STORYTELLING, UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

I Hear You, Panic Attack, I’m Listening

Panic attacks.

I get them when I’m triggered.

I get them at 3 am in the morning.

I get them at 5 am in the morning.

I get them when I have to wake up to start my day.

I get them after reading an email.

They scare me and they demoralize me. They bring me to my knees.

My panic attacks can feel like a thousand chaotic voices.

This isn’t good.

That isn’t done.

You aren’t good enough.

What a failure.

When they start, I end up with waves of fear from my futile attempts to ward off the attacks.

I try silencing the voices.

I recoil in terror from all their accusations and predictions of doom and gloom.

My brain vibrates from the yelling and the shrinking, the pointing and the defending.

* * * * *

I’m learning to thank them, yes, appreciate their intention to protect me from — well — danger.

Danger from harm to the core of who I am.

Somehow, I ended up with a blinding fear of criticism about my judgment and decision-making abilities.

I have had to change my attitude of fear of criticism about my past unchangeable decisions.

* * * * *

Now I try to to tell myself:

  • I accept the past
  • I did the best that I could with what I had
  • There are consequences to all decisions
  • The only thing I can do is think about moving forward
  • My new decisions might still not be ideal
  • In the future I will be dealing with the consequences of my choices today
  • A knee-jerk reaction will be counterproductive
  • What’s the one baby step I can take right now that at least moves me in the right direction?

Okay panic attacks.

I’m ready for you.

I’m ready to listen to your warnings.

But I’m going to respond in a calm way to let you know that I can only do my best, that I did my best in the past, and that hounding me about what a terrible person I am is not going to make my life better. It’s making my present and future worse.

But I thank you for trying to protect me.

I thank you for trying to teach me.

So — now that I’ve heard you, I need you to be quiet so that I can figure out what next step to take.

STORYTELLING

Trading Chinese Pride for White Supremacy

“Are your boys proud to be mixed? Or they haven’t noticed any difference…”

The WhatsApp message flashed there on my screen and I stared it.

I read it again. I looked away.

I sighed and put my fingers on the QWERTY keyboard of the laptop as a thousand voices exploded in my head (voices representing shame, guilt, sadness, anger, and repression), but I managed to type out my answer to her within the acceptable real-time 10-second response time: “I think I’ve downplayed their Chineseness in my own eagerness to escape it. And I’ve unconsciously tried to be white.”

Per usual, this exchange triggered something pretty deep inside of me.

For most of my life, I’ve tried to be more white (American, really) in order to reduce friction and to survive in this world. I’ve had more than one colleague say “Oh, I totally forget that you’re Chinese.” It’s the way I talk, my accent, my body language, the pop culture I actively absorbed and regurgitated for small talk. It’s like I’m walking this tightrope and hedging my bets. Yes, I know I’m Chinese, but if I downplay that enough, maybe I’ll be accepted into the inner circle where I can compete with the others for coveted roles. I’m also just weird enough not to get caught up in political dramas, because I’m an outsider. My ‘keep your head down and just work harder’ and ‘don’t bring attention to yourself’ attitude was coming through. I’ve also dealt with a lot of fear and uncertainty of my own identity of being a “Chinese person” “from” “Taiwan”. So I chose to be Canadian. But I’m not really.

Like some Canadians, I thought that we lived in a classless, non-racist country. My naïve assumptions were wrong at so many levels. I got called out one day years ago by a friend in the US who scoffed at my post about how glad I was that Canada was not racist compared to our southern cousins. She DM’d me and proceeded to open my eyes to the race issues we faced in Canada, long before it became an open topic. It was a wow moment for sure. It was after that incident that I realized I had to actively learn more about this issue that I thought was not an issue.

Since they were born, I unconsciously taught my kids to be Canadian with a side of Taiwan Chineseness – the Tiger side. They know they are half Chinese with a mom from Taiwan and they are half Caucasian with a dad from small town Ontario. We didn’t raise them to be proud of their heritage or proud of their history. In my mind, I was escaping the Chinese side, which can actually be quite racist, sexist, ageist, etc.

