The last few couple of months have been incredibly rough, but also, beautiful. There is a light somewhere—and I’m choosing to focus on that light. If there’s one thing a lot of us struggle with, it’s believing that we are enough. For it’s hard to see one’s worth when the lows keep coming. Too often, we become our own worst critics. In every single thing we do, it’s never good enough for ourselves.
I don’t say that lightly because I am a perfectionist. There are times where I hold unrealistic expectations for myself too and treat myself as a miracle worker. Some mornings, or some nights, I still remember the simple mistakes I made years ago, vividly – and beat myself up for it. Though, it’s been much easier to laugh at them now than be sad about it.
So what I’m (constantly) trying to work on for myself, is to tell myself each day that “I am enough”. I want to give myself grace, while I give grace and benefit of doubt to others as well. Many times now, I let this false perception of perfection cloud my judgment, and allow it to dominate my life without much realization. But I have to change. Change has to start somewhere. It has to start now.
If you relate to bits of what I mentioned, I hope the few affirmations I’ll be sharing here will provide some comfort for you. While you read the words, maybe you can write down, or not—that’s okay too. You can ponder a while. Most importantly, I hope you can see that you have what it takes to write your story.
Give yourself permission to create without inhibition.
In the way that feels natural to you, that feels good to you, that feels authentic to you, that feels true. Know this, it’s okay if your process or final product doesn’t look or feel or sound like everyone else’s. It doesn’t have to. In fact, it wasn’t meant to. The world needs what you have to create.
2. Allow yourself to ask what you want without holding back.
When your body is too tired to carry on, when your soul feels weary from the journey, when your mind feels exhausted—take control and ask yourself the question, what do you want? Then, answer it. And, every time, when the fulfilment of your answer outweighs the uncomfortableness that you are feeling in the moment—carry on. Don’t give up. Keep running towards that goal.
3. Surrender the stress, worry, and anxiety.
Lay it all down. You don’t need it. We yearn to have control over everything around us, but, often, as we clench our fists, holding onto the reigns of dominance over our work, lives, and situations—we find ourselves slipping. Instead of stabilizing us, our tight grip wears us down and causes us to fall from our secure vantage point of peace. And without peace, we cannot forge ahead with the clarity, wisdom, and grace that we need to accomplish our purpose. We need peace, more than we need control.
With all that's said and done, I hope you realize that it is never too late and you are never too far gone to choose what is good. Start wherever you are. Start in your doubt and in your fear and in your anticipation. Start in your worry or your excitement or your joy. Start wherever you are and keep going. Start with your first page.
Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.
Ask a person what their interests are or how they like their crush and they can tell you in great detail. But ask them about self-forgiveness, it’s not only something that would throw them off, it becomes personal. In some cases, you’ll probably get a blank stare or a change of topic.
The path to forgiveness is a long one; so long it drives you to give up too often. It’s even harder to fathom that some of us deserve forgiveness. We are always a suicidal person telling another suicidal person to let go of the past and forgive ourselves, and yet—
And yet, we are still killing ourselves every other day.
Much younger, I was sexually coerced, and other things happened. Then gaslighted, then made to tolerate the verbal abuse. Being when everything he did for me was love when it was just narcissism. Nothing was the same for me again. I spent the next few years feeling guilt. Feeling sick looking at my reflection and thinking about how I might have made different decisions. Decisions that could have prevented what happened. For the first time, I felt as if the word “no” had lost its meaning.
And I tried.
I really tried.
For years, I tried to do all the “right” things to help myself through the trauma.
So where did this leave me? It’s insane. I’ve always kept going, kept pushing, but the only reason why I had been able to go far wasn’t for the right reason. That’s what damage does: Verbal abuse changes you beyond recognition. You don’t even recognize yourself. Once you awake to this abuse, you can no longer go back to sleep. You are forced to evolve and transform. Get stronger. I had a lot of anger and compulsive desire to fix what I had lost. Revenge was the only thing that motivated me to do better. For years, that person became the focus of my pain. But that was all there was to it. I was holding onto resentment; setting myself on fire and hoping the other person chokes on my fume. Dousing more gasoline each time.
Eventually, I chose to let it go.
I was hurting a lot. Hurting because it was tiring to have anger residing in the heart. It ate away a huge part of me. Forgiveness isn’t something one forces or pretends to show. Forgiveness happens only when one opens their heart to it. The smallest steps to recovery takes place when we believe it is possible for us to heal. Even now, I am still learning what it’s like to forgive myself.
I forgave him.
Then chose to reflect on the other things I’ve done in my life, to see what else needed forgiveness. When I did, I wasn’t sure because I didn’t know where to start. There were too many things bottled up. Too many unresolved feelings. Too many questions unanswered. And just too much disappointment. But I wanted to change that. I didn’t want to believe the made-up stories my inner critic might tell me. So I did it, I chose to be quiet. In the silence, I thought out loud in my head that I deserve forgiveness, that I was worth something. It felt uncomfortable. Of course it did. Because anything worth fighting for has the tendency to be uncomfortable. And I am absolutely worth fighting for.
And so are you.
You are absolutely worth fighting for.
Some of us are in a dark place, some of us are still healing—some of us aren’t necessarily surrounded by love. Self-forgiveness is something else. But also, forgiving ourselves isn’t something magical. Not one where you suddenly find all your problems vanishing. No, but it gives you a chance to fix those problems. And what’s beautiful about it, you start caring about yourself— even if it’s just a little day by day.
And I know it’s easier said than done. It’s also not impossible. We all have some point in our lives where we messed up (big time), it might have affected us and even the people around us… that only means we are human. We don’t live in the past anymore. Why do we still beat ourselves up over it and let it dictate our own self-worth? There is no time machine here. We can’t go back and make things different. But, we can forgive ourselves. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. If it’s too hard to forgive yourself at this point, try making peace with the situation. It happened. You are human. You deserve forgiveness. You deserve peace. You deserve to be liberated from the fetters that hold you back. You are worth so much more.
As kids, we were much sold into the notion that life would go the way we planned as long as we aced in our academics. We fantasized about the future as kids and teenagers, believing the myth that life after high school would follow a specific trajectory. From movies to TV shows to pop culture, some of us were convinced of a picture-perfect life. After high school comes college, then we are off leaving our nest finding a dream job and making a living for ourselves, perhaps falling in love with a soulmate, starting a family, and eventually retiring in a comfortable manner. It made sense then from all the hortative speeches from the adults.
Except nothing in life goes as planned. There isn’t one universal prescription of life. The most unexpected twists and turns are the elements that shape the futures of our lives.
Yet, it is in this paradox that we find the beauty of life.
Embracing this unorthodox beauty of a paradox allowed me to grow and come to terms with unanticipated situations that occur on a daily basis. Life has been the biggest lesson I’ve had to learn in my college years, and even more since I graduated and found a job as a writer. Life truly never goes as planned, especially not in the long run. Plans I have made today for myself two or five years now, likely won’t take shape in the exact way I imagined them to be. Things happen and these things change the trajectory of the future.
If I convinced myself into thinking nothing could go wrong, I would be stuck in mediocrity. The mere notion of constant change has to reflect in me, my actions and my outlooks, otherwise life would be pointless. If life changes, then so do I.
When life deals me with a blow, I have two choices in hand:
I can either grow from it or cower in the shadows and become a shadow of a person myself.
There’s no matter time in this life now to stand up to the adversity life deals, bettering myself for the future. The lessons learned today affect the person I become tomorrow. I always try to be a better version of myself and take everything life deals in strides. If not today, then tomorrow. No one is perfect and I have to acknowledge my constant growth to see how life has shaped me and whether or not I like the person looking back at me in the mirror.
Caught somewhere between wanting to express and not reveal everything, and armed with the reserved emotion armour, that was me. Perhaps, this has not changed—not entirely. Finally, I settled down with a blog for myself. This time, I told myself, you are not going to delete this one and disappear like you did before. Over the last months saturated with unprecedented global lockdowns and escalating uncertainties, I was struggling with a massive writer’s block. Finally, in Feb 2021, I was debating on a writing hiatus. Anxiety and depression was catching up. I tried to ignore the discomfort as I kept busy with freelance writing and art commissions, but the lack of clarity in my interests forced me to come to terms that I cannot be perfect. There was no such thing as perfection.
This distressed me. Alarming, for a lot of reasons. It’s odd, and I can only summarize that I am a perfectionist. It’s not as beautiful as it implies. There’s really a lot that goes behind the scenes. Whenever a piece is published, that’s what an individual sees—a finished piece. What they don’t see is the number of times I edit a piece, hate it, start over, hate it again and realise my first draft was the best. Managing my blog has funnily but not surprisingly made me a little more insane than I had ever been. But again, I overthink and overanalyze. I beat myself up when I feel that my writing isn’t thought-provoking enough, when it doesn’t give my readers something to think about throughout the week. I don’t know why it is that way but it just is.
