Monday, 28 February 2011

Farewirthdayunion Dinner

So yesterday we went out for dinner at Duck King in Jaya One: a combined belated birthday thing for Chan Ghee, a reunion of old friends, and a farewell party for Chan Ghee. CG has been offered a job in NZ (far from the devastating earthquake), and he's actually leaving this week. I'm probably going to start looking for a new housemate (and might even contemplate - gasp!! - a stranger!) from April, so that I'll have one month to see how things go living back entirely on my own. Oy, everything has moved very quickly, and it's all very bittersweet. On the plus side, we got to meet up with old friends Steph and Liz, whom we haven't seen in years, and Debs and Phaik Leng were there too, as was Chrissie and Terry, so it was a pretty good time. And there were cupcakes. Lots of cupcakes. And then alcohol at the neighbouring watering hole!

Here are some pics, courtesy of Terry!

(L-R) Steph, Liz and Terry; Chan Ghee, me, Debs and Phaiks

Moving On

Hey all! Welcome back to the slightly new and just mildly improved Nick! Things have been looking marginally better since the whole anti-depressant thing came about. I'm on round two of the meds, and before any of you send me frowny faces, you should know that my doctor and I are still in discussions over whether I should see a counsellor or psychologist. Basically he says if this is a clinical depression I'd know by the end of a six-week run; the Prozac would only begin to start working about now, after the initial two weeks, as I've actually been taking that plus another drug. So apparently it's the other drug that's been kicking in, and only about now will the Prozac have some sort of effect on my brain. Oooer.

So this is what my doc says: the state of depression that I was/am in was probably triggered off by an issue or problem. Can I identify it? (The answer is yes). Can I overcome it? (The answer is, I probably will, in time). So my doc says the meds are strictly to work on the brain chemistry that's making these issues so difficult to deal with, and that he'd recommend further professional help only if I couldn't identify the trigger, or really was unable to overcome it no matter what. The truth is, the stuff that started the spiral into despair is really something that a lot of people face. But not everyone is reduced to helplessly lying and sobbing in bed at three in the afternoon. Most people can deal with it; it's just that for some reason, my brain won't let me. See, that's the difference.That's what makes it likely chemical. The issues that triggered it off? I know what they are. I can theoretically figure out the rationale or non-rationale behind it. But controlling the emotions? That's another story altogether. And if emotional response is tied in with brain chemistry and serotonin reuptake and all that, then that's what needs to be treated. So he says.

Anyway, the plan now is after another two weeks, he'd remove me off the second drug so that I'm solely on Prozac. And then gradually he'll wean me off the Prozac and see how everything goes. I know some of you might still be frowning in disapproval at this, but really, I trust my doc and will go along with this. Because I'm tired of talking about the whole state of affairs that triggered off the depressive state to begin with. I'm tired of thinking about it, analysing it, convincing myself of logic or non-logic, hashing and rehashing it, trying to figure it all out. I've probably been doing too much of that, that's why I went into a downward spiral. It's been figured out to death. So no, I don't want to talk about it anymore. And really, I don't want to blog about it anymore, so unless I can't help it, I'm going to move on to other, more uplifting topics.

Starting... with the post above.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Checking In

Hey, all. Sorry things have been quiet (and rather serious) lately. This, as they say, shall pass. Regular blog updates to resume in due course. Thanks everyone!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Walls

Bear with me.

