people > places > things

27-28

Jessie Ma2 Comments

I’ve always lived out of boxes.

“People come and go.” I’d say.
“We could all die tomorrow.”
“I get sick of things easily anyway.”

And—

“If things aren’t changing all the time, then how could I possibly grow?”

So I never stayed in any one place long enough to unpack. Survived paycheck to paycheck. Lived only in moments, interactions, and highs. I became a junkie for easy Instagram likes rather than an aspiring novelist. I played the Manic Pixie Dream Girl to a number of guys for a few episodes at a time, and fell in love with none of them. Every day, I cycled through a million thoughts and feelings, leaping on to the next set before my brain could encode any of them into my long-term memory. I kept my apartment as bare as possible.

This was all normal to me. This was how I’d always lived.

But I started to wonder—

“Is it actually normal to do so much, work so hard, feel so deeply…

and at the end of the day, have nothing?”


27.

Last birthday— ON my birthday— AT my birthday party

My ex and I broke up.

Okay fine. He broke up with me.

Our relationship had long been dying out, but that was still one hell of a funeral. A gorgeous setting, an audience of my closest friends, tearful dialogue, and even a dramatic dance number.

It was such an intense event that I remember exactly how I felt:

Relieved.

It hurt, of course, but I didn’t feel pain as much as I felt relief that it was hurting as little as possible because I hadn’t given too much of myself to him while we were together. And look— he’s leaving now anyway. Good save… Right?

Sobered up after the party, we decided to talk— openly, respectfully, honestly. By this point, it was clear that our breakup was definite, ergo, neither of us had anything more to lose.

I told him exactly what I went through during our relationship— what made me insecure, the secrets I kept, the ways that he’d hurt me, all the words I wished weren’t for naught. Everything. I unpacked it all.

I think I loved him most that day.


By January

I began to heal.

I think I was just too tired not to. Tired of life boating from guy to guy and never learning how to swim. Tired of putting energy into things only to put more energy into forgetting them. Tired of lying and hiding. Tired of chasing things I didn’t even want. Tired of losing things that weren’t really losses. Tired of not even feeling like a real person. Tired of the emptiness.

Exhausted.


In February

I almost lost one of my best friends in a car accident.

I can’t describe how terrifying it was. How destroyed I was at the possibility of her not making it. When I wasn’t with her in the ICU, her dad would send me updates on her condition. Every time I saw his name on my phone, my stomach felt like it flipped itself inside out. I moved through those few months in a daze, unable to focus, crying quietly, praying to any and all Gods that were listening,

“Please... I can’t lose her. I love her too much.”


In March

I got Pepper.

I had a pet puppy 3 years earlier (that I got with a different ex-boyfriend) when I was broke and depressed. A friend needed to find him a home, and we said yes without thinking. I ended up giving Entei away after a few months. Once in a while, when I can dig past the guilt, I let myself miss him.

This year, I finally felt ready to get the specific cat I wanted: a young grey tabby with green eyes. And I decided I was going to name her ‘Pepper.’

I looked for her at dozens of shelters all over LA, scoured websites, and stalked adoption agencies on social media. I bought a litter box and feeder to prepare. In early March, I went to a pet adoption event in Silverlake. Pepper wasn’t there, but I described my dream cat to the someone from the adoption agency. She showed me a photo of this ‘young grey tabby with green eyes’ that I would love.

I contacted Pepper’s foster mom that day.
Visited and met her that weekend.
Filled out adoption forms and paid the fee.
Then took her home the week after.

Pepper kicks litter all over my floor and scratches up my headboard and sheds on my clothes… but I love her. And I’m aware that I will likely outlive her.

I’d still rather love her, than not.


In May

I started to exercise.

It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but listen… I… really… hate physical discomfort, which is what working out is. Self-administered physical discomfort.

Up to that point, I’d gotten away with using dance as my only form of physical activity. But I stopped dancing as much and knew I needed to make more conscious lifestyle changes for my health.

