When the obedient decided to chase after freedom

I think there is an important life lesson I really really need to log down. I have always been the obedient child. But I can see that it is toxic now. I would like to change that.

The obedient do not know how to fight against the odds. The obedient care too much about what others think of them. We are too good at hiding ourselves instead of showing the world who we are. The obedient are passively aggressive because we do not like you but we pretend we do. Something shows, right?

Growing up my mom cares a lot about what I do and think. She believes everything has to be according to the social standards. That makes me sick. I am screaming ‘I am not normal’ but no one hears that. Most of the friends were too busy trying to please their parents and act ‘normal’. But I refused to accept normalcy is something humans chase after. I can see so many flaws that society will not accept in me. It is so loud in my quiet mind that I know it is impossible for me to be normal. Luckily, I was smart enough to know probably this is the state for other people in the world as well.  They just refused to accept it. I don’t know why they can’t see it, but they are good people. The end result is, back and forth I doubt myself. They say I don’t belong. They say I am marching to a lonesome defeat. But I refused to believe in the society. I refused to give up. I have given in for a long time. This tug of war is between my identity and the world in front of me. How to strike a balance and call it a win-win?

I chose myself. I became an artist. I grasped any opportunities to express myself as a person. I studied psychology and philosophy. I studied the things that constitutes normalcy from a scientific angle. I studied the so-called disabled people and read their autobiographies. I stumbled upon Carl Jung’s quotes and I think that changes everything. At the age of 14, I read about Carl Jung and for the years to come, his words painted the wall of my room and the back of my mind. In a large scale, everything I do is to preserve the selves that society wants to repress, to entertain the selves that I am scared to lose. The emotions that are running in the background, the quiet screams only those who are sensitive would notice.

However, no matter how good I am being an artist, I did not learn to use words to express my own selves in front of others. Writing is good but it is still not a direct mean to express emotions. I still shy away from expressing my own emotions to others. The idea that others will actually accept I dislike something others like is hard to take.  Adults do not like truths, they just want to conserve the superficial harmony. This is something I hate about being an adult. This is something I hate about my parents.

This was true until one day I told my colleague I got nothing to work on, and he told me that is because I have complied orders and followed instructions all my life and do not know how to find my own work.  ”Our company gives us lots of freedom, you just have to ask for permission.” He is the colleague that many others do not like because he started many things but did not manage to finish them properly. A trouble-maker. But in that moment he said those words, I was not offended. Not at all.  I think he is wise. What he said is true. I do not know how to express myself even when people allow it. People would like to see what I can offer and bring up.

It is the moment that I think the world is not working against me but with me. The feeling of ‘the world is against me’ is really hard to shake off but in that moment I turned the concept around, I can sense freedom and acknowledgment are possible in this world.

The more I work with other humans, I realised they are not really rejecting me but curious about me. They want to know I will say, they want to know what kind of surprise I will bring them. This is something never existed in my world. People in my world used to reject me because I was not following instructions. People used to show hatred and take freedom from me when I refused to obey. I lived in an authoritarian world! In the sacrifice of personal freedom, I lost interest in living but drifting into a world that no human exists. I love to draw fluffy animals and I would be the only human being in my imagination.I drifted into the world of books in search of meaning in life. I go dark. I disappeared from the reality in favor of my own reality.

Humans are extremely hard to satisfy. We all have our own ideas but only a few can articulate their ideas fully to feel understood.

Paulo Coelho said madness is the inability to communicate your ideas. It’s as if you were in a foreign country, able to see and understand everything that’s going on around you, but incapable of explaining what you need to know or of being helped, because you don’t understand the language they speak there. We’ve all felt that. And all of us, one way or another, are mad.

Maybe that’s the reason: the obedient have a hard time to get out of their own madness. They lack the skills to tell others what they need to know.

To escape that, you either allow yourself to be mad in front of others or you learn to communicate in various ways. I do both, I suppose.

