Love and relationships, Published on Medium

Recovering from emotional abuse

How I found myself again…

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Photo by Michelle Bonkosky on Unsplash

I’d like to think that my relationship track record wasn’t too bad, but I can’t claim that it was ever good. I’ve had three long-term relationships throughout 15 years or so, where I was cheated on, emotionally blackmailed, and just generally made to feel horrible about myself.

The last relationship was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It left me feeling so self-conscious, insecure, and indifferent. For the longest time, I felt like 6 years were flushed down the drain along with any semblance of self-worth, and I berated myself for not breaking it off sooner.

It took me almost three years to find myself again. The damage was done and I knew it was going to be long climb back up. I started with the one thing I knew would have an immediate impact on how I looked at things.

I threw myself into my work.

I’ve always been an ambitious person. I once had a framed picture of the quote “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”. I was constantly aiming for promotions or ways to professionally develop myself. That all took a step back when my ex stomped on my goals by accusing my of trying to emasculate him. I felt guilty for prioritizing work instead of our relationship. I felt horrible that I was trying to earn more money and didn’t consider his feelings about it.

I was made to feel I had to slow down just so he could catch up. I spent most of my time feeling torn between being the “perfect girlfriend” and career woman.

It took some time to refocus my goals after the breakup, but I remember feeling that rush of excitement knowing I could focus on my work without feeling bad about it.

I decided what I wanted to achieve and I worked hard for it. I volunteered for projects, helped out in other departments, and enrolled in a mentoring program. I attended all the conferences and training I could handle, which distracted me from the bad days and made me feel productive. I celebrated the end of 2018 with a promotion and a couple awards.

I started working out.

My ex used to comment on how I looked — from my weight to the clothes I chose to wear. Now, I can appreciate constructive feedback on what might look good on me, but the two comments he made that stuck with me were “you dress like an old hag” and “who would want to have sex with an elephant”.

That sent my self-esteem into a downward spiral and it finally hit rock bottom when he cheated on me.

Since work was going well after the breakup, I decided to work on how I looked. I started working out religiously in the beginning and then slowing it down to a steadier pace. I started experimenting with different styles of makeup and clothes.

There’s a saying that if you look good on the outside, you’ll feel good on the inside, and that rang true for me. For the longest time, I didn’t realize how horrible I felt inside and it reflected how I looked on the outside. It was a vicious cycle. I knew I had to break it by looking good FOR ME.

I started spending time with myself.

Holidays, shopping sprees, spa days… you name it, I did it for myself. Work was going well by this time and I was lucky to have money of my own. Before this, all I did was work, cook, clean, eat, and sleep. I felt like I didn’t have the time or the want to spoil myself from time to time.

My very first splurge was a round trip to the UK to visit my relatives whom I’ve not seen for more than seven years. I went with my best friend and I spent my hard earned money on a huge plate of fun without a side serving of guilt.

I had dinners alone, sat a café for hours just reading a book, and a couple more hours at the park just looking up at the sky. I was finally at peace and genuinely happy with myself.

The end results?

I learned to be a little selfish about my time and effort and to love myself before I even begin to love anyone else. What once appeared to be just dull grey are now in vibrant colors, and it created a ripple effect in my life as a whole.

It healed my relationship with people, it made me work more productively, and it led me to meet a man who genuinely loves me for all that I am. I’m nowhere close to being the best version of myself, but he makes me want to continue doing better for me.

I realized other women have gone through much worst, and I consider myself fortunate to have gotten away. My only hope is that my experiences are relatable and provide a break in the clouds for some.

The road to recovery is never a short one. The one thing I’m sure of is that something was preparing me for the life I now lead.

Also published on Medium

Event management, Published on Medium

10 things to know when planning your first real event

Event management has always been a very exciting industry for me. I’m taken in by how many intricate details can come together to create one memorable experience, and how it always leaves an incredible sense of fulfillment once it’s over. I’m not going to glamourize event planning or management to be a stress free occasion but as with any job you enjoy, the work satisfaction outweighs the stress (and sometimes there is a lot of it).

I’ve been in event management for more than 10 years now (mostly corporate events), and have had to plan more than 40 events annually in my previous employment… you’d think I’d have everything at my fingertips, but there were days when the pressure was a little overwhelming.

What I found helpful during those times was keeping a few basic things in mind, which I’ll be sharing with you here. Hopefully it’ll come in handy for you and make things that little bit more organized.

Always get an early start – the earlier, the better.

