I know it’s been a while since I’ve written. On the face of it all, things have been going well. My resilience has been better, even though people I love have been going through a tough time. I got my first lot of feedback from my Masters – which reassures me that I’m on the right track, as well as the privilege of meeting some incredible people. My coaching practice is growing and maturing, and January introduced me to some new opportunities and clients which has been very exciting. I’m surrounded by people who love, care and respect me.
Over the last few days, I’ve been in a real funk. I can’t concentrate or focus. I seem to have a million thoughts and none all at once. My heart feels heavy and I can’t seem to feel grounded. And I had no idea why.
After distracting myself on social media, it dawned on me. The persistent news and climate had been overwhelming my subconscious. It wasn’t until I was having my monthly business catch up with a friend that I was able to finally be vocal about what the issue was. I am scared.
As a British Born Chinese person who lives in Norfolk, UK, my social media and news feeds has been full of people’s stories and experiences of racism following the news of the Coronavirus and of Brexit. The stories of British Chinese people’s experiences of racism in the past week has been relentless. People, including young children and the elderly, have been spat at, sworn at, laughed at and told to “go back to China” up and down the country. Although I haven’t experienced this personally this week, I realise now that it’s impacted me more so than I initially thought.
I was in London this week for a meeting. I’m there quite regularly and usually enjoy the hustle and bustle of the city. It felt different this time though. I was uncomfortable being surrounded by so many people. On reflection, it’s because I didn’t feel safe; I didn’t know what the danger might by or where it would come from. This is a feeling that is always there in the background, developed after years of experiencing comments, catcalls, threats and harassment as a woman of colour. But now, right now, I am so aware of it and there are people who have been emboldened to behave in this way.
I’m sad because I want to be optimistic about the world.
I’m afraid that my young sister will have to endure some of the bullying and harassment that I hoped was left within my own childhood.
I’m worried that my grandmother might get abused in the street as she goes about her day-to-day.
I’m anxiously assessing the risk has on my family’s businesses.
I’m frustrated that this still happens – and that there are people who experience this more often than I do, who are told to just get over it.
I’m angry that this hatred is creating a bigger chasm in society.
I feel helpless because all of this is bigger than myself.
It IS bigger than me. There have been some incredible responses to the racist behaviours and actions that have taken place, such as this response to the “Happy Brexit Day” note left in my local area and hearing stories about active bystanders who intervene on public transport when abuse is happening.
This IS bigger than all of us and, in my current state of vulnerability, I want to say a heartfelt thank you to each of you who advocate, defend, and support others. The fact that you understand that the emotional and mental load of always being the person to stand up against the hate and ignorance (especially if it’s directed at them), and are willing to be an active and vocal ally means a great deal to someone who, at that point in time, doesn’t have the energy or courage themselves to deal with it – that is the work of a superhero.
It’s OK if you don’t know how, yet. But try. Ask questions. Use your kind intention and the skills you have to-hand. Please try.
Hello– before we get into this, I just want to give you heads up that this article touches on suicidal thoughts. If you need it, whether you read it or not, here’s a hug from me!
I’ve previously written about how it important it is to nurture different aspects of your identity – and I stand by that! As workaholic who found myself in a place where I couldn’t work, this shook my very core. In the past, when everything else went wrong, I had my work – my constant. Leaving my job, feeling like a failure – it put me in a long-spiral that I hadn’t been in before. My usual tools and techniques weren’t working, and I found myself in the darkest place; a place I moved away from as a young adult. A place I managed to avoid during my divorce; after my grandfather’s passing; and after being told that I couldn’t have children. A place where I felt like there was no way but out. The Demon Pit.
Here’s how the Demon Pit works. Its special power is the ability to distort your thoughts. The walls are built from external factors, messages and observations that’s been internalised. Its narrow walls bounce those morphed and mutated ideas over and over, unceasing in its echo. “It’s too hard.” “You’re not worth anything.” “You’re a waste of space and time.” “There’s no point.” “Everyone would be better if you would just disappear.” “Just give up already.”
In order to work through the unrelenting darkness, I took time out to be still, to listen, to decipher. I started to spot themes and to name them. I identified them by their own needs, passions, concerns and origin stories. And now, I’d like you to meet them.
Little Lou (AKA Geek Lou) – she’s usually involved in some form of discovery, whether it’s practical, creative or non-nonsensical. She’s curious, enjoys puzzles, loves to laugh and likes to experiment and play. She’s a bit of a mischief, will play really crap but harmless pranks, and is competitive as hell! Even if she is rubbish at something, she’ll do her damnedest (go ask the other girls on the school netball team!) She is a joy seeker, with a rare but deadly tantrum tendency. Her love language will involve some form of crafting, puzzle, or pop quiz.
