on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

different realities under the same blue sky

My partner and I were were surprised we had radically different interpretations of a particular scene of a kdrama we had just watched. She had thought the lines were full of hope and optimism, whereas I thought they were un-empathetic and victim-blaming. There are some life lessons or insights that have to be derived internally by one’s self – they may sound tone-deaf if they were delivered by someone else. The exact same words, but the way the words come into our consciousness matter. 

I thought it was an interesting example of how my partner’s and my brains are wired differently. To me, she only saw positive intentions behind the scene because she had a well-balanced mind and thankfully, doesn’t know what it means to feel chronically cornered, alone, and hopeless. I have spent too much of my life feeling that way, so I tend to be unreceptive and even annoyed when people tell me to “think positive” despite never having to walk a day in my mind or shoes.

I don’t think there is a “right” interpretation for that scene. What we receive is an outcome of who we are. That is the wonder of art and media. We can have the opposite reaction to what the creator has intended. I guess this is why some people are afraid to publish their opinions in public, because no matter how carefully you try to word something, there will always be people reading them the wrong way. 

I have personally come a long way because I can now observe these situations with some detachment, especially when it comes to conversations with my partner. We used to have these intense arguments because we simply saw and lived our realities differently. We belong under the same blue sky and to the same small country, but the world she encountered was so different from mine. I used to ask all these questions about her growing up years and be really amazed at her experiences. I was surprised to learn that people can live life without much internal conflict, that their minds can actually be aligned with them, that it is not always a given to constantly feel hurt.

We can have differing internal realities too from day to day. I am sure even the most optimistic of us have woken up on certain days and felt like the world seemed dark and depressing. A trigger, a single event can temporarily or permanently change the way we experience the world. Sometimes all it takes is one kind encounter or one horrible incident. Other times it could be a generational event – like covid. The people living in this world are mostly the same pre and post pandemic, but the world and how I view humanity has forever transformed in my eyes.

My sense of reality has changed as I age, because my internal reality is being constantly reshaped as I encounter new learnings and experiences. When I look back at my life, I realised I was basically the same person from my late teens to my late 20s, and from then onwards suddenly I kept changing. Why? I started reading again. A lot. I look back at some of my old journal entries and cringe, and yet I also feel such empathy for my younger selves. The narrow sense of reality my younger selves had negatively influenced the way they had experienced the world. Apart from books: partners, friends, mentors, therapists can change the way we perceive reality through their interactions with us

This is why to a certain extent, despite my chronic suicidal tendencies, I am not in favour of killing one’s self prematurely (unless illness and oppressive circumstances are involved). Because there is no way we can know what is ahead of us, how we will change. It is very easy to believe (as I did) that the world and our selves will forever be a certain way. If life has been shit for a long while, the probability of it continuing to be shit is pretty high. But there are a multitude of reasons why life is shit, and plenty of times it is because of the external environment, societal expectations and conditioning. If we are lucky, age and accumulated experiences can teach us that we can carve a life beyond what people expect of us. 

But I am still miserable after removing most of the external causes of my own suffering. That is because it is extremely difficult to change one’s internal conditioning, the conditioned tendency to respond in ingrained ways. But at the very least I am experiencing a different spectrum of life. Through my journals I can see that despite my persistent belief that I am still the same old miserable person, I am really less miserable, and the sources of my misery are now different. So it makes me wonder about who my future selves would be.

We seem to live in the same reality, but we are all experiencing different realities according to how our mind perceives. The way we experience reality is profoundly influenced by our socio-economic status, gender, race, cultures, upbringing, possibly genes, etc. It is why the world can be so beautiful as we experience the art and products that arise out of these differences, and yet cause so much suffering because there is a lack of understanding and empathy. It is also why it can be so challenging to achieve understanding between different generations. People are a product of their times, and for many, their sense of reality is permanently anchored by the world that existed in their time. 

metaphorical illustration of an individual's narrow perception of reality versus the actual reality, coloured by their life experiences

Our relationships, and by extension – the world can be so much better if we retain an innate understanding: that we seem to share the same physical reality but the actual reality we experience can be vastly different. That is why the very same event can happen to two people but their responses may be like chalk and cheese, or why not every person is negatively impacted by traumatic events. Some people see meaning and lessons, others get permanently scarred. Just because as individuals we choose to accept and endure some hardship does not mean we should expect others to do the same. They may have already been invisibly broken a million times. Some people’s families feel like safety nets, other people’s families feel like prisons. The trauma our ancestors endured can affect many later generations. Even nutrition during fetal times can permanently affect the way we perceive reality because of the influence of hormones. When one has a lot more stress hormones coursing through their bodies, everything feels like a provocation.

My partner and I are still learning to navigate the differences between how we experience the very same physical reality. It has been 7 years but we are still surprised the way we read the same situation differently. Sometimes we say things that sound right in our own heads but end up offensive to the other. It is easy to accuse each other of being reactive and unreasonable. It takes much longer and more studying to truly see why the other has such a different response.

Considering our differences we think it is a miracle that we are still very much together. Somehow most of the time, the differences between us are beneficial and nourishing. Our two worlds collide and a magical intersection is birthed, constantly transforming because we are also changing as individuals. We can only hope that this continues to be a deep source of rest and inspiration for us.

Being aware of the ever-changing nature of how I perceive reality is life-changing. There is a lot less fixation and stubbornness. Wanting things to only go a very specific way causes a lot of suffering. Because I know I will change, I become a lot more open-minded when I encounter things that I tend to dislike or unfamiliar to me. I still get caught up in my personal loops and fixations, but I hope as I age I’ll become better at inviting awareness into my perception, and that I’ll develop more room and wisdom within myself to perceive the realities of people I am still struggling to understand.

open-air dining in seoul

It probably sounds obscure to write specifically about dining in open air in seoul, but when I conducted my own research prior to the trip it was challenging for me to find out what are the options available since most of the data is actually in korean and google maps are not widely used. I thought I’ll publish this post for the occasional internet stranger who may need this obscure information like me.

why eat in open air

We have no desire to get infected again with an airborne virus that causes (invisible) systemic damage to our bodies. We do dine the very rare occasion indoors if the restaurant seems empty, the ventilation seems great, and the CO2 reading is under 700. It is still an uncomfortable risk we are trying not to take as the virus is known to linger in the air even in an empty air-conditioned restaurant. But I am only human and I love eating, so I do get tempted a lot.

There are cases of outdoor transmission so the risk is not zero. But it is substantially lower. I guess this is a level of risk we are willing to bear for now?

It is difficult not to compare our level of precautions to almost everyone else going maskless everywhere, dining everywhere, meeting everybody, and they seem fine. But that will not mean anything or comfort me if I get reinfected and have to go through the arduous journey of recovering again. If I even recover. My heart rate and fitness is not back to pre-infection, 4 months later and counting.

on missing out

Eating outdoors means we miss out a lot of the good food of course, a ton of restaurants mentioned in the michelin guides or are heavily recommended are all packed indoor restaurants with snaking queues. But we are choosing to focus on the overall travel experience and take what we can when it comes to food.

weather matters with convertible restaurants

I think we were also slightly unlucky in terms of weather. It seems many of the restaurants have dining areas with full-length doors or massive windows that can be quickly converted to open-air, but they are only active during cool weather. I found a dakgalbi restaurant on google that showed an alfresco area in the photos but when we got there it was fully covered with thick plastic sheets. Sometimes we will pass by restaurants that will open their full length glass doors only late in the evening when the weather gets cooler. I assume all of them would be fully shut in winter. So with this new knowledge, I would plan a trip during spring and autumn. However with climate change your mileage may vary. September weather is supposed to hover around 25 degrees celsius, but it was around 30 when we were there.

using map navigation apps

Some places don’t have a location on google maps so they are supplemented with links on naver maps. I downloaded naver maps on the singapore app store so the interface is automatically in english. However, apart from user-interface labels, everything else is in korean. There is also no filter options by opening hours as far as I know. But if you search a store name in english, it may still turn up. Sometimes I have to copy the address on the corresponding google listing if available and paste it into naver in order to get navigation instructions. Google maps is basically useless for walking and inferior for public transport.

ride hailing apps

I used uber (named UT in korea) to hail taxis – private cars are not allowed – they charge by the meter. They seem cheaper compared to singapore? Traffic is mostly horrendous though. It could take 50 minutes for a 8km journey from dongdaemun to gangnam. But we took it occasionally to move accommodation. You could use kakao taxi and pay the driver in person as the app doesn’t accept international credit cards (google for instructions) but I stuck to UT since it worked with my singaporean credit card without issues.


From my online research I read that Seoul seems to be still cash heavy, so we took a considerable amount of cash. When we got there however, most restaurants/cafes/shops accept credit cards. Only street food and market vendors accept cash, and you would need to charge your public transit card with cash. Convenience stores accept apple pay, whereas all other shops were a hit and miss. Towards the end I realised terminals with an apple pay logo did work, but they were finicky in terms of the contact needed with the watch or phone. They seem less reactive or were slower or more vague to give feedback whether the contact was successful.


