on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

existential questions

I regularly talk about my lack of desire to live in therapy. Last week, my therapist said that she believes every person is born with the love of life, but things happened along the way to corrupt that. I used to think that way too, but this time around I challenged that belief – can we be absolutely sure of that? I argued that nature is diverse, if there are people born with the love of life, there must be people born with the lack of. And that generates different outcomes for the universe, as I responded to her seriously, imagine a universe where everyone loves life, I almost exclaim in horror.

There have been several questions in my head. Due to Anthony Bourdain’s suicide and co-incidentally a friend of mine was talking about the definition of mental illness, I can’t help but wonder if I am mentally ill. Is it an illness to not desire life? Why is a love for life considered natural and healthy? Would we consider poisonous animals unnatural and healthy? Just because the majority favours a certain state of being doesn’t mean that other states are not natural.

If someone suffers tremendously in their life and has depression as an outcome, is that an illness? Is it ill to respond with apathy or numbing sadness to life’s trying circumstances? Should they be expected to pop a pill and functional normally despite everything? We seem to be saying, despite whatever shit life throws at you, you are sick for feeling this way, the healthy response should be boundless hope and optimism!?

But why? I saw an analogy somewhere on the internet today, that if we were in a relationship with someone who hits us once a month but the rest are good times, we would consider that an abusive relationship. Why the hell do we perceive life as desirable when there are some good moments peppered among bad times?

On the flip side I do know there are people who enjoy and thrive on life. I respect that, I just wish there’s respect on both sides.

My therapist tries to tell me that my existence is precious, whether I can see it or not. It is precious to other people. But I countered, isn’t it sad if my entire existence hinges on other people? What if one day I’m no longer precious to anybody, or if everyone around me is no longer around?

Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung argued that people must have a personal myth in order to live. You have to believe in something: heaven or hell, reward or punishment, the hero’s journey, the absolute importance of evolution, etc. My problem is that I no longer have a personal myth, and after months of thought I am inclined to think I have to construct one even if I don’t truly believe in it. It has to be a narrative I can live with.

My current take is that I cannot bring myself to inflict suffering on other people for now, so I should try every means to sustain my life, coupled with curiosity to see if there’s any other way I can lead my life or be with my life that can possibly change the way I feel about life. The irony is that I can only truly know if I find it in myself to live it till the end, although there have been times when I simply don’t care.

It may be disconcerting for anyone to read this or even perhaps for myself to write this. But I think the lack of awareness, exposure and discussion over the topic of suicide that contributes to the suicide rates. Controversially, I also believe euthanasia should be legal. I once watched a documentary where a relatively young woman in her 20s went through the entire process to seek euthanasia which was legal in her country only to change her mind at the very last minute. I cannot remember it fully now, but I think it made her feel better to know she had that option. My theory (which I can’t validate obviously and could be wrong) is that if euthanasia was legal, more people would be inclined to follow a proper process which may include mandatory therapy, consultations with loved ones, handling of last matters including wills etc – that may change people’s minds.

Many a time people are forced to kill themselves because they see no way out, not to mention how many of those were done on impulse? But there’s probably ways out in those cases, but they simply cannot envision it alone. My theory is that it is the ultimate aloneness and seeming inescapability that makes life unbearable.

For me, I find relief in finding space to talk about it. Despite thwarting my therapist’s best intentions for me, I find it incredibly comforting that she engages my questioning without judgment. Strangely I have found a partner that has no only accepted this part of me but has found it interesting, so I do feel luckier in that aspect.

Maybe ultimately I don’t really want to die, I just have a compulsion to live a life I really want to live, and not being on that path yet is causing a deep discomfort in me.

But I am still asking the questions which means I am still interested in answers.


I just moved out of my rented storage space of six years, having rented it a few months before I moved to SF in 2012. When I moved back here in 2015 I assumed I was going to be a nomad for at least a few years, so I continued leaving the bulk of my possessions there.

