Dear Dani: I am standing on the same pedestal

Pao once asked me to put myself in a hypothetical situation: if I don’t have all these people around me that I love (and love me), would I be okay?

Well firstly, I think that that hypothetical situation is a little bit too harsh. Instead of trying to deny basic human nature (needing people around me), I rather choose to imagine a gentler situation, which is to say that it is guaranteed that there will always be loving people around me regardless of where I am in life because 1) God is kind; and 2) I do attract that cosmic energy.

Of course Pao has good intention. She doesn’t want me to be dependent on people, especially when I can get really attached to some (namely Pao and Michelle). And it gets unhealthy too, when whatever these people say or do affect me more that they should.

I am a person who loves, Dani. The most beautiful moments in my life revolve around human connections.

I remember the non-profit days where Yee Eng would hardly be at the office. She was always so so busy so I never had much hope that we would have much face time. But there was this one time where I followed her to meet a client, and we all had a good conversation. Then on the way back to the office, as Yee Eng and I were walking under the breeze, I just felt blessed. To be walking next to her. To had that happy moment together.

I remember the Burma trip with Safira that I really fell for (romantically). I never told her then about how I felt (though I’m sure she knew), and I was so afraid that I might mess up the trip. But I didn’t. There she was, sleeping right next to me in the 9-hour bus ride, and I just felt lucky that I got to travel with this person that I love. At the same time there was no longing at all. I didn’t wish that she could be ‘mine’. I love her, and that’s enough. Nothing could take that away, not even Safira.

I remember the agency days when some colleagues left the company, and the seats next to Pao were vacant. So I shifted my seat to sit next to her, partially because I have changed my role to Content, partially because I was just really, really excited to sit next to her. For the second half of my stay in the agency, I was sitting next to Pao every single day. It was so comforting to know that I only need to turn to my right and I would see her. She was my safe haven. She was home.

I can feel so blessed just being next to somebody I love, it overflowed through me at that moment, and it lingers for years to come. And I don’t ever want to dampen these feelings away, Dani, because to be able to love is a gift. It’s the greatest feeling in the world.

But now I realized that as much as I love this people, I have forgotten this one person that I should’ve cared about a long time ago. Someone that I know the best, someone that I’m most capable of helping, someone who has also been suffering – myself.

And that will change from now on, Dani. I will put myself as high as I put people that I love. I will be emphatic to myself as I would to them. I would love, care, and be around for me.

And as much as I have amazing people around me, I am as amazing. I am the most personable person I know, I put people at ease, and I strive to be kind (I fail often, but I am resilient). I am smart, funny, and I strive to do good. I know my place in the world, and I’m gonna keep on playing that role.

It’s not like I shouldn’t put people on pedestal, Dani. It’s just that I am also standing on the same pedestal.

Pao did tell me to love myself first before I can love others. I have always known that to be true, in fact there’s a lot of things I have always known to be true. But it takes time to muster enough courage to really understand what it means, and to act on it, Dani. But now I think I can finally do so.

I will love myself, Dani. And even when that fails, I will remind myself that God loves me. God loves me.

I have a good feeling that this phase will end pretty soon, Dani. And even if the wave of sadness gonna come again in the future, I won’t have to suffer as needlessly anymore. I have a good feeling.

Dear Dani: Prayers

Sometimes I get a wave of missing people so much. People like Pao, Chee Cheng, and September. I miss them so much that all I could do is pray that God will protect them, that He will keep them close.

But then it’s not fair to just pray for the people that I miss so I started to pray for all of my family and my loved ones.

But then it’s not fair to just pray for my family and loved ones so I started to pray for everyone that are out there trying to do good in this world.

But then it’s not fair to just pray for people that wanna do good because no one is inherently evil, and everybody deserve forgiveness, love, and saving.  Even Najib.

And that’s how I ended up praying for the entire human race.

(Which makes me think, when do I start developing as much thoughts towards all living, and non-living beings? Because we’re all God’s creation, and no one/nothing should go through suffering, or be treated badly.)

Dear Dani: Kindness flows from places you didn’t deserve to strangers you haven’t met

I have been receiving kindness from undeserving places as of late (or at least, I have finally starting to notice them). A bouquet of flowers from a new friend, a peck on the cheek from a stranger, a one-off meeting with a beautiful soul, a voluntary companion to journey with me through these hard times. And lots of conversations, thoughts, and prayers from family and friends.

I stopped asking what did I even do to merit such good deeds. It’s just the way God workds (or the universe, if you may). Maybe He’s telling me that all I need to do is to pay them forward. Not just to whom I cared for, but also to people I would think of the least. To random passerbys. To my worst enemies (not like I have any, I am generally liked if you haven’t noticed).

