I get nervous when relatives ask me about my singlehood, my grades, my career, and my general height/weight/looks. Because frankly, I am 100% responsible for my life and am also 100% not certain of anything in my life. It’s strange because I see them once a year and whatever social gaffes I commit this year will be relegated to a brain cell behind probably, ‘ah hao’s new girlfriend’ and ‘taka sale later’. It really doesn’t matter what I tell them, it is not very important to anyone’s life. “How are you?” “I am gay.”
The same concept applies to my graduation trip. Because of food allergies I haven’t been able to leave the country two years, and the amount of money I spent on medication is…one TCM visit every two weeks, roughly 3-4K? That is discounting the fact that I also tried other remedies. When my aunt asked me where I was going for grad trip, I felt that I had to explain where, why, and how I was getting there.
And at the back of my head I had a niggling unhappiness that my future colleagues will judge me for only planning to go to Thailand and Australia, or maybe even just one country, because I am not even sure if I can survive one country. Why do I bother justifying myself? There is no need.
Perhaps it is me being a stickler for rules. I am the person who will feel that it is unfair for others to smoke in non-smoking areas, because the sign clearly says non-smoking and it is a rule that everyone has to abide by. If you are not playing by the rules, then you are a scofflaw- someone who scoffs at the law. And then all playground rules are off- fists can be used, cufflinks are weapons, sand is a tool- I no longer have to pretend that I am a nice and well-adjusted 23-year-old. I am your mother’s vengeance reincarnated.
Rules might not be well-made, but rules are fair, they ensure that everyone is stuck under the same iron bar. It doesn’t matter if you are filthy rich and arabian, or gorgeous and have dwarfism. We only ignore rules or bend them when they don’t make sense. Because it is scarier to live in a place without rules. When humans can have everything, they tend to make chaos and accomplish nothing.
I don’t see myself as being better than others, but that is because I know my flaws inside out and I see myself as comparable to elephant hide on some days. It is not self-esteem issues, it is recognition, and I recognise myself for what I am. It is like the Summoning Dark in the Discworld universe, it recognises people for what they are- killers, hot-tempered, anarchists. “He will find you, and so will I. I hope the three of us meet in darkness.” It doesn’t mean that I think well of other people. But of course, there are really good people in this world. I learn from them. Their courage to be a better person, even if it means evaluating themselves honestly, and revealing their insecurities to other people.
Brene Brown, researcher-storyteller, had a story in her book ‘Rising Strong’ that made me reevaluate the way I see other people. She said, what if everyone is just doing the best that they can? Even if their best is not good enough for you. She listed an example where she told two deacons that she had it on good authority that this guy whom they have been helping with milk powder and clothes etc, is doing the best that he can. The guy lives in a trailer with his six young kids in the desert and the deacons (a couple) suspected that he was selling the donations to buy alcohol.
The couple then realised that if the guy was indeed doing the best that he can (the good authority being God), then their anger and doubts have all been for nothing. That barrier of feeling like they have been taken advantage of was removed, because the guy is already doing what he can, if he can’t do any more for his six children, then he just needs more help. Which is exactly why God put them there. To help him.
Sometimes rephrasing the story changes the way people view others and their life situations. And that feeling of changing the way I think lightens the imaginary burdens I placed on myself, thinking that everyone is just being lazy and not doing what they can. Sometimes in group projects I think they people should be doing more- more research, more preparation, reply to group chats. But the thing is, just because I am able to cope with my life doesn’t mean that everyone can. There were periods in my life where I was unable to cope and I avoided everything and almost everyone. It’s something that Mark Manson said too, if people are not doing as well as you are, it is because they haven’t had the right life experiences. I should be patient, instead of feeling like a superior Nurse Ratched.
Another point that Dr Brown brought across was the idea of ‘what other people think’. Instead of thinking about what others are thinking of you, she uses ‘the story I am making up is…” In university, there are class participation marks. I often speak up but sometimes I don’t make very intelligent comments, sometimes I just ask questions that are not completely tied in with what the prof is saying. That is because of the way my brain thinks- I tie concepts together that I don’t quite understand fully, and then somehow, I can feel a link that other people don’t get. It often works in group discussions when we are bouncing ideas of each other but I can forget that in class, I have to straighten out my ideas first before speaking.
While I am usually able to brush off whatever social mistakes I made, it is also to think “the story I am making up is that the prof thinks I’m a hopeless idiot for raising that point”, or “the story I am making up is that my classmates think I’m really arrogant because I don’t smile often”. When it might not be true at all. Telling my brain that it is a story means that I recognise it has a 30.89 % chance of being right. And what is not absolute, or certain, means that I don’t have to worry about it.
Applying the same concept to CNY. “The story I am making up is that my relatives think I’m unattractive and unwanted because I haven’t brought my boyfriend along to meet them.”
When the story in my parents’ mind is probably “oh shit, anything but lesbian??”