on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

experiencing life with a bicycle

I bought my first bicycle when I first moved to SF. Everyone there seemed to cycle, and I had grand visions of commuting to work with a bicycle. In the 2-3 years I lived there, I probably cycled to work less than 30 times even though it was less than a 5km ride, and I probably took it out for fun to Golden Gate Park less than 10 times – basically I cycled more here in Singapore in a month than the entire time I lived in the US.

I am so intoxicated with cycling now, that I almost don’t understand why didn’t I fall in love with it the first time around. The weather then and there is so much better than the hot, humid weather we have here. My hypothesis is that I was much more unfit so I struggled with the inclines, much less experienced so my saddle was at the wrong height, didn’t handle the bike properly and use the gears efficiently so cycling felt like a drag, and consciously held a negative view towards anything that required physical energy. I was also a much less fun person because my entire life revolved around work, and in whatever free mental space I had I pined for unavailable people.

So much in life depends on our mindset, such as having the capacity to experience fun. My partner has a fun spirit. Apart from seeing the fun in things, she tries to make everything fun even if they are not fun. It annoyed the grinch in me at first, because I felt like she didn’t take life seriously enough. I may change my mind, but my current stand is that life is too serious and holds too much suffering to be walking around like a heavy weight all the time. There are appropriate times to be serious, but people like me are just so serious all the time that we suck the life out of everywhere we go. Till today I have issues with activities that requires active play because something feels wrong about it and it makes me feel deeply uncomfortable.

I think when our minds are used to being filled with noise and our bodies are conditioned to expect stress all the time, we lose the capacity to notice things. I guess that’s why in zen they keep talking about emptying the mind and the self. It is almost impossible to be empty, but it is the act of trying to empty that makes one realise how much we carry. I think for me it took me years of actively and uncomfortably trying to slow down to get to a point where I can genuinely enjoy something like cycling. Take a look at people on reddit falling into depression after early retirement, and we can have a sense of how commonly challenging it is to slow down when we are so used to having something to chase all the time.

There is something about being on a bicycle, having an elevated vantage point, feeling the wind in our faces, and experiencing the feeling of moving at speed with nothing else but a mechanical machine and our legs to propel us forward. For me, it is similar to the experience I had with running – the knowledge that our body can be capable of such power, and also experiencing how much our bodies can improve with time and effort. It is amazing to me that I am nearing 40, but I am now fitter than I was 12 or 20. It is empowering to know how much one’s self can transform: everyone who knows me when I was younger knows how much of a slob I was when it comes to physical movement. I was the person who would walk an extra distance to ride an escalator than to walk up or down some stairs.

I think I would enjoy cycling less if I didn’t have some foundation of fitness that came with my running, though for me the stamina doesn’t really translate in both directions. After a long period of cycling I find myself running less well, and running a ton doesn’t make me cycle up slopes better. They complement each other well when I need to take a break from one.

I learned counter-intuitive things like cycling leisurely after a hard day of cycling can help with recovery compared to simply resting, that handlebar grips can make or break the cycling experience, that pedalling too slowly can cause knee pain, and if we want to prevent knee pain we have to strengthen our butt muscles. I never knew our butt was useful apart from cushioning us when we sit.

I am lucky enough to live near a park, and one of my favourite things to do these days is to cycle early in the morning. What a wonderful experience it is to cycle along the still, mirror-like water with cold air swirling around my body, and then admire the sun coming up behind a beautiful cluster of trees.

sunrise while cycling
sunrise while cycling

I don’t have the courage to cycle on the road (besides, the drivers in Singapore are crazy and we don’t have protected bike lanes or bike lanes on the road at all), so I cycle with a foldie on the park connectors. I like looking at people doing their various exercises, walking their assortment of dogs and babies, cycling their variety of bikes. Seeing people enjoying the park in diverse ways makes me smile, and I get really impressed with old grandmas and grandpas who seem way fitter than me.

two people sitting on a rock in a park

I enjoy noticing how Singapore’s dense urban architecture contrast with intentional green spaces:

HDB blocks along apiapi river

I also cycle while doing food delivery of course, which is almost an entirely different experience, but I enjoy it all the same. I get opportunities to marvel at the way people decorate the public spaces in front of their urban apartments while dropping food off:

a hdb block’s public space decorated by a private individual

I think it is very easy to live life in a way which every day might seem like a repeat of the previous day ala groundhog day. That is why it amuses and moves me when I notice moments of interest even if I’m participating in similar routines on a regular basis. I am not sure if the pictures I took and shared above are interesting or beautiful to other people, but they are to me.

Whenever I feel an impulse to stop my bicycle and take a picture, I notice this very subtle feeling in my body. I would describe it as a lift in my spirits. It is like scrolling a hundred tweets and noticing one interesting tweet, but much better. Like I’ve written in a previous post, it is an ongoing realisation that I have been living life too disembodied-ly (my partner calls me a walking brain) – my body seemed useless and my entire existence revolved around my mental and digital existence. It felt like my life and my feelings were completely dictated by what was happening on the internet, in my mind and with work.

But life is much larger (as I write repeatedly) than thoughts, opinions and competition. There are direct experiences (direct experiences is a very zen thing which I never truly understood before) that cannot be translated into words, as much as I attempt to. There are plenty of moments meant to be lived, not described or critiqued.

I am not sure how long this bicycle thing will last. Right now the extent of my interest makes me want to learn how to be a bike mechanic or at the very least, learn to maintain my own bicycles, but I tend to jump from interest to interest so I am skeptical myself of how long this will endure. But my own philosophy is to live life in whichever ways that makes life liveable, endurable and enlivening, and to do as little harm as possible, so in my grand scheme of things what matters is not whether something endures, but rather if my life has consisted of moments and experiences that makes me contemplate or feel that it is worth living, even if it is just for a split second.

on living a distance from tech and the internet

A long time ago when the web was still cool, there was a website named It was ahead of its time, told cool stories and experimented with weird formats and layouts. The founder was twitter famous and he was also considered one of the best designers at that time. One fine day, he started a farm with goats, and almost never looked back.

Then, I was still a naive idealistic designer. I was like, WHAT? FARM? GOATS? How can someone who was so coveted, with so much talent quit and be content with goats??

Years later when working in tech was not so cool anymore, it turns out that quitting the industry, opening farms and/or living life as a hermit is a common fantasy:

Sometimes I forget that I am considered oldish in tech. I look at all these people in their twenties brimming with ambition and I forget I was once like that. I am now probably closer to the age of the person who made the decision to own farm with goats. There is probably something about mortality, a fraying body, combined with life experience that makes someone change their value system in a dramatic manner. I don’t really know when, but there was a lightbulb moment in my life when I was incredulously wondering why the hell did I put myself through so much just to be validated and approved of? Why did I care so much about what people thought of me? At the end of the day, it is just a thought in someone’s head. Isn’t it incredible how much suffering we go through to exist credibly in people’s minds?

