Day 14

I am on the edge of tears as I am writing this. I can almost cry but I know if I tried nothing would come out.

I feel lost with Big, our eldest kid.

Raising her has been like walking down a deep, long and dark tunnel with no end in sight. I keep walking, obviously, but feeling like I could do this forever and have no idea when it gets better.

She acts out, compares us constantly to her biological mother and her stepfather, makes us feel as if our company during the week that Little is not here is not enough, talks to us only to get help or to complain, and so on…

It feels like I am constantly being judged by some sort of standard that only she knows the ins and outs of and that if I fail, or if my partner fails, or if both of us fail, then we all get punished for it.

Parenthood is a thankless job, especially when we are talking about teens, but I didn’t expect it to be so punishing and exacting. Or maybe I am the one who’s being overdramatic?

I know deep down that she is probably hurting, that we can’t quit on her, that the best we can do is to be constant and that we should keep on trying to talk to her, but I am so very tired.

I am sorry for this short rambling post today. But being this sad has really sapped my creativity for the day. I wish there was more but I am all tapped out.

Checklist for the day:

  • Protein oatmeal with skyr
  • Shredded chicken lettuce and tomato sandwich
  • Soba in hot miso
  • Crispy beef and cauliflower rice
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Day 13

I look at my partner sometimes who, every other week, gets up before seven in the morning so that he could get to work for nine and doesn’t come home until half seven in the evening. There is one hour to shove food down and to hang out with our two kids before we put Little to bed. The weeks where he works from home means that he can sleep in a little more, but then lunch is often cut short, and usually his meetings that end at six drag on until quite late. I suspect that is because he and/or his colleagues feel guilty for ending the meeting only to find themselves sitting at home, whereas usually they would have to start the inevitable march home. Then there’s the late night emails or the ever present “ding” of the WhatsApp group chat.

Where did the respect for personal time and space go? When did it happen?

Seeing my partner interact with his colleagues and to witness some of their blatant refusal to acknowledge my partner’s other life despite having their own families is astonishing.

Then there are the kids, who obviously want to spend time with their father, as they should. And one hour is certainly not enough, especially when one is a toddler and the other is almost sixteen. Just yesterday, while we were trying to have some downtime during dinner after what was a long work day, Big comes home in a mood and demanding why we weren’t available on the phone. Then it turns out she skipped a theatre lesson that we had paid for. And so came the argument. Thankfully we were able to decompress quite soon after, but we’ve not always been this lucky and I am tired.

As I am writing this, we are both on our second cafetière of coffee, I’m on my second mug of builder’s tea, my partner absconded into another room because both the washer and the dryer have been turning all morning. There is medication and groceries still to be bought, another meal to make, bills to pay, and Big to keep track of.

When is that day where we can do nothing again?

The two of us have dreamt of building a cabin for so long. Maybe I’ll just escape there for a second, right now. Just for a little bit.

Image: Imgur

Day 12

A shivering figure in a grey coat and earmuffs trudges through the snow towards Liverpool Street Station. It is six o’clock. The station is empty except for the pigeons looking for forgotten bits of chips and chicken and the cleaners who are busy sweeping the floors with their heads down and headphones in. The figure seems to be walking slowly but determinedly towards the chemists, which is the only boutique other than the McDonald’s upstairs that is open at this time in the morning. A moment passes and suddenly, someone taps the figure gently on the shoulder.

“Miss, can I help you? Miss?”

Oh, she’s talking to me.

I am that figure.


“Hello, my name is Elliott*. You’re very exotic-looking. Where are you from?”

I am at a classmate’s Christmas party. A pre-Christmas party, more like, since it’s the twelfth. I struggled with myself for a long time before deciding to go. I barely knew anyone from this city, a couple of my friends said they would be there and it would be a great chance to network. I once heard someone say: “We gotta network to get work.” Who was it again? Nevermind. Focus.

Right now I am standing in front of Elliott, this tall, almost ridiculously preppy man, who fashions himself to be an “expert” on China because he did a year abroad there. He has a highly exaggerated Oxbridge accent that is really grating on the ears. He has been negging me and annoying the hell out of me but somehow I find myself drawn to him. If only to unmask his bullshit.

In the end, I impressed myself with my performance that evening. I was flitting in and out of the different crowds at the party, mingling and chatting as if I belonged there. Unsurprisingly Elliott and I exchanged emails AND phone numbers before he left.

Typical Otter.

Typical.