So this is the metaphor Terry and I have come up with to describe what my life has become. Over the past few years, I've increasingly become bent on staging something significant, to the exclusion of everything else: social engagement, intellectual pursuits. It's like building a little city. My entire focus began to zoom in on building this city. But by the end, when this city was built, it's, like, four walls that have gone up around it, blocking out the entire view of everything else, not allowing other people to come in, and not allowing me, the sole occupant, to really look out, either. And the walls that went up are made out of shit. Shit like, "You're useless!" and "You're a failure!" and "You'll never succeed at anything!". And to protect the wall of shit, cannons were erected that fired little cannonballs of shit, so that others who came close, others who'd try to help, and especially others who - heaven forbid - were deemed better or more successful than I was, even though it should never have been any sort of contest, were fired at with these stupid balls of shit. Occasionally one or two people would get past the cannonballs and skirt the perimeter and knock on the walls, going, "Nick, are you okay in there?" and Nick would go, "I'm fine. I've got my city! Look! It's in here behind these walls!" and they'd go, "Won't you let us in?" and I'd go, "Nope!" and they'd go, "Okay, suit yourself!" and Nick now has no friends.

Okay, it's a really, really bad metaphor, but it made sense while we were discussing it.

The point is: it's time to tear these walls down. And let others in. And for me to move out from this little myopic city and engage with others again.

I think the walls began to go up in 2006, and then development on it stopped for a little while before resuming in '08. Because when I first came back from Perth in 2006, I was so excited, so gung ho at the prospect of making new connections and forging new paths in Malaysia. Those who first met me in Perth in '02 would attest to that, too: that the Nick who came to Perth and the Nick who left were noticeably different. When Nick was forced to leave Aussieland, the walls began. Then, back home, it was a New Beginning, so the building of the walls stopped, or at least slowed down, till about 2008 when construction resumed, culminating in early 2011, post Follow The Light, my city, my city which I couldn't be proud of despite all that it was and all that it managed to achieve, my city which blocked out the view of everything else and allowed only certain people to skirt the perimeter and not come in.

It's going to take time. But these walls will come down.

Bear with me.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Poison and Mystery

So last Friday I remained in bed, for no real reason, until two in the afternoon, exhausted. And as I lay there, I once again prayed to God to help me find a way out of what I was feeling. What was I feeling, apart from the heavy sense of despondency pressing upon me like a wet blanket? (Wow, that's poetry, Nick, well done.) Feelings of pointlessness. Of low self esteem. Of unfulfilled dreams and unfulfilled desires. Of my life not being worth a damn. That if I had some way of ending it, I'd end it. At the same time, I was logical enough to recognise that I didn't want to end it. I wasn't that far gone. But the emotional side of me just kept on hounding me, making me feel like facing the world was one big chore, that even the most basic act of socialising was too much of an effort. I was too messed up to let people, especially new people, see the real, fucked-up me. So only a couple of "newer" friends know. You poor, unfortunate souls.

So I prayed, and more and more I began to get convinced that I needed to seek some professional help for this. It sounds ironic, I know, that faith in God could lead me to say I need to rely on human help. Nevertheless I dragged myself out of bed, ignored the sensation that life was unfair and everything was too much to cope with, and got myself to my general practitioner - my first choice, since I decided to seek advice first; if he could help me, great. If not, then he'd refer me to a specialist. Awesome.

So I spoke to the doctor, and he whipped out some sort of checklist, and lo and behold, out of, like, ten symptoms of depression, I matched ten of them. Let's see. Among them: loss of appetite (but increased emotional eating); poor sleeping patterns (do you know that I've not had a decent night's sleep in forever? I go to bed and wake up every two to three hours, feeling miserable); oversleeping (which sounds contradictory, but is really the unwillingness to get out of bed); lack of interest in social activity; reduced concentration; feelings of guilt; feelings of deep sadness, irritability, apathy and lack of discernment in making decisions; thoughts of suicide. Is that ten? Whatever. I can't recall 'em all. But I think waking up, lying in bed, feeling on the verge of tears, and then actually bursting into tears is probaaably a good sign something's not quite right. Oy.

At the end of it, Doc told me, "The fact that you're here, recognising you need help, is a good sign; it means in the grand scheme of things, you're not too serious a case." (I'm paraphrasing of course; we're not so eloquent in everyday Malaysianised conversation.) And he prescribed some sleeping pills and (ooo) anti-depressants. Prozac. Whoohoo. I feel like a character out of Rent now, the tortured artist. Or the mother in Next To Normal, with lesser extremes.

