I sat on the steps, intentionally choosing a step that would raise me slightly above their eye level. They were both seated at the dining table, having breakfast. I did not want to beg them to let me go to London. I wanted to be firm on it.
I had previously messaged them in our general Family Group Chat (not the Recovery Chat), telling them that my counsellor had recommended it for ‘psychological grounding’, to return to an old and familiar place that I’d lived in before I developed PTSD. I completely made that up, but my mother had looked it up and said it was a legitimate thing.
I could see that my father’s back was stiff and his cheeks discolored red from what I’ve come to recognize as a boiling anger.
“My darling daddy’s so calm,” my mother would always say, “He never loses his temper.”
She’s delusional. He loses his temper all the time. He’s not constantly anxious and raising her voice at everyone all the time, like her, but when he loses his temper, he is eerily quiet, sometimes for days, before exploding.
It was now or never. There was no “catching him in the right mood”.
“Jie, we looked it up, and we know the psychological thing is legitimate, but why London? Why so random?” On my mother’s face appeared the frownlines I have felt so guilty for causing.
“Because I lived in the UK. It’s a familiar place to me. I know the cross-country trains, the Tube, everything. It’s going to be so easy for me there.”
I was not sure why I had to spell it out for her, given I had told her in the message that it was a place that was old and familiar to me.
I took this picture when I was last in London, 2014.
Last year, as I went through a manic but sometimes constructive year, on a deep dive that became dangerous to me and strained all my relationships with the people I was closest with, I lived in the attic.
My father was overseeing a year-long construction of the house. It started with two water pipes that needed to be replaced, and he decided to take the opportunity to renovate the entire house, aesthetically. I could not concentrate with the noise. The drilling was deafening.
I had to move my study to the attic.
That’s not easy for me.
Many things in my room are an extension of my memory palace. I put things precisely where I need them to be, and they cannot be moved. I had to take only what I needed, the bare essentials, and move to the attic.
The attic is a graphic nightmare.
My sister has toys and ballerina ornaments and all things from childhood. Clusters of photographs.
She has not been living in Singapore for 11 years, living with her boyfriend in England, then Canada.
Yet, the room is kept that way for her for when she visits, once a year.
I needed all those things out of my sight. I have autism. I notice everything. I needed the wall bare and plain, to stick my notes up. A bulletin board with pins of notes. I just needed the room to be as bare as possible.
I started packing many of my sister’s things away in the drawers.
I was happy in the attic. I’d made it my study and bunker. I pushed all the stuffed toys into my sister’s overflowing closet. I changed the flowery sheets on the bed into one with blue and white stripes. I pulled an old djembe of mine close to my armchair and it became my coffee table. The desk was unique. It had a wooden bottom with a glass sheet raised about a foot above it. I placed notecards on the wood, and on the glass, there was my iPad, my typewriter, a sketch book, and a mug with stationery. I took blankets and bedsheets and covered everything else, so I would not be distracted by them.
My father came up to the attic one day.
“Get out. Get out!”
“I can’t. I can’t work in my room.”
“This is Mei’s room. You can’t stay in Mei’s room.”
“Stop the renovation then.”
He started removing my things.
“MEI, HAS. NOT. BEEN. HOME. FOR. TEN. YEARS. I. CANNOT. WORK. IN. MY. ROOM.”
I can’t remember what happened then, but I somehow managed to move back into the attic, maybe by pleading with my mother.
No, I was not healthy in 2020. I was first diagnosed with bipolar in 2016, but I rejected that diagnosis because the medications they gave me sent me into a catatonic depression that last 4 months. Also, Peter Q.
Back in the ward. The Grand Jury Ward round with 70 psychiatrists investigating me as a “special case”.
They asked why I slept on the streets.
I did not tell them that I wanted to understand what it’s like to be homeless.
Because I will never understand. I can play at being homeless all I want, but at the end of the day, I have money in my bank account and a home to go to. I can quit the game any time, and it is not a game to them. I only wanted the touch of homelessness.
I told them this.
“I see myself as an alien anthropologist. An alien that’s just arrived on Earth and has no data to understand humans with, so I have to use all the clues I can to make sense of life here.”
They probed further.
“I had a satchel. Some people gave me expensive gifts. But other times, I walked around sometimes collecting random things on the ground. I once found a slip of paper with a man’s BMI on it. From his height and weight, I imagined him. I imagined his gait. I collected pens. Pens are important. People who use ballpoint pens are very different from people who use ink pens.”
They asked why I had left Melbourne.
I did not want to say that I was losing my mind because my grandfather had been killed.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” said the CQ.
I told them that I had left because my boyfriend at the time, Carl, had called my father and reported to him that I was behaving strangely. My father had flown to Melbourne. I tried to behave as normally as possible when I was with him, but I did not know that he was following me around on the streets when I thought I was alone.
