Bonnie Chi, a Senior Associate in Cyber Security at NAB, was gracious enough to stop by Balance the Grind for the second time around to discuss her self-care routine.
What does self-care mean to you?
To be happy. Not being interrupted by the outside noise. To feel that I always have: love to share, health to spare, and friends who care
To me, happiness is simple. Getting bubble tea during lunch break makes my day. Petting a cat on my way home warms my heart.
On many occasions it is the outside world that complicates things, that you care too much about other people’s opinions/ judgement; that you want to please everyone and in the end, you compromise and position your own priorities at the end.
As the single child at home, I thought I was born an introvert and forced to be an extrovert at networking and social events when I first came to launch my career in Australia. I slowly come to realise that it is in fact, culturally mistaken. I have lifelong friends since primary school that we can go on hours of Deep and Meaningful conversation (D&M) about karma of life, about relationships, arts and literature. I am just not used to casual chit-chat for business purposes.
When I am alone, I enjoy my Me-Time having a cup of Taiwanese/ Japanese/ English tea (depending on the mood and weather of that day), flipping through a novel, jotting down my thoughts on my journal. I enjoy having a dialogue with myself. Something “weird” about me that not many people know – I even have a chat box that I’ll send messages to myself.
Do you have a regular self-care routine? If so, what does it look like?
My self-care routine is actually pretty random. To me, it’s meant to be a time of relaxation. Then what’s the point of sticking with a defined, regular time frame? The longer I have lived, the more acceptance I’ve become. I know that we’re all humans and we can’t always “pretend” to stay positive and maintain an “inspiring” image. It’s okay to sway away from the routine thing for a bit.
On good days when I feel motivated, I’d listen to podcasts to start the day when commuting to work. Some days I’d catch up on some sleep on public transport; or when I feel like I need more rest, I’d just sleep in and choose to work from home. On days I feel hyper I’d go on a ride, play some rock music or heavy metal through my AirPods or subs, such as AC/DC, Metallica, Rammstein, Linkin Park, Imagine Dragons, t.A.T.u. and Avril Lavigne (my nostalgia collection!) and do a little dance in the shower.
On days I feel the need to recharge, I will pick something from YouTube to guide me through Meditation (see my ideas tools listed below), toss a handful of petals or bath salt in the tub, lit some scented candles or a few drops of essential oil in my diffuser. I found it therapeutic watching the fumes vapourised. It’s like a gesture to show gratitude and find closure of the day. I’d also turn on my mood lights around my bedside and tallboy – I love deco lights, not only on Xmas (that’s why Christmas is my favourite festival!) It’s like a soothing self-reminder: “May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.” – Quote from Lord of the Rings
On days I feel energetic, I’d walk my pup – Bagel the beagle, do some gardening work and talk to my flowers (maybe not during rainy winter!) On misty days I’d stay inside, write songs and play piano; or if I feel like I need to get out of the house, I may go to the malls and get some retail therapy, or merely wandering around and window shopping is enough to keep me on a roll.
On a bad day, I may give myself some allowance to binge over snacks (and come back to cardio the next day), have a chat over a drink and vape – under the principle of knowing your body tolerance limits. At the same time, I am also learning to get along with myself when I’m alone. Being alone does not necessarily mean feeling lonely, or being left out. Recently I’ve read a research on social isolation and loneliness “index”. I know for some people they even manage to go to the movies by themselves – I haven’t gone that far, but I’ve been dining alone, onboard a flight and walked into the surgical ward overseas on my own.
How do you know when you’re feeling stressed or burnt out?
My symptoms are probably a bit extreme as I was suffering from depression before. I once got a panic attack after the movies when I was driving and being yelled at. I black out and hit the curb when I pull over. The other time I almost drowned at the hotel pool; got gastro reflux on the plane and was seasick. Sometimes I also had a self-sabotage tendency.
The contrast in mood swing is getting more intense like a rollercoaster when it’s usually a good time followed by a ruin. Even until lately, I am still recovering from my trauma effects – being restrained from seeing my friends, being financially restrained etc. Sometimes I still feel burnt out and my performance being dragged down while dealing with the family lawyer (who makes things difficult) and handling my property settlement matters during my divorce. Let alone coping with my psychological side of things.
Later these “emotional episodes” turned into recurring symptoms – lost interest in the surroundings, short of breath, getting irritated easily, being edgy, clumsy, grumpy. As my anxiety grew stronger, I started to grasp that these are warning signs that things are going off track, or my focus in life has deteriorated.
I had a Laparoscopic surgery earlier this year, I finally became conscious that I have to look after myself when no one is around. I’ve learnt my lesson that you can’t count your hopes relying on someone, but to get out of the toxic relationship, environment, or even workplace – organisations who don’t value their employees. Speak Up when being treated unfairly. I am still learning, and it’s a long way to challenge the system and traditional school of thoughts that shape your beliefs.
Getting the right emotional support is important to me – and still in an experimental stage for me. Relocating to Australia is a totally new experience. Having the exposure to a multicultural society, I first thought herding with my own kin who speak the same language may be easier to express myself. Interestingly, I recently found that on some occasions, Caucasians manage to understand me better than, for instance, Taiwanese who share a similar culture with Hong Kongese.
I can’t be grateful enough for my organisation that treats their employees as human assets. On days being affected by the ongoing legal matters and cannot concentrate on what I have on the plate, I am allowed to take extra special leaves. Emergency leave and carer leave are also made available for employees whose family member(s) with unexpected conditions.
