It's yet another pandemic birthday!
This time around, I thought I'd share some of the things that I have now learned in my 30s, that I didn't know and wish had known in my 20s. Are some of these things part of you revelation in your 30s too?
Malaysia has just announced another total lockdown, beginning the 1st May 2021. It's awful, but it's necessary. Today's positive cases have reached a staggering 9000+, and death rates are frightening. Whatever little leniency that has been slowly given back to us over the past year is now being retracted with this devastating new reality. The next two weeks will be exactly as how it was the first time, a year ago: sitting at home with strict movement control order, shops completely closed, and absolutely no recreational activity, not even a walk outside in the sunshine.
We all have our own challenges of being in lockdown with our own set of circumstance, but being in a lockdown alone is definitely a completely different ballgame. Isolated alone. Damn. Even mulling over that phrase gives me the dreads. Having been through it for the past year, I can affirmatively say that the isolation is depressing and sometimes, even crippling. How many times have I found myself not having the motivation to even get out of bed? That dreaded feeling of having to face another day in complete silence, with no one to talk to and no way of getting outside of these 4 walls made me feel imprisoned, and not just physically, too. Having no liberation impacted my mental health, sometimes to the point that I couldn't even motivate myself to do anything at all. On occasions, I would just stare at the TV screen, not even watching what I was seeing. Worse still, my emotions were harder to manage, with mood swings, an unshakeable sense of anxiety, and a lot of fear of just wasting my life away like this.
(The really freaky part was when I caught myself talking to myself as I was cooking. That was insane.)
That shitty feeling of stuck in stagnant is mainly driven by the sense of not growing. Unlike our past life pre-lockdown, we are no longer having new experiences, meeting new people, getting thrown into new or uncomfortable situations, or even learning anything new - all these things that are the subconscious ways of growing. This is especially true when you live alone. Realizing this, I began to find ways to ensure that my brain is always stimulated. I started painting. I began learning about how to self-publish my own books. I have a friend who began learning how to play the guitar, and another who taught herself how to make fermented food. Creating your own opportunities to learn something new at your own home is just something I had to learn how to do in order to compensate for all of the external experiences I was missing. Is my painting quality equivalent to that time when Paris Hilton thought she could sing? Absolutely. But who cares? The priority for me is to keep creating, thus expanding the horizons of my brain, not so much on the 'am I the next Pablo Picasso?' question.
Another important thing I have learned is the power of cultivating your own happy hormones. Yes, you can actually build and sustain your happy hormones, thanks to science. It's such an overstated suggestion and I'm sure we've all heard it about 1 million times, but truly, truly, exercise is the most underutilized anti-depressant. It has been proven to ease anxiety, boost moods and helps better sleep. I observed that on days when I made an effort to have at least 30 minutes worth of active movement, I was in a much happier state and was able to get better sleep compared to the days when I didn't do any exercise at all. Personally, I like yoga (I really benefit from the mental stillness aspect of this) and dancing (I love music), but the key is to really just get your dose of endorphins. I know, I like to moan and say "it's harder to work out when you're alone at homeee" too. But here's a hard-to-swallow pill; you're going to be at home alone for a while now, so it's time to snap out of that excuse. By observation, I also noticed that friends who do not exercise during lockdown seem to be easily agitated and stressed.
I usually do an online class, like this one from Lagom Yoga Shala (ig: @lagomyogashala ) by my yoga teacher @fredamarcy
A second way to cultivate your own happy hormones is by feeding your happiness. Nutrition is DIRECTLY linked to wellness, and certain foods have been proven to be good mood boosters. In the beginning of the pandemic, I fell into the trickery of eating whatever the hell I wanted, in the name of 'surviving' the lockdown. What I ended up with was just a few extra kilos and a whole lotta acne that only made me feel worse about myself, which in turn made me feel even more resentful towards the lockdown situation. I did a self-experiment in the past year where I braved myself to eat a mostly plant-based diet (with the occasional 2 or 3 servings of meat/fish a week), and it really did improve my mood so much.
