Last night I told KF that I wanted to get a 3DS. It was absolutely contextless as most of our conversations are, but I wasn’t lying. Or at least, there was an ounce of truth in it. But I hurriedly covered it up by saying that I was just kidding, that could never happen, I’m a broke uni kid and also if I were to actually get a 3DS you can bet my productivity levels would sink into the depths of hell. He said, “No, you should totally get it” and I denied it even further because it was impossible and he responded, “When was the last time you ever did anything for yourself because you wanted to?”
It’s a bit difficult, that. I’ve never sent a text message or a Twitter reply without going through it at least ten times and wondering how I would sound like from multiple perspectives.
I’ve been in a strange mood lately. The view outside my window is really beautiful, and I’d find myself staring outside for a good 15 minutes and then look away with purple flashes in my vision. I’m starting to appreciate this view, I’m starting to appreciate staying at home. This, in contrast to my first few weeks of uni when I was constantly Chasing. Again. Always Chasing. Always so restless. I was afraid if the momentum stopped, so would my entire second year of uni. I felt like I was making up for lost time in my first year. I felt like I could already foresee a future where I eventually get tired or lazy and stop, so I needed to complete this temporary race before it ran out of its tracks.
Eventually, I petered out. Which led to nights spent in my bedroom on the brink of tears because I was so confused and afraid. I thought I was doing well, but all of a sudden it abruptly felt like I was back at square one, never having budged an inch. Last week I properly cried for the first time since I came back here and then that night I said yes to reckless drinking because I didn’t want to think or feel anymore.
(I couldn’t even do that. I was too afraid to.)
I’ve been keeping an online calendar after not being able to find a free physical one (my hypothesis: calendars only ever appear when you don’t actually need them but are nowhere to be found when it’s the exact opposite) and writing down a short sentence to describe each day even if it’s just “napped till 5. korean spicy ramen at night” because I don’t want an entire year of memories to be truncated into a single bad feeling. Even if things turn out to be bad, I want to know exactly which parts were bad and which parts weren’t because I can’t stand the sinking feeling of disappointment and despair when people tell me about how wonderful their adventures at uni are and I can only tell them about the sporadic days that I gather enough courage to venture out of the house.
Hmm. I’m constantly trying to distract myself. I brought some books here back from Malaysia that I thought I’d want to read. Margaret Atwood and Sylvia Plath. I hardly have the time for anyone else besides HLA Hart and Lon Fuller recently and yet I want to borrow Murakami books from the uni library. I also thought, two weeks ago, I was able to establish a connection with a stranger I met at a pub, but not surprisingly, I’m always thinking, always feeling, but that is all, nothing more than that.
(In fact, that is what I am always trying to do. Establish connections with a world of human beings. How else are you able to experience the world in multiple different facets?)
The last time I did anything for myself because I wanted to – opening WordPress to write this even though I have a massive amount of seminar reading to do.
(I’m tired of hiding from the world and thinking it’s out to get me in every circumstance.)
What I’m going to be writing about today is a bit of a heavy topic, something that I haven’t really publicly written about in four years since I was in Form 5. Today is World Mental Health Day, and I want to talk about my journey and experiences with anxiety.
As I am writing this, I can already feel the tendrils of anxiety start to reel in; “this post isn’t going to be good or informative enough” “what will other people think of me now” “am I even in a position to write a whole blogpost about this”. But among all these doubts and insecurities, one thing that I do know for sure is that four years ago, if it hadn’t been for a blogpost that someone on the Internet had written about which I’d accidentally but fortunately stumbled upon, I probably wouldn’t have grown and learned to overcome so many hurdles related to my mental illness along the way to become the person that I am today, someone who is in a far better position than my 17-year-old self. And so despite having already procrastinated on this post for the whole day (can you believe my sheer luck for having classes-less Mondays), I managed to convince myself that writing this is a good thing, because if this helps even only one of my readers in their battle against mental illness, it would be worth it. At the same time, I also hope writing something like this will encourage more people to talk about mental illness, which is not an easy feat considering the strong taboos and stigmas surrounding MI, so if someone as fearful as me can do it, so can you.
This is going to be difficult, but I want to be as honest and myself as best I can when writing this, without isolating my own personal individuality from this post because I don’t want this to be an essay, but a conversation.
The first time I experienced a full-fledged panic attack was when I was at Biology tuition class in 2012, a month before SPM. I was sat in the middle of a quiet class of around 100 people with only the teacher talking in front, when I suddenly felt this numbing feeling in my chest. I started to get worried, already phasing out of what the teacher was talking about, wondering what was going on. And so it was this fear, coupled with the sight of everyone around me being so calm and quiet and me being the exact opposite that launched me into a full state of panic. I had to raise my hand in the middle of class (adding to the already mountainous level of fear I was feeling because now everyone’s eyes were on me and shit, would they think I’m weird), shakily tell my teacher that I wasn’t feeling well, and then call my dad to ask him to pick me up but not really being able to tell the reason why. I was still panicking when I got home and to this day, I remember the intense feeling of pure, unadulterated fear I’d felt, feeling like something bad was happening or was going to happen and not knowing what to do about it at all. It wasn’t my first time having a panic attack, as I could recognise these symptoms and subconsciously feed the information of “oh, you’re panicking” to my brain in that state of frenzy, but it was my first time feeling “oh no, oh my god, oh shit what’s going on something’s going to happen am I gonna die” and then having these unhelpful thoughts further push me down a spiral of worse panic. It was horrible. Even writing this now makes my palms sweat a little.
I managed to calm down eventually with the help of my parents, and that night I slept in my parents’ room. I slept rather well actually, because I felt so exhausted. It felt like I’d just run a marathon when it was really probably just 15 minutes of a panic attack.
The next morning, I woke up with a deathly fear of the same thing happening again. And this time, unlike the previous times I’d panicked before, the fear stayed.
