Friday, April 26, 2013

The Best is Yet to Come? Nope, it's Now

“I’m doing the best I can,” I told my son the other day.  I was surprised how quickly he accepted that and cut me some slack.  I wish I were as quick to give myself the benefit of the doubt.

“Doing my best” sometimes seems like a cop-out, especially to the Perfectionist in my head (Remember her?  She’s that loud know-it-all who tells me all the ways I’m wrong).

I think that all of us really are doing the best we can, in the circumstances we’re in, with the current set of skills we have.  It’s easy to feel we can do better, but striving to improve is something best done in moderation.  I haven't always felt this way.

I recently found the only short story I have ever finished, and it was written at a time when I unequivocally felt that my dad’s best was worthless.  The story is like a diatribe against my last boss, my mother, my father, and my aunt.

It was written seven years ago, and my oh my, how much has changed.  My dad is dead now, and I forgive him everything because I really understand now that he did do the best he could.  He never learned the skills to dig himself out of the really dark place his depression and anxiety always brought him back to.  He never built the amazing support network that I've been extremely lucky to find.  Who I am is very much because of my relationship with him, and I'm grateful that I knew him.

My aunt in the story is the aunt I recently reconnected with.  She criticized my mother, but it was almost 15 years ago, and she was going through a rough time with her own kids.  She did apologize at the time.  The fact that my mom and my aunt are able to pick up right where they left off is so satisfying to me.

The depiction of my mother in the story is rather more a caricature of her quirks.  But the thing about my father telling me that she tried to abort me twice is true.  I've never spoken to her about it.  I don't feel the need or desire to.  It's immaterial whether it's true.  I know that she loves me now, and she's very proud of me.  I appreciate her so much more now than I did when I was growing up, or even just a few years ago.

I still find it hard when someone does something that irritates me, especially if I'm driving.  I'm so quick to tell myself that they should have done something different, been more courteous, not been an idiot.  Then I remember that that's just my ego or my Perfectionist.

The truth is that we're all doing the best we can, but just like our kids, sometimes we get tired, or hungry, or grumpy, or afraid, or all four simultaneously, and our best looks kind of messy and not particularly good.

Dog shows have many, many categories for judging, and then the final category is Best in Show.  I'd like to think now that we are each in our own category, and we're doing our best in the show that is our lives.  Cheesy, I know, but I'm going to "try it on" and see if it helps me be more accepting of myself and everyone around me.  I want that so bad, it's worth experimenting with lots of different things, cheesy, idiotic, or what not.  So much of my frustration in life is refusing to accept things as they are.

Here is the short story I wrote in June 2006.  My husband likes to say that I am an "award-winning" writer since I won third prize and $10 for this piece at the community college where I was taking a creative writing course.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Facing Fear: Giving It the Finger, and Letting It Give Me a Hand

I'm really good at being afraid: of heights, of being a "bad mother", that everything is just going to go wrong today, and so on, and so forth.

Then there are times when I do just the thing I'm afraid of.  In the late '90s I noticed that when I went hiking, I took FOREVER to walk downhill because I was terrified of falling and getting hurt.  So I started to study aikido, a Japanese martial art similar to judo which involves a lot of rolling around and falling down.  I figured I might as well learn how to fall properly so it wouldn't be as scary.  (I did aikido for 8 years, and it was scary every time I fell down or got thrown, but I learned that I could force myself past that fear, at least for a little while at a time.  Plus I got to meet some really great people, which was a greater reward than I could have hoped for.)

For me, it's hard to face physical fears, and it's even harder to face emotional fears.  I'm afraid to be vulnerable, to share my opinion with other people, knowing that at any moment I might sound like an idiot.  I'm afraid to ask for help because what if people think I'm weak?  I'm afraid that people will figure out I really have no idea what I'm doing.

Fear can be a hindrance at times, but it can also be a tool.  Its job is to motivate us to protect ourselves.  It reminds us that we're worth protecting.

So, writing this blog is scary for me.  I'm afraid that people will read it and think it's crap or that I'm arrogant for thinking I have something to say.  One part of fear tells me not to make myself vulnerable to criticism, but another fear tells me that if I don't do the things I really want to do, I'll be wasting opportunities to really be myself.

It's scary being myself.  If I pretend to be someone, and people don't like me, that's okay because it's just a facade or a role I'm playing.  But if I'm being myself and people don't like me, then I think that there must be something wrong with me.  What I'm finding in practice is that the more real I am about what I think, how I feel, and who I am, the more comfortable I feel being with other people, and they in turn seem more comfortable around me.

I don't expect every person I interact with to like me.  We're all on our various paths, and we're going to resonate with some people more than others.  But being myself, as scary as it is, makes me more likely to surround myself with people who "get" me and appreciate me.  It's meant a lot to me the people who have taken the time to read my blog and comment on it.

