When Instincts Turn to Anxiety

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I’m lucky that I rarely get anxiety attacks, but when I do, they stick with me for hours. Once the panic button gets hit in my mind, it’s nearly impossible to calm down. I have to spend a couple of hours distracting myself with television in order to set things straight again- doing anything is out of the question.

I certainly don’t have panic attacks with enough frequency to be diagnosed with a panic disorder, which is a subset of anxiety, but this week made me incredibly sympathetic to those who do struggle with recurring panic episodes and generalised anxiety disorders. It also made me very curious about how anxiety and panic appear in the brain, and what makes them so physical.

Today, I’m going to explore human anxiety, from its origins in the brain to its effects on the body. How many kinds of anxiety are there, and what do they look like? What’s the evolutionary basis for anxiety? Why do some people develop anxiety but not others, and why does the incidence of anxiety increase so much in the teenage to young adult years?

Before I started researching for this article, I didn’t really understand what anxiety was. I knew it involved things like panic attacks, worrying, phobias, and stress, but my picture of the disorder was broad and shaky. Although, I could safely say I am a person with the jitters of sorts. I overthink and get anxious or even paranoid about things and situations every once in a while and I can feel restlessness and discomfort ascending through.

Once I began to research, I realized that anxiety is difficult to define because it is, by definition, a broad range of conditions. The DSM-5, the diagnostic manual for mental illnesses, actually lists 4 different disorders under the banner of Anxiety Disorders: panic disorder, phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety disorder.

These disorders are united by a common symptom: excessive and persistent stress and worry that is disproportional to the situation at hand.

Anxiety disorders aren’t just stress and fear about public speaking or the exams; they include full-blown, uncontrollable bouts of worry and panic around events that most of us can manage fine.

Anxiety is also inexplicable: sufferers can’t typically explain why they feel and react the way they do, owing to the very neurological basis of anxiety that we will dig into later.

Panic disorder refers to people who suffer from persistent panic attacks like the one I experienced- but unlike me, people with panic disorder have consistent attacks that can interrupt daily and social functioning.

Phobias, as the name implies, are anxiety disorders related to specific situations or objects, such as water, heights, spiders, and public spaces, which are called arachnophobia, hydrophobia, acrophobia, and agoraphobia, respectively. There’s even a phobia of long words, which was cruelly named hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia.

Generalized anxiety disorder, which is what many of us think of as just anxiety, is a more underlying feeling of worry, restlessness, and chronic stress that leads to exhaustion and poor functioning.

Finally, social anxiety disorder is specific to anxious feelings surrounding social interactions, which often prevents people from forming relationships or attending social events. Someone with panic disorder might not have general and chronic feelings of anxiety, and someone with social anxiety might never have panic attacks- each disorder has the overlapping quality of worry, but it can manifest in many different ways.

If you think you might have an anxiety disorder, it’s useful to think of what situations make you anxious and worried- it might turn out that you have a phobia or social anxiety disorder, not a generalized anxiety disorder, even if you feel worried much of the time.

All in all, nearly one-third of people will develop an anxiety disorder at some point in their lifetime- and as we will discuss later, the majority of these people will develop it during adolescence.

Anyone who knows someone with anxiety or struggles with the disorder knows that it can be debilitating. The stress and worry that comes with an anxiety disorder can make it nearly impossible to function daily.

Fear and worry are primarily regulated by two brain systems: the amygdala and the HPA axis. I suffer from vasovagal syncope, which means I get light-headed at the sight of blood and may even pass out due to my brain’s increased signal of lowering my blood pressure in aid of my fight-or-flight response.

The amygdala is responsible for emotion in the brain, especially the fight-or-flight response that is intrinsic in all mammal species in response to environmental threats.

The amygdala also handles fear conditioning, which is when a certain situation becomes mentally associated with fear and harm.

Fear conditioning was discovered in a series of experiments called the Little Albert experiments, in which infants were conditioned to fear domestic rats. At first, the infants were given rats to play with, without any aversive stimulus.

However, the experimenters soon started playing a very loud noise when the rat was presented, causing the babies to cry. After a few repetitions of this pattern, rat and loud noise, the infants’ amygdala began to associate the rats with the aversive loud noise. When the rats were presented to the infants without any sound, the infants still cried because the rat now triggered the feeling of fear of the loud noise.

