Storytime: That Time I Got Robbed and Other Musings on Gratitude and Empathy

~StoryTime~

There was this one time when my parents and I were on vacation in Canada and my mom and I had gotten into a fight the previous night; I was about maybe twelve years old.   The next morning, we ate at the hotel complimentary breakfast with the expected aftermath of awkwardness in the air- I kept my eyes lowered to shield my puffy red eyes under my hat.  There weren’t many other people around, but I remember seeing two tanned men sitting near us at the next table.  I was in a foul mood, angry with the world and still upset at something my mom had said earlier; my feeling ashamed reflected clearly in my flushed face.

I was so lost in my own world of sulky thoughts that I only barely took notice that my mom had left the table to get more food.  Soon after, my dad also got up to head to an aisle leading to the men’s room, leaving me alone.  The next minute, I was whipped out of my thoughts by a man who approached me, pointing furiously towards the direction my dad had left in and jabbering in a foreign language.  His panic was infectious.  The first thing that came to my mind was that something had happened to my dad: he had a heart attack, he had passed out, there was a fire.  I hesitated and stood up as the man bolted off – confused, I wondered if I should follow him or call the police.

Next thing was my mom’s alarmed voice; she had come back and immediately exclaimed, “Where’s my bag?!”

I glanced around to the chairs around me, and only saw mine.  That was the moment  I realized that I had been hoodwinked.  The men who were sitting near us were gone.  The police arrived and questioned us, and after watching the security footage, confirmed that the two men had dashed out the backdoor.  The police told us that it was one of a few cases that had happened recently in the neighborhood hotels in the same exact fashion.  The next hour was filled with my mom calling various places to cancel her credit card accounts, phone accounts, and anything else the police advised her to do.  My mom’s camera, phone, and unfortunately, more than half a thousand dollars cash had been in her favorite bag.  She said she had forgotten to remove all the cash since her recent trip to Taiwan where she wanted to exchange some of it for Taiwanese money.

The shock that had hit all of us that early afternoon had us immediately forget, or rather, let go of any ill feelings harbored towards each other.  I remember feeling a mixture of emotions.  I felt guilty that I had not watched our things more carefully, that I had so naively been fooled by that guy, who must’ve distracted me to one side so that his accomplice could grab my mom’s bag to the other side of me.  I felt a bit regretful that so much money had been lost, especially since my younger parents worked hard to save up money.

I also felt tremendous relief that nothing in fact, had happened to my dad; he was okay.  My mom was okay, I was okay, we were all okay.  Nobody had held me at gunpoint or knifepoint threatening to kill us if we hadn’t handed over our possessions.

I also felt the weight of grudges just a couple hours ago melt into incredible gratitude, realizing by comparison the full pettiness of my sulky world.  One argument was a bad grain of sand in the spectrum of our lives.  Even though I don’t count myself as particularly religious, I remembered thinking that this incident must have been God’s reminder to me to wake up and understand that much worse things could happen at any given time.

We really tend to see what we don’t have, and what others do have.  Even on days where I’m in tremendous pain physically or emotionally, or my car broke down,  I would just think, if only I didn’t have to deal with this shit.  How much better the day would be if I just wasn’t in pain, if the car just worked and I could get to my friend or my groceries.  That’s how we see that the ordinary, “boring” events are actually extraordinary.

Today, some tragedy could’ve happened that left my family homeless.  Today, I could be so destitute that I don’t have enough money to buy dinner.  Today, I could’ve lost a loved one.  Today, I could’ve found out someone I loved didn’t love me back anymore.  Today, I could be feeling so depressed that I want to kill myself.  Today, I could be lying in the hospital again, just wishing that I could sleep in my own bed and get a hot shower.

Today, none of those things happened, and I did get to feed myself, sleep in my own bed, and take a hot shower.

I was in the car the other day and musing over the whole “glass half full, glass half empty” cliche.  Maybe we’re missing the point when we look at it that way.  Maybe the truth to finding Zen and acceptance of everything around us, including the shitty parts, is to see the glass itself.  That the glass exists at all.  That we have a glass.  That we have water at all.  It could all so easily be nothing, just empty space floating into more nothingness.


-Just a passing thought about how to find happiness and peace since that is something I’ve struggled with my whole life.

Reminder though, that even though we should strive to be more appreciative and notice all that we do have, it’s still okay to let yourself feel the sad parts too.  We’re wrapped up in a society that expects us to feel fine all the time or try to get us there (“Feel better!” “You’ll be okay” “I’m sorry” other crap etc.).  Is that true healing?  No.  You have to walk through the tunnel to get to the other side, there is no shortcut.  You can’t magically Apparate or sprout wings over the tunnel.  What we can do for each other?  For true empathy, be there for one another.  Rather than a “Feel better”, I want to live in a society where we hold each other’s hand.  We offer an embrace, we tell them yes, what they’re going through sucks, but I’m here for you.  I will walk with you through the tunnel.  You’re not alone.