Some places have a ordering terminal with english options (look for the corresponding flag before you order, it is usually on the “home” screen at the corners. I can’t remember if it was american or british.). One-third the time we had to use google translate, which often doesn’t translate well so we had to use guess work. Sometimes there is a hidden english menu you have to ask for, but they may not understand still so you may have to do some pointing to the corresponding korean text.

what about the flight itself

We wore 3m n95 aura masks with sip masks installed and drank fresh milk on the plane while everyone else enjoyed their nice-smelling fancy airplane food. Sad, I know. But I think it was worth it. At least I can keep my sense of smell.

where we ate

korean bbq

I asked on the internet if there were outdoor dining options in seoul for specifically korean food as based on my own search there were only options for non-korean food. Some people were snarky in their replies, a kind soul did take the effort to direct me to a very specific area near Ikseondong. Because of timing and logistics we didn’t dine there but we did pass by the area and there were indeed a plethora of outdoor bbq restaurants:

photo of an outdoor kbbq area in seoul near ikseondong

We did dine at a kbbq restaurant at sejong food street with an outdoor sitting area.

korean fried chicken

This is my partner’s favourite food, so we were both glad that right in myeongdong there is a BHC branch that has outdoor seating. Along that street there are also some other restaurants with outdoor seating, selling mostly beer and chicken.

army stew

We really wanted to try army stew but it seemed impossible to find a restaurant serving army stew with outdoor sitting. Thanks to my partner’s patient-browsing naver skills, we found one in hongdae.

Hongdae Young Pollack Pocha Hongnopo 홍대 노가리 포차 홍노포

naver maps / approximate location on google

photo of a restaurant serving army stew in hongdae
photo of army stew

korean ginseng chicken soup

Baecnyun Ginseng Chicken Soup

naver maps

There seems to be another more popular branch with outdoor seating too, but we settled on this branch because it seemed quieter and had giant full-length windows that were open.

photo of korean ginseng chicken soup

korean street food

There is an entire street at popular tourist area myeongdong that opens around 4pm with plenty of street food stalls. But you can find tteokbokki stalls around everywhere.

photo of a korean street food cart


There are many markets in Seoul – the most popular one of all is Gwangjang market. They are technically open-air, but they can be packed and I am not sure how well-ventilated once you walk deep into the market. We did dine at one stall because it was right at the entrance.

photo of gwangjang market

We took some food to-go and ate them at the exits. Another market we enjoyed was Mangwon, where we had grilled pork patties (tteokgalbi), and some oden and tempura.

photo of my partner eating fishcake at mangwon market

pub food

For some reason it seems quite common for indoor pubs to open their windows fully, creating adequate ventilation. We would request to sit right by the windows, and would leave if we were not allowed to do so. Pub food is relatively more expensive (20-30k per dish) compared to regular restaurant food. I wouldn’t recommend pub food if you’re dining solo because they tend to come in large portions for at least 2 people.

Suji Story Gangnam

naver maps

No english menu on their ordering terminal, but wait staff was very helpful. We ended up with a grilled cubed rib eye dish that was quite delicious. My partner likes to order stuff that says “best” on the menu.

photo of my partner at a korean pub sitting beside giant open windows

mowmow 모모의기묘한모험

naver maps / foursquare

Has an english menu if you ask for it.

photo of my partner at a korean pub sitting in front of open windows

fusion food

익선동 121
naver maps

We stumbled upon this while at ikseondong. When we were there they opened their full-length doors to the side so it was as good as an open-air restaurant. They serve interesting food like squid-ink tonkatsu which my partner had, but I was so glad I got to eat a “normal” meal: beef bulgogi with soy bean paste soup. It was really difficult to find “standard” korean food with alfresco sitting.

photo of my partner at a korean fusion restaurant at ikseon dong

cafe hollywood

naver maps

Really large portions, location is quite obscure near ehwa women’s university. But the area surrounding it –Sinchon – about 10-15 minutes walk away is rather interesting. It has an emart and daiso worth checking out. We took a bus from hongdae so it didn’t feel particularly far.

cafes & bakeries

There were surprisingly plenty of cafes and bakeries with outdoor sitting. They just don’t turn up on a google search. Most of them are around the bukchon/ikseondong area, yeonnamdong area and the seoul forest area. Most of the cafes serve pastries, but some serve brunch food.

dotori garden

google maps

Opens early at 8am, plenty of outdoor seats, serves fancy pastries and also greek yoghurt.

photo of some pastries at dotori garden

cafe onion anguk

google maps

Don’t attempt to dine here unless you’re willing to queue for an hour or two or get there at 7am. The pastries are all displayed out in the open (seems like a seoul thing) without any covering, so hygiene may be a concern. But it is housed in a beautiful hanok, the pastries are creative, and there is plenty of outdoor seating especially if you don’t mind skipping the hanok experience.

photo of cafe onion bukchon

Other cafes with outdoor seating we’ve personally been to:

  • Fritz Coffee Company Dohwa ample sitting options at the ground floor and also there is a second-story terrace. Supposedly one of the best coffee in Seoul. Serves strange looking croissants. Has a little of a “Spirited Away” feeling indoors with a dark interior and colourful lanterns.
  • Fritz Coffee Company Wonseo Same as above, but housed outside a museum near Bukchon village. In a hanok-style building.
  • Open One Bakery Cafe Lots of open-air sitting, dour interior, questionable service, but good pastries. Opens early at 8am. Recommend the garlic cream bread and mugwort cream latte.
  • Layered Yeonnam Has a terrace and some ground floor outdoor sitting. British vibe (not sure what’s with that). Has a ton of cakes and scones. We like the pretzel scone with butter.
  • Offer Bakery Cafe Our first cafe in hongdae. Has a small open-air area that is in the cafe. Drinks and pastries not very memorable.
  • Thanks, Oat Yeonnam Actually has some open-air sitting but we decided to take it away to Gyeongui Line Forest Park. We really, really like the greek yoghurt here. It has this ice-cream-like frozen texture. We had the “nuts fantasy” version and another that is blueberry with cheese.
  • Anthracite Coffee Seogyo Very beautiful building and grounds, like a zen garden. Has fancy coffee that is carefully weighted if that is your sort of thing.
  • Crestown Coffee Stumbled upon this in gangnam. Ample outdoor sitting on cute crates.
  • E-chae Cafe In a hanok-style building at Bukchon village.
  • Grandpa Factory Cafe Big warehouse-like structure with a treehouse and a ton of outdoor sitting. Serves brunch food too. Around the seongsudong cafe street.
  • bimbom Brunch cafe with a terrace with a pretty green view. At the seoul forest area.
  • Lot’s O Bagels Pretty outdoor sitting area. I am not sure what is with koreans and bagels (we also had the famous London Bagel Museum which we took out – please try the green onion bagel) but we hardly have bagels in singapore so we were happy to eat some bagels here. Opens early enough if you want some breakfast in the Apgujeong area.

toast kiosks

We tried both eggdrop and isaac toasts. They have branches everywhere. We preferred eggdrop. They both don’t usually have outdoor seating, but we sat on a kerb outside and ate, like whatever. Eggdrop also charges 100 won extra to takeaway for the extra packaging, so the second time we simply ordered dine-in and took the tray outside. They didn’t seem to mind.

photo of my partner sitting outside eggdrop on a kerb

red tents

we passed by these red tents multiple times and they seem like a good outdoor option, but we didn’t have the opportunity or the courage to dine at them because of the language barrier.

photo of red tents selling food near insadong
outside Moxy Insadong

Things we awkwardly ate outside the restaurant or in a park

There were some food we wanted to try but they have no open-air options, so we asked to eat it outside the restaurant (bingsu/shaved ice), took it out to the park (nudake matcha pastry: it is overrated and expensive imo), or took it out only to eat outside the restaurant (keto gimbap, highly recommended but there is no english menu).

photo of my partner with bingsu outside a bingsu restaurant in hongdae
photo of my partner on a park bench with a pastry from nudake
photo of my partner sitting outside a keto gimbap restaurant with our food
keto gimbap


Would we do it again? Definitely. I do still wish we could have eaten indoors and covid was just a very long dark dream I had. But given the circumstances I am glad we still got to try a lot of food. It made us more creative and resourceful. We also ate at places we wouldn’t have normally eaten – like pub food – and I like having a wide array of experiences.

We did meet some confused or unfriendly restaurant staff who rejected our requests to sit near the windows or in an unmanned area, but we face the same in Singapore. Just without the language barrier.

Pre-trip with my research I thought it would be difficult to find places to eat at, but I am glad that reality was a lot better in-person. We could totally survive with takeouts or street food, but it was really nice to hang out in a cafe and do some art. Cafes and pastries in seoul are really on another level.

I still hope for a true sterilising vaccine one day though.

happiness is a difficult thing to bear

I am an unhappy person in general. But once in a while, an acute sense of awareness strikes me and I experience the totality of that particular moment – I catch a glimpse of how incredibly difficult it is to have everything in confluence in order for me to have that moment.

Last night was such a moment. I was in bed holding my partner close to me, and I was recollecting everything we had to go through and become in order to be here together. I knew I was experiencing a rare fleeting case of happiness, but in the very next moment I was overcome by a profound wave of sadness. I started to wonder how much time I have left with her, how much we would change as individuals, what are the events we may have to endure as we age, would we really have it in us to stay together no matter what happens, would we both live long enough to spend the rest of our lives together?

When I was younger I lived with very little fear because I felt like I had nothing to live for, therefore I had nothing to lose. Now I am beginning to realise that for me, happiness is a difficult thing to bear. It is precisely because it has always been scarce in my life, so now if I ever experience it I am just waiting to lose it.

It makes me unable to be present in my life. I am always anxious, always worrying, always waiting, always having that dread deep in my gut. It makes me wonder if I am unhappier when things seem to be going well, because it makes me scared.

