Second month into 2021 and I’m trudging along. How’s your year been so far? I’ve been okay for the most part. The improvements and the struggles continue. My current therapist reminded me in my latest session with him to treat myself gently like I would treat a friend. And it’s true, I often forget to be empathetic with myself when s*** gets rough.
I started up a new Instagram account after deleting my old one a while ago (which was under the username blissfullypurple, which, to my amusement, I looked up and saw the name has now been taken by someone else). I left my old account because it began to feel stale with my own perception that I had to post constantly just to stay relevant and get people to like me. Now I post when I feel like it and I don’t care if my pictures look poorly photographed. I am not out to become a social media influencer or anything like that so it matters little to me if my photos look more professional or not.
It also helps that so far I’ve only put up photos of my plants (phalaenopsis mini orchids) because I enjoy tracking the progression of how much they’ve grown throughout the years. Many of them were rescue orchids that were close to death and I managed to nurse them back to health. Some people call themselves crazy cat ladies, well, I’m a crazy plant lady. One of these days I want to go to Lowe’s or Home Depot and check out the plant aisle where they sometimes have a whole shelf of mini orchids and buy a few to take home with me. I’ve done this before, though it bothers me they never offer discounted prices when the plants clearly look like they are dying.
Mondays and Wednesdays are by the far the most grueling school days for me this spring semester which commenced two weeks ago. On both days, I have two classes back-to-back in the morning starting at 9:00 AM and then a short break after 12:40 PM. Then I have my third class from 2:15 PM to 3:30 PM. It’s more annoying on Mondays since at 4:00 PM is when I typically have my weekly appointment with my therapist. It’s not that I feel irritated about keeping to a schedule with my therapist; it’s that I very little time inbetween to work on assignments for my classes. I prefer to get homework done as soon as I can so it won’t be left for later when I have wiggle room to procrastinate. I have no classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays but I don’t like devoting these specific days to staying at home if I can help it. I stay home and do enough sitting around in front of my computer as it is because of remote learning. If the weather permits it (meaning no rain or snow or dangerous temperatures), I go out to walk for a few hours and get some fresh air. Some days I get in anywhere between 8,000 to well over 12,000 steps. The more stressed I feel, the more I can keep walking without getting tired.
About a week ago, my parents got their first dose of the Moderna vaccine. This sounds pretty standard but it was not. For one thing, neither of my parents are 65 years or older and don’t even qualify for the vaccine in the state of New York as of right now. It was sketchy as f*** in my opinion, however, the medical office where they got the shot was referred to them by one of my mother’s friends. The rumor is that what has been happening is people make appointments for the vaccine but then don’t show up. The vaccine can’t be put back into storage after it has been taken out and the only options are to throw it out or give the dose to someone else. There was another medical office that my mother’s friend originally was going to notify my parents about if there were vaccine shots available, though this place was more complicated because it required people to show up in-person and wait to see if they might get picked for a dose. Later when a dose became available and someone from the office phoned my mother (after she already got the vaccine), she asked if she could forfeit the dose to another family member (me). This was apparently not allowed because I was too young.
In a third scenario similar to the last two I just described, my brother’s friend H works at a hospital and I learned from my brother today that H suggested there would be available doses as early as next week. My brother told me it was probable I would have to lie about working in an essential job, like a schoolteacher, to get the vaccine in the hospital H works in. I said no to that and insisted I would rather wait until I am eligible for the vaccine (which is likely to be around May this year).
Personally I find all this to be problematic. It just goes to show even when something like the vaccine is created and distributed for a supposedly good purpose so all people can eventually get it, some people are finding loopholes to override the restrictions of who currently qualifies for the dose so they can get the vaccine earlier than they should be able to.
The Lunar New Year is on Friday. I have no celebratory vibes about it at all. Back during Thanksiving and Christmas, I found it alarming that a large amount of people were flying home for the holidays despite that it was being discouraged on a public health level. I feel infection rates may potential spike too because more people will be using the Lunar New Year as a reason to congregate together with family members they don’t usually see regularly.
When I was a child, I used to have to attend a family gathering at my mother’s paternal uncle’s house every year. I came to loathe it because the extended relatives I met were like complete strangers to me. They were people I never saw unless it was the Lunar New Year and that was awkward enough with the language barrier between me and them. Some of the younger ones who were around my mother’s age tried to make the effort to speak to me in English, but for the most part, I felt lost and uncomfortable in that crowded environment. And all the times they attempted to push me and their children to play together. It felt so unnatural.
Much of my mother’s extended family, especially the relatives of the older generation, typical spoke the Hokkien dialect (a Chinese language originating from the Fujian province of Guangdong, China) around their own blood relatives. I only learned when I was older that some of them don’t even really speak Mandarin (the “standard” Chinese language that is spoken in China, Taiwan, and in many other countries with overseas Chinese populations like Malaysia and Singapore). I imagine I still would have had trouble communicating with them even if my Mandarin speaking skills back then been as good as they are now.
Once I was old enough to stay home without a babysitter or one of my parents being around, I stopped attending those Lunar New Year gatherings. It is embarrassing to think about now, but those relatives continued giving me hongbao (the red envelope of money, which is given as a gesture of kindness to a guest who visits during the Lunar New Year) even when I did not actually see them in-person for the yearly celebration. This was because my mother (and my father, who accompanied her to her uncle’s house by unspoken obligation) would still attend and while there, she would collect various hongbao from her relatives who had prepared them for me and my brother.