Yesterday, I had a dream of being naked but I do not feel ashamed. I remember Milton Erikson once told his patient that God gives us the body and we should not be ashamed of showing her breasts in public while feeding her son; or giving out gasses. They are the miracles of human bodies. Being mad is also what humans do, there is nothing to feel ashamed of. I think ‘madman’ do it differently because they cannot choose when to do the mad things, but most of us have this choice. I started to scream when I am at home, especially when I feel life is unfair. I started to shout and growl like a dog at home or in the forest whenever I feel like it. It feels good, it helps with the release of anger I have, for myself and for this world. I am also working at a school setting and learning to communicate with students who test my boundaries and get rewards for free. It tested my ability to communicate and value their ideas and at the same time stay true to myself.

I have learnt to embrace the absurdity of human life and embrace the unconscious mechanisms that most people may not understand.The acknowledgment of personal freedom feels good, even though it may not be what you think it is. It could mean doing harmless silly things in front of others. It could mean being proactive and stand for yourself and the values you held close to your heart.

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Grow a forest in your mind.

Lately, I have been crying a lot. Since I have been back to Hong Kong I felt like part of me died. Whenever I am free in my room I reminisce the days I was in England. The good old days, when I know what I was doing and what I wanted.

There have been days I dream of someone leaving me.  The dreams are like telling me, ‘There is no one else to take care of you anymore.You are on your own now.Your days in England have taught you enough to face whatever in front of you. So please be strong. Please be patient.’

Returning to Hong Kong is also like facing my old depressed self again. I go back to live with people who have once depreciated me. I go back to see the things I had once tried so hard but failed. I have learnt better but all these still hurts.

I started to build up a mental health system for myself. I look for a jogging trail, I look for healthy food, I look for inspirational and motivational people, and most of all, I look for solitude. It has been three months, I have found a jogging trail close to where I live, but I haven’t found a way to cook healthy food in this household. I have failed to find inspirational and motivational people. I felt like abandoned. I only found books, things I have once written down. I have to become my own motivation generator. Solitude is hard to find when you are living in a city and everyone is annoyed or complaining about something or someone.

From time to time I think humans aren’t meant to live in a city. Too many people are too much. Humans need personal space to be themselves. Humans need to have spaces where they can be disgusting and ugly, so they can have the space to show others their cheerful and positive sides. Hong Kong has gotten this all wrong.

I got a job working at a secondary school. The job has been meaningful but it’s not pointing me to the direction I am going. It’s a sidetrack. It’s my way to comfort my parents that I could be independent and live my own life. But it’s hard for me to accept that things aren’t alright. I need to go back to psychology and do a master. I felt stuck even though people around me are all telling me I am on the right track. It doesn’t feel that way.

I still remember the week before I left England, I was upset because I can foresee what’s upcoming. When I was jogging in the woodland trail in England.I prayed and asked God what I can do when I am surrounded by anxious people. There was silence for a long time. But then, after a long while, someone answered. A voice told me, you see the trees here? Yes, I said. Imagine yourself in this serene and peaceful setting. Come back to this place. Grow a forest in your mind. And you have it, relaxation and calmness.

What if you have already won life?

Last year, I was in a martial arts training and someone cried because she cannot do a kick properly, and the teacher asked me to go to the toilet to see if she was alright. I knew that is a sign of depression, or at least, it signified the fear of failures. But I did not have the courage to bring it up. It was really awkward and I said some random stupid shit that I have done when I was little to make her laugh. She did not laugh. Anyway.

This experience caught me thinking, what should I say when someone you are supposed to build up a friendly relationship with cry at the least triggering things?

‘Do you know that you cry not because of that kick/thing that you have done, but because it reminded you some sort of sad and painful memories in the past that convinced you ”you will never succeed again”?’

‘I know you cannot help crying, so there is no reason to be embarrassed about.’

