A Few Thoughts I Have After Finishing a Book

Once I finish a book and I turn the last page, I feel untethered. For the last few days, I’ve been grounded in someone else’s words, learning someone else’s story, yearning for a different life. When it’s over and the book is closed, it’s an ending of the story but also my relationship with it. Now, with no story to make a home in, I’m a refugee until I find another world to live in. I’m a kite flying in the wind waiting to come back down to Earth.

But it’s not all loss. When I’m soaring up there, I reflect, the sun on water below, thinking about what I’ve just learned. With my new findings, I can turn east or maybe south. The wind is unpredictable. The way you go is never known or set in stone. The scary thing is you can fly anywhere, and that’s the most beautiful part of it, too.

It’s important to be able to fly by yourself. Books teach you how. If you take the lessons learned in the stories you read—and by lessons I don’t mean heavy, moralistic conclusions, but literally anything a story teaches you that enlightens you in some way—you figure out how to become the leading character in your own story.


This was written after reading, The Song Poet by Kao Kalia Yang. I highly recommend it. Five stars.

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Floating lilypad. Hannah Lyles.

The Importance of Roots

What sustains a lilypad
as it grows, before it breaks
the water’s surface?
Faith. Hope that it will
be touched by the sun.

A lilypad cannot rest on the water
without making the journey
from the depths; from the darkness
of the invisible bottom.

And even when it stands tall,
pad floating with the ripples
of the push and pull of tides,
the roots are firmly stuck
in the wet, muddy earth
of the lake bed.

They sing: remember the roots.
Do not celebrate the beauty of blooms
without honoring the soil’s fertility.
Our beginnings, our earthy starts,
are what bind us to this life.

Finding the Right Fit: How Some Doctors Make Your Mental Health Feel Worse, Or Better

Depression: let’s talk.

Today is World Health Day, celebrated to mark the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization. The theme for 2017 is depression, and it’s no surprise that this is the focus since suicide is now the second leading cause of death for 15-29-year-olds. This is a staggering statistic and one that needs to change.

This change will only come about if we have open talks about depression and other mental illnesses, which would remove the stigma associated with them, and if we continue to invest in organizations that help people who are struggling.

People with mental health issues are often judged by others who make huge assumptions about these people based on fear and ignorance. And sadly, sometimes the people who we go to for help are the ones who can make us feel worse.

The Bad News: The Doctors Who Make You Feel Like Shit

A few weeks ago, I visited a new psychiatrist since I’ve recently moved to a new state and needed to change doctors. In the span of forty-five minutes, during my first session, I was analyzed in a brutal and basic way. I was told that my father was an alcoholic and my mother was an “uneducated pussycat” for putting up with him. I was told that men had let me down and that I “pick the wrong ones all the time”. I was told that “women just want to get married, have children, and settle down”, which implied that I was depressed because I didn’t have a man that was going to provide that for me. I was told that I didn’t have anxiety or general depression, but that I had bipolar disorder since my brother had it. And I was told that my father probably suffered from bipolar disorder as well since it was a “genetic disease”.

I wanted to say she could fuck off and see how she liked that for some spontaneity.

I walked away feeling bruised, confused, and very upset. When my dad asked me how it had gone, I told him, and of course, it made him feel sad too. We didn’t talk to each other for a day because we were dealing with it. Now, I look back and see it for what it was: a load of rubbish.

Another psychiatrist told me that I had lived a privileged life and was lucky to have traveled around the world during my childhood. She made it sound like the rootlessness, dislocation, and uprooting were not valid reasons to feel broken inside. That I should be grateful for the experience, which of course I was, but that didn’t mean I didn’t feel trauma about it. This is a whole other issue to discuss that would require another post: the joys and traumas of the third culture kid experience and how most people don’t get it. After knowing that I’d traveled the world and was both American and British, the psychiatrist had the guts to correct my English when I pronounced something in the British way instead of the American way. And when I told her I had visited Edinburgh over the holidays, she asked, “Where’s that?” Go figure.

She also asked me if I had always been “that calm”. She asked me if I ever expressed “spontaneous joy”. I was almost too shocked to reply to her. I wanted to say she could fuck off and see how she liked that for some spontaneity. Instead, I said, “when I’m with people I enjoy being around, I express joy. Sometimes I dance around my room naked.” I also added that I felt more British in the expression of my emotions: more reserved, not as loud as some Americans are, having a drier and more sarcastic sense of humor, more observant. She told me that I could work on being more animated around her and others. She told me that being British didn’t mean I had to be miserable. I mentally noted that sentence and promised I would make a caricature of her one day in one of my future books. No darling, it doesn’t.

If I got outside and walked a block, it was a triumph.