Because God’s grace is infinite, Dani. It comes from up above, flowing through other people to me, and from me back to other people. It doesn’t pick and choose, it doesn’t judge. Everyone’s worthy. Even Najib.

Tonight, my heart rest with peace, Dani.

Dear Dani: I’m in pain

I once told my buddy Diana that my ultimate goal in life is… to know more. I don’t have to be rich, famous, or powerful, but I sure would love to be more enlightened about the secret of universe (e.g., who are the top 0.001%, are there aliens out there, why do people love). Whether I can act upon these knowledge is secondary, so as long as I am aware.

“But what for, just to brag about it?” Classic buddy. Well, not entirely. The pursuit of knowledge in itself is exhilarating, to me.

I guess I got my wish granted now, on the introspective level at least. I know myself quite well. My strengths and weaknesses, my capabilities and limitations. Even under depression, I am well-versed on how my emotions work and how my body would react to triggers, but that doesn’t mean that I could change the outcome. When it hits, it hits. It’s like being drowned, I know that I shouldn’t panic and shouldn’t drown the person that’s helping me but at the same time I could only watch as imminent death comes towards me and there’s nothing I could do about it. I know this, because I almost drowned once (and almost drowned Wafiq and Yen that were helping me out).

I’m not saying this an excuse on the way I behave. I just want it to be acknowledged. That this is real, that I’m not faking it, that I have been trying hard to overcome it.

Right now I’m doing a lot of reading, started opening up to my close friends again about the struggle, and have resumed therapy. I haven’t been eating and exercising as much as I should, but those are in the list. I’m also considering taking medication to stabilize my hormones. Because I KNOW if I weren’t in my depression cycle like now, I would have handled any relationship problems better. I wouldn’t ruminate. I wouldn’t aggravate conflicts. I would move on. I know this for a fact.

It’s easy to feel hopeless when I’m having the exact arguments with myself every other day. Questions that I already know the answers to, never giving my mind (and heart) a rest. The distracted days, the sleepless nights, the crying, screaming, the automatic subsconsious self-harm, and the deliberate ones. It’s like having a flu. I know I’m gonna get better eventually, at the same time I’m just tired and really don’t want to go through it that much longer.

It hurts, Dani. It hurts.

All you need to do is listen

So someone comes to you and said that they are depressed and your first responses (out of goodness and good intentions) are:

“It’s all in your head.”
“You have a choice to be happy.”
“You are making it worse in your mind.”

Aannddd you effectively rob their rights to identify what is it that they’re feeling at that time. You shut them up when they are trying to reach out.

“But they can’t sulk all day! Let’s address THE ISSUE.”

You are right, we have to eventually address the issue. But this is not the time, and that’s not your job. Addressing the issue then and there is like trying to teach swimming when someone is drowning. Maybe we want to pull that person out of the water first.

Addressing the issue is best left to the professionals, the doctors and pastors. How about you? You are a support system, an emergency number at 3 in the morning. (You can address the issue too, ONLY if they ask for it, only when they’re ready.)

“But it’s just a state of mind.”

They know it better than anybody that it IS a state of mind, yet they still can’t do anything about it, they can’t get out, because to a clinically depression person, the mind is both a heaven and hell. And with no one to acknowledge what is it that’s going through their heads, the world can be such a lonely place.

“But you have been like this over and over, you haven’t improve.”

You are WRONG. Firstly, to some, depression is repetitive cycle that they gotta live with, for the rest of their lives.

Secondly, you don’t know what you don’t experience. You aren’t aware how much they have tried different methods of healing, falling down and bouncing back, almost giving up on life, but refused and paddle through. You don’t see how much, after all these years, they have been getting better (the improvement might seem small to you, but it’s momentous for them).

And for them to crawl out of darkness and reach out to YOU, takes a lot courage, because they do feel a lot of shame for having these same silly thoughts, again and again.

But you don’t have to do much. You just have to be around.

– MK Zainal, diagnosed with Cyclothymia, Bipolar II, Borderline Personality Disorder, and whatever else that the psychiatrists can’t seem to decide on.
– Inspired by http://inkandfeet.com/how-to-help-someone-with-depression.
– Photo from http://www.robot-hugs.com/nest/

#DepressionAwarenessWeek

Dear Dani: So a girl told me that I’m not man enough

If you know me well enough, you would know of the three best qualities I have to offer to the collective human race: being funny, adorable, and lovable.

