equivocality — Jeff Ngan's collection of thoughts, experiences, and projects, inspired by pretty much everything
26 Feb 15

in the absence of light

It’s been weeks since I left the house for any­thing but a doctor’s appoint­ment, maybe three times since November. I miss the win­ter, even though it’s right out­side my door. I miss my friends, even though they’re rarely more than a short trip away. It’s espe­cially hard not being able to explain the dis­tance. All I can do is hope they trust me when I don’t feel com­fort­able explain­ing, and try not to feel inse­cure about being so out of touch.

Sometimes, the thought of being away from my safety zone fills me with dread. Other times it’s just eas­ier to not do any­thing. I barely man­age the effort to wash my hair once a week, and the only rea­son I shave is to more eas­ily wipe off the vis­cid sad­ness that so often vis­its my face. I sus­pect I wouldn’t even be eat­ing if it weren’t for the fact that Heather enjoys tak­ing care of peo­ple to ful­fill her own need for secu­rity. She’s lived here a few months, and she’s already mak­ing sure the cats have their teeth brushed every day and all the bills are paid. I’ve barely known her for twice that time, and I’ve never been more depen­dent on any­one in my life.

It feels like I’ve taken two steps back, but I’m at this point cause it means I’m safe enough to start pro­cess­ing and under­stand­ing the things that led to me try­ing to hang myself from the rail­ing of my stair­case a year ago. I haven’t fig­ured out what it means to keep going, when for so long I believed my life was lead­ing up to that moment, and stick­ing around wasn’t a choice I made for myself. Just fig­ur­ing out how to write about such a large and com­plex expe­ri­ence is often too much. I’m left bro­ken when I sim­ply want to understand.

I’m learn­ing that recov­ery isn’t a binary process, but a jour­ney with strug­gles and tri­umphs. I still suf­fer the trauma of being moments away from dying. I’m still haunted by the guilt of sur­vival. With so many hair-triggers that lead to wholly con­sum­ing break­downs, I can’t deny I’m not the per­son I used to be. Right now, it’s hard enough just try­ing to be okay with that.

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19 Nov 14

nothing lasts, but nothing is lost

It’s been a few weeks since I left the comic book shop. I’m glad to have gone through the expe­ri­ence of being a pro­fes­sional nerd, to have met the par­tic­u­lar set of chal­lenges involved and flour­ished, but I could tell it was time to quit when the stress was car­ry­ing over from one shift to the next, even with days between.

Without the need to run tour­na­ments, or the pres­sure of deal­ing with cus­tomers, I have a chance to breathe again. That means doing my best not to worry about being pro­duc­tive or happy. Just try­ing to feel okay can be enough of a day-to-day challenge.

Cat in Tigger costume

Their spe­cial bond comes from the fact that she lets him get away with more than I do.

Heather and I are tak­ing the next few months off to regain our bal­ance and adjust to our new dosages of SNRIs. Now that I’m in a place where I’m feel­ing more safe and secure, I can tell it’s still hard for me to let go of neg­a­tive thoughts, even when the stim­u­lus is gone. I’m com­ing to terms with the fact that I’ve been fight­ing depres­sion my whole life, and the fact that I’ll likely be on even more med­ica­tion for the rest of it1.

I wish I could turn to writ­ing for cathar­sis, but I’m not strong enough to process the mem­o­ries. Parts of the past are still too recent, too famil­iar, too painful. And some­times it’s hard to think of the per­son I was only a year ago, even know­ing how far I’ve come. I’m start­ing to real­ize that time is what I need most, which means I also need patience and trust from my friends.

Cat and Magic: The Gathering

The only com­mit­ments I’ve kept are my play­group on Sundays, and my Wednesdays with Lisa. Otherwise, I’m lost in Guild Wars; the eas­i­est way to escape and feel pro­duc­tive at the same time is to work on daily achieve­ments by slay­ing dragons.

And that’s how I lost the Autumn. I didn’t even real­ize the leaves had turned and fallen. Now that I’m not work­ing (and I’m the one who always hosts), it feels like I never leave the house. The only reminder that win­ter is here is when the heat comes on, and the smell of dry fur­nace air fills the room. I was look­ing for­ward to the first snow­fall of the sea­son, but the plows have already been out and I haven’t had a chance to take it all in.

