If Home Was Safe

Joie de Vivre is the name of the University of Sydney’s Cumberland campus food court, and French for “a cheerful enjoyment in life”. Mornings here are characterised by the radio in the background accompanied by familiar sounds from the coffee machine; there are morning-goers interspersed across the separate varnished wooden tables, on grey chairs. Most of us, MacBook users and coffee drinkers. The whiff of caffeine blankets us and the sunshine streams in as if to greet us. Joie de vivre, absolument. What comfort we each immerse in, with no worry about tomorrow – no need to ask ourselves ‘will I live to tomorrow if I stay here’, ‘must I run away to keep my family safe’ and ‘if I run, where else could be home’, ‘if I plead to strangers for love and mercy, will I receive’.

This piece is about those who ask these daily questions at every waking moment, those who must answer these questions for themselves and for their families. For those whose struggle daily is about survival: not the sort of ‘survival’ we worry about concerning our professions or grades or climbing the ladder of ‘perfection’, but the sort of ‘survival’ concerning wading of oceans to avoid deadness.

There are 60 million displaced people in the world in the minute. There are myths surrounding these statistics that we, in a privileged position of safety and security, have the responsibility to unpack truth about. Only then, can we make informed decisions that have tantamount impact on vulnerable human lives. Allow me to take apart just one that I’ve commonly uncovered in my conversations:

At least seven migrants drowned after the heavily overcrowded boat they were sailing on overturned on May 25 CREDIT- AFP

At least seven migrants drowned after the heavily overcrowded boat they were sailing on overturned on May 25 CREDIT- AFP

MYTH | “If we stop the boats (of refugees) from entering the country, we dissuade people from getting on boats in the first place and risking their lives. We keep them safe.”

What is true – Refugees do die at sea.

The journeys are treacherous and the conditions on these boats have poor hygiene and sanitation; there have been reports of violence on board these boats (including sexual violence) especially for boats that drift at sea for long durations of time. In the first half of last year alone, at least 2,500 refugees died trying to cross the Mediterranean to get to Europe.

When we consider this option in isolation, it does seem dangerous and one cannot fathom why such an absurd decision is made. The myth itself is premised on the assumption that the decision to leave one’s home and get on a boat with one’s family is a “choice”. The reality is that for any refugee, one has to consider his/her situation in whole and compare the options relative to one another – the country mired in conflict and physical threats to survival or the waters toward other possibilities.

What is not true – Our policies that turn boats around back to where they came does not stop the boats. Quite the contrary, stopping the boats does not keep the refugees any safer and instead, places them in a position of greater vulnerability to danger.

When boats are turned around, they are chased back to sea, where they are vulnerable to extreme weather conditions, piracy, kidnapping and violence. The ‘deterrence approach’ has abandoned refugees to their fate. When the refugees literally run away in desperation, reach their hands out to us for help and beg on their knees for mercy, we say, “No. Stay where you are.” Refugees being turned away from Australia end up in Southeast Asian countries and the numbers of asylum seekers in the poorest countries in the region are increasing dramatically.

As ongoing conflicts systematically destroy the homes of many, imagine the desperation and despair that accompanies the radical decision to leave behind all of home and get on a boat that never turns back. Photographer Brian Sokol and poet Jenifer Toksvig’s work brings the first-hand testimonies of refugees all over the world – in the eventual poem ‘What They Took With Them’, items that refugees mentioned were “national flag” and “house keys”. Who doesn’t want to stay home?

Who doesn’t want to stay home if home was safe.

at-what-cost-girl-1500x1000

A young girl crowds with other asylum seekers under a tarp while making the three-day boat journey from Indonesia to Australia in 2013. Soon after this photo was taken, the Australian Navy took the passengers to Christmas Island and eventually on to Papua New Guinea and Nauru. © Joel van Houdt / Hollandse Hoogte

Here’s my call to action. The first Indigenous Australians arrived on boats; then, in 1788, colonial masters from Britain arrived in boats. Today, ‘the boat people’ is part of everyday language to refer to refugees seeking asylum in other countries after fleeing their own. The tragedy of 59.5 million refugees in the world together struggling in-between, paying the human cost for our apathy and self-interest is a reality we can’t ignore – it is the ongoing act that will become history. There is always something you can do; start where you are and do what you can.