I got a ClassPass membership and tried different fitness classes. I met people who invest time and energy into their bodies— not so they can dance better, not because they have a photoshoot the next day— for no other reason than because it is good for them. I realized you need more than just discipline to exercise regularly. You need a certain amount of self-love.

I started to enjoy the burn. I work out at least 3 times a week.


In July

I let go of dance (as I knew it).

For the last ~10 years, my entire life revolved around dance. I’ve always been on a team, in rehearsals for some show, or busy choreographing to teach a class or film a video. And I still love to dance. I just don’t think of myself as “a dancer” anymore.

Dance has given me so many valuable gifts over the years, the most significant of them being my friends, my confidence… and my job.

I’m so thankful that I get to write about dance— but first and foremost, to write— for a living. Dance is my muse, but writing is my craft. Once this realization started to seep in, I started to actively seek resources to help me become a better writer.

I didn’t re-audition for Culture Shock LA in the summer. It was bittersweet, but I was able to do so with full trust that I could better contribute to the organization and community that I love so much— as a writer.

It’s a weird feeling to shift my focus this definitively, but I know that dance is one of those things that I’ll never really “lose.” I’m glad to keep loving it in whatever ways I can.


In September

I went on vacation by myself.

I had a week off of work and the freedom to go anywhere in the world (STEEZY was funding my trip)— but I just could not decide where to go or what to do.

Sadly, I wasn’t in the mood to backpack through Europe and experience all these different people, cuisines, and cultures. I didn’t care about any of that. Everything felt arbitrary, like I’d be just as apathetic walking the streets of Tokyo as I would be at home. I was so burnt out that I had no appetite.

So I spent a week completely alone at a resort in the Dominican Republic. I read, wrote, tanned, and binge-watched The Good Place. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t feel any more at peace as I would have in my daily routine.

I wasn’t there for any real reason. I wasn’t going toward anything, fueled by love or curiosity or ~wanderlust~… I just wanted to get away from home.

None of that was worth it.

But it did echo of this year’s repeating lesson: Do things out of love, or not at all.


This month

My company closed our seed round. (Woo!)

We’re now in the middle of expanding our office and looking for new hires to join our team.

And I’m so freaking excited for our future. I don’t feel daunted by the changes, however unpredictable they are sure to be. I have full trust in what we’ve built.

And personally, if everything were to crash and burn here (knock on wood) I know that I am a great candidate for another position. If I helped build this company from nothing to what it is now, I can do anything.

I’m gonna be okay.


You know, not much in my day to day was different this year than in the previous year. I live in the same apartment and have the same job and core group of friends.

But I was different. Everything about me.

And my (for once) stable environment gave me a chance for me to actually notice my growth. I see things differently. I react differently. I appreciate differently. I make different choices.

I can’t believe how much I used to break my own heart for no reason. I wasted so much time trying to please everyone, repressing what I wanted and who I was until I couldn’t even recognize myself. I used to force myself to feel good about whatever was in front of me, rather than doing things that actually felt good. I didn’t even feel loss because I didn’t let myself love anything enough to feel attachment.

Now, I seek only things I truly love. Because all the things I did love, stayed. And if they didn’t stay, they’ve still been worth it.

And I’m not scared anymore. Of anything.

If it’s real, then I deserve it all.


This past year

I started to unpack.

Life finally felt secure enough for me to do so.

And now that I have a home to come back to, I feel even more free to move— wherever my heart takes me.

28.

Is this Water?

Jessie MaComment

My company's office sits at the invisible border between Downtown LA's Fashion District and Downtown LA's Skid Row. When we first moved in, every morning's commute felt like I entered a new course in a racing game. People, tents, shopping carts, and a host of mystery objects would re-map the area not just overnight, but as I was driving – as if forcing me to pay attention to the scene. As if to say, "Look at you, driving your car to your office, to work a job you love, buy a $6 coffee downstairs, then get a $13 sandwich for lunch." I felt physically stripped of any permission to be passive about my privilege.

