Life And Your Place In It

Standing in the hospital ward on my call last night, waiting for the round to begin and thinking of all the things I need to get done I suddenly hear a scream in the last cubicle and the nurses get up to go look. I run too. It’s a mother with her baby who stopped breathing. His little body lying there, emaciated and helpless, is making the occasional gasp, but he is no longer breathing. 

He was HIV positive, having gotten it from his mother at birth and had pneumonia and malnutrition. The Doctors had known beforehand he would most likely not pull through and if something like this happened, he was not for resuscitation. 

We walked with his slowly deteriorating body to the resuscitation room while bagging him for a while and calling the mother in to say her last goodbyes. But she wasn’t crying. She carried on as though it didn’t matter to her. We stood outside with sad faces. I had never seen a baby die right in front of me. 

I thought about his short life ending, I thought about a little girl in another cubicle with xeroderma pigmentosum – severe skin lesions covering her entire body and face leaving her disfigured and weak for the remainder of her life and likely to develop cancer from them. I thought about the abandoned premature babies in another ward. Then I wondered… Why??? Would that little girl who never spoke and had her skin destroyed ever feel like she belonged somewhere and meant something. Both her parents were deceased. No one was there to hold her or build her up or take care of her broken heart. Would those abandoned babies ever feel like they had a place in this world? Would that mother who was HIV positive and didn’t take enough precautions to prevent this ever value life enough? How did life become so neglected. How did we stop realising how fragile life is?

I walked back to the student’s lounge to sit for a while and on my way watched other younger students with their mint green scrubs, pink stethoscopes and bleached hair walk past and how preoccupied they were with the way they looked and appeared to the world and it all suddenly seemed so ridiculous. All this obsession and hype about futile things. “Build a booty, go vegan, gym and trim, have the nice clothes, spend money on crap you don’t need with money you don’t have and cry about and worry about self-image and take a billion selfies to make yourself feel better.” I read these articles flooding Facebook about women being admired for no longer shaving their legs and being overweight and promoting it as if they suddenly made a change in the world. I read about a woman suffering from anxiety, posting a billion selfies with make-up galore, hair done, pouting and her hand always posed in this same position next to her face and then sharing one photo of her tear-streaked face after an anxiety attack to make people see what anxiety really looks like, yet she’d never stop posting her beautiful selfies and I wonder, why are we so insecure about the stupidest of things?

Yeah, I guess I am playing the “there are less priviledged people than you” card.  But I am playing it because people get so bogged up in their own little new-age worldly problems and blast it out of the box. People become oblivious to real pain. You are beautiful and you are so damn lucky. You need to stop trying to convince the world of it. You probably have a beautiful heart but ask yourself what you’re dedicating your heart and life too. You feel insecure and like you fit in nowhere and mean nothing to the world and the only way you’d mean something is if you stepped up to mediocre world views of what you ought to look like and care about; the trivial and superficial stuff. 

Have you ever looked out the window of an airplane after takeoff? Watched people become matchstick size, then grain-of-rice-size, then suddenly disappear altogether in their thumbnail cars on the highway?

You watch, nose pressed to the Plexiglas, your breath leaving a fog on the pane. You watch, imagining the hundreds, the thousands, the millions of bodies moving around their homes, driving on busy streets, cooking breakfast on their stoves, running with their dogs through the park.

And you wonder where you fit.

You think about all the people you haven’t met, and maybe never will. You think about the emotions, the unspoken words, the connections you might not get the chance to make. You think of all the cars and planes and trains and busses and sidewalks and highways, one flurry of constant motion. Never still. And suddenly you feel so damn small. Suddenly, the world seems terrifying and your existence is a dot on the map. Do you even have a purpose? Would it matter if you disappeared, faded away, left this earth altogether? Would anyone know you were gone? Does anyone see or hear or feel your pain right now?

And like clockwork, you’re in your own head, filling it to the brim with negative thoughts. It’s as if you’ve realized, for the first time, that life doesn’t stop just because you’ve lost someone you love, because your heart is broken, because you’re lonely or tired or afraid or sad. But you convince yourself the world doesn’t stop because you don’t matter. And that’s so far from the truth.

The truth is, the world doesn’t pause. It doesn’t stop. It doesn’t drastically change because you’re hurting. But that doesn’t mean who you are or what you’re experiencing doesn’t matter.

