Every time I work on a death row case, I get dogged by a feeling like I’ve forgotten something. It’s a niggling feeling at the back of my head that I’ve dropped the ball on something, that something important has slipped my mind. But it’s usually not because I’ve really forgotten anything; it’s just because, with an issue so big where the stakes are so high, it feels wrong to be still even for the briefest of moments. It feels like every minute, every second, needs to be packed with activity to convince anyone and everyone that the execution needs to be halted. Of course, the reality is that this is simply not feasible, and no one will be helped if I collapse into a puddle of exhaustion.
Recognising this is easy in theory, but difficult to really put in practice. The anxiety of never doing enough can manifest in odd ways. Sometimes it pops up in the form of gatekeeping impulses, where I feel threatened if someone else comes up with good comments or ideas for steps we can take. It’s incredible nonsense: on the one hand, I’m glad for anyone who can contribute, and know that I don’t want any more worked to be piled on my shoulders, but on the other hand, a part of me feels upset or frustrated that I wasn’t the one coming up with all the ideas or doing all the work. I have to constantly remind myself that these impulses and feelings come from illogical places, built upon a foundation of unrealistic demands of myself.
This sometimes happens with journalism too, when I come across a good story on Singapore and start asking myself why I wasn’t the one who wrote it, even while knowing that some days I can barely convince myself to get out of bed, much less write more than I’m already doing. I live in the trap that Wudan Yan writes about here
, subsuming my work into my identity to the point where I feel like I have to be doing all this work, all the time, to still be relevant and worthy as a human being.
This needs to stop.