Why I started speaking up for myself

[Today's soundtrack: John Mayer - Say]

For as long as I can remember, I have always been afraid of stepping on the toes of others. Wanting to be liked, not seen as antagonistic, not wanting to upset anyone. I would conform, I told myself I was “adaptable”. So, naturally people didn’t worry too much about what my opinion was because well, I would go along with anything. I would always agree or not say anything. I just wanted to spare myself rejection and feel like I was a part of something. I can only assume it was because I didn’t have a lot of self confidence and at the end of the day everyone just wants to be loved and accepted.  But how far can that go? I still had opinions and thoughts about the world or how I wanted certain things. I just pushed them aside to cater to others. 

Many of my relationships went this way. Friends, co-workers, my extended family. Maybe it stems from the countless arguments I witnessed between my father and sister where I silently observed and tried to not make things worse because every time my sister said her thoughts it did not always go well. Maybe I never thought I earned the right to an opinion because I had no support and didn’t quite know the right way to put my point across. Eventually I learnt that I am responsible for how people treat me based how I train them to. If I don't respect my own opinion, why should they?

Eventually, at young age fresh out of med school I was told marriage was the only option by my then boyfriend as his family was very religious and didn’t believe in long relationships outside of marriage. I clung to this individual. Someone I looked up to and thought could keep me grounded. I went into this marriage and was loved for agreeing with all of the opinions he and his family had, for a promise of acceptance and stability. I told myself that because I didn't grow up in a stable home I wasn't taught these beliefs and values, so now I could adopt them...now I could be a part of a family and learn. This meant I too, adopted some of his rigid beliefs. Which admittedly included even judging others.

In retrospect I can see now that in doing that, I denied all of my own very important, valuable life lessons and relationships I had collected up until that time. The memories that I had that shaped who I am, were swept under the carpet and even worse painted in the light of “embarrassing” and I was asked to disregard them as times in my life I should not be proud of.

There were times when my tendency to be a free thinker and opinionated peeked through and whenever I questioned things it was met with “that is just what is written and whether you believe in it or not doesn’t change its truth”. My voice really did not make a difference and held no weight in this family so sometimes I just didn’t bother for the sake of preventing an argument. I looked on with envy as my then sister-in-law always spoke her mind without regard of who agreed or not. I told myself how lovely it must be to fearlessly speak your mind when you have the support of your parents to back you up. 

I can admit I am partly to blame. I led him to believe something else because I expected him to acknowledge all of this things I gave up for him to be a part of his life and give a little in return. And this is where I went wrong. I didn't say what I wanted or expected up front. All I did was get angry when he did/didn’t do certain things. I chose to say my part when words were exchanged in anger which of course, amounted to nothing. I started doing things that did not represent who I was, becoming a version of myself I was not proud of simply because my voice was not listened to. Even if I explained myself it wasn’t enough because I always tried to compromise without actually saying where I was compromising.

He didn’t agree with visiting my friends/family? I said- "okay you don’t have to go." He didn’t like my music? "Ok. Let's listen to what you prefer.” "You don’t like this outfit? I’ll change." "Yes I agree my friend’s outfit is too revealing." I agree..I agree..I agree

I expected him to appreciate that I agreed. To me this was compromise. Except all he would have seen is someone who thinks like him. What compromise? Aside from mentioning it in arguments I admit I never really communicated because when things were good I didn’t want to upset them. I expected him to understand that I changed my life for him. But in the end, the conditions to be loved turned out not to be worth it and ate away at me. 

A therapist told me, I expected him to mind read. Did I? I thought I expected some mutual respect. 

There came a point when I realized I disagreed internally with most of their beliefs and not even the religious ones. You see, despite not being brought up in a highly religious environment, I still was brought up with grace, humility, kindness, culture and generosity. Things this righteous family did not seem to exhibit. My inner tenacity ignited. It rose in me so much I could bear it no more and I made the decision to no longer have aspects of myself or those closest to me picked apart and I owed it to myself to become that woman I always needed and spoke up for myself. I knew that my decision would actually benefit us both in the long run. He would eventually see that I was not the best fit for him. And I would not survive spending my life in this for the next few decades.

  

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. 
Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through.
Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death. 
- Anaïs Nin

I made it clear that I am worth much more. My taste in music and clothes, my experiences, my family..are not to be picked on. They are what make me, me. I decided that if he can’t accept me for these things then he has no place claiming to accept and love me. After 6 years of knowing me, if you cannot recognize what is important to me then you won’t now. Despite my internal struggles, what and who I valued were never secrets. Religious or not they were very basic human needs. Love, nurturing, support, empathy, kindness and compassion. 

When I broke the news to my family, it was not well received. 

They did not understand why I would want to leave. This future neurosurgeon, who is so religious and has never physically abused me or cheated. 

They didn’t understand the effects of insidious emotional abuse of every bit of myself stripped away. They didn’t see when he walked ahead and left me behind, they didn’t see when he never supported me or when I was spoken down to or my mannerisms mocked or the times I was referred to as "an embarrassment". They didn’t see when I chose to stay in the background, because whats the point? I downplayed my own achievements, to the point where even though we are both doctors, our seniors saw him because “he’s a bright boy” and my family as second nature turned to him for medical advice. I sometimes had to remind them that I was also a doctor. This was all potentiated by my lack of standing up for myself, which I assumed was futile anyway.

