anxiety

When I Say Nothing At All

Some days it’s easier to push out words from my mouth. Today is not one of those days. I’ve always had confidence issues with the act of verbal speech and expressing my feelings verbally. More than twice already today, I felt myself clam up and not say anything at all in response when my dad spoke to me.

The first incident was the age old issue I have when (depending on my mood and temperament in the moment) I just want to be basically left alone and don’t want to talk to anyone or be bothered by the sound of other people moving or talking in the house. It’s terrible, but there are times I feel better being the only one in the house and having the freedom to do whatever I want without having the lingering paranoia I get over another person’s presence seeing what I am up to. But do I actually feel better or am I only thinking that it makes me feel better because I get to avoid people and sink into my comfort zone? I certainly feel more at ease because it means I get to have silence and calm. I do think a big part of me is drawn to being a loner both by choice and due to my innate nature.

I was in the middle of watching the new HBO documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest when I heard my dad come home through the backyard after he previously left for an afternoon excursion. Almost instinctually, the sound of the back gate opening and the squeal of his bicycle tires triggered an alarm in my head and I turned off the tv, almost as if mentally saying to myself, “Okay, the party is over.” I’d compare it to how a pet dog of mine, no matter what he was doing (sleeping, dozing off, chasing after a toy, scratching his ear with his foot, etc), the minute he would hear the front house gate click open, he’d jump up and wait by the door in anticipation for whoever was going to walk in.

But unlike my overexcited dog, I felt like my dad’s arrival home was an unwanted nuisance that was interrupting my alone time. I could already see in my mind’s eye what was going to happen. He’d walk in and pepper me with questions or comments, like he sometimes does, when he gets home. I hate the feeling of having to adjust from almost near silence to suddenly having to use my vocal cords. It’s disarming. I feel awkward in that situation because I get the sense it’s all so forced. Me, I feel obligated to answer him, to be agreeable and pleasant and kind and not a total sour bitch. I can hold back the bit of me that wants to lash out about having my silence bubble popped by ignoring him or pretending I didn’t hear him. Him, I suspect he feels obligated too; to check up on me, to notify me of things, and say the typical dad things he says to me but ultimately I feel as if our conversations have no real substance to them.  Sometimes it’s not even how much he says to me but if I have to deal with the change in sound within my environment when someone (usually one of my parents) comes home. It’s not unusual for things to get especially noisy in the kitchen if someone is cooking or preparing something on the chopping board, but it is unnerving for me to hear all that going on when no one is talking and just sitting in close vicinity to each other while their eyes are glued to their phone screens for hours.

The second incident was triggered by something my dad suggested that I do, which I am (of course) not going to do. It was during dinner. I’m unclear about the specifics, but my brother had a male friend from Germany visit recently and stay over at his and his girlfriend’s apartment. My dad mentioned something that seemed to imply my brother would be coming to get his car and picking up his friend from somewhere. I do not know if that means the friend is actually coming to stay with my dad and I. But it did freak me out the moment my dad suggested I accompany my brother’s male friend during the day and show him around New York. He even said, “You have the spare time. Be the tour guide and bring him to a museum.” Wtf? This isn’t the first time he’s tried to pull this kind of “be the tour guide” bullshit with me. I had a female cousin and her friend stay over some summers ago. Mind you, I have never met either of them up until that point and it was also my dad’s idea to have them over. He actually kept begging me to accompany them around New York. I did not because I didn’t want to. Simple as that. I did, however, be present for group meals with them when they, my parents, my brother and I all ate out together as a group. I loathed almost every minute of it but bit my tongue and tolerated it. Of course I don’t want to hang out with my brother’s German friend because I don’t know him and I don’t care about befriending him. Yes, social anxiety is part of why I don’t want to anywhere near him, especially since I’m getting pressured to do it. This is entirely different from me willingly going to an event from the Meetup app and putting myself in a social situation that I actually want to be in so I can meet new people and make friends. The worst part is my dad prompted me like, “Would you be okay doing this?”, and I didn’t feel confident enough to outright say no. Instead I sighed and groaned in an annoyed way. After this I just felt pissed off; both at my dad’s pushing and at my own lack of self-assertiveness. In the end, I don’t have any responsibility for my brother’s friend. I don’t even think my brother expects me to be social with his friend in any way. If he did, he would’ve asked me first.

