2017 in review

As 2017 draws to a close, I have been doing some reflecting – and it was a really challenging year for me. I had to learn many life lessons, go through a lot of personal growth (stressful breakdowns), and at the end of it all, I feel weathered, weary, and a bit worn-out.

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Photo taken by Moses Tng

I think one of the most important lessons I learnt was to be truthful to myself. Sometimes there are inconvenient issues in my life, and the way I’ve dealt with them is to either pretend they don’t exist or failing to acknowledge them. I’ve always been pretty hard on myself and I thought it came from ‘wanting to do my best’, or having ‘high expectations’, but when I really really thought about it, my actions came from caring what people thought about me, and also a fear of failure. By simply acknowledging these truths, I was able to figure out some things.

In caring a lot about what people think about me, in particular at work, it makes me not confident enough in my own abilities or judgments. I fear being inadequate or incompetent, especially being always surrounded by intelligent people who appear to effortlessly breeze through things I struggle with. It is harmful to tie my self-worth with perceived success. I’ve always been outcome focused – after all, I thought the results are what ‘mattered’ and I felt like I can only be loved or worthy of love if I do well or if I am ‘good’. This year I’ve realised that it is actually more important to respect and honour the process that lead to an outcome. It is about how much heart I gave into everything that I did, and it is about if I still showed up despite my own fears (which I did). In research, the amount of effort doesn’t necessarily translate to positive results which was a concept I struggled with. I don’t like feeling I’ve let people’s expectations down, and that is dangerous because anything short of perfection makes me feel like I’ve failed. Of course, perfection does not exist.

All of these flawed thought patterns perpetuated this constant anxiety in my mind over every minor detail, and as a result, I was always clouded with thoughts and worries. I wanted to control every aspect of my life because I wanted to be prepared (for what?). I wanted to know the outcomes of every unknown. However, I wasn’t aware that I was constantly in a state of overdrive until recently. It is such a tiring way to live. I really don’t want to be like this anymore.

My goals for 2018 are:

  1. Work on my self-compassion

    Nobody feels as personally affected about my life as myself, because everybody is far too preoccupied with their own lives. I want to acknowledge and let go of my worries of how I am perceived, because I cannot control what people think of me. Truthfully, nobody even thinks about me that much. It is much more important to work on having a healthy relationship with myself and to be confident in the fact that I like me, rather than worrying about what other people think. I want to invest more time to work on having a resilient and self-compassionate spirit, to sustain myself when things get tough. Life isn’t going to be smooth but that isn’t necessarily my failure or fault. I’m doing as best as I can and that’s all I can ask of myself. ‘Being self-compassionate’ isn’t a one-off thing, but a state that I want to work towards every day. My hope is that I can be kinder to myself in the long run, just like how I am kind, understanding, and forgiving to others.

  2. Enjoy my final year of being a student. Stress less

    2018 is going to be my last year of being a medical student. The end of an era. I don’t want to spend my final year stressing about assignments or exams. I want to be responsible in terms of my own learning, but also just simply enjoy the lack of responsibilities I have, embrace my freedom, and have fun through it all. I miss being in the hospital, I miss doing stuff in the wards, I miss the action and I just want to savour all the moments before I have to do it for ‘real’ when I’m a house officer.

  3. Exercise regularly

    Physical fitness has always been a sore spot of mine. I can’t run for very long before I feel like dying and I’m ashamed of that. I am supposed in my prime physical state yet I feel so unfit. There’s really no excuse for that. I want to physically and mentally challenge myself to run distances, because this is the only thing I haven’t been able to do and keep putting off.

I’m grateful for what I went through in 2017 because I think it really solidified some aspects of my character. I became more aware of my own strengths and weaknesses, became more in touch with who I am, I embraced my vulnerabilities, and I really gave my all to the important aspects of my life. I learnt the difference between pursuing excellence versus pursuing perfectionism, I am learning to face my own demons, and to have the courage to be more honest with myself. I got through everything I thought I wouldn’t be able to get through, but I couldn’t have done it without the amazing people who showed up for me during these hard times. It wasn’t always Struggle Street though – I also had many wonderful moments and memories.

Highlights include my travels in Asia, joining the orchestra and forming my own chamber music group. I got to know so many new people this year and that really makes me happy. I maintained the important relationships in my life. Interaction with the patients through my project this year reaffirmed to me that medicine is what I want to be doing.

I’m relieved to say goodbye to 2017 but also a bit apprehensive about 2018 when I think about what could be coming my way. It is going to be another big year. However – I can only ask myself to take it one day at a time, be kind to myself and others, and enjoy it while I can.

 

 

 

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Things No One Told Me About Being In A Relationship

Life took an unexpected turn since the last post: I’m in a relationship now.

I haven’t had a boyfriend for the past 4 years and during these 4 years, I’ve really focused on two things:

  • self love
  • personal growth

I have been very me-focused which I believed was very important during my “healing/growing up” process. I grew up a lot, but now that life has changed, it has meant I’ve had to grow up in new ways to adjust to a new person in my life. Here are a few reflections on the things I’ve experienced so far.

(Brief flashback to the boyfriend-to-be in a miserably empowering post 2 years ago when we first met but things didn’t work out and I had to process my feelings productively… needless to say, a lot has changed since then)

As I was very hurt by the last ‘break up’ with him 2 years ago, I built walls around myself, and got cautious whenever anyone got too close. I was sick of being sad and didn’t want to rely on anyone else to make me happy anymore. I wanted to be the image of this strong independent woman with her own career, life, friends, hobbies, and someone who didn’t need to feel validated by anyone else. I closed off from others in a way, and built myself from within.

In some ways, I am this woman now. I feel more resilient than ever before, I am independent, I’m on the right path in terms of work, and I certainly wasn’t lonely or insecure before this relationship.

Perhaps the first thing I’ve had to learn is how to trust him again. After our separation in 2015, we didn’t talk at all. So when he did reach out eventually towards the end of last year, naturally I was pretty cautious. I resisted and gave myself plenty of pep talks. Listed many pros and cons: It would never work out. It was long distance. I haven’t seen him in 2 years. Extremely unrealistic. I don’t really know him. I was just being stupid. I’m probably just being used. Yet… a part of me still somehow always gave him a chance. He was different. Things have changed. He’s worth a shot. He’s making an effort. Take the risk. Be brave. Be open. Don’t live with regrets. Before I knew it, one by one, some doors through my emotional walls were slowly opened.