On the evening of March 9, 2021, I sat in my room hiding my loneliness behind a glass of beer. Suddenly moved by the special melancholy that comes from being alone, I placed my manuscripts away from view. My laptop was switched on, and I decided to read something, anything. Call it a fate, or whatever magical coincidence that you believe, and this blog just found me at the right time. Grey in background, and white were the fonts. The words read “Hollis Porter is a fiction writer in Hong Kong”. So Hollis Porter is his name. He had a certain way with words. “Enigma” was the title of his post, The first piece I ever read by him—It was so beautiful there. Vivid and raw. I didn’t ever want to come back to reality while I was getting lost in his writing. Emotions run free when you’re enraptured like that. He had allowed me into the dream of his writing, made familiar by his sincerity and human flaws. And each new post then, I would wait eagerly, for they would infect me with newer streams of insight and artistry. For it was in his words, I saw visions—colours of vulnerability, shades of poignancy, and the free strokes of freedom.
So what does this mean for me then? Gratitude. I was grateful for what he had to offer. It’s not often you come across creatives such as him. I think much of writing is about creating a dialogue with the world around you. The settings, the people, the collective thinking. When I was relying on my own memory and experience in what I wrote, there was a barrier that held me back. In the beginning I always tried to keep reassuring thoughts flowing in my head. But I slowly realised I wasn’t giving myself space to breathe, to live, and I grasped for solace. And to have this pleasure of reading his words, and relate to them in some ways, it was therapy.
I took a moment to unwind. Started to read more from other people. Now I am writing every day—not because I have to, but because it feels right for me. I think what Hollis had allowed me was to stop time, and in that moment when time stopped, it allowed me for reflection, both on my writing and my life. I essentially left him a message the very next day. That message underwent a lot of editing because I didn’t want to make a mistake for first impressions—Heck, I was bloody nervous. But I had to let this person know what his writing did for me. It justified a lot of my emotions and legitimized my desire to write about what I was experiencing in my own life. His words, they would dance on your lips and evoke an emotional specificity of that said piece. It’s something that I chase in what I write.
Whenever Hollis releases a new post, I would think to myself, “This is the best damn thing I’ve ever read” and then I am proven wrong with his next writing every time. I think most of us can agree that a lot of our writing comes from a deeply interiorized and personal space. So I can’t help but wonder sometimes, what was his writing process for his antiblog like? There was so much chaos in his writing, yet it felt like there was always something beguiling to take away from. He immerses his readers in hauntingly sweet tapestries of word, blurring the lines between unreality and reality, allowing one to revel in the alluring haze between asleep and awake. What’s more impressive is, the antiblog series was a pure and cathartic journey that flowed fluidly from beginning to end. His way with details either, it’s never too little, never too much. He employs them tastefully in his thoughts and writing respectively.
It’s not easy most of the time to be reading his writing due to its graphic nature, but there is real beauty to be found in knowing that one can face their demons in reading and writing. Now if something made me afraid or uncomfortable to write, I gravitated towards it. I started writing honestly—kind of like an experiment that allows me to talk to my anxieties, and then lets me see beyond myself, as I learn to access my situation with a more present vision. I have to add, while serious in writing, his natural gaiety knows no bounds too, and I am most privileged to be connected with him. And after reading “Life By The Sea And Out Of Time” and “Life Under The Sea. And Back In Time“, I am inclined to believe that when a person’s work has communicated to me any measure of something valued, to be remembered or recognised in the streets I have walked, then they are a success within very limited qualifications; that is, we have already met.
It cannot be expressed enough that I am constantly humbled that my amazingly talented writer friends and readers are willing to read what I write. It grants me a sense of gratification regardless of the outcome, and I hope to hold on to that feeling. As I rest my fingers on my keyboard and begin a new piece, I would think of what he said to me, “Take what you want from my writing—it’s your own interpretation that counts. Your own reality.” I have written this post for him, he didn’t know, but he does now. He will know who was the man who inspired this, who inspired me. Some people read Harry Potter; I read Hollis Porter. Thank you, Hollis.
From what I have gathered from his writings, he is open to life, and continues to learn. He is a well into which the sweet waters of experience and knowledge keep falling. But more than that, he is a writer who is unapologetic of who he is. There's no doubt about it. For those of you curious about his works now, you can find them at https://www.hollisporter.com
Hello, this is a first for me.
I'm not sure what you're expecting.
You're not sure what to expect from this.
But today, you'll listen to my voice.
[ If you have issues listening to the recording on mobile, I apologise. It seems to be working fine on the laptop. ]
What’s that? Oh. Of course, a clock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Sunrise. Sunset. It moves the day on until the afternoon and then, the first signs of the panic arrive. It starts with a discomfort in my chest, a tickling at first, almost unnoticeable. You would think that it’s a temporary feeling, it will soon go away but not for me. I have been familiar with this for far too long. Soon it mutates into something inside of me, sucking my life out. After that, it radiates into my brain. Feels like excess caffeine… then it sets in deeper.
I turn on my television. It’s the same old news. Propaganda in the too often used imagery of photos, videos, interviews comes in slow motion stirring up strong love for the children, family, community, and country—It’s quiet, unconcerning at first, you feel connected to them, you feel their pain and then all too quickly, too late for you to realise, the same love is weaponized. A love that grows so intensely and reshapes itself into hate as the “common enemy” is broadcasted on the screen. For when something on the news brings on one’s love in full passion, the “enemy” is perceived as inhumane, arrogant, and threatening, a circumstance for what is aptly known as pseudospeciation. An individual’s love quickly becomes hate for the “enemy.” The stronger the initial love invoked, the stronger the resulting hate. It’s news like this which becomes the norm. And everyday it’s getting harder to resist.
In another apartment not far away, on the 26th floor, you have your radio sitting on the carpet of your bedroom floor playing. It’s an old beat-up machine that you must have inherited from a relative, or you just happened to find it tucked away in a thrift shop. Either way, the radio volume still manages to level just above the traffic noise for it to compete with. You don’t know why you have it on either, part of a habit perhaps, perhaps it makes the apartment feel more ‘complete’. Because you can’t just sit in your room watching the walls no matter how pretty they have been painted.
Face it. You don’t care much for the songs that play either, I’m willing to bet you don’t even know if one song has transitioned to another. A few songs later, an advert chimes in. Just games of word associations you never signed up for. They have crafted their formula so well, taking normal words and saying their constructed phrases, over and over. These phrases echoed in your ear so often until you became something not much more than a biological automaton. Again, they are jocundly trying to convince you that their product can grant you happiness, they are luring you down a path that hurts the Earth. Why would you need protein shakes, and just how super did you have to be to sell toothpaste anyway? Are you so emotionally deficit you will buy their product just to elevate yourself?
Well, you see. My television, your radio—They both have something in common. Vehicles, for great drama, beautiful music or even redeeming words. But can you claim that for the vast majority of people, these devices are anything other than agents of noise? We are not listening to what they have to share; we are only hearing them to pass time.
Like the modern person I am, I begin my day being rudely awakened by the blaring of the alarm clock. I don’t suspect that my own body would be so uninspired performing the same tasks each morning. I just get up. Some days I don’t even bother to fold the blanket, it gets tiresome really fast. Then I brush my teeth. Check my cupboard. If I run out of coffee, simple, I just settle for tea but yet I can’t enjoy my breakfast because time is ticking away and my mind is constantly aware of it. I need to catch the cab so I don’t be late for work.
The noise follows me even as the cab speeds away. I’m stuck in a traffic jam. I look around to see angry people behind their wheels, their brows are furrowed, the traffic never gets any lighter here. It’s the age where everybody’s first move is to burst out of their apartment doors just to beat the next traffic wave. Funny. So much movement and yet the air has never been more stale and the roads have never been more congested. They’re pressing on their car horns again when the line becomes stagnant, fooling themselves that the movement of the traffic depends on the power of their horns.
This is the present noise.
Again, I am stuck in this traffic and even when I’m not the one driving, I loudly curse at the ones who cut the line. It creates a bond between me and the cab driver.
I imagine that while I am stuck among these metal boxes, you are watching down on us all in your apartment. I can picture your gaze down as you grimace at every blare of the car horn. Even all the way on the 26th floor, these noises are as strong as your radio. By then, you would have been ready, your neatly pressed clothes cling confidently on you, hair perfectly immaculate. You’ve already had breakfast and you turn off the radio before you leave. Like me, the noise still follows you.
See, we both continue moving about with piped-in music in the elevator and ‘on hold’ on the office telephone. But we don’t talk to each other at all, no. Just a couple of ‘hellos’ and ‘goodbyes’, that’s it. I’m not sure why I’ve never thought about asking you out for coffee even though I see you quite often. But then again, you are always tied up with your phone, answering calls even after office hours. Whatever.
You relax by the jukebox at the bar and conclude your day with televised chatter. I can’t sleep here. I can’t sleep in the silence that descends when my TV is shut off. So I resort to machines that produce “white noise”. I open my window and the world of the night invites itself in, the rustle of the wind against the leaves or when it blows into my apartment, tinkering the loose glasswares, the distant sound of moving rubber against gravel, the muffled voices of the nightlife. They all calm me.
