Looking back

Time itself is ephemeral, days, months and years even more so. We keep time and dates simply to help us organise ourselves in our heads, and as societies. Yet somehow, at the end of every year, the urge to take stock is there. We should, after all, always look back and see how we’ve done this year. As we should every year.

For those of Chinese descent, the Chinese New Year is equivalent to Christmas for those in the West, in terms of familial obligations, gatherings, unity and love. The dinner before the New Year itself, on CNY eve, is aptly named a reunion dinner.

So from this period until the CNY, I struggle. Because I don’t want to talk to anyone or meet anyone. Crowds and obligations make me stressed. And what hits again and again is nostalgia. A yearning for simpler times, for simpler things, even though I recognise and know that my current struggles were formed because life was never really simple.

As I look back on this year, it isn’t easy to encapsulate. But a few things stand out.

We’ve made progress in therapy. I know now that I have things that I’ve always run away from, so ingrained that it’s not even obvious. It’s like looking at a map, zoomed out all the way. You try to move up, but you keep getting blocked even though it seems clear on the map. When you zoom in, you don’t see the block – right until you zoom in all the way and you see that the path that you’ve been on has never really been the right one. You need to turn back, and try to find that fork to go back on the right road, but it’s so far behind that once you zoom out to try to find it, it’s not visible. And forging a new road needs time and energy, and it’s difficult.

But I’ve come a ways. I look back and I realise I don’t hate myself as much. I don’t love myself yet. I don’t care if I hurt myself except I don’t like pain. Except when I think I deserve it. But I don’t have that seething hatred that makes me feel like that I should get rid of myself asap anymore. It’s taken what, two long years?, and finally we’re getting to the point where I’m finally accepting that perhaps there is reason for me to be angry and frustrated with some people in my life, in the past. That it’s perfectly valid to not blame myself for being angry. And that by facing up to these emotions, I can finally start processing some of the wounds that have been inflicted so deeply.

In the past, I’ve always blamed myself for being wounded. It’s ME that caused others to dislike me. I imbibed some beliefs. That it’s not right to be angry with someone you should be grateful to, as being angry with them shows that I’m an ingrate. That anger is bad because when I was younger, expressing anger was bad. It always ended up in bad ways. So I learnt to swallow. To blame myself instead. It makes sense, you know. If I wasn’t so sensitive / bad tempered / easily offended / whatever, I didn’t need to be angry. If I was a gentler person, the anger would find better ways to be expressed. So I’m the bad guy. I’m always the one at fault when I get angry.

Except it isn’t always true. Because sometimes, people hurt you even if you’re not in the wrong. Sometimes anger is valid even if you don’t want to be. I’m human too, right?

But how you react is more important. And because I could not face my anger, I ended up crying. It distracts me from anger. It gives me release in the sense of helplessness that my own mind has tied me up in. And then I would blow up in safer situations, at others, at myself, and I would pound the wall until my hand hurt to release the pain inside to something outside so that I could validate the pain.

So it’s almost a contradiction to say that I’ve progressed. How can this be progress, when nothing is shown for it? But that’s another thing I’ve come to learn. I’ve come to be ruled by the internal belief that I need to be valued or measured by KPIs alone. Effort was never enough. Effort MEANS nothing. That’s not true for my kids or my wife, of course, but for me, it’s true. Effort means nothing because outcomes are what matters. We can have good intentions but if the outcome is pain, then none of the intentions matter.

But you can see the fallacy as well, I guess. I couldn’t for a while, until I applied it to others and not myself. We may have good intentions, but if the result is pain, we can apologise and try again. Change if needed. Grow. Because mistakes are allowed. I haven’t allowed myself mistakes especially if others end up paying for them. But I’m learning also, that I can’t control the future. If I start off from ignorance, it’s actually forgivable. If I start off with malice, that’s a different matter. And continued, irascible ignorance is not excusable behaviour either.

