‘If you could write a book, what would it be about?’
I looked at my watch, it was 12.14am; 1 hours and 14 minutes past my bed time. What am I doing here?
I answered the question.
‘I would write a book about how to live after death… I’m probably not qualified to write that now, but if I had the perfect knowledge to do it, I would want to.
Death is still a mystery. There are many theories on death but no one can say for sure – 100% – that they know what happens.’
A Search for Meaning
I have been searching for meaning since I was 9 years old. That was when I first thought about death.
While my parents argued in the top floor, I would sneak away to the ground floor of our home to read books. In one old year book I read the story about an unhappy 12 year old girl who found a solution to her problem by ‘falling into a sleep she would never wake up from.’
I remember wondering what it meant to sleep forever. I lied down on the dirty floor to try to do that. I closed my eyes and imagined how it might feel like to sleep forever.
‘I think that means I will be grandpa,’ I thought. My maternal grandfather had passed away a year earlier.
I liked that feeling. It felt peaceful.
In trying to find meaning and failing, I found myself having to deal with the feelings of misery I had at everyday living.
To escape from the constant feelings of misery that I had, I developed addictions. I moved from one addiction to the next, each time feeling like I gained little from the amount of time I invested.
I started playing NeoPets at 12 years old. I would sit in front of the only laptop in the house for 10 hours at a time with no bathroom trips to build a career for my neopets. I logged on to PinkPoogleToy.net to find hacks to help my neopet succeed.
I lived in a make belief world because I could hide behind the screens. I could not change the way I looked but I could make my neopets beautiful using expensive or rare brushes. In the neopets world I felt valued in a way real life could not.
In real life, I was the ugly, fat one between my elder and younger sister.
Family life was chaotic.
My parents had violent arguments almost daily.
I became increasingly withdrawn.
School, games and me. That was my life most of the days.
Internet Relay Chat was my second addiction. In chat rooms I could hide myself. Boys would have imaginations of me – of how cute I must be.
I talked to and befriended many boys from different schools during that period – mostly for fun. Most of them told me they liked my personality.
‘Really? It does not matter how I look? What if I’m fat and ugly?’ I asked them.
I half believed them when they told me that it didn’t matter.
When they finally saw me in real life, none of them replied to my subsequent requests to chat.
Gaming and IRC would not be my unhealthiest addictions. By the time I was 14, I became addicted to getting good grades. I was addicted at being #1, not because I wanted other people to be #2, #3 and so on, but because I wanted to be #1.
Being #1 somehow made me believe that I still had some value in this world. I wasn’t pretty, I wasn’t street smart, I didn’t have many friends… but at least, I was smart.
I spent 12 hours a day in my room studying, sometimes missing out on vacations or birthday dinners with my family to ensure that my days were optimised and not ‘wasted’.
I spent 7 years in this dungeon. I got out, and I don’t recommend anyone to go in, no matter how tempting it feels. The years I spent chasing #1 still feels empty. I still wish I had the courage to feel valuable without being #1.
In the 7 years, I learned to tie and then untie my self-worth with the grades I got. I learned to judge and then to become understanding of the possibilities of different kinds of intelligence in this world.
Being obsessed with academically competency is a disease that needs immediate attention.
The one thing I try not to do when I talk to young people – especially teenagers – is ask them about their grades; or to give them a single implication that I am judging them by their academic results. Teenagers are especially sensitive to these.
Buddhism was my second extreme in life.
I woke up early, between 4.00am to 5.00am to start my morning meditations… these meditations would sometimes end at 9.00am. It would feel peaceful, but only temporarily; the chaos in my mind remained. So whenever I did not have to go to school I would lock myself in my room for 12 hours to meditate and read scripts from Buddhist texts.
I could not feel peaceful except through my new found obsession.
I was at war with myself and I was scared to lose.
I was addicted to Buddhism in the most unhealthy way for six years.
My latest addiction: to appear like I have it altogether
The truth is that no one has it altogether, no matter what pictures on their instagram accounts show you. On my darkest days I posted nothing on social media. Nobody except a few friends knew I attempted suicide twice.
But this is the challenge of our time – that we try our best to hide our flaws from the public. I don’t mean that we need to show everything to the world; but that we could benefit from a bit more transparency.
It is not easy to tell people you don’t have it altogether, especially when you are supposed to be the one to decide if something happens or not.
But the truth is that even leaders cry and feel incompetent at times. Your smartest friends don’t think they are smart enough. They may try their best but the truth is that no one really knows.
We are all trying our best to make the very best of the few years we have on this place called Earth.
Don’t believe everything you see. All interviews with ‘successful’ people are edited to make them seem less human, more superhero.
I have been trying to hard to be that superhero. Maybe because I am insecure about myself – that no one would like me if they knew how normal I was.
I have unsophisticated tastes in clothing – black, white, black, white. I eat out of hawker stalls and cannot know why foie gras is expensive. I have no good five star restaurants to recommend to dine in. I sleep in hostels when I travel. I don’t know the difference between fine thread and loose thread comforters. I have bad table manners.
These are only the few things I am less embarrassed to share publicly.
I used to have a problem with being ordinary. But now I think, maybe being ordinary is a gift and I should embrace it.
Meaning: Have I found it?
I started this post with the intention on setting goals for myself this year. In trying to achieve some of the goals, I found an old part of me I left behind. I realised that this year is not about my professional goals, but my more personal ones.
After taking so many turns, I come back to this one truth: that love never fails. We may fail but love, in its truest form, never fails.
I have climbed the highest mountain I had dreamed of and it did not make me feel that much better. I have been to more places than the child me would have imagined and I do not feel that much different.
Life is not about checking off things, but sometimes just taking time to sit down and have a real conversation about nothing with people who want to share their stories.
It has been a while, but I want to love again.
Conclusion: Being your true self
Have you ever felt this out of body experience? That feeling that you are acting in a way that doesn’t resonate with what you feel as a human being?
I’ve been feeling that a lot lately. Maybe it is my body telling me something; that I need a recalibration.
The last three years have been painful. I lost a friend to a hit and run and another friend to an unknown cause of death. In between them, I cried for 8 months. Then, I was heartbroken by friends I thought would be with me for a life time.
These incidents changed me. It made me feel less trustful towards the world. I felt less confident in being kind to people. So I build a shield around myself to protect me.
This year, I want to try to live with half that shield.