shattering stigmas

Shattering Stigmas: On Sadness

Shattering Stigmas is an annual two-week long mental health event aimed at breaking the silence that surrounds mental illness. It is hosted by myself as well as the lovely bloggers behind  Of WonderlandNovel Ink, It Starts At Midnight, and The Fox’s Hideaway. If you’d like to be notified when there is a new post for Shattering Stigmas, consider joining the love letter list.  

It is four in the morning as I write this, and I am aching.

I read somewhere once that all writers are, in some way, deeply sad. This concept strikes something soft & bitter inside of me: I am a writer, after all, the most fundamental part of my being. And I am, in so many ways, in so many variations & shades & infinities, deeply, hopelessly sad.

In conversation, we skirt around the topic of sadness as one does with the homeless man sitting, bedraggled & alone, on the street corner. We flirt with it, tickle its ankles, but never once look it straight in the eye - perhaps because we are afraid of what the notion holds or perhaps because we know it far too well already.

It is the latter for me. I hate talking about sadness. Even when Six Impossible Things grew & people at home learned of this small space where I share my thoughts, even when they brought up in conversation the topic of the sadness I write & write & write about until I can find no more words, I shied away from it. And it is not their fault, of course - for as much as writing about sadness comes as naturally to me as all of the other words flowing silken through my veins, talking about it somehow seizes me up. Makes me feel raw & shiny, too broken for public consumption.

All writers are, in some way, deeply sad.

I hate feeling helpless. And sadness is, for me, the ultimate kind of helplessness: every other thing I know how to speak of, every other thing I can stare down, but depression eludes me still. All writers are deeply sad. I feel it - this endless sadness permeating my soul - yet somehow I cannot put words to it.

How heartbreaking it is to make small talk with the deepest parts of myself.

Depression is so many pluralities, and perhaps this is why I write so much about it yet somehow still have never learned how to face it head-on, to speak of it in real life, no metaphor to hide behind. One would think I would know such an old friend by heart, yet no matter how much time I spend with it, I cannot seem to find enough words to encompass all of its depths.

It terrifies me, to be honest, that there is something my words have not found a way to explain. Words are the only weapon I have ever known how to wield. Without them I feel powerless, helpless (and there it is again, that feeling, the only one I have ever known that is worse than sadness).

I write to understand the parts of myself that are too deep within, too close to me, the ones that I know too well to fathom. I could never be content without words and yet: I feel, paradoxically, that lingering within the sadness, spinning metaphor after metaphor in some attempt to find beauty where there is none, may be no better.

I've begun to feel this quiet, growing resentment to those who tell me that at least I have talent in writing, or at least I'm able to share my experiences with others. Art is everything to me, but I have never felt it is worth suffering this much to create it. Is it too arrogant of a parallel to think of Plath or of Da Vinci, artists who inhaled their sadness till they drowned in it, who made beautiful things all the same?

If they had had antidepressants in their time, would they have taken them?

And what if, like me, their sadness was too big for medication? What if the pills did not work?

What then?

Perhaps I am venturing too far into this, yet I cannot let go of the lingering, aching thought that words must be able to fix things. Somehow, in some universe, the way that they always have been able to fix my deepest fears & insecurities, if only through seeming them as words on the page.

From the beginning I have turned to words for comfort & light, but now it is four in the morning and I am running out of metaphors for sadness.

It is four in the morning and everything I have ever known about myself is wrong. Depression steals my words from me, and it is four in the morning with the fluorescent lights of my bedroom glaring down at my computer screen, and it is too bright for a time before dawn has dawned, and I can see everything, and this is the blindest I have ever felt.

So what am I supposed to do with this dark, violent sadness? This thing that words cannot hope to fix?

I don't have the answer. And no matter how much I write about it, I can never seem to build enough words to escape this tide.

I'm scared of inhaling too much of the sadness.

I'm scared of what happens if the words are not enough of a life ring to pull me to safety. Of what happens if I drown.

Shattering Stigmas: Scientific Theory of Lost Girl

Shattering Stigmas is an annual two-week long mental health event aimed at breaking the silence that surrounds mental illness. It is hosted by myself as well as the lovely bloggers behind  Of WonderlandNovel Ink, It Starts At Midnight, and The Fox’s Hideaway. If you'd like to be notified when there is a new post for Shattering Stigmas, consider joining the love letter list.

To be quite honest, I rarely write poems centred around mental illness.

This is not to say mental illness is not present in every single thing I write—I can assure you it most certainly is—yet it appears much of the time in metaphor, twisted into obscure reference, more shadow & undertone than anything else. The sort of thing only those who know me best could possibly scoop out of its depths.

My therapist tells me this is not a healthy thing. That I must learn to confront mental illness in words, which have always been the outlet of my soul. That it is the only way to know my monsters well enough to conquer them.

& so: here is the first step, I suppose.

It is a poem for you. Still enormously metaphorical, as my poems tend to be. But, I hope, clear in meaning.

