changeHey everyone! That’s right. Tis me. I’m alive. And I’m back. Hmm…this is beginning to sound like terminator 5 or something. Well many of you probably don’t know who I am to begin with. I’m Ms Joan and the school counsellor at YJC. I have a blog…sorta…and I have been trying (in vain) to write on this blog more often in the last 8 years I’ve been here, but it hasn’t really worked out that way. BUT…I shall persevere…starting with this post!

Some of you have been asking me where have I been for the last 10 months? Apparently there are a few theories floating around. And given the uncanny amount of time I was away (10 months), some have conjectured that I was uh…pregnant. So let me just state categorically here that no, I was not pregnant, I did not deliver a baby out of wedlock and there was no baby given away to any nunnery. And surely you guys have better things to do than conjecture if the school counsellor got herself impregnated?! So there. I did write a post before I left where I talked about needing to take time off to take care of some health issues. And the school has been very kind and understanding in this regard. And I’m feeling tons better now. Thank you for amusing me with your wild theories. 🙂

LOADS seem to have changed in the time I’ve been gone. Some familiar faces are no longer here, some familiar faces have returned, the concrete pillars in the school have become grey in colour (no doubt to match the theme of this blog), the school attendant auntie is now also the security guard on occasion, we have a new VP (new not to you, but to me), the school garden is looking pretty rad, the school issued me a new work laptop and work phone (woh…) and of course the news of the merger of some JCs in 2018, including ours. Change is hard for many people. I can be the sort of person that is unmoveable as an elephant (pic above). I like routine. I like things to be predictable, people to be familiar, the water cooler water to taste the same. I think it’s an innate biological need stemming from our hunter gatherer age – if I forage in this bush, I will find this type of edible berries to fill my hunger. So I keep going back to this bush, expecting to see this bush every time, with the expectation that I will be able to fill my hunger every time. Hooray. Any unforeseen changes will trigger a stress reaction in the body (what happened to the freaking bush?! What am I gonna do now! OMG I’m so hungry! I’m gonna die!!!). And we don’t like how stress feels in our body. So we don’t like change. We find comfort in familiarity. It’s only human to feel that way.

As cliché as it sounds though, change is an ever constant is not a misnomer or an oxymoron. It’s just….life. And we could respond to changes kicking and screaming and pulling our hairs out or we could just look at change in the face and go ‘meh’. The things in our lives will change. Nothing ever really stays constant. And I think we often see this notion in a negative sort of light. But really, if we really think about it, it also means that if you’re in a difficult situation now, that will change too. It’s an inevitable fact of life. A student I met when she was in JC1 seemed so much happier now. It was amazing for me to see how things that seemed absolutely unbearable 10 months ago, just no longer poses an issue anymore. I asked her what made the difference, and she said with a smile ‘things change’. How wisely put. 🙂 So I hope that can be an encouragement to you, especially if you didn’t do well for block tests or is experiencing some difficult friendship or relationship issue, sometimes knowing that things can and will change (because that’s how life is) gives us hope to push on. What probably hasn’t changed though is how long winded I can get when I start writing!! So I’m gonna put a stop to that now. Will write more another time! Have a great week ahead and looking forward to meeting with the unfamiliar faces some time soon. 🙂

Hi everyone, it’s been a really long time since I last wrote anything on the blog. I’ve had some health challenges the past few months and it’s been quite difficult at points but at last we’ve come to the end of term 3.

I’ve written some time ago on how life sometimes throw us curve balls and how tough it can be to deal with the unknown and I had said something like this, “the way we deal with the unknown and unforseeable future, the way we deal with life adversities shape our character and fortitude”. Nowhere has this ring more true in my own life than the past few months. I’ve come to believe now, more than ever,  that the adversities in our lives can indeed be our best teachers. And the lessons we learn from these ‘teachers’ often last a life time and are the most impactful because we experienced these personally.