I love getting a head start on almost anything, but it is pretty crucial for events. The minute a project is handed to you, get started on it. Generally, a month is enough time to plan a small scale event like a networking cocktail evening for 40 people (this includes selecting a venue, vendors, getting the invitations out and RSVP in, etc), but you’re going to be hustling to get everything done in time. The more time you have, the less overwhelmed you’re going to feel, and it’ll allow for any change of plans.

Have a checklist ready.

It’s a little difficult to have a complete checklist ready when you’re just starting out. I would suggest checking out a few free downloadable checklist that are available online and build on it. You’re going to modify each checklist according to your event, and eventually, you’ll create a template that works best for you and your work. This was a lifesaver for me. When you have to remember and consider so many different aspects of a project, it’s so easy to accidentally leave something out.

I would also suggest using a project management app if you’re planning a large scale event like a 3-day conference. It really depends on what you need at the moment, but a checklist is basically the foundation of it all.

Things don’t always go according to plan.

Nothing is perfect, and neither will your event be. It may sound harsh, but the reality of it is that while it will go smoothly, you’ll still have a few bumps here and there. A vendor may show up late for set up, your key speaker has suddenly fallen ill, or the wine wasn’t chilled properly. You’re going to feel a little helpless and overwhelmed.

In my opinion, the best way to overcome this is to…

Prepare for the worst.

I’ve always planned an event with Murphy’s Law in mind, and that’s why you should always try to have a back up plan. Even if you don’t, just stay calm and face every hiccup with your problem solving cap on. If you’re the project lead, the worst thing you can do is panic and feel like everything is your fault. It isn’t. Analyze the problem and run through any plausible solutions in your head to find the best and most effective one. If you’ve already thought about it during the planning stages, you won’t be surprised when it happens.

Over budget if possible.

The beauty about planning for a corporate event is sometimes you’re allowed to request for your event’s budget. When that happens, overbudgeting just that little bit will allow you some room for last minute changes (like when your boss absolutely needs to have that band that’s 500 bucks over what you had planned for). Additionally, it’s going to look good if you managed to save some money for your company by not overspending.

Regardless of your budget…

Always have more than one vendor to choose from.

Some companies may require you to have a quote from 3 different vendors. Even if they don’t, it’s a good idea to explore your choices before making your final selection. This can also be a back up plan for you — if the first selected vendor does not work out for any reason, you’d have two more (which you’ve already initiated contact with) to choose from.

That being said, if you can streamline all your vendors to one main point of contact, do it (e.g. your caterer can also manage the venue in terms of their kitchen/pantry needs). This will not only free up some time for you, but also make it easier for you to keep track of everything.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

If you’re the sole project lead for an event, it can sometimes feel a little lonely. It may seem that people will only come to you with problems instead of solutions and it can get frustrating. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or suggestions on how you could possibly do things better together. When your mind is occupied with all the tiny details, you’re probably going to miss out on some great ideas that could amp up your event. Always be open to suggestions because sometimes even the simplest idea could be the one to completely transform the event.

Be early, but not too early.

So the day of your event has finally arrived! You’ve confirmed the time of your vendors to be there and you’re anxious to be there as well to make sure everything is done right. There really isn’t a point to be there too early (you’ll end up just standing around waiting for everything to be done) but generally, you should be there about 2 hours after the AV system and lights are there. By that time, everything should already be in place and you can run through your checklist to see if everything is in order. You’ll also have time for a thorough briefing and a few dry rehearsals before kick off.

Always prepare extra of everything.

Itineraries, posters, speeches, reserve tags, guestlists… always prepare extra of everything including stationeries and even a change of clothes and shoes. Trust me, accidents can happen and it’s always better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Someone could have lost the entire guestlist or you might find that that pair of shoes you chose to wear wasn’t as comfortable as it looked. I usually have all that prepared in a separate bag/folder and have it stashed somewhere close where I can get to it quickly (usually behind the stage).

Last but not least…

Have fun.

Remember to bask in the excitement that everyone else is feeling. You’ve worked this hard to execute everything, why shouldn’t you be able to enjoy it just a little bit? Mingle with your guests when you have the chance, or taste that delicious looking dessert you see on the buffet table. Some will even tell you that you’re doing a great job and that’s just incredibly rewarding.

However, the best feeling will come right at the end when the final guest leaves. If I had to describe it, it would be ‘relieved and satisfying AF’. It’s when you know everyone had a good time and didn’t even notice all the behind the scenes bumps.