I spent the next week blocking his number and throwing my phone into the Thames.

I wish that was what happened. What really happened was we spent the next week emailing banter and texting each other to see when we would meet next. In private. He spent the next week blowing me off that I thought we’d never meet again.

Then he called. It was the eve of my birthday.

“Hey, where are you? Should we meet up?”

Elliott sounded drunk.

“What? You mean right now?”

“Why not? It’s Friday night. Are you already asleep like an old lady?”

“I guess we could? Where are you?”

“Don’t move. I’ll come to you.”

“Sure. I guess we can hang out at mine.”

I gave him my address and hung up. I was berating myself already but it all happened so fast. I gave myself a pep talk about living a little, especially since I was going to turn 23 tomorrow.

Time came and went and soon he rang to tell me he’s downstairs. I see him at the reception desk, all pink and ruddy cheeked from alcohol and god knows what else. Whereas at that very moment I have never been more sober in my life. I checked him in to the building and told myself that this is going to be quick and amicable and then I’ll get him on his way.


“Is there somewhere where we can sit and hang out?”

“How about the common room?”

“Oh come on. Let’s go to your room.”

And so we found ourselves sitting on my bed as I find something nice to listen to to break the awkward silence. As it’s typical of him, he resorted to negging again by judging my musical tastes.

He put his mouth on mine so fast that I forgot what I was saying before that.

“God you are so beautiful.”

His hands were all over me, taking my top off, groping my breasts so tight that I could hardly breathe. He pushed me onto my back and climbed on top of me. I knew what was coming. This has happened before. Why is this happening again? I froze. But before I dissociated I managed to squeak something out.

“Please. Please use a condom. Please.”

I heard my voice and barely recognised it as my own.

“Yeah, yeah yeah. Don’t worry.”

And then he was in. Wait, I can feel all the ridges of his cock.

Fuck. He doesn’t have a condom on.

The more I struggled, the harder he held me down, and the harder he felt in me.

I completely forgot what happened, if he came, what position we ended in. But I remember him sweating profusely on top of me, his long curly hair hanging limply from his head and falling just above my shoulders. I remember the smell of his sweat and musk radiating off of his skin as I tried harder and harder to remove myself from my body.

I wanted to scream but I couldn’t. I just lied there and prayed to any god or holy being that would listen to make it stop.

And then it did.


“Would you like a shower?”

“Uh…why not actually. I am sweaty as fuck.”

“Hey, didn’t I tell you to use a condom. What happened?”

“Lucky for you I don’t have STIs, haha.”

“It’s a joke. God, lighten up. We just had some great sex. Just enjoy it.”

It’s the night before my birthday. It’s the night before my birthday. This cannot be happening. This cannot be happening again. And then I heard myself blurt something out.

“Uh, what?”

“It’s the eve of my birthday, you know?”

“Oh, shit. Happy birthday, I guess. Look, I am going to head out. I’ll text you.”

“Ok. Bye?”


He left as quickly as he came (haha). And I found myself sitting on bed, shaking with fear and shock. I peeled myself up and headed straight for the shower. I turned up the water as hot as I could take it and took out my brush and tried to scrub myself clean. It didn’t work.

When I came out of the shower all hot and raw, I sat myself down gingerly in front of my computer and started thinking of my next steps. What the fuck just happened?

I started googling like a demon.

Date rape

Date rape how

What is date rape

Date rape without a condom

Sex without condom “date rape”

Sex without consent without condom “date rape”

The last few search terms that I had inputted were enough to tell me that the shit had hit the fan. I found myself on multiple forums confirming my suspicions. But somehow it wasn’t quite enough of a confirmation just yet and so I found a hotline– two, to be specific– to call. I just need to talk to someone. If that someone can just confirm what had happened maybe I’ll feel less alone.

I punched the numbers in and what happened next was just an immense waste of time and did more harm to me and my psyche at that time than not. The woman on the other line was absolutely bored stiff with her job and it became clear to me that she was just there to ensure that the person on the other line wouldn’t kill themselves that night. After that one call I couldn’t bear to make another.


I dissociated again. By the time I “went back into my body” I found myself curled up in fetal position on the bed. I hadn’t had a wink of sleep all night and it was almost six.

It was then that I gathered what’s left of myself and came up with a list of actionable tasks, things that need to be taken care of. First thing: protect myself. How can I do that? By making my way to the chemists and telling them that I had unprotected sex and I need the morning after pill. Make this as vague as possible because I am not in a state to tell them everything and have them make me call the police. Where is the nearest chemists? Right, Liverpool Street. You can do this, it’s just a three-minute walk away.