Warning – being the youngest, she’s mostly likely to get neglected. Her boundless enthusiasm but flighty nature tends to grate against some of the more mature personalities. She’ll also ask A LOT of questions and will eat ALL of the cake if you let her.
Mumma Lou – she’s usually lurking about but will make a grand appearance when around vulnerable, drunk and/or lost people. She’s pragmatic, sensible, and unashamedly a feeder. Will always have a handy pack of everything on her and is frequently heard to shout “make good choices” at people she deems in her care. Her love language is pretty much exclusively food and servitude.
Warning – she will absolutely put you first, at the cost of her own needs or wants. This will likely result in her inability to decide where or what to eat. She does not know how to look after herself anywhere near as well as she looks after others. Also, you’ll know by the tone of her voice if you’ve done a bad.
– mostly dormant but will take over the gears when things get too difficult.
She’s focused, pragmatic, capable, and a bit of a control freak. Her role is to
take over the day-to-day stuff when there’s too much emotional clutter in the
way and box them away for you to deal with later. Her love language is taking
on the load, so you don’t have to.
Warning – she doesn’t turn off automatically so you must remember to do that, otherwise she might just run, say, ten years of your life! The longer she’s in charge, the more emotional clutter you must deal with when she’s gone.
Warrior Lou (AKA Super Lou) – like Ms Marvel (spoilers!), she’s busy battling bad guys all over the show, so isn’t always present but is about as much as she can and certainly when it counts. And when she is, she’s unmatched! She’s strong, independent, strategic, and empathetic – a champion for the underdogs and oppressed. She will fight to rid the barriers to opportunities, equality, and happiness that people face, with superhuman endurance and classic comic-book sass. And she tends to show up just in the nick of time. Her love language is to challenge you to a duel of some kind.
Warning – like the X-Men’s Dark Phoenix, even Warrior Lou needs to refuel (hopefully not instigating casual genocide in the process – Uncanny X-Men #135). She might not think it most days, but she really does!
Worrier Lou(AKA Anxious Lou) – she’s really struggling in the Demon Pit. She’s fiercely protective and a bit of scaredy cat. She just wants people and things to be safe. She struggles to keep up with the other personalities, hates thinking she’s being a party pooper, and just wants to know there’ll be somewhere to rest at some point. Her love language is doing her best to protect you from harm.
Warning – like her mythological counterpart, the prophet Cassandra, she’s sounding the alarm but no one’s listening. Ignoring her just makes her worse, desperate for someone to believe her. You comfort her by acknowledging her and listening to what she has to say, so she doesn’t feel so invisible. Remember, she’s only trying to help. She also loves a good risk register!
In my twenties, I was told it was important to distinguish the two. Especially as people were getting used to the implications of social media. Even I have spoken to students about managing their external brand. In my thirties, I realised how ridiculous this was. As a manager, I could see clear examples of how this could be detrimental to staff, especially in a membership charity, led by collaborative values. As a leader, I wanted my teams to trust me, to understand my motivations and to come with me on my ambitious adventure. It’s too much work to drag people along with their defiant dead weight! To do that, being an authentic version of myself was key.
because they saw that I was a complex human like them and that we’re all in it
together, but that being myself made me a happier, more optimistic, and more
productive. Ergo – a much more pleasant and positive influence. By celebrating
my own quirks, interests and peeves meant that one, they were prepared for them,
and two, that it was safe to celebrate theirs. Unsurprisingly, I’m not actually
that much different at home or with friends.
Work Lou will have a stronger leniency towards Warrior and Worrier Lous but actually,
Little Lou allows for unabashed celebration and praise, innovation and creativity
that the others don’t really bring to the table. Robot Lou can calmly navigate any
situation, whilst Mumma Lou will nurture, support, and bring in cold medication,
tissues and a bucket of vitamins come flu or Freshers season.
Life Lou is really not all that different – she’s been running a successful gaming community with her friend for over four years; she’s convinced that she’ll learn Dothraki one day – just because; she’s excited by travelling but terrified of things that might try to eat her; she hangs her laundry just so, to minimise creases before folding them away; and she will whip you up three course banquet because you looked like you had a bad Tuesday. To be fair to my patient partner, on those days that Warrior Lou’s done a full shift, I’ve been known to completely forego decision-making responsibilities at home.
Despite being in deepest, darkest abyss at the end of 2018, despite being overwhelmed by a thousand seemingly terrifying voices, feeling all alone in that despair, it is this group of amazing personalities that gets me through. When we first landed at the bottom of the pit, each of them fought to be heard, each of them scared of the unknown. In time, I learnt to listen carefully and learn from them; to learn to love them for the individuals that they are. Because they really do make one hell of team.
Together, we’re climbing towards those outreached hands trying to pull us out of the darkness. Some days, even now, we slip and fall but we’re still making out way up together.
