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Your Gentle Guide to Healing / Sophie Lau and Nat Akinyi



 

1: let yourself feel everything–softness is not weakness


hold my breath

let rage rush through

flood my veins until

there is no more blue

only crimson

tears stain my cheeks

find myself drowning

think that i am weak


wild oceans only know how to seethe foam

i crash into a place i’m forced to call home


You used to think anger was the only acceptable response—you had to harden yourself to the world so nothing would hurt.


Sure, you would publicly cry on Instagram about boys ruining your life, about your parents not understanding you, about people being problematic in your DMs, but when the personal was interwoven with the political, when your identity became heavy to bear, being vulnerable was not an option. You chose to lace every response with anger and frustration. If other emotions came to the forefront, you pushed them aside. You were worried you’d be seen as weak.


It reached a point where you felt like you were boiling, all the time. You thought it was fine—being angry just meant that you cared. You failed to acknowledge, however, that going to bed every night having burnt yourself to cinders (on flames you fanned yourself, mind you) was simply not sustainable.


You’re allowed to be angry, of course, but you cannot neutralise hatred with anger.


For so long, you thought the only way to combat the meek and submissive stereotype you were unwillingly boxed into was to be loud, brash, independent, and, to a certain extent, cold. Be untouchable. It's what your ancestors would have wanted for you. Don’t bow to anyone. Speak up for yourself.


You realise now that it’s okay if you don’t want to be angry; it’s okay if you don't want to be stoic. You're allowed to express all your emotions and exist in all your totality.


You don’t have to fight for your place in the world, nor do you have to justify it.


 

2: do the reading–you don’t know as much as you think you do


the age of information

what is there to know?

i learnt the history of my ancestors

stamped into my bone

i learnt the stories of our suffering

told through ancient tongues

i learnt that everything circles back

no matter how far we run


Your empathy is truly admirable.


You value personal experience above all else, whether it be yours or other people’s. Of course, this is a valid place from which to draw life lessons, but recently, you began wondering if your frame of reference was too narrow.


Last summer, you found yourself falling into the Instagram trap. You scrolled through infographics endlessly and although they were easily digestible and, on the whole, quite informative, you realised that they weren't a replacement for actual reading.


Social media posts are simply bite-sized pieces of activism and although they may spark some discussion or even trigger a mini epiphany, they won’t inspire truly transformative work. The kind of work foundational to understanding collective history. You cannot know the present without first unpacking the past.


True understanding comes only once you combine deep empathy with concrete knowledge.


Reading fuels your intellect, of course, but more than that, it reinforces your bonds with the past. It ensures that you learn the struggles of your ancestors, learn how the world destroyed parts of your soul and learn how you can start to rebuild them.


Reading ensures that you learn how to forge a future infinitely better than the present.


 

3: spend time alone–solitude is uncomfortable but enlightening


reflect it outwards

too overwhelming to be contained

send it through the ether

lest my tongue be steeped in pain


spit

out

that

spite


pinpricks of poison


suspended so unsafe

i produce what i was fed

i shall craft my own grave


You always hated being alone. Someone very special to you pointed it out once. They said that if being alone caused you discomfort, maybe you needed to face it head-on. Figure out why it was so unbearable.


You've tried to work on that. You took time out to sit with your thoughts, sit with your being, and ask yourself difficult questions. You confronted the unease.


You realise now that you always chose being reactive over being contemplative because it meant you didn’t have to process anything. It was a form of protection. Maybe back then, you weren’t ready to unearth your personal trauma. Maybe back then, you didn’t have the tools to do so without losing yourself. You projected your pain outwards to make it hurt less.


Whether you were the victim or whether you were reading about others in your community, it all became too overwhelming to retain internally, so you deflected. You sharpened your tongue and made every part of yourself so jagged that nothing could stick.


You realise now that this made it impossible for you to be still, to pause even momentarily, lest it feel like a million knives digging into you at once. You realise now that in expending all of your energy outwards, you left yourself bereft of any within.


To nourish your soul, to learn yourself, you need space to be alone.


Solitude doesn't always equate to loneliness. It can be a space of reflection, of peace, of growth.


 


 

4: mend your relationship with your parents–it’s not as impossible as it seems


thinking space was what i needed

i ran as far as i could

imagined a life a world away

free from pressures of adulthood

but


a world away is a full 360

a world away is right back here

a world away is a naive dream

a world away is far too near


sit silently at our dinner table

suffocated by that summer air

sink slowly into sticky affliction

indifference now too hard to bear


Your relationship with your parents has always been somewhat tense. From early childhood until last year, you could euphemistically label it as growing pains.


You’d all but given up. It was what it was and it would never change. Your best option was to remove yourself. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder. You had planned an out— you would graduate and live your life on the other side of the world. Plant yourself in Asia, tend to your roots and bloom where you were always meant to be.


Safe to say, the past year threw a spanner in the works.


