You Don’t HAVE to be a Social Butterfly.

Human beings are social creatures. We crave validation and acceptance from our peers; if not to be liked, then at least to feel accepted. This need for inclusion could be biologically wired from our time as hunter-gatherers, where being part of a group or a community provided protection and a higher chance of survival. 

But even though our days of wooly-mammoth hunting and huddling around fires in caves against wild animals are long over, why do we still have an innate need to belong? I mean, how many times have you been peer-pressured into doing something that you wouldn’t otherwise, simply because you didn’t want to offend a friend, or didn’t want people to think you’re a spoilsport? We force ourselves to conform to a group dynamic, because we need this sense of inclusion and the feeling of being liked.

Unfortunately, this can be a problem for those who are not naturally attuned to act in ways that groups see as the benchmark for ‘likable’. Think of a party, and describe the people who would usually be at the center of attention. Words that come to mind may include ‘open’, ‘friendly’, ‘funny’, ‘interesting’, and ‘charming’, to name a few. Now think about the people who usually hang out in the corners at the same party, and the words that pop up now are “quiet”, “shy”, and “anti-social”.

The bottomline: group 1 = good, ‘rewards’. Group 2 = bad, ‘ostracized’.

I’ve always fallen into the latter category, no matter where I’ve gone. It’s not from a lack of trying–despite social gatherings being out of my comfort zone, I genuinely try to listen to what people say and push myself to approach or talk to others, especially new people. What I’ve observed, however, is that this tends to end in failure: talk often peters out because our conversations won’t jive, or people turn to their own cliques and ignore me completely. I’m often left wondering what I’m doing wrong, and why.

The thing is, I don’t think I’m bad at communicating. I have friends who hang out with me and (I’d like to believe) enjoy my company, and I’ve never had problems vibing with colleagues, some of whom have become my friends for life. 

The problem, imo, lies in the dynamics of group behaviour. 

In social situations, we are hard wired to act or behave in certain ways, which includes how we gravitate to certain individuals within the group.

Take Obama, for example. Eloquent and confident, you feel his presence as soon as he walks into a room or goes up to a podium. Social butterflies tend to have this magnetic energy, and other members feel drawn to everything that they say and do, whether or not it has substance. 

Obama to me is an example of a naturally charismatic, likable personality. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

On the other end of the spectrum you get the broody ones (like me). A colleague once told me I have resting bitch face, and that she was surprised to find that I’m actually pretty easy going once she started talking to me. (We ended up becoming close friends even after our time at the company. I was a bridesmaid at her wedding). 

With most large social gatherings, conversations tend to be superficial, and people form quick and judgy first impressions because the group is so big that they don’t want to waste time ‘chipping away’ to get to the meat of someone who seems reserved and shy. Others might feel more comfortable with familiar faces, so they form cliques–it’s also easier to talk about familiar topics with people you already know, as opposed to roping in a stranger and having to explain the group’s jokes or bring them up to speed to the clique’s collective knowledge. 

Unfortunately, aside from being polite, engaging, and showing interest in others beyond what I’m already doing, I cannot emulate the charm that comes naturally to other people, short of completely overhauling my personality. Which brings me to my next point: 

Sometimes, the solution you want might not be the one you need. 

There was a point in time where I believed the problem was mine to solve, and no one else’s. I should take the initiative to be more open and friendly, and if I felt left out, it was because I wasn’t doing enough to make others feel comfortable with my presence and personality. The flaw in this logic that I’ve recently realized is that I will never be like those people, no matter how much I try. 

  • I will never be naturally charismatic. 
  • I will never be a social butterfly. 

And if the negative effects of forcing myself to conform to these group dynamics in order to be well liked causes me more suffering and anxiety, I am better off without it. I don’t have to join stuff I don’t want to join, but I can be open to situations I’m comfortable with. It doesn’t make me a spoilsport. 

I guess the main takeaway is try your best, but if it doesn’t work, it’s okay: you don’t have to beat yourself up over it, because sometimes, the problem isn’t you. 

Why Are We Not Talking More (Openly) About Depression?

Hey guys!

Serious topic. 

My eldest aunt called my mom yesterday. She said my cousin had come down with dengue and was refusing to go to the doctor, while my uncle was in the hospital because of respiratory complications from smoking. The doc told him he had to quit smoking or die coz his lungs had hardened…but it seems like a habit he is unable to kick.

My aunt was diagnosed with clinical depression last year. She has been to the doctor and gotten meds for it ,but treatment for mental illness is expensive at private practices, and at government hospitals, the wait often takes months just to get an appointment. So she stopped going. This is on top of all the old-age health probs like diabetes, high blood, joint pains, etc.

