Dear Pei Pei,
I just finished my third round of therapy session with my therapist Reshie. He is a trusted friend and probably one of the best Singapore has to offer in his vocation.
There was an incident, probably when I was 16 or 17. There was a night when with whatever little money I had, I took a transport and ran over to your place to sleepover.
What happened earlier on in the evening… Yi Sheng and myself were home. I wanted to study with him, and to get his attention cube, I threw his Rubiks cube to the ground , so that he would not playing his computer game and we could study together. He got mad that I threw his Rubiks cube, he grabbed me, threw me across the room. He shouted, he panted, he grabbed me up again and threw me all over many corners of the house. Before I could catch up my breath and pick myself up and hide in the room, he was at me again. At some point, I knew I was no feat for Yi Sheng. He was strong, bigger and he was mad. I screamed for help. “Mum please stop Yi Sheng!” She finally came out of her room after all the commotion. She asked what happened. In between fending off Yi Sheng, I had to explain that I incurred his wrath as I threw his item. She continued watching him fling me across the living room, as she stood at the corner, and she didn’t stop him. She then replied, “Well you deserve it for making him mad.”. All of that was not traumatising. Then this part kicked in, “I cannot help you.” She withheld help, she withheld loving me enough to help me. I thought I was going to die. I looked at Yi Sheng, “Please, I know you can stop this. You can don’t be angry. I know you, Sheng. You can stop being mad. I am sorry.” I looked into his eyes and told him that repeatedly. His teenage anger knew no bounds. He was raging, he was out of control. But most of my fear was just periodically looking at mum in that corner, watching all this unfold and she watched on.
It wasn’t Sheng’s anger that hurt me. It wasn’t that I deserve it that hurt me. It was mum’s “I cannot help you” that I remembered. My entire belief of my self and the world is that – If I did something bad or wrong , I will not get help, I will not be loved, I will not be deserving of anything. That shaped me forever.
Dad came home early by divine intervention. The door opened and dad was in his white long sleeved suit, and I asked for help. He separated brother away from me. I locked myself in my room to catch my breath. I scanned around to watch what items were destroyed. A thumbdrive was nearly crooked – a pity as I cannot remember what data was inside. My hands were sore but not weak. Yi Sheng’s mucas were all over me. He was so mad that he had mucas. I felt so guilty for making a peaceful day into something about my folly. I should not have made him mad. But I had no bad intention – promise. Would they believe me?
I did not know how to face Sheng, I mostly did not know how to look at mum again- in fact I could not look at her for months to come. I unlocked the room door, she reprimanded me and said to dad, “Yeah, she caused the fight.” I looked at her tearfully and could not defend myself. I unlocked the door so that maybe someone – mum or dad will hug me and comfort me. I looked at all their angry faces. I was so embarrassed. I took my little coin pouch. I ran out of the house and found transport to you.
I kneeled beside your bed in tears. Shaking. Spewing in anger. According to Reshie, it was healthy, normal, advisable to be mad, angry, upset. I told you everything. I remembered you listened and from the bottom of your heart, you told me – to be grateful. You told me that I should be grateful that Mum gave birth to me, she nursed me, she educated me, she took care of us. She sacrificed her time to work and was a stay-home mum. I should be grateful, I had a roof, clothes to wear, a roof over my head. I should be grateful to have a mum. And a family.
I carried this gratefulness theory from the age of 17 till the age of 31. It let me cope. It temporarily calmed the pain in me. It put all the madness to silence. I cannot be mad. I cannot be upset. I must be grateful. Even if love is withheld, even if help is not rendered, even if I am not protected, neglect, about to die, no protection, I must still be grateful.
That 17 year old kid (me) was given gratefulness as a walking stick. That concept of ‘bad girls don’t deserve love’, made my synaptic pruning one of – I need to be perfect , nice, not angry, 100% amazing, to be pleasing to deserve love. And even if love is not given, I should be grateful. I grew up with zero sense of self-preservation. I had zero ability to deal with protecting myself. I would do anything and everything to deserve love, at the expense of myself.
What is zero-self preservation you might ask? That is if my friends want to go out, I will always say yes, no matter if I liked them or don’t, if I am tired or not, if I am busy or not, and I function in that way because my brain and memory tells me that if I am not an agreeable & pleasing person, I will not be loved. If a boyfriend wants A or B or C, I definitely will do A , B and C, because anything less and if I am a bad girl, I won’t deserve his love. If anyone needed anything, I will myself at the the rock bottom lowest in priority, I will do anything and everything for them in order to deserve their love. Is this healthy? Would it crush me? This is not how a self-empowered adult should be. I was operating my daily living breathing self with zero self-preservation.
If I am in the same elevator as that 17 year old girl, when her brother was so angry and her mum did not help her, her mum did not hug her, did not comfort her, and mostly told her that she deserved to be beaten and did not deserve help, I will NOT tell that girl that she must be grateful. I will cry with her, I will hug her, I will let her be mad and scream, I will not hush her, I repeat, I will NOT tell her to be grateful.
I came to tell you because I love you, and I face consequences in being a healthy adult because I hide behind this gratefulness theory. I tell you because maybe mental health is a taboo. Maybe raising a child so that a child has healthy synaptic pruning is not something most of us are educated about. So when it comes to Jevan, maybe we learn what has not worked and not let it happen.
Telling a kid who is so threatened, unprotected, that being mad is not right, that being grateful is what we need to do, is only a sophisticated walking stick that this kid will rely on, but will never be able to be a healthy adult.
I cannot right what is wrong anymore. I can only reparent myself.
But we can do the next generation so much more.
I love you and thank you and I write to you because I love you and Jevan and everyone very much. Because I can see Jevan’s pain, and may there not be a repeat into adulthood.
With a lot of love for you Pei Pei, and a lot more to give,
PS: Unknown to you, and with as much love for mum, this is not a stand alone case. Mum has a funny way of punishing. She did not make me breakfast for a year when I was much younger, just because I was a naughty kid. I remembered the table had breakfast for Sis, bro, but not for me. I would pretend to sleep so that I cannot witness that there is no breakfast for me. It went on not for a day, not months, it went on for one and a half years- possibly 500 over days. Once again, ‘bad girls don’t deserve love’, I remembered that for life, and I also remembered that in spite of it all, I must be grateful for having a mum. In fact I do, and I love her very much, I still love her. The outcome- it left me with zero self-preservation and unable to form a healthy adult functioning mode. I am pretty good for many years and decades. But there will come times in my life that the walking stick is not sophisticated enough. Then what do we do? That is the key question.
PSS: A child has about 4 trillion synaptics. 4 trillion! How we treat a child will determine their synaptic pruning into adulthood. As such their cognitive behaviour and ability for the rest of their lives.