Silence has become a vacuum in which both you and I abhor. It is no longer normal or good in itself. It is only understood as the absence of noise. Before noise there were sounds, distinguishable from noise, because sounds came from the silence. Silence was the background for sounds.
Maybe it’s because we are city dwellers. Awash in constant noise, we become nervous in the country because sounds of the country—from crickets, birds and animals—are made against the background silence. There is also less talk in the country, because to interrupt the silence, one must have something to say. Here in the city, words are part of the general noise—one can say anything in order not to stop talking—and silence is always interpreted as awkwardness. There seems to be a fear that if the noise stops, the city will collapse in the silence.
Before the days of widespread TV, there was a notion that people would play the radio to make sure they are still really there. This proposition neatly reverses the old conundrum: If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound if there is no one there to hear it? This question presumes man exists and asks if sound can exist without man’s hearing it. Hold that thought. I’m going to reverse that presumptions and ask you this:
If there is no noise, how do you know—I know—that I am really here?
How would you know if I’m on the other side?
Solitude and silence are the crucibles of serious thought. To flee them is to flee the conditions necessary for the self-examination that makes life worth living. It is to flee as well the peace that can come only from the orientation of one’s life to the ultimate realities—realities that can intrude only when one is still and quiet and open to them.
What’s that you’re saying?
Oh. You’re telling me that you turn on the radio because you are lonely? Don’t worry, It’s the same for me. I just needed something to fill the loneliness, not necessarily something close to the physical. Noise somehow comforts me, it just tells me that the silence will not get me, it’s my shield against the enveloping silence. Are they just noise that we are both using as an atonic for loneliness? But the city’s rich, we have skyscrapers… and loneliness is a longing for something which should not be drowned in noise. Maybe if we started to quietly search for our own loneliness, we can begin to ask ourselves why we are lonely and for what. Maybe loneliness was supposed to let us know that we really have nothing adequate to our deepest longings—not in our friends, not in our family, nor in our worldly goods or pleasures.
In what then or in whom are we to find the object of our deepest desire? This is perhaps the important question we can ask, and maybe it can only be answered in the silence. Let’s hear it for the silence—would you join me?
I turn my head to gaze at you. You meet my look and you nod your head at me.
You’re smiling at me.
Is that a “yes”?
Now? Is it now? You have a really beautiful smile. Has anyone ever told you that? It is enchanting, in ways my imagination had not begun to dream of. Here, take my hand. Your fingers are soft, like wisps of cloud. Now I am noticing how your rhythms and gestures are reminding me of my own. It’s like we are linked by unconscious mysteries and benignly watched by the environment. It is almost as if we are walking at the unfurled edges of great waves. I am inviting you into my personal space, my bedroom, my mind. Something is different. The lamp has been shifted, the bed’s been angled in a specific way, the light streaming in through the window is not the same light I glimpsed last time I stepped in. I think we have just been welcomed into a world of softer sound, of stuttering laughter and sunlight… We are both giddy and uncertain now, we left the noise for the first time in years.
There is no superficiality to this—perhaps because there is no label to what we are feeling now. Right here, we only have us, stripped to our very bones, at our most vulnerable even, lyricizing the constancy of loneliness, of love, of light, attempting to negotiate relationships, memories and feelings, all of which forms us. This is our true nature. And it’s also right here, right now, our faces appear in the windows of each of our own hearts. I see your face. You see mine. We’ve been staring at each for a while now. You know what this reminds me? That even in the most glaring isolation, we aren’t really alone… you are here with me in this city.
Loneliness is a universal emotion, one that is deeply and sometimes painfully felt. Each of us feels lonely at one time or another. It is part of the human condition. More often than not too, we let the loneliness to be filled by artificial solutions. I believe that almost everyone one has cried out of loneliness before. And I hope that you do not take umbrage when I say you are not alone in this. It's not your fault that you feel like this. I am still breathing, and walking along my own forged path. It gets quiet sometimes, and—as bizarre as it sounds, I've realized that my experience with someone else's story is a lot like my own, and it might be a lot like yours. Not entirely, but you feel me, don't you? Some parts of our stories are starting to make sense, some parts have always made sense, and some... they still don't make sense. Maybe they never will, or will they? Just promise me you would never let your current chapter stop you from pursuing the rest of your story.
Isn't it strange, knowing one day
the people we become are going to fade,
but what we create, will survive when we are gone?
So even if I just make a fraction of a difference,
I'm almost certain, it will have been worth it.
—Beth Crowley, Worth It
CW // Strong Language. [ This is a work of fiction. ]
“This can’t go on.”
It was one of those grim moments that mankind confronted every so often. The kind where one would experience a sudden severe drop in enthusiasm for living—where plans would turn stale and dreams became obsolete. Even worse, when the energy waned from the body and joy from the soul dissipated.
Life’s bleakness would soon take effect on Ethan’s work. It was alarming; he was struggling to get by. He shuddered at the thought of the unanswered emails piling up. Each forenoon he would have heart palpitations and tell himself it was going to be the same miserable day. Just another date to tick off his calendar. Every now and then, he would stare into the mirror. He recognised the eyes, but he was frightened of staring too long into it, he feared that they had become the abyss. But yet the mundane days never halted. His anxiety grew worse as they dragged on. Resolutions were dead. Finally the time came when he knew he wanted out.
He had been drinking again, but this time instead of the park bench as he so often did, he found himself slumped on the pavement. Weeds flourished in the broad cracks and brought forth splashes of unwelcome green to the city grey. The cracks on the pavement had certainly seen better days. How much of his unnoticed work’s agony he comprehended, he had not wished to think about, but he was fed up with work. Truthfully, he had enough of life’s unfair treatment towards him.
The brown suit he was wearing had crumpled beyond saving, his tie loosened so much it touched the gravel floor, and as the cold September wind howled, his trepidation grew. People walked past him with no discretion about their disdain, some threw him scowled looks, others threw coins in his face, a mockery of the poor. Ethan didn’t mind either way, for he was more affected by the cold. The frigid air had a way of keeping him in the moment, wicking away body heat faster than it was replaced. It was one of those days when the clothes he wore weren’t enough, when they felt thinner than they were.
His breaths rose in puffs. His arms hugged his body tightly. He didn’t realise then when the tears came out and his voice sobbed uncontrollably. It was strange to him, he had not cried for years. He had been strong enough for his mother when his father passed away; he was in pain but he did not cry. Yet, as he sat on the pavement in contemplation of the situation he was in, that was enough to spill the cup. This was what life had subjected him to. His memories of his youth haunted him, once when his mind was filled with such wonders of excitement, of the things he and his friends would do to change the world, all slowly but surely fizzled out under the wretched condition the generation before named the end of history.
He just wanted someone to listen. In the end, the man he turned to was a stranger. Not anyone he knew nor had he seen before but just a stranger who happened to be sitting beside him. He looked older than Ethan, his clothes were not torn, in fact it was relatively clean but he felt that behind his grey eyes bore great wisdom and experience. The man did not drink, neither did he say anything. He merely stared straight ahead, and saw through the passing cars. “Life’s not working out. I’m sick of living. I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Ethan just rambled to him miserably whilst he fought his tears. “but I can’t find my purpose anymore. I don’t know which road to take anymore. Please, can… can you save me?”
At first the man seemed not to hear him. A long few seconds passed before he turned. “I don’t know,” he said slowly. He tilted his head and looked up at Ethan with caring eyes, making a tent of his fingers before bringing them to chin. He gazed at Ethan thoughtfully for a long while. Then rather promptly, he queried, “Was there a time where you were the happiest as a child?”
“I can’t remember.” Ethan responded quickly. He believed that the man was just playing along with him. Yet to him, also, came moments of doubt and indecision. What if this stranger could be the one? He wiped his tear-stained cheeks, his hands were rough and it felt its harshness on his skin. In the late evening, with a sinking heart, someone was actually listening to his plea. “A time where I was the happiest before…,” Ethan finally regarded the man in silence for a few seconds. “The beach. I was free of worries. It was just the sea and I. I remember seeing the colours in the sky change.” He replied without much hesitation, that was curious to him. It was the only thing he did that he was absolutely certain of.
The stranger then looked at the empty bottles of liquor and watched the moisture take shape on them. A soft smile appeared. “Do you fare well in taking instructions and following them for a day?”
“I believe so,” Ethan replied, prepared to do anything to get him out of his mess. He was used to the daily grind in the office. What harm could a stranger’s instructions bring?
“Very well, young man. Here’s what you have to do.” He leaned in and whispered to Ethan. He carefully instructed Ethan to return to that beach. Alone, no one else but him, in the following morning nine o’clock sharp. “Well, do bring along some packed lunch for yourself. Just remember, you are not allowed to read or write. No pencils or notebooks. And definitely, no communications device. Leave the mobile phone behind and absolutely, you are not to have any human interaction at all cost. You are to be in solitude. Promise me that.” the man then added, “Follow the tasks I’ve given you. Check the time intervals.”
