Since as far as I can remember I have been feeling lonely. I was so lonely that for long periods of my life it was tempting to believe I was an alien abandoned and forgotten by her mothership. This sense of loneliness – that I was all alone in this world with nothing for me to relate to – plagued me my entire life even till now, and it probably contributed to my chronic suicide ideation and depression. For many people, the worthiness and meaning of their life is not something they even need to think about, because their reasons and desire to live are so obvious to them.
For me, it is a life long search.
I am not sure if there is something neurologically broken in me, or multiple experiences in my early childhood left such a deep imprint in me that all the love I can have now doesn’t seem enough to mend this deep gaping hole. You would think that having a partner who loves me like her entire world would make this go away – which it did, some of it – but even when I am safely tucked in her arms the profound sadness exists. It makes me feel like I am such an ungrateful person, to have so much and yet feel so lacking, which makes me feel even worse.
It doesn’t help that I have been pursuing a non-mainstream way of life. There are two contradicting parts of me: one part wants to feel accepted and approved of, the other part of me feels that it is of utmost importance to carve out a life which is of one’s own. I didn’t realise it earlier, but now I see that one of the persons who makes me feel the most unsafe is myself, because I force-drag myself to unchartered territories all the time and make myself embark on risky experiments. I am not one of those people who thrives living life on the edge. I am pulled almost hypnotically to the edge, but it makes me stressed and anxious. (This phenomenon can probably be explained well by the Internal Family Systems model or the inner child model, conscious/unconscious etc, depending which metaphor one prefers.) I live a very boring life now, because I am so tired of everything I put myself through.
Since this sense of loneliness can cause me to feel profound sadness, there are plenty of times when I feel like I want to give up doing the things I do. Like stop writing this blog. Stop publishing on social media. Psychotherapists would probably find my behaviour common and expected due to my history: I would rather abandon than to feel abandoned. Sometimes I feel no one ever reads this, so why should I keep on writing?
I think the human psyche is made to crave feedback. I mean, without this sensitivity to feedback human beings would be wiped out by now. Intellectually I think it is more important to do the things I feel are important even if I don’t get feedback, but emotionally I crave for the feedback, just like any other human being. I know of many people who are brilliant writers or artists but they would rather not publish or make anything than to open themselves up to feedback. Then there are other people out there who create things based only on the crowd’s feedback, and it shows in their work, for better or for worse.
I think life is very short. Every day now I am reminded of this. I consider myself again split: one part of me is severely ambivalent to the value of life, the other part of me does not want to waste it. I think it is shortchanging ourselves if we stop doing the work we are called to do or want to do because we don’t get the feedback we crave for. I hate to bring up the cliche here, but even Van Gogh died a sad, lonely, angry man because no one cared about his art, but we all know now how much less this world would be if he stopped painting because of the feedback he didn’t get. Most of us are definitely not Van Goghs, but it doesn’t mean that one’s work must be universally recognised in order to be meaningful. Maybe all it does is to allow ourselves to express just one tiny part of ourselves in the most authentic manner we can muster. Isn’t that meaningful enough? To get to know ourselves?
In a way, because of my wide ever-changing interests, I will never really have a stable audience. One moment I am writing about chronic depression, the next I am writing about interactive experiments, and then before you know it I am writing about bicycles and cameras. Who knows what’s next? Existential philosophy?
It is the same for my instagram account. It is like rojak (a type of fruit salad, in Singapore we also use it to describe something that is wildly mixed). Now that I’m posting street photography I was wondering if I should keep that and my personal pictures separate. But I want to be a whole person, just like this website which went from one website to like five before I merged everything together again. Society likes to split things up and make everything its own tiny category with gatekeeping, my own psyche is split up by different entities wanting different versions of me, I am frenzied and flustered because different parts of me want different things.
I want to be whole and integrated. I don’t want to have five websites and five instagram accounts. Maybe I feel lonely because I can never seem to feel like all of me can belong together. There are parts of me I feel self-conscious about, like they shouldn’t exist. I judge myself before anyone else.
Putting parts of myself online is a part of my healing process. I told published that I was gay on a geocities website when I was 15. Everything that I could not tell to a real person, I wrote them online. Modern social media can make people feel extremely lonely, but it was the traditional blog that made me feel that pieces of myself can exist somewhere.
People often tell me that I am brave for writing so vulnerably online. The truth is if I didn’t I am not sure if I would still be alive now. It has made me less lonely and more lonely at the same time, because through this medium I have found strangers who resonate, yet people who know me in real life may start to relate to me differently once they get a glimpse of my inner reality.
So for me it is a practice and commitment. To make the choice to be whole, again and again. I continue to write and publish my photos regularly, less so because I want the attention or feedback (the attention and feedback is still nice nonetheless), more so because I need to see pieces of myself somewhere. If not, I’m not sure where I’ll be repressing them, unconsciously ashamed of pieces of myself.
This is how I feel less lonely, to learn how to be at ease with myself. To go against the mainstream tide of splitting ourselves up, to warm up to that uncomfortable sense of loneliness that comes up everytime I put something online. Maybe this is a pervasive feeling that stemmed from all those times parts of me felt rejected and abandoned when I tried to express myself when I was young.
Once in a while, somebody leaves a comment on this blog or on social media. Half the time they are strangers. Some are colleagues or friends I haven’t seen in years, decades even. These comments warm me profoundly, in the opposite direction of my sadness. These are comments people would probably never say to me in person. The anonymity and distance of the internet has made plenty of people say nasty things they would never have the courage to say in person, but it has also allowed people communicate at a level of psychological intimacy that would rarely exist in physical reality.
Whoever you are out there, thank you for making my existence a less lonely one.