If I’m being completely honest, I think at the very beginning, a part of me was always prepared for the worst though. I would consciously leave a little space of myself that was still guarded and untouched by him, just in case he decided to leave again. I thought I could still be alright because I expected it and at least I would still have this part of me that wasn’t damaged. It would be sadistically satisfying to know that I was ‘right’ for expecting this all along. I knew it was terrible to think like that, but I couldn’t help it at first.

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Photo credit: @hiddenheartbreak on Instagram

Then I realised the hard way how completely ridiculous I was being. What I wanted was to travel via the ‘Let Love In’ route because I’m all for the perks and challenges of that emotionally risky road but I can’t do that if a part of me was trying to avoid vulnerability and emotions too (see above figure). It was so unfair for me to think of him like that when all we want and need is to start afresh and do this properly without the past holding us back.

want to do this properly. I needed to stop being so scared of being hurt and always assuming the worst because otherwise it would just be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I can’t both be open to growth yet still foolishly and cowardly try hold onto something small to prevent myself from getting hurt. It doesn’t work like that. It is extremely selfish and stupid, yet understandable. I was so used to being alone and being self-sufficient that I didn’t know how to let someone else into my life and to share a part of myself again. However, that’s not the way to treat someone you love.

So, I decided to go all in. Let go of my fears. Actually, I probably still have those fears to a degree, but I choose to go on despite them because he’s worth it. I choose to believe that he is a kind person and will not intentionally hurt me. I choose to stop doubting everything that happened. I choose to be vulnerable and not reserve a part of myself and I want to give it my all. I choose to try the hardest I can and try my best for our relationship because that is the least I can do to treat him with the respect he deserves. I choose to trust him 100% and I choose not to look back. Perhaps learning to trust is one of the most important first lessons to learn. After all, it is one of the fundamental pillars of a relationship.

Something else that I’ve been slowly realising is that romanticism is not love. In romanticism, it is believed that the ‘right’ person will just complete you because you are made for each other. They will understand you and things will be easy overall because you are just going to be the right fit. I thought I was this golden girl and deserved only to be treated in the best ways. The right person will love me in just the right ways and know to give me just the right amount of respect, attention and adoration and space. Anything that felt even slightly ‘wrong’ – well, that meant they weren’t the person for me. I believed for a long time that it was okay to leave a relationship that wasn’t ‘perfect’ in my eyes because I will not compromise my standards. I deserved better.

I’m starting to learn that there is no ‘right’ person. Everyone is crazy and imperfect in their own way. One of the bravest things you can do in a relationship is reveal to your partner the things you aren’t the proudest of, and say “this is also who I am”. I don’t believe this is lowering my standards. It is acknowledgement of the truth but also saying, “I’m imperfect too, how can we complement each other? What can I do for you?”

It isn’t about what you can receive from someone, I’m starting to think of it as what can I give. I now don’t expect to always be understood or heard. Sometimes we don’t have enough time for each other. Sometimes we are in a bad mood or are too preoccupied to give each other the attention the other wants. Sometimes we can’t meet the physical or emotional demands of the other person. Sometimes we don’t know what the other person wants even though they think we should know it already. Sometimes we say things that unintentionally hurt the other person. Sometimes we aren’t the best people and show our irritable sides to each other. Sometimes we’re just too tired.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t care about each other. I think we still try our hardest to support each other despite everything. I know that if there was something serious going on, he will make time for me. It isn’t the sweet times but the more tougher times that are a testament to the strength of a relationship. It is about forgiveness, trying our best to understand each other, seeing things from their perspective, and letting things go sometimes. I always think it is better to be happy than to be right. Even if you think you’re right… if it is at a cost of friction for no reason or no particular benefit to the conversation or advancement to your relationship.. just let it go. It pays to be a little deaf sometimes.

I think I used to be a very idealistic and romantic person but now it isn’t as important to me. I don’t need grand gestures or big declarations of love. I think it is actually the everyday things that he does that mean a lot to me. No matter how tired he is, he will always leave me a text to wake up to in the morning and tell me about his day, and to wish me a good day ahead. Sometimes he will want me to call him in the morning, for me to wake up him even if he’s sound asleep (due to the time zone difference sometimes that will be 3 or 4am or later). One time when I didn’t because he seemed to be too tired, he was mildly annoyed and said that I should’ve called anyway.

It is through the things he talks about with me – the little things he remembers, how seriously he has researched New Zealand and the potential life here, the way he talks about me to the people around him, how he sees himself in our life in the future, where we’re going to be. The things he does for me that I don’t even know about sometimes. How he checks up on me. How happy the tone of his voice is to hear from me when our phones connect. How we can just feel at home with each other, talk about nothing and everything for hours. How we can be really mature and really silly with each other. How open to communication he is and how our relationship is based on mutual respect and trust.

I’m extremely grateful for him. He makes me want to be a better person while still encouraging me to learn and grow my less developed qualities. He is very patient with me and I know that he’s making a huge effort to fit me in his life too. We don’t take things too seriously in general and can laugh at each other and ourselves. There’s a very positive vibe in our relationship that facilitates growth, support and kindness towards each other.

I used to write people off really easily if things weren’t the way I wanted it, putting it down to incompatibility if/when things went wrong. I thought that the right person would naturally know what to do. Now, I’ve learnt that disagreements are natural. It is part of building a better relationship. I want to be the type of person that fixes a fundamentally good thing that is a little broken, rather than throwing it all away.

Sometimes your partner will just drive you up the wall or forget to do something, or just not know the way that you wish to be loved or talked to. It is just human. I’m learning to stop faulting so much, stop judging, stop nitpicking. I know that I can certainly be annoying or forgetful or unreasonable too. Instead, I’m going to try my hardest to respond with love, understanding, forgiveness and humour. I’ve learnt to not give up so easily. I’m learning to take what I’ve got, and instead of hoping for love to ‘complete’ me, I know that it actually takes a lot of work for anything to be compatible or complement my life in the way that I want.

I’m learning how to differentiate between the toxic type of ‘compromise’ and baggage to take from another person versus the normal, healthy kind where you need to work together to figure some things out. Maybe the first ‘spark’ is real but what comes after that is certainly a conscious artwork that you have to work at together rather than a spontaneously naturally beautiful thing that happens if you have the ‘right’ person. You both have to decide the direction of how things will look like, what colours to use, how fast to go, and who does what. That takes time and hard conversations to work things out.

If you were to talk to me 5 years ago, long distance relationships were a type of suffering I said I would never let myself go through. And yet, here I am. I think sometimes it feels really easy and sometimes it is so hard. It really depends on how busy we are, how we feel that day, and what happened during the day. Right now I know that there’s no choice and this is something that we have to go through for at least the foreseeable future – so, instead of drowning myself in woe, I’m going to make the most of the opportunity. There are actually a lot of positives too. In addition to doing whatever I like with my time, I think long distance relationships can also help the couple grow in different ways.

