Child grooming isn't something I can talk of easily. And it isn't a topic that should be sugarcoated. I tried my best to approach this topic with my own experience. This might make people relive things they do not wish to if they have been exposed to certain graphics, or situations where they were manipulated and gaslighted. As such, I'd advise to read this with caution as it gets graphic. It's a slippery slope. If anytime you feel uncomfortable to proceed, do take a breather, and decide if you wish continue. Otherwise, it's fine for you not to at all too.
It has obviously been a long time since I have posted something here. I most definitely have taken an extended break. Despite this, I’ve been receiving an influx of responses and personal messages on my social media accounts asking if I am okay, while other messages are more general as to how I manage my emotions being an empath, and what were the events that made me the person I am today. And it’s really something I wish to answer, but not just answer partially.
But that’s the thing about talking about life and emotions, right? You can’t just simply tell everything in one story. Our lives progress, and in that progression, we open new chapters in our lives. Some chapters more defining than the other, and some chapters, we don’t wish to relive it. Thankfully, there’s no expiry date in how or when we choose to tell those chapters. I have thought about it so many times on which chapter do I talk about, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. Today feels like the appropriate time to come back and linger here for a while. And I really wanted to share this until I had some time just to process everything that has happened to me in the past, with a clear mind and a different perspective.
If you know me personally, you will know that seeing photos of children or any minor online makes me feel unsettled. And it’s something I often struggle with on the internet where I see proud and happy parents sharing a harmless picture of their child. As much as I wish to share that happiness with them tapping a ‘like’ on the picture or even leaving a comment, I often end up skipping everything and scroll past them. Other days, I tell myself it’s okay and I would give the picture a ‘like’. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling awful afterwards. So, how does a picture of a child relate to me?
Almost all the time, I have friends who would ask me why I’d feel uncomfortable with this. While I’m a whole lot more comfortable talking about this in person, it’s still something I find, difficult to express in writing but that’s the whole point of this. I talk about uncomfortable topics that it is easier to not talk about. And it’s these topics and my personal experience that I write about. When we keep it hidden, nothing can be solved, and we can’t progress. I have decided to reveal the unrevealed to let change in and let the cycles to not be repeated. I want to reveal so I can heal. So, if I’m open about this, it will give others the chance to share their experience as well, and to be comfortable in sharing it.
So, the one thing we are not talking about enough… It is the erosion of safeguarding towards children. For the longest time now, I had downplayed the fact that I was exposed to online child grooming. To summarize the term ‘child grooming’, it is essentially a deliberate process by which offenders gradually initiate and maintain sexual relationships with victims in secrecy. And that’s the thing, I never truly understood how traumatizing that incident was for me that I chose to shut it down, believing that I wasn’t as affected as I thought I was.
I was only a minor then where I had spent a huge chunk of my time in an online virtual world. It was so bizarre. I remember how exciting it was being all new to a platform, and meeting a stranger and getting along so quickly, and before I know it, we were calling each other ‘friends’. But as time went by, not only were we both getting closer to each other, but there’s also something odd about the friendship. Because as much I knew their name (which now I think, may have all been a lie too) and the things they liked, they had a way with words that sounded so assuring—even when they were saying something that clearly didn’t sit well with me. And overtime, their behaviour was getting strange too. Because they’re starting to get really personal talking about how mature you sound for a minor. And they are slowly revealing to you their actual age… first, they are 13 just like you, then oh, they’re actually 20 over years old.
They’d apologized for lying to me. They’d explain to me how they wanted to be my friend at that time and thought I’d stay far away from them because they were way older than I was. That’s alright, they admitted they were wrong. So, being a 13 year-old, I forgave them and move on. But wait, no. They are actually way older, they’re really 43. Man, why do they keep lying? But because they’ve listened to me to all those times I was treated poorly in school, it was nice to have someone older listen to me—even if that someone older had lied to me multiple times and also asking me things that made me uncomfortable. And because I was withdrawn, low on confidence, and emotionally deprived, their presence began to feel comforting and persuasive, I couldn’t simply say ‘no’.
I have been warned about cases of online predators—but they couldn’t have happened to me. I read these things, but these things don’t and won’t happen to me. It does.
I can’t tell you how my mind completely shut down when I was sent suggestive texts by that person. Just how do you expect a 13-year-old child to respond to “Do you think about me and touch yourself at night? Do you think about me exploring you?” Yet, this person, because she was persuasive and compelling, she was always texting me as a form of checking up on me, “I hope no one picked on you in school today, because that would break my heart” … And she was particularly good in changing the subject too. We could be talking about music and the next thing was, she would be telling me the sorts of sexual positions she would love to be in.
For me then, the confusion as to why she would bring up such topics was not the worst of it. It was her dismissing my uncomfortableness with it, never taking my ‘no’ for an answer, and then proceeded for us to get on live cam where she would masturbate in front of me and exploit my insecurity with her own idolized fantasies. You would wonder why I couldn’t turn off the camera or just shut the computer down. Full transparency, my mind just went blank. Even as I stared at what was happening in front of me through a screen, I had physically shut down. And that image of her would still burn into my memory till this day. Tragically, that were more similar incidents as such that would continue to take place.
In knowing what the bullying that was taking place in school, she offering me soothing solutions were all just masked with hurtful intentions. And all the times where I was pressured to strip in front of her and touch myself, I had been firm in declining even though that upset her and she would gaslight me into thinking that I didn’t care about the friendship. She would get colder. She would tell me maybe the reason I was a recluse and that I was bullied so often was because I deserved it. After all those harsh words, I would once again shut down and create a space between us, but that only made her more persistent as she would send me explicit nudes apologizing for her behaviour. It made me feel sick, but I didn’t know what to do. Our last exchange was her trying to get me involved with another older man, and I remember feeling unwell and blocking her (finally). And yet, that decision made me unhappy too because at that moment, it felt like I really lost someone whom I considered as a friend even if what they did was nothing a friend would do at all. I lost my appetite for sometime after I concluded our friendship.
After what seemed to be an eternity of fever dream, I hadn’t fully moved past this chapter of my life. I had continued to move on to pretend like nothing ever happened, but I was damaged perhaps more by the aftermath than by the actions of a predator. The aftermath of being an adult, and coming to terms that I was in fact, sexually groomed by someone whom I trusted, where they fed me lies, showed me pornography, and had me involved in things I never consented to. Even with all the effort I was putting in, I just didn’t reach a healthy mental state. This is something I’m working on towards healing. And I understand how cautionary narratives can seem like a prey on our fears rather than explore them and we can’t do much afterwards other than say, “Yes, that actually happened and life goes on.”
In sharing this, I just want others are parents to be more vigilant of their surroundings, and for those who have been in situations similar to this when they were a minor, to understand that what had happened wasn’t their fault and it isn’t something for them to blame themselves. I hope this can spark some extremely important conversations between parents and minors about internet safety and in dealing with strangers online, and perhaps, have some second thoughts about sharing pictures of their child on the internet. Because, no matter how harmless they are, you’d never know what kind of sick mind lurks around and sees them as a potential prey.
I think a lot of people find themselves in that position where you’d want to be honest and in one hand, you also want to be compassionate especially when some people really have led difficult lives in handling traumas like this. But at the same time, I think I’m also seeing that when people pretend to not know the things that they know, it has consequences.
This is a continuation from my previous blog post Grief. (pt I). If you haven't read it, it would be help to provide some context. Because I like to keep my posts in a way that lifts others up instead of making them sad, please take note of the trigger warnings I have mentioned. This isn't a work of fiction.
I went to bed that night, finally smiling, even if it was a small smile.
I thought heading to bed with a smile meant not taking my worries and hurt to sleep. Yet I woke up with a stinging pain in my chest. The air felt colder than usual in my room the next morning. It was hard not to think about Felix and Sean. It was habitual for me to make my bed faithfully every morning no matter the time I woke up, and not be bothered at all if I left my apartment later than I would have liked. I do it each day because that symbolised that I was ready for the day. I wasn’t ready this time. I wasn’t set or mentally prepared to face anything.
