the quarter-year review: on grieving and anxiety and soft things.

March 23, 2017

The first three months of 2017 have been, for lack of a better word, nuts.

We booked flights to Seattle. I fell in love with a $28 chocolate cake. I got diagnosed with anxiety. I started anti-anxiety medication.

But I suppose the major change – the big thing that I don’t talk about – is that we lost someone in January.

It is hard for me to think about, to talk about, for so many reasons. I have had family members pass away, but never one whom I truly knew.  This, in many ways, was my first loss. The first time I stood crying in a hospital room. The first time my name has been included in a death notice. The first time I’ve sat in the front row at a funeral.

And aside from my one contribution to Jacob’s eulogy (yes – I claim credit for the funeral joke), I haven’t written about it at all. I haven’t even truly talked about it, except to explain my sudden disappearance from social activities to a couple of friends, and to access the bereavement leave for the funeral. But so much of why I write is to unpack the things in my head, and so the first thing I have to acknowledge is that I haven’t felt like I have a right to write. To talk. Because I knew him for five years, and everyone else in the family had him their whole life. And the fact that I have been so enfolded into the family is a blessing I feel so privileged to have, but I feel like this cannot be my loss. That there is a pecking order as to who gets to grieve the most and the hardest, and I am way down that list. And so I hold it together.

And yet when we take Granny out for lunch as a treat and I’m searching for a table, I automatically look for four chairs until it hits me that we only need three. That when I am lying in savasana and trying to clear my mind, I start thinking about the fact that someone I care about is gone and then I feel like I can’t breathe. And then the guilt – did we visit enough? Did I show up enough? And more guilt: how is this even about me? I’m not the one who died. I’m not the one who lost a father, a grandfather.

But this is my acknowledgement - at least once, to myself – that I did lose someone. I did lose someone we visited once a week. Someone we’d spend days baking for. One of only two people in the world for whom I’d place a bet on a horse for. Someone whom we walked a little slower for, bought ice creams and flat whites for. Someone I attempted to learn the rules of cricket for, and for whom I did an entire season of footy tipping for (I took it rather seriously too). I lost someone I cared about, and I lost someone whom in the past five years I’m privileged to be able to say became family. 

It has always astounded me how small Jacob’s family is. Miniscule, compared to mine. Everyone counts, because you can count everyone on two hands. A family dinner can happen on one table. And you always know when someone’s missing. And someone is. I still cannot talk about it (so please don’t bring it up, guys), but this is my small attempt at writing honestly and getting a little closer to realising that this loss and my sudden newfound anxiety are linked. And that it is something that perhaps I must face, even as I medicate the symptoms away. And how it is something I needed to write about, so I can write again.

*
A list of soft things, or things that have made me smile:

A week off work. A thing I was so afraid of taking, but which has been a godsend that has seen me finally cry (about the above) and rest and acknowledge that I have been nauseous and more anxious than usual (the ironic side effect of anti-anxiety meds being that they make you more anxious for the first two weeks while your body adjusts). And I shouldn’t blame me for this. I have been. But I shouldn’t.

Having regular appointments with a GP and psych. And my nutritionist. Whose card I picked up in a café I’ve only ever been to once. Sometimes it feels like she’s part life coach, part therapist, and yes part nutritionist. And I cannot recommend her highly enough.

Facials and massages. I go to Limon Spa for my facials, because they do extractions, and two therapists in Claremont for my massages. One painful, one soothing. All self care.

Yoga. Because there is something grounding and calming about a serene space with good energy. I go to COMO Shambhala Urban Escape and this week fell in love with Bodyscape Yoga, which is equal parts challenging and grounding and relaxing and energising, all at once.

The tea-making class that the lovely Teassential duo invited me to that saw me happily create two teas. Mindfully.

Slow eggs on toast. At Mary Street Bakery. I cannot think of a better or more comforting meal at any time of the day.

Picnics. Outdoor meals. Fresh air and bicycle rides. Growing plants in our living room. Seeing Jacob experiment in the kitchen, and feeling so proud. Warm baths. Almond milk lattes. Quiet evenings in our favourite wine bar (Budburst!) talking to the bartenders and splitting a cheese plate. Daily 10-minute meditations. Bullet journaling. The ability to travel. My Instapaper app. Today is not over yet. 

