Category Archives: Depression

Once More for the Skies, Dear Friends

Pretty in spring

I’m back. Again. Hello, anyone!

A lot can happen in six months. Or seven. I can’t believe how quickly time has passed. And when the days fly past, part of me can’t help but feel guilty on days when I’m not squeezing every drop of creative brain juice possible onto the page by the time the clock hits bedtime.

But as a friend pointed out, I need Sanity Breaks too!

I’ve needed a lot of Sanity Breaks this year.

Here is a quick summary – Good and Bad – of what’s happened/happening since February.

  • I had the most amazing time in Texas – yay!
  • I returned home safely to Edinburgh (I swear!)
  • I had one  short story published in an anthology
  • I’m halfway to editing my Malaysian urban fantasy novel (faster! *cracks whip*)
  • I’ve been frantically planning a trip to Europe this month with my parents – woo!
  • I’ve been working full-time in a clothing store since April – double yay!

Yes, after months of agonising, dread and drama, I finally chased down that most elusive quarry – a permanent full-time job in the UK. Pity it took a year before I could corner it, but better late than never, at least!

A summer view outside my window

The sad thing about it? My visa expires this year on Dec 10, and that means I must go home to Malaysia, leaving behind a gorgeous city and amazing, amazing friends. And because I’d be disappearing the whole month of October for my Europe trip, I had to resign from my job end of September. No company was going to let me beam off the planet for a month and take me back another month, only for me to disappear into the Delta Quadrant when December hits. Unless you were a Very Nice company.

It’s been an incredible experience nonetheless, these past few months, working in the clothing store. But that’s a story for another day.

The Bad News

The downside? Let’s just say I’ve had a bit of an emotional crisis. The kind that involves family, challenges your sense of identity and esteem, and bitchslaps when you choose to butt heads against walls people have built an entire lifetime. The kind of crisis that makes you want to curl in bed and give up.

I have to admit: May, June were tough months. It was hard to concentrate. I had the emotional equivalent of train wrecks stuck on Repeat in my brain. I spent months questioning who I am, what I am, what I should be.

Even now, with the Europe trip of a lifetime about to kick off in just four days…well, some days are hard.

But guess what?

I’m still here, still writing, still living and reaching for the Dream.

I am Rocky Balboa. I am Jean Grey. I am hunger and anger and joy and pain, and I am NOT giving up. Blue skies, ahoy!



Filed under Depression, Family, Malaysia, Novel, State of Mind, Work, Writing

Keeping me Weird

Hi everyone!

Man, didn’t mean to drop off the face of the earth, but I had two (well, maybe one) good reasons!

First of all, once again jobless. Despite the hope I’d be asked to continue at that supermarket I did a Christmas contract for, I’ve not heard a lick of a word from them. But perhaps that is a good thing! Perhaps this is a sign from On High that I should get off my butt and submit (yet again) applications more relevant to my degree and work experience.

In the meantime, what have I been doing ever since I finished my novel?


Yes, this fantasy video game has utterly swept me into its snowy world and done a damn good job of helping me forget the pain/depression of losing a stable means of income. But I would also be fooling myself. If I wanted to, I could always go back to that dishwasher stint, or head out there and perform the same old rituals of the (job) hunt.

I just chose not to. For over a month and a half, I chose to – for once – have FUN. I chose to lose myself in Skyrim. And oh, has the obsession been sweet.

God, this is a beautiful, beautiful game. Words just can’t describe it. These past few weeks, I felt like I could do anything – slay dragons, wrestle giants to the ground, and tackle most obstacles merely by poking it with a sword and castle-sized stones. No messy job hunts. To earn money, all I had to do was to raid tombs and rob the dead, or help a girl find love in a small town, or reunite ghostly lovers searching for each other on an ancient battlefield.

I could go on and on about the game, but let’s just say that Skyrim is the reason I disappeared from Facebook and much of social life, leading people to actually wonder what happened to me! In fact, I played this game so much the fingers of my right hand swelled up, requiring me to drastically realise that, okay, perhaps I should ease back on the 12-hour, bladder-tightening gaming sessions.

But in the end, when it comes to my prospects, it’s just as Paolo Roy says about unemployment: I have to figure out how to live on my own terms.

Hack and Polish

It has not all been fun and games! I have actually started the editing process for my novel. This requires me to print it all out, as having it on paper makes it much easier for me to spot the minute and structural details I should fix.