I am again reminded of this quote:

Winnicott says somewhere that health is much more difficult to deal with than disease. And he’s right, I think, in the sense that everybody is dealing with how much of their own aliveness they can bear and how much they need to anesthetize themselves.


Interview with Adam Phillips: The Art of Nonfiction No. 7 by Adam Phillips | link

It is common in psychotherapy case studies to read of people who would rather self-sabotage themselves unconsciously in order to avoid responsibility, freedom or the opportunity for happiness. It is just easier to stay in the status quo even if it is terrible, dealing with the things we are already used to dealing. I used to find it difficult to believe people or myself would do that to ourselves because I was so unaware of my own unconscious behaviour, but I guess now I can sort of see why.

All my life I’ve been working to increase my capacity to endure the difficulties I will encounter in life, but I am reminded again it takes work to endure positive emotions too.

10 quick scenes from seoul

I missed yesterday’s every-sunday-I-will-publish-a-post day because we’re now travelling in seoul. I used to write more stream of consciousness posts while I travelled, but somehow over the past few years my writing has gotten more complex. Every piece is A Thing and takes me hours. It is not something I personally desire, but rather an outcome of my potentially deranged psyche. Sometimes I just want to write something casual, but every time I start typing it just becomes this Thing. So for this post I thought I’ll just share a few photos from my trip so far.

Seoul was a destination my partner and I have been wanting to travel to for years. We watch kdramas regularly, and we keep telling each other it would be so cool to be at those places we watch on tv. It seemed like an impossible dream because of the pandemic, and even when travelling restrictions relaxed we were not sure if we could really take the almost 7- hour flight with a n95 mask without eating.

But as I age I become more acutely aware of the impermanence of life. The pandemic has driven home the point that the freedom and space to travel is not something to take for granted. And even without the pandemic I was always constantly paranoid that something would happen that would render me home-bound. So we discussed and decided to brave this trip, really wanting to fulfil this wish of ours before it becomes too late.

I was really excited to see my first tteokbokki cart:

photo of tteokbboki cart in hongdae

We keep seeing these red people on the streets, I thought they were selling something. They claimed to be providing tourist information, and I thought it was just a scam to get you to interact with them before they sell you something. Turns out I am a sad cynical person and they were really there to help tourists with information:

photo of red tourist information people in seoul

I tried to take photos that would show the colours of hongdae:

…not sure what was going on but I was very lucky to catch an insane plane formation in the middle of hongdae:

photo of an insane 8-plane formation

In the middle of Seoul’s bustling busyness, there are well-used tree-lined parks:

photo of gyeongui line forest park

There would be numerous instances of cafes where decadent pastries would be displayed abundantly out in the open:

photo of pastries from dotori garden

I love how their old architecture is interspersed with the rest of the city:

photo of ikseon dong

One day I’ll find the courage to dine at one of these:

photo of outdoor tents selling food

I guess there are street chess players in every city:

photo of chess players on the street

And of course there are ahjummas selling kimchi in big basins:

photo of ahjumma selling kimchi

I’ve decided to limit my photo selection to ten for this post! Hope I’ll be able to publish more Casual Things. 🙂

biometrics pre, during & post-covid

A couple of weeks ago I received a notification from my apple watch that there were some new health trends from the health app:

screenshot of apple health app showing my average resting heart rate has increased in the last 20 weeks
screenshot of apple health app showing my average cardio recovery has decreased in the last 15 weeks

Obviously this is because I had covid: being sick itself and recovering from the illness has caused my heart to work much harder, and also because there is some deconditioning due to not doing much cardio exercise post-covid because I did not want to risk long covid.

Apart from apple’s default background monitoring I also do active daily monitoring of my biometrics because of my chronic migraines. Most of the time I don’t have a good sense of whether my body is stressed – actually most people probably don’t, athletes use similar tools to gauge the intensity of their training too, that is why these tools exist – so I have to actively monitor my biometrics to get a gauge on how much I should avoid stress that particular day.

These are the biometrics relevant to this post that I am measuring, among many more:

explaining morning measurements and orthostatic intolerance

Marco Altini, the founder of the hrv4training app explains in this article the difference between sleep and morning measurements for hrv. More importantly, he explains why we should take our morning hrv while sitting or standing:

“sitting or standing HRV represents cardiac autonomic nervous system activity in response to physiological stress (orthostasis) with a strong influence from the baroreflex. The physiological challenge exacerbates your response so that if something is off (there is more stress, sickness, or anything else), there will be a much larger change in HRV (and resting heart rate) with respect to the change you would see if you are lying down (sleeping or in the morning).”

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) measurement timing: morning or night?

Basically, it is more stressful for the body to sit straight or stand versus lying down (duh), so this stress will show up in our heart rate variability. This is actually exceptionally important in the context of this post and post-covid recovery because covid is known to induce orthostatic intolerance, which is the inability to cope with this stress of sitting and especially standing. Serious cases of orthostatic intolerance will result in postural tachycardia syndrome (POTS), which makes people unable to tolerate standing for even mere seconds without risking fainting spells.

People can potentially monitor their capacity for orthostatic stress post-covid to decide whether they should return to their normal routines or actively recover more. It is common for athletic people to trigger long covid because they returned to exercise too soon. I often wonder if they could have avoided this if they monitored their biometrics closely. Can people avoid post-covid cardiac arrests and strokes too if they wear a monitoring device?

Covid aside, monitoring our response to orthostatic stress can prevent the negative effects that comes from overloading our bodies beyond a certain threshold, such as exercise injuries, chronic illness flareups, overtraining syndrome, etc.

my biometrics pre, during, and post-covid

Thankfully, apart from a fainting episode and a few episodes of very elevated heart rate, I didn’t develop POTS from my infection. However, I did notice a decreased ability to cope with orthostatic stress. I thought it would be interesting (perhaps only to me lol) to compare my biometrics before covid and post covid:

screenshot of a table showing my pre and post covid biometrics
biometrics are averaged across a specific duration, “after” indicates the same time period right after testing negative, “recent” is roughly 100+ days post-infection

From the above table we could see that in the grand scheme of things the infection didn’t affect my resting heart rate during sleep too badly, which is fortunate because having the capacity to somewhat still relax during sleep was probably key to recovery. But it was the morning biometrics which measured the impact of orthostatic stress that suffered the most. Those were from just sitting down with my back straight up without support. For many mornings simply standing would send my heart rate to 100bpm+. It is much better now – 121 days post-infection as of today – but I still get erratic readings once in a while, whereas pre-covid my heart rate was stable.

Drink copious amounts of salt water would help, but recently I realised that my blood pressure is elevated with the increase in blood volume. So it feels like I have to pick either a faster heart rate or an elevated blood pressure. I am picking the normal blood pressure for now in favour of an increase in heart rate, and hopefully the ability to return to cardio exercise will improve my heart rate. I use my biometrics to plan my exercising. Once they show continued stress I will take steps to actively recover. This will allow me to avoid developing some form of chronic stress on my body.

The lessons here

I can imagine someone having an oura ring or similar and thinking they have recovered to their baseline because it only measures biometrics during sleep. Or most people don’t have any such devices. They feel fine, so they believe an infection is innocuous.

It took me more than 3 months for my biometrics to return to somewhat normal and they are still not really normal. I have also lost more than 3 months of cardio conditioning. Even if I don’t suffer from permanent effects of the virus, I don’t want to go through 3 months of recovery each time. Imagine being infected twice a year (a conservative estimate): I would lose 6 months of health.

This is just the measurable impact on the heart only. We have no idea beyond the elevated heart rate and the lowered hrv, what else was damaged and needs time for recovery. They say each infection could age us ten years:

Under normal circumstances, people lose about 0.2 to 0.3% of their brain matter each year through aging. Yet the study found that COVID patients experienced an additional loss of anywhere between 0.2 to 2% of their brain size in the three years between MRI scans. At worst, that is a loss equivalent to your brain shrinking over 10 years.

Even a mild case of COVID can shrink your brain the same as aging 10 years, study shows

I was semi-joking with my partner that covid increased my resting heart rate by 5-10bpm, so I would just need to get infected 2-3 more times to have a heart of an old person.

moving forward

I am very afraid to get reinfected again, to be honest. I don’t care if this makes me sound like a hypochondriac or a loser. I could visibly feel and see the decline in my physical health, and it took me so much time and effort to be functioning normally again, though I have zero idea what is truly going on within my body. We are still masking indoors, avoiding eating indoors, avoiding social meetups, etc. I do feel really weird existing in a world where everyone else is living as though there is no deadly virus spreading through the air. But looking at my elevated heart rate serves as a good warning and reminder.

We will still try travelling, though I do have some ptsd from Hanoi because that was where I presumably got infected (unless it was from sitting an hour masked around sniffling people in a library). We’re going to try flying with n95s with a sip mask installed, and hopefully this will be enough to keep us safe on the plane. It would be interesting to travel without the experience of eating indoors, but I am curious to see what comes out of the limitations. Apart from the plane itself I think the risk of getting infected is similar to staying here in Singapore. I do wonder if a second infection would truly render me into becoming an actual hermit.

documenting everyday moments because they will become precious

A few months ago someone popped up on the Singapore reddit and started posting photos of old Singapore from the 1950s-1970s. He is the grandson of Ivan Polunin, a medical doctor who fell in love with Singapore and documented his experience with his camera:

photo of Singapore in the 1970s by Ivan Polunin
credit: Ivan Polunin Archives

Looking through the instagram account, it was incredible to see pieces of Singapore I have not seen before. I can’t imagine what it is like to be of my parents’ generation to live through such a period of accelerated progress from the 1960s to the 1980s.

