Love, Loss & Grief

24 years ago my partner died.

I have never written about that time, even though I journal and blog. There was always a part of me that didn’t want to bring up those memories again, the time now feels ‘right’ as this month is the anniversary of his death.

Grief is a cruel, ongoing lesson that never stops. Over the years grief changes, but it’s always with us, it leaves permanent scars. There is nothing in life that prepares us for the loss of a loved one, even if we have lost someone before. The avalanche of emotions that it brings up are all consuming, they paralyse us, make it hard to breathe. We are trapped in a living hell, trying to survive, our brains are on auto loop replaying memories and events. We are numbed by pain. We yearn to have more time with them, we shed many tears over many years. Over the years the pain lessens, it’s easier to breathe when the anniversary comes around… but the wound is still there, held on by a lifelong plaster that will be replaced numerous times over our lifetime.

I met Chris when I was 23. I wasn’t in the headspace for a relationship as the previous year I had run away from an abusive relationship and gone into hiding. We met through a mutual friend and found out we had lots in common. I was very defensive, still carrying mental scars from my abusive relationship and I was wary of anyone new.

We didn’t have a lot of time together, death put an abrupt end to that. But in the time we did have, I began to heal and I will always be grateful for that important journey and to Chris for his patience and making me laugh, and most importantly, making me feel safe. I don’t want to go into too many details of our relationship or that time because tears are already flowing hard as I write this.

Chris died of a brain haemorrhage in his sleep. I found out when I was Christmas shopping for his presents. I had a strong feeling I had to call him on my way home and his neighbour answered the phone, he didn’t want to tell me what had happened on the phone. He wanted to tell me in person, I started crying and asked him to say what was going on. I will never forget those words “There’s been an incident. Chris has gone”. I was sobbing hard on the escalators going into the tube station. I was shrieking, I couldn’t breathe.

The moment I had called was five minutes after his family and neighbour had gained entry into his home as no one had heard from him for a week and he hadn’t returned our calls. I went over there straight away, the police and an ambulance was also there. It was the first time I had met his sister, she asked who I was, his neighbour hugged me and said he was so sorry. I could barely garble the words “I’m his girlfriend”, I felt sick and I was in shock. We all were.

I asked the police if I could say goodbye to him, they didn’t want to let me into his bedroom because they said it would be too upsetting. A part of me wishes I had listened to them, but at that moment I had to say goodbye, it felt like the right thing to do. Seeing Chris in that way has tormented me many times over the years. That image is deeply imprinted in my mind, I don’t want to remember him like that. Someone so full of life, vibrant, charismatic, funny, kind and protective to those in his circle – now lifeless.

Chris has sent me little reminders over the years. To let me know even though his physical body is no longer here, his spirit very much is. I find it comforting and heartbreaking at the same time.

Fast forward to now and there is happier news. I am engaged.

I didn’t think I would ever get to this point in a relationship because for so many years after Chris died I had a huge fear that if I allowed myself to love again, I would lose them. My counsellor was amazing, she helped me navigate so many difficult times. Of course we all have to die at some point, but losing a partner so suddenly and unexpectedly changes you in so many ways.

Because I was so young, I used to have people regularly telling me I would be ok as I had plenty of time ahead of me to find love again. Please don’t do that. Don’t ever tell someone who has lost their partner they will find love again. You may think you are helping and giving us hope, but infact your words are incredibly cruel and can be soul destroying. For those of us who have loved and lost, only we can decide when we are ready to start living again. We work to our own timelines, you don’t get to tell us what we should and shouldn’t do. You certainly don’t get to impose your expectations onto us at any stage.

I know I am very fortunate to have found a big love again. I am grateful for that every day and it’s something I will never take for granted.

This is part of my story. Thank you for reading.

In loving kindness.

If you want to speak to someone about grief please go to the Cruse website.

One of the best books I have read about grief is by Megan Devine ‘It’s ok that you’re not ok: meeting grief and loss in a culture that doesn’t understand’.

I am Enough

I lost my shit this week. A bit more than I had last week, and a bit more than the week before.

Sometimes we carry burdens for far too long by ourselves, thinking we can sort it out and everything will be fine. Then these issues and problems don’t get sorted, and like a dripping tap more get added until we just can’t deal with it all and then our cup overfills and we burst.

I cried. I’ve been crying almost every day for a few weeks now. My anxiety attacks have come back big time.

