The Effects of Traveling

Every time I come back from traveling internationally, I always feel like my soul has been refreshed and renewed, which makes dealing with my life and mental state a little better.

It’s been incredibly hectic since my amazing two-week trip to three countries (Dubai, Kuwait, Istanbul). On top of catching up with work, friends and family, there’s the usual household chores and other adult responsibilities to handle now that I have returned.

Even though it’s back to the usual humdrum of life after such an amazing experience, I came back with a renewed sense of vigour and I am working on my personal projects even more than before.

Every time I come back from traveling internationally, I always feel like my soul has been refreshed and renewed, which makes dealing with my life and mental state a little better. There is something about being out of your usual element and thrown into new countries and new cultures that has always been a love of mine because I feel like not only am I experiencing something different that helps me discover my true strength and personality, it also gives me a sense of hope that my life truly is worth living. This says a lot, especially as someone who suffers from anxiety and depression.

At Ueno Park with some really awesomely dressed women – Tokyo, 2016

During my trip to Tokyo earlier this year, I had moments where depression got the better of me. I am incredibly susceptible when I am exhausted, regardless if it was a good exhaustion of exploring and learning new things. I had gone for therapy before my trip, and was doing my best to handle my emotional outburst, but found myself still going back into the same patterns that would eventually lead me to feeling hopeless and worthless.

But because I was out of my element, I saw the patterns of my depression and emotional cues a lot better than I would have had I remained in the same environment. And though I did break down crying during my trip, I saw it as a sign that I was doing okay and needed that little time out. Even though I still failed in controlling the patterns of my depression until the end of the trip, I still came home feeling incredibly hopeful that I was going to get a better grip of my mental illness eventually, as I know the patterns now.

Sadly I was sucked back into my usual state after getting into a car accident and found myself really torn as the patterns of depression came back in my usual familiar environment. The effects of my Tokyo trip faded and I was back to battling anxiety and depression.

The recent trip to Dubai – Kuwait – Turkey was a trip I somewhat dreaded initially. It was going to be longer than my Tokyo trip and I felt incredibly guilty for going on another holiday, especially one so fully sponsored by my parents. But I remember missing out on a trip to America that was sponsored by my parents as well for the same reasons I felt guilty about now, and I regretted that decision. I constantly looked back at that moment and lamented how I missed out on a great opportunity. And though every part of me was trying to guilt trip me about going, I took a leap of faith and went for it.

I’m so glad I did it, because I have never felt so out of my element in such a long time. And it was amazing.

Walking on the hot desert in Dubai as the sun set, tasting the best hummus and bread (IMO) in Kuwait, being able to witness the Hagia Sophia and other great cultural buildings in Istanbul, every minute I was out of my element in a country which I didn’t know the language or understand the culture, helped me learn more about myself, how I feel about the world and my place in it, and I was in turn gifted with a renewed strength and vigour I never knew I had.

I am aware that this energy that I’m running on is borrowed fuel as I plan out and work on my personal projects. That soon, just like after Tokyo, reality would hit and I would be back to square one. But I think traveling has a way of changing you, even if the changes are subtle. After Tokyo, I set out to get started on this blog and though I still falter in updating this and it’s still not in the best state that I want it to be, I still did what I set out to do.

In the same way, those two weeks continue to impact me in a way that I hope will continue to keep me going in life. The effects are fading, as expected, but at least the memories of it all will keep me going for longer.

I cannot deny that I am truly blessed.

It’s my birthday and World Mental Health Day

It’s my party and I’ll talk about mental health if I want to

It’s my birthday today! It’s also World Mental Health Day, and as most of you know, mental health holds a special place in my heart. Even as I mark today as a triumph, having woke up happy instead of depressed or broken as I did when I turned 25, I am also aware that a few weeks ago I had another bout of depression and especially anxiety.

There’s a lot I want to say about World Mental Health Day. How there needs to be more awareness, education on how to deal with the various illnesses, as well as making sure help is available for those who are suffering. Malaysia looks like it is on the brink of gaining awareness and some understanding, but getting help is often available only to those who can afford it, or often unknown to those who are suffering.