Put on your coat. Put on your shoes.

Oh, look, it’s snowing. How pretty.

Put on your scarf. Put on your ear muffs. Don’t forget your money.

Happy birthday, Otter.

*name has been changed for my own protection and safety

Image: TUBĄDZIN

Sunday lists n.2: 5 things I do when the anxiety gets too much

Today is SUNDAY! Sunday means my beloved is at home. Every other Sunday means that we get the house to ourselves for some precious alone time. Sunday means writing lists for this blog. Sunday means reading. Sunday means really appreciating the things that I am grateful for. And as silly and trivial as it may sound, especially in the face of this global pandemic we are facing, I am truly happy that my anxiety has been relatively manageable these past few weeks.

Here are some things that I find helpful, for me, for those times when shit gets rough.

Clean

I find cleaning to be akin to sorting out thought’s in one’s brain. As you are decluttering your desk, you are also decluttering your mind. As you throw out old receipts, candy wrappers, backs of band-aids and so on, from your bag, you’re also sorting out your memories. When I can afford it, the best way for me to calm down is housekeeping. The act of mopping the floor (I do it on my hands and knees) becomes meditative, and the same goes for washing the dishes. Even if the anxiety hasn’t gone away by the end, I can look around at a clean space and feel less overwhelmed by visual clutter.

Cook (a lot)

Since quitting the kitchens, cooking has become restorative for me again and I will work my hardest for it to stay that way. When my internal freak-out alarm is at its loudest, the kitchen is where I find my solace. The calm begins with choosing, or creating, a recipe. But the best part of it is meal prep. Chopping everything and getting them ready in their bowls is so calming. Making something so that your family’s fed and loved is so crucial to me and the way I love. When everything seems to be falling apart, knowing that I can be relied upon to make a big batch of pasta and meatballs, or curry, or chicken karaage that everyone will eat up in a split second is reassuring.

Exercise

Right, so sometimes I’ve done the first two and I would still find myself bouncing my leg up and down and picking at my cuticles. This is the time to bring out the big guns. And by big guns, I mean some good ol’ HIIT and weightlifting. Full disclosure: I have been living with a seriously banged up knee for more than 20 years now, which means I have to maintain my weight at around 50kg. But to complicate things further, there are A LOT of exercises that I can’t do. Still, there is no better way to feel alive than feeling your whole body moving like an engine and then having sweat pour off of you. I know at that moment that I exist, and that life is a bit crap right now, but if I can do 10 pushups in 10 seconds, then maybe, just maybe, I am fucking awesome.

Maybe.

Write

So I only did the first three things for almost as long as I have had anxiety. I couldn’t keep up with something like journaling and I was basically writing for a living, so writing when I was panicking seemed like a busman’s holiday. Or, in this case, a busman’s nightmare. But sometime last year I got back into writing, but writing poetry to be specific. I really got into the groove of it and it helped to have a little notebook and pen on hand to whip out at any moment– on the street, on the metro, in a cafe, at a party– to sort of expunge myself of any panic I might be feeling at any moment. It worked until one of my exes told her mother that I was a poet when she was asked what my profession was. That lie, among many other screwed up things that were happening at the time, just made me want to stop writing. That is until I stared this blog 11 days ago!

Writing is like cataloguing one’s memories and thoughts. It’s better than a photograph because you need to describe everything that you are going through, in your own words.

Writing is cathartic.

Writing heals.

Plan ahead

Let’s be real, I have always been a planner. Sometimes the best part of a holiday is planning for it: the places you’ll go, the outfits you’re gonna wear, the things you’ll eat, etc. But I digress.

When I find myself spiralling, it helps me to have visibility on the future. It doesn’t even have to be that far ahead. It could just be planning for the day, or for the afternoon, even. It helps to tell myself I have these non-negotiable things that I need to accomplish, some things that I would perhaps like to do, and a couple of things that I would include to treat myself with if I happen to get everything done. It helps me focus on the immediate and it also gives me motivation to keep going forward.

Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot.

One of the things that I tell myself when my anxiety is riding dizzyingly high is that I need imagine myself walking on a tightrope. The tightrope walker makes it to the other end by placing one foot after the other. Sure, on a long piece of metal string (ok rope. fine, cable), but that’s basically the action. Dwelling on the height, on the morbidity, on its dangers, just renders the act impossible. To me, it’s kind of like managing anxiety. What matters in the end is that we keep on walking.

Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot.

Image: © Getty Images/Unsplash

Day 10

I have been thinking a lot about the power of scent for the past couple of days. Sometime last week, my partner and I indulged a little by ordering a new perfume to use together, as well as making an order at Lush for a refill of our beloved body wash. There are some smells that are so unique to a person that they’re forever engraved in our memory. Or vice versa, where a memory is intertwined with a very specific smell (just ask Proust about his precious madeleines).

For me, it is sandalwood.

One of the very first memories I have of this scent comes from one of the rare times when my mother would let me open her one of the drawers of her bedside table. I remember being greeted by this smoky scent of incense, flowers and something milky and so I began to sniff everywhere, like a tiny Labrador, for its source. In the end I found out that the smell came from two things: a tiny replica of a coffin kept in a delicate brocade box and a small bag of sandalwood chips.

Not your traditional lucky charm

The tiny replica of a coffin was something that my grandfather gave to my mother before he passed away for good luck and to remind my mother that death is always around the corner. I remember holding both of these objects close to me and breathing in as deeply as I could while closing my eyes as if to take a mental picture of this very moment. And from that moment on, this smell became imprinted in my head and I began to recognise it for what it was on my mother. It was then that I realised that I have always smelled this particular scent on my mother but it wasn’t until that very moment that day that I recognised it as sandalwood. It turns out that my mother has always lined her drawers with multiple bars of unopened Bee and Flower’s sandalwood soap to perfume her clothes. This is a habit she has kept to this very day. It’s all fun and games until moving day when it becomes your job to recuperate all the bars of soap littered in her drawers. And yes, she remembers how many bars of soap there’s meant to be, so you had better get every single one of them.

Bee and Flower’s sandalwood soap

When I started living abroad, I specifically asked my mother to send me a box of them so that I, too, could line my drawers with them. To be fair, that’s one of the reasons, but the other is the simple fact that I wanted to feel closer to her. To this day, a brief whiff of sandalwood brings me back home and into her arms.

Checklist for the day:

  • Sandalwood
  • Leather
  • Spearmint
  • Head and shoulders Classic Shampoo
  • Sweat

Image: Storyblocks

Day 9

So you’re ethnically ambiguous?

Get ready for strangers playing Russian roulette with your origins, as if where you’re from is a game, even when you have your headphones on and it’s bloody 7am on a cold winter’s day.

“Konichiwa? Sawadeeka? Annyeonghaseyo? Nihao? Alright, be a bitch.”

There will also be enthusiastic randos coming up to you to ask if you’re from such and such a place?

“Oh, hello! Excuse me, but are you from Nagaland? No? But you look so much like it…”

When they finally get a terse answer from you– let’s be clear: it’s not because you want to satisfy their curiosity but because it’s clear that they won’t let you go until they get an answer– shit gets real.

“Oh, so you’re from Hong Kong? Do you know Jackie Chan?”

or

“Oh, Hong Kong! I have a friend, Johnny Appleseed, who’s from there. Do you know him? He’s real nice. You guys should meet.”

Shit could get even more real when you least expect it.

“Man, Hong Kong. I heard they don’t have TVs there.”

or

“Hong Kong. You guys are part of China right? So that means you guys kill girl babies?” (Yeah, shit for brains, and that’s how I am here.)

or

“You from China? I heard your pussies are bushy as fuck and are sideways. Is that true?”

or, my favourite

“You know what I love about your people? Who? I mean, you Asians. It’s that you guys put your families first and that you are really in touch with nature. I mean, just look at zen and Buddhism.”

Now that we’ve covered encounters with strangers, let’s talk about the people who’s meant to have your back. I am referring to the people who live in the same town as you.

Fucking. Bloody. Malarky.

They also get in on the “guess the origins” game.

“Oh, your skin is so dark/fair/something-that-is not-theirs! You’re not from around here, are you? OH! You are? Then you must have grown up out of town! You didn’t? Are you mixed? No?”

or

“Where are you from? The States? Wait, what you are from around here? You sure? Maybe there’s someone in your family from abroad? I swear you are mixed.”

Once that’s down, they get on with picking on your language even if you speak it perfectly.

“See you are mixed–well, not mixed, but you know what I mean. You know what I am talking about. Your pronunciation! It’s so…clear and enunciated! What, your parents are professors?”