  1. On top of the anti-inflammatories, pro­bi­otics, and psyl­lium husks I take every day to man­age my col­i­tis. []
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29 Sep 14

habits

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July was sup­posed to be my catch-up month. The one where I con­nected with a lover instead of being rushed to appre­ci­ate her at every turn; a chance to fin­ish house projects and all the clean­ing I’ve been putting off; maybe even time enough to go for a walk every day, or the patience to work on fret­ting cleaner bar­res instead of emo­tional doo­dling and clumsy interpretations.

chemo indica leaves

 

Now here I am, half way through September. Heather and I are at war with our respec­tive pasts, and wait­ing for relief. On top this comes her dad’s diag­no­sis of a metas­ta­sized can­cer of unknown ori­gin. We’re used to being strong for oth­ers, but the uncer­tainty of what may come makes us won­der if we’re truly ready.

If only my mind wasn’t already drift­ing back to those unhealthy and all-too-familiar thoughts. It’s hard enough let­ting go of the sense that every­thing will fall apart at any sec­ond. The depth of my strug­gle has changed me, and I’m still get­ting used to feel­ing uncon­di­tion­ally loved and emo­tion­ally secure. Thankfully, I have a part­ner who tells me every sin­gle day that I’m a good per­son, that I’m impor­tant, and that I deserve to be happy. Consistent reminders are what I need, how­ever small, cause the recov­ery process is going to take far longer than I first thought.

Guild Wars 2

 

We’ve taken to explor­ing the mas­sive world of Tyria in Guild Wars 2 as a way of cop­ing. Even when I’m away from my com­puter, I think of noth­ing but jour­ney­ing to new loca­tions, instead of the tiny prob­lems that seem impos­si­ble to sur­mount at even my best times. I’ve always been an obses­sive per­son, and my mind would be full of bad things right now if I wasn’t so busy find­ing the next point of inter­est, the next cham­pion to kill and loot.

It’s a way for me to get through the dif­fi­cult days, until they turn into a past that I can look at from afar. I know if I can turn the page on this chap­ter, I’ll have a oppor­tu­nity to become the per­son I want to be every day for the rest of my life.

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12 Aug 14

maelstrom wanderer

It’s been too long since my last emo­tional break. I can tell I’m in rough shape when I start to carry the ten­sion of the last shift to my next one, mostly cause I’m get­ting lost between peo­ple and projects, instead of unwind­ing and recharg­ing. My Mac Pro also breathed it’s last, and I haven’t had the com­fort of my famil­iar elec­tronic space in over a week. As I build my next sys­tem, I’ve turned to other forms of hap­pi­ness to fill the hole. They’re often just as worth my time, but don’t often leave space for the intro­ver­sion I need to cen­tre myself.

stick shifter

 

Still; the fact that I haven’t writ­ten in so long is cause I have a chance to talk to Heather on a con­sis­tent basis. As a source of imme­di­ate feed­back (along with end­less empa­thy and atten­tion), she’s become the out­let I’ve needed for so long. On good days, our bro­ken halves make a whole per­son. But on her bad days, I’m not always ready to be the strong one, and some­times I can’t help but feel inad­e­quate when she’s she’s still hurt­ing or not fixed yet, even when I know I’m not the cause.

comfy cat

 

It makes me espe­cially anx­ious to get over a past that’s stop­ping me from fur­ther growth. I just want to stop suf­fer­ing from and strug­gling with var­i­ous forms of trauma, so I can reach a sense of sta­bil­ity. But that seems fur­ther away than ever at times like this, when I’m not cop­ing with the things I can’t con­trol, and I won­der if I should be mak­ing peace with it all instead of fight­ing it.

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20 Jun 14

make the road by walking

I can tell I’m get­ting over­whelmed cause of the mis­takes I’m mak­ing. Fruit is going bad on the counter before I have a chance to eat/cook it, a dose of med­ica­tion is for­got­ten here and there, missed pay­ments lead to inter­est fees; I’m los­ing con­trol of lit­tle details that are nor­mally sim­ple mat­ters for me.

sushi

 

Maybe it’s cause I’m con­stantly try­ing to catch up. On projects I keep putting off cause of my respon­si­bil­i­ties. On life after los­ing the last two years to a depres­sion that left me cry­ing more often than not. On top of all that, I’m try­ing to jug­gle a job, a rela­tion­ship, and the energy it takes for me to heal, while enjoy­ing every moment as it comes. Even though I’m in a safe and sta­ble place now, I still strug­gle to cope with how quickly things are chang­ing. I miss being able to record my thoughts and expe­ri­ences here, but I can’t afford the time it takes to get into that zone.1

The hard­est part is explain­ing to peo­ple why I’ve been out of touch for so long. It means going into a painful (and recent) his­tory, and it’s not easy to get into that emo­tional space, let alone think about things that are dif­fi­cult to relive, let alone open up to some­one, let alone worry about how they’re going to react.

