Part 24: A Time and Place For Everything

Whenever I look back at my academic past, I always feel that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong things.

I chose to study Fashion Merchandising after graduating from high school because I thought it was what I wanted to do; I liked fashion and I really enjoyed merchandising, so Fashion Merchandising seemed like the perfect program for me. It wasn’t until after I had started the program that I realized it wasn’t what I thought it was. The program had nothing to do with the visual merchandising of fashion, which was what interested me most at the time. Instead, it was all about the business of fashion; product buying, managing people, working with numbers, all the things I didn’t care about doing. I contemplated on changing programs on numerous occasions, but I eventually settled on completing the program just so I could say I’ve accomplished something.

When I went back to school to study Travel and Tourism, I dove head first into it thinking that was it. That’s what I’m going to spend my life doing. I enjoyed traveling, so working in the travel industry made sense…until it didn’t anymore when I realized working in the travel industry isn’t quite like being a traveler. Again, I completed the program knowing that travel was not going to become my career, but I thoroughly enjoyed what I learned in my program and graduated with high honours. I also didn’t have a clue what I was going to do with myself other than continue to work at my three jobs.

At the beginning of 2009, I made a decision to take a break from work to travel with my mom for 6 weeks. As a workaholic, it was an extremely difficult decision to make, but it would be my first time traveling to Asia and I felt that the experience would be good for me. A couple weeks before the trip, I called the airline reservations centre to assign seats for our flight. I introduced myself to the call centre rep and explained to him what I wanted. Upon confirming my identity, he said he’d have a look to see what was available. After a few moments of silence, he said to me, “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way but just listening to your voice, I can only picture what a beautiful and nice person you are.” I managed to stutter “Why, thank you” while still a bit shocked by his unexpected comment. In any other situation, I might have thought that comment was creepy. On that day, though, it didn’t feel that way to me and I didn’t feel that this person made the comment with other intentions. In fact, considering his type of work, I had a feeling he could gather a lot about a person just by hearing their voice. I told him it must be interesting for him to spend his days talking to people over the phone, only hearing their voices and never being able to see their facial expressions. We ended up talking for over half an hour.

He told me he had been working there for 20 years. From experience, he learned to speak to each individual differently by understanding who they are as a person. Sometimes, that means getting to know the stranger on the other end of the line. He said a few days ago, he talked a woman out of a one-way flight to Rome. Being the curious person that he was, he asked her what she was going to Italy for. After some polite prying, he learned that the woman had just lost her job, broke up with her boyfriend (after two unsuccessful marriages), and was flying to Rome because she wanted to go to the Vatican to see the Pope. Her two sons, both under the age of 10, were going to be left behind. The call centre rep said he simply could not make the booking for her because he felt that it would be irresponsible for this woman to get up and go, leaving her under-aged children at home. What would the Pope do for her? The woman eventually broke down. By the end of their conversation, the woman thanked him for talking her out of her impulse decision. She said no one ever listened to her, no one was ever there to talk to her. She was thankful that this call centre rep had taken the time to care about her, not as a friend or anything more, just as another human being. He mentioned that he had no idea what happened to this woman from there on. He didn’t know if she was any happier or if she was living her life more positively after their conversation. But he said it was fulfilling to know that he had said and done everything he could to shed some light on this woman’s life, even though their encounter was very brief.

By the time I got off the phone with the call centre rep, I was thankful to have spoken to him that day. I didn’t know how old he was or what he looked like, but I could tell by the way he spoke that he was a very nice person, and he helped me in a big way. Not only did he help me assign seats on my flight, he allowed me to realize that the feeling of fulfillment from helping people was exactly what I looked for in everyday life. I started to think about my conversation with this person. I felt inspired, but I couldn’t yet put all my thoughts together to understand how this would be relevant in my life. I needed a bit of time to digest it.

A few days later, I was running around the store at work trying to finish my tasks when a customer stopped me. She was looking for a book named “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”. On our way to the section, we started talking. She said she wanted to read the book because she felt she really needed it to help her get through this rough time. I learned that her husband had just passed away a few months ago and is now left with three children – a boy and two teenage girls – as well as a mortgage and no life insurance. Through our conversation, I noticed that she was trying very hard to get out from her depression. I talked to and handed her books, not knowing how much of what I said was actually heard; she just kept nodding her head. Then she continued to tell me her story of how her mother took her own life when she was very young. Tears welled up in her eyes as she spoke. I patted her on her shoulder as she sniffed back her tears. I told her that her thoughts, emotions and actions are highly influenced by her childhood and her mother’s death, and if she wanted to help herself get through her husband’s death, she had to first deal with the emotions leftover from her mother’s death. She looked at me and said, “You’ve been absolutely right…everything you said. I feel like I was meant to meet you today.” At that moment, it hit me. I felt that she was meant to meet me that day too, so I could have the opportunity to help her and to realize that helping people deal with themselves is what I am meant to do in life. And it was the call centre rep who inspired me.

I started this post by saying I always felt that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong things because I realize, now, that my decisions for action were dictated by my thoughts. When I decided to study Fashion Merchandising, I was at the beginning of my downward spiral. (Read Part 8: When Ignorance Is Bliss & Part 9: Would the Voice In My Head Please Shut Up) My mind was in the wrong place and it was the wrong time to be studying Fashion Merchandising, something I was never meant to do, which was why I never really enjoyed the program. When I came back from my cruise it was supposed to be a turning point for me, but I did the wrong thing by choosing to study Travel & Tourism. Again, it was not what I was meant to do. The fact that I chose to do it meant my mind was still in the wrong place. I had figured out that much. And when I finally realized that what I am meant to do in life is to help people learn and deal with themselves, I knew that it was the beginning of change for me. I just had to figure out if I was in the right place at the right time, and how I would go about doing the right thing.

Part 23: Falling In the Depression Hole

From the day I started writing my story two and a half years ago, I was very honest in admitting I had an addiction. I referred to my depression as my addiction to sadness because of one main reason: relapse.

We tend to associate the term relapse with drugs and alcohol abuse. Very rarely do we hear about people with depression relapsing. I think it is because people who do suffer from depression don’t usually open up and talk about it, so the relapse period may not be easily identified by others. The progress made in the healing process for depression is also not as clear as the treatment for drugs and alcohol; it’s harder to count the number of days you haven’t felt a certain emotion than to count the number of days before you cave and have a cigarette. Even so, I think it is important to acknowledge when relapse happens.

I relapsed for the first time at the end of March 2008. The months leading up to my relapse were pretty good; I had gone back to school to study something I actually enjoyed and I was happy with how things were going. Just as I was starting to feel good about myself and what I was doing with my life, my second addiction came knocking on my door. (Refer to Part 7: My Second Addiction) After about eight months of no contact, my ex started messaging me again. At the time, I thought I would be okay communicating with him, so when he asked to meet up I didn’t even hesitate. I remember feeling very excited the day we had planned to meet up. There was a part of me that felt happy to finally have the chance to see him again because I still cared a lot for him. He was, after all, my first love. I was also very nervous, not knowing what was going to happen when I would finally see him again. I had always secretly believed that we would get back together one day, and I thought that particular day was going to be the day.

It did turn out to be a very important day in my history book, but it wasn’t because of what happened after we met up. In fact, we didn’t meet up because he didn’t show up. I tried calling, no answer. I texted, no response. I waited for 45 minutes at the mall where we had planned to meet before deciding to leave. In those 45 minutes, I felt a number of different emotions. At first I was confused. Did I get the wrong time or the wrong place? I re-read our text message conversations over and over until I was absolutely certain I had not made a mistake. Then I felt worried. Did something happen to him on the way here? Did he get robbed, lose his phone or get stuck in an elevator? By the time I made my way home, I felt angry. He just stood me up! Why did he do that?! Why did I just let him play me for a fool?! At first I was angry at him. Then I felt angry at myself. That night, I could not stop thinking about what had happened. I was so excited to see this person whom I trusted and believed in. I think at the time I even still loved him. I could not understand why he would just vanish from my life like that, again. I felt disappointed by him, but even more so by myself.

