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.
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.
Contrary to last year’s New Year’s Eve of friends, a rooftop balcony, KL fireworks and a throng of partygoers trashing the city centre streets, this year I spent my New Year’s Eve with my family, had hamburgers for dinner, and clocked out at 10 pm. I didn’t even get to harass people on Twitter about their New Year’s Resolutions before I passed out.
But no, last night wasn’t at all a summation of what 2017 had been. I would admit, 2017 started kind of shitty for me, but it began to climb uphill from there to become one of the most prominent years of my life (so far). In short, I really did underestimate 2017 before it began, and it ended up as the most wonderful blessing. But not without its own supply of challengers, heartaches and new things to learn, here are some highlights that I acquired throughout the whole year.
Maybe you can relate to some of them too!
1. When I got my book publishing contract
Hey remember that time when you won the lottery? This was so much better! On the day I received an email from MPH saying that they would like to offer a publishing contract for my manuscript, it all felt surreal to me that I took days to process this information. I was happy, nervous and frankly, scared. I didn’t know anyone else who was a writer, and I did not even intend to publish the manuscript when I first wrote it (I write a lot, but mostly for my own indulgence). It was very hard to keep this exciting news under wraps for months, and I told only one other person about this. I kept it a secret because of my own insecurities – what if it didn’t turn out as I expected it? What if it all turns into a massive disaster?
2. When I became a NST columnist
I know we all envision Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and The City when we think about the phrase ‘newspaper columnist writing about relationships’, but I’ll have you know that I don’t own a single pair of Manolo Blahniks. Nor have I dated 50 guys like she has. On the first day my first column came out, I went to buy my first newspaper in I don’t know, ten years? Writing for New Straits Times was a huge career milestone for me, as I knew it was my first big writing profile. Before this I had only published in my blog, but writing for a paper requires a certain finesse on content, opinion projection and message. My first column came out in February, and we are still going bi-weekly strong today!
3. When I saw Coldplay in concert
Yes, I know for some people this is probably nothing. But my goodness, Coldplay! There’s a backstory to this. When I was in college I used to listen to them almost everyday (and I still do). I memorize almost 100% of all lyrics of all of their songs. On my final year in college, Coldplay was having a concert in Perth near where I lived at the time, and I badly wanted to go. Unfortunately I was a broke student (even with 2 part-time jobs, mind you), and I couldn’t afford the tickets. Finally seeing Chris Martin playing a Martin D28 guitar live actually was part of my bucket list, and any year where I get to tick off something from the list is a good year for me!
4. When I realised that dreams have a price
People tell you this all the time, but it isn’t until you actually experience it that you’ll know what it really means. Along the year I found myself multitasking most of the time – I had a busy full time office job, and at the same time I was editing my book, writing for my NST column, making sure the blog isn’t first-wifed, and I was also writing the second manuscript. As a consequence there was a period where I did not have a single vacant weekend for 2 months straight, and I did not manage to see my family or socialise as much as I would like to. But despite the craziness, there was the strange self-indulgence in spending time doing something you really love, so there wasn’t any complaining either. I suppose the lesson here is everything has a price, including and especially, dreams.
5. When I got a new nephew
Nope, I still feel the same way about kids in general, if you’re thinking that having nephews have turned me into a motherly Mama Bear. But I can proudly say that I can now hold a baby in a safe, HSE-adherent way without having panic attacks.
As long as they don’t pee, poo, barf, snot, salivate, or make any general screaming noise.
6. When I turned the big 3-0
Newsflash: When they told you that turning 30 is dreadful, they are LYING. Turning 30 is the best thing ever!
To be honest, when 2017 began and I realised my 30th birthday was approaching, all those social context of fearing ageing really got to me. I didn’t feel like I was ready to be a full adult yet! Okay, I still don’t think I’m ready, but the good news is this time of life is a great place to be. Personally, I have never felt better in my own skin or happier with my own body than today. I think this self-assurance projects itself in how I perceive my worth, my relationships and how I carry myself compared to when I was, say, 22. You tend to care less about what others think and more about your own happiness and creating the life you want to live, and it is the best feeling ever, truly.