For ideas on how to prep and cook plant-based meals (because let's face it, if you don't get creative, these kinds of food gets really boring really fast), I usually seek inspiration from these chefs and influencers on Instagram: @deliciouslyella , @happyskinkitchen , @jamieoliver , @ottolenghi
A third way of sustaining your mental stability is by controlling what your brain consumes. My favourite kind of TV shows have always been the depressing kind - murder documentaries, movies about people going through terrible things and dark drama. With the lockdown, I had to teach myself to watch happier, brighter things. Our brains are affected by the themes and energy that we consume, and so I have shifted to watch romcoms, comedies, sitcoms and nature documentaries. There was a time when I relapsed and began watching murder documentaries again, and as a result I had trouble sleeping because there was nothing at home to contrast the energy I got from watching gruesome murder scenes and listening to real-life horror stories.
Last but not least, here is one key element that I felt have truly changed the way I was able to perceive my lockdown; I worked on my spirituality. With all the time that I have now that I'm stuck at home, I could now indulge in exploring my inner needs. Spirituality means differently to different people. Some of us have a chosen specific faith to channel that need, while the rest of us are more contemporary. I tried many different things for the past year, and I have to say that I have enjoyed all of them. I learned how to meditate using guided mediations online, I tried sound baths which I absolutely loved, and I even embarked on trying to learn more about the Quran (slow pace, though). Improving on your spirituality can even be as simple as allocating a few minutes a day to just sit with yourself in silence and listing down things you're grateful for, or teaching yourself to be more present (i.e. AWAY from the internet).
(Something that really works for me: Every few hours, I find a patch of sky from my window or balcony, and just stare up at the blue sky and clouds for 5 minutes straight. It does some crazy magic to clear your head and give you relief)
Resources that I found helpful, elevating and motivational are: Headspace Guide to Meditation (Netflix), Masterclass by Oprah Winfrey (Spotify), Tibetan Bowl Playlist (Spotify. This is good to assist you to meditate), Headspace Guide to Sleep (Netflix).
All of these things really helped me for the past year. Are they foolproof? Honestly, of course not. Some days none of these things work, and all I want to do is to eat a tub of ice cream, cry and listen to Lana del Rey music. That's okay too. But if you're able to bask in a positive beat more times than you do the tougher episodes, then you've done well this lockdown. Good luck!
Over the years I had always known that I was ‘quirky’. In the beginning, I didn’t associate myself with this specific term. All I knew was that I didn't exactly fit in. But when people around me began to use this word as a description for myself I began to adapt it. “Happy Birthday, Stay Quirky!” A birthday note from a friend would say. “She’s very quirky,” is a way someone would describe to a guy they wanted to match me with. Quirky can be used positively and negatively in everyday conversation. Sometimes, it means that someone is unique in a good way. Other times, it’s a word people use to politely mask what they really think of you - weirdo.
Being quirky can be a lonely business. Often, it causes not many people being able to understand you, how your mind works or how you operate, and this would result in you having a tough time making connections with people. When you’re odd from the normal ‘culture’ you’re in, you tend to become outcasts from the common wagon, not really fitting in anywhere or not really feeling like you belong any place. This is especially hard when you’re young, when the sense of self and worth has not fully developed just yet. It was certainly hard for me. I spent many years without having anyone that I felt was close enough a friend, and repetitively being with guys who made me feel less, only because I was trying to desperately fit in a mold that was not in the shape of myself. I pretended to enjoy certain things that I didn’t, I said I believed in some things that I didn’t, and I did a lot of things I didn’t fully want because I just wanted to get along. Always in the end, I would just end up questioning what the hell was wrong with me, and feeling bad about myself.
The good news is I certainly do feel that it gets better with age. You’ll end up finding friends who are accepting of what you are without criticizing your personality. You’ll find men who love you and want to be with you because of your quirks, not despite it. You’ll slowly shed the constant need to prove that you’re okay because your need for validation by others would decrease as you get older. You’ll give yourself permission to just be happy with who you are even when it doesn’t fit the generic module.
A lot of the amazing, adventurous, significant things that have happened in my life were driven by that odd part of me - and I don’t think they would’ve happened otherwise. Most importantly, you’ll find the bravery to be different, to live your life exactly how you’re designed and destined for. This may mean letting go of certain ideas and losing certain people along the way. But that’s okay. The right ones would come naturally and complement your own puzzle.
