by Deric Ee
“Oh, you guys!”
“Stop making that surprised face, it’s so annoying.”
“Yeah, you can’t possibly be that surprised all the time.”
“What’s with that bitch?”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Oh, stop acting like you’re all nice, you are so fake.”
“Oh, there she goes, playing the victim, again.”
“What are you doing?”
“Getting receipts, gonna edit this later.”
“Uh, I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.”
“Oh, shut up!”
Stressing and obsessing about somebody else
My heart broke recently. After eight or more times having it shattered and rebuilt, this particular episode absolutely floored me. It hit like a grenade; my friends and exes are still giving me advice on dealing with the whole situation.
“Sounds like a fling,” a friend said, noting the brief nature of the relationship.
“But you know I only ever intend on life-long connections,” I defended.
I found the experience of being rejected by someone so young, after a mere 50 days of dating, so shocking and unusual. For once, I tried dating against my usual type — ambitious, English-speaking, conscientious, middle-class, suburban — and it backfired, big time.
“Why is there a new profile on your Netflix account,” two of my exes asked after this latest break-up, annoyed.
“Netflix is good for the soul,” I answered.
“You’re letting yourself get used again,” one wagered.
“Netflix has the power to heal people and make them see beauty in differences,” I countered adamantly.
The incident sprung a series of reflections on my decision-making processes. I pride myself for my kindness and my openness. Sharing my Netflix account with someone I briefly dated aligned with my values, and this is something I appreciate realising.
But so much was surfacing internally: matters I couldn’t bring up in conversation with these kind souls. A taxing mix of body dysmorphia, sleeplessness, involuntary flashbacks, social anxiety, and time spent terpinga-pinga at home in between chores was driving me insane.
I am more than I think I am, I am many, I am all, I appear as one, but I am you, me and everyone else. I wanted to be Scyther, I wanted to use Double Team to evade damage. Nevermind deep down inside I’ve always been a sensitive, drooling Gloom.
Emotional trauma does unpredictable things to a human being. My trauma of coping with a surprise heartbreak at 30 may seem trivial to parts of myself, but the loss felt physical.
In the first month, I channeled my denial and rage into my own fitness. Seeded as a desperate attempt to put on some muscle and intimidate people, my routine was initially motivated by jealousy, self-loathing and lust. Over time, this morphed into a daily fitness plan to keep my body active and prevent my mind from straying into unwanted territory.
I peered deep into myself to see where these changes were coming from, hoping to harness it in other areas of my life. I thought I heard the voice of a new persona, a presence within, learning the ropes and the switchboards of my mind. But was it my imagination?
Got a list of names, two underlined
I want to tell you about singer-songwriter Taylor Swift and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman.
First, Taylor Swift and her “Look What You Made Me Do”, a 2017 release of blame, vengeance, and comeuppance which smashed charts around the world. Across 3 minutes and 31 seconds, Swift describes what went wrong with her aggressor and affirms her strength and capacity to retaliate.
But for Swift to “get harder in the nick of time” and “rise up from the dead”, we lose one of her personas. At the 2:50 mark, Swift boldly proclaims that the “old” her is “dead”, and this is explored at the end of the song’s accompanying music video, in which many distinct versions of herself are at odds with one another.
To move forward, whether from one smash era to another or from one love to another, the concepts of death, rebirth and multiple personas were worth considering. If we allow ourselves to compartmentalise behavioural traits and personal goals, could we create separate identities to assume operations for specific life situations? In the case of Swift — the planet’s most self-aware, self-referencing music icon of the new millennium — her process of eliminating her “nice” self led to Reputation, a collection of her most unapologetic work to date, complimented by a scarcity of press meet-ups and TV performances.
Then there is Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist and economist who analyses how we make judgements and decisions. In the best-selling summary of his findings, Thinking Fast And Slow, Daniel breaks down the human thought process into two components: System 1 and System 2.
System 1, akin to your instinct or subconscious, makes judgements and decisions in a snap. It’s the system which comes into play when you’re locating a sound, completing the phrase “tanah tumpahnya …”, or riding a bicycle peacefully. This system is quite magnificent; it has specific traits such as “fast”, “automatic”, “emotional” and “stereotypic”, and is akin to a background process derived from all your observations up to this point.
Meanwhile, System 2 is more laborious, requiring concerted effort to evaluate and make decisions. Described with words like “slow”, “effortful”, “logical”, and “conscious”, System 2 is the mindset you need when you’re sitting for a mentally-exhausting exam, or when you’re managing a festival with minimal funding. It comes into effect when there’s an element of self-doubt which makes the judgement process less immediate.
I found Kahneman’s findings highly relevant. Heartbreak was on my mind constantly, against my own volition. To awake each morning and immediately miss someone cannot be a choice. To associate everything I do and see with someone else is definitely not a conscious decision. In the brief time I was in this relationship, my System 1 must have gone overboard! But was this more crazy thinking?
Promise that you’ll never find another like me-e-e!
It was empowering to observe the disparate elements which composes the thinking self. I picked up the failures and tragedies veiling my holistic self. I held them up to see their place in the grand scheme of things. I saw concurrent events on a complex board of numerous timelines pursued by each aspect of my personality. I was comforted by the likeness I bear to my creator, the universe.
Rather than construct or outline versions of oneself, I think it is helpful to understand one’s modus operandi. For instance, why did I feel so attached to someone so different from myself? I came to admit that part of me was trying to push this person to “fulfil their potential”. Like Madonna, I was letting my saviour complex run my personal life. Not everyone has the resources to care for a baby from Malawi. So I began identifying the intention behind my actions and seeking the cleanest way to pursue them.
I also tried changing my motivation from pride to mortality — powerful and easy when one assigns a number to the time they have on this planet. Time is so powerful; literally the only thing which quelled my pain was time. 10 days post break-up, I would lie in bed each night andfight back tears. After 30 days, my chest aches were gone but there was a vivid hollowness which made me numb to joy. 50 days later, having met and made plenty of friends, I was back on my feet, but still a tad hesitant about being in public.
I recall sobbing in a flight as I watched Inside Out: the pain of revisiting memories so far away from where one stands in the present; how it was necessary to coordinate one’s inner selves to recognise and pursue one’s goals; the madly brilliant manner in which the human mind could be portrayed in a family film. I remember the sympathetic smile from the air stewardess as she walked past my seat.
Our mind is a pliable, magical thing. I could choose to be “new” me, “kind” me, “angry” me, “sad” me, “old” me, Systems 1, 2 or who knows, 3? But I am confident that as long as I never stop trying to understand myself, I will continue gaining control of my mind. I don’t think I will ever master all my thoughts, but it’ll be nice to have at least eighty percent down for a start.
But that is only Step 1. Step 2 is to be a believer, as my beliefs will guide the structure of my mind. To believe in something, adopt an ideology, or observe how people think are some ways to put a handle on the intricacies of the human mind. As necessary as words are to share and pick concepts apart, awareness of how we think and what drives our behaviour is the first step towards owning one’s emotions and actions.
Each time I put in the effort to question myself, I earned the honesty and energy to examine my feelings. With each sentence, my pain was alleviated, and a piece of my heart fell back into place. There are of course plenty of other areas to address within myself — the impulsiveness, stubborn streak, superstitious thinking — but I have faith that they’re not there by choice. This is just what happens when you don’t take the time to understand yourself thoroughly.
Whether through nurturing one’s self-awareness or by killing a persona, we must strive to become better versions of ourselves. So wish me well in my journey towards understanding myself, and thank you for the heartbreak.