2021 is different because my mother’s uncle recently passed away in January. It wasn’t COVID-19; he was simply too frail and old to continue hanging on after being suddenly hospitalized. In 2019, he was still living on his own but for some unknown reason, his son had him move in with him later in the year and since then, his health declined rapidly. My brother and his wife happened to buy a home that was next door to where my mom’s uncle and uncle’s son lived. So in addition to visiting my brother, my mom had more opportunities to also see her uncle and bring him homecooked meals. This year, it’s obvious there will be no commonality to bring those extended relatives together anymore since my mother’s uncle is gone now.
To be honest, my mom has a lot of relatives who don’t seem to like each other that much and have unresolved conflicts. My mom’s uncle had 5 children and the word through the grapevine was that they are all secretly vying for a larger portion of their inheritance now that their father is dead. The son seemed to have access to his father’s will but was withholding it from his siblings. For a traditional Chinese funeral wake, people usually use their own money to purchase a flower wreath that is displayed at the wake ceremony. There is a whole hierarchy with how the flowers are supposed to look (such as flower colors to avoid) and how much money you’re supposed to spend on the flower arrangement (depending on who you are and your relation to the deceased relative), but the son set up an account asking his relatives to donate money towards those flower wreaths, in addition to using the leftover funds for other aspects of the wake and burial rites. Some people, like my mom, found this offensive because it felt like he was pooling everyone’s money for himself instead of letting everyone contribute the wreaths in their own time. Of course, no one dares to tell the son directly that they find his actions distasteful.
I got 2 hongbao in the mail from my mother’s older brother (who lives in California) and one of her uncles (who resides in Flushing, Queens). I really didn’t want to accept them. The gesture was meant in goodwill, I know, but my ties to those people are very thin. Both of them wrote my name wrong (it’s Nathalie, not Natalie) and I couldn’t help but think that was an indicator they don’t know me beyond the fact I am their relative’s daughter who they haven’t seen in-person in more than 10 years. Then again, maybe I am looking for a problem I am self-conscious of, as the way my name is spelled is not that common in the U.S. (it’s a different story in Europe, I believe, since some European women with the same name as me have the h in their names too).
Another thing I am self-conscious about is that traditionally, older relatives only give hongbao during the Lunar New Year to younger relatives who are still in school or are unemployed (though in my mother’s family, it seems their tradition is that if someone remains unmarried, they can still be hongbao receipents too). I currently fit both categories, so over the years every time I was given that stack of hongbao my mother collected for me at her uncle’s house, shame engulfed me. This sense of shame has extended to birthday and Christmas money I get from my mom. I know that’s silly. Money given to me from one of my parents feels more genuine because that’s a person I actually see and interact with regularly, though it also feels like a missed mark. She gives me money to show she cares, and yet, I remember the last time she said, “Well, I don’t know what you would like, so use the money I am giving you to buy yourself something you want.”
February is not what I expected. When is anything what I expect it to?? I would very much like this month to be over. My heart longs for March and 50 degree temperatures. There was a snowstorm a few days ago and I was sitting in for class while there was whiteout conditions outside from the constant thick snowfall. I stayed home for two days after that; it wasn’t suitable to walk outdoors. And snow is in the forecast for tomorrow!
Partially my frustration has to do with not being able to let go of expectation versus reality. Nothing ever works out the way I want it to. However in cases where it appears reality has met my projected expectation, there are still things that happen out of my control. For example, on the first day of class this spring semester, I made the choice of joining the Zoom meeting link and leaving my camera on. As I suspected, the professor made all of us do the dreaded first day self-introduction. I reacted to it by smiling nervously despite that my gut instinct was to want to click the LEAVE button. Nonetheless, I really did feel some real humor in the situation as almost half of my classmates (who initially turned on their cameras on after entering Zoom) suddenly disappeared from the upper screen gallery (which even the professor noted, “Uh oh, everyone is turning their cameras off!”). Unexpectedly, I realized other people probably felt just as nervous as me. Everyone had their turn to speak. I suppose some people were more comfortable doing that with only their microphone. I was definitely NOT comfortable speaking on camera but I did it for my own exposure.
The matter of getting over my social anxiety in a remote setting is probably never going to happen. But I can find ways of lessening it by repeatedly putting myself in those scary situations over and over. I don’t want to do it and if I could, I likely would go back to “attending” classes like I did last semester where my camera was off all the time and I only actively participated in the class through the chat box (with very minimal times of using my microphone, like when I answered a question during one project presentation I did with other classmates). However, this might be the semester where I have an equal amounts of uncomfortableness and an equal amounts of “I’m tired of this s***” attitude of being held back by all this fear and anxiety.
I am also considering scheduling a Zoom meeting with my internship supervisor, which is terrifying. The internship I was supposed to start in January hasn’t begun yet because there were some issues on his end with him and another assistant working on gathering soil samples that I was suppose to be running tests on. I was hoping to learn more about the project by the time I received those samples from my supervisor but that didn’t happen as well. So now I am stuck remotely with questions about the research and what the ultimate goal of the project might be. My supervisor is already a professor for one of my classes this semester, too, so it’s not like he doesn’t know who I am. That might make things easier and less nervewrecking if I end up speaking with him one-on-one….