journal/

on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

on being part of a long-running story

I have been keenly following Obama ever since his run in the Democratic primaries. I was new then to American politics (it still confounds me), but the narrative that surrounded him deeply fascinated me.

I read both books he wrote, and any long-form commentary or stories that would surface. I, like many others was disturbed by his decision-making in wars, but I also believed that the presidency comes with a ton of baggage and tradeoffs. What can a person choose to accomplish in 4/8 years, and what are the tradeoffs one is willing to make?

I have left a trail of destruction myself in my personal life – there is almost never a win-win situation and there are many heartbreaks and losses to be endured while pursuing even the most positive outcome. There were so many difficult choices I had to make for myself, much less the leader of the free world.

It is not as if being the president of the United States bestows much decision making power at all.

There was one interview where the reporter asked him why didn’t he sign an executive order to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell”. I cannot remember the details (nor which interview), but the gist was he believed there was no point making short-term absolutist change, because it would just be reversed by the next presidency. Changing the mass public’s mind and gaining the necessary momentum for a tipping point would take much longer, but it was the only way that it would sustain. That view he took – regardless of whether there was any political game he was playing – permanently shifted my perspective on what it means to make sustainable change.

Last week, gay marriage became legal for all of the United States. It made me appreciate all the steps so many people have taken in order for this to happen. There were prominent activists like Harvey Milk, but in between there were also millions of unseen people throughout decades who bravely stood up to be counted in order for this change to happen.

It is the capacity to take a long-term view, and yet accepting any individual, no matter how powerful, is just one of the many steps in history but also paradoxically understanding that every micro decision matters along the way – that allows humanity to take these grand leaps:

“And we’re on this planet a pretty short time, so that we cannot remake the world entirely during this little stretch that we have. … But I think our decisions matter. And I think America was very lucky that Abraham Lincoln was President when he was President. If he hadn’t been, the course of history would be very different. But I also think that, despite being the greatest President, in my mind, in our history, it took another hundred and fifty years before African-Americans had anything approaching formal equality, much less real equality. I think that doesn’t diminish Lincoln’s achievements, but it acknowledges that, at the end of the day, we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.” – source

That was especially meaningful in context with Obama’s eulogy for the people who died in the Charleston shooting:

”Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group—the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle. The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court—in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness.  He couldn’t imagine that.” – source

The world endures so much, and it is difficult to see progress when we’re encapsulated in so much pain wrapped within a tiny slice of history, but in any given moment we have a choice to believe and act like we can be better, and these choices matter.

I have this tendency to dart between the macro and micro and draw connections between them – and contemplating on the above makes me reflect on my own life.

I cannot see the significance of the present moment, but the present would not have occurred without the seemingly innocuous or disastrous decisions I have made along the way. All I can do is to do my best, accept that I will make mistakes along the way, and yet hold the faith that if I truly believe I will be better, the sum of my entire life will still be a net positive to myself and on the world:

”And every morning and every night I’m taking measure of my actions against the options and possibilities available to me, understanding that there are going to be mistakes that I make and my team makes and that America makes; understanding that there are going to be limits to the good we can do and the bad that we can prevent, and that there’s going to be tragedy out there and, by occupying this office, I am part of that tragedy occasionally, but that, if I am doing my very best and basing my decisions on the core values and ideals that I was brought up with and that I think are pretty consistent with those of most Americans, that, at the end of the day, things will be better rather than worse.” – source

blind to the mirror

I spent my first 24 hours in Paris trying to nurse a migraine. These migraines are now a common pattern for me – they represent an accumulation of bad decisions for myself.

I used to blame a lot of external conditions for my health issues. Work was stressful, people were draining me, my country has too many people, etc. They were largely true when I was disempowered, when I was locked into an environment where I couldn’t see any choices. But the more self-empowered I have become, the more I realized that I was still stuck in these invisible chains because I was still making poor choices for myself, as if I was not in a position to make better ones. I was living in my own mental prison that was a result of my past conditioning, and it didn’t matter where I was in the present. I could be surrounded by miles of space metaphorically, but I could not move out of a 10 feet square.