This is mental health awareness week in the UK. It’s been a strange feeling to stand up in front of my colleagues and let them know we are there for them. We have organised various activities over the next month to encourage them to take care of themselves and mange their mental health. I am struggling to manage my own at the moment. I’ve always been very good at smiling to pretend everything is fine, putting on my positivity pants (in my head they are sparkly and have puppies and kittens on them), and making people think I’m ok when I’m not. I can’t keep wearing this mask – it’s exhausting, and I’m so tired. So my mask has dropped and I’ve opened the flood gates.

It can be scary admitting we need help. I’m always worried about letting people down – particularly at work where so many people depend on and look to me to lead and to keep everyone and everything on track. My boss has been amazing and is helping me navigate the work pressures and stress. I know there is light at the end of the tunnel, I have to hang on for a little while longer.

This week I’ve had a few wake up calls.

Drip, drip, drip… the constant drops of other people’s words, expectations, behaviour and actions, worrying about my friends and family. Juggling things in my personal life. Trying hard to block out the overwhelming difficulties of what’s happening globally. So many are struggling and hurting. I also have ongoing doctors and hospital appointments to try and pinpoint what’s going on with my health. It all adds up.

I’ve also been worrying about an upcoming trip abroad to look after my mum who has dementia. I have a very difficult relationship with her and this trip has made my anxiety skyrocket with each week that passes. I have to keep telling myself to stop thinking the worst about something that hasn’t happened yet. I want to be prepared though, so my inner child doesn’t get hurt time and time again whenever we are in each other’s company. It’s so hard to not let her cruel words pierce my heart and disturb my soul. I must find a way to get through this because I’m the one that is aware of what is going on around me, my mum has lost this ability.

I must be strong, I must be kind and I must be patient. I also need to prioritise my wellbeing.

I’ve made an effort to eat better and to make time to exercise regularly which always makes a big impact to my mental health. It’s hard though, when you’re exhausted from the mental battle that you fight every day. Trying to muster up some energy to exercise – it does make a difference so I put on some music and push myself or I go for walk around the block. Making myself move is important so I don’t just sit on the sofa and stare blankly at the walls.

I’ve also started journaling again. Sometimes it’s the odd word that describes how I’m feeling, or it might be sentences that don’t really make much sense. I need to get the excessive thoughts and worries out of my head so they’re not swirling around and getting tangled up with each other. Trying to find peace amongst the busyness. I’ve been chatting to my husband and best friends letting them know I’m not in a good place, which isn’t easy to admit. The love and support they have shown me is incredible. I’m so thankful to to have my tribe, my soul family and the kind messages and support from people I interact with in various social media channels – I appreciate you all so much. This is one of the most compassionate things we can do for ourselves, it’s ok to say that you aren’t ok and that you need some support. So many of us are told we have to keep a stiff upper lip, we can’t lose face, or don’t talk about your problems as it means you’re weak. It’s the opposite – being vulnerable and asking for help takes incredible strength, it’s a huge act of kindness to ourselves that we deserve to allow. Bottling things up not only damages us mentally, it can also manifest into physical ailments if we don’t allow it to surface, talk about it and release it. Like bubbles rising to the surface – set them free.

I will get there.

If you are also going through a hard time at the moment I send you much love. I hope you have a strong support network to help you and please don’t be afraid to ask for help. I am so grateful for mine, although sometimes I keep things to myself because I don’t want to worry them. I need to work on that, it’s always been a work in progress. I am always a work in progress.

During these challenging times we must always remember to have hope and know that this is temporary.

This too shall pass.

Yin & Yang

Dahlia in the early morning sun

Life has been so hectic lately. I’ve been trying to organise so many things, help loved ones & juggle work priorities whilst navigating my own health issues. It was time for a hard stop and a reset, and what better way to do it than attend a yoga and meditation retreat with my amazing Yin yoga teacher Jenny.

How often do we block out time for self care, to allow ourselves to recalibrate, to heal and to focus on what we need and want on a spiritual and physical level? We need to make time before it’s too late. One of my work colleagues reminded me recently that “health is our wealth” and I can’t keep running at one hundred miles an hour, I need to slow down. I need to listen to the many signs my body is telling me, people compliment me on my strong mind, however a strong mind needs to work in harmony with our body.

