In most of my relationships, I am the space holder. My natural inclination is to attune to the needs of whoever I'm with. That role feels familiar and safe. But to feel held or to allow someone to hold feels uneasy. When I was younger, I never told my parents anything until I figured it out. (As I got older, I learned that this was a common narrative within my AAPI friends.) I learned how to hide things and/or solve things on my own, not because I was an independent child, but because I didn't feel safe depending on my parents. I only felt safe presenting resolutions. This created a barrier between who I was and who they saw me as. When someone only sees the positive aspects of your life, they only understand one dimension of you. To show someone the depths of your life, even when it's difficult, is to show them the fullness of your humanity, and only then can the relationship you build together be intimate and authentic.
For the past weeks, I found myself in that same story where I was silently spiraling: “Objectively I know I’m not alone, but I feel alone. Is it the pandemic? Or is it just me? I feel grateful to be safe and surrounded by people who care and I feel unable to receive their care. There is the me who is trying to force myself to feel grateful and the me who just feels lost, overwhelmed in thoughts and emotions, and the me who is observing in the third person. I dread zoom calls and want to be left alone, but then I remember how nice shared laughter can feel. After the momentary escape, I’m stuck with my anxieties all over again. I am addicted to overcommitting and overthinking.“ Sometimes it feels like voicing these inner thoughts out loud makes them more real and makes me less than. Only after I resurface, I feel comfortable sharing. "Oh yeah, I was spiraling, but everything’s totally fine now next topic!" I'd say to a friend. There is a desire to present a nicely packaged story about myself: beginning, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. There is also a desire to comfort or take care of the person I'm sharing with. But in this way, I limit the intimacy and connection I can have with the person. I desire to feel seen and to see. While others may be allowing me to see them, I'm not allowing them to see me. I end up feeling exasperated because I never feel seen. Instead, I feel the need to uphold the story I think people have of me: someone who always has the answers and holds it together.
In therapy, I practiced assertive communication. It sounds silly, but I'd write down exactly what I needed to say and role play with my therapist. And it was one of the most clumsy, cringe-worthy things I've ever done. I felt stupid for both having to do the exercise and finding it challenging.
“If we never express ourselves openly and conceal our thoughts and feelings this can make us feel tense, stressed, anxious or resentful. It can also lead to unhealthy and uncomfortable relationships. We will feel like the people closest to us don’t really know us.” Centre for Clinical Interventions
This was five years ago, but I can still feel the awkwardness linger under my skin. Since then, I've overcome previously insurmountable personal feats, like asserting my sexual needs with partners or boundaries with friends. Growth and healing are nonlinear; it’s cyclical. I’m proud of my growth, but this past month, I upheld the same old pattern mindlessly. These old habits can creep back into my life if I’m not conscious and grounded. Without judgment, I want to acknowledge the ups and downs just as information to process. Giving myself grace has been a difficult concept to grasp, but one I’m slowly understanding.
My continual growth is recognizing old patterns, discerning what I need, and asking for what I need. Not necessarily that I will never fall back to old ways again because perfection is just setting yourself up for failure and is a method to avoid doing the work. I forgot how vital it is to be intimate with our needs (or else they control us). Like a wounded child, I am stingy with giving people opportunities to show up, and they feel more like tests than opportunities. And perhaps I even give chances to the wrong people, perpetuating a self-fulfilling prophecy of distrust. We can become our worst enemies. Trust in others is deeply tied to trust in self. Today I turn 27, which makes me feel both old and young. I’ve been feeling distant from my inner child (soul, spirit, Self). I know I need to return to my meditation practice, tend to my needs, and rekindle my self-trust. And it feels hard to take responsibility for my life and prioritize my needs.
A birthday ask
During TSW residency, I facilitated a session on the topic of needs. I asked the residents, “What are your needs? What are creative solutions to your needs?” Most of us were stuck on the first question, which proved to be difficult to answer. Voicing our needs can feel embarrassing. Am I too needy?! If we aren’t conscious of our needs, we’ll likely ignore our needs, and they will run rampant in our lives. When we recognize our needs, we can accept responsibility and embrace our agency. There is never only one way to fulfill a need; it just takes a little bit of creativity.
I realize that when I go down a negative spiral, I get stuck in my head and it's difficult to remember all the good that is in the world and within me. While it would be ideal to reach out to people at the moment, I also acknowledge timing doesn't always allow that. My birthday ask is for you to send me words of affirmation with the button below, ‘sending luv to bng’. When I'm in that difficult headspace of self-doubt, insecurity, fear, shame, ego, I'm going to return to this lil collection of words from you to me. (Shout out to Lauren Ito for inspiring me to do this. <3)
Three notes on gratitude
I’m grateful to friends and family for all the bday love. Thank you for showing up in different ways.
I’m grateful for my health. I just finished reading Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad. I could not put this book down, I swear. She writes in a way that feels like you’re on the phone with a friend. There was so much I could and couldn’t relate to and it reminded me of the randomness of life. Being sick or healthy often feels like luck. Three years ago, I had a health scare and instead of getting diagnosed with a rare life-threatening disease, I was diagnosed with a super rare relatively harmless form of it, after years of misdiagnosis. This book reminded me to be kinder to people (and to myself). You really don’t know what people are going through, especially since the pandemic hit. She also made me miss the freedom, joy, and fears of solo female traveling.
I’m grateful for this life I get to stumble through, sometimes dread, and learn from.