journal/

on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

10 things I am thankful to my partner for

Tomorrow will be our 6th year together. I like documenting our relationship as the years go by, because everything is always changing. I feel tremendously grateful that despite all the shifting variables – especially that we’re both different people from the time we’d met – we can still be together. Maybe for other couples they make one final decision and try to stick together no matter what, but we are both people who don’t like to feel stuck. If she were to become unhappy with us one day, I would let her go. I wouldn’t want someone to stick with me despite all the unhappiness because we said so once upon a time before. That is not my definition of love.

That is why it feels precious to me that after 72 inseparable months we still like each other very much. I think contrary to convention, it is much harder to like a person for a prolonged period versus love. The emotion we call love can come with sentimentality, with time, with familiarity and proximity. But you can’t make someone like another person just by putting them together for prolonged periods of time. I know love can exist without liking. It just wouldn’t be very pleasant. But liking, liking is what that makes one look forward to spending a lot of time together, because every moment is infused with potential. Love that exists with liking is turbo charged.

I thought to commemorate 6 years together – my longest relationship so far – it would be appropriate to write down a list documenting what I’m thankful to my partner for:

1. She likes what people consider broken about me

The reason why she plucked up the courage to slide into my DMs in the first place was because she read an essay I wrote about being chronically depressed and suicidal. She said that made her want to hang out with me. Till today I’m like “wut”?

one of her recent drawings of us. what does this say about her?

2. She has almost never discouraged me from pursuing any interests or choices

If she has, I don’t remember it. I wanted to learn to play the keyboard, she was like why not? Years later the keyboard is mostly untouched, and she’s like “maybe one day you’ll play it again”. When I started to get interested in bicycles, everytime we’re out she would suggest visiting a bicycle shop nearby. She has never made a snide remark about my ever-changing interests. She likes that I get interested in new stuff. She knows that it indicates my sense of aliveness. That it is better I am interested in something new rather than nothing. This may sound trivial, but I grew up actively discouraged from pursuing new interests because I can’t seem to remain committed to one thing. This has induced a sense of guilt each time I get obsessed with a new thing. Now I see it as my superpower. I think it is a wonderful thing in life to want to learn new things all the time, because everything brings lessons we don’t expect and their learnings seep into multiple areas of our lives.

3. She has given me a home

I was fostered out when I was an infant and had always felt displaced when I returned back to my biological home later. I moved out during my late teenage years and spent my 20s and 30s hopping around multiple rentals and countries. Because I had never felt safe anywhere, I had never known the concept of safety and what it means to feel safe. She was the first person who have gifted me the concept of safety. We bought our first home together, and she is also my psychological home. I know I can always return to her.

her art of us fitting together like a kueh (cake) and its mold
her art of us fitting together like a kueh (cake) and its mold

4. She is transparent with her thoughts and feelings

I was so used to playing mind games with people that I was surprised there weren’t any with her during our early days of dating. She was always so open with what she wanted, there was no sudden distancing or withholding (I know, I was always attracted to the wrong people). Later on in our relationship, this trait served us well when there was conflict.

one of my favorite photos of us: taken in the 3rd month of our relationship. We were co-working, and she puts her feet over mine.
one of my favorite photos of us: taken in the 3rd month of our relationship. We were co-working, and she puts her feet over mine.

5. She doesn’t hold grudges

You know when people fight they start digging up everything that happened in the past and the fight just becomes one giant mess about who did what to who. She claims she has a low memory cache, so she doesn’t remember upsetting things that have happened in our past. These six years we have fought quite a bit, but we hardly stack our resentments against each other in a fight. I think it is because of the tendency to openly communicate, so everything is usually resolved. At least I hope.

6. She is obsessed with her art

What has this to do with our relationship you may think, and why am I thankful to her for it? To truly experience this, one must live with an artist obsessed with their art. It is almost like living in an animated movie where one beautiful thing turns up after another. The beautiful things are never the same, and they continually surprise. I am someone who is barely alive, so I am very thankful to live around a presence that is full of spirit. Her spirit makes me contemplate my own relationship with my work.

7. She makes me laugh

I am someone who carries a large amount of sadness and heaviness, but since knowing her I’ve laughed more than ever in my entire life. She’s just so funny. I am laughing right now just thinking how funny she is.

8. She takes the effort to understand and learn about me

In the early days of our relationship she called me “cheerful” and I got upset. She took the effort to understand why was it so upsetting for me to be labelled cheerful. I have many difficult thoughts and feelings about life – the common reaction is usually “why do you think so much” – I guess because of point #1 above she is always interested to examine my feelings with me, and vice versa. Being able to process experiences together is powerfully bonding.

9. She is my witness

Because of the way I am I have always felt like people only get to see 20% of me. But having a partner live so intimately with me has this effect of making me feel much more whole as a person, because even I don’t trust my own experiences. I often gaslight myself, like I would ask myself if things were really as bad as I remembered. She has been there in the past six years to see me through some difficult and painful times, especially all those times I struggle so helplessly with my chronic migraines. She has heard me horribly retch many times in the bathroom because of the nausea that comes with the migraines. So many days of curling like a ball in bed. People don’t know how much life I had lost because of my migraines. But she knows, and that is enough for me.

10. She is a really good home organiser

I have become a neater person over the years before I had met her, but she is really good at providing structure and sense to all our household things. It is a subtle sense of security, to know things are always where they are supposed to be.

launshae's crocheted printer cover
She made this lovely cover for our printer. I guess everything has a “home”?

There are probably a million more things I am grateful to her for. But it is getting late, and I want to publish this because it is sunday! Hope there are many more opportunities to write posts like these to come.

bearing witness

Everyone is trying to move on with life declaring the pandemic is over, while a conservative estimate of 10% of the world’s infected population will face potential lifelong complications of the virus. I guess there is not much of a choice. No matter how much suffering there is and how many tragedies we face – pandemic or not – we can only try to move forward. This sort of moving forward can only be possible with some magical thinking mixed with denialism, and a lot of looking away. Maybe the difference is that I know I am looking away.

