A Bushel of Hope, A Sackful of Scars

I did get out of depression at one point. There was enough therapy and medication so that I was not under a pall of despair every second anymore, but everything that had pushed me into that black pit at once point was still there. A lot of it was just repressed so that I could live my life, and live it I did – as best as I was able to at that time.

But hey, it wasn’t all bad! Life without depression was at least more of a life than one with it. I could play games without that dark specter looming over my back. For a while things were getting good. I had some jobs under my belt, I was fairly certain of myself and my skills. I had girlfriends (three of them in fact) It looked like I was Going Somewhere. I bid a fond farewell to my friends from the EVA ML, thinking that I would ride off into the sunset and wave from somewhere beyond the next hill or so. I wasn’t quite sure where I was going but it sure looked better than where I had come from.

Still the issues persisted. The envy and jealously that so dogged my teenage years went into overdrive at this point. I was jealous of anything and everything. And I mean everything. I could be envious of the girls in the Babysitters’ Club books (no, don’t laugh, it happened) because they were living such comparatively normal lives. I was jealous of dogs and cats that I saw on the streets – at least they didn’t have trauma and depression and OCD to deal with.

Most of all I think I was jealous of the people I met, my friends, strangers, people on the street. Oh, and the Internet doesn’t make it any easier. Though this was in the early days of the Net, before Google, (mailing lists, message boards and the like) it could already spark off volumes of pain. I read a random post somewhere once which summed it up nicely. On the Internet you can always find someone more successful than you, with a better job, good-looking spouse and more money than you have – and I guarantee that that person will be less deserving of it.

Boy was that ever true in my case. I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving of success than I was. I had tried so hard just to survive, and I was still in search of the Holy Grail – that is, to get a job in an industry that I wanted to (games, anime, translation, film – basically any of my many interests) But even as things looked better than before, the path forwards was still uncertain. Realistically speaking I wasn’t sure how I would achieve any of that.

I would play mental games with myself to stave off the pain. Oh, sure, this person has such and such, but at least I can speak better Japanese. Or I’m smarter. Or I suffered more. I know now (as I knew then) that it’s not a fucking competition! But my self-esteem was in such shreds that that was all I could do for years to prop it up. I had been told repeatedly that I was nothing, was worse than nothing, that I ought to die, that I was just pretending about everything that was happening to me. That truth (or should I say, falsehood) tore at me so deeply that I did everything I could to reject it, to push it away, to rationalize as a shield against those relentless fangs.

I was on and off medication again. I have never really liked taking psychotropic medication, though I do acknowledge its effectiveness and necessity. It also just doesn’t work on me too well – everybody’s metabolism is different. I’ve heard many success stories about how medication helped others and I used to wish it worked as well on me as it seemed to for others, but it didn’t.

For years I was stuck in this whole idea of “I gotta take on the whole world myself and win.” (which was also part of my Mum’s mentality, come to think of it) No qualifications, no medicine, no school, no nothing, just guts alone. Pretty fucking stupid now that I think about it.
I think it’s pretty normal for a young man to want to move out, get a job, meet girls, have fun, and see what the world has to offer. I didn’t get to do any of that though.

Through all this hope still bloomed in that barren wasteland. I made friends and they came over to talk and play and that kept things at bay for a while. There were games to play and books to read and things to do. It wasn’t ALL pain. I still spent many hours with Meimei and our shared company would help both of us a great deal. I still told her stories and she still listened to them.

But I was still plagued with things that would continue to haunt me for many years to come.

Fear. The relentless fear that never really went away, far deeper than any OCD or compulsion. There was always something to be taken care of, some danger that had to be guarded against. And the thing was that it was not entirely untrue. I was living in a very toxic environment, where negative emotions abounded and positive ones were in short supply. You never knew if today was the day that Mum would start shouting and take it out on us, or she would be relatively quiet and we could live normally for a while. The uncertainty was probably worse than the actual shouting.