Sometimes even family members get tempted to give you their two cents, usually about your body.

“Growing up abroad has really changed your body. You’re so big now, you really got to diet or you’re going to be obese when you’re older. What? Oh, yes, you grew up here. I forgot. You just look so…dark. I forget sometimes. You know how it is.”

or

“You got all those freckles on your face. I have this great lightening cream. Wait, you like them? You’re going to regret it when you’re my age.”

A perfectly fine house party between friends and roommates can turn hella awkward especially during Halloween because they forget that you’re from the country from which they appropriated their costume.

“I am a geisha, can’t you tell? What do you mean geishas don’t dress like this. I even got those chopsticks in my hair. I got this dress from Chinatown. What? You’re saying this is a qipao that Chinese women wear? No one cares, you get the general idea. So freaking glad it’s just for the day, can you imagine wearing this all the time? No wonder they get all sorts of weird diseases all the time, putting eating utensils in their hair. Sure, ok, no one wears this all the time. Fine, I get it. Who called the PC police up here? OH SHIT, you’re from CHINA?! Ok, not China. But bro….! I’m sorry!”

Never-ending BS, from all sides.

Putain de chintok

Stuck-up slanty-eyed bitch

Race traitor

Pawn of the western media

Chink

Now that you know, steel yourself. Face the day with your head high.

Open the door.

And breathe.

Image © Lyubov Ivanova/Getty Images

Day 8

This is the story of a little square.

Once upon a time there lived a little square. I could tell you more about her; what colour she is, for example, but no. She is just an ordinary tiny square. Her parents constantly preached to her about the great things about being a square. It’s not that she is ashamed of being a square. Oh, no, of course not! Never that! It’s that she quietly fancied herself to be unique.

Like all parents who pass down their experience and wisdom on to their little ones, the little square’s parents taught her all there is to know in order to succeed in life as a little square: watch the lines, don’t go bending corners and keep straight.

The little square tried very hard to follow the things she’s been taught. But one day she got into her little head that maybe she’s different. Maybe she is no ordinary square.

First she tried to colour herself. She tried purple, she tried green and she tried orange. No matter what colour she painted herself in, everyone knew right away that she was the little square.

Drats.

She tried giving it up for a bit, but then she’d try again. And again. And again.

Then she remembered her parents’ rule about keep straight.

“Right, screw this, I’m going to go down all those winding paths and twisty corners. I’ll show them!”

So off she went. Her little squareness made it really difficult to go down all those winding paths and twisty corners.

This is going to be a problem.

She sulked. As she sulked a big long sulk, she looked around her and saw all shapes of different shapes (haha) and sizes rolling, bouncing and twirling around. That day she decided to pluck up the courage to speak to a doctor about turning herself into a triangle.

After many, many months of cutting and taping, she became a triangle. And for awhile she was truly happy. She went back to her square parents, who had a hard time accepting her at first, but are now happy to hear her stories of a square living as a triangle.

But one night as the darkness settled in, she realised that she was still unhappy. She saw all the little round-shaped holes teasing her. Circles were tormenting her in the day, and spheres in the night.

And after many, many months of cutting and taping, she became a circle. And even though, like last time, she found herself happy again. Like last time, the darkness settled once more in her heart. And she found herself speaking to the doctor again.

And so she became an oval. Then a rhombus. Then a diamond.

A few months after turning herself into a diamond, she found herself at the doctor’s office again.

“Doctor, doctor. This isn’t me. You know what I really need to be?”

“No, tell me.”

“No, I am asking you. I don’t know.”

This time the doctor cannot bear the pain of cutting his patient any smaller. He explained to her that there is just not enough material on her to make her into another shape. If he does, she will die.

That very night, the once little square, sat by the fire in her garden. She stared into the fire as she sat there, and she got more and more mesmerised by the dancing and shifting shapes. She tried to lean in to take a closer look. And then she walked closer and closer to the fire.

Just a little more.

Oh, that’s pretty…!

And then she fell in.

And as she did, the dancing fire transformed her into a million tiny fragments to be carried away in the loving arms of the wind into the night sky.

Photo courtesy of Archiproducts

Day 7

Yesterday, Big came back home in tears. I was expecting her to tell me about something trivial, but after hearing about what she had been dealing with all day enraged me.

