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Monday, 4 December 2017

Myers-Brigg couldn't diagnose my Mr Hyde


Just a couple of week ago, I asked my boyfriend who majors in Psychology if he thinks I might have a split personality. "You? Of course not," was his prompt reply.

I read the classic, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, last year and I remember making a mental note that the moral of the story, to me, is that everyone has both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde living inside them. I particularly enjoyed the novel because by embodying our inner thoughts in the actions of Mr Hyde, Stevenson sheds light on the vulnerability of our human nature.

Like most enlightening novels, which give you a better glimpse of the world (and of yourself), I read it with great pleasure, made a mental bookmark of my favourite quotes, and shelved it as soon as I flipped to the last page. Never did I expect the story to strike a chord within me a year later.

I've always prided myself on being a confident individual. My Myers-Briggs personality profile screams 'Confident Individualism'. I don't speak up a lot in big groups but that is not because I lack the confidence; on the contrary, it is because I don't feel the need to air my views unless I feel strongly about something that is being said. I let the negative things that people say about me get to my head, but not my heart; and I'll do whatever it takes to prove them wrong. I am almost never in a state of panic because I know, deep down, that things are under control. At least, that's what I thought.

In the past few months, I have caught myself occasionally tearing up at trivial comments made by someone dear. I have found myself wide awake at three in the morning feeling just too edgy for slumber, apprehensive about what tomorrow will hold. I have gotten way too emotionally affected by (repetitive) dreams that make absolutely no sense in reality. And I have, countless of times, felt slightly utterly disappointed when I see someone performing better in an area that I pride myself in.

This is a side of me - let's call it (pardon me for plagiarism) Mr Hyde - that I've never seen (or maybe acknowledged) before. I mean, I've been emotional and insecure about certain things but they are usually things that warrant a huge reaction - an anomaly and not the norm. I've always got Mr Hyde under control. I was the dominant person in this body that we cohabit; and I could always command Mr Hyde to take a back seat just before he started getting out of control. But these days, he seems to be the driver while I, the passenger.

Mr Hyde is not someone whom I like; no, he's someone whom I absolutely abhor. He is the part of me that seems to be a tremendously ugly stain on that almost perfect piece of painting. A side of me that I wish to brutally murder, to permanently remove from existence.

But to kill Mr Hyde is to kill myself. For he is I, and I am him. As I called to mind the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, I realised that I had misunderstood the main message of the story. Truly, everyone has both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde within them but it was because Dr Jekyll had tried to bury Mr Hyde deep within the recesses of his mind that it resulted in the brutal actions of Mr Hyde. In the same way, my Mr Hyde has been deprived of self-expression for far too long, as I tried with all my might to be the person that I have always been known to be. And this caused him to create a thundering scene each time he surfaced - at first, once in a blue moon, and then, almost every other day.

It was only when I acknowledged his presence, when I stopped shoving him to the backseat, and when I started learning to co-exist with him that I realised he wasn't so bad after all. When I gave him the freedom to express himself, he was able to do so in a beautiful albeit raw and sometimes startling way.

Myers-Brigg couldn't diagnose my Mr Hyde. Indeed, I am confident, independent and full of faith. But I am also insecure, sensitive and full of doubts.

My boyfriend was right. I did not have a split personality. What I was experiencing was the backlash of trying to force myself into my personality type. Yes, I am dominantly INFP-A, with emphasis on the (extremely high) A. But more than that, I am human. I am a volatile, unpredictable, and indefinable human being.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Military training through a woman's eyes


When I was a child, the girls in my neighborhood would bring their Barbie dolls to each other’s homes to play dress up. I would stay at home with my little brother to play Hot Wheels and Beyblades. When I was a teenager, my girlfriends would babble all day about the latest episodes of Desperate Housewives and Charmed. I would raise my brows in bewilderment, wondering how on earth could they be as fascinating as going to the arcade to play Time Crisis. In high school, when we were asked to share our aspirations, the girls in class said that they wanted to become businesswomen, teachers, and journalists. I wanted to become a soldier. I was convinced that it was one of the most respected jobs in the world. Yet, all I received were the snickers of my male classmates.

It didn’t bother me. After high school, I went on to inquire more about a career in the military. Instead of finding more incentives to become a solider, I was consistently cautioned about the gender inequality that is pervasive in the military. Being the stubborn person that I am, I went ahead to enlist with the military in spite of the multiple warnings. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Our society tells us that women shouldn’t be rolling around in the mud. Women should smell like daisies in the summer, not wet soil after rainfall. Women should apply facial supplements to maintain their complexions and not camouflage cream to avoid enemy detection. Women should learn social etiquettes and graces, not how to brutally murder their opponents.

