on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

what is there when there is nothing

When we quit careers, leave relationships or start working on ourselves, we may neglect to consider the systemic consequences of that in our lives. Plenty of those times it is most likely because we have become or want to become a different person, so we don’t relate to what used to engage us anymore. People who liked the old us may not be able to relate to the new us.

I felt a lot of that when I left tech. Most of my friends were either from tech or in work that dealt with social change. I guess it does speak to the narrowness of my old self that I did not have a life outside of work, so I didn’t really have many friends outside of work too. I was not good at keeping in touch with people in general, so I don’t have many friends from my younger pre-work days. 

It was interesting for me to observe how friendships disintegrated because I can no longer relate to my work. A large part of it was due to my own effort to distance myself, but I still observed how there used to be countless requests to meet up for coffee (sometimes to “pick my brain”) that dwindled once people realised I was no longer interested in work. I don’t mean this in a nasty way, just a matter-of-fact way that many relationships are based on some invisible form of leverage that disappears when we no longer hold some capital.

For someone like me who is sensitive to rejection because I have a lifelong fear of abandonment, it was a very lonely and difficult time. I subconsciously tried to stay relevant by volunteering for projects etc, but I soon realised I was simply repeating the unhealthy patterns I was trying to emerge from.

There was a part of me that wanted to be free of this. It took a long time, but out of the process I discovered relationships that endured the changes, including those that took place within me. I also learnt that I could lose my attachment to needing social acceptance. Not completely, but considerably lessened. 

It wasn’t just about work though. I went from being a 100% accommodating person to being borderline callous because I was probably trying to over-compensate for living like a doormat most of my life. I’ve since found some middle ground (I hope) – the transition period was necessary as I was trying to learn where were my boundaries.

I am a much happier person now. I am still not a happy person, but a lot less unhappy. So much less unhappy I pity my old selves that I still frequently encounter while re-reading my journals. But I wouldn’t know this level of much less unhappiness was possible if I didn’t let go and leap into an unknown void.

As human beings, we need a variety of psychological structures to prop our selves up. We’re conditioned to use socially-approved values to measure and prop ourselves: grades, achievements, visible assets, connections with high social capital, etc. We don’t talk about this in detail and nuance, but this is why many people cannot endure experiencing some form of career failure. It is not just losing a paycheck or financial security, but it is losing the stuff that has been propping up our selves. There are a lot of things people can endure but not the perception of being useless: we live in a world where the value of a human life is equated to one’s economic usefulness, many of us only receive affection and/or respect when we make career accomplishments. We’re taught to believe that love and respect only arrives when we are “useful”.

Sadly, this is the reality for many. We do live in a world with very conditional feelings and acceptance. We don’t celebrate a human being for their personal development or creativity (especially creativity that is not “useful”), but for their explicit or implicit resume. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across some poor kid who has suicidal feelings because they didn’t do well in school. I mean seriously. Can you imagine jumping off some building because some test that measures how well you remember things had deemed that you are a failure? There is so much more to living – this coming from a chronically suicidal person – it is one thing to experience a wide spectrum of life only to find it uninteresting, and another to believe you have to kill yourself because your poor 12 or 16 year old selves failed tests that are wildly inaccurate for measuring human intelligence (if those tests were any good we would not be living in this dystopian world we are living in right now) and worth.

It is a disappointing reality, and I don’t know about other people, but I decided that I would be miserable as long as I adhered to these social expectations because I was unwilling to feel lonely.

In truth I felt lonely when I was surrounded by people and acclaim anyway. My psyche seems to know that the connections and acceptance I so desperately sought was only based on the false self that was conditioned and cultivated based on societal norms. What is the point of all those adulations when they solely hinge upon the conventional success of my career? I wanted to be loved, but I would never truly feel loved when the love is based on these material conditions. I didn’t know who I was, and there seemed to be nothing of actual substance in me. I was simply an empty person.

On the surface, my life seems to be empty and useless now compared to the high octane “successful” life I used to lead. There is nothing of note that I have done in recent years. 

But I got to know my self better, and I guess it depends on whom if this is a worthy journey to take. Because I now know myself better, I am also better at making choices for myself, avoiding the heaping of misery I used to do to myself. I gained more understanding into my wounds and also those who have wounded me. I live closer to what it actually is instead of being in delusional narratives that plague society. Apart from my chronic migraines (that I am slowly learning to manage) I am healthier than ever in terms of physical fitness. I used to barely be able to walk a kilometre and now I can probably run five without breaking a sweat. I wake up without an alarm every day and go to sleep before 10pm. I was close to being prediabetic but now my blood sugar levels are probably better than somebody in their 20s. I learnt to nourish myself with actual food I cook for myself.

Are these things useful? Probably not to other people. But they are contributing a foundation I never had before – a sense of a sustainable substance that is filling me up which arises from an internal source instead of being fuelled by external validation. Do I still have issues of loneliness and self-worth? Yes. But I feel a lot less shaky as a person. I used to feel like I was breaking apart and drowning all the time. Do I still feel upset and overwhelmed with this irrational world? Yes. But at the very least I am a lot less upset with myself, and I upset myself and other people a lot less.

People fear nothingness. However in zen, we are taught to value emptiness as a source of potential and creativity. Think of it as an empty garden or an empty canvas. We have to let go to be empty, and it is in that emptiness where we can start cultivating again. 

illustration: from noise to nothing to enrichment

Maybe it is not an attractive proposition to everybody: to know who we are when we are empty. Maybe people are okay with living within the conditions of society. But there will always be people like me who seeks a different way of existing. That to me the point of living is not how well we follow the rules that society dictates, but to figure out what does living even mean, who am I as a person when there is nothing for me to grasp?

I realised not everybody is into such existential questions, but to me without answering these questions I would find living superficial and thin. 

What is there when there is nothing? I have personally found nothingness to be enriching and freeing amongst the inevitable loneliness and insecurity. Sometimes I feel like I’m on free fall with no bottom in sight. Other times I sense there is something to be excavated. It is not a journey that may bring happiness, but it is one that will keep bringing forth discoveries within.

the off switch

Sometimes I think it is somewhat of an evolutionary miracle that most humans can go on with life even with the world burning around us. Most of us just grow numb and switch off. We can only hold so much information, so much grief, so much anxiety. So we ignore everything else as though everything is fine. I think this switching-off is not even conscious for most people, but perhaps it can be observed with how they keep on choosing to indulge in ways of escapism: food, shopping, alcohol, travel, work, “love”, etc.

I switch off too, except somewhere in my programming something went wrong and I am very conscious of what I am ignoring. In fact I am hyper-conscious of plenty of things. I think this is primarily why I have been chronically depressed and suicidal since I was capable of thinking. If we start thinking about it, the world is full of suffering and it makes no sense. Even if we are privileged to avoid economic suffering and social discrimination, we still have to suffer through a society that is keen to reduce us to a robot-like existence. The “perfect” life in the eyes of most societies is to be an obedient child, have good grades, get a good job, get a good spouse, have children, spend most of your adulthood and marriage working our asses off for our children, wait for them to graduate and get a job, then finally enjoy a bit of life – which by then we’re too old and too conditioned to know that enjoying life is a practice and a skill. If we’re lucky we get ill only then, and we spend the rest of our lives depleting our savings to pay for our medical bills, watch our family and peers get ill and leave the world.