On top of my own fear, there were Mum’s fears to be dealt with – she often had to be reassured that there were no workers lurking in the attic (we lived on the top floor so this was a physical impossibility) or robbers coming to steal things, or rats that were going to eat our food. Not to mention having to reassure Meimei as well. Even if it wasn’t Hell on Earth it sure was far away from Heaven.

Criticism. Everything needed to be good. EVERYTHING. This was a compulsion that It got mixed in with the need for self-approbation. At that age (teenage, young adulthood) every person needs some kind of positive reinforcement and I was no different. Anyone who’s watched Evangelion can see the clear similarities between myself, Shinji, and Asuka – they both pilot the Units because they are seeking approbation, the former from his father and the latter from the world. It’s pretty much essential for healthy mental and emotional development.

Except that I didn’t get any of that. From early on in childhood I was already expected to be good at basically everything, courtesy of my Mum. The subsequent return to Singapore and doing badly at school (through no fault of mine) took away one of the bases of my identity – that of the straight A student.

To make matters worse I had been fired from my first job and though I had rallied gamely and started exploring new opportunities, that pain was still there. I couldn’t go to school and as such, there didn’t seem to be many paths forwards at that point. Plus I was being frequently told how terrible I was and how everything I did was useless and sub-par. The harsh criticism of my mother would become internalized into an inner voice that would take more than a decade of therapy to overcome.

The need to please everyone. Some families want money, some families want time. My family sort of wanted me to be Jesus. The problem was, of course, that I was so expert at fixing everything (at great cost to myself) that I fixed and fixed and fixed and fixed – but you can’t bail out a leaky boat. No one could see what the problems really were, and so the story that we told ourselves (or rather that my mother told us) was that I was sick and that was the cause of everything.

Hatred of school and qualifications. I feel really sad looking back on this one. I really shot myself in the foot here – or should I say, others did. I asked myself a thousand times during this period why I didn’t just buckle down and get my goddamned ‘O’ levels or JLPT or anything else.

I couldn’t. There was just too much pain in the way. I HATED any form of qualifications with a terrible burning hatred that almost ate me alive. Not my fault of course. There had been no healing and no discharge of emotion from the events that had even caused it. I hated school, I hated Singapore, I hated the society that seemed to place papers and grades above a human soul. I felt my hatred was completely justified and that everything related to those things should just burn down and die. Every time someone so much as mentioned it (and since it was Asia boy did they mention it a LOT) the old wounds and pain would flare up again and so would the hate.

Once again all this looks so clean and clear in the light of day (and the passage of more than a decade) but when I was actually living it, it was an entirely different thing altogether. Of course I knew something was wrong. I was in therapy after all. But I don’t think I appreciated HOW wrong. I saw things in terms of illness (depression, OCD) and in terms of dysfunction (parents are divorced, not talking, obviously there are gonna be problems) but not the bigger picture. I don’t even think I knew I was being abused at this point.

I was still young and on a deeper level, I don’t think it would have been possible to see farther than I did. I wouldn’t have been able to take it. They say that things weren’t as bad as they seemed – they were worse. I couldn’t leave the house. I couldn’t stop being everyone’s savior – the patterns were so entrenched that everyone was simply living out their roles.

But around here was also the first time I ever stood up to my Mum and shouted at her. I have no idea how I managed to do it. It went against decades of neural imprinting and some really severe trauma. I can’t even remember what it was about, other that it probably involved Meimei (which might have been where I found the strength to do it) After the showdown (which predictably ended with my Mum shouting some more and slamming the door) I went to bed and I slept for three straight days. I’m not kidding – other than get up, eat food, and shower, I can’t remember doing anything else. I was shaking and trembling directly after the confrontation and probably close to blacking out? I can’t remember.

I think I seriously began to hate her at about this time. On one hand I wanted her love and support, but she was as close to crazy as you could get and not be committed to a mental hospital. And she thought I was sick!

At this point after depression, OCD, and PTSD, I was old enough to not buy my Mum’s stories about Dad, the world and my place in it. My anger actually helped clear some space in my head even as it hurt to not let it out. (because you know, that might cause a relapse?) I was still extremely confused in many ways but I didn’t automatically accept anything she said as true anymore.

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