I can not explain, in words, the emotions I felt in the following days. I cried a lot and barely slept. The voice in my head kept talking to me, yet I could not make sense of what had happened, and it frustrated me to feel both love and hate for this person. I felt deeply hurt, and that caused me to feel pain again. A few days later, I was on my way to work when I stood at the corner of two major intersections. I watched as one set of traffic lights changed from red to green, then back to red. Then the traffic lights of the other direction changed from red to green, then red again. I had a very strong urge to run out onto the road into an oncoming car. I just wanted the pain to end. But as I stood there thinking about it, I realized I didn’t want to die. I just didn’t want to hurt anymore. It was during that time when I came to the realization that the combination of all my emotions had triggered my relapse.

Relapsing was a big part of the healing process for my depression. Relapsing meant that I fell back into the hole that I had struggled to climb out of. But in order for a relapse to occur, it must mean that there was a period of time when I felt good about myself and was getting better. By understanding that I was in a state of relapse, I realized that falling back into the hole didn’t mean I would stay there forever; if I can fall into it again, then surely I can get out of it again. It is this belief that motivated me to climb out from the hole each time I fell back in. I believed that as long as I kept climbing out from that hole, there would come a day when I would fall again only to realize that the hole is no longer there.

Part 22: Please Read My Mind

“People often say that it takes a lot of courage to take one’s own life, and I agree with that.  But I also believe that, sometimes, it takes even more courage to keep going on.” (Part 6: Trips to the Dark Side)

Coming home from my cruise meant that, no matter how difficult it was, I had to find the courage to keep living my life. Inspired by my time at sea, I decided to go back to school at the beginning of the new year to study Travel and Tourism. It would be a new beginning for me.

The best and worst thing about new beginnings is that everything feels uncertain. There are so many different directions that you can go in, but you don’t know where these roads will take you. And that feeling of uncertainty is scary. I remember talking to my friend Ashley* about that over lunch at a Japanese all-you-can-eat on Good Friday of 2008. She was in the midst of planning her move to Spain and I was about 3 months into my travel courses. We were both curious about what was ahead of us and thought it might be fun to go see a psychic. Neither of us were superstitious or really believed in psychics, but we thought it might be interesting to see what a psychic had to say about us, so we set out to find one.

Driving down Yonge Street, the longest and busiest street in the city, we were almost certain we would find a psychic along the way. We both agreed that, in the past, we had seen a few around this particular section of the street, so it should have been an easy task. Ironically on this day, after driving up and down a few intersections of the street twice, we didn’t see a single sign for a psychic. Ashley pulled over the car and suggested we look for a Yellow Pages. A lot of stores were closed because it was a statutory holiday, so we were left with few options. Eventually, we found an Extreme Fitness that was open. It was underground with an open atrium and a tranquil waterfall at the bottom of the staircase. It was a nice, relaxing environment. We approached the reception and asked if they had a Yellow Pages we could borrow. The girl at the front desk was very nice, and she offered to look in the back to see if there was one. A few minutes later, she returned empty-handed with a young man by her side.

The guy came up to us and introduced himself. He said he had heard that we were looking for a copy of the Yellow Pages, which he knew they had on top of a shelf ever since he started working there. Strangely though, on that day, the Yellow Pages wasn’t there. Both him and his colleague looked around for it without success. He apologized for not being able to find it, but asked why we were looking for the phone book and how he might be able to help us. Ashley and I looked at each other and laughed before explaining to him. Upon hearing about our venture, he put on a stern face and began to persuade us not to see a psychic. He said that we found our way there because God wanted him to speak to us, and he told us an elaborate story about how he can predict things. I knew Ashley had the same thoughts in her head as I did while we stood there listening to this guy talk. Neither of us were religious, and we didn’t really think he could predict anything. After standing there for almost 20 minutes, we finally excused ourselves and left the fitness center. As soon as we were out the door, we burst out laughing. What a bizarre situation! We thought it was funny how this person was preaching to us, but there was a tiny part of us that thought it was odd how we found ourselves in that situation. Nonetheless, it was a story for us to laugh about as we continued on our search.

Determined to find a psychic, Ashley and I got back into the car and tried to think of all the places we had seen signs for psychics. We remembered seeing a sign for a psychic just a couple blocks from my house, so we decide to drive east. Once we got to the house, we called the number advertised on the sign in the window. A man picked up the phone after a few rings, and we asked to have a meeting with the psychic. To our surprise, he said she wasn’t home. Ashley and I couldn’t help but feel like there was something preventing us from seeing a psychic. We decided to give it one more try by driving all the way to the west end again, to another area where Ashley recalled seeing signs for psychics. Another hour of driving around later, we were still unable to find one. We finally stopped the car in an empty parking lot and thought about what we were doing.

At that point, we both knew deep inside that no matter how long we spent looking for a psychic, we weren’t going to find one that day. There was no doubt that we passed by many throughout our drive around the city. We had passed by them there before, numerous times. On this day though, it was as if we had blinders on; we didn’t spot a single one. And we realized why. We were desperate. Desperate for our lives to change. We wanted someone to tell us our lives were going to change for the better in the future. We wanted reassurance. We wanted to know that we made the right decisions. We didn’t want to admit that we were afraid of the unknown because it is so much easier to have someone tell you what will happen in life rather than wait to find out by living it out. We wanted a short cut, but life wasn’t willing to give it to us. Life knew this venture of ours wasn’t simply for fun. It knew we had a lot of issues to overcome, and it wasn’t going to give us even a glimpse of the future until we straightened ourselves out.

From that day on, I never thought about seeing a psychic again.

( * name has been changed )

Part 21: A Day at Sea

A couple of weeks before embarking on my cruise, I bought an address book. It was black and white with a beautiful paisley pattern made of black velvet. I had been thinking about getting an address book for a while.

In the early morning hours of October 31st, I woke up extra early to make sure everything was in order before I left for my cruise. I made my bed, hung up all my clothes, and organized the random things laying around in my room. As I gathered my bags and luggage to leave for the airport, I glanced at the address book I purposely left on my desk. Inside were the names and phone numbers of my closest friends at the time. If anything was to happen to me, I hoped that my parents would be able to make use of my address book and inform my friends.

When I left the house for the airport that morning, I wasn’t sure that I would be back. I had been thinking about it for some time – jumping off the ship in the middle of the ocean. While 2006 was a good year for me, having raised my grades from near failing to A’s and a new job that allowed me to meet interesting and inspiring people, 2007 was not a good year. I remember working a lot, stressing a lot, and crying a lot. What ultimately triggered my suicidal thoughts again was a short re-run with my ex that ended abruptly at the beginning of that summer. It left me confused, distraught, and in a complete mess. He was always my second addiction (read Part 7: My Second Addiction), and it was this addiction that often made me feel like I was never going to get better.

In the five years that we had broken up, I never stopped thinking of the day that we’d get back together. We almost did, once, in 2005. And we actually did, even if it was very brief, in 2007. I remember feeling very happy when he came back into my life, but every time we broke up he would disappear completely, and I would feel more devastated than I did before. His words never quite added up with his actions, which always left me with a lot of unanswered questions. That tortured me, consumed me, and I just couldn’t get over it. I understand now that my attachment to him stemmed from my depression, but I didn’t have the capacity to understand it at the time, and the negative emotions I experienced because of him only made my depression worse.

When I felt that I was never going to get over my ex and the damage done to my family was never going to be repaired, I thought the only thing left for me to do was kill myself. If I could die, everything would be over. There would be no more crying, no more sleepless nights, no more pain. I would never have to pretend to be happy again. It had always been my dream to go on a cruise, so I thought if I was going to die then I would at least fulfill my dream doing it. The cruise was suppose to be the perfect end. I constantly visualized that day where I would stand on the deck of the huge ship, alone, with the sun beaming down on me and the wind blowing in my face. I would smile before letting go of my grip to the railing and jumping off the side of the ship, plunging into the cold, cold water of the ocean. I couldn’t visualize what would happen after that. I didn’t know how I would feel or what I would think. I just thought I would never have to be unhappy again.

The day finally came on November 1st, our first sea day. After breakfast, my friend Ashley* and I took a stroll around the promenade deck of the ship before settling into deck chairs. While Ashley took a nap, I wandered to a quiet area of the promenade deck. I leaned against the railing and looked down at the water. It was actually scary looking down. At deck 7, I was a lot higher up than I thought. The waves were rough, and I could tell the ship was moving very fast. Probably around 30 knots, close to its maximum speed. As I put my hands on the railing, I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy climbing over it. It would take a lot of strength. Then suddenly, I heard the ocean roar at me. I looked up. In front of me was a panoramic view of the ocean. It was as if time stood still for a moment; I watched the water glisten as the sun beamed down on it. I could feel its heat on my body. The roars of the ocean’s waves echoed into my ears like thunder. I closed my eyes and took in a deep breath of fresh air as the wind blew into my face. When I opened my eyes again, not only did I see the ocean in front of me, I felt it. I felt the vastness of the ocean, and that feeling was something I couldn’t have possibly visualized without ever experiencing it for myself. And when I did, I realized that what I was feeling was life.

