It took me a long time, but I think I might know now.

(Though, knowing isn’t the same as doing.)

Before, I didn’t feel enough for this world. But the truth was, the world just wasn’t enough to take me in.

Me, with the jagged edges. Me, who couldn’t fit into a cookie cutter shape.

I lived merely to fit into something instead of:

Creating, finding joy, appreciating, feeling good about how things were when they were, being happy, going with my gut, taking risks…


My blank canvas. So many things I could have painted instead of painting over my flaws.

Why you should choose your therapist based on your common cultural experience if you’re multicultural

There has been some good progress on my end. First off, sleep has been the best it’s ever been since I first started to see symptoms of bipolar depression. That means I slept through the night for eight hours straight. This is a huge step forward for me (as well as a hopeful sign of improvement,) because the last time I slept through the night without some kind of a tranquilizer (Ativan mostly), consecutively for two days, was over a year ago. Every night, I was haunted by insomnia, night terror, anxiety and other bizarre sleep problems that kept my brain wide awake in the middle of the night. The second is what I’m working on in therapy. I’m starting to piece together the “why” I am this way. Why the hell im sick. If you’ve been reading since the inception of my blog, then you know how I was triggered into having my first full blown episode because of work related stress- but it’s never that simple for bipolar disorder like other brain disorders.  It wasn’t just work and it wasn’t just the stress. There are just so many reasons, contributing factors both immediate, and long term that affects the brain, that it’s impossible to pinpoint one specific event or cause. However, it’s still important to understand why, for the sake of closure, acceptance and to do things differently the next time. In short, I think my disorder came about because of my quiet, agreeable and disciplined disposition coupled by difficulties that followed the unilateral decisions made by my caregivers that are in no way ill-intentioned. More concretely, I was a quiet kid, who followed rules and who tried to do things right, without offending or angering anyone she cared about. My parents separated when I was ten years old, but rather discreetly- and the only way they kept things together was by living very far from each other. My mother and I moved to Canada, where we had no family, without speaking English. My dad and the rest of my extended family stayed back home, in Korea. I was enrolled in school, so I picked up the language pretty quickly. Soon I had to fill the role of the adult in the household because my mother wasn’t as lucky with getting assimilated into the culture. Paying bills, writing letters, making calls, filing complaints, and making informed decisions. When I was absent from school, I wrote my own letter of absence to take it to school. This is probably a common theme for first generation immigrants- you have no room for mistakes, rebellion, or misbehavior. There is no time to indulge in complaints, or laze around, be a kid. As a minority immigrant, you work double what the others do to get to where they are in society, in the new world- and that’s what I knew since I was ten years old. It doesn’t matter much if you were middle class, upper class or lower middle back in the old country, you’re on your own to establish who you are. Growing up, I never felt safe in my home with just me and my mother. I was a violinist, so every time I practiced which was everyday, an angry neighbor surreptitiously came up and kicked our door. I got hate letters from one of my so called friends who wished I went to hell- my mom and I figured she was jealous despite our temporary, shabby looking situation, I was able to go to music school. There was bullying involved, both at school and online. There are other mistreatments, racism, hatred, abuse that came with living in a foreign country with just one other adult who couldn’t really take care of you, or protect you as family should. This is in no way to blame my parents- they were doing the best they could in their given situation. It was not unusual to send your kids abroad to English speaking counties if your family was affluent. But the fact of the matter is, I’ve developed PTSD from the anxiety filled life where I cried under my blankets every night in silence to not upset my mother, and where I put on a brace face every morning. Every year, we had to make a decision to stay in Canada or go back to the old country- and that meant a) no stability, and b) living in rental apartments that were hardly furnished. I never felt tethered to a place, and I felt that I was temporary. This meant that I was always making up my back story to new people I met, and that meant that I wasn’t inviting anyone over. Family holidays were truncated to summers when I went back to my real home, where dad and the rest of the family were, and thanksgiving and Christmas were spent eating chicken because turkeys were too big for a party of two. There is much more but I’ll stop myself from getting flooded. These memories were so disturbing that I had suppressed most of it until I started psychotherapy with my current therapist. It helps that she is a first generation immigrant herself from the same country that I am from, and knows the hurdles and difficulties. Before her, people either envied the position I was in, or just had no clue what I was going through. I learned that choosing the right therapist is so very crucial, because if they don’t know where you’re coming from through experience, they won’t understand the source of the problem, and they won’t be able to help. One can read thousands of books on someone’s culture and study anthropology, but an armchair anthropologist can only know so much.

