on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

the magic of travelling

There is something magical about travelling for me. The busyness of modern life has wrapped me up in layers, and travelling unwraps them slowly for me, if I do it long enough.

I have grown to be spoilt with the life I had in San Francisco, getting used to a level of comfort. I had my own apartment, high-speed internet (duh), a huge tv complete with a network attached storage that acted as my media server, with every other media device you can possibly think of, and a hot shower with the best pressure ever. I got used to on-demand services for laundry, food and transport.

I justified all of that with the reasoning that I was working really hard, which I was.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, leveraging on resources to make parts of our lives efficient, I totally subscribe to the “wear the same top/tie” movement – some decisions are really not worth the cognitive load. But personally for me, I think it is dangerous when leverage becomes attachment, or when it conditions me incapable of adjusting, and I mix up my original goals with the fear of losing my comfort.

I have spent five days in Bali now. The internet works, and doesn’t. Even if it works, sometimes it is excruciatingly slow. I could type five long sentences before I finish uploading a picture. The initial frustration I felt grew to amused acceptance, so I adjusted. Instead of browsing facebook or watching netflix (sadface), I spent more time reading my kindle instead. In-between moments I sat with my legs in the pool, or the edges of my balcony, staring into the air. I started to wonder about my capacity to stare in the air and daydream. I used to do it so much in my younger years – in those days we didn’t even have mobile internet and I couldn’t afford to have a laptop, so I would only go to internet cafes.

I felt really uncomfortable with all the sweat I had within five minutes of walking, and it got to a point when I just decided to live with a base layer of stickiness. After a while, I barely noticed it. It was still uncomfortable, but it stopped annoying me.

The first few days I didn’t really enjoy my own company, because my mind (oh my beautiful twisted mind) was perpetually shouting at me for everything I have done and everything I did not do. I cannot win with my mind. When I am pursuing conventional success she accuses me of being a sell-out, when I am trying to be a hippie she tells me that I wasn’t strong enough to be out in the world. What gives?

The difference between then and now, is now I am capable of noticing the differences in my reactions to my mind. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and having thoughts of self-destruction, I sat with it. I wrote about it in my private journal. I read more – the right books always magically appear for me. I read and re-read the document I had prepared for myself in such scenarios, a document that contained my philosophies and values. I could easily spiral, it just takes a split-second to go over the edge, I assure you, but this time, I stood at the edge.

I started to become amused at myself. It helped that I was also reading “Furiously Happy”, by Jennifer Lawson (aka @thebloggess). I thought I put myself out here in public. She takes the concept of putting ourselves out there to a whole new level. I had so many thoughts and emotions to that book. I became grateful that I didn’t have any urges to tear out my hair (and felt sorry that she did). I was comforted that someone out there realises that depression is a curse but also a gift, a condition that makes us feel so deeply – both the highs and the lows. I can only appreciate how beautiful is the ordinary because I know how shitty it can get.

Ordinary is great. I am now sitting the balcony, still worried about my painful eyes but I can’t tell you how grateful I am to remember that I am not having a migraine or thoughts of ending my own life. It is having the capacity to notice such mundane moments other people take for granted.

I can digest my food, wow. I can breathe through my nose, wow. I can see colours, wow. My heart is filled with love when a stranger smiles at me, wow. I sat on a motorbike to get home, entrusting my life to a stranger I met on the street, wow. I can think, wow. I can write, wow. I see wild chickens and ducks passing through, wow. A dog came to greet me, wow.

Travel inevitably unravels the layers I unconsciously put on to face society. It grounds me to my core personality, before all that conditioning, all that expectations. Travel forces me to adjust and accept whatever conditions it throws at me. I feel myself stepping down levels of comfort very slowly.

Travelling alone gives me the space to sit with my fears and anxieties. I cannot escape with busyness or familarity. There is only how much of internet I can browse and how much of kindle I can read. There isn’t anyone for me to hang out with, or responsibilities I have to fulfill. I have no excuses to stop contemplating.

With that space, I realized with my mind (and plenty of other things), it isn’t about winning, but it is about listening, to seek to understand where these accusations are coming from. Self-love can never come from acquisitions or accomplishments, but it comes from acceptance and the willingness to explore the depths and layers.

