I collapse. In the depth of darkness - I emerge. Stronger.
I rise. And fall again. Deeper. I want to disappear. But all I really want - is to be found.
WHO AM I?
A dreamer. A seeker. A work in progress. A fighter. Also a looser.
Many moments. I feel empowered. And many days. I just want to give up.
But - I know. I can. Till the day. I see the Light. I will be Free.
I know. I am not alone. I can choose - who I want to be.
I started IAMinVISIBLE, a photo narrative project out of passion from a simple motivation - to bring stories to light, to bring the invisible into the visible, to get real with authentic conversation with inVISIBLE Heroes for inspiration.
But..there’s more to it……
I shadowed a young man, Wesley Wee, a street hawker selling tissue suffering from Cerebral Palsy, who was abandoned and abused by his parents since young. Nasty words like “good for nothing, nobody will love you, you will never get married” were constantly hurled at him since it was made known that his fate was sealed and confined into a wheelchair for life. Now, Wesley is an author of a book, ‘Finding happiness against the odds’ which he used 6 years to write with his toes, found happiness with forgiveness. He is happily married and wanted to be the voice of person-with-disAbilities.
Dr Darren Chua is a fighter. At 24, he thought he had it all figured out - a high achiever, qualified medical doctor and about to embark on an illustrious career as a neurosurgeon. Life had it as such that he suffered from a stroke that same fateful year. “Everything I knew was stripped away. It left me with a useless body, unable to talk, move or see. I was stuck in a prison. But from that prison, I knew I had a choice of what prison I wanted to be in - Is it of four walls or a prison of hope?” With grit and resilience, he trained doubly, triple hard to recover within 2 years to know that he can never be a doctor again - it hit him (really) hard. However, his belief kept him going to pursue the unimaginable. He continued his path of excellence with his motto, “DisAbility is only in the mind” He is a table tennis medallist at 3 ASEAN Para Games, (recently in Sep 2017), “I took up the sport as a challenge to compete for something bigger than me alone, being disAbled does not make us unAble”.
I interviewed 25 amazing personal stories of grit, strength, resilience, love and courage. What really stood out for me was ‘Worth’ – the value of a person’s very existence of living.
“You are a burden to society, you are nothing and will never be able to succeed in life!” Jason Kuan, suffered from Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and was bullied since his formative years in school. “I was told to shut up and was called names like Crazy Orange’ but i didn’t really take it seriously what it meant until a few years later when I chanced on a youtube video that is was about a character – an orange, which was very irritating and ignoring.”
“I want to be unapologetic of being who I am. A woman of size all my life, I was the constant subject of mockery, I’m so conscious of myself and would always hide in a corner to eat for fear of how people would think about me.” Shriya took comfort to binge eating whenever she is stressed. Weight has always been an issue wherever she goes, “I’m excluded and ostracized, people would look at me in disdain, as though I’m some alien that doesn’t belong. I’m seeing phycologist and coming to terms with my weight. I want to take ownership of myself and sense of worth, I want to share my story, to create awareness and empathy so that people can be more kind and have a reason to care.”
Everyone has a story, untold. I can totally resonate with Shriya’s and quite afew of these inVisible Heroes. Being born in a traditional Chinese family and a fraternal twin to a brother, I have always been treated less of since young and constantly the subject of contempt and rejection. Being a big woman all my life, I was not spared with hurting words, people steered clear away from me. I retreated in the comfort of my own cocoon, I never thought that my presence matters to anyone at all. I will just blend into the background and contented by being the listener. “I don’t understand what you’re saying”, I lost my voice and just keep quiet although I have this dying desire to express.
I felt crippled. I thought the only way to find my worth is the measurement of success I will make in this life. A ‘perfectionist’ in my own terms, I strived hard, set high expectation and was doing alright in the creative sector. I want it all - I have dreams, goals and already have the ideal life mapped out in this picture-perfect happily ever-after fairytale.
“You are going crazy! You better get your emotions in-check” – 11 years ago, the sudden passing of my father was a big deal to me, amongst others, with a failed business, debts and lost relationship in one fell swoop - my world that I knew then, collapsed. I was helpless. Lost.
Alas, I was awakened by this fateful card that I was dealt with - All was gone. I was full of guilt, the insurmountable knowing that my father was still worrying about me at his death bed left me paralyzed. I was overwhelmed with pain and extreme anger with everything and everyone, including myself. I couldn’t control my emotions – I snapped at the slightest trigger.
I picked up the pieces, started my life anew from ground zero – this new life was littered with much more struggles and challenges that I never knew. The little confidence I exuded back then was gone. The opinionated old-self died. I have learnt that only the rich, powerful and influential will be heard. I worked very hard, punished myself with unreasonable hours, I wanted to use the work that I produced to prove my worth and capability. I wanted so much to succeed, to realize the lofty dreams I had. I failed – in every aspect of my naivety, again. I sank deeper. And to date, I’m still struggling. I’m still very much a work-in-progress.
I know that I’m not alone. In a competitive environment, any display of vulnerability is a sign of weakness and incapability. There are tons of us going through emotional upheaval, suffering in silence, lurking in the corner, trailing in the shadow – unnoticed. We make up the majority of the population. Oprah Winfrey mentioned in a Harvard Commencement speech in 2013 that in her 25 years of interviews with over 35,000 personalities with leaders ranging from President Bush, Obama, Beyonce and to housewives, every single one asked her “was that okay?” after the camera stop rolling.
Why? Are we not enough?
While I was working on the IAMinVISIBLE exhibition and sharing session last December, family and friends asked, “How much are you getting out of this?”, “You can’t even help yourself!” Another one said, “while you are looking to help others, you are actually seeking to help yourself” – she was totally spot on.
This has given me a new motivation to continue the work of IAMinVISIBLE. In the second series -
1. I want to give Voice and Worth - use photo feature as a ‘feel good’ element to boost, re-affirm and acknowledge a person’s very existence.
2. Capture the hidden yet familiar and intimate side of humanity to share stories of lost, despair, failure and triumphant. To challenge stereotypes and embrace differences.
Reading other people’s stories can inspire us and telling our own story can help us heal. I want to build a community and create a safe space of – ‘I’m not alone’ – for inVISIBLE Heroes to connect with people who understand and able to relate, coming together to give love, hope, strength and courage to rise up from adversity. To give dreams, to support one another in the journey of healing, self-discovery and transformation to realise one’s fullest potential to becoming the person we want to be, for we are the author of our own story.
No matter who you are, status and class, everyone wants/needs to be loved, valued and appreciated. I’m looking forward to create awareness, and seek collaboration to go far and wide. I’m very passionate about cause related initiative - to use storytelling to connect and build relationship, so I hope some corporate could do more, to adopt IAMinVISIBLE as a movement to promote self love, to acknowledge a person’s worth.
No doubt my wings were slit, I’m striving towards that day where I will take flight and be free. I’m organising a fellowship on “Worth”, join me in this journey of transformation.
With that, I thank you. I am Ning Pei. I am Possible.