FAREWELL UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN

Stepping through the building’s revolving doors and swiping my work card for the last time, I felt overcome with nostalgia. My mind went for a trip down memory lane to the first time I stood in front of the security gates, desperately trying to get my visitors card to work so I that I could get to my job interview on time. I remember feeling self-conscious that I was holding up the flow of morning traffic as I did my awkward forward and backward shuffle trying to get the barriers to open. I remember rushing to the toilet to calm my nerves, flapping about trying to cool my sweaty body, and checking my armpits for embarrassing sweat stains.

I really wanted the job. At the time, this government role was what I deemed in my mind as the pinnacle of my career success in my profession. I believed that my self-worth was directly linked to my job title, and this role would be validation of that. It would satisfy my ego and dull that little insecure voice in my head telling me that my value and existence was defined by work and its accomplishments.

I remember taking extreme care in my appearance, rehearsing the lines that I would say, and trying to give myself the pep talk I needed to come across as a capable and confident person. I remember the elation I had felt at news of my success. I remember meeting my work colleagues and feeling nervous but eager to please. This job was pivotal to me feeling complete.

Over the years, I began feeling frustrated with the system, felt downtrodden with my inability to effect change, and resentment built to a point where I became an ineffectual team member. It was also around the time I was gifted with a second job title – mum – and my struggles with work-life balance, mother’s guilt and anxiety reared its ugly head.

Why did I stay, I hear you ask, if I was so unhappy?

I made excuses to myself: I needed a job, we needed the money, it was well-paid and secure, and I should have been thankful to have a job when so many others struggled to find one. In truth, I stayed for longer than I should have out of fear. I was fearful of the unknown. I didn’t believe in my own abilities or capabilities. What if I didn’t find anything better? Don’t they say the grass is always greener on the other side? My anxiety made sure to shred any remaining confidence.

And so, I stewed in my misery, negativity pouring from me like a poison, darkening my thoughts and affecting everyone around me. I was depressed and couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. People were moving forward, grabbing opportunities with gusto, and surviving within the murky waters of the workplace restructures. I didn’t feel like I belonged anymore and I certainly didn’t feel I deserved to be there, taking someone else’s spot. I was lost. I was a failure as a teammate and as a parent. I was in a very bad head space. For the sake of my mental health and my family, there was only one solution and that was to resign.

Today, as I said my farewells to my friends, I felt strong emotions of grief and loss. These wonderful people had become my second family, unwavering in their support, encouraging with meaningful words and enriching my life with their presence. Today, I close this chapter of my life with fond memories that will forever be etched in my heart.

Where will my new adventures lead? What does the next chapter look like? What are my plans? I do not know.

The only thing I do know is that I am ready for the magic of new beginnings.

 


To my friends, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

FT – I will miss your hugs and infectious laughter.
MD – I will miss your jokes, even though I rarely got your punch lines.
QG – I will miss your D&Ms, you gave me strength through some of my darkest days.
WY – I will miss your tough love, no-nonsense attitude.
GS/MN – I will miss your generous and kind spirits.
MS – I will miss your inner strength and words of wisdom.
GP – I will miss your wildly inappropriate but funny comments. Don’t go changing.
JL – I will miss hearing of your small wins with coupons and freebies.
EB – I will miss your words of encouragement and support.
HS – I will miss your self-deprecating humour.

And to the rest of the branch, who are no less important to me, thank you for being a part of my life journey.


Copyright © 2019, KN J Tales and Snippets. All rights reserved.

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A SLICE OF LIFE

I started my creative writing course this week and the first task in class was to use exactly fourteen words to write a life summary. It was read out loud for the other four classmates and teacher to hear and critique. Gauging from responses and the requests for me to reread the piece, I would assume that I completely missed the brief. My husband suggested that it wasn’t ‘metadata’ that anyone could understand and that I was trying too hard (sigh).

Is it true? Tell me your thoughts (please take pity on me and be gentle, I’m still learning).

An ode to my children:

Two warm embraces,
two sloppy kisses,
causes walls to break,
darkness to fade,
love.

Anyhow, my homework is to write a piece depicting a profound moment in my life, one that I would like to share and have critiqued in next week’s class. For the next six weeks, I’ll be sharing my writing pieces with you to read and enjoy.