The other brain system involved in anxiety is the HPA axis, or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which is often activated by the amygdala. This system consists of the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands, which actually sit right above the kidneys.

The HPA axis is responsible for the feeling of stress, which is defined as a threat to homeostasis. Basically, we feel stress whenever we think that our mental or physical equilibrium is being threatened, whether by the environment, pathogens, or even thoughts.

Our bodies want to be in a state of internal balance, and when this balance gets thrown off, physically or mentally, our bodies react with an immediate stress response to try to right the damage.

The HPA axis performs a chain reaction to release the hormones for the stress response, most importantly cortisol. It is these hormones that makes you feel the stress that you encounter on a daily basis.

Anxiety, especially social anxiety, panic disorders, and generalized anxiety, tend to be diagnosed during adolescence. Anxiety disorders typically appear right around the time of puberty- 12 or 13 years old, according to a survey conducted by the Harvard Medical School.

Half of all people who develop anxiety do so by age 14, and three-quarters develop it by age 24. About 8 percent of adolescents have diagnosed anxiety disorders, a number that has been climbing steadily since the 1950s.

Surprisingly, anxiety is relatively even between the sexes in childhood, but in adolescence, twice as many girls develop anxiety disorders as boys. Evidently, something is going on just around puberty and in the years following puberty that amps up our risk of developing anxiety disorders, especially among adolescent girls. Something is going on as our brains enter adolescence that makes us especially susceptible to anxiety disorders, and which makes girls at even higher risk.

Why do we develop anxiety disorders at our age, and what makes some people- girls in particular- more susceptible than others? Why are anxiety disorders on the rise? What can we do to protect ourselves and relieve suffering?

 

We cannot forget about the unique pressures that we experience as adolescents and young adults. The adolescent years are the time when we become more autonomous, independent, and academically pressured. We are gaining independence from our parents right at the time when school, sports, and activities become high-stakes and stressful. This has never been as true as it is now, with college or university admissions rates plummeting as higher education becomes increasingly cut-throat.

Along with the increase in competitiveness in academic capabilities, counselors across the world have noted a surge of panic disorders and generalized anxiety among some of their best and brightest students. While only about 10 percent of adolescents have diagnosed anxiety, 80 percent of students at a high-performing high school reported being somewhat or extremely stressed on a daily basis, and the majority tended towards the extreme end, according to a study by NYU.

It’s no surprise that students or young adults are struggling to cope with today’s amount of stress; there’s a nearly constant stream of cortisol circulating in our veins, and for those of us with genetic and biological predispositions for anxiety, the academic world is the perfect trigger for anxious tendencies to blossom.

All of us struggle with some level of cortisol overload, and some of us have especially sensitive amygdalas that put our stress over the edge and into full-blown anxiety disorders. The picture is pretty grim, but certainly not hopeless. Remember, our brains are plastic. This not only means that they are susceptible to outside influence, but that we can also change our brain structure and chemistry through our own actions, behaviors, and thoughts. This holds absolutely true of anxiety disorders.

We have the power to overcome anxiety through deliberate practice and by challenging the thoughts and feelings that arise when we feel worry and stress. Though the brain is a physical organ, that doesn’t mean we can’t control how it responds and behaves. Just like we can learn motor skills like hitting a golf ball or doing a pirouette, our brains can be trained to respond in new and healthier ways to the world.

With help from a therapist, family, and possible medications, we can change our brains for the better.

For those of us who struggle with anxiety, the most important thing is not to give up, and to continue confronting situations that make us anxious and worried. The brain cannot change without exposure to the things that make it uncomfortable.

With the help of a support network, you can learn to retrain your brain when it is exposed to your anxiety triggers. Anxiety is a physical, neurobiological problem, not a character fault. With treatment and perseverance, you can and will put the worst of your anxiety behind you.

After having my little caffeine-induced panic attack, I found myself revisiting mediation and spiritual practices that I hadn’t thought about in years, and for that I’m grateful.

Anxiety is not fun, and it’s not ideal, but it does have the power to give us a lot of perspective about life, happiness, peace, and meaning.