I had heard a saying on a Chinese TV show once. “Broaden your vision and your heart will open.” I couldn’t fully understand the meaning of the saying until that very moment on the ship. I realized that every time I visualized that moment, I was only seeing a picture in my mind, and that picture had a very small frame. That was how I saw life. I only knew to look down, to jump into the water, to escape. I had become so narrow-minded because of all the problems in my life and all the emotions that came with them, I could only see the rough waves. When I finally lifted my head to see what was before me, I realized that the ocean is much, much bigger than I ever thought it was. It was so big that its presence completely embraced me. I felt it. Life, in its entirety, and it was beautiful.

Ten days after embarking on my cruise, I came home to the address book that sat patiently waiting for me on my desk. I put it away. It turned out to be a wonderful trip, just like how everyone expected it to be. What people didn’t know was that it changed me. It broadened my vision and opened my heart to the life I still had ahead of me. There was still so much life I hadn’t yet experienced, so much of the world I hadn’t yet seen. I took the strength that I would have needed to climb over that railing back home with me. I knew I’d need it in the future.

( * name has been changed )

Part 20: The Making of a Dream

It was on October 31st of 2007 that my dream came true for the very first time. I met her at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal shortly after 1pm that afternoon. Traveling from LaGuardia airport to the cruise terminal by taxi, we could see her in the distance dwarfing all the buildings that stood before her. Her presence was dominating. I remember arriving at the terminal and looking up at her; she was beautiful and elegant.

Her name was the RMS Queen Mary 2.

I was 9 years old when I developed an interest in cruising. I recall flipping through a Carnival cruise brochure on my parent’s bed and being fascinated by everything the ships had to offer. It was fun going through the deck plans of each of the ships and visualizing being there; staying in nice staterooms, walking through the corridors to get to where all the entertainment was, and trying all the wonderful food on board the ship. I visualized a lot back then. My family and I never went on a cruise together because my mother is aquaphobic. Even though her fear of water isn’t severe, the idea of cruising and being on a ship surrounded by water never interested her. I, on the other hand, always dreamed of going on a cruise, but I knew very well that I would never have the opportunity to go on one with my family. It was a dream of mine that I, for many years, thought would only ever remain a dream.

In August 2007, my friend Ashley* and I decided we would plan a trip together to celebrate our graduation. Ashley and I were similar in many ways. We were both brought up in strict families that imposed very strict values on us. We loved our families a lot, but it was also evident that we each had issues with our own families, even though we never really discussed those issues in detail. Both Ashley and I wanted to go on a cruise and had never been on one before. So on that one summer day, we decided we were going to fulfill our dream once and for all.

I had heard about the QM2 through my cousin when she took her family on that ship the year before. Through my research I had learned that the QM2 was the largest ocean liner ever built. When the QM2 was constructed, she was the longest, widest, and tallest passenger ship. Since she was a luxury liner, the QM2 had to have all the amenities that would keep her passengers happy, as well as meet the physical demands of traveling through the roughest seas. Documentaries on the QM2 revealed the concept behind building it and the effort that was put into ensuring it had the best specs. Unlike a cruise ship that is intended for travel and pleasure, an ocean liner is designed to transport passengers and cargo for long distances on a timed schedule. Thus, an ocean liner must be built with an extra strong hull to withstand any kind of weather and have a long, tapered bow to cut through the waves.

While looking up cruises for our trip, I came across a very good deal for the QM2. Ashley had heard about the QM2 as well and we both felt that this was the ship we wanted to be on. It was the biggest and most stable ship, with the most advanced technology and the highest standards. As first time cruisers and two girls traveling alone, safety on board the ship was very important to us. We weren’t interested in a “booze cruise.” We understood that this ship was geared for older people and that it wasn’t going to be one of those fun ships, but we were interested in meeting some older people whom we felt had more wisdom to share with us. Our first cruise was going to be the best that it could possibly be. So in a matter of 10 hours, we made the decision and booked the cruise on the QM2.

Everything was set. Our flight was booked from Toronto to New York. We had a map to get us from the airport to the cruise terminal. A cabin was reserved for us on the most magnificent ship in the world. For days I visualized seeing the ship in person for the first time. I visualized walking around on the promenade deck, looking out at the vast ocean. It was going to be a once in a lifetime experience. And indeed it almost was. If only you knew that I also visualized jumping off the ship once we got to the middle of the ocean.

( * name has been changed )

Part 19: A Day to Remember

It was the 13th day of September, the year was 2007.

He looked like just another ordinary man who would walk into the store. An old man with white hair. I greeted him when he entered the store, but I could tell by his body language that he wasn’t interested in our products. I tried to start a conversation with him, like I normally do with most customers, asking him where he was from and what he was doing here. Through our conversation, I learned that this man had travelled through many countries. On his own, he has covered pretty much all of the globe. He said that having friends in all parts of the world has allowed him to travel the world extensively to visit them. I could tell from that one point alone that he was a very friendly and talkative person.

At 72 years of age, the man had experienced 20 heart attacks. He has had a quadruple bypass and, at one point, was told that he had only 9 hours remaining in his life. What this person has experienced is totally beyond me, and as I continued to listen I became more and more intrigued by his story. He explained that he received a degree in psychology before going into the medical field. Thus, he’s helped a lot of students deal with their problems. Despite his traumatic experiences, he lives his life with extreme optimism because he understands that, from the day he was told he only had 9 hours left to live, everyday has already been a bonus.

As he went on, talking about his experiences and his theories, I couldn’t help but feel inspired by this person. Not only were his stories captivating, the way he told his stories and his genuine expressions also made me feel honored to have met a person who was so willing to share his stories with me. I felt like I needed it that day.

It was my birthday – the day I turned 23. I rarely ever worked downtown on a weekday, but I was scheduled to work that Thursday because it was a Jewish holiday and I was one of the only people at the store who wasn’t Jewish. I remember battling the rush hour crowds on the bus and subway, only to be delayed by our city’s unreliable transit system. Walking into work frustrated by the delay, I opened the doors of the store just after 9am to find a huge mess left from the night before. A pile of unfolded shirts were scattered across the counter, waiting to be re-folded. 9 of them in total. Pieces of wrapping were on the floor, while half-unrolled ties hung off the shelves. It was like a war zone. I couldn’t believe that my co-worker had left the store the night before in that condition and I had to walk right into that mess on my birthday. What a way to celebrate.

As soon as I encountered the old man, my feelings about the day changed. The man triggered something in me. I didn’t know what it was at the time. I just knew that I felt very inspired and that his words were going to be significant in some way. I kept telling myself I had to remember the things he said. It’ll be important to me. We talked for a long time, mainly about his life experiences. He eventually had to leave in order to meet up with a friend. Before he left the store, he put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said, “Remember, don’t create problems for yourself just so you can find solutions because in life problems will always find their way to you.”

I watched him walk away, knowing that I will probably never see him again. His last words repeated in my head as I stood there in awe. I had barely said a word about myself, yet somehow it was as if he knew exactly what it was that I needed to hear. Those were the words he chose to leave me with. I had no doubt that he was put into my life that day for a reason.

It made me think. Am I really creating problems for myself? How am I creating those problems? What are the problems I created? And, more importantly, why am I doing it?

Part 18: The Gods Among Us

Working at the menswear store gave me the opportunity to meet inspiring people. With the store being inside of a hotel, I found the people I encountered while at work to be very interesting. I’d meet people from different parts of the world and from all walks of life, and through my conversations with them I would slowly begin to learn more about myself.

Establishing good relationships with the bellmen at the hotel was important. They have a lot of information about what events or conferences are going on, and they are usually close by if we need emergency assistance. I made sure to be friendly with them. There was one particular bellman who often came by to talk with me. I don’t remember his name, but he was probably in his mid-40′s. He was one of the newest bellmen working there at the time. Since I was also new, we had something in common. He studied hypnotherapy, and he would often talk to me about self healing and energies – things I’d never really thought about or researched, so it was all pretty new to me at the time. Nevertheless, I found our conversations interesting.