And all the people around me who make up a part of this crazy life. 


simple self love, a project. | january

January 31, 2017



a journey towards a little more love when it comes to the most important person in my life - me. 

sundays. 

i used to adventure on saturdays and hibernate on sundays, before i realised that this is a terrible idea for me. sundays fill me with anxiety as i think of the week ahead, and 4pm are my manic panic times. this month i flipped it over, by staying close to home on saturdays and ensuring plans on a sunday. whether it be a picnic, a walk, a drink at a favourite wine bar, or an outdoor movie. sundays are my days of movement, in order to keep my mind and body busy and happy. 

labelling my tea jars.

i keep all my looseleaf teas in old juice jars, which has never been a problem because i know what they all are. but jacob, not being a tea drinker, never does. one of the loveliest things he does is offer to brew me tea in the evenings, and i realised that his inability to easily identify the teas was frustrating him.

so i offered to label the jars. they’re all clearly labelled in orange tape now. a little act that helps him feel helpful, and helps me feel loved. 

quitting the gym.

this month, i quit the gym. sort of. after realizing that i'd fallen into the pattern of seeing exercise as a thing to be endured, and exercise as a way to reduce the amount of space i occupy in the world, i quit my pricey f45 membership and decided to strip back. way back. aside from personal training twice weekly, i do a yoga class. or a barre class. or the occasional megaformer class. which leaves me open to start spending money on forms of movement that i love. like pilates and dance, or things that get me up in the air. i don't want to equate movement with something that helps me reduce the amount of space I occupy, but as something that gets me places. 

cycle commute.

one of the best things about my work commute is that it is now essentially free with my new bicycle. the commute takes twenty minutes, and gets me out in the sunshine. my new favourite way to travel, planes aside. I'm surprised at how much I enjoy perusing google maps and figuring out cycl-able cafes, and one of my favourite january days was when I cycled to a breakfast date, then slowly cycled home - stopping at shops and libraries on the way. somehow i found myself with half a watermelon in my basket, which i finally ate when i got home. i will admit i belong to the camp that loathes bike helmets, and if it were legal to forgo the helmet, cycling may just take over walking for me. 

therapy. 

This month I finally decided to get proper treatment for my eating disorder. A move that did not necessarily scare me, but nevertheless faced much inertia. an intention I hold close for 2017 is to work with a doctor, nutritionist, therapist and/or trainer to develop a way of viewing food and exercise in a way that is supportive to whatever I'm feeling and facing right now. I cannot speak about the end goal without wanting to say "I still want to lose the weight", but I can say that a part of me doesn't want to say that any more. And that's a start. 

white coffee.

I have found my new favourite coffee place. In that this is a place I come for genuinely good coffee, not a place I come to and order a drink which will allow me to sit and read for two hours without getting kicked out. I genuinely love the coffee here. Except that the best drink is their 5oz coffee with whole milk, and I have a strict rule (see above re: disordered eating) about drinking coffee black to reduce calorie intake. So perhaps one of the biggest self love moves for me has been to allow the coffee. To allow the whole milk to nourish and fill me and to allow the ever present guilt to dissipate. I'll admit I did a calorie count - based on five ounces being 130ml and a shot of espresso being 30ml and hence I'm drinking approximately 100ml of milk per drink... I did that. But I'm still drinking it. I'm still making the drive and sitting here and I'm writing this from here right now, drinking my coffee. And I'll take that as a win. 

an ode to 2016.