Sometimes life isn’t about finding answers, but being able to endure and contemplate the questions.

being with myself

I was looking forward to being in Bali after an intense 12 days in Singapore. That was always the original intention, to breathe, recover and heal. 30 days of doing nothing except recuperate sounds fun, doesn’t it?

It does, until I am left in the middle of nowhere with nothing except myself (with my laptop and kindle). For the first time in the long time, I had nothing to distract me. No people to meet, no work to rush, no expectations to meet, no next place to go, no plans to fulfill, no dreams to hold on to. I have never really felt how much I have used busyness to numb my existence until now. Without work, who am I?

There was a copy of Pema Chondron’s “The places that scare you” on my kindle, and right now, I am definitely at a place that is terrifying me. I am in an in-between state, the process of moving out from an old world I know, into a new world I don’t:

“Slowly we edge toward the open state, but let’s face it, we are moving toward a place of no handholds, no footholds, no mindholds. This may be called liberation, but for a long time it feels like insecurity.”

We hold on to fear because it is familiar, whereas hope is always an unknown. So many times in the past few months I have been swimming in self-doubt and anxiety, it would have been so easy for me to crawl back to what was familiar to me, even if it was slowing killing me.

But somehow, no matter how scared I am, how much anxiety I feel, I know that this is something I must do:

“We need more people who are willing to demonstrate what it looks like to risk and endure failure, disappointment, and regret—people willing to feel their own hurt instead of working it out on other people, people willing to own their stories, live their values, and keep showing up.” – Brene Brown, Rising Strong

In this world where only successes are celebrated, and struggles are seen as signs of weakness, where we worship only a certain mould of heroes – aggressively, confident, wealthy, borderline-asshole – perhaps I want to demonstrate what is it like to be utterly human: loving, trusting, vulnerable, with a convention-defying identity.

It still scares the shit out of me, but the will to walk into something so unknown even with so much fear, it must mean that it is worth doing, isn’t it?

In between moments of anxiety-induced paralysis and fear, I find tiny bits of joy creeping back to me. Today I paused to marvel at the sound of a wind-chime, and in a separate moment, stood to smile at a flock of ducks sunbathing in a rice field.

This is when I know the tradeoff of feeling so much fear is worth it, because I would not exchange the capacity to see and feel the extraordinary in the ordinary, for anything else in the world.

To be present with myself and the world, that takes a lot of work for me, because I am used to an existence where I am always in pursuit of something, always running, always hiding, always trying to meet some expectations.

To have nothing ahead of me is terrifying, but yet it is precious, because for once, I am able to focus on what is with me.

forging my own way

I used to be really easily impacted by my environment. It is the same quality that gives me deep empathy towards the world, and yet when I was younger it held me back. I put people’s feelings over mine, sometimes involuntarily, even if the situation was massively unjust to me. I was always afraid to speak up for myself.

I wasn’t always like this. My aunt (who brought me up) reminded me yesterday that I was an expressive, boisterous little girl, who often stood on her bed to sing. Listening to her at that moment, I had a flashback to my childhood, and I wanted to cry. Not because I stopped singing on people’s beds, but because I had a psychosomatic memory of the pain of silencing.

I don’t actually remember what happened – the actual series of events that made me go inward. But slowly, bit by bit, I lost my sense of self and my ability to speak. I was never encouraged to have my own views, in fact, I was lucky if I wasn’t ridiculed for them. I was constantly berated for wanting to forge my own path instead of conforming to the group.

I began casually interviewing my peers here a few years ago. I was feeling sorry for myself. Some of them went through a similar oppressive system and yet brilliantly flourished, I wanted to understand why. Was it simply because I was weaker? There was a common theme for them, that in some part of their lives, they usually had at least one authority figure who either unconditionally supported them, or brought out the potential in them (sometimes by not very kind means).

I had no such luck until my 20s, but by then the damage was done and I spent my youth being and acting disempowered. I cannot count the number of people who had given immense praise to me since then, but I just couldn’t accept nor listen. In my own eyes, I was damaged.

