defragment.me

The hardest thing to do in life, is to be yourself

...Without worried about consequences, responsibilities, what others perceive of you, etc.

I had an epiphany today. I was thinking why am I perpetually feeling stressed out. I thought it was because I was trying to be myself. Being part of a minority in any given scenario is difficult. You get judged, accused, criticized, etc.

I realised a huge part of the stress doesn't come from being myself. It comes when I am actually trying to be like everyone else.

Some examples:

1. Trying to be a morning person. It actually made my insomnia worse, I had sleep anxiety, and needless to say, I woke up feeling extremely tired and eventually it resulted in me having a weakened immune system that makes me fall sick all the time. So must everybody have the same circadian rhythm? Why can't I just be one of those that is born to be nocturnal? Is it entirely impossible?

2. Trying to save up so I can buy a house and feel secure. This sets off a whole series of complications including trying to work more, or trying to convince myself to work on projects that may not be the right fit for me but was financially rewarding.

3. Being persistent. They say persistence will bring you success. Yup, but am not so sure about being persistent even if you're continually unhappy and letting your soul rot.

4. Trying to have a routine. Well, the gtd experts say establishing a routine gets things done faster. I would say it is true to a certain extent but...

Last night I read this book introduced to me by a twitter friend (I love twitter). I was lamenting how our brains shrink with age and he told me he recently read a book on the very same subject. Being curious, I bought it on ibooks and read it the very same night. It is written by a neuroscientist who is trying to find out why some people can be extraordinary – is it because their brains are wired differently?

Perhaps "wired differently" is a wrong choice of words. His research shows that certain parts of their brains respond differently to the same stimuli. The interesting thing is, he pointed out that our brain has become very energy efficient due to evolution. It is made to be the most efficient while using the least amount of energy. So, with time, our brains get trained to do the same thing very well over and over again. Which sounds nice right?

Unfortunately, it also means that the part of your brain that makes you achieve new sets of thinking (eg. ideas) becomes more and more unused. In short, you slowly become the snake that has lost its legs.

Extraordinary people somehow retain that ability to have new perceptions even they see the same thing over and over again instead of relying on the default mechanism of categorizing responses in accordance to past experiences. In order to retain this part of your brain, you have to keep exposing yourself to new things so that your brain continues to receive challenges (aka not to be lazy).

This explains why kids are actually quite imaginative and creative while people tend to lose that part of them with age. With experience, we tend to lose the ability to see things in a new light.

The book also touches on the point that people are instinctively wired to follow decisions of the group (aka groupthink). You don't want to be the black sheep or the odd one out, and you definitely don't want to risk being wrong. So in his experiments, even when individuals knew something was wrong, they would stick to the group-given answer because that is what the majority says.

Hmm.

It made me think a lot.

I love changes. I love to experience new things. People get stressed out when their routine changes or their life circumstances become different. I thrive on it. I realised, I don't get stressed out when I learn something new or try different things. I actually like it.

Yet in order to meet expectations of 'the group', I try as much as possible to stay the same.  I try to establish a routine, stay in the same job, save money, wake up early.

The stress comes from trying to please people who love me and knowing I dislike doing the things they expect me to. Trying to disown that part of me that is ironically my greatest gift and that makes me feel alive.

I am not saying that saving money is bad. But compromising on the quality of life in order to feel secure is bad. Or at least it is bad for me. I need to love everything I do. That's my greatest strength and curse. In fact at this moment, I am full of gratitude for falling sick repeatedly so I am forced to keep re-thinking my life.

On hindsight, it is of no wonder I am clinically depressed. I thrive on new experiences but for the past couple of years, I've been forcing myself to stay put because of financial worries. I force myself into things I don't want to do because it is "right and responsible". I tell myself to stick with it, that all pain is temporary and it will enable me to do the things I want to do in future. Yup, there is definitely a future if I carried on with the way I was living. A future where I see myself in a coffin.

It is one thing to try something repeatedly with continued persistence when you believe in it, but another issue altogether if it drains away your soul.

So, am I able to be true to to myself, concentrate on doing things that I love, live life the way I love? I am not sure if I am strong enough to do it. I feel a strong sense of guilt when I let people down, whether I believe I am doing the right thing or not. I go out of my way to avoid feeling that guilt, that explains the mess I am in now. I want to be someone that my loved ones do not have to worry about.

But I wish to try. To live in the now. To make sure every second is lived with complete willingness. I may not end up having a house but at least I am not in debt right? I believe life will have its own rewards (may not necessary be monetary) when you live it authentically. That to me, beats having everything and the approval of everyone but you cannot wait to die.

