That Knot In Your Stomach

Anxiety is a funny thing. For me, I didn’t manage to put a name to that erratic feeling that made me mess up and fail on so many important occasions until my mid twenties going into my late twenties. People talk about it, and you hear about it. It just made me think about people who were of a  nervous disposition. It’s hard to recognise that clenching of your stomach and the tightness of the chest you unknowingly feel is the same thing.

Recognising it for the first time wasn’t a formal process, the first time I recognised it as such, there definitely was a feeling that I was making it a bigger deal than it is – a running comment on the British culture I’ve been brought up with. Now that I’ve accepted what it is, it’s been helpful and freeing to realise all those job interviews I messed up at at the last hurdle, or the time I broke down in my grade 8 piano exam, or my three failed driving exams at 17 were all products of a deep anxiety that had not been managed and not because I was weak, or stupid, hopelessly flawed or a failure. It’s allowed me to do less beating myself up and put that energy into increasing self awareness and trying to manage the real cause of the issue.

It’s taken me a while to be able to catch my anxiety rising. The way I can best describe it is that I catch myself feeling erratic, like my lung capacity has diminished and I can’t breathe like I normally do. This usually causes my brain to panic and in the past has been the zone where my mistakes occur and I feel out of control. Once I recognise that feeling, that allows me to push my self awareness through my body and look for the tension I’m holding in my stomach and chest – the energy pushes my body forward and like it gathers on my forehead and chest. The main way I find I can combat it is to sit up and back (because usually I’m slightly hunched over) and take a long and deep breath in and then out. Repeat a couple of times if necessary but the breaths need to hit the bottom of my stomach expanding it down and releasing the tension that it held before. And that allows some calm to wash over me and neutralise the frenzy.

I now do not view that it is weak to have anxiety. It is just something that I know I have and that I have to conquer, every single time I put myself in a stressful position. That can be in work, in job interviews, whilst climbing, whilst out and about, whilst shopping. It is a part of me, but it doesn’t have to control me. And for being equipped with the self awareness and the tools to help combat it in the moment, it makes me feel more capable. I have learnt to conquer an obstacle within me and I will continue to conquer it each time.

What makes life worth living?

With a sudden curtailment of the freedoms a lifestyle in a western city offers, it removes all of the glorious distractions that makes such a place attractive to live. Suddenly in a densely populated city where people are living upwards, you find it suddenly feels very claustrophobic. This has been ever more highlighted in the recent week where restrictions have loosened and allowed sunbathing in parks. Right near where we live on days with beautiful sunshine, it somewhat resembles a field at a music festival.

So in this busy, crammed city where your normal routine is completely dashed and time for your thoughts is exponentially increased, it leads one to question “what restrictions would need to be relaxed in order to make things more bearable?”. For some people it’s simply seeing friends, for others it’s pubs, and others it’s travel abroad. The more I thought about it, the less I am sure about how to answer that question. Suddenly without the distractions I’m yet again faced with the question of what life it is I want to live. What makes my life worth living?
It’s hugely interesting to see on the news how countries are starting to put measures in place to allow businesses to open and international travel to take place again. In the face of a likely second wave or possibly even a third, it feels like they’re saying they’ve had enough and life cannot continue the way it was.

This pandemic as with every other trial in life will pass, eventually, how we choose to handle it is entirely up to us. If I could possibly leave this period with more idea and motivation towards a life I want to lead, that would be a great result of a very weird period in this life.

The World Today

The world today is not the world that it was three months ago. Or perhaps even two months ago in Europe. It’s crazy how quickly things have changed.

It is Easter Monday today and tomorrow I’ll be entering into my 5th week of working from home – 4 weeks into national lockdown. Whilst working remotely is something in recent years I’ve wanted to secure for myself, never would I have guessed that it would happen in this form. Covid-19 has taken advantage of hesitation from governments around the world and spread across the globe. To my knowledge, only a handful of countries have not yet reported a case although as we all know by now, confirmed cases and deaths are only as accurate as the reporting itself.

It’s occurrence is unlike anything we’ve ever known in this lifetime (most of us won’t remember the 1918 pandemic of Spanish flu I imagine) and how strange it all is. None of us could ever imagine something to occur on such a global scale, dominating the news until you’re sick of hearing about it everywhere you turn, and yet unable to stop thinking about it because it penetrates every aspect of your current life. As someone who doesn’t like feeling trapped, this turn of events is pretty suffocating.

There are fascinating things to come out of it, whether that’s statistically (biomed was my undergraduate degree so I find this all so interesting), politically, economically or socially. And whilst I’m sitting in my flat gleaning all these insights and collating all the articles and information I’m reading each day, all I can hope is that governments across the world are doing the same and better. I really don’t think much of the response to this crisis from some governments – slow to respond, and some absolutely ridiculous ideas have been floated around. When you have the government using the term “herd immunity” as a strategy against a virus for which there isn’t an existing vaccine for and an estimated fatality rate of 1-2%, that’s a pretty serious mistake particularly when a virus moves as fast and is as infectious as this one. Man oh man oh man.