Now here's a euphemistic way of framing this strange guilt:

The silver lining of the world's tragedies is that it prompts us to count our blessings.

And I did. I counted mine. Every single morning. 


It's been a little over a year since I started making that commute.

One morning last week, after a night of poor, poor decision making to drink on a weekday, I took a Lyft to work. A shared Lyft, because I try to be frugal like that (ignore the aforementioned $19 meal). Anyway,

Apparently it was both my driver and the other passenger's first time seeing Skid Row. And they were not shy about their reactions:

"Oh my god..."
"Is this for real?? Terrible, so sad..."
"Does the
city do anything about this?"

I say nothing. They keep going.

"I hope so... But I guess... I feel really, really lucky right now."
"Right? Jesus Christ."

Huh.


Night Vision

Despite people still jumping in front of my car every morning.
Despite having to hopscotch between littered needles on the ground.
Despite the persisting, piercing concoction of smells I don't wanna sniff but I also don't wanna breathe, so I'm almost always holding my breath.
Despite the drug busts and arrests I can't help but rubberneck at.
Despite, even, the occasional man jacking himself off on the side of the street...

I had gotten used to Skid Row.

So used to it, that I stopped seeing it.


The human mind's ability to adapt is an astonishing, kind of miraculous, and hugely advantageous thing.

Your lover leaves you, and you are devastated. You cry and cry, you think you can't live without this person, how could you possi- 
Then you get over them.

The first time the tattoo needle breaks your skin, it feels like fire.
Then you stop noticing it.

Instagram completely changes its UI and you hate it.
Then the next day, you have no fucking clue what it used to look like.

Our first interactions with negative stimuli or emotion are always the most potent.

As time passes (and it's important to note that it's not the passage of time itself that does this, but our inner mechanics at work during that time), AHEM - as time passes, we grow to accept that baseline.


Adapting to misfortune can be good. There are certain things in life we cannot change, and rage against those immovable objects is a senseless waste of energy. (And we can more wisely allocate that energy to the things we can actually control.)

But the flipside to that is: we're also very able to adapt to fortune, as well.

You meet the "Love of Your Life," fall madly in love, 
Then you get used to having them around. You start taking them for granted. Stop putting in effort. Don't quite remember what the madness felt like.

You make some money,
Then you get used to the money, then you want more money. Ugh – I don't need to explain how the rat race works.

Basically,

We get used to the good.

So used to it, that we stop seeing it, too.


Is "Enough" Enough?

I adapt to good things very, very well.

This mentality is great for progress – and completely necessary if you work in business. You should never grow comfortable with where you are, you should always keep pushing the boundary, keep asking why, keep doing bigger and better. That's how great artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, and innovators leave their marks.

But beyond work (and maybe even within it), it can be very, very dangerous.

This is the same mindset that shrunk 14-year old me from 110 pounds to 96, to 88, to 85, right into a treatment center.
This is the same mindset that took me from being able to survive off $1000 a month, to being "broke" on a livable salary.
This is the same mindset that keeps me awake at night, obsessing over how I can outdo what I did today, tomorrow.

It keeps me unhappy with what is because I'm too focused on what could be. 

I can't see anything good.


In the mornings now, even after realizing I had stopped doing so, I still don’t “count my blessings.”

Instead, I say,

"This is Water, right?

This is the Water."

It's a reference to the motif in David Foster Wallace's famous commencement speech he made in 2005 –

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

Everything.

Everyone.

Skid row, the office. This traffic light, this traffic, the overplayed song on the radio. My arms, my legs, my eyes, my voice. My coworkers, my parking attendant, my barista, my mother who just texted me. The dog poop on the ground. The sunlight soaking my face.

