An introvert’s guide to having a live-in (and working!) partner

2017-10-01 12.57.22If you’ve been following my blog, you would know that at one point in my short life, I was in a long-distance relationship with my boyfriend. Fast forward a year later, and here we are – living together in a city, once foreign, that has become our home.

If you’ve been following my blog, you’d also know that I am extremely introverted. It takes me longer than the average person to warm up to someone, but once I am comfortable, I am a completely different person.

In all honesty, after that bout of long-distance, I wished nothing more than to close the gap between him and I. I guess I got my wish when we both decided to pursue different career paths in this city – him in the field of coaching and development, and me in the advertising industry.

As someone who deeply values time alone, it was a drastic shift – from doing everything on my own and for myself, to having to do things together; to take another person’s needs into consideration. Thankfully, Yang is a creature of compromise, so I’ve been the more difficult one in this relationship.

When I was working at an agency, it was difficult to make time for him. Weeknights were spent in the office, and weekends were spent hunching over my computer, working from home.

That all changed when I decided to take up a job at the organisation he is working in, but as a writer. Now, I had to face him 24/7. It didn’t help that we had similar skills, so that meant that we had to work in similar capacities. There was a huge overlap in roles. What little time I had alone at work to focus on building myself, had become a place for my relationship as well.

It was then that I truly understood why two people who are in a relationship are discouraged from working with each other. It was difficult not to bring work into our relationship, and carry our emotions from our relationship into the workplace. I had to constantly see him, and time together was very much devalued – and reduced to a working relationship, even at home. I could not even find the capacity to grow – and I felt like I was constantly being held back by a weight that was pulling me down.

I made the decision to back out of this toxic environment, and work on my career in a separate space. I feel much more liberated now, but it gave me a chance to reflect on my three short months having to be around Yang all day, every day. I’m not saying nothing good came out of it – but now, I truly understand the meaning of giving and receiving space as a couple. I used to think spending all my time with him would be the most ideal situation in my relationship – but I realised that it’s not about quantity, but quality.

Next month, I will be beginning a new journey at the advertising agency where I began my career – and I am absolutely thrilled that I was given the opportunity to start anew, thanks to my supportive boss (more on that later), but I digress.

The whole point of this post is to remind myself of the things I did throughout the three months we spent every waking (and sleeping) hour together, in an attempt to keep the relationship fresh and interesting; tips for the future I will need to pull out of my magician’s hat should I ever need it again someday. They’re quite likely all cliches, but sometimes, it’s the cliches we tend to overlook.

Compromise

Relationships are give and take, even more so when you’re living with each other. Chores are split in between us, and bills – especially so. We’re like two complementary cogs in a machine – when he sweeps and mops the floor, I clean the bathroom. When I cook dinner, he washes up – all in auto mode. Once you get into the rhythm of things, it gets easier to draw the line. We also make sure to never let finances get in the way of our relationship, yet, if ever one of us needs the extra boost, the other person would be there to help. What helps as well is when we give in to each other’s cravings – for dessert, McDonald’s, and fried chicken… Okay, he gives in mostly to mine.

Impromptu dates

I’m not going to lie – dating becomes difficult when you spend all your time together. There is hardly any separation between time spent together, and quality time spent together. What we lacked in quality time, we made up for by having impromptu dates – be it catching a movie (one of our favourite past times!) or stopping by Fatty Crab at Taman Megah when all we wanted to have was a hawker meal at Ming Tien.

Talk it through

Admittedly, I did not do enough of this in times of trouble with Yang. Although it would have been a more effective way of problem-solving, I tend to keep to myself so I have time to collect my thoughts, before I jump into a conversation. Yang, however, prefers talking things through, which is not always easy for me. I soon learned that we each have different ways of coping with issues, but it is always important to deal with your emotions rather than have it manifest on the inside.

Never lose sight of why you fell in love

As harsh as it sounds, I would always have to remind myself of the things that made him special to me, and why this relationship means a great deal more than others that I’ve been in. It wasn’t difficult to see – but there were times I failed to realise it. From all his small gestures, like pouring me a glass of water before bed, to doing all the chores that I did not like – all I needed was to take a step back and take notice of everything. Mindfulness is key.

Make time for yourself

Although it was difficult, it was important that we spent time apart from each other. Whether it was me penning my thoughts down by the computer, or him at the gym, time alone always gives us the space we need to reflect on ourselves. It keeps us in check, so that we don’t lose sight of who we are, and what we want to be.

Now that I’m starting afresh at an old/new workplace, I am looking forward to a renewed relationship with my Yang – one that is centred not on the amount of time we spend together, but the quality of it. Wish us luck!

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Viral Encephalitis Part 2

2017-07-08 00.13.41It 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.

Viral Encephalitis Part 1

2017-07-08 11.55.00I 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.

Lessons learned

photo_2017-04-25_17-29-05As 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.

Ending a chapter

DSC08658.jpgI 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.

Making choices

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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.