Karma bites

Our weekday mornings are hectic, like many commuters, parents rushing for the train via school  runs etc

As I drove on last Thursday morning after dropping my daughter off to the childminder, I made a conscious decision to pace myself that day, to remember to be kind and to not let the pressure of work and life get to me.  As I neared the train station, I noticed a BMW trailing me rather impatiently – there were umpteen cars ahead of me but his disdain of me was obvious.  We finally drove into the station car park, and he raced to park his car. As I got out of my car, he shot me a look, not a friendly one and marched on to the ticket machine to pay for his car.  The machine took a while and soon I caught up and stood behind him.

You wouldn’t believe what happened next.  It turned out he had paid but the machine swallowed his ticket.  And I said in my friendliest tone ‘Perhaps the ticket barrier will be up again tonight and you won’t have to pay twice’.  I left him to find another machine, paid up and got my train into the city.  He instead had to go to the parking attendant to get a refund. All that haste, fury and unkindness.

There is no excuse for poor behaviour.  You never know when Karma is watching.

What I would tell my 20-year old self

Dear Annie

My, how time has flown.  How did you get to be 20 years old so soon?

I am so proud of the woman you have become.  You have a heart of gold, innocent, unworldly, yet have shown tremendous grit and resilience in getting through school and exams.  You are not conditioned to follow the norm which is a trait you inherited from dad.  Though there is no match for his fearlessness, I think we can agree with that!

I’ve gone ahead and lived 21 years from where you are now.  With the benefit of hindsight, this is what I’d say to you as you start life in your 20s:

  1. Love yourself  – love comes from within and it is a huge responsibility which you just can’t delegate to anyone else.  Your parents will love you unconditionally because you are their flesh and blood.  But don’t place your self worth on what/how others perceive you.
  2. Continue reaching for the stars – don’t settle for anything less than. Look and reach for ‘more than’ and what others perceive as unattainable.  You deserve and are worthy of more.
  3.  Be fearless and radiate positive energy – surround yourself with those who vibrate on a similarly high frequency.  Trust your instinct and focus your thoughts and energy only on what makes you happy, fulfilled and nourished.
  4. You’ll make a fantastic mother.  But remember to love, not spoil.
  5. Exercise and nourish yourself well – you will surprise yourself on your natural instinct for flavours and ability to combine them to make sumptuous meals.
  6. Continue educating yourself – if there is a will, there is a way.  Your parents were right when they said knowledge is power, and education (be it formal/informal) is key to progression.
  7. Believe in the power of prayer – He is always there for guidance and you should never feel alone.
  8. Set goals which will help you navigate through the course of life – never ever drift aimlessly.  If you find yourself off-course, don’t despair.  Obstacles are merely detours to get you back on track.
  9. Love and respect others regardless of race, religion, background.  Treat others the way you want to be treated
  10. Aim for Financial Freedom from your first paycheck.

Now go forth, live your life to the fullest and the best of your ability.  May your life be filled with good fortune, love and the best of health.

Acceptance

I recently left a very toxic job, one that consumed me of my time, energy, sanity and well-being.  Why did I stay there for 18 months, then?

For almost 10 years, I was happily employed in my dream job.  I felt a sense of stability and security.  I took pride in what I did and achieved.  Unfortunately the business came to a natural end, teams were made redundant and I was offered a transfer to another part of the business.  I turned it down as it was what I viewed as a demotion.

This was three years ago, and I label this whole period as a sliding door moment.  It’s been as if I jumped onto the train just as the door was closing shut and it has taken me on a tumultuous journey through my lowest points in my 40-plus years of existence.

That long-term job offered my an anchor and I found a lot of support amongst my co-workers.  It is only after I left that organisation did I come to realise that it was me who needed them and not vice-versa.  Contacts ceased pretty much overnight with people I leaned on.  Not out of malice.  Life goes on and people decide who to take along with them.  I wasn’t on their list.  I found myself a new role which I accepted far too quickly without sufficient due diligence.  I lacked confidence that anyone would employ a working mother who requires flexi-hours.  Before starting my new role, I went home for a week.  I was shocked by my dad’s appearance.  His movements were slower and very considered.  I urged him to get himself checked out and he was diagnosed with early onset of Parkinson’s. My dad has always been my rock.  I don’t think the doctor’s words sank in for a long time.

Back in London, further rudderless, I found myself overcome with anxiety as I faced very aggressive individuals at my new employment with absolutely no support.

