The Divorce Series – Part 3: You’re in my life not because I need you but because I want you

I was raised to be independent and self-sufficient. As the eldest and as a daughter in a Chinese household, I was prepped and trained to be a caregiver. A couple of recent therapists have told me that I need to learn to be taken care of; this is something I’m not familiar with and I’m still learning to recognize what it looks like. I’m so used to taking care of others and being the giver, which is why most of my relationships have been unbalanced.

One of the major lessons I learned from my marriage is that my happiness is my responsibility and my partner’s happiness is his responsibility. Yes, we can make each other happy, but we cannot rely on each other to fulfill all of the needs that make us whole as individuals. That’s why self-care is called SELF-care. Each party must be self-aware enough that they do not lean on their partner for every important aspect that makes a person whole.

When I first met Kyle, he had his own set of friends and aspirations, such as places to travel to and activities he enjoyed outside of our relationship. As time went on and our relationship got more serious, other parts of his life changed… His close friends started families and moved out of town. His father passed away. He finished grad school. He moved up in his career and received more responsibilities. Simply put, life was changing as it does. Instead of replacing the friendships he was losing, he looked to me to fill that void. Instead of going to therapy to cope with his grief from losing his father, he turned to alcohol. Instead of participating in healthy outlets to deal with stress, he used alcohol. His alcohol dependency, lack of self-care, and complete reliance on me ultimately led to the downfall of our marriage.

He needed me and I felt smothered. It was not love, it was selfishness; it was about control over me since he felt so out of control with other aspects of his life. I didn’t mind sharing my life with him (that’s what marriage is), but he did not allow me to maintain a balance between our relationship and the time that I needed for self-care. Towards the end, I felt more like his mother; I was constantly cleaning up after him and making sure he ate right, worked out, went to bed without blacking out… He took advantage of my tendency to be the caregiver and, over time, there was nothing left for me to give.

He was a sinking anchor pulling me down with him. My depression got worse. I was not comfortable in my own living space because of all the clutter he created. This physical clutter was symbolic of his emotional clutter. Over time, I found that I was happier being away from him than when I was with him. My conversations with acquaintances and friends were lighter when he was not around. While living and working in Kabul, I remember feeling at peace whenever I returned to my room because it was my space, albeit for the short-term. I was not responsible for anyone else after the work day ended. My whole being felt lighter.

Going into the relationship, six years ago, I didn’t need him but I wanted him in my life. I now apply this attitude to all the relationships in my life, including family and friends. Likewise, I hope that the next person I’m romantically involved with wants me in his life, not because he needs me there.



The Divorce Series – Part 2: The Partner

My last post focused on the key points in my engagement and marriage that I should have seen as red flags. This post is more positive–it focuses on the things I’ve learned about myself as a partner. My relationship with Kyle started in January 2012 and ended in the summer of 2017 when we officially separated; altogether, that’s 5 and a half years (not counting the final 6 months until the divorce was finalized). It was my longest romantic relationship to date.

After all that time, I’ve learned that…

  1. I’m the partner who freezes up when you get mad, even if your anger is not directed at me. Because of traumas from my childhood, I might not know what to do initially and how to react. Once I get over my own fears, I am the partner who will calm you down and bring you into a hug.
  2. I’m the partner who will want to spend time with your friends and family, especially the people who are the most important to you, because I get to learn more about you and it makes me feel closer to you.
  3. I’m the partner who will cry with you when you lose someone you love. I’m also the partner who will celebrate with you when you get a promotion at work.
  4. I’m the partner who will put family first, and that means both yours and mine. That also means I expect the same from you. I will worry about your mom when she gets sick and I will do everything within my power to help her during her recovery. In return, I only ask that you will do the same for my mom.
  5. I’m the partner who has a huge heart and want to right all the wrongs in the world. Know when to hold me back, but don’t keep me from pursuing my dreams and passions.
  6. I’m the partner who will support you through hard times at work or a Master’s degree by taking on more responsibilities in the relationship and at home. In return, I only ask for gratitude and to know that you are willing to do the same if/when the roles are reversed.
  7. I’m the partner who can be insecure at times because that’s what anxiety does. What I need from you are occasional reminders that “we’re okay.”
  8. I’m the partner who doesn’t ask for material goods such as jewelry and flowers, but I will demand respect, honesty, effort, and appreciation.
  9. I’m the partner who doesn’t ask for gifts but will love you for the small things like helping to keep our home tidy and clean, taking care of our pets, and showing interest in my life.
  10. I’m the partner who is fully committed and will never give up on you… unless you give up on us.