The thing with human beings: we are very short-term oriented, so we hardly stop to consider that this very mundane moment we are in now, a moment that seems so plentiful because it happens as part of our daily life, will become a precious piece of history one day.

Some people ridicule photo-taking, because they think it is important to “be present in the experience”. But I think they might have overestimated the brain’s capacity to hold these experiences. I don’t remember so much of my undocumented life that it is as though all those years didn’t happen and I didn’t exist before my 30s, which was when I started documenting my life.

There is a park near where I live. Through the roughly five years I’ve lived here, I’ve seen the park go through numerous changes. This is what it means to live in Singapore, a land-scarce country. Every inch of space cannot be taken for granted. If we see a patch of unexpected green we must prepare for the eventual heartbreak that it may soon be gone, in exchange for development. When we first moved here I enjoyed running through an area where there are large tall trees (they are rare here) at the opposite water bank:

photo of punggol waterway with large tall trees at the opposite bank

The tall trees are mostly gone, replaced by concrete and a highway. In place of the awe I used to feel when I jog past the area, I now feel a tinge of knowing I’ve lost something beautiful forever.

Suddenly, the photo of an everyday place has lost its mundaneness. It is now a precious memory – something would be fuzzy, vague and potentially irretrievable without documentation.

Once while making a food delivery I glanced out of the parapet and again I was astounded by this vast patch of green:

photo of a patch of green at Punggol, Singapore

Again, it lasted a few years before it turned into this:

photo of the same patch of green at Punggol, Singapore with a newly constructed road

We don’t need fifty, eighty years to feel the nostalgic loss. Singapore is a country that takes that leap every half a decade. The next time you pass by a beautiful spot, perhaps consider taking a picture of it.

I guess I have been living with this sort of hyper-awareness for a while now. A few days ago this instagram photo surfaced while I was reviewing my journal:

a lot of beauty in life is free, and just right there. we’ll just have to be aware of it, pull up a chair, and have the courage to immerse in it instead of running back into the safety of busyness. enjoy it we should and must right now, before blue skies, fresh air and green surroundings we take so much for granted — become things we can only remember in dreams and fantasise about in books.

2019-08-23 10:39
  from instagram

This was in august 2019 at melbourne, and I had zero idea of what was to come when the sentiments I felt in that moment propelled me to write the caption. I wouldn’t have known that in a few months time the idea of travelling freely and safely would literally be something I would fantasise about or looked back upon nostalgically in my journals, I wouldn’t have known that I’ll be reading devastating news of war, record high temperatures and forest fires in the years to come. Apart from the ongoing threat of the virus, Singapore is relatively sheltered from war and disasters for now. But I cannot help but feel the fragility of this peace.

Sometimes it is not just about the unexpected changes in the environment. I forget what a miracle it is for my body to be in a state of homeostasis. So many biological processes must take place in harmony in order for us to breathe, eat, poop, sleep. There is this area at the park where I frequently take pictures of the sun rising during my morning walks, rides or jogs. It is not very accessible by public transport so the only way to get there is by foot or with a bicycle. There I saw the sun rise so frequently that half the time I didn’t bother to stop to take pictures regardless of how beautiful that moment was.

Even with the hyper-awareness that sweeps over me occasionally I too, take seemingly mundane moments for granted. But because of The Virus it would take me more than 3 months to return to that spot again. Something I thought was so accessible became a challenge for me once my health was compromised. It meant to much to be able to see this once again:

photo of the sun rising near pulau ubin, singapore

How boring it is to take a photo of the sunrise at the same spot everyday! But it is never the same:

photo of another sunrise near pulau ubin, singapore

Sometimes I wonder if the photos I’m taking now will one day be as cherished as Ivan Polunin’s archives. Some moments are probably in their last throes now.

photo of an old school ice cream cart at orchard road, singapore

Hopefully I’ll get better at recognising these moments as they pass me by.

Last night, I hopped excitedly to my partner because I remembered those late nights when I had to let go of her hand because we lived in separate places, that time I quarantined from her because of The Virus, and the knowing that one day hopefully only in the very distant future I will come to deeply miss these mundane moments when she is just a turn-of-body away from me.

what does it mean to live well

A while ago an old friend texted me that an unexpected event had once again reminded her how transient life can be, and she thought of me because I was one of the first people she knew who actively aimed to live well due to the inherent impermanence of life.

I’ve known this person for more than ten years, so it is testament to my chronic attitude towards life – that I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember.

When I was younger a large part of this is due to my chronic suicide ideation: I’ve always thought I would not live for very long, so I wanted to maximise whatever time I have left. I also go through lengthy periods of time in a numbed state, so if I am interested in doing something I should do it because I can’t take my state of interest for granted. I was also a strong believer of fate, and I’ve countlessly witnessed how life as we know it can suddenly be cut short. All in, I’ve never felt like it was natural to expect that I can live to my natural lifespan without any upheavals. My problem is that I expect the opposite: I think something terrible is bound to happen. This is unhealthy too, as it induces too much existential anxiety which can be severely paralysing and depressing.

What does it actually mean to live well? My younger self believed living well equates to maximising her life. She took a lot of risks and made quite a bit of decisions that the average person wouldn’t make. I mean, if I believed I was going to die soon a lot of things people tend to worry about became inconsequential. Thankfully I was adverse to debt (or actually allergic to any form of psychological burden), so I was never in debt no matter what I did, however I was constantly flirting with a near-zero balance with my bank account. That was its own psychological stress and it contributed to my chronic depression. It is interesting to look back and see how trying not to be depressed in the short-term could lead to more depression in the long term. It felt like I was constantly made to choose between lesser evils on a tightrope.

This attitude provided both the courage and detachment I needed to generate major turning points in my life. It was with this I took the leap to quit studying computing to study multimedia instead when I was a teenager, it was also with this I became a remote independent designer in the 2000s when both being remote and being independent was frowned upon. Later on again with this attitude I flew to san francisco with not much money left seriously thinking I would end my life if things didn’t work out, and it was also exactly this that gave me the courage to leave a few years later.

I don’t know what it says about me that I was constantly thinking of ending my life. With what I know now I can see that I was very dysregulated, but I am tremendously grateful to that younger self. She did what she could to turn things around against all the odds, societal disapprovals and discouragements she faced. I think I am more emotionally mature now, and I now know my past self was really naive and idealistic, but without those qualities where and who would I be now?

It is really perverse to think that I truly believe I ended up with better outcomes because I had that unwarranted bravado. But I can’t help but think that if I was a rational young person with a steady head on my shoulders I would rationalise myself into a life I do not want to lead. But who knows, unless I have access to a self in a parallel universe. I know of people who made major life changes by rationally strategically planning for them, but I feel like with my personality it would be difficult to leave my comfort zones without major triggers.

I am at an age and a point of my life where I no longer need major dramatic life changes to feel like I am living well. Part of it is because I am now wise enough to stop putting myself in circumstances that require dramatic stops and starts. I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing. Maybe in the grand scheme of things there is neither good or bad, just whether we can live with. So thinking about what it means to live well no longer takes on a trying-to-maximise-everything sort of quality. I have learnt that if I am constantly always looking for major upheavals then the normalcy of life would be unbearable to me.

The other day I found myself looking forward to cooking breakfast the next day, because I had this sudden idea to cook my own version of a gyudon with some sliced tamago I bought from a japanese supermarket. In the next moment I was surprised with myself, because it is not typical of me to look forward to things in general – unless it is an overseas trip. These moments are still rare for me, but I relished that particular moment. I realised there and then: this is what it means to me to live well – to learn to truly love these mundane moments.

It is just how our brain works. We grow numb to things we used to desire so much for, and we can’t help but seek new stimuli or rewards to feel that rush again. Without this hedonic treadmill humans will still be cavemen I suppose.

It takes a lot of work to re-recognise the preciousness of everyday things. Like our ability to breathe, the blue skies, green growing plants, waking up for another day, our loved ones being a phone call away, public transport, hawker centres, a steady heart rate, the gifts of hearing and sight, the sleepy face of the love of your life, internet access, fast internet, seeing colours, music, art, books, imagination, peace, etc.

My younger self would not be able to imagine or believe it is possible to have the life and love I have now, but my depressed brain plays, life is meaningless over and over again in my brain like a broken record. The accumulated sadness I carry can be overwhelming in the greatest of days. Perhaps that is why I was always seeking some major upheaval in my life, to escape from the inherent feelings I possess.

My partner sees her time as creative opportunities, and I see my time as existential dread. One can have so much, but a healthy inner world is required to engage with it. It is like walking around with chains on my feet locking myself in an invisible prison, and I cannot touch the grass around me, see the blue skies above me, or feel the fresh air surrounding me.

If not for my obsessive documentation and records in my journals, I would genuinely believe this is who I am and I’ll never emerge out of this. But with equally obsessive reviews I have learnt that even if it feels like I am locked into this self since forever and it seems like it would last forever more, I am a different person than I was this time last year, and almost unrecognisable from the self I was ten years ago.

