The unsung song of a Singaporean
For the first part of my young adult life, I hated the idea of what Singapore stood for. Perhaps hate is too strong a word, but back then my very naive and idealistic self wished that my people were more open-minded and embraced creativity. So being in a country that commissions “graffiti” in its youth parks and is tritely known for its reputation of banning gum (amongst a few more infamous rules), wasn’t exactly inspiring. But no, this isn’t a bitching piece of my country. I love my country. But blaming it was one of the longest-standing reasons I had used to justify my state of being today.
I started writing journals since I was 7, or “dear diary” entries if you like. After school, I would pop the laser-disc of Vanessa Mae’s 1995 concert in Royal Albert Hall on, and copied her playing moves using my primary school textbook as a violin and ruler as a bow. I attended electone classes on Saturdays and piano classes on Sundays. As my after-school extra-curriculum activity, I would put on my ballet flats and prance around to music that sounded like Swan Lake. In secondary school, my friends and I left guitars at the back of our classrooms. In between lessons, we would sit on the bench cupboard to strum and sing. In college, I would keep junk and create something out of nothing. I would wrote on textbooks, paper scraps, my hand, whenever I felt something I couldn’t express overtly.
Back then, I knew there was nothing that would make me happier if I could just write, sing, dance or create for a living.
Then came adulthood, or as some call, “adulting”. Practicality knocked. Pragmatism stepped in. I had wanted to be a writer. No one wanted to hire me. I soon established that passions don’t pay. Or mine anyway. So I joined a creative agency as a suit. And if anyone knows the industry, you don’t have a life once you’ve stepped in.
I stopped writing completely. I had joined music bands but I left each one due to my inability to make time for it. I only danced and sang loudly at KTVs, inebriated from spiteful drinking after a long 12-hour work week. I throw away junk because they are “useless”.
Ten years have passed since my attempt to chase my dream as a writer. I am however, not doing too bad in my career. But what I have gained in monetary terms and professional status, I have lost in my health and my creative soul.
I started suffering from anxiety 5 years back, mostly due to a combination of me being a highly emotional empath and the stress from work. There is something very conflicting about being a creative soul at heart while trudging through in a rat race just because of “job security”. Instead of feeling for creative fodder, you feel too much for the job. In any case, how does one define when a job is secure? Is it one in which you can continue to be good at so you can rise up the ranks to gain an even higher level of security, or one that doesn’t sap so much of your energy to the point you don’t hate it enough to quit (hence losing that security)?
The years of facing my anxiety at his highest was the lowest point in my life. I wasn’t able to sleep without jerking awake every few minutes with my heart pounding against my chest. When my panic attacks set in, noise amplified like I was Wolverine with super-hearing and lights became blinding in crowded and bustling places. I had to close my eyes so my brain wouldn’t go into overdrive. I would get faint, palm-sweaty and breathless in the middle of a work day and shut myself in the toilet to collect myself. I avoided going out and meeting friends in fear that an attack could come anytime. There were some days I would find myself still awake at 7am lying on the bed, not having slept a wink, staring out the window at the work-beckoning sunrise, in tears, because I hated what my life had become.
Every time I write, I would intentionally tell myself to avoid talking about my anxiety. I’m not embarrassed by it as a problem, but I do feel so when I start to worry that people think I’m calling it out as a crutch or to wallow in self-pity. Trust me, there is nothing more in life than I would like than to have never have experienced it. But it always comes out in my writing because it has played too big a role in forming the way I am today for me to skirt around it.
And I decided today that I need to get it out, to let it go.
I haven’t written in over a decade, not like that. And much less, publishing it on a place beyond my own “dear diary”.
Today I write because I want to start caring less about what’s going to feed me, and start caring more about what feeds my soul.
I used to blame Singapore. I used to blame my job. I used to blame expectations. I used to blame my anxiety. But I realise that there is nothing more humbling than understanding your life is nothing more than a construct of your own hold-backs. I’m not saying I’m going to quit my job, or start travelling around the world with a backpack and a notebook. I’m just an average Singaporean girl trying to do the things I used to love to do, and to sing and play songs without worrying that it’s going to be enough to pay my rent.
So here’s to one of the things that I love doing. And here’s to the song unsung.