Love in the time of social media

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Certain moments in life are definitive. They don’t have to be of any importance: trying and hating a new Starbucks drink, realising that you wore two different shoes out, a trip to the doctor’s that said you might be borderline overweight. None of these are big deals, but you remember them anyway because those little bits of nothings somehow changed you, even if it was in the smallest way. Now you shake your head when a friend offers you a grapefruit tea, now you look down twice at your feet before leaving the house, now you go for walks or get a salmon salad or plain water instead of Coke.

For me, that important-unimportant moment was a tweet. 140-characters on a platform whose icon was a small, chubby bird. It was silly, frivolous, self-absorbed, but it was what I – and many other millennials and younger generations – had become accustomed too. Emotional attachment and detachments played out on the internet like a mildly entertaining, low rated drama. A tweet was my cold shower, a wakeup call. It ended with a tweet but it really started with a message on Facebook. Slide into the DMs, they say. He sent me a video. It was nothing. We knew each other in school, long ago. We followed each other on social media for years, left comments and likes, even chatted sometimes. Yet, I never thought of him romantically. But that one evening, he sent me a video out of the blue and suddenly it was there, the possibility that it could be something romantic. A little seed of thought planted itself firmly in my mind.

Years of being mutuals* had kept me well informed of his life. Somehow, I knew his favourite bands, his taste in clothes, and the last city he visited. That was the power of social media, the ability to imprint information at the back of your head without you being actively aware of it. A few days later, I replied to his Insta-story. We chatted. The seed took root and started to grow. He replied to some of my posts. I replied to some of his. We’d talked privately, always on social media. That was when I started looking at my phone constantly. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Where was he? Who was he with? Did he view my IG-stories? Did he like my posts? I was happy when he commented. I was sad when he didn’t.

But before long, it became more about myself than of him. I became preoccupied with the presentation of my image on social media. I wanted him to see me. I was consumed by how he would view me – all through a tweet, a picture, a video – even though I was more than that. I had a whole world outside of social media, but I was constantly trying to condense my life into a 15-seconds video on Instagram, or a funny tweet, or a clever Facebook comment.

I told myself it was a crush, but that one-sided crush manifested itself obsessively, dangerously. It became an obsession, not just of him but of how I perceived myself. I was constantly trying – to be smarter, cooler, funnier, skinner. Thinking and rethinking my best angles, checking different platforms incessantly, seeking approval from someone who had no idea that I had begun to pin my self-worth on whether or not he liked my posts. I searched for the slightest hints of affections on my mobile screen, opening and closing apps, over-reading into 140-character posts and photo captions and GIFs, posting something and anxiously hoping he would reply… and feeling crushed (no pun intended) when he didn’t. Even when I was out with my friends, I would be checking my phone constantly. Did he see it? Why didn’t he comment?

It got exhausting. I couldn’t sleep. My fingers itched to refresh and re-refresh and re-re-refresh a page. I began to blame myself. Why did I post that? Why did I send that message? He left me on read, perhaps it was because I was too boring or obsessive or stalkerish. My mind was constantly overran with thoughts of my own shortcomings. I was too short, too fat, not rich enough, too brown, not brown enough. I didn’t have cool friends, or an aesthetically pleasing social media account. I looked at all the girls whose photos he liked on Instagram. I didn’t look like any of them. That was when I decided I wasn’t enough. I couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was exactly that I didn’t have enough of; all I knew was that I wasn’t enough, I wasn’t enough, I wasn’t enough.

I started working out. Eating less. Skipping dinner and forgoing carbohydrates. My jogs lasted thirty minutes, and then forty-five, and then one hour. I did forty crunches and then eighty and then two hundred. I lost weight. I posted pictures and videos. I sent out tweets and Facebook updates, but there was no reply. My self-esteem worsened. It was no longer about him; it became all about me. I had to be prettier, skinner, sexier. What started out as a simple interest in someone had evolved into an ugly beast, an evil soul crushing mirror where I projected my worst insecurities and used an innocent person to justify why I shouldn’t be happy with myself.