Maybe there are certain traits in us that are simply innate and cannot be removed by conditioning. They are probably amplified or lessened by conditioning, but not eradicated. Despite my own feelings, I still chose to walk on my own path. It was harsh and difficult, because even as I decided to walk my way, I would still be very affected by my unsupportive environment. Every single piece of criticism broke a tiny part of me that never mended. I was made to feel I was selfish or delusional.

The more I walked away from the group, the more pain I had to endure, and it wasn’t surprising to me that my nervous system just didn’t want to tolerate this bullshit anymore.

I spent the 3 years in the US putting myself back together again. Away, I had found the space to perhaps let that little girl who would sing on people’s beds to slowly creep back into my consciousness. A lot of it is due to the reaction of the people surrounding me. Over there, I was prided precisely for my differences. I flourished so much, I truly believed I wanted to make that country my home.

Home is perhaps where the people are. As I grew older and stronger, it became less about what I needed but more about what needed me. I had found new pieces of myself in the US, but I realized the puzzle will never become whole if I kept on trying to discard old pieces of me.

This time I am back, perhaps to people I am still the same person who left 3 years ago, but inwardly I feel like I am a different person. Within these 3 years it wasn’t only myself who have evolved, but the country herself too, for better or for worse. Because I have become stronger, I have allowed more people to reach out and depend on me (and also allowed myself to reach out and depend on people), I have a stronger network of support here than I had when I left.

The criticisms still remain, the lack of understanding still prevalent – it still affects me but I have grown a ton more resilient. I have somewhat stopped expecting people to really understand who I am and what I truly live for. I think it comes with emotional maturity to realize that people can love me the way they can, and I will love them the way I can. Trying to insist that I be seen in a particular way when the right lenses are not being provided is not only a waste of energy, but in itself makes me blind to other spots of beauty.

Only lately I had a realization, that despite having virtually no support in my younger days, I chose to trudge on anyway. And yes, perhaps it broke me in ways that I will never be able to mend, but to the effect of one of my favorite quotes:

”There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

That stubbornness, the insistence that I still walk on my own way, even as I deviated here and there, left and right, sulking and throwing tantrums along the way – the fact that I did it and now I am still doing it, has given me a newfound source of strength and peace that no external entity can ever take away.

That profound realization, gave me comfort that no matter what, whether I am conscious of it, there is a part of me that stays. That is what I will leverage on, in my new journey to learn to trust myself.

on loving the process not the outcome

Books are the biggest source of my solace. I am not sure if I would still be alive if not for books. The right books always seem to pop up for me at the right time. I remember reading Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung and it gave me tremendous comfort when I was in Europe, followed by The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell when I got back to San Francisco. A book’s value to me is expressed through the number of highlights I make; there have been times when I am practically highlighting the entire book.

I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic while waiting for a friend today. She started off with a story of Jack Gilbert:

“He went to live in Europe and stayed there for twenty years. He lived for a while in Italy, a while in Denmark, but mostly he lived in a shepherd’s hut on a mountaintop in Greece. There, he contemplated the eternal mysteries, watched the light change, and wrote his poems in private. He had his love stories, his obstacles, his victories. He was happy. He got by somehow, making a living here and there. He needed little. He allowed his name to be forgotten.”

In this world where visibility is so prided – hustle, hustle, hustle – I find it comforting that there are people throughout history who found their bliss through immense isolation and solitude. At the core of my being I am being guided by my intuition, but there have been many moments where I truly wonder about the series of decisions I have made. It is difficult, I wouldn’t lie, and I am sort of an expert on giving up things in order to search for myself – it never seems easier. Each time, the stakes get higher.

I am not really searching for the same old self. It seems like I am running in circles losing myself all the time, but I am really discarding old selves I have grown out of in order to search for my new self. It is like a snake shedding skin. It is always painful to shed something I have grown so comfortable in.

I get caught up in expectations all the time, and external measurements of value. People measure value through the tangible — money, time, metrics. I do too. I look around at my peers and I wonder about myself all the time. I miss my 50” TV and studio apartment in San Francisco, I actually do crave comfort (and sometimes expensive things) like any other human being. Right now I am exchanging financial independence for creative independence, but is it truly sustainable in this world?