So don’t worry if you’re quirky. You’ll find that it is the best part of what you are, eventually.
It was a growing exasperation, one that I did not notice at first, chipping at me little by little, until a moment comes when I suddenly realized how big the dark cloud has been, and how much it has taken over me. I am of course, talking about none other than my mental health in the time of this pandemic.
When the panic first began and everyone was instructed to stay inside our homes and not go out unless absolutely necessary, I took it in positive strides, mostly because I assumed it was going to be absolutely temporary. A few weeks, or a couple of months, was as long as I thought it could ever go. I could finally finish reading all my books, I could finally try to nurture my balcony plants, and I now have a completely legitimate reason to pass on all unwanted social events and weddings. No traffic to face when commuting to work. Fabulous!
But a couple of months passed and my plants have withered and I read all my books, yet nothing appeared to have changed. In fact, it seemed like things have taken on for the worst. My brother lost his job, as did a few other people in my life, the number of pandemic deaths were so many I could no longer keep track, I could not travel to see my family, and I missed my friends, my yoga classes, the park, my evening walks, and of course, travelling, which had been a constant norm in my life. Days began to feel lonelier, and I would sometimes go on for weeks without physically talking to another human being.
There began a strange streak of things I never thought I’d do - I made friends with my neighbour’s cats (because what other choice do I have), I started talking to myself when I was cooking as though I was in a cooking show (this really freaked me out when I caught myself doing it), and I had some insane mood swings where everything made me sad. I was even sad about being single, imagining myself living the rest of my days exactly like this, devoid of companionship, something I’ve never really focused on before but was now allowed to over-think due to the endless idle hours I now have at my expense.
Being confined during the pandemic had also created another issue I did not see coming - the inability to separate work hours and life hours. I was so used to the mentality of ‘leave everything about work the minute you step out of the office’, that I could no longer mentally do that when my home became my office. More often that not, I found myself buried in work from the minute I got up until it was dark outside, realising that another day had gone by just like that, like a prisoner labourer who had nothing else in her life except for the work she was given. I missed sunshine. I began to feel dejected.
The truth was I also felt like I did not deserve to be upset. This was due to the fact that a lot of others around me seemed to be even more impacted than I was by this new norm. How dare I complain about my work-life balance when there are people out there literally scraping to make ends meet, losing jobs and closing businesses due to this economy downturn? How could I talk about being upset when all I had to do was stay inside my comfortable home, when people are getting evicted, or stuck in a small space with a large family? How could I not be happy with all the extra time I get, when my girlfriends are managing work, house chores, kids, home schooling with no breaks in between?
Around November I began to realize that I had no choice but to wipe the table clean and figure out the healthiest way to overcome this ‘funk’. There is no end in sight to this, and therefore there is no point of living everyday waiting around for something to change. Life goes on. Another year is passing. Time doesn’t care about pandemics. And the only way to turn things around, the only option, was for me to change my mindset about it. The mindset I have to go for is this - gratitude.
I started really small. Whenever I begin to sense that I was falling into that ‘funk’, I quickly make a list of all the things I’m grateful for presently. I say them out loud, like I’m some kind of deranged prosecutor making a case. Sometimes I tell them to my close friends and family. They’re simple things in life that most of us possess, but have always overlooked. Like being thankful for being healthy. And still getting to wake up every morning. Sunshine outside the window. A job. Warm dinner. Rainy evenings to read books in. Family that is safe from COVID today. A home.
Some days these affirmations work like magic, but some days I’ll need a little extra work. That’s okay. It’s a human thing to do. Forgive yourself if you can’t find it in you to be as perky as usual, as productive as usual, or as positive as usual. Everything in life is unravelling the way it is meant to be. Even this. You’re never tested beyond what you can’t overcome. I certainly believe that, and I hope you do, too.
