I’m a 17-year-old suburban girl who lives in the heart of Subang Jaya. Although I’m a suburban girl, that doesn’t always mean I get what I want. Unfamiliarly to a lot of people who stereotype kids that come from the suburbs of a famous town (my town made it into a big-hit Malay song by some rapper called Joe Flizzow?), it is totally the opposite. I have dealt with financial problems longer than I’d like to remember. Although my life is quite stable now- without having to worry about spending fifty cents on a candy- the past catches up to me sometimes, just for the fun of haunting me. So, boys and girls, life isn’t very fulfilling for people like me.
Girls that are 4 feet and 9 inches tall are often not taken seriously. Especially when, usually, you’re not supposed to stop growing beyond that height when you’re 17. It is awfully depressing and how insecure it makes you feel. So, obviously, I was shorter than 4 feet before I was 17- which was mostly the reason I keep things to myself. Being short is not an option, or a choice in my case. It was all genetics and I’m not just about to blame that on my mother.
This is the story my battling my darkest days, this is the story of me in search of happiness, this is a story of passion: how I was determined to make myself better.
Opening up was the bravest thing I have ever done. While I was having problems at home, I had to deal with nonsense at my boarding school- a 6 to 8-hour drive boarding school from my hometown. Most people in their right minds would be homesick- crying on their beds and staining their bed sheets with tears at night, especially for first years, but I was really glad that I was far from home. It meant that I can stay at school for every 3-days holiday, because going back home would be a waste of money since the bus fare was expensive. I get to wake up at 9 a.m. (due to no school) which was considered late, and there were no waiting lines for the showers. I felt like I was running away from my problems, and I’d like it to stay that way which explained why I kept rejecting my parents when they offered to transfer me to a boarding school closer to my house. They would try to convince me to agree by saying things like… how they can visit me often and bring me actual, real food because- I’m no Sherlock Holmes but- everybody knows boarding school serves prison food.
I was in my own bubble for a long time. It had never been punctured before, because I was very careful of whom I chose to share my secrets with. I threaded my own track, careful not to spill my feelings over the edge because who would like a mess, right? I was so focused on being perfect, too absorbed on the idea of presenting myself as the perfect girl to the sororities and fraternities in my school, I was forgetting to take care of myself. My shoulders hauled the weights of the world every time I was faced with another problem, but of course, I never noticed that. It was always the girl with the petite frame with huge invisible boulders of anxiety, self-criticism, insecurity, and triggering issues on her shoulders, but still putting up a show for everyone. It was hard to bear, because I never realized opening up was the antidote to my problems. It doesn’t cure, but still, it was a therapy that I didn’t know I needed.
Insecurities were, and still are, a huge part of my life. At some point in my life when I started to care for how I look, criticizing myself in the mirror was a frequent routine. I always felt like there was something wrong with my height. If only I was taller, maybe I’d get into the school’s netball team. Maybe people would notice that tiny girl in the oversized neon-coloured netball bib, timidly at the corner as she waited for someone to pass her the ball. My biggest weakness was anything related to intelligence: I used to force a friend of mine to turn around and let me do the working for Mathematics questions, and they could only turn to face me again if I said I was done with it. I felt intimidated by smart people, as clearly enough, I wasn’t a part of them. I never was, and I didn’t know I ever will.
Insomnia became my late-night company when I was old enough to understand things. I became matured, and I understood my problems better but that did not mean I knew how to fix them. It was overwhelming once I understood things a lot clearer- my issues interfered with my studies and my mental health, so I was not performing very well at school and my social life. Most nights of my third year at the boarding school ended up into staring sessions. The ceiling became the usual painting I’d always stare at an art museum, and my bed sheet became the tissues to wipe off waterfalls from my eyes and sometimes on obnoxious days, my snot. I had no help, and I was drowning in my own pity party. It was ironic how I liked to be alone because of the abundant silence that encouraged the peace of solitude, but it also encouraged awareness of my problems. Sometimes, the silence guides your mind. Sometimes, silence is the loudest scream. Regarding my need to be perfect for others, it was because of the inundating thoughts of people’s reactions if I told them what was going on with me. The possibilities of what people might react flooded my thoughts, and I was poisoned with pessimism instead of cutting through my bubble and have a little trust on people upon them seeing the worst of me. I never took a leap of faith, refusing to confront the turmoil growing inside my body like a parasite. I was alone, despondent, and angry.