There’s a difference between finding pleasure in sulking in misery, and brushing off any pain like it’s nothing.  Validation, entitlement, to your feelings… I guess it’s a bit of a fine line sometimes depending on perspective.  There’s a balance.

I’ll admit that this is one of my faults too.  I’m a hypocrite, because I have told people to “feel better” before.  Because when I feel their burden, I just can’t.  I can’t even handle my own burdens sometimes.  “Put the oxygen mask over yourself before helping others put their masks on” <— wise words of a flight attendant.  But I’m working on it, and I wish more people would just give more of a shit to be honest.


Today’s Obsessions (Music):

-Heaven by Julia Michaels

-Sacrifice  by Black Atlas & Jessie Reyez

-Wait by Maroon 5

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Mrs. Schultz, My First Rooftop Party, and Other Musings 03.16.2016 Wed@12:11am

I used to write all the time, and to this date have acquired over 10 journals/diaries.  It was my first homeschooled teacher, Mrs. Schultz, who instilled a deep sense of vocabulary, reading, writing, and the English language for me.  I think she was one of the people who I was too young and naive to truly appreciate, and I wish I could let her know right now how thankful I am for her influence.  She loved me as if I were her own granddaughter and tutored me since I was 5 years old.  Even after I was okay enough to attend school, she would periodically take me out to Burger King to talk, and I could feel strangers’ eyes on us as if I were her adopted Asian relative.

As I grew older, I wanted to put some distance between me and all the people who were a part of my past, because I wanted desperately to escape my rough upbringing, thinking when I reached college, my health would magically bounce back to norm and I could forget about everything that happened.  I didn’t feel like I had a sense of independence, but she nevertheless called me on my birthdays, and for three years even sent me a pearl to add to a pearl necklace to represent each passing year.  At some point, I heard that Mr. Schultz grew very sick and passed away.  Eventually, at some point in high school my mom told me that Mrs. Schultz herself was also very sick and hospitalized.  Her daughter Donna wasn’t too healthy herself, and I remembered thinking it wasn’t fair that such a wonderful family had to suffer so much.  However, all the negative news only pushed me further to stay away from them as I felt I hadn’t come to terms with what was on my own plate.

A couple years later, my dad and I attended Mrs. Schultz’s funeral, and I had no idea how to act.  It was my first funeral, and I had not stayed in touch with her for so long that I didn’t really feel the full effect of her passing.  Bewildered, I showed up and her son greeted us at the doorway, telling me that I meant a lot to her, and I stuttered out, “She meant a lot to me too,” not sure if my demeanor was appropriate enough for the occasion.  When the speaker encouraged us to share stories at the podium, I couldn’t bring myself to say anything, partly because I didn’t want to handle any emotions, and partly because I am terrible at public speaking.  But I’ll take the time now to say that I understand now, almost 20 years later, how lucky I was to have had someone who cared so deeply for me and my education.

I’m glad I also recognize how amazing my high school counselor was for going above and beyond to help me with notes and anything else I needed, for showing me compassion and defending me against other teachers.  I sent her an email the past Thanksgiving to thank her, and she was elated to hear from me.

That’s one of the silver linings of my condition- I like to think I see through everyone by the way they treat the ones who are “down.”  And I like to hope that I am able to make a positive impact when I am able in any way I can while I’m here on planet earth.

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The entire week, I had been incredibly stressed out about the invitation to my friend’s rooftop birthday in NYC.  This happens to me almost every time I’m invited out somewhere:  the contradictory feelings swarming in of both elation to feeling included and wanting to be there for my friends as much as I could, but simultaneously feeling anxiety and uncertainty of whether I could go.  I knew if I didn’t go, I would be safe and rested at home, but full of disappointment as if this was proof that I couldn’t go out like a normal young person.  I knew if I pushed myself to go, I’d have social anxiety and probably come across some obstacles, but no risk no reward.  I also knew the next day my family and I were headed into the city again to watch Les Miserables, and I always need the next day to rest:  could I do it?