She talked about killing herself and not having the will to live, which alarmed us. I felt sorry for her, because she lives in a toxic environment – the husband she is so worried about is an abusive womaniser who gambles and contributes nothing to the household, her two sons work abroad and only come back to drop the grandkids with her, so she basically has no one to talk to. In such a scenario, no matter what meds you take or how many docs you see, you’re not going to get any better.

We tried to offer her solutions – “why don’t you take a break and come stay with us for awhile?” “Ignore your useless husband, he’s not treating you well” ” Try to relax and let go of things”, “Go back and see the doctor” …but she’d always refute each one.

  • “I can’t, I don’t want to be a bother”
  • “I can’t ignore him, he’s my husband no matter how he treats me”
  • “I can’t stop worrying, I know I shouldn’t”
  • “The doctor is too expensive and the hospital is too far”.

I know from first hand experience how difficult it is to get a depressed person out of that loop of pity and self-loathing. Most of them are incapable of pulling themselves out of it, and their calls for help are often brushed away, simply because relatives/friends do not know what to do or how to deal with it. I understand, because my own mother has depression, and for the longest time I didn’t know what the fuck to do about it. So I drowned myself in work, went home late when everyone was asleep, and basically avoided interacting with the fam. It was an extremely difficult time. I knew it wasn’t her – it was her disease – that was causing all the confrontation, the hurt, the rage that she would direct at us for no reason. I became angry and resentful. I’ve always had anxiety, but it developed into full-blown depression because of the daily shouting matches at home. I’d scream internally “”Why can’t I have a normal family like everyone else?!” – then feel guilty that I felt that way. It got to a point that was so bad, I was ready to move out and cut ties with them. Maybe that’s why studies show that people with close relatives that have depression are more likely to have depression themselves. A combination of genes and environmental factors.

It wasn’t until my mother finally acknowledged that she had a problem and talked to us about it – that she needed our help – that things got better. We actually sat down and discussed it openly and talked about how we could mitigate episodes from happening in the future. She’s on antidepressants now, and of course there are days where she is not herself, but things have mostly improved.

This is why it is so important to have someone to talk to when you’re depressed – but in Asian communities, there is still a strong stigma against mental health issues. I don’t know if it’s the whole ‘face’ thing: ‘face value’ is imperative in Chinese culture, and to admit that someone, whether it’s yourself or a person close to you, is suffering from mental problems, is akin to ‘loss of face’, something embarrassing that needs to be hidden. Also, some people might feel the need to hide it from others because they don’t want to be a bother or a burden – that’s certainly how I felt before (and still do at times).

My mom called up my cousin and advised him to look out for his mom. He agreed begrudgingly over the phone, but I think it’s mostly because it’s an elder and you can’t very well slam the phone down on them lol. Not sure if it’s advice he’ll take to heart, but there is only so much we can do as relatives. I suggested to my mom that we should probably go visit my aunt in Ipoh and bring her to KL – remove her from the toxic environment  – we’re just worried that she might not be willing to come.

My neighbour’s dad committed suicide just a couple of months ago. He was 80 years old. So don’t think that this is something that only affects a certain demographic. It can happen to anyone.

People close to me know that I suffer from an anxiety disorder, something I have struggled with since my teens. Outwardly, I appear somewhat ‘normal’ – but I guess this is what they refer to as ‘high-functioning’ anxiety. There are bad days where I get panic attacks, especially in social situations. The sweating. The nervousness. The inability of the brain to process things or react accordingly. But there are also days where I don’t feel so bad, and I’d like to think that those days outweigh the rest… for now.

I know I said we should talk more openly about depression, but perhaps I can give you an insight as to why some people don’t, from a personal perspective. With my mom having depression herself (I don’t want to worry her more) and my very-Asian-dad having the emotional depth of a potato, there are not many people that I can talk to. My friends have their own problems. We are conditioned to believe that “hey, other people have worse problems than us”. If you know someone with depression, PLEASE DO NOT tell them that. They know there are people out there suffering from bigger problems. It does not make their own suffering insignificant, so please do not guilt trip them about it. IT DOES NOT HELP.  

I’m lucky, in a way. I’m not eloquent or articulate irl, but I’m blessed with the ability to speak my mind in a different way – through the written word. When things get overwhelming, I pen my thoughts down here. Not because I want attention, but because writing is often cathartic and allows me release.

Is there a point to this ramble? Perhaps I just hope people will be more open about talking about depression, rather than trying to sweep it under the carpet. And don’t judge. You never know – a kind word and a listening ear can help to save lives. Literally.

 

What’s On My Playlist? August 2018 Edition

Hey guys!

I’m not in the perkiest of moods lately. Let’s just say that when you do things right, people expect it of you, but you fuck up ONE time and they won’t get off your case for it and suddenly you’re seen as incompetent, careless, lazy, inefficient. ONE time. Well, I guess that’s how life works and I shouldn’t be a whiny bitch about it. Suck it up, foo.