‘And I am here to tell you, that you are not worthless. You will win, but not in the way you expected. A few years ago, I was really depressed about my public exam results, and I swear to god if there is one more chance I will pass with flying colors. I will try so hard, I will not sleep until I finish revision. I will do anything, just to get back the self-esteem I had lost. But things were still difficult, it was just me becoming more and more desperate and crazy. Nothing really changed really. How I studied did not change just because I wanted to win. I was just getting deeper and deeper into the inferior feeling. Then, day after day I thought about other stuff. I did other stuff. Many of the emotions remain unchanged. But my perspective towards this world changed.

One day I was thinking, what if God created a game that I have to fail 100 times before I figured out all the skills I need to find the key of success? What if there are more than 100 traps in this pathway that leads to success? Why am I quitting on the second or third level? Why am I feeling numb about all the emotions and shut down my whole emotional system just because I bleed? What if I stumbled and fell 99 times but I can still smile and try again?

Think about it. What if that is life? If that is true, I think the game is not about winning or losing, but a testing of your mental strength. A test of your mental flexibility, durability, endurance, the ability to feel and love in the face of losing everything you have.

If you have failed 100 times but you are still able to feel and love, but still able to be sensitive and gentle to yourself and others, I think you have already won.

You are born whole

I thought about how some people got multi-personality and split their own self into different layers. I looked at people who teach others to love themselves. I proposed our psychological self is actually making up of different layers. When we say you have to respect yourself this is a strange statement, because you need someone else to respect. How can you give something to someone if there is only one person? But respecting yourself is possible, loving yourself is possible. So psychologically, everyone has different layers of self. Freudians use the idea self, ego and id to explain this. The ideal self is the realistic side of you who want to be successful, admired, loved by others. You follow the norms, do what the society considers as good. But this might not be what you want. What you want to do or your own inner child, is the id. We will go back to the idea of the inner child later, but right now I want to stress my definition of self is slightly different, we have an indefinite number of layers within us, it’s not countable. Also, it is not as clear cut as id, super-ego and ego. There are always grey areas in between, and probably some layers in between.

 

Furthermore, self-love is the glue to hold these layers together, the stronger your self-love, the more you can accept your different layers,the more you can hold yourself together, and the closer you are to unity of self. And by that, some people will say ‘they feel they are whole’, it is that feeling. Unity of self, I mean different layers of self merged together and one no longer feel there are distance among layers of self, he or she can accept the dark sides and the bright sides of himself or herself unconditionally. But this feeling is actually independent of others, in daily lives many people attribute this feelings to their lovers. But love will always stands outside if you cannot love yourself. Love from someone just triggers self-love from yourself, everything is about you, and you alone.

 

We just talked about how self-love can make us feel whole and it is independent to others. So, what is the typical state for most people? There is a huge gap between their ideal self and their inner child. Adults, implements lots of socially acceptable values and beliefs and traditions and customs to themselves, and have the ideal that they have to fulfill those things in order to be successful and happy. Because of that, they are no longer able to see their own inner child screaming to them about what they actually need or desire. They are far away from their inner child. They are usually will not say they are unhappy, but they are not happy neither, because they are not even sure what they want. They thought growing up is about leaving their playful side of themselves behind, and starting to care more about others than themselves. They thought leaving their own desires and needs and satisfying other’s needs and desires means growing up, implies maturity. But as one steps away from their own need and desires, one is also stepping away from their id, the core layer of self. As a consequence, many people step away from their own self and no longer able to love themselves, hoping others can do that for them.

 

Sadly, this is a very common story.

 

To explain this, Freudians will probably say the superego is dominating the psyche and repressing the needs of id. To solve this, the person has to look carefully what the id need and rationally satisfy the desires of id. While in the approach of Carl Jung, this will probably be explained by socialization and the initial wholeness of self disappeared because the internalization of cultural and sociatal values to ‘you who are’ as a person. You learned to look outward and thought that is exactly who you are. Until one day you realised the image of you no longer applies and you freaked out, has an identity crisis and cling to the old self image you have. You cannot see through, the answer is always within, deep within. The only way to find out who you are and feel whole again, is achieved by looking inwards. Getting away layers and layers of what you thought as a good person, examined the criteria that the society considered as good and bad. You will start to see, there are no one judgement that is universial in this world. Everyone holds a different ruler. When you thought you are beautiful the other person can see you as ugly. You are considered ugly in this culture but beauty in another. There are no rules. 