At the same time, I have always gravitated to strong women. Women who have been notorious because of their strong opinions. And they have always looked back at me with admiration and mutual respect. Which at that time I never understood. Much older than I am and professionals in their field, yet they have been more loyal and accepting of me than I ever imagined. Maybe they saw something in me at the time which even I had not yet recognized.

I suppose you can say these layers were removed one by one to reveal the person I was meant to be. So with little support in my corner I had not much choice but to finally learnt to speak up for myself. So I did just that and stated my case, over and over and took charge of my own life. I had to speak up when my decision was judged by my peers, when my family felt sorry for him. But it sparked something else in me - courage. 

I trusted my instincts, found a great divorce attorney and did things the way and when I felt comfortable doing them. My courage to end what was hurting me pervaded throughout the rest of my relationships. I also started speaking up to those who I felt disrespected me at work. I said exactly what I wanted clearly and eloquently (most times). I took time and decided which direction I wanted to take my career in and figured out step by step how I would get there and began taking those steps. I realized that if I don't start saying exactly what I wanted, I would end up in the same position. And guess what? The world didn't end. The people who mattered welcomed me back, stayed, supported me, some relationships even were better than before and I even made new ones. Those who didn't, well those relationships withered away. 

That was about 2 years ago. 

When I started gaining confidence in myself and as a result, confidence in my decisions, I eventually stopped making them based on what others might think. I focused on how it impacted my life. It sounds selfish but it really isn’t. Instead I made time for those I loved and things which brought me fulfillment regardless of what others thought. It even became easier to admit when I was wrong, to apologize, to forgive, to ask for help and to even offer welcome advice. 

Since then my family has supported and accepted my decisions. They have learnt to trust me because they see how much I trust and believe in myself. I have been called “fearless”, “brave” and “strong” by the very people who thought I was making the biggest mistake of my life. My personality has been described as “strong” during an exchange of words and I take this as the best compliment.

Before I would have coyly denied it, but not now. I am fearless. 

My 85 year old grandfather Baba, who is a colonel admitted he saw my view and apologized. That blew me away because the amount of love and respect I have for him is unsurpassed and it brought me to tears. He is one of my strongest influences. In fact, just today he reminded me not to depend on anyone else for my happiness and I swiftly replied, "I'm never making that mistake again!" 

I never in a millions years thought I would ever find myself demanding to speak with a program director at Harvard Medical School but I did. And he was lovely. I got some great advice. 

I learnt how important it is to love yourself first and prove your worth to yourself before anyone else. People come and go but you have to live with your decisions and actions for as long as you live so taking risks comes with the package. I wish I had seen this and knew this before. I would have saved myself and others a lot of heartache in the process. But maybe if I did’t put myself in that position I probably never would have gotten to this point. I’m still learning but I have grown so much. I'm still getting to know me, what I like, don't like, maybe there are times when I should speak up more or when I should say less but I don't think we'll ever get it completely right. Still in the end, I regret nothing. 

I’m genuinely proud of who I am, of my life, my achievements, my mistakes and my growth. Now it doesn’t matter what others speak of my life, because I’m in charge of it and I can accept the consequences of my decisions whatever they may be. Take it or leave it.

Trust the process.

 

A letter to my niece

Dear little darling,

Today you’re only six days old but you have the world of possibility ahead of you. You have been born into a family who loved you before you even had a tiny heart beat. This love will continue on now forever, like a spark into a flame that lights up your world. You have been named after your grandmother who would have adored every inch of you. I hope you grow up to be as perfect, gentle, charming, generous, kind and loving as she was as you are already beautiful. You have a lot to live up to. And then there’s your grandfather who’s love and guidance envelopes you even though you may not see him.

My wish for you is this, that you remain strong and steadfast in the midst of adversity and stay true to your beliefs and to what you will be taught. Be curious yet open. Move like a rose petal on a zephyr. We may not always be around to protect and teach you but always remain gracious, kind yet still always remember how precious and irreplaceable you are and how you deserve to be treated. You will meet people in all walks of life, understand that everyone is fighting their own battles and most times mean no malice but are victims of their own circumstance. Do not allow anyone to make you feel like less than you are because you have not lived up to their expectations and do not lose faith if they may not live up to yours. Your wise, great grandfather will teach you the wisdom to understand how beautiful life is, the power of mediation and not taking anything too seriously. One great grandmother will remind you of the strength in silence and your regal roots while your second great grandmother will teach you about the power of forgiveness. Your grandparents will teach you to work hard but take time to breathe. Your grand-aunts and uncles will teach you great morals, the importance of respect for one another especially elders, saving, being understanding and of course the unbreakable bond of family. 

Your aunties and uncles will show you how to share, how to deal with the teasing of an older brother and have a best friend in him. 

Your parents will teach you how to love, how to tie everything together and apply it as needed. And your big brother will teach you how to stay smiling, never get knocked down, be firm in what you want and how use your cuteness to bring us all to our knees.

