It's a Celebration!

It's been almost exactly two years since I started my counselling. Coincidentally, this week has been uncharacteristically positive. Bad things have stopped randomly happening to me, and now randomly good things are coming my way. I was suspicious at first, but there's a bounce in my step again. I think the end is near. For example, the car began starting again this week. Not all the time but about half to two-thirds of the time. I have no idea what the pattern is, but we thank God every time we don't need to boost the car. We filed our tax returns, and it looks like we'll be getting quite a big one because Carrie paid so much in tuition and worked so much last year.

With part of the tax return, I'm going to Coachella. It all kinda just worked out. The cash, the Aeroplan points, I have friends that are going, I have a place to stay, I found a ticket. I have to rush a few things like renewing my passport, but it's all clicking. This is Carrie's gift to me for supporting her through grad school. Plus I have family in LA that I want to visit.

Saw my counsellor this week. It was my second last session, so next time, we'll be celebrating the end of our time together. It'll be joyful and emotional. She's going to write a letter to me, detailing the progress I've made and the impact I had on her over our year and a half together, and that letter is gonna be pinned to the fridge. Ya, I'll definitely be weeping in that last session. She helped save my life, big time. When you start on this kind of journey, you quickly find that there's a lot of tasks that add up along the way. Here's Hal from Malcolm in the Middle illustrating it perfectly. Some call it yak shaving.

Replacing a lightbulb

A lot of my worst fears have played out over the past two years. Here's what my yak shaving looked like:

  • Carrie quit her job when I took a pay cut from switching jobs.
  • I stopped talking to my family.
  • My grandma and uncle passed away.
  • I took stress leave from work but couldn't get as much time as I needed.
  • The August Fiasco happened.
  • I quit my job, thinking I could get it back or that I could find another.
  • I couldn't transition from medical EI to regular EI.
  • I worked through my trauma so much that one psychiatrist believed I was never traumatized and that I didn't qualify for support.
  • I thought I could lean on my good friends in town, but a good portion of them randomly moved away.

I had to stand on my own two feet and take my punishment like a man. It's a cold world, but now it's mostly over.

I'm bad at celebrations. I think since my dad rarely gave me his approval whenever I did something good, it taught me that my accomplishments were never good enough and that celebrating them was a waste of time. I recently learned how some companies with high turnover rates don't allow going away parties for departing employees. If people are leaving every other week or month, it becomes costly and disruptive to organize cake and a time that works for everybody. It's not that the departure isn't sad, but the cost and interruption to the work for the constant parties would eventually add up. Similarly, if I kept getting rejected for the approval that I sought from my dad, it makes sense that I would stop bothering to celebrate my achievements. It's not that they were small, but I was just trained to stop caring. Carrie said that by not celebrating the end of big events, I'm robbing myself of joy, and that really stuck with me. Not only am I robbing myself, but I'm also taking it away from people around me. When I got my Professional Engineer designation (or P.Eng. for short), Carrie wanted me to share it on Facebook. I didn't think it was as big a deal, but she insisted, and she was right. I got a lot of likes on that status, which I wasn't expecting. Truly, it is a big deal to reach that goal, but my reaction was that I'll never be good enough, even after hitting this milestone. In a roundabout way, I don't really care about my own feelings, but it made me feel bad thinking about how that attitude would affect others. Not everyone makes it through engineering school, and not everyone gets approved for their P.Eng. It's hard work getting through the degree and then getting the right experience. Keeping this unimpressed mindset would mean that I would pass on the pain inflicted on me. I would be part of the problem. I don't want to rob others of joy. Maybe I'll want that for myself one day.

A friend who's a mental health nurse shared a thought a while ago that really started to make sense this week. They talked about "compassionate flow." When you act compassionately towards yourself, then you act more compassionately towards others. Then it becomes easier to think that others will treat you with compassion. I think it's easier to understand when you think about being judgemental. If you're hard on yourself, then you act that way towards others. Then you think that everyone is judging you in return. That's all to say that if I genuinely celebrate myself and my accomplishments, it becomes easier to be happy for others when they reach their goals. As a result, compassionate flow says that it'll be easier for me to think that others will be compassionate towards me.

