Why I decided to see a shrink

Okay, a psychiatrist. ;p

I know there will be many people who think I’m being nuts (lol, ironically) or dramatic. Plenty of people tell me I’m fine, or I’m thinking too much. But none of them can be me. Nobody will actually know (unless you go through the same) how much I struggle just to live. On a everyday basis.

I used to think it was because of my emotional or psychological issues. Low self-esteem, unable to withstand criticism, fear of confrontations, lack of support, being misunderstood, couldn’t find a purpose, life had no meaning, etc, etc.

I used to cry all the time, feel despair, thoughts that life is not worth living would cloud my head.

Now, ironically, I am living as well as I have ever been and I still feel like a piece of shit. I just cannot seem to feel joy. I feel perpetually down, even though there isn’t much to feel down about. Still I try. I wondered if it was my health, my work, my lack of exercise, my diet – that I am feeling like shit. It could be all of the above. But the truth is, I honestly don’t know. Maybe it is not one area but a holistic problem.

Two things are facts though. 1. I have a family history. 2. I have been experiencing low moods + energy for virtually all my life.

If that is the case, is there a huge possibility that this may really be a medical problem instead of a psychological one?

I am experiencing the time of my life and it annoys me endlessly that I can’t seem to sustain enough energy to actually do things. There is really a huge stash of stuff going through my head, tons of ideas spinning around but I can’t work for more than 2 hours at one go. My brain starts to feel unresponsive and if I overwork, I end up with a migraine.

I have been chronically depressed all my life but I think for the first time, I have been experiencing extreme fatigue for the past three years. I have had lifelong low energy as well but it is another thing all together when I am so tired that I cannot think. Maybe it is stress-induced burnout. I don’t have the luxury to stop everything and do nothing for as long as I want (I think not many people can anyway).

Last year, I took a total of 3 months off. Went to beautiful beaches, peaceful environments. Didn’t have to work much or cope with stressful deadlines. I felt nothing. No joy, no enthusiasm, no sharp intake of breath when I saw my favourite ocean. That was when I knew something was very wrong.

I hoped that I would get over it, but I didn’t. I have tons of exciting ideas and projects lined up. My life is great but somehow I really don’t feel great.

I’ve been doing a lot of self-initiated research about depression as a whole. Studies have shown that there is a genetic link and people are very likely to be predisposed to it. A lot about the human brain is still undiscovered. What they know is, when the brain is unable to transmit certain chemicals properly, brain function starts to break down and it creates a whole lot of problems. You don’t only get mental disorders, but a whole load of physical health issues because everything depends on chemistry.

So ultimately it comes down to this. If my brain is truly wired the wrong way since birth, and I am trying to ‘cure’ myself by resisting medication because the mainstream popular thinking is ‘mind over matter’, then I am just being an idiot, isn’t it?

I was quite worried that I’ll end up like David Foster Wallace, who was chronically depressed, took anti-depressants and his life become a lot better and more productive, he tried to stop, and the same medication wouldn’t work for him anymore. He killed himself.

If you read about his life, there is not much reason for him to kill himself. He had a loving wife, he was a critically acclaimed writer, he was able to do what he loved – write. Yet he couldn’t live with himself. Every single moment of his life he was in so much pain.

I’ll like to ask, where did the pain come from? Perhaps some self-inflicted. Very likely the brain just couldn’t process pain in a typical manner. If I can think happy and try my darnest to be happy, but yet I feel horribly melancholic, then maybe I can consider the possibility that something could be wrong somewhere. Just like how some people are born with a hole in the heart. How come it is so difficult to believe that people can be born with a dysfunctional brain?

If my brain cannot function normally, then no matter how much talent, how much heart or how much work I am willing to put in, I cannot be happy. Not because I don’t want to, but chemically it is impossible for me to feel happiness.

If popping a pill for the rest of my life can enable me to function, I will take that chance.

In the long-term, I hope to be able to raise awareness for mental disorders. It is definitely not ‘all-in-the-mind’ or not something people can just ‘pick themselves up with’. The lack of peer and family support can drive people to suicide. Or abuse. To be honest I am a little worried how my clients will think if they find out I am chronically depressed, but this is the kind of social stigma I want to help reduce. If someone like me can’t even be honest about my condition, what sort of hope is there for other people?

I still believe being authentic is the way to empower oneself and truly heal.