“Do you have the courage? Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”

Some time last year I embarked on a highly ambitious project. It was an act of defiance, a project that I wanted to do because I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do it. I did it at an expense of a lot I had at that point in time. I can’t tell whether I was driven more by the defiance to prove that I could, or the innate desire to get this out of me. Perhaps a little bit of both.

When I started on it I honestly thought I was delusional (like always). I had no idea how I was going to get it done, creatively or technically. But maybe for once in my life, probably out of desperation, I had to trust the process. In the middle of it all I wondered if I was insane. I asked people if I was insane. I had to acquire a lot of new skills in a short amount of time in order to meet the deadline, and it pushed me to the brink of horrendous self-doubt and despair.

But it came together, bit by bit. It had a life of its own, and it lived through me, and I lived through it. It was one of the most symbiotic creative processes I ever had in my life. There was a moment when it was almost done, I broke down and cried. Not because that I was close to finishing it, but it was because I saw that it was alive.

At that point I had a strange feeling and certainty overcoming me. It didn’t matter what was the outcome, if people appreciated it or saw its value. I just knew I had made something so raw and so beautiful — in my own eyes. I am my worst critic, but when I saw it come together it was like I knew I had birthed something I will always be proud of, regardless what came out of it.

The process was an exercise in trust and flow. It was the most exhilarating thing I had ever worked on, because I was in some deep, transcendent conversation with it in order to make it. It didn’t feel I was making it, but I was merely a conduit to it coming alive through my fingers.

I was permanently changed by it.

Reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book reminded me of it. Her book also reminded me of the art I saw in the museums in both New York and Europe. That sometimes we make something because it has to be made:

”If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you don’t bring forth what is within you, what you don’t bring forth will destroy you.”

It doesn’t matter if the thing has a valuation, a value, a buyer or an audience. It just has to be made.

I remember the unadulterated process of working on that project, the inexplicable joy tinged with excruciating pain. At that point I didn’t understand it, but I would come to a stark realization much later – I want to make things, and it didn’t matter if people loved what I made, I just want to make them because I love making them. I had found the maker and artist in myself.

I see the dots connecting in every piece of my life. I am who I am because of the things I make, and the things I make are a result of who I am. There is no precedence over one or another, but they are intrinsically tied together.

I write because I love writing. I read because I love reading. I make because I love making. For all the things I truly love, I love them not because of the outcome that they gift to me, but the mere act of doing them.

At some unconscious moment I have probably realized, I want the same for my own existence. I want a symbiotic relationship with myself. I want to live like I am a conduit for my very own existence, that I am coming to life through the mere fact that I am living. I want to be in the same deep transcendent conversation with myself, birthing pieces of myself guided by an internal driver of trust and flow.

It doesn’t really matter what is the outcome, or if my existence is perceived to be valuable. All that matters is I am trying to become a person that wants to come alive, and that mere act of becoming makes it worth existing.

They say life imitates art, and I am beginning to understand what it really means to me.

paradoxically living

It has been three days since I got back and I am thankful I haven’t woken up in panic. I used to have these nightmares where I would literally wake up in San Francisco thinking that I was back in Singapore, so it is a giant step for me to be back here and not be in a perpetual panic attack.

Perhaps the more I grew comfortable in my own shoes, the more I am able to love myself. The more I love myself, the more I am able to love the people who love me, the less I am dependent on my external factors on my personal well-being. That said, I am not going to pretend that I can live without the internet. It is the internet which allows me to be connected, and in many ways, perhaps I have never really needed much to be physically around people anyway.

But it was still good to be back around my family, to be intentionally present with them. I went to the temple to greet my ancestors the day after I was back, and I was grasped by the magnitude of my tiny little life. How many stories have to exist, in order for mine to exist? All the pain and joy that was endured, in order for me to have my shot of enduring my own.

I thoroughly love the gift of life, but I resent it at the same time.

I have become comfortable with a paradoxical existence, that I am sad yet peppered with moments of intense joy, scared and yet I’ve never felt stronger, so tired I’m hardly moving yet I’m feel so alive.

With that knowing, I am aware that being back here or anywhere will not be a magic bullet. I am also less keen on pursuing happiness. I pursue stories, and the best stories have diverse elements from multiple dimensions. Some people like having one coherent narrative, I like mine to be chaotic. I live for ephemeral multi-colored rainbows than the clear blue sky.