And what a whopper the novel turned out to be! At 14-font and single space, the manuscript was a murder weapon-worthy 258 pages.

With my muse dragon, Fangthorn, and Fuzzy Red Hat of Inspiration.

Now that I gave myself a month to let the novel ‘rest’, I could start rereading with a fresh mind.

Good news, at least. So far I’ve gone through three-quarters of the manuscript and it isn’t as bad as I thought it was. There are two, three chapters that need serious reworking but otherwise…it could work. I just need to get to the ending before I can get down to the serious rewriting.


But there is, also, another reason I’ve not bothered job hunting the past month. February is when I fly to Texas for an exciting month-long vacation I planned half a year ago. And after a whale of preparations, I am finally here!

Austin's motto, seen on a colourful row of T-shirts at the airport.

That’s right. I’m in the US of A, and so far my holiday is fantastic 😀

I’m come across a customs official who tawks ta me in dat distinctive Brooklyn accent, spotted people in Amish-like robes, and eavesdropped on Americans who chatter straight out of all those US telly programmes I grew up on back in good old Malaysia.

It’s a surreal feeling, and I must stop acting like such a tourist and stopping every five steps to take photographs! I have a feeling people will not look too kindly to me stalking them with a camera.

But hey, at least I brought my homework – the manuscript which I saved on my thumb drive and plan to edit when I get some free time at night.

And in case people are wondering: No, this vacation will be, for once happily, Skyrim-free.

Will update soon, I hope! 😀


Filed under Books, Computer Games, Depression, Malaysia, Novel, Photography, Role-Playing Game, Skyrim, State of Mind, Triumph, Work, Writing

A Christmas Memory

Merry Christmas, everyone! Sorry for dropping off the face of the earth, but a lot of things have been happening the past few weeks.

For one thing, I finished my first novel!! 😀

After starting it in March 2009, with a Masters in between, I have finally hit the finish line at 97,800 words on December 20, 2.20am (yeah, nice number 😉 ). In the words of my former mentor, I have SLAIN THAT DRAGON!

Now I am letting my dragon roast and cool for a while to clear my mind of doubts and second guesses, before I start carving–I mean, editing the novel in January. It still needs a lot of work, but at least the story is not irredeemable, I hope.

How do I feel? Excited, relieved, a bit emotional too to tell the truth. Since I first started writing the novel – back when I was a journalist in Ipoh, Malaysia – so much has happened. I flew across half the world, met amazing people, and became blessed with good friends.  In these two years, I also lost my grandmother who was taken away so suddenly. And I tried not to miss Malaysia so intensely.

What Christmas Means to Me

Christmas always makes me think of my grandmother. My Poh Poh would cherish those rare times I’m home for Christmas, and on the eve we would go for midnight Mass together with my brother. Not being much of a churchgoer, I could never understand why people would turn up several hours before a midnight Mass.

Once, we’d turned up five hours early for the midnight service! I remember, deep down, of feeling resentful of having to go so early. Despite arriving at 7pm, every seat inside the church was already taken and people were filling the rows of plastic chairs outside on the church porch. Sitting beside my Poh Poh, I’d hold the thin white candle that scalded my fingers with melting wax despite the manila card ‘hilt’. I would spend those hours praying, reflecting on my life, playing with balls of wax and trying not to wish for a music player.

Time passed faster than I thought, as I had a lot of people to ask God to look after, there was plenty of things to reflect on my life, and soon enough I’d find myself daydreaming (nightdreaming?) about some story in my head. In the landscape of my mind, characters played out betrayals, dramas, fought, schemed, and were made to not swear so much (‘because you people are in church, darnit!’)

And then the moment came in the Mass to stand and wish Peace Be With You, where you are supposed to nod or shake the hand of your fellow Christians. I am ashamed to say this is the part I always, always hate most about Mass, because I would cringe at having to do this with strangers. I can’t help it, I’ve always resented it. It’s like a teacher forcing you to sing the national anthem, or your friends egging you into sticking your tongue against a lamp post in winter.

Once that Peace Be With You business is over however, my tensions about the whole Mass dissolve. I could relax like normal people.

Which is why it’s ironic that when I hurried into church this morning for Christmas Mass, late as usual, I flopped myself onto a wooden seat…only for the priest to call, “Now let us make to each other the Sign of Peace!”