I started it with it barely half full, filled with stuff I moved there post-breakup. Each time I returned to Singapore I stored a little more: my parents moved so I had to move my childhood stuff out of their place, in between lengthy trips to Vancouver, Hong Kong, San Francisco I brought stuff. The final time I stored stuff I shipped back from the US.

My storage was essentially a time capsule.

In 2012 I spent most of the year living out of a suitcase. It was surprising how little I needed. Yet it was really comforting to own a few pieces of furniture, to expand my wardrobe a little when I started a lease in SF. I could own more than a pair of shoes. I thought I would stay there forever, so I didn’t really hesitate to own stuff I loved. I was blindsided by the time I had to leave, so it was painful bidding goodbye to my things. Among them was a little wooden stool I bought from a sidewalk stall for $25. It sounds weird, but I still miss that stool. I had an apartment full of stuff, but all that was left from that time of my life were three boxes I shipped back to Singapore. Three boxes of prime possessions I decided I couldn’t live without. Somehow I didn’t tape the boxes properly, so some spilled out. USPS (I didn’t have a budget for better lol) bothered to put most of it back for me, but till today I don’t really know what I had missed.

I tell people I have abandonment issues. I fear being abandoned, but the deeper truth is I fear abandoning. So many times I had to pack and unpack my life. It is like a repeating exercise of zen: how many times can I let go, how many times do I have to let go?

Clearing my storage for the seemingly final time, there was a lot to let go. I felt strangely emotional. It was like a chapter had finally closed with another opening. There was stuff I had accumulated since I was a kid, accompanied with stuff I accumulated in a previous major relationship, topped up with stuff I accumulated in the few years I was away. I am somehow the same person but I am distinctly different. The person who packed those stuff in the storage doesn’t really exist in me anymore. Looking at my things, I couldn’t recognise my past self, I felt sympathetic, compassionate and amused at the things my past self felt like she needed to keep.

Yet there were stuff I would not let go of as long as I can help it. My Faye Wong CD collection (haha), letters from the past, mementos from people I love(d), etc. I felt poignant thinking that these things can finally see some sunlight as I move them into my new home, yet apprehensive: how long would it be before I have to pack up again?

But there are some moments in life when we just have to take leaps of faith. I have lived a lot of my life preparing for the worst and it defined me so much, for better and for worse. Now, I want to learn how to live my life hoping for the best.

Terminating my storage was a step towards that, that I am at a place where I can settle for long time. I don’t know, there will probably always be that doubt living inside my head, but I am slowly learning to co-exist with it, tend to it, be considerate to it, instead of letting it take over my life and my decisions, like it has done for most of my life.

a relationship with me

My partner sent her first text to me after reading my essay about being chronically depressed and suicidal. She said it made her feel like I was truly alive. How ironic. She loved venn diagrams, so I used one to illustrate why I was terrible for her: I said I was a circle filled with black, and she was one filled with bright yellow. Intersected, there can only be muddy brown. The venn diagram that existed in her mind was different. In hers, I was a circle filled with psychedelic rainbow colours, it was a mini galaxy filled with stars and planets.

Honestly till today, I am not sure if she sees me beyond how I see myself, or she is deluded. I keep telling her the delusion will eventually lift, and she insists I don’t see what she sees.

When we first got together, I was in a better state of health. She described me as “cheerful”. I was upset, and I took that as a sign that she didn’t really know me, that the relationship would not survive. It took its time, but my darkness eventually returned, as it always did. She started witnessing how I would get really upset at the slightest of triggers, how I would just collapse in a heap of seemingly endless tears, how I would verbalise my suicidal ideation, how I would plead with her to leave me because I couldn’t bear to do this to someone I love, again and again. Perhaps those were the easier times because at the very least she could try to hold and console me. What was worse for us both were times when I would just go into a numb, silent, apathetic state that seemed to go on indefinitely. She wouldn’t be able to reach me, I am not sure if I was able to reach myself.

