Over the past week I have spent at least half of my waking hours listening to “Feel Special” by Twice, at this point my favorite Twice song by far. I love upbeat dance pop because it both matches and fuels my cheery and energetic day to day personality. I most appreciate “Feel Special” because within its positive and uplifting grooves, it contains more melancholy lyrics about feeling alone, motionless, and without purpose.

These more somber lyrics spurred me to reflect on my own history of feeling misunderstood and isolated. Growing up, I felt distanced from most of my peers because, at least on the surface, they tended to care about popularity and grades whereas I wanted to find a way to get out of my household and to find meaning in what felt like a hopeless existence. This feeling of otherness followed me into undergrad, where I at first struggled to cope with my PTSD before later healing and thriving. Throughout high school and early undergrad, I had supportive friends who did their best and who I still feel so grateful for, though at the same time I always felt older than them, like I occupied a different and more isolating realm of angst.

These feelings shifted when I went to long-term therapy for the first time in undergrad and when I started to read and reread Appetites by Caroline Knapp. In one of my initial sessions with my therapist L, I told him that I do not get angry, unlike other humans; he saw through that and encouraged me to express my anger, that I could do so using direct communication without turning into my mother. When I read Appetites, I thought to myself: finally, someone who gets it, someone who’s relentlessly reflective about both themselves and the greater world, who questions how society teaches women and femme folks to use thinness and men and awards as proxies for self-love and self-fulfillment. I remember with great fondness some of my favorite therapy sessions with L, the ones that involved me reading long passages from my abundantly-bookmarked copy of Appetites and then looking up at him with an expression on my face like, isn’t this so amazing?

Now, the days when I feel misunderstood feel much less frequent. I have two best friends who value independence, communication, art, social justice, and not settling for mediocre men as much as I do, as well as other friends and acquaintances who I check in with every now and then. I write on this blog and read mostly kind comments and the occasional direct message that makes me smile and feel that some of what I share helps in developing folks’ self-compassion and motivation to question oppressive social structures. In moments of despair, I return to Appetites and I read, journal, and self-reflect.

Sharing some tweets from one of my best friends Bri about how friendships do not need to serve as a space to gush about romantic relationships. So appreciate that she gets it!

I still do sometimes feel misunderstood or disconnected. I feel isolated or even annoyed when people talk about compulsory heteronormative practices like weddings or having kids without feminist critique. I want to distance myself when those in my professional circles glorify researchers – even social justice-oriented ones – without recognizing how that glorification can contribute to the minimization of the harm that academics perpetrate on vulnerable groups (e.g., grad students). At times I still I wish I had an older queer Asian American male role model who loved himself regardless of his connection to a romantic partner.

I see now though the merits of feeling misunderstood or feeling lonely. These emotions act as signals for what I’m currently wanting, what I’m in the process of searching for. Feeling misunderstood pushes me to cultivate community with folks who question societal norms and who value intrinsic self-love more than external forms of validation. Loneliness motivates me to act as my own self-compassionate and self-loving queer Asian male role model. I don’t think I was wrong to feel misunderstood or lonely as a child or adolescent, because I was. I wanted more from others and more from myself. Though my current feelings of connection with myself and others may ebb and flow as the years go on, I’m celebrating that at least right now, these relationships do indeed make me feel understood, loved, and special.

In my last post I included a selfie with some of my face covered so I wanted to include one in this post with my full face yay! I’m in the process of bleaching the rest of my hair (i.e., side and back) so I can turn it pink like my bangs, which is why the pink in this pic looks a little uneven perhaps. Yay for hair processes.

Have you felt misunderstood or lonely in your life at any point? And if so, how have you coped with those feelings? General reactions or feelings in relation to this post? Also omg because I probably won’t make a separate post about it, if anyone else is a fan of “Feel Special” feel free to share in the comments because I am obsessed with the song: the iconic halftime prechorus, the uplifting synths and melodies in the chorus, the wrist flick choreo in the dance break outro UGH Twice did that even though I still find their like pre-2019 output aside from “Likey” unfulfilling. Until next post!



Filed under Personal

12 responses to “Understood

  1. Kartavya Ratate

    Your post brought to my mind this extract from Appetites: Being known. This, of course, is the goal, the agenda so carefully hidden it may be unknown even to the self. Over the past week, I’d been reflecting on what this means and whether I was being dependent on others by expecting them to know me, but then I realised that I can feel known and understood by being more self-aware and by understanding myself. And every time I read any of your posts, I am reminded of this. 