Last week, I talked about Newton's first law of motion, inertia. This week, I'd like to highlight his third law. When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body exerts a force equal in magnitude and in the opposite direction on the first. More colloquially, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. I have a problem with overreacting. I'm not the type to explode in anger at people, but I do overthink and overprepare in response to big situations. A silly and recent example is how I beat "Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild." I was making pretty decent progress on the main storyline, completing missions and collecting items, bringing peace to Hyrule. Then once it was time to head towards the final battle, I took a detour for about a week to just collect items and power-ups. Everyone has their own style with these kinds of games, but for me, while I was fighting a lot of enemies that were way too strong for me through the first 95% of the game, I took a huge pause to get stronger for the final battle. As a result, I thought the final battle was a bit easy. It was a bit disappointing at first, but then I remembered how often I had died fighting those earlier battles and hit the Game Over screen. I overprepared for the final battle. I don't think any of you would fault me for playing the game this way, but it's significant because I live my life this way. When faced with a sizeable challenge, I tend to think I'm completely incapable and need to work double time in order to prepare for it. It doesn't matter that I've accomplished a lot or built some good momentum along the way. I very suddenly think that I'm way too weak for this particular challenge, so I need to worry about it in bed and in the shower, plan while I'm in the car, and dedicate all my free time and even some non-free time towards this huge, looming problem. Making mountains out of mole hills. I would say I approached the job hunt this way. I thought I was so inadequate and under-qualified for every position that I sprinted right out of the gate in January, applied for everything in sight, and ran out of breath in short order. I'm burned out now, but if I had kept the inertia I had built up in October through December with my exercise, sleep, and diet, then I think I would be okay now. I wanted to start looking for work in the beginning of 2017, but I overcompensated for the challenge and did some harm to myself along the way. Unequal and opposite reaction.

Is there a lesson in all this? This kind of response comes from my trauma. The floor of my stress is quite high compared to most people. That is, my most relaxed state looks like when other people are stressed. My body distrusts the natural ups and downs of the emotional roller coaster, even if it's positive. That's an additional layer on top of why it's hard for me to celebrate my accomplishments. I don't like feeling emotionally activated, even if it's to feel good about myself. Thus, when I'm presented with a challenge, I have less overhead to deal with it, and then I go into emotional debt by drawing strength away from other areas. It's easy for me to go into a panic and trigger some anxiety in these situations.

I'll do something brave. I'll say some positive things about myself. Not too vain, not too modest. Just the right amount.

  • I'm smart.
  • I have a lot of skills and interests.
  • I'm funny.
  • I work hard. When I want to accomplish a difficult task, I break it down into smaller problems to deal with on a daily basis.
  • I'm cute. ☺️
  • I'm resourceful. When presented with complex problems, I'm able to try a lot of different ways to solve them. For a lot of them, I recorded the details in blog posts.
  • I'm easy to talk to. Once you get past how scary my face looks, I'm a very empathic listener.
  • I'm interesting. I like to learn. I'm always curious.
  • I have discerning taste. I like to buy things for life; buy it nice or buy it twice. I like to share restaurant recommendations. I help people pick headphones. Our home looks cool. I have good taste in friends.
  • I did really good work over the past two years in my counselling. I wrote a lot of good posts that helped people.
  • I'm brave. I'm Princess Zelda's Hero of Time, so naturally I have the Triforce of Courage.

Okay, that is enough celebration for one day. Don't want to inflate my ego.

I'm celebrating the end of two years of counselling and yak shaving. It feels like my luck has changed in the last week, and I feel like everything will be okay moving forward. This is a huge shift. I won't continue counselling after my last session with Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse next month. I think I'll be able to handle things moving forward. Carrie will be done school by then, and we'll solve all our problems together once again. We'll be in a rough position, but together, we're a force to be reckoned with. Carrie has one minute left in the third period. My game is already done, so I'm going to start celebrating myself.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le