The Years of Living at High Velocity

7 minute read

Or how I am not dealing with hyperthyroidism

Ever since I had a vague inkling of ambition, it’s been go, go and go.

Occasionally go even further, at top speed. Once I learned to catch the wind, I wanted to fly. I was the weird kid who climbed and used my stroller as a skateboard, even before I could walk.

I don’t really know how to live any differently.

In school, I had to run every single track and field event, jump, debate, represent my institution and country at whatever they wanted me to, learn to be house captain, juggle many loves, do more A level papers than I needed, work in a few jobs, travel the world. I was unstoppable, not from the overwhelming middle class Singaporean need for accomplishment, but from not knowing any better.

The simple truth: I don’t know what to do with myself. If I do one less thing. I freak out. My mind wanders. I fidget, physically, but worse is the emotional fidgeting that comes inevitably when I do fewer things than I can. (Not emotional as in “I should date someone” but as in “OMG WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE”. Just to clarify.)

The moment I was done with university, I pursued all those madcap adventures I’d dreamed of as a child. Without the restraints of geography and formal education, I shined.

I may not have travelled far, unlike some mileage-racking people I know, but I have returned to the cities I love, repeatedly. I have pushed my body through some extremities. And travelled in ways that I am told are not good for me, in the long run.

Borneo longhouse and then Barcelona, in 36 hours.

Beirut and then Istanbul, in two weeks, by land.

Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Pondicherry and 3000 kilometres of my beloved South India, in a rickety little tin can.

Dubai. Istanbul. London. Dubai. Chennai. Kuala Lumpur. Chennai. Dubai. London. Singapore. Dubai. Sana’a. Dubai. Singapore. Bangkok. Singapore. Dubai. Beirut. Damascus. Aleppo. Adana. Antalya. Goreme. Istanbul. Dubai. London. That was six months of my life in 2008-09.

At 23, you think you’re invincible. The world is your oyster. There is nothing you can’t do.

At 27, you’re a little older now. Older and slower.

I was in Bombay two weeks ago, happy as usual to be there. I was going to go to Hong Kong, then go back to India again. I came home instead to Singapore, supposedly to catch my breath for a day before flying off to Kuala Lumpur, then Hong Kong, but found myself in hospital instead.

I didn’t feel so invincible then.

I slept for six nights next to a dying woman, who expended her last breaths snoring like a champ. I figured if you were at that point, you can do whatever the hell you want. Preachers and Christian relatives came to proselytize by her bedside every evening. She grunted.

I had no preachers, but lots of balloons. (The person with the least-threatening disease had the most number of balloons. That didn’t seem fair.)

I had lots of love.

I had everything I needed: food, water, medicine, medical attention, visitors, and potassium chloride, attached to my arm through a drip.

Life has a funny way of cutting you back down to size: I was diagnosed with hyperthyroid. My body, like my ambitions, was in overdrive, with so much metabolism that I lost 20kg at one point (not a good thing, btw); such that my hands shook, always involuntarily and sometimes violently; such that my heart raced and slowed and sputtered, often audibly.

No one could tell me what it was until I collapsed at dinner in Singapore, and my face went pale and my body cold, but my head burned at 40 degrees when I got to the hospital. Thereafter, I was force-fed medicine and put through a battery of tests for six days before I was released into the world again with stern orders to medicate and just chill the fuck out.

That didn’t, and still doesn’t, sit too well with me. I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m frequently stumped by people who say they are bored, because I haven’t known boredom in many years. The world is out there for the taking — and imma take it! But it was not meant to be, because my body said so.

In my hurry to be better and faster, I’d forgotten to stop — I’d forgotten about stopping at all.

I’d forgotten to spend time on the things that matter most: my health, my family, my friends.

I’d forgotten my body is a vessel that cannot keep up with all the desires of the mind, that needs to be well-kept and well-lubricated.

The hormonal imbalance caused by my hyperthyroidism put my life and what I cherished most about it in jeopardy. I swung, and still do, from sad to happy to neutral in a matter of minutes. I thought, and still do, of destroying everything I’d built up in years in fits of what felt like madness. I never thought it possible for a little butterfly shaped gland near my throat to wreak so much chaos in my life, but it has: my clothes don’t fit, they literally fall off me; I went well below the weight I was at 10 years ago; I want to throw things one second and then I want to hug a kitten the next; I can be in the middle of a totally normal situation, such as sitting on a chair in my house, and then my heart starts racing, and slowing, when it pleases, almost as it wants to leap out of my body. If you ask me about the hormonal imbalance caused by hyperthyroidism, I’m very certain that it’s on a scale of (old school birth control pill hormonal fallout + PMS + remembering all your sad memories) x 1000. On a good day, I potter about in a haze of drugs and sadness, and somehow manage to muster some of the old spunk left in me, and hold on to it like an unskillful amateur magician for however long I can keep it up. On bad days, I am utterly helpless, tiny things set me off, stupid things stress me out with no regard for proportion — I worry about small things now as though the apocalypse was just around the corner, when every rational bit of me that’s left knows it’s not, but my body and my mind just cannot compute it.

I miss that the most about pre-hyperthyroidism: my cool. I miss that my superpower of being unfazed by anything seems a world away from me now. I can deal with the months of diarrhea, weight loss, heart palpitations, hand tremors. I can deal with any of those physical things. But not being in full control of my mind is a scary place for me.

Talking to people who know what it’s like helps (Thanks Lucian). Medicating regularly and sleeping more has helped, too. Physical symptoms and hormonal imbalance aside, I do not like that I (1) get loopy from time to time (2) have trouble concentrating (3) am significantly slower in terms of cognitive processes (4) forget things immediately (5) feel helpless about all of this.

There seems to be awfully little I can do except wait it out and hope for the best. In the grand scheme of things, I know this is one of those things that’s going to be just another quirk, in a couple of months. I know I should be thankful it isn’t anymore serious or life-threatening. It just gets in the way, you know? Especially when you are a small business owner like me, I need to be 150% there, 100% of the time. It seems to be my body’s way of telling me to slow the fuck down and find a pace and time where I can do the things I want without destroying my body in the process. Health is wealth, etc, and all that mumbo jumbo (even if true, it still sounds funny saying it).

I’ve decided to chill out. To not let this disease take over my life, or my mind. To do things differently. To sleep before two in the morning, every night. To sleep at least six hours a day. To not subject myself to torturous travel schedules. To be aware of my limitations. This part is the hardest, but I will try.

I’m going to have to take a break from all of this — Singapore, Malaysia, work, empire-building, community-building, nation-building — so I can come back in a better shape to resume all of this, and more.

There’s a world of opportunities out there, it sucks that I can’t have all of them, right now, but I can at least pick my battles and be darn good at it too.

Goodbye, my crazy high velocity life. Hello, a better, healthier me.