And me? I hope you learn from me how to dream big, stick to your guns and understand that its okay to change your mind. Stay inspired, full of faith in the unknown and inquisitive. I promise to love you unconditionally, to be loyal, to be kind, to be understanding and patient while trying to show you what is right and be open to seeing your views and never assume the worst of you. You will never have to want, your intentions will never be questioned by me and I will always look out for your best interest. Your well being will always be my priority and I will always want you to know that your aunty and uncle are here to look out for you even if the rest of the world seems to not be in your favor. And when I get too fired up, this uncle of yours will teach you saintly patience, kindness and generosity.

There is so much hope in your brown eyes, your great grandfather has seen in your tiny palms how instinctive and healthy you will be. You already have us wrapped around your finger.

My love, just always remember that no matter who hurts you in life, there will always be at least once person you can count on apart from your parents and brother. You are a piece of me, my blood runs through your veins and when you hurt so will I, when you laugh, so will I and when you love and are loved, I will rejoice. You have been born to do great things. Do them big or do little things in a big way and always stay wide-eyed with wonder. The world may make you weary but it is yours for the taking.

All my love,
Your proud aunt.

On patience & USMLE step 1 as an img/fmg

Ever felt stuck?

Had an image of how you envisioned your life to be but it just didn’t pan out or required way more sacrifice and effort than you ever imagined? 

Welcome. 

I think this is the thought process that every doctor or anyone who has very big dreams that didn’t align with their lives, whatever it may be. I can only speak from my own experience for now. My greatest achievement thus far without a doubt has to be my medical degree. No amount of money, traveling or material items can ever parallel that. 

The reason is pretty simple. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. It took me a lot of time and experience to realize that my mental plans and God’s plans are not always the same. I fought to convince people I could do it, fought to get into medical school, fought to finish it in the 5 years. 

You know that quote, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”? I feel like that fish sometimes. Except this fish wants to climb. And that tree is medicine. And my slippery scales are represented by life.

A fish whose heart is drawn to art, languages, drama, literature and travel yet still was more curious about the human body.

Here I am again. Trying to climb higher. 

Maybe I’m just a walking contradiction but I won’t lie. I do love medicine. I’m obsessed. Modern medicine is enchanting and captivating. I may have loved art and drama and French but I devoured my biology text books like novels. 

The truth is maybe part of me just wants to do it all. I always feel there’s not enough time in the world to do all the things and experience life at its fullest. Hey, I never said I regretted anything did I? Is it so wrong to want to swim and climb? That’s the basis of evolution isn’t it? 

I always knew I wanted to become a doctor one day. My grandfather basically prophesied this  before I was even two years old. I wrote pretend prescriptions. Played with toy stethoscopes. I told my sister when I was eleven while walking through a hospital where our mother was admitted, that I would work there one day. 

I love the idea of childish innocence. I’ve always had the notion I could do anything. When my grandfather passed away later that year, I insisted that I see his body in the freezer of the morgue myself just to make sure. They pulled him out of a drawer and I couldn't be more intrigued. I grew curiouser and curiouser. 

After I graduated, I really enjoyed my medical practice. I learnt so much more and met so many wonderful doctors, nurses, families and patients who have made impressions on my heart. Made some really special human connections and seen some larger than life strength exhibited. I do value giving back. I love, love my career. Nurturing and helping people to come back to themselves is also part of my core. Medicine is full of excitement and passion and I honestly cannot see myself doing anything else with my life. But sometimes, its so hard. You really have to want it.

I after a year in general surgery and another in plastic surgery I decided that although I love my career, that particular department was eating away at my life, eventually it stopped bringing me any sort of real joy and at times I wondered when I would make up my mind to actually take the steps to start an international residency and pick a specialty to give me that life satisfaction I craved. 

It took me months of internal conflict and it started affecting my performance at work as I simply felt stagnant. I actually did about 5 pieces of art in that time and inhaled multiple novels. But art isn’t my career nor is being a bibliophile. It is my therapy.

I yearned to start something that would lead me to a life of making a real difference. One thing I knew for sure, my aim in the long run is to decrease patient hospital time and post operative complications, so I would prefer to head in a direction of minimally invasive medicine.

So I left the job altogether and signed up for my USMLE Steps. People do it all the time. How hard could it be? I've already been through medical school and started practicing. I’ll just take a few months, study, study, study and finish all the steps by December then apply for a match. No big deal. 

That was 8 months ago and I might have been slightly jaded.

Give me a painting or drawing to do. I can have it done in 3 hours. Give me a novel, done in an afternoon. I’ve directed school plays in university, acted in them, learnt entire cities in a day. But the challenge of medicine? Well. That takes some gut. For me, at least.

Now I’m no way discounting the arts. I’m just aware that it comes a little easier to me. I’ve met doctors who can rattle off book knowledge but cannot draw a diagram or recognize the most famous of Shakespearean quotes or Van Gogh piece. Come on man, everyone should know Starry Night. These people don’t impress me. 

I’m not saying I'm incapable of achieving my goal either. It's basically this- if I expected this to be Pacman, it was Final Fantasy 15. That’s the new one right? With 45 mins of just walking in the beginning of the game? The one where you have to beat the whole game before you meet the actual villain to defeat.

Just so you know, people don’t often talk about this part in online forums. As an IMG (international medical graduate) you are a foreigner, an alien. The stakes are higher, the odds are all against you and the investment, both financial and time are greater.

