Where the spirit meets the bone 

(Typing this on the train) 

I was reading an article on the No Sidebar blog, about ‘The Grace We Have Always Wanted.’ There was a sentence which stood out to me ‘Have you ever felt like you’re winning and losing at the same time?’

I know that I’m in a good place in my life right now, a lot of things have improved in the last two years. My health is still far from good, but at least it doesn’t prevent me from socializing and it allows me to empathise with other people with chronic illnesses. I can understand the frustration, the feeling of inability and powerlessness to do anything about the situation. I can understand the isolation and the mental pressure, especially when you are still expected to function at a high level at work or in school. I can understand the stigma and the feelings of shame- especially with ezcema, hating my own body, then slowly progressing to self love, but not quite. 

Work wise, I can see the clear career progression that I can expect in the future, I can see how I am contributing to the work of clients and most importantly, in just two months, I have built relationships with people not just from my department, but also other units- recreation club, cell group, the other advisory units. I don’t know how the whole organisation comes together but I know who I can trust and ask for help when I need help. As I often do. 

And in the past three months, I’ve stabilised my contribution to children’s church, recommitted to bible study and have been participating whenever I can in activities. Including friends. Two dinners this week, and then an much needed escape to Indonesia for the weekend with the DG where I’m NOT GOING TO CHECK MY EMAILS. I have been trying but also kind of struggling on some days to just maintain a sort of aliveness because I am so tired. So those are all my ‘wins’ in the past few months.

 
My losses come whenever I get anxiety related symptoms, and whenever I feel like whatever I did- it was not valued, I did the wrong thing, it didn’t have the impact that I wanted. It is a constant internal battle- hoping to contribute and hug that kid who’s crying because Ethan took his toy truck and his toy pear and his toy cashier machine, but knowing that the kid isn’t familiar with me, and I don’t want to make Ethan cry either. That and relationships- being unable to reciprocate the feelings of some people, and feeling uncomfortable when I can’t do it. 

It doesn’t matter how well my work went when the anxiety/stomach pains start, and it doesn’t matter how many good things my boss hears about me when I can’t help a kid who keeps pointing to the door and crying for mom, with all his snot dripping from his nose and I can’t cross the room to get tissue because the floor has a troop of toddlers walking/lying around and he thinks you’re going to kidnap him forever if you leave the area near the door. It sucks when a toddler thinks he got left behind and is really wondering if mommy will come back because it always reminds me of my brothers when we have to put them with their biological mother in the waiting room for the weekly visit.  

 It’s also kind of funny when toddlers start sidling towards the door and taking their tiny shoes off the rack, hoping to make an escape. Or when they make a beeline for the cheerios corner halfway through the lesson, saying ‘mommom’ and you’re not sure if they are referring to food or their parent. At the end of the class when their mom picks them up they run to their moms like ‘oh, salvation is here, I’m saved!!!’ Even though all we do in toddlers is to sing/dance/arts and craft/tell stories with finger puppets etc. Not all kids are clingy, maybe 3-4 in a class of 25. But that’s one adult needed to take care of each little one. 

When inspiration has become hidden, when we feel ready to give up, this is the time when healing can be found in the tenderness of pain itself… In the midst of loneliness, in the midst of fear, in the middle of feeling misunderstood and rejected is the heartbeat of all things.

-Brainpickings.org

I guess the past two weeks it opened my eyes to how it feels like to be really vulnerable and receptive to feedback, even when it means humbling myself and not always feeling that the scolding was rightfully directed at me. Or when I am amending things on the spot and I keep getting it wrong and the voice comes ‘jess.’ With a full stop. And I think, ‘I know, I know!!‘ Or doing small things that other people are too busy to do, or feeling that I’m not good enough for this project. I am not sure if I am winning or losing myself sometimes. Not sure at all. 

We react against the possibility of loneliness. 

Fear is a universal experience. Even the smallest insect feels it. We wade in the tidal pools and put our finger near the soft, open bodies of sea anemones and they close up. Everything spontaneously does that. It’s not a terrible thing that we feel fear when faced with the unknown. It is part of being alive, something we all share. We react against the possibility of loneliness, of death, of not having anything to hold on to. Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.
If we commit ourselves to staying right where we are, then our experience becomes very vivid. Things become very clear when there is nowhere to escape.

-Brainpickings 

Friday-Sunday

Don’t know if I can stay awake for the whole post because I’m absolutely knackered haha. I reached home at 5pm and I slept for 3.5 hours, initially thinking it would just be a twenty-minute nap. Anyway, this post is about giving thanks for things in the office finally wrapping up and how I spent my past three days.

