The biggest lesson I learnt in 2016

It’s the end of 2016 and despite the overall awfulness of the year with someone I know passing away, other celebrity deaths, the constant war and just the terrible outcomes of some of the world’s decisions, I’m actually pretty happy. On top of having traveled to  five countries this year (a definite record in my books), I managed to clear off my credit card debt! And I no longer have to pay my car loan! This is exciting for me because for years those who know me have heard me lament over my financial issues over and over again, being a mix of having really bad salaries and being in credit card debt. It felt like a long journey to me, and it also feels weird to know that I accomplished this after all that struggle. But it feels especially good to be able to just go up from here and aim for better financial decisions.

This also means that I now have experience on dealing with credit card debt, and I’m happy to share if it’s of interest though it isn’t much in the grand scale of things. My debt wasn’t that bad, something that I was eternally grateful for despite my laments. But the problem was that it lasted way too long, and though I can tell you the steps I took into dealing with the debt (to put it simply, I budgeted and took on a balance transfer), I realise there was a bigger lesson I learnt through this and throughout the year. That was:

Take care of your mental health first

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Would you believe me if I said that taking care of my mental health got me into further debt which made it worse, but I’m still glad I did it anyways?

Yeah, it was not a good financial move. I got therapy early this year and that set me back quite a bit when I already had credit card debt. In fact, the therapy made my financial state worse! I even hit a point where my credit card got declined when I had to make big payments for my dad (which he would pay me back eventually).

My former mental state made it hard for me to care or notice the financial state I was in. I knew financially I wasn’t doing well, but I was suffering from really bad anxiety for over a year and had been battling depression for so long that I couldn’t focus on what was important, especially on my finances. I had written for a personal finance website before, and knew I had the answers, but I couldn’t get myself to seek or solve them. I was terrified to depend on people. I was terrified of depending on myself.

Which was why the decision to spend more to get therapy took a lot of effort on my part. It’s not easy to get the right therapist, and the cost was the main reason I avoided it for so long. But my anxiety was getting worse. Depression often made my mind empty and tired, I would think of bad thoughts and focus on them, which was why I had it for so long cause it’s easy to mistake it for laziness and everything just being in my head. But anxiety was the complete opposite, it was so physical. I would hyperventilate, I would cry when I’m on my own, I would tremble, and I would feel pain on my shoulders right down to my fingertips.

I was reaching my limit of juggling between anxiety and depression. My finances were going nowhere, and if this kept up I would never be able to hold down a job. So I asked around for who I can go to, and a good friend recommended her therapist to me. This therapist was good and had helped her a lot, but she warned me about the cost. At this point, I knew that cost should never be the main focus here. My health matters, and there was a high chance my bad mental state was causing these bad salaries and constant debt.

It was the best decision I had ever made for myself.

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From Picture Quotes

Think of spending on your mental health as an investment to yourself. Both physical health and mental health needs to be well cared for to be able to do anything you want to do, and if your mental health was in jeopardy and is affecting that, doesn’t it make more sense to spend what you can to get treatment for it?

I agree that today’s economy makes it impossible to make spending on your mental health on top of your priority, and it’s true that you should focus on taking care of your basic needs first. But if you are in a bad mental state, one that is affecting you enough that you are limiting yourself and your abilities, I implore you look into seeking treatment. The Befrienders are a good place to start with if you really need to talk to someone about your problems, I have spoken to them and they really are good in listening .

You can also go to any clinic and talk about your mental health there too. While the doctors there are more towards caring for your physical health, they will factor in your mental health too and either give you a lending ear, medication (if your symptoms were physical like mine was) or recommend a doctor to you.

For those of you who are in a good enough state but get mentally worn out a lot, there are many options but they may cost such as traveling if you need to escape and breathe, or going for yoga lessons or doing group therapy by joining others in doing crafting or cooking, anything that you can invest to create a better self for you. While each one is great in helping you mentally, just be careful not to confuse indulgence with therapy, because not all activities will make you better. Focus solely on being kind to yourself, so that you can bring out the best of you.

In the end, that decision to focus on my mental health than money was the turning point that made me focus on what was important: myself. Sure, it was a challenge to deal with the debt it gave me, but I was mentally better to tackle it which led to me being debt free today. A little worn out in savings, sure, but still debt free. So as 2016 draws to a close, I wish all of you better mental health in 2017, and be the best you that you can be proud of at the end of each and every day.

If the Subang Jaya LRT existed 20 years earlier…

here’s nothing more bittersweet to me than the existence of the extended Subang Jaya LRT that now exists just a 10 minute walk away from my place in Subang Jaya.