  1. I’m try­ing to accept that it’s okay to wait before writ­ing about cer­tain ideas. It took me seven years before I could fig­ure out how to write about my mom, and that meant a lot of grow­ing before I could under­stand the whole sit­u­a­tion and finally put the sub­ject to rest. There’s so much more I still have to say, about things both good and bad. It’s just hard to get used to the idea that this will become a jour­nal of the past instead of a diary of the present. []
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05 Jun 14

i'm okay

I can say that now.

It’s hard to tell exactly when every­thing became too much for me to han­dle, but I knew I reached sta­ble ground when Marie said it was nice to see me smile. It seems like she’s only seen me at my worse — when I’m not cop­ing and try­ing to ratio­nal­ize all the wrong things — but she still wel­comes me every time with­out any expec­ta­tions, and that’s the kind of accep­tance I need at this point in my journey.

self-portrait

This is my okay face.

Not to say there aren’t strug­gles, espe­cially months like this, when I’m deal­ing with col­i­tis flare-ups on a daily basis and the con­stant feel­ing of being over­whelmed. Between the time I spend to nour­ish myself, find­ing peace with so much of my past, and this love that found me, I’ve started to under­stand how life can catch up to a per­son with­out warn­ing. There’s barely a chance to process the devel­op­ments in my head, let alone record curves and colours with a camera.

I’m anx­ious to get to the point where I can start grow­ing instead of heal­ing, and liv­ing instead of sur­viv­ing. Being okay means it’s eas­ier to deal with the inse­cu­ri­ties and moments of weak­nesses I face on my way there.

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08 Apr 14

so we beat on

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Life at the comic book shop con­tin­ues to be the Empire Records fan­tasy every­one dreams it to be. Maybe that’s why some­one walks in every shift to hand in a resume. Even peo­ple who have no inten­tion of look­ing for a job ask if there are any open­ings as soon as they see the merch catered to every genre of geek.

The fact that there are only a dozen among us means the crew is tight. I get to play back-cash DJ and turn up the elec­tron­ica that’s come to define this period of recov­ery. Still, there are days when the com­puter breaks down on a night when I’m run­ning a tour­na­ment by myself, I have to do all the pair­ings man­u­ally, and get­ting home to a hot shower is the purest relief.

dog in snow

 

Having a steady stream of plans mixed in with work means I’m con­stantly wak­ing up to an alarm. It’s wear­ing me down, but my need for stim­u­la­tion is out­weigh­ing my need for sleep. For now, at least.

I don’t write any­more cause I get my val­i­da­tion through peo­ple. The right ones set aside time for me, lis­ten as much as they speak, and don’t treat me any dif­fer­ently cause of my past. I haven’t felt the need to sort out my thoughts — one of the main rea­sons I used to write — as much as accept myself. It’s a mat­ter of patience at this point, and weath­er­ing the rough periods.

Arcade Fire — Reflektor tour

Arcade Fire on their Reflektor tour, fea­tur­ing Stephen Harper as tambourine-playing box head.

That means I’m still learn­ing how to take care of myself. Still com­ing to terms with the fact that love is so rarely clean or tidy or in our con­trol, but real­iz­ing that’s okay. Still try­ing to believe that I shouldn’t be embar­rassed of any­thing I’ve suf­fered. Still fig­ur­ing out my idea of hap­pi­ness, what’s mean­ing­ful and what’s possible.

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03 Mar 14

the time that we kill keeps us alive

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I’ve been doing my best not to let my inse­cu­ri­ties get the bet­ter of me. Some days I still do noth­ing but hurt, but it’s get­ting eas­ier to accept myself dur­ing those low points. I’m for­tu­nate to have friends who for­give me when I’ve been out of touch and out of time, even if they don’t under­stand why.