My best friend and I attended the second half of Jenny’s yoga retreat which was focused on Yin. The session started off with setting our intention for what we wanted to get out of the retreat. I said I wanted to find peace and self forgiveness, I can’t always be there for everyone even though I may try. It’s too much for me to manage, I am resetting my boundaries and forgiving myself for the guilt at having to let some people down by gently saying no, I cannot be available for them. I can’t help anyone if I don’t also help myself. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

The first half of the day had been raining heavily and by the time our Yin retreat started the sky had cleared and we had sunshine which was a welcome sight from the studio which overlooks a park. I took this as a sign and a reminder to always look out for the sunshine after the rain.

We spent some time on fascia release and a facial massage which really helped to relieve tension. I had some really sore spots which I wasn’t aware of and will definitely pay attention to them going forward. Our bodies store so much, it’s really important we look after ourselves.

One of my favourite parts of Jenny’s Yin classes is the guided meditation. She asked us to repeat an affirmation “I am” and to find one word to finish the sentence. I also love the music she plays. Everyone who knows me is aware of my music obsession! It inspires me, motivates me, makes me happy and also makes me sad. Most importantly, music also heals me, and when it’s combined with Jenny’s affirmations during her class it’s deeply powerful. I felt the energy of my dad and my grandmas in the studio with me, they were letting me know they are always there with me even though their physical bodies departed many years ago. I cried, and also felt their love surrounding me and the beautiful peaceful and positive energy of everyone else in the studio. This is the magical power of love, don’t ever underestimate it.

That afternoon we had a cacao ceremony which was also very special. This doesn’t mean we were sitting around chatting whilst eating bars of Dairy Milk! A cacao ceremony begins from the way it’s grown, harvested, prepared and consumed. It has medicinal purposes and when sipped slowly with our intention, it also feels very powerful and gentle at the same time.

Our afternoon finished off with Yin yoga, by this point I felt as if I had been reborn, I was so chilled. The tears appeared again, they were tears of joy that I was able to experience such an incredible afternoon with one of my best friends and with Jenny and like minded people who are all on their own journeys of discovery, to learn more about who we are and to be the best version of ourselves. To be kind, compassionate and empathetic in what can often be a cruel world, we need to balance that with love and understanding. We must always fight the good fight.

Thank you Jenny for an amazing afternoon, for guiding us and being so encouraging. You are a special soul, an earth angel.

I will finish off my blog by letting you know what my affirmation was;

I Am Me

R LeBall 6/11/2022


If you would like to find out more about Jenny’s Yin classes you can find her on Instagram – Movement with Jenny

Dementia – Living Grief

The memories that we hold of our parents are deeply embedded in our minds. There are favourite memories and not so favourite ones, and there will come a time when those memories will be cherished whether they were good or bad. Our experiences with, and memories of our parents, will continue to mould us over the years into who we are today, and who we may be in the future.

My dad died when I was 2, so I have no memories of him. I spent many years wondering how my life would be if he was still around. My childhood memories are full of my mum, she was such a huge, dominating and powerful force – the fierce matriarch of the family. My mum ruled her home and business with tough love and iron fists, you didn’t mess with her at all, whether you were her own children, siblings, employees, friends or even strangers!

Fast forward 45 years and I am here with my mum right now as I care for her, making sure she is ok. My mum was diagnosed with dementia two years ago at the start of the Covid pandemic – dementia is such a difficult word to accept and live with. But, once you do hear that word – it doesn’t have to mean the end. It will require research, patience, understanding, compassion and not being afraid to ask for or being ashamed to admit that you need help. It is a lot to carry, we don’t need to do it by ourselves.

It has been a difficult journey to see mum deteriorate since that diagnosis. We had always suspected she was experiencing it, the signs had been there for a long while.

My brother is now the backbone of our family, he is my mum’s full time carer and it’s incredibly important for anyone who is a carer to also have a support system so they can get some much needed respite – it can be challenging and difficult. If you do know someone with these responsibilities please check in with them and ask what you can do to support them. Carers can often become so engrossed in looking after someone else that they neglect themselves.