Perhaps gratitude is, indeed, the undercurrent of happiness. But trying to recognize the good things is impossible if I'm not even looking.

Blessings or tragedies, this is my life, this is my water. It takes no adapting to nor growing out of. This is what is, and before learning to be happy with it, I need to be in it. I need to swim.

As We Are

Jessie MaComment

 The lights in our brains

1.  I used to have this big, bright yellow SUV. My friends who knew I drove that car would tell me, “I never noticed them before, but now – every time I see a yellow car, I think of you."

2. In one episode of Bob’s Burgers, the restaurant receives a harsh review from a food critic who describes their burgers as “overdone and dry.” After the review comes out, Teddy, who eats at Bob’s every day and had never once expressed dissatisfaction, says:

“I don’t know Bobby, it just tastes a little… overdone and dry or something."
Bob: “Overdone and dry, Teddy?? You’re just quoting the review!”

“No, I know, it’s just – now I have words to put to my tastes.”

3. There are some emotions that entire populations of people straight up DO NOT FEEL because their language does not have a word for it.

4. I once stopped being attracted to a crush after my friends pointed out his "crazy eyes.” Because gosh dangit, they weren’t wrong – from a certain angle, he looked like an axe murderer. I couldn’t unsee it; they ruined him for me…


As we are

"We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.”

You know how our eyes can only see some ridiculously small part of what we're looking at, and our brain basically fills in the rest of the frame using context and history and blah blah? That's not just true for vision – that's how we construct our entire realities.

We're born with our DNA, but it's everything else – everything we see, experience, every person we meet, every failure we suffer, every pain we endure, every joy we celebrate – that molds the contours of our brains and primes it for future perception.

The world I see is not the world you see; we've both designed our own versions of it according to the unique blueprints of our pasts. 

And those 4 stories are micro-manifestations of this: How thoughts, feelings, observations, experiences, and interactions operate on what are, more or less, our personal projections.

If I hadn't lit that light in my friends' brains, then maybe they'd have gone through life never noticing big yellow cars...


The price of who we are

Here’s another story. This one’s a kicker.

5. In this episode of Invisibilia, we dive into the story of a truck driver named Tommy. Tommy is driving along his usual route. Coming from the opposite direction in their Grand Prix is a husband, his wife, and their little daughter Makayla.

It starts raining. The husband loses control of the wheel. The family's car spins, skids, and crashes into Tommy.

Makayla dies in the crash.

The truck driver suffers no physical damage, but experiences severe PTSD from being so closely involved in the death of a child. He cannot return to work for months and can barely function.

So, he sues the parents who just lost their daughter... for his emotional distress...

and wins the case.

WUT.


As He Was

Tommy wasn't somebody who could feel his aching heart and consider it a natural response to a traumatic event. No, no – he had a different set of lights in his brain. From childhood, Tommy was taught that "men are supposed to be in control of their feelings," and that no amount of trauma should shake a him.

But of course he was shook.

His grief surrounding Makayla's death went on to compete, intensely, with his way of being – the reality he grew up with – the only truth he knew... That he was supposed to be a man! Men don't cry! Men don't show emotion! Men shouldn't...

"How I should be" to "How I am" ...The bigger that gap, the more unbearable the torture. And for Tommy, it was so big that – well, that it warranted a lawsuit.


Trauma VS. Triggerer

I thought this case was insane. But it forces you to wonder: Who's really at fault for the damage? The one with the sore spot? Or the one who (without intent) hits it?

CASE STUDYYYY

I was once in a relationship that brought up all my past trauma. Every single one.

And they weren't out of the ordinary insecurities, either. I fear: being cheated on, lied to, abandoned, used. You know, the uje.

But every time I voiced how his words or actions would trigger something in me...

Rather than a healthy negotiation of, "Oh wow, I'm sorry – how can I not hurt you?"

His response was, "Maybe you should work on getting less hurt."

Oh.