To keep a long story short and a private situation relatively private, she has an ex who is exhibiting psychopathic behaviour. This person is contacting people in her private life, spreading lies about her, and trying to exact revenge on Big for the end of a relationship that had already been terminated months prior. This person has said, in their own words, that they will turn everyone in Big’s life against her so that no one would ever believe her ever again.

Jesus Christ on a cob.

The thing that really did it for me was when Big told me she started questioning her own reality. She was accused of saying something horrifically mean to a friend, something that I immediately knew didn’t come from the mouth of my kid, but because of what’s happening, she just couldn’t be 100% sure.

Wait, hold the phones. This is something that I am dealing with in my own private life right now, as an adult. And I can barely handle it myself. There are days where I feel like I am actually going crazy, where I sort through screenshots and archives to try to piece together evidence that I am not actually insane, that I have actually lived the events that I claim to have lived. In my most vulnerable of times I have wished for someone to come in, take my word at face value and tell my psychopathic ex to shut the fuck up and leave me alone.

And then it hit me, this is the gift that I can give to my child. In the end, that’s what we did. My partner and I called the person up and told them to leave Big alone.

I want my kids to know that their home is a sanctuary for them, forever. That no matter what happens, no matter how big their fuck up is, that they can turn to me for unconditional support. That they can call me at 3am and know that I will be there, no questions asked, literally. That if they don’t feel good being somewhere, I will walk all day and all night if that’s what it takes, to take them away and bring them back to safety. And hopefully one day, if they ever decide to have their own children, to do the same for them.

Image: © Håkan Vargas/via WildSweden

Day 6

Holy Batman anxiety. A trip to the pharmacy this morning where I made a mistake in cutting the queue after having thought that there were two, instead of the one, has left me with a shaky hands, heart palpitations and stars and butterflies.

How did I even get here? When did I first begin to realise that this is a condition not everyone has?

Was it when I realised that I would get dizzier and dizzier when my parents pressured me to make calls to the charity hotlines when I was a kid?

No, because I don’t like peer pressure, that’s all.

Was it when I got shaky before I got on stage for concerts?

No, because I read The Berenstain Bears Get Stage Fright. If they made a book about it, then I shouldn’t make a mountain out of a molehill with my nervousness.

Was it when I caught myself going through the play-by-play of my mistakes over and over again in my head, as if I could go back in time and make it all stop before it had started?

No, because mommy said it’s important to review the mistakes we make every day so that we don’t make them ever again.

Was it when I got my first panic attack because of all the people and noise? Was it when I felt my stomach knotting up before going to a party?Was it when I would hide in the toilets before presentations? Was it when I would feel the world spin after turning red whenever I heard my voice crack from nervousness?

When was it? And does it matter?

When I was little there were some weekends where there would be a charity event on television. My father would always use it as an opportunity to try to toughen me up. There’s always the song and dance with him asking me if I would like to do a nice thing for the poor people out there, my responding that if we wanted to do nice things for people then we should just show it with our actions instead of donating money that would trickle down several middlemen and lose its meaning. It all usually ends with him throwing down an ultimatum before The Rehearsal.

The Rehearsal was where my parents would pretend to be the people on the receiving end and we would practice our lines before I actually make the call. A bizarre ritual in and of itself without all the rest of it. For reasons unbeknownst to me, they didn’t seem to realise that The Rehearsal just made it worse. Most times I can finish barely dialling the number and would start to be short of breath. Then I’d wheeze and then I’d start to cry. The rare times where I’d made it past the dial tone, my throat would close up and I wouldn’t be able to speak.

Then came the yelling.

There would always be the yelling afterwards: “Otter, it was just a tiny phone call to a stranger about something inconsequential. Why can’t you even do that? Are you going to avoid strangers your entire life? Is that it? You can’t hide behind us forever, you know!”

To be quite frank, I don’t really remember his exact words because it always happened in such a blur, his voice drowned out by my own crying and wheezing. They would try to backtrack when I would start to get the shakes, and then they would explain how they didn’t mean to hurt me and try to explain that they understood what I was going through. That was the worst bit, because they would always get it wrong.

The more they explained the more I shook. Then they’d babble and explain some more and it would get worse.

Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.

My mother likes to say that I get panic attacks because I have a “weak heart”. She said that again a week ago when I was on the phone with her. I am just too fucking tired to argue anymore.

Now, there are good days and there are the bad. But sometimes I really wonder if my anxiety would have been this bad if I had been able to stand my ground and had said no to them, at least once.