I’ve been entertaining thoughts of wearing a n95 mask with goggles to get on a plane so we can travel. Yet I know I will not be able to forgive myself if my partner happens to be one of the unlucky 10%. Who knows? Do we want to play this russian roulette? I feel very envious browsing through the instagram stories of friends who are overseas right now. But I have no courage to do the same. Maybe the way I approach life has been forever tainted by my chronic illness. I remember I was in my 20s the first time Singapore had SARs, and I didn’t give a shit. Oh, the ignorant blissfulness of my youth, the unwarranted confidence in my body back then.

I personally believe the world will face some sort of collapse, if not multiple collapses in my lifetime. I don’t think I’ll suffer the brunt of climate change, but I’ll suffer the brunt of the many events that are already occurring because of climate change. Looking at how we responded to the virus I am not optimistic at all. Nobody wants to believe or know that things will be bad, so we’ll all try to live life as normally as possible, whatever normal means. Prevention is better than cure, but prevention is also a lot of hard work.

Unlike my younger self I don’t blame people for wanting to stay in their made-belief Disneyland while fire is burning outside. Even without all the issues we face, life is inherently difficult. I think we have limited emotional and psychological capacity. We’re like puppies, we just want to run around, smell the wind and have some fun along the way. We wish to love and be loved. Not crank for exams, tire our bodies out, exhaust our brains – just so we can pay bills and look good to each other – over and over again. But to survive we have to pay bills, and to pay bills we have to crank for exams, manage our parents, children, colleagues, clients, bosses, our unhinged psyches, our suffering bodies. On top of that we have to care about justice, the environment, politics, violence, society. I too, want to retreat into my own Disneyland.

I am one of those people who will write posts like this over and over again and offer no solutions. I can barely cope with my existence prior to this. I just want to lie on the sofa, sip my coffee and read a book. Not live through a million guilt trips of how much more I should have done as a human being or a thousand nightmares of getting long-term disabling illnesses.

I will continue to record these observations and feelings. Maybe I’m only good writing down these convoluted words so I can bear witness – to the world and her people, to myself and my hypocritical feelings. I will look away, but first I’ll acknowledge.

Meanwhile I’ll still try to savour whatever’s left of the world’s goodness: books, music, art, cooking, films, love, in the sanctuary of my own make-belief Disneyland.

diet & feast: biometrics & lessons

A while ago I celebrated my birthday by going off my strict-ish diet for a few days. I thought it would be interesting to document some observations with biometric data from the Oura ring.

This post ended up quite lengthy so I broke it up to several sections. Feel free to skip some parts:

Why I am on a diet

First off, I really like to eat. So much that I think I have a food addiction. If not for my chronic migraines I may have continued to consume a very unhealthy diet for a very long while until visible symptoms (diabetes, high blood pressure) from metabolic issues would inevitably surface as I get older. When I was growing up I was taught to believe that having high blood pressure is the norm as you get older. As a child I knew no one above the age of 40 who diid not have high blood pressure. I guess this is the norm when one of our popular breakfast options look like this… 

Nasi Lemak
Nasi Lemak, Wikimedia

…and other popular meal options are also delicious food full of carbs. Now I am not demonising carbs, I envy people who can eat them and sustain good-enough metabolic health throughout their lives. I am sadly not one such person. Even before I learnt that migraines could be related to glucose metabolism I had food comas right after meals and chronic drowsiness in general. Back then, I didn’t know enough to realise those were symptoms of unhealthy glucose metabolism (when I first started testing my blood glucose I was close to the pre-diabetic range). From childhood till my 20s I could eat McNuggets at 3am and not suffer from obvious side effects, so I thought that would be my norm for the rest of my life.

I have never realised that short people are at a disadvantage metabolically until recently. We require less calories to thrive, but the food portions of most meals are geared towards tallish men. This is especially true in the US, where I am pretty sure a typical meal can feed me 3x a day metabolically. But I was conditioned not to waste food, so I ate a full meal like my tall peers regardless of where and what I was eating, even when I lived in the US.

Imagine I need about 1200 calories to survive – maybe 1500 calories as a moderately active person – but I could eat a 800 calorie meal with bubble (boba) tea *and* dessert. Seriously, this was my norm for a long time. Again, if I could not suffer metabolic consequences I would do this everyday, because that’s how much I love to eat.

I wrote all of that to express how much being on a diet for health reasons can be difficult for me. But I really wanted to see if it would work to manage my migraines, so I had to try. I resisted doing this because of how much I love eating.

I’ve been on low-ish carb meals on and off throughout the years but from end-December last year till end-March this year it was the first time it was sustained for so long with almost no deviations, and also the first time I cooked most of my meals to control my macros, and avoid seed oils and high heat cooking.

It worked. I avoided having migraines completely for my last menstrual cycle. I cannot say it worked 100% because of my diet, because I did other things in tandem like getting 10,000 steps everyday, supplementing iron for the first time among many other supplements I take daily, and fasting at least 16 hours. I also stopped any form of intense exercise during my luteal period to reduce as much oxidative stress as possible.

In exchange I had terrible sleep for some nights and a horrible rash. So I started adding carbs back to my diet in order to heal from the rash, and I decided to take a break around end March, coinciding with our monthly anniversary and my birthday celebrations.


Biometrics from the Oura Ring

In those days I ate dinner later than usual, had 3 meals (usually I do 2), and I ate a lot of what I wanted and have been missing: noodles, waffles, french toast, french fries, cakes, a tamago sandwich (omg). It was still within reasonable control: I still ate half portions of the noodles, and I shared almost everything else with my partner.

Not surprisingly I could immediately see the effects on my Oura ring – my resting heart rate spiked for days:

screencap of Oura ring on the "worst" day
screencap of the Oura ring app on the “worst” day during my break

Compare the above to my last “worst” day of my previous cycle, during my luteal phase:

screencap of Oura ring on the "worst" day of my last luteal phase
screencap of the Oura ring app on the “worst” day of my last luteal phase

My resting heart rate went up by 7bpm! And it took almost a week to get back to my recent norm of around 50bpm – 52bpm during my luteal phase. My heart rate variability tanked to levels I have not seen for many months.