Within two weeks, I lost a family member and another, a mentor/father-figure.  Words cannot describe the sense of loss I felt.  Grieving for dad’s inevitable decline in health and the death of two others consumed me.

I dreaded going into work everyday, tearing up as I approached the building and consumed by anxiety.  After eight weeks, I decided I couldn’t continue working there as the environment was not only hostile, but I found I was regressing in terms of skills and responsibilities – a mis-sold role.

I landed my next role fairly quickly.  However, the warning signs were there but I chose not to see them as I was worried about being unemployed.  The team we supported were incredibly aggressive and their head had been summoned by HR on many occasions but they had never succeeded in curbing his aggression.  His team took his lead and treated us like pond-scum.  During this period, my husband suffered an ailment and was house-bound, unable to drive for a period of five months.  Having started a new job, I had to shoulder school run duties around work and endured comments from my boss such as ‘a part of me thinks you are taking the pi**’.  Again, feeling rudderless within my work environment and outside, i suffered from anxiety.  Even for mundane things like remembering to take the bins out for bin collection day.

Physically, I was beginning to suffer as well.  Falling sick every three to four weeks with a bad cold/flu.  My back started hurting and I ended up with sciatica.  After about eight months in this role, I decided enough was enough and I was going to take time off to rest and reflect before contemplating any role.

It was then that my parents came over to visit and they were shocked by my appearance.  Not only had I lost a lot of weight, but also what my dad referred to as ‘spark for life’.  I’d always been mischievous, bold, with a smart reply for anything and everything.  But what greeted them was someone so low in esteem, confidence and in a state of despair.

A month after they visited, I dashed home as dad had taken ill and we nearly lost him.  There was no sinking any further, where I was concerned.  The bright side of that episode was mum and I grew closer.

When I returned to London, it was with my parents prayers propping me up.  I started my third job in a space of 1.5 years and it was yet another toxic environment.  To highlight the lack of empathy/support in this environment, one of my co-worker’s dad passed away.  She returned to work within a week, and only 3 people out of 40 paid her their condolences and the rest didn’t say anything.  She wasn’t offered any extra time off, not encouraged to do so.  She told me this a few weeks ago when we went out for lunch and I asked about her dad as it was the first anniversary of his passing.

Whilst I was deemed to have held an important post, any decisions I took were sustained and deferred to an aggressive bully of a boss.  I had no handover notes from my predecessor and had to figure things out as I went along.  I never switched off from work for the sole reason that I reported to such an unreasonable person and was again consumed with anxiety.

I called my mum and told her that I can’t keep running away from this terrible anxiety which seems to be triggered from lack of support.  She urged my to go for stress counselling.  I found someone locally and we worked through a lot of the issues I had faced in the last three years.

What I hadn’t appreciated was that I was grieving for:

  1. Dad’s slow deterioration of health
  2. The death of the family member who I hadn’t seen for a few years but affected me tremendously
  3. The death of my mentor/father-figure
  4. The loss of support that was afforded by my work-family

The anxiety could be traced right back to when I was around 6 years old when I had a bully of a class-teacher who used to hit me (I had limited grasp of the Asian language being spoken in class, and used to misinterpret instructions).  I never told my parents (I didn’t know that I could have!).  Further, when I was around 9 years old, we lost a number of family members in a terrible car-crash.  A year after that, there were threats made to my dad’s life (we lived in a part of the world where such occurrences were the norm).  In short, I was consumed by anxiety as a result of rather serious causes when I was pretty young and never worked through it.  My therapist explained that as I consequence, in recent times when things have been quite stressful and I have had no support, the tendency had been flight vs fight.  That plus grief, had pushed me into a terrible state of despair.  Through therapy, I acknowledged that I was good at my job, but perhaps it just wasn’t the right role nor environment.

Two months ago, I decided that I had spent enough time at my current role.  Whilst I had nothing new lined up, it was time for me to move on.  Mentally, I was exhausted. Physically, I couldn’t see how I could start a new role without taking time out for myself.  Time to put on my own oxygen mask.

I went through a number of interviews recently and someone brought up the point that I may be a flight risk.  I explained that I had rushed into roles but it is important that I find the right environment to thrive in .  What dawned on me during these interviews was that if at any point, any of my previous managers had taken the time to talk through what was bothering me at work, I would have mentioned grief and anxiety.  Had they then offered support (e.g. working from home once a week whilst my husband was ill for 5 months so that I didn’t feel like I was stretched in every possible direction), therapy, dealing with a bully of a boss (a blatant – ‘she suffers from anxiety and your behaviour triggers it’), perhaps I would have felt stronger to stay on.

