Why be happy when you could be normal?

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This is a very touching, personal mediation on love and loss, and a raw, unflinching look at life and the mess of human emotions. Written as a sort of sequel to Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, in a more autobiographical style and focusing heavily on her relationship with her adopted mother and her desire for maternal love, this is definitely more rough, honest, vulnerable, messy, and more real than most of the books I have read. Reading something so personal, it feels like I was going through a journey with the author herself, and it feels as cathartic to read as it must have felt to write.

The writing style seems a bit modernist, as though the writer is writing purely from her unrelenting thoughts or sometimes even stream of consciousness – but that’s the beauty of it, because that’s how our inner mind works in real life. Breaking the traditional conventions of linear time, plot and narrative flow is a very effective technique in this case, and one that the author admits is not entirely pre-mediated. She was writing this in real time, and at one point where the language gets more fumbled and sometimes chaotic, it was because she wanted to show how the process of inner turmoil, a mental breakdown and a downward emotional spiral really feels like, and it is powerful.

To be honest, I didn’t really enjoy Oranges, because the language and writing style there somehow didn’t captivate me…but I’m so glad I read Why be happy when you could be normal?, for this was completely unrestrained and as close to being human as it gets. I picked up this book not knowing what it’s really about actually, mostly intrigued by the title. But when you get to the point where the significance of the title is revealed, it really hurts, just like at many points in the novel.

Perhaps as someone who understands the experience of a dysfunctional family, I really related to her need and search for the meaning of love and identity, especially the part where she had difficulty being loved and trusting that she could be loved. I think our families really play a pivotal part in our early life and sometimes their influence sets the tone for our entire life. Jeanette talks about her experience of being an adopted child, but what I got out of it was really a close look at the nature and workings of family and human relationships. It is also a touching testament to the depth of human resilience in the face of immense adversity, helplessness and hopelessness.

Ok after this review I’m giving it 5 stars instead of 4, because I really wanted to give a 4.5. If you relate to what I wrote in this review, you should probably read the book.

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Empathy

“One of the greatest barriers to empathy is the fear of saying the wrong thing or the need to make everything better. Let me go on record as saying (putting you at ease a little bit, hopefully) that when someone has experienced something very traumatic – a significant loss – there’s nothing you can say to make it better. All you can do is to be with people in that space. So if all you can come up with is, ‘I don’t know what to say. I just know that I want to be with you in this. I don’t know how to make it better. I just know that I’m dying inside to make it better. I want to help.’ What we all need when we’re in struggle is the ability for other people to look us in the eye, to be with us, to embrace us, and to be willing to be with us.”

Brené Brown, Men, Women, & Worthiness 

 

Happiness is a bowl of bún chả in the rain

As promised from the previous post, I set out to explore more local parts of Hanoi – all thanks to the discovery of a food review app used by locals, Foody.vn. Please do use this when you’re in Vietnam! It will bring you to well loved local eats at local prices. Without this app, I don’t think I could have ventured to local hangouts, due to the lack of information in English online.

So, my trip really took a dramatic turn for the better, and it was a truly magical day for me that involved rain, a nostalgic 90’s cafe, witnessing the chaos of school dismissal at a local school, finding delicious bún chả and making a local friend.

I shall start from the beginning, and include videos to show you an actual glimpse / fragment of the chaos, colour and life of Hanoi.

Woke up to a rainy day in Hanoi today. Temperatures dropped heavily by almost ten degrees. It was freezing, and we jumped on a GrabCar (yes, they have it here so use the Grab app for the best transport deal) to a nostalgic 90’s cafe on the other side of town, loved by locals for bringing them back to their childhood days. We were curious to see how the already nostalgic city to us could travel further back in time, and how the childhood of Vietnamese youths our age looked like.

In the comfort of the warm car with Vietnamese tunes playing on the radio, and the rain glazing the roads outside, it felt like I was in a film, watching the people in their assortment of colourful raincoats whizz by on their bikes. There is something about the rain that makes everything more beautiful, and especially so here, when the roads burst with colour.

