Moving Forward, Moving On

One of the main things I’ve learned during my time in San Francisco to let go. To let go comes with an acceptance that there is perhaps a certain way for things to be, certain things that we cannot change or have any control over.

I’ve spent these past couple of days crying myself to sleep because I fear that I am letting go of things too easily.

Instagram post dated June 17, 2017:

• dissociation • my brain is playing tricks on me, making it hard to feel the sun on my skin or hot water running down my back as I shower. time passed in a blink of an eye. everything is one big blur. I want to move forward with my pockets full of the places that I have been, but my brain is letting go of things I do not want it to. I can’t remember the words said to me by people whose words and validations mean the most to me. without the words I have no idea what else to hold onto. and no matter how much I feel like I am finally ‘here’ and glad to be here, im still fading away and there seems to be nothing I can do to stop it. fuck this. idk. im tired.

One of my coaches one said that once you take a photo of something, your brain automatically decides to let it go and refrains from filing it into memory. But when you have depersonalization/derealization disorder and start dissociating, your brain is always letting things go. It stops making an effort to process the things happening around you. Maybe that is why I’m so into photography—it is a way of preserving moments and turning them into concrete and tangible visual memories that no longer have the chance to slip through my fingers.

They are an odd thing, these tears. I used to associate them solely with sadness and weakness, but now they have become signs of other things. There are tears for every occasion; they can be happy, bittersweet, and even simply empty and full of regret. Once I realized the biggest moments of these last days in San Francisco—grand and heart-wrenching and full of validation—were gone, I did what I always do. I panicked.

Because it wasn’t as if the moments were beginning to slip away. I sometimes recognize this is happening and try my best to fight it, try my best to preserve those feelings into something tangible I can use to help me recall it—take pictures, write it out. But in this case, they were simply gone; they disappeared under my nose without me even noticing and by the time I looked up and felt their absence, my memory was too far gone to retrieve them.

I would’ve put a fight if I had to. Heaven knows I can put up a fight. But the choice to even do that was snatched violently away from me. I felt like I was fading away, and worse, I felt that it would be easier to let it happen and disappear.

As much as it pains me to say it, perhaps my brain choosing to fade away against my will is something I need to accept as inevitable. That though I will fight it while I can, there are days when the fight is not mine to win. But accepting that, accepting that loss, is perhaps a way to forgive myself so as to better move on.

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Despite all my crying, I did not feel at all sad to leave San Francisco. I didn’t even feel sad to leave the people I had grown closest to. I am no stranger to this grand act, leaving. I have done it so many times, grappled with the idea of reasons to stay versus reasons to leave. The reasons to leave always win out in the end.

I write a bit about leaving as a process in my yet-to-be-fully-written memoir (consider this an exclusive sneak-peek): “The moment you actually leave, ironically, isn’t when you think about the reasons you decided to leave in the first place. Instead you start looking for reasons to stay.”

I think (and write) a lot about the circumstances that led me to leave Singapore. Leaving felt a lot like running and while I framed it as me running towards something better, on the inside I was running away from the things that scared me. Even when, in the final moments of me boarding a plane and flying off to safety, I realized there were plenty of reasons for me to stay that the haze in my mind had prevented me from seeing, it was too late. Too late to struggle, too late to throw my hands up in the air and yell, Wait, I change my mind! because even if I did physically, get off that plane and plant my feet back onto Singaporean soil, it would be an empty gesture. I had, in spirit, already left.

Were there any reasons for me to stay in San Francisco? It would have been easier to stay, to not have to pack up and move, no matter how small-scale and temporary. It would be easier, not to leave behind the routine and momentum I had found while living here. But those thoughts, I realized, were all logistics, things for me to look at with a detached and discerning eye. I wasn’t actually attached to San Francisco. Even if I ever was, I still felt like it was time for me to move on.

Perpetual motion, again. Couple that with inertia, perhaps I’ve left places one too many times that it has become too easy, too second nature. All I know how to do is to leave and so I do so, mechanically, without thinking.

“It is so hard to leave—until you leave. And then it is the goddamn easiest thing in the world.” — “Paper Towns” by John Green

I guess I have to talk about it now, huh? Friday Review. Our last Friday Review. And man, did this one fuck me up (in the best possible way).