The despair slowly started to lift in January this year.  I stumbled upon The Secret by Rhonda Byrne.  Having watched the movie and read the book, something willed me into thinking positively.  I found Oprah’s podcasts online which have been very therapeutic.  My current read is Jack Canfield’s the Success Principles.

I have a vision board above my dressing table which serve as a daily reminder of my goals.  I have a gratitude journal which I document on a regular basis.  I carry with me a little card which lists all my goals. I feel all of life’s abundant gifts – and folks, it does work.  What you focus on, expands.  When I find myself thinking negative thoughts, I catch myself and turn it into a positive.

I have come to the realisation and acceptance that I am responsible for setting down that life-anchor.

My goals, visions and dreams serve as my rudder and I am in charge of steering my life onto a positive path.

 

 

Citronella

I had the strangest of dreams.

In real life, I am suffering from winter fatigue (anyone else?).  I dreamed that I met one of my childhood friends for coffee and she said her mum told me to use citronella for energy.

Back to real life again.  I woke up feeling tired and thought it was strange that I had dreamed of said friend whom I hadn’t heard from in a while.  Anyway, I had a massage booked later that day.  As the therapist starting rubbing massage oil onto my back, I smelt it.  The therapist confirmed it was citronella oil.

Bizarre to say the least!

Don’t make girls cry

We have a cultural ritual for girls when they come of age.  Women gather and bless said girl, the ceremony is filled with prayers, the girl is adorned in traditional clothes akin to a bride.

This ritual is alien to me.  Growing up, it was just my parents and my sibling.  We were a few thousand miles away from our extended family and thus, traditions and rituals were never really part of our daily lives.  Mum and Dad were strict parents, discipline translated to love which we tested from time to time like all children do.  But I never defined myself by the colour of my skin, my religion or background.  This remains true to today.

I digress.

When I told my mum about my first period, she rang her mother to ask what she should do.  Grandmother prescribed eggs, a daily teaspoon of oil (coconut? I don’t know) and perhaps other traditional concoctions for my consumption.  My parents agreed that it wasn’t practical for us to adhere to traditions where we lived.

Fast forward two years later, we went back to my grandparents for my aunt’s wedding.  Cue elaborate ceremonies and traditions.  The elders agreed that since my coming of age wasn’t marked previously, they would do so whilst the family were together.  A lot of fuss went on in the background and my mother told me that I was to wear a traditional dress for the ceremony.

It was all too alien for me.  I was a tomboy, happy to run around in shorts and t-shirt all day long.  The boys regarded me funnily as they suspected something was up but the elders kept them in the dark and away from the fuss.  I felt extremely uncomfortable as no one bothered to explain anything to me and I really didn’t want to wear a traditional dress.  I just wanted to run to the field and kick a football with my cousins.

My mum wasn’t having any of it and reprimanded me, to which I responded by tearing up and the tears kept flowing all day.  A well-regarded elderly neighbour dropped by with some flowers in the afternoon and saw how upset I was.  When she found out it was because I didn’t want the fuss nor to be clad in the dress that was picked out for me, she gave out to my mother and aunt.

‘Why are you making a girl cry on such an auspicious day?  Don’t us women have enough tears to bear in our lives? Let her wear want she wants.  The garment isn’t important.  She’s  been brought up in modern times and doesn’t understand tradition like we do.  What’s key is that we’re here to help her transition from a girl to a young woman.’

I ended up wearing a simple outfit – a tunic top and leggings.  The ceremony was kept extremely short.  I was blessed by my elders including my saviour, there was a flower bath which I was left alone to partake in and it was all over within an hour.  My mum wasn’t best pleased but she came to accept that I was part of a new generation where traditions, though important, possibly need some assimilation into modern lives.

I am now a mother to a little girl and I’ll never forget my elder’s words ‘ don’t make girls cry’.

(She bawls at the drop of a hat by the  way!)

 

 

Lessons from my daughter

My daughter started school in September last year.  We were naturally worried about her transition from full time nursery care to big school.  I wasn’t ready for her not to be in the care of her nursery school teacher, who had looked after her from 8am to 6pm Mondays to Fridays for the past two years.

When we dropped her off on her first day, she cried, holding on to my arm, begging me not to leave.  I cried.  I couldn’t bear to see her upset.  But I asked for her teacher’s help who pried her away from me.  My heart broke.

It’s now been six months and she’s used to her new routine.  I am amazed by how far she’s progressed in terms of reading, which is testament to her teachers’ efforts.