But while being funny have always won me favors, the latter two received some mixed responses…

When I was eleven, I was running towards the school gate when a car slowed down past me, rolled down its window, and there was my teacher’s husband yelling at me, “What are you doing, be a man!”

When I was in college, I was holding up my phone up high looking for signal when a senior passed by, and seeing him seeing me, I blurted, ‘Ultraman’. To which he replied, “What are you doing, be a man!”

When I was in the agency, my close friend told me that if I want to have a girlfriend, I better be a… well she couldn’t finish her sentence so I did.

But what does it even mean, to be a man?

I can’t completely fault them. Ever since I was born, I haven’t exactly been meeting the traditional standards of masculinity. I was physically small, the crybaby in a sibling full of girls, didn’t play football, and didn’t even have a driving license until my late twenties.

But I was pretty much comfortable in my own skin. I make the best of what I have in order to survive, to gain love and acceptance. And along the way, I even started giving back to the people around me, the only way I know how.

“Please take care of yourself, bestie. I can’t afford to lose you.”

“First time I met you, I knew you’re gonna be in my life for a long time.”

“You have many amazing friends. It means that you’re doing something right.”

…and countless other “I love you” testimonials convinced me that after all these years, I have finally found my place in the world.

So while I still may not be a man in its archaic definition, I’ve done a pretty good job so far in being a decent human being.

So why can’t you see me as a whole

Which is why it breaks my heart every time that when people advise me to “be a man”, it’s as if they are overlooking what I have to offer. Because I favor empathy over dominance, compassion over physical strength, kindness over violence, love over sex.

Even worse is when these comments are actually about my behavior and mannerism than anything else. The way I dress, the way I talk, the way my voice get high-pitched when I’m excited. I bet I won’t get as much flak if I weren’t straight.

And true enough, the day finally comes when I hear the same comment from the very girl that I courted. We were having a conversation (post-courtship, post-rejection, just two friends that genuinely enjoy each other’s company) when she told me the reason she said no. Because, well, I wasn’t “man enough”.

And for half a milisecond, then and there, I wished that if only I were less sassy, less fabulous, and didn’t keep myself too much in the company of females; I would’ve won her heart.

And I felt ashamed of myself for even having that thought.

But I want to be a strong, independent woman

No offense to that girl cause she has all the rights to have someone who can offer her love (in ways that I couldn’t), but for myself, I promise to never change for anyone else.

Of course I will always strive to be a better person, but behavior and mannerism would be the least of my concerns. I rather try to be kinder, more patience, less angry, and million other things before even considering changing my sitting position from crossed-legged to crotch-wide-open.

Because I have seen it for myself, on how inner beauty manifested itself into physical forms. I fell in love, platonically, with countless of my friends because of their characters and personalities that they turned into the most beautiful person in the world to me. Their quirks even became something so unique that I never wish for them to change – Pao with her loudness, Diana with her hard-headedness, Marianne with her clown-like demeanor.

I have faith, that someone somewhere will find me too, and fell in love for all that I am, including my unique feminine qualities.

And as much as “be a man” remark is as  low as “act like a lady”, it occurred to me that I don’t need to be insulted at all, because I aspire to be like all the amazing women in my life. The ones who have taught me how to love, how to lead, how to empower like only a woman can.

So keep my words on this Dani, that the next time I hear someone telling anyone that they are “sensitive like a girl”, I’m gonna walk over and tell them that they should be proud of such compliment.

Dear Dani: 3 in the morning

This is a rare occasion that I’m writing to you on mobile. It’s 2.33 in the morning and I just woke myself up. I have been having an erratic sleep cycle, actually, keep waking up 4 to 5 times every night. It has been happening since mid last year that it is now a new normal.

My grammar sucks, Dani, and I gotta do something about that.

Thankfully I’m a a BM editor. But that’s a lot of responsibilities, so I gotta do something about that, too.

But since I’m on a company trip right now, away from my laptop and stable Internet, there’s nothing much I can do about work, or my grammar for that matter.

So right now I’m mostly missing people. Old friends that I have always love, new friends that I just made. I miss Pao, September, even Chee Cheng.

It’s a bother to be such an extrovert, at times. Cause I miss people so much and I wanna talk to them. I’m terrible at texting so I just wanna see them.

I’m sorry for being clingy.

Thankfully, love is love. I can miss people so much, but I don’t necessarily have to do anything about it. I can miss them, and that’s it.

This love is mine, and no one can take it away.

“I am what I love, not what loves me. That’s what I decided a long time ago.”

Dear Dani: Pet Peeve

Firstly, I apologize for being absent in my letters this entire month. You know I love you, I do.

