I rarely recommend books but the other day I came across a youtube clip of Dr Brene Brown talking about the difference between sympathy and empathy and it was fascinating and thought provoking. So I went to the large bookshop in Shatin and hunted down one of her books I thought it was just me (but it isn’t).
I love that she says it takes courage to admit our vulnerability and not a sign of weakness, to be avoided at all cost. It reaffirms our fundamental human nature; are we not all vulnerable at certain points in our life? Who can be strong, sorted and keeping it all together all the time? If they appear to be then they are just better at masking their fear and putting on their game face.
I used to think I was fundamentally flawed, over-emotional, irrational, would cry at the drop of a hat, didn’t get on with the in-laws, obviously I was the problem, fell apart with my recurrence rather than being stoic, keep the stiff upper lip and look on the bright side of life, counting my blessings, after all there are people worse off, right? I was a coward, an imposter at work pretending to be a good teacher but soon I’d be found out by Ofsted and exposed, I couldn’t be calm and carry on and take what life had to throw at me.
I didn’t just shrug and took it on the chin when my husband chose to have a mini nervous breakdown when I needed him most during the chemotherapy. Nor when he left me to my devices to sink or swim afterwards when I had struggled with superhuman courage and strength to get better, when I thought we had weathered the storm and things could only get better, He chose that precise moment to excommunicate me from his life, heart and mind. Still gobsmacked how he could just comparmentalise the past, present and future. He announced my position as the devoted spouse was surplus to requirement with immediate effect, no redundancy package, no pay in lieu of notice, nope, zilch, as if he was saying I fancy fish and chips tonight.
I felt it was because of my myriad of faults, weaknesses, merely being me that caused the marriage to fail so dramatically and utterly. I had made his life hell, my recurring depressions, the recurrence led to the demise of the business as he couldn’t focus on turning it round, my social ineptness at getting along with his parents made him piggy in the middle all the time adding further stress … He’d waited all these years for me to change but it is clear I wasn’t going to. I am too stubborn, I could get better, I knew how, God knows I have been advised by enough therapists, psychologists … but I had to do it my way.
I wasn’t tough enough, rational enough, socially skilled, fun enough, chilled enough, in short I just wasn’t good enough. There was something seriously wrong with me.
Dr Brown’s message comes as a great relief, there is nothing fundamentally flawed with me, I am not paranoid, the problem, I am just human, like the rest of the homo sapiens, imperfect and vulnerable. This is the best present Santa could have brought.
Good enough, I’m good enough, for me, for you and if you don’t think so then you know where the door is.
My ex told me at the end when he threw away the baby with the bath water that all these years he stayed waiting for me to change and now he knew I wasn’t going to and so … Change? Into what? A sex kitten in bed, a Cordon Bleu chef, a perfect housewife keeping a spotless home, a gracious hostess, an elegant eye candy who will behave with decorum in public, a demure wife who walks three steps behind her husband and knows not to offer an opinion and certainly not contradict? Change into what exactly? And what’s wrong with being me anyway??
Who else can we be but ourselves?
Good enough for who and for what? Who decides, measures you by some nebulous random standard and find you wanting? And why should we swallow it hook, line and sinker? Why allow their judgement to define and label us as inadequate, not quite measuring up, not meeting the grade; we need to try harder, do better, be more, much more.
From my first breath not being good enough, a disappointment, seeped into my consciousness into the very core of my being. Unspoken, invisible, never acknowledged but pervasive and definitely there. It has dogged me every step of the way every second of the day. It can’t be evicted, like a faithful dog it follows me everywhere, a constant companion and no matter what I say it will be there till my last gasp.
Maybe it has something to do with my mother’s silent tears streaming down her cheeks when the doctor announced, ‘It’ a girl’. Or my paternal grandmother coming with a basket of a half a dozen red eggs brimming with hope, took one look at me, turned and headed out the door.