Term 4 is usually one of the most trying times in the year for both JC1 and JC2 students alike. In this time, you might, in all reality, face a number of challenges and adversities. One of the things we talked about alot in the dot b lessons is that when we face an adversity, instead of reacting in our usual way – wanting the adversity to not exist, wanting to run away and hide and scream, lamenting why this is happening to us and not to others etc., the most powerful way we can deal with an adversity is to look at it in its face fearlessly. When we can look at an adversity calmly and learn to ask ourselves “what is this teaching me?”, in that moment we would have transformed an otherwise distressing and crippling situation into one that facilitates tremendous personal growth.

So what has adversity taught me in the past few months? That it’s okay to ask for help (seriously…counsellors can be the most stubborn when it comes to asking for help!); That I need to be compassionate with myself and accept myself (and this imperfect health) in its totality, not needing things to be different or be disappointed when things don’t go my way but just to accept that it is the way it is. When we are able to let go of our fixations on what has been and where we want things to be, and learn to be content with what is, that’s when we invite tremendous peace and calm into our lives.

So this teacher’s day, I want to say a big thank you to the adversities in my life, who has turned out to be my greatest teachers. 

On an important note, I will be away on leave from the end of term 3 to take care of these health issues and will return some time in term 1 next year. In my absence, we have a new part time school counsellor, Mr Foo Kit Meng. So you can still contact him if you want to find someone to talk to about the adversities in your life. Here’s Mr Foo introducing himself in his own words:

kit mengHi, I am your new Part-Time School Counsellor Mr FOO KIT MENG, and I hope to get acquainted with you during my stay in YJC. I hope to share a little about myself…

In June 1995, I retired from the Republic of Singapore Air Force after having a fulfilling and rewarding 25 years of military service. Some of the highlights of my career included a tour as the Commanding Officer of a mobile air-defence squadron, staff appointments at the RSAF Headquarters and an overseas-posting to the Headquarters of the Five-Power Integrated Air Defence System consisting representations from Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Malaysia and Singapore.

Upon retirement, I had a desire to experience working in an educational environment, where I could influence our generation of young people. Hence, the beginning of a journey of 21 years in New Town Sec School, firstly as a PE Teacher then HOD Student Welfare and finally a Full-Time School Counsellor (12 years). I retired a second time in June this year.

As I am still passionate about counselling and working with young people, I opted to embark on the Part-Time School Counselling scheme. I hope to explore various perspectives of life challenges with you through our engagement and interaction.

I am contactable through email ( or the School Counsellor’s mobile phone from 10.00am to 4.00pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays & Thursdays. I can be located at the Counselling Room…. and am looking forward to having a chat with you sometime.

See you all next year! – Ms Joan 🙂


Tomorrow is world bipolar day. It falls on 30th March every year and this date was chosen as it was the birthday of Vincent Van Gogh, who was posthumously diagnosed to probably have bipolar disorder. There is not alot of understanding about bipolar disorder in Singapore. It seems that most people are more familiar and enamored with this concept of ‘split personality’, no doubt as a result of the grossly erroneous representation of mental illness seen all too often in Mediacorp’s channel 8 dramas. Tsk tsk. According to a study done in 2012, about 1 in 100 Singaporeans have bipolar disorder. Which, if you think about it, is probably more common than we think and in our lives, we probably know of a family member or friend, or friend of a friend who has this condition.

Bipolar disorder was known by a different name not so long ago. Before the 80s, it was more frequently described as ‘manic-depressive illness’ to illustrate the dual polarity that distinguishes people with this condition from people who are predominantly depressive. Aretaeus of Cappadocia, who was a physician in ancient Greece, was one of the first to make an observation of patients who ‘laugh, play, dance night and day, and sometimes go openly to the market crowned, as if victors in some contest of skill’ only to be ‘torpid, dull and sorrowful’ at other times (see a short history of bipolar disorder). It was only in 1896 that a German psychiatrist, Emil Kraepelin, used the term ‘manic depressive psychosis’ to distinguish a bipolar patient cycling between periods of mania (a long period of elevated sense of ‘high’ or euphoria, sleeping very little, exhibiting high levels of creativity and grandiosity, extreme irritability etc.) to periods of depression (a long period of feeling sad or sense of hopelessness, thoughts of suicide, feeling tired and lethargic etc.). Emil Kraepelin observed that these two periods were often separated by intervals during which the person can be seen to be acting in a perfectly normal way.