December 31, 2016

i write, first and foremost, for myself. i try not to look back. my goldfish memory perhaps has less to do with genetics or nature than it does with my determination to not think back to what came before, and to always keep looking ahead. so i write to look back eventually. i write so i don’t have to remember. i write to let go, as much as i write to make sense of the world. 

it is the last day of 2016. these are my thoughts:

*

“She spoke of evenings in the country making popcorn on the porch. Once this would have gladdened my heart but because her heart was not glad when she said it I knew there was nothing in it but the idea of what one should do.”

i spent many a day in 2015 trying to be like the people around me and crying when i got home because i felt so disingenuous, like i’d let down myself. in 2016 i embraced - or better embraced - my inherent introversion. the fact that sitting in a cafe on my own is where my best thoughts happen. how i struggle to be vulnerable and open until the very second where someone says something that gets me excited. a marvel reference. a love for books or magazines or beauty products or christopher nolan movies. i find comfort in picking up movie or book references and incorporating them into my life. blueberry muffins, black coffee, red wine, loungewear. green parkas. i see a little of someone else everywhere i turn. mirror syndrome? on the road scares me - is there anything in it but the idea of who i should be? i’m not entirely sure, still. but i am closer to finding out than i was in 2015. and that in itself says something about the year that has been. 

i am terrified of living an inauthentic life. i spend hours, if not days, second-guessing my actions. whether i genuinely love a thing, or if i’m embracing it because a part of me thinks i should. i cannot be the only person who wonders if there are several facets of them dictating their wants and needs, and that figuring out one true voice is a hard thing. do i really like baths? do i really think the corporate 9-5 is the only path? am i really that brave? what do i really REALLY think about daily coffee? religion? which comes first? the inspiration from an external source to love a thing, or the thing itself which is meant to inspire a love? 

an inception quote: the mind can always trace the genesis of the idea - true inspiration is impossible to fake. 

i fear that i can trace the genesis of the things i do. my love for baths, i get from self-care blogposts. food, i got from jamie oliver. does that make my love for these things less real? maybe that is why i still love dance. i still love books and writing. i don’t know where they came from. i only remember already dancing, reading and writing.
*

i remember placing dickens books on my desk at school when i was eleven. to curate a preconceived notion of myself as being smart. already, back then, i knew that perception sometimes was truer than truth. already, back then, i was doing my own public relations. 

*

2016 was an interesting year, in that i had to find something new to fight for. 

i wrapped 2015 with an australian passport, which felt despairingly like something i had to pry from someone’s cold, dead arms. i gave myself a twelve month break. i took a job that would allow me to find rest, allow me to focus on filling the space that was our new apartment and the end of what felt like a perpetual long-distance relationship, only to realise mere months in that i was not a rest-y kind of person. so i jumped into an intense job. and i realise that this is not the answer, of course. or at least, i WANT to realise this. i want to find more in the world to touch and reach out to. 

2016 was a year of travel and adventure. of visiting dream locations and finding new places. but i cannot help but feel like there is more i am meant to discover. i joke about moving to an island and scooping ice cream, but i cannot help but wonder if there is a thread of truth in that. that we should be fighting for less instead of more. and that perhaps the fight for less, the fight for meaning, is the hardest fight of all. 

*

it only hit me a few months ago that not everyone writes for a living. when a colleague commented that ‘jacob writes for a living too’ - a fact that i often overlook. he reads as much as i do, and writes perhaps just as much. we both trade in the written word, although when i said years ago that i wanted to date a writer, i was envisioning more klosterman than cronkite. 
this year i looked around and realised there were whole careers in which writing was not a thing. in which no one would ever need to announce that they were having a bad case of writers’ block. or sit for ten minutes trying to find a new way to describe a new thing. and i wondered for the first time in a long time whether i could do something for a living aside from write. 

i could, potentially. but i still cannot imagine it. i could never not write. never not pull words out of thin air. when deciding on a size for my incoming mulberry lily bag, my one stipulation was that it would need to fit a moleskine. i feel lost without paper. i have always felt lost without a way of getting words out of my body. 

i used to write fiction. i don’t any more. i still do what i always did those years ago, and write to figure out the world. and myself. back then the facets of me took on different names and different characters. it is incredibly telling to look back at the pages and chapters that i wrote a decade ago. i often named my characters ‘sophie’ or different versions of the name ‘alexander’ - two names i’ve since earmarked for any forthcoming children. even then, i was some version of me that i am now. searching for meaning in the things i wrote. 