My heart rate also spiked till the 80s during sleep, and took longer than usual to recover to a restful heart rate:

screencap of oura ring: heart rate during sleep in the feasting phase
screencap of oura ring: heart rate during sleep in the feasting phase

Compare the above to the “worst” day of my last cycle – it still has spikes but it barely hit 70bpm, and my average heart rate was also 7bpm lower.

screencap of oura ring: heart rate during sleep on the "worst" day of my last cycle
screencap of oura ring: heart rate during sleep on the “worst” day of my last cycle

On a good night it could look like this – early recovery and barely any spikes:

screencap of oura ring: heart rate during sleep on a good night – barely any spikes
screencap of oura ring: heart rate during sleep on a good night – barely any spikes

Observations and lessons

At first I felt like I had “relapsed” and “failed”, but I realised it took me a pretty short time to bounce back into moderately healthy eating because I didn’t have to restart from scratch. I was restarted with compounded knowledge and skills from previous attempts. Also the feasting phase taught me valuable lessons about myself as well. If I didn’t give myself a break to feast I wouldn’t have known how far I could go.

I attempt to share these in the following:

Lessons learnt during the three-ish months I was on a strictish diet

  • cooking the right way for myself to sustain eating almost the same food everyday
  • cooking in way shorter time as I learnt to experience how to manage food prep, dishwashing, and cooking methods
  • the portion and ingredients I can use to keep me satiated for a long while
  • what spikes my blood glucose in general
  • learning to weigh my food so now I can roughly gauge how many grams is in a fistful of raw ingredients – this is to ensure I get the right macro-nutrients
  • long-term ketosis is not very good for my sleep and rashes, for now until I learn how to deal with it

What I have learnt from my feasting phase

Morning blood glucose started to trend much higher

I learnt that if I eat more carbs than I should for a day my body was quick to recover. Eat badly for a few days in a row my morning blood glucose trended 0.6mmol higher than normal. This effect lasted for a few days even after I restarted low-carb again. This is because our glycogen stores fill up rather quickly, and whatever that cannot be converted into glycogen remains in the blood stream and/or gets converted into fat.

Improved insulin sensitivity

My insulin sensitivity seems to have improved due to the 3 months of strictish dieting. I can now tolerate a moderate amount of carbs and observe a reasonable glucose spike post-meal instead of hitting terrible numbers like before. I also no longer get food comas in general. So far despite veering off-course my migraines or chronic pain did not get triggered, but I am not done with this month’s menstrual cycle yet so I am still keeping my fingers crossed.

Longer sleep with caveats

On a low-carb diet I could only sleep an average of 6-6.5 hours a night. Since I slept around 10pm it means I woke up around 4-4.30am every morning, wide awake. My mental energy was insane during the mornings, but I found myself needing to take a nap around noon. Some people in the keto community believes that the need for sleep is less because ketones is a cleaner fuel, and the body takes less time to repair and recover. But this is unproven – though there is a study that shows that people who sleep more than 6.5 hours a day was associated with more cognitive decline, another one that says people who sleep 6-7 hours a day live a longer life than those who slept 8 or more.

With more carbs in my body I could sleep till 6-6.30am on average, which is 2+ hours more. But as you could see from the graph above, the heart has to work for a much harder and longer to recover.

Long-term policing versus the impermanence of life

I felt so deprived I probably ate more than I should, but I wasn’t aware that I felt so deprived in the first place. It is like getting used to being homebound all the time that one doesn’t realise how much we’d missed the outdoors. I know that I have an unhealthy relationship with food, but in my opinion life is too short and unpredictable to restrict myself completely for long periods of time. Someone online mentioned that she wanted to eat a bun once in a while, but she ate lettuce wraps instead because she was on a diet, however she developed parosmia (change in smell and taste) and now she wished she had just eaten that bun.

I want to be healthier and migraine-free, but I don’t want to regret not eating that bun once in a while. Who knows war may breakout, food supplies may go into shortage, my health may be compromised in other ways – unpredictable events which may change the food we can consume?

I don’t have to go all or nothing, once again.

Desire to return to a healthier baseline

In my previous attempts I gave up completely once I went back into feasting. But this time around with close monitoring biometrics and data it was clear to me I cannot do this long-term for the sake of my health. It was disturbing to see elevated blood glucose for several mornings in a row especially when I have been managing it so well for a very long while. I also felt extremely uncomfortable and bloated after meals and before sleep. All things considered, I knew I had to return to managing my diet with some modifications from all the lessons learnt.

A few modifications which I’ll experiment for a few months:

Prevent deep ketosis

I am eating more carbs and also eating dinner later (4-5pm instead of 3pm). This is in hope that it would prevent my sleep issues and rashes. I still go into mild ketosis overnight (0.5mmol) if I eat a relatively low carb meal for dinner. Maybe I’ll try going full-on keto again if I am in better shape. I read that ketones can repair the myelin sheath which can get damaged from migraine attacks, on top of healing glucose metabolism. Overall I do feel less inflammed, I used to get these facial, neck and shoulder pain almost everyday, but they are mostly gone for now.

Eat in moderation

Despite the better than expected results from the previous phase I decided that eating in moderation is better than going too strict. On hindsight I realised giving myself a break for a meal or a day occasionally is better than restricting all the way and then having a multi-day break. One of the reasons is because the body gets too used to routines, and eventually what may positively contribute before may lose its intended effect. Based on personal observation I think it is better to expose my body to some measured stress once in a while versus letting it get used to being too “healthy”. I observed that now my heart rate doesn’t recover during sleep if I eat later than 5pm, whereas I used to be able to eat at 6-8pm with minimal issues. I do believe fasting earlier in the day has positive health effects because the body can focus on repair instead of digestion during sleep, but I don’t really want eating dinner at a reasonable time to become detrimental to my health.

Mix it up

I kept a strictish routine during my last diet phase. I ate the same times, cooked roughly the same food. But now I would like to experiment with mixing things up because the body becomes more resilient when we throw a spanner in the works occasionally. So I’ll probably vary my fasting windows and the amount of food, cycle in more carbs once in a while, try different types of exercises.

Push some limits

Like I mentioned I avoided anything else than walking during my last luteal phase, but this time around I have been adding some zone-2 jogging. I thought that if I don’t push my body’s limit and risk having a migraine, I would never become stronger. I don’t want to prevent migraines from purely restriction, I hope to become metabolically stronger so I can endure more stress before a migraine gets triggered. I aspire to have an improving quality of life.

