Archive for the ‘state of mind’ Category

So you lost him. Now what?

lobsters (1)

Something on page 156 of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love jumped out at me. The book has been at my bedside for a long time, maybe a year or two. Or three. The passage below of a conversation between Elizabeth and Richard from Texas speaks to me because of the hurt I have been carrying with me for the last four years.

It was back to normal state of mind by end of year one. Still thought of him every day but stopped crying at the mere mention of him in year two. Could see him and hold myself together by year three. I thought I am in year three until a Facebook memory notification pushed a memory of him from four years ago. Has it been that long?

A few months ago, I started having that disturbing feeling again. It feels like a knot in the heart and I’ve been having it on and off. I thought I had finally gotten rid of it and now it’s back. This time was almost as intense as the first, which was akin to having your heart pickled. Sometimes it goes away for awhile, but it would be there again in the morning.

The last episode, I suspect, was triggered by a difficult situation at work. Things were sorted out in the end but the feeling remained. So I continued to feel on edge, wondering if something really bad was about to happen. A few things did happen, but nothing that caused my world to crash down… and now I’m reminded that I finally feel… nothing.

It’s time to move on.

“I can’t stop obsessing over David. I thought I was over him, but it’s all coming up again.”

He says, “Give it another six months, you’ll feel better.”

“I’ve already given it 12 months, Richard.”

“Then give it six more. Just keep throwin’ six months at it till it goes away. Stuff like this takes time.

Someday, you’re gonna look back on this moment of your life as such a sweet time of grieving. You’ll see that you were in mourning and your heart was broken, but your life was changing and you were in the best possible place in the world for it – in a beautiful place of worship, surrounded by grace. Rake this time, every minute of it. Let things work themselves out in India.”

“But I really loved him.”

“Big deal. So you fell in love with someone. Don’t you see what happened? This guy touched a place in your heart deeper than you though you were capable of reaching, I mean, you got zapped, kiddo. But the love you felt, that’s just the beginning. You just got a taste of love. That’s just limited little rinky-dink mortal love. Wait till you see how much more deeply you can love than that. Heck, Groceries – you have the capacity to someday love the whole world. It’s your destiny. Don’t laugh.”

“I’m not laughing.” I was actually crying. “And please don’t laugh at me now, but I think the reason it’s so hard for me to get over this guy is because I seriously believed David was my soulmate.”

“He probably was. Your problem is you don’t understand what that word means. People think a soulmate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soulmate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that’s holding you back, the person who brings you to your attention so you can change your life. A true soulmate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soulmate forever? Nah. Too painful.

Soulmates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave. And thank God for it. Your problem is, you just can’t let this one go. It’s over, Groceries, David’s purpose was to shake you up, drive you you out of that marriage that you needed to leave, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light could get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you had to transform your life, then introduce you to your spiritual master and beat it. This was his job, and he did great, but now it’s over. Problem is, you can’t accept that this relationship had a real short shelf life. You’re like a dog at the dump, baby – you’re just lickin’ at an empty tin can, trying to get more nutrition out of it. And if you’re not careful, that can’s gonna get stuck on your snout forever and make your life miserable. So drop it.”

“But I love him.”

“So love him.”

“But I miss him.”

“So miss him. Send him some love and light every time you think about him, and then drop it. You’re just afraid to let go of the last bits of David because then you’re really alone, and Liz Gilbert is scared to death of what will happen when she’s totally alone. But here’s what you gotta understand, Groceries. If you clear out all that space in your mind that you’re using right now to obsess about this guy, you’ll have a vacuum there, an open spot – a doorway. And guess what the universe will do with ghtta be.”

“That doorway? It will rush in – God will rush in – and fill you with more love than you ever dreamed. So stop using David to block that door. Let it go.”

“But I wish me and David could – “

He cuts me off. “See, now that’s your problem. You’re wishin’ too much, baby. You gotta stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone oughta be.”




Optimism from a rubbish truck

Don’t you just hate it when you’re stuck behind a rubbish truck in traffic? If you’re in a cold or temperate country, it’s not big a deal, but when you’re in tropical Malaysia, rotting rubbish is an assault on your sense of smell (unless you’re having a load of snot so thick that a stinking fart doesn’t bother you).