I have never had a good relationship with my mum, we have had periods where I wouldn’t speak to her for many years because of family arguments, but I have to put that aside now. For my mum’s sake, and especially for my brother. I can’t keep carrying my hurt and expecting my mum to apologise – she never will, and that was even before dementia had set in. I don’t know how much time we have left with her, all I know is that we have to make it the kindest and safest time that we can. I joke to my family that mum will outlive everyone to at least 175 because she’s so stubborn. But amongst the humour which I will use to help me get through life, there are times that I will get frustrated, I will cry and I feel helpless that I cannot do more to help, or reverse the symptoms and mental decline that dementia brings with it.

When we reach a certain age and take on the carer role for our parents, we realise that it’s so much more common than we think. As I start to talk about how dementia has affected my family, it enables others to also talk about how it has affected theirs. It brings a small bit of comfort to know there are people who do empathise and also know how hard it is to care for someone with dementia. I let my work colleagues know that two days a week I work from my mum’s house and so my ability to be in meetings and respond to emails will be limited or delayed – it’s really important you are able to articulate this to people. There have been times when my mum has heard voices as I am on a work call and it has frightened her and made her think she has strangers in her home. I can’t use my headphones for work calls as I need to be able to listen out for my mum, to make sure she hasn’t fallen over, or I am there to bring her something to eat or drink, or I need to be there to hug her and reassure her. There are so many things we need to watch out for.

One very important thing to be aware of when we are caring for someone with dementia is that we, and the person we are caring for are experiencing living grief. I feel sad for my mum that she is now a recluse and refuses to go out even when we try to encourage her to come outside with us. There are days where she is confused and frightened, sometimes there are hallucinations. To see my mum so vulnerable after many years of her being such a formidable force is tough, it’s heartbreaking and we feel helpless. She is not only a prisoner in her mind and body, but also in her own home. To watch someone become a shell of their former selves is such a difficult transition to deal with. Then there are days when the rage sets in, my mum will have angry outbursts that will last for hours, she will be cruel, she will bully us, she will say the meanest things and one of the hardest things to deal with is not to let those comments hurt us. Those days are really tough, then she will forget what she has said, but we can’t. Those words have pierced us, she has reopened many scars, and given me and our family new ones. One of my friends gave me some very valuable advice for dealing with those difficult times – we have to back down. There are no winners and no losers, the person with dementia will not remember the things they said and this is a pattern that happens often. They won’t know that they made you cry, they won’t know they have triggered you from childhood memories. This is evident in the way my mum will have been screaming and shouting at us, then five minutes later she will call out to us and ask if we’re ok, she has forgotten what was said before. We need to find a way to forgive and move on, no matter how hard it may be. We must find a way to let the hurtful comments go.

To all of those who are in this situation, please also follow up with a GP and appropriate health services so they can make referrals to help support your family or the person you are caring for. Send them correspondence via email and clearly list the symptoms so they have this information on their files and you have an audit trail. You have to be persistent, don’t give up. We had to fight for numerous years to get mum formally diagnosed.

I always live in hope because without it, I would struggle to continue each day. So I share my hope and vulnerability with you so that if you are in the same situation, you also find the strength to keep going. We have to keep going, there is no other option.

I hope you have a strong support network to help you navigate through this time. I hope you don’t keep your emotions to yourself and you let people know how this also affects you.

I hope the cruel words that you may hear from the person you are caring for, don’t pierce through your heart and soul, I hope you can forgive and heal. I hope that you are able to have some sparks of joy when those with dementia have those lucid moments and can recall happy memories, no matter how small those moments may be.

Most of all, I hope that you know that you are not alone. I see you, I hear you, and even though I am a stranger, I am also here for you.

In loving kindness. ❤️

If you would like some information on dementia, you can access the following:

Dementia UK – https://www.dementiauk.org/

The Good Care Group has listed various dementia charities in the UK who you can contact for support

Grief – It’s so hard to say goodbye

Grief is the purest sign of love.

It’s a culmination of the memories, moments & time we spent with those we cherished.

We never have enough time with those we love.

If only we could have had one more day, one more week, one more month and even better, one more year to let them know in person how much we loved and appreciated them, to hug them tight and not let go.

No matter how many losses we experience over the years, each new passing will still catch us.

Time stands still for a moment, excruciatingly so.

We wish we could rewind the clock and relive those moments again, to see our loved ones again, no matter how briefly.

The firsts are the hardest – birthdays, anniversaries, first dates, Mothers / Fathers Day, Christmases… so many dates etched in our minds of time spent together.

Over the years, our wounds from grief become a little smaller and become scars that are held together with a lifelong plaster.