Knowledge is power. That’s why countries like South Korea and Germany have had such success in comparison to their neighbouring countries. Find the trail of infection, if you know where it’s been and where it’s going, you can control it – short term and long term. For the period between now and when a vaccine can be mass produced and distributed, that is the only really conceivable solution, a national lockdown is not sustainable.

I’m so intrigued to see how the world will change after this. After the SARS outbreak in 2003, lots of East Asian countries including my home region of Hong Kong took it as a cultural habit to don a face mask whenever they were sick. Western societies seem to misinterpret it as people not wanting to get sick but it’s actually the opposite. They’re wearing the mask to avoid spreading it to others. Given the misinterpretation from the West, I doubt that this will become a common trend like in East Asia.

Things that I think will change:

  1. A shift towards more of a working from home/ remotely culture. For the companies that have moved remote (including my own), senior management may see that productivity doesn’t drop as much as they fear and actually be encouraged by the idea of revenue they can save by hiring less office space.
  2. Introduction of heat cameras at transportation hubs like airports, at least for the first couple of months after we’re allowed out again.
  3. A higher public awareness around illness, particularly on crowded public transport if people are coughing etc.
  4. In the UK, I sincerely hope (and this point is more of a hope than a prediction) that there will be more protection around the NHS. It’s unique and great quality that’s part of British life which has been dredged through hell and back in the last decade under tory rule. Hopefully this will help put it back on the list of priorities.

If the Labour party is clever, there is a potential to shift public favour towards their way. However, given the recent change in party leadership, the timing may be against them as the news hasn’t been that much of a forefront of the headlines due to covid-19 and so far Keir Starmer hasn’t really been able to do much to turn the tides. What with Boris Johnson probably gaining some national sympathies from his infection with the coronavirus, Starmer will have to really start getting a plan into gear if he is to lead Labour into a win next election.

So that’s some of the ramblings and muddled thoughts I’ve had so far in my month of quarantine. All in all, I’m not in a position to complain. My partner and I are both working from home and both are currently not at risk of losing our jobs. It is just difficult living in a city when the main reasons for you to live there are all currently moot and shut down. In a city, without all the bright lights, culture and bells and whistles, at the end of the day is just a grey monolith of a prison. Mentally, that’s probably the hardest part. It is a long journey and we’re only partway through it, so just pace yourselves, we will get through to the other side.

This Too Shall Pass

That is the phrase I have tattooed on my leg in Hebrew. “Gam zeh ya’avor”.

I got this because a friend had said it to me during the really dark period of my life a couple of years ago. It was such a short phrase said almost as a throw-away attempt to comfort me (nothing brought me much comfort in those days). It stuck and it seared itself into my memory becoming some sort of mantra.

This too shall pass.

This time shall pass. This awful feeling will pass. This horrific time will pass. This journey will pass. This amazing time in South East Asia will pass. It will all pass, good and bad, all of it.

There are so many things to take away from that phrase. It did bring me comfort. In the days where I was hurting so much I wanted the world to burn with me, it comforted me to know that at some point it probably will. In the days after where I went travelling to heal, it reminded me to savour every beautiful, precious moment out there, because it too, undoubtedly will pass.

And now, in my more settled state in London, I find myself still lost, having been lost since I got back. I know what direction I want to go but I’m scared. It will require sacrifice of time, effort and hope. The last one being something I know how scarce and valuable it is. So I don’t dare dream, I don’t dare strive. I try and build towards my dream within the tiny sandbox that I have penned myself in. It’s impossible to build a real castle inside a sandbox.

Today was the first time in a long time where a conversation with the right person ignited my enthusiasm, my passion if you will. It was there all along, it’s never changed or waivered. I just needed the right person to help me unearth it. I don’t belong in a sandbox. And it is scary to try and invest in this. There’s no guarantee it will be a good investment. But time will pass, it doesn’t hang around. You don’t have eternity so get moving now. You’re never going to be as young as you are now so what are you waiting for?

New Decade… huh?

Feels bizarre to hit a new decade. The realisation hit me only two days before the new year began. This year I will be three decades old, which is quite an overwhelming thought for some. It’s interesting speaking to friends in similar situations and seeing the breadth of reactions. One friend admitted they had gone to therapy because of anxieties about turning 30. They weren’t where they thought they’d be in terms of career or relationship/family. I guess that’s why it’s important to manage expectations and see the importance for setting goals (to encourage motivation and ambition) but accept that things may not quite go to plan.