This morning, my Uber driver picked me up just as the rubbish truck was leaving my neighbourhood… and we ended up behind it. Good morning!

Whenever I’m near a rubbish truck, I try to ignore it. If I’m walking, I just hold my breath and put on my imaginary blinkers. But today, something caught my eye – in one corner at the back of the truck a colourful wind spinner stood out defiantly against a dull backdrop of grey metal and dirt. It spun gaily in the morning breeze, spreading rainbows and unicorns to dour drivers (okay, that’s stretching it but you get the idea).

Kudos to the rubbish collectors for the cheerful optimism and bringing colour to an overcast morning. They still see beauty even in the dirtiest of jobs. I’m humbled.

I’m sorry I didn’t have time to snap a picture. If you’re ever stuck behind a rubbish truck, keep your eyes open and tell me what you see. I hope it’s something that would make your day a bit more bearable.

Chinese New Year ammunition for the single girl

My most favourite ang pau envelope so far. It's from Ninja Joe, a burger joint.

My most favourite ang pau envelope so far. It’s from Ninja Joe, a burger joint.

Chinese New Year is just one day away. Many would be excited but some may dread it. Family reunions for the single girl can be very stressful if not annoying when well-meaning but nosey relatives ask “Still no boyfriend yet ah?”

Even those who have boyfriends are not spared.

“When are you getting married? Wait for what?”

And if you are married, “Still no kids yet ah?”

It just doesn’t end.

And it gets worse when your much younger cousins show up with a new boyfriend/girlfriend, spouse or yet another kid to add to the brood of grandchildren. Oh wait, I’m the grandchild. I mean great grandchildren.

I can’t speak on behalf of those who are in a relationship or are married, but I can certainly offer some ammunition to shoot back at those busybodies.

This posting is inspired by something a friend put up on Facebook – a Huffington Post blogpost on 5 Things to Say the Next Time Someone Asks Why You Aren’t Married. I found it too polite and apologetic for such an exasperating situation.

I prefer retorts like these:

Please note that they are skewed towards females as they are usually the ones to pry.

1. “Why? And end up whining about my husband, kids and married life like you do?”

2. “Oh honey, I’m not into guys,” and give the person a soft lingering touch on the arm.

3. “Well, I don’t really know. But can you please tell me what on earth possessed you to get married?” while shooting the person a sympathetic look.

4. “No bonus from the company. I need the ang pow.”

5. This one is contributed by someone who got the question in church, “Because GOD hasn’t sent ME the RIGHT man.” Yes, she used capital letters for those words.

6. “Why limit myself to one man when I can have many?” – Say this with a hungry look like a cougar while your eyes scan the room for fresh meat.

7. “What to do? All the good ones are taken,” while you steal a lustful look at the woman’s husband.

I was aiming for 10 but I’m out of comebacks. Feel free to add if you have to offer.

If you’re wondering why such harsh words in the Positive Spin, I’m just being sarcastic. Great sarcasm is an art and anything that squeezes my creative juices I choose to view as something positive.

Disclaimer: I have never actually used any of those lines and I don’t recommend that you do either. It’s just to ‘lepas stim’. I would just say “Tak ada jodoh lagi (I haven’t found my soulmate yet),” while I mouth off those nasties in my head. CNY is a time to get together, eat, drink and be merry, so let’s try to keep the peace.

Plus, I still want to receive ang pows.

I should add that as I get older, people stop asking me that question. I’ve probably reached the age of ‘Why even bother asking – lost cause lah’. I’ve also noticed that it’s been a long time since anyone tried to set me up or hint, hint, wink, wink.

Ugh! This brings back memories of a my late grandmother’s neighbour who tried to set up ‘play dates’ between me and her son. I know I was cute, but I was six!

Happy New Year, everyone. Be nice, and if you’re married, be kind to the single ones, okay?

UPDATE 14 Feb 2014

Today is Chap Goh Meh, the 15th day of the Lunar New Year, the Chinese Valentine’s Day (which this year falls on the same day as the Western one!) and the last day for single people to collect ang pow. If you’re the ang pow giver and think that you will be spared when your single relatives and friends get married, think again.


