Lost Again

Having been an adult for a number of years, there are certain things that I am confident that I have learnt. Things like that life is a long journey made up of destination checkpoints as determined by oneself. Things like that even though you’re aware of something being an issue like anxiety, it never truly goes away, no matter how much you work on it, it’s an ongoing relationship where some days feel better than others.

But what I do not know, is how things like this restless feeling keeps coming back. I do not know where it stems from, and I do not know how to live alongside it. It’s been sitting inside me like the ever-present rot during a wet and rainy winter, and it concerns me that there’s this feeling it may cause my house to fall apart.

Last night we went down to the river for a wild swim with my boyfriend and his old school friend. His old school friend lived locally and had invited a long a bunch of other parents that he knew through his children’s school. They were all lovely people and you can see knowing each other in their community gave them support, comfort and joy. To me, there was something that made me want to run away from it. There was something distinctly monotonal to me about their identities being British parents. Part of me is horrified at the thought of it if I were to ever have a child, knowing full well that if I had a child, this would probably be the type of community I would seek out. So what is it that makes me feel such an aversion? What am I seeking instead? Because every time I ask that question, all my brain does is come up with nothing. I long for the times in my 20s where I go out adventuring, meeting new people, being free to explore however, I am no longer that person. I have trouble reconciling how it is I “should be” vs what I have known vs what it is I want but do not know. Getting older is not easy. They say that the 20s are the time for you to figure out who you are and that 30s are when you have come to know yourself. Sure I know myself better in some ways but I certainly do not feel like I have it figured out. I feel since I’ve hit my 30s, I’ve had to try and figure it all out again with new doubts like “Am I too old to be wearing this crop top?”. It feels like if I’ve set myself off on one direction, I come to change my mind at a later stage.

Sometimes I’m envious of people like that group of parents. They know what it’s like and are making the most of their lives as parents and seem to be owning it. Perhaps they struggle with exactly how I feel, but then they’re probably distracted by their children screaming about something inane, or creating some sort of mess or chaos.

Is this restless feeling a sense of not belonging, or wanting to run away?

Learning to be comfortable with discomfort

It’s taken me a while, but I slowly feel like I’m reaching a stage again where I feel capable of pushing physical and also mental limits.

I broke my ankle at the very start of the year, and was off my feet for weeks if not months. I barely left the house for the first two months. With such dominating condition, I guess it’s not surprising in hindsight how much that would affect me physically but also mentally. I became very used to being inactive and staying in which is very different to how I usually am. It also made me feel very trapped because I didn’t feel like I could go out, it took a lot of effort for a long while.

If I had to take a stab at explaining it, I would say because I was going through such an amount of physical pain, it left me with a reduced capacity to deal with any other discomforts. So I was drawn to easy and pleasurable experiences that did bring a degree of comfort. However, a life well lived (in my opinion) is one where one must become somewhat comfortable being uncomfortable because that is where the most personal growth occurs. For example, returning to rope climbing, I have been feeling more fear of heights and falling than I did before. That fear has always been there, but in the past I’ve been able to acknowledge the fear and climb past it. With no little amount of patience, I’m finally feeling a little closer to being able to do that again.

Another avenue in my life that provides mild discomfort is my recent uptake of Spanish lessons. Learning the language has always been something I would love to do but never known quite how to make a reality. I finally decided to bite the bullet and commit to a course and so far, it’s very early days, it seems to be going well. But one thing I do recognise is that you do also have to be uncomfortable in being unable to express yourself and still be willing to learn and be corrected. It’s amazing though, if embraced, how much progress you can make in a short time.

Life does gives us all knocks, but I am glad to have been able to navigate back to this point where I am seeing more progression. The other important point, is that the healthy way to look at progression is comparisons between where you were recently (maybe like 6 months or a year ago) rather than all time. Progression is about recognising the uptrend in performance and sometimes that may have fluctuations over “all time”. It’s just something I’ve had to remind myself of in an effort to be kinder to myself.

2021, starting the year strong

It’s six weeks into the new year and it’s been pretty eventful so far (despite a national lockdown). I’ve managed to break my ankle, catch covid, lock myself out of the flat (on crutches) and also had the water supply temporarily cut off without warning. But all in all, I feel pretty good.