He took a small notebook from under his coat, tore off four pieces of paper and began writing a few words on them. He folded them before he had them handed over to Ethan. Each paper had a time written on them. Nine o’clock. Twelve o’clock. Three o’clock. Six o’clock. The numbers on the papers were as mysterious as the way the peculiar man carried himself.
“Three hours? To check on myself? Like I am on medications?” Ethan asked with raised eyebrows.
He let out a soft chuckle. “You asked me to save you, did you not?”
And so it was on the next morning when Ethan would set out to his destination, a little lost. At last he finally arrived. He could see how lonely the beach looked. Nothing quite like the time he spent in the past. The sea looked gray and aggrieved as the north-east wind blew. He stared into the waves, the whole day stretching emptily before him. There were no buildings nearby and he became more certain that horror lay inside the sea. Intuitively he felt it in his bones, in the dryness of his chapped lips. “This is a mistake,” mumbled Ethan, the real point of his anxiety was now emerging. “Why did I agree to this?” Then he felt in his coat pocket for the first folded paper to follow its directive. “Listen.” was written on it.
Just a single word. He studied that one word. “Listen.”
For fuck’s sake, he thought, why did I bother to asking help from a stranger? The man was probably as drunk as him that night. How many beer bottles did he empty on that pavement? No, he was confident that the man was sober. Questions were running in Ethan’s head. The man had him to exclude communication devices and human interaction. What was there for him to listen to on the beach?
He shoved his troubles along with the paper into his pocket. With a deep sigh, he raised his head and closed his eyes. He decided that he would try to listen. To what, he wasn’t quite sure of it yet. Still, he listened. He strained to hear something, anything. There were no sounds but the riveted roar of the sea and the cry of seagulls. These sounds seemed familiar to him. Just as he was listening, a gust of wind howled at the trees and the leaves reverberated to its voice. He can’t help but to wonder now if all along, life had all these soundscapes, and he was missing out on them. Could it be that there were many more important things to do than just get a job? Could the old man be right?
He climbed a hill of sand looking ruefully out over the secluded beach. These days he was always short of money. From time to time, his mother would send him some funds, but he would return it to her because it was unfit for him to accept such monetary help. But this morning, it would be different for there were no other men but him alone in the sand kingdom. Here, Ethan was a king and the sand was his currency. And here the sea bellowed loudly that all other sounds were lost to show its respect for His Majesty. And yet, it came to his mind suddenly, there had to be sounds beneath sounds—the soft scraping of the sand drifting, the tiny whimsical whisperings of the dune grasses. Perhaps if one got close enough to hear their voices, there could be a story attached to its sound.
Without forethought, he crouched down and, feeling fairly amused, picked up a small seashell from the sand and brought his ear close to it. Here he unearthed that when he paid attention to the sound, there was a fractional moment in which time possibly froze. Everything pauses. It waits upon him. Life is still going on. But it also stops. How strange. In that short time of quiet, his racing thoughts came to a stand still. His anxiety dissipated. His mind rested as he felt his heart beating gently.
In genuine amazement, he gently placed the seashell back in its place, his ears picking up the sound of the sea’s deep growl. He pictured something that would go along with its temper. He found himself imagining the mythical sea creatures he read about in books of his childhood years and chuckled. He was also noticing how his thinking shifted. He was thinking of things bigger than himself—and that brought him a touch of relief. He decided he liked that feeling.
It was by noon the wind ushered the clouds out of the sky. The sun shone on the sea and it sparkled. It greeted Ethan with its polished and merry-like waves. The sound of the seashell discovery had stirred in him a latent hope for his situation. The sandwich in his hand he savoured too, had more flavour than usual and he wondered why he had never had it this good before. He thought he knew how a sandwich would taste, and yet, after he chewed slowly, he realised he hardly knew it at all. Appreciation translated on his face too when he added a Cherry Fizzie into a bottle of water, for he could hear the fizzles the tablet made upon making contact with water. The sound of its flavour released throughout the water, then turning it into something new. He heard it all. Fascinating.
He searched for the second paper. Two extra words now, this time he was supposed to “Search the past”. Vague. Where would he begin? What would one search for in the past? What was the point of it when all his anxieties were linked with the present and the future? But the stranger told him to be here on the beach. Ethan told him it was a place that made him happy. It was then he began to wonder if he could return to the past; if there was still in his adversity the indefinable mystery that will draw him close to happiness? If he was going to search the past, he reasoned, then maybe he was supposed to stretch his hand out for—the pursuit of joy he left behind when adulthood caught up.
He knew that in the bitterness of his struggles he was now equipped with what seemed like faith. So he searched his memory and began working on indefinite impressions like a painter would. He was coming close in reliving a special moment as he enhanced the colours and bolded the outlines. He chose distinct events and recollected as many details as possible. He would then visualize how these scenes would be completed with clothed human figures accompanied by their gestures. Lastly, he would listen carefully for the exact sound of their voices as he remembered them to be. Then the tide went out as he made a choice to turn back time.
Ten years exactly, to the last swimming trip he made with his first love. She had already left this place. But if he closed his eyes and focused, he could still see her with clarity, exquisite with her clear pale skin and black shining hair. Her beauty was unparalleled. In fact, Ethan saw the entirety: The ivory scimitar of the beach where she chased after him, the sky smeared with sunrise paint, the great waves coming in. He felt the splash on his face and tasted the seawater when she pushed him into the cool waters. He heard her jubilant yell, “Got you now!” when she was caught up with him. For a reward, he had crowned her head with seaweed. Piece by piece he rebuilt this scene. It was clear and unchanged under the transparent vanish of time. Then it was gone. But in that brief moment, he saw it all. Again, like he was there. Back in time.
That gave him a little more confidence. So what are happy people like? Chances are, everything from having a heart of gratitude to inspiring people, along with all the minor details in between. What if Ethan took a leap of faith now? What if he deliberately went back in time and knock on happiness’s door, might there not be an answer, when the right person opens it and welcomes him in? Is that… what they call ‘hope’?
Time moved more quickly than he expected this time. As the sun began its retreat down the sky, his mind ranged through the past, reliving some episodes, uncovering others that had been half- or completely forgotten. Across all the years, he remembered events, and knew that he was the happiest when he had no expectations of anything, of anyone. He was beginning to understand and feel the sudden glow of warmth in his heart. It felt reassuring. He checked his watch and watched it turn three o’clock. The tide was out and the sound of the waves became a rhythmic murmur, like a gentle giant drawing breaths. Ethan remained in his sandy kingdom, his feet in the golden sand. He felt at ease—and a little self-satisfied. He thought he could do this more often. Maybe a stranger’s advice wasn’t so difficult to follow after all.
But nothing in his life had quite prepared him for the words which confronted him. It was not a gentle suggestion for him to listen or search the past. This one was more akin to an order. Reconsider your intentions. His initial response was wholly resistive, almost apprehensive. What would a stranger know about his own purposes? Who was this stranger to question his motives? Is it wrong for me to yearn for success? Ethan said aloud in his head, I want to be recognized for the effort I put in my work. Is it wrong to have at least one person to acknowledge that I’m doing my best in the office? Is it wrong if I want money to feel secure, to know that I don’t have to worry about a roof over my head and food on the table? What’s wrong with wanting to BE successful?
Somewhere inside his head, a small voice whispered, perhaps your intentions weren’t good enough. Or maybe, he had forgotten his purpose or motivation for his life. Maybe that was the reason it had been harder for him to get out of bed, why his chest tightened every morning and he tried to pull the blanket over him. Perhaps in his internal ‘bookkeeping’ system—where in one column in the ledger he recorded the good things that happened to him, and another where he kept track of the wrongs leveled against him, one side was accumulating at a faster rate than the other. The bad side had outweighed the good, and it affected him adversely.
The reality was initially hard for him to grasp. But it became easier to accept it when he let his guard down, to be emotionally vulnerable in that moment. He picked up a handful of sand and let it stream between his fingers. The sand was his pursuit of happiness. In the past, whenever he performed splendidly in his work, there had always been something spontaneous about it. It was never planned. No. It was something uncontrived. Something free. Lately, it had to be calculated. Deadlines to be met, quotas to be filled, meetings to be attended, people to impress—when did he start measuring happiness? And why?
In his heart, he already knew the answer. He had been chasing the rewards he hoped it would bring past the job itself. The nine-to-five had ceased to be an end in itself; it had become a means to survive the next day and to repeat the process. No longer was there a sense in him to give something, to help someone, to make an impact on someone’s life. No. They had been lost in a frantic effort to pay the bills.
For a long time he stood there in his ground, trying not to succumb to self-pity. He asked himself whether, in fact, whether his intentions were wrong. He found it to be true. For if his intentions were right, he wouldn’t be feeling the way he felt daily. It made no difference whether one was a lawyer, a teacher, a salesman, a stay-at-home mom or dad—at all. No one ever gained happiness with the wrong motives. A change had to take place. He was going to shatter his complacency to strive. Because there was nothing for him to lose anymore.
