Some Mental Health resources I’ve used that you could check out

I think even the most resilient among us needs a listening ear once in a while. Unfortunately, not many of us have others around us who are good as listening, or have empathy. Very often, when one is struggling with his or her’s mental health, it can feel like a difficult experience.

Not to be too cynical, but I’ve never found myself comfortable with being reliant on others, with one exception- Therapy, which I’ll touch on briefly in this post. These are just a few different resources that I’ve acquired over the years that has helped me become a stronger, more resilient person today.

The Upward Spiral by Alex Korb

One of the handiest books I’ve kept around on Kindle. It does a great job of offering very practical solutions to improving one’s mental health, and it does so in a very friendly, non judgmental way. It also contains a very in depth explanation of the different parts of the brain and how it affects our decision making, and as someone who isn’t very scientifically minded myself, it’s very comforting to know that there are people in the medical field who are dedicated in working towards an understanding of the brain, and by extension, mental health.

The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris

Some of you may be familiar with the concept of Mindfulness. Very often, if you are a person like myself, you might find yourself constantly being distracted from things such as: watching a movie, dinner with friends, eating food- you might be having an internal monologue with yourself, or checking your phone, and very often feel out of touch with whatever is happening presently.

This book serves as an introduction to the techniques of ACT, which work towards helping you pay attention to the present. The book serves as a solid introduction to these techniques. It’s a very accessible book, but it can be a bit of a slog at times, and there are more than a handful of techniques that are introduced throughout the book to break up the reading flow. While you might skim through it and find it not worth your time, its a good reminder that serves one to apply some attention and awareness to all manner of things in life. Which leads me to:

This is Water

A commencement speech by the author David Foster Wallace. The speech can bring a lot of comfort to a person who is struggling with the sense that modern living is pointless and silly, and it expounds some of the underlying values of mindfulness and paying attention to your environment.

Therapy

A good therapist ideally should be able to comfort you in the precise time that you need help, and to create an environment where you can feel that you can express yourself without reservations and without the sense of feeling judged. While certain friends certainly can come close to fulfilling that criteria, there will always be those that give advice that doesn’t really help anyone involved, and as a consequence, make you feel like you’ve not been listened to, or heard.

How to find one: You can do as I did: type “counselor, psychologist, therapist” into Google. That should give you a good start. For me, finding a good therapist has always been a challenging experience, and likewise, finding one that works for you requires a certain amount of resilience and mental fortitude on your end, which belief me, sounds rather ironic.

Here are my own few tips in finding a therapist that works for you:

I think one of the most important, or the most important factor in a good therapist is rapport. We’ve all been in situations where we find other people unlikable, for reasons we either can or cannot articulate. In contrast, we often find ourselves gravitating towards others whom we sense an emotional connection with. Likewise, there are going to be therapists that annoy you, and therapists that can fulfill that need for us to be deeply and genuinely understood.

It might be a challenge to tell those two types apart, and its made more difficult by the fact that some of us who come to therapy don’t have a lot of faith in our own judgments- our own compass towards emotions and trust may be already faulty in some way.

Here are a few quick tips and pointers that I have found useful when evaluating therapists:

Empathy + validation

I think we’ve all come across people who we feel are very dismissive in general. If you come away from a therapeutic session feeling like whatever you have said has been judged as stupid and inconsequential, reflect on the session. Gauge whether its likely because of the way that the therapist has behaved in session. A good therapist will not make you feel judged and will certainly not attempt to make you feel bad for expressing yourself in session. They may certainly challenge you and your thoughts, but a good one will always do so in an empathetic and safe manner.

Reflect, after a session, about how you feel emotionally. After certain sessions, we may feel a sense of discomfort, which can happen, especially when the therapist discusses or challenges us on our own unhealthy thought patterns. However, if you constantly feel worse after a session than before you came in, you might want to consider doing a couple of things that I’m going to talk about below.

When to leave and when to stay?

Here’s the beauty of the therapeutic alliance. It’s that its always going to be all about you and your problems, and a trained professional understands this. While therapy can often feel very transactional- the sense that the therapist will care for you in so much as you pay them to, this isn’t exactly true. Here’s what you are generally paying for in a therapy session:

  • The years of training that the therapist has undergone to learn the techniques involved and how to apply them
  • For the therapist to keep his or her emotional needs out of the room
  • A time where you can be understood and listened to without being judged

Here’s the beauty of this relationship- therapy is transactional on both ends. If you find that it no longer works for you, you can choose to leave for whatever reason. You don’t owe the practitioner anything to stay, and a good therapist understands this.

