Saturday, March 15, 2014

Permission to grieve, please

It's been a year since I've felt brave enough to put any of my thoughts in writing. I've been floundering in a turbulent ocean of emotions. I apologize in advance for the inarticulate ramblings below.

When I try to reflect on the past year, there is a haze. I think I am probably still in that haze. I'm in the middle of an ocean; I can't see solid land. On rare, sunny days, I enjoy riding the waves, it feels exhilarating, I try to convince myself to be excited for where they take me. But many days are grey, I am treading water, just trying to conserve energy. And suddenly the past week, I feel like I might be drowning again, looking up from the bottom of the ocean. I know there is light above, but it is so far away.

Last year was one of the darkest periods I've experienced since attempting suicide at 14. Therapy wasn't enough. I started an anti-depressant for the first time in my life. As weeks passed, I slowly floated up, I thought I was riding the waves pretty well. I ended my regular therapy appointments. We talked about having a second child, and I felt confident enough to slowly wean off my antidepressant. (Just because I'm Asian, doesn't make me smart.)

You know how they say you should consult with your doctor, you should pair therapy with medication, blah, blah, blah.

I'm that idiot who never listens.

And now I'm sunk again, feeling stupid and sad and angry and numb and confused and lost and alone. I know I need to ask for help. But it is so hard. And so humiliating because I feel like it is all my fault I am here.

This last plunge seems to have started with the Baby Veronica case. On one hand, it spurred me to advocacy. I felt brave enough and strong enough to begin posting about the case on my personal Facebook page. I started talking to my broader circle of friends about adoption, and being more "public" about my thoughts and experience. I began to follow and share voices and perspectives in the adoption community. I didn't feel like I needed to hide behind this anonymous blog.

And yet, maybe I was never fully truthful -- even to myself.

I like to think I'm pretty self aware, even if the facade doesn't match the interior. On the outside, I am a successful wife, professional and mother. I am respected for my communications skills, my ability to work with others, my intelligence, my get-it-done (nicely!) attitude.

When it comes to the ability to perceive emotions in others and manage them, I'm a straight A student. [My latest therapist suggested this was actually a survival skill developed in childhood. Hypervigilance, perhaps.]

And yet, when it comes to my own emotions, I am flunking out. I have been able to compensate, to hide this weakness, somehow, in my professional life to date. (In my personal life, well ... I have a very patient and accommodating partner. Those who know my dark side might suggest he is a saint.)

But lately, I feel like the mask of control, of promise, of perfection, is about to fall. I cannot sustain the act. I am about to be revealed for a fraud.

Triggers are a bitch.

I heard Eminem's song "Headlights," featuring Nate Ruess, on the radio for the first time Wednesday. I started crying in the car, but I didn't understand why. I brushed it off, picked up my daughter from preschool, and pushed the song (and my reaction) out of my mind.

Thursday, I read Deanna Shrodes' conversation with Rebecca Hawkes, "Adoptees and Anger Toward Our Natural Mothers (And Others)." My initial response was, "Amen!" I wanted to share with my friends, but couldn't figure out exactly what I wanted to say about it, so I tried to push it, also, out of my mind.

Yesterday, I heard a nationally-known rape survivor speak. I was there for work. Before she spoke, event organizers made a point of saying the event was a "safe space." They acknowledged the speaker's talk might be triggering for some people, and they had trained crisis-intervention counselors on hand. Professional hat on, I was thinking how that could make a great angle for a story. How we support each other? I suppressed any personal feelings; after all, the professional me is still in the (nutcase) closet..

Today, I am wishing I had never heard her speak. Instead of feeling inspired, I left feeling confused and, today, depressed.

She spoke of how we all have problems, and when we have hard times, we always have a choice. We can stay in bed feeling sorry for ourselves or we can get up and "do what has to be done." She talked about not living in the past, not wallowing in self pity, punishing your abusers by being happy and moving forward.

On a good day or week or year, I can get on the empowerment bandwagon. In fact, times when I have come out of the nutcase closet, revealed some of my personal struggles, and been complimented for my "success," I'm pretty sure I've said those exact words.

But I had trouble finding comfort in those words last night. And that wasn't the worst of it.

Over and over, the speaker emphasized her family's love, and how it helped her survive. That no matter what happened to her, she knew her family would always love her. She focused on the sound of her mother's voice, memories of her father and brothers. She was so secure in her knowledge of their love for her.

As I'm taking notes, I'm trying to ignore the emotions that begin welling from that strange, uncomfortable place in my gut. I'm having flashbacks to my childhood with a mother who convinced social workers, ministers, teachers and reporters that she was Maria von Trapp instead of Joan Crawford. I'm remembering sadness and fear and hurt and ... oh my god, I used to be so angry. Must. suppress. anger.

At this point, had my head been anywhere besides my ass, I should have excused myself. Or at least put down the pen, stopped listening to the speaker and tried listening to the sad little girl inside me.

But I didn't. So I was still writing when I heard her say she was grateful for what happened to her. Whoa. What? I looked up. She repeated, "I am grateful." My fingers suddenly clumsy, I struggled to record her exact words, but I managed to scratch out "grateful ... for experience ... for what allowed me to do ... people allowed me to meet."

I don't have to explain to "angry" adoptees and our allies why I have an immediate reaction when the concepts of gratitude and opportunity are connected with trauma.