Almost magical, a certain calmness took over him as he breathed in the ocean-carried air. The percussion of the waves that had been his lullaby since before he was a consciousness wrapped in human form. Even as the sky grew darker and serious, he was deeply relieved and grateful that the notes, had been nothing short of a healing course. One that might well be valuable to anyone facing adversity. He had found a way of understanding that challenges would follow him for the rest of his life, but they will also come to pass.
He had learned to “Listen”. It steadied his frantic mind and anxious heart. He could breathe and slow down time. He had learned to “Search the past“. Recalling the blissful memories swept away the present nerves when he pulled on the thread of happiness from the past. “Reconsider your intentions“. This was defining point, a pivotal moment for him to cast his fears aside and reexamine his purpose in this world. But for him to do that, his mind had to clear. Why else then would the man insist on the hours of solitude for him? While Ethan may have only saw a tiny piece of all that was going on, the man probably lived through his own difficulty and survived. Those eyes had witnessed more pain, those ears had heard more crying, those hands had reached out to others, to touch them knowing that he would gain nothing from it.
And it’s in this revelation that the sound of nature’s movement, the sound of noise, the sound of Ethan’s heartbeat, the sound of life, all coagulated into a comforting sense of physical liberation. The sky was a blaze of crimson as he took out the last slip of paper. He read it and smiled. Then he let the paper blow away, reached down and picked up a fragment of twig. There on the sand, he knelt determinedly and casted his troubles. Then he walked away slowly, leaving his footprints behind, every step confirming his newfound longing. He was going to press on and see it through to the end. Thus the breeze came with that sense of balance, the wisdom to move yet at a steady calm pace. In the wind, the last slip of paper pirouetted and its words, “Leave your troubles here and don’t turn back.” drifted into a peaceful place.
My writing has been a way for me to travel through a series of snapshots of my life. As such, it has given me the opportunity to reflect on both what has been and what may be to come. It’s an unsurprising train of thought, perhaps, considering the changes that were taking place in my own personal life and others as well. It's oddly comforting too, knowing that I'm not alone in this, and there are plenty of other creatives who going through their own battles. Writing wasn’t ever supposed to feel exploitative, it was supposed to be an account of what I feel like we were all going through. It helped us to access complex thoughts and emotions, frame it through another scope. There's a sense of freedom in that. And heck, it's encouraging when someone tells you, "and I thought I was the only one feeling this way."
Life, you walked too fast
I don't know what I lost in the way today,
my existence looked blurry
when I peeped into myself.
TW // Suicide. Death. Psychological Abuse. [ This is a work of fiction. ]
“You poor thing,” He said as he bustled around with his smile. “You’ll never amount to anything. Don’t worry though, you’re good at hiding that part of you. Everyone around you thinks you’ve got it together. They won’t suspect anything with the way you smile, handle your job like a pro, and so much more. In the meantime, you can try to hope things get better so you can live longer, but don’t count on it, darling.”
I laughed nervously, forgetting that I was in the middle of painting something, I didn’t even notice that the brush hung limply against my fingers, fresh paint dripping onto the floor. I must confess that at this time I was a paranoid 30 year old filled to the brim with anxiety. I had just gotten home after seeing the psychiatrist and the last thing I wanted was to be regarded as the poor thing. “That’s not true,” I stammered, trying but failing to instill confidence with what I have left. “I will get better. You’re just not giving me a chance to. I’ll work hard. I used to have trouble waking up in the mornings but I do that now, don’t I? I am going to get better and happier. I am going to make new friends, see the world, and do the things that I love.”
I didn’t realise how fast I was speaking by the end.
He turned over to me, my eyes instinctively turned away, I could see from the corner he was still wearing his indulgent smile on his face. “If that’s what you think, darling. But let me remind you just how pathetic you are. Now, let’s see. I am going to ask you to play a game with me. We’ll take a walk down memory lane. I’ll ask you questions, and you answer. Will that be okay, sweetie?” His voice sounded sweet with poison.
My past had been a place I never wanted to revisit for good reasons. All those memories of traumatic experiences that have been painful and have left their emotional residue within me… Just how long had I been faking security? Even then, I didn’t want to give in completely, not especially when he was giving me a rub on my back, something that I didn’t ask for. I’ve been living with him for as long as I can remember. My conversations with him were something I’ve grown accustomed to and though I didn’t necessarily agree with the things he said, I just didn’t have the mental energy to start a debate with him either. As these thoughts ran through my mind, the only impulse I wanted to do was to shout at him, “Right now??” but nothing came out, my defiance clamped in my throat.
“Sure, go on.” I gave a despairing sigh, my hand instinctively putting down the paintbrush on a wood palette that rested on my art desk. All my thoughts of peaceful solitude fled my mind like scared children, my mind felt full of static like an old television set that has lost its signal. I was hesitant. Part of me was screaming to run away from him, but I knew it was futile to put up a fight against him.
His fingers left my back as he eagerly helped me to stand up, then carefully, he led me up the stairs to my bedroom and for an awful second, I was sure I nearly tripped over the steps when he let go of my hand. I could imagine then that there was an odd look on his face when I struggled to maintain my balance, almost as if it was farcical to him, that the odd look quickly morphed into a smile as he reached his hand out to help me. I apologized and he assured me that it was alright.
When we reached my bedroom, he had been nice enough to help me sit on the cushioned bed. I noticed he had arranged the pillows neatly too, and the sheets looked clean. Quite comforting to know he wasn’t staying rent-free. It took me a while to get used to the idea that I could carry conversations with a person who never got out to do anything for himself but only stayed indoors all day, all night talking to me. It made perfect sense to him, because he was still taking care of the house.
“Remember when you were seven and couldn’t fit in school because you stuttered?” He took a vanity chair and sat legs folded in front of me. My eyes went down to the floor.
“Yes, I do. They made fun of me because I was different. I couldn’t concentrate in class either because they were always picking on me, even when I—” My shoulders tensed up a little as I tried to get the words out. “Even when I paid no heed to their business. The teacher wouldn’t stand up for me because I was just too different. It wasn’t their fault though, I don’t hold any grudge against them, we just didn’t get to communicate properly.”
“On the contrary,” He cut in, his voice stingingly sharp. “You’ve got that wrong. They didn’t like you. That’s why they picked on you. Speaking of communication too, wasn’t it just as awful living with your parents?” He narrowed his eyes and glared at me as he demanded, “Admit that it was a living hell for you.”
He wasn’t wrong. It really was hell living with those two. They fought, every single day, over the smallest things. There were nights where I would lay in bed listening to their constant berating and insult at each other. The sound of clashing voices became familiar to me. I was confident that if I tried hard enough, I could recite all the things they said with their raised voices. It would start so quietly, small bickering over a dinner session gone wrong, or if my mother didn’t like how father would leave the chair unarranged after he used it. Those small jabs would quickly evolve into spats. Not long after, my mother would shout, my father would begin laying into her and the screaming would finally begin. No one could possibly fathom how a lot of those times left me with the emotional pain and scars I tried to bury. But at that tender age, the only thing I could do was shut the door tight and push my face into the bolster my ten-year old body wrapped around, praying that I could lose my hearing just for the night.
“It was awful. I was young, but I’m 30 now. I’m old enough to know that they didn’t mean to hurt each other. They must have inherited some trauma from their own past, causing them to surrender their self control, to have their primitive brains take over tasks that,” I took a deep breath. “—tasks that empathy and logic should have been custodians of.”
When I was 12, I would think of how I would be better for them. Get better grades. Never missing a class. Making them proud. Maybe, just maybe if I studied harder and aced school, they would then be proud of me and not have to fight anymore. Even when I was enduring the terrible cycle of pain, I wanted to grow up faster so I could be better for them. And I had intended to find out how I could end the fighting. I would read all the books that taught self-control with empathy and logic. I had hope. A hope to release my parents of their own brokenness into wellness.
Then one day, she just left.
Mother left, and I remained right where I was, with just books to comfort me.
He laughed out loud, the kind of mocking laughter a man makes when he’s already had you once. I imagined he made a face of forced acceptance. “But your mother left you and your father in the end, didn’t she? God. She must’ve been fed up with how much space you took up in that house.” He was twirling his legs with such energy as he said it.
I inhaled deeply, then turned my face upward to the ceiling and held it for a long moment before I replied. “Stop it. You don’t know her. She had her reasons.” I shook my head, got up out of the bed, and began to pace toward the bedroom window with the city view, the sky looked so liberating. “You speak of her as if you knew her inside out. You know nothing about my mother.” I said, trying not to gaze at the reflection.
“Oh, but I was there. I was there when you spent those countless nights crying, the kind of weeping that could break a saint’s heart.” He came up behind me and wrapped his arms around me, they felt cold. He brought his lips close to my ears and whispered, “I was there. Even with that incident with your father, I was there by your side.”