It’s my birthday today, and it’s a working day for me in a world of a new normal. I wake up, and then I go for a run, down the empty roads in my neighbourhood lined with tall trees covered in green mosses. Sometimes I’ll see a dog or two being walked, their tails wagging and their noses sniffing the after-rain scent on the paved roads. This always makes me smile. By the time I get home again it’s usually around 8am, and I’ll make breakfast, usually some toast. Work commences, which comprises of hours and hours staring at a laptop screen and talking to someone I can’t see in a teleconference. There is an ongoing danger of just racking up the weight since all most of us would do is sit at home these days, and I can’t help but wonder if one of them has now turned into a cabbage.
My usual lunch at the office which doubles as a socialising session with friends have now turned into a solo activity of eating something simple I’ve cooked on the couch in front of the TV. For a mental break, I’ll watch a funny short sitcom, and laugh by myself. Then it’s back to work, until it’s time for my virtual yoga class which involves my laptop and me on my mat following live instructions from my yoga teacher. After that I’ll cook dinner again, read and get ready for bed. I like the fact that I eat healthier at home, and that there seem to be more time for me to execute a 10-step skin care regimen at night that doesn’t seem to improve my skin anyway.
But it’s the little things that I used to have that I miss. Like talking about current news with my colleagues at coffee breaks, impromptu dinner plans with friends right after work, the exhilaration of planning yet another hike somewhere, or smiling faces at yoga classes. Not to mention the adrenaline punch of travel, which was a huge part of my life, but for now it has to be put on a shelf. For me, these were the things that gave me the sense of connection. I rely on these connections to not make me feel unfulfilled. When you’re confined in your home alone and interactions are no longer easily accessible, sometimes you feel like you’re in a crowded world that is empty.
No matter how much of an introvert you are (which I am, and I certainly enjoy being on my own for the most part), what is happening today has certainly highlighted the importance of being part of a community. We’re not designed to be completely alone all the time. Confinement has forced me to look at myself and my life in a harsher light - what am I about, now that I have to strip away my packed schedules of travel, hobbies, and constant access to emotional dependencies of family and friends? On my own, somehow, suddenly, sounds like a threat rather than a liberation.
But I have turned yet another year older today, and if nothing else, the world in COVID has certainly taught me that I am one lucky human being. I can’t even oversell my quarantine misery even if I wanted to, compared to people losing their jobs, people having to work at home while juggling babies screaming and pooping, people literally thrown out of the streets for not being able to pay rent, or people not even being able to afford to put food on the table. The worst that has happened to me, in all honestly, was talking to the wall after not meeting a single human being for 2 weeks straight, and the constant paranoia that someone I love might catch the virus, especially those who are high-risk. Some days when it’s bad I get this anxiety of feeling confined and alone and “does that stray cat want to be my friend?” moments, but other than that, I have been spared indeed.
This alone gives me enough gratitude to be a year older with healthy lungs, a job, and people in my life that are constantly checking on me to make sure I wasn’t crying by the window. I can never be where I am today without people constantly lifting me up and pushing me forward. I never forget that, and in return I hope to become that person for other people, too. With each growing year, it has become apparent that my life is not just about me - it’s about my service to others, and I think about that as I’m being a friend, a sister, a daughter, a writer. Without that service, our lives will begin to feel very empty very quickly, no matter who we are in this world.
Thank you for your birthday wishes, and I hope you’re doing okay.
In the beginning, we all sort of thought that the Restricted Movement Order (RMO) due to the current COVID-19 pandemic was going to last only for a little while. Well, that was what most of my friends and I thought anyway. But it has been almost 3 weeks, with no real sign on what it might look like in the near future. Everyday the news posts something terrible - someone is dying somewhere, the death rate steadily increasing, people are struggling with the shut down of small businesses and loss of employment, the healthcare frontliners are struggling to make ends meet with the lack of manpower and proper safety wear, and the government is desperately grasping to manage everybody and everything.
On top of that, a quick glimpse into the social media world and you could see what this survival-mode has truly unraveled - all emotions are amplified. We are getting angrier than usual, internet bullying more than usual, criticizing more than usual and are more desperate than usual. I find myself feeling exasperated seeing social media ‘celebrities’ struggling to be relevant during these trying times. Unfortunately, selfishness is also extremely liberated while we are all confined within physical walls.