Everyone ages, but not everyone ages well. Be conscious of how you experience your years and how you use it to benefit you.
7. When I went underwater at my own backyard
As a birthday gift to myself, my bestie and I went for an almost a week diving at Sipadan, Malaysia. Hailed as one of the most beautiful diving sites in the world, I shamefully admit that I had never visited it once even when it’s in my own country. It was everything I hoped it would be, and I came back darker and happier.
It was also my last hurrah with M before she got married. And to note, M getting married was also a highlight of my year. I was so absolutely happy for her. It was also one of those rare occasions when I didn’t hate weddings.
8. When my book launched, and all the reactions that followed it
You’d think it was all excitement and a big hurrah, but prior to the launch of the book I experienced one of my most intense bout of anxiety. Fully aware that people can be mean, the public can be judgemental and that dreams can crash in failure, I was so afraid that something that means this much to me can or will backfire. After all, literature is a form of art, and like other art, I know for a fact that it will not please everybody. There was always that fear that something you love might not be good enough, and this haunted me for months.
But so far, the reception for the book has really exceeded any of my wildest dreams for it. Last month it became the National Bestseller, and to this day I still feel that it was surreal and mind boggling – what?? (slaps own face)
Furthermore, looking at all the feedback and pictures of people enjoying the book on social media has made me feel so overwhelmed with joy. There was a girl who wrote to me and said that the book helped her healing process through some of her own hard times, and I thought that was just pure magical. It has somehow, unintentionally or otherwise, allowed a stranger help another stranger. That truly meant more to me than any best-selling list.
I guess what I learned throughout this entire process is that if you have a dream, however small or extravagant, go after it for yourself, not for anything or anyone else. That way, however it turns out, the satisfaction will always be in the journey rather than the material targets of it.
9. When I took charge of my own health
It’s not easy at first, folks. Not when a lot of people around you are eating and drinking junk nobody really needs. But I’ve learned a few tricks this year that might be helpful; 1. Eat meals with people who also eat healthily, so you’re not tempted 2. Chill with the change. Don’t drastically try becoming a vegan or starving yourself, because dude that will never work ever 3. For God’s sake, EXERCISE. Find something you enjoy and find friends who enjoy it too! Your body is built to move, not slouched on a couch watching Stranger Things. You’re not 20 anymore and you won’t get away with that for very long.
10. When I learned what it takes to have a gratified heart
Oh, 2017. You broke my heart and then you built it up again, bigger than I ever thought possible. I have struggled to find the fine line between not giving up and learning to let go. Because I had always been somewhat attached to the philosophy that you just don’t quit on something that means immensely to you, this sometimes makes me too stubborn and too hopeful.
This year is a big year for my heart too. I learned that when it comes to matters of the heart, you should always do everything wholeheartedly, and love to the best of your ability. Don’t be too obliged by your ego and especially fear. Be fearless when it comes to the matters of the heart. So that whichever way it turns out, you’ll always find it easier to find peace and acceptance, and you’ll never have any regrets. Regret is one of the most painful things you’ll have to endure, if you’re not careful.
To be honest, after all that racket, I’m all set and ready to venture into 2018! What does your 2018 plan look like? I’m looking at a year of a lot of traveling, fitness, working hard and even more laughs. Lots and lots of laughs.
Happy New Year and I hope we all find what we’re looking for. And more.
The blunt truth is, as much as we try, sometimes in life shit will hit the fan so hard and it becomes almost impossible to remain optimistic. In whatever form it may present itself, be it a failure in ambition, the retreat of a relationship, the diminishing of a dream, or even simply one of those days where nothing is going quite right, there are moments when no amount of life quotes can make you feel any better.
Although feeling down and out is inevitable at times, there are certainly things that we could do to self-help ourselves in healthily moving past it or see things in a more constructive light. Instead of sending ourselves to the insane asylum or popping a Valium or worse, crying at a corner of the room naked while hugging our knees (I’ve never done this, I swear), here are some things that we can do instead to entice some positivity back into our lives.
List is established through my personal experiences, and from others around me.
