on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

personal thoughts & anxiety on the virus situation

I will admit that when the whole virus situation started I didn’t take it seriously. I don’t remember being concerned about SARS, H1N1 or any similar diseases. I think there is a callousness and naivety that comes with youth. Maybe the effectiveness of the Singapore government in those earlier situations lulled me into a false sense of security.

Then the news and research started trickling in, before exploding in line with the case numbers. I became seriously concerned with South Korea, and the rapid spread in Italy along with the rest of Europe kickstarted my sense of fear and dread, especially after parsing through threads like this on twitter:

This is the first time in my life we’re facing a global epidemic, and nobody has any idea what is truly in store. There is the part about the virus, then there is the part of the fallout due to the virus. The former is bad enough, and I shudder to think about the latter.

Singapore is lauded, probably rightly so for handling the situation well. But I think we’re hardly out of the woods. We are not in lockdown, people are still flying in, and the malls are still crowded. We just need a few asymptomatic people walking around to start new clusters and make the linear growing numbers into exponential ones.

There are so many threads on social media about the situation in Europe, with many people saying that one week ago they were living their lives as per normal, and it took just one week for their hospitals to reach their capacity. I strongly feel that Singapore should do perform tests on anyone who wants to be tested, as well as people exhibiting mild symptoms. I am worried that if we wait till the number of cases implode, it will be too late:

I am a nobody, and people hardly read this blog. I am not writing this to advocate for action, but rather to express my fear. I don’t mind laughing at my own paranoia in future. I realised many people are relying on mainstream media for their updates, so they may not know how dire is the situation in other countries, or that there is increasing evidence that people who exhibit no symptoms can be highly contagious.

“On Tuesday, Dr. Sandra Ciesek, director of the Institute of Medical Virology in Frankfurt, Germany, tested 24 passengers who had just flown in from Israel. Seven of the 24 passengers tested positive for coronavirus. Four of those had no symptoms, and Ciesek was surprised to find that the viral load of the specimens from the asymptomatic patients was higher than the viral load of the specimens from the three patients who did have symptoms. Viral load is a measure of the concentration of the virus in someone’s respiratory secretions. A higher load means that someone is more likely to spread the infection to other people.”

Infected people without symptoms might be driving the spread of coronavirus more than we realized, CNN

I am personally staying at home as much as possible, except for my morning rides at the park where it is open air and everyone is at least a few metres away from me. I remain grateful that I have cycling as my crutch.

I don’t feel safe at all. I am very worried for the elderly in my family, especially those who already have chronic conditions. I can only hope that the current measures will work against all odds, and that this is the precise time when we can demonstrate the advances in our medical science to develop an effective treatment for it.

Everyone, please stay safe, and try to keep everyone else safe by practicing social distancing.

some thoughts on publishing, and the preciousness of the ordinary

I used to love writing because it was cathartic – I had a lot of repressed and suppressed feelings which I couldn’t express in person. These days I have found myself wanting to write less because I don’t repress myself that much anymore, at least to the extent I am conscious of. I also think that blogging has become complicated, people used to share the mundane things they do and now it has become a personal marketing tool. Additionally, I am afraid of the power of my words: I share very personal experiences about my life truly in the spirit of sharing, I don’t want people to take my words as advice or some version of objective truth. I loved writing online because I felt free doing so, and now I don’t know how I feel about it.

I have changed so many selves throughout the years, and I love reading through an archive of my old selves to discover how much I have changed. My old writing no longer represent the beliefs I have now, but I am reluctant to take it down because I am an archivist at heart. A few months ago I read “At the Existentialist Cafe” and Becoming Beauvoir among some other biographical accounts of philosophers, and it struck me how often these philosophers changed their minds and worldviews, but the world only remembers their philosophy that was frozen in the permanent legacy of their famous books. Apparently Sartre wanted very much to correct his philosophy that he was so famous for, but he died before he could complete his work, through the alcohol and drugs didn’t help as well.

I am always in the process of becoming, so I don’t wish to have a fixed view permanently attributed to me. I don’t think the world has solved this problem yet, to deal with the dynamism of text. Maybe you would think I’m exaggerating to call it a problem, but I think the static quality of books, the time it takes to publish new information that is capable of eradicating its predecessors and seep it into the public consciousness, is causing the human consciousness to have a very serious time lag.

It has repercussions in real life. An example that frustrates me to no end is doctors dishing out information and advice that is severely outdated to patients, hence affecting their quality of life and chances of recovery. They regurgitate what they learn in school decades ago, and school itself is already behind the latest proven research. We trust slow-moving institutions too much, to our own detriment.

Of course, on the other extreme end is the barrage of live feeds. There’s so much new information that we no longer know what is real and useful anymore. We need something that can negotiate the deadness of a book and the liveness of a feed. I wonder if I’ll experience something that I’ll be truly astonished with in my lifetime.

The whole virus situation has made me deeply reflect on how one can have almost everything possible but nowhere to spend them if the world becomes unsafe enough that the mobility we take so much for granted is taken away. I am hesitant to visit loved ones in the event I am an asymptomatic carrier. I read in the national news that after a patient was finally discharged from the ICU, all she wanted was to return to her ordinary life: cooking for her family, exercising with her friends, buying groceries.