I’ve also got two more CNY ammunition from a single friend:

8. “Your ang pow is so small, still cannot afford to get married.”

9. “Must remain a xxx (surname withheld to protect privacy and inheritance) to inherit the Bangsar home.”

On death, and life

I have recently acquired a new habit. Reading the obituary pages in the newspapers.

I have not reached that age where my friends begin to check out one by one. Maybe not yet, but close enough. I already have a will in case I expire prematurely.

I didn’t think I would have to deal with death so soon. Yes, I’ve had elder relatives pass on, but the Grim Reaper seems to be visiting more and more of the younger ones these days.

Nine years ago, an acquaintance was killed when his car caught fire in front of his house. He left behind a wife and two kids. He was in his 40s.

Some years later I returned from a holiday to find out a business associate had collapsed and died. He was 30.

Then two or three years ago, a friend’s brother-in-law died less than a year after he was diagnosed with cancer. He was in his 40s.

A colleague shared about his former business partner who died of blood poisoning. It happened so fast that he did not even have time to say goodbye to his girlfriend in person. He was either in his late 20s or early 30s.

More recently, a friend’s cousin died from lung infection. It started out with a month of on and off fever and coughing. She just turned 40.

Death can happen at any time, when we least expect it. With the increase in crime, irresponsible driving, depression, stress, rage and lifestyle diseases, the probability of untimely death is now higher than ever.

The realisation that life could be snuffed out anytime even led me to write a 5-page ‘I forgive you’ letter to my ex. I was leaving for a holiday after half a year of depression and had to do spill my guts out once and for all just in case I didn’t make it back alive. Or just in case he could sink no lower and decided to call it quits.

Not long ago, my friend Wee wrote to me:

A friend of mine passed away. Dumbstruck.

I thought it was cancer because she had lost a few friends to the disease.

Heart failure. I didn’t even know she was in a coma for weeks. I know this is random – but if you really want to go to Cuba… and you feel like you want to explore freelancing, do it.

An opportunity to visit Cuba and Mexico had come up. I had another trip to a different continent lined up before that but could cancel it and go for Cuba instead. The problem is Cuba is a much longer trip and I would need to take unpaid leave. I’m fine with the unpaid part but we’re shorthanded in the office.

While waiting for my boss’ decision on my leave, I toyed with the idea of quitting my job if he could not release me – then I could go for BOTH trips.

Maybe the stars are aligning. Cuba is at the top of my bucket list and a chance comment on a Facebook post brought me that opportunity.

Perhaps this is the universe’s way of telling me to yank myself out of my comfort zone and pushing me into trying a new place or even freelancing.

While I mulled on that, I asked Wee if she could be a guest writer on my blog and put her positive spin on death.

Six days later, she shared some good news. Her sister had just delivered and she had an angle for her story – death and life.

Wee’s story

Here is the truth: At the age of 33, my life isn’t where I imagined it would be. Once upon a time, most twenty-somethings had a common dream. To grow older into a life filled with cocktails (Cosmopolitans, to be precise), designer shoes (Manolo Blahniks, again, to be precise) and endless nights of bed-breaking nocturnal activities.

Alas, the alcohol-drenched glamorous thirty-something life plugged by the ‘deceitful’ Sex and the City was not meant to be for some. And by some, I mean me. While I am still nursing the damages inflicted by the delusions of my younger days – I find myself thinking about death.

I was in the midst of throwing myself a pity party, when I heard the news: A friend I have not seen in ages has departed from this world. The first emotion I felt was shock. I couldn’t believe it. She can’t be gone, she’s my age!

Grief was the second. (She left too soon…) The third was guilt.

There I was, about to moan and whinge about the unfairness of life when the truth is – we are all dangling from a thread that could break anytime, on a whim.

It felt all too familiar. I had lost another friend, someone close, years ago, and I was fraught with guilt then – I was supposed to mourn her, to focus on grieving for her, not trying to find a goddamn silver lining from the void she had left behind. But the clichéd lesson – “Life is short, make the most of it” – managed to lodge itself onto my thoughts before the next bout of mid-life crises appeared to drive it away.