The question is then, when do you leave therapy?

For me, the day that I leave therapy is very far off in the future. I don’t see myself one day, standing up and shaking the therapist hand while saying, ” From here on out, I can deal with all my problems by myself!”. I think that mental health and improving it is always an ongoing process, and I’m glad that I have a good therapist who is able to go with me on this journey of improving my own mental health.

In your own journey of therapy, you might feel unfulfilled, or feeling like you want more out of a session from your therapist. You might even feel uncomfortable at being unsatisfied, or at the thought of leaving after having invested in one therapist for a period of time. My message to you is that these feelings are important and not to be dismissed. It will help to bring out any reservations you have to the therapist himself/herself. How he or she responds can help you in making a decision to continue to have the relationship. Again, the beauty of it is that we leave for whatever reasons we want. Likewise, we can stay for whatever reasons we want. And if we do, the therapy room becomes a very special place that supplements you with dealing with this very complicated thing called life.

Happy travels!

 

 

Advertisements

Being blue

I work from my room, and very often I’m greeted by blue evening light through the curtains that creates in me, a very moody, pensive feeling. These are the type of days where I’m reminded that writing is lonely work, and I find myself being overwhelmed with thoughts when I’m looking at my own stories. Often, the anticipation of these thoughts cause me to feel like procrastinating, as I’m afraid of dealing with the feeling of dread that happens when I look at my manuscripts. For those out there who do any kind of solo work that involves writing, you would probably be able to identify with this feeling.

One way that I cope with the feeling of dread is to immediately identify the unproductive thoughts in question. I do this by opening my manuscript, listening to the thoughts in my head, then listing it down on paper. I get thoughts such as:

“My work is juvenile and clumsy. That’s an awful sentence.”

In reflection, when I read the thought back to myself, its easier to see how disproportionately negative the thought is. Something I’ve tried to pay attention to is the language that I use for myself, in relation to my work. Instead of immediately trying to combat the thought, I try and re-frame it in a different way.

“I can work on it later, besides, the writing is not the worst thing just because it is a rough draft in presentation.”

In addition, I try to frame my work, and improving it, as a process of exploration. What this means is that I ask myself questions.

“What in particular can I improve about this sentence?” “That phrase doesn’t look quite right. How can I edit this sentence to improve the flow of my paragraphs?”

I try to invite exploration, which is to write without the voice in my head sounding the alarm with every word I type. I think with any kind of work, especially creative work, there is a lot of uncertainty that is fundamental to the process of working. Instead of fearing it, dreading it, I try and enjoy the exploration of language, thinking about the different angles I can look at a paragraph and considering my options. And when I fail, and something looks clumsy, I remind myself that failure is inherently part of the process, and should not necessarily be alarming. There’s a great anecdote in the book ” The Upward Spiral “, where there is a man coming back from the lake where he had been fishing. A passerby greets him and asks him how the fishing is. “Great”, the man says. “And what did you catch?”, the passerby asks. “Nothing.”,says the man, “It’s called fishing, not catching.”

Despite cultivating a sense of exploration, it can still be a struggle just to process and re-frame my thoughts. It’s very tempting to try and chase away some dissatisfaction by seeking a greater sense of control. One of the signs I have noticed is that I begin to procrastinate heavily when I fear failure. Suddenly, it becomes very tempting to organize my bookshelf, or surf Youtube. It’s a sign of not necessarily about being lazy, but an indicator that for myself, it is a reflex to alleviate anxiety- I become too afraid of confronting failure, dreading the anticipation of the negative thoughts when I see my manuscript. Because the moment I start working, and putting the pen to paper, it alarms the perfectionist in me to make it concrete. If I keep it in my head, I can fantasize about how perfect it can be. But the moment I write it down, I have the fear that I have to confront my own limitations. This, for me, is a work in progress. One of my approaches is to tell myself that as long as I can write and think, I have the capacity to analyse my own work, and to analyse what I can accept as “good enough.”

I am learning, and also very often realizing that its possible to tolerate the feeling of dread instead of the automatic reflex to do something less productive. One of the ways I do this is to realize that there are very minute, productive things I can do to start small, and very often I am on my way, surprising myself with how effortless it can be. I do agree, and have understood, that this is a constant struggle- that which we must confront ourselves.