Things like learning to communicate, learning to be more independent and trusting each other’s independence, learning to compromise and trying to understand each other better. How to deal with neediness when the other person is busy. How to let things go. How to use the time better. How much we appreciate every moment.

I have been thoroughly humbled by this whole experience so far. I was a self-proclaimed ‘expert’ at dealing with my feelings, other people, and relationships in general because my emotional CV included being the go-to relationship counselor for most of my friends at some point in the past. Now I realise that I still know nothing. Other people’s experiences are not exactly a substitute for one’s own. And it is completely different when I’m in the situation myself. There is still so much to learn (and perhaps a Part 2 of the post).

I’m thankful for the experiences so far, thankful for the experiences to come. Thankful for him, thankful for our lives crossing paths again. I still don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but I’m going to face it with gratitude, grit and grace. It is a long journey together and sometimes you don’t know where you’re going to end up and what’s going to happen along the way. All I can do is take one small step at a time, take one day at a time, and deal with whatever comes my way.

The uncertainty used to bother me, but right now, I’m learning to enjoy the present.

 

Here’s to the mess we make

La La Land is one of those movies that will get you talking. Since I watched it alone, these are a few thoughts I had during and after the movie.

I cannot talk about La La Land properly without dissecting the ending. This post contains spoilers ahead – I strongly recommend watching the movie first.

It was unquestionably a great movie – what polarises people is how they feel about the ending. The entire film features the “seasons” of Mia and Seb’s relationship and romance, from the fateful/hateful beginning, to falling in love, and how they encourage each other to follow their dreams. Although they have their various differences and arguments, the audience is on their side, and they are the classic beautiful Hollywood couple. They seem meant to be. They went through so much, surely love will prevail and they will live happily ever after like it always does?

However, this is not a love story. Cruelly, suddenly, albeit not unexpectedly – the ‘winter’ season jumps to five years later. We are left to fill in the blanks ourselves. These are my thoughts in order of appearance:

Mia must’ve gotten that big film role in Paris – she looks like she’s rich.
She married someone else and had a kid. Who is this husband and why is he not Seb? Why do they look happy? They’re not supposed to be happy together. She’s supposed to be with Seb!
O m g she’s walked into Seb’s bar
O m g they saw each other again what’s going to happen

The amount of feeling in this last scene is immense when they see each other. They do not talk. Seb plays their theme song. The film cuts to a fantasy montage of ‘what could have been’ if things were different. They end up together. But it cuts to the reality that she’s sitting there with a different man. And then, she gets up with her husband to leave the bar. They share one final look which kills me and says it all. A faint smile, and the end.

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La La Land is not a love story, it is a story about chasing your dreams. Mia’s dream was to be a successful actress. Seb’s dream was to open his own place where he gets to play authentic jazz every night. They became a couple through their lowest lows as an artist. Mia was living through the humiliation of performing in front of an empty theatre, of continuous rejection and disrespect at movie auditions. Seb lived through being jobless, then ‘selling out’ and getting a job which was not authentic to his belief in music. Both encourage each other and were instrumental in getting each other back on track to their dreams. Both achieve their dream in the end, but lose each other because amongst other reasons, they placed their careers first.

I was sad, I shed a tear for what could have been for Mia and Seb, but I moved on quicker than I had imagined I would. What surprised me the most about this film personally was that this moment did not break me as much as I know it would have if it came out a couple of years ago and I had watched it as a younger version of myself. I know would’ve cried my heart out and been wrecked.  I think this is a testament to how much I’ve grown/changed over the last few years.

Of course, I wanted them to be together but I wasn’t surprised that they weren’t. Their romance was beautiful and thrilling but I have also learnt over the years that it isn’t bad if love doesn’t love forever like you think it would – some people are only there for a particular season of your life, to help you grow a certain way, and it is okay that they leave. No one is the bad guy. This is just life. It reminds me of the feeling I got after watching ‘500 Days of Summer’.

The lyrics of the very first song in the movie, Another Day of Sun, foreshadowed this already:

I think about that day
I left him at a Greyhound station
West of Santa Fé

We were seventeen, but he was sweet and it was true
Still I did what I had to do
‘Cause I just knew

I’m not the best person to relate to the ‘LA struggling artist’ lifestyle that the film portrays, but I do relate to the career vs love dilemma that I’m sure everyone has felt at one point in their life. I think there is absolutely no easy choice or even a right choice. You just need to pick one and be able to live with the consequences of that decision.

So, it was very interesting to see the fantasy montage in the end and reflect on the key moments in film.
1. Seb ignores Mia when she first hears him play/talks to him after he gets fired.
2. Seb wasn’t there for Mia’s show. No one really showed up for Mia’s show.

What really happened was a stark contrast to the ‘what if’ part. What if Seb passionately kissed Mia when she first goes up to talk to him? What if Mia performed to a sellout crowd who cheers loudly at her play? What if Seb turned up for her show? Would they have still stayed together? Hard to say. Seb would’ve had to give up his dream of running his own bar/club and needed to sacrifice his own career for Mia’s in Paris. Would that be worth it? Hard to say too.

All I know is, comfort is the enemy of change. I think the humiliation and embarrassment that Mia felt at the end of her play contributed largely what got her the movie part that would change her life – it is what made her fearless and give her the depth to nail her audition story.

Here’s to the ones who dream
Foolish as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that ache
Here’s to the mess we make

I trace it all back to then
Her, and the snow, and the Seine
Smiling through it
She said she’d do it again

She said she’d do it again– this is why I believe that the bittersweet smile between Mia and Seb was not a sad ending for both of them or a failure of their love. To me, their faint smile was acknowledging and thanking the other person for their role in the past. Although their time together was crucial to their success today, I do not believe they will make contact again. Both have moved on.

I think that’s so romantic in a sad, messed up, and beautiful way.

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You will always have a place in my heart.

 

 

How to love yourself

Many people lack the feeling of security or love, and seek to find it somewhere outside of themselves. So, when a potential romantic partner comes into the picture, it is incredibly easy to bend who you are as a person in the hope that you will find acceptance and eventually reciprocal love.

We accept the love we think we deserve.
– Stephen Chbosky

I’ve uttered this phrase many times in my life, both for myself and to my girl friends who have ever experienced doubt or disappointment when it comes to love.

With the coming of 2017, I want to write a few words to my sisters out there, especially if 2016 was a terrible year for you:

Dear, you are so precious.