If you have anxiety, try not to regret the stress and worry, but to welcome in a period of healing and transformation that can only happen when we hit bumps in our lives and to make better, clear headed decisions down the road.

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The Narrative Error

 

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I recently sat in on a talk for a leadership class for young people as part of my friend’s university programme. The premise of the talk went something like this: “In order to bring change to your community, it’s important to know your own story. You should reflect on your life in order to create a narrative that you can bring to the table when you go out into the world.”

We were asked to fill out a large number of questions about our pasts, our families, our aspirations, and how all of those things fit together to form our personal story. In a certain sense, we were constructing psychological profiles for ourselves, not unlike a Freudian psychoanalysis.

The class, of course, had the best of intentions, but I left with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. I don’t know if this is a characteristically modern way of approaching life, but there seems to be an obsession in this society with personal and cultural narratives. Life should, apparently, follow the same format as a novel. Every detail has meaning and effects subsequent events, with a few themes running across the years to tie our lives together. We reach a series of climaxes that resolve our psychological, emotional, and spiritual journeys. We are supposed to strive for continuity, so that if we were to sit down with a pen and the instructions to write a memoir, the narrative would come easily.

I don’t personally believe in the narrative structure of a life. The reason why novels have such a definite, thematic narrative is because the author is in charge. There is no serendipity or random chance in a novel; events are planned and edited according to a predestined narrative arc. Our fiction follows a neat, congruous storyline because novels are written to produce a sense of closure and resolution at the end. They give us morals, themes, and characters with beginnings and ends. I love novels, but they are not accurate depictions of the real progression of human life.

The problem is, we don’t live towards resolutions. Every event in my past isn’t culminating in this very moment, leading me towards a climax and closure. My life isn’t a collection of a few themes that pop up over and over again, evolving over time. My very memory isn’t really continuous, and my psyche doesn’t evolve linearly like a character in a book. Cause and effect are so messy in real life, and much of our identity and memory is made up, misremembered, or imagined after the fact. Memories change, identities evolve in strange ways, and we all abide by a certain degree of randomness and chance.

I believe that trying to turn life into a narrative is dangerous. It makes us crave resolution and a definitive causal structure for our entire lives. We feel the need to box up our experiences and explain them based on grander themes and ideas, when some events just happen for no narrative reason. Our decisions are supposed to follow a progression, and our memories are supposed to accurately portray our pasts and inform our futures.

There is so much pressure and disappointment to be felt when trying to turn life into a novel. We have to be finding meaning and arc in every action, every experience, every thought and feeling. We have to be constantly justifying our choices, our aspirations, our desires and fears, our very selves on some decades-old story that started at birth. When things end without total resolution, we feel that we’ve failed to finish the story, and we get trapped in an endless need to find closure. We limit ourselves to a few identifying themes and become paralyzed, because abandoning our labels and themes is abandoning our story.

In order to grow and fully appreciate the serendipitous quality of life, we must be willing to let go of the narrative that holds our story together. We are not stories; we are a present consciousness. We are the atoms that make us up in this very moment, which are forever changing and reacting to an infinitely complicated universe. We can never ascribe a narrative to our lives because the world and the brain are too utterly complex to box up in a story.

Being human and free means being able to shift in any direction, to take the reins and reinvent ourselves, to let go of old memories and identities and move into new domains as we evolve. Abandoning old narratives and self-stories is accepting the transitory, momentary quality of human life. It is denying the ego its power of storytelling and justifying, accusing and blaming the past for our present suffering. Stories restrict us, and blank pages are our freedom.

I have told myself so many stories about myself, which become habitual loops of thinking about my own identity. I now realize how pernicious this cycle is. I don’t want to be limited by my old identifiers and memories. I am grateful to be a human because being human is being free. I would hate to shackle myself to a sensical novel that I have to strive to write every day.

What stories do you tell yourself about your past, present, and future? Do stories comfort or restrict you? How have you given up narratives in favour of present Being?

A Different Kind of Victory

 

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Even since primary school, our curriculum has been centered around competition, through sports, academic contests, and grades.

As a student in Singapore society, you would think that success is exclusive; that you can only achieve happiness by competing. I am not criticising the system, in fact we have one of the most well structured educational system in the world.