This is an odd topic to write on, but it’s been in my head for a while now. There’s nothing more bittersweet to me than the existence of the extended Kelana Jaya LRT that now exists just a 10 minute walk away from my place in Subang Jaya. Everytime I ride the train, I get hit with memories of how much this LRT could have saved me if it had just existed 20 or so years ago.

Of course, when I moved to Subang Jaya over 20 years ago, it was a barely developed place so expecting an LRT to exist by then would be asking for too much. But if the LRT in Subang Jaya had opened at the same time as the Kelana Jaya line in 1998, my life would have improved tremendously.

Video of the new additional lines, passing by a number of important places to me, by Mariofanslol

Let’s be clear: It’s not to say my area in Subang Jaya lacks any public transport. There are still taxis and buses, and we have a KTM. But taxis have always been iffy here and you’ll find out soon enough why I have a general dislike for buses (though I am guessing it has improved?). Let’s not touch on the KTM other than the fact that it’s over 6km from my house. At least with the LRT, you just make sure you’re on the right platform, heading in the right direction, you know which stop to make, and you’re set. Its track record is also a lot better than the KTM (though there were plenty of problems when the extended line began)

While I’m eternally grateful that the LRT exists now because I can take it to work, there are still moments where I wish it had existed much earlier. Especially:

Around the late 1990s and early 2000s:

I would have been able to sneak out to the malls

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Subang Parade hasn’t changed much, eh?

My mother disapproves this tremendously but to me, it was some of the best parts of my childhood. I would walk (yes, walk) to shopping malls such as Summit and Subang Parade just so that I could buy the things my parents wouldn’t let me under their watch: Stickers, magazines, CDs and bootleg anime merchandise.

Summit was just a 3km distance away and it was possible to cycle there too. But Subang Parade was an hour’s walk away with over a 6km distance to cross. And I did it. I really walked one hour for what was possibly a half hour time at the mall then walk an hour back.

Of course, mom found out and I was punished. But that never stopped me even when I hit secondary school. I would still walk that distance because it gave me something to do, something to look forward to and my desire to get items that I want drove me. It was dangerous though, and I don’t blame my mother for stopping me from doing it again and again. So I can’t help but think taking the LRT would have been a better route had it existed at the time, even if my mother would have disapproved of my frivolous spending.

I will admit I look back on my long walks fondly as it was quite an achievement for me. But it’s definitely not something one could safely do now.

I would have been able to go home when I missed the school bus

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One of the schools I used to attend. From the school’s official blog

I don’t even know if I had to take a school bus if the LRT existed, probably cause I would have urged my parents to let me take the train instead as that would have been more exciting and something I would do to gain a little more independence.

But say I still had to take the school bus and I missed it (which has happened about three times or more). The LRT would have been a great option as I knew nothing about taking a public bus home (my parents never took the bus so I really had no knowledge on taking one) and had to either depend on others to get me home or I walked on my own. What would have been a safer and easier option? The LRT of course!

Of course, this mostly applied to two schools that I’ve been to. There are other schools that I attended and is nowhere near the LRT that I would have to walk from (which I did once, but a teacher spotted me along the way and drove me home). But the memory of the few times I missed the school bus still remains as I take the LRT and pass by the two schools I’ve been to.

In 2005:

Going to college would have been a breeze

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From KDU’s official website. The colours back then were worse though haha

Even if the Subang Jaya LRT didn’t exist in the 90s, I will point out that I especially needed the LRT in the mid-2000s. Yeah I sure like torturing myself when I decided to pick a college all the way in Damansara when I could have chosen the colleges in Subang Jaya, but KDU’s course was more appealing to me and I was willing to make the sacrifice.

The sacrifice of taking two buses, one LRT stop and another bus just to get there and back.

This wouldn’t have been so bad if I didn’t experience first hand how terrible the bus service was. I was late to receive my SPM results because it took over an hour for a bus to arrive. There was one time I was waiting for TWO FREAKING HOURS until my dad decided it was better to just pick me up.

If the Subang Jaya LRT existed, I would have just needed to take the LRT to the stop I needed and take a bus. And if the bus was still a bitch I would take a 20 minute walk to the LRT station. But without it, I had to wake up as early as 5am to get to college and it was always very, very tiring.

Honestly, Subang Jaya LRT, I needed you so much during this time. In the end, driving to college was the best option for me. But driving proved to be another bane of my existence and I really wish you had existed because then…

In 2011:

My car wouldn’t have been stolen

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Good luck getting parking here on work days after 7am. Picture by Leon Lee.