An ordinary life, something so many of us fervently try to avoid in pursuit of the extraordinary. But for me it is the ordinary that gives me the most joy. All I want is some time to ride my bike, eat some good food, read some thought-provoking books and spend quality time with my loved ones. If I had to be Sisyphus I would be contented having a repetition of a day that allowed me to do all the above. This would sound super weird to my younger self, and she would probably look very down on me, just as much as I would laugh at her foolishness.

Contentment it turns out, is truly feeling the awareness of how precious the ordinary is. Yet it is not easy to filter all the noise that exists, process all that trauma, uncondition ourselves from all that unhealthy mainstream thinking, and settle into an ordinary life of our own choosing. As I have once written before, there is nothing simple about being simple.

This morning I read a really sad story on Reddit. A man lost his wife to cancer only 108 days after she first experienced health problems. They were both just 25. How much he would give just to experience the ordinary again with his wife.

Extraordinary stories are still inspiring. Sometimes I think my way of life must be really weird to the mainstream society, then I come across examples of people who truly put me in my place, such as this woman who cycled around the world alone for almost 10 years now, relying mostly on donations. It is not uncommon for people to take long cycling trips, but 10 years!!

I don’t think there is anything wrong with the pursuit of the extraordinary, but be sure to pursue the definition of extraordinary in your very own terms, not a peer-pressured, society-defined one.

on the process of learning to be less unhappy

Having been raised in a materialistic society it is difficult to uncondition ourselves from believing that success equates to happiness. Some of us turned our backs on conventional success and chose to pursue our passion instead, so there’s this counter-narrative that it is pursuing our passion that will make us happy.

I think ‘passion’ is often a misused term. Only upon hindsight I realised what I believed to be my passion was simply the first thing I latched on to that offered me some semblance of agency and room for self-expression. It felt like a relief compared to the mainstream narrative of scaling corporate ladders in a 9-5 job.

We are told that in order to succeed in our passion we have to sacrifice for it. Due to the naiveness and bravado of my youth I worked countless nights till 5am in the morning for the sake of my “passion”. Being a designer was not in the list of “approved” professions back then, so apart from low pay, abusive bosses and long hours, I had to put up with disapproval, discouragement and disappointment from the people around me.

My career bore some fruit in my early 30s. For the longest time I did not have the courage to contemplate I was unhappy because of the blood, sweat and tears I had put in. I went through some traumatic times to sustain my career for that entire length of time – how could I give it all up when I had worked so hard for that respect, approval and validation? So I blamed it on my chronic depression.

I think one of the factors that cause the great unhappiness in society is the sunk cost fallacy.

It is extremely challenging to sort out which part of the chronic depression is causing the chronic unhappiness and which part of the chronic unhappiness is causing the chronic depression. I also think it is one of humanity’s greatest talents to be in denial.

Depression itself is a complex condition that may mean a thousand things. But for the sake of this context I will define it as a biological regulation disorder. Compared to the average healthy person it is more challenging for me to regulate my emotions, meaning I tend to swing from one extreme end to the other, and I am very easily stressed – whether mentally or physically. These extreme swings and stress makes it difficult for the neurotransmitters to be regulated (just the presence cortisol for prolonged periods is enough to cause a spectrum of hormone-related conditions including diabetes), therefore resulting in a chronically low mood.

I have thought of myself as a resilient person precisely I went through so much and survived it all, to finally acknowledge that I am a fragile, easily stressed person was embarrassing and disempowering in a society that prides people on being tough. Can you imagine telling a prospective employer you’re easily stressed? Can you imagine a prospective client reading my blog? Nobody would hire me.

But if I didn’t acknowledge my fragility I would only continue to put myself in situations where I continue to burn out over and over again because I wouldn’t protect myself from exposure to stress. It is like dunking a person who doesn’t know how to swim into the ocean over and over again and expecting them to thrive.

It is helpful that I am somewhat still driven to understand my condition, so reading a ton of research of chronic depression and emotional dysregulation allowed me to stop feeling so lousy about myself. We tend to blame fragility on one’s character, as though it is something that can be improved if one decides to. But do you know our nervous systems can be greatly impacted even as an unborn fetus? It can result in lifelong consequences.

I started to understand my condition as a systemic condition. Stressful societies and environments produce stressed people and they in turn produce stressed children. Then, we all go on to perpetuate the conditions of a stressful society, because that’s all we know. Because that’s all we know and all we’ve done to survive, even thrive, we celebrate and glorify being able to cope with extreme stress. Clap clap.

For me, it is so obvious on hindsight and a lot of introspection that I have been conditioned to expect happiness from all the wrong places. I thought I had everything, but I was still miserable. I think we assume the capacity to be happier is an innate human condition, but for some of us, it is something that has to be learned and developed.