I strove to be a Good Chinese Daughter, worked hard at school, went straight home, never smoked, flirted with the boys … But somehow got labelled as the Black Sheep, the rebel, the Bad Chinese Daughter, my sister being the favourite cos she got the accolade of Model Daughter.
Despite being the baby I was the first to go to university. I was the only Chinese in my year to study English Literature. I qualified as a teacher, someone who didn’t speak a word of English when she landed at Heathrow at the age of eight, yet I started teaching British kids literacy, numeracy and everything else at an East London primary school. Did my mum give me a pat on the back? Hell no. In typical Chinese parent mode she uttered the immortal words, ‘Why did you have to become a teacher, they are always poor! Why couldn’t you have been a doctor, lawyer or even an accountant?’
The most hurtful thing my mother ever said was directed at my daughter but was meant for me, ‘Don’t grow up like your mother, grow up like your auntie O. That came out of nowhere; we were having a nice family meal in a restaurant in Chinatown. We hadn’t argued. M doesn’t speak Cantonese so that barbed comment was aimed at me. I felt obliterated, totally invalidated, wiped out. You can criticise the way I dress, you can recommend I change certain of my behaviours, name something specific you are not happy with but to tell my daughter not to grow up like her mum and then to compare me unfavourably to my sister, her favourite, which has always been a sore point.
I was so hurt I was gobsmacked and speechless. I did not speak to her for eight months and when I moved I forbade the Model Daughter to give her my new address.
Not good enough, however hard I tried, however good I was, however clever, whatever I achieved, I could never be the boy they wanted, no, not even if I had a sex change. That is why I have always struggled with a sense of belonging. In spite of growing up here my Chinese skin makes me stick out and identifies me as a foreigner. Back in Hong Kong I can merge in the crowd but my dress sense, slow motions, attitudes mark me as an ‘outsider’, someone who’s been tainted by western values. Not a local, not quite one of them. A single middle aged Chinese woman should not dress like that, should not be drinking beer alone even with food. What the hell is she thinking? She should be home preparing dinner, waiting for hubby to come through the door with slippers ready and be supervising her grandchildren doing their homework. She must be a ‘bad’ woman.
Criticism, I can’t handle criticism. I react very badly, either very defensive or cut to the quick. Rejection. The worse thing that could happen to me was being ejected, evicted, ex-communicated, exiled from my husband’s life, heart and mind. Not good enough, yet again, not even for the man whom I loved and I thought loved me. The man I chose to marry, have a child with, spend the rest of my life, grow old and till death do us part. In sickness and in health, for richer or poorer … I meant those words.
I wasn’t good enough for the family I was born into so I grew up and chose to create my own and for a while we were very happy and we were a close loving unit, the envy of friends and family. But the fairy tale did not last. I thought love was unconditional, that its power would weather all storm, that my man was superman, that he would be the last man standing, that he loved me as much as I loved him, which was without reservation and with blinding trust. I was wrong. Love is not forever. Love has its limits. ‘Maybe love is not enough’, his words at the end, while we lay in the bed we shared for the last 18 years, careful not to touch. I felt sad, I remember thinking at the time, if love isn’t enough, what is?
Actually I am right and he is wrong. Love is enough. I just looked in the wrong places and assumed it had to be romantic love that would save, validate and give me a place in the world. Unconditional love does exist. We can love ourselves unconditionally for a start and forgive ourselves our past mistakes, our faults, our imperfections and start afresh. Quit beating yourself up. Let it go and start being kind to yourself.
Love comes in the form of small acts of kindness from complete strangers, from new and old friends, from family even those you’d thought you had nothing in common with but in fact older and wiser now you realise you share a common history and that this person has always loved you. In your hour of need you know your daughter now grown will come and be at your side. You don’t need to be Ms. Popular with thousands of friends on FB, all you need is a handful of good ones who you can call upon in crisis.
Quality not quantity my friends. I tried to live a minimalist life so that I am not distracted by trivialities and peripheral stuff.
I am good enough. You are good enough. We all are. For who? For us. For ourselves. That’s all that matters. Love. Hope.