He put other women before me and said

I should go to therapy for my insecurities.

He'd leave and ignore me

and bought me self-help books to deal with the anxiety

that I got...

from being left and ignored. 

He re-lit all of the parts in my brain that I never wanted to light again. Then he shamed me for having those parts at all. Shamed me, essentially, for being who I am.


"The things we fear most have already happened to us."

I think it's ridiculous for somebody to throw daggers at you (or, what you perceive as daggers) and then blame you for bleeding.

But to his point – there is plenty of benefit to strengthening yourself to rise above your weaknesses. Maybe I am too fuckin' sensitive. (But maybe he was insensitive, too.)

So both people in the equation (really, all people in the world) have a dual responsibility of being mindful of others + being self-actualized enough to not be so affected by every negative stimulus.

Makayla's family (to put it plainly), got pretty unlucky with whom they got in an accident with. If Tommy was somebody who'd learned to process his emotions, they probably wouldn't have gotten sued. But they didn't have any control over the situation – not the accident, nor the deeper makings of Tommy's identity/reality.

But unlike this tragic incident, the great thing about relationships (not just romantic ones) is that you can choose who to be with/around and how to navigate them.

Attraction between two people is only the first funnel.

A few funnels after that – the harder ones to go through, are the ones that tell you if this person is going to work with your fears.

  • Can they see / understand what hurts you?

  • If they don't at first (that's okay, we're all different people), are they willing to try to see / understand?

  • Are you both willing to communicate to help them see / understand?

  • Are you both able to compromise for their reality, without feeling like you're jeopardizing your identity or principles?

We all get an innate sense of who feels good. In our gut. We can also recognize who can hurt us, who can brings our insecurities to life.

The trick is to not let your fear of the latter hold you back from experiencing good things.

And to keep your blind trust in the former from getting you jaded again.

Because no one is trying to hurt you. And you're not trying to hurt anyone.

But they will. And you will, too.

The fact that we're different people in our own worlds requires communication and patience.

That's the only way we'd be able to see – eye to eye with someone else,

and not just as we are.


Why I Don't Fuck With "Nice" Guys (OR Girls)

Jessie MaComment

I: First Of All, There’s No Such Thing (To Me)

In my last post about “Intro/Extroversion”, I explained how I’m not very fond of the idea of “types of people.”

"She's the kind of person that..."
"Our relationships is...."
"I'm a..."

To me, the generality of labels unfairly rule out the gloriously complex nature of a person or relationship or feeling or event.

...As much as one can predominantly lean toward being a "Something," so much of human behavior is unpredictable.

I don’t get married to the idea that I’m a “good/nice person” or even a “bad person” because I don’t think of anyone as any “type of person.”  


II: There Is, However, The Choice To Act

One time, a friend had made a huge mistake and was grappling with a lot of guilt and self-loathing.

I tried to console him by saying “You’re not what you do,” to which he replied,

“Actually, Jessie, you are exactly what you do.”

I didn’t realize how right he was. You are what you do.

If you smoke, you are a smoker. If you quit, then you are, in effect, not a smoker anymore.

If you are a lawyer, but leave your firm to start selling cupcakes, you’re now a baker! (And ex-lawyer.)

But we must be careful not give too much credit to one-off instances. If you cheat once, you’re not defined as a cheater. You were. And if you continue to – you still are. But if you made an isolated mistake, admit it, atone for it – then you’re someone who has cheated, but is not currently “a cheater” (And hopefully your partner, whether you stayed together or not, can also see themselves as someone who had been, but is not being cheated on.)

So, correction: You are what you repeatedly do.

Maybe this is too simple a way to “define” people – but like I said, I’m not a fan of doing that anyway.

I’m glad to have found actions as a way to, in my eyes, see people in a way that’s not restrictive, but flexible and empowering. Because –

If who you are depends on what you do,
And you have control over what you do,
Then you have control over who you are.