Yes. If the Subang Jaya LRT had existed over five years ago, my car, or specifically my mother’s car which I borrowed at the time, wouldn’t have been stolen.

Back then I was working in Kuala Lumpur and if there’s anything I’ve learnt and still do until today is to avoid driving there as much as possible. Parking is expensive, the traffic jams are the worse and drivers there are incredibly ruthless. So what I did back then was drive to the Kelana Jaya LRT station and take a train into KL.

Parking was a major problem though. In order to get a parking within the Kelana Jaya LRT station, I needed to arrive and park before 7am. My work hour starts at 9am and the train ride was at most half an hour. It was tiring, as I would wake up extra early, then sleep in the car to catch up and then head to work.

And if I were late (which happened a lot due to traffic jams), the problem really began. I parked at other areas, often illegally, because my other options were either expensive or just hard to do (you need a total of RM5 worth of coins to pay for parking). Eventually, as I illegally parked again, my car was stolen.

You can scold me all you want regarding this matter; that I should have known better and never should have illegally parked in the first place. But I had just started working, I wasn’t earning a lot, and my experience made me wary of other forms of public transport such as the bus and KTM. I used whatever little knowledge I had, and ended up having to learn a major lesson the hard way.

All that drama wouldn’t have happened if the Subang Jaya LRT had existed back then. My mother’s car would have always been at home, safe, and all I had to do was walk to and from the LRT station. No fuss over having to wake up early just to park, where to park and the drama being limited to the people I have to deal with in the train (which I had plenty already).

I know you can’t change the past and all these “issues” ended up either being fond memories or a lesson, but God knows how much I struggled to get from one place to another, and how much it means to me that an LRT exists just 10 minutes away from me. It’s an incredibly bittersweet feeling to take the LRT to work now, and have memories of those trying times fill me each time I take it. But this is why I am eternally grateful for the existence of the Subang Jaya LRT.

In the end, I’m really grateful that the LRT finally exists. It may have been 20 years too late for me, but it really is better late than never.

I know most of us have horror stories in using public transport. But did you have any transport struggles that were solved by public transport? I’d really like to know more of the positive side if you have any!

Dealing with Fear

But tackling fear is never easy, especially since I’ve been fearful most of my life.

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I got this board with the bold words Fear Not on top of it at a Arts & Crafts event with a booth that had a Lucky Draw. I broke into a smile. “It’s so fitting!” I said out loud.

It’s an odd reaction to have, considering how a few days earlier I was beating myself up for being so afraid.

Fear has been something I’ve been struggling with all my life, and something I’m trying to tackle in the past few months since my return from Istanbul.

But tackling fear is never easy, especially since I’ve been fearful most of my life. I grew up being distrustful of people in general, tore and broke down all my dreams, and allowed a lot of people to control and use me due to fear. I’ve had kind people urge me to not be restrained by my fear, and were pleasantly surprised when I did. But no matter how nicely people put it, how the fearless me was so admirable, the fearful me continued to keep me behind and remained steadfast within me.

I am taking small steps currently by taking better care of myself. I’ve become more physically active in small ways, cooking for myself, and am now practicing the ukulele to get me going on my music dreams. But there are times where I wonder if what I’m doing is enough, if I will go through the same pain as I did that made me fearful in the first place, and if everything I do would end up being worthless in the end.

I wish I had an answer to how anyone can let go of fear, but to be honest I don’t think telling people to let go of their fears alone is the right route. Not for everyone anyways. I know it never worked for me and that’s I don’t like advising people to get rid of their fears because I know fear. I know why it exists. I know that despite how it has pulled me back from doing a lot of things, it has protected me for a long time, it made me wary of pain and made me trust little, even if it allowed certain people I care about to hurt me along the process.

Instead I would advise people to understand their fears. They’re there for a reason, and often wanting to let it go alone won’t make it go away because a part of you has developed it for a reason. Knowing why you created that fear, understanding that fear, and learning to accept it are great steps to help you deal with it better. Maybe you’ll learn that it’s best to accept that fear as part of who you are if you realise it’s there for a good reason, or you will face those fears enough until it isn’t necessary anymore.

If you’re like me and find yourself drowning in fear without knowing why quite a lot, I recommend talking to people about it. Not everyone has the answers, but putting it out there and getting some feedback helps. And yes, I have a fear of talking to people too so if that’s scary, you can look into online chats with anonymous people. Check out 7 Cups, I’ve tried it and though it has its limitations, it has helped when I was having an anxiety attack and was afraid to talk to someone about it.

I’m still clouded by a lot of fear, but I’m still hopeful with every little step I take to tackle this. I believe in myself. It’ll be okay.

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.

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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.