Depressed, for happiness

I think there is a huge misconception of depressed people. People think depressives are quiet, teary, incapable of humour, mopey all the time. Not many people believe I am clinically depressed, because if you were to meet me, I am as jovial and positive as a person can get. Do you know Robin Williams has/had depression too? Do you know Catherine Zeta Jones is bipolar? Do you know Abraham Lincoln was chronically depressed, even when he was the President of the United States of America?

I was a bit hesitant coming out publicly about my depression, because I was fearful it would make people think I was incapable of functioning. I just don't function the typical way people do. I get tired all the time, I find it hard to concentrate, I do slip into uncontrollable crying episodes, but when I am remotely well, I would like to think I am actually more productive than the average person.

Some days I feel fine, some days I can't even lift a finger. Recently it has gotten to a point whereby I was worried if I didn't do anything about it, it would eventually come to a point when I am truly incapable of functioning. It hasn't gotten there yet, but close. The days of feeling fine became far and few in between.

After a month of being on anti-depressants, I am glad to tell you that I am feeling a lot better, though still far from being well. I am also seeing my family sinseh to boost my general health, because altering your brain chemistry can only do so much. If your body is sluggish, it is just a matter of time that chronic health problems will surface no matter what western medication you can take. Recovering takes a lot of effort, patience and money. I read a depression memoir of this writer who had to run tens of kilometres everyday, practice yoga, take dozens of supplements PLUS her cocktail of anti-depressants, *just* not to feel like killing herself. She faces judgement everyday, even from a spa therapist, who thinks taking medicine is wrong and a few massages will do the trick.

I have learnt the hard way that in order to get better, it is a holistic effort. Just doing one thing alone is not going to help.

-

I have been thinking and reflecting. I have been coping with ups and downs of my moods all my life, I simply thought it was my personality for being emotional and melancholic. Until my shrink told me a medical term for it. I have been through dark periods of my life when I was literally suicidal, but I naively thought that was a thing of the past.

For the past four years ever since I turned self-employed, I have been living the life I have always wanted to lead. I was still coping with my mood swings, but I assumed that was just part of me. Until the past year, for some reason, I started getting physically sick a lot. By a lot, I mean like every month, which became a weekly thing, and then it became alternate days. How sick? I get migraines which makes me want to bang my head against the wall, I get nausea as part of the migraine, I get chest pains and of course horrible 2-week flus at some intervals.

It was affecting my work, my life and I didn't like it a single bit.

For some reason. For what reason?

Honestly till now, I have no idea. Is it because of overwork? Poor diet? No exercise? Pursuing the wrong kind of work? Wrong motivation for work? Because I wasn't living out my purpose? But what is my purpose? Am I living in the wrong country? Is Singapore energetically wrong for me? Because I have dozens of bills to pay? Perhaps the stress of having to break even every month as an independent worker? Society getting too materialistic? War for senseless reasons? The rental market in Singapore getting crazy?

I don't feel alive anymore and I hate it. I am actually getting sick and depressed because I want so desperately to be happy.

How can I truly be happy? It is about being contented? But does being contented mean I shouldn't push myself to be the change that I want?

What truly makes me happy?

Initially, I thought I was over-working myself. So I stopped, took on less work. Then, I thought, maybe I wasn't working enough on projects that I care about. I am interested in social change, so I started to meet more like-minded people, started to churn out ideas with them, how can we actually have sustainable online initiatives for social change? I wanted to use my skills to facilitate change. I built connections.sg, which in its current incarnation is not even close to 10% of my original ideal, there were a few more sites in the pipeline that I hooked up with a few precious like-minded people to work with – all for the sake of building the community and sharing knowledge.

I was very tired, but each time I meet someone who shares the same ideals, I feel inspired and alive. I thought I was on the right path. Do more of this and my sanity/health would slowly return back to me.

One day, I imploded.

Nothing exactly happened, but something in me just clicked and I was like having a blue screen of death in my brain and I was no longer able to reboot myself.

I was confused. Frustrated. Angry. Upset. Annoyed. Heart-broken. I felt cheated. I looked up above (yup despite all my feelings I still believe in a religion-less God), I asked, why? All I did was to follow my heart and do what I thought was right. Instead of getting better, I got worse.

I am sick and tired of fighting a battle all the time. What is it I have to do exactly to be happy? If happiness was too much to ask for, or if I didn't recognise happiness in its purest form, then how about letting me have some proper health instead? Praying every morning I didn't wake up with a migraine is not exactly my version of health.

I lost all my drive. I looked at books that I bought, on topics I used to love so much and I felt dead. I tried watching some movies and I felt dead. I used to love watching hongkong cantonese dramas and I didn't feel like it. I turned to watching sitcoms and they didn't make me laugh like they used to.