You can only make excuses so many times for other people before you start to lie to yourself. What do you tell yourself when he doesn’t have time for you, when he is unsure of his feelings for you and needs “more time”?  What do you tell yourself when he promises to change and just wants one more chance?

If you keep making excuses for him, it is time to move on. It may sound harsh, but for me, if it isn’t an 100% yes, then it is a no. You deserve better than people who waste your time. Have the courage to be honest with yourself. It is okay if he’s just not that into you. You could be the most delicious potato in the world and there’s always going to be somebody who doesn’t like potatoes.

How do you actually want to be loved?

You need to start loving yourself with that same kind of healthy, wholesome love. Love yourself with the love that you wish to receive from others. 

Respect yourself, believe in yourself, be kind to yourself. True strength comes when you are not afraid to be weak or vulnerable. Accept and love yourself for all of the wonder that you are.

When you truly and deeply live like that, is there anyone who can still hurt you?  It really breaks my heart when you don’t see your true worth just because someone else hasn’t. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”.

There isn’t always a prince in shining armour and it is up to us to rescue ourselves and our fellow sisters.

When you find the unapologetic strength to be yourself, good things happen.

All my love,

Sunny

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Lessons on the go

In April, I went on a 3 week Europe trip with my mum. We visited Amsterdam, Switzerland, Lisbon and Italy. I was looking forward to Italy the most – I imagined exotic accents, rich history, art, beautiful food and culture. Although that was there, throughout Italy I was also exposed to a few unexpected turns which turned to lessons I’d like to share.

Lesson One: You can’t get lost if you intend to have no idea where you’re going

Before I arrived at every city, I would read up on the TripAdvisor recommendations, Lonely Planet tips, scoured through various travel blogs to be as prepared as possible. Initially, I was so stuck in the “I want to make the most of our time in Europe” mind frame that I would stress to make sure we ticked off as many attractions as we could, because it is such a rare opportunity.

Searching up the directions from one church to the next museum to that other historical monument got a bit overwhelming. I got tired of doing all of that two weeks into the trip, so in Venice, I decided- forget it, let’s just wander and see where we end up. Everyone says that it is impossible not to get lost in Venice because it is full of small obscure alleyways. Maps are sometimes inaccurate and the GPS location service gets confused by the poor service.

The most liberating thing was when I realised that these churches and museum on a “must-see” list have literally been there for more than hundreds of years and will continue to exist years after I leave. It is completely okay not to do everything on the arbitrary list that a stranger recommended for the typical traveller! What’s the point of ticking off items on someone else’s list just because I feel like I should? Chances are, they’re still going to be there the next time I come.

I’m not “missing out”. I will be missing out if I didn’t properly enjoy the experience of exploring and spending time with my mum because that is something truly precious; the time we have together is irreplaceable.

Smelling the tulips with mum

Smelling the tulips with mum

Once my priorities were set straight, I felt so light. I loved having no idea where I was going, having no agenda, just walking in the general right direction pointing out interesting things with mum and laughing together. We didn’t get lost in Venice because we didn’t have anywhere we needed to go.

As a medical student, I am shown the well trodden path of student–> house officer–> registrar–> fellow –> consultant. These are the “Must See” attractions. However, often people can feel unsatisfied and ask what the point of going through all this is. We know that we are working for something, we’re ticking off items on a check list to a career goal but the day to day mundane things can sometimes seem pointless.

Venturing off the beaten path can be scary but many people I look up to have told me that looking back, it was the sidesteps in life that actually were highlights of their career. It can seem like you’re “losing your spot”, or that you’re falling behind, but that is when they had the freedom to experiment and try new things which lead to new ideas, innovations and new people.

I became less afraid of the road less travelled. I don’t have to be doing the same things as everyone else to be assured that I’m on the right track. No one else’s version of a good life will ever feel completely right for me- so I need to make my own. I only need to head in a direction that feels right, and enjoy the adventures that come with it. Who knows what might happen?

Lesson Two: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

I learnt this the hard way. Mum and I came across a pretty nice looking restaurant advertising 9 euro spaghetti with lobster. I thought it would be a few shredded pieces of lobster at best for 9 euros, but to our pleasant surprise, it was a whole big plate with lots of other seafood too. We were delighted. We ate to our heart’s content, but when we asked for the cheque, we were shocked to be presented with a 50 euro bill.Turns out the 9 euro lobster was “seasonal”. When we asked our waiter why he didn’t tell us it was seasonal (there was NO mention of it on the menu), he said “I don’t know what you don’t know!”

Note to self: Have a healthy degree of suspicion for things that seem too good to be true.

At least it was delicious.

Lesson Three: Living in the most beautiful cities of the world doesn’t necessarily mean you live a beautiful life

Rome, Venice, Paris, New York… these are postcard-worthy cities that people flock to from all over the world. I’ve always thought.. wow, the citizens are so lucky to live in such historical and famous places. Having visited these cities, I feel that often people can live difficult lives.

There are many buskers near tourist attractions.  In Venice, on the way home, I saw an accordion player I walked past earlier in the day slumped over his accordion on a crowded bus. It was then that I started thinking about what my life would be like if I lived here as a local. This guy has to go and sit by the famous square every day, rain or shine, to collect coins from tourists all day, and then bus back home to do whatever he does. It can be a hard life. It struck me that although tourists only visit the highlights of each place, for locals, this is their home and they have to somehow make a living in a competitive and often crowded place.

People move to New York (or their nearest big city) to prove something to themselves- “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere”. I think back to Auckland and feel so lucky that I don’t live in a shoebox-sized apartment with a dim light and tap water that leaves a white residue floating in the pot after you boil it (water is weird in Italy). Auckland isn’t in the same league as Paris, London, Rome and New York… but I can finally see why we are always in lists like “the most liveable cities in the world” or “the happiest cities in the world” and so on. I get it now. I would rather live in a less famous city and lead a more autonomous life, than to live in a over-glamorized city fighting to live.

There are a lot of things that people complain about in Auckland- the traffic, the house prices, politics… but compared to a lot of other places in the world, this really is a haven. I get a little emotional every time I drive over the Harbour Bridge early in the morning where the light from the sunrise just brushes over the sailing boats; or late at night with our version of a concrete jungle and all the pretty lights. I took it for granted that I could walk around at night by myself in Auckland; whereas I felt unsafe walking in Naples in broad daylight with my mum. I took it for granted that there is so much greenery here; I could go for a run anywhere and know that I wouldn’t feel out of place. The living conditions I thought were ‘normal’ really aren’t the norm elsewhere in the world. Every time I find myself getting annoyed at little things like the bus being late… I think back to my experiences overseas and the perspective shifts. It could be a lot worse.