The cafe was hard to find even by local standards, according to the reviews on the app. This picture shows the little back alley we walked in from, hidden behind a row of shops. We went up a flight of stairs that looked like local housing, and indeed, we discovered that there were residents living there. The cafe itself also looked like the interior of an old house. By Singapore standards, I felt like I was transported back to the 60’s. So this was what childhood was like in the Vietnam of the 90’s.

Unfortunately I was too excited and forgot to take pictures of the interior…we went out to the balcony which looked something like this:

That’s me, and I realise this is the first time I posted a picture of myself. I am trying out a more candid style of blogging on the go via my phone.

The cafe staff were surprised and a bit lost when we didn’t understand what they were saying, because I think no tourists ever came here. Thanks to Google translate and a girl who spoke some English, we managed to make some sense of the Vietnamese menu. A warm, comforting plate of sweet potato fritters was soon served. When I showed my Vietnamese new friend (I’ll come to that later) this picture later, she was really excited because it was really her childhood snack.

We also got some flavoured frozen yoghurt in cute little tubs, complimentary roasted popcorn, and the legendary Vietnamese coffee we can’t get enough of.

This is the local version of the board game Monopoly. The board is the unfolded wooden case containing the Monopoly notes and property cards, all made with flimsy laminated paper.

This was the view from the balcony, a classic scene of motorbikes in Hanoi. If you think this traffic is bad, wait till you see what happens next.

The cafe is situated right opposite a local primary school, so what we saw at around 4:30PM was a crowd of parents on motorbikes waiting for the school gates to open. And around them, the usual traffic continued unabated.

Soon the school gates open, and the crowd of motorbikes flood into the school compound. Children are seated behind their dad or mum, or else inserted between both parents on their bike, or sometimes up to 4 family members huddled on one bike. Some kids hold on to their parent’s hands while they calmly navigate the heart stopping (to us) tirade of honking bikes, taxis and cars.

This is their everyday life, while it seems like an exciting dramatic scene unfolding before our eyes. Watching these kids brave the monstrous traffic at such a young age, I learn that the Vietnamese are a resilient people – and this word means so many things on different levels I cannot even begin to claim to understand.

More stills from the unstoppable gushing river of vehicles.

Witnessing this moving scene of people braving the traffic, I felt humbled, and for the first time, felt at ease with the movement and noise. Soon the cacophony blended into the rhythms of my environment, and I took out my Kindle, opened a half-read book, and read Montaigne’s philosophy for an hour.

Philosophy – of all things, in the midst of the roar of Vietnamese traffic! This was definitely a transformative moment for me, learning how to find inner peace surrounded by chaos.

As the night fell and the peak hour traffic subsided after more than two hours, we departed the cafe for a bún chả stall I found on the food app, rated highly by Hanoi locals. We were dropped by our Grab driver along a busy main road, but somehow manage to wind our way into a narrow back alley.

There we discovered a row of food stalls like the one above, which we managed to identify after some time. It was around 8PM, and finally, we had found the unassuming place where locals ate their daily dinners, and not the tourist-priced street stall I mentioned in my previous post where we were “shoved around like animals waiting to be fed”.

Our dinner situation.

We ordered what we thought was bún chả as we had eaten before in Singapore’s Vietnamese eateries. Little did we know! This was bún trộn, made of the same ingredients except that they were mixed. It was the Southern Vietnam interpretation of the dish more commonly found in Ho Chi Minh down south, and indeed, like the pho we had in Singapore, was much sweeter. This confirms our realisation on this trip that the Vietnamese food found in Singapore hails mostly from Ho Chi Minh.