I don’t own a farm. But I deliver food pretty regularly these days, and recently I started to deliver other items. It is a vastly different life from those days. When I had to quit tech I feared a lot for myself. I feared that I wouldn’t be able to withstand work that required manual labour. I was unfit and I was almost always sick. If I couldn’t even face a computer, what chance did I have with something that requires way more physical energy?

I still experience bouts of chronic illness, but I am way fitter than ever in my entire life. I had always lived a very digital life since I had a computer, and for long periods of my life my world revolved around the internet. It was a very humbling experience for me to discover how much of a klutz I was. I couldn’t ride a bicycle well, was scared to change a saddle, felt helpless when I had to lubricate the bicycle chain myself. I could probably make a website in 30 minutes, but I cannot change a tyre to save my life (I still can’t).

I didn’t expect myself to enjoy learning these things so much. People were always telling me how much they enjoyed using their hands to make or fix things, and I could never understand what they mean. I feared using my hands. I was only adept at manipulating a mouse cursor.

I’ve begun to notice how much less unhappy I have become. I am still a grinch, but I don’t have that crushing feeling I used to feel in my chest so often anymore. At first I thought it was because I was distracted from my actual feelings, but maybe in the vein of fake it till you make it, being distracted long enough made me realise how much power my thoughts had over me, how triggering the internet was for me, and more importantly, how much meaning I had assigned to these sources and how much the fabric of these meanings can radically change. They were triggering because I had, consciously or not, assigned disproportionate power to them. But once I was considerably distanced, I realised my life was capable of going on, thriving even, without them.

That was something similar to what I’ve learned when I lived as a semi-hermit. Without being exposed to what people think of me (actually more like what I perceive how they think of me), I was dramatically less unhappy. I wasn’t lonelier, because I didn’t feel stop feeling lonely with many people around me anyway.

In zen, they always talk about emptying your mind and being in the moment. For years I had no idea what they were talking about. Aren’t thoughts beautiful? Isn’t consciousness and the capacity to philosophise what makes it worth living?

I am not sure whether this is permanent, but this is what I think now. I think there is such a thing as over-thinking and over-philosophising, I also think we are mostly unaware of how much we are capable of torturing ourselves with our beliefs, and how malleable our beliefs can be. We feel trapped because we believe we are trapped in stone, but this stone was imagined in the first place. I think thoughts can be beautiful, but it is not easy to be a person capable of generating truly beautiful thoughts and discern whether they are productive or not (I don’t mean productive in terms of usefulness, but perhaps in terms of harmfulness or true relevance).

Without my own thoughts distracting me, I feel like I am more capable of noticing what is beautiful ahead of me. There is of course still a lot of unpleasantness in this world, but that was all I ever saw. The ability to see, as John Berger would like to tell us, has to be cultivated, it is not a natural instinct. I had a narrow viewfinder and weak sensor (borrowing digital camera metaphors) and I didn’t know how narrow it actually was.

(yes, I know the ability to leave tech is an economic privilege, and I acknowledge the world is terribly unequal. But I do believe the world is made better even if one individual can be freer, and many a time people have only barely enough power to free themselves. Inevitably their increased well-being will positively impact the people around them too. I do strongly still believe we will never be truly free unless everyone else is free. And I will continue to type these disclaimers at the end of similar posts because I don’t want people to take me out of context. I do think it is important to share different ways of life because the world right now is biased to certain ways of living.)

2020: pursuing non-pursuing

I used to obsess about writing these every year. But this year I felt an indifference. Is it age? That I feel the choice to end and start a year overnight on a random day in the 365 days it takes earth to orbit around the sun a little arbitrary? That it feels a little sad that we need reminders to reflect upon our lives and set resolutions?

So why am I writing this anyway? I am not entirely sure. There is an awareness that the world is full of different people with different responses to living, yet there is a bias towards only certain ways of life. I am probably writing this to continue my ongoing rebellion against the mainstream narrative. And I am not the only one.

There was a debate on tech twitter over the last few weeks whether people should work 80 hours per week or not. Sometimes I imagine aliens from advanced civilisations visiting earth and feeling really peculiar at the things we argue about. Combined with the end of the decade and the end of the year, every other post on the internet is filled with people’s accomplishments and what not. I should be feeling really bad about myself, and I am pretty sure out there, there are tons of people feeling really bad about themselves, because they have lived so much less compared to their peers. That is, if living life is all about moving from one rung to a higher one.

It is saddening for me that human beings spend most of their lives chasing themselves into a frenzy so that they can feel adequate about themselves (except people who have no choice because of inequality). Maybe scaling ladders is the only way to avoid thinking about the existential despair that will surface if life is not about scaling ladders.

I feel rather disconnected from everything. I think this is the price to pay for the attempt to pursue inner peace. When we live in a world determined to generate competition and conflict, wanting to exist in some vacuum of peace means dropping out of the social order, and to a very large extent, giving up a sense of connection and community. It is difficult to relate when we no longer desire the same things in life, and therefore, no longer commune in the same challenges. Maybe if we are lucky, we can find some niche communities who are interested in pursuing the same non-pursuing.

I wouldn’t say I am much happier than before, but I am a lot less unhappy. Considerably less self-hating. I have time to read and the capacity to witness. My days of being in constant anxiety because there is some deadline to meet or some important meeting ahead is over. I stopped feeling so self-important and have embraced more of my fragility and ordinariness. I don’t miss the competition, and these days, I have ceased to miss the recognition. I like knowing that I have a self who is still relatively intact and existing despite the lack of uplifting that comes with being successful at a job.

Life is not only about accomplishments. We shouldn’t feel proud only because we are successful and have done well. It takes courage to attempt and survive failures. If you love life, there is joy in purely being alive. If you have a difficult relationship with living like me, you can give yourself a pat on the shoulder for enduring this pile of shit. If you are capable of making people feel loved, give yourself bonus points because life can be challenging and you’re helping to increase people’s resilience to them. If you’re not capable of giving love and receiving love like me, you deserve bonus points too because this is a very difficult condition to bear while being alive. Some of us just want to pay bills on time, spend quality time with family and quietly get on with life. There’s beauty in that. There’s beauty in not wanting more, to lessen the potential for damage that we will leave in our wake.