As I reminisce today and write down goals to achieve before I hit 30 (of which I have one more year to do so), one of them is, of course, to continue to fight the monsters that still reside within me, but most importantly I aim to reach out to more people who are suffering, and create more dialogue about mental illness especially here in Malaysia.

It’s a daunting task, especially since I still struggle with anxiety, but this is why I keep writing about it, even when it helps no one but myself.

In the meantime, check out these links to find out more about World Mental Health Day, as well as activities being done in Malaysia as well!

What is World Mental Health Day?

Psychological First Aid: The 2016 theme for World Mental Health Day

Activities for Mental Health Awareness Month by Universiti Malaya (BM) 

My little confession

My anxiety has been on the rise again, and it’s getting harder to talk about it. So this is my attempt to work through it.

My anxiety has been on the rise again, and it’s getting harder to talk about it. So this is my attempt to work through it and I will attempt to write more on this in time.

I have a confession to make. The words that have been haunting me for a long time now is “We’re not friends”.

My once best friend said it to me. And even though I knew our friendship had been going sour for a long time now, it’s one of the most painful words to receive when a part of me still wanted to believe in our friendship.

It also hurts because she said that cause she was done with me and my depression. She was done looking out for me and trying to help me deal with my problems, when she has her own to deal with too.

I think if our friendship had broken up in any other way, it would have been a lot easier to take in. But instead what she really couldn’t stand was how I was emotionally dependent on her due to my depression. I was using her, expecting too much from her, and was not making her happy in any way.

It’s her truth. I will accept it. But her actions fed into my oldest fear, that I was useless and didn’t belong.

My anxiety had gotten worse since then and I’ve cut off communication with a lot more people ever since. I’m terrified. I’m scared of depending on people. I’m worried that if I depend on them too much they would end up like her and they would leave me.

I am trying so hard to fight that, but anxiety has this thing where even though you know it’s safe to talk to this person and they proved to be really helpful and kind, there’s still this fear that they would abandon me once they get to know me more.

Yet being alone a lot also has a negative effect on me. I slowly lose my sense of identity and question my worth even more. I still don’t know how to balance my need to be on my own and my need to communicate and be with people. I’m mostly alone because I’ve had enough traumatic moments to make me wary of being with people, and even though I truly enjoy talking and being able to depend on friends, my anxiety makes me fear that I probably said something wrong and they won’t like me later so I usually don’t keep in touch.

Sometimes I win in this battle, and find myself really free and able to talk to someone without inhibitions, without worrying if I screw up. But on most days I still wake up with the words that remind me that I must remain alone.

“We’re not friends.”

Depression and Positivity

Because depression is a part of me. But it doesn’t define me.

It’s been an interesting week. In a span of two days I had two people tell me that I’m such a positive person. It wasn’t even a particularly deep conversation, one of them was just asking me to check something out, the other I was merely wishing a happy birthday, and yet it was enough for them to tell me that I am a positive person.

This was interesting because it was such a vast contrast to what I’ve been dealing with mentally the past week. I’ve been struggling with figuring out if this uneasiness inside me is depression or anxiety or both, how do I cope without a therapist, tending to old wounds that keep coming up and demanding attention and just trying to sleep well while worrying about my health.

It may not be much to others, I suppose, but it does get overwhelming for me so overall I feel crummy, especially when I’m on my own.

It’s definitely something I do my best not to portray to people, because it’s my own personal battle and displaying any form of it doesn’t make sense. But for some reason, I wondered if the mask I use was a little too effective and I did find myself contemplating if I really am as positive as people see me.

It didn’t take long to find my answer. Yes, I am a positive person. Or more importantly, I became a positive person.

The reason why I initially found my positivity weird was because years ago, I was as pessimistic as I can be especially towards myself. I loathed my very existence to the point that people would roll their eyes when I insisted I wasn’t as good or as pretty as they say I am. And I remember purposely saying those things because I didn’t want to be complimented. I didn’t want to accept it because I didn’t believe it and neither should they.