Many of us never ever get to know ourselves or who we can actually be, because there is actually no time. From pre-school more than 8 hours of time is devoted to something else. By the time we’re parents there is not enough time for sleep, much less self-discovery. For those of us who are not parents we are probably still addicted to validation so we waste copious amounts of our time on our job or our “passion” instead of having an opportunity to discover what makes us truly thrive?

Isn’t this depressing? I think for many people it is not because they survived by learning to cope with it, to not argue with reality, and they find small moments of joy in all of this societal structure. There is probably a moment probably during school when we go, “this is life” and switch ourselves off permanently. It is just too painful to be in prison and wonder what is life like outside, so it is simply better to make excelling in that prison our purpose, and believe the prison is beautiful.

illustration of an "off switch"

I get that, especially after living in a world infected with covid and terrible politics. It is just too overwhelming to contemplate how it could be otherwise, so I choose to retreat into my own self-made prison. I go on many days pretty well, indulging myself with learning things and creative pursuits. But once in a while I go into a sombre mood and wonder if I am simply pretending to live?

Somewhere along the way I felt like it was not tenable to be passively suicidal all the time, so it is better for me to “switch off” and develop this laser focus on my inner life and individual lifestyle instead, so I won’t have time to look up. Being chronically and passively suicidal is harmful to the people around me as well, especially now that I am partnered. I can’t have my partner noticing I am gazing out of the window half the time.

Buddhism advocates for a healthy detachment to events in our life because we’re overly attached. But I wonder how many buddhist practitioners are practicing healthy detachment versus disassociation? Is there a way to tell? I keep writing in my morning journal that I don’t know if I’m detaching or disassociating.

Perhaps healthy detachment is about finding a healthy distance to care so that we don’t become obsessed about something until it profoundly affects our lives, whereas disassociation occurs at an extreme when we can no longer relate to that part of us in a meaningful manner.

Maybe we can’t have perfectly calibrated responses to the events happening in our lives. That sometimes we need to disassociate first in order to gradually find a position somewhere in the middle.

At the end, we can only do our best to survive. Life seems inherently traumatic to me, as I navigate one loss after another in various forms. I feel like in order to have some semblance of enjoyable living I have to do a lot of pretending and ignoring. Otherwise it would just be a constant anxiety and hyper-vigilance waiting for the next shoe to drop, because I don’t have that subconscious off-switch that everyone else seems to have.

I feel like I can only seek solace in the mundaneness of my everyday and continue to develop some form of forgetfulness. That I can still have this space where I can be brutally honest even just for a little bit, that this brutal honesty of mine probably seems skewed and extreme to others, but it is the reality that wraps around my mind.

learning to tolerate physiological discomfort

I’ve been taking cold showers in the morning lately post-exercise. Maybe for most people taking cold showers in the hot and humid weather of singapore is not a big deal, but I was deathly afraid of cold water – would literally scream if I happened to get splattered with it before the water heater is ready. A cold shower here is nowhere as uncomfortable as a cold shower even in say San Francisco’s mild weather. But as far as I know most people still don’t take cold showers here because it is still uncomfortable.

But I learnt that cold showers have several health benefits, so one day I decided to take the plunge and it was so uncomfortable I did not do it again for months. Then I tried again, which then I did it sporadically once every few days. I had perpetually tense muscles, so I need my hot showers. But recently not sure if it is due to consistent exercise, nutrition and hydration, my muscles seem less angry so I don’t seem to need my hot showers as much to melt me into a functioning state.

A couple of weeks ago I started cold showering again, and since then I’ve been doing it almost every morning. It is also water-saving, since most of the time I am eager to get out of the cold. But some time along the way I started to enjoy it, and got better at enduring the discomfort because now I know what to anticipate. 

Having observed how I went from dreading my cold showers to looking forward to them, it made me reflect of other routines in my life that went through the same process: starting out so uncomfortable until I give up, coming back to it again but sporadic in application, then it somehow reaches a threshold and if I am lucky it becomes enjoyable. 

exercise, cooking and meditation

Exercise was definitely something that took years if not decades to reach that threshold, both cooking and washing dishes felt like such a chore I didn’t want to do it again after the initial tries, and I definitely spent my entire life trying to quit my unhealthy eating habits until I acquired my capacity to cook. Meditating was one of the most difficult habits to acquire in my routine, but in recent months we’ve been meditating almost every night before bed time. I think learning to exercise, cook, wash dishes taught me to slow down enough to be able to sit for ten minutes without feeling like my brain is about to explode into insanity. 

hunger and snacking

I used to be unable to tolerate hunger too. I would get hangry, or be unable to fall asleep if I happened to feel hungry in the evening. Now I finish my last meal by 5pm and I don’t eat until 9am (I wake up at 4) the next morning. There was a period I finished eating at 3pm – was inspired by monastics lol – but I stopped not because I was hungry but because it gave me so much adrenaline that both my mind and heart were racing. 

I also stopped snacking between my two meals. Initially it was really difficult especially for someone like me because I am addicted to emotional eating. I twitched in that span of hours and couldn’t stop thinking about snacking. I felt tremendous hunger and time would seem to pass so slowly until my next meal. Now I’m so used to it I don’t even think about it anymore. The body got conditioned and stopped feeling those phantom hunger pangs. I know I am not actually hungry because I measure my blood glucose. 

the relationship between enduring physiological discomfort and emotional discomfort

I think there is a beneficial accumulative effect from learning to endure this sort of physiological discomfort. Learning to endure something physically uncomfortable like exercise developed an endurance capacity that opened some door in my mind: if I can gradually hold an uncomfortable feeling longer and longer, one day it may cease to be disruptive. For example, the beginning of my jogs are still physically uncomfortable no matter how long I’ve been running, but instead of thinking omg this is so hard my legs feel like stone and feeling so overwhelmed by the uncomfortable sensations that I wish to stop running at every step, I’m now thinking: my legs feel like stone but after they warm up I’ll feel like I’m gliding. So the same uncomfortable sensations become a non-issue, they become a transitory process instead of being a show-stopper.

I realised I could apply this to my emotions too. Instead of an instant angry reaction to uncomfortable feelings, I could wait them out and see if they turn into something else. The effort to increase my capacity to tolerate physiological discomfort was positively impacting my capacity to tolerate emotional discomfort, and vice versa.

illustration of the capacity to tolerate physiological discomfort positively influencing the capacity to endure emotional discomfort

The more I became comfortable with my uncomfortable feelings, the more I could contain them while I experience them, the more I could endure physiological discomfort because it becomes easier not to be a slave to my feelings. 