My first encounter of bipolar disorder was with a close friend of mine back when I was in my early 20s. This friend was an extremely creative person. Whenever anyone needed help with wedding decorations, they would always call upon her to be the wedding planner. I remember always marveling at how she didn’t need any sleep and she would just go on and on, creating one thing after another and she would get really excited and hyper. She was also of high intellect and was very highly valued at her work place. However, she would also go through times when she would not return calls and she would just curl up at home and not want to talk to any of us. She would appear really tired and sad and we wouldn’t really understand what was bothering her. I remember during one of those ‘low’ moments, she walked into her boss’ office with the pile of paperwork that was due, dumped it on her desk, told her she is quitting and walked out. At that time, we just figured that she’s burned out from work or something was stressing her out and causing severe mood swings. It was only much later, when she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, that the pieces all started to come together. She received treatment for her disorder and though I haven’t really been very good at keeping in touch with her, the last I heard she was in a job she enjoys and things were much better for her.

I think many of us may have a similar story like this, but we just don’t talk about it because of the stigma that can surround mental health conditions. Which is why I think it’s great that there are days like ‘world bipolar day’ that reminds us of the importance to know better, to understand better, so we can support our family and friends better. Bipolar disorder is a highly treatable condition. If you think you or your friends may have bipolar disorder, you can use this self checklist by the black dog institute to find out more and speak with a mental health professional about your concerns. You can also check out this movie titled ‘no letting go’ on caring for a child/teenager with bipolar disorder.

I love this short little video clip that was shared with me by our ECG Counsellor, Ms Loretta Foo (more on her in future posts to come). It’s just one of those real stories that makes you think about life and makes you suddenly feel like life is so full of hope and promise. haha.  And yet it’s tempered by realism – the boys in the football club featured don’t suddenly become like world champions (cos that would be terribly cliche and disney fairy tale like) but yet their passion and perseverance towards something they believe in just makes me feel like I should get out there and make things happen for myself, instead of sitting on my couch, binge eating ice-cream and lamenting the obstacles that life has put in my way. It’s made me wonder if I will have the conviction and determination to stand up to naysayers who thinks my goal is ludicrous and far-fetched and who thinks I could never achieve what I set out to achieve. 

Perhaps as you watch this video, try asking yourself these – what am I willing to put in/sacrifice in order to achieve my dreams? How can I ignore the voices of the naysayers in my life (sometimes the harshest naysayers are ourselves!) and continue to push on no matter how far-fetched or impossible my dream seems? Hoping that this will help fuel your soul after a grueling week of block tests and stuff. 🙂

I’ve been thinking about posting this TED talk that I watched recently and with the release of the ‘A’ level results last Friday, it has given me greater impetus to do so since results day often bring with it an upswell of emotions that gets me thinking about what truly brings us happiness? Yes, when you see me standing in the corner staring into space like I’m not doing any real work, I’m actually pontificating on philosophical stuff like that. Okay…sometimes I’m really just spacing out and taking a mental vacation. ANYWAYS, it got me thinking if good ‘A’ level results truly brings us happiness in life? Like what we’ve seen on the faces of students who did well? Or conversely, do less than ideal ‘A’ level results condemn us to a life of gloom and doom?

What I found fascinating about Professor Robert Waldinger’s study, which he talked about in this TED talk, is that when they followed two groups of men – one group from Harvard and the other group from the Boston’s poorest neighbourhood over the past 75 years, at the end of the day they found that happiness was not found in fame or wealth or a successful career or the fact that you’re a Harvard graduate versus a non-graduate. Which MAY come as a surprise to many of us, given that I’ve heard students describe NUS/SMU/NTU like they are some sort of promised land full of green green grass and the sound of music. Research has shown that it’s time for us to look beyond grades and what school we go to and recognize that life is rarely a linear progression i.e. the equation that Good ‘A’ level results = go to the NUS/SMU/NTU promised land = great career with great pay = secure future and happy family = life’s sweet sweet goal is seldom a sure thing and conversely bad ‘A’ level results = I’m screwed forever is also rarely the case. Because life is so much more complicated, convulated, unpredictable and non-linear than that and I’m glad it’s that way. Otherwise life would be so boring, wouldn’t it?

