As dusk settled in, making way for darkness to blanket the skies, I scrambled to find the best angle for the perfect shot – but I realized that not all beauty is meant to be captured through a lens. Some are best etched in our memories.
It has now been slightly over a month since I was diagnosed with viral encephalitis, but I still suffer residual effects of the illness to this day. I’ve read that these effects could even persist in my old age, but let’s save that for a conversation over coffee.
Through this harrowing ordeal, I have learned a few key lessons:
Never underestimate a mother’s love
My mother gave up all her commitments back home in Kuching for two weeks just to cook, clean and care for me. Upon hearing that my fever had not subsided and I was behaving strangely, she hopped onto the next flight to Kuala Lumpur and checked me into the hospital, making sure I received the best treatment. Even after I was discharged, she made sure I was never hungry or alone. Yet, through her tired eyes, she was still able to reassure me of my strength and her love for me.
Not all questions are meant to be answered
As I laid in the hospital bed, I kept asking myself the same question, ‘Why me?’. I had antibiotics administered three times a day via an IV inserted through my wrists, arms, forearms and the back of my palms. Each time the nurses gave me a new cannula, the site of insertion would swell up and get infected, and these eventually turned into bruises dotted across my arms. I had a new cannula inserted every day, further fuelling my fear of needles. Why me? I still can’t answer that today.
Always remember the support from your friends and family
During my time in the hospital, some of my extended family members who were in Kuala Lumpur at the time came to visit me. I hadn’t told any of my friends until later, but one friend took notice of my absence on social media and texted me to ask if I was all right. She even arranged to drop by and brought treats. Of course, there were people who feigned concern – but I find strength in knowing that I have great friends out there who care for me.
According to my neurologist, I will never be able to piece together what happened in the 5 days I had my mental breakdown. It still bothers me slightly to this day, but I seek comfort in knowing that this experience taught me the value of love, endurance and especially, my health.
To my mother, you showed me that a mother’s love transcends all geographical and chronological boundaries. Thank you for dropping work and your other commitments during the two weeks you were here to care for me.
To my father and brother, thank you for taking time off your busy schedule and spending your hard-earned money on last-minute flight tickets to Kuala Lumpur just to ensure I never spent a night in the ward alone.
To my extended family, thank you for your prayers, support and well-wishes throughout the recovery process.
And finally, to my Yang – I’m sorry I fell sick and had a mental breakdown during your birthday. Thank you for being the champ I didn’t know I needed.
I opened my eyes after a long nap, and was surprised to see my mother sitting on a chair next to me. ‘Do you know where you are?’, she asked.
I looked around and realised I was in an unfamiliar place. It looked a lot like a hospital. I had to muster up all my physical strength to utter a single, ‘No’ in response.
‘You’re in Pantai Hospital’, she said. I looked around again, and it didn’t take long for me to realise there was an IV needle in my arm. I was, to say the least, horrified, given that one of my greatest fears has always been needles.
My mother then asked me, ‘What is the last thing you remember?’. I struggled to find the answer. I didn’t remember what the last thing I could remember was.
‘Do you remember being admitted?’, she probed. ‘Do you remember when you went to see the psychologist?’, ‘Do you remember that you went through an MRI?’. I couldn’t recall any of that.
She then proceeded to tell me that I was admitted into the hospital after failing to recover from a high fever I had contracted the week before. The complicated part? I lost my memory for 5 days in between.
Throughout the day, my mother fed me with details of what had happened in those 5 days.
There was a lapse in my memory because my brain suffered a breakdown in that period of time. Although I was conscious, my brain was not able to process anything – and therefore, none of what happened was committed to my memory.
I learned that with my boyfriend as an accomplice, my mother planned a last-minute trip from my hometown, Kuching to Kuala Lumpur on Saturday after realising that my fever never subsided, even after consulting two different doctors and taking two different sets of medication.
While she was here, I had difficulty communicating with the people around me and I was only able to mumble a few words at a time. I was incoherent and my behaviour was child-like.
It was then that my mother knew that this was a problem way beyond her comprehension, and with the full support of my extended family, she checked me into the hospital.
I was checked into Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur on Sunday night after a series of tests, including an EEG that showed I had little no brain activity, much to the horror of the neurologist attending to me. After administering antibiotics via IV, I fell asleep and woke up the next day feeling like I had just taken an extremely long nap.
‘What am I down with?’ I asked. ‘Viral encephalitis’, my mother answered. I did not know what that meant, so she patiently answered all my questions. She tried to get me to drink water, but even water tasted strange to me. I couldn’t stomach any of it.