Most of all, I’ve learned that communication is truly the key to a successful relationship. Yes, it’s cliché but it’s also the truth. What we say, how we say it, and what we don’t say are crucial in intimate relationships.


The Divorce Series – Part 1: My Happy Ending

I had always told myself, if I ever get married, it will be “’til death due us part.” I did not want to end up like my parents, divorced after 21 years of marriage. Then, after less than two years into my marriage, I decided I really don’t want to end up like my parents: staying together for all the wrong reasons until they realized too many years had passed of being unhappy.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the divorce rate is 3.2 per 1,000 (in a sample size of 45 states) ( I had never planned to be a part of this statistic. Despite the high divorce rate in the modern era, there continues to be a stigma on divorce. Even the discourse surrounding divorce condemns it: “They called it quits.” “It was a failed marriage.” “They couldn’t make it work.” I heard all of it. Each sentiment denounces the couple, even when the split is amicable, as though they both did something wrong.

As soon as I realized that my marriage was unhealthy, I started confiding in my close friends. Surprisingly, the most common questions I got were: “Why did you marry him? Did you know things would get this bad?” The reasons I gave were: he has good values, he’s hard working, he performed all the right gestures in the first two years of our relationship (i.e. planning dates and sending flowers), and he was safe.

That last reason was the primary reason as to why I married him–he was safe. Unlike many of the guys I’ve dated in the past, dating Kyle was easy. There were no games, no doubts, and no questions about his feelings. I always knew how he felt and where he stood. A month after our first date, he told me he didn’t want to see anyone else. Three months in, he introduced me to his friends. Seven months later, I met his father when he was in town for a visit. After a year of dating, I knew he would eventually propose. Throughout all of that, we talked about a timeline for moving in together, getting engaged, and then getting married.

Kyle was honest to a fault and he was predictable. Even when he didn’t verbalize something he was feeling, I could tell from his body language and his vibe. I knew he would be completely loyal and devoted, the type of man any woman would love to have for a long-term partner. But he wasn’t for me. He needed more than what I can offer, and I needed more as well. We needed to be different people if we were going to make the marriage work, and as I had learned from past relationships: you can’t change the person you’re with, but you can change the outcome by leaving.

We were unhappy together for a variety of reasons which I won’t get into here. In short, we wanted different things from life. I needed to get out of our marriage to save both of us. We both deserve to be happy. I appreciate Kyle for trying to love me, and I’ve only grown stronger and more resilient from all the emotional burdens of the marriage.

Coming out of this experience, I am more self-aware than ever before. I have learned to trust my instincts. My biggest mistake was not listening to my intuition. Kyle and I had a long engagement, almost two years. In those two years of our relationship, our disagreements increased. “It’s just the stress of wedding planning,” our friends said, “This is normal.”

One month before the wedding, I started getting panic attacks and I fell into a deep depression. I remember very vividly how one day, just a few weeks before the wedding after yet another argument, Kyle walked out and left me crying, curled up into a ball on the couch. I had been feeling suicidal for days and considered perhaps it was time to go to the emergency room, but I didn’t even have the energy to pick up the phone, much less execute a suicide. “It’s just cold feet,” my friends said. “It’s normal.”

On our wedding weekend, I went through the motions: greeting close friends and family as they arrived into town, rehearsal dinner, getting ready, ceremony, photos, first dance, speeches, last dance, day-after brunch… I did what I was supposed to do just like I have been doing my entire life.

Now? I refuse to pay attention to society’s expectations of me. I pay my taxes, I don’t litter, and I follow the law. Isn’t that enough?

I am more of a realist than ever before. I learned very early on that fairy tales aren’t real, and I accept that even more now. Relationships take a lot of work and issues arise in ebbs and flows, which means both partners need to put in an equal amount of effort to make it work. That’s in addition to other criteria: communication, honesty, physical attraction, compatibility, etc. If this means I don’t end up with someone to grow old with, that isn’t the worst thing in the world. I would rather be alone and happy than settle for someone and be miserable.


When the fog lifts in Rwanda

If I had to choose one word to describe my short time in Rwanda, it is “healing.”

September 2017, my last month in Kabul, was “traumatic,” as several of my friends had summed up my final three months in Afghanistan. Many people had let me down; I didn’t trust anyone, not even myself. My job ended, long-term plans changed, and I questioned my career once again. I felt completely out of control of everything. Several people encouraged me to write and submit an article about my experiences in Afghanistan, but I’m not ready yet–perhaps not for many years. This blog post (and this paragraph alone) is the most I will disclose at this time.

