on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

the clarity of a crisis

I had an exhausting week the past week, so I am not possessing the mood to write. To be honest these days 9 out of 10 times there is no mood, just a commitment. The value of documentation and reading my own writing only comes later, so I guess you can say I am staying committed to my future self.

It is not easy to transverse the planes of my past, present and future self when I’m thinking and making decisions. Most of us tend to be biased towards the past or the future, almost never the present. But we forget that now is what we have, the future is never guaranteed.

Because of my past I tend to be very conservative when planning for my future. I was too reckless in my past, so I overcompensate by over-planning the future. Sometimes I plan decades ahead, because all I want is just to feel safe. So I place limits on my present in order to ensure the future.

But last week what I consider a major crisis happened, and I am not sure if I have processed it yet. It is really weird, this disassociating feeling. I tend to spiral downwards and have emotional meltdowns, but again in recent years I have been over-compensating for my over-emotional self by disassociating whenever something untoward happens. This is potentially scary for me because the last time I disassociated like this I had a mental, emotional and physical breakdown 6 months down the road. The psyche hates repression, and will do anything to ensure we are fully aware of our emotions.

Feelings aside, it also hit me intellectually. That again without knowing I have fallen into the trap of over-planning and conserving for the future again. There is a gift of crises, if we manage to survive it: it allows me to see through all the crud and become fully aware of what truly matters. I have had this happen to me multiple times in my life – a crisis provoking me to have to complete reevaluation of how I am living my life. Ideally we shouldn’t wait for one to contemplate our lives, but the routine of daily life, the seemingly slow and stable passing of time, seems to dull the perception of our minds.

We only have now. Especially so when the world is getting more and more unstable with a potentially disabling virus that we cannot eradicate, proxy wars, misguided economics, and of course, climate change. I frequently look at the world around me and notice most people are going about their lives as though nothing is happening. I don’t blame them. Without these global crises life in itself can be already difficult because we live in badly designed systems governed by people with questionable psyches. Time and nature can be cruel, there is always life created and always life lost. We humans have fragile bodies and it is an ongoing miracle that billions of operations have to happen in harmony for us to live and breathe. But we’re not aware that we’re walking miracles and we abuse our bodies. We may not even know we’re abusing our bodies because some of us trust advice given to us by medical professionals and organisations – not knowing how much of research is done under questionable circumstances.

Today I am living and breathing. But my autonomic functions cannot be taken for granted, as evidenced by the millions of people suffering from long covid. These people cannot walk without feeling their hearts are going to give way. I am exceptionally careful, but I also know of exceptionally careful people who have gotten infected. I am not sure when is my turn, and will I be one of the unlucky ones to suffer long-term implications. Even without covid, as a woman going into her 40s I seem to be at risk for more and more health conditions. It is just going to get worse as I enter peri-menopause and menopause.

on-going awareness since 11 years ago

I have to remember I am no longer young, and whatever middle-aged youthfulness I have left will not last. If there are things I wish to do I should do it sooner. Delaying gratification is not always the right thing to do, from the perspective of a very finite body and life. Even if life is long, optimal health in a world full of stress, danger and toxins is challenging to maintain.

I’ll be thinking of how I want to re-prioritise my now.

why we should learn to truly love our selves

There is this pervasive narrative that loving oneself is selfish, especially in confucian societies which prioritise the collective over the self, and certain religions that preach sacrificing for the greater good is a good thing.

narcissism vs self-love

I think people often confuse narcissism with self-love. Narcissism occurs when people have an inflated sense of the self. The word originates itself from the story of Narcissus, who apparently fell in love with his own reflection so much that he died. First of, Narcissus may not have known that was his own reflection, secondly hopefully we can now recognise that pining for something until we kill our selves because we cannot have it is not healthy behaviour, narcissism or not.

We may think that narcissism is the opposite of having low self-esteem. I beg to differ. Narcissism is just another outcome of having low self-esteem. Some people express their low self-esteem by being a doormat because they have no sense of self, narcissists inflate their sense of self also precisely because they have no self. There are some narcissists who are not commonly associated with narcissism because they outwardly appear to be self-sacrificial, but in the end everything they do is truly about themselves anyway. Then there are also narcissists who are not egomaniacs, but they cannot function and perceive their world beyond their pain, so they inflict their pain onto others everywhere they go because they cannot live beyond their constricted selves. Anyway, I digress. This is not about narcissism, but the difference between narcissism and true self love.

I argue that when one truly loves oneself, there is no longer an obsession about the self, but rather a healthy self-regard. We don’t have to obsess about something if there is a healthy attachment towards it. There is a healthy distance with a healthy attachment.

to love one self, one must know thy self

I have learnt that when one starts to truly love oneself, everything falls into place. Well, not everything – the world is fucked up beyond our individual control. In order to love oneself, we must first get to know ourselves. I argue that most of us don’t truly know ourselves. We think we are the persona that is constructed through conditioning. We have certain goals because society may tell us it is good to have them, and since we don’t really know ourselves, we don’t know otherwise. We exhibit certain personality traits because society prides them. Before Susan Cain came along, most people aspire to be extroverts. We didn’t question whether we wanted to be extroverts, but extroverts got their way in life and everybody likes the charming, funny, sociable person in the room. We wanted to climb career ladders, because everybody admires a successful person. Who ever thought getting too successful in our careers can be a bad thing? We want our parents to love us and our career mentors to approve of us – if only we can get that validation we’re finally set for life.

Some of us live till we’re 60 and then realise we actually hate everything we’ve worked so hard for. Others subconsciously know it, but don’t want to acknowledge it because it would mean acknowledging we’ve wasted all our lives for nothing, so we numb ourselves with more work, more friends, more food, more alcohol, more buying, more success. Then for some the clarity only comes on the verge of a serious illness.

Why the f*ck do we spend so much energy and time trying to make people like us? We do so much just to feel such a tiny semblance of being loved, which is not even authentic because just like we created a persona to be liked, so what people seem to like is also that persona, not us. That is why social circles can fall apart with job and life changes.