There are appropriate times to listen to our feelings, of course. But like everything else there is a delicate balance, and I spent so much of my life wasting precious time and energy just drowning in my feelings. I was unable to do so many things because everything felt threatening and overwhelming. Being able to hold them at a distance opens spaces within me.

opening doors to new experiences

It is a form of stress to the body to take cold showers or fast. We call this hormetic stress. Similar to how we can only build muscle after experiencing stress and failure, our body is designed to become stronger after experiencing appropriate doses of such stress. 

I think there is a form of joy that emanates from being able to increase one’s capacity for discomfort. Life is a constant expansion exercise: we want to increase experiences, depth, and richness. We transform internally as we accumulate these experiences, in turn it expands the repertoire of things we can create and share. It is this creative and sharing process that makes the world richer. How many of us have been positively moved by an eye-opening or mind-expanding novel experience? How many of us have used somebody’s work to make our own work better? 

Being able to tolerate discomfort opens doors to new experiences that we would have avoided previously. Since my capacity to endure tedious tasks have increased, I have expanded the dishes I am able to cook. It is giving me considerably more joy in eating my own cooking. Physiological stressors like exercise and intermittent fasting have improved my health, which allows me to undertake tasks I couldn’t before. 

New capacities open new doors, new doors open new capacities. I hope to be able to document more of them as the years go by. I don’t know if I have a recency bias, but I feel like I am expanding at a faster rate compared to my younger days.

representation matters

Yesterday I watched a video interview with Kristen Kish, whom I discovered via Iron Chef. Apparently her mentor put her up to compete in Top Chef – she was reluctant to, but her mentor said that there needs to be representation of women chefs on tv. I found myself nodding vehemently along with that remark, especially after watching a ton of cook shows dominated by men. It was wonderful for me to see a queer asian female demonstrating her skills and passion as a chef.

It is similar to seeing Barack Obama becoming president, regardless whether we agree with his politics. We’ve been somehow taught by culture that only certain types of people can belong to certain positions. Perhaps human beings are naturally herd creatures and will only venture out of our comfort zones if there are visible roads ahead. A very rare minority blaze the trail, and we are so much better off because of them.

It is one thing for trail blazers to carve out new paths quietly, another thing for them come out to the world and say, hey I did this thing no one has done before and perhaps you can do it too. It is always sort of scary to be the first one, especially if it is a socially unaccepted situation, like the first person to come out with HIV.

I am not a trail blazer, but I seem to have a penchant for finding less-trodden paths. And I know these paths exist only because there were people who were willing to be public examples of having trodden these paths. There are plenty of subjects there were formerly socially unaccepted but now moderately tolerated at least, because of some people willing to represent these matters. I believe in a pay-it-forward system. If we have benefitted from others before, we should try to benefit people who are yet to come.

This is why I write I guess. I also unashamedly post public pictures of my partner and I celebrating our monthly anniversaries. Yes, being in love is a somewhat private thing. Yet love as a queer person can never be a private thing in a world like this. Straight people can be private because no one is going to bat an eyelid when they hold each other’s hands in public. They don’t get beaten up for public displays of affection. For people like me, the attempt to be private buries the path a little for others. It matters to see queer couples in a healthy mundane relationship, because the mainstream media likes to portray us as deviants. There is nothing deviant about my relationship apart from the fact that we share the same biological sex. We decorate our home, go on food adventures together, support each other’s journeys – just like any other couple. Representation and advocacy cannot be a once a year thing. It has to be baked into our daily lives, until no one will take a second look when they see us together.

I have made many unpopular choices in my life. I had the courage to do so only because I knew there were others doing so – however rare. Dropping out of school, choosing to become a designer when it was unpopular and lowly paid with hellish working hours, becoming self-employed at a time when it was pariah to do so, working remote in the mid 2000s, publicly writing about depression, attempting to work in SF even though I didn’t have the educational qualifications (but I did have the corresponding experience – though the process was a real pain), deciding to come back when the tech industry was at its peak, publicly writing about chronic suicidal tendencies, publicly documenting the journey of my chronic illness…It has been extremely lonely, but I continue to be driven by believing that representation matters. My loneliness in public will keep some random stranger on the internet a little warmer because they will know they are not alone.

assessing the risk of getting covid

Singapore is undergoing a BA.4/BA.5 wave. By now many people I know if not most has gotten covid at least once, and the mainstream narrative is that it is just a bad flu. My partner and I have managed to avoid covid till now by being quite extreme compared to the average person:

  • no in-person meetups except for family – we did meet a couple of friends outdoors pre-Omnicron, but decided that Omnicron was too contagious
  • even with family we wear our kf94 masks and we don’t eat or unmask with them
  • strictly no indoor-dining since the Delta wave arrived – Covid is airborne, so the physical distancing does not matter in restaurants

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officially acknowledged inhalation of virus-laden aerosols as a main mode in spreading SARS-CoV-2 at both short and long ranges in April and May of 2021, respectively 

Airborne transmission of respiratory viruses
“Can float in air for hours” – source and credit: Science
  • we’re privileged enough to not work in an office, and we live in an apartment with just the two of us
  • no travelling overseas obviously
  • we don’t take public transport unless necessary – we relaxed a bit when the BA.2 wave subsided with less than 4k+ daily reported cases, but now we’re probably going back to being hermits

There were times when it felt really tempting to break the rules. After all it is once in a long while. We also considered going n95 + goggles to take a flight to Seoul or something, but it wouldn’t be very fun since we won’t eat indoors anyway, and I am not sure if the risk of catching covid on the flight is worth that few days of fun.

But life is short and who knows what is going to happen tomorrow? I caught myself asking multiple times if I was being overly cautious and paranoid. Would I regret all these restrictions if I get cancer tomorrow? Perhaps. But would we regret if we opt for a few days of fun and then suffer life long repercussions? To be honest I have no clear answers. We can only keep doing this fine-balancing act.

Why are we being so cautious? I guess I have come across too much information that any naivety with regards to covid is lost. Since many people don’t come across the information I do, I thought I could document and share it here.

Possible consequences of getting covid

Covid may cause damage to our immune systems:

“Researchers suggest patients who develop mild COVID-19 may not be able to fight reinfection very effectively because their CD8+ T cells show signs of exhaustion.”

T-cell exhaustion may limit long-term immunity in COVID-19 patients

One of the critical symptoms of SARS-CoV-2 infection is lymphopenia. Lymphopenia is a condition in which patients exhibit reduced levels of white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are the fundamental defense cells of our adaptive immune system. They consist of natural killer cells, T cells, and B cells. When any of these cells are reduced, it can inhibit our body’s ability to protect itself from viruses. Recent reports have shown that marked lymphopenia is observed in 83.2% of SARS-CoV-2 patients, but little is known about how SARS-CoV-2 effectively dismantles one of our primary tools of defense.

SARS-CoV-2 Actively Infects And Kills Lymphoid Cells

…if you’re interested in the phenomenon of T-cell exhaustion, you may want to check out this twitter profile:

Covid causes vascular damage which increases risk for heart disease:

Even a mild case of COVID-19 can increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular problems for at least a year after diagnosis, a new study1 shows. Researchers found that rates of many conditions, such as heart failure and stroke, were substantially higher in people who had recovered from COVID-19 than in similar people who hadn’t had the disease.