So there you have it — my little bag of tricks for managing an event. I hope it helps and I wish you all the best on your first event. You’re going to kick ass.

Also published in Medium

Love and relationships, Published on Medium

I’ve always wanted to be the damsel in distress

image credits to Andalucia Andaluia

I have been a romantic for most of my life. I wanted to be the damsel in distress in hopes that one day my knight in shining armor would come rescue me, and we’d live happily ever after. I was 23 at the time and slightly delusional.

While I’ve not jumped from one relationship to another, looking back now, I realized I was trying too hard to be someone I wasn’t. I was chasing after a romanticized dream that could only be true in Hollywood movies and perhaps a handful of couples. I came to the conclusion that I didn’t really knew who I was back then.

Until my last breakup.

To be honest, that relationship started off with many red flags, but I stayed for six years because I thought it was as good it was going to get. I’ll admit — I got too comfortable. After the breakup, I took some time off to “find myself”. I went on a total of 4 dates in 3 years and spent the rest of the time on me; going on vacations by myself, working out, doing better at my job, and worked on being a more emotionally independent person. I realized during that time that I was doing the whole relationship thing wrong, and I was happy being on my own for a while.

Then I met my current husband who messed all that up — in a good way. He made me realize what a mutual loving relationship should be like. Not only did he want me the way I am, but he also made me want to do better.

He encouraged me to pursue freelance writing and believed in me whole-heartedly. He celebrated my first paid gig of only $4.00.

It has been a heck of a journey to be where we are today and growing with him has been an experience. I’m sharing my story and some learnings in hopes you’ll find this relatable and will share some of your stories too.

It’s all about playing to our strengths.

We hear so much about women complaining about their husbands being man-children and men complaining that their wives only nag at them. We’ve both been in relationships where we were the breadwinner and homemaker at the same time, and we knew that was not what we wanted anymore. During one of our “get to know each other” conversations, the topic of chores came up and we realized we didn’t mind the chores the other disliked. That set a precedent when we finally moved in together.

He would take care of the more physically demanding chores (lawn, garage, home improvements, gardening, cars, etc), while I would take care of the household chores (cleaning, cooking, laundry, dishes, etc).

Although it would seem to other people that we’ve regressed into a 60’s era relationship, it works for us. We didn’t let current social norms influence how we wanted our relationship to be and now we rarely argue about chores. He makes sure our lawn is in top condition while I sip iced tea on the porch, and I make sure he always has dinner and clean socks. He does the heavy lifting of dog food and dirt while I handle the household budget. While I’m all for equality and pride myself on being an independent, strong woman, it’s a relieve to have a man do the heavy lifting for you. Especially when the price for it is just a peck on the cheek and a cold beer.

Onto the next point, it is also about realizing what your partner does for you.

Our relationship began in long distance. That meant if the relationship were to go on, one of us would eventually have to make the big move and we made the decision that it would be me for many reasons. He had more roots where he was, I had the education and therefore better job prospects, and it would have been easier for me to pack my things since I was living in a small apartment at the time.

Although this was agreed on and we were excited to finally be living together, he realized it wasn’t going to be easy for me to uproot my life. I had a great job, family and friends where I lived and I was willing to be away from all that just to be with him.

I was not able to legally work after I made the move and it made me feel horrible. I was depressed a lot and felt like I was a burden as I had to depend on him. That’s when he stepped up. Not only did he take extra hours at work, but he made sure to give me the attention and loving I needed to overcome it. He encouraged me to do something I love — writing. I’ve always written well for corporate, but never for myself for fear of failing and criticism. His exact response to that was “if it fails, oh well. But what if it doesn’t and you’re finally doing something you love?”.

Realizing what your partner does for you takes most of the frustration away. It doesn’t even have to be a big gesture of love. The simplest things like watching my favorite movie (even though he hates it) or making a cup of coffee for him every morning says something about how we feel for each other. We do these things because we know it makes the other feel loved. It shouldn’t be because it is expected of us.

Has he left a wet towel on a chair instead of tossing it into the laundry basket that’s right next to it? Of course he has! But I also know it was because he was rushing to get dressed for work. I’ve forgotten to do the laundry when he doesn’t have enough socks to wear but he doesn’t get on me for it because he knows I was distracted that day with other chores. Some things may seem important or just common sense to us but it doesn’t mean it’s the same for the other person.

It is also about understanding that we will both have bad days.