Getting to know ourselves encompasses the long and difficult journey to know what we truly want out of life, and how we want to live. Maybe some of us just want to live quietly and peacefully, and don’t actually give a shit about status once we wean off it. Others may decide they want to be a paramedic instead of a investment banker. Maybe not all of us want to be parents. Imagine never questioning any of this and simply accept everything that society wants out of us?

no one but us endure the consequences of our lives

Despite whatever Confucius or certain religious figureheads may say, the life we have is our lives to lead. I don’t mean this in an entirely good or selfish way. I mean it in a matter of fact way. What it truly means is that good or bad, we’re the ones that have to live with the consequences and be at peace with it on our deathbeds. Our parents, mentors, whoever – they are not the ones who have to endure our lives if we spend the entirety of it loathing it. Perhaps it is not so bad if we’re consciously loathing it, it is the unconscious loathing that is toxic in my opinion, that something is slowly eating us up but we don’t even know it. We’re the ones who have to reckon with all our choices, especially when faced with our mortality. Imagine having a terminal disease diagnosis tomorrow, would we be okay with the life we have led so far?

Life is short. I personally may not think that life is precious, but I agree that it is short. Everything can end in an instant. Sometimes it is much shorter than the average lifespan. Do we want to spend it without ever having known what is it like to live a life that we truly chose? Nobody would want to be married to the wrong partner, but most people seem to be okay with living in the wrong life.

I am not arguing that people should start YOLO-ing, quit their jobs and travel the world. That sort of response is an outcome of chronic deprivation. It is what is in the everyday that matters, all the small things, all the moments that contribute to an entire life lived.

lack of self-love spills over

This path is not a selfish one, contrary to what people may believe. When we loathe our own lives consciously or unconsciously it inevitably spills over to other people and to our environment. Think about it. Why do we seem to create so much waste, why do we feel the incessant need to consume, why do we boil over in frustration with the people we care about? Why do we need to feel a sense of superiority if we feel secure in our selves? Why do some of us like talking down to other people or even bullying them? What is with the need to constantly feel that sense of power?

the difficulty and empathy of healing

When we start to truly love our selves, we start to seek out healing. When we start healing we start to express a different dynamic with our relationships and our selves. Some relationships will heal too, because the dynamic has changed. Some will fall apart, because they survived only because of the old dynamic. People don’t tell us this, but healing is essentially a heartbreaking process. It is having to grieve over so much that was once part of us, even if they were unhealthy or inauthentic. Relationships are complex: the reality is even some unhealthy ones can be peppered with richness and sentiment. We are changing, so we fall out of sync with what used to be regular for us. We may start drawing boundaries and people may react to that badly, because we used to be the kind friend that would never say no.

It is a long, painful process. There will be darkness and depression. But perhaps if we could endure it long enough, we may step into a life that is truly of our own choosing. It is like entering a house that is decorated with all the things we want and love, instead of living in someone else’s home or a home where we display all the things we don’t actually want because we cannot bear to get rid of them. Or maybe we can decide to have a bit of both – but the point is we consciously make those decisions.

I have unintentionally become a more empathetic person. I now know how difficult it is to heal, how impossible it seems to overcome deeply entrenched behavioural patterns. I am probably going get flak for writing this, but I believe life is inherently hard for everyone, and of course much harder for many. One can be economically privileged but they are still prone to feeling chronically deprived like the rest of us. For many of us, money is something that is visible and can be earned, but that acknowledgement we all desperately seek to feel that semblance of love and connection – it remains very elusive. And in my opinion: inaccessible as long as we’re not aware that we have to first undertake the journey to know our selves first.

the foundation to making decisions that resonate

Without truly knowing ourselves, we would choose the wrong employers, the wrong partners, the wrong everything, probably even the wrong hobbies. We unconsciously self-sabotage our selves, our relationships and our bodies. We wonder why everything seems okay on the outside but we don’t feel even the slightest pleasure doing something we supposedly like.

The process of getting to know ourselves is a continuous serious of experiments. For a very long time, after discarding everything I ended up with liking nothing. It was a very scary state and I fell into a long, existential depression. But without that phase, without that emptiness, it would be difficult to know what it is like to interact with something completely new to me, because there would be too much remnants and noise from things I was so used to doing.

Only when we truly realise that this one life is ours to lead, that it makes no sense to lead a life completely dictated by forces out of ourselves, and we start to hold our selves tenderly like how we would hold a child – for a long time I could not even do this because I could not even hold a child tenderly, how utterly incapable of love I was – only then we will have the foundation to start making decisions that truly resonate with the life we want to lead. There may be a new guiding north-star. Every time we make a decision we may ask how would that make us feel: whether it would enlarge us or diminish us (credit: James Hollis), instead of “how would that look on my resume”?

illustration of self-love

the way to a truly better world

One thing that gives me grief these days is how misguided I think human beings are. We seek out technological and economical solutions to all our problems without giving consideration to our psychology as human beings.

The way we designed our societies and infrastructure is so wrong that I truly do not know where we can begin to undo the damage. Is this a phase we go through or will we not survive this?

Hurt people hurt people. Obviously not everybody becomes mass murderers and criminals, but from my perspective the bulk of the damage we are doing is the one that is invisible. It is when we do things that are “well-intentioned” but we end up slowly killing the spirit of the people around us. It is 2022 but we still believe in creating resilience through forceful hardship, we treat our kids like learning machines so they can become working machines, and don’t even get me started on people taking away the rights of other people. There is outright violence, and there is this pervasive invisible violence – the violence of not recognising ourselves as human beings with a full spectrum of psychological and emotional needs. It is this sort of silent violence that leads to actual violence and unaccounted tragedies – what is the consequence of raising generations and generations of people who believe they are never enough, that they can never love themselves, that they perpetually hate whatever they are doing?

It must be a joke to believe we can get away with this and still have a thriving world. I believe the pursuit of wholeness on the individual level will lead to the wholeness of the world, but I am not sure if we can ever get there as a species.

what deepened my joy in cooking

One of the few blogs (because most blogs are work-related) that I admire is Peter Rukavina’s blog. I like it because it is whole – covering a variety of topics and it feels very personal. My writing tends to be too serious and heavy, and I have this nagging fear that nobody would read this if I blog about fun personal stuff. Yet over the years I still have attempted to write more lighter posts, because I aspire to. I want my website to be whole too. So today I’m going to write about one of the things that have occupied my time and energy lately – cooking.

It took me many cycles to like cooking. The first ever post I published here on cooking was in 2020. Prior to that I’ve tried cooking multiple times but failed. It just felt like too much work for than 10-20 minutes of eating. I particularly disliked the cleaning.

But I returned to it again and again, primarily because of health. After doing a ton of research over the years I realised it is just impossible to eat truly healthily out. No one cares about the oxidative stress vegetable oils can cause.

I started to enjoy cooking when my partner developed histamine issues. But these days there have been periods when her issues no longer act up, so we can afford to eat out if we wanted to, but I still preferred to cook.

learning to like washing dishes

The biggest difference is learning to like washing dishes. Like seriously. Sometimes the more complex a recipe gets, the more things we end up washing. If we don’t like the washing part, we would end up cooking really simple meals – nothing wrong with that, except there is joy in expanding flavours and textures.