During that period of time and especially of that leading up to the weeks of SPM, I was in a perpetual state of fear that I would get a panic attack at any moment without warning. After all, that was what happened the previous time, what’s to stop it from happening again? Even worse, what if the same thing happened in the middle of an SPM exam? And that, I think, was how I gradually developed the fear of enclosed spaces (both literally and metaphorically), spaces where I can’t escape easily if things get too much for me to cope with. This fear of panic attacks was the cause of most of my attacks, creating a vicious cycle that I would later on learn to be a panic disorder. I started to avoid places and situations where I’d panicked at before. It got to the point where I’d avoid wearing the same clothes I’d worn during a panic attack, a form of superstitious paranoia that history would repeat itself under the same conditions.
I wasn’t a very confident and carefree person to begin with, so my anxiety was basically a flared-up version of everything that I was flawed at. I couldn’t eat well. I couldn’t sleep well. I spent majority of my time wondering what the hell was wrong with me. I ended up panicking in the middle of my English paper during SPM and had to tell the invigilator that I had to puke, though after she walked away I was even more afraid of the prospect of leaving the exam hall in the middle of an exam so I forced myself to focus my undivided attention on the paper instead of on my anxiety. It was difficult, but ironically enough, you sort of get the hang of it after enough practices with the number of papers you have to take in SPM. Although those weeks do feel really far away to me now, I can still remember the helplessness and hopelessness of this panic-trodden fear, and to the 17-year-old me who had been receiving these bouts of fear in full blasts sporadically unannounced, it only made sense that 2012 wasn’t exactly the most cheerful year I’d had.
Anxiety is a cheeky little thing. It takes everything you see, hear and think, and twists it towards blatant paranoia that things are actually worse than they seem, or that other people actually have a different negative meaning behind it. It can go from “she looks at everyone except me in the eye when talking, is it because I said/did something wrong” to hours of ruminating over a list of Potential Things I Might Have Said Or Done to Make Her Angry at Me which eventually leads to actually believing that she is actually mad at me and thus affecting my social attitude when it might actually and realistically be nothing at all. And this went for most things besides social interactions; I had a headache? Might be an aneurysm. Couldn’t reach my dad on the phone? Something bad must’ve happened. Sudden feeling of apprehension that appeared out of nowhere? There must be a logical reason to justify this sudden feeling of dread and that logical reason is something bad happening or about to happen. And thus, that was how most of my days spent, believing that things x, y and z were all turning to shit and oh god, suddenly it’s too hot but I’m getting cold sweat and my surroundings are too loud and the lights are too bright and it’s a bit hard to breathe. Rinse, lather, repeat.
I was never clinically diagnosed, and the reason for that involves the stigma of mental illness. Especially in the small town of Alor Setar that I am from, it’s not a thing that most people think is “normal”, I would reckon. And truly, that is a very scary thing if not the scariest, even more so than the actual symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks. Nothing, I feel, is more terrifying than feeling alienated and alone when you’re already slowly losing bits of your confidence and self-esteem. Because great! Now not only do you yourself feel that something is wrong with you, you have the concrete evidence of so many people of the same opinion agreeing with you! Does wonders for your self-worth.
So I did the one thing that would make me feel less lonely: go on the Internet. They always say to never google your symptoms because 70% of the time the results will likely be worse than it actually is, and to some extent I agree with the notion behind that, but at the time, feeling my absolute lowest, I needed to find a logical reason for my despair. I felt like that was the only way I could get my life back on track again. Identifying what my problem was was my first step to gaining a footing on the main pathway again instead of straying through muddy plains. Strangely enough, it’s very, very comforting when you have people tell you that what you’re going through is normal, it’s a common thing and it happens to a lot of people, and sometimes it doesn’t even have to happen for any reason at all. Because suddenly, you’re not alone. You’re not this abnormal specimen that feels bad for existing and being like this. Despite knowing that this knowledge wasn’t going to cure me instantaneously, the job was pretty much already I’d say 20% done when I realised that, in my case, having anxiety didn’t make me an alien; it made me, ironically, human. Despite not receiving an official diagnosis, I found comfort in being able to relate to other people’s experiences of anxiety and being able to put a name to what I’d been feeling horrible about for weeks.
The main things that got me through that dark period of my life were: talking to my parents, Aunty Amelia and my friends, as well as (don’t laugh) watching videos of Youtubers on Youtube. For once in my life, I tried to ingrain the habit of talking about my feelings, problems and just anything that I needed to talk about to people, instead of furiously scribbling them down in an angsty journal and then pretending everything was fine. Because that was my main problem I think, not talking to people. That, and also the accumulated stress and pressure from everyone around me to do the best in SPM after years of being a top scorer. I honestly don’t think I could’ve emerged from that funk if it weren’t for the constant reassurances from my parents that they didn’t see me any less as their daughter, despite the way I was.
And then there were times when I had to seek distractions, so Youtube became an addictive platform for me. At that point in my life when I was feeling incredibly alone, having someone figuratively talk to me through a computer screen helped, surprisingly.
My anxiety didn’t go away after SPM ended, something I’d intensely prayed and wished for in the middle of exams, but of course this isn’t something that just goes away when you want it to. And now with school over for good, I found that staying at home and doing nothing only intensified the overthinking and worrying. I was at my wits end. Wasn’t this anxiety caused by exam stress? But now that SPM was already over, why wasn’t this as well? At that point I was starting to have serious concerns about attending college and subsequently, university. All along, it’d been a naturally default plan in the blueprint of my life that I would do these things without qualms, because that was what everyone expected of me. But now, I didn’t know anymore.
I rarely left the house that month, until I realised that this wasn’t the path I wanted to take. I didn’t want to allow my anxiety to stop me from doing things that I wanted to do. But of course, that was easier said than done. When faced with the choice between doing something and risk being afraid and thus panicking, and staying at home in comfort and safety, it was only natural to gravitate towards the latter.
Which was why I forced myself to get a job. It was my parents’ idea, and I saw this as a chance to actively do something. Plus, I knew how effective routines can be to establish a sense of comfort and calmness.