sometimes i think my bouts of anxiety stem from the inability to find words to express my emotions. until they burst forth in giant fountains of words from my mouth or out of a pen and i finally experience the relief that xanax or melatonin can’t provide. i’ve tried ‘blogging’ - about food, about beauty products, about things i like. but i cannot write for others; i cannot write from deep within myself for the sole purpose of telling people about my opinions on things. i utilise my skill, but keep my distance. i write to tell people about things every day, but i leave me out of it. i pick my things. i pick my brands. and right now, i write about pretty good things. 

perhaps all we are seeking in this life is self-actualisation. and i find mine when i find the right words. 


in 2017 i pray to speak louder, to take up more room in the world. to always expand, to always learn. to be lovelier to strangers, and seek out new stories. to wander, and to seek. to write more, read more, and learn more. perhaps finally learn how to develop film photos. or take a pottery class. i dream of doing aerial silks - it is one of the reasons i want to develop the muscles for a pull-up. in 2017 i pray for better body image, to get over disordered eating. and most of all i pray that i will know or come closer to knowing what or whom i am praying to. this year was the biggest in terms of doubting the existence of God. but i have never once stopped praying, even when i have said the words ‘You know, You may not exist’, i have been talking to Him. daring God to prove me wrong, perhaps. sometimes when i think i am farthest away from my faith i realise that i am still closer than i think. i am still talking to only one person. i have not prayed to anything else. my wishes on every birthday candle or every 11:11 have never changed: i pray to live a full and colourful life in which God’s existence cannot be doubted.


and so we go. 

portland.

December 1, 2016


never had i been so excited to visit a city. portland, a destination i picked solely based on the instagram feed of their tourist bureau. i'd felt listless as we tried to decide between chicago and seattle, or new york again? every so often, i would add, 'portland maybe?'

because a tv show i used to love when i was nineteen was set there.

it wasn't until the instagram feed that i felt the fission of excitement and realised i had to go. i had to eat at pok pok. i had to walk the streets of division. and for months i studied the city, curated my list and decided on my doughnut place (pip's. even though we did try blue star as well). and fell in love with the way portland cared about its produce. with how portland had food podcasts.

this year was tasty.

in 2016 we started in singapore. then we saw margaret river, adelaide, melbourne, sydney, portland, anaheim and los angeles. i perused the aisles of erewhon, fell in love with zucchini flowers in santa monica, had the best tacos i've ever tasted in a tiny spot on a street in anaheim, got drunk in barossa valley, stayed in an airbnb built by a man imitating gaudi, went to markets, ate doughnuts and chai, and drank tea at the langham. we picnicked in our backyard park, watched star wars under the stars. and i watched it again in the comfort of a glorious plane experience in one of the most touching surprises ever.

for months i thought i was (just?) being surprised with tickets to disneyland.

2016 has been filled with other things. tears and laughter and challenges and a heap of self and life doubt. the quarter life crisis that made me want to move to an island and take up the job of ice cream scooper. but first and foremost i want to remember the travel, the food, the different smells and tastes. chatting to bartenders in strange wine bars. drinking endless glasses of krug and dom perignon. going pescetarian in america. daily scoops of salt and straw in portland. mimosas with fresh juice at the butcher's daughter on abbott kinney. fourth of july fireworks from the balcony. lavender scones. baking bread. langham love.

here's to more adventures.





a list for twenty five.

October 26, 2016

i was defending my inability to spend three hundred dollars on something for my sanity, with the line, “i don’t want to spoil myself!” and i realise that i punish myself daily. punish myself with lines like, “you had to pay for a car service so you can’t do X.” little things that eat away at my health and happiness in the name of ensuring i am not spoiled. taking the harder way out, so that i am not ‘soft’. i relish the birthdays and special moments when people buy me the matcha bowl i cannot bear to buy myself. when i get a voucher that i can put towards something i haven't given myself permission to buy. when other people show me more love than i show myself.

a lot of this comes from where i’ve grown up and what we were taught to believe - that harder is better. that working until 2am is a good thing. that with enough discipline and determination, we can somehow forget our weak desires and discipline ourselves into… well, submission. every workout is a fierce pleasure, every purchase i talk myself out of buying a triumph. 'sucking it up' is prized. it is rewarded. i left so that my future child would never have to know it, but i myself have not fully left it behind. gentle is not a word i have taught myself to live by. 

and every day i realise that being a grown up is unlearning the things we’ve been taught, and forging a path based on what we now know, having seen a little more of the world than we have in the past. that every day, every year is one step forward into crafting a better day ahead. 

so with that, a list for twenty five. 