Lisbon- my fav place

Lesson Four: When humanity lets you down, remember that nobody owes you anything. Don’t take it personally.

I really, really wanted to love Florence. Everybody loves Florence. There is no denying that it is a beautiful and cultured city and I think I would’ve said it was my favourite place in Italy.

Mum and I knew that there were many pickpockets in Italy, so we always bring only the cash we think we will need on the day, and leave all our credit cards and passports at our accommodation. We spent a wonderful day out exploring Florence, we went out for dinner, and then we were looking forward to relaxing at our accommodation when two bus ticket inspectors comes on the bus, one comes in the front door and one comes in the rear door.

We hand him our bus tickets that we had just bought before we got on the bus (in Italy, bus tickets are sold in ‘Tabac’ stalls – kind of like the dairy in New Zealand). The man takes a look at our ticket and basically says “you haven’t validated your ticket”.

What does that mean?

He pointed to an inconspicuous machine behind him. Nothing about validating a ticket there was on the sign. He scribbled some notes on his pad and gave us a loud lecture in mixed Italian and English and hand gestures on the bus with everyone staring.

We explained to him that this was our first day in Florence. We only just bought the ticket before we boarded the bus, and when we got on the bus we showed our tickets to the bus driver and tried to tag on the bus but didn’t realise that there was a second machine we needed to put our tickets into. We were very sorry, etc etc. He pointed to a tiny line on the bottom of our ticket that said “tickets must be validated” and refused to budge. He scribbled more on his pad. 50 euro instant fine, he said, and handed us the piece of paper.

I explained that I don’t have 50 euros left. Mum and I literally only had 20 euros left between us and a few coins in my wallet since we were on our way home, finished for the day. Then he asked for our credit card. No luck. He then asked for my documents. We also did not have any on us. “Big problem, big problem”, he repeated in a thick unfriendly Italian accent.

At this point, a nun who was sitting opposite to my mum and I defended our innocence and said gave her validated ticket to us, because she still had her bus card. The ticket inspector said it wasn’t about a ticket or not, it was because of the fact we hadn’t validated our ticket and nothing could change that.

He started talking to his colleague who also found another unfortunate tourist in a similar situation to fine. They mentioned something about going to the police station at “San Marco square“. They motioned for us to leave the bus with them, as if we were criminals.

The other tourist had a credit card on him, the other ticket inspector took him to an ATM and got the money off him. Well, mum and I were apparently in big trouble over a measly 1.5 euro bus ticket. We tried to explain to him back and forth, none of us could understand the other very well. I felt exasperated, although I knew that deep down, he knew we made an honest mistake. We wouldn’t be the first tourists in this situation and we certainly wouldn’t be the last. Eventually, after over half an hour of talking, he took our remaining 20 euros and said the matter was finished if we just pay up, handing us the receipt. I shoved over my remaining 20 euros and mum and I walked home in gloom, never looking back at him.

On the way home, what had just happened slowly sank in and I felt so miserable and sorry for myself. It was the most humiliated and degraded I have ever felt. I was so angry. It wasn’t the money he took away from me- it was the whole idea where the purpose is to pick on tourists who honestly don’t know any better. Where is the humanity? How could he sell his soul to a bus company? It felt like no amount of reason could sway the stench of bureaucracy that came along with his uniform. I still had hope that maybe kindness and understanding would seep through somewhere, but it was no where to be seen. He was cold and unforgiving.

Usually when something bad happens to me, I’m able to learn something from the experience and see something positive out of it. On my sad walk home, I felt that there was absolutely nothing to be gained out of this whole experience. There was no reason for this suffering.

When I talked to friends about this incident when I got back home, people have said “maybe he’s a crook”, “maybe he was just really into his job”, “maybe you were just unlucky”. No matter what it was, this guy had his own reasons for doing what he did. Maybe I will never understand, but I refuse to be the victim. I have learnt so much from this experience.

Firstly, I think it could’ve been a lot worse. I could’ve met him at the beginning of the day when I had enough cash. It could have been a real crook who have properly mugged us for money instead of doing it this way. Mum and I were physically unharmed. Who’s ever heard of getting a discounted fine?

What mum and I experienced was a breeze compared to other citizens of the world who face corrupt officials on a daily basis. In real life, the weak get preyed upon; this is a fact of nature. Respect and dignity is paved by money. I’ve been living in my sheltered bubble for too long, because I’m constantly surrounded by kind people. A fan-favourite phrase from Game of Thrones is “You know nothing, Jon Snow”. I would like to join your club, Jon Snow, for I also know nothing. I actually know absolutely nothing about the world. I’ve got so much to learn. Mum was fully composed after this happened and she said it was “normal”. People face unfairness all the time and this is a small deal compared to the storm that life can throw at you. I hope one day I can deal with situations like my calm, wise mother instead of feeling like an idealistic fool most of the time.

Beautiful Florence

I didn’t understand it at the time, but going through all of this made me so appreciative of the times when people did show humanity and kindness to me.  In Amsterdam, mum and I bought the wrong type of tram ticket accidentally but the tram driver still waved us through. In Switzerland, the automatic train machines didn’t accept my note because it was too large and there were no staff around to help. So a lady placed her own money in the coin slot and helped us buy our ticket, and wouldn’t accept any payment in return.

Good things happen on a daily basis, but so do the bad. What I learnt was to not take the times where people have helped me for granted. It isn’t personal; it is because they were virtuous rather than anything I did. When I feel let down, I re-check my privilege and realise that nobody owes me anything in this world. They can be mean if they want to, they can be nice if they want to, and I have absolutely no control over that. What I do have control over is how I react to these situations. I’ve learnt to toughen up, and use it to widen my perspectives. I could either be bitter or I could use this experience to benefit others in the future. It is a lesson that I can’t learn from anywhere else.

I’ve changed a lot since returning home. My experiences abroad that have caused a huge attitude shift and everyday I realise how lucky I am to live in this place. The things that used to bother me don’t have the same affect anymore because I’ve developed more mature ways of dealing with them. It is subtle but things have definitely changed within me. I appreciate the little things more than I did before, and I feel that peaceful sort of happiness because I’m acutely aware of how things could be so much worse.

A few words on friendship

It was my birthday two Saturdays ago. Having been in Hamilton for the past six weeks, my plan was to drive up Auckland with Joevy, and have lunch on the way back up at Zealong Tea. It was going to be a quiet, low-key sort of day.

Little did I know….