I remember one particular Saturday night. I was getting ready to close the store at 6pm when it suddenly got very busy with people. One after another, they just kept coming in for last-minute items for a black-tie event. By the time I finally closed the doors, it was 8pm. I felt flustered after two hours of handling madness on my own, and by then I was starving. All I wanted to do was count the money, have all the numbers balance so I could finally go home and have dinner. But of course, nothing balanced. My heart began to race, and I began to feel frustrated. The numbers were all wrong. And no matter how many times I counted the money or cross-referenced the numbers, they just wouldn’t add up.

The bellman knocked on my door, surprised to see that I was still there. I explained to him that it had been a busy night and I was frustrated that I couldn’t get the numbers to balance. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Just take a deep breath.” Then he told me to close my eyes and visualize the roots of a tree growing out from under my feet, deep into the ground, into the center of the earth. With my eyes still closed, he told me to visualize my energy flowing down the roots I had just implanted into the ground. When I was told to open my eyes, my heart had stopped racing and I felt very calm. The bellman told me that when faced with chaos, the first thing you need to do is ground your energy. He taught me this simple visualization technique so I could release my excess energy into the ground in order to stabilize myself. He said everything was going to be fine before he closed the door and walked away.

When I went to work the following week, I looked forward to seeing that bellman so I could thank him for teaching me that lesson. When I didn’t see him, I waited another week, followed by another. Weeks went by and there was still no sign of him. I finally heard through word of mouth that he’d left the hotel to start his own hypnotherapy clinic. No one could tell me where to find him though.

I’m not a religious person, but I do believe there is a greater energy out there somewhere in this universe that we don’t know enough about. I believe we communicate with this greater energy by emitting energy from our body through feelings and emotions. Some people call this greater energy God. I simply call it Life.

I never did see that bellman again. For a long time, I thought it was interesting that it seemed like this person was put into my life to teach me a lesson in calming myself. It wasn’t until much later that I realized what it was that he really taught me. This person came into my life briefly, left a few words, and then disappeared. That taught me to be perceptive of people, to listen carefully to what people have to say, to embrace every encounter with another person, and to cherish every story and lesson that is shared with me. Life speaks to us through people.

We meet a lot of people in life. Some become our friends for a short while. Some become our friends for life. Many will merely be strangers we simply share the same breathing space with. It is up to us to choose whether these people become our friends or remain as strangers. I believe that every encounter is no coincidence, and people are put into our lives for a reason. We may not know what the reasons are at the time. In fact, we may never know. But if we learn to be observant and pay attention to the people around us, we can learn to find the reasons why these people happen upon our lives. Once we’ve learned that, then we can start letting these people inspire us.

Part 17: The Learning Curve

2006 was a year of change for me. Merely two years before that, I was skipping and failing all my first year classes. (Read Part 8: When Ignorance Is Bliss & Part 9: Would the Voice In My Head Please Shut Up) By May 2006, I had raised my grades to A’s and B’s, and I was starting a new job.

In the first four months of that year, I had a course called Retail Operations. Our class had to physically open and run a fashion boutique in the school, and everyone in the class had to assume a position in the store. We had a buying team, an advertising team, and I was part of the management team as an assistant manager. Even though we were running the store for our course and we didn’t get paid to work in it, I felt it was a great learning experience for me, and I dedicated a lot of my effort into it.

I recall walking into the store for the first time. It was nothing more than just an empty open space with two fitting rooms and a small back office. I spent my first day there alone, cleaning out the back office and getting rid of everything that the previous class had left behind. I wanted to start fresh, for both my class and myself.

As an assistant manager, I was responsible for accounts payable, housekeeping, and loss prevention. I implemented policies and procedures, and created layouts for all sorts of forms we would use. I re-typed up the mission statement and had it re-printed onto a foam board to hang in the store. I even borrowed the knowledge I had gained from working at Chapters and Guess, and applied it where I could at The Boutique. I found that a lot of my skills were interchangeable, and I would be able to take what I learned from The Boutique back to my work at Chapters.

Our time with The Boutique didn’t come without obstacles though. The classmate who held the position of store manager didn’t do her part. Things we relied on her to get done were never done, and that affected the work of everyone else. On a personal level, it was understandable; she lived almost two hours away and had three jobs outside of school. This was just another course to her. To the rest of the management team, this was unacceptable. After weeks of picking up slack, multiple meetings that involved arguments and tears, and eventually communicating with her and the professor, we finally managed to get everyone working professionally.

In March that year, we encountered a rare Ontario college faculty strike. The school was open, but no classes were to be conducted. That meant the operations of our store had to be suspended as well. Since The Boutique was a real store with real money involved and actual exchanges with suppliers, my accounts payable team came to me inquiring about how they would deal with the bills that came in from the suppliers. With the store being closed, we weren’t making any money to pay off our suppliers. We had no idea how long the strike would last, and if our deliveries from suppliers got lost in the school’s receiving, it would lead to a whole other set of problems that would affect our class’ overall performance. After communicating with a couple of my classmates, and getting approval from the store manager, I decided we would try to keep the store open while the strike was going on.

I secretly contacted my professor, who was on strike at the time, to see if we could get approval. She was also concerned about the fate of the store. She spoke with our program coordinator while picketing and secretly emailed me back, asking me to contact another faculty member who was not on strike and could potentially oversee us. After another week of emailing people back and forth, explaining our situation, we finally got approval to run the store during the strike, which ended shortly afterward.

Due to the way I handled that situation, I gained the attention of many of the professors in my program. I remember running into my Customer Service professor in the hallway one day and she stopped me to ask how The Boutique was doing. She even said I could hand in my assignment late if I had to. Just a few semesters ago, I was skipping all her classes and she barely knew my name. Now she was offering to let me hand in my assignment late? That seemed so bizarre to me.

Life is funny sometimes though. When you’re stuck in a rut and you do things that are damaging to yourself, life will refuse to lend you a helping hand. But when you begin to realize things about yourself and you start to put yourself on the right path, life will find a way to encourage you and enlighten you.

A couple weeks after the strike, my program coordinator contacted me about a job that she thought I would be perfect for. High-end menswear. I wasn’t looking for a job at the time; I was already working at Chapters and was trying to finish my full-time program at school. Since my program coordinator highly recommended me, I didn’t want to let her down so I went for an interview. I never would have expected to get hired on the spot and end up working at a menswear store. I also never would have expected to meet some very interesting people with very interesting stories while working there. Those stories would later inspire me and help me deal with my addiction.

The Boutique was extremely successfully that semester, despite the upset with the college strike and being closed for two weeks. We made a fairly good profit in comparison to the previous classes who had run the store, and our 0.2% loss from theft and paperwork error was at an all-time low. After we fully closed up the store, all the managers had to give performance reviews to the people they were responsible for. And then the professor gave each of the managers a performance review as well.

I remember walking into Sue’s office that day. She told me to sit down, and then she smiled and said, “If I owned a store, I would hire you in a heartbeat. No questions asked.” It was that moment when, for the first time in a really long time, I felt like I actually did something right for once.

Part 16: Captive In My Own Mind

When I started writing my story 16 months ago, I made a confession. I was an addict, and my addiction was to sadness. I realized I had this addiction after I became aware that everything I did and felt up until that time was an extension of my addiction, and I call it an addiction because it was persistent.

In my previous posts, I have painted a vivid picture of my life from my childhood through my teenage years. Although all my problems may have easily been identified as you continued to read my story, it wasn’t apparent to me at the time as it was happening. For over a decade, I was imprisoned by my own thoughts. I often regretted my own existence. I subconsciously blamed my parents for creating the environment I hated being in. I kept wanting to kill myself. The voice in my head that wouldn’t shut up created a monster in me and, in turn, I behaved in ways that eventually led to problems that were both mental and physical. The question is…how did it come to be this way?

It was through a conversation with my mom in early 2006 that I first suspected I was depressed. She mentioned something about being depressed when she was working as a teacher, which was during the time I was still in school. She talked about having thoughts of committing suicide, and she acknowledged that the ruckus she often made in the kitchen while cooking, the ones that made me close my eyes and cringe, was because of her depression. When I heard this from her, I thought what she described sounded a lot like how I felt, and my first thought was depression must run in the family. It wasn’t until I did some further research that I learned depression is not hereditary through genes, although it can be inherited through lifestyle.