The official diagnosis is Dysthymia, and when I have major depressive episodes (yup, that’s when I’m always weeping), they term it Double Depression. It is actually reassuring that the psychiatrist knew exactly what I was talking about. I looked healthy, happy, could make tons of jokes and laugh, but I simply cannot feel happy or have enough energy to accomplish things. I feel very comforted that he didn’t judge me based on my happy outlook and projected enthusiasm – I get very excited when I talk about my ideas but sorry, still feel like crap.

I don’t know how I can have so much desire to live and contribute to this world, yet still feel like a piece of shit. It is just a disconnect that is very frustrating.

I would like to re-iterate this for you kind souls who care enough to read. Depression is real. It cannot be judged from how a person behaves. The stereotype of those staring into air sorts is not conclusive for everyone. Tons of suicide cases do not exhibit signs at all. If some of us can be born with dysfunctional organs, then why not a dysfunctional brain? Just because it is part of the brain doesn’t mean you can just will it away. I don’t know why most people assume depression (and other mental disorders) can go away by a lifestyle change. The choices an individual make, his/her beliefs, perspectives are important to good mental health. The brain has to play its part as well.

I have this eternal question, is it genetic brain chemistry that causes mood disorders, or is it extreme stressful conditions that cause altered brain chemistry? Chicken and egg isn’t it?

I believe in holistic or alternative healing, I really do. I do believe if I can have the time and space, I have the power to heal myself simply through other healing methods like yoga, acupuncture, TCM, meditation, energy work, etc.

But I really don’t. Economic demands have dictated my choices in life. I try to make the best of it, but I do have tons of bills to pay, plenty of responsibilities to fulfill, expectations to meet. Despite my positive outlook and idealism, I do have a weak stress coping mechanism. Before I can even let my body heal naturally or learn yoga for example, I am already way too anxious to even have decent sleep. Many days I wake up with panic attacks and chest pains. Coupled with perpetual fatigue, this is like a time bomb waiting to explode. I cannot sustain the clarity of thought for my work, my work cannot even meet my own expectations, or sometimes I feel too ill to even work -> not working enough equates to financial instability -> mega-stress situation.

It is just a never-ending vicious cycle, because people with depression feels like shit, they can’t do anything, and the inability to accomplish only leads to more negative feelings. Sometimes it is a matter of giving the body time and space to heal – continued feelings of despair will not allow that.

I have come to a point whereby I really want to live, and by living means spending every second of my life meaningfully, not feeling ill or down. I have tried to will it away, I have. I have avoided taking medication for all my life.

If you look at material on dysthemia, most people don’t even know that they have this condition. That is so because they accept it as part of their life and personality.

That they will always feel gloomy. Always. They accept that they will never feel joy.

I do not want to accept this as my life.

Ironically, it is my desire to live that I am seeking help now. It is a gamble – anti-depressants are known to cause horrible side effects to some people. But I will take that chance. I have had enough of putting up with myself. Of blaming myself that I am the sole cause of my own unhappiness. Of feelings of self-perpetuated guilt that I am not strong enough to overcome this. Of feeling so much helplessness when I have major depressive episodes. Of my partner having to witness time and time again, my stream of never-ending tears while I crawl into a corner. Of all those moments I actually thought jumping off some roof seemed tempting.

I cannot be proud of anything much, but I am definitely proud that I want to live my life with purpose. I don’t wallow in self-pity anymore (I used to when I was younger) and I am hugely positive about life (you can read my previous blogposts). If I am full of ideals, hopes and dreams and yet I cannot control my feelings of jumping down some roof…

Then I think that gamble is worth it.

And I really rather spend all that time coping with this, on something more productive. I am intrigued actually, that intellectually I am really fine, but somehow my brain is constantly trying to sabotage me. I have read plenty of suicide notes or personal accounts of depression, it is always heartbreaking to know that there are just so many people constantly fighting with themselves and the amount of despair that they feel. That they can never win their brains. You would never wish that upon your worst enemy.

I know things can go horribly wrong. But well, plenty of decisions I have made in my life could go horribly wrong as well. A 50% chance of experiencing life as a proper human being, is better than none.

Discussing suicide

I’ve had a saved draft on this topic somewhere, uncertain if I should publish it. I wrote it a few days ago because I was very inspired by the community at Quora. Yes, there’s a topic dedicated to Suicide at Quora, supported by a honest, open community, which gave me some hope that perhaps the society is progressing.

Today, I choose to rewrite this topic from scratch.