In my second year, I was assigned to a first level dorm located at an isolated block in the school. The corridor was dark- lit by a couple of dim fluorescent lamps, dried bird droppings littered the floor, and a bunch of out-of-place cartoon stickers plastered on the wall- obviously for the sake of decorating. On weekends when everybody played their chores out, they decided the best place (but not the safe, sheltered, and perfectly built clothes line outside the block) to hang their dripping wet T-shirts and bajukurung were the window grills. Clearly, their 3.5 pointers did not prepare them for common sense. Despite the horrors of being assigned to a block that felt like far from civilization, I was surprised to see the person next to my place was my old roommate. The air was quite awkward for a couple of weeks, but little did I know she became one of the people closest to my heart.
Late night talks during weekend nights became a routine for me and my friend, Nyssa. She was one of my roommates that year, and we had an instant connection when we started to get to know each other. Our shared interest for Rick Riordan might be one of the earliest foundations of our friendship; between the two of us shrieking about Percy Jackson and crying for fictional characters in the book, I was positive that it might be it. For a few months, I thought she was just one of the people that I greet at corridors, or see at the bathroom waiting in line for the showers, but one night she decided to open up about the nadir of her life. I understood nearly all the feelings that she poured out- the whole scale from sadness to anger. But mostlythat I could relate to, was loneliness. The bubble around me that used to feel like concrete was slowly starting to crack. I could feel myself tearing away from my own turmoil and madness within- eager but afraid, so afraid, to let the bubble burst. The thought of making myself transparent to other people was too frightening for my soul to bear. Having to collect pathetically your spilled feelings on the floor because of rejection, it was a risk I just couldn’t take.
I first encountered my insomnia and wildfire bleak thoughts when I was fifteen. Having to change dorms again the following year, I had more time to myself because I wasn’t very close to my new dorm mates. Sure, I didn’t mind not having a friend to talk to until late night with, but I did enjoy the abundant solitude I was given. I began to sleep late without any reason as I suddenly had a hard time sleeping, but the more I do it, the more I thought of my feelings and life. Thinking became dangerously deep and often for me, and I was too naïve to realize that I was coming close to depression. Depression was something that never crossed my mind, and it was a ridiculous word to describe what I felt. But I wasn’t so sure when my eyes always ending up black when I wake up the morning after, or when I started to feel anxious when I’m around people. I began to avoid crowded places and free time with my friends. My depression wasn’t the suicidal type, though I had thought of that countless of times- but I wasn’t tempted. It was different from feeling sad, when something you understand makes you feel bad for a period; for instance when you watch The Notebook and sobbed intensely for two hours straight afterwards, or when nobody came to the birthday party that you threw for your laptop. Just me? Okay. I felt bad of myself constantly, without having any reason of why I'm feeling down all the time- I can't help it. My chest was empty, my mind was a rollercoaster of contemplations and everything else was just... vacant. I didn't feel anything, but still for reasons unbeknownst to me, I felt the need to cry and felt as my heart ceaselessly ached.
Love did not make sense. It was especially difficult for me to feel this kind of rapture, because I never got to see or understand the type of affection, fondness, or attachment of any kinds that was connected to something that people would trade lives for, something subjective: love. I grew up keeping most things to myself, hugely because I had nobody I was comfortable with to share about silly updates on my life: giggling about boys during kindergarten (it was still a mystery to me as to how my 5-years-old self could already comprehend feelings for immature boys), watching as my crush read my love letter from afar (only to see it being thrown into the drain next to the canteen), being followed by a boy as he was debating whether he should confess his young immature love for me, to my watching a curly-haired boy with earphones studying at a gazebo from afar. These encounters- or experiences- however, did not prepare or teach me how to love. My understanding of this subject is farther than my knowledge of Mathematics, Science and History combined. I was lacking of something important that everybody needed. I couldn’t understand what it was like to love somebody, so it became a reason for me to stay away from the matter. It was a reason as to why I was terrified to touch somebody with my mind and soul. Love was a missing puzzle I couldn’t find.
The feeling of being trapped inside of yourself was suffocating. More times than often, I lost grasp on reality and tripped, having countless inescapable existential crisis. I was overwhelmed by my continuously stacking problems that never seemed to stop, until it was so heavy- too heavy- for me to bear alone. But I was unable to find the cure at that time, because I didn’t understand the meaning of courage to open up. Unfortunately, I understood a little too much the fear of consequences of it. I wish I realized sooner that I wasn’t alone.