It turned out getting a job for three months instead of idly waiting for my exam results to come out was one of the best decisions I have made. It was a busy part-time cashier job at Popular, nine hours a day and six days a week with unpaid overtime hours late into the night. On weekends, it got so busy that I wouldn’t even be able to leave the counter to take a toilet break for the whole day, and then I’d come home every night exhausted beyond belief. But I was doing something. I was meeting new people and interacting with customers and using my brain to think while on the job, and it was precisely the busyness of it all that left me little room to ruminate much of anything else. And then of course this is a thing rarely explicitly observed but no matter what you do, as long as you’re doing something productive, you’ll always be able to derive satisfaction from it at the end of the day. Plus, days when I weren’t very anxious served as encouragements that, if there is one day when I can be okay, there can be many more days like that in the future. These were small steps, and I was contented with achieving small goals without overwhelming myself too much.
And then I quit my job in March, after SPM results came out, giving the reason that I wanted to focus on college applications. And then I impulsively bought tickets to fly to the UK and stay there for a month. Alone. I knew I said I was taking small steps but this was a giant one, even by my own standards. And I did it! This, to this day, still remains a pretty big milestone in my life, and I’m really happy that I saw the opportunity and seized it. It has helped me a lot in the long run.
Getting a job and flying to the UK had set up a pretty solid foundation for what was to be a good year for 2013. I entered college in July and was the best version of myself that I could ever be. Funny, sociable and confident. I don’t know if it was genuine or a facade because I’m too distanced from that person I was in sem 1 of A Levels to recall the mindset I was in, but that was a peak moment in my life, which further boosted my self-confidence. I didn’t have any major panic attacks that year.
Come 2014, I had to miss a week of classes due to my grandfather’s funeral in January and when I went back to Sunway, I panicked in the middle of Physics class from all the lessons I’d missed and had to leave the classroom to call my parents, who managed to help me calm down. After that, I got afraid again. I panicked once on the canopy walk and wasn’t able to go on it alone anymore ever again. I couldn’t go anywhere alone because I was convinced if I did that and panicked, no one would be able to help me calm down because I sure as hell wouldn’t be able to calm myself down. Worse still, I was alone in Subang without my parents, so this was a whole new territory I was stepping into.
But I was lucky. I honestly lucked out, to have met the people I met in Sunway who I now call my closest friends. After my panic attack episode, despite feeling like I was being pushed into a corner yet again, I found an easier outlet to breathe through by telling my friends about my problem with anxiety. Maybe this was also prompted by the fact that I was in a college in Subang, and was of the opinion that people here would be more exposed to mental illness issues than back in Alor Setar. It was standard of me to expect negative responses, but I’d received none. All my friends and housemates were so accepting of my struggles, and this time, I felt less of the alienation I did back in 2012. This time, I felt more reassured that this was something I could deal with and overcome to not let it get in the way of me living my life. This wasn’t to say I got rid of my anxiety entirely (in the first place, anxiety is not really something you can get rid of). My anxiety started to creatively manifest itself in multiple different ways besides panic attacks, like avoidance behaviour and social anxiety, equally pain-in-the-ass as panic attacks. But having family and friends who knew what was going on with me and was still willing to accept me and help me get back up whenever I fell down made the falling down part easier to cope with. There eventually came a time when my insecurities and inadequacies kept being proven wrong time and time again with the reassurances of the people around me that I was capable of looking my anxiety in the (metaphorical) eyes and discern what was real and what was not. It still remains a blurred line to me nowadays in certain aspects, but I’ve learned a lot since then to be able to differentiate worries that are substantial from those that aren’t.
Now, I am in university and sometimes I still get habitually afraid of going to places alone for fear of panicking and not being able to be “rescued”. My social anxiety is also probably at its peak form in this environment that expects you to meet all the people and make all the new friends and do all the yolo stuff together, but I am still learning to go about life without allowing anxiety to be a hindrance to things I want to do, people I want to know and the person I want to be. Last year, I was regretful of many things that I was too afraid to try, and after spending the whole summer back at home lamenting and deliberating, I came back to Manchester this year with multiple resolutions to make a change for myself. I am in a far better place currently, and it’s always comforting and reassuring to know that if I have managed to overcome the things I’ve overcome, I can do it again. If I can take a 13-hour flight all the way to UK by myself and start a new life afresh in a foreign country surrounded by a massive amount of people from different cultures and backgrounds, I can invincibly do almost anything.
Ultimately, this post is to reach out to those who have felt/are feeling similarly and feel isolated because of that. I know what it feels like, and I want to help. You are never alone in this, and you are not abnormal or strange or any of the doubts you constantly think of. You are merely human, and your mental illness does not define who you are. And remember, always ask for help if you need it, whether it be medical help, therapy and counselling, or even just telling your family and friends. Talking about it makes a huge difference. Everyone deals with their mental illness differently; I didn’t want to take medication, but I learned the concept of CBT and sought counselling from people I trusted whenever I needed it. This doesn’t make my anxiety any better or worse than anyone else’s. It doesn’t make me a better or worse person than anyone else. Mental illness isn’t a competition, and everyone deserves the right to help themselves in any way they can, as well as the right to be helped in any way they can be.
World Mental Health Day was initiated to combat the taboos and stigmas surrounding mental illness, which is the main cause of MI sufferers refusing to seek help in the first place. It’s strange that when you say the word “illness” it carries no ulterior connotation but when you attach the word “mental” before it, suddenly all the associated adjectives like “crazy” “deluded” “insane” pop up. I feel it in the apprehension I felt when I chose the title for this post, and I feel it in the casual “oh, you’re just overthinking again” comment I often receive and also often make to myself, to be honest. In any event, it is most likely that the anxiety sufferer themselves have already told themselves that a million times over and what they seek is validation rather than a rejection of what they have been experiencing for a very long time.