I am on a month-long journey to lend my voice to those who go unheard, forgotten. In the lead-up to Refugee Awareness Week (18-25 June 2017), I will be raising funds for the refugee support efforts in Jordan. Syria refugees will be provided with education, medical services and ration packs amongst other necessities with funds raised at bit.ly/sherms4refugees. For those who, too, deserve joie de vivre.

RC17 Cover photos FB 7

What Is Sorry For

national-sorry-day

The Aboriginal flag painted on a brick wall.
©bigstockphoto.com/ budastock

National Sorry Day in Australia brings people together in unity towards the healing of the Stolen Generations, their families and communities. From 1788, British colonial powers arrived by boat to the shores of Australia in search for land and resources – this was the beginning of a nightmare for Indigenous Australians as countless were forcibly removed from their families and communities. Numerous massacres were committed in this time; the unimaginable atrocities became a blemished chapter in the history of the world’s longest-standing traditional cultures. The trauma, injustices and grief persist today in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who experience inequality in economic, social and health spheres amongst others.

The first National Sorry Day was in 1998; the first public and formal apology made belatedly. Everything that follows (the reports written, research done, compromises made) are attempts at turning ‘sorry’ into action and transforming reconciliation from just lip-service. As a history student since high school, I have always been appalled at the wrong-doings that we can commit against each other as human brothers and sisters over and over, as if we never learn. Time and again, we let the distracting veils of self-interest make paper-thin excuses for cruel acts against one another – we let the politics have full reign, let the media deceive. Our democracies are lies we tell ourselves, for our votes choose us (not the other way round).

We are on a broken treadmill that never stops, running away from shame and guilt. We play broken recorders that repeat ‘sorry’s in different languages. Calluses grow on our palms as we try relentlessly, to wash away stains of our past. We try to forget – there are countries that choose amnesia by erasing the stories, literally, from textbooks; we try to repent – there are others that build endless memorials for those who once lived. Patience will run out, and so will space. The most important lesson of history is to reflect on our present and consider the ongoing acts that will soon become history.  

Today, suffering of all sorts permeate society even on an individual level. A beautiful paragraph encapsulates it,

“Today we have higher buildings and wider highways but shorter temperaments and narrower points of view. We spend more but enjoy less. We have bigger houses but smaller families. We have more compromises but less time. More knowledge, but less judgment. We have more medicines, but less health. We have multiplied our possessions but reduced our values. We talk much, love only a little and hate too much. These are the times with more liberty but less joy; more food but less nutrition. These are the days in which two salaries come home but divorces increase. We have finer houses, but broken homes.”

This is the paradox of our time. All over, humankind is facing brokenness in more ways than one. On a day dedicated to reflection of the world we live in from history to today, this is my invitation to step out of the ‘state of transparency’, where human suffering remains transparent and where crises remain ignored just because we think they do not directly affect us. For the ‘state of transparency’ to even have been a choice is a privilege that we earned no entitlement to and in this state, we fall prey to apathy, to live lives of ignorance and to run on treadmills we can never step off.

at-what-cost-boat-2000x1333

Asylum seekers signal for help while making their way across the Indian Ocean towards Australia in 2013. © Joel van Houdt / Hollandse Hoogte

Here’s my call to action. The first Indigenous Australians arrived on boats; then, in 1788, colonial masters from Britain arrived in boats. Today, ‘the boat people’ is part of everyday language to refer to refugees seeking asylum in other countries after fleeing their own. The tragedy of 59.5 million refugees in the world together struggling in-between, paying the human cost for our apathy and self-interest is a reality we can’t ignore – it is the ongoing act that will become history. There is always something you can do; start where you are and do what you can.

