journal/

on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

recovery

I am experiencing a period of peace – inner and outer. I know life will always has its ups, downs and curveballs, so for now I would just like to take a breather and just be. In modern times it is increasingly harder for anybody to breathe freely and I know there may come a time soon again that I may not have the luxury to breathe this way again, so all I want to do is to think of nothing. Apart from work, that is.

I tell people I need to recover, they automatically assume that I am recovering from my move across oceans. But I am actually recovering from one year of being in limbo and prior to that, years of chronic fatigue.

In short, I have never felt so whole. Like everything is integrated the way it should be. I have always considered myself broken for all my life but now, I feel whole.

I have lived my life like a tightly wound elastic band, especially for the past year. There was so much uncertainty, though I learned and I enjoyed lots of moments, I felt like I was in a constant state of tension. Where was I going to be, what if things didn’t work out? I had a thousand questions swirling in my head, I try as much as I can to live in the now, but I am only but human. For all the strength I had to put upfront, subconsciously I was fraught with worries.

Now, I feel the elastic band slowly unwind and it is actually kind of disconcerting. I look back at my entire life and I don’t ever remember being truly relaxed and free before.

I guess I just want to take things as naturally as possible and ease myself into some normalcy. Being part of a hustling start up means there is no such thing as having true normalcy, but I’ll take whatever I can outside of work, thank you.

I have tons of things I want to do once I am recovered and settled, among them I want to try rock-climbing, meditative yoga and hand-lettering, but just not right now.

I have no idea when my next pressing life challenge will be, so this is a opportune time for me to recharge. Carefree and playful? I have never felt that in a long, long while.

I can be an asian over-achiever in my own convoluted way but I will give myself permission to simply be and have as much fun as I can. For being fully engaged with life means to stretch yourself as far as possible, with periods of adequate recovery in between.

Looking back to 2011-2012

I’ve written customary year-long reviews around New Year’s for every year from 2008 onwards except for 2011. I don’t exactly remember why, but I suppose I was in a state of disappointment around this time last year, so I probably wasn’t sure if I could write a review post objectively.

I don’t want to look at my archives 3 decades later and wonder why is one year missing, so instead of one year, I am going to recap two years in this post.

In summary, 2011 and 2012 are two incredible years for me. I am sure in my twilight years, I’ll look back fondly at these two years and see them as a pivotal turning point in my life.

2011

The first part of 2011 went by in a blur. There were two distinct events, the first was the decision to seek professional help for my dysthymia, and the second was participating actively in Singapore’s elections, when I got to witness the first time an opposition party was voted into a GRC. I have always been intrigued with politics, but it was really then that I discovered how much it has seeped into my life and my identity.

For the first time in my life, I took medication to manage my dysthymia for a whole three months before making a very personal decision that I would rather feel despair than to feel numb all the time. Actually, that’s what I thought, but the truth is, I made a whirlwind decision to visit San Francisco in July last year and I was so enthralled the first few days I was there, I completely forgot about my medication. Again, that was the first time in my life I truly felt alive. Alive in a way that I can feel every cell in my body bursting with life and joy.

My adventure in SF took an extreme turn when a series of serendipitous events led me to meeting Joyce and Eric. I fell in professional love with them at first sight and decided to cut short my SF trip to be in Hawaii with them to suss out whether we could really build our dreams together. I spent two months in HI, learned how to surf for the first time, experienced my first wipe-out, discovered the deliciousness of seared tuna ahi while marveling at how it was possible for me to spend 2 months with four other strangers every single day and not feel claustrophobic.

In the middle of all that I also had the opportunity to meetup and potentially join a startup of my professional dreams, that had another huge impact on me in another way, because it made me feel validated at a level I could not have imagined. Meeting the founders of that startup was my inner-geek’s dream come true and I discovered through our conversations that I do not feel nervous or afraid at all if I truly believed in what i was sharing. I was passionate about making communication for humanity better, till today I believed it wasn’t exactly my work that led me to them, it was the way I was both obsessed and emotional with the idea of perpetuating change.

But I was already in love with simplehoney, and the secret to me is, I tire of things very easily all the time, but once I find something/someone to be in love with, it is very difficult to tear me away from that entity/object. And so I returned to Singapore late Oct last year, decided to process my paperwork to be in the US for me to join Joyce’s and Eric’s startup, simplehoney, officially and full-time.

Life, I learned, never really goes the way you want. Or I want. It goes the way I am meant to go. For my highest good. In what seemed like a negative turn of events, my paperwork ran into issues, I escaped to Vietnam, discovered the beauty of Hoi An and fell on my face, Vietnam in general is not a place for me, but falling on my face and still smiling thereafter made me realise how much I want to still want to be a person who consciously chooses to smile, in spite of and despite of everything.