With time and the help of the people around me, I’ve gathered more courage to be able to speak about this with other people, and also on a public platform like this. It lessens the burden so much more when you let others in and grant them your perspective on things when you’ve been in your own head for too long. It reinforces the belief that you, despite your anxiety, are worthy of other people’s affection and care just as much as anyone else. And suddenly, living with a mental illness like anxiety doesn’t feel too overbearing anymore when you’ve got people around you who are willing to help you. I am not cured, and I am not confident enough to say one can be 100% cured of a mental illness, but I’d say one can learn how to cope and live with it. Back when I was 17 and was imparted with this new knowledge that I was suffering from anxiety, I thought I could never feel like a normal person again and that I would always have to carry this sickness around with me like a ten-tonne deadweight tied to my ankles. I thought that there was where my life would end, and that I had no hope of ever having a worry-less future anymore. I thought that everything I touched would be tainted by my anxious mind, and that I would turn everything into a giant anxious mess just by existing. I thought and thought and thought, but at that moment in life, I never would’ve thought that all those things weren’t true and would not turn out to be so. Some of my best memories in life happened even though I suffer from anxiety. Some of the best people I’ve met in my life wanted to be my friends even though I suffer from anxiety. It’s amazing, almost absurd, to think that these can be possible, but they are, and they are valid and real, and none of my paranoid thoughts can possibly dispute situations that have physically manifested in front of my eyes. And that was when I started to genuinely believe that I was capable of living a good and fulfilling life with my anxiety, despite my anxiety. I wasn’t going to let it stop me from experiencing the world as it truly is.
I also hope this post helps those who have people who are suffering from anxiety in their lives, to give insight on what an anxiety sufferer is actually going through and how one can understand them better and offer the help that they need. Like I said, the way everyone deals with their anxiety is different, but I would think that being there for them and not treating them like a lesser human being would generally be a good step in an effort to appreciate them for who they are, mental illness and all.
I am so grateful to all the people in my life who have helped me in this ceaseless battle against anxiety, without whom I wouldn’t be the stronger person that I am today. Thank you for always picking me up whenever I fall and constantly reminding me that there are more good things in life than there are bad. Lastly, I hope conversations like this will aid to lift the taboo of speaking about mental illness, especially since it is something that can be alleviated, however little, by talking about it.
Some useful links:
Time to Change – a campaign based in the UK to help end mental health discrimination
I’ve been in Manchester for more than a week now, though with everything that’s been going on, including the entire tedious process of unpacking and buying new household stuff, it feels like ages since I first touched down at Manchester Airport. And before I can begin the (hopefully) interesting and alluring chronicles of My Adventures in Manchester, I must first initiate a house tour, a prologue as good as any to commence my second year in Manchester.
So hello MTV and welcome to my crib
This year, both Rumin and I moved out of the dank (the bad kind of dank) cramped hole that was Weston and into a dank (the good kind of dank) two-bedroom flat in Nick Everton House on Grafton Street.
And now! Room!
You’ll be pleased to know my arsenal of anime posters has only been upgraded (this time to include a HYYH towel) instead of the other way round. Broccoli and Howl are still here and doing fine too, thank you for asking.
My window view this year has improved exponentially from a dull grey carpark building to a sixth-floor view of, well, the hospital carpark and also Upper Brook Street but at least I can see the sky now.
And because This Time, It’s a House, we have a shared bathroom, kitchen and living room.
My favourite icebreaker topic whenever I invite people to my flat is “You’ll never believe the size of my bathroom” and their reactions are usually how I expect them to be because it literally is an aeroplane toilet. I have the shortest arms and even I can touch both walls effortlessly. But I’ve gradually warmed up to this aeroplane toilet because #minimalism and also the size makes cleaning everything much easier and OKAY mostly because I can use a makeshift bidet now
We have a TV now too but we haven’t watched anything on it yet except for when we first arrived and I turned on the English cooking channel to serve as background noise while unpacking.
Also the kitchen. V fascinating sight
It might not seem like it from my previous post, but week one in my second year of Manchester has actually been…really good so far. The previous post was prompted in a pretty bad place where the delayed emotional response of leaving home suddenly hit me in one go, I think. And I’m often afraid of writing about the good instead of the bad for fear of jinxing it and then regretting a hypothetical unpleasant turn of events that might be self-inflicted. But I know that to be untrue and there are many things that I’m still learning that require frequent firm self-reminders. If this week is anything to go by, I will always strive to improve myself and make sure my time spent at university will be a great and memorable one.
i realised that even though i couldn’t be completely honest and truthful due to my chronic fear and anxiety of what other people might think when they read what i write here/interact with me, i couldn’t do that to the self-analyses of my own thoughts in private because who am i deceiving when i try to lie to myself by painting myself in a good picture? by covering all these awful asshole thoughts by coming up with some bullshit justified reason? and it’s only through journalling that i am able to be honest with myself, something that i don’t think i can really afford being on here or with other people because i probably would have no one left around me if i do. i hate that. the most important thing one can be to another is honest and sincere, and yet i fail to even do that because the cost of doing otherwise would be too much for me to bear; and truthfully speaking (ironically) i am already approaching my limit.
…left in Alor Setar. I got new glasses so I could look at everything in this tiny town in HD to make it easier for me to commit everything to memory in more detail. I’ve travelled a lot this summer and each time before I leave to fly off somewhere else, I’d think to myself, at least it won’t feel as bad as when that time comes. And that time has come, yet all my previous departures have done little to truly prepare for me this big one. I’m beginning to believe that nothing ever will.
It’s funny that just three months ago I was feeling sentimental over leaving my dorm room in Weston to come back home, and now I’m feeling the exact same reluctance to go back to the same place I’d left. Such are the woes of being so emotionally tethered to people and places.
Leaving Manchester to come home was a really big deal for me, evident in my dreams and my occasional suspicions that home never really existed in the first place because it felt too detached and far away. Which was why despite the trepidation of facing a 14-hour long flight journey, going home was perhaps the thing I looked forward to the most for the past few months. I looked forward to the familiarity and comfort of being with my family and friends, a fixed and unwavering denominator I’d planted full credence in, and I also looked forward to how much home had changed in the past nine months I’d been away, as well as how much I had changed relative to all the constants and changes of something as steadfast as home.