I believe we should accept and validate each other's feelings, and even the speaker was careful to note that everyone's experience and feelings are unique. Rationally, I know her truth is not mine, and that is OK. But emotionally, I can't help wondering, what the eff is wrong with me?

I want to get to that place where I can choose to "move on." Where I can be grateful, not sad and angry about what has happened in my past. Where I can be sustained by the love of the family I have created. Where I can focus on what I have, not what I don't.

But I'm hurting.

The raw pain in Marshall Mathers' voice when he raps about his absent father: "Oh, what a tangled web we have. Cause one thing I never asked was where the f*** my deadbeat dad was. F*** it, I guess he had trouble keeping up with every address. But I'd have flipped every mattress, every rock and desert cactus. Own a collection of maps and followed my kids to the edge of the atlas."

It breaks me.

And yet, I am still so afraid to be angry.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Motherland, Day 11: A homecoming, part 2

This morning I felt so connected, grounded, hungry to spend more time in Hualien. This afternoon, I couldn't wait to leave. Despite my desire to stay this morning, this evening, I feel homesick. I yearn for the comfort of my husband's arms, my daughter's voice. I yearn for the home I have made, an ocean away from the island where I was born. I yearn to belong somewhere, and I just don't feel it here.

No news from the intermediary, which is disappointing. I guess over the past few days, as I thought about how I might respond to the opportunity to meet a biological relative, I started to think it could be possible. I needed to envision it in order to prepare for it, to gain the nerve to say "yes" when my brain is screaming "no!" I can't afford to have any regrets after this trip. I don't know when or if I will be able to return.

Today, I crossed a rope bridge between two sides of Taroko Gorge. It was the scariest thing I've ever done! Adrenalin kicked in, I focused only on making it to the other side. On the way back, I paused to try to take in the view. I wish I had not left my camera on the bus. I hope I never forget that feeling of accomplishment.

No regrets. No regrets. No regrets.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Motherland, Day 10: A homecoming

Words cannot describe the beauty on the coast of my birth place, Hualien. As I type, it is 6 a.m. of Day 11, and the sun is beginning to rise. The ocean's tide, ever consistent, is calming. To my left, shadows of mountains are beginning to emerge. Below them, city lights twinkle. Several photographers are already positioned on the beach. We are all waiting for the sun to illuminate the clouds that rest upon the sea.

I am in awe. I wish to never leave. I cannot stop wondering what might have been.

A buoy flashes. Two walkers pass by. In the distance, trucks are waking up. The horizon begin to pink.

6:15: The ocean is gleaming. A rolling, shimmery skin. Waves roll in, cresting blue-green before crashing to the beach in a white foam. A black, wolfish-looking dog trots by.

What could have been, had I never left Hualien? Would I be working the graveyard shift at the Family Mart, selling vodka juice to American tourists on a Monday night? Would I be serving clam soup in a lonely seaside restaurant? Could I have attended Tung-Wa University just north of the city, a quiet haven with palm trees and mountain views? Could I have become a writer? A wife? A mother? Would I have escaped to Taipei, or ventured beyond Taiwan's shores?

A spry elder walks by, slightly bowlegged, but moving at a brisk pace. Could he be my Taiwanese grandfather?

6:30: The mountains stand proud, firm, unmoving, while the ocean rolls below. It shimmers green against the blue-black mountains; shines blue when contrasted with the lush green of the landscape. Another old man trudges by me with a bicycle. Perhaps he is my grandfather. Or great-uncle. Or really, just a stranger in this land as I am.

7 a.m. The top of the mountain is illuminated, hugged by a wispy cloud. The sun's rays beam through a break in the clouds to the east. Fishing boats make their way to their nets. A bulldozer drops a small boat on the sand - it looks like a raft with curved edges. Is it my imagination, or do the waves crest higher? Rolling, crashing, rolling, foaming. The beauty here is indescribable. As is the loss.

My eyes are hungry. My head is full. The rocks in my pocket are as heavy as my heart, knowing I must depart. Again.


It's taking forever for me to post my writings from Taiwan. I apologize. It's just very emotional for me, and sometimes I just don't want to think ... or feel ... about this.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Motherland, Day 9: She sells sea shells

... and squid and octopus and jumping shrimps and wiggly crabs and creepy eels and red fish and white fish and yellow fish and more.

I tried snail/escargot for the first time today at the Wuchi fishing port and market. I also saw a whole lot of sea creatures I've never seen before. We walked around the back and were able to see a little of the processing. Customers were choosing big fish, and the workers would use a saw to slice them.

After the fish market, we headed toward some windmills we'd seen in the distance. It turned out there was a little walking park along the shore, so we stopped and walked a bit. Fresh air, waves crashing, a little rain spray. It was calming.

I made it on the right train this time, transferred to the MRT (subway) and got off at the correct station. I even followed the signs to the right exit. But my most proud moment was orienting once I emerged from the station. I could see the signs for my street, but I didn't know which direction to turn. It's been overcast most days, and without the sun, my sense of direction is handicapped. I was about to head left, when I noticed a slight difference between the street signs: One had an "E" after it, and the other had a "W." I knew my destination was east, so I turned right instead and as I walked, started seeing familiar landmarks.

Tomorrow we head to Hualien, city of my birth. Part of me feels a little numb to my adoption process right now; part of me recognizes this is a pretty momentous homecoming. This weekend I luxuriated in "tourist" mode. Tomorrow, will I feel Taiwanese?