The morning breeze that was supposed to calm me only increased my agitation and I closed the windows. I didn’t want to hear the birds sing while I was in pain. Then I fell. Somewhere between freezing and numbness, I asked myself as both my knees met the floor, ‘Do I really want to enter office today? On a dreaded Monday after a week of losing 3 people.’ I started counting seconds hoping to get a call or even a text from Sean. Nothing. Maybe it’s not only grief, it’s also depression. You know that feeling when you want to scream for help, but nothing ever comes out your mouth? Or, when you try to scream, you stop yourself because you don’t deserve it. When your daydreams transpire into nightmarish visions that mar you in sleep. When your thoughts become the thing that eats you every day.
I said that aloud in my head as I caught my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I like to think of our facial expressions as pages of our inner secret diary, for we are supposed to live in loving societies where such honest vulnerability is an advantage of all. That morning, the person who bore the same features as me was haggard, tired, and defeated. But since I had the privilege of living, I wanted to salvage whatever gratefulness I had within me to at least, make it through the day, as if nothing happened at all. I have a roof over my head. I have clothes to wear. I work in a creative & digital department. Why shouldn’t I be happy? I should be pretty happy these days, shouldn’t I? I’m already doing better than I think I am. For a fraction of a second, the corners of my mouth twitch upwards, until my conscious mind asserted control again. No, still a pathetic being.
People in the office looked at me differently when I stepped in. It was the first time they had to see their chirpy colleague looking unkempt. I wore the same hoodie the night before during Felix’s funeral, burial, and all. I hadn’t wash my face. I couldn’t understand why I was alive so many “better people” died. Looking presentable wasn’t part of the memo. The ones who knew what happened didn’t know how to approach me. Some tried to approach me but stopped in their tracks when I made eye contact with them. There was a photoshoot scheduled that day, I was supposed to direct it.
“What are your visions today?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
My videographer was hinting at me with his camera, “The photoshoot. You wanted us to take these pictures in a specific concept for social media.”
Strange. When he asked what were my visions, all I could picture was myself dead. Our conversation was cut short when my phone rang, it was from my brother. Into the meeting room I went after informing the videographer to sit me out on the photoshoot. It didn’t take more than 5 minutes to cry all over again. I didn’t understand that my mind was not “right” when my brother was trying to calm me down on the phone. Although it remained difficult to think a problem through, or to utter simple sentences in logical sequence, he assured me that people were looking out for me. Knowing that I could not cope with the demanding responsibilities that moment, I chose to inform my manager and got her approval of a day’s leave.
“A friend’s coming over to see you to pass you something.” That’s what my brother said. “I’m not sure who but, please see him. He’s worried about you.”
I wish people weren’t worried about me. The walk back to the apartment took five times longer to complete than it did the other days. It then became apparent that the reason it took me longer to reach home was the every few stops I took in the middle of the street to contemplate life and death. About 11.30am, I had laid down on the bedroom floor.
You don’t always get to say goodbye. And that is soul-crushing. You don’t say goodbye because you have expectations of seeing them again. Losing three people in one week gave me grief-induced anxiety. A different kind of worry and fear, like the thought of losing another person is much too unbearable. I was angry. I didn’t want the situation to be a reality. But this hellish nightmare of grieving was my reality. It was my reality to deal with THEN. And the reality is, I have lost friends. I never knew the reasons as to why, not fully at least, yet, I didn’t think there was going to be an explanation that would have made me feel any better.
They say time heals everything. I don’t think I fully believe that. Like even when finally meeting my friend who took me out on a spin on that very day, he had good intentions. He wanted to be there for me, and with his best efforts, he was there for me physically. We went to a park, but all the time he spent talking to cheer me up, and all the conversations that followed, nothing felt real. Yet it was also all too real. I was aware of myself sometimes. I was aware of some things that were said at the park. But it was also all a blur in my head. Things that were supposed to help me ‘get over’ everything just blended into the past where I still had those people in my life. Such a shame.
I was expected to move on. Move on? How? I guess at some point we are all supposed to move on. But when? And why? It was allowed at the hospital. It was allowed at funerals. It was allowed to last for a few days, but when would it be no longer accepted? It’s wild that even after a year, people think you are healed from grief. It hasn’t even been a month. But why does that matter? Grief doesn’t have a timeline. It only changes with time. It may not always look like the initial loss but it we still feel it. Maybe, in huge waves or torrential rain. We don’t end our grieving. We just learn to cope with the loss throughout our lives with acceptance. But first, we had to accept that they are gone.
I will say that since that week, my soul still feels conflicted because I am terribly alone. Have I been better, I have. I think I have been better. Sometimes I still feel as if I have missed my time to grieve. I sought out validation from friends that it was all right to feel the way I feel. The wounds still cut so deep but I had to put on this façade that I was strong in the office. So, you can imagine how emotionally exhausted I was after work hours. Because being busy was the “best way” to not think about losses. It almost worked as an escape. Almost. If only I didn’t open up myself to people. It’s hard to explain. I don’t understand grief at all.
Days passed by. Painfully slow. In retrospect, maybe things were improving. But when you get so used walking alone in a desert that the water you find along starts to feel unreal, made-up, like an oasis. We don’t want to trust it thinking it’s an illusion and therefore never walk towards it. But this is where it does get better. One could call this a lesson too.
“I’m glad you’re looking and feeling much better.” My colleague had said that to me. It’s true I looked better, but the grieving hadn’t end. And at that moment, that sparked a revelation to me. Maybe what I felt wasn’t the issue, right? It’s what I had to do about and with my feelings that actually can make or break me. Grief was never the problem. It’s what I had equated grief with that was the problem. I had acquainted grief with feelings of guilt, anger, shame, regret, and fear. And to invite all those feelings at once into my heart was and is overwhelming. I had made those acquaintances of grief as guests into my home. And that deep hurt was never given space to process. I never had the opportunity to communicate with those guests, to tell them why I was hurting. It never gave me a chance to see how much I had to live for after all the loss.
And as tragic as this sounds, but it’s also beautiful is that, the reason I felt all this pain was because it was love all along. Love for people that I cared for and wanted to see them be the best versions of themselves. All the reason that it hurt because it was reminding me that just because I’ve lost someone, whether it’s because they have gone to a better place or made their choice and conscious decision to live their life without me in it, I had never stopped loving them. All this grief was trying to whisper to my heart was, that all this loss is not the end of love. It was love all along. Love that had lost its home and didn’t know where to find shelter.
Behind closed doors, I cried again. I was also laughing, not in the maniacal way, but I was laughing because I was happy. I was happy to know that grief wasn’t wrong, and that I was privilege to love people without expecting anything in return. I cried because I was in awe to know I had the chance to know people that were so beautiful in just their existence, that their absence was significant. I was finally able to smile because I understood that my grief wasn’t emptiness or anger, it was just love that needed time to be translated. Outside the meeting room where a colleague was waiting for me, I took a long breath and wiped my tears. The relief was tremendous. I took a quick look at my pocket mirror. The person smiling this time was sincere. It was also break time. I reached out to open the door.
“Are you ready for lunch?”
“Yes, I am.” I replied. “I finally am.”
I think about how many of us deal with our grief so differently. We get fixated on the pain because that much is obvious. And because we pay so much attention to the pain of grieving, we never actually try to see the other side of it. We get stuck in cycles of anger, anxiety, repression and avoidance. We overwork ourselves because distraction helps. Binge-watch shows to divert attention on anything but our inner grief. Sometimes we find solace in substances to numb the pain. Or we seek refuge in the wrong person or crowd, never giving ourselves the time and space that their own soul is so loudly begging from them. And this continuous cycle breaks us. Grief isn't something you can just switch it on or off. It's a swim. And you learn how to swim with the waves, sometimes the waves are huge and scary, but you learn to flow through it. You also know when to breathe. That much I know is true. You continue to live for the ones that aren't anymore. It's okay for you to grief, because you have love.
This isn't fiction. This has been a topic that I tried to approach with as much grace and honesty. With honesty, that means mentioning things that aren't going to make people feel comfortable. It is difficult. I have kept actual names out of this in respect of their privacy and also the deceased. Everything that is expressed here, are my own perceptions and feelings, and should not be taken as facts, or any form of endorsement. If you have any depressive thoughts, please reach out to someone, and if you are currently experiencing a huge loss in your life, whether it's a failed relationship, a fallout with a friend, a death of a friend, and you have so many questions unanswered, please feel free not to continue further with this post. I don't want you to feel more hurt than you already are. You may return another time to read this when you are ready.