Early on, I made her promise that she would leave me once things got too hard for her. She keeps telling me I shouldn’t keep trying to decide for her. We celebrate every monthly anniversary we have because we both don’t know when. Behind the genuine happy smiles we contain on the instagram pictures we post, there were two people working really hard to stay together in spite of the odds.

My partner hardly has a spot of darkness in her, and I hardly have a spot of lightness in me. By being with her I know I’ll inevitably tarnish her being, but she corrects me, telling me I bring richness into her life, the feelings she never had. I am still not sure whether to believe her.

Every other day I’ll ask her why she loves me. She got slightly annoyed at first, but learned to understand that I have a pervasive fear of abandonment. Some days we talk about the meaning of life. I ask her if it is reasonable that I am depressed, looking at the state of the world. I ask if she takes it personally that I still feel like dying even though she’s present in my life. I needed her to understand the pain is mine, that I’m infinitely grateful for her but what is external cannot remove what is internal and rooted.

I have written a ton of posts about her generosity towards me, but those pale in comparison to the actual reality of the day to day work of being with me. All those times I tried to convince her she’ll be better off without me. The times I tell her I feel like dying. The times she accidentally triggered me. I shouldn’t be in a relationship.

But time and time again she schools me with her perspective, a perspective that is a consequence of a healthy psyche, a psyche that looks and feels very foreign to me. She tells me that the good outweigh the difficult, that I am unable to see myself, that if I could see what she sees, I’ll understand why she wants to be with me.

I am still not sure if I should believe her.

But this I know. That it is incredibly freeing to be with someone whom I can be honest with. She doesn’t try to fix me or implore me to get better, she engages my existential questioning and she accepts my suicidal tendencies. She doesn’t think I should stop having them or they are wrong. She may not understand what it means to have this feelings but she understands intellectually why I have them.

This is controversial, but for me, the space to be me with all my existential feelings and deep sadness, makes all the difference. It is the loneliness of being wrong, of being unaccepted, feeling like they are alone in coping with all that pain, that they are a burden to the people they love, that drives people to the edge. I know I can safely tell my partner how I feel without being judged for it. I don’t have to feel like I have to hide it. Hiding a huge part of who I am amounts to hiding myself.

I don’t want to get “better”. I have gotten better over the years and it’s never sustainable. It just makes the next drop more unbearable, because it deludes me into thinking I’ve “recovered”. I want to learn to sit with myself, with my difficult feelings. I want to learn to contain my own pain and co-exist with it, not to avoid it, not to get rid of it. The pain exists for a reason. If the pain should be gone one day it will be because I have reconciled with the cause, not because of any intervention methods (though for many people intervention is needed). I’m not advocating that this should be everyone’s choice but this is mine.

And I’m very lucky to have my partner’s support and witnessing. But she knows she will always have the choice to leave, and we know every month we survive together is a milestone — it is the acknowledged fragility that gives it its strength

on learning how to think

One of the hardest and most important skills to learn in life is learning how to think. Usually learning how to think is associated with critical thinking, and people assume that it is for the pursuit of intellectual truth, that it is important to learn how to determine falsehoods or cognitive biases in society.

But what is less lauded and talked about, is learning how to think when it comes to perceiving ourselves, our potential and how we can relate to the world. It is one thing to see the world as it is, and another thing to see ourselves as who we truly are. I realised I either gave up too much power in terms of determining who I am, or I was over-confident in the knowledge of myself.

I think what makes a huge difference in the quality of one’s life is to develop the capacity to continually break internalised moulds of ourselves. That requires acute divergent thinking. It’s the ability to suddenly shift the mirror to a completely new radical angle to see a different side of ourselves, to reimagine new versions of who we can be. Or to nudge ourselves into realisations that we don’t have to do things the same old ways, or follow any conformist behaviour.