I used to disown so much of myself. But I think for the first time in my life, I am starting to like what I see when I look into the mirror. I see a person who doesn’t pretend she knows where are the answers but is willing to continuously search in the unknown. I didn’t know I’ve been living a giant disconnect my entire life because I’ve been trying to follow in the wrong footsteps. We have been sold these versions of fairytales and stories of unicorns, that we have to seek betterment with these narrow definitions of what it means to live a fulfilling life. If I can have a sentiment of regret, I wish I would have started reading philosophy at a much younger age.

Perhaps I would have understood earlier that I have to find my own lenses to look at myself in the mirror, instead of the ones society has bequeathed to me. That, in addition to the fact that it doesn’t matter how much society loves my image in the mirror, if I cannot bear to look at it.

Like how nature has to all evolve differently in order to flourish in their innate beauty, I feel blessed and cheated at the same time that only now and yet thankfully now I am finally willing to define my own terms of living.

I wrote this on my iPhone on an hour-long journey on the subway, and what used to seem like a drag, has become pockets of space to wonder and contemplate.

until I start breathing normally again

I am sitting here, thoroughly exhausted, and still thinking I want to keep my commitment to publishing a post a week. It isn’t a commitment to an audience, but to myself. There is something very grounding about being able to keep a commitment no matter what, even if everything else falls apart. I can stop exercising, stop maintaining a healthy diet, but I still want to keep on writing.

What should I write about? I have several themes swimming in my mind – what it feels like to be leaving a place and people I loved so much, a piece on learning to appreciate art that I have been wanting to write for the longest time now, and also another on friendship. I don’t think I am cognitively capable of being able to express anything complex and intricate at this moment, which the above themes require in order to do any justice to their expression. It is always challenging to express thoughts or emotions in their truest form, because words can only say so much – picking the right ones, putting them together in the right sequence, in an attempt to convey what I really mean. It feels like trying to find the right shade of blue to paint the sky.

I will try to write about the current state of my consciousness instead, a slice of how I am feeling right at this moment.

I am in a state of perpetual exhaustion and anxiety. On the surface, I am just moving back, but I am also letting go of structures that held me together for the past few years. Going back to the painting metaphor, it is like I have spent years trying to perfect the detail of one painting, and just when I am about to finish it, I realized even though I loved this painting with so much of myself, I want to try carving a marble sculpture instead.

It is like I have been painting all my life, and it is so comfortable, so familiar, kept me feeling so safe, rewarded me so much and yet I have this irrepressible urge to tear it into shreds and go searching for a piece of marble I have no idea where to find, much less carve it into something that resembles anything like a sculpture. I don’t even know how to hold the tools. I comfort myself by thinking that ancient people didn’t know what they were looking for either when they decided to explore new ground. They went on these journeys knowing full well that they could die.

It is like a seed was planted some time ago, and if I didn’t try to nurture this seed, the seed would die, and I, would die along with it. Death follows me around, for better or for worse.

I have been running on empty for a long while. I think I spent a lot of energy trying to mentally push myself to be a certain way because I had a certain ideal of who I was. I take most of the responsibility for burning out. For not recognizing early signs of burnout, for diminishing my own feelings when I felt terrible, for letting other people’s feelings take precedence over mine, for putting work above myself, for not being aware enough of what were the values that were the most important to me, for constantly invalidating myself.

It wouldn’t have really mattered what I did or didn’t do, it would have been the same result as long as I continued not to see myself. By the time I realized, it was too late to reverse the damage my neurological system has taken. I knew I had to go for a full system reset, whatever that meant.

But there is a gift of being completely broken, and that is the opportunity to re-think how I want to put myself together back again. I think everything is inter-connected, and despite my immense exhaustion and anxiety I am looking forward to reimagining the way I want to live, the person I truly want to be, learning from scratch what it means to love myself and people, assuming in the most optimistic hope that I do recover most, if not all of my full capacity.

I am worried, because I have known people who have over-exerted themselves so much that they had to live with chronic conditions for the rest of their lives. But like people who had lost their sights gain extra sensitivity in other senses, I remain in hope that even if I am never to be the same again, other channels of expression will open up to me.

