on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

responding meaningfully

I only ran once in my entire trip in Kyoto. I justified it with the amount of distance I was walking every day. Upon returning to Singapore I went for a run the very next day, thinking that it would be painful to restart the momentum again. I was wrong: I actually felt like my stamina was stronger than before. The actual physical impact of not running for 3 weeks actually came after my menstrual cycle. I was ravaged by a fatigue I haven’t felt in a long while since I began to run.

There was something more subtle. In Kyoto I experienced flashes of my rage and sadness, and since returning I have been more anxious and depressed than I was prior to the trip. I started to wonder if running was simply numbing my wounds as opposed to healing them. Perhaps interventions, whether it is running or anti-depressants can only open up the space and energy to heal but the actual inner work still has to be done rigorously.

I do think I now have a tried and tested repertoire to cope. Running, cutting out carbs and sleeping well deals mostly with the physical side of things, and reading allows my mind to elevate itself out of its narrow perspective. The only caveat is that all of these things take motivation and discipline, which are non-existent during a depressive episode. Taking a leaf from books on trauma, the body has an unconscious memory. It remembers and accumulates pain, that is why we are often frozen in the rumination of our past, and also why we are often triggered by the smallest of events. What running has done for me is to leverage this unconscious memory to remember positive feelings when I do energy-affirming things for myself. That is why consistency is important: it is required for the body to build what we commonly call the muscle memory.

I ran for 84 days consecutively before my trip, so when I started running again it almost felt like my body was home.It craved running like I crave food. Every stride felt like a loving caress. Having hated anything that resembled moving most of my life, it was such a cognitive dissonance. I feel unfit now, but I am moderately confident that within weeks I will feel better.

I think this is what building resilience is about. We often intervene only when things go wrong, but it is during good times that we have the capacity to build our strength. I know there will be times of crises in future or simply times like my trip when I was not able to keep a routine. So the in-between times become really important to build my fortitude. I am not preparing for a time when I would be so strong that I would not break, but rather to break gracefully and be capable of recovering well when it comes.

I am not there yet.

Ironically I am grateful for my time in Kyoto because I had the opportunity to remember who I was with my anger and sadness. I don’t want them to magically fade away. I want to learn how to cope with them so I am prepared to face new sources of anger and sadness. I lived life with a lot of fear, trying to avoid as much pain and suffering as possible, only to experience the extent of my fragility when it hits anyway. That sort of life is limiting and unsustainable. Spending life in avoidance mode will shrink a person. I want to be capable of experiencing anger and sadness without destroying other people and myself.

I took most of last week off social media and messages. I am lucky enough to grow up in an era where you lost contact of a person if they moved and changed their land-line number. We had a handful of friends who had our phone numbers and that was it. Sometimes you would call a person and they may or may not return your call, or their family hogged the line. There is less expectation to be available. Now we are contactable by people we knew as a child to the people we barely acquainted with on multiple platforms and it seems that it is considered rude if we simply don’t respond to messages.

I don’t have the capacity to respond to myself, so I don’t have the capacity to respond to anyone else. What I have been learning is I also lack the skill to respond meaningfully. I once read a lot of Thich Nhat Hanh and he kept writing about “skillful means” and I didn’t have much of an idea what he really meant until recently. There are entire books written about what it means so I wouldn’t attempt to define it academically, but for me, it is the capacity to meet where a person is and respond to them with wisdom and compassion. i.e. Sometimes brutal honesty is simply brutal, or sometimes we need to have the wisdom to know if we’re being biased. I’ve been reflecting on my past behaviour and it is horrifying to be aware of how much hurt I’ve been delivering unconsciously to people. I believe the way we treat people is co-related to the way we treat ourselves (this is one of the main theories of psychotherapy) so I think a huge component of my suffering is my inability to treat myself skilfully. Hence I am going to spend more time in contemplative solitude so I don’t walk around hurting other people without knowing it.

There is a lot to unpack about this so perhaps I’ll write more in another post.

A couple of days ago I spent some time reading some autograph books (where classmates write down their thoughts before splitting off) from my secondary school days. I was reminded of a few incidents which I have completely forgotten: like how much I loved the overhead projector and often got mad when teachers abused it, and how I accompanied a crying classmate I barely knew to see the principal because a teacher made a mistake in marking her test papers (and refused to rectify it). Apparently I was also talking about a ramp onto the internet (have no idea what it means) in front of the entire cohort and often expressed strong feminist views during class at age 16. I was also remembered by almost everyone who wrote in that book to be generous in sharing my stash of snacks and sweets under my desk. LOL.

I wish I knew what really happened from then on, for me to lose my voice and developed such a pervasive fear of people that I became a recluse for a long period of time in my 20s. I didn’t keep a journal, and can only speculate from a faulty memory.

Maybe life would have been radically different for me if I had access to a supportive mentor and/or psychotherapy. But I remain comforted I kept a tiny fragment of my past, a fragment which reminded me that a sense of justice had been deeply rooted in me, even at an age when I knew no social incentive to be so.

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