"Ask me how I am," my mid-20s self says to my mom. She called me. Or did I call her? I don't remember, exactly.
"No," she says, matter-of-fact.
"Mother! Ask. Me." I'm incredulous. Is she really not going to ask me?
"I already know how you are." Her words are almost indignant. She stifles laughter.
"Ask me how I am! RIGHT NOW!" I am furious with her insensitivity.
My mom and I experience tumulsion -- that's my noun form of tumultuous exchange. She is a child of wartime China. She can act cruel, callous. She is the kind of mom who doesn't do nurture or comfort. My experiences with her teach me how to act kind with someone and enforce boundaries at the same time.
As a young person, I remember that she treated me as if I was a part of her. Not like, in a cozy way. Like: You are me, and I don't need to differentiate between us. Like: You will do as I say, and I do not need to tell you why. Naturally, this infuriated me. When I was a child, I didn't have a defense against this aspect of my mom's personality.
Since my primary role models were physically and emotionally absent or consistently angry with or oblivious to reality, I went looking for other role models in life. I am grateful for some of my experiences with role models (my high school guidance counselor; a couple of teachers in college; my grandmother) and horrified by others. People who were supposed to be upright and honorable (my best-friend-since-two-years-old's father; my met-me-at-five-years-old martial arts instructor; my met-me-at-11-years-old friend's mother) eventually took advantage of me.
Where did I get that idea, that anyone would be upright and honorable? That's ultimately what I had to consider. What right did I have to demand treatment of a particular kind? What was I doing or not doing that kept me finding myself in uncomfortable and abusive situations? Why didn't my mom ask me how I was doing. Why did my siblings appear to be in competition with me. Why didn't anyone appear to want to keep in touch for as long as I did. Was I weird. Why didn't I have a hobby or friends. Why did I feel depressed. How could I change things for me. What was the definition of justice.
I asked myself these questions and more, and I put effort into my answers.
When we are dealt a daily blow of difficulty, where do we put our sense of rage and ...profound alienation? Listening to Abbey Lincoln, we recognize that we can turn inward to use our prodigious gifts ...we can harness the power to speak out about that which perils our future... knowing, too, that our voice is necessary, relevant, and needed. For sometimes it is the wound that names the affliction, that cures the condition" (Neil Blumofe, Rabbi, Liner Notes, Aug. 23, 2015).
Terry Gilliam directed The Zero Theorem, a film that addresses meaning in life. I watched it recently, and it made me consider depression, cultural standards, truth, and justice. I know Gilliam as related to his participation in Monty Python. The observations are astute, witty, and absurd in their reality.
In my case, I tried religion and spiritual paths to help heal my depression. I gained a wider understanding of existence even as religion and spiritual views themselves didn't address my sadness and emptiness. I tried talk therapy, art therapy, group art therapy. They all helped in their own ways. What I've realized is that there are many answers and techniques to address sadness, emptiness, and anxiety. There are a lot of coping skills available. It's ok to feel uncomfortable, and it's also ok to say, you know what, fuck this. I'm done telling myself ...insert unhelpful thought. I'm going to think this other more helpful thought right now, or I'm going to visualize a beautiful sunset. My experience with depression and anxiety is that working through it involves thought-by-thought, moment-by-moment breaths into the balance of meaning and non-meaning.
Ni(3) xian(4)zai(4) zen(2)me(5) yang(4)?
How are things going?
Well hello there.