We have all been groomed to associate certain words with certain characteristics. When a person says he/she is depressed, people often view this person as being weak or overly emotional. This is a total misconception. Depression is a mental disorder that is caused by a chemical imbalance in the body. Simply put, there is a malfunction of the neurotransmitters that produce the chemicals our bodies need to feel happy. This leaves us with negative thoughts that distort our perception of reality.

Before I understood what depression was, I had no idea I was depressed. I thought I rarely ate during my elementary and high school years because I just didn’t have the appetite. I thought I worked a lot because I hated being home where my parent’s yelling irritated me. I thought I had trouble getting over my ex because I thought I was just stuck on the idea of being with him. The truth is everything I felt in those years was a product of my depression having been neglected for far too long.

When I realized it was my mother’s behaviour during my childhood that influenced me to become depressed, I felt like suddenly it all made sense. But then as I started to think more about it, I realized it didn’t quite make sense at all. Not every child whose parent is depressed becomes depressed as well. I may have “inherited” it through lifestyle because we lived in the same house and I was exposed to the adverse effects of her depression, but if I was a completely different person with a completely different personality, would I have ended up the way I did? I wasn’t convinced.

As Dr. Phil McGraw once said, “Behaviours often start for one reason, and occur for a completely different reason.” I had no doubt that my behaviour was a result of my depression that started when the dynamics in my family changed, and I understood the effects that my behaviour had on my health. I had figured out that much. But why was it a reoccurring problem for me? Why did I keep doing things that would make me feel happy for brief moments, only for me to feel even more distress afterward? Why couldn’t I break free from my addiction to sadness?

I had a firm belief. If I could talk myself into this mental prison, then surely I am capable of talking myself out of it.

 

Part 15: The Evolution of a Dancer’s Body

Of all the things that people know about me, few know that I grew up as a dancer. I’d started dancing when I was about 3 years old and performing by the time I was 4. For many years, dancing was an integral part of my life. I’ve had many opportunities to perform at events of various sizes, and those performances have taken me to places around the city that I wouldn’t have gone to otherwise. Dance taught me a lot of things that aren’t normally learned at an early age, such as leadership, team work, and the politics among people. It also helped me in establishing my own body image which, as you will learn, would pose as a problem later on in my life.

Fundamentals in dance is very important. Most of a dancer’s time is spent on technique rather than on choreography. As with any type of dance, a dancer’s body is very important, both visually and physically. In Chinese dance, ballet technique is most often used to create beautiful lines. During my years as a Chinese dancer, my only form of exercise was the technique done at my weekly dance class. Since I ate very little, as noted in my last post, exercising weekly was enough to keep my body toned through my early teenage years. And with a naturally slender built, I was never concerned about my body size, at least not until I stopped dancing.

The year I left my dance group was also the year I started eating like a normal person. (Refer to Part 14B: Simply Cause & Effect) It was also the year I started to gain weight. That merely meant my flat abs were disappearing and a bit of excess meat was appearing around my waist. I was by no means fat, yet I felt horrible about my body. I remember the first time I discovered I couldn’t fit into a pair of size 24 jeans – how my flab squeezed out from the top and the mental fight I had while trying to do up the button. For someone who has never been that way in her life, it was a devastating reality.

For over 2 years, I struggled with my body image. Even though people thought I was too skinny before, I desperately wanted my old body back because I couldn’t get over the fact that my body had changed. Whenever I mentioned something about my body, people gave me the look of death. They thought it was ridiculous for a size 0 person to complain about now having to wear a size 2. Somehow, our society seems to think body image issues are reserved for bigger people, and although I understand, I do not agree.

Indeed, I probably could have made a better effort in toning my body, but there was so much going on in my mind at the time that all my efforts were put toward finding an escape for myself. (Refer to Part 8: When Ignorance Is Bliss) That meant working as much as I could and eating out with friends whenever I had the time. I couldn’t stop myself from eating; comfort foods were like my best friends. They made me feel better when I felt like crap about everything in my life at the time, but then my weight gain would make me feel even more depressed. In retrospect, I was trying to run away from my problems rather than actually dealing with them. And while I ran from one, I ended up with another problem. It became a vicious cycle.

It wasn’t until the end of 2005, when my body began rejecting food, that I started to lose some of the weight I had gained. (Refer to Part 14A: When the Body Says No) At that time I started to realize the importance of ones health over ones body image, and I began to see how the mind connects with the body and affects it. Coming to terms with reality was not easy. It took a while for me to accept the fact that I was older and that, regardless of my eating habits, my body has changed and it will never be the same again. I also realized that no matter how a person looks on the outside, it doesn’t determine how healthy they are on the inside.

Although I don’t dance very often anymore, only rarely in the privacy of my own room, I do hope that I will find myself dancing regularly again one day. Not because I want to see my old body again, but because dancing is still one of my greatest passions in life.

Part 14B: Simply Cause & Effect

To truly fix a problem, one must find the crux of the issue. For me that meant diving deep into my sorrows and retracing my steps in order to gain full understanding. Continuing from my last post, I began my investigation by looking at the history of my eating.

For many years I have had a poor eating habit. My parents had always left for work early in the morning so breakfast was never in our routine. Through most of my elementary and high school years, I often skipped lunch as well. On the rare occasion that I would feel hungry, a small snack usually sufficed. I would put the lunch money that my mom gave me towards buying books and magazines. My parents never knew about this, and I think I’d rather keep it this way.

Most people find it hard to understand how a person can get through the day on pretty much one meal and not feel hungry. My high school friends used to call me Twiggy since I was so thin, and they joked about me being anorexic. I knew very well I wasn’t because I didn’t restrict my food intake in fear of gaining weight, as people with anorexia nervosa often would, and my main reason for not eating was the lack of appetite. Since anorexics don’t experience a loss in appetite, I was fairly certain I didn’t have an eating disorder. With that said, my eating habits were certainly not normal either. I didn’t know it at the time but, in retrospect, the loss of appetite was probably the very first sign of depression that I was subconsciously denying.

From barely eating through most of my school years, a great change in appetite occurred during my last year of high school. As I mentioned in Part 7: My Second Addiction, this was the time I experienced my first real breakup, and it sent my appetite in the completely opposite direction. I started going out to eat lunch with my friends pretty much daily. It was my subconscious way of dealing with my battered emotions. Although I was now eating I wasn’t paying attention to how healthy the food was, often bingeing on foods I craved. I also didn’t know it at the time, but my new eating habit was slowly contributing to what would eventually become my severe depression.

You’re probably wondering how all this is related to the indigestion problem I left off with in my last post. I assure you it’s all related. At this point you may think that it was a good sign that I had started to eat. The truth was I created a new problem for my body. Unlike people who’ve grown up with three meals a day, I had been eating one meal a day for many years and my body was not used to processing a large volume of food. When I started to eat and binge, I was creating a situation where I was overwhelming my digestive system because it wasn’t used to having to work so hard. And there was never any consistency with my eating. Sometimes I would binge, sometimes I would starve. Like a machine that I kept turning on and off, my poor digestive system was quickly being worn down. As a result of my mistreatment, my body finally said no in November 2005.

You might recall me saying in Part 12: How Monsters Are Created, “for every cause there would be an effect, and that everything we do today will affect how we are tomorrow.” This is especially true as I very openly write about the history of my eating in relations to my health. I feel it is important to share these personal details in order to clearly show what I mean by cause and effect. I’d like to think that I’m lucky to have made it through all those years without experiencing any vitamin deficiencies or becoming malnourished. However, I am very much aware of the damage that has already been caused, as I have suffered and continue to suffer from the effects. And you can be sure that this is not the end of it.

Part 14A: When the Body Finally Said No

The first time I learned that the body and mind were interconnected was in November 2005. My doctor summoned me to take a month off from work to deal with what appeared to be an indigestion problem. A few weeks prior I had experienced the kitchen knife incident, followed by a temporary loss of vision. Now I was having trouble eating; three days of throwing up after every meal was the third and final sign that something was very wrong.

Digestive issues were not new to me. I had experienced indigestion on a number of occasions in the past and my doctor had told me that my frequent bloating and abdominal pains were symptoms of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) which, for me, meant my body would keep holding onto garbage that should be thrown out.

