Yesterday, I experienced an overwhelming bout of anxiety (due to a combination of hormones, working with someone I think is genius and concerns over me not being able to produce tangible deliverables).

Being the sort of person who needs to look for solutions, I reached out to a friend who’s currently studying psychoanalysis to ask how anxiety is addressed.

His reply?

“Sustain” it over scattered moments. Gradual brushes and encounters with it so it feels familiar enough, though not tamed, over time.

It was the first time I’d heard anxiety referred to in such “friendly” terms.

In my dealings with other specialists or doctors of the mind, anxiety was always an illness to be medicated or a monster to be figured out so that it could be vanquished.

But now here was someone, saying that anxiety was something to be encountered, to be made familiar, that it didn’t need to be tamed.

It made me wonder if my anxiety was just a part of me – like a mole or an extra bone (which I have btw) – that’s neither good nor bad. It’s just there.

Maybe it feels uncomfortable and maybe I don’t understand why it exists. Maybe sometimes it feels debilitating but maybe it’s also what keeps me growing. And perhaps I can learn to live with it.

“In short it’s not pacified,” my friend continues.

“Because anxiety means you’re closer to the truth you can’t confront.”

Dawn Brings a New Day

It’ll be Easter tomorrow.  

As a child, Good Friday and Easter Sunday were compulsory church days for me. Even now, as a half-pagan semi-atheist (I am multitudes), I sometimes feel a slight desire to attend church services during Easter. 

Easter, with its representation of new beginnings and coming back to life, feels even more important this year considering what we’re going through. The world after COVID-19 will not be the same. 

When we emerge from our homes after this lockdown is over, who will we have become and what will the world look like? 

In his newsletter Timeless & Timely, Scott Monty writes about renewal and how the holiest occasions in the Jewish and Christian religions occur in Spring. The two occasions — Passover and Easter — both act as reminders of how “the future can be better than the present”. 

“Spring is a time of growth and renewal. When the dormant trees and flowers come to life and remind us that nature is once again taking its course,” writes Monty.

No matter how bleak or barren Winter seems to be, the world comes to life in Spring. Monty writes: “Life goes on, even after the most unimaginable of circumstances.”

It’s a heartening reminder in these times. 

When heartache feels like the world’s end

As I write this, my 11-year-old dog is in the hospital. My family adopted Jacob after my aunt’s dog had puppies. I’ve known him all his life and after over a decade, I don’t know what life is supposed to look like if he isn’t around. 

Loving Jacob has taught me so much about loving myself. There have been times when I was curled up crying on the floor and this big-hearted salt and pepper Schnauzer would curl up beside me, providing comfort in his own little way. Looking at myself through his eyes makes me seem like a better person.

In the midst of being cooped up at home during this pandemic — not being able to see friends, being apart from family members — and having lost clients who can no longer afford to pay for my services, this has been the biggest blow yet. 

And so, as I do in times of emotional distress, I turn to reading and writing as a source of comfort. 

The scholar called Jacob, the goddess called Ēostre

My dog, Jacob is named after Jacob Grimm, of Grimm’s Fairy Tales fame. 

In Grimm’s writings in Deutsche Mythologie, he mentions a goddess called Ostara and suggests that she may be where the celebration of Easter began. 

He was exploring Bede’s writing on Ēostre, which said that feasts were once held in her honour but were eventually replaced by the Christian Paschal month

With only one person attesting to this, her existence in history is still a matter of controversy but after enough people have written about her, she’s certainly found her place in Germanic mythology. 

That belief in her existence, because enough people have heard her name, because she has taken form in the minds of people, she continues to exist in a way. 

The power of memory

The idea that memory and belief fortifies existence has been explored numerous times in fiction. From Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Jennifer Fallon’s The Demon Child trilogy to Pixar’s Coco

In American Gods, old gods struggle for their existence amidst new gods like Technology and Media. In Coco, a dead man fights to be remembered by his family on Día de Muertos before his spirit fades away. 

Irvin Yalom said, “Someday soon, perhaps in forty years, there will be no one alive who has ever known me. That’s when I will be truly dead — when I exist in no one’s memory.”

Perhaps it’s not just actual resurrection that can bring someone back to life. Maybe it’s remembrance as well. 

Keeping loved ones alive

After my father died, all those years ago, my mother kept going. She didn’t just keep going, she made sure she thrived. And by extension, my brothers and I thrived. 

She played the music he wrote. She told us stories. She read us his letters. Although we were rather young when my father died, she kept him alive in our minds. 

Years later, even my husband talks about my father as if they’d met. His presence permeates our home, a welcome ghost even in times when it feels painful to remember him. 