And because it is a series of events that have taken place in my personal life, it would be impossible for me to have it condensed in one post. As such, I may be posting 2 or 3 parts of this topic that surrounds grief. While there are mentions of the fear of abandonment too, this story solely focuses on the stages of grief that I went through while coping 3 separate losses, all in which took place in the same week.
I knew Felix* only enough to exchange greetings when we passed in the university halls. I was the president of an English society and in the parlance of the time, fairly introverted. And I was insecure, too conscious, especially around people in general—species I found perplexing and more intimidating than lightning struck bright and sudden. All of which may explain my confoundment when he pulled me to a side to ask if I was all right while we were inside an International Students’ Society room. I’d just finished handling an event and I was exhausted.
He greeted me calmly. I remember the twinkle in his eyes whenever he spoke, he had a certain kind of gentleness he carried with him, the one that you knew you’d feel safe with. I recall the conversation like it was only yesterday.
‘Are you okay?’ he asked.
‘Do I look not okay?’
‘You just look tired. More than usual.’
‘I don’t know if I’m not okay either.’
Thus, whatever plans that he had, whatever work he was supposed to do, Felix laid it all down to talk to me. He wanted to make sure that I was feeling okay. He never mentioned that he had plans to go out with another group of friends for supper. He never told me of the time that he was having a difficult time with his family. He had to teach himself to be independent on his own, and all the struggles he was facing on his own, would become the root of both his compassion and his sensitivity to someone else’s hurt.
I was grateful for him, of course, and had a habit of thanking him for being him whenever we bumped into each other on campus. Each time I reminded him how indebted I was to him, he would smile and say it wasn’t a big deal, and that he was more happy to hear out a friend. Friend? Yes, he said I was a friend. I needed that.
The last conversation we had face-to-face, alone, was in 2018. One night at Astaka, we were sitting on the benches that faced the campus field, it was empty and lonely. There were stars that night. They were shining bright. Out of nowhere, he spoke the words that anyone who has dealt with some form of depression, would freeze for a while.
‘Isn’t it so random how the most amazing people die so quickly?’
We talked about Chester Bennington, specifically about the song ‘One More Light’ by Linkin Park. Initially, the song haunted me, but it was also comforting. I would listen to the lyrics and it was almost as if I was listening to suicidal notes, an imagery of a candlelight flickering. Perhaps that was just the nature when it came down to Chester’s voice and words. He may no longer be around physically, yet his legacy leaves on. There is still so much of him that is very alive to this day.
It was strange. I remember telling Felix how tragic it was, that life seems so bleak, so short for a person so loved by the world. As I said so, I told Felix I knew that he was capable of great things, and that I couldn’t wait to see what the future held for him, and what he would be contributing to the world. Felix smiled and thanked me.
‘Can I help you, not to hurt, anymore?’
Each time I consumed a creative piece, be it a song, film, spoken words, poetry, instrumental… I can’t help but wonder each form of art is about a person who struggle with a sense of belonging, who is sad, depressed and dealing with issues they can’t possibly talk about. Or even if they tried, no one really cared enough to understand or be patient with them.
And I wondered then too, why, despite all the obvious cues, the social hints, we are never truly able to save a life. But I guess, what no one really talks about depression is that it is ocean deep. You learn to swim to shore by yourself. No matter how sharp the rocks are, or how they can cut you, you have to find the strength to get to shore. Because it’s scary. It’s terrifying to fall into the comforting familiarity of the harsh waves and the sensation of drowning. I told Felix, despite whatever pain we were both going through, I told us to hold on. He said he believed in good things to come. And I believed him too.
22nd September, Wednesday — I had known this amazing person since July, I still think of him as someone special. For the sake of keeping this individual’s privacy, I will not go into full details. But do understand that what I share, is solely from my perspective, and may not necessarily reflect on that person’s character and feelings at that time. I’ll call him Sean*. We had our time set aside for each other then, we would talk of the things that mattered to us. I was happy to be myself around him. Yet, we drifted. Maybe that’s not an entirely accurate way to put it. The words we speak, the voices we drown, the choices we make, the dreams we question, they each come with their own repercussions. To put it bluntly, what he did, hurt me. And I need anyone who is reading this to understand that, while it broke me, I still care a lot for this person. The times we had spent together were golden, a bit unreal. I wouldn’t have traded those memories for anything. Despite that, everything that we had said and done, I could forget nothing.
How was I supposed to?
And again, why would I want to forget the good things?
I was in tears. I was livid we ended things through a text. I didn’t want the conversation to end in a bad place, so I left my last text. I couldn’t continue on with the conversation because anger was going to take my stead. I had to save this friendship. Even if that meant not getting out the exact emotions I was feeling.
24th September, Friday — I received news of someone passing. We never talked much, but this individual would confide in me from time to time. Just how do you respond to a text when their sibling informs you they have taken their own life? It made my head spin. There was a lot I simply couldn’t comprehend. I thought of how differently I would feel looking at their texts knowing they won’t wake up anymore. Sad? I wasn’t sure if I was saddened. I hadn’t had any proper emotions since 22nd September.
I thought staying over at my second brother’s was going to cheer me up. I was wrong. He tried his best and cared for me like any older brother would. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t shower. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t get up from bed without the pain in my chest. The worst nights were the ones where I would have vivid dreams of having conversations with Sean, where he’d say he wasn’t being himself, and that we’d talk again. I hated that I had to wake up, to be disappointed, that it was just a dream. But mostly, I was just terrified of falling back to sleep if I was going to dream about the good times we had, only to be slapped by reality that I was left behind.
It broke my brother. Not a single day went by where I wouldn’t struggle to breathe, get panic attacks, and cry. I would cry even whilst I was doing nothing. And it felt apparent at that time too, that I amounted to nothing. It’s something else to be hit by someone and getting hurt, and it’s also something else to have someone make you feel like the world, promise you that they would never leave you, only to leave you. And what difference does it make even though we still have each other on social media? What difference does it make for me to follow him, and him to follow me, now that we are just ‘strangers’? Because I already feel like I don’t exist. Maybe, I was the only one who wanted to feel seen. Maybe, it was wrong of me to reciprocate. Yet, asking myself now, do I regret any of it? I don’t have an answer for that. All I know is, it hurt then. Still hurts.
25th September, Saturday — On my way back to my apartment after what I felt was just me burdening my brothers with my presence in their home, I thought I was finally going to make it. For me, I was going to try to be strong, just for one day. All I begged myself was to not cry for one day. I needed to be strong. Then it all came crashing down. I missed a phone call. I couldn’t answer anyone in the state that I was in. Then a text notification came in, I froze.
My friend, Felix, isn’t here anymore.
I wanted it to be a joke.
I called up my friend. This had to be a joke. It had to be. I didn’t care how low it was to be one, but there was no way, a bright 26 year-old like Felix, who had huge aspirations, who inspired the people he encountered in life, has died. This must have been a prank someone thought of, and maybe Felix was just planning for us to meet up or something. But hearing the uncharacteristically quiet scratch of my friend’s voice on the line, I knew Felix had left us that day.
‘I thought you might want to know. He was close to some of us.’ my friend said. ‘Do you want to come to his funeral?’
‘I’d like to go,’ I replied.
The word sounded strange even as it left my mouth. Like? Why would I like to go to a friend’s funeral? Is that what I am supposed to say knowing a friend—a kind, bright and sensitive individual who was going places? I left my apartment room and walked aimlessly in the common area. I am told by friends that through texts, I seemed completely out of it. I don’t seem to remember what took place except people kept mentioning I was just not being myself.
Even then, I was present at his funeral. I saw people weeping. Some didn’t. It was odd to be hugging friends that I had not spoken to in years. To be meeting up with former friends in a funeral. Why did we have to meet up this way, in the midst of a pandemic, on a cold rainy night? And the night felt long, I still don’t remember much of what happened.
It was past midnight by the time I settled down in my apartment. Settled down, or so I thought. I threw up whatever I had for dinner. Back in my room, the sight of my antidepressants made me sick to my stomach. As my anxiety grew worse, even the order that was present in my room soon became a disarray. My focus and vision both grew scattered so that it became a challenge to stand still. And I fell to the ground. Shaking. I was scared.
