I can’t win

I’ve been struggling lately. It feels like the universe is either testing me or being mean just for the fun of it.

After months of trying to keep on top of a healthy, productive lifestyle and being confronted by medical conditions one after another, I finally got the spirit beaten out of me.

In my last post, I talked about rebellion week being like a vacation to recharge in. I thought that was going to be the end of it and I was going to rise like a phoenix from the ashes and soar to literary success (not by writing clichéd idioms in blogposts).

Alas, I thought wrong. What happened, instead, was the universe wasn’t quite done with me. I think I got hit by seasonal affective disorder (because I don’t know how else to explain it). In case you live in a tropical country and have not heard of this disorder, here’s a definition:

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer. (Source)

Yes, I’m one of those rare people who are averse to light and sunshine. I keep all my curtains drawn and blinds closed 24/7. At least, that’s how it would go if Piers didn’t keep opening them back up again. In fact, I actually come alive in the winter when it’s cold and gloomy. Come summer, I get overwhelmed and antsy and feel drained just looking out the window which Piers would have exasperatingly left open.


So, after floundering for a while, I reread my journal entries and realised I had started losing sleep and feeling anxious and frustrated around the beginning of summer, which is why I diagnosed myself with summer SAD.

I would have a restless sleep each night and get woken up at 5 am by neighbourhood seagulls having a sell-out concert and it would be bright and hot and I would just wither and die.

I started hating morning yoga because it made me feel sweaty and awful instead of calm and peaceful. Somehow, my body felt heavy and sluggish. My mind refused to be still during meditation, which puzzled me for a while because I never had any problems with it even as a beginner. Without satisfying yoga and meditation sessions in the morning to ground me, I fell apart.


One day, I gave up trying and let myself go. I started playing iPad games again and reading novels all day long. I ate junk food, which only made everything worse. I got depressed, moody, mopey, angry, fearful, defeated, numb.

I started wanting to play MMORPGs again, those games that had taken over my life in the past. I have very treasured memories of playing with friends, enjoying hilarious adventures together, and needed to feel that again.

But I resisted because I knew I needed to be working on my novel instead of wasting time playing games.

Except I couldn’t make myself do anything. I wasn’t even enjoying the junk food I was allowing myself to eat.


After languishing for more than a week, each day getting closer and closer to giving in and going to Amazon where I could so easily one-click-buy a game and receive it the next day, a good idea suddenly came to me.

How about listening to podcasts for writers to help motivate me and distract me from the lure of video games?! I was in a funk so couldn’t make myself read motivational books, but podcasts were different. I could just put them on while doing mindless things like chores.

So I googled “podcasts for writers” and picked one among the top ranking ones with the most awesome name: Dead Robots’ Society. To date, they have released 454 episodes. I decided to listen to the very first episode made in 2007 because I like starting at the beginning.


I felt hopeful. I envisioned getting all inspired and then I would sit down and write something good and be back on track and happy again.

I pressed play.

Five aspiring authors were having a chat and the first order of business was introductions.

It went something like this:

“Hi, my name is so-and-so. Right now, I’m working on the third edit of my third novel, blah blah blah how it’s working out, blah blah, and in between all that, I’m playing All-Pro Football 2K8 on the Xbox.”



And then, the next person:

“Hey, I’m so-and-thus, and I’m still plugging away at my novel and also playing Baldur’s Gate.”

“The first Baldur’s Gate?”

“Yes, the first one.”

“Oh, god, that was sooooo good.”

“Oh, I know, right? It kicks ass.”

“Have you played the Icewind Dale games?”

Then 10 minutes of everyone talking about games.



Had I accidentally fallen into an invisible portal and been magically whisked into an alternate universe where an alternate me was listening to a gaming podcast?

Or was this mean universe playing more tricks on me?

I laughed at the perverseness of life (you know, like an insane person laughing out of the blue for no apparent reason) and then I went into Amazon and one-click-bought a game.

To be continued.






Rebellion week

In the three weeks since my last update, I must have written and deleted about 10,000 words because I haven’t been able to write anything that passed the Sheylara OCD Edit.

The Sheylara OCD Edit is a stringent editing process in which I read through my draft the next day and if, at any point, I feel like gagging or develop the urge to hurl myself off a very tall building or simply fall asleep, I destroy all the words, hide in the cupboard and contemplate an alternative career in, say, grocery picking or lion taming.

I’ve contemplated alternative non-writing careers a bajillion times over the years. And, still, my blog sits there, year after year, taunting me with its unupdatedness, sending me bills every month to pay for its privilege to sit there and taunt me with its unupdatedness.

I need chocolate.

Which is another way of saying that I’ve gone off my 30-day reset diet.

I’d written about 2,000 words explaining why — it was a bit of a rant — but it didn’t pass the Sheylara OCD Edit so it’s all gone. No one wants to read 2,000 words of someone ranting about going off a diet, anyway.

So, here’s a one-line summary: My supposedly acid-reflux healing diet gave me acid reflux on Day 7 because I’m intolerant to coconut products and curry powder, so I got angry and staged a rebellion.