With Vietnam I ended 2011, emotionally, the disappointment of not being able to return to SF took a toll on me. I was not sure whether I would ever return or if I could still be with simplehoney, I felt like it was ultimately cruel to hand someone her dreams and take it away after all that she had been through in order to even catch a glimpse of those dreams.

2012

But life, again, always has its own trajectory. Once I knew that, I found out it is much easier to go with the flow of that trajectory even though it seems unpleasant instead of resisting it.

The turn of events had shaken me so hard that I started to wonder if I was persisting in the wrong direction. Maybe I was just not meant to do this. Maybe I should just be contented with a mundane life. A comfortable routine. Not set myself up for hopes and dreams, only to be crushed with disappointment. Perhaps I should not even try to scale greater heights, because falling down is so painful. People go through their darkest doubts when they try to do something difficult, and usually the good news is, if your mind tries to trick you repeatedly into settling for the easy way out and you still persist, albeit barely, you will then find the inner strength to carry on.

And that was what I repeatedly found in Vancouver. I decided to fly there in Feb 2012, again, on a whirlwind. Emotionally, being there was very difficult for me. For the first time again, I felt homesick. I had never, ever, felt homesick. But it was so difficult for me that all I want to do is to return to the hot humid comfort of Singapore and watch tv.

I also ended my six-year relationship while I was there and with that I felt a acute sense of loneliness. As if no one really understood me and what I was trying to do. At the darkest times of my hurricane of thoughts, there was no one I could think of who would understand what I was going through. I could not find anyone I could talk to.

But I developed friendships with a few Vancouverites and in particular, meeting Spencer I had found a kindred spirit. He blew my misconceptions about young people. Lol. He was a decade younger but he understood. The late night conversations we had throughout the months I was in Vancouver tided me through some tough times.

I learned a lot about myself in Vancouver.

It is with hindsight that I am now able to tell everyone, I am ultimately very grateful for what transpired before, during and after Vancouver, even my paperwork drama, because it was during this period of time that allowed me to grow comfortable into myself. Who I am and what I stood for. Because I was alone and there was nobody and nowhere I could channel my thoughts to or be distracted with, I was forced to deal with myself. Alone.

And with that I discovered no matter how tough things can be, I still want to be who I am and pursue what I want to do and be steadfast to what I believe in.

I returned to Singapore, a whole new me. If after my first SF trip I was beginning to show traces of a different person I would become, Vancouver accelerated that. Sf gave me the hopes and dreams I could achieve, Vancouver gave me the inner strength I needed to try and fulfill them.

Had I gone directly to SF without the paperwork drama, I would still be consciously trying to hide myself in every situation. I was not comfortable with myself prior. Through the downs, I have discovered the capacity of my inner-strength which I didn’t know exist before.

I spent a month in Singapore after Vancouver, finally being able to be in my home country without feeling the need to escape every second. I guess once I came to peace with myself, the location didn’t matter that much anymore. And once I started to be who I am, I started to meet a lot more like-minded people.

I went to Hong Kong for a couple of months, had a lot of fun co-working at HKCocoon, started a routine of swimming, ate a lot and by the time I left, I still liked that city a lot. I held my first sharing session with 10+ people at Cocoon. I learned two things, 1. never assume people know what you know, 2. I don’t get stage fright if I truly believe in what I am trying to share. For someone who was so afraid of people, to be someone who is able to speak at a 10+ person gathering – achievement unlocked.

And with that I returned to Singapore for the final time in 2012, the paperwork came through, and I am now in SF. It took an entire year and more, but it was all very much worth it.

Other random eventful tidbits to remember:

  • I started writing for webdesigntuts+, to be honest it was not fully out of my own free will, but though writing a post really takes up tons of effort and time, I am humbled yet proud of the feedback I had received.
  • I started to make my bed every morning and I discovered how much I like tidying up my personal space. Love, former messy person.
  • Started to meet a lot of people for coffee conversations.
  • Before I left Singapore, I shared my story in front of a 20+ audience. Another achievement unlocked.
  • I now identify as a storyteller, more than a designer.
  • I started writing cheesy poetry again, triggered by a fateful meeting with a stranger.
  • Because of the tough times I had in the past year, it actually brought back many key friendships which I had thought I lost.
  • I am still learning, sometimes you just have to ask, and having people say ‘No’ in your face is no big deal.
  • Being a good product designer is half the actual design process and the other half, debating and managing product priorities and tradeoffs.
  • What I’ve learned for the past year as a designer has far exceeded what I’ve learned being an independent designer for four years.
  • I realised I don’t like working from home and I love co-working spaces.
  • Managing my moods is all about removing stressful triggers around me. This is such a simple yet powerful revelation, I kid you not. I don’t even remember the last time I was in a bad mood.
  • I removed an infected cyst on the back of my neck. It is my first time going through surgery, albeit a small one. It was very, very painful lol, but it made me learn that it is really better to endure short-term acute pain than the chronic annoying pain everyday.
  • I started wearing crystals frequently, yes, I can feel their energy and I like wearing them a lot.
  • I have also begun to take frequent health supplements upon discovering our food these days have not much nutrients in them anymore, well, we’re lucky if we don’t get poisoned first.
  • I am a lot more conscious about what I eat now, I avoid food that makes me feel tired. Namely, carbs. That is sad, because I really love Asian bakeries.
  • I started having soy in my coffees instead of milk, because I had flu once and I was aware how milk would make me have a lot more mucus. Eugh.
  • I removed a lot of sugar from my diet, namely from my coffees. I also don’t eat my old-favourites, chocolates and candy anymore.
  • I like eating most greens now. This is kinda extreme from a person who used to say raw vegetables induce nausea.
  • I have also learned that any kind of relationships are only healthy if all parties have equal power. Any other way erodes them over time.
  • I am loved by family and friends, I was just too self-deprecating to see it.
  • I now say thank-yous to everybody doing me a service, whether they are obligated to or not. I am starting to observe the impact it has on people. For this, thank you, Vancouver.
  • I smile at everyone who makes eye-contact with me. This is to Vancouver’s credit too.
  • I love being an employee and going to work, for the first time in my life.

All in, this had been an awesome two years for me. Both the ups and downs. I am grateful and I know I had been blessed.

The city that changed me

It has been two weeks since I’ve moved to SF, mostly I’ve been busy at work and doing all the paperwork that I have to do as a new transplant to the city. Things moved so quickly since my petition to work in the states got approved, that I didn’t have time to react. I had to be preoccupied with more paperwork after the petition approval, then the embassy interview, and thereafter just preparing to move.

But along my long walks in between, there are moments of silence and inner-peace when I feel an immense gratitude. Grateful, because I knew how hard it was for me to be here. Immensely grateful, because I remembered the state I was in before I came to San Francisco for the first time.

I was basically a living dead the year leading up to my first SF trip. I was having migraines everyday, I couldn’t sleep, I was extremely fatigued, I could no longer feel. I was just numb, going through the motions everyday and hoping every single day that I would not wake up with a migraine. That was all I could hope for. To not feel that debilitating pain in my head. That was my life. I couldn’t dare to dream or even dare to live like anyone else.

Perhaps people would be curious why I was even in that state in the first place. It is a complex myriad of factors, but to put it simply I was under too much stress from multiple areas of my life for a extended amount of time. Both internally and externally, micro and macro. You know those stories you read in newspapers where people die from stress? That was almost me. I was having palpitations constantly, I lived in a constant state of tension, I was always worried about the days ahead.

And then there is that dull, hollow pain in the core of my being that I carried for most of my life. An inexplicable sadness for life.

It would take me a long, long process to even understand why I was carrying so much pain with me.

The gift of having been there is that now, it allows me to see my life in a very different perspective and it allows me to be grateful.

For I will never forget how it had felt to be that way.

All the flowers I see blooming now, the birds I hear singing, the smiles I see on strangers’ faces, the incredible vast blue skies, the sheer beauty of sunlight – I can go on and on, everything gives me joy and gratitude. When I remember how I used to not be able to sleep, waking up every morning now makes me smile.

I see so much love and beauty in people and I remembered how all I could see was the ugliness of human beings. The world is full of promise to me and it used to be full of despair.

And all because in July last year, I came to San Francisco.

The city that changed the way I viewed the world. That life could be lived in a different way. I am sure some people would understand how I had felt, perhaps for them the city had been New York, London, Melbourne or just somewhere they feel like they belong to.

For the first time in my life, I finally felt like I belonged somewhere.

I started smiling a lot when I was first here last year. I smiled at brown paper bags, I smiled at some dude singing and playing his guitar while walking on the streets, I smiled when people say thank-you to the bus drivers, I smiled when the BART driver made us laugh with his jokes, I smiled at street-side stalls selling home-baked cookies for an animal shelter, I smiled at how a homeless person was treated graciously by a shop owner, I smiled when suddenly, the whole world seemed to be smiling at me.

A lot of people like their lives here. That was something new to me. I see a light in their eyes, I hear the vibrations of their voices when they speak, I feel their energy when they move. They are alive. They feel alive.

I had never experienced such life before. That it was possible to be surrounded by people who are so alive and so in love with life.