I mustered what seemed of my remaining strength, switched off the lights, and dragged my heavy feet to bed, forcing myself to sleep. The nightmare came, I saw Sean again in my dreams, and we talked happily. It shouldn’t have been a nightmare if we were still talking, but everything that felt beautiful then only turned to sheer terror for me when I opened my eyes. The problem with being in the care of a person consumed by their own pain and grief is that your problems can’t exist to them. In a weird way, you don’t exist to them. And so the neglect is ultimate. The abandonment is real along with the unfulfilled promises and loving words spoken carelessly.
It’s not just the abandonment that hurts. It’s the post trauma that follows it when you have opened up to someone you trust. It’s waking up and checking your phone for a message that isn’t there. And the last exchange is still apparent. And you know, they have left you.
I was left behind.
I woke up screaming.
I felt as if the world used to laugh with me, hold me when I spent my time with Sean—no longer. Now the world mocked me. It was as if the world had shrunken away to leave a cold void around my skin, as if I had become detached from reality itself. It was dark. And then I asked myself the question I had been meaning to ask myself, but was always afraid to.
What if I just do away with myself?
What if I just swallowed every antidepressant and went to sleep?
What if I just don’t have to wake up anymore?
Because it sure as hell beats living.
But I can’t.
I have a purpose in this place. But I wasn’t convinced either. I needed to reach out. I could only think of one person to call at that time, it was Sean. It was just a matter of time before I consumed those pills. I had them on the floor with me. I dialed his number, I was fighting back the tears, and I bit my lip so hard it bled. He didn’t answer.
Second time. Nothing.
Third time. And nothing.
Did it matter if I called again? Because if he stopped caring, then who would? If he thought the best solution to go about parting with me was through texts, then did I even matter to him now? Did I matter to him then? I couldn’t just call him to start over this friendship. I couldn’t ask him to be here when I was at my lowest. And I started believing that I wasn’t good enough. But I still wanted to live, I still wanted to have hope. To breathe.
Now, let me tell you… there are times in life where you fall down and you feel like you don’t have the strength to get back up, you sort of put on a mask. A mask where you deny your vulnerable self the chance to breathe and cry. And it starts forming into a survival essential where you are from. It shuts your emotions down, it makes you more alert, more adept, yet more detached to compassion. I didn’t want to go back to being that. I was fearful of indifference.
You know how when you have to pretend that all is well when it’s going downhill, and you head home, you lay down in your bed when the world’s no longer watching. You don’t have to impress anybody and you are yourself. Then fear comes in. You know the fear that you have as soon as you walk into the doors of your house? Or the fear that comes when you are leaving home and you remind a parent, ‘Please, don’t make them angry today. I don’t want to get hit.’ Yes, that. Maybe it’s a broken home. Maybe you are constantly walking on eggshells with your family. And it scares you. Maybe you are worried about what people perceive of you just from the first contact. You don’t know what they are talking about behind your back. And that fear paralyzes you. You feel as if you can’t do anything.
Well, I told myself to call another number. And if the second person didn’t pick up, I wasn’t going to think anymore and kill myself. On the call, when Helen* answered, that soft voice that said, ‘Hello?’, that gentleness in Helen’s voice dissolved whatever stood between me and my sorrow. My torrents of grief were unleashed.
‘I tried to kill myself.’
We spoke for about 3 hours on call, taking turns for me to cry, and for Helen to comfort me. With her, I felt safe, even though we were separated by a huge geographical distance. I found solace in the words she had to say. For it was through her words, I believe that she too, felt the pain that swirled in my brain, all the unfinished chapters I kept telling as if they held answers. They don’t. Helen said something along the lines that hurt people do things because their emotions are driving them that way.
‘All those things that hurt you, hun, had nothing to do with you at all… and perhaps that’s even worse. Because you know you did nothing wrong, and you are hurting. And these heartbreaks that you feel, hunny. They don’t get easier. The end of a relationship always hurts. And when you have to deal with other deaths one after another, it gets too much for you. You are allowed to cry. And no one should have to judge you for that. You have been giving too much of yourself to others, you haven’t saved any love for yourself.’
At that time I didn’t understand how Helen who had known me in less than a year, just virtually too, would notice that of me.
‘Do you know how I know this? It’s because I keep my notifications on for you on Twitter. And see your every interaction with people. You give everything to others, putting their feelings first, validating them. It’s always yours that comes last. And all the hurt that you have been through, you still find the strength to forgive and let go. You still show love and care when everyone else would have found many reasons not to continue anymore. Because that’s who you are. You are so important. The world needs you, even if you don’t think it needs you. This world needs you to take up space. It needs you to continue showing understanding, patience, and love. It needs you to spread joy and bring a semblance of hope to those who have none. And whenever that voice tells you otherwise, it’s not true. That voice hates you, because it knows how strong and capable you are in this world. So, whenever you feel like it’s too much, that you can’t go on, please don’t keep it to yourself. You need a shoulder to cry on too when you’ve been carrying the weight of everyone else’s for so long. I love you so much, don’t kill yourself. You are needed here.’
Outside the apartment window, I could finally hear the wind rustling through the silence. It was hard for me to imagine that someone whom I have never met was able to comfort me with such intensity. I laughed inside, remembering those early days that had seen me rush out from my classroom to avoid being hit by my pursuers, grab a piece of wood for safe measure in case someone would hit me with a brick. I remember all the fear I felt for not being able to speak up, where the teachers never noticed the bruises on me. I wished, how I wished Helen was around then to keep me safe. But here she was now, miles away from me, believing in me and telling me that I served a purpose in this world.
I went to bed that night, finally smiling, even if it was a small smile.
When you have no prior experience with love, the first person to show you the closest thing to love would have an impact on you. Perhaps that’s where some beauty comes in, though in some cases, the beauty and happiness fades fast when you are in a lonely rush, and that feeling you thought was love, was built on a rocky foundation, and things just change. I wish I could tell you that doesn’t mean that you can’t be loved, or that you can’t love.
You’re okay, and just because you’re growing up and falling out of love, that doesn’t mean you have to leave everything you liked when you were a child. You have a long way to go, to grow, and love someone special again… you’re only getting ready to say “nice to meet you” to somebody you never knew—you.
Divorce. It’s a word, an event that brings in emotions of all sorts. Usually, unpleasant ones. At least that’s what some may think or say out loud. I wish I could tell you that the end of a marriage doesn’t make you a failure; that I know you tried your best to make things work, but it just didn’t. You are more than your past. This post may be more personal and intimate than my usual ones, and it may take a while to read this. But I do want you to take a moment to realise this, whether you’ve been recently divorced or not, your divorce does not define your lack of worth. Sometimes, a separation happens so you can build up instead of breaking down, and perhaps the best thing you can do for yourself, is to forgive yourself, love yourself, and grow.
It’s common to have someone painted as a villain when a marriage breaks down. While there may be exceptions too, I feel it’s necessary to understand why it happened. I was very blessed to have this conversation with my friend, Nicholas, who confided in me about his shortcomings and the things he learned from his divorce. One of the hardest things to take away from our conversation was “the things we wished we had known better”. What I truly appreciated was his vulnerability to talk about these difficult emotions, because they were necessary. A wound like this can feel fresh, even after months, and it was important for him to get his feelings out there, here, without being judged.
For the sake of confidentiality, I will be leaving out names. Nicholas first met her when he was 19. Prior to knowing her, he had never been in a relationship. Much secluded in his own shell at that time, letting people into his space wasn’t a part of him. And the times where some would try to connect with him, debilitating waves of insecurities would take over his mind, and Nicholas found comfort in persuading himself not to be attached at all and giving himself reasons why he was unworthy of having someone to care for him, vice versa.
“You’re not going to be good enough. You don’t have a car. You’re not in a stable financial situation. Your family is dysfunctional.” He went on meeting with this woman with that mindset, and all the other feelings he had in general, including the lack of experience with the opposite sex. And sometimes, the world plays tricks on us, on when you meet people. She was at the end of a broken relationship that was manipulative. What Nicholas had to say was, at that time, she was looking for a reason to leave—and then she met him, they found each other. Maybe he was a breath of fresh air, she took an instant liking to him.
While Nicholas was feeling lonely, he wasn’t actively pursuing something. With the added inexperience he had, she was just attached to him and latched herself onto him, emotionally and physically. There was a physical intimacy that he wasn’t used to. Just talking to Nick about this, he admitted that all the things they were doing, it was a rush. They were both young. She was experienced with men, and wanted something emotionally better. She knew what she wanted. He didn’t. He reciprocated because she did first. It is all so strange for Nicholas, this treatment—to have someone being so strong-willed and latching on to him this much.