From today, I will be embarking on a month-long journey to lend my voice to those who go unheard, forgotten. In the lead-up to Refugee Awareness Week (18-25 June 2017), I will be raising funds for the refugee support efforts in Jordan. Syria refugees will be provided with education, medical services and ration packs amongst other necessities with funds raised at bit.ly/sherms4refugees.

Hopefully, then as we each make our little efforts count, National Sorry Day wouldn’t just be a ritual where we strive towards saying “enough” ‘sorry’s. Can any number of apologies ever be enough for the lives that stop living the day the boats arrived?

I welcome thoughts, ideas and emotions at shng4630@uni.sydney.edu.au

 

Ubuntu Means You’re Never Alone

17917635_1345767512186949_7046783093609134200_o

Rustic chairs, wooden tables and bricked walls; there are Singer sewing machines bordering the sides of the café and the familiar whiff of caffeine embraces us mid-day. Murmurs of different languages (mostly Korean) blend into one as relationships of all sorts are deepened this Sunday afternoon – there are lovers, friends, sisters, colleagues and families. Right here, right now in this instant, we share this space and this moment. Imagine the possibilities in this instant where strangers are brought into common space so that for once in our lives when our steps are in sync, our breaths in harmony, paths crossed. This piece is about how moments like this one string together one after another in our lives as testament that we are all connected.

Waves of inspiration from an ongoing online self-compassion course brought me to my recent read, The Book of Joy by The Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams. The insight exchanged by two most influential spiritual masters of our time affirms that the distractions of our secondary differences are just that, distractions. The secondary differences that are our nationality, ethnicity, race, gender or how we look and speak; differences that disappear when we don’t only look at a person but experience the person. These traits we think define and divide us are distracting us from the truth about unity in our common humanity.

Consciously blinding the secondary differences, what is left when we look at one another is the same human body, human brain, human heart; the same human frailties and vulnerabilities. Lending from the Archbishop’s wisdom, Ubuntu is a South African ideology that recognises our solidarity in humaneness. Indeed, where we stop comparing and competing our suffering and struggles against each other, we realise there is no ‘harder’ or ‘more stressful’, there is just ‘hard’ and ‘stressful’. We share the same fundamental desire to be joyful and avoid suffering, an innate pursuit that transcends what tries to separate us. In truth, we are together, each living out the same human experience that is imperfect, winding and impermanent by nature.

In the words of the Archbishop, “A person is a person through other persons” and no story we tell ourselves about how we came to be is a story with a single character in isolation. Each of them with the imprints of many others. Who we are is constantly tried, test and affirmed or challenged by those around us, each contributing to the moulding process that makes us us. It is the strength of the secondary differences that it sometimes takes a major disaster for followers of different faiths or people from different countries to come together and see that in the end, we are all human brothers and sisters. The Holiness the Dalai Lama describes the antidote as “a sense of oneness of all 7 billion human beings – irrespective of our beliefs, we are all the same human beings who all want a happy life.”

Growing up in a culture where independence meant going alone strong and armouring up against vulnerability, the true internalisation of Ubuntu starts with greeting my big human family. It starts with the recognition of our interdependence – unlearning the modern trance, the relentless march and the endless comparison and competition. Martin Luther King Jr puts it rightly that we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters, or we will perish together as fools. I am mindful of the suffering that humanity takes the toll of collectively today – the refugee crisis, the rising suicide rates, the political amnesia that hurts us; all of which that is reason for us to grieve. There are, though, more reasons to celebrate, as we are 7-billion strong in our capacity for love, great devotions and courageous pursuits.

Brave New Beginning

IMG_0358.JPG

Tucked in humbly at the corner of Allen Street, full-length glass surrounds the beautiful Cuppa Flower café and lets in just enough sunlight for us to collectively bask in the morning illumination. Lush greenery traces the compound and warm, fluorescent lights complement this morning’s peace. With the aftertaste of flat white from a yellow mug, cool breeze coming in through the entrance and the conversations that fade into the background, this piece is in celebration of 10 weeks down under.