On the day that I ‘awoke’, I found myself to be the most helpless I had ever been. I was not able to take showers on my own, and I had to lie in bed all day because of the IV. Getting up to go to the toilet was physically taxing, and my muscles ached as if I had overexerted myself at the gym the day before. I had to be brought around in a wheelchair.
Yet, through it all, my mother was there to make sure I never spent a minute alone. She bathed me, put my clothes on for me, and patiently reassured me that I’d be all right; that I’m strong and managed to survive this.
My attending neurologist would check up on me daily, and every day, I made progress, little by little. My muscles ached less, and my appetite and mobility improved, albeit slightly.
I was able to go back to my apartment in Petaling Jaya for a few hours every evening after I had shown some progress, and my mother would tag along, tirelessly cooking and cleaning for me.
Later in the week, my father and brother flew over to Kuala Lumpur as well to join my mother in assisting with my recovery. On 13th June 2017, after 9 days of admission, I was finally discharged, and I flew home to Kuching to recuperate shortly after.
As I write this, I am on my flight back to Kuala Lumpur.
What an amazing weekend it has been – the perfect break from reality.
I never thought I would be one to crave for the comfort of home, but over the course of the past 6 months, so much has changed – and all I needed was the warm embrace of home to remedy the aching in my heart.
My foray into the world of adulthood has been tumultuous, to say the least. It has been an arduous journey of self-discovery, albeit a short one. During my trip home, I managed to spend some time by the beach doing the one thing I’ve been craving for a long time: reflect.
With my toes in the sand and the salty sea breeze blowing gently, I realized that in the past 6 months, I learned more about myself than I ever had in my entire life.
I learned that although I am in pursuit of stability and a career I am passionate about, I am impulsive and I am more likely to succumb to societal pressures than the average millennial.
I learned that although I would like to deny it, financial security takes precedence in any career path that I choose.
I learned that sometimes, people are disguised as friends, but they turn out to be the ones who pull the rug beneath you – and sometimes, those who appear to be against you, are the ones who are rooting for you the most.
I learned that it is easy to lose yourself in your own path, and dwelling on your problems can be much easier than getting up and doing something about it.
I learned that maybe, I am not as strong as I would like to think I am.
Nonetheless, I have made my decision: to put myself first, to care for my own well-being, and finally chart the path I have been wanting to chart since the day I realized my life’s mission. It took me all of 6 months to realize this, and I am glad that I have been blessed with the ability to see it sooner, rather than later.
Today, I will do something for me, and there is no turning back now.
I flew home for a week in November, slightly over a week into my new job, for two reasons — because it was my birthday, and because I was about to graduate. Going home this time was the best trip I have had to date, because I had plenty of time to spend with my loved ones, and because I knew that I was about to go home to say goodbye to an incredibly significant chapter in my life.
I had been looking forward to graduation (literally!) since I first started studying in university, but during the days leading up to it, I felt indifferent simply because I had just started my career and was grappling with the long hours I had to put in, but I’ll save that for another day.
The day came, and I had to wake up at 5am for the ceremony. Everything went by in a blur. There were so many people there, so many eyes on me as I approached the stage… And I received my mock scroll. Three years of hard work, literal blood, sweat, and tears were all condensed into one piece of paper.
After the ceremony, I parted ways with my friends and it hit me — I was a superstar for a few hours that day, with my first class honours degree in a field I am passionate about… And the next day, I had to fly back to KL to a job I was struggling to get used to, and a life without my family by my side. It was then that I realized — all along, I was dreaming of an idealized version of adulthood. This is what life after graduation was like. Difficult and lonely.
I had a deep craving for independence, to go out and pave my own path, and to create my own legacy… But I honestly did not expect it to be this difficult. Some days, I wish I had taken the easier route, but strength and resilience come from adversity… Or at least, that’s what I tell myself every day.
It was a Tuesday, and I was in the office, slumped in my seat. I was staring at my computer with multiple tabs open– one on iBilik, another on my Internet banking, another on my bills, and a few on my work. What I was paying attention to, though, was bills. My landlady failed to tell me how much I owed in utilities (presumably because she’s trying to shortchange me, but I digress), and I had been hounding her for weeks on end. I finally got my answer while I was at work, and it was a three-digit figure I never imagined I could accumulate over the course of slightly over one month. I checked my calendar– payday was more than a week away. However, my conscience did not allow me to be in debt, so I settled my bills on the spot. It hurt me to have to do it, but I did it anyway; knowing that although I would not be able to spend lavishly for the next week, I could be rest assured that I was not in debt.