“Even if I wanted to resist, I couldn’t.”
When Nicholas mentioned this, it made me think of how so many of us, especially when we come from a dysfunctional home, always feel lost when someone feels strongly for us. I think about just how much insecurity we carry with us unfairly for the way we were raised. And this ball of insecurity just keeps building itself up in subtle ways: giving us every single reason we can think of why we do not deserve better. Don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t perfect, he wasn’t either. They were both young, and perhaps that given a chance, they both would have made different decisions then. I could tell from his voice that there were times he would unconsciously reminisce about some good times to the point where it just stings.
I asked Nicholas, “You talked about not being willing to make yourself emotionally available to anyone. She came along, and came off so strong, emotionally and physically… and because you were a stranger to this sort of treatment, you just went along with it. Would you say, at any point, did you feel a genuine love for her? Or were you both co-depending on each other to fill in each of your personal void?”
It’s hard to confirm if it was love, and he confessed to having moments where he felt strong feelings for her. “To this day, I don’t know if it was love. I was never in a relationship before so I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know what I was feeling. Maybe back then, I felt that it was love. And maybe in hindsight, I’m being confused because I don’t have anything to really relate to and compare it with. I didn’t have anything to confirm that it was love. But, in comparison to feelings I had for her in the future, after things were said and done, I think that it really was more of a physical attraction-based kind of feeling—and that she gave me a lot of emotional and physical attention, quickly. I believe that’s what bonded us more than just me loving her for who she was. I don’t think I had those deep romantic feelings because it was so fast.”
He continued saying, “Sometimes, the more I’m thinking about it and bringing it up, there are moments where I can remember we disagreed heavily on something. And I have moments where I’m thinking ‘just what did I get myself into?’, ‘what am I doing?’, ‘where am I?’… I’m spending all my time with her, doing everything, ‘is this where I want to be?’. I’m not seeing my friends as much and I was used to seeing them a lot. I’m not doing my hobbies as much. And after a couple of months just doing the same things with her and when the emotions started to wear down, I still wanted to be around her. I still felt very committed to her but I wasn’t sure how I felt about leaving behind all the things I was used to, and that would constantly be a slight argument between the two of us. She was worried I wasn’t ready to commit because I was missing the things I was doing before.”
Throughout the first several months of being together, she was having questions about her ex, the way he treated her, and how she was feeling about him. Phrases such as “I really wish he wasn’t the way he was because I liked him for…” Being younger then, Nicholas didn’t like hearing about her ex. Those sort of emotions were heavy for him to handle. “The closest I even had to being in a relationship, it was me talking to a girl I was crushing on and she would just have me as an emotional ladder to make herself feel better. So to sum up everything, the attraction we had for each other was just through a fast emotional and physical intimacy. Freshness. Excitement…” His voice trailed off. “If anything, I think we were both bonded by the excitement of having something new.”
I noticed how he was trying his best not to stumble over his words too much. Things like this take time and a huge amount of self-reflection. Those memories are just from so long ago and Nicholas was trying not to let negative memories from the current divorce make those memories tainted or biased. And, here’s where I want to say it’s not easy finding balance in that because you either blame yourself completely or the other half. It takes grace to be honest that you made mistakes just as much as the other half did, especially since most of us have been conditioned by our households or the media that “one is always more wrong than the other”. This, I believe, is unique for everyone, not every divorce happens and ends in a fixed manner.
“And then the child happened. You were 19. Tell me how you felt when you found out you were going to be a father, when you were not prepared at all…” I whispered, “What happened?”
Finding out that she was bearing his child then, on that one particular day, it was the start of a very stressful year for both of them. What time they had remaining in 2014 was a rush of adulthood. To get a car, get a bank account together, a place to stay, a stable job for income to provide. Nicholas went from job to job, from gas stations to cleaning cars. Living from place to place, and surviving fights after fights. Adulthood came crashing down. “That’s when the foundation of having a family began, but it wasn’t a foundation that was built between me and her. Everything that used to be fresh and exciting just dwindled to the stress of being an adult, and a new frightening world where we were both becoming parents. I had to provide for my family.”
It was no longer a matter or question if he loved her. He was questioning his own self worth, if he was able to pull through all of this as a man, as an adult, and if he was able to provide for his wife and soon-to-be-born child. “We married in the same year out of obligation because we needed a place to stay. We even talked about it the night before, and I told her that I was sure we would’ve gotten married eventually.”
I cannot possibly fathom how overwhelming that was for both of them. Despite this, Nicholas realised something now and he assured me, “You know, back in those days, in a lot of ways, the quick adulthood gave me a jumpstart to myself at least. Back in those days, I didn’t have a good work ethic. I needed to be serious.” I couldn’t help but point out to him about something he mentioned. I told him I found it interesting that when he discovered she was having a child, they had the conversation of marriage, where he said he was sure they both would’ve gotten married, eventually. I couldn’t help but wonder if he said that to comfort himself, or to comfort her, just to ease the situation. It was probably to comfort both of them, he said. What’s the difference between getting married now or later? It was a coping mechanism for what was happening.
To give a quick flow of what happened later, just having to raise a child, seeing her grow up, there were cracks in the marriage. Still detached, Nicholas couldn’t be emotionally strong and available for his wife. I asked him why this was the case, “Why were you so closed off? Was it still tied to the fact that she had more experience and you were just existing?”
“Once I became an adult, once I landed a job, landed a place to stay, and when my daughter was born, I was just worn out. That one event sculpted me and after a little while, I found myself yearning some of the things the old me had. The solitude. The responsibilities that I didn’t have. My friends… I missed my friends. I didn’t hang out with them as much anymore…” This was very painful for both of us. He struggled to talk, and I struggled not to break down. I sincerely believed that he could recite all the reasons that he is much better now, yet of course he was still left with the emotional pain and scars. All the “what if’s”, the guilt, the shame, the path both of them would’ve taken not to lead up to this day. “And she was noticing these things. I confided in her.” he said. That’s when she finally asked, “Well, do you love me? Do you love us?”
Nicholas couldn’t give her a straight answer.
She never forgot that hesitation.
He knew he couldn’t fault her for it. In her own brokenness, she was looking for validation for her own actions and taking accountability for what took place. She needed him to be a strong supporting figure for her and the child. “I was selfish. I couldn’t shake away those feelings of wanting to go back to where I was. It was just too much. While I immediately formed a fatherly connection with my newborn daughter, I told myself I wasn’t going anywhere. I was going to stay for my family. But at the same time, there was another part of me that wished I could be experiencing fatherhood at a later stage.”
They divorced in 2020. But during the late 2017 up to 2019, conversations about divorce surfaced every now and then. Verbal fights happened and one particular event sealed everything. I will not go into the details here. It’s like a series of landmines, they go off in your face without any warning. Maybe the signs were there all along, the cracks from the brokenness you carried. But the pain is unimaginable—all the shrapnel of memories piercing your heart. All the things that used to center around your life come to a halt, things that used to define you are just ripped away. The jigsaw puzzle of your life, half of its pieces all gone… and yet, the world still expects you to form a coherent whole.
Your happiness has become a distant sentiment; a mere memory of what once was. You look at childhood photos and recollect on who you used to be. It’s hard to believe that was you. That bright exuberant smile portrayed in one family portrays a realization of regret. Remorse clings beneath the words you speak. Anger arises in the gestures you create. A sudden dislike for things you once enjoyed becomes apparent. A fondness you once believed to be unbreakable has now been shattered by the person you’ve created… Then you just have enough. You’ve had enough; you’re exhausted and out of breath.
Nicholas started therapy early this year in 2021. Once he knew in his mind and in his heart that the divorce was actually happening, it set a new chapter for him to change his life, the things that he was bitter about and the pain he felt of not being enough. This was going to be an end to something that he had been so used to, and was just tired of.
“Right,” I assured him, “and there was also your daughter to think about. While you were going through therapy, you discovered plenty of things that you didn’t know better then. Things that changed your mindset, the things that shaped you for the Nicholas that I am talking to right now. And I can imagine how different it must’ve been for you too because you had been alone, then together with someone for so long, having that physical person centering your life, and now you are going to be without that person.”