For the most part, I have always had fairly little long term expectations of where I would be. At my roots, I am a dreamer so I have a thousand things I want to be, but the realist in me knows that I cannot be all of those things at once so I compromise by having an attitude of trying to be the dandelion puff that rides on the wind. Except, perhaps with a tad more self-determination.

A decade is a long time. 2010s saw me grow into an adult and learn some hard lessons. I wonder where 2020s will take me.

Long Distance (Family) Relationships

Just said goodbye this evening to my parents before they fly back to HK tomorrow. They’ve been living there for almost a decade, and yet I still haven’t quite got used to saying goodbye to them. Weirdly it’s just got worse as time goes on. I struggle to not well up when saying goodbye. It’s always awkward, and looking at my dad always sets me off – he’s the one who’s also welling up. Then comes the awkward shoulder grip and pat that’s loaded with emotions as we force smiles that are a mix of happy of having spent time together but sadness to be separating again.

They brought us over here in ’96 to help enrich our lives and give us a unique opportunity that many kids in HK would never get – for that I will always be grateful. But it has caused a difficult conundrum when they moved back to HK and we stayed here. Trying to navigate familial bonds when your parents are a 12 hour flight away and 7/8 hours ahead (depending on time of year) is difficult at best, painful when you or they are going through harder times where other families may band together, we don’t have that luxury. I hate that word is even somewhat applicable.

It certainly forced me to become self-reliant in a sink or swim fashion and that is something that I identify as a fundamental part of my personality. But still I want to acknowledge the pain that come along with this process.

In a bittersweet way, the distance does make the time that we spend even more precious. But until next time, I will go back to being the island that I am.

The Person You Are Today

I remember when I was a young teenager, when coming across someone who was in their mid/late twenties and thinking “Wow, that’s so old! I’ll never get there”. It just seemed like such a distant concept that my mind couldn’t quite comprehend how I would get there.

Today, as a 28 year old, I look back and recognise that version of myself. I am no longer that person, but that person is part of me. The person I am today encompasses every single day and every single version of myself I have been but I am more than them. And the person I am today, will be less than the person tomorrow, next week and in a year’s time.

There is no wasted time, for all that you’ve learnt, thought and gained comes from the people you have been whether that’s been the life you wanted by design or lived but desperately wanted to get out of. Those circumstances have left you with the motivations and viewpoints you have now so as with so many things in life, acceptance is the key to be able to make peace with who you have been and are. This will enable you to harness all the powers you have in your fingertips. The person you are today is magnificent and I look forward to seeing who you are tomorrow.

Getting What You Wished For

I have tried and struggled to put into words the multiple times that I have attempted to process this relationship. It’s a very new and slightly puzzling experience to try and express how I feel but never feeling like I’m doing it justice.

Throughout my life thus far, I have been learning – always learning – particularly about things I may not want in a relationship. I had resigned myself to the fact that to be in a relationship I will end up having to compromise a fair amount because where am I going to find someone particular in the same ways as me? I still pinch myself from time to time to make sure I haven’t just made him up in my mind.

It’s a weird feeling to have, he makes me so happy but the kind of happy where it’s not overly animated. In a way that you are content with life. I know this is something special.

The Root of Relationships

What is the root reason that we as a species seek romantic relationships? If familial bonds and friendships are close enough, why is it we still sought out that additional dynamic?

Maybe part of it is the level of acceptance that we seek from these relationships that we cannot gain from others. We bare our souls to reveal our weaknesses and vulnerability in the process. It’s a terrifying process with no real guarantee that you will be truly accepted, but if you hold back then you limit the gains. It’s hard to let go like that when you’ve been hurt, and we as a species can be awful to one another.

I’ve met someone who I’m still learning as a person, but we have been uncensored in the way we have shared ourselves with each other. It feels amazing to not have to restrain myself in any way and be able to speak about all thoughts. It feels even more amazing for him to say what he thinks, express what he likes and for me to naturally be able to accept it. He is an incredible human being. I didn’t really think this level of not having to compromise and admiration in a relationship could exist. Long may it continue.

Checking In

It’s been a little while since I’ve done any writing. The last month to 6 weeks have been manic – I’ve barely had time to have a thought to myself. So much for my intention of coming back into London life and making more time for myself. Sadly, I just get too caught up in wanting to do things so that everything planned just happens at once. It’s a perpetual cycle of doing too much, doing too little, doing too much, doing too little. The problem with doing too much is that I don’t get much time to self-reflect or process things as they happen. You get so caught up with trying to get things done that there is no real thinking behind it. I wonder if it’s a London thing or if it’s a me thing. I certainly didn’t have this pace in lifestyle when I was away travelling.

I am very tired. Hopefully June will be slower paced but who knows…