For example, I used to think of myself as a designer and I felt like that was the only thing I could ever do. Or I cannot count the countless times people tell me they can’t cook/draw/read/change careers/etc because they assume to know themselves and their limitations. But plenty of times it is either a societal conditioning or a limit we put on ourselves (okay this is aside from having the economic privilege of choice). I think it’s important to ask ourselves why we have that perception, and to think deeply and critically about it, not just the standard “I know myself”.

On a more meta level, that so many of us regularly repeat “I know myself” in itself is a critical reason why we should learn more widely about how to think. One of the ways to learn how to think is to input more and wider sources to better develop our streams of thought. Having only one answer to questions is an obvious sign that our stream is narrow because there’s almost always multiple sides and dimensions to every question (having just read a book on quantum physics, I was surprised to learn that even the reality of atoms is not absolute). We only need to pick up a few neuroscience and psychology books to know that “I know myself” is probably a fallacy.

The moment we learn that we don’t really know ourselves that well, everything falls apart. We start to doubt ourselves, our pasts, our constructed narratives. But that can be liberating — if we don’t know ourselves that well, then what do we actually know, and does that mean there’s also multiple dimensions of ourselves we have yet to discover or develop? What can we really contain?

These days I am bothered with a question: how much of my chronic depression is due to my inability to think myself out of my own rabbit holes? I grapple with my own definition of my feelings, the ways I see the world. Sometimes I feel like the world looks depressing to me because I have not learned to look at it in a different light. Sometimes I wonder if my brain chemistry is limiting my spectrum of thought or if my spectrum of thought is impacting my brain chemistry (well the science says it’s a complex system — the truth is nobody really knows). Even the capacity to notice beauty, I realised, has to be learned for me. An old couple making conversation can be annoying, a delay on the road can be tiring, an old building can look ugly. But they all can be experienced so beautifully.

I look at myself in the mirror. I see ugliness. I think of myself in my mind, I become impatient with my flaws. I don’t think I can do a lot of things, because I have become accustomed to what I believe I can do. I don’t trust myself to handle difficult situations, because I believe I can’t.

The capacity to think divergently makes a critical difference here. Many times it is just the ability to write a different storyline for ourselves. I was a designer but now I want to do something else. I am not sure what is that something else, but what is wrong with not knowing? What makes us try to define ourselves so narrowly? When I look into my perceived beliefs deeply, all I see were societal constructs. Why do we need to have careers? Why do we have to explain ourselves? Why do we have to try so hard to be validated? Can I co-exist
with my sadness instead of trying to get rid of
it? Is happiness really important? Must life be precious to everybody? Why is existence important? If the point of life lies in the meaning, what is the point of meaning?

There are some questions I don’t have answers to, and once again I want to have the humility to acknowledge that I probably don’t possess the capacity to see the world as widely as possible. It is only recent that I have become aware of how narrow my view is, and that is astounding as well as liberating.

I just need to develop the skill to remember this: that my world view is narrow, the view of myself is narrow too, and ahead lies the potential of the unknown. Even the ability to intervene with our own line of thinking and interject new lines is a developed skill, and I classify it as one of the micro-skills under the umbrella of learning how to think.

I think the secret of life is to always have a question at every point we think we have static answers to

the weight of existence

I’m near the end of our second week in Taiwan. In the middle of last week I felt unwell and homesick. It is strange that when I was younger I wished my travels wouldn’t end, and now I’m fighting against my own primal instincts so I can continue the journey.

I used to be able to sleep in the worst of backpackers’ inns and travel overnight on buses. These days I don’t feel fully at ease except when I’m home. I don’t really know what happened along the way. Maybe I overdosed on the instability I’ve experienced in my life and it is both therapeutic and comforting to go back to the exact same conditions. I face a dilemma: my physical and mental health requires routine, but my spiritual and emotional health requires discovery (and it took a lot of self-examination to come to this realisation, the fact that I am not as one-dimensional as I thought). Managing my overall health is like walking on a tightrope.

