls, and public bathrooms. All underground. Welcome to the future.

You told me your greatest strength is courage. You told me your greatest weakness is fear.  I believe that words are strong, that they can overwhelm what we fear when fear seems more awful than life is good.

I love you. I’m proud of you. You are fighting the hardest fight of your life.

A fine line separates a fighter and a warrior. One is motivated by reason, the other by purpose. One fights to live, the other lives to fight.

You’re both.

writinginsoysauce

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Advice, Current Events

A fish wouldn’t get in trouble if it kept its mouth shut

Dear reader,

Sometimes the bad news is too much. I want to shut my eyes. I want to find Pokemon, not hatred in the heart of America. I want to categorize cities according to budget, not whether ISIS will attack. I want to curl up to the Kardashians, not pray I won’t get raped on a night out.

There is a Russian expression: “If you wake up feeling no pain, you know you’re dead.” I get why vampires turn their humanity off. Who wouldn’t want to frolic in the United States of Unicorn?

As much as I’d like to sign up, I can’t stop caring. That would be a fatal flaw. If we stop caring, there’s no chance for change. No recourse for reason. No leg room for love.

Whether we’re disagreeing, arguing, fighting:  there’s dialogue. If we shut our thoughts down, flip off the pain Prozac-style, we sentence ourselves to a living death. That is the greatest horror.

1. Know what you don’t know

My first boss in advertising said: know what you don’t know. He also happened to be a raging alcoholic who bragged about getting a blowjob.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a marginalized minority. I don’t know what it’s like to be born into privilege.

I don’t know what it’s like to put my life at risk on the job, nor to feel afraid from the moment I step out. 9 months in beautifully brazen Quito was enough.

I don’t know what it’s like when the world assumes your faith means you’re a terrorist. To feel alone from your first crush. To be trapped in a body that does not represent yourself.

Heck, I don’t know even know what it’s like to have a penis (though I’d definitely try it out).

There is so much I don’t know. There’s so much to find out. I teach to be taught.

2. Know what you know

I know that the scope of my understanding is limited to my personal experiences. Every interaction, from conception to now, is entirely unique. Imposing my beliefs, no matter how fundamentally right they seem, can be extremely off-putting to someone else. However, reaching out with rhyme and reason, armed with facts, not fiction, can make a difference.

Blood spills upon asphalt. If it’s not mine, it’ll be that of someone I love. Ask yourself: what can I do to help?

Information is the antidote for ignorance.

3. Agree to Disagree

Our nation couldn’t agree on a blue(or gold?) dress so our current state of affairs isn’t too surprising. Either we’re far too eager to take sides, or hesitant to express an informed opinion. Emphasis on informed. There’s plenty of idiots runnin’ wild. Comedy Central’s Trevor broke it down: why can’t we be pro-black and pro-cop? Pro-gun control and pro-constitution? Pro-prosecuting priests and pro-god?

Declaring your support for others does not mean you are discriminating against your own. Show your love for black lives AND all lives by speaking up. Show your love for the brave women and men who do protect us by better training and body cameras. Show you’re open to SOLUTIONS by admitting there’s a PROBLEM.

4. Denial

Remember: denial is the first stage.

Start small. Build bigger. For example, I’m pro-chunky monkey and I love phish-food. I’m also lactose intolerant.I devoured Toscani’s green tea heaven on July 4th. Fireworks ensued. I have a problem.

Our world faces increasingly violent times. I will never be prepared for the day I need to block my student from a bullet. But I will never turn my pain off. Without it, how would I know joy? Polarity makes the world go round.

I know the bitterness of anger. It will never help you get back up. It may make the front page, but it will leave you, and everyone around you, empty. Violence is the demon that never wants to stop.

A fish wouldn’t get in trouble if it kept its mouth shut, as the Koreans say. Let’s keep the lines open, especially towards those who seek to tear knowledge down.

Ask. Listen. Hug. Hold. Repeat.

Doctor’s orders,

writinginsoysauce

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