be longing.

The Great British Bake Off, my favorite and only reality show I watch, always leaves me feeling a little empty and sad. If you watch the show, you might find this odd because it’s the happiest, most friendly baking competition the world has ever known.

First of all, the competition takes place in a large white tent in the middle of the greenest field you’ve ever seen, next door to a beautiful estate where goats roam free, ducks play in the pond, and butterflies flutter about among the flowers. Inside the tent, pastel stand-mixers sit atop baking stations surrounded by vintage-inspired SMEG refrigerators, which are also pastel colors. It’s just the most physically pleasant environment.

Then there are the bakers themselves – always the loveliest people who never hate on each other. If one contestant is falling behind, nearby bakers often jump in to help! You would never see that in an American baking competition. Never. Ever. Every year the hosts fall in love with the bakers, and they hug the baker going home that weekend. Actually, everyone hugs everyone at the end of every episode. I cry every time. They’ve worked so hard and learned so much!

So why do I always feel sad and empty at the end of each series?

It’s the familiar pang of jealousy. I know it well; I feel it quite often. I feel it when I listen to Conan O’Brien’s podcast, and he talks to other artists about finding their “People” or realizing, “Wow, I can make people laugh. I’m good at this thing called comedy.” I feel it when I scroll through Instagram and see the same groups of friends hanging out every weekend – yes, even during a pandemic. I feel it when I see posts about a job promotion and how lucky someone feels to have found a job where they connect deeply with their work and love their coworkers.

More often than not, the bakers in GBBO say that they have 1. Learned so much, and they’ll continue baking and 2. Made lifelong friends through the competition. The winners always talk about their insecurities and how they’ve always struggled with confidence. And yet – they won! I always cry at this too. Both out of joy for this stranger I’ve never met and because I’m sad I will never feel the pride they feel in that moment they hear their named called as the winner.

I relate so much with the insecurity and lack of confidence, but I’ve never felt that connection with anything I’ve done before. I’ve never loved anything so much as these bakers love baking. And I’ve never quite found My People. Or maybe I have, and I lost them before I could really get to know them.

At my core, I just want to belong. To a calling and to a group of people.

The closest thing I’ve felt to belonging was in journalism school during my long-form narrative writing course. I never felt more insecure than during journalism school, but I felt really connected to the work. If it wasn’t for my incredible anxiety, I would have loved reporting. I always felt privileged to hear people’s stories and be a part of their lives for a while. I loved my classmates, talking about stories, writing, and suffering together. I mean, I didn’t love the suffering, but going through it together made it kind of fun, in a sadistic way.

Sadly, I haven’t kept in touch with my Medill classmates. Mostly because of my social anxiety. I think about them often and wish I could be cool and reach out. But I always stop myself. The A N X I E T Y.

I wonder every day if I’ll ever belong. I obviously won’t if I just sit around at home and cry about British bakers hugging each other. That’s for sure.

 “A truth was being revealed to me: that I had always tried to attach myself to the light of other people, that I had never had any light of my own. I experienced myself as a kind of shadow.”

Zadie Smith, Swing Time

I’ve always seen myself as a side character. The side-kick cheering on my friends, The Stars. Anyone I meet, really, is The Star. I even imagine strangers I meet for a second on the street to be spectacular people living spectacular lives. I make a brief appearance in their life movies and then – ffwoop—

I’m forgotten.

Perhaps this is a byproduct of hiding my Self from ages 9 to 26. Maybe I wanted to be forgotten because I was too ashamed to be seen. I believed myself too unpalatable. That’s why people like myself aren’t centered in film or TV. So how could I ever be The Star?

I think I struggle, too, with this idea because I am so lost. I don’t have a career. I don’t know what to do with my life. But I’m good at encouraging others. I often feel like my purpose in life is to encourage others and help them achieve their dreams, even though I’ll never achieve my own.

I’m the side character who helps the main character get off their butt. I’m Melissa McCarthy wrestling and slapping Kristen Wiig until Kristen gets off the pity party couch. I realize I am also Kristen Wiig in this situation. I am literally on the couch feeling sad about myself right now. I don’t know what to do.

I want there to be more representation of people like me in TV and film. Two weeks ago I started working on a screenplay about my life, my disability, and my family dynamic around my disability. It’s something I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. So, I was excited to finally start it, but I can’t figure out the story. If I center it around me, it is just… so… BORING. The more interesting character, it seems, is my mom. Then I de-center myself in my own story. Am I just that boring?! Is the only “interesting” thing about me my disability?

As I write this, my chest feels heavy with frustration and anger at myself. At how much self-hate I have. There’s this heaviness in my chest, and yet, I feel incredibly empty. I’m not sure what to do about it, so I’m writing. I hate everything that’s on the page, but if I erase it, I’ll feel worse. I don’t have the energy to edit and polish, so this is it. Today I have no answers, only pain. Some days that’s all there is.

Mom Caught Me Taking Drugs.