How did I get myself to like something so tedious like washing dishes? Reading zen books helped, they taught me that there is profound sacredness in boring everyday tasks. Listening to music while washing dishes also helped to distract my mind off the tedium.

But what truly helped was to perceive my messy kitchen as a restaurant-diner type game. Not sure if you’ve played games like Diner Dash – the whole premise is to clear increasingly challenging backlog of multiple tasks asking for your attention at the same time. I started to enjoy having a mess in the sink because it looks impossible. After washing many rounds of dishes I started to get a hang of the order of the type of dishes and utensils to wash, how much detergent to use, how to load them on the drying rack without causing myself to be annoyed.

I don’t know if I can adequately express this in writing, but developing the capacity to tolerate working through a dirty mess of dishes is a joy in itself. It is like something that I used to dread so much that I left it till possible minute each day has become not only tolerable but enjoyable. It almost feels like a super power.

learning new skillz

The other thing that gives me a sense of accomplishment is learning new skills in cooking. For example, for the longest time I was afraid to sear my meats. It always ended up in a ton of smoke with burnt meat stuck on pans which took forever to wash. So I read a ton of reddit, watched a ton of youtube, and now I am much better at searing. Not great at it, but at least I stopped burning my food. I didn’t even know it was necessary dry them first, and that salting is not just for flavour, but to dehydrate the meat so it can sear better. It is also vital to only add oil to a hot pan before searing. Chicken requires a much lower temperature to sear, as I had found out with badlly charred chicken skin.

I finally learnt how to sear chicken properly
I finally learnt how to sear chicken properly

Learning to manage time and tasks in the kitchen also takes skill. I used to end up with some food turning cold, food burning on the stove while I struggle to chop onions, having to use tens of dishes to hold different things, etc. Experience matters in cooking, like almost everything else. I also learnt to use different tools and heat to achieve different textures.

Like washing dishes, enjoying cooking requires the same capacity to not be afraid to tediousness. I feel like learning to develop this capacity has impacted me positively in other areas of my life.

volume eating

I often feel unsatiated when I eat out, leading me to eat more or seek out dessert. With cooking for myself, I can cook a large volume of food that is high in nutrient density but low in calories (I am not promoting an eating disorder but I am watching my macros for health reasons). This makes me want to cook more instead of eating out. I like variety, so cooking allows me to throw in whatever I want. This plate below has minced beef, scallops, squid, mushrooms, onions, lettuce, cauliflower rice, egg – seasoned with marmite (which I have recently found out is a superfood), lime and worcestershire sauce :

383 calories for this very large plate of food
383 calories for this very large plate of food

cooking to my own taste

The above seasoning combination may sound weird, but it is entirely to my taste. I won’t be able to eat something like this anywhere else. I also particularly like a lot of vinegar in my food, heaped with a ton of cilantro and spring onion. This helps with my satiety as well.

one of my recent favourite meals: bak chor mee (minced pork) with low carb noodles with a ton of vinegar, leek and cilantro
one of my recent favourite meals: bak chor mee (minced pork) with low carb noodles with a ton of vinegar, leek and cilantro

what’s next

I still feel like a n00b when it comes to cooking, but there is a gladness in noticing the gradual improvements I have made. I just acquired a stainless steel pan, and am learning how to use it properly. The first time, I discoloured the pan immediately with oil that was too hot. Maybe I should have gone with cast-iron instead, but I am trying to avoid the weight. Sometimes I go in circles trying to avoid things – only to learn why it was always recommended to do a certain thing in a certain way. You have no idea how many times I tried to sear in a non-stick ceramic coated pan.

I feel like most of my life I spent learning how to use my mind, now I am learning how to use my hands, my body, my senses. It makes me feel more present compared to living perpetually on the internet. I’m grateful to have the time and opportunity to learn how to cook. It feels like something that I can be learning for a very long time, and still not be very good at it. Which is a great choice of skill to develop to experience the joy of learning, in my opinion. It can be really easy with the right tools, and as difficult as we want it to be.

I hope to continue this very kaizen process of learning.

working with my triggers

I used to get triggered really easily. Something seemingly innocuous would set me off – sometimes I was good at hiding my feelings on my face especially if it was in a work or social context, but inside I would be melting down: there would be this sinking feeling, followed by a deep emotional pain flooding my senses, and after the incident I would be replaying it over and over again in my head and thus reliving the painful moment over and over again.

I didn’t know that was not normal. I thought this happened to everybody. Occasionally in intimate relationships I would explode, not in anger but in tears. I attributed all of this to my personal character: that I was just emotionally sensitive.

Only in the recent years after reading a ton of books I learnt that not being able to self-regulate is not only a thing, but an unhealthy symptom of a much deeper cause. It seems so obvious now but I was not even aware of the concept of triggers. I was melting down so frequently I just thought I was sensitive to everything and was easily upset, I didn’t know there were specific triggers to me.

I started to notice. At first I was fearful of my triggers, and tended to avoid them. For a very long time I even avoided any human interaction (apart from my partner) because they were a major source of triggers. I accidentally found out when I was in a phase of unprecedented emotional stability when I was addicted to playing Stardew Valley so much that I ignored my phone for two weeks. Of course I thought it was being immersed in the game, but I slowly realised it was because I hardly interacted with the outside world because of the game.

I don’t know when, but there came a time when I started becoming amused by my triggers. I guess that is a sign of healing for me. I was amused that I was so easily set off by something so small. I could note the uncomfortable sensations and yet not spiral downwards. Sometimes I would still spiral, but feel incredulous afterwards. Once in a while I laughed at myself with my partner (of course I have to be the one to laugh first). One day, I suddenly had this thought that my triggers were a source of knowledge for me. It identified areas I was still struggling with, where I still felt broken and hollow. It was an alarm bell for allowing me to notice where I was still hurting, and where I could work towards healing.

For example, I get really upset if my partner interrupted me while I’m talking. If we look at it superficially, it may seem as though it is because of my fragile ego. But upon deeper reflection, this is a strong trigger for me because it subconsciously reminds me of all the times (especially during my childhood) when people talked over me all the time, shut me up with a sssshhh, making me feel unheard and unimportant. It was as though I didn’t matter, that I was invisible or annoying. Practically this seems like a very small issue, no one is going to die if they feel unheard. But existentially, it provokes a deep sense of despair – we might as well not exist if everything we say does not matter. It is part of human nature to want to be acknowledged and be seen. Perhaps when we were cave people this could be an actual threat because being unheard could mean we were being left out of the tribe which has real life and death consequences.