My beautiful friends drove down to Zealong Tea in Hamilton amidst their busy schedules to surprise me with high tea. They filmed a video message for me and vlogged the whole day (thank you Jisu for the editing! Check out her YouTube channel called Jipoo Diaries where she posts awesome travel vlogs)

The video speaks for itself. I felt so much love and it was a day where only good things happened. It was so nice to spend an afternoon with the girls; chatting, laughing, eating and making use of a forecasted thunderstorm that didn’t come.

I don’t think words can describe how grateful I am to have such treasures in my life. I have been through so much with every single one of them and their friendship is what helped me carry through some of my hardest times.

I finished reading Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen earlier this year, and this quote sums up my thoughts about friendship:

There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.

My attitude to friendship is simple:
1. Pick the right people
2. Show that you love them
3. Always aim to give more than you receive. It is a blessing to be able to help out your friends.

Stop fighting it

I’ve focused on the idea of happiness for such a long time. It is something I’ve been working towards, something I strive for, and something I formed as a habit. I saw it as the default emotion of what my life should be. If I wasn’t happy, something in my life must not be going right. Fix it immediately. Contain the mess.

I tried really, really hard to live in this ideal. I forced myself to see the positive aspects of everything. I actively shunned out sadness, anger, disappointment, frustration, jealousy and wanted those ugly feelings to have no place in my daily life.  I saw those emotions as a sign of failure-  “How did I let myself get sad today? Am I simply not being grateful enough? Am I taking things for granted? Why am I so weak today? Cheer up!”

So, I never listened to the ‘bad’ feelings and tried to overcompensate with gratitude- it was the only way I knew how to soothe myself, the only way that would turn a bad situation into an okay situation: “At least I still have good people around me, a warm bed and food on the table”. “This will be over soon and I know I’ll get stronger from this”. It was all very ‘positive’ and ‘healthy’. I thought I was doing great with the active happiness thing I was trying this year (see previous blog entry).

Then, something happened last week which turned my simple life right around. Suddenly I was faced with heartbreak. I lost someone really special to me. It was an ‘almost-relationship’ that I put a lot of effort and courage into. It ended without much warning and I was forced to bury a part of myself I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to. I was thrown into a thunderstorm of disbelief, anger, disappointment, betrayal, confusion, hurt, and utter complete sorrow. It was the kind of sadness where I didn’t see myself ever being happy again.

Initially I tried to rationalize it, to compartmentalize the sadness to a tiny area of my brain that I didn’t dare to let escape. I needed to function normally in my daily life, however no amount of reason could stop it from affecting everything else. I didn’t enjoy going to hospital anymore. I didn’t enjoy eating anymore. I couldn’t sleep. Eventually, I let my tears fall like rain and didn’t try to stop myself this time.  I cried and cried and cried. I picked myself back together because I was in a public place. I went to the movies by myself and watched Inside Out. I bawled unapologetically and unashamedly through more than half the movie. I cried until I thought there was no way I had more tears left, and then cried some more. I picked myself back together again and walked home.

There was something so cathartic about the whole process of simply accepting my feelings for what it was. The movie enlightened me and I had a somber realisation that my pursuit of happiness suffered a huge fault.

The idea that everything I do is to be happy, the fact that I tried so hard not to let any negative emotions seep into my life caused a harmful side effect, which is fear of sadness. I was afraid of what I perceived to be failure. I didn’t want to admit that sometimes my life was less than ideal. I wanted to push something that’s so human out of my life.

Sadness is so necessary! I tried to resist it for so long, but sadness is necessary in order for there to be happiness. Sadness isn’t the enemy of joy- they’re partners. My ability to feel sad is what stirs compassion in others and makes me a good friend because I listen and empathize.  When things in life aren’t going well, forcing myself to be happy isn’t going to help. I just need an honest outpouring of sadness. It is okay to feel broken once in a while. Embrace it. Feel it all. Stop pretending to be so tough all the time. I will heal and I will be okay but the first step is in admitting I’m not okay.

Being sensitive is not being weak. It is the part of being human that allows me to be in tune with my soul, gives me permission to follow my instinct and have faith in myself. Sadness tells me where I want to go in my life- it shows that things are not quite right yet, that I’m not quite happy yet, and this is valuable information to have. It is the catalyst for change.

Sadness forces me to reflect upon my life. I try to make sense of things merely by becoming aware of the changes it causes within me, the emotions it pulls out of me, the fire it ignites with me, the empathy it causes me to feel. It makes me strong and weak and curious and insecure and angry and brave and tough and deep and everything which makes me alive. It helps me get that much closer to the long and never ending road of becoming myself. There is no growth without loss. There are so many experiences worth having other than just happiness.

My own need to ensure that I’m happy all the time constantly overlooked and downregulated the rest of my emotions which are equally as important in directing my life. There is no such thing as a ‘bad’ emotion. They are all just as valid as each other. They all serve a different but important purpose. I feel so liberated by this. I don’t have enemies in my head. Fear, anger, disgust and sadness are all crucial parts of me.

Wholeness is what I should be striving for and part of wholeness is accepting sadness, pain, disappointment, failure- all of those things which make up who I am. There needs to be harmony between joy and sadness.

I cannot be fully me without all the parts of me.

My Pursuit of Happiness

Currently I’m in the happiest and mentally healthiest state as I’ve probably ever been in years. I know I haven’t updated in a really long time. I just didn’t feel like writing publicly for a while.

During the last year I tried to have a major focus on self care and self development. I travelled to many places, including some cities I’ve dreamed of visiting forever- New York and San Francisco. Travelling to new places contributed to most of my favourite memories of 2014 and visiting those locations made me feel joy from the core of my heart. I felt free, lived everyday like it was a real gift, and really treasured every single moment because I knew I would not be back in a long time. The thing about travelling is that I feel wonder at the simplest things- the different shapes of the traffic lights, the different font and colour of the road signs, the differently shaped taxis, the pavement, the local shops… basically everything that I take for granted in New Zealand. I realised that these are the things that really makes somewhere unique, as well as the little quirks and cultural norms of the local people.

I felt really happy when I was in America, but I think the moment that brought me the greatest happiness was when I was in Hong Kong in August by myself. I went to do a presentation at a conference, and in my free time I met up with a high school acquaintance I knew through Chinese Extravaganza who studies at Hong Kong University. He was in the year below me, I hadn’t had a proper conversation with him before, and we’ve never really spent time together but we both happened to be New Zealanders in Hong Kong so why not. Initially I felt pretty anxious because I didn’t know Hugo very well and was worried we would have nothing to talk about. We met up for for dinner, and I wanted him to take me to a local place so he did. We went to this restaurant in a really really local place and ordered food I hadn’t tried before (frogs). We talked the entire time and I was incredibly relieved to find I had so much to say to him, so much to catch up on and vice versa. It felt like there wasn’t enough time to say everything we had to say to each other and I felt like I was meeting up with a long lost friend. I knew how precious the time was, because I was leaving the next day and none of us knew when the next time we would see each other would be.