So here I am thinking about death – why must it take the passing of a friend to make one feel that no matter how unfulfilled one’s 33-year old life is – one must be grateful for every second, every minute she is given to live?

But I believe that the final, parting gift from our beloved departed is that clichéd lesson – the realisation that life is indeed short and we must, we need to make the most of it.

As the cycle of life goes, when there is death, there also is the birth of new life. My nephew arrived in the world, a week earlier than the expected due date. He announces his presence by giving the loudest of cries – and whenever I hear the strength of his voice box, I am filled with optimism – something that often plays peek-a-boo with me.

The cries of a newborn. The memories of the ones who have left me too soon. My clarion call. It is time for me to face this other truth: At the age of 33, it is truly time for me to try to live life the best I can.

Wee is a writer by profession and a fangirl by admission. Check out her illustrated humour book Fangirls Inc. and her insightful and funny ha-ha blog, Conan, Neil and Me.

Fangirls Inc,

Loss and faith

“Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”

When I got to KL in 1999, one of the things I looked forward to was the arts scene. Nothing much happened in Penang. I could only read about all the exciting things happening in KL. Actors Studio at Plaza Putra, Dataran Merdeka was easily accessible, so I would spend many a Sunday afternoon there to catch a matinee show.

Going to klpac again recently, watching the ever passionate Faridah Merican and Joe Hafsham introduce the Short+Sweet Festival, I’m reminded of the great big flood of 2003 that destroyed the Actors Studio. I still remember the picture on the front page of Sunday Star. Faridah in tears, clutching a doll in front of the theatre she set up with Joe eight years before. The theatre, along with the premises of the Dama Orchestra, were completely destroyed as the underground location was submerged for days. They lost everything.

But sometimes, good things need to fall apart so better things can fall together. This is an account of what led to klpac, taken from its website:

10 June 2003: Floods devastated The Actors Studio’s Plaza Putra complex.
20 June 2003: In search of a new space, Joe, Faridah, Teoh Ming Jin & Ng Seksan visited an old National Railway (KTM) warehouse in YTL Corporation’s Sentul West.
9 & 10 August 2003: At the fundraising event Banjir, Faridah met the late Datin Paduka Seri Endon
Mahmood (then Chairman of Yayasan Budi Penyayang) and told her about the potential space.
Late Aug 2003 – Early Sept 2003: DPS Endon met Tan Sri Francis Yeoh of YTL Corporation and mentioned The Actors Studio’s interest in the old warehouse.
September 2003: Joe and Faridah presented a proposal of klpac to Tan Sri Francis Yeoh who responded with the now famous words “Go for it!”
21 May 2004: Launch of klpac attended by members of the media and arts community.
9 May 2005: klpac team moves in.

Likewise, I hope losing M means making way for someone better to come into my life. He made me happy when he found me and sad when he left. Happy Birthday, M. Yes, I remember it was yesterday.

If you have not been to klpac, pay it a visit. It’s a beautiful place, constructed from an old railway depot and surrounded by a park. I don’t have any pictures at the moment, but just imagine an oasis in the middle of the city, a place caught in time.

What are you wearing today?

My favourite kebaya top.
I should wear this more often as yellow spots have started to form.

I often get asked these at work:
Got date, is it?
Going for meeting?

That’s because I dress up for work. In my line, the dress code is more relaxed. Great! No stuffy suits and boring court shoes. But I do enjoy nice clothes and I believe they should not be left in the cupboard. What’s the point? Why wait for a date, meeting or interview? Do you really need an excuse to put on your best?

If you do, this may put things in perspective. It’s been making its rounds online.

A friend of mine opened his wife’s underwear drawer and picked up a silk-paper-wrapped package.
‘This,’ – he said – ‘isn’t any ordinary package.’
He unwrapped the box and stared at both the silk paper and the box.
‘She got this the first time we went to New York, 8 or 9 years ago.
She has never put it on, was saving it for a special occasion.
Well, I guess this is it.’
He got near the bed and placed the gift box next to the other clothing
he was taking to the funeral house; his wife had just died.

I have yet to decide on what I want to be cremated in. But in the meantime, I’ll put on my best dress, special occasion or not.