And now, there’s a strong movement of Chinese-Americans who have been incredibly vocal about supporting Black Lives Matter. They aggressively encourage us to understand that our Black and Indigenous brothers and sisters have suffered generations of injustice that live on in their memories, genes, family history, and communities. They have put out their call to arms about how we need to right this. They remind us that while we fight for THEIR cause, it doesn’t take away from our cause. They amplify the message: It is not enough to not be racist, we have to be anti-racist. And we have to do this together.

The first time I read this, I felt uncomfortable. I wasn’t ready to voice my opinions or fight for injustice. But 2020 has been all about all of us challenging our beliefs and standing up for what is needed to build an equitable and safe world for the future.

Currently, I am in the process of learning what that means, what my voice is, how to teach my children, and what to do when having a discussion with someone who disagrees with me. I’m exploring my stance, voice, and ability to defend what I say… to myself, to my children, to anyone really.

Earlier this year, a colleague told my boss I was racist. Around the same time, I had colleagues who were being very racist towards Chinese wearing masks or asking to work from home at the beginning of COVID-19. One of my best friends, hearing me agonize over these issues responded “I thought you said you were a good manager?” And I realized that in order to be a good manager, a good mother, a good friend, I really needed to clarify and live my stance about racism. It was a defining moment that broke me a little, but we are just resetting a bone that wasn’t growing right. It will be straight and strong. In the meantime, it’s a journey.

How is your journey going? Has that impacted your relationships with friends? Is your child proud of their ethnic background?

FOCUS ON YOU, UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

Raging at Kids is Signal: Need Self Care!

For the first few years of my kids’ lives, I thought that yelling at them was my way of disciplining and teaching them. But over time, I came to notice that 1) I wasn’t consistent in what I yelled at, 2) I had some specific triggers, and 3) while some things might have made a little sense to yell about, other issues were way too small to be mad at. Lastly, the fear and pain in their eyes were wrong. I hurt and scared them! As their mother, the one person who loves them most in the entire world, the one person who would do anything at all to keep them safe… *I* was causing them pain and they feared me.

It got me thinking.

And it got me digging.

It got me working on this issue.

I’d like to say that I quickly came to the conclusion that I could fix this by never yelling at them ever again, but it’s not quite that easy. There are so many levels of this and it’s very hard work to sort things out. But ultimately, I have come to the conclusion that something wasn’t quite working. And, while I was doing the best that I could, something needed to change.

Uncontrollable rage is never about the children. It’s about us as parents. It’s about our own insecurities and fears. It’s about our lack of control and our past traumas. Rage is what we turn to when we feel like there’s nothing else we can do. It’s our way of throwing temper tantrums. The problem is that rage literally does nothing to solve the problem at hand. If anything, it only makes things worse in the long run. It damages the relationship we have with our kids; they lose trust in and respect for us.

Raging at our kids doesn’t make us terrible people. It just means that we don’t have enough energy, headspace, or wherewithal to skillfully deal with the challenge in front of us. We feel so helpless that we can only rage.

It’s really a signal to stop and breathe. It’s time to remember the bigger picture. It’s a moment to love yourself and your kids. Once you find your equilibrium, then you can reconnect and communicate. It doesn’t mean they didn’t deserve a scolding or discipline. It doesn’t mean they don’t still need your guidance. It’s doesn’t mean you can’t be mad about what they did (or didn’t do). It just means you need to make sure that you are responding appropriately and thoughtfully rather than reacting in a knee-jerk manner.

But… when was the last time you had enough sleep? When did you get lost doing something you loved to do? When did you put yourself first? When did you pamper yourself? When did you have alone time to regenerate and rebuild your resilience?

If your answer is “I don’t remember…” then give yourself a break. You are running on empty and none of us are at our best behaviour when we don’t take care of ourselves. And guess what? The most vulnerable people around us suffer when we run ourselves to the ground!

So, without judging yourself for that rage, will you join me in taking care of ourselves first so that we can be the best version of a parent for our kids?