Friday and Saturday

Finalizing the proposal, 4am to late nights and panicking, lack of communication (working with my colleagues but they are all new to me), being really fearful whenever I made mistakes. Small mistakes are fine but there were medium-sized mistakes too. I was terrified that we wouldn’t be able to get the proposal out in time because of a certain political situation but thankfully, it has passed. Now I can finally turn off my phone without worrying that a certain thing is pending or “the director hates my work”. I cried on Saturday because I felt so constrained by things and I felt that I was doing shitty work, work that even I wouldn’t approve on hindsight. You know that cold feeling you get when you realised that you really f-ked up a certain thing, and then it feels like someone cracked a cold egg down your head and your mind goes blank. I got that a lot because I was dealing with many different things the past two weeks, and the more work you do, the more difficult it is to get everything done well. In my defense, everything was new, I was slow because I had to first understand what I was doing before I could even start. Whereas everyone else on the team had 6-10 years of experience and so they work really fast. I have 7 weeks HAHA.

I had lunch with the director today, she treated me to cupcakes afterwards too and we clarified a lot of things that could have been done better. And she also apologised for her moods and how she was a bit unapproachable- which she honestly didn’t have to apologise for, so I appreciate that a lot. I mean, for someone so experienced, teaching someone who has no idea what consulting work looks like, must have been a pain in the ass LOL. Learning points: I need to communicate better, I need to follow-up even when I am scared, I need to be a lot more careful about the quality of my work and I really need to pay more attention in the meetings and not let my emotions affect who I work with. Am still afraid to approach one team member- she’s lovely in normal interactions, but when on projects she becomes really curt and slightly unfriendly, especially when stressed.

Sunday (today)



I spent the morning volunteering at Jalan Kukoh. It is with the same director whom I worked with on the above-mentioned proposal, she has a friend who is part of the volunteering team and they plan to go full-time so they roped us in for consulting services. At 9am we were packing eggs from larger trays into smaller cardboard trays that we cut from the larger ones. Then we packed the household things like detergent and perishables (Apollo cake, coffee, biscuits etc) and finally the heaviest items like soy milk. I didn’t think of actually volunteering with them at first because I have a strong interest in children, and tend to avoid the elderly when it comes to volunteering because I always feel that I can’t communicate with them and can’t really make them feel happier. But the idea is that we will be involved on the ground so that we can see the issues and the perspectives that the ground team has. I had the mindset that it was going to be a work meeting so I went with my laptop and dressed in a shirt-dress thingy, but I adapted and just started queuing up.


The organizing team really put thought into the project- they use recyclable bags so that the volunteers have to enter the house to put away the things, and then take back the bags. Ideally, we would also introduce each of the items to the elderly because the packaging and food items change sometimes, they told us a story of how an old man ate soap by mistake because he thought it was a dessert. Still have no idea what kind of soap packaging that is, but it looks similar I guess. It would be much faster to just pass over plastic bags but the concept is that the team should spend at least ten minutes with the uncle or aunty living there, because they are alone and need social interaction. We were told to look out for the people who seemed lonelier and wanted to talk, and that would possibly be the next phase of the project where they can send buddies down. Sort of like lion befrienders, but it’s linked to the current tech system which provides real-time collaboration with volunteers who log in their comments about the needs of the families they have visited.

There are 120 families on the list, it was recently reviewed so initially there were a lot more elderly but some of them moved on or moved away, or thankfully, found ways to increase their income. One team consists of a resident volunteer and the new volunteers- resident volunteers are residents who also stay in the rental flats but help us as tour guides, so they do not feel that they are just taking handouts- they are working for it. And it is very useful to have them on the ground with us because they not only know the place, they also know the residents, they know the RC people, they understand the lives of people who live in the area. They can give tips on how to deal with residents, and they share really interesting stories. On my team, there was a man who used to be abrasive and didn’t get along with anyone, but after two years of doing this with the volunteering ground up movement, he is now, well, not a lovely person, but a lot more talkative. His experiences are also really interesting- he is eloquent and really direct, just that he tires easily.

Rental flats are also interesting- from where you stand at the door, you can see almost everything in the flat because it’s really small. But at Jalan Kukoh, it is near Chinatown and more importantly, there is a fantastic view of the Singapore river in front of every window and staircase. I don’t know if this is the right term, but it is open air which means that the staircase isn’t blocked by a door like the one at my house, it is windy and surprisingly quiet. Although for the elderly who live in the houses, some of them might not even notice the river. Those who stay on the 12th floor have a really nice ambience, but there were families on the 3rd floor and the corridors were frankly dark and cramped, filled with old shelves and one hoverboard lol. There was a house which we went to, there was a bun (like a sandwich hot dog bun without the hot dog) that was literally just placed on the gate of the door, without any packaging. And the house had no sounds coming from within, so we were a bit worried about the aunty living inside. The bun looked fresh but it is just weird. But they should have followed up by now.