At my lowest point, the beast reared its head and roared callous thoughts into my mind. I was tormented by my own posts on social media. I am cooler now. I’m funnier, skinnier, better now. Can you like me, please? But there was no reply. I wanted him to like me. I needed him to like me, so I can like myself.

Then came the tweet. The eyeopening, important-unimportant tweet. It was nothing explicit but it had a pretty clear message: he was seeing someone. I couldn’t breathe. I thought I was heartbroken. I thought, this is what a heartbreak feels like. I tried imagine what this illusive, mysterious girl looks like. A tiny waist and slim legs. Straight teeth and soft hair. A ton of followers of Instagram, a great beauty with men like him rushing to do things for her. A Becky with the good hair. I drove myself insane with my imagination. I hated her, this imaginary person who had everything I wanted but couldn’t have. What does she look like? I tried to find her. I scrolled and scrolled, refreshed pages, snooped around. I tried to imagine how my feed would look to her. My self-worth was tied to a bevy of apps. Who I am as a person meant nothing at all if I wasn’t seen on social media.

And then I saw her picture. She looked just like any other girl. She wasn’t particularly pretty or attractive. She didn’t have a tiny waist or runway legs. Just a nice girl, doing her things, oblivious to the animosity someone she’s never met had for her. At first I laughed. I laughed because I thought I was better than her. Funnier, cooler, smarter. He would have been better with me. I laughed, but it didn’t feel good. It didn’t feel like I won, because I didn’t. I had destroyed myself trying to get someone to like me, not even in person but online. I went headfirst into a social media war with myself, and lost.

I liked this guy, I do. I genuinely enjoyed talking to him, even when we met in person, and wished that things could have been different, that he noticed how I was changing for him and asked me out. But in a way, I was also glad he didn’t. How this obsession manifested itself as a crush made me realise certain things. I was searching for love, but not in the right places nor in the right person. I was searching for love, because I did not love myself enough. I wanted him to pay attention to me, because I was not paying enough attention to myself. It took a long time for me to realise that.

Even as I write this, I am realising new things about myself, about how I manage my own image on social media to fit other people’s expectations, about how I am so often viewing the world through the hazy lenses of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-social media. I love these platforms, love how I can talk to people I haven’t met in ten years, love how they give a stage to artists and creators. But I am also aware of how addictive they can become, how they can trick you into thinking you don’t exist unless you’re on social media. It is a double-edged knife, and I am still figuring out how to wield it without hurting myself. But for now, I’m going to lay off stalking people and focus on just liking memes.

*mutuals: people who follow each other on social media and post similar things

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I think of the needles sometimes. The men, the opium pipes, stealthy fingers passing white packets by the front door. Syringes in the backyard. Dropping a can of beer. Tomatoes vines by the fences. A den. A doctor’s house visit. Stitches. A dog barking. The mumble jumble of drugs and playground tag, a block of brick against the head. Yelling.

Things you see in life changes you, inevitably, irrevocably. They shape your thoughts and your perceptions of life, how you look the world and its inhabitants. And if my thoughts were to take a single shape, it might just be of the tip of a needle breaking through brown skin.

Relatable Netflix dramas

Mel recommended Crazy Ex-girlfriend on Netflix to me and I’ve been addicted to it because

A) it’s so stupid

B) it’s highly relatable.

Somehow, those two variables are closely interlinked in my life.

It’s about this lady who met her ex-boyfriend from 10 years ago on the streets of New York and became so obsessed with him that she left her high-flying career and moved to California just to be closer to him. But of course, he doesn’t know that; he thinks she’s done it because she wanted to have a change of job. And so she goes around stalking him on social media (63 times a day, to be exactly. No really, she does that.) and then pretends to ‘bump’ into him at wherever he seems to be. She’s completely psy.cho.tic. Like, an actual ward-able nutjob. And it’s hilarious because she gets into all kinds of trouble and meets really funny weirdos and they all break into songs at random moments. Totally relatable, because that seems to be where I’m headed.