Since then I’ve gone through a roller coaster of highs and lows, from feeling I can do anything to sense of perpetual uselessness and incompetence. I spent sometime observing in Harvard at the Brigham and Women’s hospital. My dream hospital. And it was extraordinary. I had some amazing experiences. After meeting the director of the Advanced Multimodal  Image Guided Operating theater, she invited me to stay at her home for the rest of my time. Its one of the best things that have ever happened to me. Imagine little old me, invited by a very important person a Harvard hospital, opening up her home and family to me after meeting me for fifteen minutes? Unbelievable. I saw groundbreaking trials and new procedures. I met the authors of the textbooks I was reading.

What it did was increase the fire in me to do better. It increased the expectations of myself. Which unfortunately are limited as I am a mere human without any sort of prodigal intelligence, way too many emotions and fear of math. 

Why else would I cancel the first exam twice the night before the exam? Okay fine. Three times.

It was three. 

Today should have been my exam. 

Am I being avoidant? I don’t know. I hope subconsciously that's not the case. I do know this-  I have grown and learnt so much in the past eight months. I know I’m almost there but not quite. I enjoy the learning, I feel like a better doctor most days. Other days I see my previous colleagues moving on with their careers and lives and actually enjoying it (I’m just assuming based on social media ramblings, which is why I left social media) and become resentful of myself.

I’ve studied, stressed, cried myself to sleep, picked myself up and trudged on more times than I hoped for. Wondered if I’m some sort of masochist with a sick twisted tendency to sabotage myself while I surfed through those USMLE forums of students years younger than me who are scoring my dream scores on practice exams and bitching about how scared they are. Give me a break.

I try to look past my surfeit feelings of self loathing, depreciation and disappointment that I’m not better at learning off drug mechanisms or molecular and genetic biology or smarter, bitter that my home country didn’t offer the types of opportunities that interested me. That I wasn’t trained to write these integrative board exams. It made the system at home appear almost like satire. Am I even a real doctor? The thought of settling into surgical or radiology residency at home just does not excite me. I was bored there. Bored and frustrated with the system and just over the lack of progress and large egos of the those leading said system who are so settled in their ways and resistant to change. 

The thing about having high ambitions for yourself is that you never want to settle. So the minute I feel like I’m wasting my time, I generally say farewell. This counts for most things in my life and I often wonder if I’m a commitment phobic nomad. I try to stay on the notion that sometimes my dreams are just bigger than I am and I would have it no other way. But this time its different, I’m genuinely driven and committed. Just like a decade ago when I pushed myself to get into med school.

So I do. I do come down hard on myself for things I cannot control. Thankfully, I have been very lucky and blessed with the best family and inner circle of constant support, love and motivation. I wish I could see myself the way the people who love me do, who have unrelenting faith, who are convinced I can achieve my dreams when I cannot see the light in the dark, who understand when its overwhelming, who can see me through my disappointments and self inflicted “failures".

This type of mental pressure gets to you and clearly messes with your mind as you may conclude. I am actually weary, frustrated and ready to move forward but I just cannot settle for mediocrity. I have to be patient with myself and allow myself the chance to climb but it a timely fashion. I need to know I’ve done my absolute best and that’s what I will continue to do and promise to be kinder to myself like everyone else has been so far. 

This is your last chance, I’ll say and try not to slip. Even If I do, I will assuage myself and still climb on. I just don’t see any other way at this time.

Despite the fact that I’m actually longing to read a novel and paint a bit.

Maybe I’m just a sucker for pain.

On Closure

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Yesterday, someone I once considered my best friend for more than 15 years got engaged. 

I found out from a mutual friend. I thought that this news would have no impact on me as we were no longer friends. But on seeing the picture of the moment, I was overcome with incredible sadness. I wondered if it could have been jealousy, stemming from the fact that I just went through a divorce myself. But I’m currently in a very happy relationship that there is really nothing I could ask for more from. And the more I thought about it, the problem became glaringly obvious. It was because I was observing this moment through a glass window. 

These two people who I once really considered just had one of the most important (and stunningly co-ordinated) events happen in their life. Two people who met at my own engagement. Had it been a year ago, she and I would have been gushing about it in our whatsapp group shared with our mutual best friend. But today, I had to hear it from someone else. 

And it stung. 

The truth is, our friendship has been up and down in the past few years. We both lived very different lives. Of course life has a way of bringing people into and taking people away from you for whatever reason. There was hurt. I misunderstood something and reacted. She did something. I was passive aggressive. We had a huge falling out and we both hurt by it. And so on. The friendship faded. We unfollowed each other on Instagram. We both left the group. I decided to focus on my own life and career and come off social media.

I honestly tried to convince myself. Painted her in a certain light, got other friends to point out reasons why I should just let it go. Let sleeping dogs lie. 

But in my heart and my mind I always wanted to reach out. There was always this lump in my throat and a place in my mind where I could apologize without pride and forgive everything in blink of an eye. I just didn’t know how she would have responded and told myself it would have been putting myself out on a limb which would result in my hurt all over again. 

I had so many dreams where I was reaching out, that I ignored. The lump in my throat, I ignored. 