When I get triggered now instead of spiralling deeper and deeper into “I don’t matter to anyone I might as well cease to exist” territory, I take the opportunity to ask myself questions. Is it true that I don’t matter? Why do I feel like I don’t matter? Does it matter if I don’t matter to this person or this situation? Am I able to calmly manage the situation with the other party, either picking up the conversation where we left off, or explain to the other person why it is disruptive to be interrupted?

I try to see these as chances for me to work on my emotional resilience and self-regulation. If I’m emotionally stable such an infraction wouldn’t bother me, because I am able to look at the reality of what’s happening and be fully aware that the worthiness of my existence does not hinge upon somebody not paying full attention to me. Maybe I’ll feel slightly annoyed because I am only human, but I wouldn’t start feeling despair.

While searching my private journal I came across this entry I noted about Lady Gaga, who wrote an open letter about her triggers:

I also struggle with triggers from the memories I carry from my feelings of past years on tour when my needs and requests for balance were being ignored. I was overworked and not taken seriously when I shared my pain and concern that something was wrong.


…her psychologist added a note at the end in response:

It is my opinion that trauma occurs in an environment where your feelings and emotional experience are not valued, heard and understood. The specific event is not the cause of traumatic experience. This lack of a “relational home” for feelings is the true cause of traumatic experience. Finding support is key.

In that journal entry I wrote that I was triggered by reading that open letter, because it made me relive my own memories of “my needs and requests for balance were being ignored”.

This was in 2016, which is interesting to me now because I don’t feel much emotional reaction from reading the open letter again. I think this is where taking notes and writing journal entries on our reactions and responses to various stimuli is useful, because it demonstrates the emotional distance we’ve made between our past and present selves. I take it as a sign of healing when I am no longer triggered by what used to upset me so much in the past.

When we are chronically wounded, we need time and distance away from our triggers. I think I would not be able to heal if I kept putting myself in situation where I was being repeatedly triggered. Neurologically our nervous systems would not be able to rewire its neurons if the same pathways keep getting activated.

I aspire to become more whole as a person, and instead of running away from my triggers I see them as a source of wisdom. What do I find threatening? Why? is there truth in the degree of threat in that particular situation, or are they shadows of my past haunting me even though I am no longer that fearful and vulnerable child? Once I find the answers, I try to see if there are ways to mend that crack in me, or is it something I would need to carefully manage for the rest of my life. I am not sure if I would ever get over my fear of abandonment, so I try to communicate to my partner the sense of safety I need to feel, even if it feels frivolous to other people.

Not everybody is able to get some distance from their wounds and triggers. Some people have much deeper wounds, many are trapped in a circumstance that does not allow them a space to even breathe. I know I am lucky in the sense that I was able to alter my environment as much as possible. I am also lucky to meet a partner who is willing to work through both our triggers instead of just attributing it to our “tempers” and personalities. We don’t erupt for nothing, there is always a root.

I feel like because I am able to work with my triggers and examine them, I am able to expand as a person. In general I am more aware how I cause hurt to myself and to other people, reducing my hurt footprint – how much my footsteps are causing hurt to other people – in the world. This is partially why I strongly believe our civilisation as it is now will never progress much as long as we don’t provide a strong psychological support to people, instead choosing to focus only on economic success. Heck, we don’t even provide a strong physical health infrastructure, much less psychological. We as a species really don’t prioritise our selves, despite contrary beliefs. We prioritise our self-short-term-material-interests, without knowing we’re pain distributors. Maybe we’re all just trying to survive in the ways we know how.

If only we can collectively progress towards examining our pain with curiousity, instead of directing it towards ourselves and other people.

when only words are left

I just finished reading “No longer human” by Osamu Dazai – the book is problematic because of its misogynistic themes but also representative of its times, published in 1948. I picked up the book because of a thread on reddit where people said it deeply disturbed and depressed them. I guess that says something of me.

The book did not disturb or depress me. I related to a lot of it (not the misogyny but the depressive themes), and because of the relatedness it was somewhat comforting. Most of us don’t want to be lonely and it was comforting to know of other humans who have similar disturbing thoughts. It also gives me a wider perspective when I am reading it from a third party point of view, whether these thoughts have any basis in reality or they are plain delusional – an outcome of an inability to rise above the mind’s narrow thinking. The truth is probably a mix of both: humans are neither only good or evil, they are a complex outcome of their complex circumstances. But it becomes a problem when we insist on only seeing things in black or white.

I appreciated the author’s mind, and it made me want to deliberately expand my reading repertoire. It wasn’t a book I would have come across if I did not discover it on reddit. I’m so used to looking for books in a very particular way, and because of time anxiety I am also caught in the trap of only wanting to read books that has a high rating (4.5+). Gone are the days when I’ll randomly read books based on their back covers. I am trying to correct my course though.

Concurrently I was also reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s “No time to spare“, and I learnt that she started blogging at age 81 because she saw how Jose Saramago started a blog at 85:

So though I have contributed a few bloglike objects to Book View Café, I never enjoyed them. After all, despite the new name, they were just opinion pieces or essays, and writing essays has always been tough work for me and only occasionally rewarding. But seeing what Saramago did with the form was a revelation.

Seeing her make the distinction between writing essays and blogging was thought-provoking. What exactly was the revelation to her? I mean writing a blog can be a lot more free and casual compared to writing an opinion piece on Washington Post, but is that what she had meant? Or did she mean that Saramago was able to express everything in his mind in a way that traditional publishing would never have allowed? Upon googling more:

I just have somehow always sort of hated writing essays. I could [laughing] just pretend that blogs weren’t essays, and so I could enjoy batting one out and then sortthe-notebook of polishing it, you know. Because the form is supposed to be short — I think I tend to approach an essay as if it ought to be 20 pages. I make too much of essays, before I write them. And talks. And so the blog — and you know, with Saramago — it was reading his blogs and thinking if he can do that, I wonder if I can? And just sort of write about what was on his mind. But thoughtfully. So — of course they are essays, aren’t they.

Three Conversations With Ursula Le Guin, Leaflemming

I guess it is about the idea that blogging doesn’t have to be so formal and hence the cognitive friction to write is less. That is why I made the notes section, I want a form that is even more casual than blog posts. But even then it is still difficult for me to casually write a post and click publish.