In the middle of last week I came across an article about inequality in Singapore, and it filled me with a lot of sadness. I struggled terribly in the system even with middle class economic privilege, it has caused me so many emotional scars that I’m still having nightmares over it till today — I can’t imagine what it’s like to be struggling with both basic needs and the ruthlessness of the system. These feelings don’t allow me to recuperate in peace or live my life in isolation. I am always haunted by the unfairness of the system and the guilt of my own privilege. I feel like I should be doing more but my health doesn’t allow me to. My nervous system has gotten to a point where every little trigger can potentially cause me to spend days if not weeks in pain. I feel useless and powerless.

I tweeted about it and received a beautiful response in return. I would like to believe that it is better to focus on what I can do versus what I cannot do. That we all have different roles in this world and not everyone can and should be a tireless activist. I try to comfort myself by telling myself I am trying to recover so I can be in a better position to contribute. I wondered if Van Gogh felt useless painting everyday.

I am trying to defy a system that measures people in absolute terms, and yet I can’t escape from this conditioning myself.

How long will my recovery take? Will I ever recover? How does one negate a lifetime of self-abuse and negative thought patterns? Is observing myself and life frivolous? Is art and philosophy frivolous? Is self-examination frivolous? How do monastics feel looking at the state of this world? How can one ever live freely or even strive to be free while witnessing the entrapment of many others? How does one maximise their own privilege effectively to equalise the playing field for others?

I try to rationalise and think in logic, but regardless of the answers I come up with, I can’t escape the weight of the questions and the density of my feelings.

I can only continually try to expand the space I hold for these questions. Maybe with time and hope I will be able to exist with them.

jolting contrasts

Having spent a week in Taipei I am reminded why travel takes a lot of weight in my life. It is the opportunity to take oneself out of a familiar context, to be forced into a heightened awareness because we are in unfamiliar surroundings. Back home I navigate myself around with my eyes half closed, I don’t look around myself much anymore because my brain is blind to a place so familiar to me.

Being in a different territory and culture I keep getting these jolting contrasts — I witness the seemingly mundane interaction between a breakfast shop owner and a school kid and I feel a lump in my throat. Everything has this romantic tinge to them: from the musical intonations of the Taiwanese to the revived old buildings made into creative spaces. It makes me wonder if we are more immune to the spirit we carry within ourselves, and the presence of a foreign energy is inevitably provocative.

Browsing an under ground bookstore I came across this book titled, 被討厭的勇氣 — loosely translated to “The courage to be hated”. It turned out to be a chinese translation of a Japanese interpretation of Alfred Adler’s philosophy. I ended up reading an english translation of the book and gained a basic insight to Adler’s theories through the lenses of two Japanese co-authors. What a convoluted yet beautiful way to learn something!

I miss and lack this sort of serendipity in my life at home. Home has been a sanctuary to me, but has also played a part in causing me to be somewhat static. Travel forces me to engage with the world because the allure of discovery is too hard to resist. Interacting with life does not come naturally to me, I prefer to engage with words through the barriers of various mediums.

Somehow all of this makes me think of my previous desire to live a monastic life. Buddhist philosophy is about seeing that everything is an illusion, and many have interpreted this to mean that we should practice non-attachment. I wondered what’s the point of living when you are not attached to anything. I have come to a recent thought that perhaps it is about unconditioning ourselves from the usual things that we’re attached to — symbols of power and validation — then from that empty space we would be able to freely choose what do we wish to be attached to instead. I think there is a courage needed to lead a monastic life, to let go of everything, and there is also courage needed to be fiercely committed to being alive and human. Maybe that’s why in folklore we have stories of deities falling in love with human beings or choosing to be human, without imperfection would there be space for unconditional love, would there be stories of incredible courage and resilience? Would there be a poem writing about stubborn gladness?

autumn around the corner

I feel like an animal, chased by predators all my life, and suddenly someone brought me into a sanctuary. There is peace all around but I am not used to it, so I keep looking over my shoulder anxiously. The quieter it becomes the more anxious I get.