*

breathe deeper. invest in shoes that are comfy for walks. have more picnics. feel your way into stillness. rise early. love your body. write more. take the nap. find good leggings. eat greens. move naturally. gaze at the trees.

love yourself enough. love yourself more. always eat the damn cookie. be gentle. keep faith. open the windows. take more baths. put down the phone. be surrounded by greenery. buy the ballet tickets. book the plane flight. relish the ability to go anywhere, do anything. make reckless choices. 

buy comfier jeans. stop using the word ‘fat’. read more books. stop using the baby college fund as an excuse to not live your life. stretch more. make your own kombucha. forgive yourself for the days you don't. take more pictures. walk everywhere. find stillness. find space.

realise that mistakes happen. allow mistakes. make deliberate mistakes. 

you are still so very young. enjoy it. 

24.

October 6, 2015

i don't write for the web any more. or should i say, i write for the web so much for work that i rarely throw personal words into the void. i very much believe i will never be a {creative} writer in this lifetime, because it means too much to me to have to write for profit {life may surprise me}. i am a content creator for a profession. but i turn 24 this week, and so as i always do at this time of the year, i put a little personal out into the world. 

24.

the year where i learnt a little more about self care. about opening that bottle of wine and having a glass a night. staying home and cooking because i now have an apartment and a burgundy wine glass. craving roast chicken and making it myself instead of going out. defining a personal style. getting clothes properly altered and tailored to fit me. swapping sourdough for rye bread, but also splurging on lovely buttery brioche (the blueberry and white chocolate ones are the best!). 

the age where i continue to learn: the difference between slim and fit

is huge. i am one of the more flexible in my xtend barre classes, and probably one of the slim ones. but the weakest by a long shot. i cannot get through a whole weights series, or the abs series. slim and fit are two different things, and who knew that for me, getting over my tendency to slip back into calorie counting and disordered eating just meant exercising more? because seeing my body change in the mirror was just the key. not slimmer, but stronger. i think it is so important that we do not mix up slim with healthy. slim is not fit. 

women often tell me that i don't need to exercise when they see me running out the door in my reformer gear. 'you're slim,' they say. not knowing how harmful the mentality of 'only non-thin people need to exercise' can be, to women of all sizes. exercise used to be punishment to me, because it was a validation of the fact that i needed to lose weight. 'i don't exercise for weight loss,' i want to say. i exercise because i'm starting to see muscles and it genuinely excites me, and do you know how long it's been since i've been able to say that? 

i own a fitbit. i go for 3km morning walks every morning. i do xtend barre twice a week and am starting personal training sessions next week. I CAN DO PUSH-UPS. and the funky planks with the quick footwork! i do this not to be skinny, but to be strong. i love that my abs engage now without hurting my lower back. that there is a line down the middle of my abs that tell me my bone structure is changing due to all the work. i can see my biceps, and triceps (a muscle whose location i never knew of until a month or so ago). thin was an ongoing battle i was never going to win, but the more i see definition pop up around my body the less i care about the fact that my measurements may never reach my 33-24-34 unhealthy ideal*. it is not my body type, and that was a losing battle. but fitness is an uphill climb and i can see real results. 

and when i am hungry, i eat. 


*this is not to say that 33-24-34 is not healthy. but due to my actual bones being in the way, it is not possible for me without removing a couple of ribs. 



23

October 11, 2014



Here are the things I understand about myself at 23.

life is too short not to have the haircut you want.

it is okay to want more than one coffee a day. 

no matter how hard it is to get yourself there, you will never regret that yoga session. 

"The truth is, you can skip the pursuit of happiness altogether and just be happy.”

Take walks. Move. Breathe. Do what makes you happy right now. Do it now. 

