Zen and the Art of Psychology

Psychology – where would I be without you? Probably dead. Here I was, in the midst of crushing depression and a horrible family situation. What did I do? What any bright young middle class boy does when he can’t go to school…study psychology! (and play video games, and watch Evangelion) I’m sure there are other answers to the aforementioned question but this was mine.

This met with no small resistance on the part of my parents. They were all like psychology? What would studying that do? Well it might make me get better for one. They didn’t seem to believe me.

I wanted to share with them all the new insights I had gained but all I got were blank stares and incredulous glances. It was to set the stage for our conversations (or rather the lack of them) in the years to come, but I didn’t know it at that time.

In any case I applied myself to my subject matter vigorously. Whenever I was actually able to get up from bed to read anything I tried my best to do so.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief, gestalt theory, child psychology…whatever I could get my hands on. I was particularly interested in Abnormal Psychology – i.e, the Study of Fucked-up People, (which is what called it) which I certainly was one of back in those days. I went straight from “traditional” psychology (where you had to study how the eye processed information and all the other boring stuff) and got to the meat of the matter. Like most students of psychology, I hoped to psychoanalyze myself and by doing so also get better.

It didn’t work. Or rather, it didn’t work in the way that I thought it might. Firstly, I had vastly underestimated the degree of the problem. What seemed like simple depression (the common cold of psychology) was actually hiding an array of problems that would take years to resolve.

Still, my study was not without its benefits. I hung onto it like the Holy Grail, as if it was the answer to all of life’s problems. Considering how dire my straits were at the situation, it certainly helped a great deal. Firstly, it actually treated the problem like a curable illness. There was a methodology. There were things to be learned, possible approaches to be applied, instead of Feng Shui that did absolutely nothing.

Oh, I’ve never told you about the Feng Shui. Yeah, my mom got it into her head that everything that was wrong with our family was due to bad chi flow. I’m not kidding. So she spent thousands of dollars and a considerable amount of time and effort to fix the flow of chi around the house.

She insisted I sleep in this room instead of that because it was north facing or near my good direction. The plants all had to be aligned this way because it meant that the flow of prosperity would change. She bought peonies and wooden ducks so that…I have no idea. All of it seemed like rubbish to me. I went along with it because what else could I do?

I think the worst part was when she paid this hotshot Feng Shui guy to come and Feng Shui-ize our house and he told her that she was going to die that year. What a way to spend three thousand dollars. (which was worth more back in that day)

I couldn’t make heads or tails of this interest in Feng Shui and I often bitched to my father about it. He didn’t understand it either but he didn’t talk to my Mum about it either.

But back to the study of the mind. Of course, psychology can’t cure everything. (though how my younger self would howl if you told him that!) Life is a lot more complex than what Freud, Jung and their contemporaries could discern at that time. (though to their credit if they were alive, they’d probably agree)

I really gave my family a hard time over it. There, I admit it. For years I labored under the delusion that if everyone would just get into therapy and read the fucking textbooks that they would be cured and we could Get Better. I guess I also bought into this whole Get Better thing.

I told them they should study psychology. I think at one point I told EVERYONE they should study psychology. I even told Meimei. It was an unreasonable request to make of a young girl and I’m sorry.

Mixed in with their non-inconsiderable resistance was quite a lot of professional jealousy as well. As my mother often remarked to me, back in their university days Psych was looked down on at the bottom-feeder option, what you did when your grades were too poor to do anything else. Well Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. That was then and this is now. They wouldn’t do it and nothing I could say would change that.

I spent years unsuccessfully trying to get them to change their minds. I talked of this therapy and that approach and this solution and wow, did you know what kind of scientific advancements they were making in America? I actually feel kind of stupid now that I think of all that wasted energy. But what could I do? I was a wounded child who wanted his parents to help him. It wasn’t really just about psychology anymore (well actually it was, but not in that way) it was about connecting with me and helping instead of just sitting there with useless rationalization and ancient Chinese mumbo-jumbo.

Like most people who get into therapy and study psychology, I too wanted to become a therapist. In fact, it was an idea I kicked around for more than ten years. But first I had to sort out of my own problems first…which would take a lot longer than I had initially thought.
In the years to come I would continue to read about psychology. And read, and read, and read. It never was far from my thoughts and it definitely helped a LOT in dealing with things. For a long time I didn’t have the emotional maturity to put what I had learnt into perspective, but it was better than not knowing anything at all.

Psychology – whether it has been seeing a therapist or reading about it – has most definitely helped me come to where I am right now. For the longest time it was one of the Holy Trinity, the Triforce of my life – Evangelion, video games, and psychology. That was of course before I added in things like friends and singing into the mix. The field itself has grown considerably since my early days as a budding amateur psychologist – for instance, neurology (and to a certain extent, Buddhism) have been integrated into psychological practice in a way that would have been unthinkable before.

It is also my sincerest wish that more people go to see a therapist. No, seriously. I no longer think of it as the Holy Grail, but I still believe that it would do a lot more good than harm. One day going to see a therapist will carry no social stigma anywhere in the world (not just in Asia) and if by writing this we get there a little bit faster then I’m going to say my piece. Also since this IS my book I get to write whatever I want and I just want to get that out there.

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