A Failure in Consideration

One of the nagging questions is specifically on the idea of free will, and the question of how much control do we have over our thoughts and actions.  I sense that my discomfort towards the idea of a lack of a free will is worth exploring.

This is in part because the concept of free will is very closely connected to the idea of Moral Responsibility. Speaking for myself, I’m less likely to feel anger towards someone who has hurt me emotionally by accident vs a person who has hurt me deliberately. To give you an example, If I was insecure about my body image and someone remarked on my weight, I would be hurt but not angry if I sense that the person was being insensitive and unaware of this fact. However, if I confide in someone my body image issues, and 2 months later I meet this person for lunch, during which he comments that I should “eat more”, I would certainly be more likely to feel anger in this scenario.

Of course, there’s a chance that the person in the latter scenario may have simply forgotten that I have had this issue, and his comment was simply unintended to hurt me. That’s not troubling. The troubling bit is that its not possible to fully read someones intentions. As you well know, in this scenario, I could let them know that their comment was hurtful to me, and he could reply with an apology, stating that he has forgotten that I had this issue. But also, as you well know, human beings have the ability to lie, and then it really comes down to the issue of how much you trust someone else. There’s a chance that this person is being manipulative, and hasn’t really forgotten. He just takes joy in making someone else feel insecure.

I have very little patience for manipulative behavior and I find it very difficult to forgive. But when I think of the concept of free will, and advances in the fields of Psychology and Neuroscience that contests the idea of personal agency, it actually allows me to feel much more sympathy for someone who is deliberately hurtful and manipulative.

The short of it is that, very often, people who hurt other people emotionally are themselves hurting, and its that hurting that predisposes them to hurt other people. When I look at this way, there isn’t much choice for the manipulative person to be any other way at all. It can be argued that he can learn to manage his pain so that he can become less hurtful, but the drive to change is itself out of his control. I begin to feel more sympathy and less anger for this type of people when I look at it through this lens.

Following up on this, I often find myself disgusted when I feel that people have taken advantage of my kindness. But when I look at it through the lens of the structure of my brain, I find myself seeing my kindness as a gift that I am lucky to have. I feel lucky that regardless of whether I am being taken advantage of, I am able to experience joy- its very often wonderful to help someone along by going out of your way to make their day better. It would be rather sad if I were predisposed to experience joy only when I hurt other people.

Of course, knowing this, free will and control is still an ongoing question. Despite my knowledge that people might be wired this way, and we might not have as much control over our behavior as we like to assume, I still find myself being vindictive on occasion, and feeling the need to retaliate with anger.

There is a certain beauty in being mindful and conscious of how I wish to react to manipulation and someone trying to hurt me. Regardless of whether I am free to choose, just simply being mindful of the options of how I respond makes me feel more at peace.

Being aware of making a conscious choice- I believe that is true freedom.

As to how we should help people along- and what it means to help people, that itself is a difficult and complex question. One thing I’ve found that’s consistently productive is to simply stop and listen to someone. I believe that everyone, regardless of what they have done, deserves to be listened to and understood. Not everyone has the patience and ability to listen without judgement, and learning to consciously cultivate this helps me sleep at night.

 

 

Practicing Gratitude

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one…just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

― F. Scott Fitzgerald

One of the things that I’m learning to practice is gratitude. For me, I’ve always been made acutely aware of my privilege in life. At school, and in my early teen years, most of the people I was friends with came from a background that was significantly different than mine, and this distinction is an aspect of my experiences with other people that have shaped the way I feel about day to day life. I think this knowledge of my own privilege has a tendency to make me feel guilt/shame, and in my daily interactions with service people, I tend to feel bad that I rarely feel gratitude for my life in general. It’s also made me a bit wary of talking about my “problems”, as with certain company, it just feels that it’s going to come across in a certain way, from their perspective. I’ve certainly felt shameful and a certain contemptuous envy on occasion, for the comforts of my life, and when it happens I certainly feel a deep sense of shame. I’m aware that envy is a small price to pay for having comforts in life. But while my life isn’t based on a need to live from hand to mouth, the abstraction of the so called “problems” of my life tends to make the experience of my life very lonely.

it isn’t really that healthy to feel shame about the way I am, and I’ve been learning to practice gratitude for two reasons. One, as a better reflex to the same I feel, and two, to have better mental health. I’ve been perusing through some articles on gratitude, and it does seem to help in this regard.