I have a lot of privilege relatively speaking, compared to a lot of women in this world. I am bilingual and educated, I have opportunities to work in an industry that is seeing unparalleled success (whatever that means), I am free to be physically mobile, I don’t have to wear anything over my face or fear genital mutilation and nobody can force me into a marriage.

There are a lot of choices I can make for myself. But there is no point if I cannot see them. The same goes for anybody else. Life is there for me to savor, but I’m stuck in old systems of fear. What do I do with a myriad of choices? Do I take the ones recommended by traditional conventions, or do I make up my own way? It no longer seems logical to me to be doing whatever everyone else is doing because I now realize I can do almost anything I want.

We seem to forget that power is not only measured by money. I think everybody derives power from different sources, and for me, nothing is more powerful than autonomy, even if it is the autonomy to decide by which means we suffer. I can decide now to go live on the streets and starve – it is my own conscious choice and I can decide I prefer starving to feeling the weight of a salaried tech worker.

I am beginning to realize choices have to be made from a position of conscious self-empowerment, even if I do decide to devote my life to the service of humanity, it has to be my choice, not because of moral obligation or responsibility. In times of pain and difficulty, it is not morals per se that will make the difference, but to me, it is love. Morals can be subjected to time and culture, but love is love.

I can be doing the “right” thing – analyze where can I make the biggest impact and devote the rest of my life to making that impact. But my point of view has shifted – I am doubtful people can be capable of reaching the their greatest potential and maximizing their impact if they are not capable of love – for themselves and for the world. In not realizing ourselves, we are depriving the world of what we can truly give.

I, can barely look myself in the mirror. I have been so focused on doing what I think is right for the world, but I have neglected to do what is right for me. That does not allow me to be fully present and participatory – how can I ever be, if there is so much self-resentment and self-inflicted limitations with everything I do?

With the pervasive belief I am less, I have allowed myself to be tampered with, misused, abused, drained.

I am experiencing a lot of anger now, and I am not sure if it makes it better or worse, that I am mostly angry with myself for not believing I can be free, equal, and capable of having power over myself.

the beginning of an adventure

I’m at the airport now, waiting to board my flight to Paris. I have never been to Europe, and this was one of the things on my bucket list that I really wanted to chalk off. I told myself a few months ago that I would stop deferring any major life plans because of “practical reasons”. Along with that, I decided that I didn’t want to be “practical” anymore, whatever that means. I want to look back and witness a life of adventures, not a life where I excelled being practical.

I booked this trip a couple months ago. Back then I knew I needed to do this trip, but that need has increased exponentially since then. I didn’t anticipate leaving San Francisco in the morose state I am in right now. It may sound strange but I am really grateful to my past self for planning this trip despite having a dozen reasons not to.

It is funny how life’s priorities change.

Some of you dropped me messages after my last post. That you could relate, that you didn’t know you were feeling a similar disconnect until I had written about it. I am deeply grateful, because I too, find strength in your words.

Here’s how I look at it. Assuming I am relatively able till I am 70 (very conservative estimate – I don’t actually want to live till that long), I have approximately 13,000 days left. That doesn’t feel very long. It is not dying I am concerned about, but how many opportunities I have left to create all the things I want to create, and how much longer can I be in awe of the world’s blinding myriad of interconnecting stories.

When I think of it that way, the decimal points in my bank account cease to matter, the physical assets I am willing to trade off for lived experiences, the definition of a career becomes pale in comparison.

In the end, what are we all living for?

For now, I live to love – love in the most universal sense, the love that makes me want to truly experience what this world and her people has to offer, and explore what I can give in return, instead of being satisfied with society’s narrow definitions of what it means to be alive.

reconstructing myself

There was a bunch of you who reached out to me personally after my last post, and I just want to put it out here that I am deeply appreciative and grateful for your presence in my life. You have strengthened my conviction that writing publicly about my own darkness is not only cathartic but incredibly healing and healthy. These days I keep an mental image in my mind, that shadows are the darkest when light is at its brightest. The universe has gifted us great metaphors and lessons all around us, but we just don’t have the capacity to observe them.

If I haven’t responded, it is not because I don’t care, but I need all the emotional bandwidth I can muster right now for myself. I will respond eventually, because I want to learn to be more present with people.