The thing is, when I look back, I've been suffering from these cyclical bouts of depression for years now. As far back as a teenager, I recall being really, really, inexplicably sad on occasion, especially on weekends when my brother and I were home alone and I didn't really have much to do; a deep sense of dread at the thought of purposelessness. And it's been perpetuating over the past fifteen years or so, only I never took the step towards fixing it, partially because of the delusion that admitting that something was wrong was a sign of weakness; and also due to the on-again-off-again nature of the depression - i.e. I would feel fine for a couple of weeks, and then drop into the abyss of dismay, but while I felt fine it would never feel like a problem that had to be dealt with long-term.

But I'm turning 31 this year, and I'm plagued by thoughts of failure and low self-worth; that if I were to off myself, nobody would give a damn. And I know that's not true. And at 31, the "prime of my life", my world has become so myopic: I've lost interest in broader topics of engagement; I hardly go to the movies anymore; I barely socialise (I have, like, maybe, three friends who I talk to on a regular basis, one of whom is my housemate); I prefer to stay home alone, in the near-darkness of  my apartment, watching television shows that more frequently than not are reruns of what I deem familiar. When I went away on holiday recently, I spent more time being sad than happy; I had to force myself to relax and enjoy myself (which, make no mistake, I ultimately did). I'm (in all likelihood) starting a new job in a couple of weeks, and yet I feel little to no excitement at the prospect.

I find myself being unable to be alone, and yet I don't make an effort to seek companionship even though I crave it. I find myself unable to do nothing, to bask in being content, because I'm clearly not. I consider myself stupid, and incapable, and I find myself perpetually comparing myself to other people, thinking, "Why is he/she happy and I'm not?" I thought losing weight would make me happy (refer to the whole drastic weight-loss regime of 2009); I thought getting my shows produced would make me happy. And while these are noteworthy accomplishments, I don't feel happy. I don't feel accomplished. I feel like a total failure with no reason for my existence.

Once upon a time I wrote stories; long analytical articles on myriad topics; I've had works of fiction published. I've got a double degree in Communications and English (Creative Arts); a Master of Arts degree in both. Yet when I've lately been approached to contribute freelance entertainment and miscellaneous lifestyle articles... and my response has been to say, "I won't. I can't. I'm just not good enough." Those of you who know me, especially those who've worked with me in the journalism field, might be surprised (or not) to know this. And even more surprising is the fact that I've somehow come to believe that my musical abilities are pointless, that I'm not good at what I do, that I fail as a musician... oftentimes, most ludicrously, I can't even think of myself as a musician. I've lost faith in myself so much, for no real reason, that it's indicative, I think, of a deeper "poison". And that poison, I believe, is depression.

So in order to avoid feeling these feelings, I throw myself into my work. I slave away at being prolific, productive... but being prolific and productive aren't necessarily the same as being purposeful, I reckon. I desperately try to find ways of keeping busy so as to avoid confronting these emotions. And when a project is over and I have no immediate new plans, the feelings come back full force, and with a vengeance. So I hide from people, not willing to let them into this web of emotional screwuppance. I consciously let one or two in, with prudence. And sometimes, someone gets inadvertently entangled in the web, and try as I might, the web won't let that person go quite so easily. Which truly sucks when the logical part of me, the mind, is able to say, "This is ridiculous. You have no reason to feel these things. Let go. Move on. Move on. Move on."

The question is: Move on to what? And how to let go, when you have no idea why you're holding on?

Poison.