So what can we do, us sitting at home, jaded and waiting? Eventhough we’re not frontliners, revered philanthropists or charitable millionaires, isn’t there something we could do to help this situation? Each person has the power to make a difference, and although they may be small in comparison, understand this - our acts create a ripple effect. They pay it forward, and whatever energy or contribution you give out to this world will carry on ahead and beyond into other things.
So maybe to start, we can all ease up on polluting the social media space. See something or someone you don’t like? Then don’t give it/them anymore attention that you don’t think they deserve. Remember that attention is power - making something ‘viral’, whether it is a good or a bad thing, gives it power. If you disagree or disapprove of something, stop commenting or retweeting or spreading it around (unless of course, it requires the intervention of authorities). Stop giving it power.
Next, how can we directly support the good cause against COVID-19, while sitting at home? Here’s an obvious thing; LISTEN TO THE AUTHORITIES. Doing that alone is already a contribution. You’re helping control the situation, not spreading it around, and not adding to the number of nuisance the authorities has to deal with. Isn’t it amazing to think that just by complying to the current law, we’re actually assisting in a big way? On the other hand, not cooperating or thinking that you’re the ‘exception to the law’ immediately makes you a dick. So there you go.
Thirdly, let’s talk about financial distress. A lockdown equals small businesses shut down, and people in services (your cleaning lady, the masseuse, the local handyman etc) are not able to make the usual payroll. There are people who are financially struggling to make ends meet at this time, and I don’t need to tell you these things. You read about people not able to afford meals and baby formula everywhere. So let’s contribute, even if it’s RM10. More if you can afford it. Imagine this - RM10 is hardly noticeable by you sometimes, but that could mean a meal for an entire family somewhere else. So please donate. Cut your makeup budget in half. Maybe you don’t need that steak dinner this month. If you really, really, really can’t afford to give financial aid, here’s something else you can do - spread the awareness! Share information on donation outlets in your social media and within your family/friends. This is so much better than doing nothing at all.
And lastly, when ordering our food takeouts, let’s try our best to order from local eateries and businesses. They are being hit hard by this as the purchasing power plummets, so since we’re all ordering in anyway, why not support them while we’re at it? The same goes for fresh produce - get your fish, meat and vegetables from local vendors if you can.
Let’s help each other. Let’s do SOMETHING. Aren’t we sick of not doing anything? Often we have a tendency to not feel like we’re responsible in helping our community, but we are that community! We are part of it. So let’s spend our energies on the positive things, and not only will that contribute tremendously, it will also lift our spirits and chins up during this uncertain time.
When in fact, in can be the very foundation of a massive improvement and shift in our lives. So the first rule is; make resolutions that are measurable. Enough of the generic ‘I want to be more positive’ or ‘I want to be healthier’ or ‘I want to cut out toxic people’ – no, no, no. What will you actually do? Quit Twitter? Stop drinking sugared drinks? Enroll in a night class? Block someone on social media? You have a higher chance of pulling through your resolutions if they are quantifiable, because that means you can always do a periodic review by measuring these goals.
Here is my list for last year, and how they have worked out. I wrote about these intentions in early 2019, which you can read here.
This year, my resolutions revolve around enrichment. I think we all have a habit of slowing down learning as we get older, so to avoid that, I would like to read at least 30 minutes a day, enroll in a workshop or two (I’ve already enrolled in Masterclass!), take my next French exams and complete my ‘Cooking The Entire Cookbook’ challenge.
I have, and always will love to play! So hopefully 2020 will continue seeing me do them – a few new places to travel to, horseback riding on weekends, a major long-distance hike (although I haven’t decided where), and a fun solo trip somewhere exciting (location? Ideas, anyone?). My focus is to just enjoy it all. Enjoy everything while they last. For the past few years I’ve learned that when you leave a lot of space for of a lot of possibilities, life tends to pleasantly surprise you.
What are your intentions for 2020? I hope we all have an exciting, healthy, fulfilling, joyful year ahead!
I had a cousin who died at the age of 20.