So today, I’m a little comforted by that positivity I’m exuding, even though I’m still struggling with mental illness and how it’s crippling my thought process at times, it’s a relief to know that despite it all I can still smile. I can still laugh. I can still do the things I am passionate for (which is making lunch at the moment) and find joy in it.

Most importantly, I can still shine a bit of light to someone’s day.

What’s important to know is that yes, you can be a positive person even if you suffer from depression. It took years of effort on my part, but I finally reached a point in my life where I believe I can still be a positive person even if my mind feels otherwise.

Because depression is a part of me. But it doesn’t define me.

How I’m dealing with Mental Illness

It’s easy to feel weak when it comes back.

Sometimes I’m lulled into a sense of security that makes me believe that I have completely overcome my mental illness. That I have won, and I really am strong, just as everyone has claimed me to be.

But when my depression comes back, or I start feeling anxious, and thoughts of suicide are ebbing on the edge of my mind, I’m reminded of how foolish I am and how I constantly underestimate my mental illness.

There are still moments in my life where I question the validity of my mental illness. Am I really depressed or am I just having a screwed up mentality right now? Am I being anxious or am I just overreacting? Am I really suicidal or am I just choosing to be comforted by the idea of death?

I am aware that it’s hard to accept mental illness because we believe we have control over our mind. We want to believe that the choices we make are our own, not only influenced by peers, the media and society as a whole, but truly something we as a person would choose. So when mental illness hits, and you realise you really aren’t choosing to be the way you are, it’s a big blow to everything you’ve ever known.

Nothing horrified me more than realising it was actually my mind that was out to kill me, while my own body fought that constantly. I broke down when I realised this, because for years I hated my body, blaming my low self-esteem and inability to love when it was my body going against my mind that has kept me alive until today.

Truth is I was never taught that my mind could possibly be the enemy, I was always taught that I had full control of it. That I was making my own choices, that I was choosing to be emotional, that I was choosing to be miserable and that I needed to snap out of it. That those thoughts telling me how comforting death will be is my own ideation, and that’s why I should trust it.

That’s why it still bothers me when I find myself slipping back into those moments where I feel depressed or anxious. I don’t want to be in this state, and I have “fought” hard to reach this level where I could laugh whole heartedly, where I could smile and believe how precious each day is, how my dreams are still possible to become reality. So when it strikes, I do feel like a failure at times. I do feel the ghost of my past failures, the ones my mind gripped on to tightly to keep me depressed or anxious, continue to haunt me and remind me why I need to be in this state.

But slowly, ever so slowly, I learnt to treat my mental illness as a physical illness. That maybe I’m just tired, or not feeling well, and it’s a sign that I need to take better care of myself. That maybe all I need is a lot of sleep to help with the depression, or watch anime to help me forget my anxious thoughts for a moment. That what I need is an outlet, through writing or talk.

We’re not taught to treat our minds as a separate being, but it’s what I do to help me treat it better. I don’t see myself as a strong person, but I do know it took years of tears and pain to get where I am today, and that did take strength.

While I still get hit by mental illness once in a while, I’m still learning new ways to deal with it better and better.

It’s okay to be sad

It’s time we see sadness in a better light.

When Pixar’s Inside Out came out, I was really glad to see how Sadness was portrayed at the end. Sure, the character Sadness was kinda annoying, but it was good to see how important Sadness was to help a person sort through their experiences and how damaging it was to suppress it.

Parents learnt to talk about emotions better to their children, therapist had better ways to explain and describe emotions to children… but I don’t think enough people have watched the movie for there to be a significant impact, because the message I’m seeing these days is still, “You should be happy”.

I know, I’m being such a Negative Nelly. After all, there’s nothing wrong with preaching about happiness, there’s nothing wrong with telling the world to not focus on their sadness and learn to appreciate what they have, as sometimes yes, we do need the reminder to help us get us out of that sorry state.

But we focus a lot on happy endings without realising that we need to be sad first and acknowledge how frail we are or how painful our struggles are before we can gain back our strength and move forward. You know how before stories reach their climax, there’s this moment where the protagonist has a weakness to acknowledge and overcome? In a similar way, we need to acknowledge that we’re sad and upset over something before anyone can move forward and really, truly be happy. But today, sadness continues to be seen as a weakness, an attempt to gain sympathy or evoke false emotions, and is usually treated with a lot of disdain.

