My early to mid-twenties – I did my best but it always felt that it wasn’t enough. Job prospects weren’t looking good. I couldn’t go to school because of my school phobia. I tried to write a bit but it never went anywhere. There were so many things I wanted to do and try – drawing anime art (something I had wanted to do ever since getting into the hobby) learning about music, going out and getting an interesting job of some kind.
But the criticism inside stopped me from doing anything without tearing it down, and the situation outside made it hard to even muster the energy to try. Things were sometimes so bad it seemed that I was living from game to game.
Hatred against any form of qualifications, school and work (those things seemingly so essential to success in the “outside world”) continued. I didn’t need these stupid things! I could do it all my own! Those were for the weak, the “normal” people, the ones who made up society and were supported by them, the ones who oppressed me and others like me. I had such hatred in myself that had no escape.
As much as I hated those things I also wanted to do them. It would have be so, so much easier to just get the fucking degree and go to school somewhere. But it might have well have been on a different planet. The traumas that I had suffered in school went deep and had never been dealt with.
I remember trying to break through the barrier with Florence and spending quite a few sessions on it. Back during the Big Push I did make a concerted effort to do so and failed. Finally she said to me “well if school is so tough why not try something else?” I did. We brainstormed a few ideas (including copywriting) but nothing materialized.
I grew to be intimately aware of the anatomy of a cold, especially as I had so many of them. First the awful drip at the back of your throat, combined with the telltale inflammation of the tonsil area. Then the outpouring of thin transparent mucus that quickly thickened to dreaded green and yellow. The headaches which grew from a dull ache to a pounding at the temples which demanded attention and rest. And finally the fever that bloomed from a mild heat into a searing pain.
I think I got about about four to six colds a year on average. I would go to meet the kindly doctor at the clinic nearby and be examined for the same symptoms that we both already knew so well. “Had another fight with your mother again?” he would ask, already knowing the answer. I would nod. Why else would I even get a cold?
Then he would ask if I needed antibiotics and I would nod again. No slight flus for me, only snot-drenched and mucus-filled affairs which would entail one or two weeks of dizziness and bedrest complete with lots of masturbation (not for fun, because I needed to sleep!) and even more scolding from my mother (because I was a lazy good-for-nothing who had the temerity to get ill on top of not working or going to school) while all that time my sister would look on in concern and care but be unable to do anything. I ordered her away from me most of the time anyway…didn’t make any sense for her to catch a cold as well.
I still pursued the Holy Grail (play games, make money) but I had no idea how to get there. Go pro? I wasn’t any good at Starcraft or any of those e-sport things. Write about games? Hmm…not a bad idea, but how to get published? Start a blog? I did that for a while. I tried a few other things but the terrible lethargy and strain of living in those conditions (Mum was still pretty bad at this time) meant they could never get off the ground.
Back to the grind. Make sure Meimei was ok, make sure I was ok (so I wouldn’t relapse) buy groceries, cook food etc. We went through a succession of maids all with their own share of drama. One left early and my Mum went all guilt-trippy again (why is no one helping me around here?) Another one was terribly afraid of my mother (with good reason!) and cowered in fear whenever she was around. We later discovered that she had faked her identification details and that she was actually 16. It was all quite a pain to deal with, taking them to the maid agency and bringing them to the supermarket to make sure they knew what to buy (guess who did all of that?)
I had a lot of free time (in the midst of raising four kids) so I did what I could. I read a lot. I went all over the Internet downloading games and playing them. I watched a lot of porn (hey a guy has urges you know!) It was not the best of times by any means. Just more survival.
The old criticism and self-hatred returned. What was I doing with my life? What was I doing with myself? The envy would flare up and I would tamp it down, driving furrows into my mind and soul again and again. A vicious cycle not unlike the patterns of my family.
I think what hurt the most was that I wanted to move forwards, but I couldn’t. Not only that I couldn’t admit it to myself! No, I was ok. I was doing…alright? Relatively speaking.
Many years later I can finally admit these things to myself and its painful and yet liberating. For years I lived by explaining everything away (as I had been taught to do) I wanted to do this but it was ok, I “didn’t need to do it anyway.” It was like the tale of the sour grapes and the fox but taken to the extreme. Rationalization and repression had become a way of life.
I had to block it out to survive. I can remember my Dad (in a rare moment of insight) explaining things to my sister “if your brother were to take the JLPT now he would die.” She just sat there, looking at me. She came to me that night and asked me plaintively why I couldn’t just go to school and get my degree and go on like a normal person.
This actually happened back when I was around nineteen or so, but it is nothing if not clear in my memory. Meimei had completely absorbed my mother’s view of the world (she was only nine at that time) and she was just parroting her words.
Still, it hurt terribly. The person I loved most in the world was telling me to do what I both wanted to do and hated. It tore me apart. But someone deep inside I knew that she was not doing it out of spite. In the years that followed whatever wrong she did me, I was able to forgive her almost instinctively out of love.