Sometimes the plaster comes off quickly, other times it stays, to be pulled off again, sometimes when we least expect it.

We endure and we survive.

If you are blessed to have loved,

Don’t be afraid to grieve.

May you find peace and strength over the years,

Keep your eyes open for the signs from our loved ones checking in to let us know they are near. We may see pennies, birds, butterflies, hear favourite songs… they are all around us.

Until we meet again.

The Power of Love

One of my favourite songs is Frankie Goes to Hollywood ‘The Power of Love’. I experienced how powerful love really is on my wedding day very recently.

I spent the early morning in tears because I was missing my dad. I didn’t even get to know him as he passed away when I was 2, it’s a strange feeling to miss someone you don’t know, but you feel their presence in your life. One of the traditions as we all know is the father of the bride walks his daughter down the aisle. As I was meditating and talking to my dad I felt such a huge feeling of love, not just from my dad, it also came from other family members and dear friends who are no longer with me. It was incredible, and very emotional.

I am sharing part of my wedding speech that I wrote on behalf of my dad. I am sharing this in the hope that anyone else who is grieving, or suffering from a broken heart will find comfort from my words.

“Love is one of the most powerful forces in the world. It can break hearts… most importantly, it can also heal them and gives us great strength and courage. Love can even be felt and seen beyond the physical realm. We have all lost those we care about, over the years they send us little signs to let us know they’re still with us – whether it’s in the form of white feathers, dragonflies, pennies, or my particular signs – butterflies and robins. Keep your eyes open as love is all around us. Don’t ever be afraid to open up your heart, even if it’s been broken multiple times. Give love a chance and show it whenever and wherever you can. Be kind to one another and we can heal the world.”

In the week leading up to my wedding, I’ve had a beautiful black butterfly outside my window each day. I work from home and when I look up it was fluttering outside my window and would rest on the wall where I could see it.

On my wedding day, just before I made my entrance to the ceremony, my friends told me a big beautiful black butterfly had flown into the barn and was flying around. I was too nervous to notice, everyone was looking at me and all I could do was look ahead as I was worried I would trip up as I was wearing heels and a dress instead of my usual Air Jordan 1s and combat trousers!

The barn where we got married

As the ceremony finished, and we had just finished signing our wedding certificate I looked up at everyone. The butterfly came towards us, making a path towards me and it flew past me back outside. My Baba, grandma and family were with us that day. I felt their spirits and energy so strongly.

We also had a rainbow later on that afternoon.

A few days later on our mini moon we have been visited by a little robin in the mornings. The robin sits in a bush and looks at us as we finish our breakfast.

Whatever you are going through I pray that the days ahead of you are kind, that you find peace, and you have the support of friends and family to help guide you. If this isn’t possible, please know that you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for help. There are people who you don’t know who will offer support in times of darkness.

Love is here and love will heal us all.

A Father’s Love

I’ve never been a fan of Fathers Day. This is because my dad passed away when I was 2 and I have no memories of him which torments me even to this day. I feel like a part of me will always be missing and I will always be soul searching to find some connection to him.

I would love to know who he was, what he liked, what was he passionate about, what was his personality like, what were his favourite foods, songs, did he have any hobbies? These all remain a blank to me, my mum refuses to talk about him. The things people don’t say about someone can speak far more loudly than the things they will say. What happened during their time together to make someone so bitter and angry?

Over the years I’ve heard little snippets, but I would struggle to even write a top ten list of things I know about my dad. For those who have lost their dads and were blessed to have a number of years, experiences and memories of them, I often wonder if that is even more harder to live with.

How can you miss someone you have no memory of?

I miss my dad every day. If you have ever wondered if it’s possible to love someone you don’t even know, ask anyone who has lost a parent when they were very young. Yes it is.

There have been a few times over the years when my life has been in a danger and I have felt a huge protective force intervene and save my life. I know without a doubt it’s my dad, don’t ask me how, I just know. I sense his spirit which I find comforting, but it also leaves me yearning to be able to physically hug him and talk to him. I have so many questions I want to ask. What would my life have been and be like if he was alive? This is something I think about often. It also feels a bit strange to be grieving for someone you don’t remember, there are so many layers to grief when you lose a parent at a very young age.

So this year, like every year, I think about my dad and I say a prayer and send love to all the people who are also missing theirs. May you find some peace today, I hope you also feel the love of your dad even though they are not physically here with us.