And bún chả was a Northern dish that actually originated from Hanoi itself! We learned all this when a friendly Vietnamese girl sat down beside me. The first thing she said was, “this version of bún chả tastes better”, as she pointed to the noodles, pork slices and vegetables separated into bowls in front of her which she had ordered. It looked something like this:

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Photo taken at the same stall, from Foody.vn app

That began a conversation over dinner with a university student from the nearby economics university. She told us that this was her favourite bún chả stall, and she always came here after school. How lucky we felt! Although we ordered the mixed version, it was more delicious than any we’d ever tasted. Such tastes and experiences simply cannot be transported across geographical spaces.

Alice (the English name she chose for her love of Alice in Wonderland), was surprised and (seemed) impressed that I came here through the Foody app, and on a Grab car. She said I know a lot about Vietnam life, and I told her I am trying very hard. It was not easy indeed! Everything was so unfamiliar and intimidating on the first few days, but things are becoming clearer.

She later brought us to a nearby dessert shop she frequented. She taught me a few Vietnamese phrases, which was so much more effective than struggling to repeat what I heard on Google translate.

And I never knew Vietnam had such nice desserts! The leftmost one is a very sweet mixture of caramel pudding, black glutinous rice, jackfruit slices and sago. At the top is some cheese based jelly with sago. On the right, which was my favourite, was mango sago with coconut jelly and milk.

Only upon coming to Hanoi did we realise the Vietnamese people liked eating desserts. Our friend ordered the three which we all shared, and I was touched by her gesture of being willing to spend time with two foreigners she met at a bún chả stall.

I came to Hanoi only knowing of the Old Quarters and French Quarters, due to limited time to plan for this trip and rather limited information found online. It seems like not many people have explored the city of Hanoi extensively.

Initially disarmed by the hostility we faced in the Old Quarters, I am now thankful for it was my perturbed feelings that led me to discover, and become determined to visit the places where locals lived and ate. Breaking through the appearance of a mysterious foreign culture that seemed inhospitable at first encounter, I found human warmth and hospitality with a bowl of 20k dong bún chả.

Today, I found magic in Hanoi, and I found a new friend.

Outsiders

Hanoi has been…unsettling. My senses were so overwhelmed and stimulated that if I did not write, I would drown.

It is with deep regret and frustration that I say the Old Quarters have left me with a sense of discomfort. And I’m not just referring to the dangerous traffic and incessant noise pollution that literally induces migraines. It was something deeper that I sensed from the people and the atmosphere, a certain hostility I have never felt before.

This is not the romanticised, nostalgic account of the Old World, of sun-drenched colonial buildings and French windows, and the people selling tropical vegetables by the road and eating pho on red plastic stools.

I have always been against tourism – you can say it is mutually beneficial, cultural immersion in exchange for economic growth. But it is also mutually exploitative. I realised that the moment I felt the intrusive presence of hawkers literally forcing me to try their food, or a peddler tearing at my partner’s shoes and then asking him to purchase glue. In the same way I felt really distressed and intruded, this must be what the local people have felt and will continue to feel with the invasion of tourist crowds marvelling at their exotic cultures.

But I am not one of the tourists, and I never was. My Singaporean counterparts can be considered tourists, because when they go to new places they seek fun, excitement, local tours and activities, photos at beautiful places and key attractions, as well as good food and recommended eateries on TripAdvisor or fellow citizens’ blogs.

Many white tourists and backpackers whom Thais would call ‘farangs’ are here for the 5k dong plastic mugs of beer from metal canisters, and want an experience of the land without compromising too much of their comfort zones – so much so there are cafes and bars tailored to their styles and needs, and expat blogs telling of where the remote working / digital nomad community and freelance artists hang out, or where to experience Vietnamese cuisine in a ‘more comfortable setting’.

When I go to a new place, whether in Thailand or Italy, I always seek to see and experience life from a different perspective, and try to immerse in the ordinary everyday rhythms of a place. Most of the time, with this willingness to immerse and connect, I have felt a human warmth that transcends language.