About four months ago, I visited a GP after I was told I should probably see if there was anything “wrong with my body” that would explain the anxiety and depression. People are a lot more comfortable knowing you have a bodily injury or illness rather than a mind-based affliction. I sat down in the doctor’s office and explained why I was there in a nutshell. When I mentioned I had been having suicidal thoughts, I saw the doctor visibly flinch and the medical intern in the corner of the room shuffle her feet and stare at the floor. I understand that depression is difficult to talk about, but why don’t people squirm in the same way when you tell them you have a kidney stone or a broken arm? (Who knows, maybe they do.)

After measuring my height and weight, and taking my blood pressure, it seemed like she didn’t know what to do with me. She asked me questions like “are you sleeping okay?” and “are you exercising?”. To which I replied, yes and no. She then recommended that I find the time to exercise. I replied that I would find the time to exercise if I wasn’t thinking about cutting myself half of the time or if I managed to find the energy inside left over from the continual grieving and suffering to lift my limbs. She didn’t know what to say in response. The last time I had tried exercising, I rolled out my yoga mat in the living room and attempted a few sun salutations. I managed to do a few downward dogs, and then I flopped onto the mat and cried with my face squashed into the ground. If I got outside and walked a block, it was a triumph.

The Good News: Finding an Ear to Listen

Am I saying that you shouldn’t go to seek professional help when you feel like hurting yourself or if you’re struggling? Hell no! Of course you should. You must. You can’t do this journey alone and your loved ones can’t bear the brunt of it for you. I’m not saying you’re a burden—you’re not—but having more people help to lift the weight is easier for everyone. And yes, sadness has weight. It is so heavy, isn’t it?

What I’m saying is that finding the right mental health professional for you is a process. If you find the right psychiatrist or therapist straight away then that’s great! But if it takes a while to find the right fit, do not be discouraged. Do not let the system get you down. And do not let anyone, with an MD at the end of their name or otherwise, tell you who you are. You know who you are. Even if the depression is making every day a struggle, you know who you are. You know. You know what you like and don’t like. Listen to the way your body trembles. It’s speaking to you.

If you’re booking an appointment with a psychiatrist, you’re a badass.

If you don’t like your psychiatrist or therapist, find a new one. There are others out there. You’re not a failure for wanting to change. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or picky. If your parents or friends tell you you’re running from the truth by changing doctors, tell yourself you’re doing anything but that. You’re confronting it. A lot of people don’t even admit they have a problem, and funnily enough, it’s the people who have issues that like to judge you for yours. If you’re booking an appointment with a psychiatrist, you’re a badass.

Moving Forward: It Takes Time

Now, after some false starts, I’m happily in therapy with a wonderful therapist who listens to me, asks me important questions, and doesn’t judge me at all. I’ve spoken with her about my bad experiences with other mental health professionals and she’s been very empathetic and admitted that the profession can attract weird types of people.

I’m still trying to find a psychiatrist, but I’m comforted by the knowledge that I’ll find one eventually. The good thing about psychiatrists is you don’t have to see them very often; only about once a month on average since any medication takes some time to kick in. I think it’s far more important to find a therapist to work with because they’re the ones who will work with you on things, get deep into the hurting, and not just prescribe pills to fix everything. The best combination is having a psychiatrist and a therapist. At least, that’s what has worked for me.

I believe that when people want to hurt themselves it’s a cry to reconnect to their body.

I’ve also started exercising and meditating regularly. Waking up every morning at a set time and hitting the pavement to go for a walk or to the gym is helping me so much.  You’re probably wondering what changed and how I managed to motivate myself to do this. Well, I had a really difficult conversation with myself. I asked myself how I wanted to feel during my day. I replied: expansive, powerful, strong. I knew that I needed to reconnect with my body in order to do this, the same body that I had been hating, the body that I had wanted to hurt.

I believe that when people want to hurt themselves it’s a cry to reconnect to their body. The negative thoughts banish us to a dark place where we can’t even feel our body anymore. It’s a weird feeling to have, to feel so much pain and to not be able to feel your body at the same time. It doesn’t really make much sense. The self-hatred shakes the bond with our body. It is a deep yearning that only we can answer for ourselves. Thankfully, I no longer feel like hurting myself. I need this body to walk. I need it to see the animals. I need it to breathe the air. I need it to do so many things I want to do. Hell, I need it because I need me. I am.

If you can live the three minutes for a quick meditation, I bet you can live another three minutes, another ten, another twenty.

I looked to the past and recognized the fact that I had been happiest when I was rooted in my body. I realized after a lot of tears that this reconnection had to involve nature. So I made a pact with myself that I would get outside and go for walks to hear the birds and see the squirrels in the neighborhood. Soon I was going to sleep thinking about the next morning and how I was so lucky to wake up and go outside to see the living creatures walking around. This is hope. This is how hope is born.

