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 of being friends with mostly females (I hail from an all girls’ school), one of the most inconvenient issues we whine about had always been about periods. It’s a bloody war, both literally and figuratively. A monthly commitment that comes with symptoms, it really does have the power to drive emotional consequences, damage relationships (for instance, did you know that statistically, most breakups happen during the woman’s period? Explains a lot doesn’t it?), and create physical distress. So for those who will never have the chance to experience it, or are blessed to have smooth-sailing cycles, I’m here to indulge you in some insider’s information.
Also, these are not necessarily my own personal symptoms, but rather a more generic overview.
1. The “I’m-Going-To-Stab-You-To-Death” Mood
Maybe it’s because of the discomfort of bleeding for days, maybe it’s the hormones, but it always seems like anger has a much shorter fuse at this time. You’ll get easily angered by everyone, and that includes colleagues, security guards, girl at the cash register who takes forever to pack your groceries, babies crying and the final episode of Game of Thrones. Sometimes you’ll get extra touchy too. For example, when your friends make jokes about how you should lose weight, it’s usually just good banter. But during these testing times, the same jokes will make you want to punch somebody.
2. The Sadness Over Everything, For No Apparent Reason
Definitely the cause of hormones. One minute you feel like life is pleasant and filled with amazing opportunities and good fortune, and the next minute you’ll see a homeless puppy and the sky turns immediately grey. You begin to wonder what a hard life it must be for that pup, and you worry about how it will ever get a proper meal. Then you look into the puppy’s sad eyes and you contemplate about how horrible the world is that we’re living in, and injustice is everywhere. And that includes bad things happening to good people, which also includes yourself at times. Then you start tearing up because it’s now raining, and now that puppy will be cold. You begin contemplating to start a homeless shelter for animals.
3. The Cramps
Have you ever experienced giving birth to a full backpack? Well, me neither, but I would imagine that the period cramps is a close enough approximation. A girlfriend told me that the whole myth of “once you have children, the period cramps will settle down” is an absolute lie, and that’s terrible news. It’s the back pain, butt pain, uterus pain and an overall sensation as though you’re carrying the villain for the next “Alien vs Predator” movie. This would usually last enough time to disrupt your usual life routines.
4. The Horrible Partner Episode
I find that I was the worst kind of girlfriend during this window of turbulent time. The clinginess, the neediness, the constant need for emotional validation always made me cringe later when I was back to my normal self again. Everything a man says has a tendency to be a lot more hurtful than usual, even if it’s as innocent as remarking that your food needs a little more salt. Based on my observational experiences, these things happen even when women are in stable, happy marriages. Therefore I really just feel bad for all the men out there having to face the demon that is the dark, PMS-ed side of their spouses.
5. The Insatiable Hunger
Good God the hunger. Sometimes the pangs feel like you’ve just gotten off an island where all you had for the past 5 years were coconut water. For some strange reason your body also begins to crave the unhealthier options – the carbs, the sugar and red meats. Looking back at my food photos (I’m always taking pictures of my cooking), this is the time when I’m constantly baking, making elaborate rice dishes, and eating a lot (I mean A LOT) of potatoes.
6.The Skin Rebellion
One night you’re sleeping with a somewhat clear skin, and the next morning it’s “hello boils!” Skin tends to behave badly during this magical time, producing zits and inflamed imperfections that look like traffic red lights. This is particularly inconvenient if there is a date, a job interview or any social activity coming up that requires proper self-esteem. The bad news is that there really isn’t much to do when it comes to avoiding hormonal conflicts such as this one.
And it always feels like I'm capable of eating all these kuihs....
There is little good news about this, except that you may soothe yourself by saying that this is all happening as part the required sacrifices in your social contribution in populating the earth (no, it’s not really that soothing at all). But if you’re in your twenties chances are you would’ve experienced this cycle at least 180 times, and so certain tips to calm the fires would’ve been established, as below;
So there you go. I think I’ve compiled pretty much everything I know, from my own experiences as well as my female friends and family. So the next time you’re faced with a woman possible going through an uterus make-over, consider yourself armed with these useful information and you can then safeguard yourself from being stabbed with a kitchen knife.
In December 2014, somewhere around New Year’s Eve, I woke up in the morning to find my Dad sitting in the reading chair in the twilight. He had been sitting there all night, not being able to sleep as he was experiencing an extremely tight feeling on his chest. “Let’s go to the hospital,” he said.
He was having a minor heart attack.
A few months later, after different doctors, various tests, many late night drives to the emergency room and a lot of anxiety and worry for the family, my Dad finally had a triple bypass surgery. He had three blockages in three different places, and he was looking at a long road to recovery. Not surprisingly though, this was not the first time the family has heard of a lifestyle-related illness. When I was in college my uncle died in his forties due to heart failure. When I was younger my grandmother died in her fifties due to diabetes. Almost all of my aunties are experiencing levels of hypertension and high blood pressure.
I knew early on of the genetic risks of these illnesses, and so after my uncle’s passing, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I stopped taking sugared drinks cold turkey. No soda, no Coke, no syrup and not even sweetened fruit juice. Do you have any idea how hard it is to not drink slurpies in college? But today, nine years later, I don’t miss sugared drinks for even a bit. I don't even think about it anymore - they became automatically ignored.
When my Dad was sick I witnessed how health-related illnesses creep up to you without you even realising it. My Dad is a pretty active man. He is not overweight, he seemed like he ate relatively healthy, with early dinners, not too unhealthy menus and not enough dessert. But what a lot of us fail to realize is that age, as much as we hate to admit it, takes a toll on our physical capabilities. We can no longer eat like we used to in our early twenties and we can no longer afford not exercising, no matter how ‘naturally skinny’ we are. Bit by bit, it will take a massive toll on us before we even notice it.
After that episode everyone was a little spooked, myself included. My family began to take this subject seriously. Heck, even I was making drastic changes to myself. I stopped eating all types of processed meats (except for the occasional prime sausages because damn it, old habits die hard). I reduced my meat and sodium intake significantly, cooked more, forced myself to exercise at least 3 times a week and began conscious eating (no, eating noodles instead of rice isn’t better!). A lot of people remarked that this was a new diet craze I was into. Not really. I just wanted to do everything in my power to ensure that I don’t spend the second half of my life being sick and popping pills for hypertension, heart problems and diabetes. I am working so hard in my youth to earn the perks of retirement, and I sure as hell would like to be able to enjoy them when it comes.
‘Looking healthy’ is also associated with the vanity of wanting to look a certain way. This is absolutely true to a certain extent. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), this vanity also tend to shed little by little as we grow older, and as harsh as it is, for many people a new venture into married life and raising babies reduces the need for this vanity and henceforth the energy to maintain a healthier lifestyle. And as we all know well by now, it is an effort to keep it up sometimes.
I felt intrigued to write about this subject as I have successfully made a tray of brownies with my brother last night and devoured them at 10 pm. As much as there is a need for smart decisions, some days we all tend to bend the rules as well. Such is life. But when my Dad was diagnosed, he felt a constant regret for not being more mindful of his health before. I hope to never experience that, and I hope neither would you. Health is meant to be enjoyed and appreciated throughout your entire life, not only when you were young. And anyway, isn’t taking care of your body a form of gratitude for what you have been blessed with?