What bumps you off your self-care routine and how do you get back on course?
“You know what makes you feel okay about losing? Winning.” That’s my favourite quote from Molly’s Game. Sometimes my determination to win is too strong, maybe, that I will invest every effort to achieve my targeted goal. Only in the past few years I have gradually come to internalise the importance to unwind, take breaks between off work and meal time.
I was doing my banking qualification exam last year. To some extent I can be nerdy enough to bring my study materials on a weekend while my God children wanted to play with me. I asked for half an hour to wrap up my notes, but ended up procrastinating and lost track of time. My mate prompted me that the last thing I want is the kids losing interest and never wanting to be around me again. Juggling on two minds is not getting me anywhere nor getting any work done. That was the “dawn on me” moment – some things can wait, prioritise the moments valuable to you.
It is crucial to address the emotion on the spot, and be more aware of trigger events that easily affect your mental wellbeing. My bestie and I made a promise that we’ll never go to bed in a bad mood. Disconnect and Reconnect is an effective way for me to get back on course. Sometimes I do need some alone time to isolate myself from the noise, to get myself together and settle my thoughts, to sleep on it before talking through a decision. And when I am ready to talk about things in a more rational and sensible manner, I will re-engage with my friends and resume my social life. I am still learning to get hold of the urge to have things sorted instantly before removing myself from the situation and come back later after allowing myself some buffer to chill down, as I still struggle to Switch on-Switch off while needing to carry on the next task.
I always believe I am a fighter, that I am able to harness despair into resilience. In one of Michelle Obama’s interviews (Michelle Obama Looks Back on the ‘Panic,’ Vulnerability & Gratitude of Her Record-Setting Year: ‘Life Feels Different’) , she mentioned the idea to Embrace your vulnerability. “The simple act of sharing our fears and vulnerabilities helps us embrace our own stories and recognize how much we share with one another.” Having the accompaniment of a high-spirit community is the easiest way for me not to lose track of my self-care mindfulness routine. For instance, joining the Professional Migrant Women committee has connected me with many more intriguing individuals out there. Our book “Undefeated” and newly launched podcast capture the stories that resonant in me. Such direct and indirect connections (in both ways) provide me the strongest incentive when I burnt out and bumped off.
Where do you go for inspiration, ideas or tools for self-care?
As a millennial, I have no shame to recommend that social media is in fact a resourceful and convenient platform. I like listening to podcasts and watching YouTube, sometimes Netflix, depending on the mood of the day. I used to spend hours in bookstores and libraries back in high school, but I have to admit that it’s harder for me to sit down and read after working full time.
Also, the attention span in our generation is shortened given too many distractions these days. When I was doing my Master thesis in Taiwan, I love taking my laptop to cafés with nice mousse cakes and good jazz in the background; wrapped up the day or vent with my fellas with a personalised cocktail (as I was a regular customer) at my favourite vinyl bar around the corner down the road. Fine music, awesome people and chill vibes always elicit a flow of new ideas when I am stuck at bottlenecks.
The BBC Learning English App was a handy tool when I first came to Australia and it was critical that my daily convo was not fluent enough. Their materials are quite interactive compared to classroom learning and I particularly like the classical series that broadcast seasonal literatures such as Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
I started to develop the habit to follow and learn some basic Yoga exercises on YouTube during the Covid lockdown. Boho Beautiful Yoga is my most favourite tutor on social media. As suggested by the name, her videos are all filmed with an enchanting background in the nature setting – on a beach, in a jungle, top of a hike or campsite. Her lessons are arranged from beginners to more advanced levels. I also love her calming voice in her Meditation series.
I am an ardent admirer of Michelle Obama. From books to podcasts, Netflix Documentary series and Ted Talks, when I come across a serious topic, it is worth taking notes. You can leverage her ideas in almost every area – career aspiration, leadership, mentoring, public health, education, understanding Gen Z and so on. Her writing style, narrative structure and public speaking skills have inspired me in so many different ways.
As mentioned above, being part of an enlightening community will drive your enthusiasm further. The book “Undefeated” published by the Professional Migrant Women (PMW), co-authored by 90 migrant women, is all about the journey to Women Empowerment. They’re small chapters and poems so you can read bit by bit when you’re taking a 5 minute break, instead of reading all in one go.
My colleague, David has also started a Mental Health Series Podcast to talk about his mental health journey, how he seek help and cope with his ups and downs, how he open-up at workplace and dealt with tensions during the lockdowns (Josh Frydenberg said Melbourne has endured the longest lockdown in the world!) I know when we come to gender and equity, we tend to focus more on females. And yet men’s health shouldn’t be undermined either!
What do you think you need to improve in terms of your self-care practice?
To be honest, I am not a 100% disciplined person. When I resume my exercise routine upon the ease of Covid lockdown restrictions, I get bored at the gym since there’s not much human interaction. So I turn to more social activities, e.g. badminton. Some may think that I’ve shifted focus, but I think there’s nothing wrong with looking for alternatives and exploring options to try different things when a repetitive practice no longer sparks the same excitement in you.
I also need to be more upfront and transparent about my feelings and surroundings, open-up and have faith in people who want to understand and help me. One of those days when I was on the brink of the edge, my mate even had to call the Beyond Blue hotline with me to rely on professional help.
I don’t usually feel comfortable talking to strangers, especially about personal stuff. I still need to learn to let go of the past and don’t look back in anger. Sometimes I still feel the rage and insecurity inside me. Until I walked out from the shadow of my subconsciousness, now I know I am in good hands.
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