A Tale of Two Women

“Widow”. An ad for Kleenex by JWT Malaysia. This image captures the feeling of losing love or someone you love.

Love is a contradiction. It can make you very happy yet cause so much sorrow. It can give you so much yet take everything you’ve got.

This is a story of two women who found and lost love. Let’s call them Jade(d) and Hope. As you can tell from their nicknames, their stories are ‘same-same but different’.


She was a part of our group of five classmates in secondary school. Each was named after one of the New Kids on the Block (the ringleader was nuts over the boy group). Jade was Joey, the youngest. I think it’s because she was the most timid and slightly ‘slow’ in getting on with the programme. If we were the Golden Girls, she’d be Betty White.

After leaving school, we slowly drifted apart. Some of us remained in our hometown while others studied or worked elsewhere. Eventually, all of us made it to KL (except for one who went further to settle down in Europe).

I met Jade only once, when four of us got together. She had her two kids with her and while slightly frazzled (which mother isn’t?), seemed happy.

But she strongly advised us not to get married. I put that down to the stress of raising a family and lack of freedom due to family responsibilities.

Three of us were single then. One later got married too while the other… well, I heard from someone else that she came close to tying the knot but the wedding was called off at the last minute. My friend never mentioned it and I never asked.

When the love stops

As always with gatherings, we promised to keep in touch and meet again. I called Jade soon after and it was then that I discovered the truth behind her advice. From what she told me, it sounded like emotional abuse.

My friend is practically housebound. Her husband works outstation and comes home every two or three months. She gave up her career to be a full-time mum. She would rather work but leaving her kids in the care of strangers is not an option.

Jade’s husband doesn’t like her socialising with others, including us. In fact, she went through great difficulty to join us for that get-together. Even so, she had to be sent home before sunset and he probably grilled the kids for a report.

Jade doesn’t drive nor does she have the freedom to move around on her own. She stocks up on groceries at the hypermarket when her husband comes home. At other times, she makes her purchases from the neighbourhood shops or mobile traders. The money she gets from her husband is just enough for household necessities.

Jade’s daughter is old enough to sense that something is not quite right with my friend and the family dynamics. The daughter is even prohibited from writing letters to cousins she spent the school holidays with. When she asked why Mummy doesn’t go anywhere, my friend just said, “When you grow up and can go out on your own, take Mummy with you.”

More sadness

I promised Jade I would call again but never did. Months turned into years. During the recent Merdeka holidays, I thought more of her and finally made that call. Her husband wasn’t home and her children had gone out with the kids next door so we were free to have a long chat.

She shared that they were briefly separated and she suffered from depression for about a year or two. They now sleep in different rooms and she communicates with him through her kids unless the matter is too big. Her connection to the outside world is the TV and landline. Her handphone is used to just store phone numbers.

Husband and wife are still together for the kids. Jade plans to leave the house when they are old enough to do the same. Her youngest is only 7 years old. This means she would have to continue with the suffering for at least another 10 years. Can she wait that long? Or last that long? Can’t she go back to her family?

Jade’s mind is pretty much made up. She gave up her career, which she enjoyed, to care for her kids. It’s a sacrifice she is willing to make. She now has nothing. No job, no money, no independence. She doesn’t want any money from her husband but I urged her to just save whatever she could or get a job in case she reaches a point when she needs to walk out. I can only hope that her children will not forget her when they fly the nest.

One of our friends, SJ, is a social worker. I asked Jade to speak to her. Before this, Jade told me not to let SJ know of her situation. I’m glad to know that Jade has since shared her problems with SJ and found the support she needs.

Jade has accepted her fate and her experience has turned her off marriage for good. She advised me again, do not get married. Nobody around her has a happy marriage. Not a single one. Affairs are common. In Jade’s case, infidelity did not break up her marriage – her husband just changed after marriage.

Close one eye?

Every woman who marries must be prepared for her husband to cheat on her so that when it happens, she would be able to deal with it. Men are never satisfied with just one woman like how a woman could be with just one man. A man may love his family but he would still want to have flings on the side.

Jade continued; if a woman wants to keep her marriage, don’t let her husband know she knows of his infidelity. Should he know she knows, he would not bother going through the trouble of hiding the affair and would neglect the family.