With a gasp, I hopped back up and dutifully clasped the hand of the man beside me and the people around us. (Speaking of which, this is amazing to me: I come late and I can still find plenty of seats at the St Mary’s  RC Cathedral. I presume there are not many Roman Catholics in Edinburgh!) I waited for my insides to squeeze with anxiety when I had to meet their eyes, or for my heart to pound when I shake their hands…nothing.

Perhaps it’s because I was already breathless from rushing here, perhaps I didn’t have to wait in dread anticipating that feared moment of the Mass. Instead, I felt almost…calm. The Mass went on, and it was only when the choir launched into a noel that I nearly broke down.

The main reason I came to church was to light a tea light candle for my Poh Poh, as I’ve done for her last Christmas mass. I’m sure she would have preferred I go for Mass every Sunday, just as I’m sure she must have hoped I speak to her more when she was alive. In 19 months, I’ve had time – and good people – to help me deal with the grief and the guilt, to make me understand it’s absolutely normal to feel regret, as long as I don’t let my life be ruled by it.

As long as I live my life without fear.

Today, at least I could place the candle in its holder and say: Hello, Poh Poh. I’m here. And I’ve done it.

Merry Christmas!


Filed under Depression, Fantasy, Malaysia, Novel, Photography, State of Mind, Triumph, Writing

Almost There, or Day 28 and 29 NaNoWriMo

This is it! The final sprint! I have officially 24 hours to somehow type 4,629 words to reach the 50,000 for NaNoWriMo!

God, hope I can do it. No thanks to an error by Open Office, I learned to my dismay that it had overcounted my novel by over 1,700 words. Thus leaving me with 4,629 instead of a comfortable 3,000.

Bah! Open Office, I spit on thee! Now I must run like the chicken, be the bunny on speed, fly like the wind! 😛

(Actual) NaNoWriMo wordcount

45371 / 50000 words. 91% done!


Filed under Books, Depression, Fantasy, Malaysia, Novel, Photography, State of Mind, Writing

Uh Oh, or Day 22 NaNoWriMo

Well, guess what I feel like now?

I think I’m in trouble.

I realised with a start last night that I forgot to read Week 3 of No Plot No Problem, the guide written by NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty. When I flipped through that chapter, I blinked upon seeing you’re supposed to finish your novel around the 50,000th word!

Ahk! Now I have to radically think how I’m going to end the story. Some might say why let 50,000 words restrict you? Why not keep writing? Ahh, but see, that’s part of the challenge. Thinking how you could wrap up this storyline with a nice bowtie and leave readers (hopefully) begging for more.

A lot of things – real life – seem to be happening in the space of 24 hours, and I will cover that later. Right now I’ve got to rush (“Run, Chris, Runnnnn!”) for the second stage of this job interview, which involves meeting some manager and taking a tour around this supermarket. And after that, rush for night kitchen job like a bunny on dopamine.

Meanwhile I’m getting worried hearing nothing about that Royal Mail Christmas mail sorting job since I got the provisional offer letter weeks ago. And apparently I’m not the only one, if you’ll believe the complaints. One way or another I must get a job soon!

NaNoWriMo wordcount

36461 / 50000 words. 73% done!

Again, could not do my Malaysian novel yesterday. I shall hereby flagellate myself with chocolate cake.

To recap: my mission this month of November – to do NaNoWriMo novel by day, my other Malaysian novel by night, and blog about something vaguely interesting every day of November. So far I am surviving!

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Filed under Books, Depression, Fantasy, Malaysia, Novel, Photography, State of Mind, Work, Writing

Baaaaaarf, or Day 16 NaNoWriMo

Bridget Jones-like diary entry:

Oh why do I feel like a sick cow whenever I go for these ‘job assessment sessions’? Has my body learned to spontaneously erupt into cold sweats at the mention of group interviews? Head is spinning. Skin feels hot. Tummy is churning and my hormones are threatening to spill onto the world like a rabid penguin. I feel like crawling to the feet of those stone-faced interviewers and vomiting my supper on their wage-earned shoes. I want to scream, “I don’t care if you hire me or not. Stop asking me why I love you!”

And to top it all off, I could only do 400 words yesterday. At least my kitchen shift yesterday was relatively painless.

I must survive today. I must survive today.

25909 / 50000 words. 52% done!


Filed under Books, Depression, Fantasy, Novel, State of Mind, Work, Writing

A Kitchen Tale, or Day 12 NaNoWriMo

For some reason, I decided to write this as a story! Hope you enjoy 🙂


Saturday night. Tonight something feels different.

