Death by thousand pin pricks

— 9 minute read

It's been two days after the US Elections. Votes are still being counted. This morning in the hospital I saw the news blurb go, and I translate from Malay, "Biden is confident to win, Trump has already declared victory". The surreality of the line caught me in my tracks and I couldn't help but laugh a bitter laugh. Such is the world that we live in now.

I feel a perpetual hangover from the non-stop refreshing of the election results, with a fresh injection of anxiety every time I see the figures anew, whether they have been updated or not. Whoever wins, my faith in humanity is already lost. About half the American voters have chosen Trump. After more than 230,000 deaths from Covid, innumerable scandals and atrocities, and the possibly irreversible attacks on our environment and the climate - this was the decision made by tens of millions of people.

I had a virtual conference between myself, myself-at-thirty, myself-at-twenty, and myself-at-ten in my head, while I was washing the dishes this morning. Nothing makes sense anymore, we all agreed. Of course, we'd been told that "the world is not fair" whenever we complained about fairness, and suspected that it was true, but this seems to be the end-all proof of concept that the world is really not fair. How can greed, selfishness, and irresponsibility be so unduly rewarded? The problem is really not Trump anymore. It's all that Trump stands for, and all his enablers and supporters.

Even if Biden wins, the fact that he didn't win a landslide is enough to kill the idealism in me, and what I stood for over the years. Me-at-30 was eager to "solve" climate change, and imagined that it was down to personal will. She understands now that climate action is near futile if bad policy causing hundreds of thousands of deaths in the immediate future is still rewarded with popular support. Me-at-20 was optimistic about her future prospects and the future prospects of Malaysia, and the wider world. Well, goodbye democracy. It was nice believing in you. Me-at-10 had a black and white view of right and wrong, and might have wanted to become a policewoman (this was one of my childhood aspirations). She is the most bewildered of them all. So - lying is ok, and the louder you lie, the more people will believe you? The richer you get, the louder you can lie? The dirtier you play, the richer you will get? Her mind is now stuck in a recursive loop.

Me-at-present knows that somewhere in the answer lies Facebook and our communication channels that are rigged for profit to polarise conversations and amplify the loud and sensational. That's the main problem really. I don't think that most people are stupid, even if I sometimes feel that that's the case. More often than not there are good reasons behind their decisions. It's all about the narrative, the story we tell about our lives. Trump has been able to both control or destroy the dominant narrative, depending on where you stand on the political spectrum. Believers believe, and non-believers are so sucked of energy that they lose the ability to react.

And so we stand here with 264-214, Biden leading, even though Arizona may well be taken back by Trump. The goal is to get to 270. The competition is close for the electoral college votes, way too close. Biden does have 3.5 million more votes than Trump, but the popular votes don't count for presidency. It is said that the later numbers will favour Biden because Democrats are more likely to mail in votes. Trump shows no sign of conceding defeat anyhow, and is lying through his teeth claiming that he's won.

The perpetual hangover continues for the next days, or weeks, or months.

Lest you worry, my idealism is like a weed. Presently it's been mowed over but the roots are still there. It will grow back "when the spring wind blows", as we say in Chinese. Let's hope that this harsh winter will be over soon.

If you're wondering why I was in a hospital, we've been going daily for more than a week for Leo's dengue fever blood tests. He's ok now, his last blood test was this morning - the doctor congratulated him for graduating from Dengue University and cheerfully announced that he'll probably contract another strand at some point because he lives in Malaysia. Gee thanks doc. But for now we're just glad that this is over.

The first two weeks of CMCO passed without event, if anything I sank into some sort of mild depression but managed to prop myself up with daily youtube yoga combined with meditation. Planted flowers. Looked into natural dyes since I have five marigold plants coming up. Fantasised about going on a terrarium plant-collecting expedition without having the will to take one step out of the house apart from grocery shopping. All was relatively quiet.