I would like to incorporate strength training soon, so hopefully I can tolerate more food without having heart palpitations and/or food comas from eating. It would be nice to be able to eat a Nasi Lemak (picture above) once in a while.

Moving forward

I know I would probably have undesirable results from my latest modifications, especially if I push my boundaries too far. But failure, and learning what has caused the failure is part of the process of experimentation. If I don’t experiment, I would have to be resigned to my status quo, a state with a reduced quality of life because I am so afraid to trigger a migraine. There were months where I practically did nothing except to recover from my attacks and pain. It is one thing to suffer the physical pain, another thing to endure the mental exhaustion and despair from being in pain and/or recovery all the time.

I am not sure how this will go, and if I am not careful I’ll probably relapse into having frequent migraines again, but I hope to keep on learning and experimenting. Maybe I’ll have to go through many more cycles of “failure” in order to know what truly works and is sustainable for me in the long-term.

41

I read last year’s before writing this. Last year I wrote that I was profoundly sad – that sadness is a feeling stuck in the depths of my body. This year I think I am still profoundly sad compared to the average person, but I am less profoundly sad compared to my younger self one year ago. 

At the 2-year mark of the pandemic, I exist in a complex feeling of acceptance that this is the new normal, and yet also fatigued like everyone else. At the beginning it felt like so much was taken away from me. The flip side of it is that now I am used to having a lot less stimuli than before. I am more home bound than ever, and every trip out to the world seems like a delight. 

Everyone seems ready to move on from the pandemic as government measures are opening up. I am too, hoping to move on like everyone else but I wouldn’t. I still care very much about my neurological health: do I want my cognition or do I want to travel? 

It is interesting to contemplate that at this rate I may never get to travel internationally again. I try to observe my bodily reactions when I think of that possibility, and it seems to not upset me too much anymore. I zoom out and look at the history of humanity: the freedom to move around liberally was never a given, why do I feel so entitled to it? 

I realise the last few decades of progress and relative peace has made us take everything for granted, and that we feel entitled to so much. I don’t really know if it is in our prerogative to feel entitled, but I do know from a buddhist sense of perspective, this feeling of entitlement is a source of suffering. That my life should be a certain way, it should have all these qualities – if not, I would feel miserable. 

Say if covid never ever goes away, the world descends into WWIII, and the effects of climate change starts to compound while we are all still alive. This would be enough to depress anybody. But one out of those three is already happening, the other two are still up in the air but I wouldn’t call them unrealistic. 

Apart from these meta events, there is still the reality of people around me gradually growing old, getting sick and dying. I may get sick and die sooner than I expected. What matters is from now till then, how am I going to approach living? 

I don’t want to shrink into a hole of depression and despair if covid never ever goes away. I asked myself what is the quality of life I will get to have if I have to be mostly homebound for the rest of my life. I think about how I used to think of becoming a monastic, and the possibility of being homebound for the rest of my life doesn’t seem so absurd anymore. I am not Buddhist, but I like the concept of being able to let attachments go in order to suffer less. Also it is not just about suffering less per se, but it is the capacity to find richness in a small, inner life. 

Maybe this is all a coping mechanism but I think that is what year 41 of life for me is about: to learn how to cope. I am either not very good at coping or extremely good at it depending on how you see it. After all, I have been coping my entire life. I have coped with a sense of no self, a sense that I was unloved, a sense that I was never good enough, that I would be permanently depressed and suicidal, abandonment, sudden changing circumstances, debilitating migraines, etc. Life is just full of non-stop coping for me. 

But I would like to learn how to cope in a different way. How different I do not know yet, but not languishing in despair and torment. I want to find space for other aspects of myself to emerge, to experience more dimensions of life, to discover other ways of being. 

They say a leopard never changes its spots. But I have gone through so much personal transformation in the past few years – gone through states I would have thought impossible when I was younger. Many people feel like as you get older more doors close, but for me it has been the opposite. Maybe the types of doors that open for me are not the types that people want. 

For a long time I felt that being unhappy was a valid reaction to life. I still believe so. But life is already inherently tragic: terrible things happen to good people, many times there is no justice, there is massive inequality, people get randomly sick and die, we have scarcity programmed into us but yet we’re expected to be moral, kind and generous, life is quite shitty for many people yet we have to “think positively”. There are no extra brownie points for being stoically unhappy because that is a valid and probably correct response. Life is probably more blissful for the blissfully ignorant. But maybe there are other states apart from painfully aware and blissfully ignorant. Perhaps calm acceptance? Humour at the absurdity? Rich aliveness even there will be grief? 

I don’t know, and I am glad I don’t know. There are points in life where you can be lulled into thinking that everything will remain the same or start on a path of degradation. At 41 I am more curious than ever about the life that may unfold ahead of me. Yes there will be pain and grief, but maybe there will be spectrums of emotions and experiences new to me.


I write one of these every year.

on swinging between extremes

Because of my health issues I have had to experiment a lot with my diet and exercise, so I go into semi-strict regimes to see if something works. I say “semi-strict” because I know of people who are really strict on everything they do, and my notch is lower than those standards. It is still pretty strict though. For example, recently I experimented eating really low carb – based on the theory that migraines are caused by oxidative stress and abnormal glucose metabolism. We can argue that the oxidative stress causes the abnormal glucose metabolism or vice versa, or maybe they both contribute to each other, but at this point it doesn’t really matter.

So I logged my food to keep an eye on my macro-nutrients, and I did this everyday without fail for approximately the past 3 months. I eat anything from 20g to 50+g of carbs, so this is why I say it is semi-strict not strict, because serious keto eaters will keep their carbs below 20g.

The good news is I managed to have no migraine or weird head discomfort (if I don’t get migraines sometimes I get giddy or weird uncomfortable sensations in my head) in my last menstrual cycle. None: during my period, during ovulation, during PMS. It is the first time in many many cycles that I am migraine free without the aid of traditional chinese medicine. It probably also helped that I skipped any form of strenuous exercise during my luteal phase to avoid putting my body under more oxidative stress.