    Also, when you wrote about your wish to have a role model, I just smiled because, Thomas, you’ve been my only role model for almost a year now. (I came across your blog in July or August last year.) I can literally write a full-length essay on how you’ve helped me become a more self-aware and self-loving person. So know that you have made a difference in my life, and I feel like that knowledge may inspire you in some way. Take care, Thomas. 🙂

    • Omg Kartavya this post brought so much warmth to my heart thank you so much for sharing! First, I love how well-familiarized you are with Appetites, the being known quote is one of my absolute favorites. I’m glad that you have dedicated time to understanding yourself and that’s something I try to cultivate within myself too. Self-awareness in a healthy and non-ruminative way is so key.

      Also omg I’m internally blushing at your kind words about my blog! They mean a lot to me and it’s helpful to know that my writing is contributing to at least one person’s life. I hope you take care as well and sending much compassion and kindness your way.

  2. Thank you for this beautiful and genuine post. It is a process to know and genuinely love the true self that lives within. It seems you are achieving this, and that is a (I believe) genuine part of this human journey. ❤

    • Yes knowing and genuinely loving the true self that lives within is so important to me. I appreciate your encouraging words and thanks for taking the time to read and to comment!

  3. I spent my school days quite isolated for similar reasons, and some friendships broke in 6th form when I put so much pressure on myself to get the exam results to get out. And I sometimes feel misunderstood as a woman of middle age without children not from choice – people think I don’t like kids or people think because I’m a working at home business owner I’m a mumpreneur (grrr). And people think I’ll be a “grammar nazi” (I loathe that term) because I’m an editor and that really annoys and offends me. But the people close to me understand me and that’s what matters.

    Being your own role model is necessary to everyone at times. You are a great one!

    • Thank you so much for your vulnerability Liz in sharing the ways that you sometimes feel misunderstood, though you also recognize that those closest to you understand you and that’s what matters! I appreciate that approach, it reminds me of how one of my past therapy supervisors and I talked about how even those closest to us will misunderstand us at times and that’s okay. Yay for being our own role models, too. Hope your week is going as well as possible!

  4. You certainly post a lot of thought provoking entries. I was pretty well a loner throughout high school. I had no one to talk to about growing up gay nor did I have any role models to follow. All I had were the stereotypical charicatures in tv. It’s taken me a long time to accept myself. I spent so many years wishing I was someone else.

    You’re a wonderful role model for many people. I admire your courage and you live the values that you believe in.

    Have a great week!

    • Awww that sucks that you didn’t have anyone to talk to about growing up gay and that you didn’t have any role models to follow. I feel like that highlights the importance of representation even if representation in and of itself is not sufficient for political change. Thank you for vulnerably sharing and for your encouragement of me opening myself up and also living by my values!

  5. priya

    omg i love feel special!! it’s such a happy song and it makes me feel really confident. i didn’t think twice would be my kind of music, but since i discovered feel special i’ve gotten into their other songs too. they’re soo uplifting!

    • ok I feel the same way about not thinking Twice would be my kind of music, but Feel Special is an absolute pop catharsis bop. I like Likey and More and More but haven’t really gotten into any of their other songs, they just don’t have the same beat and groove however I am happy you’ve gotten into their other songs too. hope you are doing well overall (:

  6. I always love reading your reflections on being different, Thomas. This post was no exception and it is so refreshing to hear your describe your feelings so rawly. Like you, when I was younger I saw my peers competing for popularity and for the next typical milestone like first in class or buying their first car. I didn’t relate to any of that and was more focused on finding satisfaction in creativity such as writing. Being different didn’t really bother me, but it bothered me when people started judging me for it – but I learned to deal with it by acknowledging these judgements are other people’s opinions which I don’t have to accept.

    Like you, I also feel annoyed ‘people talk about compulsory heteronormative practices like weddings’. Life doesn’t happen in a linear path and not everyone wants to live the straight and narrow life of getting a job, getting married, settling down. Personally I find these kinds of conversations and circles pretty boring and uninspiring and find it hard to go along with these conversations. Most of the time I don’t feel lonely and find peace among my small circle or just my own thoughts.

    I’m not much into K-pop but have to admit Special is catchy 🙂 Hope you are well, Thomas.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your perspective Mabel and what within this post resonated with you! Yeah I appreciate what you write about in terms of acknowledging other people’s judgments and recognizing that you do not have to accept them. I agree that conversations about narrow ways of living like having to get a job and get married and settle down are uninspiring, and it’s cool that you can also find peace with your small circle and your own thoughts. Yay I’m glad you also appreciate Feel Special’s catchiness and I hope your week is going as well as possible!

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