Here's the bottom line of all this: if you've been following my blog, you'd know that lately I've been trying to rediscover my place with God. And I've begun to believe this is all tied in with that pursuit of being a Christian again, of being a follower, of trusting that God has a plan for me and this is all part of His purpose. That I, as a human being, have a purpose; I just have to let Him show it to me in His time. I've been through some challenging mental-emotional-spiritual times in recent weeks, and I think part of the whole point of it is to confront these issues within myself. Issues like emotional immaturity and instability, tied in with the deeper, root problems that are causing said emotional immaturity and instability. Then there are other, more basic human weaknesses I'm now forced to contend with: arrogance and pride, which need to be broken down by His grace, and yet, having the conviction to believe in myself so that I don't go down the path of self-loathing to the point of destruction. These are issues I can try fix on my own, but which I believe can definitely be fixed by trusting in Him and letting Him lead (and also having the patience and perseverance to keep going).

So all of this, I think, stems back to my long, if previously unconscious, struggle with depression, which I believe God wants me to confront and deal with once and for all. Yes, yes, we can argue, "If God cares about you so much, why didn't he just take the depression away?" Because, I think, it's only through all these years of struggle and endurance, through the difficulties and the emotional hurt, that I am able to grow as a person, and, God willing, be a better man, a good follower of Jesus, a good neighbor and brother in Christ to others.

The courage and the conviction to seek professional help is a huge step, after fifteen-odd years of denial and fear. It's huge, and yet, oxymoronically, it's only a small first step. But it's a step.

I'm sorry this blog post is so self-focused. I almost feel the urge to say something like, "If any of you are feeling like something is wrong, that you are sad for no reason, that you have no will to live, please go and seek help like I did." And while that advice may be true, it would also make me a real pompous jerk to say it. Because I have no authority. I've only taken one small step. I've spoken to one man, my doctor. I've swallowed two little capsules of medication. But already I'm feeling better. (Incidentally, the doctor says it's too soon for an official diagnosis of clinical depression, but I fit all the signs.) And while I have my doctor to thank, I really have God to be grateful for, for making me realise these things, for helping me grow up (when perhaps many other people would have grown up years earlier, or, conversely, might spend the bulk of their lives never growing up), and for making me confront the very issues that I've spent almost two decades running away from.

So I don't have advice for anyone except perhaps this: you might not think God cares, or that He even exists. Heck, I still struggle with this thought. But at the end of the day, He either does exist, or He doesn't. And I choose to believe He does. And it is because of this belief that I'm striving to be a better person, after years of denial and resentment and forced disbelief, even when the steps towards being a better person are painful or confusing or frightening. Because the alternative is a life of purposelessness, and Godlessness. If that works for you, kudos. But it doesn't work for me. I'm not strong enough. So I need my strength to come from somewhere else. And this is where I'm looking to.

Edited to add:

In light of this whole depression issue and the question of God's grace, this song seems to be more relevant to me than before:

Saturday, 12 February 2011

In Case You Missed It: Snow/Angels

Snow/Angels
Music and lyrics by Nick Choo
© 2010

You said, “Come follow me. I’ll lead you safely through this winter storm.”
I said, “Give me a sign that I may believe.”
And so you followed through. And so I followed you.
But the questions still remain; they flood and flurry in my brain:
What am I to do? Have I been a fool for blindly trusting you?
Blindsighted by this doubt, I try to find my own way out.
So I close my eyes, trying to deny every single sign—

But how can I turn away when snow falls out of season?
How can I run away from angels in my sleep?
How to explain away these things beyond all reason?
Snow/angels. Snow/angels. Snow/angels.

You say, “I’ll be your guide. I will reveal just where you’re meant to be.”
I follow hopefully.

But frequently I find my spirit willing, but my mind wondering
Who I’m meant to be. Where am I to go? Are you really in control?
This blizzard in my head leaves me running blind, afraid;
So I close my eyes: easier to deny every single sign—

But how can I turn away when snow falls out of season?
How can I run away from angels in my sleep?
How to explain away these things beyond all reason:
Snow/angels. Snow/angels. Snow/angels.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Ahoy Maties! Brrrrm!