The truth is, your emotions are just teardrops in a giant freaking ocean. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t making a ripple if you choose too. That doesn’t mean you can’t touch other people, connect, make that ripple become a wave. That doesn’t mean your pain is any less valid than the people around you, or that your teardrops don’t carry their own volume and weight. That doesn’t mean your heartache is not as real, or that you need to lessen yourself to let others express their burdens.

Your agony, your guilt, your frustration, your failure, your pain—those are real and valid and matter. You are real and valid and matter. Don’t let the world and your insecurity tell you otherwise.

Yes, you are tiny, but even the tiniest of pieces are significant. Even the tiniest pieces can make an impact, can have a voice, can create change, can affect the people and things around them and cause others to stand up.

Even the tiniest can make the whole.

Maybe what you’re experiencing right now feels devastating. Maybe your whole world is crashing in, and it seems like no one is listening. You have to understand, first, that the world owes you nothing and won’t always give you the love and support you need, but that doesn’t mean what you’re feeling is unimportant.

Your pain might not be the end of the world, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel like the end of your world. And that doesn’t mean people don’t care. That doesn’t mean your existence is meaningless. 

If you think about the airplane, watching people and houses and cars and roads all fading from your window, it’s sort of a metaphor for life. When we’re so zoomed out, it seems like all of us blur together. It seems like all of our experiences are pointless and impermanent, shuffling through until one day it all ceases. But when you focus in, you see that each person is crucial—the mother, the daughter, the brother, the cousin, the school teacher, the doctor, the businessman, the mailperson, the secretary, the sick, the weak, the lonely, the poor… When you focus in, you see how each person directly effects those around him or her, how each of us has a purpose, a role, a duty, an importance. When you focus in, you see that we are actually so big, so capable, so able to make a change in the lives we touch. And when our little voices speak, they blend with others, creating a glorious, unified sound.

But that all started with one.

So when the world and your tired mind tries to tell you you’re too tiny, when life tries to shuffle away your pain, when people try to diminish your feelings, when you look at the earth from an airplane and just feel so damn small—remember that you matter. To people around you. To the causes you believe in and the things you stand for. To the changes you have, and will continue to make if you choose to make them. To the world, in little, yet significant ways. You may be small, but small does not equal weak. Small does not equal unimportant. Small does not equal purposeless. 

So step forward, open your mouth, raise your voice, speak your truth, feel your emotions. Let go of all the futility and superficiality. Whatever you’re going through won’t last forever, and you won’t have to go through it alone. You matter. You are heard. You are loved. So love others, make others feel heard, make others feel worthy and less alone.

30 Day Chronic Illness Challenge: Day 29 & 30

So we have reached the end of this challenge and the last post for it. I missed yesterday again as I was just super busy and tired but finally I have now gotten a chance to answer.

What false beliefs have you had about your illness that you have now overcome?

When you’re depressed you obviously have false beliefs that just come with the illness and you’re completely convinced they’re the reality which is why you feel so shit. You don’t mentally choose to believe them, your heart just tells you that they’re true. I have had much distorted thinking like I’m not worth it or good enough for anything. I have felt like I am too weak to survive the world. I have believed that I am too damaged and I should just be written off and subtracted from life. I’ve felt like all I will ever gain is loss – having my mom die, losing my ultimate dream of being a Veterinarian when I got sick, having a great friend die in Afghanistan, being dumped by guys who couldn’t stand by the three words they so easily and carelessly uttered and having depressive relapses that put me behind where I thought I would be in life by now. Loss kind of became all I knew and I was broken in thinking it’s all I ever will know. I’ve also had issues with my physical appearance thinking I am just so terrible looking or I need to lose more weight. Then there were thoughts of severe anxiety, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, to the point that I developed OCD which lead me to fear. I was afraid of more things going wrong so I tried to be an absolute perfectionist; in controlling my weight (which ironically was rediculously uncontrolled in starvation), overworking myself at university to make sure I got distinctions, showing up way too early for appointments in case something happened that made me late, thinking up worst case scenarios and catastrophising and a myriad of other things. Right now I have none of these distortions anymore and I am so beyond glad, because when I think back on them all I feel is suffocation and dread. They ruined my life. I still have a low self-esteem and I still struggle with anxiety but my anxiety isn’t over fear of things going wrong anymore, my anxiety is just an overwhelming feeling making me freeze or feel so restless and make my heart race sometimes and I have no explanation or reason as to why. Also the anxiety linked to my low self-esteem as I explained in the previous post with being unable to perform in front of others and doubting my ability to succeed. As for depression, I don’t have its lies anymore because I’m back in remission and I see things from a realistic perspective and I am able to evaluate my emotions in a realistic perspective. I don’t really want to die, depression’s pain made me want to die. I don’t believe that I am worthless, too damaged and unlovable because I also see all I’ve overcome, all I’ve been able to achieve, how I become when I am back to me again and free from depression and traits from my personality develop that are actually pretty awesome. Yeah, I just said I am awesome. Feels super weird because I don’t think I ever have. I’m an empath which means I feel too much and hurt easily but I also love the hell out of people and care. I may be sensitive but I am also intuitive and I am strong enough to easily raise my voice and speak out against people’s unjustified opinions, basically, as my friend put it; my inner bitch can come out if it needs to, and sometimes it does. Also, I’m not all serious. I can be incredibly silly and sarcastic and funny and dramatic if I want and I actually enjoy it quite much, especially with friends. Also, I am spiritual and I am not moved easily by resistance in my beliefs and if it wasn’t for my spirituality, my heart would’ve been incredibly empty. So basically what I’m saying is, just because depression distorts your mind and your heart is thrown down into the depths of pain, it doesn’t mean that is what you are and if anyone judges your character by it, feel free to walk as far away from them as possible.

