Turning Survival Mode into the Living Mode: (Not Exactly) A How-To
In this column submission, Fadiah Wadud writes about the unease that comes from feeling stuck and how she tries to navigate it one step at a time.
Words by Whiteboard Journal
Are you feeling stuck? Me too. In this ever-changing world, mine seems to be stuck at its own small circle of track, going off course. If people say it’s just a matter of perspective, I’d say “have a go at it” because I’ve been there and I think I will go back there someday, just not today. Today I woke up feeling like I have no solid reasons to live, but don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t feeling suicidal, I didn’t want to harm myself, not at all. If anything, this thirst — almost a little too pathetic — the desperate feeling of wanting reasons to be alive is getting too much of a spotlight, right at the centre of my brain, practically begging to be looked at. It’s empty, and my body is begging for me to fill it with something, anything.
I feel like I have to do something, to say something, to make something. On good days, I would find myself making plans, good plans, actual tangible plans, from A to Z; timeline, background story, product narration, target audience, the what-it-could-be and how-it-should-be and even the reasons why it could fail, and how to come back from it, everything, you name it. Sometimes I even do it for my friends, particularly those who ask for professional opinions on how to execute their works. On good days, I would find myself smiling ear to ear, pumped up to even have the chance to be heard, quite proud even on the idea of “wow, I could help someone make something out of nothingness”. On good days, I would be grateful for the days I could wake up an hour longer than the usual daily workers, for the kombucha I brew the night before, and for the Paolo Fresu’s Tempo di Chet album I could easily fall asleep to.
In this moment of confusion, juggling with the big “WHAT SHOULD I DO NOW?” question, a dear friend told me to write about my life. I figured that’d be too long of a train-of-thoughts, no? So I decided to write about feeling miserable without actually saying it (except that I just did). Some say I have a knack for writing, and for the longest time, I didn’t believe that. I do write, every now and then, but I always find it hard to end my stories. If you arrive at this point dear readers, I wouldn’t even promise you a nice ending as I, too, don’t really know how to end this long text of rambles, but please keep going. I’m sure if you write yourself, you’d be familiar with that anxiety of never getting your writing done the way you wanted it, don’t you? Well, that’s me, every single time. All of my younger adult life, I’ve been struggling to even put what I have in mind and heart into words until the pandemic came and I’m particularly forced to actually try. Because if I can’t communicate — in this case, effectively, in other words, the way I wanted it to be said — how can I even survive in this fast-changing, interconnected world where people can’t read my body language and couldn’t feel my actual presence? Yes, I’ve always been a do-er, I would express my love and loyalty with acts of service, and it’s not getting my problems solved any easier.
When you’re a 25 years old single woman, working as a freelancer, living with your civil servant parents back in the hometown you were raised in, when the mornings filled with birds chirping and the house has its own red chilli and rambutan tree, where your basic needs are met and your biggest problem is the “when are you going to get married?” question, it is easy to be complacent with the mundane life. Especially from having grown the thick skin of living in bigger cities for years and having learned how to set better boundaries. Yes, it has its own challenges, but at least you’d have a sounder sleep knowing you wouldn’t have to worry about your parents that are not getting any younger especially in the middle of a pandemic.
Looking back this past year alone, I’ve been through so much. All the heartbreaks, the lonely nights, the long-ass texts, the sinful thoughts, the days where everything I have is just courage and gut feelings. I keep telling myself, I’m going to give myself some space to be inspired. Maybe I will take a longer walk, or wake up a little early, or just sip another cup of bitter tea, but still, I couldn’t find any reason why I’m not grateful for what I’m currently having, or maybe I am already grateful, and I’m just nervous that I’m getting too comfortable with this and that starts making me feel uncomfortable, and that’s usually where the bad days come creeping in. I would wake up feeling like I’m good for nothing, jack of all trades but master of none, having too many varied interests but an expert on the most uninteresting thing.
On bad days, it’s hard to face myself and say nice things even for the things I’ve accomplished. On bad days, I’d think as random as my luck has run out and I’m just gonna stay like this for god knows how long. On bad days it’s even hard to think about properly loving anyone outside of myself because, in those days, I wouldn’t even feel good enough to be kind to myself and show myself the love I knew I deserve.
Just like many others, in the darkest times, I would turn to the people I trust. I’m lucky to have friends I could come rambling at any respective times, and one of them would remind me that it’s the learning process that we have to enjoy, and we shouldn’t have to worry so much about the outcome. I didn’t realize that as much as I’m trying to achieve things, I am still in my learning mode as I go. It’s okay to feel stuck, it’s okay to admit mistakes, and to feel frustrated when things don’t achieve the targets just yet. I just have to let go and let the tide take its course as I’m trying to sail off the boat. This is the unknown, after all. All I know is I trust where my heart leads me to and I trust the good people in my corner. I’ll be fine, everything is going to settle for the best, as long as I don’t stop trying and work with all my might while making sure my best is delivered. I just have to keep telling myself that everything’s going to fall into place, in the right spot, at the right time. Patience, patience.
Although it is not as magical as it sounds, and definitely not as easy as imagined, from that kind of moment on I would usually come to the realization that just like any good days, the bad days would pass. Just like any other form of emotions, this feeling of being sunk deep into the ocean
without knowing how to swim back up, wouldn’t last forever, and if you’re finally finding yourself here dear readers, I wish you will remember this too. And maybe, if you feel like you’re at the lowest, you’d find the little voice inside that says, “there’s no way but up from here”. You would rewatch the corniest romcoms, you would dance with yourself to Christopher Cross’ Swept Away and hug yourself if the night is a little colder, and maybe you would even be able to serenade yourself (exactly as I would do) with Blossom Dearie’s Try Your Wings that says,
If you’ve always had a dream
But you’ve been afraid that it would not come true, hitherto
Fall in love and you will find
That it’s just what you’ve been dreaming of
A first love never comes twice
So take this tender advice
When it comes, try your wings
And fly to the one you love