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
– Photo from


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 Josef (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.

Dear Dani: Be Josef

“Be yourself” might be the most overused mantra of the 21st century yet I find it to be quite a practical modus operandi of living. Consider these examples:

1. I court a hypothetical girl and she politely decline because of my physique (my ear is larger than the other) Then all would be fine and dandy because first, I should respect her wishes; and second, my ears are part of who I am and I wouldn’t be able to change them anyway so if she couldn’t accept it (because facial symmetry is really important to her) I better off be with someone who could.

2. I court a hypothetical girl and she politely decline because I have a short… temper. Then all is good in the world because first, she’s her own person with her own baggage and old wounds; and second, my anger issues is something that I should improve anyway so if that’s a deal-breaker for her (because her late dad was an alcoholic) then it would be unfair for me to make her go through that for the remainder of our hypothetical relationship.

Even when I am rejected on both counts, there would be little hurt as long as I stay true to myself, because if I’m anything else then what’s the point of extending my hands in the first place. I’m not saying that I shouldn’t better myself as a human being, but I rather BE BETTER than PRETEND that I’m better because I don’t want our relationship to be based on lies.

Which is also why I don’t believe in playing games, when it comes to courtship.

Which is also why I’m still single…

Well that’s a lot opinions from someone who has never been in a serious relationship.

Dear Dani: Relationship that was, that could have been

Have you ever come across this image on the Internet?


Of course it’s oversimplifying things, but it resonates with a lot of people when talking about human relationships.

Parallel lines have a lot in common, but they never met.

How do people get close to each other in the first place? Proximity plays a very important factor. You and I, for example, would never have discovered our mutual coolness should either one of us weren’t in the agency in the first place.

Imagine then, the infinite possible relationships that we have missed with other people that could have so much in common but aren’t geographically close. They don’t even have to be in a different country or a different building – in fact, they could be in the very same vicinity with us every day yet we would still miss it because the opportunity doesn’t present itself.

Take the workplace, for example. For all we know, Cindy could be a cool person to hang out with, judging from her arm tattoo and vague Instagram captions. But since she sat two rows apart from me, it wasn’t as natural for the conversation to go beyond small talks and professional matters. There it goes then, a friendship that could have been.

(The above is hypothetical, of course. Realistically, I don’t really get Cindy’s taste of music nor her delayed wit – JK CINDY IF UR READING THIS BELIEVE ME U COOL.)

To counter this, I made efforts to have one-on-one lunches with selected individuals, so we could cut away the pleasantries and proceed to talk about things that matter. I made good friendships with some. Others, not so much. After a while, it got tiring because the ROI was too damn low.

It isn’t a terribly sad thing that some of these “parallel lines” never met. Some relationships are formed naturally, some others require conscious effort. Either way, a person wouldn’t be able to sustain too many relationships at one time anyway. So the concern should be more on how to surround ourselves with the best kind of people.

Every other pair of lines meets once and drifts apart forever.

I have friends from my past life that I don’t keep in touch any longer. Some of them did try to reach out, but it was mostly me who shut myself. Not out of any negative feelings, I just simply didn’t feel like it.

I wonder then, would I do the same to my current friends, in the future? These people that mean so much to me right now, that I profess my love for, would I leave them? It’s quite a poignant prospect, although technically in that future, I would feel the same way as I do now about my past relationships: moved on.

Until one of the person I treasure the most, Melanie, said something along these lines, “One day, we may fall out of friendship. Not out of a disagreement or drama, but just a slow fall out. We might have our different priorities and values, and we would slowly drift apart. But that doesn’t invalidate whatever that we have right now. It has already happened, and it is something to be cherished.”

That was powerful, and it completely shifted my perception. No more tears, screw them fears! Whatever that we have had, we have it. It is true, it is real, and it can’t be denied.

Time is mysteriously subjective anyway. Some people we might only meet once every decade, but the closeness feels like we’re never far. We pick up right where we left. Even if our “lines” cross only 10 times per lifetime, the significance of that ten times is as strong as anything else.

Even if we were to meet literally only once with a person that have tremendous amount of chemistry, it isn’t something to be regretted. Because for that one time, we had a spark, we infect each other with our positive energy, then we resume each other’s journey carrying that energy we’ve exchanged, for the rest of our lives. With you Dianne, Sofia, Flo.

And I imagine, should there be a heaven and we would all be in it (because we’re cool people and cool people go to heaven), I would spot you from afar and shouted, “Oh-My-Actual-God, did you remember this ONE time where we met at that open mic/cell group/Tinder date and we had such a good laugh?”

Dear Dani: Quiet days

Taking a break and staying at home doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m spending less money, especially now that I live so far from any commodities. I always have to call Uber to even get a decent meal. I can only hope that this wouldn’t be much of a problem anymore once I start driving or I might have to move back to a more convenient apartment. However I’m rather reluctant to leave Nguyen because living with a friend (especially a very close one) has done wonders to my soul.

It has been almost two weeks since. When I’m not doing freelance work, I’ll be watching movies and reading books. I just finished the entire Harry Potter series, giggling and shedding tears along the way. Books are a little harder to follow, and I tend to fall asleep throughout. I just finished I Am Malala and just about to flip the last pages of Anne Frank.

I miss Pao. I miss people. Sometimes it gets bad, yet it’s still not as easy for me to text them as I hate rejection and wouldn’t want to bother them so much.

If I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and count to ten, perhaps the feeling would pass.

Dear Dani: On being kind

In your letter, you mentioned how I was one of the first go-to friendly faces when you entered the agency. This reminds me of my friend Saran who remembers me fondly as – in her words – “the first person who talked to me when I started my internship!”

Hard as it may to believe, I was actually a painfully shy guy, once. I might be extroverted, but I was painfully shy, which didn’t really make for a good combination. I know how it feels like to be a stranger in a new environment, being nervous to make the first contact with anyone because everybody seems to know everyone else while there I was, a lost child looking for a faintest chance of human interaction.

Hence why I always try to make freshmen feel comfortable whenever I see them by themselves, at least until they are familiar enough to start venturing out on their own (which by then I’ll be looking from afar, stroking my chin, smoking pipes, giving approving nod on how much they have grown).

Although, truth to be told, I haven’t been doing it that much these days. Unlike back then in the no-profit where everyone at least smile when they pass by each other, people in the agency are much more… clique-ish. Even I, who have always been a loner all my life, turned to be inclusive, only participating in my own little group that I’ve grown too comfortable with.

It’s quite a shame really, to think that some people never uttered a word to each other despite being in very close proximity, every single day. I’m guilty of it too. Not that I care too much, since interesting people are very hard to come by and I won’t tolerate any less.

I can be quite a mean person, Dani. Most of the time I am not very kind at all.

It’s fine though. I have let go of the concept of being a kind person, and instead, strive to do kind things in any way that I can, when I can. If I’m too lazy, too tired, or too cynical to do so today, I’ll try again tomorrow.