To uncondition ourselves from what the world has deeply ingrained in us is a long process. I started this process in 2015, and perhaps 2019 was the year I have finally learned to let go of things I was holding on to out of fear, familiarity and sentimentality. It feels like I have finally propped myself up enough to endure the disconnection I knew I was going to face. But I think this is a necessary disconnection to an old world I was conditioned to live in, in order to even have the chance to connect to a new unexplored dimension of life. There is a gladness in knowing I have finally started to live on my own terms, even if it comes with moments of despair, sadness and fear. But this is a despair, sadness and fear I am choosing, not thrown upon me because of a reality everyone else is subscribing to. I think 2020 will be a continuation of this deepening of an unknown and unnamed journey.

What about climate change and the pressing issues of the world you might say? There has always been blood shed upon the world, and there were always people like hermits and monastics choosing not to engage in that way. One may ponder why. I can only say I am trying my best just not to perpetuate the suffering I was subjected to and had subjected other people to, because of an unchecked psyche. I know I am a broken person, and learning to keep those sharp edges to myself (and hopefully blunt them) will take a lifetime of work.

(…and yes I know I am economically privileged to make these choices but it would be a travesty if I didn’t leverage upon it and instead keep on perpetuating a world I fundamentally disagree with, and a self I perpetually want to kill.)

like a million paper cuts

art by @launshae

Yesterday while I was cycling for food delivery I had a worrying thought pop up. I began to feel depressed, which is a word that describes that complex feelings that arise that makes me feel like I am drowning in life and any remaining desire to live starts to ebb away. I went from a somewhat neutral state to this state in like mere seconds.

In recent years, I am not sure if it is a result of the buddhist/zen books or the psychotherapy ones, I have begun to observe the process of my states a lot more. Previously if there was a similar episode, it would probably spiral into something that would last for days, if not months. Now these states still unfold, but while they unfold I become curious. Yesterday I started to notice how just one worrying thought – which isn’t even that worrying to begin – could trigger so much: it dragged up a whole ton of emotional baggage I’ve been carrying for my entire life, I wasn’t initially aware of this but later I came to realise it provoked unpleasant memories and sensations during my childhood, and it drove me into a frightened, powerless state.

They say the primal part of the brain is timeless and lacks context. It doesn’t know it is now thirty years later and we can be safe and an agent of our own lives now. It is also good at detecting threats. It doesn’t care if we are beaten up into a pulp or if we are left to cry for hours with no comfort. A threat is a threat.

I had to remind myself again and again that the conditions of the present is no longer like the past, I don’t have to be so scared anymore. That original worrying thought I had is indeed concerning, but there were still things I could do about it, it is not a dead end yet, and on a practical level it is just one hiccup in the grand scheme of things, on a psychological level I need to remember that the future is neither static or linear.

But to be honest, I still feel knots in my stomach sitting here typing this. It can be so difficult to uncondition fear. I can only hope that I can become comfortable with one part of my mind thinking one way while the rest of my body is doing its own thing, and that if I can keep reminding myself that I am safe now, one day my body will believe it.

Sometimes I feel self-conscious writing about my experiences. That I sound like I’m whining and making a molehill about nothing. That people will think that there are people dying of elsewhere because of inequality and I am here sitting in my comfortable chair writing about my pain.

But I am beginning to think differently. I have derived so much comfort and strength reading the accounts of other chronic illness sufferers. That made me realise why I am writing and who I am writing for. There will always be people who won’t understand and will judge, including myself. Being raised in an Asian society I have deeply internalised views about how people should just be stoic, pull up their socks and suffer silently. If you could be in my head for a moment you would experience how much verbal abuse I hurl at myself.

We often prioritise physical suffering and neglect psychological suffering. I think that is because psychological suffering is invisible so we think it doesn’t exist – decades of evidence-based medical science has taught us that. No visible evidence, doesn’t exist! Thankfully the latest science has proven otherwise, though the mainstream has yet to catch up with it.

But why, why do we have to wait for the evidence to show up, why do we not believe people when they say they are suffering? Why do I not even believe myself? Why do we do this invisible ranking on whose pain is more valid, why do we not get to cry and get help because our ancestors survived famine and wars?

Medical conditions are not classist. We don’t get to skip depression or high blood pressure because we are sitting in comfortable chairs. I think that is the inherent problem – that as a society we stigmatise psychological suffering, we often mistake economic privilege for psychological privilege, we are so used to measuring everything that even who should have a valid pain has a measure.

I don’t have the capacity to try to change society, but in writing my experiences as precisely as I can, I hope to demonstrate that I, with everything I can possibly have economically, is endlessly tormented by my own brain, my body, and myself. This torment goes on from the moment I wake up to the moment I sleep (if I can sleep), whether I am surrounded with beauty or with love, even if the universe had given me her most generous luck. It is like everyday I have a million paper cuts internally, and the perpetuator is supposedly my self. People who think it is possible to think your way out in the throes of depression have obviously never experienced depression before. Every single cell of my body feels overwhelmed, exhausted and lifeless.

And you know, the depression is actually the easy part for me. The migraines however, a blunt knife repeatedly carving in the insides of my head is the best way I can describe it for now. Perhaps one can understand why there are days I simply lose the will to live.

Other times, I feel like I’m writing the same thing over and over again. Today, I realised that is the whole point. That is basically my life. Every week it feels like it is playing the same script over and over again while I’m desperately trying to write a new one, yet it feels like my document keeps losing its saves.

And somehow I have to find the will and courage to start all over again.

my blood as data

Sometime in March I had my blood drawn at a neighbourhood GP. I had wanted to get my blood tested for years, but was unable to overcome my fear of the needle and also the fear of the unknown. I’ve been experimenting with my health since I’ve first gotten back in 2015, and I can’t tell which of my experiments worked well for me or how much progress I’ve made without actual data. Having chronic illnesses is like trying to find my way in the dark, I can only make guesses at what is triggering my symptoms. I was hoping that my blood would shed more light on my condition.

That visit in March was uncomfortable and frustrating. The doctor didn’t understand why I was requesting certain tests to be done apart from the standard ones. He didn’t know that magnesium deficiency can cause troubling symptoms, looked at me skeptically when I requested for a full female hormone profile as well as a blood cortisol test. He probably thought I was a hypochondriac. If I was in the US I could have requested for these tests online and skipped the skepticism of a doctor.

After the unpleasant experience I went to see another doctor my friend had recommended. It was a much longer commute and also more expensive, but she took me a lot more seriously. She recommended that I go for an ultrasound to see whether I had PCOS, and agreed with me what to test for in the the next round of blood tests.