By the way, don’t blame Singapore for the no-mistake culture. It doesn’t matter which country I was in. I can’t explain more of my personal circumstances, but even if I had been in Norway, the same thing would have happened.

Progress then, is measured in the few changes that have come about. I’ll list them here, for myself as much as for others who struggle with depression.

  • I don’t hate myself as much as I used to. I’m far from loving myself.
  • I recognise that I am not always to blame for the beliefs that I hold, but I also recognise that now I am responsible for letting go of unhelpful or incorrect beliefs.
  • It’s okay to face up to my emotions. It’s not wrong to feel anger or sadness. It’s how I react that matters, and if I try to run away or invalidate my emotions to make myself feel less, it will just come out in other ways when I least expect it.

There are other things I still struggle with. I can’t believe that I deserve love or care. I can’t believe that I am worth anyone’s time. I don’t want to talk to people because it takes energy and because I feel like I’ll make mistakes and I shouldn’t waste their time. I don’t think my views matter, even though I want them to matter because otherwise I just want to sink into the ground and never exist.

Three major things happened towards the end of the year, all which made me actively suicidal in passing for long moments. All are too sensitive to publish on the blog, but I’m still here. I have even more changes to make, new changes to adjust to. But I’m more certain that my message is real, and that while others may not agree, may even doubt my salvation in Christ Jesus, I still should walk this walk because in my relationship with God, what is clear is that He has His purpose for me carrying on.

There is hope as long as I breathe. People think of hope as good outcomes all the time. But hope for me can simply be the fact that I can still change and affect outcomes for others and myself, with God’s help. That I’m not just sitting back and rotting. If I stop breathing, then hope dies. There is no way I can make things right any more, no more smiles I can bring, no more love as God’s messenger. So hope is alive for as long as I breathe, even if at times I don’t see it.

It’s a little like swimming from a stricken craft to land. As we swim, sometimes the waves get too strong, and we go under and hold our breath and the longer we go under, the less we think we’ll ever get to land. It’s tempting to stop paddling, and just let the water drown. But then God gives a push, and we’re up above the waves again, gasping for breath, looking around.

And then we look back and we realise we’ve actually come very far from that stricken craft. The land still isn’t necessarily within sight, but as long as we paddle, there’ll be one day we’ll come within sight, or even stand up on that long sought shore. We may or may not have been responsible for the mistakes or even just life events that landed us in this ocean in the first place, but the fact that we are alive enough to paddle is proof enough that God hasn’t given up on us.

I have many things to be thankful for. My wife and kids. My family scattered over various countries. A loving church made up of largely supportive brethren who seek to listen and love instead of judge and diagnose. Two cute and fluffy pig-daughters. Loving friends, one of whom I’ve not talked to face to face for a few years, who came by our place, content to just sit with me. I confess I cried when I hugged her goodbye, because of that sentiment alone.

I have a lot of support. I have things I need to change. I need to learn better where my emotional and physical limits are. I need to eat more healthily (but please don’t give me meal plans or tell me to go keto). In therapy, I need to face my anger. Get up the courage and look up when I talk to my anger. I need to learn to manage my finances better.

Someone once asked me to leave Singapore so I can be at peace. The thing is, I am very much at peace with most of the external stuff that’s happening in general. I can face most of the negative stuff, get angry, upset or sad, deal with the emotions, and then put it down. There remain some things – specifically wounds inflicted by people I perceive to be in authority – that I find hard to handle. But it is peace with myself – peace that God grants but I refuse to take because I don’t deserve it – that I really struggle with. So I shall have to continue to fight to make some changes, while trying not to keep telling myself that no one will value me. To listen less to the critic, and more to the loud whispers of those who love me.

So please, be patient with me. One day, I’ll be standing on that shore, and hopefully be able to hold down some kind of job where I can continue to help people to smile, and love, and be alive.

So that they too, can have that hope which continues to be offered to me right now.

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