I used to write more like this, where I don’t have a particular topic or agenda, but just free-flowing words that exposed my stream of consciousness. Then, people started telling me that in order to be a “good writer”, I should be more concise and structured. You know, like Hemingway. I contemplated it for a while, because accepting feedback and “growing to be better” is important, but I decided otherwise:

I tweeted that in April 17 of last year, and I think I have progressively gotten better (according to my own standards) about writing as myself, but something else got in the way.

Work.

I have always seen life as work and work as life, so I poured all of myself into whatever professional work I was doing. I started taking people’s feedback seriously and channeled that into my “professional growth”, whatever that means.

Some time ago – which probably coincided with my entries here getting darker – I realized I was losing myself. In favor of “professional growth”, I have lost sight of who I am. I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I was getting disconnected from my intuition, I stopped doing things that felt right, and started doing things people told me was “better” for me. Well, they say growth is uncomfortable, so I put up with that discomfort.

But right now this is where I am: I am going to start from zero and build myself up again. Reaching the bottom has given me a blessing in disguise, because now I can just throw my existing life out like garbage and start anew. I have nothing to lose, because I have already lost myself.

I don’t only want to write as me, I want to live as me. That means reconstructing all my conditioned beliefs – I don’t give a shit about public perception anymore. Everything can go into the dumps – I want to construct a life where I am feeling the most alive, even if it means I am going to sleep on the streets and write terrible poetry for the rest of my life.

What is the point of having everything, and feeling dead inside?

giving myself permission to heal

They say when you hit rock bottom, there’s no where else to go except upwards. I want to say that sometimes it may be better to rest and rejuvenate at the bottom, and that is arguably better than trying to claw your way up from mid way.

I have been carrying a lot of anger, fatigue and sadness for the past few months for various reasons. One of which I’ve just realized, is that I’ve always prided myself on growth, and that meant creating this narrative that I thrive on change and don’t dwell much on the past.

I do thrive on change. But thriving on change has nothing to do whether there are side effects of growing too fast, too soon, too much. I have not stopped much to heal – even muscles need a break to recover. I have gone through so much change in the past four years that when I look back it is ridiculous. Fast growth is almost never sustainable.

I want to share a quote that I found extremely powerful for me. I stumbled onto this book by accident while I was going through a lot of pain in the past few days:

”Sometimes we may need to stop growing. We may need to backstep and regress. Growth, so often these days assumed automatically to be a goal in psychology and in life in general, can become a sentimental value that overlooks the necessity of such things as stagnancy and slippage. The child is not honored if we always expect him to grow up, because a child is not grown up.” – Care of the Soul

We keep asking children to grow up, as though being a child is wrong. I kept telling myself to grow but I never stopped to look at myself as a child and honestly ask, “Am I okay?”.

I have found the past few days to be profoundly painful and yet empowering. I realized that I have grown strong enough to allow myself to truly bear this pain in its full spectrum without apologies, guilt, or haste. I gave myself permission to just be in whatever state I needed to be. I used to feel so terrible feeling terrible that I would spiral into this vicious self-blame cycle.

This time around, I have found myself some courage to just allow myself to do whatever I need – cry, stay in bed, acknowledge my own pain and ask for help. This is the first time I’m allowing myself to reach out to peers and tell them I am not okay, instead of trying to process everything on my own or pretend otherwise. It is also the first time I am trying to remind myself that I am still loved by my people, instead of getting caught up in my own self-loathing.

So why am I sharing this intensely personal experience publicly? Same reason why I write every other post. It defeats the whole purpose if all I’m writing about is my past or my successes. Being able to document my own story as it unfolds, all light and dark of it, is a privilege I cherish and do not take for granted. Who knows one day I may wake up unable to write anymore?

I am very grateful to my peers for giving me the space, love and support I need. I don’t know how long this particular journey will take. I want to stop ignoring my wounds or denying my anger, some of which I’ve been accumulating for decades.

In spite of it all, I think this will be good for me, because I am giving myself an opportunity to end whatever story I was telling myself and re-write a whole new one again, instead of trying to course-correct a story that was not serving me anymore.

becoming myself

One of the best things that come from a combination of age, experiences and also being chronically suicidal is that I give less of a shit to everything.