It’s definitely a challenge for myself, to try and reverse the momentum of unhappiness by trying to think of things to be grateful for- it seems eerily close to the perversity of hollow advice such as “Think Positive!” etc etc, that makes me want to kick the teeth of whoever’s dispensing of such a pithy and thoughtless set of words, and I think the reflex is to think of gratitude and it’s practice as something that’s simply not going to work.

I’ve been trying to explore, on my own, the concept of gratitude, and the reason why, on a very basal level, it doesn’t feel instinctual to use as a coping tool for me to use. Perhaps it’s because the concept of gratitude can imply a sense of feeling that I “should” feel gratitude. i.e, that gratitude is something that I should feel, and if I don’t feel gratitude, then something is wrong with me. At this current point in time, I’m trying to think of gratitude as the aspects of my circumstances that I can interpret as positive- e.g. “spending time with my family, watching a good movie, having a good conversation” and simply take stock of these things, regardless of how I might feel for those things at the present time. I think it’s very similar to the concept of “equanimity”, which is a philosophical concept. I’ll rather not get into tiresome semantics, so I’ll just say that if its a tool that I can use to bring me a better peace of mind, it is worth exploring.

I often spend a great deal of time within myself, and I become more aware of the fact that I do this when I’m around other people- it’s incredibly easy for me to feel disengaged, for me to want to carry on a conversation in my head instead of with the people around me. Ironically enough, a great deal of thinking has to be done for me to figure out whether or not this is a good/bad thing, or the reason why this has a tendency to happen, but I think the practice of gratitude, while requiring a certain distance and internal examination, might actually help me be able to make a conscious choice to spend less time inside my head, when I’m around other people.

That’s really all for now. As for what goes on inside my head, the very idea of disclosure brings about its own set of entangled emotions.

If that’s the way it is

The Japanese word, “Sayonara”, translates literally into the phrase, “If that’s the way it is”. The phrase, for me, evokes a sense of something both unsettling and final. Perhaps it’s a sad sense of acceptance that some things that were, will never be again.

I’ve been thinking of people who I am unlikely to see again, for various different reasons. Some I haven’t seen since as far back as 15 years. In the Summer of 2003, I had a weeklong stay in camp organised by a drama school, that took place at the YWCA near Fort Canning. I pass by that building on occasion, and I can still remember the dread and anxiety that I felt on the first day in the hotel’s lobby. I was very socially anxious as a child, and my schooling years were very lonely. ( My memories of my schooling years posses that lonely quality that’s present in dreams involving other people ) By the end of that week, however, I surprised myself by experiencing a rare sense of belonging, of not feeling alienated. On the last day, we each sat in a circle and wrote each other messages on paper plates that we passed around. After everyone had written down nice things on each other’s plates, I got back my plate, and for the first time ever, got written confirmation that there were indeed some very nice things about me that other people noticed. I still get chills thinking about it, and I still have that plate, of course. It’s probably the oldest thing I own. ( Besides my namesake )

At the end, we said our farewells, and I never saw any of them again. I probably never will, and even if I passed them on the street or sat down next to any of them on the train, we would probably not recognise each other. I still do think of them. I think of what they might look like now, 15 years older, and I think of how their lives must be, and what their hopes and dreams must look like. Then, that familiar sadness and yearning comes back, and I begin to think of other people I haven’t seen in a long while.

It’s all too human to yearn for things. We’ve all had to say goodbye, and sometimes not amicably. Sometimes, a bad quarrel might end a friendship. Sometimes, people quietly drift away without a hint of a reason. And arguably, sometimes that quiet drifting can hurt much more than a loud quarrel. With friends that say “I’m busy”, far too often, we ( or at least I ), feel hurt by that uncertainty- we have the added weight of being unsure whether or not to be bitter, and we feel let down, sometimes by people we thought we could count on.
Reading this, you are probably thinking of your own experiences with people, and how difficult some of these experiences and friendships can be. All kinds of relationships have the capacity to hurt us, with all its complications- and sometimes people we care about deeply can unexpectedly hurt us.

It might be a friend you’ve thinking of, who suddenly becomes emotionally unavailable, or perhaps someone you’ve had a misunderstanding with, and thinking of these people probably brings about pain and uncertainty- perhaps, questions too. Questions such as, “Where did I go wrong with you?” or Why are you doing this to me? I didn’t expect you to.”