It was different this time though. My body had never rejected food like this before and the constant vomiting was beginning to dehydrate me. When I finally went to see the doctor, he recommended that I stay home to focus on recovery as he believed my indigestion was largely due to the stress I had repeatedly told him about in my past few visits. Even so, he never quite understood why I was always stressed; I had never told him about my emotional and mental state. Each time stress was brought up in our conversations there would be a puzzled look on his face, followed by a mere verbal prescription to not stress so much. I, too, didn’t understand why I was always stressed, but I had begun to suspect that it came from far beyond the stresses of school and work, and I was beginning to see that I was in denial of what I had recently discovered about myself.

I knew that if I wasn’t willing to expose my vulnerability to other people, then the only person who could help myself was me. With the time that I now had, I decided it was necessary for me to even better understand myself because I knew that whatever problem I was struggling with in my mind, it was also affecting the way my body was functioning. So I started to think. I didn’t know where to start, but since I was home with an indigestion problem I decided to start by examining my history in eating.

Part 13: Waking From the Dark

It was October 2005. I was out with four friends celebrating my god brother’s birthday. I remember it being an exhausting day; a lot of running around and getting to places on time after a stressful day at my volunteer job. Finally, we finished dinner and were off to a bar for drinks. I had my usual – a Heineken, and everything was fine until something very unusual happened.

Half way through my drink, I started feeling nauseous. I thought maybe the flashing lights on the dance floor was making me feel sick, so I told my god brother I was going outside to get some fresh air. I climbed a long flight of stairs and eventually found my way to the outside of the bar. As I leaned onto a pillar, I heard my god brother’s voice asking if I was okay. My response was, “You’re yellow.” I could tell by the expression on his face that he thought I was joking with him. After all, people often joke about Asians being yellow in skin colour. I repeated myself in my most serious tone of voice. I wasn’t joking. He was indeed yellow.

Not only was my god brother a pale shade of yellow, everything around him seemed to have lost colour. The buildings, the cars, the street signs. Everything that was part of this vibrant street on a Friday night suddenly lost all of its colours. Besides the pale yellow colour that represented skin, everything else was greyscale. The rest of my friends came to see how I was doing, but by then the yellow had faded. Everything I saw were in various shades of grey. As I was trying to make sense of what was going on, I found my vision becoming more and more distorted. By the next minute, I was seeing everything as a blurry film negative. Then as though darkness started to flood, it grew dimmer and dimmer. I recall asking my friends if the lights were being turned off. I think we all knew at that point that something was very wrong with my vision. It must have been no more than a minute after I asked my friends that question when I put my hand in front of my face and realized I couldn’t even see my hand there. Everything was pitch black.

It lasted for no more than ten minutes, but losing my vision for minutes felt like an eternity. To this day I am thankful for having those great friends who stood by me, comforted me and took care of me in, literally, my darkest hour. I am also extremely thankful that whatever happened was only temporary and that eventually I was able to regain my vision. Perhaps what I am most thankful for is that awakening. Even though the doctors were never able to give me a definite answer as to why I temporarily lost my vision that night, I was thoroughly convinced that my body and mind were not happy with the way I was treating them. And if I was to continue my life that way, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I would lay in darkness forever.

 

Part 12: How Monsters Are Created

In the wake of all the murders that have stirred up a lot of buzz recently in our city and country, many have posed the question: how does one become such a blood-thirsty monster? Although I am no expert in criminal psychology, nor do I know enough about each of those individuals to fully understand them, there are indeed moments when I feel as though I can understand where they are coming from because there was a time when I found myself in a very similar place.

The incident with the knife in the kitchen triggered a series of thoughts in my head. Even though I had no intentions of hurting anyone other than myself, I could not deny that I was slowly turning into a monster – a self-destructive one. It had become clear to me that something was awfully wrong about the way I was thinking, reacting and responding to the emotions I was feeling, and I knew it would only get worse.

It is often said that the first step to fixing a problem is acknowledging the fact that there is a problem. I had not fully identified what the problem was at that point, but the fact that I knew there was a problem I had to deal with meant I was taking a step in the right direction, and that encouraged me to seek out the true source of my inner torment. I knew that I had to dig much deeper within myself to understand what was going on. The question was, where would I start?

Around that time, I came across a book called “When the Body Says No: The Hidden Cost of Stress.” Initially, I was interested in this book simply because I was always stressed and thought it would be beneficial to learn more about it. Upon reading the book, I learned that stress is as much a physical condition as it is a psychological condition that affects people, and it is much more complicated than what it is widely known to be. The author, Dr. Gabor Maté, used many case studies throughout his book to show how stress is associated with a vast number of illnesses. The cases in the book also talked about how a person’s childhood greatly impacts a person’s life and, in turn, how it affects the way a person responds to stress as an adult. It inspired me to review my own childhood, which slowly allowed me to realize where my misery was coming from. Perhaps the most important lesson of all was understanding that for every cause there would be an effect, and that everything we do today will affect how we are tomorrow.

Many years of neglect, fear, anger and repression created the monster inside me. It would be years later before I could realize that the only way to destroy that monster is by understanding, forgiving and healing.

Part 11: The Demon Is Unleashed

I remember that night like it was yesterday. A 16-hour work day had drained most of my energy, and by the time I dragged myself home that night I felt like nothing more than just a pile of flesh. I had been working for a number of days consecutively and my next day off was another week away. I was physically exhausted. All I wanted to do was shower, crawl into bed and get a few hours of sleep before going back to work in the morning. It didn’t seem like too much to ask for, yet it was almost impossible to attain. When I arrived home that night, I went straight to my desk, put my bags down and planted my body into the chair. Just a few minutes, I said to myself, then I’ll get up and change. I just needed a few minutes.

What happened in those few minutes still frightens me today.

I don’t really remember the details. I just recall my mother coming up to my desk to nag me about something that I felt was completely unimportant. Her words shot out at me like bullets from a machine gun. I tried to take cover by turning to my computer, but I found myself facing another gunman there. This time it was my friend who messaged me online and practically jumped down my throat for not having time to hang out with her. Then at almost the exact same time, I got a message on my cell phone from another friend. She also demanded to know why I could never make time to catch up. I’ll never understand why, at that moment, everyone wanted a piece of me.

It was as if guns were shooting at me from every direction. I couldn’t run and I couldn’t dodge. My mother’s voice was adding fuel to the fire that had ignited within my body, and in a rush of emotions I stood up from my desk and faced the mirror in front of me. It had a reflection of a girl who looked just like me, but I knew it wasn’t me. The girl stood there for a second staring blankly. Then, as if the girl in the mirror took complete control over me, I lost control of myself. I found myself pushing my way past my mother to get to the kitchen. Next thing I knew, I was standing in front of an open kitchen cupboard with a knife in my hand.

It was that night, in the Fall of 2005, when I first realized I had a problem. I didn’t know exactly what the problem was, but I knew very well that if the fire inside me had not been extinguished in time, I would have taken that knife and stabbed myself in the stomach with it. For once, I wasn’t consciously trying to end my life. Something inside of me was provoking me to do it. And for the first time, I was afraid that I would actually kill myself.

Part 10: Strangers In the Distance

If you ask me what super power I want, I would tell you in a heartbeat that I want the ability to read minds. I think a lot of us want that because we have all been in situations where we would feel so much better knowing what another person is thinking. So few of us are able to speak our minds and truly express ourselves that I often wonder how differently things would turn out if we were all able to understand each other better.

My fascination with people started in 2005. It was the year I returned to school after taking eight months off to work a crazy amount at two jobs. Many of my days were spent studying at Starbucks before and after classes, although to be honest very little of that time was actually spent studying for my courses. I was much more interested in using that time to study something else – people. I wanted to understand people because I didn’t understand why the people I loved hurt me. I wanted to know what went through their minds when they said the things they did or when they didn’t say anything at all, as well as why people would do certain things or act a certain way. There were answers needed to be found, and since I couldn’t go to the people who affected my life to seek out those answers, the only way to find them was for me to understand how people worked. Only then would I be able to find closure.

Sometimes I would be lucky enough to get a table by the window at Starbucks, and I would spend hours sitting there looking down at the parking lot as cars maneuvered their way in and out of parking spaces. I would watch as people made their way to their cars; some struggled to get their doors opened while they juggled the bags and boxes that filled their arms, some were very watchful of their children and strollers, and some would carelessly talk on their cell phones while completely disregarding the cars that almost hit them. It became an interesting game of observing people’s behaviours and predicting what kind of drivers they were. I took into account everything they did. There were the detail-minded who often reversed perfectly into their parking spots. They were the ones who most often cleared off all the snow from their cars before driving off. The extremely anal ones would do a walk around their cars to make sure there were no scratches. I could sit here and type up an entire report on my findings.