The bad news is now I have an ongoing rash and I am also semi-sleep deprived from a couple of nights of insomnia that was triggered by cortisol-fuelled adrenaline jolts. Apparently the liver needs cortisol to make glucose from either fat or protein when we don’t have a source of carbs. Each time cortisol is released there would be an adrenaline surge, which wakes me up. So technically the fact that we don’t need carbs in our diet is true, but I think this is mildly stressful for the body, which is probably fine for people with normal bodies but mine was already fragile prior to this.

I think I was also doing too much at the same time because I was also intermittently fasting (so my body can rest and repair without having to digest food) and exercising during my follicular phase (which I am in now), so my body probably has increased energetic needs. I think I am still not in tune with my body, so I am not very good at knowing when to increase my food intake, or when to stop fasting. When I am in phases like this I tend to go all the way, partially because these things feed on each other. It is much easier to intermittently fast when one is eating low carb as there are less hunger cravings without massive blood sugar fluctuations. I hardly feel hunger despite the cortisol surges not allowing me to sleep well at night.

I think to be capable of being flexible when it comes to regimes and routines is a skill. It is much easier to do the same thing everyday for me, because I don’t have to think or wonder. But the body doesn’t function the same way everyday, especially for menstruating human beings. It is subject to pretty extreme hormonal swings every single month. So maybe my body seems okay with this for some days of the month, but probably not everyday. I just haven’t figured out when.


But this is not just about my diet. I tend to be like this for everything else in my life. There is this desire for everyday to be the same: I want every day to be spent well and feel meaningful to me. Yet reality is often messy, fluctuates like my hormones, and there will be good, bad, and neutral days. I feel bad when I languish and then it becomes this vicious cycle as I berate myself for languishing when time is finite, and all the negative self-talk makes me languish even more.

People think relationships are just between people. But for me the ones that really define the quality of my life is my relationships with the elements: time, space, my routine, my habits, my psyche if that can be considered somewhat elementish. I mean relationships with people are vital, but these other relationships impact my relationships with people heavily.

There is an inner-manager managing my self, and I don’t have a good relationship with that manager (lol). In general I don’t have good relationships with anyone attempting to manage me.

I feel like I am walking in the dark. As I lamented in my last post we’re taught to exist in a industrialised society where repetition and strict routines are rewarded. No one taught me how to exist with my menstrual cycle without falling ill, no one teaches that life is actually dynamic and we have to learn to live with that dynamism, else things would start falling apart internally.


I get tired of policing myself, so I tend to give up and start doing whatever I feel like – which many a time doing whatever I “feel” like may not be healthy for me. Lots of feelings are just cravings for instant gratification and avoidance. I lapse, start eating whatever I want, stop exercising regularly because I am tired of the word “regular” – my migraines and many other issues return with a vengeance.

I am either living extremely healthily or not, feels like I don’t know how to exist in a moderate state where some days I keep an eye on myself and some days I give myself a break. I am terrified giving myself a break would cause me to lapse (yes I know I sound like an addict: I am probably addicted to instant gratification especially with food), so I police myself into harder, which ironically makes it more likely for me to have an unhealthy lapse later.

I do feel like I am improving over the years. Like this is the first time I am cooking for myself for such an extended period. Cooking for myself used to feel terrible, now I enjoy it. So this time it isn’t the fatigue from forcing myself to eat my horrible cooking, but rather I can’t deal with the rashes and insomnia.

But the improvement is slow, and takes place over many many cycles of trial and error. I am not very good at the error part. Each time there are errors I feel like I’ve failed (thanks, industrialised society). Failing makes me not want to try again, so I go on a longer lapse and get tortured by my unhealthy body.

I feel like there is some middle sustainable way that exists. I just don’t know how long it’ll take for me to find it. Being afraid to get migraines is also causing me to become extremely cautious when it comes to experimentation. I’ve been wanting to add strength training to my regime, but I am worried about the stress on my body. But without training it endure stress it will just continue to be fragile.

In life it is important to know how to meet ourselves where we are. I don’t really know where I am, and I guess despite my fears I will need to endure the errors and the migraines if I want to get to know the boundaries of my body better.

time to be while being anxious about time

I have severe time anxiety. Every day I am hyper aware of time passing by. It is already the end of March, and soon it would be mid year, and before we would know it we’re celebrating the beginning of 2023. Another year going by: I get older which I don’t really mind, but everyone else around me is getting older, and the old people I love are also ageing another year. When you’re 40 like me maybe it is no big deal to turn 41, but when someone is in their 70s every additional year feels precarious. These days, I hate it every time the phone rings.

Even prior to covid I’ve been living as though the world was going to end. I travelled a lot whenever I could, not knowing when I would be unable to. I thought it was going to be a sickness or an unforeseen commitment that would stop me – turns out it is a virus. I used to tell my partner we had to do all everything we wanted to do while we can, and nowadays she takes me seriously whenever I want to go on an unplanned mini-adventure, because she knows I turned out to be right. That opportunities to do things can run out in ways we cannot see coming. (My life has been full of such turning points, that is why I know the other shoe will drop.)

So I live with this chronic persistent feeling that I don’t have much time left. It doesn’t have to be a nuclear war or a virus to stop life in my tracks. It could be one of us falling sick or one of us having to take on caregiver duties one day. I am not sure if anyone else thinks about these things as much as I do. I think it takes a bit of denialism to be happy, and my psyche doesn’t allow me this luxury.

In parallel these days I am spending a lot of energy on learning how to nourish myself and optimise my health. I intermittently fast, eat a semi-strict diet, cook, exercise, read, meditate. Many of those things are newish in my routine, so I need extra mental energy to maintain my discipline. My partner has multiple art projects, and we joke that my project is my self. I think expending all of this energy on trying to be well is leaving me very little creative energy left.

Yet the pressure of time is haunting, what if I regret not having done more creative projects? I have contradictory energies driving me. A part of me wants me to focus on being well, the other wants me to live up to my identity as a creative person.