Reading a good book is like having your brain tickled, just like good music or any form of art. I appreciated how different the tickle felt reading Dazai versus Le Guin. It prompted me to tweet this:

…and I wanted to write a post about the importance of self-expression but I remembered that I have already written one. Obviously we are not Dazai or Le Guin, but there were countless times I’ve come across some random blog post and I was like, wow, what a mind.

Minds are fascinating: they just meld things together in unexpected ways and we can see them expressed in art.

And if you’re like my younger self, maybe you’re like who cares about art. Isn’t it more important to build visible world-changing things like non-profit organisations and businesses?

I am biased of course. My disability – no matter how mild compared to many others – has stripped away most of the utility of my life, the parts of me who used to be able to contribute things that society has traditionally valued. When nothing usable is left of me, when I can no longer meaningfully design things, write code, perform manual labour – is my life still worthwhile to society, to people whom I care about, to me?

Only my words are left. I could still write in between days I am not bedridden with pain. I don’t have capacity for much else, the capacity that every one else possesses, that most people take for granted. That is why I am still refusing to meet people and travel, because writing is the only thing I have left and I am not sure if I can still survive if (long) Covid takes that away from me. I won’t be able to survive. The migraines are already hard enough, and they are already making me contemplate my life more than a human is supposed to.

My migraines have defined my life and me profoundly. Because of them I had no choice to go deeper into myself – because when my external life is robbed from me, there is only an internal life left to look forward to. I would like to think of it as a blessing in disguise, but I wouldn’t have an alternative to compare to. I am a lot less unhappy than my past selves, aided by the introspection that can only come from the immobility of a disabled self. But who really knows how would I have unfolded had I stayed healthy?

Yet everything that have been written here can only be attributed to a person like this, like me. Just like only Dazai could have written “No longer human”, or only Le Guin could provoke people with her blogged words at age 81, the words that have flowed consistently and unabashedly here can only have come from me.

I don’t have much to give to this world, only my words are left. There are hundreds of people that arrive here every month – probably most bounce because in a lot of ways this is not attractive reading, but there are some who stay, and once they stay they really stay. There are some who leave after a while because they can no longer relate to my writing or I’ve changed. That is okay, because that is representative of reality. We can’t expect to like the same things forever. We can’t even like ourselves forever. This impermanence is what that drives that incessant creativity of human beings.

When I look back at my words, are they enough to sustain an existence, to make my life worth while? I have increasingly come to believe that this is not a question I can answer. I can only write them because I have to. I can’t do much about what people do with my words. Even if nobody reads them I will still write them, because this is the only way I know how to exist, and this is also the only way I truly get to know myself.

There are only words left, but these are words that can only come from me. That makes them precious, even if only to me, and for me.

This is why for me self-expression and art is precious. They gift a dimension of life that is utterly useless but yet perhaps it is the only thing that can capture the soul of human beings. I can’t know much about you from your wealth, status, career, possessions – even people who are supposed to know you may not really know who you are, but your art speaks a truth about you that doesn’t come from elsewhere. It comes from melding everything about you.

When everything is said and done, what is left? For some people it may be a building in their name, others may have patents, memories, loved ones. For me only words are left. They may not indicate whether a life was worthwhile, but they express a life that is lived, reflected upon, absorbed and felt. Maybe we can’t really control whether our lives are well-lived, but I can at the very least, attempt to feel it, process it, express it – thoroughly.

my first week of wearing a continuous glucose monitor

I’ve mentioned in a recent post that I’d be inclined to try out a cgm (continuous glucose monitor) as I’ve been pricking my fingers more than 5 times a day in an attempt to understand my metabolism better.

I’d managed to pluck up the courage to finally try one last week. I got my partner to apply it for me because I couldn’t bring myself to press something that would puncture a hole in my arm. It was not entirely painless, my arm seemed to ache for at least half a day, but a week on I think it is worth that minor discomfort for the fidelity of the data I am getting.

I thought wearing a cgm would just be a more convenient version of pricking my fingers. But having an instant read of my glucose levels anytime I wanted taught me more than I expected. It also stores glucose values every 15 minutes in the background as long as you scan it every 8 hours, which you can then access as a downloaded spreadsheet online.

Things I learned

the first 12 hours are trash

I read on various online forums that the first 12 hours of the Freestyle Libre is inaccurate because the area around the CGM needs time to heal after the puncture (ouch). They recommend performing the first scan after 12 hours because the sensor counts its validity 14 days after the first scan. I did not heed this advice because I was too curious, so indeed my first day was full of low glucose readings.

how long does it take for glucose to spike after a meal

While using a standard glucose meter I tend to prick my fingers at the 1 hour mark post-meal, and sometimes 2 if the 1 hour reading was high. I had the assumption that the peak reading would be at 1 hour. But the cgm showed me that most of the time my peak reading would actually be at 30 minutes, and sometimes it actually peaks at 15 minutes, especially if I eat fruit. So if I was interested in how high my blood sugar would peak I should be pricking my fingers at 30 minutes instead. But 1 hour would be a good insight into how quickly my blood sugar can go back to its baseline.

This chart shows how I would have missed the 15-minute peak if I pricked my finger at the 1 hour mark as usual, but the CGM captured it (big blue dot).
This chart shows how I would have missed the 15-minute peak if I pricked my finger at the 1 hour mark as usual, but the CGM captured it (big blue dot).

how damaging are temporary spikes

For a very long time I was afraid of eating fruit because it would always seem to spike my blood glucose pretty badly. But with the cgm I learnt that while it does provoke a sharp spike, it does recover quickly. The medical literature is still unclear how high a temporary spike has to be to be damaging to our blood vessels. But it does show that high post-meal glucose is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, even when compared to a high baseline glucose levels:

Epidemiological studies have also suggested that postprandial spikes of high glucose levels may be a more robust determinant of CVD risk than average glucose levels. These episodes of high glucose levels increase oxidative stress, which in turn has several detrimental downstream effects, activating immune cells, and keeping the vasculature in a persistent state of elevated risk of cardiovascular events. To further support this hypothesis, postprandial blood glucose (PBG) levels are more predictive for CVD than HbA1c levels. Even in people without diabetes, PBG levels independently predict CVD in the non-diabetic glucose range.


