Confessions is a series of essays on personal experiences and intimate issues, many of which have been kept secret for so long. By sharing these previously confidential accounts, we explore our own mental health without judgment and the various ways we cope, with the hope that it makes it a little lighter of a burden for us to carry. It's also a reminder that no matter how odd or unique these experiences can be, someone can relate to it – and we are not alone.
I was very privileged growing up. During my formative years, my family was middle class in Singapore, a country where half of the population is in the world’s richest 10 percent. We were very comfortable.
We had a car, lived in the heart of the city, and went for multiple holidays a year. I went to a school in a rich neighbourhood where I met other kids of similar or more affluence and quickly built a community around them. We enjoyed hefty allowances at the start of every month, went out for nice meals every other day, and chilled at cafes while pretending to study.
Then everything changed.
When I was 12 years old, my parents got divorced and their business tanked. I found myself torn away from the cushy life I had known and thrusted into a world I didn’t understand. I still remember the day my parents sat me down to say that we couldn’t afford those liberties anymore. From then on, I was to come home straight after school. My monthly allowance turned into a daily allowance that barely allowed for a meal. And those nice dinners every other day became monthly affairs, then stopped altogether. We sold our car and remortgaged our house.
I was a carefree child but, all of a sudden, had to hold myself to a much higher academic and moral standard, a pedestal I had no concept of reaching. I had to excel in school because my mother, now a single parent, could no longer take time to make sure my brother and I were doing well in school.
When I tried to confide in relatives, they told me that I was spoiled and should grow up, that other people were worse off than me. These were the same people who sheltered me from the realities of the world.
I had no tools, skills, experiences, or role models from my past life to look to for wisdom and was left completely in the dark. I was filled with anxiety and fear, made to go at it alone and suddenly lacking a support system that knew or understood who I was and where I had come from. It was incredibly isolating.
This, coupled with a messy divorce, had dimmed a light within me, a flame I’m still trying to stoke to this day.
I hate that spoiled kid who had no concept of privilege, humility, or frugality. But as I look back with disdain, I can’t help but feel a little bit of sympathy for him. More so because I still deal with some of his toxicity to this day. My most significant and damaging trait is being envious of those who have privilege, or at least more privilege than me.
After my parents' separation, I often found myself broke while hanging out with friends, but I still chose to tag along because I wanted to be around them, happy to still enjoy the pleasure of their company. But the pangs of envy would grip me every time I saw something they had that I didn’t. I have vivid memories of sitting in a cafe after school, feeling waves of heated anxiety flush over me. I felt inadequate by association, that I was somehow “lesser than” because I couldn’t afford a cup of coffee or a cake, while everyone else could.
I know now that those criticisms were entirely of my own making. I knew it was wrong to feel envious but as hard as I tried to be happy for my friends who could afford these creature comforts, having so much taken away from me in such a short time left a gaping hole in my life. Seeing them enjoying all the revelry I once did left me riddled with yearning.
To this day, I still look at other people’s bowls and marvel at how much bigger and more bountiful they are. I hang out with the same friends, eat at the same restaurants, and go to the same places to hang out. Although I’ve found a way to live within my means, every now and then, when I get glimpses of the luxuries that I used to enjoy, I’m gripped with the same pangs of jealousy that brought that little boy close to tears.
Thankfully, I’ve slowly gotten used to my new lifestyle. It's taking a while to break away from those feelings of inadequacy but I’m getting there. I’ve learned that although having money is great, the privilege I enjoyed was reserved for a very small percentage of people. That bubble I was so happily skipping around in looks vastly different from most people's reality. I’m thankful that bubble burst.
I learned throughout the years what it means to find merit and value in other things that money can’t buy. Things like working hard for a paycheck and earning a day off. Or how to stand on one's own two feet without the coddling of a parent or role model. Time taught me that there's more to life than hoarding resources, and that real value doesn’t have a dollar sign attached to it.