Surprisingly, stepping on Malaysian soil wasn’t as climactic as I’d thought. The happiness and relief that was ignited upon seeing my parents was pure and unadulterated, but home, as a concept, as an environment, as a jigsaw puzzle missing a piece that was myself, was so easy to settle in comfortably without any qualms, as if I’d never left in the first place. I noticed the traces of my absence in the form of different furniture arrangements, my mum taking up a new hobby, and all the inevitable “How’s UK?”s from nearly every single person I’ve met since I came back, but home is a feeling, and it is especially a feeling that never runs far from what you’ve known all your life. When my friends asked me how I felt to be back at home, apart from the solace that was entailed upon returning home, all I could say was it wasn’t the fanfare and fireworks I’d expected, but the most natural slip back into contentment and routine, so much so that the nine months at Manchester felt more like the dream than home did when I was in Manchester.
This anti-climax doesn’t warrant a slapped-on label of good or bad, it simply just is, and I felt most in my element feeling comfortable, safe and secure in an environment I could place complete trust and faith in without having to constantly assemble heavily guarded walls to protect myself because it’s so difficult for me to affix a sense of trust in anything or anyone. I felt free. I felt like I could breathe more easily. Even on idle days when I felt slightly suffocated by the lack of activity and stimuli around me, it still feels luxurious, to be able to afford such a peace of mind without any repercussions. Safety (especially of the mind when dealing with anxiety) has always been something I primarily seek in any situation, and to be able to have just that, so generously and abundantly, I cannot stress how grateful I am for that.
This summer break has been really eventful, it even feels like these three months have been even more so compared to the past nine months in Manchester. I’ve had my fair share of adventures from travelling to Ho Chi Minh, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, KL and Penang, from meeting with friends from various points of my life and exchanging, collecting stories from all of them, as well as fair shares of utter Chilling and Doing Nothing like lying on a friend’s bed or taking three naps in a day or spending the evening hunting for Pokemon around town. Of course, the time to leave will come, and I will once again be filled with nothing but reluctance and despair to leave, but despite that, I am also trying to prep myself up to leave this Zone of Extreme Comfort, to commence the second year of my university life with courage and determination, with aims and purposes in mind to be a better version of myself, to be less afraid to try new things, meet new people, and most importantly, create new stories.
Home is a constant, an anchor that provides security, but it cannot ever be a deadweight. And that is why I have to remind myself to never get too comfortable. After all, there is still a whole wide world out there that I have yet to experience.
It all started five months ago, in my tiny room in Weston during the first week of Easter Break. I was horribly sick and cooped up in my room for days on end when Sakina started sending me links to BTS’ Youtube videos and, confined in my room by my illness, I had nothing at all to do except dive deeper into what I would soon realise to be a K-pop hell in which I now inhabit.
And then in June, Bangtan announced Epilogue tour dates for South East Asia and one of them was in Bangkok, Thailand. Against all odds, and indeed there were many, Sakina got us tickets to watch Bangtan live in Bangkok for real.
It didn’t really feel real then and the feeling persisted even on the day I was to fly to Bangkok.
5th August, Friday
My parents fetched me to Penang on Friday morning where I met up with Sin Ming before flying to KLIA2 together. There, we met up with Zhi Ting who would be flying with us to Bangkok as well. By the time we reached Bangkok, it was 6PM but we only actually left Don Mueang Airport two hours later due to the ridiculously long queue at passport control. We took the bus to Chatuchak Park MRT station, being able to only make uncertain guesses as to when we’d reached our intended destination due to the lack of English interpretations on signboards. There, we queued 30 minutes to get our MRT tickets from a ticket machine, realised the machine only accepted coins which we didn’t have, and then joined another 30-minute-long queue at the ticket counter. So you can more or less hazard a guess as to how ready I was for the day to end by the time we got out of the Thailand Cultural Centre station and found out it was pouring. The last meal I had was six hours ago so I gave in and bought some snacks from a roadside stall, waited for the rain to subside a little before setting off on foot to find where Sin Ming and Zhi Ting’s airbnb were. I was staying with Sakina for two nights, but because no one was around at her airbnb, I followed Sin Ming in the meantime while waiting for Sakina and her friends to get back.
Searching Sin Ming’s airbnb itself took more than an hour, the location of the apartment being so elusive and secluded. We got lost as well, and had to resort to asking the people in a 7-Eleven for directions after Sin Ming’s Thai sim credit ran out and couldn’t be used to contact the airbnb host. At that moment, Sakina texted me saying they were back at their airbnb, so I told Sin Ming and Zhi Ting to text me once they’d reached their airbnb before calling an Uber.
Imagine my utmost relief when I found out my Uber driver was a woman. It was late, and I was alone and tired but I was granted the chance to feel a hint of safety by this minor detail. After giving her the address I got from the airbnb website, I laid back and allowed myself to relax, tracking our journey on Google maps as a precaution. And it was fortunate that I did that, because half an hour later, I realised we were entirely off track from the location Sakina had just sent me and I started to panic. I asked the driver to stop by the side before showing her the address Sakina had sent in Thai, only to be told that it was in the complete opposite direction from where we had been heading towards for the past 30 minutes. I apologised profusely as she took a U-turn while I felt dread slowly consume me because 1) this was going to be be a very expensive car ride and 2) the day felt like it could never end from the physical and mental exhaustion and hunger and uncertainty of having a place to stay at for the night.
About 15 minutes later, the car pulled into the driveway in front of a building, and it seemed like my driver didn’t know exactly where the building of the airbnb address was. Despite that, we must have been within the vicinity of the address and searching by foot would be easier so I told the driver that it was okay, I could get off here. She stared at me ridiculously and said, “No, no” and got out of the car to ask the guards stationed outside the building we were in front of for the precise location of the address. At this point I was overwhelmed by everything, mood-sensitive to every single thing that was happening around me because I’d been travelling the whole day and was tired and hungry and alone in a foreign country, which explained the surging feeling of gratitude that swelled in my chest after that, because my driver, who was practically a stranger and just doing a job she was obliged to do, didn’t have to go to such lengths to make sure I got to my destination but still did anyway. It turned out the airbnb was across the street so she made a U-turn and I informed her that Sakina was coming to get me at the entrance and as I was getting out of the car, she asked me “Really??” repeatedly and didn’t drive away until Sakina appeared.
