journal/

on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

the box on our heads

This week I finished reading “What my bones know” by Stephanie Foo: a memoir on complex PTSD (CPTSD). Reflecting at different stages of the author’s story, it reminded me a lot of my own ongoing healing process.

Even though now at times it is still difficult for me, I do forget how bad it was for a very long time. Reading the book brought me back to those times, when I was always angry, sad, self-loathing, chronically suicidal, exhausting. Always. For decades. It has only been a few recent years that I feel like I am moving forward, a process that took a few million tiny steps. Like the author, knowing that I have CPTSD (someone recommended me Pete Walker’s book) was life changing.

If our bodies are hurting, we can only start to heal if we know where is the injury. Knowing the nature of the injury allows us to apply the appropriate treatment for it. Otherwise it is like walking blindly in the dark. For people with mental/emotional pain, we might not even know we are hurting, maybe because when we’re in the same state for years and years, we don’t know there is another possible state. We may think being in a state of constant hurt is the baseline for any human being. Some of us grew defences so thick all we feel is nothing. There is no hurt in nothing, right?

Reading Pete Walker’s book made me realise precisely why I was hurting, why it hurt so much, and why I always seemed to be going into these emotionally painful states very often. I wasn’t even aware how my life was coloured so deeply by these until I started to experience them less frequently.

The change was very slow and painful, but the accumulated difference is dramatic. Only upon hindsight I realised I was walking with a suffocating box around my head, limiting everything I see and experience. I had such a narrow view of the world, of people, of myself. It was constrictive and deadening.

CPTSD aside, I think the concept of having a box around our head applies to social conditioning in general. We’re all brought up with all these rules, norms, expectations, ideas.

illustration of small box around our heads versus a bigger wider sphere. by @launshae.
box vs wider sphere (illustration by @launshae)

How much more can we see and experience if we remove that small, tight box around our heads? We will always be trapped in a limited sphere of perception because we have inherent conditioning and biases as human beings. But we could endeavour to widen this sphere, to experience a fuller version of life, of this world, of other people and our selves.


This is one of the reasons why I keep a daily journal, and that I try to review my past entries, tweets, instagrams, etc on a daily basis. I get reminded of how small was the box on my head trapping me, and how much more I am seeing in my widening sphere. The differences are stark, and I cannot help but feel sorry for my past self. I have wasted so much time.

It adds to my time anxiety, that somehow I worry that something bad is going to happen to me just when I am beginning to truly experience the world and become who I am (this is also a symptom of CPTSD – always thinking the worst is going to happen). Having been chronically suicidal I never really cared about my future – which at times worked out well for me as I took on risks normal people would never take – but I have found myself caring about it in recent times. It is truly weird, to want to live a little more after so many years of secretly hoping I’ll get knocked dead by a car.


Similar to the buddhist belief that we are not our thoughts, I think we’re not the boxes on our heads. What lies underneath? I see people express their bigoted beliefs, and I wonder if they are aware of the boxes on their heads? How do we make people see wider than the limited views we’ve been conditioned with?

It is tiring, to be suffocated with limiting views all the time, to perceive fellow human beings as inherent sinners instead of actually seeing that we bestow ourselves with traps the moment we’re born. We all have to be obedient children, get good grades, get good jobs, fulfil our gender and societal norms, meet everyone’s expectations, achieve high status, etc, without stopping to ask what is the whole point of our existence? How do we wish to live, how do we want to engage with our fellow human beings Is a lifetime of condemnation and policing people including those we love a really good way to live?

Human beings seem to be self-sabotaging, I really wish we could see that. That we suffocate ourselves with unnecessary boxes.

why I prick my fingers 5x a day

Some time in 2018 I bought a glucose meter. I cannot remember exactly why – I was probably worried I was diabetic because I was frequently getting serious food comas after eating. By “serious” I mean the level of drowsiness was so overwhelming that I could not keep my eyes open no matter how hard I tried. I think I bought a glucose meter for a peace of mind, to assure myself that I was actually fine.

Like many people I was afraid of getting my finger pricked, but curiousity won so I braced myself. We imagine it is like a pricking our fingers with a needle but a good lancet is so fine and quick that the sensation lasts for less than a second. I remember panicking when I saw my first result – in the pre-diabetic range. Then I realised I did it after my regular 2-in-1 instant coffee (yes I love this actually), so I panicked less. But the result next morning didn’t seem ideal either.

home glucose meters vs blood-drawn tests

Glucose meters are home devices and are considered “accurate” when they are 15-20% within range, 90% of the time. Which means they are actually not accurate at all, because 20% can mean 5 mmol/l or 6 mmol/l. 5 is considered normal and 6 is considered pre-diabetic. But it is useful for monitoring trends, and there are meters which are known to be more accurate than the others. We could also get a HbA1c test at which checks for blood sugar control during the past 3 months.

Months later I plucked up the courage – this time real long needles are used – to go for a blood screening. I was also reaching a plateau with my migraines and wanted to see if there are any biomarkers that are abnormal. My HbA1c test then was 5.5. The doctor was like, “see, nothing is wrong” but the prediabetic range now starts from 5.6. I thought 5.5 meant that my blood glucose was also 5.5 mmol/L which is not ideal at all but still acceptable, but years later I found out 5.5 of a HbA1c actually means an average blood glucose level of 6.17mmol/L (111.3mg/dL) which I would consider pre-diabetic. Doctors are only concerned when our levels reach 7mmol/L, but by then it is indicating serious insulin resistance. Research shows that when we’re in prediabetic stage our beta cells are already 20-40% damaged. If this is caught early enough the damage can be reversed.

insulin resistance -> hormone imbalances -> migraines

concept map demonstrating how too many carbs can result in migraines

Honestly, maybe I wouldn’t care that much if being pre-diabetic means I could continue to eat whatever I want and get it managed by medicine. But insulin resistance causes hormonal imbalance (and polycystic ovary syndrome), which contributes to the severity of my migraines. Before I was on a regular low-carb diet I was frequently having serious PMS: painful migraines and breasts, wild mood swings, suicidal feelings. PMS aside I was frequently tired and it would be normal for me to wake up fatigued with serious brain fog. Medicine can only manage blood glucose levels, not improve insulin sensitivity.

I also do not want to surrender to the diseases we assume are all part of getting old. Currently my blood pressure is 100-110+/60-70+ (101/65 at this very moment) when many people around my age (41) or younger is already diagnosed with high blood pressure.

I think as a society we’re conditioned to only worry when things go through with our body, but chronic damage is invisible and takes a long time before symptoms appear. There is also a difference between optimal health and the minimal health that is required for survival.