We were asked to form two lines, facing each other. Then one of our coaches blindfolded one of us and sent us down this aisle of people to receive whispered and heartfelt validations from everyone else. For lack of a better term, I’ll call it a Validation Walk™.

I’ve been searching for something these past couple of years, something I was unable to name until that Friday—validation. I’ve been looking for a way to fight off that underlying urge to give in and disappear and to have my existence be validated by other people, to not only be sure in my own declaration of yes, I’m here but to be seen by other people and have other people see me, acknowledge me, it solidified my existence in a way I’ve haven’t been able to experience recently. It was a good realization to have.

Then comes the caveat.

Some people’s words carry more weight than others. And for months now, there was one person who was slowly fading away from my life. I thought that this was only natural, an inevitable progression of our relationship. Physically around but not actually there, not actually a part of each others’ lives. To cope, I had—unintentionally at first then purposefully—blocked him out. Cut out a hole in the shape of him and filled it void. It was easier that way, I convinced myself.

But deep down, I was still hoping, waiting. And it wasn’t until I was walking down that aisle of people being validated that realized how much I’ve been yearning to be seen by him. And see me he did.

He embraced me; being blindfolded and unsure of who the person was at first, the gesture alone was enough to catch me off guard. Then came the words, told in a breathy, labored whisper. It sounded as if he was trying not to let himself get too emotional. That was also unexpected—the amount of emotion in his voice. Oh and the words themselves. I hate the fact that I fail to recall them, but I do remember how they made me feel. Like I wasn’t crazy to think that we shared something special, that we on a deeper level cared for one another even though we were equally terrible at admitting it and showing it. It made me feel relieved and grateful, to feel the walls between us come down and for us to connect in a way that I thought would never happen again.

When he has finished saying his piece, he hugs me again, oh so tightly. And I can’t help but think how familiar this feels. How being in his arms feels safe, feels like coming home.

Then the moment passes and in the wake of its leave I am left once again yearning, wondering if it will happen again. Left trying to convince myself that it probably won’t and I need to let this person go, left in hopeful denial and a begrudging acceptance that he was never meant to stay in my life.

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advice from a best friend.

I will miss you.

You have no idea how often that phrase destroys me. When I left Singapore it was said too late. I didn’t believe that I had left an impact significant enough in other people’s lives for them to miss my presence, but even when I realized that they meant it, meant their “I will miss you“s, I had let go of them so soon that I would never have missed them in return.

When he said it, not just at the end of validations, but also at the end of one final hug the night before I left San Francisco, it broke my heart. Not because I think he doesn’t mean it. Because I know he means it, and I believe him. It suddenly made it seem like everything he had put me through was worth it. And while it was cathartic and healing, it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to fully make up for all the moments when he could’ve acknowledged me but didn’t.

I guess I just wanted more time. More time to give us the opportunity to maybe end up being a part of each other’s lives again.

That’s something I’m still trying to wrap my head around. To think that he felt this way the entire time, but did nothing about it. It would’ve helped me in a lot of ways to hear this sooner. But perhaps this was the only moment for it to come out, for the words to come from the heart. Perhaps it means more this way. Perhaps this is better than nothing.

But knowing that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

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I’m… not sure where I’m at right now. It was a huge fear of mine that coming out of Launch and leaving San Francisco would throw me off balance so much that I’d revert to old habits. Crying myself to sleep and waking up feeling like shit isn’t helping either. I’ve tried to distract myself. Lied in bed with no motivation to move except to reach for the remote and put on Korean variety shows. No one is calling me out on this either.

I tell myself I need this, need a break.

I also tell myself this is a lie.

So this post is an attempt to snap myself out of this. It is me calling myself out on my bullshit, because while yes my feelings are valid and it sucks and i’m allowed to be sad about stuff, it doesn’t mean that I’m allowed to stop taking care of myself. I will definitely not ignore the progress I have made, because I have come too far to set myself back now.

I need to let go, accept things and move on.

Here’s to moving forward with the intent that I will not let myself crumble.

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—Karin Novelia,

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[Images are from the book “Brave Enough” by Cheryl Strayed. It was given to me on my last day of Launch in San Francisco. I may have lost some of the words given to me, but it is a nice reassurance that I can always turn to the words of others for some solace and guidance. Thanks for the gift, Jon.]

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