I told myself things were ok and that I didn’t mind. But actually I minded! God how I minded. I wanted to go to the States. I wanted to do more. I wanted to write, I wanted to translate, I wanted to sing and play music and everything else. The few jobs that I had in the interim were just things to pass the time. I felt I was going nowhere fast every day.
These things also exacted their toll on the people around me, especially my sister. She had to put up with me talking about how no one understood me, how things were unfair, how it was So Difficult to be Stuck Here, my feelings regarding this or that. Of course in hindsight it would have been easier for me to talk to my friends, but I didn’t trust them enough (due to a variety of factors) Meimei didn’t have that many people to talk to either. Abuse tends to cut off points of contact socially as well, making an already vicious cycle tighter and tighter.
All my old unresolved conflicts got displaced (just as my parents’ conflicts were displaced) because they were never resolved. And they weren’t resolved because in those times they COULDN’T be resolved. I did try to talk about them with Florence but there was always, always, always something else in the way. Mum had gone on the warpath again. There was an issue with Dad’s family or his wife. Meimei needed something from me. An issue related to depression had cropped up.
During this time my father was rehired by his old employer, the Housing Development Board of Singapore. You would expect that now that he had some income things would improve. Nope. He was a little happier and he was able to take us out to dinner at restaurants instead of food courts, but that was as good as it got. He still was pathetically eager for his wife and I to get along, without actually doing anything to make that happen. He still never talked to Mum or about anything emotional.
Ah yes, I do recall counselling him about his work and his relationships with his boss. Good Little Kain, helping out his parents as much as he was able when they continued to heap abuse on him. No one knew back in those days.
I look back on those years and in some ways I am quite proud of myself. I was happy, smiling, laughing and cheerful (as much as I was able to be in those circumstances) I helped my friends where and when I could. I played games and read books and held it together. When I did inevitably crack and have another relapse, I picked myself right back up from the ground.
But I was also rigid, intractable and compulsive. In retrospect the OCD never really went away, it just went underground. I had to be right (and I would devote considerable energy in order to be so) If any subject came up for debate I would scrutinize it endlessly to prove my point of view. I had to play my games in This Way, I had to be So Intelligent and Psychologically Sound. I was highly combative and would go after things with a fervor that was not completely healthy.
I rationalized everything and thought about everything and tried to figure everything out. Any problem could be solved with sufficient research – or at least, that was what I thought at that time. It made sense then. The mind is a powerful defense mechanism indeed – in fact I would never have thought of it at that time, but I am indeed grateful to my mind for stepping in to protect me all these years.
Everything went into the mind. Rationality went into overdrive to block out whatever the body and emotions couldn’t take at that moment. If I could figure it out, it could be solved. It was something I had been doing for a long time, even before the depression. Once when I was eight my mother slapped me and I can recall disconnecting and trying to logically figure out why she did it instead of crying or getting angry. Yes, the rationality was strong with this one.
But amazingly despite all this and more I don’t think I ever became bitter. I was angry, I was sad, I was in denial (for my own survival) But I was never bitter. I raged at the world plenty but I never hated it that much. Bitter was my Mum’s department.
I played a lot of crappy MMOs during this time. I can’t even remember these names and I would be embarrassed even if I did remember. I think I also played City of Heroes, which was an MMO but definitely not crappy.
Ok that was a little fun. I still remember my toon, this black-leather wearing catgirl named Call Me Queen. Yeah, totally and utterly gratuitious, I know. People would stop in the streets (in-game) to tell me how good she looked so yeah, there she was just a-walkin down the street, bustin’ crime and shuffling her feet. She looked good, she looked fine. Catgirls, you can’t live without them, and you can’t live without them.
This period was a little like the Starcraft/D2 one. I just did whatever I could to stop thinking and brooding. I took care of Meimei, I took care of the house, I wandered around Singapore. I visited tons of old bookshops and game stores. I was always free to go hang out or hit the arcades or go to karaoke. I told myself “aha you see, at least you don’t need to work like all those other saps” but some part of me WANTED to work but yet I had to deny it.
Sometime around this period I also became financially literate. I still couldn’t make money and I still lived with the 500/10,000 divide but I resolved to at least get smart about it. I learned about investments, about EFTs and baskets of funds.
I think I actually signed up for the Motley Fool website (back when it was one of the few financial sites in existence) and wanted to post there and get Hot Stock Tips (though I had learned enough to know Hot Stock Tips were…rarely hot) and make a Ton of Money and Make It Big…except obviously that never happened. There’s not a lot you can do with little seed capital and a whole lotta mental problems. I read books, like Investing for Dummies and Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad.
I went as far as signing up for a brokerage account and reading some broadsheets. Once again it was research, planning, development and no action. I couldn’t make myself complete a single trade.
Time continued to pass and I continued to live with little to show for it. But was that really true? Wasn’t it just that bete noire, the critic, speaking to me again? I was still alive. That was something. I often reminded myself that I could be dead.
It didn’t make me feel any better. As I write this I know that I did the best I could at that time but how it hurt to be living like that back then.