Heart-disease risk soars after COVID — even with a mild case

We show that, beyond the first 30 d after infection, individuals with COVID-19 are at increased risk of incident cardiovascular disease spanning several categories, including cerebrovascular disorders, dysrhythmias, ischemic and non-ischemic heart disease, pericarditis, myocarditis, heart failure and thromboembolic disease. These risks and burdens were evident even among individuals who were not hospitalized during the acute phase of the infection and increased in a graded fashion according to the care setting during the acute phase (non-hospitalized, hospitalized and admitted to intensive care). Our results provide evidence that the risk and 1-year burden of cardiovascular disease in survivors of acute COVID-19 are substantial.

Long-term cardiovascular outcomes of COVID-19

…and diabetes:

People who get COVID-19 have a greater risk of developing diabetes up to a year later, even after a mild SARS-CoV-2 infection, compared with those who never had the disease, a massive study1 of almost 200,000 people shows.

Diabetes risk rises after COVID, massive study finds

…and stroke:

In another Swedish study published in the August 14, 2021 issue of The Lancet, researchers found that within a week of a COVID-19 diagnosis, a person’s risk of heart attack was three to eight times higher than normal, and their risk of stroke was three to six times higher. The study revealed these risks remained high for at least a month. The average age of people in the study was only 48 years.

COVID-19 increasing stroke risks in people of all ages

…it also causes neurological damage:

We identified significant longitudinal effects when comparing the two groups, including (1) a greater reduction in grey matter thickness and tissue contrast in the orbitofrontal cortex and parahippocampal gyrus; (2) greater changes in markers of tissue damage in regions that are functionally connected to the primary olfactory cortex; and (3) a greater reduction in global brain size in the SARS-CoV-2 cases. The participants who were infected with SARS-CoV-2 also showed on average a greater cognitive decline between the two time points. Importantly, these imaging and cognitive longitudinal effects were still observed after excluding the 15 patients who had been hospitalised.

SARS-CoV-2 is associated with changes in brain structure in UK Biobank

…and ages us:

…makes our heart rate and other autonomic functions go haywire:

Before last fall, Dawson, 44, a dermatologist from Portland, Oregon, routinely saw 25 to 30 patients a day, cared for her 3-year-old daughter and ran long distances. Today, her heart races when she tries to stand. She has severe headaches, constant nausea, and brain fog so extreme that, she says, it “feels like I have dementia.” Her fatigue is severe: “It’s as if all the energy has been sucked from my soul and my bones.” She can’t stand for more than 10 minutes without feeling dizzy.

Long-COVID-19 Patients Are Getting Diagnosed With Little-Known Illnesses Like POTS

If you’re thinking you’re safe because you’re triple vaxxed – the risk is slightly lower compared to the unvaxxed but not zero:

Heartbreaking twitter thread documenting the before & after pictures of people who have long covid:

Visible long covid symptoms vs invisible damage

Though I framed the above section as “long covid”, the reality is that even for those of us who has made a seemingly full recovery, we don’t really know what goes on in our bodies. People who got infected with the Epstein Barr virus only developed multiple sclerosis many years later. They didn’t think having Mono was a big deal either. HIV was initially thought of as an acute infection when it first surfaced, nobody knew of its deadly effects until years later.

Wait, what about immunity

You can now get COVID again within 4 weeks because of the new Omicron BA.5 variant, health expert says

Reinfection risk

The study, which is based on the health records of more than 5.6 million people treated in the VA Health System, found that, compared with those with just one Covid-19 infection, those with two or more documented infections had more than twice the risk of dying and three times the risk of being hospitalized within six months of their last infection. They also had higher risks for lung and heart problems, fatigue, digestive and kidney disorders, diabetes and neurologic problems.

Covid-19 reinfections may increase the likelihood of new health problems

Getting infected despite doing everything right

I know of people online who wore an n95 mask religiously and were more home bound than us and yet they have gotten infected. I am not sure how long we are able to evade the virus, especially now that some people are saying even outdoors are unsafe because BA.5 is exceptionally virulent.

So I am semi-prepared that our turn may eventually come. I guess this is a generational thing – just like polio – there are macro effects of the world that one simply cannot escape from. That is just the indifference of nature and life.

But while I think we may not be able to evade the virus unless we practically never leave our house, it is very different from living as though covid is over or that it is just a nasty flu to get over.

The number of reinfections matter too. The longer we manage to delay an infection, the probability of us getting reinfected multiple times become lower. Perhaps there will be advances in medicine, we hope. We may even be able to hold out until there are nasal vaccines or simply better vaccines. I don’t know. I am not counting on it.

Why am I writing this

Avoiding covid is a huge part of my current life, unfortunately. Like everybody else sometimes I pretend to ignore everything that is going on with the world so I can retain some sanity in living. But I want to spend some space acknowledging the impact all of this has on me.

I personally think that public policy has let us down by pushing the narrative that covid is now just a bad flu. Maybe for some people it is, but for many others it is not. If we know the actual risks and still treat covid like a flu, that is a personal choice. But if we don’t know any of this and we have faith in our health authorities simply because they are the authority, then some of us may be blindsided by the actual amount of risk involved.

It is life-changing to have a chronic disability that has no sign of abating. Having experienced this for the past few years, I don’t wish this on anyone. I think that is why I am a lot more cautious than the average person. I know what it is like to be mechanically alive but yet not living. As of now I would prefer to possess a working brain than to experience the world out there, but who knows what the future entails?

Maybe for some people the overall risk is worth it. It is a valid choice. But the choices should be made with all the cards on the table, not to be misled into playing russian roulette because of the disappointing lag in public health information.

It is my hope that maybe some people may reassess their risk after reading this. If not, I think I have fulfilled my responsibility by sharing what I know.

the clarity of a crisis

I had an exhausting week the past week, so I am not possessing the mood to write. To be honest these days 9 out of 10 times there is no mood, just a commitment. The value of documentation and reading my own writing only comes later, so I guess you can say I am staying committed to my future self.

It is not easy to transverse the planes of my past, present and future self when I’m thinking and making decisions. Most of us tend to be biased towards the past or the future, almost never the present. But we forget that now is what we have, the future is never guaranteed.

Because of my past I tend to be very conservative when planning for my future. I was too reckless in my past, so I overcompensate by over-planning the future. Sometimes I plan decades ahead, because all I want is just to feel safe. So I place limits on my present in order to ensure the future.

But last week what I consider a major crisis happened, and I am not sure if I have processed it yet. It is really weird, this disassociating feeling. I tend to spiral downwards and have emotional meltdowns, but again in recent years I have been over-compensating for my over-emotional self by disassociating whenever something untoward happens. This is potentially scary for me because the last time I disassociated like this I had a mental, emotional and physical breakdown 6 months down the road. The psyche hates repression, and will do anything to ensure we are fully aware of our emotions.