I’ve never been healthy until the last 7 years, but now I feel like I have a taste of what it is like to be truly healthy.

pricking 5x a day

I went from pricking my finger every morning when I wake up to pricking it one hour post meals – which means I prick my finger 3x a day. In the recent months I have begun to prick my finger pre-meals as well, so that means 5x a day. Testing blood sugar post-meals can help clarify what food is creating unhealthy spikes, because they can cause endothelial damage – contributing to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. I now test pre-meals because they show if my blood glucose levels returned to baseline after my previous meal. If I eat a bad breakfast my blood glucose level can stay elevated for more than 3 hours – it should return to baseline by the 3rd hour – sometimes it would not return to baseline by the time I eat my dinner.

is it necessary

Some people only test their fasting blood glucose in the morning, but I’ve learnt that we can have a good fasting blood glucose but a bad hbA1c. It means that the body recovers enough during sleep to get to a good enough glucose baseline in the morning, but on the average our blood glucose can remain high in-between meals and throughout the day.

I also tend to succumb to temptations very easily, so a chocolate cake here and an ice-cream there. It is just once in a while, why would it be so bad? I ate “healthy” things like granola and apples – if you love them please do not test your blood sugar after eating them.

It was hard to ignore what my food choices were doing to my body when the data is so clear. I went through periods when I stopped testing because it was just easier being in denial and still eat my favourite foods.

Maybe many people can get away with less vigilance. But I know I can’t. Some people may think people like me have an eating disorder because I intermittently fast and can be really strict on what I eat. But trust me, I would not do this if I can eat anything I want and be pain free.

positive reinforcement

Testing my blood sugar frequently allowed me to see the patterns that come out of my food choices. I noticed eating a lower carb diet in general gave me stable energy levels (no more blood sugar crashes) and made me have a lot less cravings. I still crave, because I am addicted to food as pleasure and comfort. But the sort of cravings I get is not the type I used to get, those cravings were physiologically unbearable. I tend to think twice now when I feel tempted, because I would have to live with an ultra-high glucose reading later, and knowing the damage it could inflict just makes it difficult. Isn’t it a form of self-sabotaging if we know something is harmful to our body and yet we keep ingesting it?

considering the short people curse

Being short has its perks but it also means the ability to absorb glucose is a lot less compared to an average man. I think this is why many women deal with hormonal issues, because we are not very aware that we’re eating the same level of sugar as men. Imagine going to MacDonalds with your taller friend/partner. We both order a meal each right? But our body mass and hormonal status determines how we handle the resulting glucose from the very same meal. Think about bubble (boba) teas, starbucks drinks, restaurant meals. Short people ingest the same amounts most of the time as our taller counterparts. It is not like short people order short sizes and taller people order the ventis. Yes, biology and genetics suck sometimes. But my partner tells me I’ll survive longer if there is a famine. ;/ I have been re-evaluating the portions I consume ever since I had this epiphany about my height. It is very easy to over-consume sugar if I was not mindful that I am consuming portions that is meant for an average-sized human being.


balance & experimentation

I get less migraines now, and they are less severe. I have better mental clarity and have a lot less body aches and fatigue. My PMS symptoms are mostly gone, I don’t even get bad cramps anymore – just slight crampy discomfort instead of the disabling ones. I’ve been doing this for a few years now, with periods in between when I just take a “holiday”. Pre-covid I would also take a break whenever we travel. But I notice myself wanting less breaks now, because every I take a break it was fun and all during the break, but the suffering afterwards can be extremely painful and prolonged. I keep asking myself if that short-term gratification is worth the longer-term consequences.

I am still trying to find a sustainable balance, and experimenting with the amount of carbs I can eat without terrible spikes to my blood sugar. I hope to not avoid entire foods but rather eat reasonable portions. Sometimes I take a couple of bites when my partner eats a pastry.

I’m going to experiment with a continuous glucose monitor (cgm) so I can stop pricking my fingers 5x a day. I’ll probably be more adventurous with my food experiments since I can get a blood glucose reading anytime I want. I think pre and post-meal testing has actually expanded my food choices. Previously I would just avoid everything that resemble carbs. Now I am discovering my tolerance.


I am not sure if people find posts like this interesting. But it would have helped me a lot if I read something like this early on in my health journey, instead of searching blind in the dark. Maybe someone struggling with PMS and migraines would find experimenting with the blood sugar readings helpful. Since managing my health is such a large part of my life, I foresee myself writing a lot more similar posts with experiment findings, and probably finally working on a wikipedia-style notebook that pulls together everything so it can be used as a public resource for anyone stumbling onto this site.

insights from a forest monk

I like to read Buddhist books because it serves a radical narrative compared to the ones we’ve been served in mainstream society. It teaches us to understand the nature of our suffering, and tells us it is possible to liberate ourselves from that suffering. That even the Buddha said that it is important to investigate our experiences, not to believe him wholesale. In a largely materialist society, it is important to know that are alternatives to our mainstream way of living, which is to control, conquer, acquire, consume – almost always a more of everything. Buddhism teaches us that control is just an illusion, it is not by having things that we can gain true joy, but rather learning how to let go and accept the impermanence of life.

A while ago I picked up “I may be wrong” by Björn Natthiko Lindeblad at a book sale. These days we seem to only pick up books when it is “trending”, so it was a lovely experience to actually go to a physical book store, browse books on a shelf, and pick up a book because something about it called out to you. It could be the cover, the synopsis at the back. In this case I liked that it was a memoir of a former forest monk. I’ve read books written by Tibetan and Zen monks, but none from a forest monk yet. And a Swedish forest monk?! The forest monk tradition is considered quite obscure compared to Tibetan and Zen Buddhism.

Photo of book: "I may be wrong"

I thought I’ll note down some favourite bits and share it here. In the prologue, it opened with:

“What I value most from my seventeen years of full-time spiritual training is that I no longer believe my every thought. That’s my superpower.”

That we are not our thoughts is not new to people who are familiar with Buddhism, but seeing it explicitly called out like that by the author was still provocative to me. I have found more emotional freedom ever since I learnt to examine the reality of my emotions at a distance, so I deeply related to that statement.

He tells many stories about the wisdom he had learnt from his fellow forest monks. The title of the book came from a lecture by Ajahn Jayasaro:

“The next time you sense a conflict brewing, when you feel things are about to come to a head with someone, just repeat this mantra to yourself three times, sincerely and convincingly – in any language you want worries will evaporate, like dew from the grass on a and your summer morning. I may be wrong. I may be wrong. I may be wrong.”

We’re living in a world where everybody wants to be right, and it has led to divisive conflicts that has detrimentally impacted life for many people. We insist on being right, there is no room for differences, negotiation, accommodation, empathy. We start citing lines from books on why we are right, and we want to be right at the expense of people’s lives. The idea that anyone of us may be wrong at any given time could be life-saving in many situations.