I was finishing up my soup after the second incident, actually. When my dad asked me, “Want a second bowl (of soup)?”, my mood grew even more black. Typically a question such as this, which only mildly bothers me on a teeny level when I’m in a normal, not-mad mood, would be like a small breeze in the air that barely touches me. But of course when I’m in a shit mood, the things that don’t usually bug me become intensely magnified. All I could think was, I’m upset here and you want to ask me something this mundane?  If there’s one thing I’ve grown up with, it’s my dad and his overt concern that I never have enough to eat. My brother once described him and I as “chickens being prepared for slaughter” with the way our dad was always so preoccupied with giving us an overabundance of food and getting anxious over seemingly not preparing enough food if we finished all of it or getting anxious about us supposedly not eating enough if we didn’t finish everything. I wonder if my dad’s food anxiety came from his childhood experiences with poverty and that’s stuck with him ever since or was it born from the social mannerisms in the Chinese culture that relate to food and how people use it on a social level. Perhaps it’s both. It’s a common thing in some Chinese circles, or at least from what I’ve experienced growing up, that elders will push youngsters to eat more or nudge them repeatedly to get second helpings even if the person says he/she is full and doesn’t want anything else. I’ve never liked this practice because as a child I often felt too intimidated to go against my elders and this caused a lot of inner turmoil for me. This later evolved into a feeling of indignation over the social pressure my perception that they were trying to control my eating habits on an unnecessary and unwarranted level. There was a period my perception got out of control and I was angry and/or frustrated if anyone as so much suggested I have a little bit more of this or that during a meal.

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3 thoughts on “When I Say Nothing At All

  1. ‘“Okay, the party is over.”’ I feel you whenever my parents come over, and when they came home whenever my parents came home, especially my dad. In some ways I think our families are similar – dad is always right, and I think that is the way in many Chinese families. It does sound like you were forced to stay at the dinner table a bit longer and continue pleasantries. As someone who feels very uncomfortable around people I don’t know, I can only imagine how unpleasant that must have been. In many Chinese families, though you are past 21 or close to 30 or no matter how old you are, you are expected to listen to your parents.

    Going against my elders will only end up in more grief, which would in turn provoke my anxiety more, and the more terrible I feel inside.

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    1. Yes, it is incredibly oppressive the way some Chinese families are. I do think I was already more genetically inclined to be more susceptible to anxiety and the environment I was raised in contributed to that.

      It’s terrible how the “system” works in my family. There are so many things I basically have to just turn a blind eye to because I know I have the capacity to move on and break from the customs while my parents never will bc that’s the culture they will stay in forever. That’s not to say it doesn’t still grate on my nerves everyday whenever an incident happens where one of my parents tries to persuade me to do something out of obligation. Probably what I hate most about being forced into that is the fakeness of the whole situation, especially if I have to be around extended family members who I’ve not seen in years or barely ever spoken to. Of course I don’t say anything to them besides “hello” bc what is there to say? I hate that everyone has to get involved in my business too. I’m end up enduring relatives asking my parents, rather than me, questions about me. This is why I no longer attend these sort of things anymore. And if it’s not having ppl talk about me when I’m right there, it’s having to sit with elders and listen to them talk amongst themselves while it’s like I don’t even exist. I also find it kinda stupid when I have to partake in group photos with people I don’t really consider family. I feel very sensitive about the fact other people might look at the photos and assume we’re all some tight knit family when that is so not the reality of the situation.

      Another thing that is a big problem is the nature of communication in my family. Talking behind other people’s backs is common. This is why I can never fully trust my parents. I’ve been in their presence when they start gossiping or speculating about my brother. I don’t know if you remember from one of my blog posts several weeks back but I mentioned my mom immediately thinking something was wrong when my brother told her that he wouldn’t be home for dinner and was going to have a talk with his girlfriend Bree about the apartment they bought. She actually said, “what ideas has that girl put in his head now? He’s lost his mind because of her.” I was not surprised at how frank my mom was being because it’s typical for her to be honest in private about certain things when she puts on an act of politeness in person. I’ve seen my own parents be nothing but polite to someone and then talk about the person in unflattering terms when they have the privacy to express their opinions. I admit I’m not a fan of Bree either (for a very different reason that I’ll get into one day) but I’m not about to judge my brother for moving in with her. It’s his life and he can live it however he chooses, although it had not stopped my parents from talking to their friends on the phone about how much they disagree with his decision. It’s irritating for me to have to hear. Wish I could live somewhere else and be away from my parents, but then again I’d likely have to deal with them coming over like in your situation.

      I cant tell which is worse; going against elders or doing nothing. Like you said, going against them only causes more grief. Being defiant towards elders does provoke a reaction from them. I’ve had times where because I seemingly broke their cultural protocol, I get tssking tongues, disapproving words, and the potential of social ostracization pushed my way. One phase I loathed to hear while I was growing up was: “Don’t act that way. If you continue, think about how other people will look down on your parents and gossip about how they didn’t raise you well enough.” The implication behind these words was always about “saving face” and putting on a good public image.

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      1. Fakery. Agree with you here. It’s one thing to be polite and make genuine small talk, but another when some family member starts interrogating you about your personal life. It is always hard to get out of these exchanges without coming across as sullen.

        Yeah, I remember Bree and I hope she and you leave each other alone. Agree with you on not sure if speaking up honestly or doing nothing is worse. Either way, someone will get hurt. What people think is one thing. Then again, word of mouth can go a long way 😦

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