Namaste. 🙏🏽💗🙏🏽

Growing into our power

It was my birthday this week.

I am blessed and grateful to see another day, another year, especially during a time of worldwide collective grief as the pandemic continues.

Despite the difficulties of the last eighteen months where I have been actively healing myself and learning from some very difficult lessons, I have finally been feeling more at peace recently, the fog that had consumed me for many months has lifted. I am aware that it may return again, and I will be as prepared as I can, life is always like the ebb and flow of water. Maybe this is why when I’m near the sea I love to wake up early and head down to the beach, I will sit on the rocks and look out. I think about loved ones I have lost, I give thanks for everyone in my life and I will say a prayer for those who are hurting. The sound of gentles waves provides a healing soundtrack for me, although I am also very aware of how powerful and destructive the sea can also be.

As I express gratitude for another year of life, it reminds me of the time I nearly drowned on a holiday in Costa Rica back in 2010, I got pulled out by a rip tide and couldn’t make my way back up to the surface. I struggled, kept getting pulled under, then after a few minutes a calmness overcame me, everything was black and I was sinking, I knew I wasn’t going to make it and I suddenly became frightened and said a prayer in my head for help, that I didn’t want to go so soon. Within an instant, there was a blinding white light all around me and a huge surge of energy under my feet that propelled me like a rocket back up to the surface. My best friend’s dad and uncle had swum out to look for me and they had a boogie board with them, they put me on the board and swam back. We got hit by big waves, rolled over numerous times, it was truly frightening. I will always be grateful to them for saving my life, whilst risking theirs, I think about this now and again, I will be eternally grateful to them. I also know I was saved by divine intervention when I was drowning and asked for help, I felt the love and protection of my dad who passed away when I was 2, this has happened a few times when I have been in extreme danger. I can’t explain it, these experiences have always made me aware there is so much more beyond the physical world. We should open our minds and hearts to so much more than what we can only see and touch.

Nearing the end of my fourth decade has made me realise how empowering and important self acceptance is. I wonder if we can actively choose to accept who we are in earlier years, to avoid many years of angst, doubt, putting up with bad relationships and friendships, allowing people to continually hurt us, take advantage of our kindness etc. Why does it take so long for us to feel comfortable about clearly articulating our boundaries, choosing not to let people who disturb our peace to stay in our lives. Is this something we can start cultivating from much earlier, or do we need to go through the many tough lessons over the years, until we learn them? I have a belief that if we keep finding ourselves in similar situations that are harmful to our wellbeing it’s because we didn’t learn the last time, so we have to repeat it. It takes a lot of strength and courage to admit we need to reset ourselves, to change our lives for the better, break old destructive patterns, rewire our neural pathways, cut out people who are not good for us, leave toxic jobs – we can live the life we choose, or do we live the life we have been given?

Knowing that we can create our own destiny is empowering. What kind of person do we want to be? What kind of relationships do we want to have? What do we want from life? What steps do we need to take to make our wants and wishes become reality? We can define this, and plot out the steps it takes to get there. Don’t be sad if you lose people along the way who don’t have your best interests at heart, they are not your tribe. Don’t be afraid to cut loose, don’t let people take up your energy who don’t deserve to be gifted it. Don’t be a people pleaser when the only way they will be pleased is at the detriment of your wellbeing, life path, dreams & goals.

Thank you for another day. For allowing me to continue my journey – I am ready to continue walking with, learning from and loving those who cross my path.

I am not a virus or a China Doll.

My heart is heavy at the continuing rise in hostility and violence towards South East and East Asians during the last twelve months of the Covid pandemic. The recent shooting in Atlanta has sent shockwaves through communities around the world.

I am born in the UK and of Hong Kong heritage. This makes me a BBC – British Born Chinese. I have never felt truly at home in the UK because of how I look, and the racism I have experienced over many years. I also don’t feel at home in Hong Kong, there I was labelled a Banana ‘Yellow on the outside, white on the inside’. I laugh it off now, but growing up I felt really hurt, what else can you do when your own people look down at you and treat you differently just because you were born in the West, and they were born in the South East.

I started getting bullied at primary school from the age of 5/6. There weren’t very many ethnic minorities at my school, I became an easy target. It started off with name calling, I was known by my Chinese name at my first primary school and I was ashamed and grew to hate it because the kids would always make fun of me.

