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.”

Huh?

 

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.

 

Woah?

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.

 

 

Sheylara

 

 

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.

Sheylara

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.

 

 

 

Tricked into being happy

Gratitude and positivity: These were poisonous words to me not so long ago.

I mean it in the way that loud music and bright lights are abhorrent to someone with a hangover.

When you’re suffering from depression, you don’t want to hear it. Overly happy people make you cringe. Motivational memes are as appealing as a hot poker in your face. People reminding you to be grateful for what you have makes you want to shoot someone. Then you feel bad for being such an ungrateful douchebag that you get even more depressed.

 

Know It All

At that time, I already knew the theories about mental illness and associated treatments. (I’d done a lot of psychology classes and read extensively.)

I also attended cognitive behavioural therapy sessions where they try to force positivity into your head by telling you to think differently. Just like that.

Occasionally, when I read articles saying, “When you’re having a lousy day, smile. That action will trick your mind into being happy,” I would make myself try it.

I would genuinely gave it a shot.

But it would be like, geez, you look like an idiot.

I knew the supposed solutions to depression. But depression splits your mind. You think:

  1. I desperately want to be fixed.
  2. I’m scared to be fixed because I don’t want to change who I am.
  3. I’m terrified to find out that I’m unfixable.

As much as I knew I should, I was unable to respond to lessons on gratitude and positivity.

 

Gratitude
Appreciating and feeling thankful for all the good in your life and life in general.

Positivity
Focusing on the good so you don’t get dragged down by the bad; choosing happiness over sadness.

 

Easy peasy? I knew I was just one mindset away from the shackles of depression, but it was as good as a giant leap across the Grand Canyon. It’s easy to be grateful and think positive when you’re already happy or, at least, feel some sort of contentment. Not so when you’re depressed and angry.

So, what happened to me? Because one day I woke up and found that I’d made that leap overnight, probably in my sleep.

 

Crossing the impossible chasm

I believe I got tricked into it. I can’t think of a better explanation for how I went from wanting to die to being happy in a matter of two days.

I’ve already explained everything in this long post so I will just summarise now. One day, I came across this product called SELF Journal and tried it out of curiosity. This is what it did to me almost immediately:

  1. Gave me a sudden sense of purpose as I went to work on some short-term goals I’d decided on.
  2. Working on goals made me forget to be depressed and angry.
  3. Being forced to write six things I’m grateful for (very tough, this one) tricked my mind into feeling grateful.
  4. Writing down what I did well that day forced me to love myself a little.
  5. Writing down how I can improve something from the day made me believe there’s hope.

Here’s what my first day looks like. Pardon the scraggly handwriting; my first journal was a PDF on my iPad using Apple Pencil to write (very challenging).

 

Screenshot of SELF Journal page

 

My first day didn’t go very well and I had a morning meltdown. Still, I tried to salvage the day, and filled in the journal dutifully at the end of the day.

The next day, I woke up feeling ridiculously happy and excited.

Without warning.

I can’t even explain it adequately. It was like magic.

Maybe it’s that physically writing down things I’m grateful for flicked a switch in my mind akin to drawing the curtains in a dark room. I think physical writing was key here because I had tried being grateful in my mind, in the past, but it never worked when I was depressed.

It’s been 53 days since I started using the SELF journal, which means I have written down about 400 things I’m grateful for (I try not to repeat things). And, I think, day by day, this exercise is drawing the curtains in my mind wider and wider. Maybe the curtain has even been ripped off completely, leaving me in perpetual brightness.

I feel actual happiness these days. Even joy.

 

Support System

I won’t claim that practising gratitude cured my depression on its own. I think what it did was made me receptive to outside help. I’d always shouldered pain on my own and tried to solve problems myself because that’s how I felt comfortable. So it was a huge surprise to learn how good it feels to have help and support.

It was even a bit magical the way things came together seamlessly:

  1. I found the journal, which has a support network in the form of a community of friendly and helpful people, everyone focused on self-actualisation.
  2. I had my bestie, Workaholic Wen, to whom I showed the journal and who was so enthusiastic about the idea that we decided to start doing it together, and keep each other on the right track.
  3. At just the right time, my GP referred me to a self-management coach who figured out the one book I had to read to start healing the main thing that was causing my depression.
  4. I had a loving husband who’s always supported me through all my short-lived obsessions, never judging when I lose interest, but offering full support for the next obsession. I now realise that his patience allowed me the space to find myself, in my own time, in a safe environment.

There have been several times in my life when, after a long series of challenging events, things would fall into place suddenly, magically, and I would walk into an outcome I could never have imagined.

As much pain and suffering as I’ve gone through in my life so far (and might still have to go through), as much as I’ve wanted to die so often, now that life has brought me once again into a wondrous end of chapter, I see that I am blessed.

 

Piers and Sheylara watching fish in the sea

 

 

The day I woke up to a voice in my head

It’s been over a month since a journal saved my life, and I’m happy to report that I’m still very much in the business of staying alive, although it’s getting increasingly hard because I’m averaging six hours of sleep a day and my body hates me.