However, everything is questionable and we are not going to deny its flaws. It seems that being the best is the sole motivation for so many students in my life, including me. I am one of the most competitive people I know, from the running track, the sports field, the stage and to the classroom.

I hate it. I hate the culture of schools that makes children pit themselves against one another, believing that happiness only comes to those who win. We are taught that the purpose of life is to go to the best colleges, get the best job, and make the most money. Love and peace take the back seat in the eyes of the education system.

Let’s look at evolution, because that tends to be convincing to many people in today’s world. The prevailing belief of humans is that we took over the world because of our competitive edge; we crushed our opposition and battled our way tooth-and-claw into the world spotlight. But the truth is, we weren’t the strongest, fastest, or smartest animals on the prarie in the beginning. We were awkward, hairy, bipedal creatures whose chances of survival seemed slim.

So how did we get here?  Through cooperation and social order. Humans are more innately social than nearly all other animals, and our social connections are deeper. Humans developed an intense capacity for love for their offspring, mates, and fellow homosapiens.

We did not abandon each other, and instead learned the skill of empathy. By sticking at each other’s sides, we were able to evolve together as a specie, with each person working towards the common goal of survival. We are truly the most selfless of creatures, thanks to our profound capacity for love.

But this is virtually unknown to my generation, perhaps its coupled with the after effects of generation X. Our generation is focused on personal gain, on competing for greatness. We are evolving away from the empathy that made our specie so special, and it scares me.

Where did our value for love and kindness go? I know deep down that we are all good people, but we are losing touch with our innate connection to each other. Kids my age don’t seem to understand that we are all the same at heart, all part of a universal condition and energy. We are isolated beings who refuse to share our emotions with each other, simply afraid of being second-best. The fault lies on our competitive education system.

Schools and teachers need to move away from our culture of competition and isolation. School is supposed to prepare kids for life. Why aren’t we teaching kids social skills, love, and kindness? Why aren’t we teaching kids that empathy and cooperation will get us far in life?  That’s the way the real world works, its the best secret- no one wants a colleague of business partner who simply wants to outshine everyone. They want a partner, someone who wants mutual benefits.

We need to learn about the beauty of mutual growth in school. Students need to be prepared for life, not misled into believing it is a competition.

At the end of the day, people want to be loved, accepted, and find meaning in life. We can’t achieve this by pitting ourselves against one another. We must learn to come together.

How does this affect you? Well, I suppose that next time you feel the need to beat everyone around you, remember: we are creatures of cooperation, not competition. The goal is not to win, but to love. I think we all lose sight of this at times, but we must always come back to our central tendency towards connection.

If you work with children, or if I ever will since I’ve been seriously seriously thinking about it, please teach them the importance of sympathy and empathy. It is a lesson they may not learn until they have already hurt themselves and others.

At the end of my life, I want to look back and think not “I was successful, the best, and made money”, but “I was happy, the kindest, and found love and connection with other humans.”

Here’s to hoping you do too.

Do We Really Know When We Are Adults?

 

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Last week, I was chatting with an 8 year-old who asked me what a “grown-up” was. More specifically, she asked me how I tell the difference between someone who is grown up and someone who is not. I was stumped — it was such an important, complicated question. My go-to response with kids when they ask me something profound and I start flailing is to turn the question back around (it works really well — I remember teachers doing it in school all the time), so after a few moments of fumbling, I said, “Erm, what do you think a ‘grown-up’ is?”

She said that she thought you became an adult when you finished school, could pay to live on your own, vote, and get married. I agreed that she’d technically listed off everything society considers the trappings of “adulthood”, and we moved on. But our conversation bothered me, and later I found myself wishing I had given her a more meaningful response. Becoming an adult is so much more than the generic life-event-list I’d confirmed as truth — I didn’t want her to associate the process of growing up with just those things alone. Then I realized that without using those things as examples, I had no idea how I could define it.

My personal definition of maturity was still society’s definition; for so long I’d been fed the idea that adulthood and success has to do with specific events. I’d never really thought to articulate what it means to actually be a grown-up in my own terms. My definition was basically the same as that 9 year-old’s, and I’m 12 years her senior.

I think our society’s method of designating moments in life as markers of adulthood can be misleading for young people. We have this checklist of events instilled into us at a young age, and are expected go through life crossing each item off one by one till we reach the “Adulthood” bullet. But is adulthood really about landing a stable job? Is it about getting all of your loans paid? Is it marriage? Having your first child?