But in Hanoi, I felt dehumanised. The motorcycles zipping through every narrow lane and alley regardless of whether road traffic is allowed, and the viciousness with which they don’t stop or even slow down when they approach a human body, feels like a violent disregard for human life. Human bodies become objects and obstacles to weave through. I have considered that perhaps biking is their local culture, along with the noise pollution and the way they honk incessantly at pedestrians and other vehicles. But when you find yourself face to face with a speeding bike that’s about the ram into you from a totally unexpected corner, showing no signs of stopping despite mutual awareness, and when this happens a few times, you experience a kind of terror that transcends cultural differences.

The movement is incessant. When you stop, peddlers and hawkers approach you with at first what seems to be benign intent. Then you see the thirst in their eyes. I remember an essay I read in Katie Roiphe’s In Praise of Messy Lives. Something stayed with me – the way she described the human interactions she experienced in Vietnam as cold money transactions.

Yesterday, returning home shocked and exhausted, I read on Wikitravel that over here, it is acceptable to rip people off as long as they are foreign and rich, rich being anyone richer than themselves, because it is a way of taking back what was once taken from them. Perhaps it might be a generalisation, but if so a very true one, because I have felt the hostility and indifference in all my attempts to connect with the local people. At the eateries and bakeries, I feel myself shoved around like animals to be fed. I say thank you and try to make conversation, but am brushed off or ignored.

To be fair, maybe all I have experienced is restricted to the Old Quarters, which I spent two days exploring. It exhausted me completely, being an introvert and also very sensitive to the environment, and today I am recuperating indoors. I don’t know if anyone else has experienced this, because everyone I know who came here only spoke of good food, yet indeed, they did not mention anything about the people. Maybe they found no need to connect, or dismissed it as a language barrier.

But I think it’s more than language. Culture is found in the way a people carries itself every day in the most ordinary details of a society’s fabric. If Wikitravel is accurate, I feel a dreadful fear for the vengeance that lies behind the ruthless actions, cacophony of impatience and annoyance, as well as the mosquitoes here, sucking our blood even in our sleep.

Maybe I am too sensitive. It would be better if I am like the other tourists, just revelling in the moments, enjoying my massage without sensing their resentment at having to rub our feet in tedious manual labour, while their receptionist merely smiles prettily and brings customers in. It would be better if I could squeeze myself into the swarms of beer drinking people squatting at the night market, oblivious to the violence of motorcycles attempting to cut a road through human bodies. It would be better if I enjoy the best bowl of pho I have ever tried, without noticing the wary glances of the waiters and hawkers, that averted glance or the lowering of eyes.

Maybe it’s their history, their experience with the war that I cannot and will never be able to fathom or empathise with. Perhaps it is the heavy baggage of the past, a collective resentment and hatred at foreign invasion – which affront them in the most innocuous moments, like a traveller capturing a colonial window balcony and keeping it as a souvenir, an understated endorsement of colonialism.

Maybe it is the socialism, the way in which everything is divided into us vs them, self vs Other. Although Hanoi has received many tourists and outsiders, there is an impenetrable wall of ice. Unlike the Land of Smiles, its general conviviality and the sense of the Thais being at peace with themselves and each other, Vietnam is a land of closed doors, only opening a crack or sliver, for the outreach of arms exchanging cash.

I know maybe I haven’t seen everything yet. Tomorrow, when I am better, I will head further into the outskirts of the city centre and stay away from the Old Quarters tourist Mecca. I do not have any intention to offend, neither am I angry or offended. Instead, my heart is filled with a heavy sadness I have never felt in a new place, which I generally embrace and appreciate for the unique nuances that can be found from different ways of life and living.

It is the first time, with great regret and embarrassment, that I am drawn powerfully towards the great convenience store of globalisation, and find comfort in Oreo cookies and Ritz cheese crackers – things I wouldn’t even eat at home, yet find comfort in, in the most unexpected of places.