III: Using This Control To Your Advantage

This has been a surprisingly therapeutic way for me to think. Not only does it give me control over “who I am,”

It makes me more forgiving of others:

My friend got deeply hurt by someone she trusted.

But she was able to forgive them and remain on good terms.

I, a level 9000 Grudge Holder, asked incredulously,

“How can you be so understanding? So forgiving?”

“Because I’ve done so much bad shit, too.”

Here’s a fact that’s neither good nor bad, purely a fact:
People kinda suck sometimes. Including yourself.

We are all capable of darkness, deception, of neglecting and hurting others, of being selfish and careless and bitchy and rude. Maybe you’re like, ~awesome~ 99.9% of the time – I mean, you don’t necessarily have to succumb to every bad impulse. But you do make mistakes, too. And those mistakes are things you have done, not who you are.

What’s important is that you are aware of how dark your thoughts get, how shitty your actions can be, how capable you are of destroying someone else. Knowing how flawed you are allows you to find forgiveness for others, recognizing them as being just as human.

And it makes you more enlightened as a whole:

I truly believe that people can only meet you as deeply as they’ve met themselves. My biggest turn-off is when someone fumbles around with what they perceive as “niceness” with an almost ignorant naiveté, as that is all they have met.

I’m attracted to people who are a little fucked up, who’ve seen themselves be cruel, who’ve felt scary amounts of anger and hatred and rage, who, in all, have familiarity and fluency with both their good and bad parts, and make the choice to do the right thing, anyway.

NOT because "good" is all they know. But because they see their own full spectrum of capabilities, and decide on it.


IV: Context Is King

It’s pretty clear by now that I don't care who people "are," rather, what they choose to do.

But what makes your actions "good"?

Well, as with all things, that's contextual.

Let’s say a man goes to church, pays his taxes, but cheats on his wife and gives no love to his children. Is he “good”?

Depends on the context, right? Good man of Christ, responsible citizen. But bad husband and neglectful father. 

Does how "good" your actions are
depend on who's watching you?

In Better Call Saul, a spin-off show from Breaking Bad, protagonist Saul Goodman (AKA Jimmy McGill) is a lawyer who consistently skirts around the law to get things done in his own, sometimes questionable, way. In stark contrast, his brother Chuck (also a lawyer), abides strictly by the book. Chuck sees Saul’s methods as being inadmissible, almost personally offensive, no matter how successful the outcomes are.

When I first read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I found a heroine in Lisbeth Salander. She’s the victim of so many evils, and goes on to find retribution in creative, illegal, dangerous, but (to the reader – at  least, to this reader,) admirable ways. Fuck rules, she gets justice. Her prerogative.

I side with Chuck and Lisbeth. People who watch themselves.

I don’t think it’s necessary to go to such extremes, per se (I mean, these stories are fictional), but to me, being/doing “good” is not exemplified by following someone else’s (even the Bible’s or society’s) set of moral codes and rituals. To me,

Altruism is instead defined by
your ability to create your own set of moral values
and stick to them

Does the ideal of “who you are” matter as much as the reality of what you do?

And can “what you do” stand its own ground in your own context?


V: MY Context Is “People That I Love”

One of my best qualities is that I’m not a “nice person." At least, I’m not nice to everyone.

In fact, I don't prefer to even be friends with "nice people."

Not because I don't like them, but because THEY TERRIFY ME. 

The worst thing you can do to someone
is pretend to like them when you don't

Manners and civility don't scare me. Duplicity and FAKENESS scare me. 

If I don’t like you, YOU WILL KNOW THAT I DON’T LIKE YOU. (But I dislike like, maybe 2 people total lol).

Niceness for the sake of being nice, is an overrated, overvalued, highly inefficient, sometimes hurtful value.

The outline of integrity that I created is based on the people I love. I'm open to loving anyone – but it's fair to say that I don't treat everyone the same. The love I have for dancers in the community is different for the love I have for my mom. 