If that’s the case, I went against every aspect of societal norms for women. Instead of going to the spa, I went out to the field without showering for days. Instead of healthy greens and protein, I fed on combat rations. Instead of carrying handbags and clutches, I held my rifle and a field pack. Instead of the comfort of a velvety bed, I slept with the ground beetles in my shell scrape.

As time went by, my fellow military comrades started treating me as a brother-in-arms, rather than a lady. Although some found it pitiful, being seen as one of them and partaking in the same experiences was precious to me.

One of the most common warnings about being a military servicewoman is the lack of respect received by male colleagues. The fact that we aren’t as physically inclined as men makes it harder for us to earn their respect. Speaking from experience, it is true that no matter how hard a female solider trains, it is almost impossible that she will be as tough as a male solider with the same amount of training.

Route marches were agonizing for me while it seemed like a breeze for my section mates. Digging a fire trench took me almost twice the amount of time taken by my buddy. Fast marches were equivalent to cross-country races for me, as it required two of my tiny steps to compensate for one of my male comrades’. Physical and combat training never failed to push me to my limit.

Yet, at the end of the day, no matter how hard I pushed myself, I could not outshine their physical performance. It was only during one of the route marches when my fellow platoon mate encouraged me that I realized that it didn’t matter: “It’s so damn tiring! I wonder how you girls do it. I’m so huge and I feel like I’m about to die. I don’t understand how you can carry such a heavy load with that tiny body of yours. You have all my respect.” The fact that I wasn’t as physically able as them didn’t diminish the respect that they had for me. It was the determination and resilience that mattered.

One of the most aggravating comments that never fail to make my eyes roll is “females get it easier in the military.” I can’t comprehend why but assumptions are made that commanders slacken their expectations for women. It is not true. I was the only female cadet in the professional term of my Officer Cadet Course. Contrary to popular belief, I wasn’t given any leeway because I was a woman. I was assigned to one of the most challenging assignments and received twice the reprimand from my Commanding Officer each time I made a mistake. As much as I persuaded myself to stay true to my faith in the military, I was becoming extremely depressed and discouraged. The warnings were true after all. There wasn’t any room for women in the military.

As I was plagued with more and more unpleasant situations, I started considering the option of leaving the military altogether. It was not until I confided in a fellow female officer who was years ahead of me in the military that I was reassured of my convictions.  “As a female in the military, your every single action warrants twice the amount of attention – regardless of whether it’s good or bad. When you perform, your colleagues are going to show you twice the respect. When you falter, you will receive twice the contempt. It’s up to you how you react to such situations. Make use of them as opportunities to prove your mettle and worth.” 

Ever since the conversation, I’ve been earnestly holding on to her piece of advice. I stopped hating the attention and pressure that were on me. I refused to believe that I was being picked on because I was a woman. Instead, I saw those situations as opportunities – opportunities to testify that women not only deserve to have a place in the military but to also be looked upon as valuable assets. I wouldn’t say that I have been completely successful in each attempt but I know for sure that the military isn’t as it was years ago. More women like myself are breaking the stereotypes that women aren’t made for the field, and society is becoming less and less appalled at the news of a lady joining the military.

The military is a special place. It is not for everyone, but it is definitely a fallacy to say it is not for women. There are women out there, like myself, who harbour similar or different aspirations that are against social conventions. To my fellow sisters, do not be afraid of what society tells you. Do not let anyone or anything belittle your ambitions. In the words of Mariah Carey,

“There’s a hero 
If you look inside your heart 
You don’t have to be afraid 
Of what you are.”

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Alabaster jar


My love, do you not love me anymore?

You used to greet me every morning with your smile that would light up the world. You used wrap me in your warm embrace that my heart could never grow cold. You used to whisper into my ears how much you loved me; I knew you could never be too far away.

But- where are you today when I need you most?

They tell me that I am not loved; that I am nothing but a speck of dust in this vast universe that you did not create for me. They push me against the wall - so hard(!) that it takes the breath out of me - and ask me where in the world are you.

You see me - don't you? I know you're watching, my guardian, you always, always watch over me. Then why are you not coming to me? Does your heart not hurt to see me naked and bruised, lying on the floor like a helpless babe?

I know you're somewhere out there watching over me; I've heard my friends say that they've seen you. I know, I swear I know. But I need that sturdy arms of yours to lift me up. I need to hear you say that you love me, so that I can learn to love myself again. I need you to stitch that broken heart of mine and so that it can, once more, start beating for you.