So I continue to hope. The journalling helps a lot. I am recording even more with Obsidian these days. I note down meaningful texts friends send me, interesting responses from mastodon, delicious food I’ve eaten, exercise milestones I am able to make since recovering from covid. What I feel about reality is different from what actually transpired, so the journalling helps me bridge this disconnect. Sometimes I tell people I am actually studying myself and they think it is a joke, but it is not. Without understanding my self I have no hope going forward because I am just auto-piloting in programmed loops. I don’t even know what program I am running on unless I examine it closely. In software we have to know where and what is the bug to fix it. We review the code and refactor it if it is not efficient. Sometimes there are cascading effects because of some code committed several commits behind. But when it comes to our selves we just let our minds run free somehow believing it will course-correct on its own.

I wish to keep on resolving the bugs I have, and keep on rewriting my self until I can directly engage with reality without all that layers of conditioned programming. In zen they do zazen (sitting meditation) to achieve a similar purpose. In these traditional practices they would probably frown upon using too many tools, to many words, and too much intellectualising and analysing. But I have discovered for myself it I need to go through that period of intellectualising and analysing before it becomes implicit in me. Over a long period the change subtly occurs, and it feels like an overnight intuitive unconscious leap. I’ve learnt that spaced-repetition really works for our brains even when it comes to behavioural changes. By constantly writing down things that I wish to remember and/or appreciate, it sets the stage for these feelings to spontaneously emerge during unexpected times. Fortunately and unfortunately for us, the brain is both intelligent and rudimentary. We can learn to reprogram our selves. It just takes what it seems like forever.

Why do I wish to directly engage with reality? Because I have no way to truly know whether life is worth living in, or what life is truly about, or who am I in context with reality, unless I am able to engage with it and myself directly without all the layers society has heaped upon us. Years ago I asked who was I without my job title and back then it honestly felt like a question from a horror movie. Now I have an inkling of who I am without my job title, but I still don’t know who I am, because I have always been plagued by the weight of chronic trauma. Will my trauma and my self always be one and inseparable? What is it like to be a person always bursting with creative energy like my partner? How much rewiring is possible for a chronically depressed brain?

I think in one short life, it is important to make decisions and suffer the consequences with lucidity, and as our selves. But I propose that many of us are not living as our selves. How many of us have chosen college majors, careers, hobbies and even relationships because we truly wanted them versus who we think we ought to be? Even our interactions with other human beings are plagued by conventions, perceived politeness and psychological projections. Are we truly us when we are with our friends or even spouses, or are we playing roles we have been shaped to play?

Like many people, I wish to have as little regrets as possible. But this is an impossible task if I am not truly directing my own life. Making decisions from a healthy inner world which has a healthy regard for my self is very different from making decisions out of trauma-laden fear and insecurity. I haven’t been able to fully feel my life and the world because of my chronically fatigued, sad, numbed state. I may not have much control over external events and my chronic health conditions, but with the help of my journals I know I can shape my inner world to an extent.

I hope before I die: I can get to truly know my self, and what truly exists between the space between the world, and I. That I can finally experience all the daily miracles which are now mistakenly disguised as mundaneness.


right after publishing this, I discovered I tweeted this on this day in 2016 – the universe (or my programmed mind) is really freaky sometimes:

without daily archival, life seems to be mundane and forgettable. But in reality, everyday is full of details and richness.

– 20th Aug 2016, twitter 0 responses

100 days of post-covid infection: state of mind, health & writing

It has been 100 days since I tested negative for covid. I know this because I count it incrementally in my morning pages. If I do develop long covid it would be easier if I had a symptom diary. I’ve read of people who develop long covid months after their initial infection – a high profile covid activist recently passed away due to multiple organ failure after developing long covid quite a long while after his initial infection in the first wave – so I am not letting my guard down yet, maybe ever.

I did have two episodes of POTS-like symptoms. One was shortly after testing negative which resulted in me fainting twice, the other was just a few weeks ago. It doesn’t bode well that almost 3 months after my infection I am still suffering from an unusually high heart rate just after waking up. Because of my first episode I was better at managing my second episode, my heart rate eventually calmed down after copious amounts of electrolyte-infused water.

Maintaining an electrolyte balance is an autonomic function, and autonomic functions seem to be compromised after covid infections. I am lucky that I am able to make a slow return to exercise, hoping that some progressive homeostatic stress will teach my body to be on autopilot again. 

I still wonder how many people are getting slowly worse post-infection because they don’t monitor their biometrics and have no idea what are electrolytes or that insomnia and depression are also long covid symptoms. Lack of electrolytes and sleep can cause serious health issues. Glucose and cholesterol numbers are also dysregulated post-covid, so some people suffer from sudden-onset diabetes or a sudden heart attack or stroke. The excess deaths around the world are having a sharp increase from pre-pandemic, but obviously no one is linking it to covid:

Deaths among young Americans documented in employee life insurance claims should alone set off alarms. Among working people 35 to 44 years old, a stunning 34% more died than expected in the last quarter of 2022, with above-average rates in other working-age groups, too. – More young Americans are dying – and it’s not COVID. Why aren’t we searching for answers?

On one hand I keep reading horror stories of people’s experiences with long covid. On the other hand most people I know are seemingly fine going around maskless even on long plane rides, eating indoors, and having a very active social life. I personally know of a small handful of people whose health have been dodgy since getting covid, some with long-term chronic conditions, but nothing as debilitating as I’ve come across online so far. One of the most high-profile cases is @physicsgirl, who had more than two million youtube subscribers, and now she could barely use her phone while lying in bed. What makes a person susceptible to (visible) long covid? Many of these people who are having debilitating symptoms led an active life prior. They are much younger than me and were very active prior. It feels like a terrible lottery at this point.

It is common to read online of people getting infected five, six times – some testing positive every 2-3 months. Yet again in my personal circle, twice across the entire pandemic seems to be the max. My curious mind can’t seem to stop wondering why. Is it because many Singaporeans are vaccinated at least 3x? Is it the all-year-round tropical, humid weather? Is it because we tend to have better ventilated buildings as almost nothing is old here? Is there a genetic difference? Diet? I have a theory that people who can’t stop getting infected were unlucky enough to get infected before vaccines were available, so their immune system has become compromised. 

I have however, read of people in Singapore getting “flu” alot. So perhaps the way the damage is being expressed here is more invisible. People working in medical care tell me there are many more complaints of fatigue and depression. 

But again, no one is going to link it to covid. Worldwide, healthcare systems are still stretched, people are still dying, but the pandemic is “over”. I can understand why we need it to be over. In many Asian countries we lived in a semi-lockdown with numerous restrictions for more than two years. I am someone who has been hyper-aware of what the virus can do, yet I am tired too.

I am constantly calculating my risks. I am honestly terrified of getting reinfected again. I have taken these 100 days to get back to some semblance of fitness – I am running again yay – I am nowhere near where I was before. Seeing my heart rate go berserk while resting is very disturbing. Having doctors repeatedly attribute it to anxiety is very annoying. Feeling like I can’t even walk to the mall without risking the aggravation of my elevated heart rate is very life-draining. One of the things that makes me the most alive is travel, and yet each time I travel I am faced with the possibility of destroying my health.

Long covid kills, either by slowly destroying our bodies until we suffer from some organ failure, or by making life so difficult that it feels like dying is a better choice:

My wife, Heidi, took her own life after a 13-month battle with long Covid that started as a mostly asymptomatic coronavirus infection. Long Covid took her from one of the healthiest, most vibrant people I’ve ever known to a person so debilitated that she could not bear another day on this planet.

My wife had long Covid and killed herself. We must help others who are suffering

I’m having issues with surviving as it is, I am not sure if I can survive long covid. I tell myself that the odds of catching covid locally here in Singapore are not that much lower compared to travelling. Not being on a plane for hours definitely helps, but the virus is so contagious now it take seconds to get infected. I could argue I am possibly safer on a plane because I wear a n95 with the usage of nasal sprays, whereas we go around Singapore with a kf94. I keep half-joking with my partner that it would be really tragic if we get reinfected because we are really so much more careful than the average person – apart from masking we still don’t eat indoors, we have an almost zero social life and we mask even with family, whereas there are hordes of people going around perpetually maskless still in the pink of health.

Yet life is never fair anyway, and my luck with my health seems to be historically dodgy. Unless I am willing to be a hermit or a truly sterilising vaccine becomes available, life will continue to feel precarious for a very long while. My buddhist-leaning self tells me that life is precarious anyway, we are just lulled into believing otherwise with the illusive mundaneness of life.

but, migraine free?

The good news is, I have not had a migraine since my infection. I did have some mild headaches, but they were nowhere near the intensity of my chronic migraines. I am not sure if it is a good thing, because it is hypothesised that migraines are a protective mechanism against oxidative stress. So have I lost my warning system: instead of stopping me in my stress-fueled tracks with a migraine, I am going to sustain oxidative damage unconsciously; or has something changed in me biologically?

I did go on a zero-carb diet during my infection in order to reduce glucose-induced vessel damage and glucose-supported viral replication, and I had a couple of days when I couldn’t eat, so my ketone production was dramatically heightened (~3mmol). Since ketones may repair the myelin sheath, and a damaged myelin sheath may be one of the causes of migraines, perhaps being in a deep ketotic state helped repair some of the damage that was causing my chronic migraines? This is the first time in my life I was in such prolonged deep ketosis – more than 10 days. Or it could be because I’ve been really on the ball with my electrolytes since my fainting episodes. Who really knows? Imagine suffering for more than 7 years of migraines and all I needed was to go on zero carb for a week or so. But it is too early to tell at the 100-day mark.