Feelings aside, it also hit me intellectually. That again without knowing I have fallen into the trap of over-planning and conserving for the future again. There is a gift of crises, if we manage to survive it: it allows me to see through all the crud and become fully aware of what truly matters. I have had this happen to me multiple times in my life – a crisis provoking me to have to complete reevaluation of how I am living my life. Ideally we shouldn’t wait for one to contemplate our lives, but the routine of daily life, the seemingly slow and stable passing of time, seems to dull the perception of our minds.

We only have now. Especially so when the world is getting more and more unstable with a potentially disabling virus that we cannot eradicate, proxy wars, misguided economics, and of course, climate change. I frequently look at the world around me and notice most people are going about their lives as though nothing is happening. I don’t blame them. Without these global crises life in itself can be already difficult because we live in badly designed systems governed by people with questionable psyches. Time and nature can be cruel, there is always life created and always life lost. We humans have fragile bodies and it is an ongoing miracle that billions of operations have to happen in harmony for us to live and breathe. But we’re not aware that we’re walking miracles and we abuse our bodies. We may not even know we’re abusing our bodies because some of us trust advice given to us by medical professionals and organisations – not knowing how much of research is done under questionable circumstances.

Today I am living and breathing. But my autonomic functions cannot be taken for granted, as evidenced by the millions of people suffering from long covid. These people cannot walk without feeling their hearts are going to give way. I am exceptionally careful, but I also know of exceptionally careful people who have gotten infected. I am not sure when is my turn, and will I be one of the unlucky ones to suffer long-term implications. Even without covid, as a woman going into her 40s I seem to be at risk for more and more health conditions. It is just going to get worse as I enter peri-menopause and menopause.

on-going awareness since 11 years ago

I have to remember I am no longer young, and whatever middle-aged youthfulness I have left will not last. If there are things I wish to do I should do it sooner. Delaying gratification is not always the right thing to do, from the perspective of a very finite body and life. Even if life is long, optimal health in a world full of stress, danger and toxins is challenging to maintain.

I’ll be thinking of how I want to re-prioritise my now.

why we should learn to truly love our selves

There is this pervasive narrative that loving oneself is selfish, especially in confucian societies which prioritise the collective over the self, and certain religions that preach sacrificing for the greater good is a good thing.

narcissism vs self-love

I think people often confuse narcissism with self-love. Narcissism occurs when people have an inflated sense of the self. The word originates itself from the story of Narcissus, who apparently fell in love with his own reflection so much that he died. First of, Narcissus may not have known that was his own reflection, secondly hopefully we can now recognise that pining for something until we kill our selves because we cannot have it is not healthy behaviour, narcissism or not.

We may think that narcissism is the opposite of having low self-esteem. I beg to differ. Narcissism is just another outcome of having low self-esteem. Some people express their low self-esteem by being a doormat because they have no sense of self, narcissists inflate their sense of self also precisely because they have no self. There are some narcissists who are not commonly associated with narcissism because they outwardly appear to be self-sacrificial, but in the end everything they do is truly about themselves anyway. Then there are also narcissists who are not egomaniacs, but they cannot function and perceive their world beyond their pain, so they inflict their pain onto others everywhere they go because they cannot live beyond their constricted selves. Anyway, I digress. This is not about narcissism, but the difference between narcissism and true self love.

I argue that when one truly loves oneself, there is no longer an obsession about the self, but rather a healthy self-regard. We don’t have to obsess about something if there is a healthy attachment towards it. There is a healthy distance with a healthy attachment.

to love one self, one must know thy self

I have learnt that when one starts to truly love oneself, everything falls into place. Well, not everything – the world is fucked up beyond our individual control. In order to love oneself, we must first get to know ourselves. I argue that most of us don’t truly know ourselves. We think we are the persona that is constructed through conditioning. We have certain goals because society may tell us it is good to have them, and since we don’t really know ourselves, we don’t know otherwise. We exhibit certain personality traits because society prides them. Before Susan Cain came along, most people aspire to be extroverts. We didn’t question whether we wanted to be extroverts, but extroverts got their way in life and everybody likes the charming, funny, sociable person in the room. We wanted to climb career ladders, because everybody admires a successful person. Who ever thought getting too successful in our careers can be a bad thing? We want our parents to love us and our career mentors to approve of us – if only we can get that validation we’re finally set for life.

Some of us live till we’re 60 and then realise we actually hate everything we’ve worked so hard for. Others subconsciously know it, but don’t want to acknowledge it because it would mean acknowledging we’ve wasted all our lives for nothing, so we numb ourselves with more work, more friends, more food, more alcohol, more buying, more success. Then for some the clarity only comes on the verge of a serious illness.

Why the f*ck do we spend so much energy and time trying to make people like us? We do so much just to feel such a tiny semblance of being loved, which is not even authentic because just like we created a persona to be liked, so what people seem to like is also that persona, not us. That is why social circles can fall apart with job and life changes.

Getting to know ourselves encompasses the long and difficult journey to know what we truly want out of life, and how we want to live. Maybe some of us just want to live quietly and peacefully, and don’t actually give a shit about status once we wean off it. Others may decide they want to be a paramedic instead of a investment banker. Maybe not all of us want to be parents. Imagine never questioning any of this and simply accept everything that society wants out of us?

no one but us endure the consequences of our lives

Despite whatever Confucius or certain religious figureheads may say, the life we have is our lives to lead. I don’t mean this in an entirely good or selfish way. I mean it in a matter of fact way. What it truly means is that good or bad, we’re the ones that have to live with the consequences and be at peace with it on our deathbeds. Our parents, mentors, whoever – they are not the ones who have to endure our lives if we spend the entirety of it loathing it. Perhaps it is not so bad if we’re consciously loathing it, it is the unconscious loathing that is toxic in my opinion, that something is slowly eating us up but we don’t even know it. We’re the ones who have to reckon with all our choices, especially when faced with our mortality. Imagine having a terminal disease diagnosis tomorrow, would we be okay with the life we have led so far?

Life is short. I personally may not think that life is precious, but I agree that it is short. Everything can end in an instant. Sometimes it is much shorter than the average lifespan. Do we want to spend it without ever having known what is it like to live a life that we truly chose? Nobody would want to be married to the wrong partner, but most people seem to be okay with living in the wrong life.

I am not arguing that people should start YOLO-ing, quit their jobs and travel the world. That sort of response is an outcome of chronic deprivation. It is what is in the everyday that matters, all the small things, all the moments that contribute to an entire life lived.

lack of self-love spills over

This path is not a selfish one, contrary to what people may believe. When we loathe our own lives consciously or unconsciously it inevitably spills over to other people and to our environment. Think about it. Why do we seem to create so much waste, why do we feel the incessant need to consume, why do we boil over in frustration with the people we care about? Why do we need to feel a sense of superiority if we feel secure in our selves? Why do some of us like talking down to other people or even bullying them? What is with the need to constantly feel that sense of power?

the difficulty and empathy of healing

When we start to truly love our selves, we start to seek out healing. When we start healing we start to express a different dynamic with our relationships and our selves. Some relationships will heal too, because the dynamic has changed. Some will fall apart, because they survived only because of the old dynamic. People don’t tell us this, but healing is essentially a heartbreaking process. It is having to grieve over so much that was once part of us, even if they were unhealthy or inauthentic. Relationships are complex: the reality is even some unhealthy ones can be peppered with richness and sentiment. We are changing, so we fall out of sync with what used to be regular for us. We may start drawing boundaries and people may react to that badly, because we used to be the kind friend that would never say no.