So where does this leave us? Is the outlook for relationships so bleak? Doomed for failure no matter how happy and honest husband and wife are when they take their vows? What happened to ‘for better, for worse, until death do us part’? Could you enjoy the moment or even embark on a relationship when you know it’s just a matter of time before love dissipates?

And now we come to the story of Hope.

Hope is an older friend I met a few years back. We keep in touch mostly through Facebook and the occasional email. Knowing that she had been travelling a few months ago, I asked whether she’s back and how she was.

“How are you?” A question so simple and common we toss it out like “hi” and “bye”. An automatic greeting bereft of meaning.

To those who need a listening ear, who are in sorrow, this question carries a lot of weight and brings a wisp of relief, a call to unburden.

Hope replied: How are you? Good question. There is no easy way of putting it but I am in the process of going through a divorce.

I went through a recent loss too. Not a divorce or death, but intensely painful all the same. A 5-month relationship that ended cannot compare to 19 years of marriage but the wrecking ball is still lodged in my heart.

Despite being a rather private person, I had to share my situation with friends and even strangers because I couldn’t cope with all the emotions that I never even knew I had. My heart felt like it was going to explode and talking about the situation had somewhat eased that pressure cooker feeling.

The sisterhood of suffering friends

It is indeed in your time of grief that you know who your friends are. I told myself I’d be a better friend after this.

So I offered her my place to crash if needed, and a listening ear. She suggested we meet up on the weekend. I was ready to be super supportive, but the day didn’t turn out as I expected.

Before she went into what happened, she wanted to know how I was. I had mentioned in our emails that I recently had a breakup (few people knew about that relationship – I didn’t want to tell yet as I wasn’t sure where it was heading). In her case, just like mine, another woman is involved. But the difference is she is (still) married to him, has a child with him, built a life with him.

No matter how cheated or used I feel, how much I’ve lost, I’m not the one with 19 years of marriage down the drain.

So it should be her that is depressed, crying every night, losing all hope, having a jaded view of the world. Not I.

Yet it is Hope who has become my pillar of support. I am the one with tears in my eyes, not her. Oh yes, of course she cried, but Hope is dealing with her situation a lot better than I.

Stuck in a rut or moving on?

She is making conscious effort to deal with her situation. Keeping herself busy, taking care of her health, even going to the gym (and she’s thrilled she has already lost a few pounds). She counts her blessings – help that came her way, support from family (even her sisters-in-law) and friends, the wonderful weather as she traversed the city to seek legal counsel, child’s education taken care of…

There is no quarrel, no animosity. She’s just moving on with her life. The husband is not making any effort to reconcile or fight for her or the family, so there is no marriage to salvage.

I admire Hope for how she is dealing with her situation. She is strong, her head is held high and she refuses to feel sorry for herself.

They had good years together, before the other woman came into the picture disguised as a friend in need. Hope gave her husband the benefit of the doubt and he abused her trust.

The husband’s relationship with the other woman does not seem to be based on lust (as with most infidelities) but more of a sense of duty or obligation. So why is he willing to throw everything away? Till this day we do not fully understand the actions of the men in our lives and we probably never will.

Hang on to the good

For Hope, her stand is, she had a good life with her husband. He gave her a rich life. Brought out the best in her. Gave her the freedom to pursue her interests. And they have a wonderful child out of their union. So Hope chooses to remember the good times and move on.

She still cares for him. She just can’t be with him. She misses him but it was a different time and he was a different man.

Unlike Jade, Hope tells me to pursue love in life for life is that much richer when there is love. I must not think of all the bad things that could happen. She doesn’t regret her marriage.

My question is, is it worth the pain? What you don’t know, you don’t miss. If I can’t even cope with the hurt from a short relationship, how could I deal with a long-term relationship gone bust? It’s been four months and I’m still crying.

I went through so many phases of hurt and despair some that almost pushed me over the dark edge. All the feelings I never knew I had wreaked havoc with my emotional, physical and mental well being. I cannot go back to that place again.

For Jade, marriage took everything away from her. It is only her kids who are keeping her going. For Hope, it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

What about you? Are you Jade or Hope?