Aging Sucks

No matter what I hear about aging giving you more wisdom etc, to me it just plain sucks. I feel like myself on the inside, but the outside is betraying my identity.

Don’t think I’ve changed much since my thirties and my twenties? I was a baby. Anyone in your twenties? You’re a kid still so enjoy life as much as you can. Even in your thirties you may not be that mature yet. I certainly wasn’t.

Just a few years ago I came across a Nora Ephron book ‘I Feel Bad About My Neck’, and I couldn’t relate. I was thinking that couldn’t possibly happen to me. But at 51 it just did. I feel terrible about my neck and this is just the beginning.

Gravity is being very cruel. And collagen is being depleted. It doesn’t help that I loathe collagen rich foods like skin of meat and organs. Really doesn’t help that I went though chemo twice and that zaps your healthy cells as well. My mum at 51 looked so much younger than me and had much more energy and vitality.

I hated sunscreens. The texture felt awful and made me break out. I only recently started using them upon my Oncologist’s advise that I’m now prone to melanoma. Sunscreen textures are way more confortable and they even smell good. They don’t clog your pores like they used to. Actually I regret not using this in my youth. They say you should apply it religiously. I thought melanin protected me as I’m brown, but in reality melanin only gives you at most, an SPF of 7 and you need a minimum of SPF 30. This was kinda shocking to find out knowing today how UV rays ravage your skin.

Apart from my own vanity, the worst bit about aging is seeing your older relatives age. I feel so worried about it and pray for their vitality always. I feel that it’s so cruel that they have to struggle.

Trying my best to be positive here, but I’m grasping at straws. I guess at this age I’ve never been better at reading more complex books that used to be beyond my grasp, and reaching the peak of my piano playing abilities (not concert standard, full of mistakes, but okay). Does that even count for anything?

I just want to advise the younger ones based on regrets I have so that their lives can be better. I guess that’s a kind of wisdom? Makes me forlorn though, that I even have regrets and so little to be proud of. Perhaps it’s not too late. Perhaps this blog will lead me to some exciting fork in the road. I just realised that I would love to help cancer patients with any questions they may have. I love supporting fellow cancer patients, so maybe that’s one of my callings in this life.

Not a parent (not from lack of desire) but I love the children in my life (I’m blessed that way) so I would do anything in my power to help them and make their lives better. Gives my life the most meaning and joy.

I’ll end this post with my optimist mum’s point of view. Her sunny outlook keeps my anxieties at bay. In her words: « Never ever thought of aging. It’s only on birthdays that the numbers are going up and the numbers don’t signify anything. Not much change I should say. Only thing is I’ve become more alert. Also I’m more aware of things. I’m only more cautious, because of the covid outbreak. Now I feel very relaxed, just being occupied with whatever I want to do. »

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One of My Mum’s proudest moments as a kid back in 1957

My mum always told me the story of how she failed primary 3 and had to repeat it. Every time, she sounded so sad and dejected. She only failed by 1.5 marks too and she was a sickly child. We were under colonial rule then and she had very strict teachers at Raffles Girls’ School and a principal who was a stickler for rules such that even my grandfather’s appeal didn’t work.

My poor mum was so sickly that she had to undergo surgery at the tender age of just 7. A tonsillectomy that I don’t think would have been carried out in this day and age. It must have been terrifying, but as preschoolers, we loved to hear the story over and over as she the related the best part. How she was given vanilla ice cream post surgery as that was soothing for her throat. Ice cream was an expensive and rare treat then.

My mum was really great with us and just children in general. The best teacher and story teller. Also the best playmate as she was a relatively young mum and actually still a kid herself. She always deferred to her mum, my grandmother, as the authority in everything.

Anyway I only just learnt that my mum won a prize in primary 4 in 1957 (for being first in class) and she showed me her now 65 year old treasure – a nature book that she chose as her prize. She said that her father and eldest sister attended the ceremony and they were proud of her. She always misses her eldest sister who passed away recently.

Makes me so happy to hear that she had that moment as she truly deserved it. There were some mean kids that shunned her when she had to repeat primary 4 and it made me think that parents should teach kids kindness and humility. Far greater virtues for the betterment of us all, than being able to get good test scores.

Even as she was relating this story she was focusing on how her sisters (my mum’s the middle kid of the 3 girls, well actually 5 of 7 in total) were so good at school and won lots of prizes. To me, her award meant everything, because of the effort she put in.