But yesterday, on seeing the picture, I felt that the lump was inflamed. Surely, something was tugging at me once more and said “All is not lost, reach out.”

And I did. 

I did more than reach out to her. I reached out to friends that have always been there for me, who have listened, who have seen me for who I was. My mentors and to my only sister who following an argument, I hadn’t spoken to for a month. I think this is what I really needed to do. 

You see, life is too short. Too short for pride, too short for ego, too short for cutting off people who mean something to you because you expected something from them and they expected something from you. 

I’ll always remember when my mom passed away, she and her only sister were in the midst of a petty fight and weren’t talking. I told myself I never wanted to be in that position with someone I love.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you have to end relationships that are not positive for the both of you. For both your sakes the relationships have to run their courses. 

In the end, time is not the only factor to forming connections with people. Quality is what matters. And knowing someone for a long period of time does not mean that they know you. 

Sometimes people can know you your whole life and not see you..I certainly believe that Its important to appreciate those who do. 

But you can meet people and instantly connect. Kindred spirits. A new friend, an older family member, a teacher, an Uber driver, or a childhood friend. 

When you are seen, these are the people that you should keep around and not take for granted. These are the ones in your corner, the ones who lift you up when you’re down, who know what you’re about. You can't live your whole life to yourself and not share parts of you by not opening up just because you’re afraid of being judged.

Its definitely a gamble of sorts though. Sometimes you miscalculate and give your trust to the wrong people or even don’t give some the trust they deserve. Unfortunately, that's part of human nature and we can’t all mesh. Sometimes the voice is wrong.

Personally, I've always felt that in those chosen relationships whether platonic or romantic or family, its vital I think to remember that humans come with both good and flawed aspects of character and its really a beautiful thing to be able to accept each other, embrace the good, acknowledge the less than desirable and move forward being there for one another.

The important thing is to clear the air if you can, I don’t believe its ever too late. Go on, bridge the gap and attempt to mend the fences. If you know you should apologize for something then just do it. You have nothing to lose. Even if you don't get the response you had hoped for, you are better off knowing that you tried your best instead of having the "what if" notion festering in the back of your mind. 

She replied by the way. We exchanged long messages. Messages of good wishes, apologies and at least, on my end a little more self awareness. We may not be best friends anymore, but we can still full appreciate the common goal at the end of the day- inner peace. 

She and I, evidently have varying views on how life should be viewed based on our own different lives and circumstances. I hold nothing against her for this. We wished each other well, removed the bookmark and closed the chapter and continued on with our lives.

Oddly enough the sense of satisfaction achieved from this day was actually came from the other connections I have with people I reached out to who have truly seen me and not what they think they saw. With whom I truly share fulfilling relationships with. And of course re-connecting with my sister, my ultimate soulmate with whom we go from 0 - 100 really fast in terms of how much we love each other most times but then our arguments can also do the same. Every relationship has its uniqueness. But the love is always, always there. Unconditionally.

One thing I think we can all agree on, however, is a simple message: don’t burn bridges for petty or unnecessary reasons if a relationship means something to you. 

Pride is temporary. Forgiveness is permanent.  

On my hero

I met him when he was twenty six years old.

Tall, dark, handsome. A civil engineer working on his masters in England. Born and raised in India and then Tobago, studying in England. Passionate about his career, family, current affairs, history and knew how to make an amazing chicken curry.

He was already married for two years and they had a daughter, before they had me.

We had a brief meeting before I was whisked off to Trinidad. The next two years are blurry with virtually non existent memories of my father, we must have seen each other again but I don’t remember. My maternal grandparents took the reigns of caring for me while my parents tried to keep it together in London. They just couldn’t cope with the pressure of another baby on their hands.

When I was two, I was re-introduced briefly to the idea of a nuclear family but that didn’t last very long. I longed for my grand parents, I didn’t know these people. Added to which, one day, while I was at home with my father, as he left the shower I walked in and turned the water on the hottest and ended up with third degree burns on my left arm and the left side of my back. What followed was a series of events - hospitals, skin grafts, fights, newspaper front pages, court. 

I was then back in Trinidad. Permanently living with my grandparents who won custody of me following a case of child abuse.

Child abuse? I had no idea what that meant. 

All I know is that following that, I grew up sheltered, somewhat isolated, closed in, disconnected. 

My grandparents were lovely, they did everything to ensure I had a good, stable life. To them, this meant keeping me away from my father whom they deemed to be a dangerous person as much as possible. They spoke of him with such disdain, I grew up afraid of this version of him. For my mother’s sake, I was able to go once in a while to their home or a random birthday party of my sister’s or my cousins. But I felt like a guest. I didn’t know these people. 

In an effort for me to have some kind of relationship with my sister, we were placed in the same primary school. I have one memory of my father walking in the school to pick her up and I saw him walking in and began to quiver in fear.

In my pre-teen years, he would buy me books. He had no idea how to be with me. I had an appendectomy when I was 11 and he brought me chocolates. 

My parents eventually got a divorce and my sister got catapulted between them intermittently. I watched as an observer as she shared this relationship with each of them, something that felt a bit more cordial to me. She says during the marriage they fought a lot about me, he wanted his daughter back. I hoped their marriage falling apart had nothing to do with me. I don’t think I can handle that burden.