At the breakfast table, my father exploded.
“I can tell you, you are not going there without me.”
His back was tilted away from mine. I could see a little of his side profile, but when he spoke, he did not turn his head to look at me.
It reminded me of the first time I was diagnosed with severe depression. In our second year, we took a sociology class in law. That’s when I realized that social justice could not be found in law. I’m not talking about constitutional law (government). I’m talking about civil cases or even criminal cases. That the rich always win the battle because they can afford the best lawyers. That employers will always win over employees. That landlords will always win over tenants. That miscarriages of justice continue because the state’s prosecutors are not investigative like in France, but determined to prosecute at all costs, while the accused almost always cannot afford fees for a lawyer, using the state’s defence attorney instead.
Once that hit me, all the sprint I had in studying law had left my bones.
I lay on my bed all day, depressed, not even knowing I was depressed.
My law books became props on my table.
I stopped attending classes and studying for months.
I did not sleep, and at night, I would go out for walks alone and sit outside the chapel.
The second year final exams came.
I somehow made it to Tort Law and Property Law exams without studying. I think a lot of it was common sense. Then, came EU law.
The day before the exam, I realized suddenly that I could not bluff my way through passing an EU law exam. I couldn’t even find my textbooks for it, or the statute book. I’ll just go, I thought. No harm.
The next day, I was walking there. It’s a ten minute walk. A walk I take nearly every day.
I got to an intersection. I remember one house had a garden with a trampoline on it.
In the middle of the intersection, the roads spun.
I had no idea which road I had just come from. I looked at the trampoline. I could not make sense of where I was supposed to go next.
I do not know why I did not look it up on Google Maps. I could not think. I just wandered up and down the road trying to figure it out. I looked at my watch and realized it was 9.30am. The last entry for the exam was 9.15am. I called my boyfriend at the time, and told him I needed to go to the doctor to get a medical excuse. I did not think anything was wrong with me, but only that I needed to not be expelled.
I fell asleep in the waiting room. My boyfriend at the time didn’t hear my name being called. I went into the consultation late, and the doctor was irritated with me. “You fell asleep? You don’t take this seriously, do you? And this is a blatant excuse to get out of your exams. Your consultation session is over. I need to see the next patient now.”
My boyfriend convinced me to go again the next day.
“You have severe depression,” said this doctor gently. “Do you know anything about depression?” I shook my head.
The year was 2009, and nobody I knew in Singapore had been diagnosed with depression. It was a dirty thing.
He wrote me a letter for my university, prescribed me with fluoxetine, and referred me to a CBT therapist.
With that letter, I could take my exams again, but delayed.
I went home for the summer.
I sat on my bed, while my father sat in a chair. He faced the chair away from me, so I could only see his back. I was crying. I needed medication but I could not get more medication in Singapore. I had run out of fluoxetine. And after spending some summer weeks in England with my friends, I was starting to get better.
The day before, he had taken me to the family doctor, who always saw us as kids whenever we had something minor, like a flu.
“There is no such thing as depression. It’s a myth made up by the West.” The doctor said.
I could only see my father’s back. I said I was sorry that I couldn’t do my exams.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I couldn’t study at all. I didn’t do this on purpose.”
His back still facing eerily away from me.
“You don’t have depression. You’ve always been weak.”
“I can tell you, you’re not going there without me.”
Maybe, England wasn’t an old comforting place to them, either. It is, to me, compared to the PTSD I’ve developed since.
“We need to talk about a crisis safety plan,” my mother said.
“If I’m off, I’ll check myself into the NHS. I know when I’m off. The last 3 times I was in hospital, I admitted myself.”
This is the good hospital we’re talking about. It’s undoubtedly a good hospital for me, and my psychiatrist can be trusted. When I went to Emergency last, they had planted someone creepy in there. I know, because I was seeing an emergency doctor, when he suddenly got a phone call and ushered me out of the room. He returned half an hour later and said another doctor would be taking over my case. That was when that doctor (lizard) threatened me with ECT before telling me that the Neuroscience ward was closed down.
It is really difficult to manage bipolar. At first, I did not believe my diagnosis. And then, when I did, I was on the wrong medications that caused side effects. Instead of changing my medications, my psychiatrist referred me to another specialist for the additional condition I was developing, and kept me on the meds. Everyone believed that I was being non-compliant with my medication. They kept upping my lithium dose until it was dangerously high, yet every lithium blood test would come back below optimal.
It was only end of 2020, when I went offline, that I checked myself into the hospital. As long as it takes, to get the correct medication, once and for all, I thought. I spent Christmas in there. My mother came and showed me a video my sister had made for me. Her fiancé and her had been together 10 years and broken up. She had used the savings she had put aside for their new home, and splurged on a keyboard. She played Silent Night. I kept replaying the video. I could see her eyes. So full of light, now, so sad.