Post volunteering I ubered to church, we had a one hour bible study on Mark 2:1-12. I never really read that passage in detail, but today I did and I realised that it really spoke to me about my situation (humans have the ability to sense make everything). I am so worried about my physical and mental health that I never thought to place my spiritual health on the same level.

And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. 5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,“Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

When I was younger I would think “of course it’s easier to say that sins are forgiven, you have to actually prove that the man can get up and walk if you told him to”. But now I realised that for Christ, it was more important that he should forgive the man for the very thing he came to earth for. To forgive us for our sins and transgressions against God, to make sure that we know how to repent, and to guide us when we are facing troubles like physical health and temptations of money and sex. Our earthly bodies are important to us- if I were paralysed, I would probably be deeply unhappy and angry that someone claims that my sins are forgiven, I would wonder what were my sins to be punished like this. In fact with health issues now, I feel tied to Singapore because I can’t travel without bringing my medication along. That feeling of having no freedom can really ruin a day, especially when I get stomach pains during meetings and I really need the toilet.

Now that I am older I see the importance of a Christ-like heart. I don’t quite know how to explain it, but after being in the church for seven months, I think I understand more about sin- how it causes us to turn away from God, and if we understood what God did for us and the beauty of his plan, and if we experienced the comfort of being a part of his family, then we would understand “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Never really got the gospel of Mark when I was younger, now I think I do. It is a sense of relief actually.

Emotional honesty 

Typing this as I wait for my boss to reach the office. I’m on a different level today, because she wants a whole day blocked off to do a proposal. I left work at around 9+ yesterday, reached home, had a late dinner, went to sleep right after I bathed. I think for next few weeks I’ll function on survival mode because there are so many things that I should have done (should have applied for the warranty on my desktop monitor, should have read books that were recommended to me in May, practiced more meditation, bought a kindle etc) and every day after work I’m just like “ok let’s read a book or go swimming AND THEN I CAN SLEEP.” And the weekends are taken up by church and errands and meeting friends for brunch. I am going to be more intentional about how I manage my time after work, because I have been really unproductive (read: sleepy, tired, on medication, stomach pains, prioritizing friends over sleep sometimes) and I need to get my act together or I will not be able to achieve my four year plans lol.

It has been exactly seven weeks with my new company. It is my first job, and I am still not completely adjusted to the work flow yet, simply because each project is different and I don’t think the learning ever stops when you’re working on different industries and different skill sets are needed each time. Also, the client is always changing, which means that sometimes you have great clients who are really good with communication, and sometimes you get the spawn of satan who calls you at 3am to ask for something. And sometimes you have to prod the client to talk because they are so reserved. It is exciting because I like novelty, I like making human connections (especially because the people I’ve met so far are all such nice and genuine people) and I like the fast pace of things. But it is also terrible when you want to meet friends but your boss is like “sorry the client brought the deadline forward, can I have it ASAP”. Work life integration is a practice that I am not very good at.

Yesterday we had a women’s event during lunch, my director invited her to talk on value and worth as a female in the workplace, how do we find ourselves and how do we not lose ourselves as we get older and grow up. She was a principal consultant with a big 4, worked in investment banking and finally she is now a resident artist with the tedx space in Singapore. She spoke about how she got to where she was now while being sick (adrenal glands, brush with cancer etc) and through terrible things- rape etc. I felt that she was tackling something that was very relevant to me- how I look at my to-do list (which always gets longer), and how I think that if there is a rational need to do something, then it should lead to rational action. But I don’t know how to prioritize that ‘need’ above other needs, I don’t know if what society says that I need (money, relationship, a nice body, a place to live) is really what I would like to have. And so while I am functioning like a normal human being, and being quite happy about work especially because of the excitement with every project (and the real human impact especially for manpower planning), I don’t quite feel like I am expressing 100% of what I would like to do with my life. But I suppose it will come later, as long as I am patient. And also because I am not too sure of what I want either.  