See, there’s this guy that I kiiiiiiind of think is cute and cool but he has zero interest in me. We’d talk once in a while and like each other’s post on social media but that’s about it. I’ve dropped some hints about getting dinner but he’s clearly not interested in me like that so I’ve resorted just stalking him on social media and refreshing his Facebook page 84 times a day. (Just kidding, we’re millennials, we don’t use Facebook much. Also, that number is an estimate.) But that’s about it. I’m not going to move across the country just to be near him because a) he lives in a really expensive estate and my ass is broke and b) this country is so small that even if I moved, I’ll just be like…three minutes closer to him.

I kindasortareallywanna just get this feeling out of my system because I hate the feeling of having a crush. I mean, come on. Does anyone on this planet actually like having their emotional stability depend on whether a guy has viewed their Instagram stories or not? I’ve tried all kinds of things – reading, painting, writing. I’ve even tried Tinder and but it just makes me want to stab my eyes out. I even considered becoming asexual, like a blackworm or a single-cell organism. Right now, my latest method is to go cold turkey on social media. Like The Purge but instead of killing people, you just deactivate your social media accounts. Does anyone have good remedies for getting over crushes? Please send them my way, your help is much appreciated, thank you.

 

Sometimes I look at the knife on the table, the scissors in the drawer, the cars on the street, the ledge of a high rise building, and a dangerous thought will cross my mind.

When people ask me how I’m doing, I’ll always tell them, I’m holding on.

“How are you living each day?”

“By holding on.”

The good day

Yesterday morning, I overheard my parents arguing about a Facebook and felt like crying. It was nothing new. In dealing with cancer, I am learning that my life is a 24-hr theme park with Being-On-Edge-of-Tears as the most popular ride. The causes for that emotional state differs. Sometimes it was because your mother was dying. Sometimes it was because we are all dying but we are more aware of some deaths than others. Sometimes it was because your mother has asked you to start packing up her things to be given away when she dies, that she was so resilient and brave in the face of eternal annihilation while you’re a soggy mess, crying over cups of teas and diced carrots. Most of the time though, in general, it was because you hate everything and life suck.

Yesterday’s episode was because I was happy. And sad. And upset. Simultaneously. Since beginning her medication, my mother barely had the strength to eat. She’d get violent coughs every time she speaks. Most of her days were spent on the couch in our living room, dozing off the effects of two different chemo drugs waging wars in her body.

But yesterday was different.

Yesterday, she had a Good Day. She woke up and ate almost half a bowl of rice without throwing up. She picked up her phone and looked through Facebook posts. She commented on things. And she had the strength to banter with my father. It has been so long since I’ve heard her speak that loudly that I panicked. Was she sick? Was this a new episode? But no, it was just a good day. We were having a rare good day, and all I wanted to do was to cry, because I was happy that she was well, because I was sad that it would end in a few hours, because I was beginning to realise the importance of a moment, a minute, an hour, because everything was moving too fast in the wrong direction, like a rollercoaster going unhinged, but that morning we were somehow given a moment of reprieve from the shadows that have been clouding our lives.

That morning reminded me of the pre-cancer days. Every single of one of those days must have been a good day, because we had strength in our arms and legs and lungs, because we could walk to the kitchen without getting tired, but we hadn’t appreciated it then.

In which my mouth is stupid

Okay, so everyone who knows me well knows that my mouth is stupid. I have a habit of panicking whenever people focus their attention on me, which results in my brain malfunctioning, and instead of coming up answers that a person of moderate intelligence might give, my mouth ends up uttering the most useless horseshit in the entire history of the universe. And today, I added to the (super long) list of embarrassing things I’ve said.

And today, I added to the (super long) list of embarrassing things I’ve said. This is how the short – but no less disastrous – conversation went down:

Peter: My wife and I are having a baby!

Me: Yay! Congratulations! What breed is it?

Lunch table: *awkward silence*

Derek, in a whisper: Gender. It’s called gender.

*screams internally*

Oh, if only there was a rubbish chute nearby, I would have torn my mouth out and throw it in the trash.