Maybe I am in the chrysalis stage: I just need more time to iron myself out. Maybe there are just too many changes taking place and I can’t expect more. Maybe there’s a lot of background processing even though nothing seems to be happening on the surface. Or maybe I am not that interested in creating things anymore. I don’t really know. I look at my partner and she’s generating ideas non-stop, she’s enthused about working on her art in her spare time everyday, and I have to drag myself to sit in front of my creative tools. Is it because I have a depressed and/or mildly adhd brain? Is all that anxiety about time and mortality overwhelming me so much that I am in chronic paralysis? I would like time, lots of time to meditate on these questions, to know myself further and deeper. But do I have the time?

illlustraion of me in a cocoon
illustration by my partner, @launshae

I would like to find an equilibrium. To learn how to exist knowing that everything is impermanent and time is precious, and yet have the capacity and patience to give myself time to heal, to be still, to become.

I tend to swing between extremes. It is only now that I know how much practicing moderation is a skill, especially for someone like me who is unable to venture out of boundaries without swinging all the way to the other extreme. At confusing times there should be an inner wisdom to guide us, but I don’t feel wise at all – only chaos, turbulence and deep imprints of pain.

Many a time during these recent years I feel like a baby learning how to crawl. There was so much effort and time just to unwind all the unhealthy behaviours and responses. In this society we’re taught to be economically savvy in order to survive, but there is very little on how to live, how to exist, how to be a human being – how to cope with inevitable disappointments, failures, loss, sickness, changes?

I guess maybe I am greedy. I would like to try to do it all. To find time in a day to be still, to ponder, and yet have some time to create and fulfil. I feel like I am still trying to figure out what are the right settings for my body to work, for my mind to thrive. How to not let the grief of time paralyse me into overwhelming sadness, such that I forget that there can be joy, love and richness too in the very present and in the moments yet to come.

It is difficult: to live in the awareness of time, reality and what is truly present. But I think it is a good aspiration to have.

making space for my self through journalling

On the 11th of October 2021 I got tired of doomscrolling the internet every morning when I woke up, so I resolved to switch out of it by writing morning pages instead. Since then it has been 161 days, and every day after I make my coffee and measure my HRV, I sit down and write whatever that comes to my mind.

At first I tried to hit 750 words which was inspired by 750words.com. After a few weeks I realised I was mentally exhausting myself, so I give myself a 20-30 minute time limit instead. I figured that within that time span I would be able to pour out everything that was bothering me.

The effects on me were subtle but profound. I used to walk around everyday with chronic background anxiety, like having a mini-tornado stalk my every movement. Sometimes I feel this deep insidious worry or angst, but I was’t very aware that I would be in this heavy fog as long as I didn’t make the space to think about what was actually bothering me. Other times I have an inkling about what was troubling, but I didn’t give it much thought because I tried to go about my day.

It turns out that just spending 20 minutes writing these things out makes a huge difference to my psyche. There are numerous studies on the benefits of journalling, so it is not just me.

The reality is everyone is so busy trying to survive life that no one makes the space to listen thoroughly to our concerns – we don’t even listen to ourselves. There is always something more pressing. It seems indulgent to spend 20 minutes writing our feelings when we have deadlines, tasks, responsibilities, etc. But the strange thing about human beings is that we have this gigantic psyche but we are very dismissive towards it like it is weak and we try to pretend it doesn’t exist, yet it influences us so deeply if not outright control our behaviour and decisions.

I learnt that just by making space to hear myself out for 20 minutes – even if my concerns were mundane and nonsensical – was enough to allow me to go about my day without my usual cloud hanging heavily behind me. It is as though my concerns just want to be written out, they just needed a space to exist, to be articulated into words, not just abstract feelings swimming around our body.

I am generally still anxious as a person, journalling is not a miracle. But there is a significant difference. It is not just about listening to myself, but writing feelings out sometimes turn into a whole analytical exercise which can possibly untangle the feelings and offer doors and windows I couldn’t not have noticed before. How many of us make the time to think about what, how and why we are feeling? We’re often caught up in either doing task after task or just drowning in the feelings themselves.


It just so happened that recently I started to read the journals of Keith Haring. I am just at the beginning, but thought there were some interesting nuggets to share:

Claiming that artistic biography was “probably my main source of education,” he told himself that if he did not return to his journals the rest of his tale might disintegrate in compilations of airline tickets and random, fragmentary notes from catalogues and interviews.

– Keith Haring Journals

I relate to this bit a lot. I have learnt so much from writing in my journals whether through writing itself or from re-reading them. I also feel that it has made my life a lot richer because I bothered to document the big and little moments, that my life didn’t just pass by in a hazy blur. I realised I was simultaneously wiser and more foolish than I remembered. Reading my past journals gave me a very different image of myself than the one I consciously hold in my mind. I don’t want to look back and my life and all that was left was my resume.

Once he thought his journal pretentious and self-important. But this was no longer the case in 1986: “For almost everything I write about ‘wanting to do,’ I actually did in the four or five years that followed.”

– Keith Haring Journals

I have seen some of such moments in my journals too: how I kept writing about the person I wish to become, or the quality of love I sought. I could look back and read how afraid I was, how small I felt, how fragile my psyche was – and how all of that slowly transformed over the following years. I am still afraid and still feel small, and my psyche is still pretty fragile, but I have written evidence of the gulf that now exists. I am also reminded of how lucky I am to have found my partner because I documented how my previous relationships used to make me feel.

These days, even when I write mundane things like “I wish to read more” in my morning pages, I tend to follow up over the next few days if not weeks. Our brains are susceptible to repetition for better or for worse, so we might as well make use of it to our own benefit.


This is not the first time I am writing morning pages or my first multi-month streak. But it is probably the first time I am doing it not because I enforced it as a habit, but it has become something I have learnt to look forward to every morning. I used to be too rigid about it, always wanting to hit the minimum of 750 words, but now I try to relax and empty my mind instead of forcing words out when there are none. Some rare mornings I write a couple of paragraphs and nothing comes out, so I just assume my mind is not in a state to be communicative.

Many mornings I write very mundane stuff, but the pandemic has taught me not to take the mundaneness of life for granted. There is luxury in being mundane. It is like how oxygen is precious to life, but we forget how precious it is because it is in abundance all around us. But once we have a suffocating experience we would never see oxygen the same way again. For me, the mundaneness of my life is precious. My journals have so many entries of my old sick, overworked and unloved selves wishing for what I have now.

writing as a practice

For most of my life, I depended on my feelings to do things. Writing was one of them. I could write regularly because I loved it and I actively wanted to write. But something has changed in the past few years. I am not really sure what exactly has changed, but if I were to hypothesise I think gaining inner peace is not really good for writing – at least in my shoes.