What made me a lot happier – again I wouldn’t say I am happy but I would say I am a lot less unhappy – weren’t accomplishments or even love. My career achievements brought me temporary elation, then emptiness. Then it got worse because we are told that we are supposed to feel grateful with all the material privilege we have been given. But material privilege doesn’t buy you psychological stability, the inner capacity for happiness, or the self-awareness that one needs to work on oneself. However, it can buy time to try to develop them. But to take the time, effort and challenge to do so is not something money can buy too, because we tend to avoid difficult feelings and/or internal experiences, and/or admitting that something is wrong to begin with. I spent a long time trying to avoid going through wholesale changes because I just didn’t want to admit everything was just not working out and I have to start learning how to crawl again. It is also potentially a very isolating experience because everyone else is going through life status quo while I went for gatherings and even on social media supposedly expecting to feel the same but all of a sudden nothing ever feels the same again.

People who have been interacting with me for a long time expected the same behaviour from me – why wouldn’t they – but I simply wasn’t the same person anymore. I was not interested in most things people were interested in, I put up way more boundaries, said no to most things and effectively isolated myself for a long while. I couldn’t figure out how to interact with people when I didn’t even know what to expect from myself.

I probably fell into a deeper depression than the one I was already in. Losing everything familiar including my previous self was a thoroughly disturbing experience.

Maybe it took two years or more? In the recent months I have observed myself to be a lot less depressed. I still experience low moods but a lot less suicidal ideation. I definitely have more physical energy.

I can only explain this in the way I can in this very linear format, but the entire experience was nowhere linear. I think I went through a long period of detox from things that gave me short-term dopamine hits and I felt very lonely for a long while because I no longer felt connected to anything, but I walked out of it suddenly realising what used to matter so much to me no longer mattered, and now I am free to find what truly mattered.

That also meant that old triggers triggered me less since they mattered less. Being less triggered meant less emotional upheavals which meant less depressive burnouts. I took most things less seriously. Perhaps I would leave this for another essay but it is difficult to take anything seriously when one realises most things are just a story we tell ourselves. Everyone is living according to an internal script we have of our own lives and of ourselves, everyone else is fulfilling a role in that script. One day, we can just stop following that script and drop out of people’s scripts too.

There are things that are as real as reality can get, like viruses and mortality, but something like I must be a hardworking person or everyone including myself will despise me is just a story. It is a story that becomes very real and will have actual impact on someone’s life because a society’s culture can determine whether people’s opinions of you matter especially if you’re underprivileged (society just sucks) but many a time the power we assign to these stories are disproportionate to the actual impact it can have of us. For example, for the longest time I truly believed I was a nice person and wanted everyone to like me – but what the heck? It is simply a story I made up and I believed it so much that I made myself miserable living it. It felt like the end of the world if someone disliked me but in actual reality it is just one person’s story of me. Sometimes we cannot control how someone perceives us because everybody has their complex psychological histories and responses. If someone dislikes us, it may not even be about us at all. This is one of the hardest things to learn in life but also one of the most beneficial – to learn that many situations in life are people acting out their inner scripts. It is even more beneficial to understand how powerful our own inner script is, and yet how much we can change it.

I like being a not-so-nice person who knows how to say no and enjoys being a somewhat hermit, I am also more at peace with however people wish to perceive of me. At the end, I am the person who has to live my life and inhabit my own mind and body. Someone’s dislike and disapproval of me may hurt my fragile feelings but it shouldn’t cause me to detest myself and my life so much that I frequently wished a car would knock me down while I cross the road. Especially if people’s views are simply a bunch of stories told to them too.

What I learned is that while my chronic depression is still very much a biological condition, lessening the factors that worsened it gave me the opportunity to develop some psychological stability and awareness – including the awareness that a huge chunk of my misery is caused by the thoughts I have of myself and the world, which comes from what I imagine people to think of me as well as past experiences of people hurting me consciously and/or unconsciously (and I blame evolution and the system for a lot of this shit). Everyone’s mileage may vary, but in short a huge chunk of my unhappy feelings come from other people (and/or my projections of them). Just developing the capacity to live in a world slightly apart from most people and construct a life where I am capable of amusing myself is making me a lot less unhappy.

I think most people including myself crave for a sense of belonging and appreciation, which is probably wired into us for evolutionary survival. That is probably why we are so susceptible to peer and societal pressure. I guess I just want to clarify that my point is not that being around people is bad, but it shouldn’t make one feel bad about themselves. Sometimes it could be our own projections – we imagine their feelings of us – but other times some people are just not aware of the hurt they are causing other people. Sometimes I am the one making people feel bad about themselves which I only realise upon hindsight which in turn makes me feel bad about myself, and taking time to be with myself gives me an opportunity to reflect and become a more aware and resilient person.

It is not easy to become a person who doesn’t hurt another. For me, being a hermit is one of the easier ways to take myself out of everybody’s complex psychological histories and responses. I get to give my own hyper-responsive nervous system a break too. I don’t recommend this to anyone because loneliness is triggering for some people but for me, learning to co-exist with existential loneliness has gifted me a profound sense of peace and freedom.

TLDR: believing in the wrong stories can cause great misery.

Note: I’ve been writing less because now I’m posting more videos on instagram, so pop by there if you want to know what I’ve been up to.

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.