Vanessa Mae: inspiring the future of my work

Every now and then you come across a fellow human being who reminds you the magic of the Universe (the non-hippie version: the incredible strength of human beings). Sometimes it seems like they get stuck in my head until I write about them. On this blog I have written about Barack Obama, Denise Ho, Michael Jackson, Steve Jobs.

For the past few days I have been particularly enamoured by Vanessa Mae – I was a fan of her when she was really popular in the late 90s, but I somehow forgot about her existence until a colleague started playing some classical music and somehow it sparked off a conversation about music and talent. I tried to search for some youtube videos to show my colleague and stumbled upon this video of Vanessa Mae playing “Red Hot” with the Bratislava Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Watching that video made my spine tingle and I felt this indescribable feeling which is a mix of awe, inspiration, passion and something else I cannot put my finger upon. The feeling of being incredibly blessed to be able to witness such a moment in my life (thanks, youtube!) + the feeling of being reminded of how much joy it is to see a fellow human being at the top of her craft. The energy, confidence and charm exuded because she knows she is capable of enthralling those who watch her. In that performance she was carrying a very visible light within her.

I was amazed that she wrote “Red Hot” when she was 14 and also she managed to make it sound so awesome with a Symphony Orchestra. She was 18 in that video. (Disclaimer: I have no classical music knowledge whatsoever.)

I was curious whether she still performed with the same exuberance now at the age of 33. It is one thing to be energetic and enthusiastic at 18 and an entirely different to do the same when you reach your 30s (I can attest to that). Watching her perform the Toccata & Fugue in D Minor in 2009, Storm (2009) and Sabre Dance (2011) only increased my level of awe. If she was young and attractive before, she is now elegant and beautiful. There is more intensity in her play now and she seems to prefer using her acoustic violin instead of the white electric violin so famously associated with her. I don’t know much about violins and classical music in general but it seems amazing to me that she’s able to make Storm sound even more awesome on an acoustic violin.

Other personal favourites include: Storm at the Classical Brit Awards 2000Storm at the Paralympics 2002 (with her translucent electric violin). By the way, each time she plays Storm there is almost always a variation in the arrangement and play.

The price of success

There is always a price to pay for success and all of us have to learn to make tradeoffs in exchange for what we want. I was remarking to my colleague that she must have had a tiger mom to reach that level of polish when she was so young. I was hoping to be proven wrong, but a quick search on google revealed that till this day, both mother and daughter are still not on talking terms. I got drawn to watch the BBC documentary, “The Making of Me” where Vanessa Mae sought to understand whether her success was nature vs nurture.

Her mother came up as a constant theme throughout the documentary, with Vanessa revealing that her mom often made it clear to her as a young child that her love came attached with conditions. While making the documentary, BBC reached out to her mother in hope that she could shed some light on Vanessa’s childhood and perhaps be a starting point for their reconciliation. Unfortunately her mother declined through an email, stating that “My daughter is nearly 30. That part of my life is well and truly over.”, this broke my heart because even though Vanessa was smiling throughout and she made it sound like she expected this – but I somehow feel her heart was broken into a thousand pieces when she received that email.

She obviously credits her mom for her success knowing very well she would never have made it without her mom’s strict discipline but I empathise with her perfectly when she said she did not want her mom as a manager, she simply wanted her mom to be a mother – something she felt her mother never seemed to be satisfied with.

I have had a difficult relationship with my own mother for the first 2.5 decades of my life but I have been blessed with the opportunities to understand why it was that way – thus inadvertently healing my wounds inflicted when growing up. Though I must say, even though my wounds are sufficiently healed, I have never forgotten how they had felt like on my young mind and heart as a child. I wanted so much for my family to love me for me, not because I was a straight A student as a kid or that I could become a lawyer or a doctor. It took me a long while to build my self-esteem all over again, to slowly let go of the baggage I have carried with me throughout my life. (Eventually I also understood that was their way of loving me. To my mom, if you’re reading this, just know that I love you, but it is important for me to be able to write about this.)