It is a long, painful process. There will be darkness and depression. But perhaps if we could endure it long enough, we may step into a life that is truly of our own choosing. It is like entering a house that is decorated with all the things we want and love, instead of living in someone else’s home or a home where we display all the things we don’t actually want because we cannot bear to get rid of them. Or maybe we can decide to have a bit of both – but the point is we consciously make those decisions.

I have unintentionally become a more empathetic person. I now know how difficult it is to heal, how impossible it seems to overcome deeply entrenched behavioural patterns. I am probably going get flak for writing this, but I believe life is inherently hard for everyone, and of course much harder for many. One can be economically privileged but they are still prone to feeling chronically deprived like the rest of us. For many of us, money is something that is visible and can be earned, but that acknowledgement we all desperately seek to feel that semblance of love and connection – it remains very elusive. And in my opinion: inaccessible as long as we’re not aware that we have to first undertake the journey to know our selves first.

the foundation to making decisions that resonate

Without truly knowing ourselves, we would choose the wrong employers, the wrong partners, the wrong everything, probably even the wrong hobbies. We unconsciously self-sabotage our selves, our relationships and our bodies. We wonder why everything seems okay on the outside but we don’t feel even the slightest pleasure doing something we supposedly like.

The process of getting to know ourselves is a continuous serious of experiments. For a very long time, after discarding everything I ended up with liking nothing. It was a very scary state and I fell into a long, existential depression. But without that phase, without that emptiness, it would be difficult to know what it is like to interact with something completely new to me, because there would be too much remnants and noise from things I was so used to doing.

Only when we truly realise that this one life is ours to lead, that it makes no sense to lead a life completely dictated by forces out of ourselves, and we start to hold our selves tenderly like how we would hold a child – for a long time I could not even do this because I could not even hold a child tenderly, how utterly incapable of love I was – only then we will have the foundation to start making decisions that truly resonate with the life we want to lead. There may be a new guiding north-star. Every time we make a decision we may ask how would that make us feel: whether it would enlarge us or diminish us (credit: James Hollis), instead of “how would that look on my resume”?

illustration of self-love

the way to a truly better world

One thing that gives me grief these days is how misguided I think human beings are. We seek out technological and economical solutions to all our problems without giving consideration to our psychology as human beings.

The way we designed our societies and infrastructure is so wrong that I truly do not know where we can begin to undo the damage. Is this a phase we go through or will we not survive this?

Hurt people hurt people. Obviously not everybody becomes mass murderers and criminals, but from my perspective the bulk of the damage we are doing is the one that is invisible. It is when we do things that are “well-intentioned” but we end up slowly killing the spirit of the people around us. It is 2022 but we still believe in creating resilience through forceful hardship, we treat our kids like learning machines so they can become working machines, and don’t even get me started on people taking away the rights of other people. There is outright violence, and there is this pervasive invisible violence – the violence of not recognising ourselves as human beings with a full spectrum of psychological and emotional needs. It is this sort of silent violence that leads to actual violence and unaccounted tragedies – what is the consequence of raising generations and generations of people who believe they are never enough, that they can never love themselves, that they perpetually hate whatever they are doing?

It must be a joke to believe we can get away with this and still have a thriving world. I believe the pursuit of wholeness on the individual level will lead to the wholeness of the world, but I am not sure if we can ever get there as a species.

what deepened my joy in cooking

One of the few blogs (because most blogs are work-related) that I admire is Peter Rukavina’s blog. I like it because it is whole – covering a variety of topics and it feels very personal. My writing tends to be too serious and heavy, and I have this nagging fear that nobody would read this if I blog about fun personal stuff. Yet over the years I still have attempted to write more lighter posts, because I aspire to. I want my website to be whole too. So today I’m going to write about one of the things that have occupied my time and energy lately – cooking.

It took me many cycles to like cooking. The first ever post I published here on cooking was in 2020. Prior to that I’ve tried cooking multiple times but failed. It just felt like too much work for than 10-20 minutes of eating. I particularly disliked the cleaning.

But I returned to it again and again, primarily because of health. After doing a ton of research over the years I realised it is just impossible to eat truly healthily out. No one cares about the oxidative stress vegetable oils can cause.

I started to enjoy cooking when my partner developed histamine issues. But these days there have been periods when her issues no longer act up, so we can afford to eat out if we wanted to, but I still preferred to cook.

learning to like washing dishes

The biggest difference is learning to like washing dishes. Like seriously. Sometimes the more complex a recipe gets, the more things we end up washing. If we don’t like the washing part, we would end up cooking really simple meals – nothing wrong with that, except there is joy in expanding flavours and textures.

How did I get myself to like something so tedious like washing dishes? Reading zen books helped, they taught me that there is profound sacredness in boring everyday tasks. Listening to music while washing dishes also helped to distract my mind off the tedium.

But what truly helped was to perceive my messy kitchen as a restaurant-diner type game. Not sure if you’ve played games like Diner Dash – the whole premise is to clear increasingly challenging backlog of multiple tasks asking for your attention at the same time. I started to enjoy having a mess in the sink because it looks impossible. After washing many rounds of dishes I started to get a hang of the order of the type of dishes and utensils to wash, how much detergent to use, how to load them on the drying rack without causing myself to be annoyed.

I don’t know if I can adequately express this in writing, but developing the capacity to tolerate working through a dirty mess of dishes is a joy in itself. It is like something that I used to dread so much that I left it till possible minute each day has become not only tolerable but enjoyable. It almost feels like a super power.

learning new skillz

The other thing that gives me a sense of accomplishment is learning new skills in cooking. For example, for the longest time I was afraid to sear my meats. It always ended up in a ton of smoke with burnt meat stuck on pans which took forever to wash. So I read a ton of reddit, watched a ton of youtube, and now I am much better at searing. Not great at it, but at least I stopped burning my food. I didn’t even know it was necessary dry them first, and that salting is not just for flavour, but to dehydrate the meat so it can sear better. It is also vital to only add oil to a hot pan before searing. Chicken requires a much lower temperature to sear, as I had found out with badlly charred chicken skin.

I finally learnt how to sear chicken properly
I finally learnt how to sear chicken properly

Learning to manage time and tasks in the kitchen also takes skill. I used to end up with some food turning cold, food burning on the stove while I struggle to chop onions, having to use tens of dishes to hold different things, etc. Experience matters in cooking, like almost everything else. I also learnt to use different tools and heat to achieve different textures.