I am reminded of this:

“Winnicott says somewhere that health is much more difficult to deal with than disease. And he’s right, I think, in the sense that everybody is dealing with how much of their own aliveness they can bear and how much they need to anesthetize themselves.” — Adam Phillips

I think about how I lived: how I rushed from moment to moment without truly understanding how I felt. It is very easy to get caught up in busyness, because doing things distracts us from feeling. Some people say we must keep ourselves busy in order to not fall into depression but I wonder if the possibility of feeling alive while being still, exists?

Today I found myself moving slowly. I rented a car to drive some of my stuff from my storage to the new apartment I co-own with my partner. I think about myself in my youth, how I used to speed across lanes trying to get ahead of every car in sight. Now I hardly move out of the slowest lane, preferring to feel a steady momentum instead of anxious competition. When I reached my apartment I rolled the trolley and unloaded my stuff as though I had all the time in the world. I am bemused as I observe myself.

I am not sure how to make of this reality, everything feels surreal to me. What does it mean for me to finally settle down after years of movement and escaping?

When I lived a life of a walking dead I was game to take a lot of risks and I was unafraid of loss. There was nothing to lose when everything felt dead to me. Aliveness has a price to pay, because aliveness for me means being keenly aware of the beauty and transience of everything. The more alive I become, the greater I notice the potential for grief. I am learning to hold space for beauty and joy in my life, yet I am also growing afraid of losing everything precious to me. Sometimes I suspect my subconscious chooses to numb myself because like Winicott said, how much aliveness can we truly bear?

It takes courage to endure a cold harsh winter, but perhaps it takes a particular quality of resilience to notice the beauty of flowers blooming knowing that autumn is around the corner.

emotional bedrock

Yesterday I read a story about a psychotherapist who had a very difficult client. The client was homeless and didn’t have money to pay, yet the therapist elected to take her on, paying for supervision herself to ensure she could get a professional opinion on how she’s handling the case. The client had a history of abandonment so she was extremely needy, frequently calling the therapist almost every day.

Long story short, despite trials and tribulations which included a suicide attempt in the middle, fifteen years later the client was able to thrive independently. I loved this sentiment:

“It is at times like this that therapists feel the earth move. It’s not when the big revelations tumble out, or even the times when the patient effuses gratitude. The most satisfying moments are these seemingly mundane occasions that make one feel a person’s molecules have been somehow rearranged for the better. I felt that all the time, patience, skill, compassion, and money I had put toward the healing of Emily had reached her, and not only reached her but settled into a kind of emotional bedrock.” – Deborah Luepnitz, Schopenhauer’s Porcupines

Fifteen years! What does it mean to spend fifteen years with a person not on a personal level but on a strange professional yet intimate level? What does it mean to patiently trust in someone’s lifelong’s process of becoming? One can never know where it’ll go when the process takes so long, so it takes a giant leap of faith and dogged persistance for both the therapist and the client. It is really not easy for either party to keep showing up. For fifteen years!

The idea of becoming a therapist has popped up in my mind repeatedly recently. It will be a long and expensive journey, and I am not sure how committed I am to it yet. But I’ve found the process of holding space and being a mirror for my friends particularly meaningful, especially if I was able to reflect a little bit of their own light back to them. I was aware of this a few years ago, but it never occurred to me that I would want to do this professionally.

But each time I read stories on psychotherapy I am moved profoundly, each time my therapist holds space for me I can feel the edges of my existence. How therapeutic and life-changing it is to have someone see and take us seriously, and what would it mean to be able to give this gift to people who really need it? What would it mean to be part of the process of someone forming their emotional bedrock?

I think it is one of the greatest gift in life to be able to gift someone a full and accurate reflection of themselves and their potentialities, to honour them seriously as a human being, to believe in their capacity to thrive. And perhaps it means even more to show up for them when everyone else has failed to do so, to give them a safe space to hurt and to truly be with them while they grow and heal.