After a lifetime of loneliness, I could not imagine what would break my spirit more than it did after my Mum left the house. But I learned that it was also dangerous when you tempt fate with such imaginations. My father learned to manage his temper and he left me alone to figure out a lot of things on my own. Fortunately, I could do it. But I had not expected life to drive him to a state where he would set himself on fire when I was 19. I got the call from the hospital. I had never run as fast as I did then.
When I found him in the ward, I could not recognise him. It felt strange to see this man who bore the resemblance to my father looking so lifeless on the bed. He looked up at me with his brown eyes flashing through the layers of pain—the eyes that were the only part of him I could recognize among the mass of white bandages and tannic acid that covered his burns. “They’ve told you I can’t survive, haven’t they? Don’t end up like me, son. Don’t make the mistakes I did because I lo—”
I never got to hear what he said until the end.
I’m not sure if anything would have changed if he had finished his sentence. But I recall, in that ward, I held my father’s hands in mine, closed my eyes and shed tears. The pain of my mother’s absence and my father dying with the wrapped burns, penetrated my soul. I struggled to make sense of it.
The one time I needed someone, Dad slipped away from my fingers, and Mum was harder to find than empathy at a psychopath conference. Somehow, that was when I started seeing him visibly too, at this time, this entity began to take shape.
From the outset, I put him in his right place in my mind, he was merely a friend of convenience and nothing more. But even then, I wasn’t so sure if it would stay that way. Somehow this being just found a way into my home and made it a comfortable place for him, for us. In fact, I was neither accommodating nor welcoming to him, but he seemed to be there at my lowest moments when no one was. Even if he was not particularly uplifting with his words, he was the only one there with me. It was not too long before he got involved with some of the new people I was getting to know. When things turned sour, and it was often, I had to force him back into the house and forbid him from following me outside. I wasn’t sure how many people had noticed how clingy he was around me then, and I certainly could not have told them of all the misery that lay behind my face, the pain that never left me, and the wounds that never really healed.
It was funny too because I would remember the hours I spent to get him to communicate with me on the same wavelength, but he always had a way of making everything sound so cynical. He was always trying to be nice, forming and giving me ‘helpful’ opinions at my worst times in the worst places. With all the effort he went through to be supportive, he sure had a way of making my own efforts to resume a normal life to appear insignificant. He said everything he did was for my own good. The longer I was with him, the more obvious as to what he was trying to teach me: Give in to him, and I will feel euphoria. It sounded too good to be true, so I never took up the offer nor did I even experiment with that idea. But hell, he stayed in my place for another 10 more years, trying to make everything about him and us. In his head, he said the two of us were soulmates—that we were perfect for each other. I didn’t want to believe all that because there were other things that had my attention.
Nothing could be more boring than the exercises assigned to me by my psychiatrist who checked on me three times a week. “Do something you enjoy! Depression can push you to give into your fatigue. It may feel more powerful than happy emotions. Try to push back and do something you love—something that’s relaxing, but energizing. It could be playing an instrument, painting, hiking, or biking. You told me you love to paint so paint the things you love. The next time we meet, you can tell me about it.” I’ve heard that a million times during therapy.
And then he would let out a chuckle each time I would look in the mirror as I try to motivate myself. Each time I would remind myself that I was loved, he would cheer me on, lead me to a false sense of security, only to say “Just kidding!” a few minutes later, followed by a snarling laughter with a slap to the knee. Nothing could be more frustrating than to try to write positive notes to myself only to see him correcting my spelling, turning my “I am worthy” into “I am unworthy” on the pieces of paper. Or to be writing poetry with him looking over my shoulders where I had to make words rhyme with “sad”, “depressed”, or “useless”, and he would make a scene if the poem wasn’t good enough for his standards. Or, worst of all, to sit facing my dressing mirror and have him touching me without my consent and reminding me that I didn’t need anyone so long I had him in my life.
“I have always been with you, and I am so fond of you, Chris,” whispered him cheerfully, “I just know you’ll be much happier with me. Forget the people that say you need proper help. You just need me to take care of you. And I will, I will love you so much that you wouldn’t find hope in anyone else but me. Because all this time, no one was there for you at your lowest except me. I tried to be there for your Mum and Dad. Too bad they broke too easily, but you? You’re special. You had always been the resilient one. It was so alluring, enticing.”
His grip on me was getting tighter, it had gotten more tense than the usual grip-and-whisper sessions we had previously. Usually, he‘d be all sarcastic, then start to apologize before he planted kisses on my cheek and my forehead. The room lights too seemed to be dimmer than normal. Also, why was his breathing getting heavier and his face getting closer as if he was going to kiss me on my lips? I had to get a glimpse of his face…
“Oh my god.”
I froze as soon as the words escaped my lips. When I looked at his face, what greeted me was the perverse pleasure gleaming in his eyes, his facial expression almost dehumanizing. Did he always look this twisted?
“What’s wrong, sugar?” His voice was low and icy.
“Oh my god. To think it had always been this way. It is ironic, is it not?”
“That for years you stood by my family, all the years that my parents were at each other’s throats, that the only thing that kept us from giving into our inner demons, was you.” The strangest thing happened, I felt his grip becoming looser. “I’ll never be good enough for you. But what I never understood was, why didn’t you let me die after all this time?” Only then did I remove myself from his grip entirely.
“Don’t you understand? You can’t die. I need you to be alive so I can feed on your misery. But it’s not just me. This isn’t a one-man show. This is a team effort! Don’t you realize you played a part in this too?” Where was the cynicism in his voice?
“Played a part in what?” I was surprised by his question until I remembered how I was letting him have his way then. I had allowed this person to take control of my life and the people around me.
I didn’t know it at the time, but as I stared into his eyes, I realised now that he was never meant to stay in this place. He wasn’t supposed to have this much power and control over me. And that all along, a truth was emerging: I wasn’t afraid of him; he was afraid of me. He was afraid that if I started seeking help in the right places, that if I had reached out to somebody for healing, then he would have nothing on me. I’m sure, though, that if I had reached out to even one person that cared for me – that saw my worth – it would’ve been enough to get rid of him. He would simply have to accept that I was bringing in other people and interests that gave me joy, and no one would have believed his word against mine.
When I look back now at those days of my childhood, time was distorted: But I knew that the periods where I couldn’t explain the things I felt, the occasions where my parents struggled to be civil in their own home, he had always been watching us. He drove my father into a state of apparently uncontrollable anger. And even when I grew older, and became somebody, I eventually had to go home again, and when I did, he made sure I paid a heavy price for my hours of happiness.
I can’t remember what I’d done this time; I just know I had been trying to paint a future. By admitting that I needed help, I was making a new start and taking the initial step towards the hereafter. I wanted to draw a line under the sorrow of my childhood, to relegate it firmly and irrevocably to the past—the past where my heart knew my family belonged to.
Even when he stood so close to me I could see every detail of his sneering face, I saw my own reflection in his eyes—broken, but not defeated. I still found him extremely intimidating and my feet were trying to take steps back. Yet I did not move. I did not want him to think for a second that I was afraid of him. I wasn’t anymore. I simply brought my hands to his face and touched his cheeks, almost caressing it and I said, slowly, in a normal and assuring voice, “I’m sorry for not being kind to myself. Today, I am forgiving myself. I am forgiving you. Not because you deserve it, or have stopped the grief that lingered. Today, I am forgiving myself, because I deserve it. I was never so sure, but I know now that I am the bigger person here. I’m alive and I’ve got a chance. And I choose to let go. I am letting you go.” I was so tired that it was a real effort to speak.
Depression moved his lips to have his say.
But nothing came out, tears welled up in his eyes.
They say sadness masks itself behind anger, yet anger never comes unless in direct self defence, and so perhaps I can credit this natural passivity with his willingness to cry and feel pain, to let his sorrow teach me more about my true nature and how fragile I was as a human. He turned, and I saw his back. I don’t remember if I have ever seen the shape of his back. He then let out a cry that almost broke my heart and as the last note of his cry trailed into the air, I began to experience inner peace. I didn’t feel so alone. Somehow, I was going to make it.
I don’t really remember what happened afterwards, all I knew for certain was that I never saw him again. For the first time in the longest while, I slept peacefully that night. As I began to drift into slumber, whimsical dreams of myself painting in a flower field while Mum and Dad laughed like strangers falling in love in their earliest exchange greeted me. I saw what resembled enrapturement to me. Extraordinary it was.
When I woke up the next morning, I searched for a photograph of my parents’ wedding in their bedroom. There it was in their dresser buried underneath a pile of old clothes. I held the photograph in my hand gazing on its yellowed surface—it was the most perfect memory of those two and I chose to have their smiles etched in my heart. I chose that photograph because in that moment, they were the couple they should have been, would have been, had it not been for the stress of life. In that 1987 snapshot, their unwarped personality was something so golden and sacred I wanted to cherish it forever. If I had been a great painter I’d sit with an easel and attempt to paint their marriage with splashes of love. But instead I just let the photograph make an impression on my memory. I saw my mother’s tenderness and my father’s youthful spirit. I needed those memories to stay with me, I needed them to soothe me when the bad ones threatened to erase all traces of those people I held dear, even in their absence. I wanted to recall everything that made them beautiful to keep me alive.