I think in some ways, the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have felt so all encompassing in their isolation and how much they affect you, that more trivial or common mishaps in some ways breaks that doom and gloom feeling. Shit still happens. Life still happens, it’s just a little subdued right now.

Crazy to think we’re fast approaching one full year since I started working from home. Trying to remember how it felt back at that time, it felt like such a bizarre occurrence. There was such disbelief from friends, loved ones and also myself that it would last any longer than 4-6 months tops. And how we’ve all learnt since.

We’ve taken a lot from 2020 in terms of teachings, although definitely more of the tough love vein. My hope for 2021 is that we end this year having been able to implement those learnings and grow positively.

End of 2020: Thank fuck

At the end of a year, it’s natural to do some reflecting on the year past. Particularly what with time off work for the holidays, it’s natural to start thinking with more time on your hands. Having just watched Death to 2020, it just really hammered in what a bizarre year it’s been. With the Hong Kong security law, Brexit, the Beirut explosion, a new intensity of wildfires due to climate change, the trash TV show that’s been American politics, ending with a big finale of the election all drawn out to the overture of covid and all its complexities… It’s hard not to have felt fatigued from reading the news this year. Opening a news site became associated with an ominous feeling of dread “what new development awaits us now?”. And that’s all stuff on the global news cycle that I have no control over. In fact the main mental health implication is how those breaking news stories bled over and impacted personal life. Not just mine, but everybody across the globe. It’s hard to imagine another development positive or negative that has simultaneously affected everyone globally.

Personally I’m doing well which I recognise and am very grateful for. My partner and I are both working for companies that have not only survived but had very good years despite covid so our jobs are stable. In fact, my job has been incredibly stressful and busy since August which brought on its own issues. I work in an industry which has historically been vulnerable to budget cuts so my company has been cautious in spend (i.e. hiring people), and being in a world situation where job losses was at an all time high it meant you had to just suck it up and pull in the intense and long hours in order to meet client demands. Which has sucked. My mental and physical health has suffered for it. It’s scary to think that I am still considered one of the lucky ones and I do still think that.

Mental health wise, being in London has been incredibly tricky. It’s so easy to feel stuck, London has always had its own centre of gravity that made it difficult to leave, but now public transport was made to be something to fear, it meant you couldn’t travel 45 mins to get to the other side of the city to do that thing you wanted to like go to a restaurant or a climbing wall. With restrictions changing on a weekly sometimes daily basis like the menu of a bougie hipster cafe or restaurant, just flip flopping between being stuck indoors and being able to go out and see friends, it’s been really hard to adjust and get through it. You’re having to adjust every two seconds with very little consistency. The loss of control and ability to actualise what I want to do is the thing I struggle with the most. It will be interesting to see what the mental health implications of this will be. You don’t have to have had covid to be affected by the pandemic.

With vaccines being approved one by one, and distribution starting, I know the start of 2021 won’t look much different from the end of 2020 – I don’t think we’re under any illusions there. But I do fervently hope along with the whole world that we can reach a point where this becomes manageable. Covid isn’t going away miraculously, no matter what outgoing idiotic world leaders say so. It may mutate out of existence (which is random and small in chance), but likelihood is that it will continue to exist and infect people so if we can get to a point where there are protocols to manage it like smallpox, we might be able to get back to some semblance of life before. Where we were able to go about our lives without having to worry about an invisible enemy.

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?

Love and Acceptance

I have to start this post off by admitting that I am, for the most part, a bit of a weird individual. I don’t really believe in normal – I think everyone is on a spectrum but just hide things – but I do have a lot of idiosyncrasies and behaviours which are odd. This I am aware of.

In the past, I’ve always had to restrain or tone down parts of myself in relationships. My oddities made my partners uncomfortable or confounded by my behaviour. It is not until this relationship that I truly feel accepted as who I am.

This man, the more I am weird, the more he laughs and expresses joy at seeing it. Going so far to even say he likes my weirdness. Having had the fixed idea that I will always have to hide myself in some ways in relationships, it feels so liberating to be truly be accepted for who I am, unapologetically.

Thank you.

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.

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.