I asked just about every single one of my close college friends to go with me, but they were all busy or uninterested.  Finally, two days before one of my high school friendquaintances said she and another friend were going via train, and I felt comfortable enough with them, knowing we used to hang out a bit and they were really sweet.  So, it was decided that I’d go with them into the city, and I outlined a very specific plan as I always do when I travel, which I learned in Taipei to specify the total cost, travel time, walk time, down to a T.  The trip turned out to be really enjoyable!  Affinia Hotel for the pre-game portion was literally a two minute walk from Penn Station, and there were no stairs, only an escalator up from the train tracks this time.  We took pictures, and I got tipsy enough to talk to new friends, and then around 9:30pm the three of us Lyfted for the first time over to Monarch Rooftop Lounge.  My ride was under $10, so it was free, and our driver was ridiculously nice and it was so convenient!

At Monarch, we took some more photos and each ordered a drink.  A bunch of other guests showed up, and I talked to some but not enough to really get to know them.  It was really fun, although the outdoor portion wasn’t as lovely as we had hoped since it wasn’t technically warm enough, and half of it was enveloped in some greenhouse, and so we huddled under red heat lamps when outside and then ran indoors.  I wish I was brave enough to network even more, but I still had a lot of fun.  My dad was supposed to pick me up by himself to give me some space since I’d been home with my parents for eternity and I really wanted a night out alone, so I was really upset when he brought my mom along.

My insomnia wasn’t any better that night, and the next day we headed into the city with me in a sour mood having cried and barely slept, eaten or drank much since the night before. I was exhausted, but it got worse when I realized this theater was old school and had no elevators… I hiked up probably around 3 flights or stairs, and felt extremely claustrophobic.  I felt like I was going to pass out, and at intermission, I couldn’t take it anymore and realized the line for the bathroom was snaking all the way down to the first floor.  I felt so fatigued I started crying and freaking out again, so my dad took me out across the street for some air and to eat at Junior’s.  I felt like I had failed, and I felt incredibly guilty for making my dad miss the second half of the show.  However, my family was really patient and kind, and afterwards we just chatted and I calmed down, sipping my sugared iced tea to get rid of the lightheadedness.

On the bright side, these theater tickets were brought on Groupon so they were only $35 a piece, and the play wasn’t amazing, so I wasn’t that impressed.  I just figured, it’s Broadway, shouldn’t this be the best of the best?

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My last musing is that I like it sometimes when people get mad at me.  Now, hear me out first.  It’s never fun to have anyone angry at you, and personally I get a very worked up and antsy feeling to quickly resolve the issue because I feel physically bothered when I know I messed up and hurt someone I care about.  But now that I think about it, I probably have gotten mad or gotten into small fights with everyone I really cared about.  Why?  Because they were worth it that it affected my mood.  I have high standards for friends and family, and sometimes it may seem like too much of an expectation.  But one time, my friend was upset when it seemed like I wouldn’t be able to make her party, and I remembered feeling kind of well, happy about it.  Because it meant I mattered to her, and that I was wanted and would be noticeably missed.  I think one of the best feelings in the world is to know that you matter to someone.

Also, I’m totally aware that my categories in this blog are not organized yet, I’ll need to find time to sit down and properly fix all that.

My Story Now in Insomnia: 19%

So I said this blog was going to be a space of good health and all that… but the past couple days have been really hard so I’m just going to be blunt and lay it all out there.

I don’t ever want to return to that feeling of hopelessness the way I felt for months two years ago, but it’s pretty damn difficult.  It really feels like the whole world is working against you in more ways than one.

I’ve been riddled with multiple ailments since I was a kid, and the one that’s affected me the most is my chronic lung disease.  Sometimes you dig yourself into a hole thinking about what could’ve been, and how much easier your life would be if all you had to worry about was hustling and getting a job and all the common problems.

I am only left with a lung function of 19%, and am literally living life on the edge.  Even on a day of not sleeping or overexerting myself or stressing out, I feel it immediately and need to take time off to just recuperate and rest.

When I was three, my mom and brother got really sick with pneumonia and I caught it as well.  After what appeared to be a normal check up, I was suddenly hospitalized and sent to the emergency room, where I was in severe care for a few days.  I remember looking over and seeing a black girl a bit older than me in a bed next to mine, and she smiled at me. I remember a few of these rooms, and even now when I smell alcohol and this weird hospital soap smell, it sends shivers down my spine.  I remember days of just being surrounded by dark curtains, where all I had was a sad TV to look at with cartoons and other things I wasn’t really interested in, but being unable to ask anyone because it was late and all the nurses were tired and tending to other things… in addition to my having a tube put down my throat so I couldn’t speak.  I remember someone occasionally coming over and asking me if I’d rather have a blue or pink pad to rest my IV on, and nurses cheering for me because I’d finally pooped after being bed-ridden for endless time.  I remember some nurses crowded in my room watching TV, someone coughing, and one nurse offering me ice cream even though my parents freaked out later as some other doctors deeply believed it would adversely affect my breathing condition.

