Loneliness, Depression: Matters of the heart

When you expose your vulnerability and it is met with silence, it hurts.

That’s when we build up walls. We’re afraid of being hurt, we raise our guard, we keep people out. We numb our emotions, we don’t share, we don’t connect. We live in isolation, and we spiral down a well of rejection, self doubt, lovelessness.

Or we could be in a relationship and feel utterly unloved, unseen, unheard. I’ve seen that in men and women all around me. They are in relationships and marriages where they don’t matter, their voices are not heard, their opinions disregarded, their identities squashed and over time, diminished by the more domineering partner.

One too many failed attempts in making friendships or relationships work doesn’t mean we stop trying. A toddler learning to walk knows not to give up trying - he takes a couple of baby step, fumbles and tumbles, gets back up on his feet, takes more steps forward, fumbles and tumbles some more, gets back up again, and keeps at it until he’s walking steadily. A baby doesn’t give up - why should we, as adults, give up when we fail in one or more areas of our life? Life is not a linear process, neither is anything in it at all. Life could happen in circles, in zig zag lines, or it could hop haphazardly from one point to another, sometimes without resolve.

I’ve lived a better part of my life not knowing where I’m gonna be or head towards, despite my most valiant effort to detail a grand plan and following a rigid path to get there. Because sometimes life throws us curve balls or derail us from our track.

I was on track to be an adventurer, author and filmmaker. I did, in 2014. Cycled unsupported across America, published a book, made a film, went on a tiny book tour, spoke to several small crowds in California, Singapore and Malaysia.

Sounds grand, but it was not without struggle.

In July 2014 when I came home after almost six weeks on the road - constantly being on the defensive and looking out for my survival, to stay alive and not to be knocked down by cars as I’ve seen so many cyclists, some of whom I know personally, some I don’t, whose lives were far too quickly taken from them by no fault of theirs, they were simply out there riding their bicycles when distracted drivers collided into them - I struggled to adapt back to a normal, civilized life. Instead of cycling, looking out for cars and trying to stay vigilant and alive, I was now the one behind the wheel, driving a car, being the fast one on the lane, and not having to have my guards up about being knocked down by a bigger, faster and meaner vehicle (although I do have to look out for other vehicles while driving).

Life was too comfortable, I felt, because I had grown accustomed to not having a permanent roof over my head for six weeks - I was sleeping from one foreign motel to another in completely unknown towns in the middle of America, constantly unsure if my ethnic difference would stand out and cause me to a target of racism or aggression.

I had to learn to live with my husband, to share a space with him, to take care of him, to cook for him, to interact with him on a daily basis (instead of brief texts while I was on the road) - it was almost like developing a relationship with a new person although at that point we’ve been married for 7 years. It was a very difficult period for both of us; we were like two strangers living in the same house, trying to get to know each other and gingerly treading on landmines which could blow up anytime because we’re just unsure of each other’s next moves or strategy for coping with the stresses of life.

Despite my valiant front, the struggle beneath was real

Despite my valiant front, the struggle beneath was real

Bizarre as it might sound, I felt like an alien relearning ways to adapt and live on earth among people. I felt lost and wished I was back living a precarious life on the road, instead of enjoying the comfort which my husband, home, car and security afforded me.

Making the film for the later part of 2014 was a struggle when I got into what almost turned into a legal suit with my video editors over the rights of the footage. The imminent legal threats weighed me down daily, until one day when I was cycling home and came to a stop light where in a beaten down car sat a slightly large woman and her partner. They were verbally abusive towards each other, exchanging strings of unkind words. The negative air in the car spilled right out of the half wound window by which side I was standing over my bike and waiting for the light to turn green in my favor so I could pedal on. I remembered that moment standing there, overwhelmed by swamps of negativity projected by the couple, and telling myself, this isn’t how I want things to be between my videographers and I - the hostility between us has to stop. I decided that I would have to be the one to take the initiative to reconcile or the hostility would persist and eventually grip either or all of us hostage. I humbled myself and offered peace and resolution in my email to them. Thankfully my effort was reciprocated and we resolved the issue amicably after several correspondence.  