For once, I started to believe that I, could be in love with my life too. Yes, that person who was as good as living-dead.

I look back and I start to connect the dots. There is this Chinese saying that says, “first bitter, than sweet” – I finally know what this truly means.

If my life was a charted line-graph, it was always so low, that everything now is a high.  That all the unfortunate events only served to remind me of my extremely good fortune now. It doesn’t allow me to take things for granted. Just like if you had known the feeling of starvation before, you’ll never forget how precious food becomes. Or well, you can be extremely stingy about food but that only happens with shortsightedness, that deliberate scarcity will never remove that feeling of lack.

I haven’t even begun to write about how long and trying was the entire process to get my work visa, I’ll save that for another story, but all the more it makes me appreciate where I am now.

I am beginning to see roadblocks very differently now. Everything really happens for a reason. Even that long visa process only served to make me a strong, better, happier person.

And therein lies another big secret of happiness. It is all about perspective. Perspective allows you to frame everything with a different context. You can either choose to become bitter with life when you encounter roadblocks or make that roadblock a stepping stone instead. You can either feel a sense of entitlement to everything you have or know that they are all god-given gifts to you. You can be weighed down and be filled with despair by all the unfortunate events that’s happening in the world, or choose to celebrate the ones who are making attempts to make this world a better place.

I could have used my pain as a source of bitterness and I will not shy away from the fact that I had done so for most of my life. It has become a source of strength instead, for everything that has happened in a magical timing to allow me to flip that switch – I am grateful.

new beginnings

I was developing a split identity between my two blogs, so I’ve decided to put them both in permanent archive-mode and start anew.

It is symbolic in many ways, mostly because I am no longer the same person who wrote in those blogs, but they will always remain a part of me. Tied to this, I am also no longer afraid of being myself in every sense of what it means, so I no longer need to ‘hide’ behind ambiguous blog titles. The url of this new site says my name and that it is how it is going to be.

I was not really worried about writing authentically online, I mean you just have to do a google search to know what I’ve been writing on the web, but somehow I was never ready to put my name on it. It is the last 5% I couldn’t commit to, I guess.

I would never have been who I am now or where I am if I didn’t go through the entire cathartic process of writing my thoughts on those two blogs. I will never want to hide that part of me because it is so integral to who I am now. But I am setting off on an entirely different tangent in my life now. It is like I acknowledge and honor that part of me, but I no longer want them to weigh me down.

I believe in the power of authenticity and storytelling, so I am not going to stop writing authentically. It will just be a different voice, that’s all, a much happier, more positive voice. I don’t have any delusion that everything will be rosy from now on, in fact I am looking forward to going through the ups and downs, I actually have a thing for the downs – I have grown to really appreciate how much they make me stronger. I look back now and I smile at them. All of them.

Truth be told, I am not really used to this. It hasn’t sunk it yet that I am finally in the city who made me discover myself, I am also not really used to my new self. My new-found sense of self and liberty. It is so empowering to know that I am free to make almost any choice I want now, that I don’t really know how to deal with it. I not only want to deal with it, I want to deal with it efficiently.

My first 30 years of my life were not wasted, but now that I am no longer really finding myself or my purpose, I don’t want to waste any more of the time left in this lifetime. There are so many things I want to do, I have lived in an existence whereby I was not incentivized to do anything at all so this is pretty new to me.

The point of my life when I actually feel and truly believe that anything is possible. That my heart is bursting with love for this world. That I really want to love and hug all my friends who stood by me. That my parents is fully supportive of how I want to live now, despite us having had a difficult relationship for most part of my growing up years. For the very first time in my life, at age 31, my dad texted me to tell me that they are proud of me.

For the first time in my life, I don’t have any negative influence in my life. Nothing. Nothing to wear me out or pull me down.

In reverse, I have love. In everything. I am in a city I love, I have work that I love, I love every single member of my team, I know I have family who loves me, I have friends who have demonstrated incredible support for me even though honestly, I wasn’t really worthy of it. I have a network of like-minded people who want to accomplish ridiculous goals like me, I no longer feel alone on this path. There are only more awesome connections to make, I am sure.

I will really need time getting used to this. And you know what I’m going to do once I am done getting used to this? I am going to find every means possible to pay this forward. I have been lucky and I know it. I have worked really hard, but I know for a fact that other people played a huge role in shaping my life today.

I will continue to deliberately write my own story, the story I want to tell. That is how I want to begin and how I want to end. A story worth telling, that is.

p.s. Yeah I really wanted to start a new site so I’ve put together this ultra-minimal-yet-acceptable-for-now theme. Not sure if I’ve time to work on it, but as long as the content is readable, I don’t care. lol.