I am definitely not at peace, but my inner state is a lot less noisy than before. I was always simmering with some level of suffering that was induced by some form of self-torture. Thus I had looked forward to writing as a form of catharsis. There was so much pent-up energy, so much repressed sadness and anger.

Now I am a lot more moderate in my thinking and actions, so as a result everything else is also more moderate. Moderation is not a really good state for writing because it doesn’t compel – it doesn’t make our emotions well up ready to burst at any moment. Slowly, I sort of lost the desire to write. I say ‘sort of’ because now I can see that it is not that I truly lost the desire to write, it is just that I was so used to feeling a sort of emotion that would compel me to write, and I associated that with the actual desire to do so.


I didn’t “feel” like writing this piece for example, but I designated time to write this because I intellectually thought it was important. Now that I am actually in the middle it I am enjoying the process and the sound of words unfolding from my fingers. So if I had waited to “feel” like writing I probably wouldn’t have written for a long while until some major event shakes my life.

I guess I need to get used to my mind pulsing a lot slower now – the words are still there, but not boiling over like before. I just need to set aside some time and space for them to gently appear instead of how they used to be so fast and furious.


After going back and forth on this for now I am settling into the position that publishing regularly is a healthy practice for me. I was tempted to totally stop publishing because I just wasn’t sure if there was any value. Maybe I’ll still change my mind some day, but currently I think the practice of publishing regularly keeps me honest. It can be awkward and embarrassing when I realised I no longer agree with what I wrote, but to have a public changelog of how I have evolved as a person is somewhat humbling and clarifying.

Somehow the thoughts and words that appear on this website is very different from the ones in my private journals. I seem to have a different persona that is only revealed on this website. I appreciate quite a bit of stuff I have written here in the past, stuff that perhaps I wouldn’t have a record of if I didn’t make it a regular habit to capture a somewhat weekly snapshot of my psyche.


With the intention of gifting myself more flexibility, I had an invisible rule that I could publish any day I wanted as long as it was once per week. But as the days went by I found myself elongating the days in-between. Instead of publishing once every seven days I was averaging ten, sometimes 14 – as once per week became the first and last days of two weeks.

A few weeks back I decided I would go back to publishing on sunday, rain or shine. It is just easier to have a fixed and regular practice when I know I should show up and write no matter what. But I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t try otherwise.

I am trying to write drafts earlier though, instead of writing a full post in one sitting. Hopefully I’ll get to know my own cadence soon, and learn how to write meatier posts across multiple sittings in a more sustainable manner, on top of these stream-of-consciousness snapshots.

illustration on designated publishing day

I guess this is a very long way to say that I am back to publishing every sunday – which I had been doing for years since 2011 before the recent few – if you show up here on monday you could probably read something new. In-between I am still hoping to write a few notes here and there. I’ve always taken the ease of writing for granted because as mentioned I’ve always had thoughts bubbling over eagerly waiting to be translated into the written form, but as I get older and busier with other non-mind stuff like cooking, I have realised how much it takes to sit down, go into a light form of trance and write, even if it is just a short note.

But I think overall it is worth it if I bother to carve out this intentional space, because I learn so much from these past forgotten words my older selves have written.

on learning to be slow

I was doing my routine reading of “on this day” entries when itt made me realise how recent it was that I learned how to run:

https://twitter.com/wynlim/status/1099114002431406082

I started running regularly sometime in 2018, and back then it felt so hard for me. I could barely run for 100 metres, much less 1km or 10. I remember trying to run my first 500m non-stop and it felt like my heart was going to give out. My heart-rate went up to the 190s.

It turns out that knowing how to run for endurance is a skill. I’ve always thought faster and harder was better, and that it was great to run every single day. As usual I had to stop running because I was getting burnt out and migraines.

Since then I had learnt that exercising too hard increases cortisol, a stress hormone in our body which defeats the purpose if we want to build health. Recovery time is essential for the body to rest and repair, or risk getting injuries or burnout. I learnt to run at zone 2, which is 60-70% of our maximum heart rate, because it improves mitochondrial (which generates energy for us) health and as a by product of that – fat metabolism. So, instead of running like a headless chicken, I slow jog with a watch app that lets me know if my HR goes below or above zone 2. I can now jog for a much longer time if I wanted to.


Apart from the sheer physical effort of running, there was the mental effort. Running can be a really boring activity if you’re used to having your brain constantly occupied by something. When I first started running I always wanted to get it over and done with because it felt like a tedious chore. But not only did running train my aerobic endurance, it also trained my endurance for boredom.

It has become increasingly apparent to me how much my incapacity for boredom and patience affected my life negatively. I’ve always wanted things to happen quickly and needed a lot of stimuli. They sound so innocuous but in reality they affected the quality of my life profoundly. Things can become deeply frustrating if we don’t like waiting, and constantly seeking stimuli brings a whole other host of problems.

Because of the pandemic and the vaccines (strenuous exercise discouraged for two weeks) I started walking round and round my apartment block for at least 30 minutes. That increased my capacity for boredom and repetition.


It was a similar experience for cooking. When I first started I wanted the most convenient, quickest way to make a meal. These days I experiment with slow-cooking predominantly for low heat cooking due to health reasons but I ended up enjoying the process of food taking its time to cook. I used to really dislike chopping, but now I enjoy its meditative quality. I am reminded of zen monk Dogen everytime I catch myself becoming aware of this. For Dogen, eating, cooking and cleaning are not mundane acts, they are zen itself.

I used to charge my devices with the quickest charger I could get my hands on. Now I charge them as slowly as possible, almost never exceeding a 80% charge to maximise battery life. Even my macbook is charged with a 20W charger. It seems like human bodies are like batteries. If we use it slowly and gently they will last longer.