I wanted to live on.
I cannot recapture the past any more than I can escape it. But some of us can hope for love as well as understanding. When the world opens its eyes to mental health awareness, understand the weight it carries, and validate a person's state of being and emotions, everyday life will be a shade more pleasant. They say that Depression is just inside my head—they’re not wrong. Well, not entirely. But maybe through this story you will see just a glance of how Depression can be, and how terrifying it is as a physical manifestation. This is how Depression talks down to me and I want to fight it. To disregard a person due to their mental health is injustice to me. All too often, even when we are hurting, we jump into defense, anger, and sarcasm quickly and no one leaves the conversation as a victor. We give in to anger, instead of stepping away. We join in the crowd, instead of thinking for ourselves. We forget ourselves. Does this mean I'm wrong? Does this mean you're wrong? That's not the point. I just hope for all of us to be kinder, more compassionate to others. The world needs more love. It can be done; a simple message that you care for a stranger online or even a text to a friend to remind them how blessed you are to have them in your life. "I hope you're okay"—this sentence alone saves even just one person. Not everyone will read this message and agree with it, and that's okay. I still want to thank you for reading it. I hope you have a nice day wherever you are.
Who are we as human beings if we ignore the suffering of others based on dogma and traditions?
Discrimination is still very much alive in society. In this era of social and political discontent, it seems we’ve forgotten to connect and understand others as humans of equal value. Although many groups suffer from discrimination, it’s easy to overlook the ones in the closet especially in countries where coming out is seen as a serious offence, and may even be held accountable to persecutions and legal sanctions. We have divided ourselves so much, each trying to prove a point, comparing whose God is mightier, whose rights are more important, whose feelings are relevant and valid to others. Why do we do this? Why are the ones who are different frowned upon for being “mentally unstable” or “confused” or “have lost their way from God”? Why are some of our brothers and sisters overlooked and not perceived as human because of they are transgender?
Why do some of us have to fear being sacked from our job because of differences? What if being fired puts us into a state of homelessness, where living on the streets and being impoverished is inexplicably threatening and is a root cause of anti-trans violence? Perhaps, maybe we are raised with our own values, religion, and beliefs, but tell me this. Does your value, religion, and belief encourage you to disregard another fellow human, a person who bleeds just the same like you and who lives on the same earth like you? Is it not taught in your scriptures to love one another? Or have you been suiting God’s scriptures to match your own values and beliefs that you are blinded and refuse to see the discrimination you’ve brought upon to others?
Pause. Stop, and think. I want you to picture a person living a life where they are in constant fear, and when they finally brave themselves to be out as an individual they identify as, and now they face discrimination from family, outsiders and society alike, would they feel safe on the street alone at night?
Are we forgetting that we are all, in the end, human, where each of us are connected spiritually, mentally, and physically with the solar system and gravity of the universe? Each decision we make determines how the rest of the world will function. Every choice one makes will have a direct impact on another individual, whether present in actuality or not, time will catch up and the past is not always friendly. How difficult can it be to commit to altruism in order to be genuinely rooted with compassion and the strength to stand beside all and show love? The world is our home. Humanity is our family. It’s all we have.
Every revolution devised in the past has changed the future one way or another, one in which creates failing interpersonal relationships with different countries. In the past until now, we have failed to lift the human spirit but instead created violence. We are so set out to fight about things we find unfair or unfit to standards, but in actuality, we are just setting our standards for humanity too high.
If cooperation and understanding existed between those who have the power to influence peace, there would be less corruption, unfair persecution and unlawful accusations. There would be less anger or resentment, but some were seeking to hold vengeance while others were taught to love one another with pride. Everything that divides us now was created in the past, but we allowed it to carry forward with us. With perpetual, irrational, and perilous behavior, we will always be divided and never be as strong as we could be together. Why? Where is the humanity?
This wasn’t a planned post. I had scheduled something else for today but this morning was different. I woke up feeling defeated, worthless, with a toll of anxiety engulfing me. I had received some personal troubling news over the phone. I wanted to stay in bed for the rest of the day. But then I sat thinking about the future waiting for me, I thought about the special person whom I have not met but will meet, I think about the person who will be proud of what I did to get up off bed, that person was me.
So I got up. Still anxious. But there’s progress. Because you see, every other day, it would have been easier to stay in bed and not face the world. Living with MDD (Major Depressive Disorder) and GD (Gender Dysphoria) takes a toll on me, it’s an ongoing battle, constantly. There were many things I wanted to speak out, I just didn’t know how. Don’t know where to start. Don’t know how it will be received. Don’t necessarily have the privilege to just speak out honestly on how I feel in this sinking place, in this Asian upbringing and all else that feels, traditional, archaic.
But I am going to try.
I am going to try my very best to journal all these feelings. Not always on the internet, but when I feel it’s necessary for such. It’s not the brightest and happiest place to be in the dark, cold closet. Even growing up, I was confused on how I was feeling because words were inadequate; society was unhelpful. There was no impetus for me to understand the condition in my mind, my feelings, and all the things I was going through. Even in times where I knew I was broken, I downplayed my own brokenness by comparing my life with people who had or have it worse. I thought being grateful was all I needed to push through and see life in a better light.
What I didn’t know was I needed help.
I needed support; unconditional love.
Not the kind of love that excuses me from doing vile things and exercising unbecoming practices, but the one that knows despite everything I say or do, I am trying my darn best to be sane. You see, when I was discovering myself, I possibly already knew who I was, but I was uncomfortable with it. Tried all the tricks from the book to look like a normal feminine woman. Tried to date guys to feel pretty and see that being a female isn’t so bad as I’d make it out to be. I was uncomfortable with so many things but went along with them convincing myself it was all part of growing up and blossoming into adulthood. I didn’t know things was going to get messier with me slowly coming to terms with myself. I wanted to deny myself.
In university, I hardly dressed up as a guy. I would try to wear something more feminine to appear more female outside. Would try hard to feel like a lady, wearing the tight dresses, flowing skirts, high heels… would remember feeling empty after a prom night looking at the mirror. All I remembered from the proms—wasn’t the food, not the performances, no, or how that emcee particularly sucked at their one job. No. The women were beautiful, so were the men. Yes, the men. I was envious. I looked at them in their tall stature, the suits they wore, the different tones in their voice… and realizing that could never be me.
Staying in the college apartment too prevented me from dressing up as a guy because I was sharing the place with people who would not understand. Going shopping with my female friends, I already got used to smiling when they would choose a dress out of the rack for me. “Very nice,” I’d tell them, “but it would look better on you, not me.” They’d still insist I looked the prettiest out of them. When someone tells you how beautiful you look, you’re supposed to be happy. I knew their intentions, it’s going to be alright, right? Right.
But you see, no one knows what goes up inside my head. I would still get scared shopping alone for men’s clothes in the mall. It wasn’t just the stares that would make me uncomfortable, but the fact that I had to cover up when being questioned about my ‘fashion choices’, “It’s not for me. These clothes are for my guy friends, my brothers.” Those clothes were for me though.
Dealing with relationships and the opposite sex too would take a greater damage to my dysphoria. I would only dress up as a guy alone in my room or when I knew I was heading out alone where others wouldn’t find me. It felt lonely. It’s still a lonely place. It’s always a lonely place when you are afraid to be caught and questioned. And I tried, I really tried so hard to love me as a female. I wanted to achieve bigger things, make something out for myself, be that friend who listens when someone’s in need. Joining an English Society, I met some amazing people, hanging out with all sorts of people who supported me, helped me out of my shell, where I learnt to give public speeches… Performing on stage gave me confidence and I was ‘kind of’ getting used to being in public with my outward female appearance, but there was still pain from hiding at home. I still hung on to life and hope things will get better.
It was a terror to come to terms that I am actually, not the person everyone think I was. I mean, hell. I’m female in offline. I’m male online but I am still talking the same behind the screen. But I was only, I was only female offline because that was how I was born. Does this all mean, I am mentally ill? A freak? Hitting puberty when my chest began to develop, it felt unnatural, then looking below, down there, I’m missing something—I felt foreign just as my own chest felt unfamiliar.
I wanted to make an effort to talk to the close friends about it. I was experimenting on androgyny. I had to learn make-up, and look androgynous—androgynous enough that I felt like I did not have a label on me because when people cannot tell if you are male or female, they tend to simply ignore you or refer you as ‘that guy’. I had a lot of friends that love me, I was fully aware of that. I do, and I would be there for them, naturally, even if I was more close-knitted to some than others. Even then, I could see that I was distinctly different than them and some close friends could observe the same in me. I just don’t think it would’ve been easy for them to ask either. I mean, who goes up to their friend and asks, “Hey, are you possibly trans?”
Do I have to answer that? Anxiety, distress, pain. All in one go.
After graduation, moving out from my siblings and started living on my own, as I weighed in all my thoughts of wanting to disappear from this world—Disappointment was profound. And still cuts me skin deep. I wonder how I got by those days in college.
