Grief and Goodness

Once, in a course facilitated by Tong Yee (The Thought Collective), we were posed a question on what types of emotions we experienced on a constant basis. While emotions were good, he explained, being stuck in certain emotions over time weren’t helpful, and they could become “moods” of resignation, anxiety, anger (or others) that hinder us from experiencing the fullness of life.

I was surprised to find that my internal response to that was sadness. While there were definitely episodes of sadness before, I never noticed it still lurking around like a shadow, especially now things were alright, well, at least on surface. On the bus home, I prayed for release - and then a deep, strong wave of grief surged up, and tears fell uncontrollably. I hurriedly hid my face, trying awkwardly to wipe the tears away. It was on public transport after all; crying like this in the open almost felt taboo.

I did have a sense of sadness growing up, but it wasn’t huge. Going through a number of operations did leave me questioning why life was such. And while family has always been unquestionably supportive, they too were each reeling from the effect from breaking apart. But all this, together with experiencing long-term, seemingly incurable illness in your twenties, and the departure of someone who was supposed to love you, probably did it for me. Unlike the surgeries, this had no end in sight. It was to go on for years of being cut off from normal functioning, isolation from society, work and friends, and repeated rounds of hospitalisation, eating, puking, and looking at the toilet bowl every time I peed, fearing the recurrence or worsening of a protein leakage. Multiple rounds of meds-relapse-meds-relapse-meds-relapse over the years brought about despair: I felt incredibly helpless that this could go on forever, and I had absolutely no control over it. It wasn’t even the prospect of kidney failure in a decade or so that daunted me; it was getting past the dreadful everyday. 

What resulted was an interminable, prolonged period of sadness. The world grew a shade of darkness I never knew. There was no motivation for anything, life was colourless, and I was constantly in tears. There were occasional encouragements from friends, and huge support from family. But these felt like a drip of hope amidst the dark, foreboding ocean of grief. After a while, you learn different ways to cope - pretending to be normal, resisting the dark and pressing on for the light, or accepting the dark and giving up on the light, or existing somewhere in between. The gap between reality and hope is a muddy field, and I am still finding my way through it.

It’s funny when they say I am resilient, when I know myself as utterly weak. I guess it’s because events like these show your failings up in their worst, and they do leave a mark that only you know. But at the same time, I have a deep sense of gratefulness for the range of experiences I’ve been through, and the opportunities I’ve been given. Being in London now and travelling have been incredibly healing. It reminds me everyday that life is and can be good. Being able to eat and cook whatever I want is a tremendous blessing after being on an enforced and restricted diet for years. And sharing these experiences with a husband who shows ultimate compassion, kindness, forbearance, and acceptance has been a deep well of comfort and release. 

I still have some way to go - I have learnt that neurological patterns take time to reset - but I write this today with tears of gratefulness, not sadness. I’m thankful that there can be rejoicing after mourning, and there can be healing for every pain. And even though it will always be a journey this side of heaven, goodness and restoration are possible.

Many of you are also going through some grief of your own. Know that you are never alone. Someday, perhaps, you’ll find the reason for which pain came in this way for you; but if you don’t, it’s really ok. We live and breathe through the pain, and know that goodness runs after us. While you may be grasping at straws to catch a glimpse of it, and it often doesn’t come in the way you’d most expect - it will come, and strangely enough, more so when you believe in it.

Finally, always, always seek out community. I made the mistake of isolating myself because I never thought anyone could understand, and I was also under the advice of someone who disliked being in community that one should only turn to oneself to find internal strength, and doing otherwise is a sign of weakness. I’ve realised since that it’s not entirely true. You may have had a bad experience with people and community, but prolonged isolation is always a bad idea, and will drive you into greater despair - this is while acknowledging that sometimes you do need to be alone to process internal matters as well. Healing often comes through community, and positive relationships, even if you’re an introvert (see study here). It requires a great deal of vulnerability and courage, and lots of awkwardness and discomfort at first, but you may find the healing you desperately need with the right people. I pray you’ll find them eventually, and if not, that they’ll find you.

xx

Hope

What makes us lose hope? In my experience, it often comes from repeated disappointment. We lose a friend, our health, our jobs, our families - and suddenly we don’t know what life is meant to look like anymore. In fact, we did hope at some point, but reality turned out to be so starkly different from what we wanted that we feel a profound sense of loss on whether or how we should hope again.

Hopelessness is a very scary thing. The more we entertain it, the larger it looms. But - and this may violate every bit of what we feel right now - if there’s just one tiny reason for hope, it may be worth clinging onto it. Desperately. For our sanity’s sake. It’s so easy to entertain hopelessness, tossing over and again in our heads how pain is a given; this tossing stems from our deep fears and hurts, and somehow we think that conjuring the worst versions of events prepares us to face their inevitability and closes us off to disappointment. But that kind of self-talk doesn’t help; in fact, it brings us even further away from reality and recovery, and spirals us deeper into hopelessness.