I will never want to be just one thing.
Sometimes I favour baggy tee shirts and no makeup, only to hit the pavement on the hunt for the perfect red lip (NARS Red Lizard) the next. In my twenty third year I learned how to do my hair, and got a cut I am delighted with. I still get my colour from a cardboard box, mostly. 

But I am not glamorous or sexy or glossy or tall. And any attempts to play-act at those things makes me feel awkward and never quite right. I will likely be asked for ID at every bar until I’m at least thirty. I don’t think I’m ever going to be the girl who takes the perfect sexy-pout-selfie while slightly inebriated at 2am. If I’m inebriated at 2am, I’m likely in my owl-print bottoms sipping out of (okay, classy) champagne flutes at home. I can be adorable. I can even be pretty. And I will forever be excitable, naive about a lot of things, and not classy at all. And that’s okay.

I love yoga as a form of exercise, but am slightly hesitant these days due to cultural appropriation. In my twenty third year, Australia became my sort of proper home after seven years here. And I have become more educated about the manifestations of racism. I am fortunate that my personal encounters with racism have been minimal. But I do know that this is in part due to my (genetic!) features, American accent, and the fact that it has always been my dream to live in the United States. Having essentially been immersed in American culture from a young age, I’ve grown up with a very international world view and way of acting. None of which should make me exempt from any inappropriate comments - ignorant or otherwise - about my race. I am still racially one hundred percent Chinese. I am not the ‘exception’. I am just a Chinese girl brought up in Singapore who spent her entire childhood wishing she was somewhere different. Everyone is different, and our diversity should be celebrated.
I never talk about my weight. Mostly because I know how numbers can be a trigger for so many people, as it used to be and maybe still is for me. My eating disorder is in the past, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t still occasionally struggle with the shape of my thighs. But I know that a 33-inch hip can be just as healthy as a 35-inch hip (which I am) as a 38-inch hip. And that fat-shaming may be a thing, but then so is skinny-shaming. Privileged or not. And it is more important to focus on whether we’re eating enough greens, moving our bodies, and are happy. At least, that is what I want to worry about.
I also want to worry about rest. And how I seem to be constantly exhausted, prone to collapsing and susceptible to illness. I want to stop treating life (and work) like a marathon that I cannot stop running. I want to embrace the stops and the starts and everything in between. But in this season in my life I need to stop and reflect and listen to me a whole lot more. 

"
There comes a point in those hungry moments when your legs go weak, and your mind can’t stop formulating to-do lists and the email notifications are coming in faster than you can even delete them.  It’s a point where you’re perpetually late and the clouds of your brain clear for a second to think…there must be another way.  There must be a way to sit down with the person I love for just a few minutes in the morning and see how they’re doing and maybe, just maybe, hear that sizzle of bacon grease." 
Source
I did not experience heartbreak in my twenty third year. And it is interesting to think about the fact that if Jacob and I marry as we say we are likely to, that I will not experience the only sort of heartbreak I’ve known, ever again. That is: the heartbreak from unrequited love, from the going of separate ways and the I-don’t-love-you-any-mores. There is worse pain, of course. Permanent devastating loss (of life), the loss of a child, and all the things that come after. Growing up scares me.
I want to wake up early, sleep in, wake up late. Drink coffee, eat a burger, then freak out and eat a lot of salad. I want to learn how to take personal days without the crippling guilt. How to style a pair of flats that aren’t ballet flats. I want to drink a lot of tea, stay up late, slow dance in the kitchen and drink far too much champagne. I used to believe in the quotes that talked about moving fast not wasting time, and want to believe in the quotes that said to be still. I want my life to be a lot of both. Activity is life. Laziness is life too. I want to learn how to spend my money on things that make me happy. Knowing that I will probably never be happy with a $1000 bag, but that books and lipsticks that I never wear tend to make me far more excited. Whether it’s a bag of coffee beans or oatmeal with far too much cinnamon in the morning, or sitting in a cafe watching the world come to life, I want to live a life that makes me happy.
i don’t want to look back and regret. especially not when i know what that regret would be. i won’t regret not banking that extra couple of hours at work. but i will regret missing the sun-shows happening on the beach a fifteen minute walk away from me.

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