During the event we were invited to write down what we valued on a piece of paper that was provided to us. I wrote down

1. Emotional honesty- expressing how I feel about a person or an event accurately, without feeling that I have to hide anything or be afraid that how I feel is not what society expects. I struggle with this at work because you have to have this professional veneer, you can’t use complete honesty with clients and especially not with your bosses. There was a thread on the company forum that said, “how do you live (leave) a relationship”, and one of the four choices were “fundamental dishonesty”. To which many people agreed. But I just felt that it was a really sad way to live (partly because I have no relationship experience). If I can’t be honest with a person about everything, and if the person can’t take it like an adult and accept that it is genuinely how I feel, then why am I even in that relationship. This includes friendship. And I am aware that I have really kind and good friends, whom I value highly. What are people dishonest about, and how is it possible to live like that on a daily basis without feeling that nagging cognitive dissonance. That feeling that you are looking at yourself in the mirror and you have no idea what you are actually seeing. Who are you looking at? I am reminded that the most difficult thing, or one of the most difficult things to do in this world is to ‘know thyself’.

2. Adaptability

3. Openness to new experiences

As my top 3 values. And I realized that I also valued

1. Genuine human connections– similar to emotional honesty, because that is how I connect.

2. Making an impact on society and the planet- especially on the vulnerable, not necessarily people I can identify with. It doesn’t need to be someone from my race or nationality, I see all humans as equal as long as we have emotions and movement and family. As long as we understand what life means to us, and we acknowledge that other people are here on earth. As long as we find joy in small things and are conscious of our suffering, we will be human.

3. Accountability to oneself.

I feel that 2 and 3 have a bit of an overlap. To me, I might be open to trying out new experiences which can be uncomfortable at first but really fun overall. And there’s no commitment to things, it is just new experiences all the time. New friends, new places, new jobs, new hobbies, whenever you feel uncomfortable or you are bored you can just give up. But experiences can be valuable if you stick to it, and remind yourself that you are changing as a result of that phase in life. Adapting to that new experience is something that I constantly struggle with. With people, with my actions, with how I see things and how I feel about the experience. It’s like I am constantly psyching myself to not withdraw into a ball because that’s my default- I like to sleep under the blankets in my room when I am stressed out, or sit alone by the windowsill looking out at the cars and the trees and at what my neighbors are doing at home.

No one put ‘money’ as their top three values- I think money is more a function? It is something practical that you need to have, but you don’t need to have too much of it to feel that you have in sync with your heartfelt values. For me, I don’t expect to save much money in the next two years- I save maybe 50% of my salary (including what I give to my parents), everything else is spent on medical bills and food. And I am thinking of delaying a few trips to the therapist because it is so expensive. Literally, four trips to the doctor can send me to Phuket for 5 days, including flights and accommodation and medical insurance. But if I look at my values, knowing that I have to adapt to whatever I am experiencing now, and that I am accountable to myself for my health in the long-run, – perhaps I should allow myself to just expect less in terms of monetary achievement for these two years. Work and salary will only increase, but I doubt my mental health can get much better without medication.

Ok now I am drinking coffee really fast because I have to shake myself awake before my director comes. Kopi Siu Dai is my friend for this year.

Taxi ramblings. 

Typing this on the taxi while I deliver stuff to a client for my boss. 
I was thinking of all my earlier unhappiness this week- not being able to do this, or do that. But last night I sat on the bed, spending two hours trying to get to sleep. I realised that I’m staying with this church community because God is love and compassion. Despite struggling with all the rules and fixed beliefs about how he came to help us and what he wants us to be like, I still believe. Because I can’t find anyone or anything else like him in this world. Perhaps it is true that I am drawn to only what is unique and kind and therefore valuable. 

I really admire the fact that Christ came to call sinners and the unwanted and not the righteous and those who, on the surface, live a blameless life. That almost every bible chapter calls us to look at our hearts and find what is wrong with us. The greediness that pushes us to do wrong to others or the pride and arrogance that causes us to divide ourselves and split into factions. The pride and defenses that we put up around ourselves. I admire his love and generosity for humans who can’t do as much as him. I love the fact that he will always have time for us, even though he is so much more than us. That he is, and has unlimited love for us. 

I admire the fact that he dares to uncategorically state that only repentance will bring salvation. That you have to first feel remorse and turn away from sin, and not deny him from your life. I enjoy talking to him, although I do not always hear him. He will always have time for us even when we are feeling down and ugly and stupid. He won’t laugh at us or judge us according to the things we were born with. And he will always love us. He will always be a source of strength. 
With God I never ever have to ask why won’t you love me. I know that God will always be there for me, when I chose to return. It is not conditional love where if you say rude things to your partner he’ll stop loving you, it is unconditional love, but also with standards as to how a human being should be like. 

Sometimes I feel that we live such half lives today. Not daring to make a strong stand, not really living or dying for anything. 

K the taxi reached.