When I was 15, my father was pretty much at the top of his game career wise. CEO of a prominent company, president of the contractor’s association, looked up to by all his employees. He went to the gym 3 times a week. And then, on an executive medical evaluation, he was found to have stage 4 colorectal cancer.

In an odd turn of events, my mother passed away shortly after this. 

Maybe its the feeling of impending doom as I described in my last post but something got triggered in my father. He demanded to my grandmother that he get his daughter back. He threatened he wouldn’t cover my university expenses and given the situation, she reluctantly let me go. 

Over the next 4 years, I got to know this person. I was still shy, scared, closed in. A silent observer.
But I marveled, oh how I marveled. 

He got dressed impeccably everyday. Always clean shaven. Couldn’t pass his reflection without fixing his hair. He read the newspaper every Sunday in the living room splayed out and we all got a part. He taught me how to cook. He taught me about history, current affairs, business, globalization, the world. How to cut an onion properly. How to use chopsticks. How to play chess. How not to be too open to boys because my sister and I were not just any other girls. He held my hand when we went out, he stayed up frustratingly for hours trying to teach me additional math. Gave me a bedroom fit for a princess. Taught me discipline. Taught me privilege. The value of hard work. The importance of calling my grandparents regularly. Generosity. Giving back.  

I also watched violent fights between him and my sister, you see in between all of this, his one downfall was his temper. And my sister was often the target. So now, when he had enough or couldn’t deal, back we were by our grandmother. Until he called in a few days and asked to come back and pick us up. This cycle also continued on for the time I stayed there. Yet, he and my sister had a palpable connection that was unbreakable. Something he and I didn’t share.

Despite this, he tried his best to father two teenage girls while battling life’s greatest enemy.

Many girls have many moments throughout their lives where they share moments with their father. Making them breakfast, staying in tune with their lives. I have a handful and I hold them like my most prized, precious possessions clutched to my heart.

When I lost one of my friends to an unfortunate death, he joined me as I sat on the ground at 18, and held me as I cried. I was so distraught I couldn’t even register what was happening or try to do my usual freeze up. I just let him hold me. He knew and maybe thats why he also began to cry.

When I got my first painful back spasm and he picked up and held me like a baby and took me to the emergency room. 

In the last year of his life, when his chemo treatments started to have a greater effect on him. Despite his greatest attempts to work through the illness, as always, it prevailed. his routine of going to work 2 days post chemo ended in days of him basically curling up in the couch of his office.

At home, my sister and I didn’t know what to do or how to be. 

But I knew before it was too late, I had to ask- what really happened when I was two? Why have I lived my entire life with scars on my body? Why did you send me away?

He explained. 

He was ill in the time surrounding to my return to stay with them in my second year, he battled with polyarthritis. This left his hands weak and he did not close the tap tightly. He didn’t hear me go into the bathroom, only when the water started and he heard me cry. He admitted that he should have kept an eye on me but he took his eyes off me for just a few seconds...A scenario I’ve learnt is all too common now, after working for a year and a half in the burns unit. They lost the case of custody to my grandparents and legally there wasn’t much they could do to get me, exacerbated by the fact that my grandparents kept me away. 

I forgave. 

I spent the remaining time trying to get to know this man. I stayed home from school, cooked him meals, bore the brunt of some of his frustration some days. Watched Alexander The Great- his favorite movie. Played chess. He helped me write my personal statement for medical school despite the fact that he believed I was too gentle to be a successful doctor. We talked. I cleaned up blood stains, learnt that the answer to the question “Daddy, can I get you anything?” would be usually be met with “cyanide please." We listened by the door as he threw up and moaned and groaned in pain. 

The last few months of his life, I saw a man crumble. From the top of his game, to being consumed by a disease. 

The job went. The Audi replaced by my grandfather’s old car. My sister's and my college tuition poured into hospital fees. His hair he was so proud of thinned and eventually disappeared. His body became emaciated and frail. He lost his strength and required a wheelchair. 13 surgeries. Radiotherapy. Chemotherapy. Ayurveda. Again, I didn’t know this person. 

Still he fought.  He was enrolled in a trial at John’s Hopkins in the last few weeks of his life. Due to visa trouble, I was unable to go and once more looked on as an observer through the eyes of my family and sister who were all able to go to Baltimore. 

My sister called me from the hospital room for the last conversation I would ever have with him while he took his last breaths on the 31st December, 2006. He couldn’t speak, but I promised to make him proud. I said ‘I love you” over and over. She and I cried. She said he did too.

A nurse who cared for him wrote in her own memoirs that in all of her time at the hospital, she had never seen someone smile after taking his last breath and look so at peace. 

It has recently dawned on me that our parents have the greatest impacts on our lives. A concept I've tried to avoid my entire life. Their absence, their presence. Their time on Earth.

A few years later, during my internship, I pronounce a cancer patient's death and break down. 

My relatively short interaction with my father built the image of what I deem to be the perfect man. Almost 10 years post death and I’ve become almost completely blinded to his flaws. A more formidable romanticized version. The one who swept my mother off her feet, introduced my sister and I to sushi in a small Japanese restaurant in London when I was 14. Who brought home outfits every Divali for my sister and I to pick from, who quoted (in vain) Alexander the Great to his fleet of truck drivers. Who sang along to the radio to his favorite Hindi film songs. Who looked up and mapped out stars to us. Who teased his parents and siblings.