Instead of spreading your wings and discovering yourself, you found yourself chained to the site of childhood strife. You found yourself confronting your parents on a daily basis, confronting a past from which you had never really healed. Five years away at university hadn’t fixed your relationship, it had simply created an even bigger divide. Your parents no longer knew who you were and they couldn’t understand who you were trying to become.


It became increasingly difficult to coexist peacefully. You could no longer keep your head down, nor could you meet them in the middle. You didn’t want to find compromise by compromising your values.


You’d always known that you had a difference in opinions but last summer, it came to the forefront. It finally dawned on you just how insidious and incomprehensible the anti-blackness in your family was. Every conversation about the news, about your friends, about the shortcomings in your community, escalated into a screaming match or simmered down into passive-aggressive silence. You spent almost every day in a state of emotional turmoil.


You felt resentful towards your family for being ignorant, yet you also felt guilty for being “difficult”, for being unable to fit the mould manufactured for you. For being unable to respect your elders, the way you’d always been taught to do.


After an exhausting year of intense conflict and quiet contemplation, you finally figured it out.


  1. Enter each conversation with no expectations. Have conversations because you need to, because you want to vocalise your thoughts, irrespective of the outcome.

  2. People are entitled to their own opinions and there is no right or wrong—it’s all a matter of perspective. You don’t have to agree with their opinions, nor do you have to understand them. You do, however, have to learn to accept them.

  3. You don’t have to change your parents, nor do you have to change for them. Accept your relationship as it is and accept them as they are. You may be pleasantly surprised by how peaceful this can be.


Maybe it was never about meeting them halfway, but merely walking the path together, remaining open, and cautiously optimistic, about the destination.


 

5: soothe your inner child–she's been neglected for too long


muffle those sobs

wipe away streaming tears

stave those whimpers

assuage any lingering fears


tissues now bloodied

more colour than white

exhaustion hits hard

i shall give up the fight


itch to be elsewhere

now darkness remains

if i were not raised here would this exist?

could i have learnt to live by my own name?


You always found yourself drawn to toxic people, thought yourself doomed to repeat toxic patterns. You could pinpoint your self-destructive behaviours with ease but try as you might, you couldn’t seem to change them.


You learnt about healing your inner child recently. It made you realise that so much messiness in your adulthood was a direct result of unprocessed trauma from your youth.


You noticed that your explosive anger in the face of racism was (albeit often justified) because you didn’t want to be transported back to when you were an upset child, made to feel unwanted and othered by your so-called friends.


You noticed that you rejected your language, your food and your culture because you were constantly taught by the world that your identity was worthless.


You noticed that your fixation on academic validation was because it was the only time you ever felt acknowledged by your parents.


You noticed that you struggled with expressing true vulnerability because you’d grown up with your feelings dismissed by your family.


You noticed that you gravitated towards emotionally unavailable people because you were trying to rewrite your history with your father.


You noticed that your low self-esteem, your desire for control, your self-sacrificial tendencies were because of a lack of support, and, sometimes, outright neglect in your family home.


Of course, this fed into your turbulent teen years where you made a lot of decisions you regretted. Part of your journey has been learning to reconcile them. Sure, you wouldn’t make the same choices now but at the time, those were the only choices you knew how to make. Oftentimes, they were the only choices you could make.


You always thought yourself to be fairly independent but you’ve realised now that you were simply that wonderfully functional combination of sufficiently extroverted and relatively intelligent. You never learnt how to exist at your full capacity while still nurturing yourself. Your boundaries were lax and self-care was simply not in your vocabulary.


Your therapist suggested writing a letter to your younger self, a letter of compassion and forgiveness. You agonised over it for weeks but when you finally put pen to paper, it was an act of catharsis. You healed in a way you never thought possible.


You’ve learnt now that although you can’t change your past, you can still heal those parts of yourself in the present. You’ve learnt how to meet your own needs without depending on others, how to regulate your emotions, how to practise secure attachment and, most importantly, how to unabashedly embrace your identity.


The detachment process is hard, the decolonisation process even harder, but as long as you remember to protect your inner child fiercely, hold your inner teen gently, and love your adult self unconditionally, everything will be okay.


 


 

6: be patient with yourself–there is no time limit on progress


softness cannot see me through life

regret taints my history

though screams fatigue me to the core

silence is complicity


plate up parts of myself

think i can escape the mould

far too late it dawned on me

i cannot remake my soul


You always lived your life in a series of emergencies. Time was running out and you were progressing far too slowly. There was an end goal in sight but it felt like every step had you sinking into quicksand.


You expected so much from yourself. You had all these ideas of who you should be, what you should achieve and you stretched yourself as much as you could to realise them. Burnout was your best friend; sleep was your enemy. Every minute spent resting was a minute you weren’t being productive. Where you gave others grace, you actively criticised yourself. Exhaustion wasn’t a result of being overworked, it was the product of a weak mind. It was a sign of laziness.


