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How kind have you been to yourself during the past two years of the Covid-19 pandemic? More importantly, have you continued to pursue your dreams?
Covid makes it feel like we’ve entered a timewarp. Everything is put on hold until things return back to normal — whatever normal means nowadays.
And you may put your dreams on hold. But for me, Covid was when I rediscovered my dreams.
Before we entered the circuit breaker in April 2020, I thought my life was in freefall.
When you struggle with your dreams
I remember the day I came back from England. On 1 September 2019, over the span of a 14-hour flight, I lost everything I knew: The peace I had come to enjoy. The people I had come to call friends and more. The place I had come to call home.
Stepping out of Changi Airport, and feeling the clamminess of the humid weather, it was familiar. Yet I felt like an alien in my own homeland. For one, my friends and family in Singapore seemed to have learnt to live life without me… and I felt like an intruder.
I also felt aimless and without purpose.
Faced with the prospect of a job hunt while mourning the life that I left behind in England, I fell into a deep depression.
Each morning, I would wake up, wave my mum goodbye as she went to work, and find myself filled with worry for the day ahead. I had to find a job. But the anxiety was so crippling that I would stuff myself with food instead.
There was an emptiness within me. Not knowing how to get rid of it, I stuffed it with food. Cakes, cookies, chocolates. Whole packets disappeared down my throat. In a single month, I gained 8 kg.
I thought things would stop when I found work. The day I started my first job, I found myself in the pantry, finishing the entire tin of biscuits.
Why couldn’t I stop?
I remember the day I stepped into a psychiatrist’s office. In the waiting room, a sullen receptionist looked at her nails behind the counter. Flowers drooped in a vase on the counter. A stack of dusty Readers’ Digest sat on the coffee table. At the clinic, no one talked. People were either looking at their phones or looking expectantly at the door — for the doctor to call them in and save them from the shame of being seen in the clinic.
This shouldn’t be happening, I remember thinking to myself. I graduated with a first-class degree, and had what most would describe as a successful student journey. But now, I was in a psychiatrist clinic, being prescribed antidepressants?
How ironic that I trained as a social worker, learnt to solve the emotional issues of others, but did not know how to solve my own.
Things didn’t get immediately better after I started taking antidepressants. But it was the first time I accepted that I needed help. I recognised that it wasn’t another self-help book, technique, or therapist that would help me, but that I needed medication to help myself.
It was the first time I gave up control of my own condition.
But the nagging feeling of not knowing what I was doing back in Singapore persisted. I was dreadful. I compared every aspect of my Singaporean life to my life in the UK. I would complain about how people didn’t appreciate me here. Or how my job was boring. Or that I wasn’t living my dream.
In England, I discovered my dream. I wanted to speak and write. Each time I stood in front of people, I loved the energy pulsating through the crowd. I was recharged by it. Each time I published something, there was the excitement of knowing that someone else might resonate with the story, and be inspired by it.
In England, I was paid for the first time to speak. Then I was paid for my contributions to a student Blog. No one had ever told me I could make a living from doing what I love.
In England, it seemed like I was finally living my dream.
But here back in Singapore? I had to take antidepressants every day.
Then Covid happened
The day we went into circuit breaker on 7 April 2020, was the day my life changed. With nowhere to go, nothing to do, and nobody to meet, I was left to my own devices.
I thought the progress I had with my mental health would fall apart, and that my dreams would suffer yet another blow.
But something clicked.
I realised that if I continued to procrastinate on my dreams, complaining about how everything was not ideal, nothing would ever happen.
With that attitude, I realised that one year from now, I would still be complaining. Who knows, I might end up a bitter old man who would be grumbling to my nurse on my deathbed!
So I decided to do something about it.
When I was young, I once showed my dad a notebook and told him, ‘I’m going to write a book, Daddy.’
‘Let’s go, John! You can do it!’ was his reply.
Yet after only writing one page, I stopped. I still have the draft.
As I grew up, I stopped dreaming. Studying in an elite school in Singapore, with daily announcements of how my peers were winning international prizes, I looked at myself, and thought, ‘I’d never measure up.’
I looked at my dreams of becoming a writer, and I hid them away.
Are you embarrassed of your own dreams?
I became embarrassed of my own dreams.
I never dared to tell people I have a dream. Or that I had a dream. To write. To see my name in the byline. To be published one day.
Covid changed how I saw my dream. Seeing how the pandemic ravaged everything in its path, seeing skyrocketing deaths and infections, seeing the world change beyond recognition, I realised that if I didn’t birth my dream now…it might never happen.
I realised that it wasn’t about fulfilling my dream, but it was about daring to dream. It was about the act of dreaming, more than the achievement of the dream.
I started writing. It started with a story. And another.
Slowly, twenty words became two thousand, and two thousand became twenty thousand.
Sending manuscripts to publishing houses, getting rejection letters, or not even a reply was difficult. But it was a different kind of difficulty. It wasn’t painful — it reminded me of possibility, of faith that I had something special to offer the world. And of hope that someone, somehow, would eventually accept my work.
So I kept working.
One day, an editor told me they were interested in publishing my book. I didn’t jump for joy. For me, it was just another day. Because I had come to the point where I was writing for the sheer joy of it, rather than for the recognition it brought. It was the first step, a start to realising my dreams.
My book One Day At A Time was published this year.
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What Covid taught me about dreaming
If Covid taught me one thing, it’s this: That however difficult things are, it’s about getting up day after day, putting one foot in front of the other. It’s about daring to dream. It’s about daring to say, ‘Better is possible.’
Some days, things aren’t going to turn out your way. You may not get the outcomes you want. You may not even be close to reaching your dreams . But that’s okay. Because this act of dreaming, of creating castles in the air, is a win in itself.
It speaks of hope, that what lies in front of us, can never compare to what lies within us. It speaks of love, for our shared humanity. It speaks of faith that things can, and will get better.
That’s what Covid has done for me.