In October, even though I was back in the states, I continued to walk through a hazy fog. Surrounding myself with friends and family helped tremendously. I focused the little energy I had into my job search. By November, the fog had started to lift and I felt more and more like myself again. Thirty-six hours after booking two trips around the Thanksgiving holiday, a friend and former colleague offered me a 4-week consultant position in Kigali which required me to depart in five days. I immediately accepted and cancelled my personal travel.

Rwanda was the best bookend to the recovery process I didn’t even realize I had needed. Here, I returned to a function that’s inherent to my personality: question everything and be curious.

Through the work assignment, I received a crash course on Rwanda post-1994. I returned to my roots as a researcher. I was able to use my graduate coursework on transitional justice and reconciliation. I met with ministry members and CSOs that work on GBV, gender mainstreaming, children’s rights, youth, etc. It was so refreshing to work in a country with gender-sensitive legislation and a lot of desire by the younger generations to ensure progress.

I made the most of my last weekend in Rwanda by taking a trip out to the countryside–touring a cooperative farm that was managed by a majority of women farmers, a coffee washing station, and Akagera National Park. The weather was volatile and I experienced everything from warm and sunny afternoons to torrential downpours to chilly evenings. I was mesmerized by the fog that hung low over the thousand hills throughout the country, but once the fog lifts, everything–even foliage that’s miles away–is crystal clear.

Akagera National Park after a heavy rainstorm that lasted over an hour (November 2017)

A very important memory on this Father’s Day

A few days ago, my boss jokingly said to me that his oldest daughter claims that the worst day of her life was when her younger sister was born. I told him that the day my mom went into labor with my brother was the first vivid memory I had as a kid. I was two-and-a-half years old and we were living in an old brownstone with my aunt, uncle, and cousin in Brooklyn. I remember my parents running out the door one day. I don’t remember if they had said anything to me before they rushed out. I only remember curling up in an armchair in the living room, feeling a strong sense of abandonment. I refused to go to bed because I wanted my mom. I remember feeling scared.

Tonight, while I was meditating, that memory crept back in, but this time I let it flow. There was a detail from that memory I had long forgotten–I wasn’t alone. All of a sudden, I heard my Uncle Jon’s voice next to my ear, telling me I didn’t have to be scared, that my parents will be home soon, and that I was getting a little brother. I remember him trying to convince me to go to bed, but I stubbornly refused. I remember crying a lot. I remember him sitting on the couch next to the armchair until I fell asleep. Most of all, I remember his comforting presence. My father was never able to provide that same level of comfort, warmth, stability, and protection that my uncle did (his older brother). 

I am still in tears, 30 minutes later, as I’m writing this. How could I forget my Uncle Jon on that lonely day in September 1986? I have so many other fond memories of him… Now I have one more to add to the files.

Today, and on many days, I regret not spending more time with my uncle before his sudden, unexpected passing in October 2013. He was in his late 50s. I was so blessed to have him in my life. He showed me what a real father was–how to treat people with kindness, even if they mistreat me. I hope he knows how grateful I am and how much we all miss him.

With my Uncle Jon in front of my parents’ first restaurant in Brooklyn (circa 1988). From left to right: me (age 4), cousin Sandy (age 4), Uncle Jon, and cousin Benny (age 2).

Winter is Coming… and so is Self Awareness


At the end of every summer, while my friends get excited about sweater weather, fall foliage, pumpkin-picking, baking/eating pies, skiing, and the holidays, I am filled with a sense of dread. Aside from my dislike of cold weather, the autumn means despair and pain for me, and the feelings come and go unpredictably. But that is depression.

Although I was never formally diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, one of my former therapists suggested that the fall and winter months might trigger my depression due to the short daylight hours. As I had written before, my other main trigger is stress, so the two combined makes life harder for me.

Years later, now that I have a better understanding of my condition, I can recognize and manage my symptoms better. As the sun sets earlier and earlier, I can feel the coldness creep into my bones.

  • I have very low energy.
  • I isolate myself.
  • My anxiety gets worse.
  • I can’t concentrate on work or any task that requires a long attention span.
  • My sleep schedule gets screwed up. I either don’t sleep at all or I sleep for 10-12 hours—every day, not just on the weekends.
  • I don’t have an appetite. During my depressive episodes, I can lose anywhere from 5 to 20 lbs. depending on the severity and length of the episode.
  • I skip out on activities I normally enjoy (i.e. food).