In this place, it hits me powerfully, that maybe, in every place I venture outside of home, I will always be an outsider. Get out, don’t get in my way – this is what I heard. In spite of my efforts to live in the everyday of every place and not collect postcard moments like prizes, I am, in a way I cannot shake off…

a perennial tourist.


What happens next in Hanoi? Do things get better? Read the follow-up instalment here. 

A realistic gaze at the romantic in me

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Found some photographs I took five years ago – I remember it was the first time I stepped into, or ‘explored’ as my bright-eyed and curious self would have called it back then, the neighbourhood estate of Ang Mo Kio.

Having been brought up in a relatively newer neighbourhood in the western part of Singapore, I remember having a fascination and love for older estates in Singapore such as Ang Mo Kio, Toa Payoh and Queenstown – ironically, two of which I would end up staying at in the next few years.

These were the mature estates I considered the ‘true heartlands’ of Singapore. After all, our country is known for its efficient public housing system, and its policies for assigning newly-wed couples to property of their own. The new mass-constructed flats, however, were mostly build with pared-down or more uniform design in order to cut production costs and speed up construction.

Hence I found myself drawn, increasingly over the years, to the tacky, mismatched paint facades and brick surfaces of older HDB flats.

Buildings then were shorter – the 16th floor rooftop level flat I lived in for most of my childhood in the then less-developed west area was already considered very high. Nowadays, a typical HDB flat would likely go above 30 storeys, and for more premium classes of public housing like the famous Pinnacle@Duxton (that note for my foreign readers, is not representative of the living conditions of average Singaporeans among the 80% who reside in public housing) would go as high as a dizzying fifty storeys – its rooftop turned into a local or tourist attraction for skyscraper viewing, even charging an admission fee.

Such is the way public housing has evolved over the years. I remember when I first went to the home of my current boyfriend, who is, ironically and perhaps with an amazing affinity, an Ang Mo Kio resident for the entire 20 odd years of his life. He was extremely amused by the way I admired all the old things that no one pays attention to, and things that are wearing, withering away – in the ordinary person’s eyes, nothing to be proud of.

I admired the old faded cream walls of the pillars at the void deck leading to the lifts, the long corridors with adjacent units (new generation flats nowadays are designed for more privacy and inevitably minimises the need for social interactions or small talk) looking out over a low barred banister, on which some neighbours draped and dried their laundry the old-school way, and the way everyone on the same floor seemed to know each other. While at my new generation house, my family only vaguely knew the Indian family opposite us, and thanked them with red packets when they gave us traditional Indian snacks during Deepavali.

I also admired the interior of his old, almost thirty year-old flat, the peeling paint, the cave-like kitchen with the back light against the laundry poles laden with clothes, with a blue mosaic tiled arc framing the kitchen doorway. I admired the pastel blue colour of the walls, which he told me was not always this colour but has weathered drastically with time. I told him I like how faded it looks, and also the way a Stephen Chow comedy/martial arts movie poster hung above a metal rack of clothes he shared with his elder brother.

Was I romanticising the old? Perhaps, in some ways, I have always tended to look at things through tinted glasses, although less so now as I aged myself. But this romantic streak in me was what led me to capture moments like the above photographs, and edit them the way it ended up – not a literal representation of what I saw, but what I actually felt in that moment, as I observed the scene in front of me.

Nowadays, I tend to edit my photos less, compared to maybe five years ago, when I would play with the colour tones, monochrome, and slightly faded/rosy vintage effect that I had taken to at that time. Compared to five years ago, I also write less poetry – which I produced prolifically, especially when I was falling in love.

I used to lament myself for writing romantic fiction only to realise that it’s not really fiction anymore, and unlike many good writers, my imagination and powers of creation are vastly limited. I could, after all, only write fiction from real life, so how fictitious is it really? But what is the point of fiction anyway? This leaves me with a whole new essay to write.