Last year I was worried I was going to be prediabetic, but going on a moderate low carb diet plus a 16:8 intermittent fasting routine improved my HbA1C results. All that walking and cycling with food delivery must have helped too. I go off my routine whenever I travel so I was surprised that my HbA1C got better (5.5 -> 5.2) when I had my blood tested again last week. My guess is that both long-term intermittent fasting and a sustained exercise routine will be protective for a while after even if I hop off the bandwagon.

My c-reactive protein and insulin levels turned out low, so it tells me I am not chronically inflammed that that moment. I do wonder how long these blood tests stand for. Will they rise and ebb dramatically from day to day, week to week, or month to month?

What I do know now, is that I have a slight vitamin D deficiency and a estrogen/progesterone imbalance. I am perversely happy, because at least for me there is some hope and something to work on. My new doctor is confused because my hormonal levels is contradictory to my insulin levels, if both were not in contradiction I would have a PCOS diagnosis. I guess we both wish it was that simple.

She wants me to go on bioidentical progesterone but I am hesitant because I don’t really want to mess with my brain chemistry. I have learned that sometimes it is not as simple as taking something and stopping that if it causes negative effects. We’ll revisit this in another six months when I go for my next round of blood tests.

I wish I had overcome my fear earlier, so I have data from my worst days to compare to. My first blood test in March was already at a time when I was a ton better than when I first started on this journey. It would have been very validating if my blood work correlated to the actual work I have been doing on myself and my body.

Last week I had my menstrual cycle, and immediately after I had that familiar chronic pain in my body and head again. It wasn’t as bad as it could be, but these recurring episodes discourage me. It makes me feel that I am still going to be sick no matter how well I try to take care of myself. I don’t know if I exercised too much or too little. But previously I would still try to push myself even if my body felt bad, this time I just gave it time to recover. I did hypothesize that my pain and fatigue could be triggered by a moderate intensity but long bout of cycling on the heaviest day of my cycle, so I am really just going to chill, wrap myself in cotton wool and be very careful about what I eat for my next cycle. My TCM doctor did tell me I don’t have enough blood in traditional chinese medicine terms, but I am not sure how that translates since my blood work has indicated I am not anaemic, though if blood tests were free I would do another one just to make sure I am not anaemic only during my cycle.

The other thing I am working on is that my body feels chronically tense no matter what I do because it is hypervigilant all the time. I go for deep tissue massages to cope, but I am looking for something that I can do myself. I don’t want to just cope for the rest of my life, I want my body to understand that it can now be safe and relax. My partner suggests yoga all the time, but it feels so sloooow…I guess that is the whole point. People on the cptsd subreddit recommend myofascial release therapy though I wonder if that is actually different from the deep tissue chinese massage I go for.

So many questions, so many unknowns, so many points of balance I have to continually experiment with. But I am still glad I can look to my blood for clues, there are still modals of therapy I haven’t tried, and new ways of caring for myself I still have not learned. I have not yet reached the end of the tunnel. It is still dark, but there is still room to move. I now know it is not as simple as treating deficiencies or imbalances in my body, that to truly heal I need to teach my body to learn what it means to be safe, so it will one day stop flooding itself with stress responses – that is when the rest of my hormones will finally be in balance.

my long, winding, challenging road to healing

In my last few posts I wrote about how I’ve become increasingly more aware of my dysregulated nervous system. Just like the analogy I have used that I don’t expect a person without limbs to run a regular marathon, I have begun to experiment with treating myself as a person who should avoid potential emotional triggers, because I want to give my nervous system a chance to heal.

Most humans are naturally wired to be social – the hypothesis is that being anti-social would result in an early death for us as cave people. Regardless of the cause I believe most people can relate to the pain of rejection. On top of that I have a fear of abandonment, so it has been a continual challenge for me to put myself in situations where I feel alienated or disapproved of.

Strangely despite my fear of abandonment since I was a teenager I have been putting myself in many situations where social alienation is the outcome. I think because of my strong lack of desire to live has caused a strong fear of feeling trapped, so that fear of feeling trapped wins the fear of social disapproval. But I think the hurt that comes from the social disapproval doesn’t go away simply because my desire to feel free is stronger. It just accumulated, making me chronically sad and exhausted.

So for a long time I am caught in a catch-22 situation: focus on myself but risk alienation, or enjoy the safety of being in a group and be sick. Why is focusing on oneself alienating? There are a multitude of complex reasons, but for the sake of this post I will list a few:

  • focusing on oneself is perceived as selfish because we’re conditioned to put the group above oneself (thanks Confucius and other unnamed individuals!)
  • usually whatever that is affecting our health right now is arising from the status quo, so that means having to change the status quo, but many people with emotional dysregulation are addicted to stimuli and the need for approval so it is asking of us to change or leave the very situation that has sustained us in many other ways
  • much of modern societal behaviour is unhealthy, so to not practice such behaviour sometimes requires leaving society for a while, i.e. being a hermit
  • the lack of education and awareness of neuro-psychological disorders creates stigma, people tend to think we are making a big fuss out of nothing, or that it is something we can change by just making a mental decision
  • our sensitivity to suffering makes it difficult to ignore social issues and yet activism can be very triggering and exhausting

I just want to point out there’s many levels of social approval. For example, one could still reject the mainstream and be in a smaller but still highly celebrated peer group such as entrepreneurship. I rejected societal norms in Singapore by dropping out of school and being a freelancer (yeah in my time people frown upon freelancers haha), but I had felt accepted and approved of by the tech community. It was considered cool back then, not many people quit their full-time jobs, not many people wanted to risk their career by working in startups, very few people would choose design as a career here.

When designers became celebrated instead of being seen as pariahs I felt like years of my so-called terrible choices were validated. Nobody would believe me now, but I had to face a ton of obstacles just to be a designer. No one approved of my decision. There was a lot of social stigma. I had zero support except from an ex back then.

I earned very little from the early days of my design career, and being a freelancer only made that slightly better. For almost ten years I was very used to running out of money. Around the ten year mark I started making substantially more, and when I worked in the US I could afford to buy almost anything I wanted.

To throw all of that away, to go back to having to tighten purse strings and to leave the psychological safety and social validation of my career – I don’t have words to describe the shame, fear and insecurity I had felt making that decision. It is a decision I have to continually reaffirm. It was not a clean separation either, I tried to leave ‘halfway’ by trying to work for social causes instead. Then I poured my heart and energy into my interactive experiments. I probably subconsciously wanted to prove that I could still gain peer validation even if I quit my full-time job.