I asked myself these questions, and heard myself answer no for each. While those events are very important in life and can certainly help one grow in maturity, to me they are not the definition of adulthood.

It seems like the focus in our society is often on having, having, having. Society wants you to have. The degree, the house, the job, the perfect partner. We assign monetary values to these things, but we also assign deeper, status-related values. I wish the focus was more on being – on how you behave as a person. For me, being an adult has nothing to do with the degree I have, the house I live in, or the bills I pay.

It has nothing to do with having a significant other, and everything to do with how I treat my significant other. For example, society would tell me that getting married, being a wife, is a marker of adulthood. But I’ve met many married people who still act like children. It’s not the act of getting married, it’s how you are in the marriage that can mark you as an adult.

I understand that doing and having these things can be indicative of hard work, commitment, and follow-through. I’m not discounting the significance of landing your dream job or marrying someone you love. But I think we need to associate adulthood less with objects and events and more with character and attitude.

For me, being an adult means following through on my commitments. Being an adult means taking responsibility for my actions and not playing the blame-game with others. Being an adult means apologizing when I’ve screwed up, and meaning it. Being an adult means being open-minded and humble. People who possess these traits are the real grown-ups in my eyes, regardless of their age, job, relationship status or social standing.

I’m not sure if I’m a grown-up yet by my own definition (I’m certainly not by society’s standards), but I’m working on it, and hope to get there soon.

Unplug and Recharge

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Lately, I’ve been keeping myself busy even though I just ended my final project and I am not too sure if I am okay with that. Maybe, maybe not. There is this funny thing about me where I would keep myself busy and then get exhausted and overwhelmed by daily busy schedules, tasks, to-dos and things to get me going, simply said. I may not enjoy the process of being busy so much but I do enjoy the outcomes of getting things done. It is fulfilling although tiring.

I love being quiet, being able to unplug and recharge and just take days off sitting by the window, drinking a warming cup of sencha and top it off with a wonderful playlist. There is nothing as valuable as some inner peace and tranquility or just getting down and heavy with my favourite films, books, or even getting out for a walk in the park and cycling in the neighbourhoods. It is vital to me, especially an introvert like me, who could spend ample time on my own for a good time of relaxation.

The funny thing I want to point out is that by doing so, every minute, every second I am fully aware that I could be wasting time. It gives me some sort of unexplainable anxiety deep down. And I hate that, I also hate that I can’t stop feeling this way.

I think as far as modern society goes, we have grown so used to being busy, its almost like a cult. A cult of busy—which taking time off makes you feel guilty. Society demands us to achieve, achieve and achieve, I am a victim of that. I have grown so used to this mentality that doing nothing alone, spikes up my feelings of uneasiness and anxiety. You squeeze everything out of every living minute; you’re speed-crazed, time-obsessed, tech-dependent, and a productivity freak. To complicate matters, you’re flooded with time management techniques to help you be more productive every day of your life.

But having some down-time (whatever that means for you) is not a waste, even though you might think it is. Having nothing to do for a while is the ultimate luxury of our modern days.

I do not want to sound like a complaining child because I know people would tell me to embrace this gift. There are a lot of people who are the opposite and find it hard to motivate themselves.

Truth is, I don’t feel that I am incredibly fulfilled and happy even when I am busy and I do not feel okay with being free either. It is a constant tug-o-war of my wants and desires. How do I define what makes me happy, is it being busy and productive or self care and personal needs. Is it too greedy to want both? Maybe that is why I am writing this post in the first place because I am also trying to find out while I recollect my thoughts.

I’m graduating, have nothing much on my mind that needs to be submitted, at least at the moment, no deadlines to fulfil yet I feel this curse of uneasiness. Dammit, I could hear the echo of my friends and family telling me to just let myself loose and I am not supposed to feel guilty about doing nothing all day. Am I?  Do I have to “accomplish” something in order to be worthy?  Why can’t I feel good about myself if I just spend the day doing nothing much at all?  What’s with all the guilt?