And there I’ve said it – now most of the time, I write essays. Essays about the world, thoughts about humanity, and reflections about my thoughts. My reading tastes have changed too, and I find myself reading only three fiction books out of ten, the rest being memoirs and essays on various topics, many of them by journalists. So what happened to me, the journalism major who resisted journalism, and turned obstinately to creative writing instead, only to find myself back to where I had started?

Honestly, I was incredibly upset for a time when I found that my poetry and photography inspiration seemed to have faded away together. The last poem I wrote, it seems, was two years ago. That was when my father passed away – but I too am not sure whether there is a correlation, whether grief has taken away my inspiration, and why now, after times have settled into normalcy, it is not being returned to me.

For much of my formative years, poetry and photography were a vital part of how I saw and made sense of the world. It is also worth noting that my late father and I bonded deeply through photography. After his diagnosis, I bought him a camera and he would take these spectacular shots of the sunrise – which he said, after so many years, he found the time to slow down and appreciate every single day. Not surprising coming from someone who is terminally ill, but then again, why do we always understand the truth of all cliches when our time is running out?

I’m not sure how these changes in self-expression reflects the change in my intrinsic nature. Now I find myself writing down more literally the things I think about, and have been told that it makes an impact on the reader. I focus more on thoughts than emotion, and ponder over the meaning of emotions more than describing the feelings themselves with flowery, ambiguous language.

Perhaps that is also the product of going through the rigorous self-questioning process of therapy, the result of teaching General Paper, a critical thinking and argumentative essay writing subject to junior college students. It could also be the process of growing up, of entering the working world, of witnessing the dominance of business over creativity, sales targets over the appeal to emotion, that made me more pragmatic. Or quite simply the task of paying the rent and bills by myself every month could have taken away the tinted lenses through which I viewed the world, recorded as evidence in the photographs above, from five years ago.

But I’m coming to terms with my new self. I appreciate honesty, vulnerability, and imperfections even more so now – and not because I think imperfections are ‘beautiful’.

I started this blog like no other before, not to showcase my perfect polished works of creativity and literature, but to document the incomplete reflections and endless questions of living life every day. There are no answers, no conclusions like a short story, no finale in a play or poem. Because isn’t life a long, arduous journey of writing our own non-fiction essay?

Twinsters (2015)

TwinstersFilmStill_026TwinstersTwins

Watched this documentary film tonight, and I can say it is the most heartwarming and touching, yet light-hearted documentary I’ve ever seen.

Twinsters is a real-life story about a pair of twins, Samantha Futerman and Anaïs Bordier, born in Korea but separated at birth and adopted by different families in America and France respectively.

Anaïs was then a fashion design student living in London, and Samantha an American actress. They didn’t know of each other’s existence until a friend of Anaïs showed her a YouTube video featuring Samantha. What ensued was probably the most mind-blowing revelation that changed both of their lives.

I’ve always been intrigued and curious about the inseparable and profound bond between twins that transcends that of ordinary siblings of different ages. Anaïs described how she grew up with her adopted parents as an only child, and always felt as if something was missing, as though she was always waiting for something to happen and would be really sad if it didn’t – although she hadn’t known what yet.

This sounds like how couples sometimes describe finding their soul mate – it is like finding a missing half of one’s soul. But maybe having the blood ties of kinship makes the experience of this connection even stronger, and dearer.

The film was actually crowd-funded on Kickstarter, and it’s heartening to see how the film, with its maddening amount of raw footage (I can only imagine the editing process), turned out. It feels really honest and vulnerable and emotional, and the fact that the twins discovering each other’s existence was made possible by social media makes everything – from the hand-held footage and live updates of their film/relationship progress online – even more powerful.

If I had watched this film two years ago when they made it, or possibly followed their story even earlier, it would have felt so powerful – a homage to how social media and technology, despite its many shortcomings, have literally transformed and uplifted lives.