It just astounds me that someone I don’t know, a literal stranger, would help me so nicely without asking anything in return. It made the night so much better after the turmoil I’d been through for the past few hours.
And Sakina!!!! The moment I saw her I just went in straight for a hug, whispering “Oh my God, oh my God” ceaselessly because 1) I’d finally reached where I needed to be in one piece and that meant that the day was coming to an end 2) the last time I saw Sakina was three years ago in Bristol and we’d been talking about this day, Bangtan Day in Bangkok, for weeks and seeing her in the flesh made the notion realer by the second 3) the addition of factors 1) and 2) made me quite literally sag in relief as I allowed myself to let my guard down for the first time that day.
6th August, Saturday
The exhaustion hadn’t quite left my bones the next morning but it was Bangtan Day, and remembering so was capable of erasing all traces of weariness (even if temporarily) as the whole house (and by that I mean four of us – Sakina, Aizzah, Amal and I) woke up that morning in various states of frenzy. What to wear. What to bring. How to deal with actually seeing Bangtan in real life. We knew we were going to be spending literally the whole day at the stadium so that meant bringing along essentials to stay alive such as water, food, fully charged powerbanks and makeup. And then finally, we were off to the stadium.
We took two trains and along the way, we already knew to notice other people around us who were also going to the concert. It didn’t start out that obvious, just teenage girls moving in groups and you could just as easily reason that they were going to the mall or something (except it was eight in the morning) until we started seeing people wearing shirts with Bangtan names on the back and yup, we were definitely heading in the right direction.
It was 9AM when we reached Huamark Stadium and already there were SO MANY PEOPLE. People loitering around in shaded areas, lining up in queues as fansites distributed freebies, taking photos with the giant poster that had seven of their faces on it, and –the queue we were looking for– queuing in front of the merch booth waiting for it to open at 11AM. There were already around 100+ people in front of us as we sat down to mark our place in line. Amal and I went around getting some fansite freebies for a while –I got some photocards– before most of them ran out and we returned to the queue.
Okay so here’s the thing: none of my previous concert experiences ever has really prepared me for this one. I think the longest I’d had to queue for a concert was probably Paramore in KL in 2010 for four hours, but I remember that being in a relatively shaded area. And then recent gigs in UK saw me queuing at most two hours in the cold, which, to be honest, was relatively tamer compared to queuing in the South East Asian heat for the same amount of time. Aizzah had a heatstroke halfway through and had to be brought inside into an air-conditioned room while Sakina and I queued for ticket and hitouch registration after we got merch. By the time we had everything that needed to be sorted out done with, it was 2PM and all we could do was — wait. Those two hours of suspense and anticipation until 4PM in the relentless heat felt like the longest hours in history but the situation was slightly alleviated when I scrolled through Twitter and found out Pokemon Go had just been released in SEA on that day itself so the first Pokemons I caught at Huamark were Weedle and Gastly.
(Much later on after the concert, I found out [to my amusement] through photos people posted on Twitter that there were people standing right next to the stage who were catching Pokemon right in the standing pit itself.)
And then at 4PM the doors were opened. Sakina and I headed for Section O of seating while Aizzah and Amal (and Sin Ming too) had standing tickets. I still couldn’t actually believe this was real even as I walked into the stadium that was gradually being filled up. On the stage there was a giant banner on stage with the words “HYYH ON STAGE: EPILOGUE” and Bangtan’s MVs were playing on the screens on both sides of the stage and still I thought, it couldn’t be. This couldn’t be real. I didn’t realise I was yelling (and some degree of whimpering) “OHHHHHHH MY GOD OH MYYYYYYYY GODDDDDDDDD” while Sakina just kept saying “DON’T EVEN START” because we were INSIDE and this can’t be REAL we’re actually GONNA SEE BANGTAN
It was an hour until the show actually started and the entire time we were singing (see: screaming) along aggressively to the MVs as if it was the actual concert itself but I would soon discover that that was hardly “aggressive” compared to What Would Come Later.
At 5PM the stage went dark and everyone screamed, and by everyone I mean I definitely screamed for about 10 minutes straight. Was I even screaming coherent words? Who knows. All I knew was I still refused to believe they were actually there, right in the flesh in front of me until the sheer cloth separating us shrieking folk from the actual Seven Gods fell away and Run started playing.
AND THERE THEY WERE. MY BOYS. IT MUST’VE BEEN A COMPETITION TO SEE WHO COULD SCREAM THE LOUDEST TO BE HEARD BY THEM BECAUSE I WAS RUNNING LOW ON FOOD AND WATER BUT STILL FORCING MY VOCAL CHORDS TO PRODUCE THE LOUDEST, HIGHEST PITCH SOUND A HUMAN BEING COULD POSSIBLE MUSTER
The whole time I was just thinking, all my karaoke sessions alone in my room in Weston have really paid off because I didn’t even know the exact Hangul lyrics but that wasn’t stopping me from belting them out in Romaji, entirely off-pitch but also entirely shamelessly. I told Sakina this after the show, that usually when I go to gigs, it still takes a while for me to “”””””let loose”””””” but probably because Sakina was a great concert companion or probably because I really, really, REALLY LOVE BANGTAN OR PROBABLY BOTH I found myself not caring about the tendrils of self-consciousness that crept in each time I scream-sang and danced ridiculously in my seat and it felt absolutely, out-of-worldly amazing. I mean, I was still wary about standing up when everyone else wasn’t so I wasn’t that revolutionarily brave, but I loved the concept of screaming and dancing and not pausing to think what other people would think if they saw me in my current state and purely not giving a shit. It was incredible.