So, fear: friend or foe?  I say friend as long as you follow the fears that lead you to a bigger, fuller life.  If the fear urges you to shrink your comfort zone, hide your real feelings, or pretend to be someone you're not, acknowledge its attempt to protect you, then let it go.  When fear comes along with a sense of excitement and possibility, let it stretch you to become even more the person you really are.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Seeing My Aunt and Friending More Relatives

As I wrote in an earlier post, I went to visit my aunt, my dad's sister, recently.  I hadn't seen her for almost 15 years, and I wasn't sure what to expect.  I realize now of course that I needn't have worried because it was like there had never been any hostility or separation between us.  I hugged her as soon as I got out of the car, and she hugged me right back.

My mom came along, as well as my two kids.  My mom and aunt had talked on the phone once already, so they just gabbed along in Cantonese as though there hadn't been any lapse in their friendship all these years.

I thought my aunt would be alone, but her husband and her grandson were already there.  Her husband accidentally called me my mother's Chinese name when he first saw me because I look so much like her, then laughed when he realized his mistake.

I had thought their grandson, my cousin's son, would be in school, but he was apparently on Spring Break, as my kids were.  He was the best surprise of the whole experience.  He's 14 now and an only child, and I think he immediately fell in love with my kids, especially my daughter.  He went out of his way to try to take care of them.  He offered them something to drink, asked my son if he wanted to watch cartoons, and tried to make my daughter laugh as often as possible.  When we went for a walk, he raced my son and made sure my son got safely across the street.  He kept asking how long we were going to stay and seemed very sad when we were leaving.

I'm so grateful to be able to reconnect with this part of my dad's family.  One day I'll be able to just write "my family", but I feel a little like I still have to earn it a bit.  It's unfortunate that we live almost two hours apart so it's unlikely we'll see each other often.  Thankfully, it seems that most of my dad's family is on Facebook.  I added my aunt and was able to see a bunch of my other relatives, including two cousins who live only half an hour away that I forgot I had.

It turns out one of those cousins went to the same college I did.  I sent her an Add Friend request and wrote her a message explaining who I was.  She wrote back immediately, and we ended up chatting online for a little while.  She seemed genuinely interested in meeting me and my kids.  I confessed that I worried that her dad, my dad's only remaining brother, might still be mad at me for not keeping in touch with my dad, and she wrote, "No no, everyone understands."  That made my eyes tear up because I wouldn't blame any of them for blaming me at least a little for my dad's suicide.  He felt he had no one in his life and no reason to live.  If I could have known that he wasn't angry at me anymore and wouldn't make unreasonable demands on me, I would have liked to be able to write him letters and send him photos of the kids.  I hope that whatever energy was the essence of him can still feel that I love him and that I'm doing my best to make some good come from his death.

So, I have plans to meet my other aunt, uncle, and their two daughters in a little less than two weeks.  I hope my mom can come again.  Even though my parents divorced when I was very young, I think she would like to be friends with my dad's family.  All of her relatives are still in Hong Kong.  She made a comment about how Thanksgiving could be really nice this year, with so many more relatives.  The thought honestly hadn't occurred to me, but now that it does, I'm really eager for more time with my (dad's) family.  It's like that line in "When Harry Met Sally": "When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible!"

Monday, April 8, 2013

Why This Isn't "Fake It 'Til You Make It"

I was really inspired when The Bloggess told the crowd at the bookstore about Neil Gaiman giving her the advice: "Pretend you're good at it."  It sounds so simple, but it requires shutting off that annoying voice in my head, the one I call The Perfectionist (other people name the voices in their heads, right?  That's not just me, is it?).

The Perfectionist tends to shout things like:
Who the hell do you think you are?
Nobody cares what you think!
You can't write for shit.

So "Pretend you're good at it" is really very different from the phrase "Fake it 'til you make it."  As soon as I hear the word "fake" I immediately feel The Perfectionist saying, "Look at you, trying to be somebody special, trying to pretend you're good at something, but you're just a fraud.  Do the world a favor, shut the fuck up."  Faking it just reinforces your belief that you can't do something whereas pretending allows you to be whatever you want and has no attachment to who you are.  You can pretend you're just acting, playing a character.  No harm, no foul.  You're not trying to change the world, or even change who you are, although maybe after awhile, you might end up changing a little, maybe it won't be pretending as much after awhile.

Right now I'm pretending that I'm a blogger.  I'm pretending that I have something to say and maybe a handful of people might want to read it.  I'm pretending that all of the pain and suffering I've gone through and all the lessons I've learned have been to prepare me for this.

I've read many articles asking, "How would you finish the sentence 'If I weren't afraid, I would...'"  If I weren't terrified, I would write.  I'm still terrified, but I'm pretending it's all going to be okay.

What would you do if you weren't afraid?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Terms of Estrangement

On Monday I'm going to see my aunt on my dad's side, who I haven't seen for almost 15 years.  My father and I didn't get along for most of my life, and his siblings had a habit of trying to coerce me into re-establishing contact with him, which I did not appreciate.  I felt like they were imposing this culture of "respect your parents no matter what", which they grew up with, but I did not.