It doesn’t matter where you go, really. It could be someplace far, a weekend at the beach or even just balik kampung. The point is to get out of your usual routines, because routines have a profound ability to remind us of the unfortunate event, which usually occurs while we are living our normal day-to-day lives. Being someplace new, witnessing the larger beautiful world or looking at other people living different lives than ours is a good distraction from a temporary hurdle (newsflash: all hurdles are temporary. All.)
2. Do Charity
We’re a bunch of whiners. We really are. When bad news occur we tend to hone in onto them and forget about all the other good things that we still have in our lives. Being physically involved in charity shifts our eyes to see others who are not as ‘privileged’ than us in many sense of the word. Going to the homeless shelter, for example, lets us see people who could only dream about having even a portion of the good fortunes we already own. I find that doing this will immediately shut me up from whining like an ungrateful twat, and helps me to look past my mostly mundane life problems.
3. Seek to Understand or be Understood
In a recent post, I mentioned how every single person has a reason for being who they are. There are things that happened to us that shape us. Understanding people and why they could’ve done the things they did can significantly reduce ill thoughts and expedite love and forgiveness. It is hard to hate or be angry at things we understand, and vice versa. At the same time, good things can come from letting yourself be understood by others. Talking to someone who might understand how you feel is an amazing remedy. It is wonderful to be loved, but it is profound to be understood.
4. Start the Day Off Positively
I once read in a self-help book that much of what happens during the day is significantly affected by how be begin it. There is truth to why the happiest people in the world begin the day doing something positive – some people find early enlightenment through meditating, reading, praying, Yoga, or even just having a quiet moment with their own thoughts before venturing into other things for the rest of the day. It’s worth discovering what your own happy wake up routine is and investing a little time in them in the morning.
5. Find Humour
Did you ever realise that most of your happiest relationships have a lot of humour in them? My family have a thing we like to do whenever we are going through a rough patch. We sit around together, whether it’s in a car, at the dinner table or just watching TV, and we joke around and have a good laugh. There is always humour in everything. Always. No matter the differences, the tension or strain life challenges can cause, having a bit of humour with it will a make a world of difference in our emotional state.
There is no such thing as smiling too much. In fact, we don’t smile enough. It’s the whole ‘fake it till you make it’ notion. Smiling attracts positivity. The best part is, smiling is actually the easiest way to positively contribute to society. Just a small act can make a stranger’s life better. One time, I was chatting to a waitress and she told me how sometimes, after long hours of hard work at a minimum wage, the only thing that makes her day were customers who smiled at her and acknowledged her as a person. I’ve never forgotten to smile and my serving waiter/waitress ever since.
7. Latch Onto Positive Things/People
For God’s sake, if you find something or someone who gives your soul positive happiness, hold on to them. Sometimes, they are the only few things that could help us cope with bad times. If there is someone in your life who’s positive and has the ability to elevate you, keep them. If there is a hobby, passion, or even a favourite TV sitcom that can make you smile, indulge in them. Encounters with people or a new discovery in life are never without reason, and best believe that some of them were meant to pop into our lives to make our days much, much better.
This year has been by far the most difficult year for me personally. And by difficult, I don’t mean the ‘I’ve gained a few pounds’, or ‘I had a few bad dates’, or even ‘I didn’t manage to achieve my savings goal’ type of difficult. 2015 feels like a long year of being dragged slowly through a dwindling road of never ending challenges from relationships, family and work. My Father was ill for the first half of the year, I called it quits with someone that was very dear to me, I was uncertain at work, and recently was stumped by some depressing personal news that superseded everything else that happened this year.
It is not easy to make sense of it all when you’re in the bubble of hardships. It certainly doesn’t help when you scroll down social media and it seems like the rest of your friends are living a ‘perfect’ life, albeit knowing the fact that they are all fantasies, a subconscious effort of our minds to only post wonderful things online to make it seem like our lives are perfect. Friend X keeps showing off her perfect little family, but perhaps she is exhausted as hell. Friend Y is posting photos of travel adventures, but maybe it’s a substitute for feeling a bit lost in his real world. Friend Z seems like she’s climbing a fast ladder in her career, but it could be at a price of her personal time that she can never get back. It’s not a crime. Almost everybody does it. Everybody yearns to live a problem-free life, which in turn inspires the stint of only sharing the good things with the world. Alas, none of us have it all. Everyone has challenges, in different altitudes and different ways.