I used to worry a lot. I don’t even know how to describe the sentiment of “a lot” in words. I have only realized recently that I have been living in constant anxiety. I worry about my independence, about people, about people’s feelings, about people’s perception of me, about people’s perception of themselves, about the world, I can keep going on.

I still worry now, but it is significantly less. Mostly because I realized the worry has been crippling me and I have to be alive if I want to do anything about anything I am worrying about. I don’t mean alive in terms of just surviving (no interest in that), but as I consistently repeat in my writing, being alive means being capable of effectively contributing to and living in the world.

Some days I wake up and I’m like, how amazing it is that we are capable of expressing ourselves and making things. I want to embody that sentiment into every moment of my life. That sense of wonder, amazement and gratitude that I am alive and I can make things if I want. I just keep forgetting. I get overwhelmed with people and the world and resentment starts creeping in.

One of the core issues I struggle about myself is – honestly, becoming myself. I have so much deep-rooted guilt about being myself that I don’t even know where to start. A lot of it is conditioned as part of my upbringing in Singapore. Being consistently told that everything about me is wrong, because I don’t live like I am part of any herd.

Anyway I don’t want to be one of those people who keep on blaming the past for who I am now and cede my own power to change my present, so I am progressively consciously trying to change my inner response to myself when I want to do something “different” from any herd. For example, I may want to tweet or blog something, but I get a frequent voice in my head that says, “omg what will people think?”. Yes, I still get that voice, even though I openly write about my chronic health issues like there’s no tomorrow.

I don’t even know how to explain that part of me that writes so honestly and vulnerably is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s also a dark (yes, darker than it is now) side, a consistently-annoyed side, a very idealistic side, etc – sides of paradoxes and extremes. I want to be better at expressing what is really on my mind versus trying to be “nice” and also doing the things I really want versus the things people make me do.

Part of it is the fear of provocation – I really dislike conflict – but I think being more open with my thoughts allows more opportunities for them to be corrected if I am wrong, or evolved with other people’s input.

I still love writing here even though I love the feedback mechanism of Medium. Some days I just want to write like it is 1990s, a time when people (myself included) just wrote all the shit they want on livejournals (or similar) – to share a piece of themselves with the world.

They say sharing takes away the power of secrets or uncomfortable issues, maybe I’ll like to think of it as distributing the power, and perhaps light up the way to demonstrating that what society considers as unsharable (or basically, skeletons in the closet), is just human made-up bullshit.

Life is too short for enduring other people’s bullshit.

building a core

I feel like I am in a period of transition, but maybe I am always meant to be in a period of transition –– they call it growth, perhaps?

I have just come very close to accepting that there is no stability in my life and never will, complete with the cliche that change is the only constant.

Since writing my core document, I’ve been actively trying to rearrange my life, but knowing what to change is hard enough, trying to really apply those changes in a sustainable manner is the harder part.

I have titled the document, “Core”, because that is what I am building. I am still adding to it as new epiphanies and insights rise to mind, and it is both amusing and scary to observe how quickly I fall back into old patterns if I stop being hyper-conscious about it.

Being over-empathetic with a low sense of self-worth, coupled with a real innate desire to always put others before me, is one of the worst possible combinations ever. Without a strong core, I will always be living my life according to people’s mould of me. The irony is that even if I choose to live a life of service, there must be something to be served, and this cycle of rapid self-destruction is more of a burden to the world than a contribution, as I have pointed out in my last Medium post.

I have always been a person of extremes, and what I am trying to learn is moderation and balance. It is not easy trying to re-wire how I think, feel and react. The past few weeks I have been feeling some low-grade form of resentment from consistently ceding my power to people because that had been programmed into me. Well, they say the first step to healing is awareness.

Overall, it has become increasingly clear to me that the way forward is to take responsibility over how I truly want to architect my life. If that means I have to give up everything I have now, I will.

Because nothing is worse than living like resentment is eating us up inside. And I’ve only just realized, that resentment is mostly for myself, because I have allowed people’s opinions to take precedence over my own. Obviously, I still have a long way to go before I learn how to love myself, as you can tell, I am finding it difficult to feel compassion for myself.

preserving fragments

Once again, I have many transitionary thoughts in my mind. Transitionary because they are half-formed or partially-processed. Being back in Singapore this time made me acutely aware of the change I am going through. I no longer react to things the way I used to, I am also getting a lot more sentimental.

