Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Life Lessons Beyond the Holiday Blues

Comic by Beth Evans
Every year when the holidays come around, I get into an emotional funk, and I get the holiday blues. The holiday season and my birthday month of January can become an emotionally triggering time. The pressure and expectation to be happy and have a forced smile on my face doesn't sit well with me. When I'm by myself, my mind will reflect on past memories of how previous holidays and birthdays turned out before. Some holiday seasons have been okay, but others haven't been so great.

Yearning for Social Connections 
To give you a background about myself, I longed for deep heart-to-heart connections since childhood. I yearned for intimate relationships, especially with family. I longed to be understood, but often felt misunderstood. When I didn't know how to articulate myself, I wished others would have more patience with me.

Flipper, the Dolphin
When I found human relationships to be difficult, I turned to TV & found the relationships between humans and animals so profound. I watched shows like Flipper, Mr. Ed and Lassie. Seeing shows like these made me want to have my own pet, but I was not allowed to have any pets in my parents' home.

Growing up, I often felt lonely and depressed. During high school, I came across Van Gogh's art work called "The Potato Eaters." When I discovered this painting, I immediately connected. I could relate to feelings and emotions in this painting. It depicted the feelings I’d have during meals with my family. Physically, we were together, but emotionally, we were not.  

Another inspiration during high school was the book "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" by Carson McCullers. We were to read this book in our literature/composition class. From this book, I learned so much about human nature, symbolism, and I could personally relate with the characters in the book. The characters were literally lonely hunters seeking a kind listening ear. They were looking for validation. I enjoyed this book so much, that I marked it all up, underlining phrases and highlighting the parts I could emotionally relate to. 

"The Potato Eaters" by Van Gogh

Previous Holiday Seasons
Year after year, the holiday season served as a time reminding me how my ideals never matched up to how I wanted reality to be. After graduating from college and moving back home with my parents, the holidays were a miserable time of reflection. I felt like I had nothing to show for. I had no full time job. My relationships with family members were rocky. I didn’t feel proud of myself, and so I most of the time isolated myself until I suddenly had spurts of self-confidence in 2009 and 2013.

In October 2013, I shared my stories with a news reporter from the World Journal/Chinese Daily News. The next day, they published their article about me, calling it "Victim of Perfectionist Parents Speaks Out.” They had not consulted me regarding how to title this article. So when my parents called me, their reactions were not positive. They were in shock, & it took some time for me and my parents to digest everything that had happened. Over a belated Thanksgiving meal with my parents, my husband and I discussed what had happened when the news reporter interviewed me. While trying to explain, I was in tears because there were so many accumulated misunderstandings between my parents and me throughout my life. I mainly wanted my parents to know that it was not my intention to publicly shame them. My intention was to say that I accept the past, and I’m not trying to play the blame game anymore. I just want to say that I am one of many who struggled with the impacts of acculturation coming from an immigrant family. 

In my presentation at Raytheon in April 2014, I shared this story, and I explained... " Thank goodness my husband was there for me, and I finally got around to explaining to my parents telling them... I know you did the best you could given what you grew up with. Without you there would be no me. So regardless of what happened in the past and even though Little Emily didn't feel all the love she needed when she was growing up, I still appreciate you, Mom, Dad, my family, my brother, my sister. Thank you for being a part of my life... Nelson Mandela had a quote like 'If I was to live my life all over again, I would live it the same exact way.' Why? Because things were meant to go that way. I believe I was put through all of those circumstances in order to become stronger today." 
Currently, I'm confronted with drama today where I'm still not on good terms with some family members, and yes, it makes me feel helpless and sad. I tried my best to reach out, but there's not much else I can do. Would I like our relationship to be better? Sure, I would, but if they're not willing to speak to me, there's not much I can do. I must accept the situation. I cannot change anyone, but myself and my attitude.

My Coping Skills & Changing My Attitude 
So in these last few years, I've learned how to cope with circumstances that were beyond my control. I found Recovery International self-help support groups, and I've learned these tools when when I am experiencing trivialities in life.   
  • If you can't change the situation, change your attitude towards it. 
  • Endorse yourself for the effort, not only for the performance.
  • Symptoms are distressing but not dangerous.
  • Self-appointed expectations lead to self-appointed frustrations.
  • Lower your expectations, and your performance will rise. 
  • Temper is an intellectual blindness to the other side of the story.
  • Perfection is a hope, dream, & illusion. 
  • Trivialities are the everyday events & irritations of daily life. Compared to our mental health, most events are trivial. 
In additional to these tools, I developed my strong support network by turning to Recovery International support groups, NAMI San Gabriel Valley, the Asian Coalition, Project Return Peer Support Network, and many more organizations filled with other mental health advocates like me. Through networking, I found hope knowing that I was not alone in my struggles, and attending support groups and advocacy meetings has become very meaningful for me.

Aside from in person meetings, finding positive affirmations online, and especially on Simple Reminders' Facebook page has helped me as well. They have posted great quotes and reminders to appreciate the things we do have in life... like this post by Frederick Keonig

Mindset of Gratitude
"We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have." ~ Frederick Keonig 

This is a life lesson that I have been learning everyday to stay grounded and keep life in perspective. I also share that same lesson learned in my own story, which I shared when I felt like the mental healthcare system failed me when I was seeking affordable mental healthcare. The experience motivated me to think outside the box to find other means to helping myself. 

I basically learned... 

So although life during the holidays is not how we pictured it to be, we must learn to let go of our expectations and appreciate what we do have now, instead of what we don't have. We must make do with what we have. We need to learn to appreciate our abilities and focus less on our disabilities for our mental well-being. Not everything will go the way we had hoped. We cannot always control our external circumstances. When we focus too much on the circumstances we can't change, we will start to feel more helpless and hopeless. We must zoom out of our challenges, and see our lives with a more objective perspective. We must take the good with the bad in life and learn not to take the littlest things for granted. 

So here are some things that I am grateful for... 
I can see life in color. I can sing. I can dance. I can hear. I can write, type and articulate my thoughts much more than I could before. I have parents who love me. I have a supportive husband and fur baby Chairman Meow who keeps me company at home. And my list could go on and on. 

Self-Encouragement aka Being My Own Best Friend 
However, I will leave you with this note, and I hope you find it encouraging... This is what I said to myself just before my birthday in January 2015, and it still applies to coping with the holidays blues... Just change the word 'birthdays' to 'holidays.' 

"Even though your birthdays in the past haven't always been so happy, don't value yourself based on those experiences or based on how other people treated you before. Plus, your worth is never dependent on whether we celebrate your birthday with a big crowd of people or not. We're going to make the most of your birthday. We are going to celebrate, have fun and do things that make you happy, okay? =) You are precious to me, and no matter what anyone else says, I love you. Let's not let anyone or any circumstances ruin our day because your peace of mind and happiness matters to me. I am so proud of all of the accomplishments you've made in your life, all the strides you've surpassed, and I can't wait to see you thrive in this upcoming year! I have your back through every circumstance, and I will never ever leave you because I believe in you. You got this."

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