Two days before my 25th birthday, I crouched next to my bed, holding onto a cup of steaming lavender earl grey tea, and crying my heart out.
I cried for three hours straight. I felt my face swelling up from all the sodium liquid wetting my eyes and cheeks. I’m not sure why I was crying, except that I felt stretched and squeezed by a barrage of conflicting emotions: fear, loneliness, self-pity, anxiety, sadness, frustration and irritation–all of these encompassed by a web-fingered guilt that I was even feeling these things in the first place.
In between crying, I started laughing as well, because I looked like a fool. The aloe vera face mask plastered on my face was peeling off because of my watery tears and snot. It was one of the many face masks sent as a birthday gift by a dear friend in Singapore. The cup of fragrant tea in my hands were scalding my palms. It was tea gifted by another dear friend from this summer’s journalism conference. I was crouching next to my bed, on top of which sat a box of birthday gifts from my darling mother, who called the day before to make sure I was home to receive it. Who called again that day to make sure I received it. On top of the bed hung pictures of my family and friends, all showing smiling faces that draw out wonderful memories and love.
I didn’t just look like a fool. I am a fool.
“I’m a fool,” I muttered to myself, laugh-crying. And to make sure I understood the veracity of it, I declared it out, louder, in Korean.
Thanks-giving doesn’t come easy for me. I literally have to force myself to list them out. It’s like a chronic disease. At any given time, I can leap from giddy happiness to washed-out apathy, and then plummet to full-blown depression. Somehow, birthdays draw out the worst and deepest of my emotions. In Christian terms, I get spiritually attacked, as though the devil is holding a vacuum to my heart and sucking out all particles of happiness and positive thoughts out of me. As if, by reaching another year, Satan is highlighting the futility and worthlessness of my existence on this earth.
Even the world’s most blessed and beloved individual is susceptible to moments when he or she feels unloved and unworthy, alone and wretched. I’m sure of it, because given all that I have received and experienced, I know I have so, so much to give thanks for. And yet, I get deceived. As I was that moment, crying piteously to myself as if I was starring in a bad soap opera.
I got online and g-chatted a close friend of mine who also happened, it turns out, to be depressed. “You, too? What is happening?” I cyber-yelped. I had wanted to ask for prayer, but it looked like we both needed prayers. And the irony, again, is that both of us are incredibly blessed individuals. I wanted to tell her that I can list a hundred things she has going for her, and then I wanted to hit myself because the same can be said for me. Hypocrite!
I knew what I had to do. I had to make a list. I had to write. I had to physically force myself to remember why I’m a fool to be crouching alone in my apartment with scalded hands, wasting a good face mask and precious fluids.
It’s been 25 years. Good years, bad years, but none of them wasted, all of them wonderful in their own way.
My Life in 25 Years
Year One: I was born. To amazing parents. I cannot ask for better parents than my mommy and daddy.
Year Two: My brother was born. My kind, sweet, handsome brother. I love him so much. I also discovered books.
Year Three: I committed the first sin I can remember: slapping my brother over the head over a bowl of boiled noodles. The fact that he was eating more noodles than me irked me. It wasn’t my first time abusing him.
Year Four: My family moved to Singapore, armed with two suitcases. Our relatives didn’t come send us off because they were pissed at my father’s religion. I remember I carried a red Hello Kitty tin case, not really understanding what was happening.
Year Five: My younger cousin entered our family. I gained a sister, who gave me much joy and pain. Without knowing it, she was my best friend.
Year Six: I enjoyed so much love from my church in Singapore. I was asked to be flower girl at church weddings numerous times. I must have been pretty darn cute, though in truth it was probably my brother who was the cutest.
Year Seven: I met Yujin, who became my childhood best friend. We had many cat fights and midnight feasts. I broke her glasses three times, she broke mine twice.
Year Eight: Discovered I can really draw, when someone told me, “You can really draw!”
Year Nine: I realized I don’t need to be a passive reader. I can write my own stories! Started buying notebooks every two weeks and burned through many ink pens.
Year 10: Discovered my infinite love for assam laksa. Ate a bowl of that and a plate of chee cheong fun every. single. day. Yes, it’s worth mentioning. Also, realized not every Christian is all happy and holy. They all should eat more assam laksa.
Year 11: Moved home again, transferred to Kebun Baru Primary School. Met Jingwen, who also became my best friend. She was the first friend I led to Christ, and the person who brought me my first real laugh during my eating disorder recovery days. We had a memorable trip to Hong Kong together 11 years later.