And now, to real issues. I just got bailed on a coffee date.

If you know me, you know how this is my biggest pet peeve. It breaks my heart every time, especially when I’m so looking forward to see that friend. It messes up my schedule, especially when I had to forfeit other plans earlier for that one meeting.

The actual worse part about it is that I’m only told on the last minute. Why can’t they preempt me earlier? Why can’t they just communicate? I will understand, and I won’t be mad, if only they can set the expectation right.

I thought that with age, I would be able to handle this better, Dani. But oh God I am so affected now. I need to go somewhere and cool off.

Dear Dani: Be Yourself (Part II)

Like I said before, I believe that as long as I’m being honest and true to myself at all times, I would be just fine. This doesn’t just apply to personal life, but at work as well.

Once, an interviewee asked what my weakness is, to which I answered with “procrastination”. He then politely declined me, saying that that’s one quality he can’t compromise. That he rather have someone who already had that aspect taken care of, then train them accordingly. I respected his reason.

Upon telling my best friend about it, she chuckled and candidly advised that perhaps I didn’t have to be that honest. That I could always try to secure the job first and work on my procrastination later on.

While I agree that one shouldn’t expose his deepest and darkest secret to strangers in the first meet, I also highly believe in setting the right expectations. Procrastination, to me, wasn’t simply a little problem that bugged me once in a while; but it had been a struggle for my entire life. Which is why, in retrospect, telling the CTO about it was the right decision because it would be unfair for him to accept me not knowing about this weakness, it might not even be his expertise to deal with such behaviour.

Be honest, stay true to yourself, and set the right expectation at all times.

Dear Dani: Frustrations

The bane of being an ex-programmer is whenever I encounter a computer task that requires a lot of manual labour, I know for sure that it could be automated while at the same time not possessing enough skills to devise a solution.

For example, a Facebook page is having a contest where fans have snap a photo and submit it in the comment section to participate. My task then would be to extract all of these comments so we can shortlist all entries to determine the winner.

Ordinarily, a social media manager would copy these entries one by one into an Excel sheet. That would be fine if the number of participations are low, but what if we’re dealing with thousands of submissions? Sure, there are some online services who offer to do this extraction, but they often come with a limitation on how much data can be extracted, or doesn’t really provide for much customization on what data can be selected and how would they be presented.

Which is why I still see programming knowledge as being very essential with my day job whether it is a social media manager, analyst, or a writer. This knowledge wouldn’t just save a lot of man hours of manual tasks, but also open doors to infinite possibilities on what kind of data could be attained and played around with.

Yet every time I attempt a coding/scripting feat, I am reminded on why I left that industry in the first place. Programming requires patience, attention to details, and willpower; which I possess none. Here’s some example to illustrate the frustration:

  • Upon Googling for a solution, I would come across suggestions that might involve a language I am not familiar with. So to even begin, I would have to fiddle around with the basics first. How do I compile the script? Where do I run it?
  • If you think normal IT problems is hard enough because the instruction on the web isn’t exactly like what you see on your screen, programming problems are thousand times worse than that. That answer I found on the net were given to a specific guy’s problem, so I would have to tailor it to my needs, which open doors to hundreds other possibilities of failing. Sometimes I even try to emulate that guy’s problem just to test out if the answer is really legit, annnnd I couldn’t even emulate the problems right. This step alone could suck a lot of time because I would encounter one problem after another. Imagine the main problem as a tree, and every little small problems as branches. Sometimes I get too deep into one branches that I forgot where I came from, sometimes having to chop of that branches entirely and start from scratch on other branches which is deeply frustrating because I’ve spent hours and hours yet getting nowhere!!!! as;ldfa;jseras
  • The need for instant gratification. I actually have a habit of simply copy pasting a solution and edit it as I go without really understanding what that particular line does. This might be a habit from my IT troubleshooting days where I have been praised as a really efficient problem solver.
  • Lack of trust on the world wide web. I always thought my problem to be too niche and I wouldn’t be able to solve it from the Internet. But the absolute truth is, SOMEONE ALWAYS HAVE ASKED ABOUT IT ALREADY ON THE INTERNET. (Like I said, it’s not that I can copy it ad verbatim, but it’s specific enough.)
  • The lack of grasp in basic troubleshooting. Here’s just to remind myself: when in doubt, ALWAYS PRINT THE OUTPUT.

Well that’s about it. I actually just want to share with you Dani, that I managed to write a Python script all by myself yesterday, without the help of my housemate Nguyen. It might not be a big deal for him, but it’s an achievement of tantamount importance to me. That is all. Thank you.