However we feel, it may be worth just carrying the possibility that there is still hope and meaning… no matter how slim. If the reason for hope is too large and far away, and even if it fails us at some point, we could shift our eyes to something smaller - one we can hold onto realistically, and even work towards - and hope again in that direction. Sometimes hope takes the form of a broad, compelling goal; sometimes it requires fulfilling the littlest steps towards recovery. It may seem far from us at first, but keeping at it could actually save us in the longer term.

In a broader sense, hope also means casting our eyes further to know that even if our specific situation doesn’t turn out okay, life as a whole could still work out. Yes, it could really suck for now... but our lives are likely not going to depend entirely on that thing or person turning out the way we wanted it to. I’m talking about even seemingly major things like our jobs, life partners, or investments. We move on, and we can and will make something good come out of our pain.

We don’t have to let a failure or weakness at this moment define us or our entire life. We will be okay.

And even if we’re not okay, a little bird told me life has always been a cycle of ups and downs anyway. We may be down now, but there will be ups, and then downs, and then more ups again. The crucial thing to realise is that we are not powerless, and we often have more choices than we think. Let’s give ourselves another chance at winning, and work on things if we have to.

In the bigger scheme of things, everything could work out.

xx

Letting go

W A L L S //

It’s not easy to let go of the walls. After you've grown a certain outer shell, shedding it makes you feel raw and vulnerable and liberated all at the same time.

For far too long have you hidden yourself that you’ve lost a sense of you who are. You've buried emotions so deep that you've forgotten how to feel; held your tongue for so long you start stuttering everytime you speak. You don’t know if people are going to accept you when you let yourself be real, because you've been rejected before. 

People - with all good intentions and efforts - are not perfect. We are all broken, struggling with aspects of ourselves and others that we may never be able to fully accept. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep promoting a greater tolerance and acceptance of diversity in greater society. But on an individual level, it may not be completely realistic to expect that every person will or has to accept every part of us. People will always have something to say, comment, or think about - and it is their right to have those opinions. They also have different backgrounds, stories, and battles that we don't know about. Love from others will always be imperfect.

But we could, perhaps, start to accept ourselves first. There are unique strengths, gifts, and personalities we each bring to the world, as much as we also have flaws and imperfections. Loving ourselves means appreciating those gifts and imperfections, and not needing to be or seem perfect. It also means setting appropriate - not excessive - boundaries, and being selective with the people we let influence our lives so that toxic relationships and thoughts are curtailed. It requires a lot of discernment to decide who we can trust our feelings and stories with, but that should never mean we live in isolation. Only when we learn to love and protect ourselves in good measure do we feel secure, and grow free to love others too. Consequently, love feeds on love: when we start feeling secure and love better, more love seems to come back in turn. “If there’s any hope for love at all, some walls must fall.”

Love is brave. It takes a lot of courage to be real with yourself and others, but healing can only come from that place. And while trust will take time to build, perhaps we can start by taking a deep breath, and learning to trust ourselves first. This starts by appreciating the many things we are - including the things we are not - and being okay with them.

“Let go, let in; something is waiting”

"Walls", by Ann Png.

"Walls", by Ann Png.

You are good enough.

C R O W N S // When you feel like you’re losing your entire life in a moment, it’s easy to lose yourself to despair.

Barefaced, you see yourself in a mirror - stripped of all the trappings. Who are you, apart from the things that made you? Can you look at loss in the eye say that it is well?

The questions are key. In that burrowing, you realise how silly you’ve looked all this while, clutching onto robes like they could cover your nakedness. In that emptiness, deep in the eye of rage, you come to realise that it’s okay. It’s okay to be emptied of the gold. You don’t need to prove anything - you are good enough.

When you no longer care much about losing your crowns, you don’t lose yourself to them anymore. Crowns have lost their mastery, and you start to live. 🌤

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Lost and Found

C R O W N S // "All that we've lost; one day will be found"

Losing everything was hard. By my mid-20s, I’d lost my health, a serious relationship, and the ability to do what I love, like work, travel, sing. As the months went by, even the strength to breathe well, walk, and eat escaped me. I lost social contact for long periods of time, and with that, the ability to think and talk normally. 

It was a dark place, but what surprised me was that through it all I’ve gained a tenacious ability to hope. Not the kind that sails into the sky with rainbows, but one crushed in despair a multitude of times and still comes back stronger. I have grasped pain, looked unfazed into its eye, and become clearer about who I am through and despite it.

Life doesn’t end when trouble starts; it ends when hope dies. When there is hope, you edge for the better each time, and hopefully, one day, get to taste a little of that fruit. ‘Crowns’ is a glimpse of that fruit, along with many things that came back in 2016/17 as the divine clock turned its hour. There is still some way to go - but when you’ve lost everything once, a little can taste like heaven. Thankful.

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