I believe in signs, and I was actually deciding not to publish my previous draft, because I was unsure if I was ready to cope with the repercussions. Today, in my twitter stream, I discovered this link through a tweet:

That blog post was written because of another suicide note:

I knew it was time for me to write this, regardless whether people will read, react badly to it, etc.

I think it is the fear of all that judgement, all that unwillingness to share one’s deepest, darkest feelings, that is pushing so many people to the brink of despair. I’ve been very open on this blog so far, but depression and suicide are two themes in my life that I am unwilling to elaborate on. I am in full support of maintaining an online persona that is as authentic as possible, but it is still pretty scary to have people googling my name and finding blog posts on topics like these. There’s plenty of repercussions, especially professionally, but I shall have faith – if I cannot even make myself write openly about this, what are the chances of society becoming more accepting and sensitive to others who’re in more extreme scenarios?

I’m no longer suicidal, but that’s because I was one of the luckier ones. I went through my own spiritual, self-discovery journey, I’ve met several key figures who were empathetic and supportive. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped thinking and feeling it. Not wanting to act on it anymore doesn’t take the feelings away. Not at least for me. I still go through swings when instead of wanting to kill myself, I think about whether is it possible to remove my existence permanently. If re-incarnation was possible, I would have liked to opt out, thank you.

If you ask me, what is it exactly that is causing me to feel this way? For the record, I wasn’t physically abused (emotionally perhaps). I did spend a lot of my younger years having a very low self-worth and feeling rejected by everybody because I couldn’t seem to fit into the mainstream. I’ve always felt (ever since I could remember my feelings) that I didn’t belong. But for me, ultimately it wasn’t “why should I kill myself”, but rather, “why should I live?”.

All these were not particularly triggered by any major life events. I simply remember being particularly melancholic since I was a toddler. It would seem I was born with these feelings. Uncontrollable spasms of despair. Not wanting to be involved in the evolutionary process. What is it in it for me? I’m not attracted to power as a human being, from a spiritual perspective, levelling up through lifetimes of lessons doesn’t sound very enthralling either. They say it is all about Love. Though it is not easy to convince yourself of that when everything just seems so much of a struggle.

Is it a biological chemical imbalance? Or was I one of those alien souls who found life on earth especially hard (yeah roll your eyes lol)? I have no answers. Just like I have no definite answers why I keep feeling this way. Sometimes I imagine having everything life could give me and I am not so sure if I’ll stop feeling this way.

I found some solace in meeting random people who felt the same way. I was very comforted by all the survivor stories I’ve read on Quora, saddened by those who couldn’t make it. Everyone has their own time and space to move through life. Not everybody is ready to receive help from the outside world. But if they are, shouldn’t we provide a better platform for them to receive help?

I have started contributing answers to questions on suicide at Quora, all I want to do is to provide a personal perspective to it. When you have never experienced depression or suicidal tendencies before, it is difficult to provide empathy to someone else going through this. The last thing we want to hear is, “pick yourself up”, “things can only get better”, “get medical help”…etc. What I would personally find helpful, is to hear from others who have been through the same before, in order to gain that small tiny thread of hope, that perhaps, one day, we may be able to pull ourselves out of it. We want people who would truly understand the depths of darkness, not just anybody looking in from the outside, sitting on a cushion asking you to get over it.

There are people trying to seek some form of understanding why their friends or loved ones are suicidal (Some sadly have already made the final decision). I can’t describe how it is to actually hear from people who were going through the same. That is one of the best support you can get. True empathy.

Sharing experiences is one of the greatest ways you can give back to society, I believe. Just like a mentor to the student, a mother to a child. Or vice versa. I would say that could be one of the greatest attributes of humankind, imagine how much progress we can make if all of us can be unselfish and open to sharing knowledge.

I am digressing a little as usual. I find it very comforting to read similar experiences, very moved when people find my answers helpful. I cannot be sure that everyone would appreciate whatever I have to say, but all I want to do is to give my best. That would be enough for me.

It is in the same spirit which had probably triggered others to do the same. I am amazed at the amount and quality of contribution to a topic like this. It seems like there is progress in lessening the stigma.

From the awesome community at Quora (you need to be a member):

If we could all become a little more unselfish, authentic and less judgmental, perhaps that person feeling that much despair may be less afraid to share his/her feelings, and perhaps death wouldn’t be that attractive an option.

Perhaps if Bill Zeller could find that single bit of courage to open up a little bit earlier, he could have found others who have gone through similar and found ways to survive, perhaps, just perhaps, it could give him a little light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps.

