self-destruction & flying business class


I had regarded business class flights as privileges that not many would have the privilege to enjoy. If you are not convinced of my sense of superiority, read the Prologue of my book, “Stress in the City: Playing My Way Out of Depression”, where I document a journey on a flatbed in the air, and the condescension I had felt towards those in cattle class because I did not deem everyone worthy of flying Business Class. I was still in corporate then, younger, more naïve, and felt even more superior, omnipotent and invincible than now. I felt I had earned the right to the privilege of Business Class flights.

At the same time, I regard business class flights as an entitlement. I work hard, I hustle, I slave away for different purposes, my body is forever damaged by bearing two children, so why would I not reward myself with some minimal comfort and space when cramped up in the air for hours?

Right now, as I type this, I am sitting in Business Class, feet up, back seat slanted with a puffy pillow. The cabin lights had dimmed after meal service, and most window seat passengers had turned down the blinds. I have my own light turned on, had drunk a peppermint tea, a black coffee, and now on to my hot lemon tea with honey after gulping down beef ramen. The cabin crew looks impeccable and I am reassured by the familiarity of the seats, the stowage space, and the little buttons that magically turn my upright position into a flatbed should I wish to. On long flights, I usually take a snooze and put on a face mask, just to keep the skin hydrated.

Such comfort. Such privilege. Such justification – the return flights on this Business class via HK was cheaper than direct flights on Economy, so why not, especially if this will in part be reimbursed by the client and I could bump myself up with miles?

I realize I have now spent four paragraphs gloating about my luxury, and will then proceed to more first world problems. But let me try to tie it in with my mental health, and the parodies I live through.

For the last few weeks, I do not think the migraine ever stopped. It fluctuated between endless throbbing to a more controlled ached just above the eye brows after dosages of painkillers. The pain came, then it disappeared into the background if I had enough caffeine or sugar rush to focus on something else, and then reappeared again once the numbing effects have passed.

I had an endless to-do list, most of which I had created for myself. After all, as a social entrepreneur, we are forever creating things to do, and to stay afloat. I have hope and faith in Bearapy. I know it will help others and I know I cannot do it alone. So now we have a team of 10+ part timers who believe in the cause, the social impact, and for some strange reason, also in me and my leadership. Thus, I now have a responsibility to these 10 people too – or at least I feel the responsibilities in my role to lead the team, some ways or others. They are always on my mind, more than my kids sometimes. Combine all that with personal and family financial stressors, the desire to write more but not have the energy, and many other loads of stuff, my goal was simply, to survive and stay afloat with some air.

There were nights I worked till 3am, work up at 7am, and continued again in front of the computer, to meet deadlines. There were nights where I could not lift up a finger, and had to give in to my own emotional and mental state, pop a Xanax or two, cry some, and try to go to sleep. And then were dawns where I would be frightened frozen by my own nightmares and twisted dreams of bleeding feet and corpses. Continue that to afternoons and evenings with soliloquies in my mind of setting affairs in order, transferring the last of savings to my husband’s bank account, straightening up all the insurance payments, and then entertaining the idea of walking out…. But where would I walk to?

I work hard, super hard. I try hard, super hard. I fail hard too, super hard. I have some talent in self-destruction, and will do so whenever I can by pushing myself over the cliff just to see if I might fly this time, whether consciously or unconsciously.

I get it when sometimes people tell me they get the importance of mental health, but felt like they had no energy to take care of themselves. I feel the same most of the times. I feel caught in this dilemma, and the pressure to somehow be super mentally healthy too if that was my company’s work. Then I thought, who said I had to be a guru to work in the space? It is for the very reason that it is my personal challenge and experience, that I find the work meaningful and useful for others.

There is no prescribed equation for a sense of subjective wellbeing. We all have to find out for ourselves.

I am happy to pull all-nighters for the work I consider meaningful, and also hopefully will remunerate somehow. I am happy to get my eyes crossed and tired from computer screen time. I have the flexibility to work three days straight, then crash for three days to sleep or just go to fake beaches with my kids. So, when I have to travel for work, which many from outside looking in may find glamorous, I feel I have the entitlement to say to myself, “lie down flat for a nap, have some me-time to journal and write, and drink a glass of wine.” Because, when I get off that flight, the churning starts again.

If I self-destruct most other times in the rest of my life, then surely I can exercise some self-care when my feet are off the ground and in the air?

Thus, a self-justification of flying Business class not only from the cost perspective, but from a self-care, mental and emotional health perspective. Plus, I just typed out a 20-page consulting report so it’s not all just bubbles and fun. I am fully aware, that as a friend recently also pointed out, that I am very good at justifications. Well, if it works to protect the mind from falling apart, then defense mechanisms can be put to good use…

And yes, whenever I can, I will fly CX despite the extra transit time. It is now, partly a matter of principle, and the little I can do….

about Noch Noch

Enoch Li, (pen name: Noch Noch) was born and raised in Hong Kong and Australia. She has also studied / worked / lived in the US, France, UK, Japan, The Netherlands, China, and has travelled to more than 40 countries. She loves travelling and her curiosity in foreign cultures and languages has led her to enjoy her life as an international executive in the banking & finance industry. However, she was forced to take time off work in 2010 due to her illnesses and after spending time in recovery, cooking, practising Chinese calligraphy, reading and writing – in short, learning to take care of herself and letting out the residual work stress, she has transitioned into a Social Entrepreneur and founded BEARAPY to help corporates make workplaces mentally healthy, and support executives to become more resilient.