Purpose and pleasure

I recently returned from a holiday in China, celebrating Chinese New Year with my family. Those were joyous times and a joyous post will eventually regale them. But first, I must address that after every holiday there is a tremendous void in my life where all that excitement and anticipation and bliss of holidaying no longer fills. I’ve been told this happens to everyone, but I do not think it happens in quite the same way. I do not think most people wake up in the morning wondering what they’re going to do with an empty day and panic a little. I’ve addressed this before- it is an ongoing issue. But what I want to say is as much about my family as it is about me.

When my highly successful millionaire uncles asked Eugene what he’s doing, he was proud to announce his acceptance into the Royal College of Music in London, where he will be moving to in order to complete his Master’s degree in musical composition. When they asked me what I was doing, I answered truthfully that I was taking a break from study for six months, and that in a year and a half I’d have my Bachelor’s degree in social work. They looked confused to me- it seemed as if their faces said “I don’t understand. Why do you need a break? It’s not a very difficult, technical, or intellectually draining course. Why are you taking so long? I’m glad that you’re happy, but I don’t understand why you’re not doing more.” Obviously I read this subjectively, and I’ll never truly find out what they were thinking, but it was embarrassing. I was speaking to Fifth Uncle about early life- my grandparents had fourteen children and some days the eldest of them would have to go without food. They would beg for rice from their kind neighbours and, lacking anything to go with the thin porridge (more water than grain), would dig up potatoes from the garden. From that challenging beginning, my mother went overseas to study and work, money was sent home which funded the education of some of her siblings, and empires and businesses were born until literally millions of Malaysian ringit were being thrown around casually. Why couldn’t I just suck it up? their faces seemed to say. What did I know of challenge?

Some day it is likely I will get old and retire. I will stop working, and my days will be up to me to fill. In truth, I have feared that day since I was thirteen or younger. It terrifies me to imagine having all that time and struggling to find purpose to pass each individual minute. I’ve already planned out my retirement activities, though vaguely, for fear that if I look too closely I’ll run out of things to do. I believe that some day I’ll have to deal with emptiness on a regular basis- that I will have less and less to look forward to. And I’m trying to be okay with that- I’m trying to practice now, to have free days and to do things that are meaningful to me. To do less, and be comfortable with it. But Eugene is ambitious, Mum has known only hard work her whole life and Dad clings to the idea that having a highly respected job is the greatest measure of a person’s worth. I don’t want anything like that from my life- I just want to get through the day. And sometimes, on days like these, I wonder if it’s even worth the effort, because tomorrow is another day to get through and there’ll be another one after that.

Clearly, I am distressed and out of my rightful mind. I am not suicidal, just questioning the purpose of what I perceive as the struggle of survival. I am not sure what will make me feel better, but all the sources of joy that I can think of (games, movies, books, religion, everything) seem quite meaningless and unappealing. Sure they’ll pass the time, but there’s nothing I really want. I am experiencing the lack of pleasure that comes with depression, I think. And I am sorry that you have shared in my cup, but I do not want to keep it to myself today.

I hope I feel better soon. I can’t imagine the feeling now, but I know that throughout my life I have seen and felt things that have made me know beyond a doubt that life is worth living. I just want to remember that.

Love,

Xin.

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