However, now I use them to propel me in the right direction as my main source of motivation – I work really hard now for the hope that one day I can use this empathy and experience to help kids who go into depression or despair because they were not allowed to be themselves. There is this general perception within the youth in Singapore (and probably everywhere else to a certain extent) that they cannot pursue what they love because it is wrong or hopeless. I hope to be able to change this perception, even if it is a tiny bit.

I sincerely wish they will reconcile one day, for I remain in hope that Vanessa’s mother will come to realise the bond between mother and daughter is so much deeper than her daughter’s success as a violin player.

Using Vanessa Mae as my inspiration

Watching her play is a joy and a blessing. If I can have my way I will do anything to catch her live the next time she has a tour. It seems I have to wait for quite a while because now her goal is to qualify as a skier for the 2014 Olympics. No I am not kidding. She doesn’t seem to have any tour plans for this year or next until the Olympics.

I see her concentration, focus and intensity when she plays and I think to myself – I want to be able to have those qualities when I work. I see her joy with her music, band and audience and I think to myself, I want to feel that way when I do my work. I see her energy and enthusiasm being so contagious and I think to myself, that is how I want people to feel if they see me work.

I want my work, my writing, my life to share a common thread of joy. I don’t know how but I am going to try. Joy is a new concept to me, to be honest. I want to be able to infect people with my burning desire to change the world, to be the change I want. I want them to look into my eyes and see nothing but love and joy for my existence, my work and my dreams.

I do not want my life to be motivated by a fear of missing out. This is my lesson learnt from Vanessa Mae, all of these feelings inspired by watching her play. That was probably not her intention, but seeing her play I understood her enthusiasm and joy when playing was not due to her fear of her mother or her desire for success, but it is obvious to me she genuinely loved her music. She wanted to do all these tours even till now, record the Beethoven and Tchaikovsky violin concertos at the age of 13, because she wanted to do it for herself and her love for music.

‘The violin is my voice.. The violin is the way I communicate with people.’

‘the most i have to say is not through speaking but through music, and obviously the violin is my voice.’ – Vanessa Mae

I find her intense passion and dedication to her music very inspiring and I am slowly beginning to realise the greatest inspiration and motivation for my work do not come from my own industry, instead it comes sources almost completely unrelated like watching the youtube video of Vanessa Mae playing.

I think the fact that I have discovered a greater sense of purpose and an external source of inspiration outside my industry is significant in keeping me focused and sane during those times I was the most fatigued.

Before writing this entry I went through the comments I have gotten from the readers of this blog for the past few years. I haven’t read them for quite a while and I was glad to do so once again. They re-enforced my belief and validated my decision to keep my writing personal and authentic. I struggle at times to keep a balance between my profession and my personal self, but I am discovering gradually that they’re intrinsically entwined –  that the more I can cohesively marry the two, the greater progress I make in both my work and my life.

I would like to conclude in this entry by expressing the gratitude for those people who have been faithfully reading my long-winded writing for years and to those of you who have sent me comments and emails – I am reminded time and time again that there are plenty of things in this world that have intangible value, sometimes these things may seem to have no value from a common perspective but they are in truth, priceless in the long run.

There are just some things money or success cannot buy, and one of these is the ability and capacity to move another human being’s heart.

Thank you

This post is inspired by @lucian, who took precious time off to offer writing me a letter of recommendation. My tears have rolled down on my face countless times before for Lucian’s writing,writing for the love of God, his country, his wife, his kids. This time, it was handcrafted for me and I could feel his myriad of emotions in every word of the letter.

It is ironic to me, because I have never loved nor believed in myself very much – in fact, the love for myself was so low that I contemplated my life multiple times.

But for some reason I am always blessed. Blessed because there were always people who may not have the chance to know me very well personally, but they’ve looked into my work and writing – perhaps that is the best form of getting to know me, because all of me is really there to see. Whether on this blog, my work, Facebook or Twitter. I loved being able to express myself in words even if people see it as a passing social media fad.

So, almost coming in a full circle, I seek not to express gratitude in person or a phone call to people like Lucian, but rather in a lengthy blog post like this one. For this is where I can pour my truest emotions forward. In words. He and some others, would appreciate that this is the finest expression of my feelings I can ever give as a person.