What are your current wishes for right now and for the future and what are you going to do about it?

My wishes for right now are nothing earth shattering. Right now, I have just started finding my feet again. Right now I have just started living again and started loving parts of it again. Right now I am still working hard in every area of my life; physical health, mental health, my studies and taking time for myself. So right now, I am just learning to find my strength again and so, I am not in a place of wishing and dreaming, I am more in a state of just being. Right now, if I had to wish for anything, it would be for gaining confidence and being happy. It’s pretty basic and it’s all I want really; to develop myself continuously and grow in character and live for things that make me smile. 

Wishes for the future I do have. There are still things I want in life and dream of. I want to be a Doctor and open up my own practice and maybe immigrate. I want to believe that there is someone out there who can love me and whom I can spend the rest of my life with. Right now, I don’t know if I believe that that’ll happen for me and my heart is somewhat hurting a little still. Having been in 3 relationships over the past 2 years (yeah, I know, too much) there was one of those three that impacted me the most and that was most real to me and there are days my heart has a pang of missing that person. So I am still in a stage of healing from all this and even thinking of being in a relationship again ignites my fight or flight system in the fear of getting hurt and in all truth, I have enough on my plate and don’t need any more hits right now. But I’d be a liar if I said I never want to try again. Just not right now. I also hope for depression to never hit me as hard as it did and that I will only grow in wholeness and have it well-controlled. I’ve said before I want to be a Psychiatrist, but I am afraid it might trigger me as I do get easily triggered by stories of other people’s severe depression and suicide attempts. I couldn’t handle “13 Reasons Why” or “Girl Interrupted” or a book called “Perfect Chaos” which is about a woman who went through depression and her journey and she recounts the events up to how she recovered and now she is a great mental health advocate. Even though it is so inspiring, our stories were similar on a few levels and it left me feeling very down for a while. But nonetheless, I still want to specialise in Psychiatry because firstly, I am truly interested in it and the brain fascinates me. Secondly, I want to fight for this cause in which ever way I can and so many people don’t get proper help. I don’t think I could ever do a job which my heart isn’t truly into and so, this is what my heart has chosen. I believe there are ways one can learn to adapt and separate your own emotions from those of others and that is something I’ll have to work on.

30 Day Chronic Illness Challenge: Day 27 & 28

Name 5 things you have managed to pursue inspite of your illness and 5 things you haven’t managed to pursue.

When I think about my successes and failures throughout depression, my failures seem far more predominant to me and if I had to summarise myself over the past 10 years I would say I just barely but crawled and I fell far too many times. So much that falling and having loss felt like it was all I’ve become. But when I think back now about how much I survived I am somewhat dumbfounded that I even did survive it. It was just so many things, one after the other, that went terribly wrong. My mom and a great friend died, my brother made it impossible to live at home with because of his addiction problems and so I lived with a friend until I could find my own flat, then there was incredibly stressful studies I battled through while feeling constantly anxious and not having my heart in it one bit and my father and I just had our relationship – if there ever was one – go downhill and I started withdrawing from him entirely to protect myself emotionally as his words were always like knives drenched in vinegar stabbed through me. I felt very alone and unloved and I missed my mom terribly. So all I did was try to survive and there were 4 severe depressive relapses throughout the ten years. That was all my life consisted of. That and 3 failed relationships which currently put my heart in the state of a barren desert. So what are 5 things I accomplished despite my illness? Survive, survive, survive, survive, survive?? I guess surviving sums it up. But if I have to really think about what this survival entailed, it includes actually getting myself through to the point of final year medicine even though my life got interrupted and halted. It includes working hard to finally have proper treatment for my mental illness. It includes creating new friendships that bring me joy. It includes a massive change in my character; becoming more open and not afraid to speak my mind and love too much or care too much. It includes rising each time I fell. I think those things I am proud of and at the end of the day, no matter how much I was held down and my life halted, those things are pretty great things. 