I am hanging on to every last bit of energy I can muster just to finish the last bits of whatever that is left to do, including the difficult goodbyes I have to say and all the annoying logistics I have to deal with as part of a move. I am barely making it.

In truth, I cannot wait to lie on a patch of grass under a clear blue sky, and not have anything hanging over me, for as long as possible, until my body starts breathing normally with my soul desiring to create, once again.

sort of broken

I’ve been sort of broken for a long while now. It is one thing to be completely broken, but sort of broken is an entire different beast on its own. Sort of broken doesn’t seem terrible enough to warrant a cold hard evaluation of one’s trajectory.

On the surface I seem fine. I’m still able, still capable of expressing complex ideas. At the core, my spirit is completely exhausted, I’ve not slept well for months, my eyes are red and painful all the time, I’m always anxious. I just want to crawl into a hole and hide.

Because I was still functional (see, sometimes it is just better to be completely broken), I ignored these symptoms for a long, long while. In fact, utter exhaustion is so tied to my sense of accomplishment and validation, that I often drive myself to that point to feel like I deserve to take a break, or anything.

I only took my body’s distress signals seriously when I started having anxiety attacks for the first time in my life. Even then, I sought all ways possible to recover quickly, thinking they’ll go away if I spend a weekend resting. They say it isn’t weakness that makes people break down, but strength, because it takes strength to even endure to that breaking point.

In this society, we are constantly told pursuing work-life balance shows that we do not love our work enough. I stopped believing that a while ago, but subconsciously I overstretched myself anyway. It is difficult to eradicate a deeply rooted belief, even if it is consciously known to be wrong.

A slight variation of the same narrative exists too, that burnout only happens if you don’t love your work. I have learned that making absolutist statements like this is pointless and exclusionary. Are we less of a person because we’re burning out? Does it mean we deserve burnout? How much more do we have to do to show that we care enough?

Burnout happens for a multitude of possible reasons, a combination of them. Part of the reason why I even got to this stage was because I cared too much.

Caring too much makes it harder to discern what is truly rationally necessary versus irrationally driving ourselves to the ground. Working tirelessly seems to be an easy way of showing that we care enough, forgetting that perhaps the more effective and sustainable way of caring for something, is to keep ourselves at an optimum state instead. Keeping ourselves at an optimum state requires knowing when to stop.

It has never been about choosing what I love over what I don’t. It has always been about having to make a choice out of everything I love, what can I bear to let go? For the first time in my life, I have become a choice to consider, among everything I love.

I choose me. Perhaps there is a tinge of cynicism, that I choose me not because out of unconditional love, but simply by virtue of logic: how can I love the world, when I’m empty?

I’m letting go of many things I love in order to heal, because I recognize that I really do need as much time and space as possible. I am not only attempting to heal from this phase, but to address my issues at the root: why do I keep feeling that I’m not enough? Why do I give so much of myself to everyone and everything else but I am just such a miser to myself?

I want to believe that I deserve to take a break. All my life I have been always trying to accomplish something – to meet expectations, to validate myself, to prove I was enough, to survive. I am tired of feeling the need to do in order to be. I just want to be.

Just for once.

I still don’t know what is really ahead of me. I only know that I need to heal myself in order to even think of contributing anything to the world. It is not only healing physically and mentally, it is about becoming a person who truly believes she is capable of contributing something valuable. Truly. I don’t think that is possible without a sense of love for myself. What value can we really give, when we perceive no value on ourselves?

I can only hold on to the hope that even though I’ve been struggling with esteem issues my entire life, I must love myself enough, subconsciously or unconsciously, to have consistently chosen to leave my comfort zones, in some ambiguous search for a better version of myself.

That must mean something.


It seems fitting and ironic at the same time that I am electing to return to Singapore on her 50th year of independence. I didn’t foresee this decision at all, and in my head if I did return, I had thought it would be because of forcing circumstances instead of my own free will.

Apparently I was wrong, and I am consistently wrong about the trajectory of my future self. Lesson to learn: never plan my life as though I know who my future self would be. Perhaps I should learn not to plan my life at all. It would save me a lot of grief.