My mum has low confidence, but in my opinion she is beyond talented and I would be proud if I could have even a fraction of her abilities. She could cook the most satisfying wholesome food I can’t find anywhere, drove us everywhere, even sewed us clothes. She taught me till primary six and it’s only because of her that I actually enjoyed learning and did well. Often wish I had been home schooled. I might have turned out much more confident and not so broken.

There is no one I know who has better penmenship than my mum or the ability to organise things. She is meticulous with details and archiving. She is always showing me a treasure or other from the past. Usually documents.

I can’t list all her skills as they are countless. She is still my greatest cheerleader and always sacrificing her well being for us. Always putting herself last. As a child, the safest place was in my mother’s arms and that was the greatest feeling of all.

I only wish more people could have good mothers or mother figures, because I know of those who have never experienced this kind of love. This is why I don’t think everyone should have kids for the sake of having kids. Especially if your only intention is that the kid be your insurance in old age. Or a demanded filial piety. It doesn’t work that way.

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What are the three best decisions you’ve ever made?

I keep dwelling on decisions I regret so I am keen to do this more positive exercise instead. In real time. That is, whatever I type right now will be published unedited.

1. Immediately I think of travel. There is no trip I regret. Even the worst one shaped me in some way. I love learning about new cultures and it’s just refreshing to have brand new surroundings especially if it includes communing with nature, including flora and fauna.

2. To always say yes to any chance to spend time with my loved ones. I only regret moments when I said no for some reason or other. Usually I was miserable if I couldn’t make it. Especially pertaining to the littlest ones as time flies and children grow up faster than you know.

3. To study and that includes reading on my own. I can never get enough of learning. I hunger for it.

I could expand on this post, but I wanted to record my immediate thoughts first.

Asking my mum the same question:

1. Learn to drive

2. Did things independently – learnt to cook from scratch without any help, also doing marketing and grocery shopping for necessities on my own.

3. Looking after my own children without any help. They were obedient and easy to look after. Taught my children up to primary 6 and happy they got into a good girls’ school that I hoped for. They were happy to study, spell, do homework and read books. Went together to the library to chose books.

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I Don’t Like the Saying ‘New Normal’.

This term seems to have emerged during the pandemic, but a search on Wikipedia shows that it first appeared as far back as 1918.

I don’t like it at all, as I don’t like most business jargon and also because it indicates that the change (always bad) is now to be permanent.

I really don’t like how we get used to the new state of affairs with time. We almost forget how good we used to have it. But I guess that is the way we cope. I couldn’t image that wearing masks indoors would last this long in Singapore that it almost seems like a permanent thing. With Singapore being so densely packed, it just might be.

Previously before September the 11th, travel was much easier. Now there are stringent checks and restrictions. As time goes, there are more and more restrictions, but all needed in the name of safety.

With the pandemic, flying has become even more of an ordeal. I never liked it in the first place even though I love and yearn to travel to new places.

So I really hope most of this can be temporary measures rather than a permanent thing. For a while I experienced a bit of freedom in Perth where we didn’t need to wear mask indoors. I almost forgot that this was life prior to 2020.

I feel old as I am constantly longing for my carefree past.

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Was the Pre-Smart Phone & Pre-Globalisation Era Truly Superior?

I tend to wax nostalgic, wistful for the bygone era – the nineties. I’ll admit bias, as it also happened to be the most carefree, healthiest and happiest time of my life. So I automatically connect, no smartphone and connectivity, to a superior life. But was it really?

People definitely couldn’t work from home then if they were not connected through technology. But I am truly nostalgic for my 90’s workplace. We actually liked each other and were passionate about our vocation. There was more interaction and talking face to face, in person. Much less chance of misunderstanding and a greater chance of making new friends. Seems rare to me now. Post millennial years were filled with toxic work places for me. So I can’t help but make that connection that the internet spoilt relationships. Perhaps I was just unlucky or in the wrong field.

I used to love working in a hospital, but now I’m terrified of the increased risk of contracting covid or monkeypox or whatever new pandemic strikes us. I can’t help but think, if not for globalisation and the sharp population rise, there wouldn’t be pandemics. There is always a trade off for everything. Globalisation brought a lot of amazing things too. Including precious humans in my life.

I used to have to plough through a thick dictionary to find the meaning of a word. But ironically it still didn’t stop or distract me from completing my book, the way the smartphone does. I search for a word and then, because it’s available, illustrations and it leads me off a tangent. Do I have superior knowledge now or just a case of knowing more, but actually nothing. Is it also making skills we used to have weaken? It’s rare that we actually try to remember and think when Google is a click away.