The line that stuck most deeply with me was from Ajahn Anandabodhi, a forest nun, something she said to the author when he was tired and overworked:

“Natthiko. Don’t forget: responsibility – the ability to respond.”

I have never thought of “responsibility” as the ability to respond before. The word “responsibility” just sounds like something we must do or carry no matter what, regardless of who we are, how we feel or think. It is like a moral obligation that must be undertaken, something that doesn’t give the freedom of choice.

But thinking back on all those times people/I thought of me as irresponsible, and all those times when I felt other people were irresponsible – both causing much internal suffering in me – I realised most of the time, it is not that people choose to be irresponsible. It is simply because we don’t have the ability or capacity to respond. Life can be very overwhelming, and due to the inherently violent and traumatic nature of society people’s capacities can be very limited. How do we have room to carry more and heavier things when all our lives – since the moment we are aware we are conscious – we have been weighed down and scarred by so much? There is no nurturance, no gradual scaffolding. We can’t ask someone who has never run before to run a marathon. The capacity to respond like training for a marathon, has to be gradually developed.

Insights like these, they slowly free up space in my small, constricted heart. Instead of resentment I just feel sorry. For people, for myself. This sorriness makes it harder for me to resent. I still do, just less.


The other notable parts of the book I appreciated are about the lifestyles of forest monks. They eat only one meal, and they can’t eat after noon. They cannot handle money, so they rely on alms from the generosity of the public, which means they eat anything that people donate. Here I am, regularly feeling sorry for myself (again) when I intermittently fast and eat a “strict” diet. I can still choose whatever I want to eat within the boundaries of my chosen diet, and I can eat a large and varied meal if I choose to omad (one meal a day). Comparatively to the forest monks, it would seem like I am feasting. Of course life is not a suffering competition, but the whole point of these practices is not to teach them to suffer, but rather to practice how to respond when life is not within their control:

Monastic life was designed to frustrate the mechanisms we employ to exert control. That was one of the reasons we didn’t handle money, weren’t allowed to choose when or what we ate, who we lived with or which hut we slept in. Being forced to relinquish control was a deliberate part of the learning process. And the result was wonderful. It’s a gift to be able to rest in trust when life becomes uncertain, to be comfortable with not knowing.

This is something I want very much for myself. I don’t agree with everything he/Buddhism preaches. He uses the word “trust” a lot, like life is something to be trusted. I don’t share that faith, at all. I think life is ambivalent, it just is. But I do believe it is helpful to live life for what it actually is – that it is uncertain and impermanent. I think there is freedom that can arise from being fully aware and present to what life can gift and take away from us. A lot of suffering comes from the illusory belief that we can control our trajectory, and also from the avoidance of pain/death. When we are willing to meet things upfront, we save a lot of energy from all the time we spend trying to avoid it.

I am still struggling though. It scares me to think about people I love dying. But I think about it regularly, I try not to shy away from it. It will not lessen my grief, but at the very least I will not be surprised with a ton of regret when the times come.

How do I increase my own capacity to respond? I think it takes constant practice and meditation – maybe meditation is the practice. I don’t trust life inherently, but I do trust my capacity to change, because I know how much I’ve changed – or rather learnt to understand myself better so I can stop repeating unhealthy behaviour. I have so much gratitude towards books and the will of authors to write them. Without the generous sharing of their insights, who would I have become, or worse, who would I still be stuck in?

10 things I am thankful to my partner for

Tomorrow will be our 6th year together. I like documenting our relationship as the years go by, because everything is always changing. I feel tremendously grateful that despite all the shifting variables – especially that we’re both different people from the time we’d met – we can still be together. Maybe for other couples they make one final decision and try to stick together no matter what, but we are both people who don’t like to feel stuck. If she were to become unhappy with us one day, I would let her go. I wouldn’t want someone to stick with me despite all the unhappiness because we said so once upon a time before. That is not my definition of love.

That is why it feels precious to me that after 72 inseparable months we still like each other very much. I think contrary to convention, it is much harder to like a person for a prolonged period versus love. The emotion we call love can come with sentimentality, with time, with familiarity and proximity. But you can’t make someone like another person just by putting them together for prolonged periods of time. I know love can exist without liking. It just wouldn’t be very pleasant. But liking, liking is what that makes one look forward to spending a lot of time together, because every moment is infused with potential. Love that exists with liking is turbo charged.

I thought to commemorate 6 years together – my longest relationship so far – it would be appropriate to write down a list documenting what I’m thankful to my partner for:

1. She likes what people consider broken about me

The reason why she plucked up the courage to slide into my DMs in the first place was because she read an essay I wrote about being chronically depressed and suicidal. She said that made her want to hang out with me. Till today I’m like “wut”?

one of her recent drawings of us. what does this say about her?

2. She has almost never discouraged me from pursuing any interests or choices

If she has, I don’t remember it. I wanted to learn to play the keyboard, she was like why not? Years later the keyboard is mostly untouched, and she’s like “maybe one day you’ll play it again”. When I started to get interested in bicycles, everytime we’re out she would suggest visiting a bicycle shop nearby. She has never made a snide remark about my ever-changing interests. She likes that I get interested in new stuff. She knows that it indicates my sense of aliveness. That it is better I am interested in something new rather than nothing. This may sound trivial, but I grew up actively discouraged from pursuing new interests because I can’t seem to remain committed to one thing. This has induced a sense of guilt each time I get obsessed with a new thing. Now I see it as my superpower. I think it is a wonderful thing in life to want to learn new things all the time, because everything brings lessons we don’t expect and their learnings seep into multiple areas of our lives.

3. She has given me a home

I was fostered out when I was an infant and had always felt displaced when I returned back to my biological home later. I moved out during my late teenage years and spent my 20s and 30s hopping around multiple rentals and countries. Because I had never felt safe anywhere, I had never known the concept of safety and what it means to feel safe. She was the first person who have gifted me the concept of safety. We bought our first home together, and she is also my psychological home. I know I can always return to her.

her art of us fitting together like a kueh (cake) and its mold
her art of us fitting together like a kueh (cake) and its mold

4. She is transparent with her thoughts and feelings

I was so used to playing mind games with people that I was surprised there weren’t any with her during our early days of dating. She was always so open with what she wanted, there was no sudden distancing or withholding (I know, I was always attracted to the wrong people). Later on in our relationship, this trait served us well when there was conflict.

one of my favorite photos of us: taken in the 3rd month of our relationship. We were co-working, and she puts her feet over mine.
one of my favorite photos of us: taken in the 3rd month of our relationship. We were co-working, and she puts her feet over mine.