And so it's over - two performances of The Greatest Show On Earth: A Circus Story on Sunday! First show was more well-attended, but overall it was a blast, and I think most of the audience enjoyed themselves (those who didn't were probably not too familiar with the style and concept of Children's Theatre that we were going for, heh!). And the turnout was well enough that I managed to get a nice honorarium for all the work I'd put in for the publicity and bookings, which makes it all the more worthwhile. :) Anyway, I managed to grab a couple of nice mementos from the show, and now they're decorating my apartment. Check 'em out: I've got a ship's helm and a car in my living room! ARF!


Saturday, 5 February 2011

One Day More! + CNY Dinner with the CT Gang!

Showtime in about 12 hours, folks! Two performances of The Greatest Show On Earth: A Circus Story tomorrow, the first at 11am, the second at 7:30pm! It's gonna be really exciting, as these kids' productions tend to be! Check out the pics of us in rehearsal:

Andrew, with his faithful stuffed sidekick!

Good lord, that's a big bow tie, Wade!

Meng as Eeyore. Yup. Eeyore. Sad.

Jason as the evil lord of the circus ring!

Bwaaaa-haaa-haaaa!
 

Andrew and Wade on stage.

Nick's a real cool cat!

And here are some cool snapshots courtesy of Andrew K. Cheers, Andrew!




On Thursday night we met up at Le Meridien hotel in KL for a lovely Chinese New Year buffet dinner! Food galore, good company and lots of laughs – and the best part is, we managed to get a huge discount on the meal. Get this: there were eleven of us at the table, and it was supposed to cost RM107 per person. We ended up paying RM30 per person, I kid you not!! What a bargain!! Thanks to our mate U for helping us get such an awesome price! ;) Here are pics of us at dinner:




Okay, that's it for now!! Till next time – here's hoping we break legs tomorrow, arf arf!! ;)

(Courtesy of Andrew K)

Friday, 4 February 2011

Don't Be Afraid

As I further contemplate my meaning in the greater scheme of things – i.e. who am I? What am I supposed to do? Is there a purpose to my existence? Is God in control, and if he is, where does he want me to go? – I suddenly recalled a funeral service a few years ago for a week-old baby. (I make reference to this here.) I hope it isn't inappropriate or self-centred of me to share this, but after years of thinking I have little worth or purpose in God's eyes, this memory made me pause. I couldn't see it then, but maybe, just maybe, it was significant, through God's will, that my music was being used to comfort others.

You may have heard this song before, but here it is again. Thank you, God. Please continue to show me the way towards being who and what you want me to be, where you want me to be. Amen.

Don't Be Afraid - Performed by Ken Erickson

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Counting Down to CNY... and the Circus

Hey, everyone! It's the day before Chinese New Year, and for the first time in a long, long time I'm not with my family this year because of the Children's Theatre project this weekend. Yup, the family's up in Penang, and I'm here. Feeling a tad melancholy, which is surprising given how much I actually dislike CNY... but I think it also has to do with this God-search o'mine and how for the past couple of days I've been feeling — well, weak. I just hope I can snap out of this. It's not particularly encouraging. Oy.

Anyway, enough of that. Today I'll be spending the bulk of the day working on all the music work. I'm also tasked with ticket bookings, which, believe you me, is not an entirely easy job. Thanks to the (minimal) publicity we've had, the calls have been coming in! We originally anticipated probably selling about 75 seats per show if we were lucky. As of today, more than 225 seats have been booked for the first show, which is terrific!! And oh, I also have a character in this show, with lines and all, gasp! So it's going to be fun, playing live music while speaking at the same time, heh. Not sure if I'm coordinated enough to pull it off, so I guess we'll see... ;))

Jenny directs


Me and some of the cast
 


Rehearsals in progress
 


And as a special treat, here's a sneak-peek of one of the songs from the show (lyrics pre-written, not by me, hehehehe!). Okay, the style of it might not be 100% original — gimme a break, we've only had two weeks to work on the entire show. :P Okay, until next time!!