IF YOU DON’T FEEL THAT YOU CAN KEEP SAFE RIGHT NOW, PLEASE SEEK IMMEDIATE HELP. YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY WORTH IT! CALL SOMEONE: A FRIEND, A FAMILY MEMBER, AN AMBULANCE, A LOCAL CRISIS NUMBER… SOMEONE.
It was my first day at school. I don’t really remember feeling nervous. I learnt to speak English at nursery (or kindergarten for non- UK readers) so, as far as I was concerned, the hard part was done. My mum and I got to the school gates and went to say goodbye. She put her hands on my face and told me to have a good day. All pretty standard. She then handed me a bag of pick-and-mix sweets – not the penny sweets kind, but the fancy ones from Woolworths in the pink stripy bag! She instructed me to share them with the other kids so I could make friends. This was one of those innocuous memories that I had that I didn’t realise left a profound message on me – at least not until I explored this with my therapist as an adult.
In support of my mother, this was fair. She grew up in the UK as a teenager, after my grandfather moved the family from Hong Kong. I grew up in a Norfolk town where, let’s be honest, isn’t known for its diversity. Like lots of first generation British Born Chinese (BBCs), we were the only Chinese family in our town, especially in the early days. One of my classmates was of Asian descent and we contributed to the handful of ethnic minorities in our school. So, on that first day at school, she unintentionally implanted a belief that I still struggle to shake off on a bad day –
As a child, I never really fit. I was too Chinese at school;
too English at home. I was taught to integrate by my parents and taught to
embrace and celebrate my family’s heritage by my grandparents. I stereotypically
worked in our family friend’s takeaway as a teenager. I would deal with racial
slurs from some customers at the counter and then be ridiculed for using the
wrong Chinese words in the kitchen (if you’ve ever tried to say “wash” or “die”
in Cantonese, you’ll know what I’m talking about!)
It wasn’t just about race. I was told to work hard, to make a better life for myself. This wasn’t the general culture at my school, so I was torn between studying hard and fitting in. I tried desperately to be good at sports and the arts. I was lucky to have found a great group of friends, even it changed about sometimes. We were working it all out together. However, I stood out like a sore thumb for some people. After a childhood of bullying, when it started to happen to my younger brother, I learnt to fight back. I became a defender and a champion for those who were being victimised. This certainly meant it was harder to keep a low profile, so I got on with it. As lots of us felt as teenagers, everywhere felt like a battleground. The clash of different cultures, expectations, and languages shaped my upbringing of conflict.
And then I left home. I finally finished school, I packed up my stuff into a car, kissed my tearful mother goodbye before I drove off to university – with my two youngest brothers dragging their mattresses to claim my newly vacated bedroom. To cut a long story short – this is where I found my people. Other outcasts, geeks and freaks. My longest love – my best friend – told me a few years back that she was so grateful this unlikely band of misfits found one another. We all grew up feeling the same – like we didn’t fit, for lots of different reasons. We had also picked up the same skill to “fit in” or “fight it out”. Our adult version of the bag of sweets at the school gates was servitude and usefulness.
For example, one of my fondest memories was hearing a rabble outside, chanting. When we went to see what the fuss was, it turns out the rugby teams were outside of my house, chanting “Mama Lou” en route to their social.
Of course, it’s nice to liked. It feels good to be needed
and important. But as I argued in my previous blog, agreeableness isn’t always
helpful. I developed an unhealthy relationship with boundaries – or the lack
of. I gave so much of myself away, I had nothing left. When I had to take time
off work due to my mental health, I hated myself for being so selfish, for
being a failure. I then felt complete loss. How am I still me if my driving
purpose wasn’t to take care of others? It took me three months of crying, therapists
and hard work to begin to unpick and rebuild my core identities.
It – and some incredible support from awesome people – eventually
helped me unlearn the unintended lesson my mother taught me on my first day of
school. I didn’t have to show up with something to make friends; I just had to
show up. I didn’t have to pretend to be something I wasn’t to make other people
love me. If I did the things that made me happy, I would meet other people who
loved what I loved; luckily for my former colleagues, one of these activities was
learning to bake! If I was excited and enthusiastic, people around me were too.
If I was happy in myself, then I could help others with energy, generosity and
So now, I nourish different aspects of my identity – I am a
British Born Chinese person, who connects with other BBCs; I am a Magic: The
Gathering player, who spends too much time and money on cardboard; I am a
budding miniatures painter, who really wants to win my first painting competition
in a year’s time; I am a compassionate, loving friend, who is anything between
20 minutes to two hours late for social engagements (patience is pretty mandatory
for my closest people); and I am writer and coach, who is still working some of
this stuff out herself.
There is so much fear and uncertainty out there – no wonder we’re all a bit anxious. I know the only thing I can truly do is to look after myself and doing the things that gets me “talking hands” excited, so that I can keep helping others find and maintain their joy.