5. She doesn’t hold grudges

You know when people fight they start digging up everything that happened in the past and the fight just becomes one giant mess about who did what to who. She claims she has a low memory cache, so she doesn’t remember upsetting things that have happened in our past. These six years we have fought quite a bit, but we hardly stack our resentments against each other in a fight. I think it is because of the tendency to openly communicate, so everything is usually resolved. At least I hope.

6. She is obsessed with her art

What has this to do with our relationship you may think, and why am I thankful to her for it? To truly experience this, one must live with an artist obsessed with their art. It is almost like living in an animated movie where one beautiful thing turns up after another. The beautiful things are never the same, and they continually surprise. I am someone who is barely alive, so I am very thankful to live around a presence that is full of spirit. Her spirit makes me contemplate my own relationship with my work.

7. She makes me laugh

I am someone who carries a large amount of sadness and heaviness, but since knowing her I’ve laughed more than ever in my entire life. She’s just so funny. I am laughing right now just thinking how funny she is.

8. She takes the effort to understand and learn about me

In the early days of our relationship she called me “cheerful” and I got upset. She took the effort to understand why was it so upsetting for me to be labelled cheerful. I have many difficult thoughts and feelings about life – the common reaction is usually “why do you think so much” – I guess because of point #1 above she is always interested to examine my feelings with me, and vice versa. Being able to process experiences together is powerfully bonding.

9. She is my witness

Because of the way I am I have always felt like people only get to see 20% of me. But having a partner live so intimately with me has this effect of making me feel much more whole as a person, because even I don’t trust my own experiences. I often gaslight myself, like I would ask myself if things were really as bad as I remembered. She has been there in the past six years to see me through some difficult and painful times, especially all those times I struggle so helplessly with my chronic migraines. She has heard me horribly retch many times in the bathroom because of the nausea that comes with the migraines. So many days of curling like a ball in bed. People don’t know how much life I had lost because of my migraines. But she knows, and that is enough for me.

10. She is a really good home organiser

I have become a neater person over the years before I had met her, but she is really good at providing structure and sense to all our household things. It is a subtle sense of security, to know things are always where they are supposed to be.

launshae's crocheted printer cover
She made this lovely cover for our printer. I guess everything has a “home”?

There are probably a million more things I am grateful to her for. But it is getting late, and I want to publish this because it is sunday! Hope there are many more opportunities to write posts like these to come.

bearing witness

Everyone is trying to move on with life declaring the pandemic is over, while a conservative estimate of 10% of the world’s infected population will face potential lifelong complications of the virus. I guess there is not much of a choice. No matter how much suffering there is and how many tragedies we face – pandemic or not – we can only try to move forward. This sort of moving forward can only be possible with some magical thinking mixed with denialism, and a lot of looking away. Maybe the difference is that I know I am looking away.

I’ve been entertaining thoughts of wearing a n95 mask with goggles to get on a plane so we can travel. Yet I know I will not be able to forgive myself if my partner happens to be one of the unlucky 10%. Who knows? Do we want to play this russian roulette? I feel very envious browsing through the instagram stories of friends who are overseas right now. But I have no courage to do the same. Maybe the way I approach life has been forever tainted by my chronic illness. I remember I was in my 20s the first time Singapore had SARs, and I didn’t give a shit. Oh, the ignorant blissfulness of my youth, the unwarranted confidence in my body back then.

I personally believe the world will face some sort of collapse, if not multiple collapses in my lifetime. I don’t think I’ll suffer the brunt of climate change, but I’ll suffer the brunt of the many events that are already occurring because of climate change. Looking at how we responded to the virus I am not optimistic at all. Nobody wants to believe or know that things will be bad, so we’ll all try to live life as normally as possible, whatever normal means. Prevention is better than cure, but prevention is also a lot of hard work.

Unlike my younger self I don’t blame people for wanting to stay in their made-belief Disneyland while fire is burning outside. Even without all the issues we face, life is inherently difficult. I think we have limited emotional and psychological capacity. We’re like puppies, we just want to run around, smell the wind and have some fun along the way. We wish to love and be loved. Not crank for exams, tire our bodies out, exhaust our brains – just so we can pay bills and look good to each other – over and over again. But to survive we have to pay bills, and to pay bills we have to crank for exams, manage our parents, children, colleagues, clients, bosses, our unhinged psyches, our suffering bodies. On top of that we have to care about justice, the environment, politics, violence, society. I too, want to retreat into my own Disneyland.

I am one of those people who will write posts like this over and over again and offer no solutions. I can barely cope with my existence prior to this. I just want to lie on the sofa, sip my coffee and read a book. Not live through a million guilt trips of how much more I should have done as a human being or a thousand nightmares of getting long-term disabling illnesses.

I will continue to record these observations and feelings. Maybe I’m only good writing down these convoluted words so I can bear witness – to the world and her people, to myself and my hypocritical feelings. I will look away, but first I’ll acknowledge.

Meanwhile I’ll still try to savour whatever’s left of the world’s goodness: books, music, art, cooking, films, love, in the sanctuary of my own make-belief Disneyland.

diet & feast: biometrics & lessons

A while ago I celebrated my birthday by going off my strict-ish diet for a few days. I thought it would be interesting to document some observations with biometric data from the Oura ring.

This post ended up quite lengthy so I broke it up to several sections. Feel free to skip some parts:

Why I am on a diet

First off, I really like to eat. So much that I think I have a food addiction. If not for my chronic migraines I may have continued to consume a very unhealthy diet for a very long while until visible symptoms (diabetes, high blood pressure) from metabolic issues would inevitably surface as I get older. When I was growing up I was taught to believe that having high blood pressure is the norm as you get older. As a child I knew no one above the age of 40 who diid not have high blood pressure. I guess this is the norm when one of our popular breakfast options look like this… 

Nasi Lemak
Nasi Lemak, Wikimedia

…and other popular meal options are also delicious food full of carbs. Now I am not demonising carbs, I envy people who can eat them and sustain good-enough metabolic health throughout their lives. I am sadly not one such person. Even before I learnt that migraines could be related to glucose metabolism I had food comas right after meals and chronic drowsiness in general. Back then, I didn’t know enough to realise those were symptoms of unhealthy glucose metabolism (when I first started testing my blood glucose I was close to the pre-diabetic range). From childhood till my 20s I could eat McNuggets at 3am and not suffer from obvious side effects, so I thought that would be my norm for the rest of my life.

I have never realised that short people are at a disadvantage metabolically until recently. We require less calories to thrive, but the food portions of most meals are geared towards tallish men. This is especially true in the US, where I am pretty sure a typical meal can feed me 3x a day metabolically. But I was conditioned not to waste food, so I ate a full meal like my tall peers regardless of where and what I was eating, even when I lived in the US.