Here I am, take me.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Winter paranoia


It's 12:57PM and the skies are grey. In about three and a half hours, it will be completely dark outside. I sit and watch, as darkness creeps into the room - minute by minute. I have barely started the day but it is almost time to draw it to a close.

I turn on the lights, turn up the heater, strip off my Primark jumper and PJs, and put on a fresh set of tank-top-and-shorts. Maybe, this will feel more like home.

But it doesn't. The impulse to smash the fluorescent lightbulbs grows bigger and bigger, as I come to realise that summer is not something that I can conjure.

I need to lie flat on the sand, to let the intense heat of the afternoon sun scorch my pale English skin. I need to drown myself in perspiration, and choke myself with humid air that makes it hard to breathe. I need to know that the sun rises at 7AM and sets at 7PM every day; that I have 12 - no more and no less - functional hours. I need to step out of the house in my army admin tee, FBTs and flip flops and not shiver like a wobbly plate of jelly on an amateur waiter's hand. I need to crave for a refreshing cup of iced black tea macchiato - not a warm cup of Earl Grey, damn it - after a long walk under the sun.

But for now, the least I could do is to put on my Spotify playlist and write. At least this feels like home.

Monday, 30 October 2017

23


My good friends would probably know how much I love Facebook's "On This Day" function. Occasionally, I would send them screenshots of pictures that have been uploaded many years ago - sometimes to celebrate our age-old friendship but most of the time, to have a good laugh at how silly we used to be.

Today, as I perused the pictures that I took and words that I said four, five, six and seven years ago, I was taken aback by what a completely different person I used to be(!) The me today would shake my head in absolute disapproval at the attention-seeking, edgy, and sometimes insecure person that I used to be. Yes, the girl who put on a pair of black tights under her mini almost-butt-revealing skirt before stepping out of the house (just to please her concerned mother), only to take it off as soon as she got to the bus stop. The girl who went to school without her textbooks just because they couldn't fit into her handbag. The girl who was always, always, always on her headphones because she needed to shut herself off from the rest of the world, listening to Simple Plan-Green Day-Linkin Park on repeat and feeling even more angsty than before. The girl who refused to obey when the discipline mistress instructed her to unpick the ends of her pinafore (to bring it back to its original length), leaving the teacher with no choice but to unpick it for her. That girl was me.

But I wasn't just that girl.

I was also, a couple of years down the road, the girl who studied day and night just to prove the principal wrong; to prove her that despite emerging at the bottom of the class in almost every exam and never passing A-math, I did not have to take her advice to drop the subject. By the grace of God, I emerged at the top of the class in the actual O Level Examination. I was also the girl who joined the army with a lofty aspiration of becoming a scholar and making a significant contribution to my country. I was also the girl who cried for a whole day when I received my poorer-than-expected A Level results, which stripped me of my scholarship.

But who am I today, at 23?

I think,

I am a confident (although sometimes misunderstood as shameless) individual. I am (still) driven by my ideals, but no longer defeated by setbacks in life (I hope!). I've learned to pick myself up, say "it's okay", and just keep swimming. (*hums* Dory's tune) I am not a huge fan of authority and I (still) occasionally make a passive-aggressive retort when my bullshit-radar is activated but I've understood how to show respect where respect is due. Angst and insecurity are emotional states that I rarely find myself in these days. I no longer search for happiness in human affirmation or material success because I've found my permanent source of joy. I try not to judge others because I know everyone, like myself, has a story behind who they appear to be or the things that they say. But. I continue to struggle with trying not to repay an eye for an eye. I still find it hard to go an extra mile for someone that I frankly don't give a damn about. And I, despite trying to be non-judgmental, cringe at people who see things in black-and-white, albeit knowing that it's a mere personality trait.

The person that I am today seems like a complete stranger to the person that I was four years ago, better yet eight years ago. Yet, they were all different versions of me, at different seasons of my life. Who I am today is an accumulation of the past 23 years of human experience. As I turn 23, it seems like I've finally arrived at the point of self-actualisation. 23 years of human experience have culminated in what seems to me as the best version of myself thus far. Of course, there is still a lifetime of experiences awaiting me.

Yet, who knows what tomorrow will hold? Perhaps at 30, I would indeed write another reflection on how much I've learned in the past seven years. Or perhaps, the pressures of the workplace and a new family would nullify the years of presumed enlightenment in my early 20s. Let's hope it's the former. I pray for wisdom.

Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, "I have no pleasure in them"...
-Ecclesiastes 12:1
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