The film also touches briefly on the idea of nature vs nurture, whether our lives and personalities are determined more by biology or the environment we are brought up in. This is even more relevant when it comes to twins, especially Samantha and Anaïs, who were brought up in two different environments and not given the chance to grow up together.

The thought of being separated from the twin at birth seems so poignant, yet Anaïs says, she wouldn’t change a thing about how things turned out and unfolded. It was also particularly touching how she described feeling lonely and alone all her life, and then not only does she find her twin, she is embraced by her twin’s family.

Samantha also encourages her to step out of her fear of facing the past, for while Samantha was fortunate to grow up in a open-minded and nurturing environment with two brothers, Anaïs was an only child and faced prejudice about being adopted and looking nothing like her parents.

Both embark on a meaningful trip back to their home country, South Korea, and reunite with their respective foster mothers who cared for them after their birth mother left them at birth, until they were adopted. They attend a conference with other South Korean adoptees feel, for the first time, that they are part of something so much larger.

This film, above all else, is a celebration of love in all its forms. As Anaïs says, she realised that out there in the world, even in the past before she knew it and now, she is loved and embraced by so many people. I guess no matter how tough life can be, there is always love. And there will always be love.

Twinsters is available here on YouTube, I highly encourage everyone who reads this to watch it, if you’re not tempted to already. Even or especially if you are feeling sad, their crazy amazing story and love will definitely bring some light and warmth into your heart.

Get comfortable with anxiety

Because it’s not going anywhere.

We live in a world, I’m starting to think, where anxiety is unfortunately a constant in our lives. Observing people around me, I realise that anxiety, whether as a clinical condition, an emotion or a state of mind, manifests itself with greater prevalence than before.

Whether is it the stress of living in an ever-changing, fast-paced city, the increasing pressure of work and the normalising of work-life imbalance, constant distractions from smartphones and social media, or simply the hyperactive mind, unable to slow down and stay quiet even for a moment – there are so many reasons for us to be anxious today.

There are of course different variations of this emotional state, and I’m certainly not generalising it to disregard the severity of anxiety as a mental health condition. In fact, it seems like everyone is suffering from anxiety these days; do people actually understand acutely what an anxiety attack is like? The kind that people actually see therapists for?

I sometimes wish Anxiety, as in the health condition, could have a more grandiose, severe sounding name, instead of sharing its namesake with a generic emotion that everyone can claim to feel. Just like how people use the word “depressed” so frequently it could actually dilute the meaning and understanding of clinical depression in society.

It is, however, an unfortunate fact that anxiety is here to stay. It won’t go away after a relaxing holiday, or automatically disappear just because certain good things may have happened. We will always struggle to find the balance between all the complex, ever-changing and transient yet seemingly pervasive (especially in the moment itself) and sometimes crippling emotions that we experience – as part of being human.

This piece was actually inspired by a Medium article Why Anxiety is the Handmaiden of Creativity. While I definitely don’t support glorifying anxiety or mental health conditions, especially on the subject of how great artists like Van Gogh or Sylvia Plath have produced their greatest work in their darkest moments – one line in the article actually stood out to me: “Get comfortable with anxiety“.

Perhaps it is the wise thing to do. It is what every therapist tells his/her patient, like it’s easier said than done. Accept it, embrace your feelings, get comfortable with the discomfort. Sit through the difficult moments, and tell yourself that it will pass, time heals, and you might as well try to learn something from it, and gather some meaning or insight.

It’s easier said than done isn’t it? I always wonder how many therapists have successful and well-functioning lives, marriages and families, equipped with the tools every human being needs for every human condition.

In all seriousness, I truly respect the noble field of psychology and therapy. It is truly a meaningful calling that creates immediate value and impact on the lives of others, at least I can say for good therapists.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in modern life is actually to get, and be, comfortable with anxiety. All while creating something productive from a modern ill we cannot escape, transforming the very nature of the modern ill itself.

It is still an ongoing endeavour for me.