I think it’s incredibly nothing short of inspiring that, despite everything that happened, Nicholas was open to healing. But first, he had to accept that things went wrong and he was a part of it. He wanted to reach out and talk to people again. I like to think that, at least from what I remembered from our first few exchanges, it was clear to me that Nicholas was very troubled, it’s just commendable to me for him to just be honest and raw with me, and to just have that trust in me on all these things even when we barely knew each other. In that way, I could say that perhaps that Nicholas admitting that he needed help, getting therapy, was truly one of the best decisions he made for himself.
He thought about his daughter a lot in regards to how he was with his wife. He wanted to show his daughter what a healthy relationship looked like, and that was another reason for taking up therapy—to try to improve himself so he wouldn’t have to repeat the mistakes his parents did, the mistakes he did for himself, and for his daughter. That’s the Nicholas I know now.
I further said this to Nicholas to confirm some things for myself, “If I may add, you may correct me if I’m wrong since I am using intuition here and from the things I’ve gathered since our first interaction. One of the reasons why you struggled to get a divorce too was the fact it would have meant failure for you, as a father, as a man. The societal pressures and stigma were all on you, you were in that anxious and fearful state that also, at that time, seemed to have masked itself like a safety net (eg: you have a place to stay, a car, etc). But what you had not allowed to give yourself was space, a space to grief. You didn’t allow yourself to be vulnerable, that you needed a connection. You didn’t have the time to be vulnerable, to be real with yourself and acknowledge the severity of the loss, and really take your time to cry, to be weak, to break down and to mourn what you lost. That’s why you fantasized instead, “if only this” or “if only that”.”
“No, you are right. There was a large part of me that felt that I didn’t want to fail. I didn’t want to be like my parents. All I really wanted was a healthy relationship and even if I didn’t know how to do it, I just never gave myself space to reflect on what was best for us, individually. I didn’t allow myself to think about the things that I wanted, the things that could’ve made me happy. I was just caught up with being a father. I didn’t know it was okay for me to get help.”
Perhaps this divorce was the only way Nicholas was able to rediscover who he was, the person that is purely himself. He had all these dreams, of writing and creating things… All those memories of running in his backyard, making up stories in the back of his mind. It was nice to be young and innocent. He had those beautiful dreams that he needed to make into some kind of reality for himself. When your dreams are so very different and the person you are with can’t support you in that, everything can become muted and confused. Instead of building each other, both Nicholas and his wife gave each other a terrible compromise that made them neglect their own happiness. They are both better now, they have forgiven each other. While they both work on their own happiness now, they are in a much better place than they were before.
We have come to the end of the story here. I will say that marriages can end. Regardless, you deserve to move on with love for yourself. Even in your separate ways, to know that neither of you were perfect. While the initial stage of a divorce can create a radical new context for the past, and you find yourself groping through an all-enveloping darkness for structure and order, you are okay. You will be okay. Look out the window again and feel the breeze on your skin, hear how the birds sing a melody that affirm, on the darker days, the possibilities of life, the outside chance that aching may, one day—be suffused with tenderness and new hope.
“Lucid. It’s not easy. It’s not easy to just leave things behind and start over.”
Of course it’s not.
The way we deal and handle adversity reveals so much about how we can grow, it starts with acceptance that we are not perfect, and that it is okay to be vulnerable, and reach out.
I wrote this knowing full well in my heart that I am grateful to be trusted with this piece to share it with all of you. It has been a difficult one to write, but it has been so worthwhile too. I hope that reading this piece, you were able to find comfort in some parts. Having said this, Nicholas is an amazing person and writer, and you can read 'Theater for Moths' by him and reach out to him at @nickhazeee.
Dear Nick, thank you for trusting me for this, I’m so proud of you.
Keep breathing. Keep healing. Keep growing. ♡
ps, dear readers: You can let me know your thoughts or if you prefer to talk to me in private, you can always reach out to me in my DMs. Love, Lucid.
CW // This content contains descriptions of self-harm, and also refers to themes of suicide. Please proceed with caution. If you are having depressive thoughts at the moment, please do not continue.
Press ‘play’ to listen to music.
[Wednesday 1:38 AM] Sarah
So do you want to talk about it?
[Wednesday 1:39 AM] Josee
[Wednesday 1:39 AM] Sarah
[Wednesday 1:44 AM] Josee
I’ve said everything I wanted to. I’m not sure. I think that I will be okay.
[Wednesday 1:45 AM] Sarah
Are you going to bed now? You should. It’s late.
[Wednesday 1:49 AM] Josee
Just some writing. I have a hazy story inside my head, and I’ve tried to write it out but the words don’t seem to mean anything. But in all seriousness, I think I just need some time to sort things out on my own. I’ll write later. I’m looking forward to it already.
[Wednesday 1:51 AM] Sarah
Great! I’m so glad to hear that.
An hour later
[Wednesday 2:51 AM] Sarah
You know something, Josee—you can always talk to me when you are feeling alone. You know? I was thinking about our friendship and what it means to me, everything.
Has it occurred to you that I know absolutely nothing about your life? The things you like, the kind of music you listen to, I don’t know of it. I’ve talked to you for so long but it’s dawning on me that each time when I do, you are just listening to my feelings. You’ve been a great friend, but some days you can be distant too.
Are you okay?
[Wednesday 2:56 AM] Josee
Hey hey, it’s all okay. All’s good here. (Why are you still awake?) Did I ever give you the impression I was not okay? I’m sorry if that was the case. I’ve never been comfortable in telling people how I feel. You don’t have to feel bad about anything. I feel assured enough that you are asking me if I’m okay. That’s more than enough for me, Sarah. Believe me, I’m okay.
[Wednesday 2:57 AM] Sarah
Okay, Josee. I believe you. I can’t wait for you to teach me how to paint tomorrow, can we please start with painting trees?
[Wednesday 2:58 AM] Josee
GO TO SLEEP LOL.
“I wish I hadn’t gone to sleep that night.”
Everything made no sense to Sarah. She cried occasionally, trying to make sense of her emotions, but she was getting colder and stiffer. It is well known that she and Josee had been friends for 8 years. She felt certain that there was probably a time, at least a few occasions where Josee was smiling, laughing, and having fun with everyone else.
She had also read stories from Josee. Josee was a great writer, she had a way with words that made things feel real. Some held a pessimistic outlook on life and development of irrational fears, some filled with anger and hurt. But Josee was alright. She was having a stable income and was advancing in her life. But Sarah also recalled a time she saw one of Josee’s artwork; a woman weeping in such silent and bitter distress that Sarah’s heart almost moved out to her. Yet all she could mouth to Josee was, “Your art is beautiful. I wish I could paint like you.”
Everything happened so fast, without warning. No one knew Josee had been mildly to moderately depressed with several episodes of major depression. At first, everyone else thought she was just having a bad day, perhaps it was seasonal depression. They hadn’t seen her sitting in her room using her tears as to ease the wounds she had inflicted on herself. And under all that summer heat, no one seemed to ask Josee why she wore sweaters and long sleeves. It seemed clear to Josee that her body was a canvas and the knife was a paintbrush, and the only paint colour she had to express with was red.
Letters. There were letters in Josee’s desk too. They found many letters in her handwriting. She wrote letters to her father, her mother, brother, Sarah, including some other friends too. They never sent them, and she wrote to them as if she was already gone, like she knew she was never going to see them again. In her own words too, in every letter, there was a common theme of her concealing how she felt. Damaged, unworthy, unseen, unheard, undeserving, broken beyond help… a cry for just wanting to be enough, to feel enough, that she was worth living in this place.
For there were so many days Josee couldn’t bear to be around people at work too; she would detached herself from work and tried to go solo whenever she could. It was always easier to not have to hide and lie to people that she wanted out. All of those feelings of not belonging, not being like everyone else, having to hide how the voices in her head makes life exhausting, isolating… it all made her feel small, ashamed, and tormented.
It was hard to take in. Sarah buried her face in her hands, mourning came as a sad song, soft and low. Josee had her great sides too, she could be cheerful, giddy and witty. The people around her felt assured, and when they reached out to her, she would politely decline things, laughed it off and change the subject. Maybe, maybe what Sarah never understood was, all this while, the writing, the art, the changing of subject, were all cries for help. She could canalise her feelings into a coherent one; she only knew how desperately she wanted to turn back time. Crying seemed to be the only sensible thing to do now.