Things I feel I haven’t managed to achieve yet is building enough self-confidence and overcoming daily anxiety. Currently, our exams in Medicine are all OSCEs which means they’re clinical oral exams. You examine patients, try to diagnose patients while an examiner is breathing down your neck and then you get peppered with questions. Multiplied by 3. I don’t know why they love always giving us 3 sessions. But I have basically had the same incident happen over and over. During my surgical exams 2 months ago I had severe anxiety during my exams and what happens is I implode in on myself and I get so nervous that I cannot speak and when I do I’m incredibly fidgity and speak in this subdued voice that just sounds doubtful of herself. On all three of my surgical exams the professors wrote “NERVOUS!” underlined and in caps on my grading. Afterwards, the professor told me my problem is I am too reserved and anxious all the time and that I doubt myself and I may know more theory than others, but because of their ability to speak so confidently, they do better. Then it happened again recently. We are currently rotating in Paediatrics and it’s all just ward rounds and Doctors peppering you with questions while you are surrounded by 17 other students. I had a sort of panic attack and refused to speak when I was questioned. I just froze and stared at the floor and he kept hammering me. Later on when I could present a patient to him alone I was okay and he said I need to stop doubting myself. Then strike 3 happened. This week, we were doing a teaching round in Paediatric Neurology and the Doctor in charge of it randomly selected students to hammer into with questions. Throughout the round I didn’t say much, like the majority of us, and everyone is incredibly intimidated and nervous around him. For some reason, he again noticed my absolute introversion and at the last patient he pulled me into the spotlight – literally grabbing my arm – and our conversation went as such; 

Dr Lamb: What’s your name?

Me: Veronike.

Dr Lamb: Veronike, you are going to lose 15 – 20% in your exams just because of your character and identity. You’re an introvert, like me. I will take a bullet for you, but promise me you won’t ever let that happen again and you won’t doubt yourself.

*Dr Lamb makes me put my hands on his face* Yes, his face.

Dr Lamb: Say you promise!

Me: I promise.

Dr Lamb: Say it louder!

Me: I promise. 

Enough said… It was quite the interaction and how he deduced all of that from my personality without me even being questioned by him during the rounds goes beyond me. The point is, they are all right and right now life is demanding a different version of me which is going to require much work from my part. Other than the anxiety and incredibly crappy self-esteem, things I haven’t mastered yet are things like putting myself out there to meet new people because I just feel I don’t mentally have energy for it. Also, I am just starting to learn how to live again and not just survive so it is quite still a climb.

What are you grateful for?

This is a question I know we all frequently get super annoyed by. “Why are you so depressed? Just be grateful! You have so much to live for.” That’s usually the point where nothing changes except our anger and blood pressure levels. But realistically, we all have come so far in surviving that we can’t not be grateful for at least some things. Recently has been the first time in years that I truly started looking at the world around me completely beyond myself and loving life a little again. I realised how I could’ve so easily been dead right now and how I thought that I am nothing but rubble and ruins and all I will ever gain is loss. But here I am no longer depressed and because I am in remission, my perspective is entirely different from depression’s perspective. I see now that I still experience love for things, like my dogs make my heart expand with love and I see the good in people like when I am around patients in hospital I feel so much empathy for them and admire how much they love the people close to them. I see traits in people that make them great and that gives me hope in believing in the world again. I am grateful also for my health. So, so, so grateful. When I got stomach flu a week ago and I had to lie in bed for 4 days feeling so sick and weak, I realised how much I love and miss exercise and being able to go out and explore. I realised how bored out of my skull I was and I was suddenly thankful for studying medicine. I realised that I just wanted to get out of that bed because I am no longer depressed and I have a life I’d love to get back to and live again. I am thankful that I get to feel like this again because I could receive proper treatment.