In typical Wina fashion, of course it takes me a whole bedridden day whilst recovering from physical exhaustion to finally address my ongoing struggle. Just because it’s been a rough few weeks (OH HELLO 2019, are we off to a weird and challenging start or what) and I need to get this out of my head for once. But anyways. I know I haven’t really spoken about the whole thing and I’m hoping that by through this post I can at least try to address what I’m currently dealing with.
Whilst growing up, I’ve always thought there might be something up with me, especially upon entering high school. I went to one of the most physically demanding high schools in town where morning jogs and tough exercises are part of the routine, and there were times where I actually felt like fainting (and I think I nearly did, a couple of times). However, we were just school kids, and everybody in the school was tired all the time. So I waved it off.
Then I went to law school, supposedly the best one in the country, yet facilities were sparse as F. I constantly found myself running out of breath after going up the stairs to catch my class on the fifth floor and spend the first 30 mins of the class trying to calm my racing heart, but who wouldn’t be out of breath after climbing five storeys worth of stairs?
I didn’t think of it much after I started working, especially with the fact that lawyering did not involve a lot of physical work. In my attempt to keep healthy by going for morning jogs and walking places for lunch, I noticed that I started panting rather easily. Sure enough, one of the biggest challenges I was facing when I moved to Singapore was the fact that I had to walk way more than usual, and I still hold the biggest grudge against that particular staircase on the pathway to campus to this day. However, being in Singapore really helped because I started to develop a habit of distance jogging/walking. Mind you, I didn’t say running. That’s because I didn’t run. I just couldn’t. What I did was go on slow jogs for a measly couple of hundred meters or so and just walk when I was too out of breath. The main point for me was to just keep on moving, no matter the pace. I’m still thankful for my loved ones who were so supportive of me to keep on keeping on, during those days.
Having moved back to Jakarta, and being too scared to go on morning jogs alone after getting harassed in my own neighbourhood that I live in, working out became a real struggle. I decided to get a gym membership, and it was there in my effort to get healthy that I found out something was actually wrong.
I’ve always thought of myself as just a big bag of lazy bones, and all the weight that I’ve gained through the years will be shed through intense training sessions at the gym. That is, until one day in 2015 I actually passed out on the floor, whilst training. The sad thing was that even on the treadmill, I would walk briskly and have the heart monitor read my rate and it would go 160-180ish, and yet my coach and I would just wave it off, thinking “nah, that’s just because you haven’t worked out in the longest while”. It wasn’t until I actually fainted that my coach, my family and I agreed that an EKG was needed.
I never completed the treadmill reading during that EKG test, because my heart went racing through the roof and I actually felt like dying right there and then. Didn’t take long for the doctor to give me my diagnosis: Tachycardia. Atrial fibrillation.
It wasn’t the big words or the doomed treadmill that sent me dizzy. It was the figurative heartbreak, knowing that something is actually faulty and your heart, is actually somewhat broken. Call me a hopeless optimist, but until then I had always thought that everybody goes through the same whooping in their heartbeats, the same pounding feeling in their hearts after going up flights of stairs. Apparently it was not.
I’ve been an anomaly all these years, and every time my own body was sending me signals, I kept waving it off. Of course, trust the doctor to think she was going to calm me down by telling me at least it’s not a disease, it’s just a condition you’ll learn to live with. But at least, diseases get cured. This was a life-long verdict delivered to me, and I don’t get to object in any way.
My working condition at that time, was only adding salt to the freshly opened wound. I wouldn’t even have called it ideal for the healthiest person, because it absolutely was far from it. Even so, people only see what they like to see. It was prestige over peace of mind for quite some time. I didn’t have the heart to quit, because I couldn’t bear seeing my family get so disappointed. I remember thinking to myself back then, not only am I already a physical burden to them, I absolutely cannot afford to be an economical burden as well. I still badly needed something for them to be proud of, and I thought I was in the right position/job to do so, so I stuck around.
Looking back, no wonder I started developing anxiety and getting panic attacks. After a while, it just became too much for me. Work was getting more and more physically demanding and emotionally draining. I was still trying to find a medicine regime that worked best for me, and all those times I was still rejecting the fact that something is not right with me. I felt that the idea of me being a cripple was absolutely abhorrent. How can I be so successful if I’m a cripple?. I practically fell down a deep self-hating spiral. Every medicine I had to take felt like a punishment, so I would purposely not take them when I needed to, which resulted in poor blood flow, and ergo really bad migraines, almost on a daily basis.
I used to wake up in the morning and instantly cry my eyes out over the fact that I still had to wake up and go through another day, to live through even more pain. To this day, I honestly can’t find anything more painful than that feeling, and I truly hope I won’t have to ever go through that again. It was getting really hard to hold your chin up when all you had in mind was bloody hell, even my own heart hates me this much. I believe I was lucky enough to finally feel that I needed to heal myself, at least mentally. I just couldn’t go on another day channeling all the negativity, and I can’t be more thankful that I chose to keep hope alive and decided to take steps to get better.
I finally plucked enough courage to leave the toxic work environment and landed myself in one of the most supportive teams I’ve ever seen. I might sound a bit dramatic here, but a drastic change (for the better!) in the working condition also changed my mind set. Now that I actually get to take breaks (and also days off) to take care of myself, funnily I’ve been finding myself achieving so much more. I remember being a bit afraid that I was throwing away a career that doesn’t just come to anybody easily, and that I would never get the same privileges again. But you know what? I’ve been doing quite alright down here these days. And looking at the upcoming year, it looks like I’m headed for an exciting path up ahead.
I’ve also started rebuilding my social life, this time making sure I surround myself with people who understand and supports me through what I’m dealing with. I think with the growing awareness on mental health issues these days, it’s been getting easier for me to open up to people, and all the support I’ve been getting has been absolutely amazing. Now I see that I don’t have to go through this alone.
(I know it doesn’t look like it, but I swear I was smiling in this picture)
I know I haven’t been physically able to do things like the way I used to force myself to be, but now I’m in a clearer state of mind. I get to listen to what my body is telling me, and now I get to take better care of myself. I doubt that my conditions now can be called ideal, but hey. Now I get to feel better, to actually live and enjoy every second of it. Somewhere along the way, it’s like my mindset evolved into accepting that I’ve got it, so might as well just live and be proud of it.
Sure, there are still moments when I get tired, when I feel scared, when I get the same insecurity or sense of helplessness haunting me from time to time. But quoting the Klaatu song that my late sister used to drive me up the wall with by playing it over and over again, all is lost when one abandons hope. This time I know for sure that as long as I hold on to hope, I’ll be quite alright. I have survived all these years and only God knows how, and as long as the Universe allows it, I know I’ll endure, and my life will be quite alright.