But you know what’s even more incredible? Do I even need to say it because of course Bangtan. To this day I’m still so HHHHHHHHHH each time I think about it that I don’t even know how to put it into words but I’ll attempt to for the sake of this blogpost
We weren’t allowed to record anything during the show and security was pretty strict and I didn’t want to risk anything so I didn’t. Here is where I draw another comparison with previous gigs I’d attended: I always, always try to record at least a few songs at gigs for the sake of posterity but it comes at the cost of perpetually watching the entire concert through a phone screen. Not having the self-imposed obligation to put my phone up to record (and make sure everything was within frame the whole time) felt really liberating, and I could immerse myself completely in my surroundings. Like actually focus 500% of my attention on the people on stage and what they were doing and saying, what they were wearing, how their facial expressions looked like and even how the crowd was. Of course, this also came at the price of not being able to rewatch the concert after it ended but I guess there’s also Youtube for that despite it not being as firsthand an experience as it otherwise would have been. But honestly? That was a small price to pay in exchange for the experience I had.
AND OF COURSE JUNGKOOK DID SO MUCH AT THIS SHOW!!!!!!!! Each time I see him I just? scream but I wasn’t even screaming anything that’s the thing while everytime Yoongi opened his mouth Sakina beside me would literally stand up and scream so you can honestly gauge our situation for the whole two hours of the show. I even made a thread of a comprehensive list of my favourite things that happened at #EPILOGUEinBKK:
#EPILOGUEinBKK things: – jimin jungkook hug – taehyung jungkook flying kiss – jk speaking english – bangtan human train – JIMINS ABS
One thing definitely worth mentioning is the Thai ARMY fan project during Fire and Young Forever. When we took our seats in the stadium, there was a bag on each of our seats and in it were two light-up rings and a piece of paper with instructions on it, telling us when to switch on which ring light. When Bangtan performed Fire, the crowd lit up in vibrant, multicoloured stars, contrasted with the usual white dotted lights of ARMY bombs.
During Young Forever, the stadium lit up in a sea of bright blue light instead, with white lights in the upper rows showing the zodiac signs of each member.
I mean. This was my first ever K-pop concert. The first time I actually even liked a K-pop group happened mere five months ago. And here I was feeling so overwhelmed by the events that had transpired. I was Truly Blessed™.
I Need U was the last song and before they started singing, they held their mics out for the crowd to sing the entire first verse and chorus and it was then I was hit by a giant slab of Emotions because 1) the screens were showing each of their individual expressions as they listened to the crowd sing, and I couldn’t help but feel??? I don’t even know how to say this but can you imagine standing in front of thousands of people while they sing perfectly in Korean to your song??? and then there was also 2) the show was ending. It was already ending when it didn’t even feel like 2+ hours had passed.
In the end, they still left the stage after our screams of “DON’T GO” relented into reluctant “Goodbye”s.
Sakina had hitouch after the show (can you IMAGINE) so we waited for her outside while going through what had actually just happened for the past three hours. Aizzah’d forgotten she had heatstroke earlier that day and Amal and I, desperate for water, just took two unopened water bottles from the massive heap of confiscated bottles at the entrance of the stadium. After Sakina appeared (and was bombarded with questions of how the hitouch went), we left to find a taxi to get back to Asoke. It was raining outside but I honestly couldn’t be bothered with an umbrella or anything because now that the show had ended, I could feel the grotesqueness of my whole being from sweating the whole day in its entirety. We had 7-Eleven ramen that night and I pretty much also passed out that night too, still somewhat hung up in remnants of disbelief of what I’d just experienced.
Michelle’s People I’ve Watched Live List, updated:
I’d thought I’d wake up that morning feeling awfully drained but I surprised myself by waking up naturally at 9AM feeling not completely dead. Getting out of bed and walking to the bathroom didn’t make my limbs feel like falling off like I thought it would. So that was a good start to the day.
Aizzah and Amal decided to stay in so I followed Sakina shopping at Siam Paragon and Central World Festival where I spent half the time thinking about last night and the other half catching Pokemon.
At lunchtime, Aizzah and Amal called to tell us they were having lunch at a Korean restaurant near Asoke so Sakina and I went to meet them. It was the first time in two days that I had a proper meal and it felt so satisfying.
We had to leave the airbnb by 3PM and Sakina, Aizzah and Amal were flying back home that day so after checking out, we each said our goodbyes before they left for the airport in a taxi. I’d only seen Sakina for about two days yet it felt like a really long time and saying bye carried more reluctance than I’d thought. Saying goodbye meant that this Bangkok trip was almost coming to an end, and I didn’t know when I would be seeing her again.
After their taxi drove off, I started making my way to the Sukhumvit MRT station where I was going to take the BTS (Bangkok Mass Transit System, not Bangtan Sonyeondan sadly) to Siam Paragon to meet up with Sin Ming and Zhi Ting, luggage in tow.
In retrospect, if I’d been more wary of the dark clouds in the sky and the low rumbling among them, I probably would’ve taken active action by walking faster but as it was, I was still thinking about, well, everything that had happened in Bangkok so far, like meeting Sakina and watching Bangtan etc that I was completely caught offguard when it began to rain. Like actual pouring rain. Rain bullets you couldn’t dodge no matter how you ran. That was exactly what I did though, pulling my luggage along with me at that, and I thought to just run the entire way to the station since I was already semi-soaked but I couldn’t. I gave up and halted in my footsteps right in front of a Thai food stall where several other tourists were also taking shelter. A Thai man standing next to me was putting on his raincoat before getting on his motorbike and noticing my state of distress, he asked me something in Thai which I took to assume was a question about where I was headed to so I told him Sukhumvit station. I then asked (or rather, gestured) if it was still far and he nodded and I just weak laughed, jokingly saying (gesturing) that I could only run to the station once the rain subsided a little (but was I really joking). Before leaving though, he gave me a plastic bag and pointed at my phone that I was clutching in my left hand, indicating that I could use it to protect it from the rain and I thanked him, grateful for his small but incredibly kind gesture.