Crying when you're depressed is a good sign. At least it shows you still have emotions and you care about how you feel. When you reach the point whereby you cannot even cry, that is the time to be worried. Or at least I was. I am a crybaby and I don't even feel remotely sad. I just felt dead.

I wondered how I was going to pay my bills if I continued waking up with a migraine everyday. Then I decided that I couldn't care less, because if I continued my migraine pattern, I was as good as dead. Bills really don't matter when you would rather die. I thought about all the projects I was going to work on, the ones I was so excited about, and I felt guilty abandoning them. Then I realised what's the point when at this rate I was not going to be alive anymore? Obviously a dead person cannot effect change no matter how much guilt I feel. I forced myself to work an hour or so on my client's projects, because I'll rather be dead than to let my clients down, but I was going through the motions. I could technically still work for my work depends on a lot of logic and reasoning which I still possessed, but I couldn't do it for more than a hour at one go without feeling my brain was going to burst into flames any second.

I felt a lot of guilt for feeling dead even though I had tons of reasons to feel alive for. There are people starving to death for god's sake. But no matter how much I tried to reason with myself, I still felt dead.

That's what depression is about I guess. When your brain decides to stop transporting chemicals correctly, whether you have reasons to live or if you're rich or famous, you're incapable of feeling happiness.

What exactly did I do for my brain to break down in such spectacular fashion? I felt cheated because to me, I have tried my darnest to live a good life. I didn't know what else I could do. It is not as if I just lived like a slob or I didn't try hard enough. I felt like I have given my all and that was not good enough. And if that is not good enough, what else can I give? I might as well be dead.

-

Today, I feel much better with the anti-depressants, the sinseh medicine, plus some supplements I take. I exercise more and I try not to work too much. It has only been weeks since I felt like I was going to die. I still think a lot. I still wonder what exactly went wrong.

I realised that it could possibly be I was trying too hard to fix things. To be better. Happier. Feel more alive. My brain shutting down was not because of the events that transpired for the past few months. It was accumulative for years. Perhaps there wasn't an exact reason what was wrong. It was a cumulation of choices I have made. Do I regret making those choices? No. I believe I made those for a reason. I still retain faith that we all learn from mistakes and failures.

I tried too hard to change myself. So that I can be the change that I want. But sometimes everyone of us has our own time and space to grow. Perhaps you may think I am making excuses for myself. That's fine. I think it is okay to be judged by others because everyone has their own beliefs and opinions. But it is not okay to be your own worst enemy.

It is okay to fail. I don't know why we're all racing against some invisible timeline. It is as though if by 30 we don't achieve 'reasonable success', we're condemned for life. But why? How many successful people now have picked themselves through multiple failures? Me trying too hard not to fail, was ironically the reason why I failed. If I have gone more with the flow, trusted my own feelings and intuition, instead of always trying to do 'the right thing', perhaps things could be better. Perhaps. I wouldn't know unless I lived through it. And even if I lived through it, it may not be the right way for everybody. Because all of us are unique. We have our own stories to tell. Your way to success does not make mine.

Life should be enjoyable no matter the circumstances. I mean, I have read a memoir of someone who was imprisoned at a Nazi camp during world war II, lost all his family, saw plenty of people being tortured and dying, and yet he found the strength and meaning to be happy.

Not everybody has to be an activist or a change-maker. If you're into past-life regression like me, you may learn that not everyone is incarnated to lead purposeful lives. Some of us take uneventful lives in between for a break. There should not be judgement.

I comfort myself that authors like J.K. Rowling and Paulo Coelho went through tons of hardship before they became famous at 40. I remain hopeful, not to be famous, but to find something that I truly care about and do. Is it social change? I don't know. I am not sure if I am strong enough. Maybe it is not time yet. Maybe it could be in the next few months. Who would know? Maybe I would only find my calling when I am 60. So be it. What's with the obsession with age anyway?

I look at the people around me and I feel useless. Why can people around me work 20 hour days, do 20 things at the same time and still remain sane? I know of people who work two jobs and still find time to do social work. But I have to understand I am not them.

I believe I have the right intentions and heart, but perhaps I need more time to find the right balance between staying sane and trying to push myself to my limits. I have experienced burnout so many times that I think there is something wrong with me. But maybe not. Maybe this is my life I was meant to lead. Maybe I will never be well, and I could experience burnouts frequently for the rest of my life. So what?

Maybe this is me living my purpose. Being so sick that I have to write and share about it. I don't know. It doesn't matter I guess. As long as I learn to enjoy the process.