Doing nothing is often unfairly labelled as being lazy, but in fact it’s probably the best thing that you could do sometimes. A recent study led by scientists at University College London found that individuals who work over 55 hours a week increase their risk of having a stroke by 33 per cent compared to those who work 35 to 40 hours a week.

And another study spanning over 50 years of research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, showed that a ten hour or more workday increased the risk of coronary heart risk by 80 per cent.

Basically, science is telling us that we should be resting more, and we’re happy to get on board with that. Most of us spend majority of our time at work, commuting to work and back, or thinking about work. So why do we feel the constant need to always be doing something, rather than having a well deserved rest? What ever happened to being able to relax, without feeling guilty about it?

All in all, I think it is still ultimately important to care for yourself. Perhaps, the resistance of having downtime and an inner critic show up because of fear of failure. The fear of letting myself and others down. It was such a good reminder that between goal setting/achieving, work, exercising etc there’s a thing called life that has to be lived and enjoyed. Letting go of your to-do list and simply just be. Ultimately I want to do the things I do because I enjoy it, not because I have to. And I guess I like to keep it that way.

Rest and best of luck, everyone.

A Cookie-Cutter World

 

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Our Singaporean culture is very set on parameters, regulations, and a cookie-cutter mentality, especially in child-raising and education. There is an overwhelming expectation that everyone has the same intellectual and emotional needs at the same time. We have innumerable systems in place to make sure that everyone passes through the same checkpoints at the same ages, and God forbid someone be at a different place, whether ahead or behind the system.

Truthfully, I understand it; it’s too difficult to coordinate an educational system in which everyone is moving through the grades to college or work at different times and at different ages. If that were the case, there would be tons of kids who tried to get to college or a job way earlier than they are ready, because they are bored, fed up, trying to get away from someone, financial reasons etc.

There is reason for making a standardised age for milestones and grade levels. However, that doesn’t mean we all have to subscribe to the cookie-cutter way society approaches life. The only way to get out of the system is, really, to ask for it. You’d be amazed at what you will be given if you simply ask with a smile and a mature, sensible reason.

We are all our own personal advocates for our growth, and it’s our own responsibility to ourselves to nurture and maximize this growth, whether that means entering new relationships, moving to different environments, or surpassing certain milestones before or after the traditional date. In The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck (practically my own bible), there is one quote that has stuck with me and guided most of my important decisions since the day I read it:

“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”.

Think about it for a moment in a personal sense (an interpersonal interpretation is also key to life, but it’s a whole other blog entry and hours of thinking). Loving yourself means extending yourself for your own spiritual growth. I love myself, and therefore I give myself the ability to grow. I want to make certain career/life decisions because I try to love myself, and therefore I am trying to maximize my potential to grow emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

Currently, I have little bits and pieces of thoughts on what I want to be doing after graduation I would say I’m glad I have back up plans in mind but I am still torn on what exactly do I want to pursue. I do not want to make a decision I would regret. I want to follow my values and be frank with myself.

I put a lot of thought into the decision and decide something to accomplish. If you feel that you are in a growth rut, or struggle to love yourself, think about it this way: what can you do to help yourself grow as a human being?

Since we are all connected, this question often goes hand in hand with: what can I do to help others and the world grow in a positive direction? This might mean leaving a relationship that has stagnated or starting a new one with someone who can nurture your growth. It might mean packing up and traveling Europe because you’ve always felt a tug for travel and a new experience on the other side of the world. It might mean going down to the local homeless shelter and serving food because your spiritual health is dependent upon your service to others.

No matter what form your self-love comes in, remember: love is about growth, in the broad sense of growth as any sort of betterment, evolution, or repair of one’s emotional, spiritual, mental, or physical development.

We may live in cookie-cutter societies, but we don’t have to fit into the mold. There is unlimited opportunity to help yourself grow, whether you have to ask to be accommodated for or move at the pace society has in place. It’s not rude or ridiculous or inconvenient to advocate for yourself and try to shift the cookie-cutter to fit your life and personal path: it’s self-love, and if others love you, they will be happy to help you get where you need to be. And let’s save most of our cookie-cutters for the holidays and sugar cookie dough.

Gone Home

 

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A home is not merely a place that people live in. It is a place where memories come and go and we all know we grow a sentimental attachment to it because it has imminently been a part of our lives.