The night of Josee’s departure
[Wednesday 2:56 AM] Josee
No, I’m not okay at all. Hey hey, it’s all okay. All’s good here. (Why are you still awake?) I’m scared of falling asleep. I’m scared of being awake. I don’t know what to do anymore, Sarah. Help. Please for help. I don’t think I will make it tonight. It feels so suffocating to be here. I feel trapped even when all the doors and windows in the house are wide open. I going to put a stop to it. I’m going to stop feeling this way. I just want that fucking noise in my head to stop. I will put an end to this. Every second of everyday, I think about silencing that voice. Did I ever give you the impression I was not okay? I’m sorry if that was the case. I’ve never been comfortable in telling people how I feel. But I want I’ve always wanted to know if I was a bother to you? You don’t have to feel bad about anything. I feel assured enough that you are asking me if I’m okay. That’s more than enough for me, Sarah. Believe me, I’m not okay. I want to kill myself tonight. If I don’t make it tonight, I just want you to know, thank you for staying with me all this years as a friend. I love you and I’m sorry.
Josee Lee Williams (11 March 1996 – 4 July 2021) died from an overdose. The last painting they ever found in her room was a tree in shades of red. Looking closer, through it all, the tree seemed like a sentry to the bloody landscape, the stoic guardian of so many souls, a beauty that encouraged the spirit to dance though words, to make odes to its branches that spread heaven-bound.And in the strong light of the new day, gives liberty for the senses in those moving leaves, the thousand green hues and the soft whispering in the wind that sings “You’re okay now, Josee. All is well.”
Having going through severe depression myself, I can say in my own case that depression isn't a fixed form, it comes it all sorts. What is heart-breaking though, is coming to terms with depression, my mind tries to reason with it. I force yourself to feel, to be vulnerable, to reach out to someone. It's hard, and it's painful. It's a cycle of self-hate I put myself in, and I disappoint myself. That's when the thought of killing myself seems 'worthwhile'. For when I look around and find that world has moved on, and I can't seem to catch up... a race I'm so scared of losing. I contemplated back and forth on sharing this piece. I understand the consequences that comes with sharing such a personal part of me, but it's not a piece of me that I am ashamed of. I just wouldn't know how people would take it. If you read this until the end, know that I am always 6 feet deep inside my mind, but I still keep living every single day.
I wrote this piece for many reasons, how depression is a silent killer, and it makes me realise how important it is for me to be grateful for my loved ones, as well as be aware of what I say to a friend or stranger. Because any moment now, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Any moment can be an event that impacts our lives one way or another. If you just need a friend, someone to connect with, someone to listen, I’ll be here. There are also many people who would care for you, please reach out. ♡
Finally, in a low whisper, he said, "I think I might be a terrible person."
For a split second, I believed him -
I thought he was about to confess a crime, maybe a murder.
Then I realized
that we all think we might be terrible people.
But we only reveal this before asking someone to love us.
Why do I cry? Why are the tears flowing? This unexplainable pain in my chest, the tears that won’t stop its flow. Is it my fault? The curtains in the office, they look just as bare and blank as I am in my life. I hear the standing fan, it doesn’t try to pry into my thoughts for the voice inside my head, is louder. Am I not strong enough to adapt to this life where I was told since young, that it was I either I gave it my all or nothing at all?
So why am I on the verge of tears? In the office, no one sees, how could they? Their backs are turned behind me as they scramble to finish a monthly report. Meetings after meetings, quotas to be met. It’s not their fault either. We are all just good at pretending we are okay. These all-or-nothing achievement systems our societies had been promoting all along was supposed to make the world a better place for people to achieve their dreams. Instead, it seems to be an incubator for adolescent depression and suicide. I was led to believe that this belief of perfection was the only viable way for me to survive and it was cruelly adapted into me. But why should that even matter? I am an adult, I am supposed to have this figured out, right?
No, I can’t.
It’s hard. And I know perhaps this might be relatable to some, or not—either way, this is what I am going through. Perhaps some of you can find comfort in knowing that I am not perfect, that I do come with my own flaws.
Wednesday, 9.00 AM — I told my second brother that I didn’t return his messages sooner because I was hit by anxiety (again). I believe he set aside the things he needed to do to assure me. It was difficult for me just to type the words I wanted to say. Finally, I was able to come up with a concise text, “I don’t know exactly why, but if I must take a guess, it has been an on-and-off thing since I accepted this job position in a reputable corporation. I can’t help but feel the blame is on me because maybe, just maybe I am the one who is not trying to adapt? Or maybe it’s the added factor that I got accepted into a job during the pandemic.”
I further told him about my growing anxiousness regarding my vaccination appointment which would possibly fall on the same day in which I am supposed to handle a livestream video for my company. The fear of not being able to present for my task and to let someone else even manage it for a bit didn’t sit well with me, and there was the added stress of thinking that I have let the team down for being away… In truth, it wasn’t fair at all for me to blame myself. My chest was hurting at this point, one hand on my chest and the other on the keyboard, I had to force myself to tell my brother my fear of disappointing my team and how some days I felt distant from them.
What followed next was nothing but words of assurance and compassion from my brother. My chest still hurt, but somehow, reading what he had to say calmed me, even if it was a little.
He said, “Rather than thinking of failing to meet your team’s expectations, it is okay to make mistakes. Be more compassionate and patient to yourself. If you feel distant, why don’t you try asking them how they find you as a person in or out of work when working together with them?” And he continued on, “I do understand the feeling when your responsibility and things or events just overlapped each other. I would advise to give your team a heads up about it and have a contingency plan in hand. You have been working with them for quite a while now. I believe you can navigate them a little bit on how it’s supposed to run with much ease.”
Those three words.
“I believe you.”
Why? Why did my second brother have such faith in me when I had none for myself? How could he possibly hold so much faith in me when I have been nothing but a mess? Am I not seeing something in myself that he can see? Or perhaps, I am the one here with little faith.
I still didn’t quite catch what he said, and I couldn’t understand where he was coming from having such confidence in me. When I finally mustered some strength and had both hands on my keypad, I typed away and told him that one of the biggest things I had always struggled with anxiety is when things are sudden and changes its course. I even told him how it sounds so silly and childish, that because I am an adult, I should be able to know how to manage myself and my schedule… isn’t that right?
And I don’t think I was fully prepared for the question he raised next.
“Why do you really think it is silly and childish? And what makes you think that an adult can manage themselves 100%?”
I never thought about this. Have I not been giving myself enough grace, or was it the perfectionist in me that feared the unknown? And thus, my brother carried on, “From what I see or understand is that you have set your ‘if and then’ rules, in a manner such, ‘if I fail to manage myself perfectly, then I am an immature person and I contribute to the failure to the team as a whole.’
Unbelievable. Like he read through me. I agreed and he went on. “My next question would be, is it not okay to let loose then on the ropes that you grip so tightly and constantly? Whatever the rope may represent in your life.”
Now I’m not the most religious or spiritual person, but I am in my own ways, sensitive to certain things. But what my brother had allowed me was to question the ropes that I have been holding on in my life, and so I lamented.
“I look up to you, kor, mom, and dad. I always feel that somehow everyone else seems to know what to do in life, and I just don’t? Take mom for example, she is so good with accounts, and knows things about estate, property, etc. Dad knows how to deal and manage himself in an unfamiliar territory, even kor too.”
Perhaps what I said made perfect sense to me then. Isn’t that how it is though when we look at someone with our own perceptions? I could tell my second brother was incredibly patient with his worrywart sister, and so he asked, “What makes you confident and feel that way? Are you assuming from your stored information or having a talk with us personally and inwardly? If it is through your observations, does it really reflect on how the said person actually feels inwardly without you talking and understanding with them? Take for example, your friends have been observing you as a reliable friend that manages everything well, but they haven’t spoken to you and understand what or how you are feeling on the inside.”
That’s how it is though, isn’t it?
All of us. You, me, and everyone else. We only know what we think we know. I had grown accustomed to the image of “I can’t mess up or fail anything in whatever I do, otherwise I am a failure.”
With much love and patience, my second brother advised me to talk to my colleagues on their struggles with life. I considered, but I didn’t want to force a conversation with them either. My anxiety went down a lot and I managed to eat something. I didn’t want to fixate on a miscommunication that happened in the office, but I kept my brother’s word at heart.
