I fight with myself every day. Verbal communication has been a life-long adversary, but only because I’ve had years of bad experiences with choosing or choosing not to express myself verbally in a variety of real-life situations, which led me to associate it as a bad thing. At least a few times in the last couple of days I’ve slipped into silence when the panic and anxiety first breaches my mind. It comes so fast and my reaction to withdraw is so immediate that after I’m stuck in silence and feel such a loss of will to talk or say anything in response to whoever is speaking to me, I just don’t know how to snap myself out of this state.
The things that set me off can seem random but actually what I notice is I shut down when I feel threatened. I also acknowledge that I react this way if I’m already in a bad mood and get annoyed by something someone says or does that typically would not bother me if I was not in a bad mood.
I was triggered yesterday when my dad asked me if I wanted to go with him to Taiwan for vacation. He has plans to go in April as he does every year. I always resist following him there because of various reasons. In the past, it used to be because I felt I could not travel out of the country due to the special needs of my pet and I didn’t have anyone who was well-equipped with handling an animal like that. Now that this pet is in a better home elsewhere, I don’t have this excuse to use anymore. But other things give me anxiety about being in Taiwan. For starters, money. I have no means of an income right now. I feel guilty as it is still being under my parents’ roof and now I’m on food stamps, but I’d feel worse if they had to pay for my travel expenses. The second is being in a foreign country. Taiwan is my dad’s birthplace, but I would definitely be out of place as an American. Sure, I can speak Mandarin and read Chinese, but that doesn’t mean I am as fluent in it as I am with English. Not to mention all the relatives I have avoided in Taiwan for more than five years. I barely said a word to any of them then and I’m almost sure things won’t change now if I saw them today.
All of this was going on in my head from the moment he asked me the question. My instinct was to say, “No, I don’t want to go”, but I hesitated. I felt slightly bad in this instance since he sometimes mentions to me that he’d like it if I went back with him one day, or how one of his male cousins is always pressing him to get me to come to Taiwan.
The reason this cousin is so eager to see me is that his daughter had stayed over one summer with my family and I some years ago. He wants to repay my dad’s hospitality by having me stay over his house. I know I should be grateful, but instead, I feel awkward because I have never met this relative and I know his daughter even less since I hardly spoke to her while she was in New York and haven’t communicated with her at all since she left.
I chose not to respond to my dad’s question. I frowned at him, unable to make a decision about actually telling him yes or no. Then I averted my eyes and spent the next few minutes glued to my phone. I recall he said some things after this in casual conversation that were directed at me which I didn’t verbally respond to, such as when he asked how much seaweed I wanted in the miso soup he was cooking. Some of them were open-ended comments that didn’t require a response from me, like when he noted the rice hadn’t been cooked yet but had I not been so zonked out, I might’ve replied with something just for conversation’s sake. This took place in the kitchen, so I was at the table while he was pulling things in and out of the fridge and clearing the stove of things.
When I am like this, I do not have a problem hearing, but it’s like the speaking words of others bounce off me and I can’t bring myself to say anything after having the initial thing that pushed me into verbally withdrawing. One thing I notice is outside of my home environment, no matter how badly I feel on the inside at the moment, I wouldn’t dream of not verbally responding to someone because I feel obligated to not come across as rude to a stranger.
I wonder if it’s easier to push myself to put on a public face of feeling fine outside of home while at home I habitually lapse into short periods of verbal silence because on some level I take advantage of the fact my family can forgive me for my behavior even if how I act is completely wrong. I have indeed been called out by my family on some occasions for my tendency to not respond if I am uncomfortable or upset. Each time I feel shame, but it’s not enough to change me. I focus too much on myself and how I’m feeling in the moment when I am uncomfortable and don’t want to talk. I think what may help me is to put myself in my family’s shoes and imagine what it must be like for them when they’re trying to talk to me and suddenly I stop responding verbally.
My parents are unaware of my thought process and what goes on in my head when I lapse into silence. As bad as it sounds, I guess I will have to work on improving on this all by myself. Maybe it would be easier if they knew but like many things related to my anxiety, I wouldn’t know how to begin talking about mental health issues with them when such a thing is not spoken about in their culture, plus the whole language barrier aspect. Is there even a word for social anxiety in Mandarin?
If anyone out there can relate, has advice or has something to add to the topic, I’m always willing to hear you out. Drop me a comment anytime.