Doesn’t help that my anxiety has returned in full force, I can’t seem to get my mind in the right frame to write (for work) properly, and I’m having trouble falling asleep because of paranoia and/or SOMETHING SEEMS TO BE DISTURBING ME IN MY ROOM GAHDDAMNIT. Call me crazy but I legit told it to fck off this morning. It might just be me talking to an empty room or it might be me addressing my inner demons but what the heck. This post turned dark real fast 

On the bright side, the weekend’s close, and I actually have plans wow. Whether or not I’m going through with the plans is another story.

Enough with the gloom and doom – time for another What’s On My Playlist! Been awhile since the last one; I believe it was in September last year. Hope you guys are having a great week so far. I shall soldier on.

I listen to this channel called Alona Chemerys a lot, and they feature plenty of interesting indie bands. While cycling through the autoplay, I stumbled across Mild Orange, a Kiwi band with seriously chill, dream-pop vibes. Aside from this track called Mysight, I also like their other single called ‘Some Feeling’, taken from their debut album Foreplay.

Every now and then I get an itch to listen to The Scorpions. They just have such a timeless, classic sound that has lasted through the ages (the band was formed in 1964 – and Klaus Meine is still singing at the age of 70!)

PS When we first met, I was astounded that the Boy had never heard of The Scorpions. Blasphemous. 

I first fell in love with James Morrison‘s voice when I was in my late teens. I don’t understand how he never became a superstar. He sings about love, loss and heartbreak a lot, but emo subject matter aside, there’s a depth to his voice that is both raw and powerful. Have a listen. This is the best medicine for broken hearts.

If you have not played or at least watched the playthrough for Detroit: Become Human – YOU HAVE BEEN MISSING OUT. I vote this game of the year for its amazing storytelling, well fleshed out characters, unique gameplay and stunningly beautiful graphics. Drawing heavily from Philip K Dick’s book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (which later became the basis for Blade Runner), the plot is basically about Androids in the future, their awakening into sentient beings, their struggle to be freed from servitude to humans, and the efforts of the evil conglomerate to subdue them. You play as several characters, such as Connor, the conglomerate’s android tasked to hunt down ‘deviants’, as well as resistance leader Markus whose decisions (or YOUR decisions) affect how the game ends.

It also has an awesome soundtrack to boot, especially this one called Now, which involves a heart thumping chase scene worthy of any Hollywood action film.

Okay not a song per se but the song is in the trailer. I couldn’t find the (song) video anywhere although I know the artist is supposedly Vo Williams.

PS I really want to watch this film! I loved the Raiders series, and it has been 12 years since the last one.

 

Hello, Old Friend.

That old ‘friend’ of mine is back again. Anxiety. She’s a bitch. She makes my heart palpitate, she keeps me awake at night, and at times she leaves me feeling nauseous. She impedes my interaction with people and hampers my day-to-day life.

I had an attack before I went for my Redang trip. I was trying to contact an interviewee via email, and she didn’t respond for well over three weeks while my deadline loomed closer and I had to gear up for my trip. I couldn’t even contact her because email was the only avenue I had. The result? I couldn’t enjoy my work-holiday coz I was constantly worrying about how to get what I needed for my story. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s not being able to complete a task properly.

I had to painstakingly screenshot pictures from her Instagram, hoping that they’d be high-resolution enough for print. When I finally had enough materials (no thanks to said interviewee), then and only then could I breathe easy. It was like a few weeks of being in hyper mode – never resting, pacing all the time, mind racing constantly.

Anyway. My editor threw me a task to do today, which involves me looking for photos of deceased Malaysian ‘heroes’. Problem is, it’s not as easy as just Googling, which I know a lot of lazy people do these days – I have to find pictures that are high resolution, and usable without any copyright issues. Since our national online archives are sht when it comes to digital collections, I have to physically go to the National Archives and see what I can find. Exacerbating my anxiety is the fact that my digital writer told me most of these pics are old, and are probably unavailable in digital format. The only way to get them is to scan them – which I’m worried won’t be usable for our publication.

Anddddd the effects are all coming again – the heart palpitation, shortness of breath, racing heartbeat, unable to think properly without constantly worrying, affecting sleep.

I don’t really know what it stems from. Insecurity? The inability to complete tasks? Feelings of worthlessness and helplessness?

How can I function like a normal human being?

It really doesn’t help that people I’ve tried to reach out to don’t understand. They think I’m being weak and that it’s really something I should just suck up and get over with because ‘stress is part of life’. Same goes for when I want to share thoughts on my depression. Them shutting me down means I withdraw more and more into my own little shell, unable to trust that the next person I try to spill my heart out to won’t just turn around and say it’s ‘all in my head’.

Nobody wants to be in this state all the time. I have to learn to build a coping mechanism without seeing a quack. I’ve been to one, and it didn’t work lol.