In one of my earlier sessions with my therapist, I told her that it saddens me that therapy exists as a profession, that we have to pay for someone to take our emotions seriously, that the people who really need therapy will never be able to afford it. I was moved to tears when the therapist above initiated an effort to provide therapy for the homeless.

I would like to work with disadvantaged communities if I ever pursue psychotherapy as a path. I think how we navigate life is based on how we see ourselves and by extension, how we relate to others. I have spent most of my life walking in circles because I was unable to see myself. It is arguable if I even had a self. Who knows how our lives may unfold if there are people who are deeply invested in our becoming as our selves (and not treat us like a statistic/case number/retirement funding source/trophy/extension of themselves)? If, if I can become a person who is resilient enough to be there with someone while they take their time to become – looking at where I am now I think I have a long, difficult way to go – I think it would be an extremely meaningful way to spend the rest of my life.

The thought of sticking with a someone for more than a decade sounds unthinkable and claustrophobic to me (yes I have commitment issues), but who knows?

Chronic patterns

This post was posted as a Patreon update but it turned into a deeper reflection, so I am posting cross-posting here to share:

Without really knowing it, months have passed since my last update. It seemed like yesterday that 2018 had just begun. I apologise for not having done more updates. Since the last time I had written here I haven’t been well. My migraines kept recurring, and I had another relapse of my depression. I am hesitant to call it a relapse, because I am not sure if I was ever out of it.

I paused all work that involved code, because looking at lines of code trying to obsessively solve coding problems is one of the quickest ways to trigger a migraine. At that point, I wasn’t sure if I was working on my experiments because I really wanted to, or is there some deeper complex behind it, like was I trying to prove my self-worth?

I lost all spirit to engage the world. I couldn’t find it in myself to deal with it, or write something here, because I really don’t know what to write when I don’t even know what is going on myself. One of my favourite morning routines is to make myself a cup of coffee and sit in front of my computer, looking forward to see what the internet can bring me on each day. I lost that too. I found it hard to get out of bed, I stopped meeting my friends, I stopped replying to texts.

But throughout it all, I still found solace in books and I continued writing every week. At the very least, I documented my despair.

I can only say this with hindsight, but this period was necessary. I left full-time paid work to learn how to stop hurting myself, but I continued to do so in other guises: pro-bonno work, volunteering with civic causes, providing emotional labour, working on my experiments, writing complex essays, etc.

I think I managed to do something very few people have done. I managed to burn out on my supposed sabbatical, except this was not a physical/mental/creative burnout, but only now I know, it was an emotional burnout.

I was simply repeating my unhealthy patterns despite not having a job. I didn’t know how to regulate myself, whether it was time, boundaries, emotions, cognitive processing, being on twitter/facebook, exercise, etc. My body was tired that I keep putting myself through the same loop over and over again. I kept being triggered and my emotions were frequently on a rollercoaster. This time, unlike previous years, I became aware of my pulse getting quicker, my skin getting tighter, my chest feeling constricted — all the responses when the body is getting ready for a flight or fight response. I even managed to observe it with amusement when it cascaded while I partially thought it was funny and yet I was not able to control my meltdown.

It started to dawn upon me after reading a ton of books that I am fundamentally wired to respond the same way and it doesn’t really matter whether I am working or on a sabbatical. I am still susceptible to the same stress response whether it is a work deadline or someone is asking a seemingly innocuous question. I live with chronic body ache for years and it never occurred to me that it could be because my muscles are perpetually tense due to constant vigilance. My body does not know how to feel safe.

I started myself on regular therapy and now I am hoping to do more work on myself in hope that I can change the way my body responds to stress triggers. I am not sure when I can resume my experiments. I lost all interest in them or anything that remotely resembles the computer during my period of despair, but recently I am starting to feel that familiar spark of curiosity and desire to tinker again. But I am not going to rush back into them because I am not in control of my body’s health yet.