Imagine I need about 1200 calories to survive – maybe 1500 calories as a moderately active person – but I could eat a 800 calorie meal with bubble (boba) tea *and* dessert. Seriously, this was my norm for a long time. Again, if I could not suffer metabolic consequences I would do this everyday, because that’s how much I love to eat.

I wrote all of that to express how much being on a diet for health reasons can be difficult for me. But I really wanted to see if it would work to manage my migraines, so I had to try. I resisted doing this because of how much I love eating.

I’ve been on low-ish carb meals on and off throughout the years but from end-December last year till end-March this year it was the first time it was sustained for so long with almost no deviations, and also the first time I cooked most of my meals to control my macros, and avoid seed oils and high heat cooking.

It worked. I avoided having migraines completely for my last menstrual cycle. I cannot say it worked 100% because of my diet, because I did other things in tandem like getting 10,000 steps everyday, supplementing iron for the first time among many other supplements I take daily, and fasting at least 16 hours. I also stopped any form of intense exercise during my luteal period to reduce as much oxidative stress as possible.

In exchange I had terrible sleep for some nights and a horrible rash. So I started adding carbs back to my diet in order to heal from the rash, and I decided to take a break around end March, coinciding with our monthly anniversary and my birthday celebrations.


Biometrics from the Oura Ring

In those days I ate dinner later than usual, had 3 meals (usually I do 2), and I ate a lot of what I wanted and have been missing: noodles, waffles, french toast, french fries, cakes, a tamago sandwich (omg). It was still within reasonable control: I still ate half portions of the noodles, and I shared almost everything else with my partner.

Not surprisingly I could immediately see the effects on my Oura ring – my resting heart rate spiked for days:

screencap of Oura ring on the "worst" day
screencap of the Oura ring app on the “worst” day during my break

Compare the above to my last “worst” day of my previous cycle, during my luteal phase:

screencap of Oura ring on the "worst" day of my last luteal phase
screencap of the Oura ring app on the “worst” day of my last luteal phase

My resting heart rate went up by 7bpm! And it took almost a week to get back to my recent norm of around 50bpm – 52bpm during my luteal phase. My heart rate variability tanked to levels I have not seen for many months.

My heart rate also spiked till the 80s during sleep, and took longer than usual to recover to a restful heart rate:

screencap of oura ring: heart rate during sleep in the feasting phase
screencap of oura ring: heart rate during sleep in the feasting phase

Compare the above to the “worst” day of my last cycle – it still has spikes but it barely hit 70bpm, and my average heart rate was also 7bpm lower.

screencap of oura ring: heart rate during sleep on the "worst" day of my last cycle
screencap of oura ring: heart rate during sleep on the “worst” day of my last cycle

On a good night it could look like this – early recovery and barely any spikes:

screencap of oura ring: heart rate during sleep on a good night – barely any spikes
screencap of oura ring: heart rate during sleep on a good night – barely any spikes

Observations and lessons

At first I felt like I had “relapsed” and “failed”, but I realised it took me a pretty short time to bounce back into moderately healthy eating because I didn’t have to restart from scratch. I was restarted with compounded knowledge and skills from previous attempts. Also the feasting phase taught me valuable lessons about myself as well. If I didn’t give myself a break to feast I wouldn’t have known how far I could go.

I attempt to share these in the following:

Lessons learnt during the three-ish months I was on a strictish diet

  • cooking the right way for myself to sustain eating almost the same food everyday
  • cooking in way shorter time as I learnt to experience how to manage food prep, dishwashing, and cooking methods
  • the portion and ingredients I can use to keep me satiated for a long while
  • what spikes my blood glucose in general
  • learning to weigh my food so now I can roughly gauge how many grams is in a fistful of raw ingredients – this is to ensure I get the right macro-nutrients
  • long-term ketosis is not very good for my sleep and rashes, for now until I learn how to deal with it

What I have learnt from my feasting phase

Morning blood glucose started to trend much higher

I learnt that if I eat more carbs than I should for a day my body was quick to recover. Eat badly for a few days in a row my morning blood glucose trended 0.6mmol higher than normal. This effect lasted for a few days even after I restarted low-carb again. This is because our glycogen stores fill up rather quickly, and whatever that cannot be converted into glycogen remains in the blood stream and/or gets converted into fat.

Improved insulin sensitivity

My insulin sensitivity seems to have improved due to the 3 months of strictish dieting. I can now tolerate a moderate amount of carbs and observe a reasonable glucose spike post-meal instead of hitting terrible numbers like before. I also no longer get food comas in general. So far despite veering off-course my migraines or chronic pain did not get triggered, but I am not done with this month’s menstrual cycle yet so I am still keeping my fingers crossed.

Longer sleep with caveats

On a low-carb diet I could only sleep an average of 6-6.5 hours a night. Since I slept around 10pm it means I woke up around 4-4.30am every morning, wide awake. My mental energy was insane during the mornings, but I found myself needing to take a nap around noon. Some people in the keto community believes that the need for sleep is less because ketones is a cleaner fuel, and the body takes less time to repair and recover. But this is unproven – though there is a study that shows that people who sleep more than 6.5 hours a day was associated with more cognitive decline, another one that says people who sleep 6-7 hours a day live a longer life than those who slept 8 or more.

With more carbs in my body I could sleep till 6-6.30am on average, which is 2+ hours more. But as you could see from the graph above, the heart has to work for a much harder and longer to recover.

Long-term policing versus the impermanence of life

I felt so deprived I probably ate more than I should, but I wasn’t aware that I felt so deprived in the first place. It is like getting used to being homebound all the time that one doesn’t realise how much we’d missed the outdoors. I know that I have an unhealthy relationship with food, but in my opinion life is too short and unpredictable to restrict myself completely for long periods of time. Someone online mentioned that she wanted to eat a bun once in a while, but she ate lettuce wraps instead because she was on a diet, however she developed parosmia (change in smell and taste) and now she wished she had just eaten that bun.

I want to be healthier and migraine-free, but I don’t want to regret not eating that bun once in a while. Who knows war may breakout, food supplies may go into shortage, my health may be compromised in other ways – unpredictable events which may change the food we can consume?

I don’t have to go all or nothing, once again.

Desire to return to a healthier baseline

In my previous attempts I gave up completely once I went back into feasting. But this time around with close monitoring biometrics and data it was clear to me I cannot do this long-term for the sake of my health. It was disturbing to see elevated blood glucose for several mornings in a row especially when I have been managing it so well for a very long while. I also felt extremely uncomfortable and bloated after meals and before sleep. All things considered, I knew I had to return to managing my diet with some modifications from all the lessons learnt.