Deleting my Facebook account was the biggest step I’ve taken towards avoid­ing unhealthy media; one of those things peo­ple say they want to do, but can’t, cause it’s their only con­nec­tion to some com­mu­nity or cir­cle of friends. I decided the habit is too detri­men­tal to my well-being, even if the same is true for me.

kitty commander

 

Pat and I have been play­ing EDH on top of our drafts, some­thing that fre­quently involves him for­go­ing home­work while I give up time to myself. The com­plex card inter­ac­tions and unpre­dictabil­ity of the sin­gle­ton for­mat make play­ing a deck as much fun as build­ing it. I’ve been run­ning the Modern tour­na­ment he com­petes in every week, and after­wards, we head back to the warmth of the house and the com­pany of the cats. Freezing rain becomes a rea­son to stay up late and crash and play more in the morning.

It makes me feel like I’m in uni­ver­sity again, full of boy­ish vigour, young enough to have the free­dom to act so irre­spon­si­bly, while old enough to know bet­ter. In moments between bat­tle, I learn we’re all recy­cled star­dust, that it’s pos­si­ble for par­ents to accept their chil­dren despite their prob­lems, and smok­ing gun­pow­der hash will serve for sleep.

thoughtful note

 

Every now and then, Heather G stops by to leave me a small pack­age of things like pre­mium loose leaf tea, dark choco­late, and organic fruit; small trea­sures on which a shared life can be cen­tred, and reminders that I’m never for­got­ten. In doing so, she’s become one of the peo­ple who pro­vides me with the con­sis­tent reas­sur­ance I need, even though entire sea­sons may pass before we have a chance to con­nect. Her love and gen­eros­ity car­ries me through the times we’re too busy doing the things we need to survive.

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13 Feb 14

it is okay to hold your heart outside of your body

It’s been more than a week since I had a night alone. I never thought I’d be able to han­dle this kind of stim­u­la­tion again, but most peo­ple work dur­ing the day and my shifts involve run­ning the tour­neys when they’re off, so I still have morn­ings to myself. I can tell how quickly time is pass­ing cause the gaps in my photo fold­ers are turn­ing into months.

Being around so many peo­ple gives me a chance to work on my altru­ism. It’s always been easy with peo­ple who are impor­tant to me. Now I’m try­ing to fall into the habit of being kind to the ones who are neu­tral, to try to truly under­stand their real­ity so I can acknowl­edge their hap­pi­ness or suf­fer­ing. It’s a way for me to remove my bias, includ­ing whether I think they deserve either of those emo­tions, and always a hum­bling exercise.

girl on couch

 

Still, I wish I could explain what I was feel­ing. So much of myself was defined by my emo­tions. I remem­ber rid­ing the bus, los­ing myself to the warmth of the sun on my face and the swelling sound in my head­phones. Nowadays, every scene plays out like all caps slug lines in a screen­play. Nothing has changed but the dosage, and I don’t know if that’s a fact I should take com­fort in.

Not to say there aren’t dif­fi­cult times. I don’t have much con­trol over trig­gers, and I’m not ready to deal with cer­tain parts of my life yet. I’ve had to keep a dis­tance from toxic peo­ple and sit­u­a­tions to gain a sense of sta­bil­ity before I approach them again. It’s a way for me to give myself time to heal, after real­iz­ing just how much needs to be done.

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03 Feb 14

for you, i am sweeping words together

Winter has always been dif­fi­cult at times. At –15 or below, breath becomes a layer of ice on the win­dows when parked out­side, and I can do noth­ing but wait for the car to warm up again so I can see enough to drive. At that point, it means I’m sit­ting in the car for longer than my com­mute. I try to take it as a good way to prac­tice patience, but it’s a hard wait after an eight hour shift on my feet. It’s still win­ter in all it’s muf­fling glory though, the time in the year I most appre­ci­ate liv­ing in Canada. Girls and cats alike are more affec­tion­ate too, and I don’t mind being the source of heat.

cats and winter

 

I tend to get up around sun­rise now, and every time I step out­side before the rest of the world wakes up, it feels like I’m born again. It’s a chance for me to hit the reset but­ton on the last day. To let go of the past, even if it hap­pened only seven hours ago, and become a blank slate.