If you would like to withdraw your support, please do so. If there is another creator that you feel is more deserving, please feel free to transfer your pledge. Not being able to meet expectations is inherently stressful, and I would like to maintain a lighthearted connection with everyone here.

I will continue to publish every week, and it is my hope that through my voracious reading I can distill what I’ve learned externally and personally in order to share it with the world.

There is something fleeting that is coming out of the entire process: a framework for well-being. We tend to talk about well-being in silos and I hope to integrate what I’ve learned reading philosophy, neuroscience, psychotherapy, etc into an accessible interactive framework. Another one of my experiments I guess. We’ll see how we unfold.

a series of cuts

A series of events had made me really stressed out lately, though someone else in my shoes probably wouldn’t be very affected. In recent years I’ve learned to observe other people’s behavior in context to mine, and I realised for most people, they tend to let things affect them a little and then move on, whereas I accumulate them like a bin except I don’t seem to ever empty my trash.

I’ve also learned that I probably never really learned to regulate my emotions as a baby (that’s the age where we form our brains by mirroring our caregiver) and coupled with some genetic lottery I’ve just turned into this really over-sensitive person until to a point it is actually disabling. I have never seen my sensitivity as a disability until I realised (again) how much energy I spend over-reacting to everything and how much it burns me out. Then again I didn’t know emotions or emotional labour can burn us out either.

Sometimes I am led to believe I’ve come very far to becoming more zen until I get triggered again. Having an emotional meltdown can in itself lead to a depressive spiral, because there is a lot of self-blame — why am I feeling like this again despite doing x,y and z? I think for over a year I kept stumbling over any progress I had because all I could do was wallow in self-pity whenever I had any form of relapse.

A lot of it is the inability to zoom out. I kept narrowing on how bad I’ve felt without zooming out to see how much progress I’ve made relative to a year or a decade ago. A few years ago I wouldn’t have the self-awareness to cut my spiral short by doing some intervention like hiding myself away whenever I feel overwhelmed so I can give my nervous system a much needed break from being overstimulated. I am now able to observe the actual feeling I have when I am burning out, whereas in the past everything felt like a painful blur all the time.

I don’t know how I’ve survived till now without some coping skills earlier in my life. I know I’ve chalked up a lot of self-resentment which I’m still trying to undo, but I’m not sure if I ever will. It is tiring to live like this, where everyday feels like a series of cuts. Imagine going through life where one is afraid to move because everywhere you turn you’re afraid to get cut. There were some phases in my life where I’ve made radical changes by just running through the cuts — let all of it hurt faster and all at once just simply because I was tired of this chronic decay. But that takes its own toll too, as I’ve discovered.

I am not resilient. Previously I would hate to admit this because it makes me feel like a weakling. But I have learned that it is worse trying to pretend otherwise, ignoring the fact and serially hurling myself into situations I should have kept away from. I wouldn’t ask someone with a limp to sprint, so why do I keep insisting on being someone I am not?

But maybe if I recognize and accept the fact I am not resilient, I actually have something to work with. I can try to work around it instead of ignoring it. I can slowly try to build on it. If I keep on insisting I’m resilient when I am not, isn’t it like asking a piece of paper to wrap fire?

I used to blame PMS for making me weepy and unstable. But I think I am grateful for it. It is upon instability that the structure gets to be tested. I am beginning to think of PMS as a time when for a small window, I get to see how well my coping skills have developed. (Not very well, for now.)

These days I just tell people when I don’t feel well. In the past I’ll just make up some excuse or try to deal with it. Being honest, whether to people or to ourselves is hard.

I try my best, to my capacity. I am still trying to find out what is my capacity. I am also still trying to know who I am, without being moulded under the pressure of needing to be approved of. How real can I be, as a person? Am I willing to risk alienation in the search for myself?

Existential searches seem to have become a joke. I am glad I am searching, because if not I don’t know why the hell should I exist. At the very least I feel like I am starting to know where I start and where I end — what truly brings me joy versus what am I conditioned to.