Well, I haven’t completely gone off the diet. I’ve merely postponed it for several reasons which no one will bother to read so I won’t bother to write.

The diet did work to a good extent since it’s basically a diet that avoids foods known to induce adverse reactions. But I’m just one of those people who’s allergic to everything and safe from nothing so, eventually, something always gets me.

I mean, the whole reason I started getting severe acid reflux was because I decided to introduce some “healthy” habits — drinking camomile and green tea instead of Earl Grey, drinking more water throughout the day, doing HIIT workouts, etc, all of which I found out the hard way are acid reflux triggers for health-resistant people like me.

So, like I said, I got angry and rebelled. I went on a strike. Kind of against myself. Because it makes perfect sense for people to rail against themselves when something bad happens to them that isn’t their fault.

For a whole week, I woke up whenever I wanted, slept whenever I wanted, ate whatever I wanted and did whatever I wanted.

It was kind of nice. Like a vacation. But like one of those vacations where your stomach doesn’t like the local food so it spends half your vacation complaining about it to the toilet in your hotel room.

Still, it was a good vacation. While I did suffer myriad digestive problems from eating whatever the damn I felt like, the chocolates and biscuits (which I’d lain off for like four months previously) drowned my brain in endorphins and drove the anger away.

I’m ready to start clawing my way back to good health again.

And I’m back staring at this WordPress editor full of words I might decide to completely obliterate at the next reading.

Or maybe I will just post it.


Mission: Reset My Body

I’m going on a scary diet!

Now, before you start going all “What do you need to diet for?” and “Just eat what you want and be happy”, let me explain.

I’ve been suffering from bad acid reflux for many years now. In fact, I’ve had digestion problems all my adult life but it was only in the last few weeks that it got bad enough for me to take serious action.

I’ve seen my doctor a lot over the years because I have a laundry list of ailments. She would keep sending me for blood tests and the results would show normal levels of everything and she would be, like, you’re fine and healthy. Then she’d give me medication to treat symptoms. But the problems always come back.


Angry cat


Recently, I came across this article and thought it made a lot of sense (all six parts of the article).

The author, Chris Kresser, a prominent practitioner of alternative medicine, suggests that acid reflux and heartburn are caused by insufficient acid and bacterial overgrowth in the stomach. And this, in turn, is caused by consuming food that is unfriendly to human digestion.

I really relate to that because I know what foods trigger acid reflux in me and what foods give me indigestion and bloating.


Screenshot of website


In his book, The Paleo Cure, the author talks about all the different types of food and why they are (or aren’t) meant to be eaten.

(If you’re in the UK, you want to look at Your Personal Paleo Diet, which is the same book but using UK terms and measurements.)


The Paleo Cure


Reading the book, I realised that I do get digestion problems whenever I eat foods in the “unfriendly” food group, such as wheat products (bread, pasta, pastries), dairy (cheese, milk, cream), deep-fried food using industrial oil, and legumes (soy products and things like edamame beans).

I also realised that I had only started getting my laundry list of ailments after moving to the UK and adopting a more British diet.

If you’re familiar with the paleo diet, then you know what I’m talking about. If not, here’s a cartoon to explain it.


Click it to read the whole thing:

Paleo cartoon


So, I’m going to do a 30-day paleo reset diet as set out in Chris Kresser’s book.

For 30 days, I will not eat anything that has been proven to cause an inflammatory response in the body because, to put it very simply, the human body is not equipped to digest these items properly:


    Dairy products.
    Grain products and all gluten-free substitutes.
    Pulses/legumes (beans and peas and their products).
    Sweeteners, natural and artificial. (Only fruits are allowed.)
    Processed/refined food.
    Industrial seed oil.
    Fizzy drinks, fruit juice and alcohol.
    Processed sauces and seasonings.


These foods cause inflammatory responses in the body to varying degrees in everyone. We’re all different because our bodies have evolved different degrees of tolerances to different foods, but even if we’ve evolved a tolerance, it still means the body prefers not to have it.

If you keep overloading your body with food it prefers not to have, it will break down eventually.

This is important to know because inflammatory responses in the body lead to a whole host of ailments from small ones (eczema, acne, indigestion, depression, weight gain, etc) to the big scary ones (diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc).

So, the idea of the diet is that you reset your health by eating only body-friendly food for 30 days. After that, you slowly reintroduce the “body-unfriendly” food groups one by one to see how your body reacts to each. In this way, you can find out your tolerance levels for everything.

Going forward, if you want to live with optimal health and not succumb to scary diseases, you tweak your diet so that you try to eat wholesome food at least 80% of the time (if not 100%), but you can eat the other foods you can tolerate, 20% of the time, otherwise it’s too impractical and you could never eat out!


Salmon, sweet potato and kale
Baked wild Alaskan salmon (with ginger and garlic); baked sweet potato; crispy Pentland Brig kale


I started easing into a paleo diet two weeks ago and found that acid reflux doesn’t happen when I eat right. When I eat the wrong food, it comes right back.

