27 May 2021

Rainbow people and golden mountains

My niece and husband are reading side by side on a couch. The girl's face is covered by her open book (The Rainbow People), while the man's face is concentrated on the book in his lap (The Power and the Glory).
Do not disturb. Thank you.

Recently, the Tall Man and I visited my family for our first face-to-face meet up in nearly a year and a half, which is a long time for adults but a seeming eternity for kids. I planned to bring some books for my niece and nephew -- affectionately referred to in my head (and here) as Little Peep and Big Peep. I scanned my bookshelves to assess my old favorites. Some had made the long journey from my childhood home to college, then grad school, and now would be making the full circle back. Perhaps one of them would become a Peep favorite, too!

After making my selections, I packed a box and headed off. Once we gathered together, though, all was forgotten amid the flurry of hugs and dim sum. My brother's sheepdog remained at the Tall Man's side as he petted her with one hand and ate with the other -- the ultimate in multitasking. Then I felt a wet tongue lick me from elbow to shoulder, and I jumped in my chair. It was hard to tell whether the dog had fully accepted me as part of the family, or if she just wanted a bite of my fluffy char siu bao.

It was only later, after taking refuge from the scorching sun, that the box and its contents resurfaced. I was resting in the bedroom when Little Peep brought the parcel upstairs. "Goo-Goo,"* she said, plopping the box down on the bedspread beside me, "Uncle [Tall Man] told me to ask you which book I should read."

14 May 2021

Journeys, battles, spoons, and other metaphors

A woman holds a handmade sign that says "#Millions Missing" in red ink. The lower part of her face is partially covered by the sign, and the part you can see is half in light, half in shadow.

"Think of yourself as a healthy person who just happens to be sick," a doctor told me.

"I've seen many patients like you. You're ambitious and a high achiever. Find some ways to deal with stress, and you'll get better," another said.

Yet another specialist told me, "Stop telling yourself the wrong stories. Keep fighting, and you'll be back to your normal life soon."

So many medical professionals suggested how I should think in those early years of chronic illness. Yet, I struggled to formulate my own words and thoughts. At times, I literally could not speak. It took immense effort to sit up, let alone haul myself to a doctor's office on the other side of campus. I was overwhelmed by full body pain, pressing fatigue, and roiling brain fog (a state of cognitive dysfunction).

A healthy person with a side of sickness? It felt like the infection that had triggered this onslaught had already devoured my body and mind, leaving me a husk of myself.

Battle talk. Normalcy. Monsters and destruction. Language is powerful. Metaphors and stories help us understand our world and circumstances, in the hopes of recognizing ourselves and getting recognition from others. The right words can encourage empathy, assuming that a glimpse of another's experience will lead to compassion.

Great, right? The more metaphors, the merrier? Well... it's complicated.