This is the turning point. It will have to be.
I originally thought 2013 will be a much better year. It turned out to be much worse than 2012, and perhaps the second worst in my entire life. Sure, there were great moments here and there – travelling overseas and being a bridesmaid at my best friend’s wedding. But on the whole, 2013 was just … bad.
And there is no one to blame other than myself.
Losing my grandmother in April brought me down. Way, way down. During her death and the subsequent funeral, I was basically expressionless, numb to everything that was going on around me. Not because I wasn’t close to her, but because I was in shock. And everything happened too fast.
Prior to her death, I only knew she had stage 4 cancer 5 days before.
And I hated myself for it. Chinese New Year 2013 turned out to be the last ever Chinese New Year I would ever have with her. And what was I doing then? I WENT HOME early during the festivities at her place because I had a client deadline to meet, and I actually put my client deadline as a higher priority over Chinese New Year with her and my extended family. What the fuck was I doing?
And even while I was physically there, mentally I wasn’t. My mind was someplace else. Even when I was speaking to my cousins, I was basically bitching about how I have stuff to do at home, as if my work was more important than all of them combined.
But seriously, even if she turned out to be well this year, it shouldn’t have made a difference. Must someone come down with cancer before I realize that I should be spending more time with him/her?!
It’s a bloody huge wake up call. I’ve made some horrible decisions which I’m still bitter about until today.
It was this year when I realized my priorities were wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.
It was only after my grandmother’s death when I began to evaluate my own life more closely, and I realized I have not been treasuring the people around me enough. How many times have I turned someone down for dinner or a weekend out because I wanted to do my work? Way too many times.
Meeting my extended family at my grandmother’s place used to be a weekly affair. How many times have I gone there last year and this year? Apart from Chinese New Year, zilch.
How many times have I promised to have dinner with my parents only to have my coding work overrun (usually due to bad time management and over-zealousness, like starting a new task at 6pm) and end up cancelling, promising to have dinner with them “next time”? I have lost count.
Here’s me announcing on Facebook in 2011 that I won’t be free for an entire month because I had stuff I wanted to do.
And here’s another status update from last year when I mentioned that I’ll be missing my grandmother’s birthday because I couldn’t finish what I had sought to do for the day.
That turned out to be her LAST BIRTHDAY.
Seriously. What was I thinking? Has my workaholism blinded me to the fact that other people exist?
Ironically, I started becoming extra-paranoid that I might lose anyone at anytime. In fact, I started to worry about every single damned thing.
When my favourite cousin flew to Vancouver, I was left there wondering whether the airport send-off be the last time I see him. When any of my parents go to the dentist/sees a doctor for any reason, whatsoever, I’d be worrying up a storm. Worry, worry, worry – that was what I kept doing.
Health-wise, it’s been major roller-coaster ride which hasn’t yet ended.
(At this point, let me pause to add a little disclaimer: Cousins and relatives, after reading from here on – please do not approach my parents with questions. I just want to be left alone. Thanks.)
I have a chronic autoimmune illness which went into remission early last year after I painstakingly fought it for a year and a half since late 2010. It relapsed early this year after a bad bout of flu, brought upon by an entire week of late-nights to meet a client deadline (same old story). Needless to say, my immune system into a decline for the rest of the year and since then, it’s been a never ending cycle of falling sick – getting well (briefly) and falling sick all over again.
Being someone who has had chronic illnesses since 2008, I should be no stranger to “pacing myself” and “taking rests were necessary” by now.
Apparently not. I still went at full force. It was only from the later part of this year where I started to slow down a little – but somehow, my immune system just wasn’t holding up even with my slower pace.
Recently, faced with a couple of spotty lung x-rays and abnormal blood test results, I am now at a point where I realize I may have just done irreversible damage to myself.
I always pride myself in loving what I do. Even today, I remain just as passionate for entrepreneurship, the start-up scene, and what I do in general – which is a myriad of writing code, designing, web marketing, giving talks about gamification – all the things I love.
Whenever anyone asked me whether I was “undergoing stress”, my answer was usually a straight-out no. And I wasn’t lying. I actually enjoyed it.
But still, there is still something called “overdoing it”. Passion can be a silent killer that blinds you from reality, and you don’t realize that you’ve overstepped the mark until you get hit from behind.
And from the looks of it, I’ve overstepped the limit.
2013. It was a huge (probably, much needed) emotional, physical and mental jolt. The cumulative effect of everything that has happened this year has drained me entirely. I’ve lost all motivation for everything. What I love to do, suddenly doesn’t seem as appealing. I’m just completely demoralized at how I’ve just lost complete control of everything – my own health included, which I cannot stop worrying for right now. I’m just so angry at what I’ve done.
Yet somehow, I’m rather amazed at how I can still put on a close-to-normal front when facing other people. Although from the looks of my recent Facebook posts and this blog entry, that facade is fast disappearing.
I have to start re-evaluating my priorities.
I love my work. But I also love my family, my friends and myself.
2013 has taught me way too much:
1. About the importance of treasuring the people I have around me and not take it for granted that they will always be there.
2. That if I lose my own health, I basically have nothing. And it WILL be a long struggle back up.
I used to think I was superwoman, or an “Energizer Bunny” – a nickname given to me by many people. But today, I know who I am. I’m a human being. And like everyone else, I am not infallible.
I will bounce back eventually. I’m certain about that. The only thing I’m not certain about is when.
As for 2014, I only have one resolution right now. To stay alive, and to live as if 2014 will be my last year on Earth. (Okay, that’s two resolutions.)