She was born with an auto-immune disease, and the doctors told my aunt (her mother) that she was not going to live past her early twenties. When we were kids we used to play a lot whenever there was a family get-together, and we had so much fun riding bikes, playing with my grandparents’ animals and running around the house. My aunt never told her about what the doctors said, and eventually she died in my aunt’s arms at the hospital.
Truth be told I don’t think about her a lot anymore, but once in a while I do, and when I do, I often ponder about the idea of knowing when you will die. How did my aunt feel over the years as my cousin grew up and she was inching closer to her death? It must be terrible, living with that secret and not letting her child know, if only to allow her to enjoy whatever little time she still had.
Well that’s a rather morbid introduction to this post.
It’s actually weird how everyone dies but no one of talks about it very much. When I was in Istanbul I went to a museum where there was a depiction on how the scholars during ancient Turk used to wear a large white turban on their heads. The turban, as it turns out, was also the exact same white garment that will be used to wrap their own bodies for burial when they die. How morbid, I thought to myself as I saw it, to be walking around everyday with the reminder of death over your head.
But I did wonder, does thinking about death make us live better?
I guess the realisation that you will eventually close shop whatever your circumstance may be does put certain things in perspective. What’s the point of being sad for too long? Whether you spend most of your life feeling sad or happy, you’ll die anyway, so you might as well be happy. There. That was pretty straightforward, wasn’t it?
This year had been a busy year for me. In early 2018 I hit a turn in my life and it had somehow kicked off a streak of travel adventures, and it had not slowed down until now. So 2019 has been mostly going around the globe doing what makes me feel content because again, we’ll die anyway. So why aren’t we doing the things that make us happy? I saw a lava flow during sunset in Hawaii, I was naked with a grandma at an onsen in Japan, and I finally saw John Mayer at a concert after a decade of listening to his music almost every week. In Bangkok, I found out that I quite enjoy friend fish heads. I went for a solo trip in Bali where all I did was sit at vegan cafes to write. I went for a yoga retreat in Cambodia. I climbed the Rakaposhi Base Camp in Pakistan and stood on a glacier. I had terrible food poisoning in India (which was a shitty experience, but now it’s an experience I treasure because it taught me to not eat strange clams). I took my parents for their dream trip in Turkey and got to watch them enjoy it so much. I don’t have everything in life, but for all these opportunities to see the world and write about it, I am so extremely grateful to accept and enjoy.
Now that we’ve gone through the insta-glorious moments of 2019, let’s talk about the not-so-great moments. Of course there were those. Sometimes these are the price you pay when you love others, when you try to reach for a dream and it doesn’t quite turn out the way you wished it would, when you wear your heart on your sleeve, when your parents get older, and when circumstances disappoint you. I want to be specific, but in respect to others in these stories, I can’t. But suffice to say that what I’ve learned is that by the end of the day, you’ll regret not doing the things you wished you did. Again, we’ll die anyway. So what’s there to lose? Live and love in your own terms. There will probably be lots of tears and struggles, but if you’re sincere with your intentions it will all be well and good, one way or another. At the very least, you’ll be glad you tried.
Every year I make a point to learn or try 5 new things, and this year is not an exception. I continued with my french classes every week, I took a horseback riding course at a nearby stable, I started a bookclub which died halfway due to time constraints on my side, I began the ‘Chrissy Teigen Cookbook’ challenge where I tried to cook the entire cookbook for 1 year, and I started writing a third book which is a lot different than my previous books. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by my own restlessness, but I’m a lot happier when I feel my time is full. For me, idleness can sometimes be the door of doom that triggers the feeling of dullness and emptiness. Not to mention, the clock is ticking (to when you get old and die)! If you want to do something, do it now. For the most part, there is never a better time to start. (note: I say this like I’m an expert, but the truth is there is a number of things I hope to do but haven’t gotten enough balls to just yet. But I’m trying!)
This year has been a pleasure to also watch my family and friend go down their own paths in life. Some had a terrible year in 2018 with separations, deaths and illnesses, so 2019 has been like spring to them - new chapters, new beginnings - it’s always great to watch people you care about awaken this way. I admired my friends who are busy mothers but have found 2019 to be a liberating journey towards a healthier lifestyle, great friends who found great loves, and my family has had a wonderful year together.