Then boom. Malaysia almost declared a state of emergency for political reasons but the Sultans put their royal heads together and good sense prevailed. Anxiety levels went through the roof though. Was that only 11 days ago? It feels like months back. After that was sorted, the doom scrolling increased its pitch because of the looming US elections. Actually there was little good news elsewhere and my anxious eye caught many headlines indicating trouble everywhere - second and third waves of Covid everywhere, protests here and there, more bad news for the environment, will this ever end??

It was the third week that things started going a bit off the rails physically. My little throat itch developed into a persistent cough. My temperature was normal, but then Leo started to develop a fever that wouldn't go away. We saw a first doctor, who gave some paracetamol and asked us to monitor the fever. When after two days the fever was still there, my mind went towards a dark and Covid-related place, and so we went again to a clinic that was closer to home. The second doctor remarked that it was difficult to determine what it might be and "it would be easier if you had more symptoms" (I'm starting to see a pattern in doctor humour here). We took a dengue test, which came back positive. I heaved a sigh of relief. 2nd doc also saw no problem with my cough and gave me a fairly typical cough mixture to treat it.

We started to visit the neighbourhood hospital daily to do blood tests. Mostly we hung out at the A&E (also the place where Covid suspects get sent to, unfortunately), and while I first imagined that we would see some blood and gore, being in the Emergency Department, nothing of the sort happened when we were there.

The visits were mainly routine. While Leo's fever subsided after a couple of days his platelet count continued to go down, so we had to return day after day for the blood test, while he drank litres of coconut water and lots of fluids in general. Every friend had a dengue story to tell, usually involving lots of pain, but Leo managed to escape with minimal discomfort, thankfully.

So I've been referring to this time as a period of thousand pin pricks. There's nothing life-threatening but just many, many little annoyances. The daily blood tests alone take half a day every day, for more than a week. We had an appointment with the Immigration Department last week, only to find out that JPN is closed because of CMCO and they didn't have the courtesy to cancel our appointment. Some bank transactions didn't go through so we had to go to the bank, which was also closed, so we had to go to one that was further - more logistics. The yoga studio reopened without announcement and I had to go talk to them about my credits - more bureaucracy. We ran out of gas - why not right, the more the merrier.

At the same time there were a few different things happening for work, and so whatever bandwidth I had left was spent on dealing with whatever that was most urgent. The filth level of the house is starting to get too much. There's always something that needs to be cleaned, repaired, or thrown out. The garden is swarming with mealybugs now, and the tomatoes need to be supported, and I need to transplant several seedlings.

Pin pricks. A thousand of them. I'm getting to the point where every little thing looks equally big - the curtains that need to be mended, the floor that needs to be vacuumed, the toilet that needs to be cleaned, the calls that need to be made, the work that needs to be done, the meals that need to be prepared, the mealybugs - oh the mealybugs!! And I don't' know where to start. Two weeks' worth of unbridled entropy now leaves me looking around confused and exhausted. Whatever little energy I have left is sapped by the barely controlled doom scrolling.

Written one day later, 6th Nov:

I thought I'd end with something hopeful. Most of the pin pricks are now done anyway. We've dealt with the dengue and various bureaucratic hurdles. I'm slowly picking my way through the house and we will clean properly this weekend. Work is now moving into a new stage, one that I'm excited about, transitioning from data collection to data analysis. The uncertainties of the US election will plateau soon, making it easier to go into a digital detox that will happen soon.

In the last week, amidst the crazy, there were also nice things that happened. While doing our daily visits to the hospital we discovered a great bakery with awesome pastries and friendly folks manning the counter. One day I brought a container and a spoon along the way to the hospital, and went scavenging for weeds and moss for my native terrarium-to-be, and so far they're doing well in their temporary homes, waiting to be transplanted into a glass jar. In-person yoga classes look set to begin again, and Farsi learning continues to entertain my wild mind.

And this morning officials from the Health Department visited our place to enquire about the dengue situation, which is somewhat reassuring. Contact tracing is happening and health officials are doing their jobs.

As I write this, Biden is closing in on Georgia, tying virtually with Trump at 49.4%, and a win will tip him over the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the presidency, bar sudden surprises or dirty manoeuvres. I'm going to cook and come back to check later. The post closes here on the brink of history.