“그약 먹지마! 아유… 너무 속상해 (Don’t take that medicine. I’m so upset),” Mom said to me after she caught me taking Cymbalta a couple weeks ago. Cymbalta is an antidepressant. One of the medications I tried along with Sertraline, Wellbutrin, Wellbutrin XR, Lexapro, Prozac, and probably one I’m forgetting. My parents don’t believe in antidepressants because they don’t believe in Depression.

Depression isn’t real – you’re just sad. Don’t be sad. What do you have to be sad about? Depression doesn’t exist – you just need to exercise and get a job and you’ll feel better. Since Depression isn’t real, Mom and Dad weren’t worried when I told them I was depressed. It was the Sertraline that made them “so upset.” Upset.

In Korean we say, “속상해 (sohk-sang-hae).” The first syllable, “속” (sohk) can be translated as “inside” or “heart.” The second two syllables “상해” (sang-hae) means “damaged” or “rotten.” When you say you’re upset in Korean, you’re saying your heart has been damaged. In other words, I damage my mom’s heart by trying to keep myself alive.

Mom talks about antidepressants with a gravity appropriate for, I don’t know, an opioid addiction? Maybe that’s too severe, but she’s pretty serious about it. “You need to stop taking them,” Mom says, brows furrowed. “큰일나. (Kkeun-il-nah) They’ll mess with your body and you won’t be able to have kids.” 큰일나 (Kkeun-il-nah) directly translated in English means, “A big event will occur.” It’s a negative phrase meaning something bad is going to happen. Warning: Danger.

I’m sure Mom was extra hurt and worried because she thought I had stopped taking my medication six years ago when I first started taking them and she and Dad told me to stop. Back then I couldn’t explain Depression or medication very well, and it was exhausting to explain myself anyway, so I just nodded and continued taking the drugs in secret.

Before I got married and moved out of my parents’ house I would stash Sertraline, or whatever I was taking at the time, in my backpack because my parents respected that boundary. I’d take the pills out quietly and pop them in my mouth before I left my room to get water. Or I would get a cup of water and take the pills in my room. I was really careful. But I guess taking them freely in my own home after I got married made me too loose with my drug use. That rhymed, ha.

A couple weeks ago I visited my parents. At 8PM I took two Cymbalta capsules and popped them in my mouth as I walked down the hallway toward the kitchen on the way to get a glass of water. I reached the water cooler and thought I had gotten away with it until I heard Mom ask from the kitchen island, “What medication did you just take?” 

I’m not a good liar. So I drank my water and pretended not to hear her. She walked over to me and got close to my face. She asked again in almost a whisper as if it was an illegal substance, “What medicine did you just take?”

I looked her in the eye and continued to drink water trying to gather up the strength to lie. Just say it’s Tylenol, Elise. But when she asked me again, I swallowed my water and instead of lying, I shook my head as if to say, “It’s nothing, it’s nothing.” That gave it away. 

“Are you taking those pills you were taking before?” I nodded. 

“Stop taking them!” She was really upset now. If I were a teenager in that moment, my heart would have started racing and my throat would have had that swollen feeling. I would have felt so ashamed and sorry for taking medication my parents don’t approve of. But I’m 31 years old and have been going to therapy for six years. So instead I said, “엄마 (Mom), It’s fiiine,” and walked back to my room to tell my husband and laugh about how I’d been caught taking antidepressants. 

Even though I’m 31 and no longer afraid of my parents’ opinions. I had still been hiding my medication from them because I still don’t know how to have a direct, clear conversation about why I need to take my antidepressants. I immediately go into defense mode and assume they will never understand. I dismiss everything they’re saying about it being dangerous, etc, and walk away hoping they’ll leave me alone.

I don’t think I owe them anything. It’s my life and my body. I’m trying to save myself any way that I can right now. On the other hand, it would be nice to explain and eventually have parents who understand that Depression is real and suicidal thoughts are real and I have been suffering for the last six years. I’m not just lazy. A word they use to describe me all the time. They even once told our waiter at a Korean restaurant that I was lazy – I don’t remember why. 

I want to be understood by my family. I’ve tried to explain it when I first started antidepressants. But they were so against it that they couldn’t really hear me. And I don’t think their views have changed.

I’ve had really bad luck with antidepressants. My body hasn’t responded well to all the ones I’ve tried so far. I’ve experienced bad side effects and the medications haven’t been very effective. But they have helped with the suicidal ideations more than if I wasn’t on them, but not completely.

In addition to Cymbalta, I started taking Abilify exactly a week ago. It’s a different class of medication and I’m finally starting to feel a little better. Apparently I respond better to antipsychotics than SSRIs. (I hate that it’s called an antipsychotic. It makes me feel like a crazy person.)

I don’t like having to take medication. I wish I could live without them. But they’re keeping me alive. And a month ago I didn’t even want to be alive. A week ago I wouldn’t had been able to write five sentences. But today I am happy to be alive and I was able to write this blog post. I’d say that’s an improvement.

Even if my parents never understand, that’s okay. It’s more important that I get to share other parts of my life with them. We’re going home this weekend, so maybe I’ll try to explain it to them again. If I do, I’ll have more to write about 🙂