His death has also been a reminder that loved ones may leave. That they may be taken away earlier than you expect. 

His death is a reminder to love the ones left behind. 

Just gotta ride that cycle

The Holy Week is typically a time for contemplation. It’s a reminder that life moves in cycles. Both triumph and sorrow do not last forever. 

This year, I am reminded to seize beautiful moments, whenever they come, and that they will come even in the midst of crises. 

I am reminded that when going through trials, the only thing we can do is take it a step at a time and in my mom’s words “face it when it comes”. 

I am reminded that even if the bad times feel like they will last forever, they will not. There are better days ahead. 

Even if things get worse, and perhaps they will, dawn brings a new day. And that’s something to look forward to. 

Passionate Frenzy

Valentine’s Day has never been a big day for me. Not when I was single and believed that I would be forever alone, not when I was in a relationship. Not even after I got married.

I’ve always approached it from a cynical stance ie. as a day for KPI-driven capitalists to make a killing on profits. I’ve always seen it as a misguidedly overrated celebration.

But due to circumstances, this year I found myself in the thick of Valentine’s Day festivities (if you can call it that).

I was part of a crew handling a portion of the logistics for V-day gift delivery. I’d always been curious, you see, about how crazy things get during this internationally declared “day of love”.

It was crazy. Men had preordered an overwhelming number of gifts. And the pressure was on to deliver every single one of those gifts by mid-afternoon.

There were others still who showed up on the day itself to make a purchase that was considered “last-minute”, to be given to their significant other on their mandatory Valentine’s Dinner date.

The Cost of Tradition

I also do some work in the food and beverage industry, and leading up to the date I found myself dumbfounded as I watched prices for February 14 dinners shoot up by at least 25%.

Can’t you show love to your partner every day, I wondered. Why was this one day so special? Was I missing something? Could there be another angle to this?

And then Qingming crossed my mind. The Chinese festival to pray to our dead ancestors. On this day, the Chinese who still observe this tradition clean their relatives’ graves, bring offerings of food, and burn joss sticks and other paper items.

This could be done at any other time. There’s no need to drive all the way to your hometown, no necessity to compete for parking at the various cemeteries. There’s no need to endure the hours spend under the hot sun breathing in the smoke and scent of burning paper that fills the entire cemetery where everyone else is also burning paper.

But we do it. Because tradition. It’s a show of respect. It’s a sign that our loved ones are dead, but not forgotten.

I’m starting to see that Valentine’s Day is a tradition of its own as well. True, gifts and dinners can all be had on any other day. But celebrating Valentine’s Day with the person you love has its own symbolism.

Like making new year resolutions, perhaps V-day is yet another practice that’s part of the modern-day non-religious set of traditions and doctrines.

But February 14 hasn’t always been such a romantic day (unless you’re into BDSM) and like many other celebrations also has religious origins.

The Feast of Lupercalia

A Roman pagan festival that’s said to have started at around the same time that Rome was founded, Lupercalia was apparently a festival for fertility. It was celebrated sometime during the period between February 13 to February 15.

February 14 was supposedly celebrated in honour of the Roman goddess Juno, who reigned over women and marriage. The day after was Lupercalia — celebrating the god Lupercus, who’s associated with fertility.

Lupercalia involved feasting, of course, typically on goat meat. (The goat horn is a symbol of fertility.) Besides slaughtering the goats, the celebrants — fit men of military age, called Luperci — also used the goat hide to make whips.

After the feasting, the Luperci would run naked around the city whipping people. Apparently, getting whipped was a good thing because the belief at the time was that it would increase fertility.

It was also a “day of love” in the sense that men would pull women’s names out of a jar and they would spend the festival period in a f*cking (literally) frenzy.

How did a bordering-on-BDSM pagan festival (which sounds amazing, btw) become the celebration of romance that we know today?

The Martyr called St Valentine

There are multiple stories about a saint called Valentine. Some say that he went against the Roman emperor at the time to secretly perform marriage ceremonies for couples. Others say that he was imprisoned for practising Christianity.

All the stories end with his death, supposedly on February 14.

As Christianity continued to gain dominance in Rome, the Pope at the time “cancelled” Lupercalia and replaced it with St Valentine’s Day.

Although it was meant to celebrate the martyrdom of St Valentine, some aspects of Lupercalia made its way into the new festival. And with St Valentine being known as the “patron of lovers”, it’s not surprising that the idea of romantic love seeped into this new February 14 celebration.

And today, we celebrate Valentine’s Day as a day for lovers. The typical tradition includes gift-giving and candlelit dinners. For some, there may still be whips involved.