We cannot change the hand we're dealt with, but we can choose how we can play the cards. All the best.

How a prolonged migraine made me count my blessings

To be able to type this sentence, in this browser window, is a blessing. Little actions that we take for granted everyday. Switching on the computer, looking at the screen, typing, creating.

For the past few days, I couldn't even bear to look at the screen, much less type. I was having a prolonged migraine attack, any form of bright lights – computer screen included – only served to intensify my pain and nausea.

When taking strong painkillers for a few days didn't help much except to numb the pain to a somewhat manageable level, I sought the sinseh's help. On hindsight, perhaps I should have gone earlier. I just didn't expect to wake up with the migraine hovering around for the past few mornings. Each morning, I would expect it to have gone away, just like the previous migraine attacks I've had.

This morning, I woke up, the pain seemed to have truly gone away (after 2 doses of some strange chinese medicine mix. The wonders of TCM). I didn't want to jinx myself, so I was apprehensive in judging my state of health. A migraine attack, something that doesn't seem to endanger any part of my life, but rendered me totally useless.

I don't know whether it is a sign of age, that I am about to reach 30, that my body cannot recover the way it had before, or was it because I have abused it so badly during my younger years when sleep didn't matter much to me. The diagnosis I had yesterday – I had an irregular pulse, my circulatory system was not working properly, hence the lack of blood circulating to my brain – was it an accumulation of all those late nights?

So the sinseh's advice to me was to keep my life right now fairly routine and disciplined, no more late nights, no more stress, no more taxing my body or mind in any way. I feel like a walking time bomb, unsure of the next moment of my next attack, uncertain when will be the next period whereby I would have a downtime spanning days.

To a self-employed solo business owner, being down for more than a day is a disaster.

I thought about my peers, some running their own startups, some passionately involved their self-initiated projects, most of them seeming to run on a bottomless oil tank. I finally understood yesterday, that I would not be like them, nor can I expect myself to be like them anymore. That self-expectation that I can still carry on like my peers, is slowly killing me.

I cannot be like them, as much as I want to. I have to be myself, to count my blessings for every day of health I can possess. To be filling each and every day with meaningful actions. For me, it will no longer be about working hard. It will be about consolidating my efforts, picking and choosing my battles.

I need to learn the art of saying no, even to myself. All those times that it was me who wanted myself to stretch over the distance. I just thought I would be capable of overcoming any form of hardship. I never expected it would be my body that didn't want to give me a choice anymore. Not at this age, not as this time of my life when I should be running at full speed ahead.

All my decisions now, will affect the quality of life I have in the next few decades. I am pretty certain that my state of health or the lack of it now is due to all those times I didn't take care of myself when I was in the full pink of health during my twenties. I suddenly think of the professional footballer that keeps taking painkilling injections in order to play, only to end up losing the ability to walk when he retires. Talent or brilliance is pretty much useless if you don't have the health.

I see this as a new opportunity for myself, since I am pretty much being forced into a corner. Having limits can actually inspire progress (Think Apple ;p). It gives me the opportunity to think about what really matters to me, and if I really have a limited uptime everyday, what should I be trying to accomplish?

I have to admit that till now I am still pretty much driven by my insecurity. This bout of downtime is simply repeating a message I've been being reminded for the umpteenth time. There's no point in having that security if I am not able enough to type this blog entry. You have no idea how grateful I am now to be typing this. ;)

Making the most out of time

I fell really sick for the past two days. It seemed like somebody was trying to drive the whole point across to me about not taking my health for granted. I thought it didn't seem like a coincidence that this bout of sickness came right after I wrote my previous post.

I had a chance to experience how does it really feel like to be totally disempowered as I lay in bed feeling really ill and restless, yet not possessing an ounce of energy to do anything.

It is kinda ironic, because I had such grand plans and hopes for these few days as I told myself after writing the previous post that I'll want to make better use of my time.

Only to be hit with a cold, stark reminder that it is not up to us when we'll like to make good use of time or not. The moment I actually felt like accomplishing something, I fell ill. While being static on bed I wondered about all those times I had been in perfect health and yet chose to idle my time away. What if this spate of illness lasts more than a few days? What if from this very moment onwards I lose my health for good?

Since am a perpetual worrier and am always under stress and not eating properly of having enough exercise, I do get sick rather often, but I usually recover in a matter of a day or two. I've been blessed with good health overall, till date I have not had any major illnesses or injuries (touch wood).

Yet this is the first time I am giving serious contemplation that my illness may last more than mere days with the possibilities following it. Not because I really feel that I'll continue to be sick, but I have has this chance to really think about it instead of just taking for granted that I am bound to recover.