The insults started with being called ‘Ching Chong’, ‘Chinky’ or ‘Ping Pong’, the kids would say I was ugly and my face looked like a steamroller had run over it. I would be asked why my eyes were funny, the kids would pull at their eyes and make them slanted, they would squash their noses flat.

Then the physical bullying started from the boys. They would gang up on me and beat me up. The teachers turned a blind eye at first, then they got involved when I learnt to fight back and I started dropping the bullies with a swift kick to their bollocks. I became a scrapper, the bullying soon stopped. Thankfully my family moved to a new area after a couple of years and we went to another school. I now had an English name so I could try to fit in more. My life couldn’t have been more different, I made a lot of friends, I was on all the sports teams, I was even asked to play cricket and football with the boys. It felt so strange to be so accepted, after being bullied and ostracised previously. But then I would get some abuse from kids outside of school, we would play in various sports matches, some of the girls from the other school would be racist towards me. If you want to be abusive to someone, don’t do it when that person is holding a tennis racket or a rounders bat. My survival instinct kicked in again because I felt threatened. The scrapper would come out.

From the age of 12, I started to receive attention from older boys, and even men. It made me feel sick. I used to ride my bike to secondary school and there would be guys shouting at me from their cars and vans, even to this day I hate white vans. Calling me a ‘Chink’, ‘Gook’ and then the sexual comments started as I reached my early teens. This was the era of the Vietnam war films which were popular at the time. Men would shout “Sucky sucky five dollar” and “Me Love You Long Time”, I would get called ‘Ling Ling’ and ‘Susie Wong’. It was relentless, I started dressing in baggy clothes and always wore jeans or trousers to cover up in the hope that I wouldn’t get attention, but it didn’t matter. I was fourteen at the time and that’s when I started working weekends in the family takeaway shop. The abuse we received was relentless. People would ask us if we cooked cats and dogs, we would regularly get told to “fuck off back to your own country”. I was in my own country, I was born five minutes away from where we lived – where were they from?! Someone scrawled ‘China Out of Tibet’ on the wall, even though we were from Hong Kong and that was very obvious from the name of our takeaway, they didn’t care, according to them we were all the same, and looked the same. Fights would break out in the shop, especially when it was kicking out time from the pubs. I have always wondered why someone would be abusive towards people they wanted to buy food from, and yet they claim they love Chinese food, so it’s just the people who cook it that you don’t like? I started to refuse to serve people when they were abusive, but the insults would still continue. The police got called regularly. I developed a smart mouth pretty quickly, I would talk back to anyone who was rude. I still do.

I am going to skip a large chunk of my earlier years because I don’t want to give much energy to a very dark period of my life. I had a number of disastrous and toxic relationships and sometimes ended up with boyfriends who saw me as a status symbol, or who had ‘yellow fever’. This is when the fetishisation and sexualisation of Asian women became very apparent to me. Guys would ask if my vagina was slanted the other way like my eyes, really? How stupid and offensive can you be?! This is a common question we get asked. Men would expect me to be demure, submissive & obedient because they saw, heard and believed the stereotypes. That was how we were represented in films. I am anything but those things, I would send them packing pretty fast. Then there was also the belief that all SE Asian women loved older men. I would get guys at least 30 years older hitting on me when I was in my early 20s and it continued throughout adulthood. It got so ridiculous I would start winding them up and ask if they were rich and had a heart problem and if so then let’s go on a date, I wouldn’t of course.

Fast forward to now and the last twelve months of the pandemic. Due to a certain US ex president repeatedly referring to Covid as ‘Kung Flu’ and ‘China virus’ and being very vocal in the demonisation of China, along with others, he created and continued his hateful rhetoric, repeating it many times during his presidency which has seen a dramatic increase in hostile behaviour and violence to the SE Asian population. We have also had an increase in the UK, but not to the levels of the US. It doesn’t make me feel any safer though.

I’ve had people shout ‘China Virus’ at me, heard parents tell their kids not to walk near me because I probably have Covid. I get told to go back to China – how original. People have avoided me on public transport, this I’m fine with. I don’t want any racists or bigots near me, they’re doing me a favour. I’ve had so many dirty looks when I am out, I coughed once on the train and a woman sat opposite me pulled out a plastic zip locker bag and put it over her face. I was trying not to laugh as she soon realised she couldn’t breathe properly. The comments on social media are relentless.