People who don’t understand would say things like, “Why are you always so tired?” and “You’re probably not eating because of stress.” I’ve learned to just nod and smile and agree, knowing fully that they’re all wrong. Yes, stress is a huge factor for those of us who live with depression, but stress affects us differently than “normal people.” Sometimes, I feel bad even when I’m not feeling stressed.

So what do I do?

  • I check in with myself throughout the day. How am I feeling when I first wake up? In the middle of the work day? In the evening? While I’m getting ready for bed?
  • I try to sit outside and feel the sun on my face for at least 15 minutes.
  • My energy reserve for people (and socializing in general) gets very low so I’m extra picky about who I spend time with. I stay away from toxic people. I know I have a tendency of attracting narcissistic personalities so I avoid such people as much as possible. If it’s someone I work with, I keep it strictly professional and I don’t spend time with them outside of work hours.
  • Likewise, I surround myself with positive people. Talking to friends who understand what I’m going through is extremely helpful, and (thankfully) I’ve had two friends who have filled that role and continue to.
  • Although I have people to lean on, I know that my happiness doesn’t depend on one person and neither should another person’s happiness depend on me.
  • I give myself time to feel the emotions and wait for them to pass. Sometimes that means calling out sick from work. If someone with a physical illness can do that, why should it be different for a mental illness?

Ever since I was diagnosed with clinical depression 10 years ago, I noticed that I suffer 2-4 depressive episodes each year. On my best days, I feel normal. I’m energetic, I have an appetite, and I am my usual, extroverted self. On my worst days, I have a hard time getting out of bed, I can’t talk to anyone, I can feel the pain of the world on my shoulders, and there’s a heaviness in my heart. On most days, I can honestly say I’m doing fine. During the winter months, I do struggle to have better days. I spend all of my energy putting on a smile and just to… function.

I’m hoping this winter will be different because I have become more self-aware. I had a long depressive episode earlier this year that started in January and didn’t end until early July. In those months, I had lost two friends unexpectedly, I was working under a narcissistic boss, and I spent all of my remaining energy on finding a new job. Today, I’m no longer working in a hostile work environment and I have my new job, but that doesn’t mean the self-doubt, negativity, and heartache doesn’t creep in.

No Turning Back

My first 4th of July in Washington, DC (July 4, 2011)

Today marks my five-year anniversary of being a DC resident. On May 28, 2011, I moved to Washington, DC from Brooklyn, NY with a couple of suitcases. Two weeks later, a moving truck with the rest of my belongs and a long drive with two unhappy cats (and my unhappy mom) in the backseat made the transition final. There was no turning back. I had no job and just enough savings to barely get me by for the summer.

For the first month, I spent most of my days searching for a job: sending out applications, attending networking events, doing informational interviews, and meeting with temp agencies. I took breaks by wandering around my new city, getting lost downtown and using the White House, Washington Memorial, museums, and myriad equestrian statues as landmarks to learn my way around. I loved the heat and humidity of that first DC summer. I remember the quiet and stillness of the city, two qualities that were completely new to me. For the first time in my life, despite all of the uncertainties that came with not having a job, I felt at peace. As I had written before, I felt free.

The physical act of moving from one city to another was only one of two transitions that I was undergoing at the time. I was also transitioning careers. After six years in marketing, I was entering a completely new field: international affairs. Although I was unemployed, I felt optimistic. I was happy with the direction I had taken because I was entering a new career that would make positive impacts on people’s lives.

In the past five years since I first arrived in DC, I’ve had to overcome many hurdles, both personally and professionally: multiple job searches, a couple of awful bosses, making new friends and developing new friendships, losing several family members and friends unexpectedly (each under different circumstances)… I’ve grieved and mourned, but I’ve also celebrated achievements and milestones, including new jobs, new births, and weddings, including my own. I’m finally living.

In DC, I very quickly found a tight knit community of like-minded people working in foreign policy, international affairs, and international development. It was very different from the two major moves in my life (Brooklyn to Baltimore and then Baltimore to Brooklyn) when I struggled for years to find a place to fit in. Although most of the community are transplants like myself, many of my DC friends don’t call DC their home. Instead, home is where their parents or families live. Over the past five years, some of those friends have moved, either back to their hometowns or to other places. For me, I still consider New York and Baltimore as my two former hometowns (I still love and root for the New York Mets and Baltimore Ravens), but DC became my home on May 28, 2011, and I never looked back.