Most of you would know that I had been rather introverted in the early part of my independent design career. I have had full clients and projects without even meeting them once. I was not convinced I could express myself the way I wanted to in person, I was not convinced people would understand me if they saw me in person. Thus the hermithood went on for two years. I would not even go out for a casual coffee. @andycroll and @skinnylatte can attest to that, having sent me countless emails trying to get me out of my carefully constructed shell.

It took a life-changing event. It was the AWARE saga in 2009 and being part of that flicked a switch on in me. There are people who care about the world, they’re just scattered in different places. I cannot never advocate a cause on my own, I realised. I needed to find more people who care.

Even if that means I have to start opening myself up to meeting everyone, and in life, almost everything exists in duality. If you want to find value in social connections, you will have to put up with the noise surrounding it as well.

I took baby steps. Not so baby in retrospect. Because I went from one coffee with @andycroll and @jussi, then with @skinnylatte, to going to Barcamp 2009 alone. To an event with 200 odd people alone.

I don’t know how I found the courage, I was served by my burning desire to find people who care. Care about what, you may ask. You will know what I am describing if you’ve met one of these people. The people with the same burning desire in their eyes to find other people who care. It sounds like a multi-level-network lol but it is true. Strength in numbers, exponential results when you put a group of people with the same vision together.

It was at that Barcamp where I met one guy who would almost singlehandedly change the course of my life. I was trying to get a mini cream puff on a huge paper plate – and this voice appeared behind my years, “You sure that is enough?”

That guy was Steven Goh, whom within minutes of us meeting, would be the person handing me tons of support, encouragement, self-belief to me in the course of the next two years. Before meeting Steven I was more of a visual designer, I never thought interaction design was my core strength or that I would be really interested in it, but he made me rethink that.

Working with Steven made me realise what I really wanted to do, was to design user interfaces. I truly loved graphic design, I loved grids and typography, I loved the feel of paper. But nothing is actually quite the same as being able to touch people with an interface. To potentially be able to see a smile coming out of a user’s face after an interaction.

As I came out of my shell I got more involved with the web community in Singapore. I had frequent exchanges with the web community on Twitter, we all came to somewhat love each other. It is actually through Twitter whom I’ve met some of my best connections. People like Lucian, whom I was a follower of his blog since pre-blogger days but only really had the chance to interact with, on Twitter.

Through Twitter I’ve also met @jasonong, we have shared several intense conversations on how we would like to improve the community. He walks the talk, as he tirelessly organized several key tech events in Singapore.

It was during this period that I’ve also gotten to know significant people in my life like Danny Tan, for it was with his encouragement and advice that I made several key decisions. Through him I’ve met Min Xuan, whom upon meeting up we both knew we’ve found a kindred spirit, and she was the first person who said to me, “Winnie, you *have* to go to SF. You would love it there.” There have been tons of people who would sell me the Valley dream, but none of them were as insistent nor as convincing as her. lol. I am sure she would seek to differ on my version of events.

These people, along with many others, believed in me at a time when I wouldn’t even believe in myself.

There are a few things I really, really want to do.

  1. 1. Within this life time, to do whatever I can to advocate education reform. I see bright young minds being carelessly mistreated by the system and this never fails to break my heart.
  2. 2. Closely tied to no.1, I want to raise awareness for mental illnesses. To reduce the social stigma faced by mental illness sufferers and to make non-sufferers understand this is not something you can simply ‘choose’. Or ‘pull yourself up’. You have no idea why people want to be suicidal unless you’ve been there yourself.
  3. 3. Tied to no.1 again, I wish to create a network of outliers in Singapore (first), who will be sharing their personal stories. I want people to know, it is really okay to be different. To be yourself. To pursue dreams. That there are many of us who went ahead to pursue ours and we’re not suffering as predicted by the mainstream. In fact, it is the opposite.
  4. 4. To raise awareness for animal advocacy groups in Singapore, but this is something I realised is an issue that cannot be truly fixed unless we go through a social reform, because the respect of other living animals is not something that can be instilled by a few campaigns.
  5. 5. This is more general but I would hope to personally be able to reduce discrimination towards any minority in every way possible.