In 2015 I took an entire year to write my book - waking up at 5am every morning, writing from 6am till 3pm, most of my hours developing unpolished drafts and words of which most of them didn’t make it to the final print because I was really trying to clarify my thoughts and emotions as I went back in time and tried to understand what made me the way I am - this seemingly tough girl, which I know now was shaped by a strict upbringing and frequent physical abuses under a very hard father.  

All throughout my life I’ve had to learn to fight for myself because if I didn’t I’d be utterly broken in pieces. My father could have broken me, but I dropped to my knees one day when I was 12, raised a clenched fist to heaven, and declared that one day, someday, this will end, and I will make a name for myself despite the broken and unworthy vessel I thought myself to be.

I struggled with self doubt throughout the year I was writing my book - I felt that my story was my own, and that no one would appreciate knowing the hardship I went through because everyone has their own difficulties to deal with and would not be in a place and position to empathize or to be interested in another’s struggles - and if that was what I believed, then what was the point of writing a book? Was I writing the book for myself or for others to relate to and gain insights and inspiration from? Would anyone read the book? Would I be doing someone a service by sharing my story? How much of myself should I talk about without painting too negative and dark a picture of the truth behind my father’s abuse? How would that make my mother feel?

I share all of these struggles to demonstrate one point - life isn’t perfect, in fact, life is often far from perfect, but if we never stop moving or getting back up on our feet and figuring strategies to battle the negatives in life, we would ride out our storms and experience the calm and peace we so seek.

Depression is no different. People feel down and lose hope when situations after situations present negativity and there seems to be no way out or even if a situation improves slightly, another one hits and the cycle repeats.

“He who has a why to live for can endure any how.”

-Nietzsche (Friedrich Wilhem Nietzsche, renowned German philosopher, 1844-1900)

If you know what your long term is, you can endure the setbacks, but if that hasn’t become clear to you, then the setbacks are really hard.

How we view something or label something determines how we deal with it. If we view constant failures and setbacks as ways that life gets us down or that life is all out to knock us down and out, then we would always think of ourselves as depressives and that this would be our lot in life and we would never be able to get out of this cycle. If, however, we view challenges thrown our way or even unpleasant situations where we are stuck again and again as temporary setbacks, we know that they are what they are - temporary, and that they are perhaps necessary or needful in gearing us towards our eventual goal. Someone once said this, and a dear friend emphasized this to me recently, that it is not the destination that matters; it is the journey to the destination that counts.

Sure it hurts, and sure it stings, and sure we cry buckets as we journey through the setbacks and pain, but they are not without reason and never in vain. Every road taken, every path walked, every experience encountered, every person met, every tear shed, is for a reason - to get us where we need to get to.

It’s not practical to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. If one method doesn’t work, try again. You’ll never run out of solutions - getting stuck is temporary, developing strategies and applying those strategies is a triumph worth celebrating.

Or more importantly, it is simply about not giving up on life. When it hurts so bad, when you can’t get out of bed, forget the emotion, take charge of your will, get out of bed, and face your day square on.

Andrew Solomon, a renowned author on the topic of depression as he speaks from his personal excruciating experience and a regular contributor to The New York Times, The New Yorker, wrote in great detail about one of his darkest episodes of depression where he cried constantly, couldn’t get out of bed and couldn’t eat. He’d curled in bed in a fetal position and sometimes throw up from so much anxiety and turmoil within him. He mustered enough strength to make one call, just one call to his father, and pleaded for help. His father drove to his apartment, picked him up and brought him home to live with his father so his father could look after him and nurse him back to health.

When you can’t get out of bed, you need that one family member, that one friend, to help you do so. As the song by Josh Groban goes,

When I am down, and, oh, my soul, so weary

When troubles come, and my heart burdened be

Then, I am still and wait here in the silence

Until you come and sit awhile with me.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains

You raise me up to walk on stormy seas

I am strong when I am on your shoulders

You raise me up to more than I can be.

We need that one person who will be that savior for us. I do believe if you asked, you would find that someone. When I contemplated taking my life in 2001 when a relationship ended, I sought help and found help. Andrew Solomon reached out to his father and his father came to his aid.  You may think you partner despises you, your friends don’t understand you and have abandoned you, but you are not alone. Give it another go. Call someone; your redemption is right at the end of that call.