The past few years have been an exercise of letting go. I am still learning to let go. For a person who is so afraid to be abandoned, it has been difficult learning to live with the uncomfortable feelings and the social stigma of not having a career. Emotionally I’m a wreck, but intellectually I know I am doing the right thing for myself. I know if I don’t have the courage to quit the validation addiction, I will remain a slave to it for the rest of my life, I will never have the opportunity to discover what it means to live a life that is something I truly wanted, I will never know if I could ever be healthy.

Progress is difficult to measure when it comes to psychological progress. Like a changelog I had made for this site today, I have a private changelog of ongoing my life challenges. Only upon looking at it once in a while I get to see that despite feeling like I am still as wrecked as before, I am no longer as bothered by situations that used to bother me a lot.

But I go through cycles and seasons. I have spent months in depressed stupor. It takes a huge amount of psychological energy to make life changes and to transform our own psyche. I go through periods of good phases and then one day without reason or warning I slip into depression. The thing is, there is no measure for psychological energy. It can seem like I am doing nothing because I am not physically exerting myself but I am using up all the mental energy and will I have to make better decisions for myself. It is also tricky to expect psychological will from someone who doesn’t even really have the will to live for herself. So whatever reserves I had built up for myself would sooner or later be exhausted, and it would take me a long, unspecified time to recover.

I measure my recovery by how interested I am in things I am supposedly interested in. When I am in a phase of depression, I have interest in nothing. Not even this website. So when I am on the brink of recovery I would start working on the site again, and I would do things that I would do when I am actually interested in myself: journalling, eating better, exercising, tracking habits.

Recovery is not guaranteed or part of a natural outcome. I am not really sure of how and why it happens, but I hypothesise that it is a combination of:

  • having a very tiny flicker of life-force emerging again
  • being mindful of and isolating myself from triggers
  • quality of the recovery phase, as in trying to really let myself recover instead of being hard on myself
  • having another type of exhaustion occur: the exhaustion of feeling shitty everyday, so there is some desire to feel a little better but doing some intervention activity, like going for a run

A long while I go I drew this graph:

healthy cycles

as opposed to this one:

burnout yet again

I have yet to learn how to exist in a cycle like the earlier graph. Instead I am hoping the spikes become gentler, the despair phase shorter, and also the recovery time easier:

I guess on a meta level we could see how much difference the years have made to me by the visual quality of the graphs. I am a lot less vain now. Still vain, but less.

I am still figuring out what is enough. I tend to swing in extremes, so I always go from living a very unhealthy lifestyle to an extremely healthy one. I am currently experimenting with how much recovery time to give my body in between bouts of exercises, and how to eat moderately because being strict on my diets lead to unhealthy eating. I have struggled with boundaries and moderation my entire life, so I feel like a baby learning to crawl again.

To heal from emotional dysregulation requires time, patience, a ton of repetition and courage to leave potentially triggering but rewarding situations. The challenge is that a dysregulated nervous system makes it difficult to be patient, so the trick as I intellectually know is to treat it like how physical exercise works: stress it a little to build endurance, but not too much, rinse and repeat until the endurance slowly builds up. The key is to have a sense of agency in terms of how much and when is the exposure to stress. This is unfortunately almost impossible to do for most people which makes me really sad, because not allowing people the space to heal perpetuates cycles of pain and violence.

But for now I am in a position to carve this space for myself, and I hope to document my journey for other people in similar situations. Having space opening up doesn’t equate to automagic healing because we have internalised unhealthy behaviours so deeply that acting against these behaviours induce guilt and shame. I would have loved to read someone’s log of their journey when I first started out, it would probably cut short a lot of my confusion and grief, and even if it didn’t because for some reason I needed to experience these for myself, it would have still made it easier because I would have felt less alone.

sometimes the best one can do is to step away

I think that many people who suffered some form of oppression before will feel an extra sense of responsibility towards working for justice, because there is both a sensitivity and projection of what it feels like to be disempowered. I believe people with privilege has a responsibility towards underprivileged people. This was one of my favourite quotes:

“The Moneyball story has practical implications. If you use better data, you can find better values. There are always market inefficiencies to exploit and so on. But to me, it has a broader and less practical message: Don’t be deceived by life’s outcomes. Life’s outcomes, while not entirely random, have a huge amount of luck baked into them. Above all, recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck. And with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky.”

– Michael Lewis

I considered myself to be very lucky. After all, I don’t have to work to take care of family, I was fed relatively well my entire life, I mostly didn’t have to worry about paying for school. I am gay and yet nobody bullied me for it, I was not chased out of my family home. I didn’t go to college yet I had built a relatively successful career, and I had even gotten a coveted H1-B visa to work in the US. I had felt it was my obligation to pay it forward.

So I tried to make a difference in my work, paid or not. I volunteered, I worked in places with social causes, I tried to work on meaningful civic projects with friends. But as many of you have already known this familiar storyline: I kept burning out, and I kept falling sick.

For a long time I was mystified. They keep saying if you find meaningful work you will not burn out. If you enjoy your work you will not burn out. But only upon many years of self-investigation I realised what I had was a lot of circumstantial privilege and luck, but what I lacked was something a lot more obscure, subtle, misunderstood: a healthy psyche and body.

Because I had felt my obligation to pay it forward so deeply, I overworked myself, emotional blackmailed myself, guilt-tripped myself, verbally abused myself. I was never good enough for myself, I was never doing enough. I was weak. I couldn’t be like my friends who held successful jobs or businesses and still had multiple side projects. Every time I read about someone who launched a wonderful side project despite having full-time work I felt bad about myself. I thought I was lazy, like people had said about me when I was young.

Obviously, whatever unhealthy psyche I had was made worse by how I treated myself. This mindset is also reinforced by peers, and for a long time hustling and having no sleep was considered not just virtues, but necessities (thank you science for proving otherwise). Then there is this whole Singaporean conditioning in place.

There is this belief that it is worthwhile to work ourselves to our deaths for the outcome, especially when it is concerning social justice. But again, what we do not know enough of, is the subtle and obscure effects our unhealthy psyche and habits have on the people around us, and worse, the people who look up to us and see us an examples of a good life to lead. We don’t see how our sleep-deprived, suffering minds impact the decisions of our projects, because these effects could be long-tail, or require dedicated work to excavate. We are only good at measuring short-term effects with the metrics we know. We may not know how much stress we are putting on our colleagues or family. We measure the number of lives impacted, obviously five people suffering is a worthwhile sacrifice if five thousand people can be helped, right? We don’t see how some of our unhealthy internalised beliefs may creep into the design of our projects. Let’s make marginalised people upgrade themselves and work harder!