So here I am, telling you what truly drives me forward. Why I am leaving this country temporarily. Not for a chance of a better life as some of you may thank, but a chance of a better me. Someone who would possess the inner will, strength and belief to carry out her causes. I am far from being that person. But as some of you have already known, spending 3 months away has already contributed a tremendous positive change in me. Not externally, but internally.

I wrote back in my email to Lucian, while thanking him for the beautiful letter he has written for me, I also said – that I have no idea how to repay this debt of gratitude to all of you who had given me so much support for the past few years.

But one thing I can and I will do. To try to be strong and be the person some of you have envisioned me to be. To be that person I think I can be. To be crazy enough to attempt to do all those things I have listed above. To be relentless in my pursuit for a better humanity.

I have an ironic love for the world. Most of it makes me wonder why I bother to be alive and part of it. There’s a tiny, tiny portion of it, which I hold on very tightly to. That one tiny spark which I believe, lives in all of us. That connects us together.

That one single tiny spark, most of the time very fleeting, but it is what that keeps me alive. Keeps me in love with humanity. Keeps me wanting to be a better person.

For all the debate about Ayn Rand, I have come to believe that the greatest gift to humanity one can ever give, is to be truly yourself. To realise your fullest potential as a human being. Everyone has special innate gifts. As I keep on telling people about Steve Jobs, anybody is capable of giving money. But he gave us tools to empower ourselves. Those who have worked with strays will know. The answer to the issue is never to build more shelters, but to change how people perceive animals so we wouldn’t even need shelters.

I know I am incredibly blessed. And if you’re still here reading this blog post, thank you. For you have been patient with all 1600 words of incoherence. But I hope you’ll get my gist.

This is my way of saying thank you for now and I hold this little hope in the future, that I will be capable of saying thank you in the ways that will make this world a better place.

P.S. Special thanks goes out to startups in Singapore which defined my early work: fabrikade, comiqs, jamiq, zopim, e27. Please pardon me if you didn’t get a mention in my rush to get this post published. Email me! I’ll buy you coffee!

I owe my life to Steve Jobs

I know people find it dramatic when I say I owe my life to Steve Jobs. The truth is, I didn’t realise how much I owed my life to him until in recent years.

I was pro-Windows when I first got into computers, at a pretty late age – 15. I was assembling PCs on my own and I loved tearing computers apart. I first came across the Mac a while later. That was in the dark ages of OS8 – 9. I’ll be honest and say that I hated the Mac OS before it was version X. I was used to the “Start” menu and the multi-tasking taskbar on Windows and I didn’t find the “Finder” user-friendly. It seemed harder to switch applications.

Back then, I couldn’t understand why would the fanboys pay 3 grand for a computer that didn’t encourage people to tear apart and the usability of the OS sucked.

A couple of years later, the first version of OS X was released. I had to use a mac for one of my jobs, so I did. Reluctantly. The more I used it, the more it made sense, the more I fell in love with in.

From the very first moment I touched OS X, it was another short few months that I decided to buy my first iMac. I was not doing financially well back then but I really couldn’t resist the beauty.

I don’t know about you, but after using Windows for so much of my early life, I was in love with the type-rendering on OS X. I know how some people complain it is too blurry, but for me that was sheer beauty.

Applications like Quicksilver made me fall in love even more. It was no longer about beauty in the aesthetic sense, but actually comprehending how much more productive I get on the mac because everything seems to be a quick keystroke away. I think the defining application for me was Panic’s Coda. I knew it then, there is no way I could find this sort of beauty and functionality combined on Windows.

Till today, sadly, it is still true. I have moved on to Espresso and Textmate, but I doubt there is any app on Windows remotely comparable to what these can do. I cannot re-iterate how much difference it made to development just to be looking at apps like Coda everyday. The subtlety in the menu dividers, the level of detail in the UI feedback. I am serious when I tell people now, if you are a designer, you cannot *not* use a mac.

I became an apple fan-girl and with each magical device released like the iphone, my love and desire for Apple just grew, and grew.

But I still didn’t realise the true impact of Jobs until a couple of years ago.

I read this entire write up of Steve Jobs and there it was, written in detail, how he brought us the Personal Computer during the time when there were only mainframes and business computers. He saw the Mouse at some obscure Xerox research lab and refined it for our use and input. Again, he saw the GUI at Xerox and implemented it, even better on the Mac.