Terminal cancer

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“The cancer is in the brains.” The doctor paused, and then she said it again, “We found some tumours there.”

I’ve always imagined that the moment would be more climactic, perhaps with a thespian filter and a stage setup. I imagined there’d be headaches and dramatic nosebleeds. Doctors rushing everywhere, perhaps even in surgical robes, with solemn expressions. There’d be a lot of crying and phone calls and somebody, perhaps a distant, weepy aunt, would faint on cue. I imagined something that was worthy of Grey’s Anatomy or House or even a scene from a B-class movie.

But life wasn’t a cable network writer looking to amp up ratings, and there was none of the electrifying tension, none of the sensational camera zoom-ins and facial close-ups.

We were seated on plastic chairs in a nice, cool room, the doctor in a practical shirt and skirt. The night before, we had fish for dinner and watched dramas on cable TV. This morning, we took the train, jampacked with office workers, and walked ten minutes up to the center. It was just a normal day, we were just normal people. Except that it wasn’t normal, that my mother was suffering from terminal cancer (people always use that term, but is there a cancer that wasn’t terminal?), and that it had spread to her brains.

The cells that she made, that she fed and watered and oxygenated, had turned on each other. The cells she created and gave life to were slowly killing her. She would continue feeding and watering and giving them life, and they would continue multiplying and spreading, demanding her absolute energy in their slow destruction of her body. It was a cruel, cruel existence, an involuntary act of self-annihilation, and it happened in plastic chairs.

We didn’t cry. No doctors rushed in with blood on their gloves. No aunt fainted. There wasn’t even an immediate action plan. The doctor said, “We’ll come up with a plan. See you next week.” We paid out our consultation fees in cash and then went home to eat lunch. It was the least dramatic climax ever. We didn’t even give good reactions. If it was a drama series, all the media executives would be up in arms, shaking their meaty, Rolex clad fists and demanding a re-write of the entire episode. Throw in the blood, they’d say. Where are the tears? Where are the anguished cries?

But it was not a drama. It felt like a drama, but it was not. It was our lives, it was my life, and I was living it.

 

2017 Life Update

Seeing how I’ve been blogging intermittently, I feel obliged to return here to say that I’ve officially graduated! I’m now a master’s degree holder, wooohooooo! It was very tough and very tiring and I put on at least 5 to 10kg, but at least I made it.

Also, my mother’s cancer came back. The doctor says it’s Stage 4 now, and she can’t really do radiotherapy or chemotherapy anymore, so all that’s left is to take tablets. For the rest of her life or until the tablets don’t work anymore. And they’re really expensive – about $3-4k SGD per month. The day we got back the results, just before we go bed, she looked at me and said, “I don’t think I should do the treatment.” I asked why and she replied, “It’s too expensive. How will we afford that much money every month?”

I got really upset and told her that of course she must do the treatment, we will manage it somehow. We both went to bed after and I waited until she was sleeping before breakdown and crying. I was angry at everything, at myself for not making enough money, at her for saying such things, and at life for giving her such a hard life. It was a horrible feeling, being asked to let your own mother die because you could not afford the money to save her. We had another round of check up to get a confirmation that the cancer was really growing (it was), but the doctor said it was not so critical and perhaps we can re-do the tests in two to three months time before starting treatment, so that we can have more time to gather funds. She also offered to help us find clinical trials so that we won’t have to spend so much money. Hopefully we can get it when we go back for checkups in September.

I’ve started writing again now that school is over. It’s not good, just a crappy YA romance on Wattpad full of cheesy lines and cliches, nothing that I will ever show anyone I respect, but it’s better than nothing at least! I’m also trying to participate in NaNoWriMo but I’m not sure if I can finish a story under that kind of setting.

Oh and I’ve started learning Korean! HAAHA we went to Korea last winter and I was so surprised that I can understand what they were saying, lol. So I came back and started learning in Jan and I’m almost done with my second semester. I can ask where the toilet is now. lolololol Hopefully, I’ll be more fluent by Dec.

Lots of love,

E