Thursday, 3.17 PM – A miscommunication happened which caused me to have my storyboard idea to be half scrapped. I was frustrated as the idea was presented more than a week and the review came in late. That meant more work on my end, and at the very last minute too, just the day before a presentation. I took a leap of faith and voiced out my feelings to my manager.
Now, I wasn’t expecting her to take my side, to pity me, or anything. I just really didn’t want to bottle up my emotions. Because I trusted her too, I wanted to be honest with her. What I didn’t expect was her to really, listen to me, and tell me an incredibly personal story.
“Everyone should pull their own weight in the team, the final results will tell who puts in effort and who doesn’t. But life never goes the way we plan at all, especially not in this industry. And when you’re in the corporate world, you face all sorts of people. You might face people who are slow with instructions, the ones who get confused all the time… sometimes we think our efforts are wasted when we spend so much time trying to help them to understand our ideas, they can’t see it, it gets rejected. It hurts, you might think everything you did was for nothing, but what you had gained on your own, the knowledge, the skill, it stays with you—no one can ever take that away from you.
Anyway, you might think I’m not the one who stays up and prepares all these concepts and storyboards, that’s why I’m doing all the talking here… But what I am trying to help you to understand is that the corporate world is full of challenges. It can break us, it can make us stronger, how we navigate around those challenges is important.
Like you, I kept my feelings to myself. I handled things on my own. I wasn’t relying on anyone, did everything by myself, it overwhelmed me. I cried. I had a breakdown in the office, and I left in a sudden. They had to call someone to find me, and they brought me back to the office to calm me down. A lot of things happened before you showed up here… and you know, slowly, it just got better when I formed my own team.
I don’t ever want you to feel that your efforts are not seen. I see your efforts. I see your struggles. I see your frustration. Understand this, I share how you feel, not as your manager, but also your friend. Don’t ever keep things to yourself. Even when I am being unreasonable to you, talk to me, tell me that I am being unreasonable. Because you are the person I hired. I saw something in you. Does that not speak enough of your own worth in my eyes?”
Now… I didn’t know how or what to respond to her.
I was just, shocked.
I didn’t realize I had shed a tear too. One of the few moments I’m grateful for working at home so no one could see me cry. But you see, in that moment of all the hopelessness and loss I felt, assurance came to me when I least expected it. And I can’t exactly describe how it feels because you have to experience it for yourself—feeling like you are nothing and having someone to remind you your worth.
Suddenly, I recognized that these triggers or anxiety attacks that I was experiencing so frequently were exposing me to parts of myself that I may have yet to make peace with and fully accept. I realized in my feelings of “not being enough” that were coming up, that I had still some work to do on accommodating the parts of myself that did not feel safe and welcomed. That for those parts to feel welcomed, they first had to be acknowledged and welcomed by me.
What would I have changed when I was a child?
What would Lucid do?
A lot of my mental dissociation or anxiety attacks are connected to childhood wounds, tied to moments in my earlier development when my needs were not met. For me, I suffered not feeling safe and welcomed in the social spheres I entered. Even in family gatherings, gossips and rumours would spread, and the wound of alienation would soon spread to me. I lost a huge chunk of my childhood. I went through a period of anger and hurt myself. But now, things are different. I messed up.
Still, I will persevere.
If I can’t wake up at 7.30 AM, I will try getting up at 8.00 AM.
And that’s still something.
More importantly, the conversations with my second brother and manager had opened the door for me to give myself some grace. Compassionately, I took a break from social media in the day. I made time to speak to my inner child. I told her how much I care for her and how responsible I feel for her safety. I also assured her that she was safe within my body. That, today, I will reparent her and meet her needs; essentially, that she is welcomed here and everywhere she goes.
That she belongs and she is loved—especially by me.
So I say goodbye to the ropes, the ones that I’ve held on for too long, the ones that left me bruised and scarred. This time, there are no more ropes. Just hopes.
Someone gave me a tough pill to swallow. It's the same one I intend to give you. Please take a deep breath beforehand...
Hold it for a couple of seconds...
and exhale... slowly... ever so slowly...
Here's the tough pill:
You are not your pain, nor your shame, nor your grief, nor your trauma. You are pure, unconditional and unadulterated love.
Your mind may scream and say it's a lie.
It's okay. Take your time. Like I said, it's a tough pill to swallow.
You are loved. ♡
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”
I didn’t think I would have survived the first month in my new job as a content creator. In a lot of ways, I was excited but incredibly nervous of trying to find my place in a new environment where it was predominantly Chinese. In a lot of ways, I felt that I had to adapt to the situation but it’s also about finding that sweet spot that I don’t completely compromise my own personality and creativity. While I did struggle in the beginning to bring the change I wanted in the way a digital team to approach the audience, it’s worth to acknowledge that a lot of the great results I’ve seen in my company’s digital performance is due to the support I got from my Digital Manager, Videographer, Graphic Designer, and Technical Coordinators. A lot of my visions were able to brought to fruition with a digital team that had my back and in just a month, we are able to reach to more people and we are also engaging with more people than ever. A lot of this increase in social media traffic is a direct reflection of the team’s effort and dedication—a beautiful collective hard work that paid off.
Just last month, I had the opportunity to manage some livestreams with our collaboration partners to feature their wonderful recipes on our set. I think despite the shaky start I had with my apartment the day before I started this role, it has been fulfilling to get back out and engage with people face-to-face again. One of the biggest fears I had was really falling out of the writing community on Twitter, just because I had never been a position where I had so much influence over a person’s working schedule, so everything was new for me—to adjust to everything was something I had to face with a brave front (even if I was nervous). So far, I am glad I’m still in touch with my fellow writers.
I can’t help but wonder if this is the responsibility that comes along with being a leader. It’s also not just about passing on a job to a person and expecting them to commit to it, but it’s also building that bond with them and trusting in their abilities to understand your concept, and make it come true. I never wanted to come off as a dictator, and I made it very clear to myself that I would never treat a colleague the way I wouldn’t want to be treated. To see that I am slowly breaking out of my comfort zone and building meaningful relationships with my team where they are comfortable in opening to me about their own personal struggles, it’s something that I appreciate. Anybody could come to me for whatever they needed, and I would do my best to assist them.
Of course while it’s a given that every company has its own challenges where certain groups would have a bit of hard time in changing their mindset, I’ve learned that you can slowly convince people to change their mind when you share their concerns, but still stand on your ground and fully explain yourself. I think it’s so important that even with all the differences and unprecedented events, the company still must remain enthusiastic about the future.
One of the things I enjoy most about brainstorming with my digital team is the opportunity to interact with their own creativity on the set. It’s truly inspirational to see and feel their enthusiasm, even with how very much we differ from each other in approaching to social media contents, etc. I am so blessed to work extremely closely with my Digital manager who has good faith in me, the entire digital team, and technical coordinators (also known as Chefs in the company). I can work from writing storyboards, conceptualizing short videos, drafting advertisements, to promotional and campaign artworks. So why this all means the world to me because it is solid progress. I walked into this company with high depression and anxiety—the last thing I wanted to do was to use my mental health as an excuse to treat others poorly, do sloppy work, and to not give my all. I am a 24-year-old adult and I have been for the past years, and I am fortunate to be on a medication dosage that has been working well for me. I wake up early, drink plenty of water, listen to soul-soothing music, to help me get by the days to some capacity.
I know who I am as an individual. I refuse to let my mental health issues reflect who I am as a person. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since therapy, it’s the importance of genuine supportive friends and uplifting others as well. I’ve seen a strong resurgence in my mood and I’m much happier these days too, both of which struggled during my schooling years. My relationships with friends have remained strong, as much of the hard work throughout the pandemic has paid off… through all of this, I have been happy for the successes that they have achieved or are making its way to them.
I’m not entirely sure where all this positivity from me is coming from. What I do know is that I have a high level of faith in my friends and digital team. I’ve talked frequently about how change in constant, much of it is driven by how we interact with our surroundings and more importantly, with ourselves. My ability to embrace all that’s in front of me with a clear set of eyes and a keen sense of reality will be defining for my own path to success, short-term and long-term. As I embark on my transformational journey to write my next chapter, I have full confidence in you. Yes, you, the person reading this. Because together, we are going to achieve beautiful moments, even if our paths are separate.
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.
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.
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.