“What are you sad for?”

“Why are you crying?”

“Boys don’t cry.”

“Stop being sad, you’re upsetting everyone else.”

Throw in the “You should be happy” message, followed with a list of things you should be grateful for, and well… all that will do is just create fake happiness and hidden misery that’s bound to affect someone, if not now, then later in life.

I’m not saying that we should accept sadness by wallowing in misery for a long period of time. If there’s one thing I learnt from therapy is that our emotions are signals of our mental state that we need to take note of. It’s like when you have a fever, you know something is wrong with your body, the same way goes with your emotions.

So if you’re feeling really sad, you need to address it and find ways to deal with it. Cry, write, sing, dance, talk, just acknowledge that sadness and let it out in a way that’s healthy for you, and when I mean healthy I mean it doesn’t hurt you further physically or mentally. Sadness is there to help you realise that you aren’t feeling well and you need an escape before more bad things accumulates within you, so embrace the sadness and let it all out.

If you’re feeling sad for a longer period of time and despite all your efforts, happiness isn’t anywhere as close as you thought it should be, it’s definitely something you should worry and take note of. Remember that fever analogy? Yeah, it really is the same here. Long bouts of fever is worrying, and so is long bouts of sadness. Stop pretending you’re okay and see a doctor where you can, keep seeking help if the doctor isn’t giving you the remedy that you need, go online and look for resources to help you deal with your constant sadness. Just stop telling yourself you shouldn’t be sad when you really are.

Society may be constantly telling you to be happy, but fake happiness can only get you so far. Sure you gotta fake it where necessary (especially for us working folks), but don’t force yourself to be happy, or hide your sadness for so long cause it will bite back eventually.

It’s there, it needs to be acknowledged, and it needs the right treatment for you to get back on that path to happiness.

Dreams or Reality

I remember when I was in Primary School, I had this strange belief that if I thought of something happening, like truly imagine it and expect it, it would not come true.

I don’t know what prompted me to come up with this line of thinking. I’m not even sure how it worked. I think it involved really wanting and seeing it happen that will cause it to not come true. Maybe I experienced enough disappointments to make me believe that? After all, at that age, there were plenty of little disappointments to experience when your expectations involve having a rather magical life. I would imagine a life where I was popular, and it convinced me that I was doomed to be unpopular due to my constant visions of wanting to be just that. I would imagine being noticed by a cute boy, but alas most boys were more afraid of me than even remotely attracted.

Maybe it was because I was experiencing life beyond my ability to imagine it? After all, my imagination was inspired by the very unrealistic world of TV shows, movies and books. At that age, I didn’t experience enough to really process what reality should be like, so I made it up in my head and knew full well it would not come true cause I made it up from a book or a cartoon. But imagining that I was beautiful but then telling myself and others I was actually ugly became a major problem.

As I prepare to start my journey forward anew, I discovered a lot of the things I imagined, the ones that I really wanted and never came true, the beaten and broken up imaginations and dreams due to how things have been for me in the past few years.

I recount the times I imagined being in a musical, and mused at the thought fondly as I fought back tears. I remember my dreams of being a singer, and though not quite gone and I made attempts to keep that dream alive, it remains relatively untapped with little practice. I dreamt of the stories I would write, or the amazing stories that I could possibly be a part of, worlds I hope to someday see come alive in the worlds I would pen down in words.

But here’s something I realised about my dreams. They are not “dead”, but they are broken because life is never how I imagine it to be. Now that I’ve experienced enough heartbreak in my life, and have learnt to love myself a lot better, I find myself picking up these dreams and realising they never left me, no matter how many times I threw them away.

I just need to picture them better in my mind, and with my new confidence armed and ready, I’m determined to indulge in my dreams and make them come true in one way or another, even if takes one small step at a time.

I mean, if I can look at myself in the mirror and be happy with what I see, surely I’m on the right path so far.