Tonight when I slip on that apron stiff with grime, I feel a sense of calm. The kitchen is still the same, the staff jabbering in a language I don’t understand as they fetch orders and prawns and onions and sauces in a bustle that doesn’t  include me.

There is only myself, and that sink and mountain of dishes.

As usual the gloves are far too big, but I’ve taken to wrapping rubber bands around my wrists to lessen the amount of water seeping down to my fingers. I make sure the bands are not too tight, yet not too loose. It’s not nearly as effective keeping my hand dry as the small sized gloves I bought last week, but those had ripped by the end of the night.

I would manage. I had learned and brought with me a long glass of water, and Monica has made me a warm malt drink. The sugar there would be a lovely boost of energy in these four hours of washing.

After a week of despair, I was eager to test my new system. I fill both sinks with hot water, and make sure not to pour in too much soap.

First, clear the dishes brought in by the waiting staff, especially if these have already reached the height of your head.

Pour unfinished soups into a bucket, wipe rubbish into the bin. Then organise dirty dishes according to their own species, to make it easier for mass washing.

Chopsticks in one tub, Chinese spoons and utensils in another.

Ten types of plates, five types of bowls. An insane amount of bowls. I can never get rid of the bowls no matter how furiously I wash, so I’ve learnt not to panic when they pile up like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The trick is to first wash the ones they want.

“Christi-naaah! I need spoons!”

“Christi-naaah! I need this plate!”

The heat kills the grease, and I leave dirty dishes in the sink of water and detergent for the heat to work on it, while I wash other dishes in the rinsing sink. Then, in they go on one of two drying racks.

Time to clear the dishes off the other rack. That’s when I rip off my gloves, to give my fingers – swollen and white and soft from exposure to leaked water – time to recover. This way, my fingers won’t ache so much at the end of the night.

There’s a certain kind of pleasure in picking up dry dishes and feeling not a trace of grease on them. Every once in a while I come across a plate with grease spots I’ve missed in that ever furious pressure to get dishes done, and I use a dry cloth to do them in.

A drink of water, and then it’s off to the rest of the kitchen, delivering plates to their homes, somehow finding space for the millions of bowls that need housing. As I move around, the kitchen staff and I end up doing a tango in that narrow space we occupy. Every once in a while, I catch tantalising glimpses of a cook using a ladle to scoop up sauces and seasonings from a dozen bowls, tossing them like a wizard into a wok that sometimes spurt dramatic pillars of fire.

Heat and steam, soups and rice topped with vegetable gravy and spicy aubergines, other scents so much like home.

Then it’s back to the sink, and to my system. Clear, organise, wash, rinse, dry. Clear, organise, wash, rinse, dry.

Every once in a while, the restaurant or kitchen staff talk to me in a language I can communicate with, and for an instant I allow myself to hope that perhaps I can be a part of their world after all.

And then they hurry off, and I am left to myself. That’s all right. Sometimes it’s nice not to have too much expected of me. Nice to leave some things unsaid.

I sense there are things about me they don’t understand, and I’m not sure if it’s because I am not Chinese enough for them, or simply because I don’t let them in.

I can sense the growing acceptance, too, as they realise I am not going to finish my shift with the mess I left behind last week, when I was a flailing and panicky wreck. There’s touches of kindness, like when a cook offered me chocolate from a box last week. It’s kindness, however, with a sense of sadness; the gesture felt like an unspoken apology.

Tonight though, one of the kitchen girls gave me a mandarin orange, and I was touched.

Before I know it, I’ve survived the busiest night of the week, and they are reminding me to finish up. My system worked.

Every night, the cooks whip up a round of dishes for the restaurant staff to sit together and eat for supper. It’s tradition, but I’m used to eating hurriedly or declining as I have to hurry and catch the last bus.

This time it’s as if they expected me to join them, like family.

I sit down at the round table, even though I’m anxious about missing the bus. Someone passes me a bowl of rice, and for once, as they chatter with each other in their language, I don’t feel as awkward as I once did. It doesn’t bring back bad memories of school and misplaced crushes and hurt.

It’s a tiny change, sitting at this table as if I am one of them. Perhaps in the grand scheme of things it wouldn’t ease this loneliness, but at least tonight was different.

I take up my chopsticks, and pluck up something hot and juicy. The first bite is heaven.


NaNoWriMo Report Card

20811 / 50000 words. 42% done!


Filed under Books, Depression, Fantasy, Malaysia, Photography, State of Mind, Triumph, Writing