A SLICE OF LIFE

I wiped the sweat off my brow with the back of my hand before tugging at the silk pyjamas that stuck to my body like second skin, feeling self-conscious. I was uncomfortable at the thought of wearing pyjamas for day attire but that was how the locals were dressed, and it was imperative that we didn’t stand out in the crowd.

“We mustn’t look like tourists or Vietnamese foreigners. The people will gouge us for every dollar if they sniff us out,” my mother informed me before we left my grandma’s shack, the humble two-room clay house where we were staying.

I took a deep breath, the cloying pollution no longer causing my lungs to seize, prompting a frenzied pull of the Ventolin puffer for relief.

“Daughter, hurry up! Don’t fall behind!” my mother admonished, not bothering to look over her shoulders as she walked ahead with my aunts and cousins, people introduced to me not twenty-four hours ago.

I trudged along, taking in the sights with a mixture of curiosity and bewilderment. There were street vendors wearing conical hats, squatting on both sides of the narrow lane, their baskets filled with readied merchandise for the day’s sale, hoping to make an honest living. Colourful rows of wicker baskets full of rambutans, longans, custard apples, durian and other exotic fruit not commonly seen in an Australian supermarket, lined the path. I’m stopped every few steps by a person wanting to sell their goods, haggling at a pace that I struggled to keep up with, despite being fluent in the language. I simply shook my head and avoided eye contact as I pushed forward.

My feet slowed to a stop as I saw several ducks laying prone on bamboo mats, feet tied, beaks opening and closing, gasping for their lives. My vision continued to be assaulted by distressed chickens crammed into lattice wooden crates, motionless and eerily subdued. Not a single quack or cluck came from these animals. I glanced away, tears threatened to fall, my throat felt tight, and the contents of my stomach wanted to make a second debut. I understood that these animals were food, but it was inhumane the way they were being treated. It felt wrong.

I turned to gauge my mother’s feelings, expecting to see her as shaken as I was, but her eyes swept absently over the animals and moved on. I felt upset that my mother was unaffected by the disturbing sight. The idea that this was a normal, everyday occurrence wreaked havoc with my sensibilities.

Nervously, I peered ahead to see what other atrocities I might witness. My mother had wanted to visit this market to get some groceries for the big family reunion. I had assumed we were going to a supermarket, like back at home, but instead we were at an open market.

The smell hit my nostrils before my brain could register the makeshift slaughterhouses. I pinched my nose to avoid the pungent odour of raw meat as my hand caressed my churning stomach. Carcasses hung on huge hooks above tables filled to the brim with different cuts of meat and offal. Flies feasted on the bloodied remains that were thrown haphazardly in dirty bins nearby. My eyes bulged at the confronting sight of mutilated pig and cow heads placed proudly as centrepieces. Thankfully, their eyes were closed. I got jostled and pushed as people bumped into my still and stunned form. The impact of seeing death was profound.

“Cousin! Why are you standing there like a stunned ass! Haven’t you seen a dead animal before?!” said my cousin Nga, her high-pitched laugh jolted me from my shocked state of mind.

I closed my slacked-jaw, embarrassed to have been caught unawares and being teased by stranger, even if she was family. I didn’t reply and continued walking. This was supposed to be my culture, my people, my family, but it all felt overwhelmingly foreign to me.

I could see my mother’s laughing face and bright smile, beaming with happiness at reconnecting with her lost family; the family that she had left behind when she became a Vietnamese refugee, the family that she looked upon with fondness as she reminisced on tales of the old days. It’s been eighteen long years of saving money to make this journey back. I was ecstatic for my mother, she deserved this happiness after all of our hardships. She was with her kin, this was her culture, her sense of belonging, her community, her happiness.

I was supposed to feel something being here, stepping foot on this land, being among its people. I needed to feel it; a connection, an anchor, an understanding.

Instead, I was a jumbled and conflicted mess. I was caught between two cultures. I felt the weight of my parent’s pressure to mold me into their perfect Vietnamese daughter; dutiful, meek, softly-spoken, and intelligent. Someone they could see married to a Vietnamese boy from a respectable family, with an equally respectable career. Someone to pop out a few grandkids, live nearby and be dependent on them for guidance and advice. In essence, I felt the pressure of familial loyalty being raised with the strong values and beliefs of the Vietnamese culture. I constantly tried to seek their approval and wanted to make them proud, for they had struggled and given up their home to give me a better life.