Hugo suggested we take his car out so he could show me Hong Kong by night. Of course I was delighted by this extra time to talk and also see the city. When we went to his place to get the car, his parents gave me moon cakes to take back to the hotel and eat which is just the sweetest thing. We were aimlessly driving north towards New Territories, got off the motorway when it felt right and turned when we felt like. Hugo told me about how at night there are gangsters on these streets and it really started to get eerie when we were waiting for a traffic light and realised there were no cars anywhere to be seen. When you’re in Hong Kong and there is literally no one on the streets, you know you’re far out. To our right, there was a huge abandoned factory with black windows and it really reminded me of zombies/nuclear weapons. We were both pretty creeped out so we drove back and got some petrol. In the car I played music and ‘Creep’ by Radiohead came on shuffle and we both just loved it and sang along. It is one of my favourite songs. At the petrol station, Hugo asked if I wanted to put the car roof up since he had a convertible and I was incredibly excited. The air was hot and humid but I’ve never been in a convertible before so I gotta try it out. We ended up being stuck in traffic in the long underground tunnel back to Central and it was just the funniest thing. We were sitting in the fumes of the hundreds of cars in the tunnel, not moving much, with little ventilation, no open air and dying of lung cancer/pollution. We couldn’t put the car roof back on because you had to get out of the car and adjust the whole thing which takes a while. It was hilarious when we were just sitting in the aftermath of our dumb mistake because what can you do?

After we got out to open air, we decided we’d drive to The Peak to get good night views of Hong Kong. I think by this point it was at least midnight or 1am but there were still so many people at The Peak. We parked illegally on a side street somewhere because we only intended to be up there for a short while- bask in the night lights for a bit and then leave. It was beautiful. I felt so connected but isolated to everything in the universe for a while, staring at all the tall buildings and imagining the lives of those people who worked or lived there. Then I thought about those people who couldn’t afford housing, those who couldn’t get a job, and my heart was full.

When we got back to the car, it wouldn’t start up. We tried everything we could, but it still wouldn’t start up. This went on for a good 10 minutes which is quite a long time to accumulate healthy doses of Freak Out but it finally started after a few tries when I got out of the car (hahaha). Anyway, huge relief, and the drive down from The Peak was when everything hit me. During the whole night, Hugo and I were just talking about the past, present and the future- all our worries, thoughts, and I suspect also some things we hadn’t even told our close friends back home. I felt so free, so alive, so young but old at the same time. I felt happy in the truest and purest sense. There were so many things waiting for me to do in New Zealand, but it was so far away and I was here and here only, there was nothing I could do except to be present, to enjoy what was in front of me. To make the most out of my last night in Hong Kong, to spend time with someone I could call my good friend now, and I felt so much love for my life and the world. I knew this was one of those moments I’d look fondly upon for the rest of my life and I wanted to imprint every single thing in my brain so I would never forget how happy, alive, and infinite I felt.

Leaving Hugo was really hard. We hung out again the next day before I left for the airport, and I felt really empty when we went our separate ways in the subway station. When I was at the airport all these feelings came up again and I just started to tear up as I read his kind goodbye message to me- I felt like I made a really good friend, and then left indefinitely. I cannot deal with goodbyes. Then I started to cry really hard.

I wondered why I always felt so happy when I travelled. If I lived in New York, San Francisco or Hong Kong permanently, I would stop noticing the different traffic lights, road signs, and taxis. I would stop feeling wonder at every little thing. Everything would become normal. I concluded that it all has to do with the attitude. The thing is, I think I decided to let myself go, stopped worrying, really enjoyed and lived every single moment as if it was my last (because it often was) only when I was somewhere else because I wanted to make the most out of my time there and the money I spent to get there. I might as well do everything a place can offer me while I’m there. But it is all in the attitude! I wanted to capture the happiness I felt overseas and bring it to my daily life.

I realised that happiness is absolutely a conscious decision I make with my life, and it has been really liberating. There is no point thinking I’ll be only happy after I get into the programme I want, after I get a job, after I get my first house, after I’m in a relationship/married…after all these arbitrary milestones. Happiness is what’s in every single day. The feeling of completing those milestones won’t sustain me. When I look back upon a year, it isn’t defined by the one or two spectacular days- it is an amalgamation of every ordinary day. Every day matters. This is one of my all time favourite quotes:

For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin — real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way. Something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.

Alfred D’Souza

In 2015, one of my new year resolutions is simply to have a more positive attitude towards everything that comes my way, to let things go and to stress less. I’m the kind of person to get so worked up over the tiniest things that disrupt my schedule which is neither productive nor healthy. January was the first month I chose to be happier, and I’d say it was one of the best months ever. I didn’t do anything extraordinary. Sometimes even staying at home all day was enjoyable because I chose to make it enjoyable. Whenever things came my way that had the potential to make me worried or stressed, I isolated that event, saw it as something not a part of me, calmly dealt with it in whichever way I could, and if I couldn’t fix it, that was okay too. I took a role model in a close friend who never stresses out and I asked myself, “What would they do in this situation?” and suddenly everything was manageable. It is magic. It is all in the attitude. My skin is better, my habits are healthier, I respect and love myself a lot more. I feel that I am a lot more emotionally stable and mature because of it.

So far I’m having a good year. I spend time with people who make me happy, and I spend less time on commitments that I feel like I “should” or “have to” do which contribute nothing to my wellbeing. I want to shift my focus to things that really matter instead of spreading myself thin. I did a massive clean out of my possessions and threw away everything I hadn’t used in a year and things that didn’t make me happier in any way. I feel lighter, more free, and ready to take on this year. I don’t pack my schedule. I take time to spend with myself to prevent what I call “social burnout”. I need to take time away to spend with myself and I can’t be with people all the time no matter how much I love them.

I want to be happy with myself, by myself, instead of having to rely on external factors like the opinion of my peers to validate my self worth. I’m going to be someone that makes me happy.

To my dear friends, and to all the other lovely people who have stumbled upon my blog, I also wish you happiness from the bottom of my heart. Let’s make the world a better place, beginning with ourselves.

Love, loss and lacrimation

My grandfather is in hospital at the moment and I think he is probably going to die.

My brother is also in hospital at the moment, and I think he will be alright, although he is not okay right now.