On hindsight, the passing of my grandmother kickstarted this entire process. I honestly thought I would be resentful, that my responsibilities and obligations would make it impossible for me to stay away. But it turned out love always wins. Instead of resentment, I am grateful to have this reminder early enough to change the course of my trajectory. I want to be a person who chooses to love.

There is something about being Asian, being Chinese, being Singaporean. I started to appreciate typing Singlish texts to people back in Singapore: “Why you like that one?” (Why are you behaving like this?) I started to understand why Adrianna Tan keeps posting about the pork noodles she couldn’t have when she travels, the design decisions my government have made for the country, even if I don’t agree with them.

In the last few years, each time I returned to Singapore, I seemed to have an allergic reaction to her. I developed migraines, or felt like my life had been sucked out of me. I still keenly remember the pain I had growing up in the system; to be consistently told that you are a disappointment to the system. I get outraged over the child suicides still taking place in the country, or all the limitations that still exist.

But the last trip back, it was the first time ever I didn’t feel allergic to her. The resentment stays, but love has started to seep into my soul. They tell you that love is the opposite of hate, happiness is the opposite of sadness – when in reality they belong to different spectrums. Love exists, even when there is resentment.

When I left a few years ago, creative spaces were few and far between. Even if there were, they seemed to always be on the verge of shutting down. Now, they are sprouting all over.

In between leaving and returning, I have actually gotten to know more people who didn’t fit in the system but found ways to thrive on the edge of it, than all of those years when I was living there. I am proud to call them my friends, they have chosen to trudge on spectacularly. I have deliberately used the word, “chosen”, because it is a difficult choice to make. Carrying on with a chosen direction that is against the Singaporean grain is really, really hard. It is going against everything you have been conditioned to believe in, surrounded by people who believe in a different reality than you, at least from my perspective.

Leaving Singapore was necessary in order to have the space to find the edges of myself, to discover who I could be without my perceived claustrophobia of the system. I feel like now I have a better sense of who I am at the core, that I may be still influenced by the environment I am in, but not oppressed by it.

I am now capable of seeing pockets of love within my own country, because I have finally learned to see pockets of love within myself, and for myself.

I am not sure what the future entails, but I know in order to become whole I need to integrate my past into my present, not disown it. I had felt like I was leading a separate identity and life in San Francisco, while shoving my past in Singapore into some deep dark corner, and now it is time to merge them both. That disconnect was subconsciously causing a lot of distress in me, manifesting in a relapse of my depression. More on that later.

I will attempt to return to the sources of my breakage, and find healing from within. I want to choose love, and by loving what had hurt me, I let go of the power they had over me.

on questioning our dreams

One of the hardest things to learn is that I didn’t really know myself very well, and I had trouble differentiating which were my dreams, or if the dreams I thought mine were actually imposed upon me through the mass consciousness. I can have many romantic notions of my ideal self – for example, if I thought space exploration was meaningful, perhaps I would have applied for a job at SpaceX to fulfil my dream.

What I didn’t realize earlier was that admiring the audacious attempts to go into space (which I don’t actually) or a politician like Aung San Suu Kyi (she went through a lot to get to where she is, regardless of what you think of her politics) does not mean I have to do similar things.

What I admire, what I love, what I am good at doing, what I feel I should do, and what I am innately called to do – all of these are separate and they all can lead to different trajectories. For some lucky people they may be the same. In modern times we were all conditioned to believe we need to have One True Career, and for a long time I believed this story, that every single step I made had to be coherent to my One True Career.

It is not enough that society convinces us that we need to have one true love, turns out we can also only do one thing (or a few at most) for the rest of our lives or risk being alienated.

We’re taught that we can have hobbies or side projects along with our real job. But what does having a job even mean? Do we see our jobs as our vocation? What if we separated the means to earn a living from our actual vocation? What if being present in life is more important than answering our professional callings?

I have begun to learn that there is really no right or wrong in our choices, as long as we are able to live with them. But if we do not begin to question our choices, our history, our present, our future – as humanity, where are we progressing to? What is all this truly for?

What does it mean to live? I continue to question. Even if we achieve year-on-year growth in our national GDPs, what does that even mean?