I also grad­u­ally broke the habit of check­ing my feeds after feel­ing jaded about news and media, then com­ing across this arti­cle. After months of absten­tion, I can say that I’ve gained time and lost noth­ing. It’s left me feel­ing increas­ingly dis­con­nected from the world, but I know that means I’m begin­ning to learn what really matters.

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10 Jan 14

50/50

I’m writ­ing as a way of prac­tic­ing self-compassion. Weeks get lost to the cus­tomers and com­mute, and when time off involves not think­ing or being around peo­ple, it doesn’t leave much room for per­sonal growth.

The prob­lem is that noth­ing feels real or true unless I write it down. The changes are start­ing to flow together, and I’m at var­i­ous stages of progress on sev­eral fronts. There are no begin­nings, no ends, no chap­ters, no dis­tinc­tive tran­si­tions I can sum up neatly in a title. The lessons stretch out to years instead of months. Development has given way to evo­lu­tion. It seems silly to write about a feel­ing that won’t last from the first time I hit Save Draft to Publish.

I’ve been reach­ing out to new peo­ple cause it felt like every­thing I was doing was wrong. Marie came to feed the cats, not know­ing I was back from the hos­pi­tal. I broke down in her arms, and she bab­bled at me over break­fast, excus­ing her­self for talk­ing so much cause she was ner­vous about not know­ing how to help. I asked if she’d watch a movie with me, some­thing to do that was nor­mal and not cry­ing. It helped.

Jason’s also been talk­ing me through the upheaval. Advice is eas­ier to accept when it comes from a sur­vivor, espe­cially one who never pre­sumes to know what’s best for me. He’s become the stick prod­ding me for­ward one small step at at time, a voice of rea­son in my ear that reminds me to keep on doing this until liv­ing is like breath­ing again.

It’s a reminder that I’m here only cause peo­ple believe in me; they’re the ones tip­ping the scales when it feels like I might as well flip a coin and let fate decide what I can’t.

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21 Dec 13

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13 Dec 13

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09 Dec 13

hey, c'mon

He’s only 40, an age I’d still con­sider young for a doc­tor. I see the fea­tures of so many of my Chinese peers in his face, though he’s actu­ally an Irish expat. Family and a restau­rant sealed his par­ents deci­sion to emi­grate to the Emerald Isle when he was too young to speak. It explains why his con­ver­sa­tional dic­tion is impec­ca­ble while some spo­ken con­so­nants are merged or lost, a famil­iar accent from being born into a Cantonese fam­ily. This imme­di­ately puts me on my guard. I’ve rarely got­ten along with those peers; the cul­ture hasn’t been kind.

But I’m not here for myself. I didn’t even make the appoint­ment, which is why I don’t know what to say.

Thankfully, he takes the lead and takes his time. The ques­tions cover a mot­ley gamut, and I can tell how com­pre­hen­sive his notes are through the clack­ing of the keyboard.

At some point he asks if any­one came with me, and I tell him who’s in the wait­ing room. He kindly offers to speak to her on my behalf, but she already knows. It’s the only rea­son I’m telling this story another time. I can’t help admit­ting how humil­i­at­ing it is to be so depen­dent on oth­ers, to need peo­ple like her so des­per­ately some­times that I can’t imag­ine how I’d sur­vive with­out them.

Without any change in his pro­ce­dural tone, he says this sen­ti­ment is part of our Chinese guilt. We dis­ap­point our par­ents by not being strong enough to live up to their expec­ta­tions as self-reliant adults, but they pre­vent us from grow­ing up by treat­ing us like chil­dren and refus­ing to let us make our own deci­sions. He knows, cause he’s gone through the same thing. At the same time, he never con­dones my feel­ings, offer­ing a reas­sur­ance that we all han­dle things dif­fer­ently, and that we can’t do it alone some­times. It tells me he doesn’t just lis­ten; he cares.

Before send­ing me off with a dose of Pristiq, he hands me a sealed enve­lope — on it writ­ten “emer­gency room let­ter” — and tells me to give it to the doc­tor at the Queensway-Carleton, while care­fully sug­gest­ing I have noth­ing to lose at this point. It makes sense, but I’m not ready. Not yet. This is good for now. She’ll thank me for tak­ing this step, one that’s as much for her as it is for me.

After, we hold hands in the car while wait­ing to be com­posed enough to be seen in pub­lic, bass lines wash­ing over us like heart­beats, an affir­ma­tion of rea­sons for and the things I love.

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28 Nov 13

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