But our glucose does spike pretty high whenever we perform intense activities, so the body must be able to tolerate a certain threshold of spikes. It is just that so far I haven’t come across any research that specifies the threshold. Personally I would not eat a lot of fruit though, because only the liver can metabolise fructose and modern day fruit is now sweet beyond what nature intended.

how close are the readings between the cgm and finger pricks

I have read horror stories of how cgms are a lot more inaccurate than finger pricking, but surprisingly for me the readings are quite close, especially if I account for the 15 minute lag (the cgm lags 15 mins behind because it measures the interstitial fluid instead of the blood). I was expecting to see readings to be off by 1 mmol/L consistently, but it seems like their difference is typically less than 0.5mmol/L. There are however some extreme spikes when the reading was off: the cgm measured 6.8mmol/L while the finger prick measured 7.8mmol/L:

the values of the CGM were quite close to finger pricking except for some extreme spikes
the values of the CGM were quite close to finger pricking except for some extreme spikes

stress causes glucose spikes

I always knew this intellectually, but it was still provoking to see it in action. There were a few events last week that caused some stress, and my glucose went from a 5+ baseline to spike over 6+. I can imagine how chronic stress can cause cardiovascular disease: repeated spikes cause arteries to be damaged and then hardened. Those stressful events were not even that stressful, I cannot imagine the sort of spikes I had when I was chronically stressed by work and people.

Since illness is also a form of stress, my baseline glucose seems to run higher during the menstrual cycle and its related migraines.

the first sourdough experiment

Sourdough is supposed to have a low glycemic load because of its fermentation. I miss bread a lot, so one morning I ate one small slice of sourdough with some tuna, ham and cheese as an experiment. Surprisingly my glucose didn’t spike much, but it also took much longer than usual to recover to baseline. This coincided with a day with some stressful events, so I’ll need to try it again.

general patterns

Apart from whatever I wrote above, it was still very interesting to observe my glucose patterns in general. I thought apart from meals my glucose would be stable around its baseline, but it actually fluctuates up and down around +/-0.5mmol/L. It seems that the liver releases some sugar from glycogen every time the circulating glucose runs low.

It is also nice to see that apart from stressful days when I may be ill, my glucose levels at night are pretty low and stable – not doing anything crazy. There are a couple of spikes here and there as the body is probably repairing itself.


This is just my first week so I am just documenting my initial observations. I’ll probably continue to wear a few more to decide whether it is something I would wear permanently. They are not cheap, but I was also spending quite a bit on glucose strips.

I am not sure what is the end game – if enough experimentation would form a subconscious database in my head and I wouldn’t need to do so much close monitoring to maintain my metabolic health. But I find the extra information useful for non-metabolic reasons as well, like if my glucose is higher than usual I should have an easier day because it indicates stress.

Also, it would be useful to monitor longer-term trends. For example, if I build muscle, would my glucose response improve with the same foods? Will there be a co-relation between my glucose control and my migraines? I’ve been allowing myself more carbs as an experiment, therefore producing higher post-meal spikes than usual. This cycle (right now in fact) I am experiencing a mild migraine. Is it due to my increased carb intake?

I’ll try to see if I can get a hba1c test (avoiding clinics because covid) to see if the reported a1c value by the cgm is accurate. I would also be interested to test more foods that I usually avoid.

related reading:

the box on our heads

This week I finished reading “What my bones know” by Stephanie Foo: a memoir on complex PTSD (CPTSD). Reflecting at different stages of the author’s story, it reminded me a lot of my own ongoing healing process.

Even though now at times it is still difficult for me, I do forget how bad it was for a very long time. Reading the book brought me back to those times, when I was always angry, sad, self-loathing, chronically suicidal, exhausting. Always. For decades. It has only been a few recent years that I feel like I am moving forward, a process that took a few million tiny steps. Like the author, knowing that I have CPTSD (someone recommended me Pete Walker’s book) was life changing.

If our bodies are hurting, we can only start to heal if we know where is the injury. Knowing the nature of the injury allows us to apply the appropriate treatment for it. Otherwise it is like walking blindly in the dark. For people with mental/emotional pain, we might not even know we are hurting, maybe because when we’re in the same state for years and years, we don’t know there is another possible state. We may think being in a state of constant hurt is the baseline for any human being. Some of us grew defences so thick all we feel is nothing. There is no hurt in nothing, right?

Reading Pete Walker’s book made me realise precisely why I was hurting, why it hurt so much, and why I always seemed to be going into these emotionally painful states very often. I wasn’t even aware how my life was coloured so deeply by these until I started to experience them less frequently.

The change was very slow and painful, but the accumulated difference is dramatic. Only upon hindsight I realised I was walking with a suffocating box around my head, limiting everything I see and experience. I had such a narrow view of the world, of people, of myself. It was constrictive and deadening.

CPTSD aside, I think the concept of having a box around our head applies to social conditioning in general. We’re all brought up with all these rules, norms, expectations, ideas.

illustration of small box around our heads versus a bigger wider sphere. by @launshae.
box vs wider sphere (illustration by @launshae)

How much more can we see and experience if we remove that small, tight box around our heads? We will always be trapped in a limited sphere of perception because we have inherent conditioning and biases as human beings. But we could endeavour to widen this sphere, to experience a fuller version of life, of this world, of other people and our selves.

This is one of the reasons why I keep a daily journal, and that I try to review my past entries, tweets, instagrams, etc on a daily basis. I get reminded of how small was the box on my head trapping me, and how much more I am seeing in my widening sphere. The differences are stark, and I cannot help but feel sorry for my past self. I have wasted so much time.

It adds to my time anxiety, that somehow I worry that something bad is going to happen to me just when I am beginning to truly experience the world and become who I am (this is also a symptom of CPTSD – always thinking the worst is going to happen). Having been chronically suicidal I never really cared about my future – which at times worked out well for me as I took on risks normal people would never take – but I have found myself caring about it in recent times. It is truly weird, to want to live a little more after so many years of secretly hoping I’ll get knocked dead by a car.

Similar to the buddhist belief that we are not our thoughts, I think we’re not the boxes on our heads. What lies underneath? I see people express their bigoted beliefs, and I wonder if they are aware of the boxes on their heads? How do we make people see wider than the limited views we’ve been conditioned with?

It is tiring, to be suffocated with limiting views all the time, to perceive fellow human beings as inherent sinners instead of actually seeing that we bestow ourselves with traps the moment we’re born. We all have to be obedient children, get good grades, get good jobs, fulfil our gender and societal norms, meet everyone’s expectations, achieve high status, etc, without stopping to ask what is the whole point of our existence? How do we wish to live, how do we want to engage with our fellow human beings Is a lifetime of condemnation and policing people including those we love a really good way to live?

Human beings seem to be self-sabotaging, I really wish we could see that. That we suffocate ourselves with unnecessary boxes.

why I prick my fingers 5x a day

Some time in 2018 I bought a glucose meter. I cannot remember exactly why – I was probably worried I was diabetic because I was frequently getting serious food comas after eating. By “serious” I mean the level of drowsiness was so overwhelming that I could not keep my eyes open no matter how hard I tried. I think I bought a glucose meter for a peace of mind, to assure myself that I was actually fine.