I felt guilty for not feeling the same sense of attachment to my heritage and wanting to adopt mainstream Western culture and ideals. I yearned to be accepted by my peers, to be considered Australian. I felt displaced and I didn’t feel like I belonged in either community. I was a vagabond.

How does one find their place in the world if they don’t know who they are, what they represent, feel connected to their culture and heritage, or have a sense of belonging to a community?

It was in the moments of witnessing my mother’s unadulterated happiness being among her community in her home country, that I forced myself to make a decision; be a drifter among both communities, forever feeling displaced or risk disappointing my parents and seeking my truth.

My own happiness was at stake.



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THE CALM AFTER THE STORM

It has been seven weeks since I had an emotional breakdown at work. It was bound to happen. I was a pressure cooker, at a dangerously high boiling point, needing a release to avoid catastrophic results. Instead of finding a solution to my ever growing anxiety and stress, I filed them in the ‘To Re-Evaluate Later’ box. I was too busy and tired to take pause, at the detriment of my mental health.

Returning to work after maternity leave, I struggled to re-assimilate into my old role. I felt inadequate and redundant, having to re-learn old processes and familiarise myself with new changes. I didn’t feel worthy to contribute to team efforts or discussions. I felt replaced by fresh faces proactive in voicing solutions to challenges, confident in their capabilities to create value and eager to seek further opportunities. Feeling anxious at my lack of ability, I hid in the shadows and made myself inconsequential. It didn’t matter that it was a toxic work environment, tainted with stressors of unreasonable and excessive workload or the constant looming cloud of job insecurity. I didn’t feel like I belonged anymore.

It didn’t help that I was struggling at home too. I was suffering, both mentally and physically, grasping at the threads of my diminishing sanity. Sleep deprivation was wreaking havoc with my ability to function. My two-and-a-half year old son was a poor sleeper and couldn’t self-settle. I was too tired to rectify the situation, choosing to kick the can down the road. I felt overburdened with responsibilities of running a household, even with lots of help from my husband.

I had become a poor man’s version of a parent; a cheap imitation. I had no energy to engage with the kids. School readers were neglected. Dinner was whatever I could throw together at the last minute or leftovers, often opting for take-away. I was prone to being snappy, and yelling was my default means of interaction. This led to feelings of mother’s guilt and overcompensating in other ways. More TV, more junk food, anything to lessen my guilt. I was a freaking mess. I was drowning in my misery.

It took only one simple email at work to push me over the edge. One small request. I had reached my upper boiling point, there was nothing left but to self-implode and decompress. I was mortified at letting coworkers see my vulnerabilities, showcasing them like open wounds, and admitting defeat. All I could do was call a time-out. I was spent.

In hindsight, it was the best decision I could have made for myself and my family. I started seeing a counsellor, and working on improving my mental health. By allowing my mind to take a break from the constant noise, giving myself the opportunity to self-reflect, and talking to a complete stranger, it has given me the strength to finally admit and face a few hard truths.

I am sh*t at being alone with my thoughts. It opens my mind to many unwanted and self-criticising mental abuse. I loathe my own company, and I fear the unknown. I’ve let the judgements of others influence and dictate my life choices. I am flawed, indecisive and insecure.

BUT, today I had an epiphany. One that smacked me hard in the face.

I no longer feel ashamed to admit that I have mental health issues; that I battle with debilitating anxiety and suffer from depression.

I no longer feel the heavy chains of societal expectations weighing me down. I am NOT a superwoman. I don’t need to ‘have it all’, and I’m okay with that.

I am ready to commit to the journey, making that arduous climb away from the dark pits of depression and anxiety, with one step at a time.

“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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MY STRUGGLE WITH SMALL TALK

Do you find it hard to partake in small talk? Does it make you feel anxious? Or do you have the gift of the gab?

There are so many factors required to have a successful conversation with another person.

  • Using exact words to effectively express your thoughts
  • Understanding body language and its nuances
  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Finding a balance between listening and speaking
  • Showing an interest in the person and what they have to say
  • Offering interesting topic threads
  • Remembering to relax
  • Smile

If you suffer from social anxiety, being thrust into situations where you must engage in conversation can be scary. It might feel easier to avoid it altogether.

So why do I force myself to engage in conversation?

I recognise that to communicate and engage with others means social interaction. It means forging new relationships and strengthening others. It means developing my sense of self and belonging.