Checklist for the day

  • 1 empty water bottle on the coffee table
  • 1 bag of clean unfolded laundry by Big’s door
  • 1 unplugged night light sitting in the corridor
  • 1/2 load of clean laundry lying on the bed in the master bedroom
  • 3 pairs of shoes in the entry way
  • 6 dirty glasses, 2 dirty coffee cups, 2 dirty dishes, 1 dirty pot
  • 12 glass bottles to take down for recycling

Image: © Mykyta Dolmatov/Getty Images

Day 5

My introduction to feminism came later than most. I put that down to having grown up in a traditional Chinese family in a hyper-capitalist city. Political beliefs, existential musings and philosophical discussions were something that were restricted to late evening conversations and anyone who took them too seriously were immediately deemed as radical and sacrificing their livelihood for lofty ideals.

I wasn’t introduced to the words “feminist” or “feminism” until my first year of my undergraduate. It was so new and so foreign. It made so much sense to me from the get go (of course I don’t need to feel like I need to shave, of course I should be paid the same amount as a dude, of course I have the right to call out manspreaders), but it didn’t feel like something I could grasp. It felt like it didn’t apply to me, a seventeen-year-old. I felt as if I hadn’t suffered enough, or at all, for being a woman. I felt like the gross catcalls and leery stares I got were compliments. I felt as if losing my virginity to my first boyfriend, after he got me drunk and forced me to have sex when I was blacked out, was something dirty that had only happened to me. I didn’t understand how silly it was to feel that feminism is something that one can only identify with if something had happened to them.

Even hearing the word “feminism” roll off my tongue felt like a transgression in itself back then. I still remember the day when I first became aware of International Women’s Day. It was a day off and a close friend and I were wandering around downtown. She was telling me about feminism and how important it is to her after my basically having asked: “why anarcho-feminism?” After hearing her becoming increasingly passionate as she spoke, I told her I didn’t identify as a feminist. I justified that by saying that I stand by everything that feminists believe in and identified with. But I don’t feel like I am living like one and putting what I believe in into practice yet. It’s a label that I don’t feel comfortable in owning, at least not yet. While she understood me, she accused me of being a bad ally. It is a conversation that has stayed with me and which I revisit from time to time.

“I am a woman, not a feminist.”

After the first time I was date raped, I tried to muster up the courage to go to the university police after having gone to the clinic earlier in the week. When the policeman began to question if I had had alcohol (I didn’t) and if I had invited the rapist in my home, I just wanted the conversation to end and left without filing a report. It devastated me. I tried so hard not to let it affect me and kept with the grind to pursue the career that I had dreamt of. I got a lotus tattoo as a gift to myself. A permanent one. To tell myself that like the lotus, I can also grow out of the mud and make something beautiful.

I became a more militant and more outspoken feminist. Why should I self-police the way I look when nothing mattered? Why should I play nice if what they want is to see us down, to see us weak?

Then it happened again. Date rape again, but this time when I tried to confront the rapist, I got a cease and desist. When I called the survivor’s hotline, they were bored with my trying to figure out if I had been raped or not and were only interested in ensuring that I wasn’t going to off myself when I hung up. 

I got my fourth tattoo to remind myself to stop looking for reason in what had happened to me. I tried to drown myself in work, to stop performing femininity and to fight for visibility in the workplace. But I was either too visible, by being too feminine, too Asian, too petite, too North-American, too outspoken, too loud, too much. Or I was not being seen at all. I was only one of three female postgraduates in my program. I had to fight to speak up when we had union meetings, or any meeting at all. People always assumed I was an undergraduate. It became even more ridiculous when I became a faculty member. I still remember the time when I was almost thrown out of the staff room.

A few years later, I got burn out. Like, serious burn out. It was only last year that I started to embrace it and not give myself a time limit to get out of it. I have since been using my time to take care of the kids, to nurture myself as I should have done all these years ago.

So why do I feel like such a bad feminist? Whenever I tell people I stay at home now, I get the weirdest looks from people. Where people would have usually gone on to talk to me about my work and projects, now the conversation would fizzle out and there would be an awkward silence before people talk about something else entirely and I would disappear into the background.

I choose to be a homemaker. I am not my work.

I am a feminist.

Checklist for the day:

  • Call gran
  • Expecting a package and sending out two other
  • Do the dinner shop
  • Tidy up the house
  • Feed me!
  • Move the basil
  • Pick up Little
  • Get dinner ready
  • Work out