On being okay

When something bad happens, my first instinct is to find solutions. I’ll try different things till there’s change. No matter what, I will try. In the same vein, I’m not good at sympathy. My way of caring is to listen and suggest how things could be made better. But this reliance on “solutions” backfires when things just don’t improve. Frustration mounts. And you realise you’ve exhausted your strategies. Then what?

This year, I chose to focus on siting with discomfort. To accept that things are just plain shitty at times. And that’s okay. That’s fine. I don’t have to enwrap myself into a ball of tension because of that. I don’t have to make things better. I don’t have to then get on my own case for not being able to make things better.

The first bad day of the year came around early January. It was one of those days when a niggling sort of knowing follows you out the door. Strategies that usually help—like food and exercise—don’t. It almost feels like waking up is the mistake.

I was sitting at my table in the studio, unable to concentrate, thoughts slowly tangling in my head, when Ivan strides in and asks if anyone wants wine. Yes. I follow him into the kitchen where we finish an opened bottle and start on another while catching up. He then leaves to transport his books back to the studio before returning with his cousin to listen to records. Xinning and myself continue work at our respective desks in the same room. Jeff Buckley plays, amongst others. When Ivan and his companion decide to leave for nasi lemak, I realise that sunset is near. Somehow time has passed. And well, things feel okay. It didn’t turn into a great day. But it didn’t turn worse. It just became…okay.

So today I woke up with the haze of last night’s whiskey and the anxiety of the application essays due very, very soon. It’s qingming and we went to the temple during the most productive hours of morning. Anxiety was building, especially when I remembered other project submissions and a Finnish friend in town to meet. It becomes a gleaming kaleidoscope in your head, one that draws energy from the brighter parts of you, intensifying till you see nothing around you. I’ve learned to recognise this sort of brightness, and cancelled everything to be one of the places I can be the most alone, where I can learn to sit, to still and be still. Reminding myself that it’s okay. Just breathe. 

Another reason why swimming is such a big part of my life: it teaches me to breathe. It allows me to breathe underwater. Swimming teaches me to be patient.Struggle and you go slower. Give it time and your strokes will smoothen.  Listen to the water. It’s okay.

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