Perhaps it may help with the healing.


Scientific Theory of Lost Girl

speak of girl as unused muscle(treats herself as separate atoms,
the time it takes for a body to relearn shades of geometry)

all the cosmos she does not know(satellites like man-made stars)
girl as rare mineral(as newton’s third law of motion)speak of girl

as odyssey of the digestive system(cells constricting,
sharp objects in her throat, a name that is not in latin)

finds herself somewhere between pluto and an
imaginary number(is she still real if those around her

deny it?)find the girl like apollo 13(no more ground control to
call back home)like untied double helix(or the square root of

yearning)plotting the repopulation of every single town
that has suffered(the nuclear war in her lungs)

girl comes home to downward spiral(call it marinas trench
call it plotting angles too far below the surface)

smiles in the way of radians smiles in the way of lies(and falls
through tender oxygen and the ice)

Shattering Stigmas: The Beginning

A beautiful thing - a nerve-wracking thing, yet beautiful all the same - is beginning. It is called Shattering Stigmas. It is a two-week long event, hosted by myself along with five other incredible bloggers, dedicated to discussing mental illness in all of its facets. The breakdowns & the panic attacks. The medications, the endless therapy sessions. The good & the bad & the lovely. The ugliness, and also - secreted away somewhere in all of it - the beauty.

Shattering Stigmas is an event aimed at breaking the shroud of quiet surrounding mental disorders. I am beyond honoured to be co-hosting its second year.

I try to share stories of my own mental illness with you as often as I can, and I hope that in these next two weeks, more barriers will come down. It is time, I think, to break through the horrible & stifling silence.

Please do keep an eye out for posts not just at Six Impossible Things, but also at the four other participating blogs: Of Wonderland, Novel Ink, It Starts At Midnight, and The Fox's Hideaway. There will be giveaways & guest posts & shoulders to cry on. None of this wonder is to be missed.

If you would like to be notified when I share a new mental illness story over these next two weeks, consider joining the love letter list.


So: the beginning.

My journey with mental disorders began just over three years ago - yet, to be honest, it seems a lifetime ago now. This is something that happens, I have learned: one's disorders intertwine with one's daily life, slip-slide into unseen cracks, embed themselves in one's soul.

People often ask me if there was a trigger. Some moment, some traumatic event, some breaking point. A place on the map to point: here is happiness. And look - right here is where it all went wrong.

The answer, for the record, is no. There was no breaking point.

Like all beautiful things and like all terrible things, mental illness found its way into my life slowly, tenderly, morbidly. The moments of sadness - just flashes in the beginning, here and there - quickly to be pushed away. The way I startled just slightly more easily than before. How my poetry began morphing into something I could not show to my mother, because I knew that she would look at me in the way mothers do when they know something about their children that the children themselves cannot (will not?) imagine.

It always starts with the small things, and then there is one tick of the clock and suddenly you are sitting in the passenger's seat with your elbows on your knees, sobbing and sucking in air so desperately that the boy sitting next to you thinks perhaps you are dying.

(Later, he Googles it because you are too terrified to do so.

It's called a panic attack, he tells you. It's a symptom of a bunch of anxiety disorders. And he looks at you like something that does not want to wake from its hibernation, says, slow and worried, has this ever happened to you before?)

It always starts with the small things, and then suddenly it is winter break and your parents are asking why you have not gotten out of bed in four days. It starts small and then you realise every single smile is a foreign language. It starts small and then, too quickly, it isn't small anymore.

It starts small. And then you are standing in front of your father and you are telling him that you are sad, for no reason, all the time. Desperately sad.

And your father looks at you, and he laughs.

People often ask me why I share so much of my mental illness on the blog. Why, though I shy away from the topic when it comes up in real life, I am so very forthcoming online with the details of my demons.

I had a panic attack once in the middle of a National Day parade, the biggest Singaporean celebration of the year. My tears were boiling & burning & blinding. My lungs were birds desperately trying to escape my ribcage. Every single part of me was in panic, in overdrive.

My father told me to get over it.

That is why I share these stories with you.

That is why I am co-hosting Shattering Stigmas.

My father is not a bad human being. He is, in fact, quite a marvellous one. And yet: this is what the fear of the unknown does to those dancing in the dark. Ignorance, I have found, brings out our worst selves.

Though I have learned much over these past three years grappling with my mental illnesses, I do not pretend to be unafraid. All I can do is to share what I know of this darkness that haunts the edges of my vision, and I hope it is enough.

I am learning to coax out the monsters underneath my bed. To stand and face them eye-to-eye, and then: to have the courage to invite them into the blankets with me.

It is the only way I have ever known to lessen the ever-present fear. And I share these stories with you so that - perhaps, perhaps, perhaps - we all might learn to call the monsters by their names.

Sharing my mental illnesses is perhaps one of the hardest things I have ever done. It is also one of the most necessary.

And I hope that, in doing so, I may help to bring some of these elusive monsters to light.