Write a story about your life and you would be the antagonist.


Last year, you realised you needed to dismantle your life ethos. Your family life was imploding, your graduate plans had fallen apart, the Hong Kong national security law had just been passed, and racial tensions were mounting across the world. You thought that keeping yourself busy would get you through, that pushing through the emotional upheaval was what was needed. How mistaken you were.


For well over a year, it felt like you were on an endless downward spiral. You were “booked and busy”, sure, but you were also in one of the darkest periods of your life. You felt like a failure if you stayed still but you felt exhausted in motion. While you vacillated between silence and outspokenness, the one constant was unhappiness.


This culminated in a mental breakdown and, lo and behold, you found yourself back in therapy. You’ve been with your therapist for six months now and one of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt is patience.


Your time here is finite; don’t burn through it faster by constantly running forwards. Be present. If you only live to attain your goals, your happiness will forever hinge on tangible results. You’ll only ever live in long periods of dissatisfaction punctuated with momentary joy.


You need to bloom in a space with no restrictions, no expectations. Build an environment for yourself where you have all the elements necessary for nurture. Carry your spirit freely on air, ground your body deep in the earth, feel your emotions flow through you like water and warm yourself by the fires of your soul.


Remember that you're deserving of tenderness, so be kind to yourself.


 

7: extend love outwards–it forms the basis of community healing


every news bite venomous

no antidote within

absorb it

abhor it

believing it’s a sin


watch others walk fake flower paths

silk roads torn by empire

pave the way with yet more bricks

fan the flames of earth’s hellfire


You used to feel like you had no capacity to deal with other people’s problems. You wanted to, of course. You wanted to be there for your friends, your family, your community, but it was just so draining. You felt yourself becoming increasingly intolerant as time went by. Your own life was in shambles and it felt like extending a hand would only serve to pull you over the edge.


You know now that by projecting that impatience and frustration outwards, you were simply adding more negative energy to the universe.


Perhaps part of you had been brainwashed by the media. All you’d ever seen was endless content pitting under-represented groups against each other. The moment critical thinking kicked in, you began to question yourself. Why were you being so insular and self-serving? Why were you fortifying the system put in place by your oppressors?


You realise now that it wasn’t necessarily that you were selfish, you were just lacking love. For yourself and for others.


Self-love, when practised to its fullest extent, is not simply self-maintenance. It’s replenishing your own cup enough that you brim with love for others. It’s ensuring that you will never run out of light, that you illuminate the rest of the world as you’re passing through. Self-love can be reflected outwards; it can be channelled into community love. After all, what is community if not an extension of self?


Treat others with the same care and generosity you grant yourself. The universe will embrace you lovingly in return.


 

8: trust in the universe–there's a divine plan for you


temples house my racing thoughts

incense smokes my vision

future too far to ideate

i question my decisions


pray to deities i left behind

admit i lost my way

look for guidance from fallen idols

have i led myself astray?


succumb to confusion

lament all i cast aside

carve out paths never meant for me but


fate cannot be denied


You’ve always been tapped into the spirit realm but you’ve never really sought guidance there. It was a dimension reserved for questionable ghost encounters and weirdly accurate premonitions. It was a never-quelling fountain of tales to recount your friends.


These past few months, it took on a different form for you. You began a transformative journey and although it’s hard to explain everything that has happened, you know how much you’ve grown from it.


You untangled your past, understood your present and unfurled your future.


You always used to feel so lost. You spent so long looking for signs that would signal the right path, signs that you had chosen correctly. Now, you realise that those don't exist. Finding yourself is a lifelong process. You have so much growing left to do and there are so many paths you still need to traverse. There will be detours and there will be dead ends, but those paths aren't necessarily wrong. Those journeys hold value too. Although there is a plan for you, the universe will not provide you straightforward answers.


Stop looking outwards. Look inwards. Everything you need is already inside you.


 

Sophie Lau

is a British Chinese linguist and writer. She enjoys writing opinion pieces, personal essays, and poetry about her identity, particularly relating to her Hong Kong roots. She graduated from the University of St Andrews in 2020 and is currently learning how to juggle multiple projects as a fledgling freelancer. She’s slowly working on her ninth language (Korean) but spends most of her time playing with her dog, baking cute things she sees on Instagram, experimenting with makeup, and writing multilingual poetry.

Instagram @lenaanus


Nat Akinyi

makes digital paintings and animations that address the lack of representation of people of colour within contemporary popular media, culture, and visual art. Her aim is to add to the work of other Africans in the diaspora and within the continent that challenges existing representation, whilst also shining a light on how inequality manifests itself in technology, climate, and the environment.

Instagram @nat.akinyi


In September 2021 I was so relieved for my son to go back to school for face-to-face lessons. He didn’t work so well during lockdown. He refused to participate in the online lessons – he said they wer