Ultimately, I don’t want my life to be consumed by my anxiety. I won’t allow it to tear me down. Therefore, I must engage.


Butcher: “Hello there!”

Me: “Hi.”

Butcher: “How can I help? What would you like?”

Oh my God, I don’t know. Shit, I better hurry. Shit, how do you say that word ‘enchiladas’.

Me: “Um. Six en-chill-a-dars please?”

Butcher: “My wife just took one of these last night and upped to Mildura.”

What? What did he just say? Am I supposed to reply? I just want to tick dinner off my list.

Me: “Oh. That’s a long way.”

Butcher: “She loves them. Drove after work last night and got there this morning.”

Okay, I think I’m supposed to say something here. Fudge if I know. Why is he telling me this? Breathe. Relax. You can do this. It’s just a conversation. Be normal.

Me: “Yeah, she must love them to drive that far.”

Did he mean she loves enchiladas? Is six enough for dinner?

Butcher: “My daughter lives up there and had her baby last night.”

How long does it take to wrap these enchiladas?! I feel my anxiety levels rising. This conversation is hurting my mind. New baby. Ok, so remember to congratulate him.

Me: “My husband loves your enchiladas.”

Butcher: “Thanks. My wife’s already saying she wants to come back.”

You seem like a really nice dude and I’m really glad you’re chatting to me but I suck at this and I feel awkward. Please have mercy on me!

Me: “My husband loves your enchiladas.”

Fudge! That’s not what I meant to say. I forgot the congratulations.

Butcher: “Uh, thanks?”

Me: “Um, congratulations?”

Oh my God, he did say his daughter, right? He looks young. I hope I haven’t misheard. This conversation is going downhill. Abort! Abort!

Butcher: “It’s my third grandkid. Here you are.”

Oh thank goodness.

Me: “Thanks. Have a great day.”

I need to get out of here.

Butcher: “You haven’t paid yet.”

Me: “You too. I mean, sorry I haven’t.”

Did I just say that? How embarrassing! I hope the next butcher isn’t as talkative.


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FIND YOUR STRENGTH

I walk down this well-trodden path, resigned to my fate. The sky is filled with dark clouds, threatening a downpour that will sweep me off my feet and drown me in its flood. There is no light; no rays of sunshine; no warmth. Despite efforts to protect myself, piling layers upon layers, I feel the cold penetrating into the depths of my soul. Winter is here. Well and truly.

What do you do when your mind begs to succumb to the deep pits of despair? How do you crawl out from the sinister tunnel of self-doubt? You’re in pain; mental fatigue; physical stress. You’re on the brink of shut down mode.

Oh, but The Show must go on! The children need to be fed, clothed and loved. The house should be cleaned. The bills must be paid. You have to turn up to work. People rely on you to function. Society expects your contribution. Life stops for no-one.

“Mummy, why are we going round and round?” asks Henry, my two-and-a-half-year-old son.

We’ve been driving around the neighbourhood for the last half an hour. At any moment I expect a police car to pull me over and write-up a ticket for public nuisance. I’ve taken the same roundabout ten times now and I see people peer out from curtains. I must look like I’m casing joints or seriously lost with directions.

“You need a nap,” I reply. The truth of the matter is that I need a nap but at this stage, I’ll take the consolation prize of a break. I am beyond exhausted, physically and mentally. Parenting is damn hard. It is relentless. You are on call twenty-four-seven, every day for at least eighteen years.

“Mummy, I need a chino!”

“Mummy, I did a fluff fluff!”

“Mummy, where’s Daddy?”

“Mummy, I want Donalds!”

I drive for another half an hour before there is silence. I park the car and rest my forehead on the steering wheel. It took everything I had to concentrate on driving without incident. I feel overwhelmed with the burden of responsibility. It creeps and climbs like vines, slowly choking and leaving me gasping for breath.

As I silently fall apart in the car, I realise that I need to seek help. I need to reach out to my village and remember that there are people willing to support and care for me, if only I ask. I need to pause to allow myself the time to recover so that I can gather the strength to continue.

Right now I’m merely existing, living day-to-day, going through the motions. I’m a grainy black and white. Instead, I want to be vibrant and colourful. I want loud and bright. I want to live life to its fullest.

Why? I owe it to my children and husband to be the best version of me. I owe it to myself.

For the time being, I’m reminded that after every storm, there is a rainbow.

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