It was a Sunday, and I had never felt more demotivated to work. I resented having to go to work on a public holiday, and working for 6 days straight. I was due to go on air, and my lack of enthusiasm showed while I was announcing my reports. Undoubtedly, my poor performance came to bite me in the ass, and it all just went downhill from there. It was high stakes– working in the country’s top radio network and announcing reports to millions of listeners who were tuning in just made me feel so much worse about my job. Don’t get me wrong; people’s assumptions about working in radio is, for the most part, accurate– I get to meet well-known media personalities (I’ve met so many celebrities that I lost count), rub shoulders with key players in the industry, and get to go on air… But behind the glitz and glamour lies all the hard work that goes unseen… And because I knew, deep down, that broadcasting is not my calling, I knew I wanted out come the end of my internship.
It was a Wednesday, and I had just signed a contract with one of the top advertising agencies in the world to be their in-house copywriter… But as much as the word ‘writer’ appealed to me, I had a deep-seeded innate fear that maybe I’m not good enough for the role. Yes, I was headhunted; but will I be able to constantly develop creative copy, and for one of the most demanding clients in the industry?
It was a Friday, and it was a long work week. I was looking forward to finally going home and spend some time out, since I was cooped up in the office and at home for far too long. It was then that I received a call from my boyfriend, and he broke the news to me; shit hit the fan and there were problems I had to single-handedly fix with my living arrangement here. I ended up spending another night being trapped in my condo, and consequently, blew up at him. It was irrational of me, I admit… But it was far from unjustified. My inner voice told me that I needed a time out, and as an introvert, what I really needed was time alone to focus on myself. I then realized that I romanticized the whole idea of having a live-in boyfriend, and it really isn’t as easy as it looks; especially not for someone like me who enjoys regular time alone.
Those two weeks were one of the most tumultuous times for me since I got here. For years, I fought against my parents’ wishes for me to build a career back home. I stubbornly insisted on coming to the big city to pave my career (or at least, the start of it) pursuing what nobody and nothing else could offer me at home. I forcibly made my way here, fought tooth and nail to graduate, and now… I am living my dreams, way out of my comfort zone. There is a catch, though. The utopia of living my dreams was all in my head. Everything is much harder to do once you’re out on your own; when you’re forced to make life choices in the snap of a finger.
Every day is a difficult choice for me here– I’ve had days when I contemplated packing up my bags and going home at the end of my internship. I would earn significantly less working at home, but at least I would have the comfort of those around me. It’s those days, then, that remind me of why this choice was already made that many years ago… Dreams don’t come easy, but I sure as hell want to persist.
I have a long way to go, but I am happy with where I started… And that, in itself, is enough to justify my choices.
It has been a month since my big move into the city, and after four weeks of grappling with the complete solitude, I finally feel like I have assimilated into my workplace and adapted to life alone.
This is why the thought of going home did not feel as exciting as it did when I first booked my flight tickets. Don’t get me wrong, going home was something I looked forward to– but for the first time, I felt like I was going to be all right even if I did not get to go home this weekend.
In typical Sarawakian fashion, I darted into a chocolate store at the airport to buy imported chocolate back home for my family and his. There, the excitement started building up. I thought to myself, I can’t wait for them to have all these things.
However, I boarded the flight feeling indifferent. The excitement wore off as quickly as it came. In the departure hall, I could hear people speaking in Sarawakian Hokkien and Bahasa Sarawak. Oh, the familiar comfort, I thought. I didn’t need to be excited; that comfort was all that I needed.
Upon boarding, I looked out the window to watch the beautiful Kuching skyline pass me by. Of course, that is nothing compared to what I get living in KL, but somehow– Kuching beamed with a quiet pride that KL just can’t seem to compare to.
Finally, as I watched the plane descend into Kuching, it hit me. I am home. I rushed out of the plane and into the immigration hall, and promptly jogged my way into the arrivals lounge, where I was greeted by the familiar faces which I call home.
Traveling the narrow roads in Kuching at a snail’s pace and seeing Sarawakian car plates brought a surge of nostalgia, and a little unfamiliarity. It’s funny how being gone for only a month can turn you into a stranger in your own home.
It was amazing to be greeted by faces that were happy to see me, and seeing places that are all-too-familiar. That night, I went to bed feeling immensely loved. I was finally in the warm embrace of home.
I woke up the next morning in my own bed, and it truly felt like I had never left. The familiar sounds of birds chirping and construction noises from across my balcony replaced the silence I normally hear as I awake at 5am every day– and it suddenly felt like it was a privilege that I could listen to a medley of sounds as I wake.
That weekend was one of the best weekends I had in the past month or so. I got to spend time with my family, I managed to help my love out with his stall, and most of all, I finally felt a sense of home and belonging after a long month of adjusting and adapting.
More than ever, I have been rejuvenated, and now I am ready to face the next three weeks ahead of me.