 

Look within, and you will see many things you assumed as right are just culturally accustomed as right. Who you are? The society says we should avoid the pain we have gone through and only focus on being positive. But avoiding the pain also means you are avoiding yourself. Ironic, isn’t it?

 

Once again, please look within. Acknowledge the emotions repressed by your family and friends, acknowledge the things that are stored inside you for the sake looking good. Self-love means looking deep inside, accept the sides of you the society does not give permission to, acknowledge the pain you are in.

 

Life can be twisted and fucked up, but you are whole, every creature on this Earth is whole.

Things Parents cannot do for their Children even though they are Desperate to help

The eight important things parents cannot do for their children, from the book ‘Homesick and Happy’:

1.We cannot make our children happy

2.We cannot give our children high self-esteem

3.we cannot make friends for our children or snoop on or try to control their friendships

4.We cannot manage all aspects of our childrens’ growth

5.we cannot create the friends and other relationships for our children

6.we cannot compete with our child’s electronic world

7.we cannot keep our children every second safe, but we can push them trying

8. we cannot make our children independent.

———————————————————————————–

This is both surprising and relieving for parents. Ironically, the things parents can do is to let our children go their own ways, even though it is painful to see our kids struggle.

Once you accepted the fact you can not protect your baby girl or baby boy your whole life, they will take full responsibility for what they are doing when he or she are away from you. There are risks, but they will learn the hard way. Their values will be tested and internalised, and they will grow morally strong.

Reference:

Thompson, M. 2012. Homesick and happy. New York: Ballantine Books Trade Paperbacks.

Proud to be Different

Remember the day we were at the airport in Spain, you said ‘Pooky, if all restaurants are Halal, then we do not need to look for restaurants that difficult. Don’t you think that’s good?’ We were travelling to Spain and restaurant choice become one big topic to our group, because some people are Muslims but some are not. Personally I did not really care much about food, but I know to some people, trying the signature dishes there was a very important part of traveling and food restrictions become a problem.

I heard your question upon your lips, but I was not responsive. I gave the confused look, or maybe my signature blank face and made people wonder whether I hear you. I did, I really did hear you, but I was confused by myself, because a thousand thoughts rushed into my brain.

Some of my immediate replies are, ‘yea, that’s good, I support gay rights and all countries should allow gay marriage. Because all animals have dignity and respect just like humans, and to minimise the pain of all animals. Hang on… that means we all have to become vegetarians, as killing them for the satisfaction of our taste buds are not acceptable. You know, killing them in a way that is not painful according to what you told me, is still no respect to animals that are living in this world’

Now, you see how crazy your idea is. They are all good, but at this moment, we all have the choice, to eat what you prefer. You and your Muslims friends have chosen to eat only Halal food, so there is less pain in the world and at the same time you can enjoy meat. I appreciate what you do. If that’s your right choice, keep it up. But you have to be aware, that’s your choice, not all people have to agree with what you do. Buddhists will say we should all eat vegetables, for the same cause: to reduce pain of this world. But my Buddhist friends did not say that. Why? They are aware that’s their personal choice. (Oh sorry, I forget you didn’t choose to be Muslim, but you still choose to eat Halal food, right?)

The moment you choose to follow what you believe as right, you should have known you are doing something special, something different from the norm, for a good cause. As you are determined to be different, you should have already prepared to face difficulties that will come upon.

Be proud of it, be proud to be different. And be proud to face difficulties as you chose to be different. What you do, will educate others.

I am addicted to scratching.