I am also on a traditional chinese medicine regime since a year ago to balance my hormones (was actually getting a lot better before covid), and right after testing negative I immediately restarted seeing the physician again. I had an elevated heart rate, gut dysbiosis and fatigue issues post-covid which were all slowly alleviated, and I remain in strong belief that the chinese herbs helped greatly in reducing stress on my body and restoring the homeostatic balance. Traditional chinese medicine is not a cure-all or a magic potion, but it is scientifically proven to greatly support our homeostatic health. I think the systemic damage from the virus is far and wide, and we need all the support we can have to heal, especially because our autonomic homeostatic loops are severely disrupted, so healing may be very challenging on its own without intervention.

I also take a supplement cocktail, but it may be problematic if I put the full list here and people may follow it blindly, so it is important to do your own research.

writing on taboo topics

I seem to have a penchant for writing on topics that no one wants to talk about. It started with depression, then suicide ideation, and suddenly recently I realised covid awareness is probably going to be one of these. It is something that the world wants to deny, and it makes people uncomfortable. I’ve written several covid-focused posts in the past 3 years, and even I was like “not again” when I was thinking of a topic to write for this week. The pandemic was meant to be a transient event, no one wants to still linger on it three years on. But it is very much alive, and it is still causing a ton of unprecedented damage. 

It occupies a large space in my consciousness, and profoundly affects my daily and long-term decision-making. Where to go, what to eat, what to bring. So why do I feel wrong writing about it again?

I do believe we should write about the things only our individual selves can write about, from the deep reservoir of all our combined accumulated experiences and learnings. I sometimes worry that my posts get too science-y with all the medical terms and research. Like who wants to read something on heart rate variability and oxidative damage? But it is precisely because of my lived experiences I am forced to learn about these things. No one would take my chronic illness and symptoms seriously (well, apart from TCM because there is a 5,000 year history of dealing with ambiguous symptoms that cannot be explained with a clear-cut textbook condition ). If I did not undertake this research journey myself I would still be deathly sick, and maybe my options would have been botox (not kidding).

I wish more people would do the same: sharing their very individual journey so it wouldn’t feel like climbing mount everest alone when we face difficult circumstances. I myself got inspired into self-quantifying for health because of someone else’s blog post about using a nike fuelband to manage his diabetes.

So I am walking my talk by writing this possibly very boring post to most people. Like the other taboo topics I write about, they may not get very read, but it could be a tiny light in a vast darkness for those who really needed to read them.

And more importantly, it is very much of my lived experience, and it plagues my consciousness incessantly.

thoughts on the suicidal mind

[tw: suicide] I watched Roadrunner, a documentary about Anthony Bourdain, and it left me a lot of thoughts as someone who has struggled with my own existence my entire life. Though I am writing about the documentary this post is more about me, so I am not going to pretend that I know more about Bourdain or anyone else. I am writing from my own perspective in relation to the film. 

Throughout the film I felt that Bourdain had a chronic unease about him. He was never comfortable even for a split second, whether working in the kitchen, being with his friends, or working on his own travel show. It was as though he didn’t belong. I can very much relate to why he became obsessed with Argento later on – it was probably an attempt to finally belong, to be known, and that is probably also why he didn’t take it very well when she seemed to have strayed. How can the only person who is supposed to know you hurt you like this? He had two ex-wives, both marriages lasted pretty long, but his obsession with Argento seemed to be on a different level. (Just to make it clear I am not pointing the finger at Argento, because there is a ton of things that can be potential triggers to a suicidal mind. Argento just happened to be the person he probably projected his hopes and love on.)

His friends commented on his addictive personality – Bourdain was a heroin addict who later on became addicted to different things in life, and his last addiction was Argento. It made me think about my own addictive personality: induced by my hyperfocus on my ever-shifting interests, or are my addictions attempts to escape that chronic unease? Addictions are like temporary forgettings, allowing us to forget that pain. That pain that is like second nature, that has existed since the very beginning of our time here. Sometimes I think suicide is not about truly wanting to end one’s life, but rather it seems like the only way to escape that pain. One can get used to that pain, but once in a while it threatens to overwhelm. That overwhelm can be very unbearable, and it is during this unbearable time that unfortunate things can happen. 

On the documentary Bourdain was filmed having a few philosophical conversations with his friends. One of them is buddhist, and you could tell that from those convos that Bourdain has thought a lot about the existential meaning of life. I have come to realise myself that perhaps it is better to not contemplate too much about the meaning of life, to try to analyse it intellectually. Because if you do, if you try to find logical reasons for life, for living, you may come to the conclusion that life itself is absurd – or worse, meaningless. One has to find a way to live without intellectualising it so much, like what Zen tries to teach. Perhaps it is because in a capitalistic society we are conditioned to expect positive outcomes from every endeavour we make, so of course we expect the hardest thing we do – living – to have some great positive meaning. It can be soul-crushing to realise otherwise. Maybe it is okay that life is just life, and this is it. But this is something that is difficult to accept. We want more, expect more, and find it impossible to deal with it if instead of better and more, there is suffering and pain. 

Personally, I think this is difficult to articulate in words but this expectation is closely tied to the suicidal mentality. I can’t speak for everyone of course, and there are books out there trying to analyse the minds of people who desire for their lives to end. But I would wager a huge part of it is ironically wanting more out of life, and then experiencing the hopelessness of the desired outcome. Because we believe there should be more, it is unbearable to live through a life where there is only the pain and disappointment of not having and of loss. I think there are circumstances where the desire to end one’s life is possibly justifiable: like when one’s physical suffering is beyond endurance or when one is facing a terminal illness and would like a dignified end. But when it comes to the realm of psychological suffering things become murky, because one’s psychology can have the potential to change.

But can it? Sometimes I think I’ve changed so much as a person but at times I feel like I am still the same person despite outward appearances. At times I feel like I’m the same old scared, lonely child, even at the age of 42. There are days when I can’t imagine being suicidal, and then there are days when I can’t stop thinking about it. It is like there: always lurking, waiting to catch you when you least expect it. Sometimes it is mind-boggling when people choose to end their lives just when things are getting better. Yet it is during better times that it becomes more difficult to deal with triggers and pain because it becomes more stark in contrast and more unexpected. When we’re used to feeling something everyday it is just there, like a piece of furniture. But imagine being in wonderland and a monster suddenly rears its ugly head – it becomes jarring, and difficult to cope.

Somehow human beings are very linear in our thinking. We think when we are on the mend, and it must be an onward journey up. I have experienced this countless times. I get better and I think: finally, the worst is behind me. Then nope, again it catches me unaware and the sense of despair and fatigue makes me feel like I’m drowning in a deep, dark endless pit. For that while, it feels like it would never get better.

Someone mentioned in the documentary that the wave of suicidal thinking typically lasts about 90 minutes (relevant link), and people who survive that period usually end up not wanting to kill themselves. It seemed like Bourdain did not have a pre-meditated intention to die, he was still writing notes for his show and making arrangements for the future. But if one has flirted with suicidal thoughts all our lives, when the wave of suicidal thinking hits, it is not: “this is only temporary, I only need to endure this for a while” but rather “I must really want to do it because I keep thinking about it. I should finally act on it because I am tired of this”. 

I am 42, and Bourdain passed when he was 61. He’s had two more decades of enduring these waves. Who is to say he should have endured more? Whenever I read about a suicide I do wonder about myself. I assume I’ll only grow more resilient as I age, but is that a wrong assumption? 

My own episodes have gotten less frequent as I have grown much more whole as a person. But this is on the assumption that I have what I have now: reasonable health, being in a nourishing relationship, reasonable amount of stressors etc. But the impermanence of life has taught me that things can just change in a split second. I don’t feel very resilient at all. But perhaps paradoxically knowing I am fragile makes me have the correct expectations?

The reason why I write so much about this topic is because I believe it should not be a taboo topic. It is a phenomenon that is part of the human life. If more people are able to discuss it in the open maybe it can be like a piece of furniture that we know we hold in our psychological space rather than a potentially life-ceasing monster that may be more harmful the more we refuse to acknowledge its existence. I don’t think the urge to end one’s existence is shameful or something that should be hidden in a closet. I think the problem with it is that in some cases it feels like a logical solution to a logical problem. If I find my life and/or my self unbearable why should I continue to bear them? Isn’t it a sort of permanent suffering to only live for other people? Why should I live a life that feels like permanent suffering for me?

But the key to transcend this – if my cognitive faculties are intact – is stop stop treating life as a question with an answer. Or something that is either this or that. Or that my current self will be permanent in the way I think, feel and perceive. And that any way of existing is permanent. We are ever-changing, our circumstances are also ever-changing. The most hopeless and most hopeful part of life is the same – its impermanence. 

I feel tremendously sad when I see of young people successfully ending their lives. I did not change my mind about the way I thought about my life and death until my mid to late thirties, and my views continue to evolve. When we are young we lack the agency to change our circumstances and the people we are. It is one thing to end our lives after a lifetime of suffering, another thing to end it because we cannot see a way out of our young, narrow selves. It is said that it is not that people literally want to end their lives, but they simply wanted a way out of their pain and/or their suffocating circumstances. Some just wanted an end to their stifling identities. There are ways to explore alternate paths, but we are conditioned to believe that so much of our lives are fixed. This is why Buddhism/Zen can be soothing for some, because it teaches that there is no (permanent) self. The thought of having no self can either bring despair or freedom, depending on where we are in life.

