on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

The city that changed me

It has been two weeks since I’ve moved to SF, mostly I’ve been busy at work and doing all the paperwork that I have to do as a new transplant to the city. Things moved so quickly since my petition to work in the states got approved, that I didn’t have time to react. I had to be preoccupied with more paperwork after the petition approval, then the embassy interview, and thereafter just preparing to move.

But along my long walks in between, there are moments of silence and inner-peace when I feel an immense gratitude. Grateful, because I knew how hard it was for me to be here. Immensely grateful, because I remembered the state I was in before I came to San Francisco for the first time.

I was basically a living dead the year leading up to my first SF trip. I was having migraines everyday, I couldn’t sleep, I was extremely fatigued, I could no longer feel. I was just numb, going through the motions everyday and hoping every single day that I would not wake up with a migraine. That was all I could hope for. To not feel that debilitating pain in my head. That was my life. I couldn’t dare to dream or even dare to live like anyone else.

Perhaps people would be curious why I was even in that state in the first place. It is a complex myriad of factors, but to put it simply I was under too much stress from multiple areas of my life for a extended amount of time. Both internally and externally, micro and macro. You know those stories you read in newspapers where people die from stress? That was almost me. I was having palpitations constantly, I lived in a constant state of tension, I was always worried about the days ahead.

And then there is that dull, hollow pain in the core of my being that I carried for most of my life. An inexplicable sadness for life.

It would take me a long, long process to even understand why I was carrying so much pain with me.

The gift of having been there is that now, it allows me to see my life in a very different perspective and it allows me to be grateful.

For I will never forget how it had felt to be that way.

All the flowers I see blooming now, the birds I hear singing, the smiles I see on strangers’ faces, the incredible vast blue skies, the sheer beauty of sunlight – I can go on and on, everything gives me joy and gratitude. When I remember how I used to not be able to sleep, waking up every morning now makes me smile.

I see so much love and beauty in people and I remembered how all I could see was the ugliness of human beings. The world is full of promise to me and it used to be full of despair.

And all because in July last year, I came to San Francisco.

The city that changed the way I viewed the world. That life could be lived in a different way. I am sure some people would understand how I had felt, perhaps for them the city had been New York, London, Melbourne or just somewhere they feel like they belong to.

For the first time in my life, I finally felt like I belonged somewhere.

I started smiling a lot when I was first here last year. I smiled at brown paper bags, I smiled at some dude singing and playing his guitar while walking on the streets, I smiled when people say thank-you to the bus drivers, I smiled when the BART driver made us laugh with his jokes, I smiled at street-side stalls selling home-baked cookies for an animal shelter, I smiled at how a homeless person was treated graciously by a shop owner, I smiled when suddenly, the whole world seemed to be smiling at me.

A lot of people like their lives here. That was something new to me. I see a light in their eyes, I hear the vibrations of their voices when they speak, I feel their energy when they move. They are alive. They feel alive.

I had never experienced such life before. That it was possible to be surrounded by people who are so alive and so in love with life.

For once, I started to believe that I, could be in love with my life too. Yes, that person who was as good as living-dead.

I look back and I start to connect the dots. There is this Chinese saying that says, “first bitter, than sweet” – I finally know what this truly means.

If my life was a charted line-graph, it was always so low, that everything now is a high.  That all the unfortunate events only served to remind me of my extremely good fortune now. It doesn’t allow me to take things for granted. Just like if you had known the feeling of starvation before, you’ll never forget how precious food becomes. Or well, you can be extremely stingy about food but that only happens with shortsightedness, that deliberate scarcity will never remove that feeling of lack.

I haven’t even begun to write about how long and trying was the entire process to get my work visa, I’ll save that for another story, but all the more it makes me appreciate where I am now.

I am beginning to see roadblocks very differently now. Everything really happens for a reason. Even that long visa process only served to make me a strong, better, happier person.

And therein lies another big secret of happiness. It is all about perspective. Perspective allows you to frame everything with a different context. You can either choose to become bitter with life when you encounter roadblocks or make that roadblock a stepping stone instead. You can either feel a sense of entitlement to everything you have or know that they are all god-given gifts to you. You can be weighed down and be filled with despair by all the unfortunate events that’s happening in the world, or choose to celebrate the ones who are making attempts to make this world a better place.

I could have used my pain as a source of bitterness and I will not shy away from the fact that I had done so for most of my life. It has become a source of strength instead, for everything that has happened in a magical timing to allow me to flip that switch – I am grateful.

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