Like washing dishes, enjoying cooking requires the same capacity to not be afraid to tediousness. I feel like learning to develop this capacity has impacted me positively in other areas of my life.

volume eating

I often feel unsatiated when I eat out, leading me to eat more or seek out dessert. With cooking for myself, I can cook a large volume of food that is high in nutrient density but low in calories (I am not promoting an eating disorder but I am watching my macros for health reasons). This makes me want to cook more instead of eating out. I like variety, so cooking allows me to throw in whatever I want. This plate below has minced beef, scallops, squid, mushrooms, onions, lettuce, cauliflower rice, egg – seasoned with marmite (which I have recently found out is a superfood), lime and worcestershire sauce :

383 calories for this very large plate of food
383 calories for this very large plate of food

cooking to my own taste

The above seasoning combination may sound weird, but it is entirely to my taste. I won’t be able to eat something like this anywhere else. I also particularly like a lot of vinegar in my food, heaped with a ton of cilantro and spring onion. This helps with my satiety as well.

one of my recent favourite meals: bak chor mee (minced pork) with low carb noodles with a ton of vinegar, leek and cilantro
one of my recent favourite meals: bak chor mee (minced pork) with low carb noodles with a ton of vinegar, leek and cilantro

what’s next

I still feel like a n00b when it comes to cooking, but there is a gladness in noticing the gradual improvements I have made. I just acquired a stainless steel pan, and am learning how to use it properly. The first time, I discoloured the pan immediately with oil that was too hot. Maybe I should have gone with cast-iron instead, but I am trying to avoid the weight. Sometimes I go in circles trying to avoid things – only to learn why it was always recommended to do a certain thing in a certain way. You have no idea how many times I tried to sear in a non-stick ceramic coated pan.

I feel like most of my life I spent learning how to use my mind, now I am learning how to use my hands, my body, my senses. It makes me feel more present compared to living perpetually on the internet. I’m grateful to have the time and opportunity to learn how to cook. It feels like something that I can be learning for a very long time, and still not be very good at it. Which is a great choice of skill to develop to experience the joy of learning, in my opinion. It can be really easy with the right tools, and as difficult as we want it to be.

I hope to continue this very kaizen process of learning.

working with my triggers

I used to get triggered really easily. Something seemingly innocuous would set me off – sometimes I was good at hiding my feelings on my face especially if it was in a work or social context, but inside I would be melting down: there would be this sinking feeling, followed by a deep emotional pain flooding my senses, and after the incident I would be replaying it over and over again in my head and thus reliving the painful moment over and over again.

I didn’t know that was not normal. I thought this happened to everybody. Occasionally in intimate relationships I would explode, not in anger but in tears. I attributed all of this to my personal character: that I was just emotionally sensitive.

Only in the recent years after reading a ton of books I learnt that not being able to self-regulate is not only a thing, but an unhealthy symptom of a much deeper cause. It seems so obvious now but I was not even aware of the concept of triggers. I was melting down so frequently I just thought I was sensitive to everything and was easily upset, I didn’t know there were specific triggers to me.

I started to notice. At first I was fearful of my triggers, and tended to avoid them. For a very long time I even avoided any human interaction (apart from my partner) because they were a major source of triggers. I accidentally found out when I was in a phase of unprecedented emotional stability when I was addicted to playing Stardew Valley so much that I ignored my phone for two weeks. Of course I thought it was being immersed in the game, but I slowly realised it was because I hardly interacted with the outside world because of the game.

I don’t know when, but there came a time when I started becoming amused by my triggers. I guess that is a sign of healing for me. I was amused that I was so easily set off by something so small. I could note the uncomfortable sensations and yet not spiral downwards. Sometimes I would still spiral, but feel incredulous afterwards. Once in a while I laughed at myself with my partner (of course I have to be the one to laugh first). One day, I suddenly had this thought that my triggers were a source of knowledge for me. It identified areas I was still struggling with, where I still felt broken and hollow. It was an alarm bell for allowing me to notice where I was still hurting, and where I could work towards healing.

For example, I get really upset if my partner interrupted me while I’m talking. If we look at it superficially, it may seem as though it is because of my fragile ego. But upon deeper reflection, this is a strong trigger for me because it subconsciously reminds me of all the times (especially during my childhood) when people talked over me all the time, shut me up with a sssshhh, making me feel unheard and unimportant. It was as though I didn’t matter, that I was invisible or annoying. Practically this seems like a very small issue, no one is going to die if they feel unheard. But existentially, it provokes a deep sense of despair – we might as well not exist if everything we say does not matter. It is part of human nature to want to be acknowledged and be seen. Perhaps when we were cave people this could be an actual threat because being unheard could mean we were being left out of the tribe which has real life and death consequences.

When I get triggered now instead of spiralling deeper and deeper into “I don’t matter to anyone I might as well cease to exist” territory, I take the opportunity to ask myself questions. Is it true that I don’t matter? Why do I feel like I don’t matter? Does it matter if I don’t matter to this person or this situation? Am I able to calmly manage the situation with the other party, either picking up the conversation where we left off, or explain to the other person why it is disruptive to be interrupted?

I try to see these as chances for me to work on my emotional resilience and self-regulation. If I’m emotionally stable such an infraction wouldn’t bother me, because I am able to look at the reality of what’s happening and be fully aware that the worthiness of my existence does not hinge upon somebody not paying full attention to me. Maybe I’ll feel slightly annoyed because I am only human, but I wouldn’t start feeling despair.

While searching my private journal I came across this entry I noted about Lady Gaga, who wrote an open letter about her triggers:

I also struggle with triggers from the memories I carry from my feelings of past years on tour when my needs and requests for balance were being ignored. I was overworked and not taken seriously when I shared my pain and concern that something was wrong.


…her psychologist added a note at the end in response:

It is my opinion that trauma occurs in an environment where your feelings and emotional experience are not valued, heard and understood. The specific event is not the cause of traumatic experience. This lack of a “relational home” for feelings is the true cause of traumatic experience. Finding support is key.

In that journal entry I wrote that I was triggered by reading that open letter, because it made me relive my own memories of “my needs and requests for balance were being ignored”.

This was in 2016, which is interesting to me now because I don’t feel much emotional reaction from reading the open letter again. I think this is where taking notes and writing journal entries on our reactions and responses to various stimuli is useful, because it demonstrates the emotional distance we’ve made between our past and present selves. I take it as a sign of healing when I am no longer triggered by what used to upset me so much in the past.

When we are chronically wounded, we need time and distance away from our triggers. I think I would not be able to heal if I kept putting myself in situation where I was being repeatedly triggered. Neurologically our nervous systems would not be able to rewire its neurons if the same pathways keep getting activated.

I aspire to become more whole as a person, and instead of running away from my triggers I see them as a source of wisdom. What do I find threatening? Why? is there truth in the degree of threat in that particular situation, or are they shadows of my past haunting me even though I am no longer that fearful and vulnerable child? Once I find the answers, I try to see if there are ways to mend that crack in me, or is it something I would need to carefully manage for the rest of my life. I am not sure if I would ever get over my fear of abandonment, so I try to communicate to my partner the sense of safety I need to feel, even if it feels frivolous to other people.