Society must learn to acknowledge that this sort of life-negating psychological pain is real and debilitating. We must not assume that life is automatically desirable for everyone. We often think of suicide as a selfish act, but do you know how much must one suffer to prefer harming themselves permanently, even if the thoughts are just there for a short while?

In my previous post I wrote that it takes a village to raise a child. Heck, it take a village to cultivate flourishing, balanced, whole adults. We are so, so far from that. If only there is a safe place people can go whenever they encounter such ideation, to safely explore themselves, their feelings, their desires, their suffering – or even reboot their existences – with a team of experienced guides without judgment. But now we have a culture where everyone hides their feelings in order to maintain harmony and to prevent shame. 

In a parallel universe, would Bourdain still be alive? I would like to think that things could have been different if society had the sort of infrastructure for people encountering existential difficulties but that’s too much to hope for. Or perhaps if he had the luck to find a good therapist that is able to bring him life-transforming insights out of his brilliant, dark mind. People with minds like this believe that they have already thought through all the nooks and crannies but there is always a space wider than our minds. It is difficult to cope with that sort of existential loneliness, that is why there is always so much hope placed on love and/or another person. Maybe living is simply too tiring for some of us. I always joke with my partner that I wish she can shut me down for a few days because my sense of fatigue is too overwhelming. It is a scary thing, to be unable to escape one’s confines of our own minds. 

I feel like for myself right now, in order to live I have to stop thinking so much. I have to pretend to be interested in things, even if I don’t feel like it. The way my brain works is that I almost never feel like anything, so I just have to make myself do things. This takes psychological stamina, which can be sucked out of me when shit happens. It takes psychological stamina for me to keep myself alive by doing “normal” mundane things other people do: going out, interacting with the world, trying to cultivate some interests or hobbies, take care of our health, etc. In good periods this psychological stamina feels effortless, like it was always there. During bad times it feels like a herculean effort to uncurl myself from the fetal position. During these times when everything is in negative balance it is when we need our psychological stamina the most: to conjure the energy and courage to attempt to turn things around, break out of the stasis.

This is why so many people fail. How and where do we find the strength, when we are at our weakest, our most vulnerable? If we cannot find the answer, we should stop saying that suicide is a selfish act, and try to understand the root and systemic causes of such an outcome.

related links

how we were loved profoundly influences how we live and love

why this book

I used to spend a lot of time and energy being “in love” with people. There is almost no window of time in my life that I was okay being with my self and had no one to consume my thoughts and emotions. On hindsight maybe it was necessary for my survival: having an ongoing fantasy that I’ll meet “The One” and live happily ever served as a good enough distraction or hope from the depressing reality of my life.

But in reality it made me a miserable person. I was always pining for someone. A friend made a joke that the objects of my affection were always the emotionally unavailable ones. I reacted defensively to it of course, but years later when I developed more maturity to think about it, I realised he was right.

Reading “A general theory of love” changed this trajectory dramatically. It explained in a compelling narrative intertwined with the neuroscience of why I kept “falling in love” with these unavailable people. I was attracted to unavailable people because this was how my brain recognised “love”.

It sounds screwed up but if we think about it, our brain basically learns from the inputs that it is given. Why would it automatically know what the healthy version of love looks like, especially if we have never encountered it before? Even the media we consume reinforces this narrative that “true love” is always this person rescuing the other, or that one person is always pining for the other. Movies don’t talk about the reality of relationships: that compatibility and alignment of life values are key. Love depicted in media is always this magical process where everything will work out because it is “meant to be”. Life doesn’t work like that, that is probably why the rate of divorce is so high.

I have this naive thought that writing these book reviews will provide some insights to people who don’t have time to read the entire book, or they may be encouraged to read it if they have never encountered it. But maybe it is enough reason to wish to document something important to me.

the premise of the book

The book attempts to explain the neuroscience behind what we think of as “love”, which is an all-encompassing term inclusive of the nurturance young human beings receive, as well as the romantic attraction that occurs between two people. It also tells us that this romantic attraction is not as romantic as we tend to imagine, it is deeply influenced by how we are nurtured. This is largely because of our:

limbic system

We have a primal part of the brain called the limbic system, the part that was there before we evolved the ability to reason. It is responsible for our primal drives and autonomic functions like hunger, flight or fright, territorial instincts, sexual urges etc. It is the reason why we find it so difficult to overcome our natural instincts – that part of the brain does not respond to logic:

Because people are most aware of the verbal, rational part of their brains, they assume that every part of their mind should be amenable to the pressure of argument and will. Not so. Words, good ideas, and logic mean nothing to at least two brains out of three.


A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon | link

This has stark implications of how much control we think we have over our emotional life:

A person cannot direct his emotional life in the way he bids his motor system to reach for a cup. He cannot will himself to want the right thing, or to love the right person, or to be happy after a disappointment, or even to be happy in happy times. People lack this capacity not through a deficiency of discipline but because the jurisdiction of will is limited to the latest brain and to those functions within its purview. Emotional life can be influenced, but it cannot be commanded.


A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon | link

And in case we equate primitive to being useless, that part of the brain is actually essential to what we identify as part of the human experience:

Remove a mother hamster’s whole neocortex and she can still raise her pups, but even slight limbic damage devastates her maternal abilities. Limbic lesions in monkeys can obliterate the entire awareness of others.


A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon | link

limbic regulation: how another’s presence can affect us

Key to our experience of love, nurturance and social contact is a process that the limbic system regulates — limbic regulation. Our nervous systems and bodily functions are impacted by another person’s presence more than we think:

We call this mutually synchronizing exchange limbic regulation. The human body constantly fine-tunes many thousands of physiologic parameters—heart rate and blood pressure, body temperature, immune function, oxygen saturation, levels of sugars, hormones, salts, ions, metabolites. In a closed-loop design, each body would self-monitor levels and self-administer correctives, keeping its solitary system in continuous harmonious balance.


A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon | link

A second person transmits regulatory information that can alter hormone levels, cardiovascular function, sleep rhythms, immune function, and more—inside the body of the first. The reciprocal process occurs simultaneously: the first person regulates the physiology of the second, even as he himself is regulated. Neither is a functioning whole on his own; each has open loops that only somebody else can complete. Together they create a stable, properly balanced pair of organisms.


A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon | link

This has profound implications to how we think of our selves as social creatures. We are social not just on a emotional level — that we prefer the company of other people to combat our deep inset loneliness, but we can be physiologically regulated by another human being close to us:

Adults remain social animals: they continue to require a source of stabilization outside themselves. That open-loop design means that in some important ways, people cannot be stable on their own—not should or shouldn’t be, but can’t be. This prospect is disconcerting to many, especially in a society that prizes individuality as ours does. Total self-sufficiency turns out to be a daydream whose bubble is burst by the sharp edge of the limbic brain. Stability means finding people who regulate you well and staying near them.


A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon | link

the physiological effects of dysregulation

…and the health cost of being isolated and not regulated is high:

Cortisol levels rise sixfold in some mammals after just thirty minutes of isolation.


A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon | link

…with the effects on children being much more pronounced because they have not learnt to self-regulate:

Lengthy parental absence deprives a child of limbic regulation. If he is very young, losing his parents upends his physiology. Prolonged separations even can be fatal to an immature nervous system, as vital rhythms of heart rate and respiration devolve into chaos. Sudden infant death is increased fourfold in the babies of mothers who are depressed—because without emotional shelter, infants die. The heart rhythms of securely attached babies are steadier than those with insecure relationships, just as the breathing teddy bear regularizes the respiration of premature infants. Synchronicity with parents (or, in a pinch, with another reliable rhythmic source) becomes the baby’s developing physiologic strength.


A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon | link

I am not sure how many people know this, because I was shocked when I read about it, that infants need touch or they may die, as some emperor in the 13th century found out because he was doing some language experiment – he instructed mothers and nurses to take care of a group of infants’ physiological needs like feeding and bathing, but not speak or touch them. The experiment was terminated prematurely because:

all of the infants died before uttering a single word. The emperor had stumbled upon something remarkable: that “children could not live without clap-pings of the hands, and gestures, and gladness of countenance, and blandishments.”


A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon | link

…and adults are not spared from the negative effects of isolation either:

Children aren’t the only ones whose bodies respond to the intricacies of loss: cardiovascular function, hormone levels, and immune processes are disturbed in adults subjected to prolonged separation.


A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon | link

how much free will do we really have?

Society likes to tell us that we can choose to be whoever we want and attain our goals despite whatever happened in our past. We are told that the individual has to be entirely responsible for their choices. But research has shown that we are not only psychologically affected by our upbringing, our physical health is profoundly impacted by what happens during our childhood too (this is also discussed in another pivotal book, Why Zebras don’t get ulcers):

Full-grown, these monkeys are living proof of limbic regulation’s enduring power: they are timid, clingy, subordinate, and clumsy in their efforts to establish ties to other monkeys. The brains of these animals evidence permanent alterations in neurochemistry. Just because their mothers once lived under a pall of uncertainty, these adult animals show lifelong changes in levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. With their vulnerability to anxiety and depression, their social awkwardness and failures to attach as adults, these monkeys exhibit a close animal counterpart to the multifaceted misery that in human beings is labeled neurotic.


A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon | link

We seem to associate a child’s need for attention negatively without knowing that there are physiological reasons why they are needy – so many of us are raised to be “independent”. How many of us in my and earlier generations have memories of hugs or any physical affection from our parents?