I am sharing my story because I come from an ethnic group which are seen as a ‘model minority’. This means we don’t cause trouble, we work hard and we keep our heads down. You don’t hear many of our stories, because we are taught by our parents to ‘keep face’ and not to talk about our problems. This may be why some people see us as an easy target – they think we will stay quiet and not want to cause a fuss. But racism creates long term trauma, and for some, PTSD. Everyone has a breaking point and as a community, we are now broken, and heartbroken for those who have suffered, and particularly for those who lost their lives. There are many ethnic minorities who have carried years of scars and abuse, and continue to do so. We are exhausted, we are hurting… but we are also angry. We will not be silent any longer.

Please remember we are not a virus. We are also scared of Covid, have lost loved ones and are worried about our friends and family.

Just like you are.

Mother’s Day

Today is a weird one for me.

I have always struggled to say ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ because I don’t have a good relationship with my mum. It was awful when I was younger, when I was kicked out at 17 I didn’t speak to my family for five years.

I have tried many times to have a good relationship with my mum. But there have been too many arguments and fights over the years, often ending with me running out of her house in tears and vowing never to speak to her again… until the next time, another argument, being told I am useless, why would anyone want me, people just use me. I can’t keep doing this.

I last spoke to my mum at Christmas. I had cooked for my family, we were trying to have a nice time and keep the peace. But it was an awkward atmosphere, it usually is. Then mum flipped out whilst opening her presents and the screaming and shouting started. I left the house in tears.

My mum rang me on Boxing Day. She said some absolutely vile things, insulted me as usual. I won’t share what she said because it still hurts, her words are venomous.

My mum was diagnosed with suspected dementia last year in addition to her long term mental health issues. We try our best to help her and support her, the days where she is calm, we are grateful, but we all tread on eggshells because we know she can also explode and fly into a rage. I used to visit three times a week, but that wasn’t enough for her. Now, my mum has refused to speak to me since Boxing Day and I am not allowed in her house. It’s confused me, she has gone from calling me ten times a day and wanting me to go over every day… to nothing.

I don’t know what I have done wrong, actually, I do know what I have done wrong. I refuse to let her bully me, to try and control my life, she is angry that I am engaged. I am the last of my siblings to get married, and she is furious about it. In her eyes, that means all of her children have been stolen from her.

So today, I shall wish my mum Happy Mother’s Day from afar. I send love to all those in a similar situation.

I’m sorry I cannot be the daughter you want me to be. The life you try to force upon me is a replica of your life which I don’t want. When you are ready to speak to me, I shall put my hurt aside so we can try and have some sort of relationship again, even though it causes so much pain.

Doing The Best I Can

There have been a lot of tears lately. For myself and others. Sometimes they fall without me even knowing why, or they fall because I have heard bad news about people I love. I sometimes cry when I am reading and hearing about grief and loss that so many people are going through.

Over the last six months of the lockdown I have been developing traits of agoraphobia. I used to love going out before the pandemic. Now the thought of even going to the supermarket once a week makes me anxious and nervous. I have never been keen on people standing too close to me (the tube at rush hour is horrendous), and now even when someone is a couple of metres away, I can feel my stomach knotting up and my chest starts tightening. I also start to get irritated. My mind is telling my body that I could be in danger and I have to move away. I end up walking in zig zags around people because I would prefer to be at least 3 – 4 metres away from them. I know this behaviour is not sustainable and I need to address it and try not to let it continue.

For now, the only place I do feel safe is at home. I don’t even like to see my neighbours when we need to go out and have to use the communal door to the block of flats I live in. I don’t like to touch door handles with my bare hands, although that has always been a big issue of mine even before the pandemic.

This is just a small part of the various things that are going through my mind and it’s manifesting into physical symptoms. It’s no coincidence that I am having to take my anxiety medication again to minimise the anxiety attacks I am having.

To counteract the feelings of hopelessness and worry that I regularly have, I try to balance it where I can. I know I have much to be grateful for and I remind myself of this every day. I try to find little sparks of joy in my life to keep me as balanced as I can. Music is a great help in lifting my mood. I have started exercising again. I am also going to have a check in with my therapist. I know I am lucky to have these choices.

As with all things, I have to remind myself this too shall pass. Until then, we are all doing the best we can to navigate these strange times we are living in.