I'm a "good person" in "my own context"
through my dedication to the people that I love,
(not people in general)
based on how they want to be treated.

Is it because I'm Asian (collectivist culture) and my sense of "in-group" is strong AF? Doesn't really make sense because I didn't really grow up there... :thinking emoji:

Or maybe I'm just sOoOo loveless and stingy that I can't afford niceness to anyone other than those I love? But I am open to everyone, it just takes some time??? 

Orrr, DOES IT MAKE COMPLETE SENSE because even evolutionarily, we're taught to fend for ourselves and our tribes. If you tried to give to everyone equally (communism much?), a group of strangers might live a day longer, but your family lives a day shorter. 

Who's a "good person" to me?

Someone who can defend and serve themselves & their people.


VI: Don't Be A Nice Person, Be A GOOD Person

I know I sound like a gigantic asshole. As if I don't care about anyone other than me & my own. 

I do have basic respect and empathy for all living things. I stand by those I love in practical ways, not at the expense of others.

Friend 1: *talks shit about my Friend 2*

Nice Person: Hahahaha um.. yeah hah.

Good Person: Hey, that's not cool, she's my friend. If you have an issue with her maybe you can talk to her privately but I don't think it's right to bad-mouth her behind her back like this. 

Good Person – No disrespect to Friend 1. Just saying what needs to be said.

Nice Person – Spinelessly avoiding any confrontation to keep peace in current situation, not in the full reality of situation.

I used to be such a people-pleaser. I never spoke up about things that mattered to me, or even defended those important to me – even myself. I would never take sick days or show that I was hurt when someone hurt me. I'd never say "no" to favors, no matter how outrageous they were and how much I had to sacrifice for someone that gave no shits. 

I was way, way too nice.

On some level, I knew my "niceness" was a sign of emotional immaturity. I knew I was hurting people I loved (including myself) by not being able to assert my "goodness." To be there for me and the things that actually matter to me.

I'm not an asshole about it, but I say "no" now. Er – "no, thank you." And if someone hurts me or someone I love, I say something.

I don't think I'm a good person, but I try to choose good actions based on my hierarchy of goodness, where people I love always come first.

I'm not nice all the time, to everyone.

But I like myself better this way.

Me, My Mom, & Our Shared Depression

Jessie Ma1 Comment

The only person who feels sorry for my mom is herself. 

My mom, AKA MamaMa, is one of the most hilarious, creative, intelligent, and compassionate people alive. Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you the same.

At almost 60 years old, she still plays the piano, practices calligraphy, is all of her friends’ favorite chef, and makes those freaking beautiful egg figurine thingies. Like wut.

Beyond that, her brain runs well – and fast. A Linguistics graduate from UCI, she loves showing off her fluency in multiple languages. She’s witty and sassy and regularly tells me stories of the last time she made her coworkers keel over in laughter.

My friends adore her. I adore her. I admire her and cherish her more than anything in the world.

And it continually breaks my heart to see her so unhappy.


Even with all these amazing qualities, she is still a deeply flawed human being (as all of us are) – yet refuses to grow or even try to grow. Whether it’s due to childhood conditioning, fear, or just plain fixed-minded stubbornness, there’s this huge wall between her flaws and her better self. 

She’s convinced that everyone else is the problem. She treats me as her property and loses all composure if I step out of her control. She throws these tantrums to my dad, and blames him for the stalemate, failing to see a different way to approach a conversation... Even after decades of marriage. She pushes people away and isolates herself. She tells herself that she’s not talented, she’s not smart, she’s not worthy – all these lies that I want to physically swat away. But of course I can’t – they live in her head. 

There is nothing “wrong” with her. She can be very, veryyy happy if she chose to be. So I urge her, every day, to choose to believe in herself. More than I want her to be happy, I want her to want to be happy. But ––

“This is just how I am, Jessie.”
“If no one Loves me, if I am alone for the rest of my life, then so be it.”
“People don’t change."