Reward a child’s distress with attention, they said (and say today), and you increase the probability of recurrence. A child left alone at night, with no human presence to “reward” him, eventually stops crying and makes do without. But sleep is not a reflex, like the canine salivation a flank steak provokes. The dozing adult brain rises and descends through half a dozen distinct neural phases every ninety minutes, in gradually lengthening symphonic movements that culminate in morning wakefulness. Sleep is an intricate brain rhythm, and the neurally immature infant must first borrow the patterns from parents.


A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon | link

Since our neurochemistry has an outsized impact on how we behave, the health of our brains will determine our future too, because our brains will have issues regulating itself to shocks and stress because it never learnt to self-regulate:

The child of emotionally balanced parents will be resilient to life’s minor shocks. Those who miss out on the practice find that in adulthood, their emotional footing pitches beneath them like the deck of a boat in rough waters. They are incomparably reactive to the loss of their anchoring attachments—without assistance, they are thrown back on threadbare resources. The end of a relationship is then not merely poignant but incapacitating.


A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon | link

Imagine two different kids: one is emotionally balanced, the other always on tenterhooks. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to imagine their trajectories as adults. One takes on challenges as they come, the other avoids or suffers from meltdowns when they encounter difficulty. Who is going to thrive?

If we can’t regulate ourselves each time we encounter stressful situations, our body will keep releasing stress hormones to help us cope. What can the chronic release of these stress hormones cause? Yes, all the chronic health conditions we can think of in this world: diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc. Imagine being chronically ill not because of the decisions we make as adults, but because of how we are being care-given as infants. This must change the way we think of inequality and the poverty cycle. I also resent the way we talk about resilience like it is some character-driven virtue, when in our society it is the outcome of psychological privilege. It should not be a privilege, but a natural outcome of healthy upbringing that should be more available than it is now.

behind our romantic attraction

The primal part of our brain not only affects how our nervous system regulates itself, it also hugely determines who we love, because as young human beings our brains starts learning according to what we are exposed to:

If a parent loves him in the healthiest way, wherein his needs are paramount, mistakes are forgiven, patience is plentiful, and hurts are soothed as best they can be, then that is how he will relate to himself and others. Anomalous love—one where his needs don’t matter, or where love is suffocating or autonomy intolerable—makes its ineradicable limbic stamp. Healthy loving then becomes incomprehensible.


A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon | link

illustration of how healthy begets healthy love and vice versa

Based on these exposures when we’re young, we form these imprints – the book calls them prototypes – of what love should look like. And this is the part of the book that hit me the most: that we would rather fall in love with people that make us miserable than to feel lonely:

A relationship that strays from one’s prototype is limbically equivalent to isolation. Loneliness outweighs most pain. These two facts collude to produce one of love’s common and initially baffling quirks: most people will choose misery with a partner their limbic brain recognizes over the stagnant pleasure of a “nice” relationship with someone their attachment mechanisms cannot detect. Consider the young man described in the last chapter wrestling with the present-day reenactment of the long-ago love with his fiery, critical mother. As an adult, he faces a binary universe. If he connects with a woman, she turns out to be his mother’s younger clone. But a supportive woman leaves him exasperatingly empty of feeling—no spark, no chemistry, no fireworks.


A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon | link

…and that we would probably ignore the best partner on paper because our brains simply cannot consider the possibility of a healthy dynamic as love:

You can’t tell someone with faulty Attractors to go out and find a loving partner—from his point of view, there are none. Those who could love him well are invisible. Even if the clouds parted and a perfectly compassionate and understanding lover descended from heaven on a sunbeam to land at his feet, his mind would still be tuned to another sort of relationship; he still wouldn’t know what to do.


A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon | link

So now we not only have shitty regulation that causes frequent emotional meltdowns, we also have shitty health because of our frequent stress, and to top it all off we keep wanting to be in shitty relationships. What a life.

the possibility of healing

Our brains learns and stores, that is why we carry neurological baggage. But thankfully the brain is plastic, meaning it can learn to have new neurological connections at any time. This is the hope. The book recommends therapy as a source of healing:

The mind-body clash has disguised the truth that psychotherapy is physiology. When a person starts therapy, he isn’t beginning a pale conversation; he is stepping into a somatic state of relatedness.


A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon | link

…but I guess therapy is not the only way we can be in this somatic state. it is just that it is difficult to find another human being who is able to regulate us in a healthy way, especially when like the book mentioned earlier, we wouldn’t know what is healthy even if it appears in front of us. Sadly I am personally not sure how many of these psychologically healthy human beings actually exists because of how society is designed. But perhaps some of us will have such luck:

A person with maladaptive Attractors can encounter another by chance who will teach him what he needs to learn. The instructor fate provides, whether husband or wife, brother, sister, or friend, is often amiably unmoved by the other’s problematic emotional messages. Through the reach of their relationship and the utility of his relative imperviousness, he can gently and incrementally dissuade his student from headlong flight down paths that terminate in sorrow.


A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon | link

love is not just love

We think of love as just an emotion, but it is effectively a regulation mechanism for us:

Because loving is reciprocal physiologic influence, it entails a deeper and more literal connection than most realize. Limbic regulation affords lovers the ability to modulate each other’s emotions, neurophysiology, hormonal status, immune function, sleep rhythms, and stability. If one leaves on a trip, the other may suffer insomnia, a delayed menstrual cycle, a cold that would have been fought off in the fortified state of togetherness.


A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon | link

…the effects of such mutual regulation can be profound:

Love is simultaneous mutual regulation, wherein each person meets the needs of the other, because neither can provide for his own. Such a relationship is not 50-50—it’s 100-100. Each takes perpetual care of the other, and, within concurrent reciprocity, both thrive. For those who attain it, the benefits of deep attachment are powerful—regulated people feel whole, centered, alive. With their physiology stabilized from the proper source, they are resilient to the stresses of daily life, or even to those of extraordinary circumstance.


A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon | link

…as I myself has discovered since meeting my partner. This is clearly visible in my biometrics – she hugs me to sleep every night but we do separate after a while because of changes in our sleeping positions – look at the dramatic spike in my heart rate variability in the first portion of my sleep:

screenshot of oura ring's hrv graph

the impact this book has on me

Reading this book has allowed me to look at my past with much greater clarity. Why I was in the relationships I was, why I had certain behavioural patterns. Awareness is not a magic pill – it cannot reverse decades of negative patterns, but it may set forth the path we can take towards healing. I also developed way more compassion for myself and other people. It is difficult to love our selves when we can be so problematic, I really disliked myself because of the extremity of my emotions and the intensity of my meltdowns. Meltdowns are a nicer word for a bad temper I guess.

But we look a people’s temperaments as their inborn character or their inability to exert control over themselves without realising so much of it is dependent on their neurological circuitry. We are controlled by our brains – this is simply indisputable by current science, but somehow even in 2023 we still magically expect ourselves to be magical creatures who can miraculously overcome our very primal impulses and imprints and direct our will at will. This is not just a philosophical rant. It is a depressing awareness of how much society is set up against the nature of ourselves. Our systems, laws and the way we treat people are based on the belief that we are free to make our choices. But are we?

I know I just said awareness is not a magic pill, but I magically stopped being attracted to people after reading this book. It is as though knowing what truly powers attraction made me truly cynical about it. The feelings I associated with romance is now being associated negatively with my brain’s desire to seek out the familiarity of an unhealthy dynamic.

Strangely months after reading this book I met my current partner, whose dynamic with me is very unlike what I had with other people, so I was honestly very confused. But my new-found knowledge gave me enough time and space to let the relationship unfold. She was the first person to be emotionally available to me, we did not engage in power battles and we fought with increasing honesty instead of passive aggression. Till today I believe I wouldn’t have fallen in love with her if I had not read this book first. I was used to feeling like the oxygen has been sucked out of me by the absence of another person – that suffering I associated with romantic love – but she made me feel like I was swimming in an ocean full of oxygen.

I know you may think that choosing that ocean is the obvious choice, but people like me like being in oxygen-deprived chambers because the suffering makes us feel alive, like we are fighting for something. Maybe that was my experience as an infant, to keep fighting for attention – that was probably love in its earliest form to me.

the other uncomfortable implications of this book

Because we are creatures in need of love, there is so much emphasis and responsibility placed on parents, especially mothers. I had felt uncomfortable sharing some quotes from the book because I recognise that motherhood is already an impossible task. Heck, just trying to be a regular human being is difficult.

But herein lies the problem: we do not have systems in place to support the growth of healthy human beings. The sole responsibility should not just fall on the mother or the parents. It takes a village to raise a child, and this really hits home after comprehending the lessons of this book.

I have also left out a lot of the book especially its discussion on the attachment theory, because the book is so rich that it is impossible for me to cover everything. I encourage you to read the book in its entirety because we cannot fully understand its context by cherry-picking some quotes. Reading is a very personal experience and it will unfold differently with the layers of every individual’s inner world.

writing this review

This is a review I have been wanting to write for years, but didn’t have the capacity to sift through all my highlights and consolidate them into a meaningful manner. I’ve finally made an attempt with Obsidian and also I’m learning to chunk my writing sessions better. If I write more of these reviews I guess it would mean the process is working.

Done is better than perfect, so I am aware that this piece would probably read better with more sittings and more editing, but for now I think it is more important for me to have breadth than depth. So I am going treat this piece like a living document that I can always come back and edit if I want to. I hope some people will still find it meaningful enough.