How To Handle Strong Emotions (& Malaysian Politics)

How To Handle Strong Emotions (& Malaysian Politics)

I’ve always been emotionally illiterate.

I strive to hold back emotions, either through forceful repression (i.e., man the f*ck up), or concocting up a good state via “productive distractions”, e.g., working out, reading, watching educational YouTube content (or so I tell myself), and even the much dreaded attempt at inbox zero; anything to bypass the feels.

But many emotions were forced upon me this year.

My father, who I probably have had less than an hour of total conversation with annually since turning 18, got diagnosed with stage 3 cancer. Chances of survival are 20% over the next 3 years.

Over the years, I’ve learnt to open up, and better manage my emotions (I wrote about it here & here), but knowing is different from doing, and doing is different from being.

Re-visiting these old posts help, but each struggle is different.


But today’s post isn’t for me to wallow in the self-pity of my personal problems, but to wallow in the collective-pity that’s plaguing Malaysia.

Pardon me, but HOLY SH*T(!!!!!)! I didn’t realize I could get so triggered by politics.

Police intimidation, incompetent leadership, double standard SOPs, life-costing failed policies…

Am I spending too much time on Twitter? Is there a conspiracy group cherry picking only lowlights of politicians to make viral?

Is it, for the 9235th time, DAP’s fault again?

I get on Twitter, it’s people who I already agree with, posting passive aggressive, sarcastic tweets with an undertone of anger.

I get on Facebook, go through the comments, it’s essentially people spewing (what my current worldview would lead me to believe as) horseshit.

I get on WhatsApp to send a text, and it’s multiple chat groups sharing the same image of daily covid numbers, overcrowded hospital mortuaries, explicit videos of suicide, and essentially never ending chats complaining about the government.

10 minutes in, I lose my appetite, my heart rate goes from 60 to 80bpm, and I’m so disoriented I get nothing done for the entire day.

But why?

Where is the superpower that self-help books, stoicism, diffusing essential oil, & daily meditation promised?

Enlightenment… WHERE THE F&@$ YOU AT?!?

#TRIGGER Management

There is no room for anger in my life. I had to course correct.

In a week, I unfollowed all major news portals, cleaned up my Twitter following, and quit 4 WhatsApp groups.

Not perfect. Some posts still pop up, but I deftly scroll through like how one would maneuvere around credit card salespeople in malls (nostalgia much?).

Heart rate back to normal, appetite returned, productivity ensues.

I can finally bask in the full beauty of life!

Things were great.

“Is ignoring politics while focusing on what I can… selfish?”, I asked Facebook (the irony), and I received nothing but encouraging responses (check em out here).

TL;DR, no.

But let me be the first to admit, while I agree with the comments, responses from a carefully curated friends list=the perfect echo chamber of self-serving beliefs.

I was still doubtful. Things didn’t really feel better. Tormented by my monkey mind, I was forced to play devil’s advocate.

I can curate my environment to optimize for what I want—an ideal state to focus on short term goals, which compound into long term goals, and ultimately, the life I’ve always envisoned.

To do this effectively, I have to largely ignore the things that don’t matter.

But what if that comes back to bite me? I’ll admit, in the case of politics, it damn well could.

However, over the past year, the subject of politics, even with me trying to tiptoe around it, has been a major source of misery, disappointment, frustration, anger, all manifesting into significant physical and emotional pain.

Is it worth it?

Journal Entry 20 Aug 2021

The logical ape within me needed a more compelling reason than just “because it is your RIGHT!”, “it is your CIVIC duty!”

And I found that reason on a recent drive.

It was hardly a drive worth remembering, to pick something up from a shop about 10 minutes from home. But the road was a bit more jammed this time around. I don’t remember it being this way, but I also haven’t travelled this path for months.

As I drove on, a shadow loomed over me.

Literally—my car was now under a huge MRT construction.

I don’t remember ever having this much fear driving under construction scaffolding. I was breathing heavily, shrugging my shoulders, leaning into the steering wheel, tailgating the car in front of me…

A few seconds later, barely escaping, it struck me.

Not literally

The reason I should care about politics is because I should care for my self. Hear this selfish monologue out:-

-I want to drive under construction scaffolding without the fear of it collapsing;
-I want to voice dissent without the fear of police knocking on my door;
-I want to see governmental portfolio not be screwed up by people without merit;
-I want to see my children be proud Malaysians, not discriminated “pendatangs” (outsiders);
-I want them to have friends representative of our diverse cultural make up, not just a measly 2 token friends from the other race;
-I want the narrative of the general Malaysian dialog to be one of hope and progress, not of fear and anger;
-I want the goddamn ringgit to become stronger so I don’t have to sell my kidneys to afford an iPhone.

Journal Entry 22 Aug 2021

And I realize I’ve been thinking about this wrong.

Societal acceptance of the spectrum of melancholy has improved tremendously. Counselling is (slowly) gaining traction.

But why is anger shunned?

Anger is good, it’s a sign that one is still hopeful. Anger is great, it is a trigger for action.

I was forcing it under the rug, but it kept popping up, a telling sign that status quo just wasn’t the way to go.

Few months back I lashed out at a colleague, I’ll spare you the details, but I was being unreasonable to her being unreasonable. TL;DR:

It was an uncharacteristic argument that led to a stalemate.

“I thought your point was that anger is good?”

Yes, but the details matter.

In hindsight, rather than letting my emotion manifest physically into an all out ping pong battle to hers, I should have stepped away, allowed whatever emotion to surface, sit, observe, let it take it’s course, breathe in breathe out, and take action only when I can respond effectively.

Immediate action at the peak of anger is usually catastrophic.

(I’m just going to put it out there, I still think she is wrong, but that doesn’t automatically mean i’m right. Ultimately, we all want the same thing, the best for the company and ourselves)

The Utility Of Anger

Here’s a quote by Nietszche to make me feel better about my conclusion:-

What if pleasure and displeasure were so tied together that whoever wanted to have as much as possible of one must also have as much as possible of the other — that whoever wanted to learn to “jubilate up to the heavens” would also have to be prepared for “depression unto death”?

Let me throw in another one by Carl Jung to stroke my ego:-

Everything that irritates us about othes can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.

I need to stop chery picking emotions to feel. Whatever i’m feeling is correct.

Being capable of fully experiencing (& expressing) anger is an an integral guide in the act of human-ing.

My strong bodily reaction towards negativity is because I WANT to be living and thriving. I want to improve the community, the system, the country, and by extension, to selfishly be able to live my best life possible.

This is the point of the blogpost that is a current checkpoint of my journey- I am still trying, and I am taking (real, physical) notes on how I feel and react for optimization purposes.

If I may add my spin to anger:-

Anger is needed to inspire action, but must be discarded for effective execution.

(You could substitute “anger” with any other powerful emotions)

Cheesy analogy: Emotions are like fire, tremendous utility as camp fire, but careful not to let it it burn down the forest.

So, what are some effective executions at this point?

To fiercely pursue that which I can control—take care of my health, expose injustice, provide support within my means, work with my emotional compass, and of course, register as a voter.

Being a disgruntled Malaysian over the past year made me realize there is room for anger, only if I use it well.

Channeling my inner Uncle Iroh

Here’s to being a high performing, effective emotional snowflake.

(p.s., Selamat Hari Merdeka, fellow Malaysians!)

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