These days I confront my struggle with floccinaucinihilipilification, the habit of estimating something as worthless. We have a tendency to build boundaries around ourselves, using shields or armours of different forms to defend against what might make us vulnerable – my defenses often start from the basis that “this is probably worthless anyway”. This new experience, that difficult conversation or this attempt to do things differently than before all probably worthless, so why try. Floccinaucinihilipilification is one of the longest words in the English language and as Kristin Neff writes, the mystery of why we do it is as baffling as how to pronounce it.

Wired for survival rather than for joy, our aversion towards vulnerability stand guard at the frontline of our responses to anything. The fear of vulnerability like an imaginary big, red, flashing ‘flight-or-fight’ button in our minds waiting to be pressed. Floccinaucinihilipilification is ‘flight’. To save ourselves from the daunting prospects of attack, we subscribe to the one life we know to lead because it has been tried and tested to death. We stop trying, suppress curiosity and murder possibilities. We settle.

With the blessing of time and support while in Australia, enrolling into the Courageworks Self-Compassion Course by Kristin Neff and Brene Brown has proposed an antidote. “Self-compassion is one of the biggest sources of strength and resilience that we have available to us,” Kristin Neff encompasses the crux of the power of being kind to ourselves. How often have we responded to someone else’s pain and suffering with love and kindness, while turning to our own with judgement and blame? The most fear-inducing element of vulnerability is the lie that we have been sold growing up – that if you stumble, fall, struggle or fail, you are different and isolated by imperfection that deems you undeserving of joy.

Let’s unlearn these lessons of isolation and choose to tell ourselves in times of hurt or difficulty that: “I am suffering.”, “This is part of the shared human experience, I am not alone” and “May I give myself the compassion that I need.” The endless runaway from our shadows ceases the moment we acquaint ourselves with darkness as a critical part of being human. It takes courage, it is scary but where there is darkness, there is light. With the strength from knowing that we’ve got our own backs through thick and thin, may we arrive at bolder and unimaginable possibilities.

Recognising Love Away From Home

IMG_8622.JPG

The sun rays peeked through the blinds as a tinge of illumination; the sky first a rosy pink and then a fiery red, as if the sun was negotiating firmly for its turn to dominate. The dark blue gave way, leaving behind only the smell of rain washing the air fresh overnight as proof that night had once come. My back upright and distractions aside, over a bowl of milk and cereal, I take slow and deep breaths. There is a sunset and a sunrise every day, you can choose to be there for it, writes Cheryl Strayed in her novel Wild. For the past week, I have chosen to be entranced by nature’s beauty at the breaking of dawn – the only show we get to watch for free and yet holds priceless value. Overwhelming me each time is joy (different from happiness that is fleeting), a light that fills you with love and faith and hope because of the knowledge that the blessing of this new day presents such immense possibilities.

Every day has brought with it conversations and interactions, no short of awe-inspiring individuals each with incredible stories of being and becoming. As if touring an endless bookstore where each conversation is merely a chapter, every instant amplifies the vastness of what this place and its people has to offer. Within moments you least expect, there has also been random acts of kindness and love taking unfamiliar forms. This piece is about these indications of love that have come to teach me invaluable lessons in the midst of the tumultuous transition from familiarity.

It seems, the shapeless, colourless thing we call emotion that has no texture or mass can truly only be felt with consistency and not seen. The ways in which each individual, based on context of culture and social environment, expresses something as universal as love can take on such diverse forms. The danger of being uprooted from a place of familiarity comes with the danger of finding acts closely associated with love, kindness and joy absent – not because they no longer exist but because they now come in shapes and sizes you do not recognise, forms unlike those you have grown up to link closely with the deep emotions of connectedness.