But over the years I have witnessed how people with healthier psyches respond to challenges, and I came to a very painful point of acceptance that I may be more of a hindrance than help. At first I blamed it on my in-born character, that I was simply born fragile, then I learned about why I am the way I am. Even though I have been a mental health advocate for years and I had known since the beginning of my awareness that I was chronically depressed that mental illnesses were very much physical illnesses, I still got very upset when people insinuated that my illnesses were imagined into being. Both of my being and my work requires me to convince people to update their belief system, to open up their minds to new research and ideas. However, the act of explaining and swaying would exhaust and upset me to no end. Again, I blamed my character.

I learned about emotional dysregulation and c-ptsd over the past couple of years, and it dawned upon me finally that my adverse reaction to having to explain or defend myself or my ideas triggered a very deeply set pain. The author of “Complex PTSD” named them emotional flashbacks. Instead of a normal memory flashback when we would recall a vivid memory in our minds’ eye, emotional flashbacks are the body’s recall of the emotions felt in the past. So we have these very upsetting feelings happening again and again whenever there is a trigger, but we may not have conscious awareness that these feelings were tied to actual events in the past, since there may not be a visual memory attached to them.

“Emotional flashbacks are also accompanied by intense arousals of the fight/flight instinct, along with hyperarousal of the sympathetic nervous system, the half of the nervous system that controls arousal and activation. When fear is the dominant emotion in a flashback the person feels extremely anxious, panicky or even suicidal. When despair predominates, a sense of profound numbness, paralysis and desperation to hide may occur. A sense of feeling small, young, fragile, powerless and helpless is also commonly experienced in an emotional flashback, and all symptoms are typically overlaid with humiliating and crushing toxic shame.”

Pete Walker, Complex PTSD

I get very distressed when I encounter conflict because it reminds me of times during my childhood when I had to explain or defend myself desperately due to criticism, getting put down, or getting shut down. The sense of powerlessness I had felt. The feeling of not only being unloved, but of not being worthy to deserve love. The shame. The harshness and the cold. The loneliness. That I had nobody to turn to, no place where I can feel safe. That my existence is only a burden, if only I could be like other kids. The feelings of struggle because I was unable to cope, to meet expectations, and yet all I had gotten was labelling: lazy, a disappointment, a troublemaker, a rebel.

(My thoughts and feelings towards this are complex, especially after learning how little of our conscious minds and behaviour we can actually control especially without the help of therapy or healthy role models, and also the impact of intergenerational trauma on our DNA and physiology. I blame it on the system, on circumstances, on luck – the luck to be born in a family with less historical psychological baggage, or to have family who had the tools to transcend their programming, some people found loving mentors – a lot less so on the individuals.)

Each time I get into a conflict – it doesn’t matter what is the topic – just the act of having to explain or defend provokes my body into a chain of stress reaction. I can feel my face getting flushed, my heart rate spiking, the desire to cry, and this profound desire to not exist. This exacerbates and contributes to my chronic disorders because having stress hormones coursing perpetually through my body will not allow my body to heal.

I guess this is an extremely long-winded way (and probably not long-winded enough to include the actual research and explain the nuances) to say I have finally begun to accept that I simply cannot compare myself to a healthy individual or make myself perform my life the way a healthier person would. I wouldn’t ask of a person without legs to run a marathon, why would I ask of myself with a dysfunctional nervous system to respond the way other people can?

For most of my life I believed conflict avoidance is a bad behaviour, and I should overcome it. So I forced myself to grow a thicker skin. The skin never really grew. I think what happened was a gradual disconnect to my emotions which I think made things worse.

So for now, I try not to get into any interactions that would be potential for conflict. I don’t expect myself to participate in arguments anymore. I don’t wish to explain myself too much if a person cannot understand my position. I still think it is important work to do in this political climate, but that person cannot be me. It is extremely difficult to argue in a meaningful manner when I’m hyperventilating inside and all I feel is that my entire existence is under threat. It also triggers my depression and suicidal tendencies. Being at the brunt of the aggression and contempt that comes with the way some people argue is highly stressful for me as well. It doesn’t matter what my mind intellectually think, the body goes into an automatic response.

This is finally an explanation (for myself) why I have always preferred asynchronous communication, and also why I can broadcast (i.e. write here and tweet) when I am not in a good shape, but I cannot respond to 1:1 interactions. Broadcasting is mostly one-way and I can choose not to respond, but I can’t leave 1:1 conversations midway.

I think I should make space for myself to heal. If I keep expecting myself to behave like a healthy person and keep doing the “right” thing, my body will never know the experience of relaxation my entire life. I would never know if I can heal.

I am finally in a place where I don’t think I need to explain my life decisions or behaviour to anybody. Many people will never understand what it is like to feel chronically tense and unsafe, or to suffer chronic disorders for most of their lives. What it is like to be in so much emotional distress that death seems like an attractive option. To hate oneself so much, to always feel like a burden. I write here in hope that someone out there would know they are not alone in feeling alone, and these are the people I am writing and researching for.

when small is beautiful

I was trying to psych myself up to start cooking instead of eating out (and delivered food) all the time, so I started watching an episode of Chef’s Table. I recommend watching it if you haven’t even if you’re not interested in cooking, because it is above all a documentary series about creativity: the leaps and sacrifices people have to take to pursue what they believe in.

I particularly enjoyed the episode about a Buddhist nun (Vol. 3, ep 1) blowing culinary experts’ tastebuds with her monastic vegan food. I also fondly remember the very first episode where the wife of an Italian chef said something that profoundly impacted me at that point of time: that if we don’t pursue something we really want to, it will continue to haunt us. I don’t watch all the episodes and I take a non-linear approach, choosing whichever ones that appeal to me the most.

The episode I chose to watch this time is on Bo Songvisava, a Thai chef in Bangkok. I chose it because it is close to home and therefore more relatable, plus the fact that she is a woman in a male-dominated industry. When she started to learn to cook Thai food she found out that nobody really knew how to cook Thai food traditionally anymore, and the ingredients used in Thai cooking these days were mass produced stuff like white sugar. So she set out to preserve the traditions in Thai cooking.

It is really interesting (and obvious in hindsight) how preserving traditions overlap a lot with low environmental footprints. She couldn’t find good quality organic ingredients in her local markets. It took a lot of time and effort but slowly she managed to find small-scale organic producers for her restaurant. I was very moved by the scenes of a palm sugar farm, where they had to climb the trees two to three times a day for harvesting because they don’t use pesticide, and the amount of work involved to produce the sugar without machinery.