What are your intentions for 2020? Thank you to those who wrote to me and told me about your lives. I found them inspiring.
Here's a picture of me, 1 week before my birthday at the stable after a
riding lesson, sweaty, stinky, dressed very meh, and having a good time.
Every year I’m excited to celebrate my birthday. No, not so much about the superficial aspects of it (gifts, parties, vacations), although I must say that I love the get-togethers and birthday cards and face product gifts I never knew I needed, as well as the annual birthday trips I always have as an excuse for more travel. Also not too excited that the eye-bags are becoming more resilient than ever. But more than that, I’m excited because hey! Another year has come to dawn, and I get another chance at time. Not everyone is privileged to have lived another year.
But as glad as I am for another self-anniversary, I must say that this time around, I experienced some anxiety. I woke up earlier this week with a slight pang in my chest. I wasn’t sure why, and I carried on with the day trying to ignore it, but by evening it just wouldn’t go away and a friend of mine advised that I should probably want to look into it.
So I did.
And here’s the thing.
Sometimes, as you grow older, you experience some episodes of self-doubt. You start having doubts about;
1. Your life choices
2.Your reaction to things that have led your circumstance to become what it is today
3.The people you let in and let go
4.The decisions that you have made that changed your life in a big way
This happens regardless of who you are, whether you’re a successful force with a million achievements under your belt, whether you’re married or single or divorced, or just a regular Joe/Jane who has lived through everything according to plan. Actually, even your plan becomes a source of doubt. Was it the right plan? Is it still the right plan?
And this becomes especially true if you have chosen to go down a more ‘unconventional’ path, i.e. making choices that is not exactly normal within your familiar society. Living down this path can sometimes be a pretty lonely journey.
For the bigger part of my life I have always accepted the idea that I am, and always have been, a little strange. I don’t mean this in a good or bad way. It is what it is, and so far I am happy just the way I am and have accepted the shortcomings that come with it. However, it does not mean that I don’t have moments of self-doubt. These moments are best visualized as a small, tiny voice in my brain that would squeak against my own self-esteem.
I am aware that unlike 99% of my girlfriends of my age, I have no children. It’s a conscious choice that I have made, which I feel is best for me at this point in time, right now. But by the time you feel like having offsprings, maybe your eggs would’ve gone extinct, and it will be too late and you’ll miss out on the joy of raising a family, says that self-doubting squeaky voice. I enjoy traveling and I don’t mind the money spent for these experiences as I think they are crucial to my fulfillment. You should’ve spent your money on real estate and investments like a responsible adult, it says again. I try my best to give back to the society in whichever way I can. It’s not enough, and you know you can do more. I am a hermit writer who would rather spend my weekends finishing manuscripts than going out to meet people. In the end you’ll die alone in your apartment while choking on a dumpling. A relationship I have failed to make work. You’ll never love again. Not like that. I don’t believe in settling for less, or rushing into things just because I am scared of being lonely. Please refer to the dumpling-choking loneliness stated above.
I suppose in many ways, an upcoming birthday becomes a physical reminder of these decisions and choices. It is true that we should live life with minimal regrets and that we should not dwell so much about the past, but here is when realistic Amal would like to stop you; that’s a great notion, guys, and an amazing ideal, but let’s face it. What kind of a person doesn’t have these moments of reflection and occasional self-doubt? It is completely normal to experience these, and it is completely okay too. Don’t let any generic motivational Instagram account convince you otherwise.
However, I do believe that there is good that can come from these ‘episodes’. Sometimes, it provides you an opportunity to really re-evaluate yourself and your life. What can the past teach you for you to be better moving forward? I doubted some of my past behavior that may have caused others pain. Then maybe looking forward, I could try to change and improve these aspects of myself. There were some decisions I could have done differently. And guess what? I can. As long as there is life then there is always a chance to try and fix things or start over or change plans.
The best thing about birthdays is that it’s a wake-up call to tell you that despite everything that you’ve done or has happened, you’re still privileged with time to do something about them. And if you like who you are right now, you’ve got your past to thank for that too. The you now is the result of every damn thing that has happened to you, either formed by your own decisions or carved by circumstances that have befallen you.