Episodes of downfall in life can sometimes cause such a thick haze that it becomes almost impossible to look beyond it. Personally I always end up feeling withdrawn from people, and all I want to do is to buy ten gallons of Jamaican Almond Fudge ice cream and go live in a cave for two weeks. Some people will try to be helpful and tell you all the generic advice you’ll ever hear, but these will sound void and meaningless. Religious faith can be a great assistance, but if you’re human like me, sometimes it is such a struggle to collide your emotions and religious logic. Furthermore, sadness, disappointments and loss are such resilient, resilient villains. They lurk in the shadows, refusing to go away too easily.
Downfalls make you grow. It is impossible to learn anything if you’re constantly on top of the world, the euphoria of good times shielding you from any form of self-growth. The harder the downfall, the more we are forced to look at our lives from a different perspective. For me, downfalls make me humble. They make me man up to the hard truths of life. When my Father was sick I was forced to prepare myself for a life without parents. If it doesn’t happen today, it will happen someday. When I was broken hearted, it made me re-evaluate the definition of love against the fantasies of it. In the wake of other news in my family, I was taught the price not thinking about your loved ones when making life decisions.
Downfalls, at the core of it, are what realigns our focus on what life and living are really about. Loving our family despite their flaws. Falling on your face when it comes to love a few times, so that when you meet a good one, you’ll know it. Understanding that life isn’t just about being happy all the time, but it’s about those accumulation of moments, both good and bad, that makes it a complex, rich and wondrous overall experience. There is no point being too bummed out about anything in this lifetime, because in case you haven’t noticed, whether we choose to live it with utter contentment or not, none of us are getting out of here alive anyway. So if you ask me, it’s a pretty obvious choice how we should conduct it.
So to answer the guy’s mother’s question; what am I waiting for?
Truth be told, I don’t think I am waiting around for anything really. I am just merely moving forward with my life with a profound trust that everything will happen the way it is supposed to be. Do I want to grow up and grow old with someone someday? Of course. John Mayer once sang that ‘it is such a waste to grow up lonely’. And I agree. It seems that he too faces the same predicament. But am I going to sit around and deem my life incomplete until that happens? What a preposterous way to live. Every second in your life is invaluable, whether it's with or without someone.
The mistake that most of us make is trying to prove that we’re happy to other people. Trust me, I myself have done that a few times in the past. Especially if you’re single, you tend to feel the need to prove to others that you are just fine. And you can see enough of this on social media. The hashtags ‘#idontneedaman’, ‘#singleandhappy’ or ‘#independantwoman’ are pretty appalling if you ask me. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for being your own woman and such. But having to shout it out aloud just proves how unconvinced you are yourself towards the whole concept.
It is observable that be content with life, you must first and foremost forget about trying to prove people wrong. I used to think about what people might think of me as I hauled a ten-foot mirror out of IKEA alone while everyone else seemed to be helped out by their own respective partners. I also cringed when I wondered how I must seem walking into of the movies alone at the theatre near my house. The truth was, I actually enjoyed doing these things alone, and yet worrying about how I might be perceived always ruins it. One day there might be a time when I can no longer afford a lot of time by myself, so I intend to enjoy it as much as possible. On a different perspective, if I am destined to have to do a lot of things on my own for the most part of my life, it is even more essential to learn to like my own company. I am proud of the fact that I am independent, that I know how plumbing works and what to ask my electrician, how to pay my bills and when to check my car. My parents raised me to be self-sufficient. A man should be cherished for his companionship in life, not so that he could solve all my problems. If I had found someone too soon in my life, perhaps I would have never learned all these valuable lessons. Mind you, I could easily recall a few married girlfriends who would sooner know nothing than what to do in an event where the water tap bursts.
But of course, as human beings go, there are times when I went to panic mode. There was a scene in ‘Sex and the City’ where Miranda, one of the main characters of the show who was single at the time, choked on her own food while alone in her apartment. She revived herself, but then went on a paranoid rant on how she would probably end up dead, alone in her apartment while her cat eats her dead face. I have those panicky moments too. As a precaution I have learned to eat slowly and carefully. I also don't own a cat. On the contrary, I once heard a friend say that she has not had time alone to think for a year, with three children and a husband. So you see, it is perfectly normal to want things from the other side where the grass always seem greener.