Why I don’t blog about design

On my twitter bio, the field for website is directed to this blog. I would think most people would leave once they land upon this page. If, my twitter page is linked to my portfolio site, it is very likely that I’ll gain more followers. After all, there’ll be more people who would want to follow a designer than an emo blogger right?

Very similarly, if I blog about design, whether is it about critical thought or my design process, I would again presume that it would likely raise my online profile a lot more. I honestly do not want that attention in an egomaniacal kind of way, but in a professional sense, blogging about design would definitely help to raise my profile, which translates a lot to more or better quality business. There is definitely a wider audience interested to read a blog on design rather than a blog on…..personal issues and lessons? ;p

I went through this entire thought process prior to starting this blog and the process became rather lengthy and it hindered me from starting my blog for years. My mind tells me to start a blog on design but my heart tells me to write about myself. Now, who is the egomaniac? ;)

Why start a blog?

I want to start a blog because I want to share my experiences with people. Good or bad. I can start a blog on my design experiences or a blog on my personal experiences. The design blog will reach a wider audience which is nice. But I hope that the personal blog will reach the audience, however small, on a deeper level.

There are tons of quality design blogs out there and I don’t think I can offer better content than what is already out there. I am not saying that I can offer better content than other personal blogs, but what matters is I am trying to write a blog with my heart and honesty. How much of me will you know if I write about my work?

I reckon that people who bother to probe a little bit more will discover the link to my portfolio site anyway. Those that leave based on their 3 second impression of this site, will not be the people I want to connect with. On the contrary, if there are some who actually bother reading any bit of this site and still want to connect with me, these are the people that will be quality connections. Because they want to connect with me even if I go on long-winded musings about myself, or going a step more, they see the intention behind the long winded musings about myself.

The value of being authentic

I feel that it is not easy to find authenticity on our society, online or not. How much of a person can you get to know even face to face, much less on social media? I offer myself almost like an open book, if anybody actually take the time to read it.

I very much enjoy authentic writing and I applaud people who write openly of their less-glamorous experiences. It takes courage each time to write about your emotions, your weaknesses, your failures. How many people will start judging? How many of my clients will deem me less professional because I openly admit that I have low self-esteem?

I want to tell you, that it is incredibly healing to be able to relate to someone else’s honest, emotional writing. And it is even more empowering to be able to write your own.

Why? If you can relate to the statement above, you will know what I mean.

If many more of us can open our minds and hearts, the world will be a much better place. Failures and weaknesses will not be perceived as negative, so much more hurt can be avoided with truth. If only more of us know that it is okay to be ourselves.

I have learnt that, while taking the step out to write this blog, if I am no longer afraid to be judged publicly for my weaknesses, there is nothing much else to be afraid of.

There will always be people who are critical or judgmental but it is very much worth it if you find the ones that understand and accept you for the person that you are.

Why I think it is important to share

Our society doesn’t readily accept people who are different from the mainstream. Times are changing, the society is evolving, it is definitely better than how it used to be when I was a kid. However, it still remains a challenge. Whether is it about being gay, being an artist, pursuing your dreams, discovering that truth is relative while the rest of the world believes that it is absolute. That any of us can create the reality that we want. That we’re very much conditioned to remain in a state of fear for the benefit of those in power. Or that whatever that’s not been scientifically proven can be real. That I think that us humans are egoistic for believing that we’re the only intelligent life-forms in the entire universe. Or to dismiss ancient wisdom for mumbo jumbo. That I don’t understand why we’re still trying to win peace through violence. That we’re all human beings and we all have flaws and I don’t understand why we judge people for their looks, colour, intelligence, size, etc when we know that we’re not much better ourselves?

I have been through certain radical transformations myself and thought-provoking experiences. I want to write about challenging the status-quo, about being unconventional, about trying my best about living my life differently from the mainstream. I am what geeks call a ‘use-case’ for pursuing an alternative lifestyle (no I don’t just mean the gay part) and there are plenty of others who have the courage to live their lives differently.

It is just that we are conditioned to believe that these people don’t exist or are very few and far in between. We are not. We are still the minority but we are a growing lot.

And we’re not ‘lucky’. We simply believing in having the power to create our own reality.

I write to share because I want to stand up and be counted. To be counted as one of those who defied ‘reality’ as our society perceives, and to share content of similar people, just so that maybe, just maybe, it will make a difference to the number of people encouraged to create their own reality.

I want to be the change that I want, and perhaps you can too.

We all have choices

I never used to believe it, but we all have choices. I held a pretty deterministic view of life. I believed failure or success was pre-destined.