Another way to live in the body is by training the mind through meditating. Meditating is a life saver because it quietens my mind’s obsession with thought.  I used to roll my eyes at people who spouted the benefits of living in the moment and letting go of the ego. It sounded like exclusive living to me. Something only those who are graced with the light of spirituality can experience (by the way, we all are). But once I shifted my mindset and viewed meditation as an exercise like walking or going to the gym, I started viewing it in a different, less overwhelming way. I just do ten minutes a day, twenty minutes max. I started with three minutes. I downloaded a few meditation apps (Stop, Breathe, and Think and Calm) to help me along and willed myself to sit still. If you can live the three minutes for a quick meditation, I bet you can live another three minutes, another ten, another twenty. I sure hope you do.

You can do this. Stay strong, warrior.


If you or someone you know needs help, visit this suicide prevention resources page on The Mighty.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

(Anxiety is) Just a Block Away

Whenever I feel my feet walking in the direction of despair,

I stare at the ground, desperately looking for a dropped coin

in hiding. Some days, it takes longer to find something shiny.

Other days, I look up to see if there is anything

resembling God, like a heron flying,

a servant to the tides and the king of the lakeshore.

It flies with a grace I’ll never have.

My flying is poetry. The words

put together this way and that way, mirroring

the soaring wings moving with the whims of the wind.

 

That’s me on a good day.

 

Sometimes there is nothing but broken glass and empty wrappers

that used to hold something sweet; just grey cement.

But, finally, between the cracks, there’s moving brown:

a small lizard with a throat bigger than mine.

Poetry is my red-throated neck. It saves me

from the tumble, the voice that says “you’re not enough”.

The words sag and stick on the walls of my head;

a big,

choking piece

of food that won’t go down.

 

But somehow, by looking around, gravity is relearned.

I fall but—

the ground of the page catches me again.

Give me a few days and my faith will waver.

Give me a few lie-ins and I’ll never wake up.

But, for now, my feet find a way that’s not a block away.

Tiger, tiger: My hallucinations as a child

I heard the tiger at the door at the age of five. It sounds early but that’s how it happened. I was small, smaller than I can ever understand, and my mother who now stands nearly a full head shorter looked down at me. I had a high fever and she gripped my hand hard as she watched the sweat drip off my face. Her eyes darted from my face to my bedroom and back again. I didn’t have to say a word. She knew that I saw them in my bedroom. I would not take a step forward. They were there.

When you’re young, you’re taught that seeing is believing and my eyes saw them. The first tiger padded its way around the end of my bed, turning around at the corner and walking out of view behind a wall. The second and third followed. Their eyes glowed red like the bits of coal that I saw in the barbecue when Dad grilled sausages or skewered meats on the weekends. Red to me meant the devil. I guess I had learned that at Sunday school but I wasn’t entirely sure if they meant any harm. They certainly were intimidating but I knew that they were majestic and beautiful creatures as well, especially in the way they moved, their shoulder blades flexing up and down, undulating with every step. About a year or so later, I would discover the full extent of my double-jointedness and re-enact the stalks of prey I saw on Discovery Channel documentaries. Cheetahs, lions, tigers, all with those pointy bones jutting out of their lean bodies built for the kill.

When I saw the tigers in my room, I was incredibly afraid that they would deviate from their path but they never did. They always went around the bed and away towards the wall. My fear made me want to bury my face into my mother’s thighs and grab her clothes for comfort, but I could never look away. My eyes stayed open and watched every movement. It was like when I watched a horror or action movie and my parents would tell me to cover my eyes near the climax of the story when death was imminent and I’d watch through a slit in my fingers not wanting to miss a thing. I was in awe of the possibility of what a human could do, or what an animal could do. I wanted to find out how unreal reality could be, how painful, how beautiful. That’s how I felt when I saw the stripes, the fur, the big paws, and the eyes. I didn’t want to miss a thing. I was captivated. Their hypnotic movements and their graceful power entranced me. It wasn’t until years later when I’d wonder, why were there three tigers? Why did they visit me? Did they mean me harm? And the most interesting question of all, where did they come from?

Now at the age of twenty five, I have come across a review of a recently published memoir in a magazine. The author uses the phrase, “hear the tiger at the door”, and she uses it to signify the moment when a child realizes that one day their childhood will end, that it’s already ending, that all’s not completely right with the world. After reading that phrase, my thoughts jolted back to the several occasions I saw the tigers. Suddenly I am my five-year-old self again clutching my mother’s hand and staring ahead at the red eyes. How strange it would be if ‘hearing the tiger at the door’ for me is literally when I saw tigers at my door. The connection is uncanny. I can’t help but think that when I saw them I realized there were mystery and grief in the world, pain and loss, and that this was only the beginning of my understanding.

Ever since, I have been weirdly fascinated by tigers and I can’t help but attribute this instinctive desire to stick posters of tigers on my walls, tiger magnets on the fridge and buy tiger themed calendars, to those several nights in which I saw the big cats walking on the carpet I played on, walked on and laid on as a child. Perhaps, the very fabric of my reality, the threads of understanding that weave their way in and out through the years started being sown then. The bud of consciousness that came with witnessing these grand events was planted then and the realization that my five-year-old self did not know everything. I guess that’s what we call wisdom.