One day, I was trying to put together a table that I bought from IKEA. I had never assembled a furniture by myself before. As I was sweating profusely while managing the little tools my Dad got me in a toolbox, a thought suddenly occurred that it would have been so nice to have someone to help me with it. But there wasn't anyone. My parents lived miles away, my friends were unavailable and I was not seeing anyone special at the time. I sat on the floor and stared at the pile of wood panels, feeling sorry for myself. I even aborted my construction for a couple of hours. Eventually I got over it and carried on. It turned out to be one of those prominent moments in my life, looking at the fine desk I have assembled all on my own. It was a validation I needed that I was adequate. As much as I look forward to what may happen, I was just as happy with everything in my life so far. And for me, that is the essence one should ever need to keep in mind to ensure you enjoy your life being single.
A while after the failed matchmaking attempt, the mother of the guy whom I was set up with called me one fateful Saturday morning. She was a nice lady, but she demanded to know what was wrong with her son, and why I did not want to give it a shot. (Insider Tip: Never answer this question. It is a trap and will get you into bigger trouble)
After I wiggled my way out of answering this, she then proceeded to ask me how old I was. I told her I was turning 28. “You’re already 28,” she said. “What else are you waiting for?”
I laughed. But her question haunted me for days. What else am I waiting for?
Sometimes I find myself walking up to the doorstep of my apartment, particularly after meeting someone on a date, feeling slightly overwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong. I love dating and meeting new people. Humans are fascinating. Knowing them at a better depth, discovering their vulnerabilities, hopes and dreams is such a wonderful experience that makes my life so colourful. I love the getting-to-know-you phase, twinkles in the eye and the butterflies. In fact, some of the bigger lessons I have ever learned about life are through knowing someone else. But of course there are times when I end up at my doorstep in the quiet, wondering how many more times.
But then I open the door to my house and find myself strangely happy. There are the rows and boxes of my books that I spend hours reading at my own time. There is the kitchen bar where I would sit and have quiet morning breakfasts, one of my most favourite parts of life. There are picture frames showing the places I have been to and the world I have seen. I love my family. I love my friends. Contrary to popular belief, being single does not mean you spend your days feeling lonely. In fact, I seldom have enough idleness wallowing about what is not my life. I have a wonderful supportive family and a great group of friends who are always there for me despite their own busy lives. All my time is mine. Everything I own are truly mine. And I love it.
By my own standards, I am perfectly contempt where I am. But slowly, there will be these seeps of thoughts that spawn from someone else, telling you this is not enough. There will be two types of people who are interested in your life as a singleton. The first type are those who genuinely care for you and want for you to happy. The second type are those who are just interested to hear your stories of singlehood for their own amusement. The latter will immediately assign a term of reference made of their pre-assumptions about you. Lonely. Feminist. Desperate. Choosy. Trying too hard. Not trying hard enough. That small portion of what they know about you will be the backbone of what they think you are solely about. With time, I have identified these types and no longer tell them anything. They do not deserve to share my vulnerability.
A few days ago I attended an ‘Aqiqah’ (a small get-together to introduce a newborn baby) of a good friend of mine for her first born. Her baby was a precious one, and I was so happy to see her finally being a mother, something she has always wanted to do. But there I was sitting there, secretly grateful that I’m not a mother to anyone today. I always thought I never wanted to get married. I will live a free life and see the world and do whatever I like. But then I turned 27 and changed my mind. Similarly, I’ve never thought of myself as mother. But then, who knows what the future looks like? What I have come to learn is that we always think we know what we want, but our visions of our lives are so fluid and could change in an instant. In that spirit, it suffices to have faith that The Superior always knows exactly what we need and when. And everything will happen at a perfect timing. No more, no less.
In the wake of my father’s recent triple bypass surgery, I was surprised to find that it brought a myriad of wonderment. One was while I was torturously waiting for his surgery to end, sitting in the waiting area of the ICU, the cold metal chairs doing nothing to comfort me. At a desperate attempt to distract myself from the 5-hour wait, I started eavesdropping to other people’s conversations, those who were sitting around me also waiting for their loved ones.