In the words of How I Met Your Mother, “it’s never too late, Barney”. That's what birthdays are for - to remind you that there is still time, and it's not too late.
What the heck is feminism? To be honest I wasn’t completely familiar with the term until much later in life. Although I had been somewhat exposed by that mindset thanks to my parents and school (I was in an all-girls boarding school for 5 years), I had never quite heard of the term ‘feminism’ when I was younger. And then, as time went on, I began discovering the many interpretations of this term. Madonna said we should all free our nipples. Social media seems to define the epitome of feminism as a woman who has her own business empire and produces a lot of generic self-love advice. One of my girlfriends said it’s the point in life where you no longer need a man except for their sperm. One guy in office said feminism is terrifying because when women rule, everything would just spiral into an emotional-driven hell.
I don’t know. I guess different people have different perceptions and definitions of feminism. For a lot of us it’s not all that dramatic – feminism is just a mentality we aspire to achieve where women can live in an environment where we are allowed to be who we want to be – and that’s pretty much a broad definition with many contexts, depending and your socio and economic background.
But I am intrigued to talk about what it means to be a ‘strong woman’, in today’s society. One day I was enlightened (and by enlightened I mean that a friend shared with me a link on the internet) with a review of one of my books, of which a reviewer had said that the protagonist sounded like a weak girl who needs to ‘wake up and stop being sad’. I was a little taken aback by this. In my writer’s mind, I never wrote the character within the vicinity of ‘sad girl’. She was just a normal girl who was trying to reflect on the process of being sad about something that happened in her life. Being sad was her transient state of mind, but not her entire being.
It made me think about how we sometimes choose to see and define 'strength'. Often, there is this idealistic view that being strong means that you physically look like you’ve got your shit together, you kick a man to the curb the minute he breaks your heart, you post a positive caption on Instagram every so often, you’re financially stable, you’ve got your own business and four kids and a handsome husband who all live in a gorgeously decorated house, or you’re single and say stuff like ‘#livingthelife’ and ‘#singledontcare’.
I’m not saying these things are bad. In fact, these things are good. These are all positive outcomes, after all. But what these also do sometimes is that they contort the dimensions of the idea of 'strength'. They also instil the subconscious mindset that anything other than that is not a strong, empowered woman. A strong woman shouldn’t look like she isn’t dressed to take over the world. A strong woman shouldn’t feel sad and hurt and vulnerable. A strong woman shouldn’t express herself other than something uplifting. A strong woman shouldn’t be okay about wanting to live a normal average life and must always want more, more and more. A strong woman must never feel like she needs a partner in her life.
In other words, a strong woman should never feel human.
It’s a dangerous bar that we’ve raised for ourselves. When strength is equated to being invincible, it becomes an impossible pursuit. When you pursue something that does not exist, you’ll never feel enough. And when you never feel enough, that’s when it all goes downhill – you begin to feel defined by the materials that you own, you allow yourself to settle for less, you repress your emotions to the point of depression, you feel ‘beneath’ others who seem to have more success than you do, and you start feeling lonely and lost. A lot.
What I’ve learned so far, through myself and so many other women around me, is that the real meaning of being a strong and empowered woman begins with you being okay with yourself. Acknowledging your flaws, admitting that you feel overwhelmed, recognizing that you’ve done your best within your means and putting a stop on comparing your life to others is the first step of being empowered. Accepting and loving yourself is empowering. Living your life through standing up for your own worth and according to what you want out of it is strength.
I'm saying all these things as though I've got it all down to pat, but of course not. I have my days when I don't feel great about how I look, when I don't think I have tried my best, when I feel like I'm not good enough for someone and when I feel like my life blows in comparison to that other girl on Instagram. It's work in progress to try and be better at these things. But I do believe that by trying to be a great, amazing, human example of what a woman is, you are actually making a significant contribution in building a progressive conversation about women’s opportunities and biasness in our society.
More of that, and less of just shouting from the rooftops angry, generic ‘feminist’ slogans without even understanding what they really mean.