Most of us are just growing, without even realizing where we’re growing towards, or why are our dreams, even came to be ours in the first place.

traveling and living consciously

I have been Europe for 3 weeks now. It has given me the space to just. be. slow. Even then it has been difficult for me to curb my fear of missing out – I’ve walked about 150km (yeah I know some of you do that in much less but I’m a recovering couch potato) the past 3 weeks trying to see as much as possible. I fear that it will be my first and only European trip for a long time to come.

I need a copious amount of solitude to recharge, so reconciling that fear of missing out and the need to be alone with nobody around me has been challenging. But I remind myself it is all a learning process, this is part of learning to watch my own instinctive behavior and ask questions about it. Mindfulness on the go I guess.

It has only been this year that I realized that a great strength and weakness of mine is that I have an innate urge to problem solve – which is great half the time obviously, but there are some problems that are either 1) not meant to be solved 2) meant to be resolved on their own with time 3) requires pause and contemplation before they can be solved. It becomes crippling when the immediate lack of a solution becomes deeply frustrating, becomes a source of self-resentment or unnecessary rumination. It gets more complex when I see my self as a whole ball of problems on its own.

One of my life-long perceived problems is my predisposition to melancholy, medically termed as chronic depression. In the last couple of years though, I have progressively shifted my perspective on it as I encounter more modern research. The past few months have been fascinating for me as an observer to myself. For the past three years I have had very little or no symptoms of an “illness” that plagued me my entire life, but they re-surfaced intermittently again this year. My instinctive reaction was to think there was something wrong with me.

I have just finished a book on manic depression and creativity, and am on the cusp of finishing another on depression as an evolutionary gene. I have not fully processed my thoughts on them, but they have both shed more light on the way I perceive my condition. It is definitely a complex issue, and depression itself is a catch-all term for many facets of the condition. It becomes life disabling and threatening (I can attest to that myself) if left unmanaged or untreated – but both books posed important philosophical questions.

I cannot write about the science now without adequate reference and research (they are all swimming in my head now with no form), but intuitively I have understood that the extremes of the highs in my life is co-related to the depths of lows I feel. The perception of sadness and suffering as bad is also very human. I no longer see my sadness as bad but it is one thing to know something intellectually and another to actually experience it in a whole new dimension.

A friend reminded me recently, “to change the world, know the world”, and I have only begun to realize how little of the world I do know, and how little of myself I understand. It is easy to forget that life is not linear, neither is it a race. It is not about winning or succeeding, but it is about living. As I have repeatedly asked in my previous posts, what does it mean to live?

Part of me feels like I am late to the game, I see some of the younger generation developing a similar awareness much earlier in their lives. I start to wonder if I have traveled extensively much earlier, would I have learned these lessons faster? But then I catch myself wondering these questions and I ask: what is fast and what is slow? Would I have the emotional capacity and maturity to contemplate these lessons had I encountered them earlier in my life?

Maybe I can only spend some that much time looking backwards. I do believe some degree of reflection is important (unlike some insisting on not looking back and only forward) – there is a reason why a sense of history is important, it is not only about not repeating it (sometimes repetition is necessary), it is about having a sense of the journey we have taken. Humanity will not exist without memory, and the capturing of it. Who am I, without my past? But even with this I understand that it is the present that will shape the future, and if I have reached the midpoint of my life, what can I do for the later half that will make a difference to the story I want to tell?

Living life blindly because of the lack of awareness and self-empowerment cannot be faulted, but continuing to live life blindly with the awareness that I can be a co-creator (well, some of it does depend on the universe, metaphysically or the macro, practically) to the life I want is just harder to accept.

Maybe it is time to stop seeing life or myself as a series of problems to solve, but to develop the capacity to let it unfold on its own, with conscious, mindful participation. Speed gives the illusion of progress, without considerations for sustainability or macro-implications.

What does it mean to live? I continue to search for answers as I travel; some of the moments I have experienced cannot be expressed in the form of a language, but the unexpected lump forming in my throat. These moments, when I am inexplicably near to tears, I know I am alive.

they were drawing together. found this particularly moving.

A photo posted by Winnie Lim (@wynlim) on