Even now, I find it ridiculous that the hospital was so unsanitary that they would allow nurses to cough in the rooms of at-risk children like myself who were easily exposed and heavily affected by any form of contagion nearby.  I wondered if this was how I caught a virus that nearly killed me, weakening me so much that I could not leave the hospital for the next six weeks.  It nearly completely ruined my lungs.

When I was finally able to leave the hospital, there were many sleepless nights where the silhouettes of my parents hovered over me, measuring my oxygen levels, feeding me some sort of Iron drink, and giving me breathing treatments.  The first night back at home, I was so weak that when I wanted to seek my parents out, I dropped out of my bed and dragged myself to the edge of the stairs to call them out… I can’t believe I still remember this, and every time I feel the vulnerability of that helpless moment, I feel paralyzed all over again.   I was chained to an oxygen tank for many years, and this eventually changed to a portable one that was difficult and heavy for me to lug around in my still limited capacity.  I think I was finally able to get rid of it when I was about ten years old, but I was homeschooled completely until 4th grade.

My parents were Buddhist, but converted to Christianity when they prayed to God and I was able to leave Robert Wood Johnson.  After 4th grade, I was still easy susceptible to the flu and cold weather, so I was homeschooled usually from November to beginning of April, and this pattern remained until college.  This trend made it really hard for me to establish relationships with other peers, and I had more experience conversing one-on-one with teachers than anything.  At an early age, self-doubt and loss of confidence started becoming apparent when I felt like my health and inconvenient conditions wasn’t understood by many people, and I felt often like I was very vulnerable and at the mercy of my teachers or other administrators.  I experienced a lot of injustice where kids would walk behind me, laughing and taunting me to walk faster when I couldn’t and was so out of breath I couldn’t even defend myself.  I often walked alone because I was slow and couldn’t keep up with other kids, and I felt awkward asking my friends to wait for me, especially with my backpack.

Painful experiences included one time, when I had a long-term pass that allowed me to arrive late to class past the six-minute mark since my pace was much slower.  My sickness caused me to be absent for a couple days, and when I returned, during lunch period I walked the exhausting uphill path from building 100 to 800 to find my science teacher to make up a test.  One of the hall monitor teachers who had a reputation for being an asshole gave me the most difficult time when I showed up and lacking a specific pass from my teacher allowing me to find him for the test.  He drilled me on why I was in that building during lunchtime, and why I had arrived there about five minutes after the last bell rang.  I explained to him that it’s difficult for me as I walk slower, and he relentlessly questioned me, asking me why and almost mocking me as if I were lying.  I told him my teacher was expecting me for a test, and he allowed me to pass, saying I had better have that pass with me when I returned by him.

So there I was, so burnt out and oxygen-deprived, feeling like I had hiked up Mt. Everest, trudging on to my science room to make up the test.  Alas, the teacher looks at me, surprised, and says he wasn’t expecting me to come immediately the day after my absence to make up the test, hence he didn’t have one prepared for me.  I asked him for a return pass to lunch and told him about the man giving me a hard time.  He gave me a sympathetic look and told me the teacher is well known for being a jerk, handed me a return pass, and sent me on my way.  I was so disgruntled as I flashed the pass to the old jerk, and he had to squeeze in one last dig, asking me if I got my test done when there was no way I could’ve finished it in five minutes.  I told him no, and he said “I told you so” as I began my trudge back to the lunch room.

Other times, there were students I became friendly with and considered friend-quaintances, only to have them turn around in their seats to stare at me in April to ask if I was a new student:  in my absence, I had been easily forgotten as if I had never existed in their lives, and it hurt.

There were also gaps in my education where the time lapse in between transitioning from school to homeschooled caused some teachers to quickly skip over chapters in a hurry, whether they were lazy or whether it was to help me catch up as quickly as possible with my class, I will never know.  Some asshole teachers were not nice at all, and when I first returned to my high school math class, I asked Mr. Lynch if I could take the quiz Monday instead of Friday since I had not had a chance to go over a chapter with anyone, and he said “We can discuss it Monday.”  Monday, I came in, and he handed out the quiz.  I went up to him to talk about it, and he said “You’re taking it today.  We discussed it Friday already, what’s the problem?  If you did the chapter’s homework then you should be able to take the quiz just like everyone else.”  Needless to say, I didn’t understand a damn thing about sines and cosines, receiving a fat “U” for Failed, and unable to persuade him otherwise.

In the span of a few years, my old doctor had retired and I did not consistently visit a hospital in that time.  In high school, my parents took me to see a Morristown Hospital doctor, then back to RWJ for Dr. Hussein, and finally now, to where I am a patient at UPenn.