I see his brown eyes in every patient. I painfully observe daughters with their fathers. Visited places in India he went to in his childhood, imagined his life then. I measure every man that attempts to be part of my life to him in hopes that it will give this hole in my being some form of filling. 

But it never does. People say time heals all. It doesn’t. I still smell the medications I took out for him. I still smell his Ralph Lauren Polo Green and Blue. The older I become, the emptiness becomes more prominent and heavy to carry around. My graduation. My marriage. My divorce. Birth of my nephew. Big decisions. 

Sometimes its almost as if in effort to deal, I place myself back into the familiar shell of sheltered, protected, disconnected. When I knew he existed but life just couldn’t place us together. Except now, instead of someone I’m scared of, he’s my hero. I cling to the features we share, his face in mine. His mannerisms that I inevitably and subconsciously inherited. 

My father often said his dreams were composed of him in ancient war, leading a calvary. I suppose he’s there now, riding horses, directing troops and soldiers.

Its funny how things come full circle.

On PTSD, anxiety & mental health

We all want to have it together, in control, be on top of things. For a long while I often backed on the sturdiness of my own mind. Never wanted to be deemed as weak or incapable. I can do anything. I’ve been through the worst and made it out alive. That is until the actual worst happened. 

The thing is, mental health is something that can be broken down insidiously. You tell yourself you’re okay and expect the problems to vanish. For those without anxiety, its akin to the supernatural. We hear the stories but won’t actually believe it until it happens to us. “Oh you can control your mind, meditate, pray etc” 

Two and a half years ago I was driving along, carefree. My notification on my phone went off, BBC. MY eyes darted down for a second and I lost control of the wheel. Not something you want to happen when you’re driving lets say more than slightly above the speed limit. Ok, a LOT above. 

I remember everything. 

The wheel back and forth. The screams (my own). The view of my car from all angles. The presumably last thoughts. The prayers. The silence. Then the submission and withdrawn of my hands from the wheel. 

I opened my eyes. Surely I must be dead.

Nope. Still strapped in, I can move all my limbs, the airbag deployed. 

I squeeze my eyes shut. Thank you God. 

Then came the screaming. I screamed non stop, like I was breathing air for the first time. People rushed over from what appeared to be the Heavens. They pulled me out, lay me on the grass.

“We saw what happened and thought for sure, that child died” is what I heard next.

I started to laugh. I laughed and laughed and laughed.

Because you see, I was on the way to the temple, this was ironic. Now on the way to the hospital on the day that if I had been at work, would have been on call. Hilarious. I remember the puzzled glances. 

This is what a brief psychotic episode looks like. A young lady, dressed in a basic salvar kameez, glass splinters in her hair and face, lying on the ground laughing hysterically. 

If theres anything to give you a good hard look at your life, its definitely the sudden realization that life can be swiped from you. Like someone pulling the chair from under you.

A few days later I started to recall the incident. I played off the post accident trauma like it was no big deal. when I started to remember the incident more and more, my heart rate increased, my breathing shortened, everything kinda got fuzzy and all I saw was black after that. My first panic attack.

There’s a reason I can recall that accident so vividly and its a result of the many flash backs and nightmares. The tears which came on passing the site. On any accident sighting. If you've ever experienced PTSD then you know what I'm talking about.

Thankfully I was able to get behind the wheel, I convinced myself I could beat this. 

The rest of the year came and went. One day, whilst in the middle of a clinic, I got a call from my sister in hysterics. She and her husband had just had a fight. All I could think about was my 6 week old nephew in the middle of all of this. Then again, this feeling. Breathing shortened, hands clammy, sweating, heart begins to race and suddenly my hands start going numb and tingly and I cannot move them. Tears start falling against my will. My co workers try their best to relax me and I lay on the examination bed where I was just examining a patient myself. Even I didn’t recognize what whats happening at the time. I was able to gather myself and deal after but all I could think is - what the hell just happened? 

After that, I formed a new relationship. But still, the attacks came. Frequently, randomly, in the middle of a manicure, getting dressed in the morning, just sitting quietly in the passenger seat. 

My body didn’t like the stress either. I lay immobile with back spasms. I had an excruciating 3 week long heavy period. Migraines filled in the gaps. 

At least I wasn’t alone. The minute it happened I was lucky to have someone near me, who was able to calm me down, tell me it was okay. Remember a happy memory. Remember that time you laughed at me? Lets go back to that time. Here, sip this water. Its okay to cry. What’s on your mind?

Gradually, they came less. I had long since left an unhappy marriage. I changed environments. I avoided my stressors. I opened up. I allowed myself the type of love I thought I deserved and loved back with my all. I spoke my mind.

I cannot tell you the value of letting someone in. Most people have these panic attacks and are ashamed of what they might look like to those they love.

- A sign of weakness! Get it together! Toughen up! Its all in your mind! Just pray!

Yes, some may say so. Even those closest to you. But you’ll know who to let in. Doesn’t have to be a family member or a lover (although you should be able to trust your partner enough for them to see this side of you). They can be a mentor, a teacher or anyone you trust.