Like, one day, I had hummus and crispy flatbread for lunch, thinking it was kind of healthy, but got a really severe case of reflux that lasted 12 hours (until I finally managed to fall asleep.) Then I read the book and realised chick peas and wheat are inflammatory agents.

I will finish my easing-in period by the end of the week and start the proper 30-day reset diet on June 19!

A couple more paleo meals I’ve made:


chicken, sweet potato and courgettes
Baked chicken thighs with mushroom and onion; Baked sweet potato; Baked courgettes


Eggs, mushroom and kale
Scrambled eggs; Stir-fry chestnut mushrooms and Pentland Brig kale


It’s really not too bad, and there are a lot of tasty meals to eat in paleo. But there is an adjustment period where I start craving bread and pasta, and even chocolates and cakes (which I had already stopped eating and craving for two months.)

The main deterrent is the time it takes to cook meals every day since you cannot eat food that comes packaged nicely in the supermarket, and you cannot eat out because restaurants might use “unfriendly” seasonings and oils.

But it has got to a “do or die” point, so I’m going to have to stick with it. If you’re also suffering health problems that won’t go away, perhaps you want to join me? :P

Also, please like and follow my Facebook page if you’d like to see regular updates on my diet because I won’t be blogging about it too much.

Wish me luck! :)



For my grandmother

My grandmother passed away last week at age 98. She was my paternal grandmother, my last surviving grandparent.

I wasn’t going to write about it because I felt it was a bit morbid, and also pretentious, since I had failed to appreciate her adequately in the last decade or so.

But I didn’t get to say goodbye to her officially (wasn’t able to attend the funeral in Singapore) and continued thinking about her through the weekend, so I thought I’d say a few words as a goodbye.


I didn’t have a particularly close relationship with my grandmother because we never lived together and, for a large part of my life, I only saw her once a year during Chinese New Year.

Also, we didn’t speak the same language. I could speak a bit of her language (Teochew, a Chinese dialect) but at a laughable child’s level. We communicated sometimes in Mandarin but we were both rubbish at it. My relatives used to laugh at me (affectionately) when I was little, saying I sounded like a Caucasian trying to speak Mandarin.

Still, I remember my grandmother as a caring and hardworking woman with a sense of humour. I don’t have any specifics, but I do remember moments when she would tease her grandchildren and laugh at our cute foibles.


My main memory of her is of the time when I was 21 and in hospital for surgery to remove a bone tumour. I was only in there for about a week, but she came to see me every day and brought me tonics she’d lovingly boiled.

After I was discharged, she came to stay so she could look after me while I recuperated. She cooked me nutritious, healing meals and helped with chores around the house until I was well again.

I didn’t know that was typical of the care she showed all her children and grandchildren until I read stories about her from my cousins in Facebook. I mean, I never really thought about what she was doing with her life since I was all wrapped up in my own world. I guess she went around a lot, helping whomever needed help. And it was probably a lot of going around because she had 10 children and 28 grandchildren.


I’m guilty of not having ever made the effort to spend time with her and get to know her. I didn’t know how to, not just because of the language barrier but because I grew up not having the ability to have a conversation with anyone (Asperger Syndrome).

All the same, I’m thankful that she loved me unconditionally, anyway.

Thank you, ah ma. I’m sorry I could never have told you this in person, but I appreciate everything you did for your family. May you rest in peace now.




The exploding egg

I tried to microwave a hard-boiled egg yesterday.

Ah. I can see half of you widening your eyes in anticipation, perhaps even starting to chuckle.

Yes! Okay! I know! I actually did kind of know about exploding eggs in microwaves. I just didn’t know enough. I had peeled and broken my egg in two unequal parts, with the yolk showing, and I thought that would make it okay.

I thought wrong. The smaller part of my egg exploded all over the microwave with a loud, scary bang after about 40 seconds. I don’t know how the average person usually reacts to such an event, but my first thought was, “OMG how much cleaning is that going to be?!”

About 10 minutes’ worth, is how much. There was egg white everywhere. Top, bottom, left, right, front and back. Tiny little itty bits of egg white splattered all over the walls of the surfaces, each bit claiming its own square inch. Luckily the yolk was still intact because it’s my favourite part!


Comic: Microwaving an egg


This morning, I googled how to reheat hard boiled eggs (because I still had more cooked eggs in the fridge). The advice is: Pour boiling water over your eggs and cover for 10 minutes.

Then what is the point of making extra eggs to eat for breakfast!

Sorry, I’m having a rant. I thought I was being clever cooking up three days’ worth of eggs in advance so I could save time cooking them the next two breakfasts!

In the end, reheating eggs takes as long as cooking them from scratch, whether you take the microwave route or the sensible boiling route!!

I could cover my eggs with a microwave lid so it wouldn’t make a mess, but the bang scares me, plus I read about eggs exploding into people’s face while they’re trying to eat them.

Oh, HAHA. I just suddenly remembered I wrote a piece of poetry about omelettes 13 years ago. It’s my Ode to a Leftover Omelette. Read it here.

(If you don’t want to read the story explaining why I wrote it, just scroll all the way down to the bottom.)


Ode to a Leftover Omelette


Do you think I have a future as a poet, if not a cook?