We know Windows copied the GUI of the Mac.

So if not for Jobs. Where will I be right now? We *may* still be using DOS, designers may not exist much because what can we design in the command prompt? Maybe there will still be a GUI, just like there had been smart phones before the iphone, but will it even be remotely as influential as the iphone has been?

Consider the number of times Jobs had redefined the way we look at things. He brought the PC to us, he gave us the iPod, he made the iTunes eco-system possible – and now the App Store eco-system. As much as some of us hate how they take a 30% cut, but sorry, now there’s tons of obscure developers having a real chance at selling their apps.

He also breathed new life into publishing with the iPad. I remember thinking to myself, I don’t ever buy comics anymore, but when I got my iPad, I was lured into buying them again. He made consumer video/audio editing possible and easy.

Would we even have the Android in its current incarnation if not for the birthing of the iPhone? Will we be able to be wowed by the Kindle Fire? I am not so sure.

I just cannot imagine how my life would be if there was no Steve Jobs. And you know how everyone is now talking about how important design is to a product? I think releasing a product like the iphone into the mainstream market was key to raising everyone’s expectations for design. Back then only the Apple crowd cared about design. Now that the mainstream market got a taste of how delightful great product design can be, everyone wants to have more of it.

You can no longer build an unusable ugly app just built with tons of functionality and hope for it to be a great success. Apple raised the bar. Many times.

I am in an era whereby being a designer is an increasingly respected profession – back in the days when I was out of high school, I was told I would have no viable future as designer. How things have changed. I have no illusion whom I attribute that to.

I know and believe death is only but a transition, but it doesn’t make it hurt less.

I love you, Steve Jobs. I don’t know about the others, but I know with certainty that you’ve changed my world. I know the best way to return that gratitude is to continue striving for what you’ve taught me and others. He wasn’t only a tech genius, for he inspired countless people with his individuality, beliefs and determination:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

San Francisco

For now, I’m blogging/journalling at because I want to document every single detail of my trip and yet don’t wish to dilute to other content here.

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.


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.

This is when I remembered why we decided to focus on selling stuff to people who can simply reach into their backpocket, pull out their wallet, plug in their credit card number, and ** So re: the people who don’t get it, we don’t waste our time with them. Those people are the reason we have a ginormous chimpanzee on our home page.

Ben, Co-founder of Mailchimp, on Redesigning MailChimp

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, 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.

One Strong Belief: You create your own reality

Am participating in the #trust30 30-day writing challenge , I was hesitating earlier because I didn’t think I could commit for all 30 days, but to me, again it is some, better than none. :) This post is in response for the prompt of today.

I have plenty of strong beliefs, but if I have to pick only one life-defining belief, it would be, “You create your own reality”. I actually wrote a blog post (check it out if you want more background) about it two years ago and even though now I am about to be on medication for chronic depression, my belief has never wavered. In fact, I think it has gone on to be stronger.

Till today, I am still believe that my choices define my own reality. Reality is relative. You may think I am nuts, but Einstein made it a theory like more than a hundred years ago. Scientists know that the perception of events depends on the observer. I don’t think we have to be geniuses to know that this is true.

This single belief has driven me to take risky but worthwhile decisions in my life, it is also the same belief that has driven me to seek help for my chronic depression. I *want* to be healthier and in a better mental state to continue creating my own reality. I do not want my life to be defined by the state of the world’s economies – I want to live out of the matrix.

You don’t have to share the same belief, but I prompt you to think about it with an open mind. We are what we believe ourselves to be, we do what we believe we can accomplish. If that means you believe that you can fly to the moon, so be it. Why not? Someone has already done that decades ago. If people didn’t think reality could be constantly re-defined, why would we have space shuttles or even that satellite that transmit your digital tv signals to you now?

If people wait for science to provide evidence to prove that things can be real instead of doing it anyway and inevitably proving it along the way, what would the world be right now?

Make your fantasies real. I have made some of mine. If someone like me, who have suffered from suicide ideation, chronic depression, low-self-esteem can do it, I think, anybody can. If you don’t believe in your own dreams, how would anybody believe in yours?

All the best. :)