In his 30s and at the height of his life and career, Daniel Lim’s world unfolded in a dramatic way, no less and no more on vacation in New York City.
He ended up vomiting and screaming incoherently at the Guggenheim Museum, before being rushed back to Singapore.
The trigger for the dissolution was an innocent combination of factors — a bad flu case, a drug-drugged body, and stress before work breaks — something many of us could experience.
But unprecedented cooking was years of living with an unhealthy mindset, providing the ‘perfect’ backdrop for everything that explosively came together in late 2012.
In a podcast hosted twice a month, the entrepreneur became a life coach, sharing that first insight into what was supposed to happen the moment he landed in New York.
A sudden spiral
After touching the city, Daniel was confused as to why the world around him appeared in boring, monochromatic tones, “like Gotham City”.
For the next few days, he experienced “mini waves of anxiety.” Physically, his body also began to protest the refusal to retain food.
The turning point came one morning, when he remembered that he felt “very upset” by the noise of the rattling air conditioning unit in his hotel room. Suddenly he felt the urge not only to push him out the window but to jump out with him.
“I told myself I wanted to jump out because I wanted relief. I was so annoyed,” he shared.
Catching himself hiding that “nasty thought,” Daniel realized for the first time that he needed help. He tried to call someone, but panicked when he realized he couldn’t unlock his cell phone.
“I stared at the unlock button and realized I didn’t know what to unlock with the phone. And I went crazy,” he shared.
He didn’t know what to do with the hotel phone either.
Daniel finally managed to connect with a friend via the internet via his laptop and was quickly booked for a return flight to Singapore. With that reassurance that he was going home, Daniel’s body and mind relaxed and things went back to regular programming – or so he thought.
The last thing Daniel remembered the whole trip was a trip to New York’s famous Guggenheim Museum. He laughed with his friends for one minute, and the next thing he knew, the ceiling spun above him. To this day, he does not remember what happened next.
According to what his friends later told him, Daniel vomited three times while he was in the museum and was hysterical. The only meaningful thing that came out of his mouth was “I want to go home!”, To which he shouted throughout the museum. “My friends thought I was obsessed,” he shared.
The next thing he knew he was packed on an emergency flight back to Singapore, but Daniel doesn’t even remember how he managed to get home.
“Dissociation of mind and body”
Daniel suffered what his therapist called a dissociation of mind and body, causing him to be physically and mentally broken.
Returning home he lost control of his motor skills and bodily functions, which on several occasions also meant getting his bed wet.
“It drove me crazy because I realized I was really sick,” he shared. “I thought that was it, I saw the bottom of Daniel Lim’s pipe.”
Recovery lasted for months, through therapy and lots of prescribed rest and “low-stimulus” activities.
In an interview with AsiaOne, the 45-year-old admitted that the scariest thing was that he had no idea what was going on inside him.
In fact, at the time of his breakdown, the serial entrepreneur was riding off his accomplishments and looking for the next feather in his cap.
He ran two successful digital companies and negotiated a third and fourth lineup. “Outside and inside everything in my world were unicorns and rainbows.
“It shows how much my perception has changed. I had completely wrong priorities. All I wanted was more, more, more.”
His insatiable appetite for excessive enjoyment expanded into his way of life as well. The former shopaholic could buy up to 20 pairs of shoes at a store he liked.
“I would buy so many things when I went on vacation, that when I landed at Changi Airport, I would get taxes because they thought I was a wholesaler,” Daniel laughed.
In his own mind he thought he had it all and was progressing on adrenaline, but he knew little about it psychologically, he unraveled.
“The way I worked, the way I lived was very, very unhealthy.
“I slept two to three hours of sleep every day and I felt sleep was a waste of time,” he added.
“I kept ignoring the signs that were already screaming, like fatigue, hives that were constantly erupting, my heartburn. I wasn’t really thinking about whether something was wrong.”
With help, Daniel recognized that his troubled childhood had instilled in him a constant need for excessive achievement, thanks to his ‘tiger mom’ and father who left the family when he was 10 years old. Leaving the family led to poverty almost overnight. Daniel, who has a younger brother, felt a responsibility to “step up” and take care of the family.
But today he attributes his traumatic past and his mental breakdown to “the best things to happen” in his life.
On the advice of his therapist, Daniel shared his entire dissolution story on Facebook when he came out of recovery after six months. Almost immediately, friends started sharing with him how they were struggling too.
“Then I had this discovery that so many people experience similar things. And from the outside you can’t say how people suffer because they are so good at projecting (a picture of normalcy).”
From spraying $ 20,000 a month on his wardrobe and living in the fast lane, Daniel’s life has been pretty diminished these days.
He wears Uniqlo T-shirts, has sold out his two cars as well as his house, and can count the number of shoes he has at home (about five pairs).
The breakdown also made him someone who is more emotionally connected to himself and others. “I’ve burst into tears very easily these days,” he offered, sharing how he tore up simply watching the moving orchestral performance the night before.
That took him to the second time in his life – a thinking coach. She collaborates with clients on a range of issues, from relationship problems to anxiety, helping those struggling in life or in their work.
His youngest client is a 9-year-old who dreams of starting his own business, while his oldest clients are in their 50s. Many of them achieved their goals in life, but got lost.
Daniel’s success now, he said, is a sense of connection with others and when he sees people progressing.
“I removed the word success because I think success is a very archaic, old-fashioned thing that everyone persecutes.”
“It’s not that money doesn’t matter, but it’s not the way I measure my life either,” said Daniel, who revealed that he can retire financially at the moment, but he doesn’t because he has found his life purpose.
“Success for me is a time to call my own, freedom, autonomy, great health and vitality.”
The worst thing in life is not failure
After more than two years of teaching others about emotional management and mental hygiene, we asked Daniel for a secret to protect himself from bullets from life slingshots.
The answer arrived almost immediately.
“Other people can be who the fuck they want and you have no control over them,” he said.
“The only person you can control is yourself and your own thinking. That’s where our strength lies.”
He explained further, breaking the voice:
“For people who are suffering, who feel trapped or suffocated, what I want to tell them is that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. The feeling we have towards the challenges in our lives is truly optional, don’t give up.
“The worst thing that can happen in our life is not failure, it’s emotions [of failure]. And you have a choice, even when you think you don’t. “
AID FOR SINGAPORE
- Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
- Singapore Mental Health Association: 1800-283-7019
- Care Corner Counseling (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800
- Mental Health Helpline of the Institute of Mental Health: 6389-2222
- Silver ribbon: 6386-1928
- Counseling Shan You (Mandarin): 6741-0078
- Fei Yue Online Advisory Service: www.eC2.sg
- Tinkle Friend (for elementary school children): 1800-2744-788