A few modifications which I’ll experiment for a few months:

Prevent deep ketosis

I am eating more carbs and also eating dinner later (4-5pm instead of 3pm). This is in hope that it would prevent my sleep issues and rashes. I still go into mild ketosis overnight (0.5mmol) if I eat a relatively low carb meal for dinner. Maybe I’ll try going full-on keto again if I am in better shape. I read that ketones can repair the myelin sheath which can get damaged from migraine attacks, on top of healing glucose metabolism. Overall I do feel less inflammed, I used to get these facial, neck and shoulder pain almost everyday, but they are mostly gone for now.

Eat in moderation

Despite the better than expected results from the previous phase I decided that eating in moderation is better than going too strict. On hindsight I realised giving myself a break for a meal or a day occasionally is better than restricting all the way and then having a multi-day break. One of the reasons is because the body gets too used to routines, and eventually what may positively contribute before may lose its intended effect. Based on personal observation I think it is better to expose my body to some measured stress once in a while versus letting it get used to being too “healthy”. I observed that now my heart rate doesn’t recover during sleep if I eat later than 5pm, whereas I used to be able to eat at 6-8pm with minimal issues. I do believe fasting earlier in the day has positive health effects because the body can focus on repair instead of digestion during sleep, but I don’t really want eating dinner at a reasonable time to become detrimental to my health.

Mix it up

I kept a strictish routine during my last diet phase. I ate the same times, cooked roughly the same food. But now I would like to experiment with mixing things up because the body becomes more resilient when we throw a spanner in the works occasionally. So I’ll probably vary my fasting windows and the amount of food, cycle in more carbs once in a while, try different types of exercises.

Push some limits

Like I mentioned I avoided anything else than walking during my last luteal phase, but this time around I have been adding some zone-2 jogging. I thought that if I don’t push my body’s limit and risk having a migraine, I would never become stronger. I don’t want to prevent migraines from purely restriction, I hope to become metabolically stronger so I can endure more stress before a migraine gets triggered. I aspire to have an improving quality of life.

I would like to incorporate strength training soon, so hopefully I can tolerate more food without having heart palpitations and/or food comas from eating. It would be nice to be able to eat a Nasi Lemak (picture above) once in a while.

Moving forward

I know I would probably have undesirable results from my latest modifications, especially if I push my boundaries too far. But failure, and learning what has caused the failure is part of the process of experimentation. If I don’t experiment, I would have to be resigned to my status quo, a state with a reduced quality of life because I am so afraid to trigger a migraine. There were months where I practically did nothing except to recover from my attacks and pain. It is one thing to suffer the physical pain, another thing to endure the mental exhaustion and despair from being in pain and/or recovery all the time.

I am not sure how this will go, and if I am not careful I’ll probably relapse into having frequent migraines again, but I hope to keep on learning and experimenting. Maybe I’ll have to go through many more cycles of “failure” in order to know what truly works and is sustainable for me in the long-term.

41

I read last year’s before writing this. Last year I wrote that I was profoundly sad – that sadness is a feeling stuck in the depths of my body. This year I think I am still profoundly sad compared to the average person, but I am less profoundly sad compared to my younger self one year ago. 

At the 2-year mark of the pandemic, I exist in a complex feeling of acceptance that this is the new normal, and yet also fatigued like everyone else. At the beginning it felt like so much was taken away from me. The flip side of it is that now I am used to having a lot less stimuli than before. I am more home bound than ever, and every trip out to the world seems like a delight. 

Everyone seems ready to move on from the pandemic as government measures are opening up. I am too, hoping to move on like everyone else but I wouldn’t. I still care very much about my neurological health: do I want my cognition or do I want to travel? 

It is interesting to contemplate that at this rate I may never get to travel internationally again. I try to observe my bodily reactions when I think of that possibility, and it seems to not upset me too much anymore. I zoom out and look at the history of humanity: the freedom to move around liberally was never a given, why do I feel so entitled to it? 

I realise the last few decades of progress and relative peace has made us take everything for granted, and that we feel entitled to so much. I don’t really know if it is in our prerogative to feel entitled, but I do know from a buddhist sense of perspective, this feeling of entitlement is a source of suffering. That my life should be a certain way, it should have all these qualities – if not, I would feel miserable. 

Say if covid never ever goes away, the world descends into WWIII, and the effects of climate change starts to compound while we are all still alive. This would be enough to depress anybody. But one out of those three is already happening, the other two are still up in the air but I wouldn’t call them unrealistic. 

Apart from these meta events, there is still the reality of people around me gradually growing old, getting sick and dying. I may get sick and die sooner than I expected. What matters is from now till then, how am I going to approach living? 

I don’t want to shrink into a hole of depression and despair if covid never ever goes away. I asked myself what is the quality of life I will get to have if I have to be mostly homebound for the rest of my life. I think about how I used to think of becoming a monastic, and the possibility of being homebound for the rest of my life doesn’t seem so absurd anymore. I am not Buddhist, but I like the concept of being able to let attachments go in order to suffer less. Also it is not just about suffering less per se, but it is the capacity to find richness in a small, inner life. 

Maybe this is all a coping mechanism but I think that is what year 41 of life for me is about: to learn how to cope. I am either not very good at coping or extremely good at it depending on how you see it. After all, I have been coping my entire life. I have coped with a sense of no self, a sense that I was unloved, a sense that I was never good enough, that I would be permanently depressed and suicidal, abandonment, sudden changing circumstances, debilitating migraines, etc. Life is just full of non-stop coping for me. 

But I would like to learn how to cope in a different way. How different I do not know yet, but not languishing in despair and torment. I want to find space for other aspects of myself to emerge, to experience more dimensions of life, to discover other ways of being. 

They say a leopard never changes its spots. But I have gone through so much personal transformation in the past few years – gone through states I would have thought impossible when I was younger. Many people feel like as you get older more doors close, but for me it has been the opposite. Maybe the types of doors that open for me are not the types that people want. 

For a long time I felt that being unhappy was a valid reaction to life. I still believe so. But life is already inherently tragic: terrible things happen to good people, many times there is no justice, there is massive inequality, people get randomly sick and die, we have scarcity programmed into us but yet we’re expected to be moral, kind and generous, life is quite shitty for many people yet we have to “think positively”. There are no extra brownie points for being stoically unhappy because that is a valid and probably correct response. Life is probably more blissful for the blissfully ignorant. But maybe there are other states apart from painfully aware and blissfully ignorant. Perhaps calm acceptance? Humour at the absurdity? Rich aliveness even there will be grief? 

I don’t know, and I am glad I don’t know. There are points in life where you can be lulled into thinking that everything will remain the same or start on a path of degradation. At 41 I am more curious than ever about the life that may unfold ahead of me. Yes there will be pain and grief, but maybe there will be spectrums of emotions and experiences new to me.