When I couldn’t get a table by the window, I would try to find one of my preferred seats at Starbucks. They weren’t always available, but if I got lucky I would be able to share one of them with a fellow Starbucks patron I had become friends with. We usually just shared the table and focused on our own studies, but when we needed a break we would chat for a while. He was about 7 years older than me, studying to become a lawyer. I never really knew him very well, although we were able to talk about a lot of things and he gave me a lot of insight into how the male mind works. Sometimes we talked about the other strangers we saw at Starbucks. He shared a similar fascination as I did for people, except I think his reasons were much different from mine.

Through my own observations and from talking to people, I learned a lot during those days at Starbucks. It might sound a bit abstract to hear me say it’s possible to learn about people by watching them from afar, but in some peculiar way it was able to help me find understanding. Perhaps what I really enjoyed was the feeling of leaving behind my life to focus on someone else’s, even if it was just for brief moments. Everyone was at Starbucks for something different. Some had coffees, some had teas, and some had lattes. Some of those people were there to work, some there to read, some there to meet up with friends. Then there were those whom I saw frequently but never quite figured out why they were there. I was most curious about those people, because I wondered if they were there for the same reason as me.

Part 9: Would the Voice in My Head Please Shut Up

The year I turned nineteen was a life-changing year. It saw my second greatest fluctuation in personality – the first being the year when everything at home fell apart, as mentioned in my earlier posts. I couldn’t see the world the same way again. I tried, but I just couldn’t. And very slowly, my life started to spiral out of control.

While everything looked fine on the outside, I was fighting a battle against myself that no one knew about on the inside. I began by isolating myself from people and spent a lot of time alone asking myself questions: Why couldn’t I be part of a different family? What did I ever do to deserve this pain? What did I do wrong? Why was I placed on this earth to suffer? Why would all the people who said they loved me hurt me like that? Were they all just lying? I had an infinite amount of questions that I would never find answers for.

Silence can be deafening. I’m sure any one who has been in that place will understand what I mean. There was a period of time when many of my nights were spent sitting in bed surrounded by complete darkness. I couldn’t sleep because every time there was silence, the voice in my head would start talking to me. It would repeatedly ask me all the questions I’d already been asking myself, and it would tell me things like life isn’t worth living for. I knew very well that voice wasn’t good for me but I couldn’t turn it off.  I was forced to listen to it throughout the night until the birds started chirping at half past four in the morning. Only then, when I grew extremely tired, would I be allowed to doze off for a few hours before waking up to decide how I would get through another dreadfully long day.

I soon became afraid of silence and the voice I heard in my head every time I was alone. When I was no longer able to put up with it, I found ways to put myself to sleep because only then was I truly able to be free from everything that haunted me. Being asleep was the only way I could find peace, and it was the only place where that voice couldn’t find me. I would sleep through all hours of the day, any time I was alone in my room. And to be honest, I don’t remember very much about this part of my life. It’s just a blur in my memory.

It wasn’t long before my poor sleeping habits caught up to me and started to affect my health. Then I went from one extreme to another. Instead of running away from that voice, I tried to distract myself from it by surrounding myself with people. I spent a lot of my time at work, even when I wasn’t working. With the rest of my time I started a video production group with a couple of friends, learned how to build websites, and spent a lot of time eating out and shopping with friends, going to the arcade and participating in activities that would keep me busy. I couldn’t be alone.

I recall one particular moment when I was dancing in the middle of a club with a few friends. The music was blasting and there were hundreds of people around me drinking and dancing. I turned around for a brief moment and as I stood there, I had an epiphany. I couldn’t hear the music; everything was silent. I was in a room full of people, but I felt completely alone. It was that moment when emptiness hit me and I realized that no matter how hard I tried to immerse myself among people and no matter how hard I tried to run away from that voice in my head, I simply could not run away from myself.

Part 8: When Ignorance Is Bliss

Typical of most break-ups, I felt the agonizing pain the most strongly in those first few months.  That feeling of my heart being twisted, as though it was being dried like a towel, tortured me everyday.  Considering my previous encounters with the devil, it was no surprise that those thoughts of death visited me on a number of occasions throughout those months. But until I was able to find a good way to end my life, I knew death was not an option. Naturally, my conscience began to find other ways for me cope.

I don’t remember exactly when it was that my body created a response mechanism where every time I wanted to think about death, I would turn to something else to distract myself from those thoughts.  I could have gotten myself into the things that most people use to numb their pain, such as smoking, drugs or alcohol, but I had never had an interest in those activities, so I found other ways. My ways.

At the end of summer 2002, I got my first job working at Chapters Bayview.  Work was my gateway to freedom because that meant I didn’t have to be home after school, which really meant I found an escape from all the problems my family had. The problems at home were no longer just between my parents alone. I had become a rebellious teenager who hated her home, and that caused even more friction between my parents and I. Work easily became my new addiction because it was a place where I could wear a smile on my face and pretend everything was okay.

I worked as much as I could outside of school hours during my last year of high school, while most of my school days were spent at pool halls playing pool or singing karaoke with my friend. By the time I was in my first year of college, I had started to choose work over school. My problems at home had me so distraught that I couldn’t focus at school. Instead of spending time on my studies, I chose to spend my time at work or the arcades. Most people find it hard to believe me when they hear about all the time I used to spend at arcades and pool halls. I guess I just don’t look like that kind of girl. But you all know that saying…never judge a book by its cover.

There were 2 arcades that I visited the most often. One of them was the arcade that used to be at the lower level of Fairview Mall. I would go there in-between classes or when I would skip my classes altogether, and spend a half hour or so immersed in my racing game. When I got there, I would give the lady a $10 bill and in return she would give me ten $1 coins. Then I would settle into my usual Initial D racing game seat with my stack of coins in front of me and proceed to lose myself in that 2D world. I felt in control behind that wheel and, over time, was able to gain better control of the car and perfect my drifting skills. What I enjoyed most, though, was the thrill of racing through the make believe streets at high speed and being able to slam into cars or side rails as much as I wanted to. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was my repressed destructive side trying to get out.

I never talked about my addiction to sadness with anyone. Like many others, I didn’t want to admit to having problems because our society has shaped us to judge and view those with issues as being weak or different. I think we subconsciously feel the need to make things look pretty on the outside, even though we may be struggling on the inside. We find ways to conceal what is evidently a problem not just from others, but from ourselves as well. After all, ignorance is bliss…until it no longer is.

Part 7: My Second Addiction

Everyone has some sort of addiction.  I genuinely believe that.  Most people won’t admit to it, but I think it’s just because they’re afraid to or they don’t know what it is that they’re addicted to.  Though some addictions can be beneficial, the most common ones tend to be harmful in one way or another, and I think these addictions are often in place to mask an underlying problem that may or may not be recognized by the individual.

I think at this point in my story, you should have gathered that my addiction to sadness stemmed from problems in my family that began early in my life.  Up until now I have only talked about my childhood, but those days were far from the worst.  In fact, the trauma I experienced in my childhood was what made the past 10 years of my life the most difficult ones to get through.

It was around this time of the year in 2002 that I experienced my very first heartbreak.  Not only was I broken from falling out of my first relationship, I also felt abandoned by the one I had fallen in love with. At the time, I felt like he was my only escape from my messed up world at home.  It was him who made me feel loved at a time when I didn’t feel loved by my parents; he had this way of bringing happiness into my life – a life that was completely depleted of joy.  It was his optimistic personality and always smiling face that made every day easier to get through.  His words, an entire shoebox full of them amongst the many letters he had written me, encouraged me to believe that things could be better.  And it was him who made me feel abandoned when he suddenly took everything away.

High school friends comforted me and helped me get through that break-up, but not one of them understood my pain.  It wasn’t just about a break-up or a boy.  I lost the only thing that kept me standing.  It was the only thing I had, and that was everything to me.  He was like a drug I had become addicted to in order to numb the pain caused at home, and the pain of losing him was so great that, as I recall those memories and feelings of that pain while I write this, I actually find myself crying just thinking about it again.