Have a read at this other blog post ‘the cost of our college obsession’ (maybe just the top half of the post since it’s a really long one) on why we have to look beyond grades. Something for us to think about this March holidays. Have a good term break. 🙂

Going beyond grades: Why we HAVE to do better.

Source: The Cost of Our College Obsession

Hey everyone, we’re almost to the end of February. Did you make any new year’s resolutions? And if you did, how is it coming along? 🙂

Some years back, I stopped making resolutions. I don’t know if it’s cos I’m older now and more jaded. Or maybe I’m just tired of setting myself up to feel bad and I’m older now and realizing life is too short to spend too much time feeling bad. Back when I used to still make resolutions, I always resolve to write on this blog more often. But because I don’t make such resolutions anymore, I completely don’t have to feel bad that my last post was 4 months ago!  I think you’re beginning to see how this non-resolution-making-business can totally work to our favour. 😉 Besides, those of you who have been following this blog know that I’m a science geek and I only believe in things that are backed by science and good statistics – and the statistics for people who are successful in keeping to their resolutions? A mere 8% (according to a study done by University of Scranton)! That’s not very good odds at all!

SOOooo…if you haven’t kept up with your resolutions to lose weight, eat healthier, study more, sleep less in lectures, be nicer to your siblings, save more $$, manage time better etc etc., there’s no need to feel bad! Scientific research says that there IS a better way to be happier, healthier and do better in school that is not related to making new year’s resolutions – PRACTICE GRATITUDE. Researchers have found that people who practice gratitude regularly increases their long term happiness by at least 25%!  Professor Robert Emmons who has been researching gratitude for the past decade also found significant benefits in terms of less visits to the doctor,  being more resistant to stress and trauma in life, having a higher sense of self-worth etc etc.

I hope to spend more time writing on this topic in greater depth in future on this blog (note to self: this is not a new year’s resolution since it’s already mid Feb) but for now, suffice it to know that beginning a gratitude practice doesn’t have to be complicated! Check out the youtube video above for some ideas or try out the three good things exercise that Dr. Martin Seligman came up with (more on the research on this in another post). Apparently there are now nifty ‘gratitude apps’ you can use to make practicing gratitude literally an exercise at your finger tips.  Something for you to mull over this week. 🙂

The final push

Posted: October 19, 2015 in Exams, Motivation, Resilience

Dear JC2 students,

This morning as I was walking across the quadrangle, I looked up and noticed the count down chart that said A level exams is 17 days away. I can’t believe how much time has gone by! Some of you, right now, may feel more prepared than others; some of you may have been chewing through your nails; and some of you may already be making plans to repeat next year cos you feel like there’s just no way you can be ready in time. Whichever the case, this IS the final lap and I wanted to wish you well. I’ve met all of you at the resilience workshop this year and hope that some of the stuff that your teachers and I have shared will support you in this time. A couple of students have requested that I put up the story of the alumni student I talked about during the workshop, so here it is.


That was way back in 2012 and I just liked the story so much because it speaks so much truth. It IS true that YJC students are deemed the underdogs and it IS also true that that doesn’t make anything impossible if you work hard. That was the whole tenet of the workshop, really, that hard work is one of the strongest predictor for success. When things work out for you, I hope that you’d write back to me and let me know your story as well, so I can use it to encourage your juniors. When, not if.

Martin Luther King once said, ‘We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope’. Whatever disappointments or setbacks you may have encountered up to this point that makes you feel like you are not good enough, or that you can’t, don’t let that trip you up and keep on going, keep on hoping. 🙂

Ms Joan