I write one of these every year.

on swinging between extremes

Because of my health issues I have had to experiment a lot with my diet and exercise, so I go into semi-strict regimes to see if something works. I say “semi-strict” because I know of people who are really strict on everything they do, and my notch is lower than those standards. It is still pretty strict though. For example, recently I experimented eating really low carb – based on the theory that migraines are caused by oxidative stress and abnormal glucose metabolism. We can argue that the oxidative stress causes the abnormal glucose metabolism or vice versa, or maybe they both contribute to each other, but at this point it doesn’t really matter.

So I logged my food to keep an eye on my macro-nutrients, and I did this everyday without fail for approximately the past 3 months. I eat anything from 20g to 50+g of carbs, so this is why I say it is semi-strict not strict, because serious keto eaters will keep their carbs below 20g.

The good news is I managed to have no migraine or weird head discomfort (if I don’t get migraines sometimes I get giddy or weird uncomfortable sensations in my head) in my last menstrual cycle. None: during my period, during ovulation, during PMS. It is the first time in many many cycles that I am migraine free without the aid of traditional chinese medicine. It probably also helped that I skipped any form of strenuous exercise during my luteal phase to avoid putting my body under more oxidative stress.

The bad news is now I have an ongoing rash and I am also semi-sleep deprived from a couple of nights of insomnia that was triggered by cortisol-fuelled adrenaline jolts. Apparently the liver needs cortisol to make glucose from either fat or protein when we don’t have a source of carbs. Each time cortisol is released there would be an adrenaline surge, which wakes me up. So technically the fact that we don’t need carbs in our diet is true, but I think this is mildly stressful for the body, which is probably fine for people with normal bodies but mine was already fragile prior to this.

I think I was also doing too much at the same time because I was also intermittently fasting (so my body can rest and repair without having to digest food) and exercising during my follicular phase (which I am in now), so my body probably has increased energetic needs. I think I am still not in tune with my body, so I am not very good at knowing when to increase my food intake, or when to stop fasting. When I am in phases like this I tend to go all the way, partially because these things feed on each other. It is much easier to intermittently fast when one is eating low carb as there are less hunger cravings without massive blood sugar fluctuations. I hardly feel hunger despite the cortisol surges not allowing me to sleep well at night.

I think to be capable of being flexible when it comes to regimes and routines is a skill. It is much easier to do the same thing everyday for me, because I don’t have to think or wonder. But the body doesn’t function the same way everyday, especially for menstruating human beings. It is subject to pretty extreme hormonal swings every single month. So maybe my body seems okay with this for some days of the month, but probably not everyday. I just haven’t figured out when.


But this is not just about my diet. I tend to be like this for everything else in my life. There is this desire for everyday to be the same: I want every day to be spent well and feel meaningful to me. Yet reality is often messy, fluctuates like my hormones, and there will be good, bad, and neutral days. I feel bad when I languish and then it becomes this vicious cycle as I berate myself for languishing when time is finite, and all the negative self-talk makes me languish even more.

People think relationships are just between people. But for me the ones that really define the quality of my life is my relationships with the elements: time, space, my routine, my habits, my psyche if that can be considered somewhat elementish. I mean relationships with people are vital, but these other relationships impact my relationships with people heavily.

There is an inner-manager managing my self, and I don’t have a good relationship with that manager (lol). In general I don’t have good relationships with anyone attempting to manage me.

I feel like I am walking in the dark. As I lamented in my last post we’re taught to exist in a industrialised society where repetition and strict routines are rewarded. No one taught me how to exist with my menstrual cycle without falling ill, no one teaches that life is actually dynamic and we have to learn to live with that dynamism, else things would start falling apart internally.


I get tired of policing myself, so I tend to give up and start doing whatever I feel like – which many a time doing whatever I “feel” like may not be healthy for me. Lots of feelings are just cravings for instant gratification and avoidance. I lapse, start eating whatever I want, stop exercising regularly because I am tired of the word “regular” – my migraines and many other issues return with a vengeance.

I am either living extremely healthily or not, feels like I don’t know how to exist in a moderate state where some days I keep an eye on myself and some days I give myself a break. I am terrified giving myself a break would cause me to lapse (yes I know I sound like an addict: I am probably addicted to instant gratification especially with food), so I police myself into harder, which ironically makes it more likely for me to have an unhealthy lapse later.

I do feel like I am improving over the years. Like this is the first time I am cooking for myself for such an extended period. Cooking for myself used to feel terrible, now I enjoy it. So this time it isn’t the fatigue from forcing myself to eat my horrible cooking, but rather I can’t deal with the rashes and insomnia.

But the improvement is slow, and takes place over many many cycles of trial and error. I am not very good at the error part. Each time there are errors I feel like I’ve failed (thanks, industrialised society). Failing makes me not want to try again, so I go on a longer lapse and get tortured by my unhealthy body.

I feel like there is some middle sustainable way that exists. I just don’t know how long it’ll take for me to find it. Being afraid to get migraines is also causing me to become extremely cautious when it comes to experimentation. I’ve been wanting to add strength training to my regime, but I am worried about the stress on my body. But without training it endure stress it will just continue to be fragile.

In life it is important to know how to meet ourselves where we are. I don’t really know where I am, and I guess despite my fears I will need to endure the errors and the migraines if I want to get to know the boundaries of my body better.

time to be while being anxious about time

I have severe time anxiety. Every day I am hyper aware of time passing by. It is already the end of March, and soon it would be mid year, and before we would know it we’re celebrating the beginning of 2023. Another year going by: I get older which I don’t really mind, but everyone else around me is getting older, and the old people I love are also ageing another year. When you’re 40 like me maybe it is no big deal to turn 41, but when someone is in their 70s every additional year feels precarious. These days, I hate it every time the phone rings.

Even prior to covid I’ve been living as though the world was going to end. I travelled a lot whenever I could, not knowing when I would be unable to. I thought it was going to be a sickness or an unforeseen commitment that would stop me – turns out it is a virus. I used to tell my partner we had to do all everything we wanted to do while we can, and nowadays she takes me seriously whenever I want to go on an unplanned mini-adventure, because she knows I turned out to be right. That opportunities to do things can run out in ways we cannot see coming. (My life has been full of such turning points, that is why I know the other shoe will drop.)

So I live with this chronic persistent feeling that I don’t have much time left. It doesn’t have to be a nuclear war or a virus to stop life in my tracks. It could be one of us falling sick or one of us having to take on caregiver duties one day. I am not sure if anyone else thinks about these things as much as I do. I think it takes a bit of denialism to be happy, and my psyche doesn’t allow me this luxury.

In parallel these days I am spending a lot of energy on learning how to nourish myself and optimise my health. I intermittently fast, eat a semi-strict diet, cook, exercise, read, meditate. Many of those things are newish in my routine, so I need extra mental energy to maintain my discipline. My partner has multiple art projects, and we joke that my project is my self. I think expending all of this energy on trying to be well is leaving me very little creative energy left.