Almost a month ago, almost the entire extended family stood in vigil as my grandmother breathed her last, in bed 3003 in Mount Elizabeth Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. We watched as her heart rate fell from the 50s, to the 40s, the thirties and the sudden, prolonged 0.
Two months ago, nobody saw this coming. She was still happily playing mahjong at home.
And six months ago, I definitely did not see this coming, because I posted the following status on my status page.
I recall that weekend, I was preparing to conduct my first ever workshop at a gamification event. It was a stressful period – rushing slides, preparing material and all. On hindsight, I guess I got too caught up.
My grandmother was still perfectly healthy at that time, and I completely took that for granted, thinking that “I could always attend her birthday next year”.
Someone commented on that status update which made me think a little bit. Initially, I berated myself for ‘thinking too much’. At the very last moment, I flung all my stuff aside and raced all the way down to her birthday dinner venue to catch the last 30 minutes of the festivities.
I’m glad I did, because that birthday turned out to be her very last.
In December, my grandmother landed up in hospital briefly. Everyone came down to visit one by one. No one thought much of it though, and the usual family drama occurred (one extremely loud aunt apparently spoke so loudly in the ward that the patient in the next bed complained – resulting in everyone being thrown out). My grandmother got discharged, everyone was relieved.
Then, it turned out she had stage 4 cancer.
A secret so well-kept that only a grand total of 6 people knew. I only learned about this a week before my grandmother left. Likewise for a handful of my cousins. As for the remainder of the family, they only discovered hours before her death.
As for my grandmother, she was completely clueless that she had cancer.
The people heavily involved with my grandmother’s treatment had a rationale for keeping it from everyone (and even my grandmother herself), which I understand. They didn’t want the rest of us to worry. She had been undergoing a special kind of chemo which didn’t cause her hair to fall out so everyone was none the wiser. Plus, she seemed to be doing well.
As of March, her tumour markers was almost down to normal. Things looked promising.
Then in April, she decided to skip her medication (the one supposedly to support her immune system which was damaged by the chemo), thinking that it would be okay.
It took only 2 weeks for it to go completely downhill.
During her wake, my cousins and I transformed it into a celebration of her life, getting our hands dirty on Day 1 creating three large posterboards featuring my grandmother during her happier times – travelling to Hong Kong, China, Vietnam and even as far as Canada and the US of A. They were put up around the wake for all visitors to look at.
We want people to remember her as the jet-setting grandmother who went everywhere, always surrounded by her loved ones. And not the frail version of her former self which we all last saw of her.
Her death was a huge wake-up call that I’ve been neglecting the people who matter to me most – my family and extended family (whom I used to see almost weekly or at least monthly, but only every 4-6 months in the past 4 years).
Although it’s too late to start getting back the lost time I could have spent with my grandmother, it’s not too late to start earning back moments with the other important people in my life.
I’m still in shock at how things turned topsy turvy so quickly in less than 6 months.
Treasure those you have with you now, because they are not going to be there forever.
Rest in peace, grandma. And I hope there are snow mountains for you to look at, and the grizzly bear which you wanted to take a photo with when we were in Toronto.
The clock has struck midnight in Singapore. Happy 2013 to all of you out there, and may the year be filled with many awesome things to come.
Took the above photo 2 minutes to midnight. Yes, wearing a Santa hat. Because I go through this phase after 25th December every single year where I go around indignantly insisting that it’s still Christmas. (While the Christmas spirit still lingers in the West, there’s always this urgency to move towards Chinese New Year almost immediately after Christmas in Singapore and some other Asian countries, for reasons beyond me.)
Unfortunately, I still have no concrete plans on how to manage my obsessive perfectionist and workaholic tendencies as outlined in my look-back at 2012. Perhaps it could be a good thing – because making a concrete plan means that my perfectionist tendencies are still at work, aye?
So let me put forth a few liners which will be my mantras for 2013.
1. Moderation is key.
Dear Brenda, yes you love your work. And your work is a form of leisure to you. But still, take it easy. There’s such as thing as an overdose. And when you overdose on anything, you need to get your stomach pumped. Nasty, ain’t it?
2. Your health comes first.
Remember how you fucked up majorly in 2008, then 2010 and then 2012 because you failed to realize that you’re wearing out your body physically even though you weren’t yet stressed mentally. You don’t have much of your health left. Preserve your remaining mana, please.
3. Stop doubting yourself.
You have experienced enough ‘win’ moments in 2012 to show that anything is possible. When in doubt, put in more effort. Remember how you successfully delivered a 1.5 hour talk/sharing session and a 3 hour long workshop without cue cards (and with awesome slides to boot)? You always hated public speaking. Yet, you pulled it off. Keep that in mind, and walk forward.
4. Keep the curiosity alive.
It’s hard to keep staying curious when you’re going to the same places, doing the same things week after week after week. Visit a new cafe. Explore a new place. Just for goodness sake, STEP OUT OF THE DAMN HOUSE more often. And keep reading on a wide range of topics as you already do. Keep on staying inspired.
5. You seriously need to chill
i. Yes, things are fast paced. Things need to get done. But you can never think straight when you’re flustered. When in a state of panic, take a walk. Or just zone out. You’ll save yourself from making bad decisions … such as saying something nasty, writing bad code, or beating the crap out of your laptop until it no longer functions (now, that will be a disaster).
ii. You need your me-time. Spend time with yourself reading a great book, lounging by the pool, cycling, taking strolls. And damn, you need to stop feeling guilty about it. The issue with being so emotionally connected with work means the constant thoughts of “Man, I could have …” or “Gosh, I should be doing …”. Stop. That. Right. Now.
Now, step forth and enter 2013 with your head held high.