Oh hell no.

I care about her so much, but I admit that my advocacy for her growth is partially a projection. I recognize SO MANY tendencies that we share – self-victimizing, being possessive and controlling, liking the familiarity of our depression… 

But a difference (which I pray won’t be a difference for too long) is that

I WANT To live a better life. 

And I BELIEVE that I can.

Because this isn’t the future I see for myself. Or for her, for that matter.


Depression is a sort of comfortable hell. It feels safe, because you can’t possibly get any lower than that (or so you think). It’s not random or easy for someone with zero desire at all, to attain the desire to get better.

It takes an army. There was a combination of a lot of events, in a strangely well-timed succession... The echoes of a voice that’s been screaming at me to be better, the 6 days straight I spent with my mom trying to lift her out of self-pity, books I found that feel like they were written by a wiser self, a helluva lot to lose with the momentum I’ve built on my career and aspirations, a personal vow to never again hurt people the way I have, and the un-ignorable reminders (thanks, birthday & Thanksgiving) that I’m surrounded by so much Love, so many people who want me to be happy, so many pockets of “family” that support me, so much of ME that lives on, even when I feel like nothing.

For them. For me. I want a better life. So I make the choice to live better. I’m discovering more and more, every single day, what constitutes “happiness,” or even “peace” for me. Though my mom disapproves of my lifestyle (uh what, working 10 hours a day and dancing for a non-profit org??? oh jessie u hooligan), she still sees me fighting for my right to be happy. She sees me read and pray and study and journal and Love, Love, Love, anyway. She sees me refusing. I refuse. I refuse to let my strengths, my Love, my happiness to be suffocated by insecurity, stubbornness, and laziness. I refuse to let my creativity and ideas to never take form because of fear. I refuse to let my bitterness reject and judge others. I refuse to be around anyone for any other reason than to Love them. I refuse to be 60 and stay thinking that wallowing is as good as it gets. 

I can’t help her if she doesn’t want to be helped, I can’t lift her if she insists on staying anchored in her lows. So the best and only thing I can do right now is maintain focus on improving myself. Because, unlike her, I have the advantage of awareness: I have witnessed her go through her life in this state, letting slip away so many opportunities for happiness that would’ve multiplied onto itself and made living so much sweeter. And I don’t want that. To lose more than I have lost already. I also have the advantage of being more “Western”-minded: open to therapy, medication, self-help books, even talking to my friends about my struggle. I also have another advantage of having been both the victim and the villain in our depression, and this is enough to make me wanna be neither, to do everything in my power to choose a better path. I take these as omens to endorse my growth, and truck along. 


I know it’s possible. It’s happening, everywhere, in every way.

Through work, I meet dancers who have never been able to clap on beat train until they’re doing pieces of choreography. Through Faith, I meet people who had no purpose find ultimate meaning in God. Through literature, I read testimonies of people who overcame their alcoholism or eating disorder or other personal poisons. Through my own sheer will to accomplish my goals, I fight my ADHD, ignore my laziness, stomp on my insecurities, and create. I quit smoking. I started exercising. By constantly making the choice to improve and seeing improvement, I’m forced to believe in our brain’s abilities to connect new synapses, forge new pathways, habits, ways of thought, lifestyles. More than that, I believe in the power of the human spirit. How incredibly, miraculously we are able to rebuild ourselves once we find the reason and the way. Or just, realize that we can. 

I believe, with all my heart, that as long as I choose to be better, I will be. 

And I trust that God / the Universe has my back – that however this is meant to unfold, it will. 

Knowing these two things, there is no conceivable reason for me to worry. 


When I left my mom’s house after Thanksgiving break, during which we had several frustrating, unproductive(?) discussions about her mental health...

She hugged me goodbye, and said “I Love you baby. I’m trying, too.”