On one of the most dismal nights of my life, I was ruptured in sadness and heartache in front of Nyssa. As I finally gave in to my transparency and weaker side, my bubble burst and there I was, fragile as a falling glass. I broke apart as I disclosed my biggest secrets. It was as though Nyssa was watching a broken record;the same words were rushing out of my mouth between crying and shortness of breath. Opening up was the biggest decision I ever made in the 17 years I’ve lived. And it is, still, the one decision I never regretted. Letting my feelings out shamelessly, crying profoundly in front of someone- it doesn’t make me weak nor pathetic. Being free of my own cage that I never realized I built in the first place was a gift I was granted by myself. The moment I allowedmyself to be brave and let my soul crack open- even if it was just by an inch- for someone else to see, I realized that I didn’t have to carry my fresh scars and buried wounds alone. It felt like a thousand weights lifted off my brittle bones, giving my heart a chance to rebuild and patch itself up. Having the will to be imperfect in various ways to other people was a leap of faith I never knew I would take.
I was a lot more open about revealing what I was going through at the time or my secrets, though not to a lot of people but a few close friends were more than enough for me to cascade my feelings down their open arms. Despairing paintings on ceilings were one of the many things I stopped looking at, and instead I closed my eyes easily at night with the palpable thought of having my mind fortified from insomnia and the dank hands of depression, desperate to pull me down. I was one with mental illnesses and dysfunctional family, and it was funny how such a painless yet difficult thing as opening up could untangled my complex mind and eased me from all the realest pain I know. I haven’t entirely made peace with myself, because if I had, I would’ve lose all of my insecurities. There were always days where I feel down the most- days where I thought I was alone after all these times- but it never got the best of me. I drew the line between my all-time low and my rock bottom. I hope with the aid of my friends and the love they showered me with, I never had to hit rock bottom.
My newfound passion: changing for the better. I realized not everybody could do what I did, or took a shot in the dark by having the courage to allow yourself to be invisible to the closest people. I discovered something that I wished I would’ve found a little bit sooner, and made myself believe that having the passion to help yourself was one of the baby steps to making yourself a better whole. I was not in pieces for the first time in a long while, and I thank myself for it.
I was met with genuine love when I turned sixteen. On January of 2017, I was assigned to a new dorm yet again on my fourth year. The feeling of being moved and starting all over again with random dorm mates was neutral now, and I actually enjoyed having different faces coming back to after school every year. I realized love was pain. Even though it gave you strength and a reason to keep going, there was always a price to pay for the good things in the world. To me, and to a lot of people who didn’t realize, love is a currency of pain in advance. Unbeknownst to me until later on in my friendship with a girl of my year, we became best friends. She told me that I could love someone if I wanted to, and there was nothing to be afraid of if I only knew how to put in a little bit of faith. So she became the first person I ever loved properly, though I admitted that there were still flaws that I couldn’t fix for now. I was still learning how to love, through relentless pain and heartbreaks, silver linings and our bittersweet friendship.
Her name was Amber, and she saved me.
Love was another word next to depression in the list of feelings I never thought much of. She became a prominent, solid part of my soul until I didn’t mind breaking myself apart sometimes every time she had to face her despairing days. I didn’t mind shattering, because I had a lifetime tape and an assembler. I would like to think that our bond would last until the end of time. She was my genuine love, and now I felt closer to the subject than I’ve ever felt my entire life.Nyssa was my journey to escaping my secluded bubble, my realization that it’s okay to be weak at times. Amber was my search of happiness, the one who showed me how to love, live, and learn, all the while telling me that it was okay to take a wrong step and let my soft hands hit the jagged ground. My search for happiness has not come to an end, because happiness is a spectrum of rapture. I wish it didn’t take me that long to realize that I wasn’t alone after all these times, and there were people like Nyssa existed- someone that was able to garner my spilled feelings like a coffee in a cup without a lid. Or people like Amber- someone that never failed to cushion my fall or to not let me fall at all. All through these escapades, I now know that passion is oxygen of the soul, andam assured of something. To not be free, or to be: I chose the latter. I was saved a hundred times over by the indispensable people in my life, so the vibrancy of the best people I know was enough to keep me loving and alive.