Sunday, January 22, 2017

Illiberal Liberal

America has a new president. Even if I am no longer physically present in the country, my home of three short years still holds a special place in my heart. In fact,  I always joke that I've been an American since I was nine. Today, however, I shall not bore you with my thoughts or analysis on the inauguration, the unique speech given by President Trump, or even the Women's March that followed. I am mostly interested in the violent protests, on the streets and on twitter, by the liberals towards Trump's supporters. 

I am all for public demonstration and our democratic right to protest to show our disdain or support for a specific cause. There is also nothing wrong in portraying your thoughts and emotions peacefully online. Even if it won't affect immediate change, it is useful as a means to educate the masses. But I definitely do not support the arrogance of telling 63 million people that their ideas and beliefs are plain wrong. You may argue that they are violating basic principles of human rights, but most of these ideas are debatable and still without a conclusion today for the simple reason that roughly half of the population cannot agree with the other half.

As a political liberal myself, believe me when I say that it tortures me to come face to face with the reality that there are as many conservatives in the world as there are liberals. But last year I learned something that has stuck with me ever since. While a lot of people do not like Wan Saiful Wan Jan either for his politics or personality, I once worked for him and I can tell you that a lot of times he just makes sense. At a talk I saw him last year he said, "Do not be an illiberal liberal". Since then I cannot get that quote out of my mind.

I was once an illiberal liberal too. I cannot fathom how and why anyone in this day and age can still hold on to conservative ideas. In the case of Malaysian Muslims, ideas that have NO precedence in basic Islamic teachings or even political history. They are just ideas conjured up by a specific group of people at a specific time under specific circumstances. But the fact is people still hold on to these ideas because of familiarity and to maintain peace in society. Is that entirely wrong? Well, educating ourselves is a much better option. Do they hurt society? Well, that is totally arguable too. But I realized if I am ever to call myself a true liberal--a believer in the freedom to choose and to think--how can I question the choice made by other people that may economically or politically benefit them. Who am I to say they are wrong? That's what democracy is about. And I choose democracy over dictatorship any day. 

Friday's inauguration may be a hard pill to swallow especially since Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote. Trust me, I know what it feels like. I was filled with anger and disappointment too in 2013. Yes, maybe the system needs an overhaul for an election result to fairly represent the people's choice both in the USA and Malaysia. But more importantly, there is no need to spread further hate towards others who are merely different from you. They are not criminals. As liberals, we are supposed to uphold the virtue of tolerance and diversity, and it does not mean just among us. 

Anyway, they already had a difficult first day. No spinning from the Press Secretary can sway people's opinion over the FACT that there was a much lower physical turnout on Friday compared to eight years ago. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Beautiful, Passionate, Dedicated

I’ve been going back and forth for months on whether I should write this entry. With the passing of Carrie Fisher, I felt it is time someone say something, and thus my decision to put my thoughts into words. What do I have in common with Princess Leia, you may ask. Well, I hope a lot. But it is how people remember her that gave me the encouragement I needed.  Besides praising her role in the Star Wars universe, most eulogy also praises her role in bringing Bipolar Disorder, and mental illness in general, to mainstream media in the 1980s.

Personally, after years of questioning my own sanity, God finally responded with an answer. In 2016, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I don’t need to go into details about the symptoms and causes as they are easily found online. But I would like to share my own experience. Only God knows the exuberance I felt when the psychiatrist spit the words out. Instead of denial, I was relieved. Finally someone was able to put a label to what I’ve been living with for half of my life. I’m not exaggerating. If someone scours through just this website, the symptoms are written all over. But I did not have anyone piecing them all together.

I started going to treatment in 2015. Unfortunately I was not properly diagnosed. I self-diagnosed as Anxiety. When I was told I have BPD, everything, and I literally mean everything, starts to make sense. My life starts to make sense.

Just like how Carrie Fisher refused to let her Bipolarity defines her, I shall not let BPD defines me. Just as any physical illness, it is just something I have to live with, but it is not my entirety. To the contrary, similar to how we applaud someone with a physical illness being able to get up and go on with life, it is time not only for our society to accept the reality of mental illness, but also to provide support and understanding. As someone suffering from mental illness, I can tell you first-hand that it is not easy to go through the simplest of daily routine. I never know if today is going to be a good or a bad day. I don’t know if I am going to be Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. I just have to wing it as I go. It is difficult.

I am not writing this entry to ask for pity. I am also not asking for people I know to walk on eggshells around me. I am writing to tell you that being diagnosed with a mental illness is not a death sentence. Yes it is a very difficult life. But look where I am now. I am only nearing 28 and I already have my PhD in the pipeline. I have two beautiful daughters. I can achieve whatever my heart desires. I just have to put extra effort than the normal person. If I wanted to, I can use BPD as an excuse to not get anything done in life; instead I am able to lead as normal a life possible in spite of my illness. If anything, my BPD makes me stronger.

Given my penchant for Hollywood, I have been thinking a lot about some of my favourite movies: Thirteen, Silver Lining Playbook, (500) Days of Summer, My Week with Marilyn, Blue Jasmine, Black Swan and Gia. All of these movies have a character with BPD. I used to watch some of these movies over and over. Somehow I felt that I can relate without knowing exactly why. Now I know. They are stories about my life. Take for example My Week with Marilyn. I remember after watching the movie I blurted out that Marilyn Monroe is now my hero. My mum gave me a weird look. I explained that I can understand how difficult it must be for her to overcome her anxiety and be who the world expects her to be. Or take Jennifer Lawrence's character in Silver Lining Playbook. She said that maybe people like us know something that normal people don't. I like that line because I have always been a believer that in order to be a genius, you need to be mad. Before anyone starts rolling their eyes, take it with a grain of salt as something a crazy person tells herself in order to make sense of her presence on earth.

Again, the purpose I am writing this entry is to de-stigmatize mental illness. It is real. It is not the devil. It is caused by some traumatic childhood experience, just as how a physical illness is brought about by excessiveness. It can never be cured, but psychiatrists are working on how best to limit the symptoms. Let’s applaud them. People like the psychiatrist who finally diagnosed me is the reason I am able to look my illness in the eyes and say, “Hi, nice to meet you. But you have met your match.”