Quick information is great, but it’s hard for human beings not to be distracted by just the sheer amount of information, relevant, factual or otherwise. Most of it are the opinions of ordinary people and less likely to be verified, like say something that goes through a publishing house. Well, in a way it’s good thing as newspapers are mostly filled with propaganda and a fixed narrative. It’s important to have other voices.

The youngest generation is horrified at the thought of a world without iPads or streaming like Netflix. They have no concept of the patience needed with dictionaries, pay phones or recording your favourite TV show and the last bit getting cut off. But I miss that slow pace of life. It just seemed less rushed and ironically less isolating. Somehow texts can lead to anxiety and misunderstandings as we all know too well.

But then again now that we have it, I can’t imagine not being able to connect with family in another country for free or being connected when we are travelling. And I really feel sad that I don’t have videos of my childhood and especially of those close to my heart like my dad. And the photos I have of him and with him, seem just too few compared to what we are able to secure now.

And how could I not mention the ability to blog. It’s been magical for me since I started on blogspot in 2005. And no matter how social media sucks us in I appreciate the human connection. Ironically it makes me feel less lonely as I connect less with humans in real life as I don’t want to trouble them. And then I got used to the loneliness. It has also led me to being more introverted and needing alone time to wind down. The sad thing is I notice this in very young children when for me it only started in my fourties. Makes me wonder if future generations will be super individualistic and introverted. Probably an unfounded fear, as humans are social creatures. Well maybe we’ll have robots for companions.

I’ll just conclude that we all miss what we actually experienced (nostalgia), but of course progress is great. I wouldn’t want to go back in time where life might have been even more relaxing, with better weather (before global warming), cleaner air (less burning on plantations) and less crowds (before globalisation took off).

But if you offered me to go back to my grandparents’ era, when there was no sanitation. No thanks. I’m happy with progress in this regard.

After all that rambling, if you gave me the option of the smart phone never being invented I would be ok with that. I tried to resist getting a smartphone for years, but when everyone has it it just becomes to hard to be the odd one out. As we all know, sad as it may be, society doesn’t except those on the fringes.

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For Those Who Grieve? The Unbearable Pain Does Diminish

1. Don’t suppress your emotions. Being “strong” will damage you mentally. Get professional help like counselling early. Do everything in your own time and don’t be rushed or pressured. This is not the best time to make decisions. (I regret not slowly going through and keeping more of my Papa’s things, especially handwritten things.)

2. You will slowly adapt to your new reality. Pain does diminish (for me, after a decade at least). You will feel guilty about this and feel sad about forgetting how you interacted with your loved one especially if you lack enough photos or videos (how I wish I had a video of my Papa- he had the best laugh and I just miss his voice and whole being).

3. The saddest part is that as days fade so does your pain. The brain protects you by forgetting. The comforts of that time slowly become blurry as you adjust to the new normal. You never thought you’d make it here, but somehow you just do.

4. You may feel guilt over this, but you will find new joys. They won’t replace the old, but you’ll be so thankful and feel blessed.

5. You will have deep empathy for the grief of others and be more sensitive towards them. Because you know how the worst day of someone’s life can feel.

6. You will be utterly grateful for all the love you were showered with. And all you want to do is honour your beloved one. All you want is to make them proud.

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Being Human

The inadequacy I feel is crushing.

I can’t believe I am here.

How did I even get here?

I know the various traumas. I feel like a broken recorder. No one likes to hear complaints. Well perhaps you won’t mind if this life experience resonates.

Part of me can’t except it.

Part of me can’t believe it.

I used to be happy with myself. There was a time, dare I say, when I was even proud of some of my abilities.

The part that hurts the most is that I used to work so hard. I still do, but there is only one type of measure in the eyes of society that relates to GDP. Even on a country level we don’t care about happiness. Just how much money we can produce.

I can’t dissociate myself from the bombardment of propaganda. What I feel is what they want me to feel. Shame. But because I’m aware I feel frustration too. Of course there are pockets of pure joy, but outside of that bliss, the overriding feeling is fear if I think beyond this moment. You see, I have already experienced how everything can be shattered in an instant.

I keep going. The thought that this all ends one day, for sure, keeps me going. Yes it’s bleak, but it is a coping device.

Might as well enjoy it and take it day by day and ignore the naysayers. At least my partner thinks so. He has a hard time convicting me to live for the day. But I truly appreciate that he’s actually worried my cancer will recur. I’ve pushed that out of my mind. I want to be an ostrich now.

In a way I would love a definite deadline and then I would live without a care in the world. I guess we all would.

Such is the burden of consciousness. And no wonder they say ignorance is bliss.

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