To make matters worse, my parents fought often, and I still remember the many nights when I felt really alone, sick and depressed- I would huddle in my bed, thinking I was going to hear my parents fighting in the next room over, or my mom bursting into my room to dish out some of her anger.  Other nights dragged on for probably months at a time where nobody spoke or communicated in the house, and I was forced to act as Owl Messenger to where my mom was holed up with her door closed, back to my dad where he was playing Freecell quietly.

My mom and I have a very complicated relationship.  I understand all that she has sacrificed for me over the years, but she was also riddled with her own depression and issues, using me as her therapist and complaining about her past, my father, and her unsatisfactory life, often of which I internalized into blaming myself for existing and for burdening everyone.  I felt so guilty and so silenced, and always worried that something was going to happen, and the whole house was always on eggshells or stepping on glass.

Over the years, our family has improved in many ways, and I went to see a therapist after my complete mental shutdown two years ago, and only then did things seem to start to get better bit by bit.  During that time period, my ex broke up with me and I found out I may need a lung transplant.  My parents were so worried about my getting too serious with a boyfriend, and freaked out, preventing me from living as normal of a life as I could for myself.  All the anger burst out of me, and I had no room to tolerate anymore.  For about two months, I was riddled with thoughts of suicide and sleeplessness.  Every second in existence was agony, and I would cry and squeak out jokes at my best friend that I would be tempted to cut myself if I only knew where the veins were, or I would like to drown myself in the bathroom if only there was a bathtub and not just a shower head.

She came to stay with me a few nights to make sure I was okay at school, and probably saved my life, sleeping on the floor in my room and listening to me as I cried over and over again.

My mom has hovered over me like a helicopter parent, trying to shield me from all the bad while simultaneously making me paranoid and aware of a lot of negative things.  I think depression runs in our family, and battling to gain happiness has always been a huge challenge.  I have no doubt in my mind that a lot of the anxiety and depression I feel is related to her own draining energy, but I still love my mom and appreciate all that she has done for me- I just need space and my independence, and yet it seems impossible since I will forever need to rely on my parents for many things.  Will I ever find a significant other to care for me unconditionally?  My parents will not be around forever, what will I do then?

And honestly, as much as I want to wholeheartedly have faith that everything will work out, nobody knows for sure.  There is so much in Christianity that both troubles me and gives me hope.  But in all seriousness, why is there so much suffering, cruelty, negativity, and injustice in the world if there is a God?  I need some sort of justification for this, and yet every time I’m in a really dark place, I pray.  I can’t help it.  Help me figure it out.  Please.

So even now, it feels like I’ve accomplished nothing, and I’m just stuck here in a sad, sad limbo.  But that’s not true, I’ve managed to gain some good friends in college, I graduated, and I need to believe that there is more to my life than what it seems like now.

Depression, anxiety, chronic lung illness (bronchiolitis obliterans), ear surgery, insomnia… what else?  Occasionally, I will open up to a friend who asks about my story, and explain to them what I have.  You will have people who respond in a really unhelpful, ignorant way, saying useless, vapid stuff like

“But you’re such an inspiration!”

Or am I just a fucking reminder that your life doesn’t suck compared to mine?  or

“At least you’re not like, really poor and stuck in a Third World country where you cant afford medication,” or “Maybe it’s all in your head?”  “C’mon, it’s not really THAT bad.”

No, and no.  You don’t fucking know, so shut the fuck up, please.  How do you talk about yourself honestly without sounding like you were seeking pity or victimizing yourself, or downplaying your challenges?

I so envied the college peers I was surrounded by, who only cared about partying harder and ending senior year with a bang, where their greatest conversations consisted of how embarrassingly drunk they got and how they were going to make it through exam week.  I related more to other people of a different, more isolated temperament… and yet, I felt like I was constantly used by others because they knew I relied on and valued their friendship so much.  Even now, I only have a handful of people who really understand me, or recognize enough not to belittle me, hover over me, or differentiate me.

I am hypersensitive to noise and get easily irritated… when I read Chopin’s biography, I really related to his character.  Maybe it’s a symptom of people with lung/breathing issues, you’re always on edge, grumpy, and oxygen deprived, so it makes you whiny and irascible.

There are a million things I’m trying to accomplish, even though on the outside it appears like I’m doing nothing.  Part of me feels a deep, deep despair as if there’s no point in grudgingly trying to figure out my future or my next step, and the other half is freaking out at my freak outs.  So if you have any advice for me, I’d love to hear it.  But only if it’s of substance.  Please.

And Dear God, please help me figure out what my purpose in life is.