Unfortunately, she’s still struggling to find her tribe in class.  According to her, all the  other children have paired up and no one seems to want to play with her.  ‘It’s as if I’m always by myself’, she confided in me.

My husband and I sat her down.  I said that before she can be comfortable in the company of others, she needs to be comfortable in her own company.  Perhaps it is an opportunity for her to set her own boundaries on what she likes/dislikes before being dictated by group-think.  She’s five by the way, and I’m not sure how much she took in but the forlorn look never left her that evening.

The next day, when I asked about her day, she told us that one of the girls she tries to play with – a sort of a gang leader – had told my daughter that another girl was no longer part of their gang.  Now my daughter decided to relay this message to the girl herself – who was heartbroken at being excluded from said gang.  When we asked my daughter what had propelled her to do so, she refused to look us in the eye.  I gently asked if she did so to feel accepted by the gang.  ‘Yes, and I felt very bad for Hannah’, was her response.  She agreed to apologise to Hannah.  I was disappointed to say the least but understood that she was merely surviving in a lonely existence in school. When an opportunity presented itself for her to feel part of a group, she jumped at it.

Just gone five and already ganging up against others.  I hope she comes into her own in time and makes good, meaningful friendships.  No gangs, no exclusions.

 

Memories of Amsterdam

Many years ago, I was in love with the idea of living in Amsterdam.  Who wouldn’t – the romantic canals, bridges, tulips, museums…

Around 18 years ago, a few friends from work and I planned a long weekend away – a night in Brussels followed by two nights in Amsterdam.   I contacted a friend in Amsterdam whom I was still in touch from our course in Crete a few months before and told him of our plans.  He suggested meeting up and showing us girls around.

We couldn’t have planned a more perfect trip.  The weather was gloriously summery.  Brussels was lovely and we took in many sights – the Mannekin Pis, The Grand Place, sampled artisanal chocolates and couldn’t leave without tucking into mussels and finishing up with Belgian waffles.  The night was too short and after a few hours’ sleep, we dashed to catch our train to Amsterdam.  I was excited to be reunited with Edwin!

Edwin met us at Amsterdam Central station with his friend – I can’t remember his name.  They accompanied us to our hostel near one of the main squares – Leidensplein perhaps?  Drinks soon followed at the square where we caught up on news and whiled the time away crowd-watching.  The boys pointed out the outdoor toilets for the men which was a point of amusement! The glorious weather continued and I was entranced by the sight, sounds and general atmosphere.  There was something decidedly familiar and enchanting about Amsterdam.

We explored around the city – the boys were very informative, absolute gentlemen and proud of their city.  I remember thinking they were such lovely hosts.  They walked us back to our hostel so that we could change for dinner – I can’t quite recall what we had that night, but we were all in fits of laughter.  Amsterdam was so good for my soul.  We bade them goodbye as they rushed to catch their last train home.  Edwin and I kept in touch for a few years thereafter but we eventually lost touch.  Sadly I never got to return the hospitality of showing him around Dublin!

The girls and I spent the next day sightseeing – we queued for Anne Frank’s house, which ticked a big box on my lifelong list of things to do.  I felt immense sadness when I reflected on what Anne and her family must have gone through.   We caught the last canal boat trip that evening and I toyed with the idea of moving to Amsterdam.  We ended our stay on a high note (no pun intended), we were just giddy from being on a fabulous trip! I vowed to return for another visit.

Which I did several years later with my husband – twice actually and then another trip to Den Haag to visit a friend who had moved there.  All our subsequent trip were equally exciting but by then I had lost the notion of living there.  I had my heart set on Sydney by then!

During one of our trips to Amsterdam, we were desperate for the washroom and I suggested going to a pub to use their facilities.  Whilst my husband headed to the gents, I ordered us both drinks but didn’t have anything smaller than a EUR50 note. The barman spoke to one of the other punters in a mocking tone whilst beckoning at me, and as soon as my husband returned that, I hissed under my breath that I was not going to be labelled a ‘bloody tourist just here to use the loo’.  So I made him stay for three drinks and by then the barman had warmed up to us.  He used to play semi-professional football and we asked him about the photos which he had on display behind the bar.  He made us try a liquor ‘Pisang Embun’ upon learning my association with Indonesia.  I have a photo of us behind the bar and we parted as friends that evening.

It has been 11 years since our last visit to Amsterdam.  It will always hold a special place in my heart.  The Eurostar now runs direct to Amsterdam so watch this space!