To me, a home is a place that is filled with stories, it is like the setting where characters develop and grow whether individually or as a community and we are all part of it. I have always been a reader; I have read at every stage of my life, and there has never been a time when reading was not one of my greatest joys. I still believe in stories. I still forget myself when I am in the middle of a good book. It is the same when it comes to reminiscing about my past, my childhood as well as hearing other people’s past.

Their stories— memories and experiences, intrigues me and home is where it all began. Home does a better job at storing memories than brain tissue can do because it has seen and lived through someone else’s most intimate experiences and growth.

On second thought, does it really? It is easy to forget or notice the subtle things that we will one day realise we will never be able to retrieve, the little things that makes up the lost memories we grow up yearning for, especially so like the place we call home. It was after all, a barren land, an empty space just lucky to be covered with life, with bustling crowds and commotion. It is easy to take it all away instantly, shockingly even, just like the famous Lavender Food Square at Jalan Besar where my family would take me out for dinner on occasional weekends since I was twelve.

It pains me to see it crumble into nothing but debris, dust, metal shards and a whirpool of lost memories as I stared reeling from the shock of its state through the windows of the bus driving along the street where it once stood. The demolition of old buildings to make way for the new and the reclaiming of land for other purposes are on a high demand as Singapore steps its way further into a first-world society.

I have seen bits and pieces of land in Yishun, where I live, being redeveloped into high-rise condominiums since the year 2008. A part of it most strikingly unforgettable to me, is the shortcut walk through the wet market during my primary school years. I would get out of the house in the wee hours for school, my little hands clasped tight in my mother’s as I prepare myself for “the worst”— the roaring market in the morning with an air of unpleasant concoction of fish and stale vegetables, is now awake from its peaceful slumber. No air freshener could have defeated that sour, rancid stink which ruled over the cramped air.

The shops were stuffed and stall vendors made the walk extremely narrow, forcing me to walk in a straight file like a soldier going to battle. I still remember the warm pleasant faces of the stall vendors smiling at me in their plastic aprons and rubber boots as they greeted my mother.

A part of the market is being reclaimed for a new condominium’s multi story carpark. Unfortunately, the warm smiles, the warm bustling atmosphere that I have shyed away from for close to four years of my childhood became nothing except a far-off memory I still yearn for till this day.

Our skyline is barely recognisable from what it was a decade ago. It’s not uncommon for one to chance upon some story of a relative returning from abroad, shocked at how so much could happen in so short a span of time.

Singapore has undergone many changes and one of the most prominent changes are the influx of foreigners into our tiny red dot. The places we use to orientate ourselves are constantly being redefined, rebuilt or erased completely. The architecture, new amenities, coffee shops— the coming and going of all these don’t just leave a quaint nostalgia. A sense of loss and dislocation also results. It is often relatable for Singaporeans to feel lost, disoriented and isolated in our own country.

I am happy to say that within all these, I have found a place I proudly call home. Yishun gives me a true sense of identity.

Despite the increase of foreigners in the neighbourhood, the sense of it being my home is so strong that it overpowers all these exterior influences. It is a place where I identify as a part of me, looking beyond cultural differences and focusing on everyone living together in harmony. Even little moments such as sitting in the train and hearing the train announcement of reaching Yishun in the next stop makes me feel some sort of comfort and relief.

It is where I grew up, where I learnt new things, where I had the fondest memories with myself, my family and where I found my best friend that I still look forward to seeing her everytime we meet. It is why I would like others to experience home, see home and feel home as I have.

It’s only a matter of time before the last vestiges of open land along Yishun cave in to the demands of urban change where it was once flanked by sizeable plots of open land. Now the plots are cleared and fences erected announcing construction, and in some cases completion, of another new condominium project. The area around Yishun Ave 11 is already beginning to look predictable.

Despite the ever-changing differences regarding to how Yishun looks now, or even in a decade’s time, these emotions, relationships and memories still live strongly in my heart. I believe change is inevitable and I feel that it is a shame that things could not be remained the way it was.

However, as they say, ”every cloud has a silver lining.” It is joyful to know that this change that I am experiencing can be part of somebody else’s new beginning, their new story. Who knows? For the future generations to come and new residents coming in to Yishun, the current multi-storey car park becomes part of their nolstagic memory for the years to come.