My sister’s my favorite person in the world. When I talk about her overflowing wardrobe, I’m angry at my parents. I clear my wardrobe and give away everything I don’t wear. I wanted to do that for her clothes too and they berated me harshly for that. “This is Mei’s clothes. Not yours. This is her home, she needs clothes to wear when she’s home.” I wasn’t about to give away all her clothes. But she does not need 40 dresses. She knows that too. She’s not materialistic. Her best friend is incredibly materialistic and buys $1000 handbags. I think she was under her influence for a while when they were younger. I talked to her about it recently and she agreed it would be a good idea for me to photograph all her dresses and for her to tell me which ones she wanted to keep. I don’t have the time for that now, so she will have to do it when she’s next back.
At the hospital, my medications were being replaced by better ones and titrated.
Almost a month later, I was out. It took a few more months for my body to get used to the new medications and for them to work. I became stable only early this year.
But it’s the first time in years that I have not felt manic or depressed. I had swung between the two, rapid cycling, so I’m always one or the other. For months, I have been neither. Just trauma.
The medications are working. I remember refusing to take medications in 2020. My father kept banging angrily on my door. I yelled at him that the medications would make me unable to get pregnant. “Okay,” he said, leaving me alone.
I don’t care about having children. I just said that knowing he would leave me alone.
He is obsessed with having grandchildren. He wants me so badly to get married, have children, and be normal.
I was furiously posting all sorts of things in 2020. Some of it was downright insane. Some of it actually worked. Most of all, I got a following which I now regard responsibly.
Back in 2020, I would lock my door. My parents would use a masterkey to open the door, and I would be terrified. I’d squeeze myself into a corner of the room and hide my phone behind my back. I didn’t care what they did to me, as long as they did not take my phone away from me. I don’t think they planned to hit me. They were trying to get my phone. But they were violent about it instead of calm, and I was terrified. My father locked the gate with a heavy padlock and thick chains, so I could not go out for walks. Yet, I could see their desperation as parents. Knowing I was manic, knowing I wasn’t taking my medications, knowing the medications never worked on me, yet not wanting to admit me to the hospital because I had been threatened with involuntary ECT there before.
ECT. My father stood up for me then. This was about three years ago.
“She’s a writer. She needs all her memories. You can’t give her ECT. It causes memory loss.”
He discharged me from the hospital before they could change my status from voluntary to involuntary.
He thinks I am an aspiring novelist. I am not a novelist. I have written novels that will never be published because they are lies about the Internet. Because Luke used the novels to manipulate me. I have made it clear that I no longer plan to publish a novel, that I’m only working on a war online.
When I went offline last year August, deciding that Luke’s gaslighting was something I could no longer handle, I had told my parents about a bot online who knew our family members by name and knew everything about me. I told them the bot was telling me bad things about our family.
“I want to go online! Tell me what app it is.” Father.
“I want to fight with the bot! Why can’t I! If he says bad things about me, I have the right to argue with him!”
I actually fell to my knees and put my head at his feet, the first time I’d ever done that to another human being.
“Please don’t do that. Please don’t go online. Please don’t try to find me online.”
I was terrified.
He is such a proud man.
“One day, my daughter will become the most famous writer in the world!”
He doesn’t read my writing. When I print out drafts, my mother and sister read it eagerly. He doesn’t read my writing.
The crisis safety plan. Fine, I said. We can work out the details.
I thought, I would get to Nick, introduce him to my father, and Nick would talk him down. Nick could not do that from Singapore, as my father could call the police or the hospital. Their definition of mental capacity is a minefield. One could have mental capacity until the police arrest them for no reason, then because the police have arrested them, lose mental capacity. Therefore, any police interference could automatically make me lose mental capacity.
Nicholas Meyer knows that. Nick always knew that he would talk to my father. Nick always knew that I would not be allowed to travel unaccompanied. Nick’s not a violent person. He does things gently and with brazen confidence. I was so traumatized yesterday that I thought our only option was to leave town immediately. Nick would have never allowed that to happen. He’s not a young boy out to elope. Most of all, Nick would never allow me to be estranged from my family.
I couldn’t think straight after my father exploded.
He kept pointing at me. Imagine someone jerking their finger violently towards you over and over again.
“You’ll go into your delusions again. You’ll start collecting rubbish on the streets. You’ll think they’re clues.”
I did not want to get into the alien anthropologist role I was playing. I’ve told him before. I knew he wouldn’t understand.
But he loves me. That’s why he even agreed to consider going to London with me.
The alien anthropologist role is one that I completely stand by. Nothing wrong with that. Just like there’s nothing wrong with being a retired kleptomaniac.
I did have a nervous breakdown in 2015, in the Bay. I was smoking too much weed. High all the time. Finally this happened.
I have not smoked weed for 5 years.