The danger exists not because unfamiliarity always equates loneliness or that cultural differences necessarily form barriers; it exists because we too often look for connection with our eyes and not our hearts. We have subconsciously externalized our sense of belonging to those around us rather than affirming that sense of belonging within ourselves. We recognise love by matching them with persons we are certain love us dearly from family members to the closest friends – we play a ‘spot-the-similarities’ game to make conclusions about others we are new to and how capable they are at loving us. It is dangerous to try seeing something you can only feel and more so, to conclude falsely that we are unlovable beings as a result of what we think we cannot find.

Brought to the forefront of my awareness in being mindful of my interactions with self and others during this first month in Sydney, is how our worldview about where and how to find love, connection and belonging is made up of these small interactions and fleeting instances. It is that split second where we talk to ourselves after an awkward conversation with a person or an uncomfortable interaction with an experience that says that most to us about our worthiness of love and belonging. We have, oftentimes, looked for love and belonging outside of us rather than engage from a place where we believe we are worthy of it. In our moments of struggle, we first respond to ourselves with judgment and blame rather than the kindness and love that we would typically give to others around us if something similar had happened to them. In face of our imperfections, we conclude too quickly that this is why we are different or alone. What we forget in these instances, is that imperfection and struggle is a part of life and it does not separate us.

When we fail or make mistakes, that does not separate us from others; that is precisely what unites us. Slowly but surely, as we engage with love and belonging within us, may we begin to find space in our hearts for ourselves. Maybe then, truly, love is all we need.

IMG_8912.JPG

Diversity of Selves

diversity-of-selves3

Sunshine through full-length glass windows, iced latte on a makeshift coaster out of recycled paper, wooden furniture and warm yellow lights; the kind of afternoon your breaths are slow and time passes without you realizing. Three weeks before I am Sydney-bound, where a whole new chapter awaits, I am incredibly thankful to be celebrating this Chinese New Year season of reunions for one more time. The red packets, oranges in pairs and dress-up aside, isn’t it intriguing how our paths can diverge so vastly from those within the same generation? This piece is about the prominent differences that contribute to our diversity.

I am an aspiring Occupational Therapist. My love story with public healthcare was the result of countless service opportunities. I recall vividly, the first time I stepped into a Dementia Daycare Centre – healthcare professionals assisting patients with every functional task; bringing food from the table to one’s mouth, supporting them by the elbow as they take slow steps to get from one side of the room to the other. Slowly, as they put one foot after the other, taking sharp, short breaths in between. Having the same conversation with a single patient over and over again for the first time, I was heartbroken. I left the Centre that day, promising never to return so that I never have to be in such a helpless position again. With the support of peers from Interact Club in Junior College, I continued visiting every week for 2 years. In about 3 days, I am bound for Sydney to pursue Occupational Therapy in the University of Sydney.

I am, also, a daughter to my parents. My first part-time job was at McDonald’s, at the age of 14. Cleaning tables then scooping fries, the ultimate promotion was to eventually stand before the cashier. I was obsessed with the idea of pulling weight at home financially so working part-time did not stop until the year I took ‘A’ Levels. In the day, I was a student; in the nights or weekends, a student care teacher, an administrative assistant or a waitress. In hindsight, I think they were my desperate attempts to feel worthy of my parents’ unconditional love and a relief to the powerlessness in face of their late nights and exhaustion. Today, though, I have learned that the people who love us, love us just the way we are.

I can tell more stories than one, and many more than just these two for sure, about the person I have become today. This is so for each of us in this space: every one of us have multiple stories that give reason to our being and do justice to the complexities of our identities. This phenomenon is one I refer to as the “Diversity of Selves”, where we each accumulate incredible stories across time. In a reality where we have immense opportunities like never before, our everyday choices have compounded and resulted in each of us living in a similar time while experiencing this time in vastly different ways. Think: Polytechnic, ITE or Junior College? Local universities or overseas? Doctor, lawyer, businessmen, engineer or a job not created yet? The privilege of these choices we get to make today contributes to the library of stories we build in our lives and to the increasing diversity of selves.

diversity-of-selves2

Suicide: Let’s Start with #howru

An earlier abridged version of this post has been replaced by this complete one since 24/8/2016 3PM.