Year 12: Somehow survived PSLE (Singapore’s version of SATs for high school), despite reading Archie Comics during classes and getting into scuffles with annoying boys in my class. Visited Disneyland and New York City for the first time. Met my then-pen pal, Joanna.
Year 13: Entered Presbyterian High School. Joined the gymnastics team and made some very close friends. We slacked off during training and shared a bowl of ice kachang every day after practice. Had hours-long phone conversations with them. Got my first phone call from a guy, who I hung up on immediately from fright.
Year 14: I moved to USA, a country I had idealized from books. Met more precious people, such as Joyce and Ruth and of course, my church family. Struggled to fit in school, not realizing that I should first shed my second-hand jeans and ankle-length socks. Spent a few lunch hiding in the restroom because I didn’t want to look like a friendless loser. Gradually made friends. Thank you, Alex, Kate, and April.
Year 15: My conflict with my cousin sprouted. Again, fully realized my sinful nature. Spent nights battling fits of guilt and anger, while understanding the full meaning of Christ’s redemption and grace.
Year 16: Started leading my church’s youth group. Was forced to grow spiritually. I was an immature teenager leading a bunch of immature teenagers. But somehow, in between tears and stress, I learned what it means to be a leader. A leader is someone who leads not just by authority but by love.
Year 17: My cousin left my family to return to her parents in Korea. Her departure left a huge hole in my heart, because things had not been resolved between us. I cried privately for days after she left, wishing, wishing, wishing things had been different. Wishing we had communicated. Wishing I had been more loving, more understanding. Wishing I could have expressed to her how much she means to me. I learned that no matter what, I will never let a relationship erode like this again.
Year 18: Hospitalized for anorexia. I had dropped about 30 pounds within half a year. I dropped out of high school for a few months, but by some miracle, still graduated and took all my AP exams. I received my honors diploma with a stellar GPA and an acceptance to my top choice school, but none of that meant anything. I felt empty rather than elated, and so did my family.
Year 19: Entered Northwestern University. Dropped (or kicked) out just a month later. I started getting serious about recovery. I met one of my Anne Sullivans, Danielle. I gained weight, desperate to return to college.
Thank you, Deacon Park, for giving me free acupuncture treatments and trying so sincerely to help me, though I wasn’t ready at the time. Thank you, Joyce, for the cards and books you sent to encourage me. Thank you, Joanna, for inviting me for sleepovers even though I couldn’t eat out normally.
Year 20: I relapsed. The absolute worst year of my life. I felt rage, bitterness and disappointment quite literally tearing my body down. Left home after a fight with my parents. Did many, many shameful and self-destroying things. Crawled back home 30 pounds lighter. But in the midst of brokenness, received much love and grace through my family and church. Wavered between hope and despair. Experienced God’s profound love without understanding why.
Thank you, Jane, for allowing me to crash for two weeks when I had nowhere to go. Thank you, Meiyun, Cindy, Elders Wu, Elders Lee, Elders Lei, deacons, and so many others, for praying actively for me. You were stuck with me, but you made the best of it.
Year 21: Lost more weight. Hit my lowest, but by sheer miracle, still survived, though barely living. Went to Singapore, where a month’s trip expanded into a half-year stay. Experienced more undeserving love from Singapore Life Church. Will never forget the love from Wengang, Liwen, Huijun, Pastor Vincent, Qiufen, Friday group, Mirelle and her family, and so many others. Started to recover, not just in body but in spirit and mind. Also discovered blogging. Finally, went back to college in America’s sunniest city, an awesome transfer from America’s windiest city. A shout-out to Mimi, who allowed me to drag her through Skid Row and on cramped Metro buses just to eat.
Year 22: Met cousin in Korea again, and finally had some kind of closure and resolvement between us. Said things to her I should have said a long time ago. Got to say goodbye to my maternal grandfather before he passed away soon after. Met my online and now real-life friend, Alda.
Year 23: I got accepted into Los Angeles Times as a summer intern. Didn’t kick ass, but did swallow a huge lesson on humility and reporting 101. I met my dear friends Jordan, Marilyn, Lindsey and Tracy.
Year 24: Became an intern at WORLD Magazine. Met some of the most beautiful people at WORLD and WJI. Learned that I don’t want to pigeonhole myself as a food writer. I have so many more interests than food.
Year 25: More exciting things coming up: Graduation! U.S. citizenship! The world abounds!