There was an elderly lady, sat on a wheelchair and chatting up to another stranger. She told the stranger that she was waiting for her husband, who was in a critical condition following a recently diagnosed lung-cancer. She had been sitting there for the past few days. She didn’t want to leave in case her husband needed her. She was 70-something years old. They had been happily married since she was 16.
Is there such a thing as a happy marriage that could last that long?
My personal answer to that is hugely dependant on what is happening around me at that point of time. At this phase of my lives, I am cornered by a variety of stories from a variety of married people I know – family, friends and colleagues. Gone were the days where my newlywed friends were thoroughly excited with the prospect of just gotten married. There are less selfies wish the hashtag "#happycouple" (Thank God). They are now phasing out of the honeymoon years, and with that came the hard slap of reality.
Some were starting to realise that it takes a lot more work than they anticipated.
Some were even more sadly, ending in divorce.
Some were just downright unhappy, but is probably going to settle for just that for a very long time.
But then there are also the ones with a pretty great thing going on. For some friends I know, getting married seemed like the best thing they could've ever done for themselves. My parents, for example, have been married from almost 30 years and I don’t think they could live a day without each other. And how about this elderly lady in her wheelchair in the ICU?
Unfortunately for me, what supersedes my fear of being alone is my fear of being in an unhappy marriage. It is therefore that I often ask myself – is it worth the trouble of risking it to see if such a thing as a long, happy marriage does exist?
Eventually, as I concluded my thoughts about it, I figured that the answer might be this; like everything else in life, anything is possible. A good long marriage is possible, and a bad long marriage is also possible. And like everything else in life, the resultant is highly dependent on our actions towards it. Perhaps all we need to find is a little bit of faith and little bit more bravery.
There is a vase that I have. I place it on a table by the window. It’s the sunniest spot around the house, where rays of sunlight will always come piercing through the curtains and sometimes a light breeze will blow by. The vase is obviously something precious to me, and although I knew that the table by the window is not exactly the safest place to put it, I want it to have the benefit of the doubt. I want the vase to experience everything – sunny days, windy days, rain, rainbows, sunsets and sunrise.
Some days, more often than I would prefer, a slightly strong breeze would come over and knock the vase down. It stays on the table, and I could easily arrange it back nicely. Most of the time it stays unharmed, with maybe a slight chip here and there if it was knocked down pretty hard. I could deal with that. These tiny chips are hardly noticeable. If you look at it carefully you might see it, and it’s a good reminder that the table might not be as safe as you thought it would be.
But on the very, very rare occasions, a storm would come by. It usually comes right after a sunny day, which makes me unaware and unable to move the vase before something happens to it. The wind would come so strong and so cold, that it would literally make the vase fly across the room, and smash into pieces on the floor. At this point I would go sweep the pieces up, of course. Then I would attempt to glue it back together. Sometimes it takes days, sometimes it takes weeks, and sometimes if it’s particularly tricky to assemble it’ll take a whole year.
Then comes the question – how many times can a vase break until it couldn’t be put back together any more? So far I’ve succeeded in doing so. It has glue and breaking marks on it, but it still looks like a whole vase. But I fear that eventually, if the storm keeps coming and it keeps getting rolled off the table and smashed on the floor, the day might come when only a miracle could make it into a vase exactly as how I’ve first had it.
Sometimes I have the right mind to finally get it off the table by the window, and place it in the closet instead. That way it’ll never be knocked over again. That way it will always stay as it is. But then I’ll think about those sunny days that have happened. When the day is just right and you could sit by the balcony and enjoy it. There’ll be a dark cloud now and then, sure, but then they will pass and the day becomes over all, lovely. Flowers would be put in the vase. It will sit there, on the table, soaking up the day and the life it brings. Remembering these things makes me not want to put it in the closet at all. It keeps making me put the vase back on that table, because I don’t want to let it miss out on these wonderful days, ones that made those bad weather forgotten.
Dude, come on. You didn’t think I’d be THAT boring to put up a blog about an actual vase, did you? ;-)