But never mind the body for now. Here’s a quick status report:

  1. I have unfailingly woken up at 7 am or earlier (and stayed awake) every day for over a month — a heretofore impossible feat for me, prompting Piers to call me a weirdo.
  2. I crushed my one-month goal of decluttering my home and my life, in the process unearthing such treasures as 4-year-old e-mails from friends I forgot to reply to, and missing odd socks.
  3. I feel happy and positive 95% of the time. The other 5% says I’m not ready for nirvana. But I’m still young…ish and in no hurry.
  4. I had another epiphany the other day, telling me quite clearly what I must do for the rest of my life (besides striving for nirvana but, to be honest, I’m not sure I want to).
  5. Notwithstanding these amazing accomplishments, I am still quite muddle-headed.

 

The Incident

Last Thursday, I was cooking lunch, a simple meal of instant noodles, a large handful of tenderstem broccoli and a hard-boiled egg.

I cooked the egg first, then peeled it and set it aside while waiting for my noodles and vegetables to cook (4 minutes). Noodles done, I seasoned it and took it to the table.

I ate my lunch watching a Korean drama, then spent 20 minutes in Facebook. Total: 40 minutes.

It was time to get to work! I cleared my dishes and went to the kitchen, piling stuff in the sink and saw… a peeled hard-boiled egg sitting on an overturned saucepan lid.

“Why is there an egg here?” I wondered in actual surprise.

Cue facepalms and eyerolls.

 

Happy Fuel

I realised then that I had completely run out of happy fuel. Every last drop had been exhausted.

Remember, previously, I had described how my new lifestyle had made me sleep-deprived for weeks? And how I was subsisting on positive feelings generated by my positive lifestyle change?

This happy fuel eventually burned out. Of course it would. “Happy fuel” is not a medically acceptable form of fuel for the sustenance of life. The universe must have realised I was being tricky, trying to upturn the laws of nature, so put its foot down.

I was muddleheaded and distracted for days, although I did try my best to keep on being healthy and productive. 

 

More Happy Fuel

Then, near the end of the week, I received another dose of happy fuel. Actually, it wasn’t a dose; it was more like thunder and fireworks.

Last Friday, I woke up knowing exactly what I had to do for the rest of my life.

I mean I didn’t arrive at that conclusion from nothing. I had been mulling over it for years. Heck, for all my life. However, in April, I mulled over it with the help of new insights gained from purposeful personal development (reading self-help books, making lifestyle changes, listening to advice).

Up until Friday, I was still indecisive about my great big plans in life. I didn’t know what I really wanted to do. In fact, I couldn’t even decide whether I wanted to do anything. Couldn’t I just live simply and comfortably in this idyllic resort town I call my home? Many people do. I don’t need great big plans!

 

Great Big Plans

But Great Big Plans had different ideas and it chose last Friday to tell me so.

“Hey,” it shook me awake quite violently. “Hey! Wake up! I have something to tell you!”

“Huh? What?” I said, bleary-eyed, wary of auditory hallucinations from sleep deprivation.

“You are going to write books,” it said, “Lots of them! It doesn’t matter if you sell one copy or a million copies. You will write books for the rest of your life!”

“What?” I said, “I don’t…… what?”

“And then, you will start a charity that encourages children to love reading books because it will make a better future society.

“What are… huh? No! Now…… what?!?!”

Then, great big plans sprinkled some fairy dust or something, I don’t know, all over my face, waking me up from my dreams courtesy of a sneezing fit.

When the dust settled, my eyes were opened.

 

The Joy of Purpose

I mean, I could have been suffering a manic episode of bipolar disorder (which my psychologist told me four years ago I didn’t have), but I reeled with excitement all day. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I was so bursting with positive energy you could get zapped standing 10 feet from me.

I knew what I wanted to do and I couldn’t wait to do it!

I spent the rest of my weekend planning my new goal (creating a roadmap) of writing my first novel, with absolutely no idea what I was going to write and even how to write a whole freaking novel.

It was the most exciting weekend I can remember in a long time.

 

Now…

It’s been 10 days since Great Big Plans visited and I still have not wavered in my conviction. That is, not significantly. There were a few evenings when I was tired and allowed doubt to creep in. “What was I thinking? I can’t write a book omg!”

I know my mind; it’s full of trickery. It could very well show up tomorrow and yell at me.

“Happy April’s Fool! Mwahahaha. That wasn’t Great Big Plans; that was just little ol’ me! Haha! Oh wait, it’s May. Oh never mind, you’re a fool! Mwahahaha. You should be a hermit! Goodbye!”

I wouldn’t put it past the mind gremlin to do that. It’s an entity of its own and it’s evil.

But, you know what? I am 5% from achieving nirvana (according to that delusional part of my mind that thinks I’m supergirl). I can beat this. If the mind gremlin so much as pokes its ugly snout out of its dark forest of depravity, I will pull it out and strangle the life out of it and dump it in the trash and set fire to it and call down thunder and lightning on it and then make it listen to Let It Go on repeat for eternity while locked in a metal dungeon with no windows. 

How about that, evil mind gremlin? You’re not welcome, ever! I have books to write!

Lots, apparently!

Great!