I remember the last time that I saw my grandfather was in the beginning 2012. Our family stayed with him and I saw him everyday for 2 weeks over Chinese New Year. I was very happy. When the 2 weeks were up, I said goodbye to him for a long time because I didn’t want to leave. He walked outside the house, and when he closed the car door for me while I got inside the car, I saw tears in his eyes. I couldn’t help but feel tears well up too. My grandfather is the strongest person in the world and he never cries. His mother died when he was three, one of his daughters died when she was very young, and he lost his wife shortly after that. I looked back, waving, crying silently, while he became smaller and smaller and gradually out of sight. I think we both knew deep in our hearts that it was probably the last time we’d see each other. His health was already slowly declining in 2012. God, I feel so sad thinking about this.

My brother was admitted into hospital on Tuesday night because he had continued stomach pain and vomiting for days and it wasn’t getting better. He had an operation on Wednesday night, at 10:40pm to remove his appendix. The doctors said that the operation would take around an hour. He didn’t come back out until 2:30am and needless to say, my whole family was just pacing up and down, so worried for him, thinking something had gone wrong. Turns out he had a really complicated operation and the simple appendicitis had spread to the peritoneum and there was heaps of inflammation and pus everywhere.

Mum, dad and I were with him before he went inside the operating room. He was so scared. I was so scared. He was so brave. We kept reassuring him, telling him that he was a good boy and everything would be over really soon and the doctors knew what they were doing. He just bravely nodded and didn’t say anything. When the staff came in to wheel his bed away to the operation room, when he disappeared, I just started crying, I couldn’t help it. He is so small and he was already going under the knife. He has endured so much pain, discomfort and poking and prodding over the last few days and it just made my heart ache. I just wanted to hug him and never let him go again. I didn’t want him to feel any pain anymore.

As a medical student, I hear about operations every day. Appendicitis operations are too trivial to talk about- even when my lecturers talk about a patient getting neurosurgery to remove a tumour, it means very little to me. My thoughts have been completely turned around. Operations are so emotional for the family, no matter how big or small it is. Even though I knew that the doctor had probably completed hundreds of appendicitis operations before, there was still a part of me that was thinking, ‘what if something goes wrong?’. I can’t help but think that when it is my own brother. We are trusting the medical profession with our lives. The hours that I waited for him to come out of the operation room were probably the longest hours of my life, especially when the one hour mark slowly ticked over… it was agony. Everything was just up in the air.

So much has changed in the last few days. No one is ever at home anymore, we are always eating food at the hospital, I spend every single spare moment at the hospital and all of us are just by his bedside from morning till night. Our previous life has pretty much stopped existing and everyone is just making sure that Kammy can be as comfortable as possible. Thankfully appendicitis is an acute situation and my little brother will be out of the hospital soon. Imagine being diagnosed with a chronic illness… it must be incredibly hard to live with and adjust to. The illness really becomes your life.

This has given me so much inspiration to study hard to be a better doctor. It reminds me that every single thing I’m learning about is relevant to someone’s life- it is their life. It can seem like pages and pages of diseases are just names to memorise for an exam, but I need to humanize them. It is extremely easy to become desensitized to all the procedures that we do. Everything is scary for the patient. Every single encounter a patient has with a doctor is significant. While a doctor may have dozens of patient encounters per day, it may be that patient’s only time in the day where they get to see a doctor and they will remember it. The paediatric surgery team at Starship Hospital have been amazing and we are really lucky to have such top healthcare in New Zealand.

I will never forget how anxious and vulnerable I felt when my brother went inside the operation room. I will come back to this feeling whenever I start to get discouraged from med school and remember that this is all for that day when I can do something substantial for someone else’s most precious person in the world, just like how they have done for me.

Right now, I continue to give these two brave soldiers all my love.

There is a light that never goes out

I adore the feeling of nostalgia, of sorrow, of a lonesome homesickness and the peacefulness it can bring me.

I think this sort of sadness is beautiful and humble and patient. It tugs gently at my heartstrings and when I am in this state, I am so sensitive and receptive and strangely full of gratitude for my life. I feel so connected to the world- especially the rain, and countless number of people who have no doubt felt lonely at midnight or feel like they’re missing something they can’t quite put to words. I feel compelled to reflect and I am reminded that I am just like speck of dust on the surface of this sad red earth.

I am not a sad or pessimistic person by nature, so I have always wondered why I am so drawn to literature or films that make me feel alone, or allow me to realise a gradual sadness growing within me. I like how this feeling is pure. It doesn’t matter what happened to you to make you feel this way, when you feel alone, it is like a separate element that you are left with when all other complications are scraped away. I am able to connect with characters in a book the most when they are upset. There is something so human about a broken spirit, something so forgivable about being lost and losing hope.  I connect with these characters because I feel like they’re real.

When I see happy or inspirational quotes, I like them, but the ones that stick with me the most are the ones who accurately describe sorrow and loss. These feelings are slow, there is a component of acceptance and not anger or denial. I like them just like minor key signatures and jazz music.

Recently, I read several fantastic books that have made me feel this way. I must share them.

My favourite book so far is ‘On The Road’ by Jack Kerouac. He describes feelings to an absolute perfection.

A pain stabbed my heart, as it did every time I saw a girl I loved who was going the opposite direction in this too-big world.

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I woke up as the sun was reddening, and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was- I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of the steam outside and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about 15 strange seconds. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost. I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future, and maybe that why it happened right there and then, that strange red afternoon.

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They had come down from the back mountains and higher places to hold forth their hands for something they thought civilisation could offer, and they never dreamed the sadness and the poor broken delusion of it.

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Bitterness, recriminations, advice, morality, sadness- everything was behind him, and ahead of him was the ragged and ecstatic joy of pure being.

I also love ‘The Grapes of Wrath‘ by John Steinbeck. A book about false hopes, broken dreams, a human suffering, and the endurance of the human spirit. What not to love? Brilliant. This excerpt below is about the rich people of California throwing away mountains of good food while thousands of people watch and starve, and are killed if they retrieve any from the rubbish dumps:

There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolise. There is a failure here that topples all our success. And they stand still and watch the potatoes float by, listen to the screaming pigs being killed in a ditch and covered with quickslime, watch the mountains of orange slop down to a putrefying ooze; and in the eyes of the people there is a failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.

‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger is also great.

Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behaviour. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. You’ll learn from them- if you want to.

Some of the most beautiful words are in ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F.Scott Fitzgerald.

If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass.

I find sadness so captivating and enjoyable, but I’m not a sad person. Does that make sense?