This is a biggie for us. We’re both hot tempered in a different way and can be moody just by waking up on the wrong side of the bed. We’ve had arguments purely because we were mad at ourselves and not at each other. But they always end with the both of us walking away for a little space and time, and coming back to one another once we’ve calmed down to talk about it.

I’ve always been the one to not apologize. I realized it was because the men I used to date would refuse to apologize for anything. The first time he apologized, I was caught off guard. I could see it was difficult for him, but he wanted us to be right more than he needed to be. After that, I found myself apologizing for my mistakes too! Because it was more important for us to be right with each other than for one of us to claim victory over a fight.

I’m prepared to admit I’ve had more bad days than he did, and I probably will in the future. But it doesn’t seem that daunting anymore because I now know he will be there for me through thick and thin. The least I can do is not treat it like a chore when he’s having a bad day.

How do we know when the other is having a bad day? We communicate.

Every relationship article stresses that communication is key to a successful relationship, but they don’t specify the metrics of a successful relationship, nor do they specify the type of communication. I was never able to fully express myself in my past relationships and have had to hide a part of myself just to make things work.

We had two things going for us — we were forced to talk because we were in a long-distance relationship, and he loved to talk. I remember marveling at how many hours we’ve spent on the phone talking about everything and anything — from how our future kids would look like to our favorite foods to our sexual desires. We were put in a situation that if we didn’t get to know each other thoroughly, it wouldn’t have worked out between us. Because of that, we’ve unconsciously built a solid foundation based on honest, judgment-free communication. That is ultimately what you need in a healthy relationship. Do we disagree when we don’t like what we’re hearing? Of course, we do! But we’ve never judged or held a grudge over each other for it because guess what… it’s ok when you agree to disagree. It doesn’t change how we feel or who we are.

All this has made us a better team.

We’ve gone through every hurdle life has thrown at us just to be together. Not once did we make the other go through it alone. There were times we felt alone but the other one was always there listening, giving little words of encouragement and assurance. It truly feels like it’s us against the world; that we can take on any challenges so long as we do it together.

I found my knight after I stopped being a damsel in distress. Because no one should feel like they have to constantly rescue their partner.

Also published on Medium

Country living, Published on Medium

There’s something to be said about living in the country

It was 9am. I was sitting in a bustling café with a glass of iced coffee, my laptop and a notebook, trying to finish at least a page of writing when a call came in. I strained to hear the person at the other end of the line and tried to speak loud enough so they could hear me, but not loud enough for people to eavesdrop on my conversation. From the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of a guy peeking at my laptop and felt my personal space was invaded.

It is now 8am. I’m sitting on a rocking chair out on the porch with a glass of iced coffee and a notebook. I’m smelling the dew from last night’s rain and filling my notebook with the written word while the dog lays by my feet. My phone vibrates on silent and I put the caller on speaker as I enjoy my morning coffee. After the call, the only things I hear are birds chirping and leaves rustling in the breeze.

I moved from a concrete jungle in a major city in Malaysia to the deep south of the United States. Why? That’s a story for another day. Was it easy to adjust? Mostly yes. With life moving a little slower here, I found myself appreciating the intricacies of my surroundings a little more. I understand that I was moving from what is classified as a “developing country” to an already “developed country”. My experience may be amplified by just that, but it is an experience with no regrets.  

I notice miles and miles of mountains, trees and farmlands instead of worrying about squeezing into a bottleneck road and hitting other cars. I see wildlife, flowers, hear cicadas and smell the freshly mowed grass instead of smelling smog and hearing the blaring of car horns.

I feel safe and welcomed when I walk into a store. Despite my skin color and being in an area with a majority of Caucasians and Mexicans, I feel at home. I no longer need to lock doors around here. My internal alarms aren’t going off when a stranger talks to me. I don’t feel the need to clutch my purse tightly as I’m walking through the parking lot.

When our car broke down, all we had to do was call an Uber for a ride home. I called the tow truck, had them bring my car to the nearest workshop and the mechanics fix my car without the worry of being overcharged. I did all that in the comfort of my home and the assurance that they were taking care of my car. I could not have done that where I came from. I would have had to watch the mechanics like a hawk in case they switched parts on me.

Public transportation here is almost nonexistent. The Uber car took 26 minutes to get to us even though traffic was light. It took us 21 days to have a satellite installed so we could have cable TV. We’re still working on the internet provider. I no longer spend hours browsing through shopping malls. I now spend hours relaxing by the lake and admiring the clear blue waters.

I always knew there was something special about the country. Now that I’m here, I don’t think I’ll ever adjust to the city life again.

Also published on Medium