This post was supposed to be a gift to someone who suffered from eczema and also anxiety and depression. But I guess she has never read it so I decided to share it out to the public. Truth be told, my life is an itch and I am addicted to scratching. Mentally what follows are: I am restless, I feel isolated, I am prone to anxiety and depression. These are what this post is about.


I have been living with eczema since I was born. People always say I will grow out of it. Many kids did, but I don’t. I am glad to see there are actually lots of people being supportive and talk about their condition openly. However, at the same time, it is heart-breaking to see some of us have to endure more than just a skin problem, but also anxiety and depression.

I truly believe eczema, as a chronic skin condition like other chronic diseases, is a mental challenge. Somehow I often see eczema more like a mental issue to tackle than a physical one, one of the reasons is stress take up an important role in relapsing, and the whole healing process requires a lot of patience. Also, the relationship between eczema and mental disorders such as anxiety and depression is a Catch 22 situation. If your anxiety level is high, you will scratch yourself more and your eczema will not alleviate. But if your eczema does not alleviate, it makes you more anxious. Anxiety and depression are disorders that can come hand in hand, which I will elaborate later. For these, I want to analyse a little bit of the psychological process behind, and help all of us to live with it more objectively.

I would not say my condition is true for everyone because I can only experience and understood the skin I live with. But hopefully it can. My atopic dermatitis is mild to intermediate depending on a plethora of confusing factors including humidity, temperature, allergies, the amount of dust I have contact/ breathed in, the amount of sunlight I get, the food I eat, the amount of exercise I had lately, the level of stress I am under, the amount of water I drink lately, how many times I have scratched myself, the quality of sleep, the time of my bath and maybe some more factors. I just know this is a disease I do not have full control. So when it get worse, logically I should not blame myself. But sadly I did.

Every time I think more about it, I care more about it, I get into the guilty trap and blame myself. I blame myself not being careful at night and scratch till I bleed. After scratching for comfort, and later it get worse, I blame myself. Besides that, I keep reminding myself how my condition is and some areas are still red and itchy, very itchy. I am not satisfied and I am angry. Why does this happen to me? Why no one understand? Why do I have to suffer? Why? If these thoughts happened to be inside my mind and I cannot get rid of them, I can guarantee I will not be able to sleep properly that night. And, it will further aggravate.

A book called ‘The Examined Life’ by Stephen Grosz has a paragraph that is elaborating on what I am saying, even though he is talking about grief, it fits. He says,

‘They suffer more because they both expect to make progress, to move forward certain stages. And when they don’t, they feel that they are doing something wrong, or, more precisely, that there is something wrong with them. They suffer twice- first from grief (dermatitis) and then from a tyranny of shoulds : “ I should have pulled myself out of this,” “(I shouldn’t feel so itchy and painful today)” and so forth.There is little room here for emotional exploration or understanding. This way of being leads to self-loathing, despair, depression.’

We blame ourselves and expect more than we should, this becomes a cycle. Anger and despair feed on these thoughts. To make things worse, many of us bottle up our feelings because many people give out the wrong advice. But the feelings does not fade away, they can become anxiety and depression. This explains why I am angry. Also, because of this misunderstanding and anger, I scratched more because I got the irrational thought ‘I just want the rashes go away’, and sometimes I become violent to myself.

Now, it becomes clear that I should not do that. Acknowledging we have no control of our skin conditions and viewing dermatitis in a more realistic way. Eczema is still a bitch, but it is no longer our fault, not entirely. Letting the guilt and blame out, is one more step to objectively living with it.

Today I woke up with blood on my hand and an open wound that should be healed by now. I thought about the things above. I laughed. If this happened before, I would be so sad and blame myself and promise myself to be really careful at night. I did not, I forgive myself, I just told myself ‘shit happens’. I get a more realistic look of my condition and I feel optimistic and hopeful, that this is true. If this is something you cannot control, why spend time blaming yourself? I heard people mentioning this before, but I never thought this can apply to eczema as well. Because I always got the illusion that I have complete control and that is why I blame myself when it get worse. No, I do not have full control of my body, neither do you.