Everyone was busy blaming him for hurting me, perhaps even himself, but nobody realized where the real pain came from. Everyone including me.  In retrospect, it could have been anyone.  But that break-up did indeed set off a series of emotions that, without a doubt, changed the way I behaved in the few years that followed.

Part 6: Trips to the Dark Side

I have always been the type of person to think through everything I do very thoroughly, especially when I am serious about something.  I tend to act only when I am confident that I will succeed or know that the results will be satisfying by my standards; I don’t like to waste my time failing.  I guess it is this perfectionist in me that ultimately saved my life.

The red scarf incident allowed me to learn very early on that I was not strong enough to strangle myself to death.  That didn’t stop me though, from thinking about it in the years that followed.  Nor did it stop me from thinking of other ways to kill myself.  When I launched my personal website in November 2004, I intentionally named it missfranny.com for a reason that probably only I know.  Most people think of it as Miss Franny – the word “Miss” defined as a title for “an unmarried woman”.  The truth is I looked at it as miss Franny, miss me.  I don’t think anyone really knew just how prepared I was to leave my life behind.

There were a number of methods I knew I would never use to commit suicide: overdosing, cutting the wrist, jumping onto the subway track, and running into a fast moving car.  These methods could not guarantee death, and I was not interested in having to suffer from self-made injuries.  On top of that, I didn’t want my death to affect other people.  Jumping onto the subway track would cause delays for commuters.  I couldn’t be selfish like that.

On one occasion, I thought about jumping off a tall building.  I figured if I was high enough above the ground, it would almost guarantee death.  I thought a lot about what that would feel like, and I asked myself a lot of questions that I didn’t have answers for.  How nervous would I be the moments before I jump?  What does it feel like to be in the middle of the air falling?  How fast would I fall?  Will it hurt the moment my body hits the ground? Or would it happen so quickly that I wouldn’t feel the impact at all?  I was very curious about all these things and would not have been afraid to act on it, but there were other questions that stopped me.  What if my body happens to hit the ground just inches away from a passerby who is an elderly or a child?  How would they feel after witnessing a body hit the ground right before their eyes?  Would they be forever scarred by the vivid images of my blood splattering all over the place?

Over the years, I have thought about many different ways to take my own life.  I never did end up doing it, though, because I couldn’t figure out a way to do it without hurting a single person, whether they would be strangers or loved ones.  I knew that if I killed myself my friends would be sad, but only for a while.  I would eventually fade out of their memories and at some point they would forget me.  What I couldn’t picture was how much pain my parents would have to endure upon losing their only child.  They would never forget me and their pain would never subside.  I could not convince myself into justifying what would be an easy way out for me at the expense of my parent’s pain.

I suppose it would have been easier if I wasn’t…well, me.  If I wasn’t such a complicated thinker or if I was just a little bit more selfish, perhaps I would already be dead.  People often say that it takes a lot of courage to take one’s own life, and I agree with that.  But I also believe that, sometimes, it takes even more courage to keep going on.

Part 5: Crossing Paths With the Devil

I have always wanted a sibling.  When I was a little kid, I wanted a sibling for no other reason than to have someone to play with.  Then when I was a little older, I wanted a sibling to confide in, especially during those times when my parents argued and I didn’t know what to do about it.

As an only child, there was no one else at home for me to turn to and I often felt alone.   Not only did my parents yell at each other, they often yelled at me too.  I was forced to find ways to console myself, but rarely did it ever work.  There were many years that were filled with tears, though only my room ever saw them.  Slowly, my world began to close in on itself.  Sometimes I wonder if perhaps I had a sibling, I may never have encountered the devil.

It was half past four in the afternoon on a gloomy Sunday.  I was about 12 years old.  My mother was vacuuming in the living room after another argument with my father.  He had slammed the door on his way out, while she took out her anger by purposely banging on everything.  Those noises had become very familiar, and the more frequent they occurred the more irritated I became each time I heard them.  On that day, I recall a feeling as though something came over me when I heard those noises again.  My mother screamed at me over something I can no longer remember.  What I do remember, though, is how I felt at the time.

After running into my room and slamming the door shut, I climbed into bed and sat with my back against the wall.  Tears streamed down my face as a series of thoughts went through my head.  I felt alone and angry.  Angry that I was alive.  Why did my parents give me this life and put me in this world only to torture me, I asked myself.  Why couldn’t I just be happy like all the other kids I knew?  Why was each day so hard to get through?

As I aimlessly looked around my room, my eyes fell upon the sparkly red scarf at the end of my bed.  I hated that scarf because it made my neck itchy every time I wore it.  But on that day it didn’t matter.  I took the scarf and wrapped it around my neck twice.  Then I yanked on it as hard as I could.

That was the first time I thought about killing myself.

Part 4: Noise In My Head

The atmosphere at home was never the same again after that person ran away with my parent’s money.  I remember my parents arguing a lot after that incident.  Every time they argued, my father’s eyes would enlarge and he would raise his voice.  It was a side of him I had never seen as a young child.  Sometimes he would slam the doors and make the whole house shake. At other times, he would turn the volume of the television up so high that I could barely hear myself think. I would then cover my ears, run to my room and just sit there, waiting to hear silence again.

My mother would come home every day after a long day at work to cook dinner for us, and while she cooked she would recklessly toss around the pots and slam the cupboard doors.  On a good day she would just mumble under her breath in frustration.   On a bad day, though, she would scream at me while she caused a ruckus in the kitchen.  I knew she was angry, but I was never fully able to comprehend, at least not until much later.  I just remember being very frightened every time I heard those noises. And again I would cover my ears, run to my room, and sit there until I heard silence again.

I was only about 11 years old at the time, but I knew very well that something was wrong with my family.  Those happy times I had as a child slowly became a distant memory, and I frequently wished for my parents to divorce.  At this moment I am thankful that they never did separate.  However, I can’t help but wonder if it is as much a good thing as it could be a bad thing.

There are times when I still hear it – the slamming of the kitchen cupboards and the banging of pots and pans.  Sometimes I can’t tell if it’s reality or just in my head. I would flinch, close my eyes tight and then turn my head away, as if I could escape.  But I know that no matter how hard I try, it will continue to follow me…perhaps forever.

Part 3: From Heaven to Hell

In my memory, I had an almost perfect childhood.  I had parents and a large extended family who loved me a lot.  We didn’t have a lot of money, but my parents invested in gadgets that helped preserve very precious memories of my growing up. When I was learning to talk, my parents often recorded me on cassette.  Then when I got a little older, between the ages 3 and 5, my parents spent many weekends dressing me up and putting me in front of their camcorder.  I would sing and dance around to music like no one was watching.  Those were perhaps the happiest times of my life.

While I was in elementary school, my parents put me into different after-school classes  - Mandarin, dancing, math, piano, swimming, painting, to name a few.  Like most parents, they worked hard to make a living and to invest in my education.  They believed that it was important for me to become a well-rounded person. Despite how much I hated going to some of those classes, I was still a relatively happy girl who had a happy family.  And that was pretty much the only thing important to me.

Then it happened.

At the time, I was too young to understand what it was all about.  All I knew was that someone unrelated to us had gambled away a certain amount of money that was borrowed from us, more specifically my father.  My mother was completely unaware until it was too late. Naturally, my mother was livid when she eventually found out. This person, whom my parents trusted, had gambled his life away and took our money with him.  My parents had just bought the house and did not have the extra money to spare.  Despite their efforts to hunt down this person, it was too late and he had already vanished from our lives.  It was then that everything in my life changed.

Part 2: The Addiction

There are many types of addictions.  Alcohol addiction, drug addiction, gambling, online gaming, smoking, sex.  Those are the most well known types of addictions.  I’m not addicted to any of the above.  I am, however, addicted to what I believe is often the cause of those addictive tendencies.

A situation at home that occurred when I was about 10 years old turned my perfect world upside down.  I was too young to understand it at the time, but my pain would go on to feed what would later become my addiction.   And my life from then on was never the same again.

I have an addiction to sadness.

Part 1: The Confession

This blog is called “Her Story” because that is what you will be calling my story from now on.  It’s not a story that I came up with.  No, I’m not creative that way.   It’s a true story that recounts my feelings and thoughts through my many experiences. I want to share my words with all those who have been where I once was, just so they know they are never alone.  It certainly took me a long time to get here, but now that I have arrived I will not allow myself to go back to that place.

So I confess: I have an addiction.  And if you’re willing to listen, I’ll tell you all about it.