Not everybody is able to get some distance from their wounds and triggers. Some people have much deeper wounds, many are trapped in a circumstance that does not allow them a space to even breathe. I know I am lucky in the sense that I was able to alter my environment as much as possible. I am also lucky to meet a partner who is willing to work through both our triggers instead of just attributing it to our “tempers” and personalities. We don’t erupt for nothing, there is always a root.

I feel like because I am able to work with my triggers and examine them, I am able to expand as a person. In general I am more aware how I cause hurt to myself and to other people, reducing my hurt footprint – how much my footsteps are causing hurt to other people – in the world. This is partially why I strongly believe our civilisation as it is now will never progress much as long as we don’t provide a strong psychological support to people, instead choosing to focus only on economic success. Heck, we don’t even provide a strong physical health infrastructure, much less psychological. We as a species really don’t prioritise our selves, despite contrary beliefs. We prioritise our self-short-term-material-interests, without knowing we’re pain distributors. Maybe we’re all just trying to survive in the ways we know how.

If only we can collectively progress towards examining our pain with curiousity, instead of directing it towards ourselves and other people.

when only words are left

I just finished reading “No longer human” by Osamu Dazai – the book is problematic because of its misogynistic themes but also representative of its times, published in 1948. I picked up the book because of a thread on reddit where people said it deeply disturbed and depressed them. I guess that says something of me.

The book did not disturb or depress me. I related to a lot of it (not the misogyny but the depressive themes), and because of the relatedness it was somewhat comforting. Most of us don’t want to be lonely and it was comforting to know of other humans who have similar disturbing thoughts. It also gives me a wider perspective when I am reading it from a third party point of view, whether these thoughts have any basis in reality or they are plain delusional – an outcome of an inability to rise above the mind’s narrow thinking. The truth is probably a mix of both: humans are neither only good or evil, they are a complex outcome of their complex circumstances. But it becomes a problem when we insist on only seeing things in black or white.

I appreciated the author’s mind, and it made me want to deliberately expand my reading repertoire. It wasn’t a book I would have come across if I did not discover it on reddit. I’m so used to looking for books in a very particular way, and because of time anxiety I am also caught in the trap of only wanting to read books that has a high rating (4.5+). Gone are the days when I’ll randomly read books based on their back covers. I am trying to correct my course though.

Concurrently I was also reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s “No time to spare“, and I learnt that she started blogging at age 81 because she saw how Jose Saramago started a blog at 85:

So though I have contributed a few bloglike objects to Book View Café, I never enjoyed them. After all, despite the new name, they were just opinion pieces or essays, and writing essays has always been tough work for me and only occasionally rewarding. But seeing what Saramago did with the form was a revelation.

Seeing her make the distinction between writing essays and blogging was thought-provoking. What exactly was the revelation to her? I mean writing a blog can be a lot more free and casual compared to writing an opinion piece on Washington Post, but is that what she had meant? Or did she mean that Saramago was able to express everything in his mind in a way that traditional publishing would never have allowed? Upon googling more:

I just have somehow always sort of hated writing essays. I could [laughing] just pretend that blogs weren’t essays, and so I could enjoy batting one out and then sortthe-notebook of polishing it, you know. Because the form is supposed to be short — I think I tend to approach an essay as if it ought to be 20 pages. I make too much of essays, before I write them. And talks. And so the blog — and you know, with Saramago — it was reading his blogs and thinking if he can do that, I wonder if I can? And just sort of write about what was on his mind. But thoughtfully. So — of course they are essays, aren’t they.

Three Conversations With Ursula Le Guin, Leaflemming

I guess it is about the idea that blogging doesn’t have to be so formal and hence the cognitive friction to write is less. That is why I made the notes section, I want a form that is even more casual than blog posts. But even then it is still difficult for me to casually write a post and click publish.

Reading a good book is like having your brain tickled, just like good music or any form of art. I appreciated how different the tickle felt reading Dazai versus Le Guin. It prompted me to tweet this:

…and I wanted to write a post about the importance of self-expression but I remembered that I have already written one. Obviously we are not Dazai or Le Guin, but there were countless times I’ve come across some random blog post and I was like, wow, what a mind.

Minds are fascinating: they just meld things together in unexpected ways and we can see them expressed in art.

And if you’re like my younger self, maybe you’re like who cares about art. Isn’t it more important to build visible world-changing things like non-profit organisations and businesses?

I am biased of course. My disability – no matter how mild compared to many others – has stripped away most of the utility of my life, the parts of me who used to be able to contribute things that society has traditionally valued. When nothing usable is left of me, when I can no longer meaningfully design things, write code, perform manual labour – is my life still worthwhile to society, to people whom I care about, to me?

Only my words are left. I could still write in between days I am not bedridden with pain. I don’t have capacity for much else, the capacity that every one else possesses, that most people take for granted. That is why I am still refusing to meet people and travel, because writing is the only thing I have left and I am not sure if I can still survive if (long) Covid takes that away from me. I won’t be able to survive. The migraines are already hard enough, and they are already making me contemplate my life more than a human is supposed to.

My migraines have defined my life and me profoundly. Because of them I had no choice to go deeper into myself – because when my external life is robbed from me, there is only an internal life left to look forward to. I would like to think of it as a blessing in disguise, but I wouldn’t have an alternative to compare to. I am a lot less unhappy than my past selves, aided by the introspection that can only come from the immobility of a disabled self. But who really knows how would I have unfolded had I stayed healthy?

Yet everything that have been written here can only be attributed to a person like this, like me. Just like only Dazai could have written “No longer human”, or only Le Guin could provoke people with her blogged words at age 81, the words that have flowed consistently and unabashedly here can only have come from me.

I don’t have much to give to this world, only my words are left. There are hundreds of people that arrive here every month – probably most bounce because in a lot of ways this is not attractive reading, but there are some who stay, and once they stay they really stay. There are some who leave after a while because they can no longer relate to my writing or I’ve changed. That is okay, because that is representative of reality. We can’t expect to like the same things forever. We can’t even like ourselves forever. This impermanence is what that drives that incessant creativity of human beings.

When I look back at my words, are they enough to sustain an existence, to make my life worth while? I have increasingly come to believe that this is not a question I can answer. I can only write them because I have to. I can’t do much about what people do with my words. Even if nobody reads them I will still write them, because this is the only way I know how to exist, and this is also the only way I truly get to know myself.

There are only words left, but these are words that can only come from me. That makes them precious, even if only to me, and for me.

This is why for me self-expression and art is precious. They gift a dimension of life that is utterly useless but yet perhaps it is the only thing that can capture the soul of human beings. I can’t know much about you from your wealth, status, career, possessions – even people who are supposed to know you may not really know who you are, but your art speaks a truth about you that doesn’t come from elsewhere. It comes from melding everything about you.

When everything is said and done, what is left? For some people it may be a building in their name, others may have patents, memories, loved ones. For me only words are left. They may not indicate whether a life was worthwhile, but they express a life that is lived, reflected upon, absorbed and felt. Maybe we can’t really control whether our lives are well-lived, but I can at the very least, attempt to feel it, process it, express it – thoroughly.