Dedicated to Tiffany and all those close to our hearts who’ve left us

When I was Year 4, a friend extremely dear to me became increasingly distant and intentionally so. She avoided messages, shunned company and often gave cold responses to our attempts at a conversation. The hurt was real, for us (her friends) and for her. Eventually, we decided to give her the space she fought with us for – we called her out to the movies less, spent less time with her in class and let time ease the detachment. On a fateful afternoon that I still remember vividly, I had just caught “Finding Nemo in 3D” at the Cathay Cineleisure theatres with a friend. We were laughing, arms linked and I had an empty popcorn box in the other hand. The high we were in dropped to an immediate low when we found almost 50 unread messages on each of our phones from our friend. The multiple messages said the same thing – “I’m so sorry”. Our hearts dropped. The frantic hours that followed; calling everyone we knew could have been in contact with her, crying, the sense of loss and regret, and more crying are all fuzzy memories for us today. Perhaps, the height of fear so traumatic that the mind has buried it deep in our subconscious for self-care.

Thankfully, this friend remains a good one today, closer than many others and this episode is still etched in our hearts. The close shave with death and the one choice that almost made all the difference though, is one that I am familiar with. In my years in the Raffles Program, I have heard about or known of at least one suicide in every two years. Even upon graduation, heartbreaking news as such continue to spread across the school population like wildfire. While the following anecdotes are drawn from the school context, though, I wish to qualify that this trend is observed nationwide and is in no way, unique to the Rafflesian context though one might be tempted to draw flawed causal relations so as to detach oneself from the fear-inducing reality that suicide is a choice that anyone has the power to make. This morning, it is pouring heavily outside and the bus inches forward as if intentionally buying me time to think. This piece is on the suicides we don’t talk about enough and the lessons we are learning, but a little too slowly.

The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli introduces the Confirmation Bias within the first 5 chapters and labels it the “father of all fallacies” and the “mother of cognitive biases”. The Confirmation Bias is the tendency to selectively intake information to support existing theories and perceived patterns we have identified. It is our means of protecting our minds from the complexity of this world we live in and it helps us make sense of our everyday stimulus. It is dangerous though, to apply it in some occasions. In Year 2, when I heard of the first suicide in school, it was my first encounter with such news. Naturally, I formulated the belief that such incidents were singular and anomalous – how else could we explain the hundreds of others going through similar phases in life who choose otherwise and live on to the next day? How else might I rationalize this terrifying choice that the individual had made? An exception, it had to be.

In the growing up years, news of suicides spread more often than rumours of depression. The surprise that follows the knowledge of the suicide is accompanied by statements like, “Wow, no one could tell.” Or “Who knew?” and “We could never have seen that coming.” Never. In RGS, the culture of giving, the ‘tradition’ of sending encouraging messages around whenever an exam was near and the kindness initiatives by the Peer Support Board led me to be puzzled about how an environment like this could allow the incubation of suicidal thoughts. I continued to affirm my belief that these incidents were anecdotal so as not to confront the alarming paradox. Then, in RI, we are so often told to be thankful for our privilege, taught by the public that expression of negative emotions is an indication of weakness or a lack of gratitude. We are convinced that our material possessions or tangible achievements are the only valuable assets and there is nothing more we could ask for – our understanding of value is warped thereon.

What you teach is what you get. Our haste in pointing fingers at the flaws from within the school are oblivious to the fact that we are all part of the picture that completes the reality for students within – newspaper articles that blow up anecdotes and draw inaccurate causal relations between these incidents with “being in an elite school”, relatives who say “you’re from Raffles, can one lah” or worse, those who transform the very identity of being a Rafflesian into a label synonymous with expectations of achieving – the blessing and the curse of being in the institution is the result of these external factors beyond the school’s control. The lack of empathy embedded in this culture that goes beyond the four walls of the institution has silenced the unhappiness and concealed the symptoms. “Good,” is the only acceptable answer to “How are you?”