Like many people I was afraid of getting my finger pricked, but curiousity won so I braced myself. We imagine it is like a pricking our fingers with a needle but a good lancet is so fine and quick that the sensation lasts for less than a second. I remember panicking when I saw my first result – in the pre-diabetic range. Then I realised I did it after my regular 2-in-1 instant coffee (yes I love this actually), so I panicked less. But the result next morning didn’t seem ideal either.

home glucose meters vs blood-drawn tests

Glucose meters are home devices and are considered “accurate” when they are 15-20% within range, 90% of the time. Which means they are actually not accurate at all, because 20% can mean 5 mmol/l or 6 mmol/l. 5 is considered normal and 6 is considered pre-diabetic. But it is useful for monitoring trends, and there are meters which are known to be more accurate than the others. We could also get a HbA1c test at which checks for blood sugar control during the past 3 months.

Months later I plucked up the courage – this time real long needles are used – to go for a blood screening. I was also reaching a plateau with my migraines and wanted to see if there are any biomarkers that are abnormal. My HbA1c test then was 5.5. The doctor was like, “see, nothing is wrong” but the prediabetic range now starts from 5.6. I thought 5.5 meant that my blood glucose was also 5.5 mmol/L which is not ideal at all but still acceptable, but years later I found out 5.5 of a HbA1c actually means an average blood glucose level of 6.17mmol/L (111.3mg/dL) which I would consider pre-diabetic. Doctors are only concerned when our levels reach 7mmol/L, but by then it is indicating serious insulin resistance. Research shows that when we’re in prediabetic stage our beta cells are already 20-40% damaged. If this is caught early enough the damage can be reversed.

insulin resistance -> hormone imbalances -> migraines

concept map demonstrating how too many carbs can result in migraines

Honestly, maybe I wouldn’t care that much if being pre-diabetic means I could continue to eat whatever I want and get it managed by medicine. But insulin resistance causes hormonal imbalance (and polycystic ovary syndrome), which contributes to the severity of my migraines. Before I was on a regular low-carb diet I was frequently having serious PMS: painful migraines and breasts, wild mood swings, suicidal feelings. PMS aside I was frequently tired and it would be normal for me to wake up fatigued with serious brain fog. Medicine can only manage blood glucose levels, not improve insulin sensitivity.

I also do not want to surrender to the diseases we assume are all part of getting old. Currently my blood pressure is 100-110+/60-70+ (101/65 at this very moment) when many people around my age (41) or younger is already diagnosed with high blood pressure.

I think as a society we’re conditioned to only worry when things go through with our body, but chronic damage is invisible and takes a long time before symptoms appear. There is also a difference between optimal health and the minimal health that is required for survival.

I’ve never been healthy until the last 7 years, but now I feel like I have a taste of what it is like to be truly healthy.

pricking 5x a day

I went from pricking my finger every morning when I wake up to pricking it one hour post meals – which means I prick my finger 3x a day. In the recent months I have begun to prick my finger pre-meals as well, so that means 5x a day. Testing blood sugar post-meals can help clarify what food is creating unhealthy spikes, because they can cause endothelial damage – contributing to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. I now test pre-meals because they show if my blood glucose levels returned to baseline after my previous meal. If I eat a bad breakfast my blood glucose level can stay elevated for more than 3 hours – it should return to baseline by the 3rd hour – sometimes it would not return to baseline by the time I eat my dinner.

is it necessary

Some people only test their fasting blood glucose in the morning, but I’ve learnt that we can have a good fasting blood glucose but a bad hbA1c. It means that the body recovers enough during sleep to get to a good enough glucose baseline in the morning, but on the average our blood glucose can remain high in-between meals and throughout the day.

I also tend to succumb to temptations very easily, so a chocolate cake here and an ice-cream there. It is just once in a while, why would it be so bad? I ate “healthy” things like granola and apples – if you love them please do not test your blood sugar after eating them.

It was hard to ignore what my food choices were doing to my body when the data is so clear. I went through periods when I stopped testing because it was just easier being in denial and still eat my favourite foods.

Maybe many people can get away with less vigilance. But I know I can’t. Some people may think people like me have an eating disorder because I intermittently fast and can be really strict on what I eat. But trust me, I would not do this if I can eat anything I want and be pain free.

positive reinforcement

Testing my blood sugar frequently allowed me to see the patterns that come out of my food choices. I noticed eating a lower carb diet in general gave me stable energy levels (no more blood sugar crashes) and made me have a lot less cravings. I still crave, because I am addicted to food as pleasure and comfort. But the sort of cravings I get is not the type I used to get, those cravings were physiologically unbearable. I tend to think twice now when I feel tempted, because I would have to live with an ultra-high glucose reading later, and knowing the damage it could inflict just makes it difficult. Isn’t it a form of self-sabotaging if we know something is harmful to our body and yet we keep ingesting it?

considering the short people curse

Being short has its perks but it also means the ability to absorb glucose is a lot less compared to an average man. I think this is why many women deal with hormonal issues, because we are not very aware that we’re eating the same level of sugar as men. Imagine going to MacDonalds with your taller friend/partner. We both order a meal each right? But our body mass and hormonal status determines how we handle the resulting glucose from the very same meal. Think about bubble (boba) teas, starbucks drinks, restaurant meals. Short people ingest the same amounts most of the time as our taller counterparts. It is not like short people order short sizes and taller people order the ventis. Yes, biology and genetics suck sometimes. But my partner tells me I’ll survive longer if there is a famine. ;/ I have been re-evaluating the portions I consume ever since I had this epiphany about my height. It is very easy to over-consume sugar if I was not mindful that I am consuming portions that is meant for an average-sized human being.

balance & experimentation

I get less migraines now, and they are less severe. I have better mental clarity and have a lot less body aches and fatigue. My PMS symptoms are mostly gone, I don’t even get bad cramps anymore – just slight crampy discomfort instead of the disabling ones. I’ve been doing this for a few years now, with periods in between when I just take a “holiday”. Pre-covid I would also take a break whenever we travel. But I notice myself wanting less breaks now, because every I take a break it was fun and all during the break, but the suffering afterwards can be extremely painful and prolonged. I keep asking myself if that short-term gratification is worth the longer-term consequences.

