equivocality — Jeff Ngan's collection of thoughts, experiences, and projects, inspired by pretty much everything
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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20 Nov 13

stay is a sensitive word

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I haven’t been able to come up with a way of explain­ing the absence. I guess I’m still fig­ur­ing out where I stand at this par­tic­u­lar moment, and what it means to keep going. Many days were lost to the flux of ambiver­sion, when all I was try­ing to do was sur­vive the bal­ance of how much space I needed with how much com­fort I could only get from oth­ers. Suffice it to say, I’ve learned the impor­tance of tak­ing the time just to feel okay, which has mostly involved enjoy­ing the games I’ve put off play­ing for so long, spend­ing time with those who make me feel wanted+needed+awesome+loved, and draft­ing as often as possible.

girl and cat

 

My birth­day came some­where in between, a day I got to pick all the shows, eat dirty bird, and nest with the cats on me when they weren’t in the cud­dle train. It made the whole day mine, not because it was some­thing I asked for, but because some­one wanted to give that to me.

I’m slowly let­ting my guard down, let­ting myself share new songs in the dark, so the pos­i­tive expe­ri­ences become a per­ma­nent part of me. Making new mem­o­ries is a step towards sooth­ing my his­tory with heart­break. The com­fort I find in our embraces car­ries me through the time we’re apart, but feel­ing safe is still very for­eign. Just touch­ing fin­gers is a vul­ner­a­ble step, and it’s like being on a tightrope every time I put aside my inse­cu­ri­ties to make progress. Thankfully, she hasn’t let me fall yet.

Magic: The Gathering and beer

 

Most recently, I started work­ing at the busiest comic book shop in the city as one of the res­i­dent Magic experts. It’s left me try­ing to find my bal­ance again, even though the job is part-time and never feels like work. The posi­tion mostly involves run­ning the tour­na­ments, trading/selling/organizing cards, and giv­ing peo­ple game advice; things I already love doing in my spare time. A nice bonus is the fact that a new friend hap­pens to be one of the reg­u­lars at the Modern Constructed tour­ney, and I get to root for him and see how he does between matches.

Shawn even came in to say hi and give me hugs on my first day. Reminders all around that make me feel worth­while, instead of just believ­ing it. It’s the dif­fer­ence between know­ing some­thing in my head to my heart, a gap I’m start­ing to bridge with help from the right people.

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