Anyway, my father committed suicide 4 months ago, and I'm very sorry that it happened, but at the same time, I'm glad he isn't suffering anymore.  That's what you say about cancer patients, right?  But people with anxiety and depression suffer too, although I think much more in silence.  I think my father had untreated anxiety and depression his whole life, some of it due to being extremely poor as a child and being abandoned by his father, and probably a lot of it due to biochemistry.  My uncle (my dad's younger brother) committed suicide sometime in the early '90s so this wasn't a huge surprise, even though it was kind of a shock.

So, I'm going to visit my aunt.  When I talked to her on the phone after I found out my dad died and how he died, she was incredibly compassionate.  She didn't tell me that it was my fault because I wouldn't reach out to him.  She was almost kind of apologizing for him, that he didn't have a good role model for how to be a good person.  And I agree with her.  He did the best he could with what he had, he just didn't have a lot.  I think of all the wonderful people in my life that I trust, who accept me for who I am, and he didn't have that.

I'm bringing my kids to meet my aunt.  My kids know almost nothing about my dad or his family.  When I found out my dad died, I showed them his picture, but I didn't mention how he'd been in prison or that I used to be afraid that he would hurt me or my mom.

I'm bringing my kids because I really do want them to meet their aunt and for her to get to meet them.  I've sent her a few photos over the last few months, but my kids are really super cute and funny, and I figure if there's any residual resentment from my aunt, she'll bend over backwards to hide it so she can see my kids again.  I've heard of people being really non-accepting of their daughter or son-in-law until a grandkid appears and they suddenly become much more flexible and amicable.  I'm counting on this being a similar situation.

My mother is also coming with us.  She seems as eager as I am to reconnect with my aunt.  It's interesting to see how one person can be the focal point for many, many other relationships, and how they can make those relationships stronger or tear them apart.  My father's death created space and an opportunity for healing.  I'm really grateful for that, and I'm going to allow myself to be vulnerable, take the risk that I may be judged or condemned.  I grew up feeling so alone, I want my kids to have as big of a family as I can create for them.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Inaugural Post

This is my first post on this blog.  If you read the title of this post, you're probably thinking, "Well, yeah, DUH."  So, I'm probably going to write a bunch of things that are really obvious to other people, but are brand-spanking new to me.

My heart is racing while I type this.  I'm pretty sure this is stuff I should edit out later, but I know I'll be too lazy to.  I imagine I sound a bit like I've been drinking, but it was only coffee, and I'm quite sure I asked for decaf.

So, this new blog.  I freely admit, I totally stole the title of the blog from Neil Gaiman, told to me by The Bloggess herself.  Well, she didn't just tell me personally, she told a bunch of people sitting and standing around in a Barnes & Noble.  But anyway, she said she was doing a crappy job of recording an audiobook version of her book "Let's Pretend This Never Happened", and she sent an email to Neil Gaiman asking him for advice, and he wrote back, "Pretend that you're good at it."

So, I start writing a diary entry in my computer, which is really a Microsoft Word file, because I can't write by hand, it's too slow, and my hand starts to cramp, and I get that indent in my index finger.  But I hate to think of writing in a "diary" or what I used to snootily refer to as "my journal".  It feels too much like mental masturbation, although I'm sure other people write really interesting things in their diaries or journals, I just don't feel that I do.

So, this blog.  What am I going to write about?  I have no idea.  Or at least, I only have one idea so far, and I could stick to it or change it, or forget about it, or whatever.  Yeah, I'm stalling.  My little idea is to write about my acts of courage, about taking risks, being vulnerable, making a fool of myself, whatever I would be tempted to hide, I'm going to publish.  Not stuff that's private to other people or might upset them, just stuff about me and that includes stuff that other people are okay with sharing.

I've already admitted to plagiarizing words from Neil Gaiman, I think it's obvious I'm probably also plagiarizing The Bloggess' way of writing although I haven't read her blog, just her book, and I think most people with anxiety write and talk this way, so I'm probably plagiarizing lots of other people, but hey this blog is free, so you can't sue me, (I think).

Anyway, this is my new blog.  Um, a little about me, I suffer from anxiety and depression, which means everyone around me suffers with my anxiety and depression, but I'm really lucky that most of those people are frankly awesome.  I'm a mom with two kids.  Lots of fun stuff runs in my family like depression, suicide, and diabetes.  These will likely be topics of future posts, so if you're not into that kind of stuff, you probably won't want to come back here.  But if you are still reading this far, and you do decide to come back, Welcome! and thank you.  Please share with me your own acts of courage and taking risks.  All too often we try to protect ourselves from getting hurt or getting judged, and I'm inspired by The Bloggess to live my life out loud and proud of my freakishness.  It's what makes me me.  Unique/freaky, it's really all the same thing to me.

So, if you find yourself in a situation where you want to do something but then think, "Oh, I couldn't do that" (because of so and so, whatever), do it anyway, and Pretend You're Good at It.