I am still trying to find a sustainable balance, and experimenting with the amount of carbs I can eat without terrible spikes to my blood sugar. I hope to not avoid entire foods but rather eat reasonable portions. Sometimes I take a couple of bites when my partner eats a pastry.

I’m going to experiment with a continuous glucose monitor (cgm) so I can stop pricking my fingers 5x a day. I’ll probably be more adventurous with my food experiments since I can get a blood glucose reading anytime I want. I think pre and post-meal testing has actually expanded my food choices. Previously I would just avoid everything that resemble carbs. Now I am discovering my tolerance.

I am not sure if people find posts like this interesting. But it would have helped me a lot if I read something like this early on in my health journey, instead of searching blind in the dark. Maybe someone struggling with PMS and migraines would find experimenting with the blood sugar readings helpful. Since managing my health is such a large part of my life, I foresee myself writing a lot more similar posts with experiment findings, and probably finally working on a wikipedia-style notebook that pulls together everything so it can be used as a public resource for anyone stumbling onto this site.

insights from a forest monk

I like to read Buddhist books because it serves a radical narrative compared to the ones we’ve been served in mainstream society. It teaches us to understand the nature of our suffering, and tells us it is possible to liberate ourselves from that suffering. That even the Buddha said that it is important to investigate our experiences, not to believe him wholesale. In a largely materialist society, it is important to know that are alternatives to our mainstream way of living, which is to control, conquer, acquire, consume – almost always a more of everything. Buddhism teaches us that control is just an illusion, it is not by having things that we can gain true joy, but rather learning how to let go and accept the impermanence of life.

A while ago I picked up “I may be wrong” by Björn Natthiko Lindeblad at a book sale. These days we seem to only pick up books when it is “trending”, so it was a lovely experience to actually go to a physical book store, browse books on a shelf, and pick up a book because something about it called out to you. It could be the cover, the synopsis at the back. In this case I liked that it was a memoir of a former forest monk. I’ve read books written by Tibetan and Zen monks, but none from a forest monk yet. And a Swedish forest monk?! The forest monk tradition is considered quite obscure compared to Tibetan and Zen Buddhism.

Photo of book: "I may be wrong"

I thought I’ll note down some favourite bits and share it here. In the prologue, it opened with:

“What I value most from my seventeen years of full-time spiritual training is that I no longer believe my every thought. That’s my superpower.”

That we are not our thoughts is not new to people who are familiar with Buddhism, but seeing it explicitly called out like that by the author was still provocative to me. I have found more emotional freedom ever since I learnt to examine the reality of my emotions at a distance, so I deeply related to that statement.

He tells many stories about the wisdom he had learnt from his fellow forest monks. The title of the book came from a lecture by Ajahn Jayasaro:

“The next time you sense a conflict brewing, when you feel things are about to come to a head with someone, just repeat this mantra to yourself three times, sincerely and convincingly – in any language you want worries will evaporate, like dew from the grass on a and your summer morning. I may be wrong. I may be wrong. I may be wrong.”

We’re living in a world where everybody wants to be right, and it has led to divisive conflicts that has detrimentally impacted life for many people. We insist on being right, there is no room for differences, negotiation, accommodation, empathy. We start citing lines from books on why we are right, and we want to be right at the expense of people’s lives. The idea that anyone of us may be wrong at any given time could be life-saving in many situations.

The line that stuck most deeply with me was from Ajahn Anandabodhi, a forest nun, something she said to the author when he was tired and overworked:

“Natthiko. Don’t forget: responsibility – the ability to respond.”

I have never thought of “responsibility” as the ability to respond before. The word “responsibility” just sounds like something we must do or carry no matter what, regardless of who we are, how we feel or think. It is like a moral obligation that must be undertaken, something that doesn’t give the freedom of choice.

But thinking back on all those times people/I thought of me as irresponsible, and all those times when I felt other people were irresponsible – both causing much internal suffering in me – I realised most of the time, it is not that people choose to be irresponsible. It is simply because we don’t have the ability or capacity to respond. Life can be very overwhelming, and due to the inherently violent and traumatic nature of society people’s capacities can be very limited. How do we have room to carry more and heavier things when all our lives – since the moment we are aware we are conscious – we have been weighed down and scarred by so much? There is no nurturance, no gradual scaffolding. We can’t ask someone who has never run before to run a marathon. The capacity to respond like training for a marathon, has to be gradually developed.

Insights like these, they slowly free up space in my small, constricted heart. Instead of resentment I just feel sorry. For people, for myself. This sorriness makes it harder for me to resent. I still do, just less.

The other notable parts of the book I appreciated are about the lifestyles of forest monks. They eat only one meal, and they can’t eat after noon. They cannot handle money, so they rely on alms from the generosity of the public, which means they eat anything that people donate. Here I am, regularly feeling sorry for myself (again) when I intermittently fast and eat a “strict” diet. I can still choose whatever I want to eat within the boundaries of my chosen diet, and I can eat a large and varied meal if I choose to omad (one meal a day). Comparatively to the forest monks, it would seem like I am feasting. Of course life is not a suffering competition, but the whole point of these practices is not to teach them to suffer, but rather to practice how to respond when life is not within their control:

Monastic life was designed to frustrate the mechanisms we employ to exert control. That was one of the reasons we didn’t handle money, weren’t allowed to choose when or what we ate, who we lived with or which hut we slept in. Being forced to relinquish control was a deliberate part of the learning process. And the result was wonderful. It’s a gift to be able to rest in trust when life becomes uncertain, to be comfortable with not knowing.

This is something I want very much for myself. I don’t agree with everything he/Buddhism preaches. He uses the word “trust” a lot, like life is something to be trusted. I don’t share that faith, at all. I think life is ambivalent, it just is. But I do believe it is helpful to live life for what it actually is – that it is uncertain and impermanent. I think there is freedom that can arise from being fully aware and present to what life can gift and take away from us. A lot of suffering comes from the illusory belief that we can control our trajectory, and also from the avoidance of pain/death. When we are willing to meet things upfront, we save a lot of energy from all the time we spend trying to avoid it.

I am still struggling though. It scares me to think about people I love dying. But I think about it regularly, I try not to shy away from it. It will not lessen my grief, but at the very least I will not be surprised with a ton of regret when the times come.

How do I increase my own capacity to respond? I think it takes constant practice and meditation – maybe meditation is the practice. I don’t trust life inherently, but I do trust my capacity to change, because I know how much I’ve changed – or rather learnt to understand myself better so I can stop repeating unhealthy behaviour. I have so much gratitude towards books and the will of authors to write them. Without the generous sharing of their insights, who would I have become, or worse, who would I still be stuck in?

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.