My multicultural situation is pretty unique, and I realize that when dealing with a mental disorder that is already complicated, a complicated life story makes it even harder to discuss with another person and still get all the cultural nuisances right. There is still more to dig, but I’m happy that I’m able to remember some of my so called childhood and feel validated for the first time in my life.

Smaller house

You know when you downsize to a new house that is a little sketchy because of your finances, and you have too much furniture, or if they look too big for the new place? Everything is cramped, there is not enough closet space for all your clothes, and your cat (or dog) cannot stand how little room they have to play? You keep running into each other in the halls because the place is overflowing with your stuff, and complain about the tiny size of the backyard. The neighbors are weird. When it rains it leaks, and the dishwasher breaks often.

Moving into a smaller house is like getting diagnosed with [fill in the blank with your illness here]. For me it’s my bipolar diagnosis.

Think of all the stuff (furniture, clothes, knickknacks etc.) in the house as all your hopes, dreams, identity and whatever else that made you you in the past. The house is your body- the body lets you do everything- achieve goals, chase after dreams, and fulfill responsibilities. But when you change houses against your wishes, you are stuck with all the stuff. The stuff that doesn’t fit. The stuff doesn’t fit with what you are capable of.

You can choose to not accept that you are living in a smaller house and keep all your furniture and your clothes. You’re still going to have to face the ugly mountains of stuff every morning, and run into each other in the halls because of too much stuff. Life will be miserable.

Another option is to accept that you are living in a smaller space, and get rid of some non-essentials. You have to donate some old books, throw out old clothes, and maybe get rid of that extra chair that gets in the way that you never really bonded with. Bring cookies to your weird neighbors, after all, we’re all a little strange anyway. This life is slightly more tolerable.

You didn’t have a lot of choice because of financial constraints, and if you could, you would chose not to live in the house, but here you are. When you accept, you can be happ(ier) in the new house.

Bipolar disorder is a chronic illness- I live in this small house now and probably will for the rest of my life (unless there are miraculous medical advances, which would be nice). So I’ve thrown out some things I don’t need so that I can live in my new house without getting frustrated: some grandiose dreams, goals, responsibilities that I had when I was healthier. The things that made me who I was- and there is no denying it, those things, like my career, how much I worked, and where I wanted to get to, defined me. I could have achieved all that with my healthy body/mental state. But this is the body that I have now and I choose to be happy rather than keep all my stuff from before.



How I accept my life (situation)

I’m not really about cults, or organized religion. One of my parents had a lot of traumas based around religion growing up, so my family always lived in a religion-free environment. We had our morals and values and believed in doing good deeds, but because of how I was raised, and some of my distasteful (somewhat traumatic) experiences with the people outside of my family who were trying to proselytize me, I never had a chance to become a spiritual person, unfortunately. In retrospect, I think I would have been a much more peaceful person. Instead, I read a ton of self help books.

But as they say, it’s never too late.

It’s taken me some time to process the writings of Eckhart Tolle, the spiritual guide. He wrote The Power of Now almost two decades ago, and more recently, New Earth. His work falls under therapeutic category of Acceptance and Commitment therapy, and uses mindfulness throughout the book as a grounding mechanism to ward off the unnecessary “egoic” thoughts away. His theory is that as a compulsively thinking society, we’ve become split selves – one based on our mind (egoic-self) which is constantly running, separate from our Self (our true inner self), and that’s problematic. His theory is that once we stop feeding the thought-based self, and start focusing on our real Self through what he calls the portal of Now (aka. mindfulness), then there will be more joy in our lives.

I’m not sure why I was so drawn to his work- for one thing, he is a depression survivor. Another is the fact that he draws wisdom from not just one religion, but most of the predominant world religions, namely Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism, and finds things he sees in common in all of them. This helped me put my guard down a little bit as a skeptic.

All this backstory is to bring up one thing: how it’s helping me. It’s helping me to accept that I’m in a tough place (says my therapist). It’s helped me to see how my over-thinking (negative, not very self-compassionate, and destructive thinking) is sabotaging living, because living doesn’t happen once I get to a better place; once I get the job/promotion; or once I move to a better house; once I have more friends; once I make it. But life is happening right now. And it will always happen right now, not in the future or the past. And more importantly, what is happening in my life isn’t my real Self, or my self worth. Same with what I achieve. My inner real self is timeless, and not defined by a label like a job, or a role. What is happening isn’t my “life”, it’s my “life situation,” which is temporary.