A few weeks ago I told a good friend that I was confused over some decisions I thought I had to make. She said that I would know when the time comes. I thought she was being patronizing, but upon reflection, she was right. Each time I had made a major life decision, there was never any doubt or confusion. Every single time, there was never doubt that I had done my best, reached my capacity, and hence there could not be any reversal, because there was never anything left in me even if I wanted to stubbornly persist.

Having depressive tendencies can be helpful in these situations. Big decisions are easy to make when the choice is between risking a change or having to suffer an indescribable emotion that makes me want to terminate myself. I have been through enough episodes to know when I get close to that cliff. I don’t ever want to go back there again, if I can help it. Losing my capacity to feel anything, even sadness, makes life really seem to be not worth living.

I still need to remind myself all the time though. My fear of losing my independence causes me to be dependent, ironically. It is always a constant battle between wanting security and wanting to be free. I don’t think it is possible to have both. One may come as an effect of the other, but they cannot co-exist as a pursuit.

I think my desire to be free has propelled me to considerable progress, and by progress I mean events that are meaningful to me. Someone telling me that my writing comforts them is way better than having extra money in my bank account. Money can be earned, but sentiment, the kind of sentiment that makes people remember you with their hearts during your own funeral, that is priceless. But even a desire for that sort of sentiment is greedy. I only want to ask for a life that I can be proud to reflect upon on my deathbed.

These are fragmented thoughts, and I want to be better at writing them more regularly. I have found these snapshots of my thoughts valuable when I lose sight of myself. In these words, I am really preserving fragments of my true self for my future self to recover when life loses me in her midst.

the space to be

I’ve been in Bali for three days now. I don’t think I could have chosen to recharge in a better place. I’m in a much better place to appreciate Bali compared to my first trip in 2008.

All I have done for the past three days is eat, swim, sleep, write and read. It took just one day for me to feel that elusive sense of joy, a joy that has eluded me for the past three months. It occurred to me that all I really needed was a lot of space. Space, not only in its physical form, but in every dimension it takes. I need that space to connect with myself, to the universe, to the core of what I love and who I am. It is easy to forget all that busyness we undertake in the name of work. I love my work, but how effective is that work if I’m barely alive?

We mistake a state of functioning as being alive. Being in a constant state of execution doesn’t do justice to life. Life, is also about being in awe, hope and inspiration. What does life mean when we can’t see the intricate magic that allows us to not only breathe, but also facilitate our capacity to create breathtaking forms of expression?

Compulsive obsession fueled by insecurity and the need of approval can so easily be mistaken as love. Love understands that sometimes distance is required to truly see the subject.

I am at my happiest when I feel like my mind is my best friend. Full of hope and love, instead of being in a constant state of anxiety and self-pity. That is why I love to be alone, with external interaction at my own choice and pace. At the quietest state of my mind, without needing to react to any external force, there is love.

I just need the space to be capable of listening to that voice.

what it means to be present

This is the first time since moving to SF that I’m back in Singapore and I’m not desperately trying to escape the first opportunity I have. I’m still ambivalent about the country if not leaning towards a negative sentiment – still a step forward considering how much PTSD I had – but I wouldn’t be back here if not for my family. The people I miss, the country and all of what she embodies, not so much. I have friends dear to me who care so much about the country that sometimes I wish I can have half that sentiment, just so I can feel better about everything.

Six months on, I have learned that the passing of my grandmother did impact me profoundly. It is not the event itself, but the realization that I have not been very present for the people I care about. We cannot control life’s events, but we can choose how we are with people. Death itself still does not terrify me, missing out on opportunities to be truly present with people break me. We can spend everyday with somebody but not truly be there with them. It is not the amount of time we spend, but how much energy, how much of ourselves we are willing to give in that moment.

I have always given a lot of myself to my work, but having nobody to depend on while growing up made me sort of either detached or insecure with people. I don’t like forming deep bonds, because of the number of times I have to break them as a child in order to survive emotionally. At age 34, I am beginning to realize how much I still do not understand myself or my psyche, how many assumptions I had about myself are turning out to be wrong.