In my final months in Junior College, I struggled a lot with insomnia. There were countless of sleepless nights, heart thumping episodes and indescribable anxiety. It was in the company of a close friend that I visited our school counsellor for the first time. Following which, the visits were followed up with messages that showed consistent and reliable support from the counsellor and comfort from the knowledge that I could always seek help where I needed. Friends who knew I had seen the counsellor also showered me with hugs and daily words of affirmation. With the benefit of hindsight, I could reaffirm my decision to visit him. Admittedly though, there was hesitation before letting anyone know that I was going to the counsellor at that point. It was as if I would be admitting to something being very wrong with me; some kind of problem I couldn’t resolve. I silenced myself for fear of judgment.

Herein lies the problem. There is a stigma – against those who extrovert their feelings of negativity and those who externalise their struggles. It is ironic that while everyone knows that life is an oscillating narrative (one that has downs as much as it has ups), we only listen with most empathy at the part where “life is a bed of roses”. One would expect that with our understanding of the value of a human life, we would protect it at all costs; but how ‘acceptable’ is getting help and how much do we encourage the most powerful forms of suicide prevention in the society that we are all a part of creating? Did you know that as of 2015, Singapore has seen an average of 400 suicides every year (from 2010-2014) on top of another 1000 cases of attempt suicides? Of which National Statistics show that the bulk of the cases come from young adults aged 20-29 years (2015), and the numbers for youth suicides have recently reached a 15-year high. Let every news of suicide be remembered; let us not brush off every individual’s choice as an ‘exception’ or ‘anomalous’. It is not okay that the choice to take one’s life is this prevalent and there must be something we can do as individuals:

1 Let us all inherently matter as human beings: the prizes, achievements, the trophies and tangible outcomes, the ‘paper chase’ and grades are but a fraction of our being. Dr Chia Boon Hock, a psychiatrist specialising in suicide, said the faster pace of life, coupled with the fact that those aged between 20 and 29 “expect a lot and want a lot more”, contributed to the higher number of suicides. Perhaps, the true challenge is to pass the initial judgment of a person’s achievements and to learn the virtues, beliefs and character that make the rest of the person. If we let these matter proportionally, we might just encourage all around us to strive for a more balanced gauge of self-worth.

2 Let it be okay to not be (okay). The most heartbreaking of all that underlies suicides is not only the aftermath of loss with no return, but also the unimaginable sense of isolation that had paved the way for such a choice. My favourite poem on Solitude by Ella Wheeler Wilcox amplifies the loneliness that we experience from our day-to-day because we don’t embrace not being okay enough. Give praise to the courage of those who seek professional help from counsellors and talk openly about difficulties and unhappiness. The truest test of empathy is at a friend’s lowest point.

3 Spread the word – my younger self did not see the prevalence of suicide simply because it was yet to be a normal occurrence in my sphere of knowledge and it is only when you brush past this terrifying experience of loss over and over that you see the magnitude of the choice and the gravity of the issue. I would like to propose that we transform the deep sense of loss into motivation to raise awareness about its prevalence and on its prevention*. Be part of World Suicide Prevention Day Singapore 2016.

*The 24-hour Samaritan of Singapore hotline is 1800-221 4444.

The apathy that is encapsulated in some familiar consolation (“life goes on” or “the institution will do something about it” because “the system is at fault”) is indicative of our increased desensitization. Perhaps, it is to protect ourselves for we would otherwise feel helpless. But in this case, where we are the very agents of change and prevention, it is imperative that we try. Let’s start with #howru.

I invite you to share your thoughts with me, if any at shermaineng_1997@yahoo.com.sg.

suicide