The days keep passing and passing.
Every thing is on repeat, on repeat.
The man inside of me would slip away, slowly… slowly…
I had hoped he’d disappear.
It got me thinking to this day that I am stuck here and destined to live a life colourless and pointless. Black and white? Grayscale? I called it 50 shades of pain. I wish this description, all these written words sounded less dramatic and extreme, but it’s not.
This is how I am feeling.
This is what I go through daily.
Living my failure of being a female, a sister, a niece, a daughter.
My coffee laced with self-rejection. I’ve pushed out so many beautiful things in life I could’ve experienced. I hurt myself thinking about the worst possible scenarios about how my family would hurt if I opt for a top surgery, take hormones, and start life anew. Not only family, but friends would too, would have to get used to this ‘new’ person who had always been there in their life as a female.
I would hyperventilate and cry at the thought of confessing to my friends. To admit that I want to have top surgery, and that I am considering going on testosterone. There’s an overwhelmingly terrifying prospect of being rejected. Am I strong enough to do this? I don’t think I’m independent enough to live with this identity yet. Not only is it comforting to be known as Lucid Green, but it also makes me feel safe when not everyone can be sure of my sex. But regrettably, I don’t think I have a bag packed that’s all enough and says it is all set to leave when I open up to my family. I sure as hell don’t know how well they will receive the news. And I love my family, too much to break their heart.
Have your ever tried to have a conversation with a friend in a loud environment? Where your friend’s talking as loud as he can and you can’t make the most out of what it is because everything else is so loud? All that background noise makes the situation incomprehensible. You try to understand and enjoy your friend and the conversation, but it’s exhausting. My condition is a lot like that background noise, and it’s always there, every waking hour of my life. Some days the noise is bearable, but some days it gets sickeningly loud. An unsettling pitch that makes me scream. Because I’m still scared. Some people wake up feeling scared of what they might lose, I’m scared of what I’ve already lost.
I just don’t know how to go about it. But I’ve learned to live with it. Because I know, someone, somewhere, out there, they are going through the same thing. I want to tell them, “You’re not alone in this. One day, you are going to wake up and see everything in its right place.” I’m still female in appearance, my thoughts are all very much the same and still mine, but I’m going to be honest with the people that I care for. The ones that stay, I know they are the keepers. Am I going to ever get a surgery? I don’t try to think much about it, but what I will do is make each day count by trying.
I couldn’t be more excited to start Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter and dive into the mystery. Because, come on, with a riveting title as such, I had my expectations soaring. But I also had to maintain my best to keep it leveled until I completed the game. Developed by Frogwares, this adventure mystery video game might seem to be a good starting point for those new to the Sherlock series, placing them into the shoes of our beloved and suave British detective, Holmes.
When a mysterious visiting woman, Alice De’Bouvier, shows up as your new neighbour, you find yourself in a dilemma to confront dark family secrets, both in your cases and personal life—particularly in regards with your adopted daughter, Katelyn. Things take a disconcerting turn with the passive threats from your dear neighbour as you slowly uncover her true intentions in doting on Kate, and discover who she really is behind her façade, in many ways you wish you hadn’t.
Gameplay and Mechanics
There aren’t many controls to make the game complicated. You get the gist of them real quick in the first case. Just like a consulting detective would, you move about and poke around a series of environments for clues. The game also experiments on your perceptions and reflexes through its mini-games present in the cases. One minute you are going on stealth mode stalking a suspect as an errand boy, and the next you are exorcising demons in the name of investigation. Aside from those fun bits, once you have gathered substantial evidence, you can leap inside Holmes’s mind and piece what you know to form a possible deduction.
I want to point out that it’s highly possible to form wrong conclusions based on poor judgment of character observation and misconstrued reasonings. Wrong interpretation leads to the wrong analysis, making it harder for you to find the right conclusion to the investigation. You may find yourself pointing your finger at an innocent party if you have not found all the clues. For other instances, you will have to interrupt witnesses and suspects during interrogations in order to compare their version of the facts with the clues that you have gathered. Badly-conducted interrogations cuts off your access to some clues once and for all.
I found this to be particularly interesting while playing the game difficulty at Hard mode because this creates a lot of pressure to trust my intuitions in making the right choice. The reason I had to mention the game difficulty I was playing in, we’re going to get into that now. The game gives you two modes of difficulty: Normal and Hard. I’ve learned from forums that the Normal mode was easier for new players to feel their way around in Holmes’s mind. In some ways, I wished I had started off with Normal mode to better compare the difficulty. But it still worked out well after I replayed the cases in Normal after my first walkthrough completion. There are a lot of differences between the two modes, but I’ll only mention the ones significant in the cases.
 True Conclusion Check Availability
Normal – It is available; you can check if you have made the right conclusion at the case finish.
Hard – Not available; you are in the dark about your conclusion.
Normal – Usual deduction space and you are free to deduct with what seems logical.
Hard – There is a distortion effect upon combining wrong clues and it becomes detrimental.
 Icons on Evidence in the Casebook
Normal – Icons on evidence such as the Dialogue, Perform analysis, Search archives, Search the Map, etc. are shown.
Hard – Icons on evidence aren’t shown and you are left to sort out tricks on your own.
 Observation of Characters in Dialogues
Normal – You have an unlimited time to complete a Character Portrait.
Hard – You only have a minute to study the character and complete the Character Portrait. However, you would have an Imprecise Character Portrait or Poor Character Portrait should one active zone wasn’t chosen or is chosen incorrectly, and you have failed the timer. It’s important to note that even after you choose the right choices, you have to press the Validation button to confirm your decision.
At first, the idea of mini-games that test your reflexes may seem like a waste of time and effort, but I found them to be rather enjoyable and helped to add dimension in an otherwise ‘just-investigate-and-find-clues’ game.
I suppose you can’t just rest on one thing in this game because we all know that a detective’s job is never easy or safe, so I feel that the developers were trying to experiment and push more action into proceedings. The idea of QTE too takes on a sense of urgency when you realize you have to make life-and-death decisions. And since you are brainy and have the capability of finding the truth (or perceived truth), you will have to make ethical choices to condemn or absolve the criminal. In most cases, those ethical dilemmas still confound me.
What’s relieving is knowing that while I had the power to choose my own ending and somehow unsatisfied with it, there’s a chance of me to change my mind and replay a scene before I finalize my decision in closing the case. Summons up the sheer wonder of each person’s moral compass.
Design and Visual
It’s clear massive effort has gone into its environment capturing London’s beauty (and danger in the city). The view of the realistic crime scenes and a touch of “someone’s been there” at homes gives off an immersive feeling in-game.
Character animation and natural movement have been made possible by using motion capture with actors, including for their dialogue and emotions—while most characters were detailed, I found Alice and Kate’s design a little insufferable for how rigid they looked during cutscenes and dialogue exchanges. Thankfully, they weren’t distractingly bad to put me off a good story. But on a whole? Gorgeous landscapes.
Occasionally, I found myself not wanting to progress in the game because I just wanted to admire the visuals. And I’m not complaining how much of an eye candy Holmes is and how Watson resembled so much of Jude Law in The Devil’s Daughter.
A fantastic work by Sergey Sedliar and Vitalii Stepchenko. From the sound of light electric guitars, bass guitar, keyboard for synths and other sampled instruments, it rekindled a poignant memory and forebode of playing This War Of Mine and Silent Hill.
It’s certainly not the classical music one would expect from Sherlock Holmes games, but composed hauntingly beautiful nonetheless.
Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter promises to be its own kind of mystery and adventure. Most of the standalone cases were enjoyable, if not all. While it’s not going to blow your mind with anything revolutionary, I would say take the game and play it for its story and get some good laugh (at a certain exorcism scene). Despite minor flaws in some of the writing where the truth felt abrupt and a couple of red herrings thrown about, it’s still a well crafted game that keeps you on your toes as you make decisions in moments of life and death. I think this would be a good start for a broad audience to try their hands on a Sherlock series for logic and action.
That being said, the game isn’t meant to be rushed and it’s best enjoyed slow like a glass of good wine. It’s akin to a slow burn horror film where you wouldn’t expect jump-scares but be unsettled either way. I truly believed I was Sherlock through most of the game, and appreciated the developers’ effort in giving the gameplay some variety. It’s a lot of mixed reviews for that one but alright, not everyone likes a chase sequence or stealth mission. Personally, I found them fun—play to your strengths, I guess. I was the Sherlock Holmes so it was second nature of me to keep my eyes and ears open for every possibility.
The end deal? The gameplay is not for everyone. I’d say if you like shooting and explosions in your games, then this might not be your cup of tea. If you’re a Sherlock Holmes traditionalist that just wants to click and solve riddles and puzzles, the action sequences might come as a shock to you. But if you find yourself drawn to being challenged intellectually and wanting some action at the same time, this one’s for you. With such a varied gameplay experience in one setting, good characters, and astounding visuals, it’s one of those few games that manages to accomplish them decently—and that is no small feat.