If these thoughts and questions sound familiar to you, I believe it’s difficult for us not to become jaded in the face of these disappointments. When we start to care and get to know someone, it’s likely that we begin to develop a set of expectations for how that person behaves. Do note that expectations are different from demands- in this instance, I am talking about patterns of behaviour, rather than what we believe about how someone should behave. Sometimes these expectations can leave us to become jaded- perhaps someone we thought we could rely on becomes emotionally unavailable, or it might feel that there is a disproportionate amount of effort on your end to keep up the friendship.

Personally, it’s easy for me to get caught up with the insecurity that I don’t really matter to any of my friends. I’ve gone through periods of my life where I felt like no one would have ever talked to me again if I didn’t reach out first. You can expect that these thoughts can make one unhappy, and also alone, alienated from the rest of the world.

I began to wonder ( and still do ) if my expectations for others were causing me to feel disappointed. Was I asking for too much, to get a phone call or a text once in a while? In discussing human expectations with others, some people I’ve spoken to have similar expectations, and others believe that it’s not a good idea to have any expectations at all.
I’ve come to the temporary conclusion that while it is difficult not to have any expectations at all, but I believe that all of us deserve at least a chance to be understood. For that to happen, we have to become vulnerable in some capacity to other people, whether they are family, friends or people we seek out in support groups or elsewhere. This is incredibly daunting, and especially so, if you have a jaded view of people already, and this brings us back to what I believe is a truth that’s difficult to accept.

The truth is that people can be difficult and selfish and flawed- but it doesn’t exclude them from caring, and while we can experience a perceived neglect, my hope, for all of us, is for us not to be bitter in the face of uncertainty. We shouldn’t automatically assume that what’s making them selfish is easy for them to overcome. Perhaps they too are going through things that we are not privy too.

Some self disclosure here- I never liked “Chin up” style advice from people who’ve never known worse- because it’s precisely the kind of counterproductive advice to give someone that’s vulnerable . I know that you’ve probably tried hard at maintaining your relationships, and I certainly don’t wish to present what I’ve learnt in the manner of a very moralistic, preachy kind of lecture. I do agree emphatically that certain people can be, frankly speaking, toxic and unhealthy for others. I’ve experienced disappointments that shake my convictions about the value of friendship, and also healed through those very disappointments to again be hurt, and so on and so forth. My hope is that my disclosure provides some weight behind what I’m trying to say, and that it doesn’t cause you to roll your eyes. Because it isn’t easy believing in human goodness, and I don’t expect you too. But I am hoping that you’ll try.

A version of this article has appeared on the Tapestry project:

 https://thetapestryproject.sg

Announcing Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume Three

My work is featured in this new collection by Epigram!

Jason Erik Lundberg

The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories V3

Cover design by Yong Wen Yeu


I am very proud to announce the contents and cover design for the third volume of the Best New Singaporean Short Stories anthology series, guest edited by Cyril Wong, to be published in October 2017 by Epigram Books, and launched at Kinokuniya later that month.

The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume Three gathers the finest Singaporean stories published in 2015 and 2016, selected from hundreds published in journals, magazines, anthologies and single-author collections. Accompanying the stories are the editor’s preface and an extensive list of honourable mentions for further reading.

Here is the table of contents:

  1. Cyril Wong | Preface
  2. Jason Erik Lundberg | Introduction
  3. Yeo Wei Wei | These Foolish Things
  4. Yeoh Jo-Ann | The Thing
  5. Jennifer Anne Champion | See It Coming
  6. Jon Gresham | Walking Backwards Up Bukit Timah Hill
  7. Ovidia Yu | Salvation Solution

View original post 175 more words

Rain

It pours, far too early for me to get where I’m going.

Here it is, an uninvited interlude. The umbrella racks are out, sticker prices daunting.

Not for me. I prefer instead to wait, to gather at the corner, under the shelter, expectant. As if that would do anything. My feet are wet. The unremarkable woman next to me lights a cigarette. Comrades in solitude. Both our feet are wet. A woman sprints in the rain and loses her shoe. We see it both from the corner.

It’s a quiet finitude. It is petty to be afraid of water. It’s petty to be afraid to ask. Looking forlorn at those who came prepared. Look how funny and tragic and small it all is.