If you think you can’t let anyone else in and you’ve experienced this, start with seeing a counselor. Get to the root of the problem because you cannot ignore it and hope it goes away. Face it, head on, like you always do. 

Do not be ashamed. Seek help. It is not all in your head. YOU ARE NOT CRAZY. You are human. You are not broken or wounded. And you are not alone.

Anxiety, worry, depression, PTSD all require a change. A time out. A change in the way someone treats you, an exit from a stressful relationship, job, environment. Do whatever you have to do because as cliché as it sounds, life goes on and tomorrow is another day.

Just like a lover or a child needing your attention, so do you need your own.  If you try to avoid thinking about the stress, trust me your body won’t. And being healthy body wise is strongly linked with a healthy mind. 

Remind yourself that you are your first priority. Just like the airplane announcements: "Place the oxygen mask over your own mouth before you help those closest to you". 

I leave you with a peace of poetry from Derek Walcott: 

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome, 

and say, sit here. Eat. 
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart. 
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, 

the photographs, the desperate notes, 
peel your own image from the mirror. 
Sit. Feast on your life. 

Feast.

On Losing yourself

I’ve always been a fan of losing myself.

When I was 16, I went to London as part of a European trip with my grandparents. Traveling as an angsty teenager with my aged 70+ grandparents, 11 and 8 year old cousins, I already felt particularly lost. Not in the good way either. This trip was full of moments and eye openers. I experienced an overactive 8 year old who would later become one of my best friends. I experienced my first taste of racial prejudice in an Athens taxi. I swung in a tyre swing in a Welsh countryside. Rolled in long stretches of lush grass. Marveled at sunbeams peeking through tall trees in as we drove past vineyards. Imagined what a Greek goddess must have felt like atop Poseidon’s temple.

But the one experience that lingers in my mind 13 years later happens to be after my first experience of post British high tea at the Ritz. If I close my eyes, I can transport myself to that exact moment when I lost myself in a good way.

A sense of renewal accompanied me, walking through an underground tunnel of the Green Park station where a male street performer was belting out the lyrics to an acoustic version of Britney Spears’ “Hit me baby”. He looked right at me, fixed his eyes on me and sang his heart out as I walked by. In my mind, it was a moment of movie magic. It might have been less dramatic in reality but all i remember is my hair blowing in slow motion, I coyly laughed and shook my head as I confidently walked by.

The one thing I took away from that moment is that I lost all sense of reality. It was the most freeing moment.

I’ve endeavored to recreate that feeling since. And thankfully my life has given me those moments. I’ve lost myself in a good novel, in cleaning the wounds of burns victims and changing their dressings, stitching wounds,  in moving anonymously in a large crowd, getting lost in a new city, taking in outdoor musical performers, being 21 at the culmination of a night out in a club when the inebriation was just right - eyes closed while dancing at midnight under a rain of confetti, in painting or drawing for hours. In staring into the eyes of a lover and losing all sense of time. 

I think there is great merit in losing yourself at times. If there is any moment where one has to let go and let God, then take the opportunity, you never know when next the stars will align for that moment and I promise you you won’t regret it. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I've toyed with the idea of starting a blog for a long time.

If a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one around to hear it, did it really fall?

[Today's soundtrack: RHODES - Close Your Eyes]

I wondered, what would my blog be about? What defines me as a person? What sets me apart?

This of course leads to existential thinking...

What am I about? What is my life’s purpose?

I’m a doctor, a student, a dreamer, an artist, a citizen of the world, I yearn for days where I can just read unbothered, be able to play with my nephew, spend time with those I love. Some days I want to open a tea shop, some days I want to paint for a living, some days I want to write. There’s so much I want to write, so much I have to say. 

I’ve always been well rounded, considered myself average but the truth is I am not. None of us are.   

I’m a person who cannot be defined. 

I’ve almost fallen, my voice almost gone with the wind. I emerged. 

I decided to start this blog for many of you who also cannot be defined, who think there are not enough hours, minutes, seconds in the day to do all the things that bubble around in your head.

For those who think your voice has no audience, for those who have been silenced, for those working toward a goal, for those who procrastinate, for those up all night, for those who thought you were in love- but you really weren’t and someone got hurt in the process. For those who have marveled at something they’ve created by themselves. For those who have come back to life- figuratively and literally, for those who have lost those closest to them, for those who fight with siblings or parents on a cyclical basis, for those who have lost friends they never thought they would, for those who have achieved things people said they never would, for those who have been swept off of their feet and experienced real unadulterated love, for those who have achieved a feeling of unrelenting bliss they never thought they would, for those who have changed their mind, for those who still can’t figure out what they want, for those who get annoyed at people who talk too loudly in public, for those whose pores raise when they hear a piece of music that resonates within them, for those who aren’t sorry that they get their winged eye liner right free handed every time. For those who became super spiritual for a fleeting time. For those who have wished they were invisible, for those who have been made to feel as though they were invisible. For those who have said terrible things to the ones they love in anger, for those who have been sorry.

And so much more. 

When I read that blog description over, I see that one or more of those things can be identified with anyone if not everyone. I arrive at a conclusion.

I cannot be defined. 

 

My posts will be random, on everything under the sun and a musical note of the day to accompany.