Choices define our lives. It defines us so much that many of us live in fear of making the wrong choices.

Me? I admit I was a pretty stressed out soul getting really angry and upset with myself for the choices I have made in the past. However, somehow I never got angry with myself for too long, because I believe everything happens for a reason. Making poor choices leads to valuable lessons and accumulated reasons, making good choices leads to increased faith and happiness. Therefore, in my opinion, there’s really no such thing as a bad choice. Success or failure, we are all learning along the way. Sometimes, you just take a while longer to get to the destination, but they always say, it is the journey that matters.

Here I am, staring at the vast ocean through the window of my room. Wondering about myself and my choices. Reflecting on my life and the path that I have chosen. My life could have turned out really different, but do I want the difference?
Baan Krating Balcony View

Sometimes it is really difficult. Seeing peers acquiring assets and attaining career success. I am human after all and sometimes I wish I don’t have to worry about money, I can afford to buy a house and a car, and I can have my parents living off me. Which could be possible if I have chosen differently.

Over the past one year I have met incredible people in different interpretations of the word. Through the hard work I have put in I have had the opportunities to work in a couple of big-name companies. Even if I didn’t want the corporate life, I could have been working in a very successful startup, earning the sort of keep that will not only keep me worry-free financially, I could probably afford to buy almost anything I wanted (I don’t go for luxury goods so that’s not that difficult to fullfil).

I also gave up the opportunities to work with people that I admire. On projects that may not be fulfilling financially at the moment, but definitely potentially life-changing.

I gave all of that up.

To find myself again, so that I can be myself.

I don’t deny I think of all these things wistfully, I think of the car I could have bought, the house I could have saved up for, the smile of my parents if I were to give them that fat red packet.

So when people tell me that I’m ‘lucky’ or ‘cool’ because I am ‘free’ to travel around and enjoy breathtaking views, I don’t really know how to react.

Because most of them will not know all that I have given up to be where I am today. And it is really not easy. I give people the impression that I am simply a ‘heart’ person and I make decisions like these with a snap of my fingers.

Nobody knows the nights of insomnia and all those tears behind my smile.

A friend of mine once told me, there are two ways to change the world. One is to become rich like Bill Gates and start contributing massively to charities, the other is to be like Mother Theresa, giving your whole life to everyone else without expecting anything in return.

I can never be the Bill Gates sort of person, neither can I be Mother Theresa. Who am I kidding?

But I hope and wish that by being true to myself I can somewhat encourage more people to be true to themselves as well. By writing openly about my issues and hurt I can let a few tortured souls realise that they are not alone in how they feel. By being idealistic I hope to remind some people of their ideals again.

They are all lofty wishes, but I hope and wish and I try. I never thought that I could change the world, but I thought that the very least I can do is to be the change I want to see in the world.

Perhaps the act of giving up to be where I am now will never allow me the same opportunities again. Perhaps it will bring me even more opportunities when I am ready. All I know is that I try my best. I believe if I try my best and do what I truly believe in, satisfaction will eventually come.

I believe everyone has a different role in this world. Once in a while there comes a Steve Jobs or a Bill Gates to shake the world. Albert Einstein, Mother Theresa, Gandhi. There are the ones who give up personal time, family, love, just to create a product, a mind-blowing film script, or a book that will influence the minds of society.

But there is also the housewife that does her chores and brings up her kids the best way she can, giving up any form of career and ambition. The man that works in a boring 9-5 job faithfully for 30 years just to support his family in the best way he can. The woman who spent 25 years of her life walking around America without a single cent just to prove that compassion exists.

We all have choices. Sometimes these choices may not seem to be worthwhile on the surface. Sometimes nobody will see the value or understand the choices. Sometimes it is difficult to live with our own choices. All the what could have beens.

I think we just do our best. We all have different priorities. The easiest way to make a decision is just to ask yourself whether you will regret this on your deathbed.

Till date, I think I haven’t made any choices that I would regret on my deathbed. But I think I can do better. I want to make choices that I will be happy with on my deathbed.

As I was writing this post, I put a “do not disturb” sign on my hotel door, and a hotel staff quietly puts a change of fresh towels and water quietly on the table at the balcony. This is a simple act that many expect or take for granted. I manage to catch a glimpse and I saw her placing those items with her utmost care quietly, with a small smile on her face. She left without knowing that I was looking, or that I was touched by her simple gesture.

Our choices often create ripples of repercussions without us knowing. Good or bad, you get to choose.