Sometimes the beautiful thing about human beings is that they seem completely irrational, although depending on how we define as rational. I was very intrigued with the psychological motivations behind these small-scale farmers. They were not hipster farmers but rather people in remote areas choosing to upkeep their traditions. Why did they keep their farms small? Why do they not use machinery and pesticides like everyone else? Why are they okay with earning way less? It is not like they went on a Vipassana retreat or they read Rachel Carson (yes I am aware of how I sound here). When everyone else is obsessed about growth, these people made a conscious choice to preserve their roots, when it would make much more economic sense to follow suit.

Because we have a bunch of people who are going against the mainstream plus a chef who cares about preserving her tradition, we can now taste what Thai food could possibly taste like with quality organic ingredients. We are conditioned to think sugar is sugar but I would love to have a taste of that palm sugar. In Singapore I am not sure how long our traditional hawker culture will last before being taken over by generic bland food courts. When everyone operates from a point of economic incentives, we lose so much of ourselves and damage our environment in the process.

There is something really beautiful about how food gets sourced and made in Bo Songvisava’s kitchen. To see food as not as just a source of sustenance but to treat it with so much respect that in order to cook it we have to treat the way we cultivate the ingredients with the same amount of respect. That respect runs along the entire process from growing the food to serving it on the table, and it shows in the taste. Isn’t it the same for human beings? That if we see ourselves like machines we’ll inevitably treat everything like machines, including the planet we live on which unfortunately is not a machine. The amount of respect we truly have for ourselves shows: just like how we flippantly use environmental resources, we are also flippant in the use of our selves.

I am glad we are living in an age where we are debating whether billionaires should exist and if tech giants should be broken up. We are so addicted to growth that we don’t question what should we be growing, how should we be growing, and what are the costs. Growth is a very easy measure to hang on to, while the more difficult question has always been: why?

on coping with emotional dysregulation

I realised that I have problems regulating stress and my emotions, only sometime in the last couple of years. This reminds me of the time when I told an ex-colleague I may have chronic anxiety – she looked at me with her eyes wide open expressing her surprise that I didn’t know it earlier. In case you didn’t know too, most people don’t spend most of their lives worrying incessantly, neither do they have an impending sense of doom plaguing them. People tend to attribute behaviour with character, and character seems to be perceived as an inborn thing, so I thought being a worrier with my emotions flying all over the place and having a particularly short fuse was my character.

I think it was reading A General Theory of Love that made me learn the concept of emotional regulation. Due to a myriad of factors, some people may not develop the full capacity to regulate their emotions, so they suffer from emotional dysregulation. One of the tell-tale signs is that people like us are unable to calm ourselves down when we are upset, or we go from a zero to ten in response to a trigger. Just like how people develop diabetes from the body’s inability to regulate insulin, the nervous systems of people with emotional dysregulation are unable to regulate the flood of hormones that get triggered due to stressful factors.

What I hypothesise for myself is that I somehow managed to nurture the ability to repress that extreme response in inappropriate situations like work, as in I look unruffled or perhaps just mildly upset, but the meltdown and hormonal reactions take place internally within my psyche and body. After months and years of biting down these reactions, I developed chronic hormonal imbalances which lead to chronic illnesses, on top of burnout and breakdowns.

When one is used to being anxious and stressed all the time, we don’t actually notice it. So for years I was baffled why I kept burning out, kept falling sick, because consciously, I felt fine, thriving even. But unfortunately, age does catch up, the body gradually loses its ability to bounce back and one day, everything falls apart.

Now, I have become more attuned to my body and how it feels, so I have also become a lot more aware when my body is having a stress response. It has become both amusing and disturbing at the same time, because I am capable of observing the reaction and yet there is nothing I can do to stop it. I am more aware of emotional stress than physical and environmental stress, so sometimes it still surprises me when I suffer a relapse due to physical over-exertion. I notice my body is chronically tense and almost nothing except an intense massage can relieve it. It is not just my mind that is unable to relax, my body is in vigilant mode all the time even if I am doing nothing particularly stressful.

I am not very good at taking care of myself yet. I lack the awareness to know when is enough, especially because I was conditioned to believe nothing I do is enough or that I am not trying hard enough. So I tend to push myself to extremes, because I don’t know where is the range of moderation. I still don’t. It is a very slow trial and error, plus reconditioning process.

Sometimes I get really really tired of doing this. This is not something doctors know how to fix, if they take you seriously in the first place. They don’t consider the complex chain of hormonal reactions taking place in the body, they just want to treat the symptom and get over with it. I have been appalled by how doctors are fixated on what they have been taught 30 years ago and how they refuse to consider more recent developments in medical research. If I have migraines, chronic dry eyes, PMS and chronic mental health disorders, I have to see four different specialists, three of whom will simply give me painkillers.

(In case if you wonder why don’t I just take painkillers and get on with life, there was a period when I did take them regularly for my migraines and one day they stopped working, and then nothing else worked, except traditional chinese medicine, thankfully.)

So some days, I feel horribly trapped in this body. It doesn’t matter what other blessings I have in other areas of my life when I feel something stabbing the insides of my eye a few days a month if I am lucky, coupled with two weeks of low energy because of PMS, and everyday out-of-control stress reactions to a multitude of stimuli. Then I feel guilt for feeling this suffering because other people have it worse, and of course people seem to like to remind me of that though gratitude for my circumstances will not make my pain go away. I have internalised this accusation that I’m ungrateful, so I have developed an immense hatred for myself: I am so weak, I should try harder, I am a burden, my suffering is so insignificant.

All of this just makes me want to disappear. Since I am still lucid I do not want to cause suffering for people who care about me I cannot voluntarily end my own life, but to me it is sad that I cannot find other reasons to keep myself alive apart from the feelings of other people. I try to convince myself philosophically, that to know whether life is worth living or not requires me to be alive till the end, and that my current self cannot deprive my future self of the opportunities to know. That I can still be curious to see who I’ll become, even if I remain ambivalent to life for the rest of my life. I tell myself that even though the process is slow, I have become better at managing myself and my life. Some other days the injustice and absurdity of this world overwhelms me, and all my reasoning falls short. I tell myself perhaps the most I can do, is to bear witness, to the suffering of others and myself, to the unfolding, even if it is tragic.

I am contemplating whether to continue publishing this journal. I don’t want to whine at this corner of the internet while people are losing their lives and eyes in trying to protect the life they know. I am also thinking of going completely off social media, to reduce the amount of stimuli that will potentially trigger me. I guess if I can’t disappear off the face of the world, the very least I can do is to disappear off most of it. In parallel I am also curious to see if I can implement the ways of monastic life in my own home. It is not about following religion or rules set by a religious order, but rather making the intentional space for silence and contemplation. I am also wondering if reducing potential triggers as much as possible would give my body the time and space it needs to heal. I will feel guilty for not participating, but at this point I am not sure if my participation is a net positive to the world. I will probably still work on publishing book reviews, my research findings and the personal learning library.