The rain somehow got heavier and I moved inside the building, wondering how long I had to wait for the rain to stop or at least subside so I could make a reasonable run for it. The other tourists had hailed a cab and left, so it was just me, my damp luggage and my dripping hair waiting pathetically in front of someone’s shop. At the back of my mind I told myself I could always call an Uber but I was already so near to the station and taking an Uber in a guaranteed rain-induced traffic jam didn’t sound appealing at all. It was just a matter of time before the shopkeeper approached me and spoke to me in Thai. Again, I assumed she was asking where I wanted to go to and I gave the same reply, after which she made an umbrella gesture with her hands and I shook my head saying no, I didn’t have an umbrella with me. It turned out that she wasn’t asking me whether I had an umbrella or not because moments later, a teenage guy (whom I assumed to be her son) emerged from the back with one of those giant ass umbrellas you put over tables in hawker stalls when it was raining, and then it clicked. He was going to walk me to the station with the giant ass umbrella so I didn’t get wet in the rain. I was SO OVERWHELMED by this sudden act of extreme kindness from a literal stranger that my first instinct was to reject the offer because it would be such a hassle for him, but I wasn’t exactly in a position to do that and I did indeed wanted to get to the station as soon as possible.
It was a five-minute walk to the station and the entire time I was just in awe at how recent events had unfolded and when we reached the station, I couldn’t stop thanking him profusely, heart bursting with gratitude because they didn’t have to do that, didn’t have to offer help to a stranger like me who doesn’t even speak their language. Same goes for the Uber driver two nights ago who made sure I got to my airbnb safely. These people have gotten me out of sticky situations and they didn’t even know me, and for that I was just so stunned and immensely grateful that if it weren’t for them, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get to where I needed to be in a city so big and foreign.
I got to Siam Paragon, still intact and drier than before, and continued to hunt for Pokemon on the way to where Sin Ming and Zhi Ting were. It was still such an amusing and amazing experience for me, seeing clusters of people in the mall with their phones out, grouping around Pokestops. Since that morning, I’d developed a habit of peeking at the screens of passing people who I suspected were playing Pokemon Go and 1) I quite literally suspected everyone who had their phones out 2) I was right every single time. It was so bizarre, somewhat like a running inside joke that didn’t need to be spoken out loud. I still feel that way whenever I’m out Pokehunting in Alor Setar.
I met up with Sin Ming and Zhi Ting and we took the MRT to Dindaeng, where their airbnb was. After dropping off my luggage, we headed for a nearby food market where, yet again, I kept a conscious lookout for Pokemon Go players and bought pad thai for dinner. It started raining again so we left before it could get too heavy, and once we reached the airbnb, we had our pad thai dinner on the bed while watching Sin Ming’s video recordings of last night’s concert (because she was in the standing pit) and reliving everything once again to our hearts’ content.
It was already past midnight by the time we watched almost an hour’s worth of footage and felt nostalgic for something that had only happened the night before. Our flight was 10AM the next morning so I tried to calm my suddenly hyped brain to fall asleep and soon enough, physical exhaustion took over and I did doze off.
8th August, Monday
We woke up at 4AM and got an Uber to Don Mueang at 5.30AM. I was half-asleep during the entire car ride, but I managed to take one last snap of the Bangkok sunrise before I left this city.
During both BKK-KUL and KUL-PEN flights I had the concert setlist on repeat while reading the HYYH programme book. By the time I reached Penang, it was already 5PM and I used airport wifi to call an Uber to Bellyn’s house.
I was surprised when the Uber that arrived was a small Viva driven by a Chinese uncle, who had his grandson in the passenger seat navigating on Google maps while playing Pokemon Go simultaneously. All along whenever I used Uber in Manchester (and even in Bangkok), it always seemed like a premium car service but this was only my second time using the app in Malaysia. Thus this prompted me to ask the uncle whether this car was his and he said yes, he was a part-time Uber driver looking for a side income now that he was in his seventies. He was really nice, and we talked during the entire hour-long journey during which I found out he was born in Alor Setar as well. I was so physically worn out from travelling the whole day and functioning on only four hours of sleep but maybe because I was back in a familiar town, or because being able to strike up a conversation with a kind stranger was really nice, but I allowed myself to relax instead of being on edge even though I was alone. And then when I reached Bellyn’s house I thanked him, said goodbye and wished him a good life.
I was pretty much already at home at Bellyn’s house, and I told her, amidst her one-man audience cello revival show, that I absolutely enjoyed doing nothing after the past few days that had felt like a few million years. At night, we went to Gurney Paragon for a while and those few hours since touching down at Penang have been the most relaxed and chill moments that I’d craved for after such a tiring and fulfilling trip.
9th August, Tuesday
That morning, we revisited Kong Thai Lai, a tiny quaint coffee shop in Georgetown that Bellyn had brought me to ever since our second semester at Sunway. Breakfast kaya toast and soft-boiled egg will always have a special fond place in my heart.
I was supposed to take a 1.30PM bus from Sungai Nibong back to Alor Setar but after getting into the car, Bellyn suddenly said, “I half feel like driving you back to Alor Setar right now” and that was exactly what we did. We went to pick Mei Huey up and then commenced the impromptu journey back home.
The journey took an hour and when we reached Alor Setar, we went to Caffe Diem and had meatballs with a strange mash-potato gravy thing and then Bellyn wanted to find cello strings so I drove us to Sze Chan who didn’t have them and then Rhythm who also didn’t have them but instead directed us to Symphony at some hidden, obscure taman at Telok Wanjah. We were quite literally going round in circles but we found it in the end and after Bellyn triumphantly acquired said strings, we headed home.
Bellyn and Mei Huey were introduced to our newly adopted dog, Ah Boy (who took an immense liking to Mei Huey) and then I was influenced to pull out my violin which I hadn’t touched since leaving Sunway (a Schrodinger’s violin, like Harris said, because I was afraid to open the case to see if my strings and bow were still intact) (they were) and I surprised myself by still being able to read musical notes, to be honest.
And then at around 6.30PM, Bellyn and Mei Huey left, our last words to each other bidding of farewells shouted through rolled-down car windows at the road junction leading to the highway.