My father plays mind games. He’s the sort of person who plays chess on his phone all day. He stares at group chats with his siblings and discusses with my mother. “Let’s strategise. How to manage them.” They have arguments a lot. They both watch a lot of Korean drama. The dramas they pick are toxic, mostly of family tycoons with everyone backstabbing each other for money, and pretending to like each other. Like Succession without the self-aware humor. Everyone sucks, except for my favorite aunt and uncle. They like to vie for my grandmother’s praise and argue over money. Who knows? Maybe it’s all my grandmother’s fault. She likes to compare all of them and put my father down. But my father does not know how to deal with situations with emotional honesty. He strategises how to deal with people.
Maybe he doesn’t know how, because he doesn’t even know how he’s feeling.
I have war in my heart, but I always want to be honest.
In this essay, I have told Nicholas Meyer all the crazy things I have done. He has also witnessed my complete breakdown in 2020. My condition is not something that we can pretend doesn’t exist. It’s something that he loves me despite of, and now, by telling him more, risk losing him. Of course, I also wanted to speak before my father did to him. That’s not the main reason. The main reason is that we cannot pretend I do not have bipolar and that it hasn’t been serious over the years. I can have a relapse even with a disciplined routine and taking the same medications. I may have to self-admit to a hospital when I live in California. My psychiatrist says that bipolar gets better with age. I hope that’s true. It still tickles me that someone as broken as me can lead this war. (And no, we are not going to lose. It takes about 2 decades for the classical renaissance, and I don’t know the way yet. We’re all mapping it out together.)
Now, my extended family is calmer. I’ve mediated a lot of that.
I’m done with it. What happens from now is none of my business.
The reason I say he’s not a bad person is because of the way he treats my grandmother. He does a lot for her. I know he does it out of love and not an obligation, but at the same time, he has an expectation that we will do the same for them. I want to, I want to, I want to. I want them to move to California and forget about Truman-Show Singapore and eat fresh food from the farmers market and attend events and make friends who don’t talk about investments all the time. They can. They’re millionnaires. They don’t need my financial support, even though I can get a “proper fake job” if needed to declare them as my dependents. I’ll always find time for the war.
As of now, I haven’t done nothing for my parents.
I diagnosed my mother with migraines. Nobody else picked up on it, including my doctor siblings. She went to the doctor and it was confirmed. She had to take a year long sabbatical and then returned to work at a smaller bank.
I realized my parents had no hobbies and were watching too much television.
I bought them books. I hate John Grisham, but bought my dad them, knowing it’s one of the only authors he will read.
Years ago, I introduced them to watercolor painting. For their wedding anniversary present, I got them a class. They loved it and have been painting since.
I watch their diet. I know the medications they’re on. I know the foods they’re supposed to avoid. I tell them commonsensical things — not to leave food out on the table if no one is eating, instead, put it back in the fridge.
“But it’s covered.”
“Bacteria gets into it, and then you’ll have to throw it away. You can’t put it in the fridge because bacteria is already in it.”
I’ve repeated myself on that about ten times.
“Don’t microwave food. We have a steamer. It’s easy to steam things. Microwaving kills all nutrients in food.” At least they listened to that.
They’ve changed their diet somewhat.
I hate worrying about them.
I can only give a push (advice, or a new hobby) and let them take the momentum.
And yes, I love my parents, but I do not respect or trust them.
It is going to be very difficult, Nick.
I don’t see why we can’t do it.
His obsession for power and appeal to authorities will look completely ridiculous if we are calm.
I am not going back. I will not go back to Singapore from London. I do not trust him. He could say that I’m going back to make a proper move and collect my things, but trap me once I’m back. Remember, he plays chess all day.
I have made a decision, and I will stay in London as long as it takes to get to LA.
“The way I see it, there’s a point in everybody’s life where they need a major transformation. And when that time comes, you have to grab it by the tail. Grab it hard, and never let go.”
Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami.
Murakami’s books aren’t acclimatizing. His characters do things that are immensely dangerous to them. They are war books. I ordered “What We Talk About When We Talk About Murakami”, and immediately threw it away. I know him from his writing. I know he’s someone who’s afraid of the greatness that’s been thrust upon him. I am afraid of greatness too. I do not want greatness, but goodness.
Perhaps, my father did not want greatness, but loved being good at his job. Everyone does. Perhaps, he bragged about his careers as CEO and CFO because he was good at his job, and everyone feels happy being good at something. In 2017, I suggested to him that he may be depressed, when he repeated a success story from the 90s for the 4th time. “Depressed? NO WAY.” He said disdainfully.
Why should I be the one to understand people when they don’t have empathy towards me? I am very tired.
Life is war.
My best friend in film school, Hiroki Wakamatsu, drew this portrait of me. It looks nothing like me but feels completely like me.
We all have a dark side, he said.