It feels like this capacity for slowness has slowly infused different parts of my life. I find myself a lot less frustrated in general when I have to wait. I’m a lot less twitchy. My capacity for repetition has allowed me to gain a sense of freedom from my previous constant craving of novelty. I used to feel so low whenever I felt there was nothing new for me to experience. Now I simply feel neutral, and when a new experience does come by it feels heightened and not expected like it should.

I am finally meditating again, after so many stops and starts. On hindsight I think it was a mistake to expect my brain to go from hyperactive mode to meditative mode immediately. I am only able to meditate without much difficulty now because there was a long process of gradual slowing down.

For me, being slow is an ongoing lifelong practiced skill. Maybe some people are born with natural patience, but I reckon in this day and age it is difficult to be slow when speed and stimuli is encouraged everywhere. Slowness has to be deliberately learnt and practiced. Slowness can generate new emotions and experiences, because we start to have the attention we could never sustain, and we start to notice things that used to be a blur. The mind opens up with more rooms to hold things in, instead of being a perpetual rubbish chute because we’re constantly bombarded with a firehose of information which makes us lose our agency in deciding what information we wish to receive and hold.

We like being in a state of flow where we don’t experience time passing by because it is immersive. That is great if we’re in a state of flow doing things we want to do. But we often spend our days not knowing where time has gone. It can be an enlightening experience to notice time passing us by and what it carries and means.

I still spend my days in a blur. But to be able to choose when to slow down and to be capable of deliberately slowing down, that is something I cherish learning because it has gifted me a dimension of life I was never able to have before. And that could be a different response to having to wait, instead of frustration.

self-nourishment in times of despair

I grappled a lot with identity, self-worth, purpose and meaning after developing a chronic illness and quitting design as a job. I recognised my life then was unsustainable – I felt like I was living out an unhealthy internal script over and over again, leading me to burn out and hurt myself repeatedly. Throughout the years I have also witnessed behaviour of many people who set out to “do good” intentionally but unintentionally harmed the people around them because they were not aware of their own unhealthy behaviour. I was one of them.

Who am I, without a job, a professional role in society? Who am I, as a disabled person, rendered unable to contribute in ways I previously know how? But I knew I would rather contribute net zero than to unintentionally contribute negatively to the world around me. At that point in time, I have found this quote by the late Thich Nhat Hanh very helpful:

Non-action is already something. There are people who don’t seem to do very much, but their presence is crucial for the well-being of the world. You may know people like this, who are steady, not always busy doing things, not making a lot of money, or being engaged in a lot of projects, but who are very important to you; the quality of their presence makes them truly available. They are contributing non-action, the high quality of their presence. To be in the here and the now—solid and fully alive—is a very positive contribution to our collective situation.

Source:

How to Sit by Thich Nhat Hanh | link

I wanted to become such a person. Even if I was unable to be richly present for people in general, I want to at least be present for my family, partner and myself. I am still on this long journey, but I do notice the quality of my relationships and my life transform as I continue to change internally.


I think because of the conditions most of us are raised in, we believe self-care is selfish. How can we possibly think of caring for ourselves when people out there are dying?

Yesterday I posted a picture of some food I cooked, and being mindful of current affairs I also wrote about how even in despair we should despair with a nourished body and spirit. I really believe this. I took years to overcome my previous mindset of how I should give all of myself away before I can even look at myself. All those years of supposedly giving myself away caused suffering, and these recent years of learning to care for myself made me much more aware of how I interact with people. My relationship with myself essentially dictates how I relate to others. It seems so simple, but it is not easy to have a healthy relationship with oneself.

While contemplating all of this I am reminded of a book I read years ago. It was a recorded conversation of Matthieu Ricard (the “happiest” man in the world) and his father. I wanted to share some snippets because I think it applies to the world right now:

A retreatant withdraws temporarily from the world to gain the spiritual strength required to help others effectively. The spiritual path begins with an inner transformation, and it’s only when that’s been achieved that an individual can usefully contribute to the transformation of society.

Source:

The Monk and the Philosopher by Jean-François Revel, Matthieu Ricard | link

It is a tradition for Buddhist monastics to retreat from the world for years, decades, before they return to the world to contribute meaningfully. It seems like an absurd concept especially in this world where we’re thrust into society to work when we are barely developed as a human being. If we take a look at lawmakers around the world, I think they would benefit from a few years of developing their emotional maturity before they are allowed to make decisions for the greater whole. But it is 2022 and all we care about is how great we are in STEM and there is no discourse at all about how we handle our emotions and psychology.

Ricard continues by stating that peace can only come when we learn how to be peaceful internally as individuals:

The Dalai Lama says that outer disarmament can only take place through inner disarmament. If the individual doesn’t become more peaceful, a society that’s the sum total of such individuals will never become more peaceful either.

Source:

The Monk and the Philosopher by Jean-François Revel, Matthieu Ricard | link

…which his father responded incredulously and Ricard reiterated his belief:

J.F. – Do you mean that the only way to attain lasting peace in the world is the reform of individuals? M. – To think otherwise is surely utopian. The reform of individuals would, of course, have to include our leaders as a first step!

Source:

The Monk and the Philosopher by Jean-François Revel, Matthieu Ricard | link

He finally ends with what he (and Buddhists) believe is the chain of change:

In any case, the first thing is to make peace within oneself – inner disarmament; then peace in the family; then in the village; and finally in the nation and beyond.

Source:

The Monk and the Philosopher by Jean-François Revel, Matthieu Ricard | link


As a society we’re obsessed with speed of course. I think this is because subconsciously we know we have relatively short lives, so we want to do everything faster. Because of this obsession with speed and progress we have designed our education systems to breed efficient workers, neglecting lessons of how to even exist as human beings. We’re bombarded with supposedly moral lessons like group before self, filial piety, obedience to seniority and authority – look where they have gotten us?

I don’t pretend to know the solutions. But I do personally believe that by learning to nourish ourselves we can then know what it means to nourish others. If you were like me and constantly feel guilty for trying to live well, I hope for us to consider that there is no net positive effect is everyone is drained, anxious and starved.

illustration of individualk among group

There is power in the inner work of an individual. Everything ripples out from the individual. Systems and policies are designed by individuals. I agree with Ricard: we cannot hope to have change on a large scale if individually we’re all still stuck in our old ways of living.