Yet the pressure of time is haunting, what if I regret not having done more creative projects? I have contradictory energies driving me. A part of me wants me to focus on being well, the other wants me to live up to my identity as a creative person.

Maybe I am in the chrysalis stage: I just need more time to iron myself out. Maybe there are just too many changes taking place and I can’t expect more. Maybe there’s a lot of background processing even though nothing seems to be happening on the surface. Or maybe I am not that interested in creating things anymore. I don’t really know. I look at my partner and she’s generating ideas non-stop, she’s enthused about working on her art in her spare time everyday, and I have to drag myself to sit in front of my creative tools. Is it because I have a depressed and/or mildly adhd brain? Is all that anxiety about time and mortality overwhelming me so much that I am in chronic paralysis? I would like time, lots of time to meditate on these questions, to know myself further and deeper. But do I have the time?

illlustraion of me in a cocoon
illustration by my partner, @launshae

I would like to find an equilibrium. To learn how to exist knowing that everything is impermanent and time is precious, and yet have the capacity and patience to give myself time to heal, to be still, to become.

I tend to swing between extremes. It is only now that I know how much practicing moderation is a skill, especially for someone like me who is unable to venture out of boundaries without swinging all the way to the other extreme. At confusing times there should be an inner wisdom to guide us, but I don’t feel wise at all – only chaos, turbulence and deep imprints of pain.

Many a time during these recent years I feel like a baby learning how to crawl. There was so much effort and time just to unwind all the unhealthy behaviours and responses. In this society we’re taught to be economically savvy in order to survive, but there is very little on how to live, how to exist, how to be a human being – how to cope with inevitable disappointments, failures, loss, sickness, changes?

I guess maybe I am greedy. I would like to try to do it all. To find time in a day to be still, to ponder, and yet have some time to create and fulfil. I feel like I am still trying to figure out what are the right settings for my body to work, for my mind to thrive. How to not let the grief of time paralyse me into overwhelming sadness, such that I forget that there can be joy, love and richness too in the very present and in the moments yet to come.

It is difficult: to live in the awareness of time, reality and what is truly present. But I think it is a good aspiration to have.

making space for my self through journalling

On the 11th of October 2021 I got tired of doomscrolling the internet every morning when I woke up, so I resolved to switch out of it by writing morning pages instead. Since then it has been 161 days, and every day after I make my coffee and measure my HRV, I sit down and write whatever that comes to my mind.

At first I tried to hit 750 words which was inspired by 750words.com. After a few weeks I realised I was mentally exhausting myself, so I give myself a 20-30 minute time limit instead. I figured that within that time span I would be able to pour out everything that was bothering me.

The effects on me were subtle but profound. I used to walk around everyday with chronic background anxiety, like having a mini-tornado stalk my every movement. Sometimes I feel this deep insidious worry or angst, but I was’t very aware that I would be in this heavy fog as long as I didn’t make the space to think about what was actually bothering me. Other times I have an inkling about what was troubling, but I didn’t give it much thought because I tried to go about my day.

It turns out that just spending 20 minutes writing these things out makes a huge difference to my psyche. There are numerous studies on the benefits of journalling, so it is not just me.

The reality is everyone is so busy trying to survive life that no one makes the space to listen thoroughly to our concerns – we don’t even listen to ourselves. There is always something more pressing. It seems indulgent to spend 20 minutes writing our feelings when we have deadlines, tasks, responsibilities, etc. But the strange thing about human beings is that we have this gigantic psyche but we are very dismissive towards it like it is weak and we try to pretend it doesn’t exist, yet it influences us so deeply if not outright control our behaviour and decisions.

I learnt that just by making space to hear myself out for 20 minutes – even if my concerns were mundane and nonsensical – was enough to allow me to go about my day without my usual cloud hanging heavily behind me. It is as though my concerns just want to be written out, they just needed a space to exist, to be articulated into words, not just abstract feelings swimming around our body.

I am generally still anxious as a person, journalling is not a miracle. But there is a significant difference. It is not just about listening to myself, but writing feelings out sometimes turn into a whole analytical exercise which can possibly untangle the feelings and offer doors and windows I couldn’t not have noticed before. How many of us make the time to think about what, how and why we are feeling? We’re often caught up in either doing task after task or just drowning in the feelings themselves.


It just so happened that recently I started to read the journals of Keith Haring. I am just at the beginning, but thought there were some interesting nuggets to share:

Claiming that artistic biography was “probably my main source of education,” he told himself that if he did not return to his journals the rest of his tale might disintegrate in compilations of airline tickets and random, fragmentary notes from catalogues and interviews.

– Keith Haring Journals

I relate to this bit a lot. I have learnt so much from writing in my journals whether through writing itself or from re-reading them. I also feel that it has made my life a lot richer because I bothered to document the big and little moments, that my life didn’t just pass by in a hazy blur. I realised I was simultaneously wiser and more foolish than I remembered. Reading my past journals gave me a very different image of myself than the one I consciously hold in my mind. I don’t want to look back and my life and all that was left was my resume.

Once he thought his journal pretentious and self-important. But this was no longer the case in 1986: “For almost everything I write about ‘wanting to do,’ I actually did in the four or five years that followed.”

– Keith Haring Journals

I have seen some of such moments in my journals too: how I kept writing about the person I wish to become, or the quality of love I sought. I could look back and read how afraid I was, how small I felt, how fragile my psyche was – and how all of that slowly transformed over the following years. I am still afraid and still feel small, and my psyche is still pretty fragile, but I have written evidence of the gulf that now exists. I am also reminded of how lucky I am to have found my partner because I documented how my previous relationships used to make me feel.

These days, even when I write mundane things like “I wish to read more” in my morning pages, I tend to follow up over the next few days if not weeks. Our brains are susceptible to repetition for better or for worse, so we might as well make use of it to our own benefit.


This is not the first time I am writing morning pages or my first multi-month streak. But it is probably the first time I am doing it not because I enforced it as a habit, but it has become something I have learnt to look forward to every morning. I used to be too rigid about it, always wanting to hit the minimum of 750 words, but now I try to relax and empty my mind instead of forcing words out when there are none. Some rare mornings I write a couple of paragraphs and nothing comes out, so I just assume my mind is not in a state to be communicative.

Many mornings I write very mundane stuff, but the pandemic has taught me not to take the mundaneness of life for granted. There is luxury in being mundane. It is like how oxygen is precious to life, but we forget how precious it is because it is in abundance all around us. But once we have a suffocating experience we would never see oxygen the same way again. For me, the mundaneness of my life is precious. My journals have so many entries of my old sick, overworked and unloved selves wishing for what I have now.