I am not sure yet. I will miss the internet, and you – whoever have been reading my writing for this long. Thank you for making this world a less lonely place for me.

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a contemplation of the effects of stillness while in Slovenia

Being in Slovenia was an accident. I had planned a trip to Rome to see ancient ruins, and I thought why not swing by to visit my ex-colleague and friend, Romina who lives in Ljubljana – which is an hour’s drive away from the border of Italy.

Allow me to sidetrack for a little bit. I remember a conversation with Romina and her friend a few years ago, and they were saying how they had to drive to Austria to go to Ikea. That memory is permanently imprinted in my mind: for a Singaporean it is just so surreal to buy furniture in another country that is less than a two hour drive away. Venice is also two hours away, Milan is five. I took a picturesque, relaxing, six hour train ride from Vienna to Ljubljana. Can you imagine this is their everyday reality? I can’t.

So the original plan was to just stop by Ljubljana for a night or two just to see my friend, and to spend a few nights in Prague instead. But somehow in the process of research I saw pictures of how beautiful Slovenia’s natural landscape was. I wanted to visit Prague because everybody said you had to, and to be honest nobody ever talks about Slovenia, but I pictured us visiting another city with beautiful architecture and history versus a country where so much of the landscape is still unspoiled. This is one of the rare – I hope many more times in future – when I actually became aware of what my spirit wanted. (Here I don’t really mean spirit in the metaphysical sense, but the essence that exists beyond all that conditioning.)

I’ve taken quite a few trips in the past few years (because I am in a race against time), I have to say Slovenia is my favourite so far (Kyoto is a close second). In Slovenia I experienced a sense of stillness and a slowing down of time, as though I was transported into an entirely different dimension:

right in front of our airbnb in Robanov Kot

For those few days I felt like a whole person, instead of a person who has to make herself fit into the ways of a modern, dense, relentless city. We took hikes that ranged from thirty minutes to three hours, at some areas there wasn’t a single human soul for miles except us. We did however, bump into a couple of horses and pigs:

One could get used to this and take it for granted. But having lived my entire life in dense cities (so dense that San Francisco felt like the countryside to me), I felt like I was under a lingering, soothing, shower of gentleness.

I wondered how I can bring this inner experience back with me to Singapore, to retain that stillness within me. Will I quickly snap back into the haste and stress once I am back in the city? Where every corner I turn there is a tall building towering over me, unable to escape from the fumes of vehicles or the perpetual rush of people.

Lake Bohinj

To be fair it is now autumn, when all the summer crowds have long dispersed. Still I appreciated the quality of the space that was available to me. The unique thing about Slovenia is that you can go from a town to a beautiful, quiet hike in a thirty minute drive (in New Zealand I just felt like I was always driving but maybe I am just a fomo bad planner), so I still had the energy to truly enjoy the landscapes. Something that is more subtle is the sense of safety I felt, because the nearest town was always near enough.

I am so glad I chose to leave Prague for another time, spending almost a week in Slovenia instead. I think this experience is going to make me travel differently from now. I would look for more opportunities to experience different dimensions of stillness. I think it was a necessary process to get the fomo out of my system though. We are so conditioned to look for novelty, but now, only now I feel I have the capacity to experience being still for a while.

For a long time I had felt I was allergic to the city state I was born in. When I lived in San Francisco, each time I was back to visit family in Singapore I would get sick. People would laugh at me, saying it was all in my mind – now I know that actually has an element of truth, because the latest scientific research is showing that our psyche has the power to influence our bodies. But can anyone draw the line between what is considered our psyche, our brain, our nervous system and the physical body?

The latest Apple Watch OS has a noise app, because “Repeated, long-term exposure to sounds above 80 decibels can lead to permanent damage.”. People get heart disease and hypertension from noise exposure. We tend to notice only the extremes. Wikipedia lists a normal conversation at 60 dB. If chronic exposure to 80 dB can cause permanent damage, what is the effect of being surrounded by noise in the 40 dB – 60 dB range almost every single waking minute of your life?

“People living in cities are regularly exposed (against their will) to noise above 85 decibels from sources like traffic, subways, industrial activity, and airports. That’s enough to cause significant hearing loss over time. If you have an hour-long commute at such sound levels, your hearing has probably already been affected. Urban life also sustains average background noise levels of 60 decibels, which is loud enough to raise one’s blood pressure and heart rate, and cause stress, loss of concentration, and loss of sleep.”

– “City Noise Might Be Making You Sick”, The Atlantic

We are like sponges and mirrors. We now know that infants’ stress levels and heart rates are regulated by their caregivers:

“Prolonged separations even can be fatal to an immature nervous system, as vital rhythms of heart rate and respiration devolve into chaos. Sudden infant death is increased fourfold in the babies of mothers who are depressed—because without emotional shelter, infants die. The heart rhythms of securely attached babies are steadier than those with insecure relationships, just as the breathing teddy bear regularizes the respiration of premature infants. Synchronicity with parents (or, in a pinch, with another reliable rhythmic source) becomes the baby’s developing physiologic strength.”

– A General Theory of Love

I wouldn’t be surprised if science one day proves (it is probably out there already) that our nervous system responds unconsciously to the state of the people around us. We get stressed in a room full of stressed people, and we automatically relax when we are around calm people. This is not some new age thing, but a natural consequence of us being social creatures and having mirror neurons.

I am not sure what the future holds for us in context to climate change, but if we do survive it somehow, I remain optimistic that in time to come, we will learn to design societies and environments that will factor in what makes a human being truly thrive. It is not because it is moral or that it is the humane thing to do, but the logical consequence that healthy, thriving human beings will create healthy, thriving, societies. It is a little sad that in this time and age it still feels like an argument we have to make, but I think the leaders in power now are not exposed to this model of thinking (I guess all they learned was Darwin and Adam Smith).

Since quitting my last full-time job four years ago I have been wanting to live differently. I think I have made a lot of progress and have grown a lot in terms of being aware of my unconscious loops and behaviour, but very often even till now I have found myself repeating these unconscious loops in other areas of my life. I am too fixed in certain ways of being, largely influenced by my upbringing in a dense city. This trip made me contemplate how I have to be very intentional about how I want to live, the extra effort it really takes to be in a different mode. Stillness doesn’t come easy, it has to be actively pursued (yes I am aware of the irony of this sentence). I will have to be creative how I can intentionally envelope myself in stillness when I am back home in Singapore.

Note: following this line of thought I may periodically take sabbaticals from social media though I will regularly update this journal, so sign up for my tinyletter if you would like to be notified of updates.