Posted in Lifestyle, Self-Discovery

The Uncluttered Life

This week I decided to take annual leave from work. I had no plans in mind, and no budget for further travelling, so I mostly stayed home (if I wasn’t doing an extra shift to fatten up the aforementioned budget) and chilled.

Today I suddenly got the urge to clean my room and get rid of the clutter that I’ve managed to accumulate in the five or so years that I’ve been living in my flat. Within an hour I managed to fill up three bags full of papers, boxes, old letters, forms and other useless junk. I reread old cards from old friends, some of whom I barely talk to anymore, and even found a love letter addressed to my brother that somehow made its way to me by mistake (oops!).

I found a closet full of clothes that I don’t wear anymore, as well as designer bags that have been hidden away in obscurity after I’ve paid such a hefty sum for them. I found so much rubbish, and while I’m no Marie Kondo (and never will be) it did make me think about what a metaphor it was for the way I’ve been living my life these past couple of years.

I think that our lives only have a finite number of spaces for a finite number of things, and we should be careful about the things we keep, the things we allow to accumulate, the things we allow to hold us down. Take designer bags, for example. They are nothing but status symbols that people use to indicate to other people that they make a lot of money and can therefore afford luxurious items. It’s the feminine version of a pissing contest, and for a while I allowed myself to buy into the hype.

The truth is, I use a maximum of two bags in a month: my work bag and some kind of purse for the rare occasion that I need to dress up to go out. I don’t need any Pradas and Guccis, nor do I really need a Louis Vuitton. I need a bag that works, and one where I can fit my laptop, my Kindle, a couple of books and a small notebook for writing. And because of this fine weather we’ve been having lately, an umbrella. Those limited edition LVs are undoubtedly lovely, but I can barely fit anything useful in them. Plus, if I use them, I might as well have a neon sign flashing over my head saying: ROB ME, ROB ME.

I have a friend who hasn’t bought any new clothes since we graduated from college. She believes in living a minimalistic life, and she doesn’t see the value in buying new things when the old ones still work. It just takes up room that she doesn’t have. I found that kind of mindset admirable, and I wish I could be evolved enough to adopt it. I wish I could be the kind of person who is able to differentiate the rubbish and the clutter from what really matters in life.

I took a moment to reflect and write this blog after I’ve finished my cleaning frenzy, and I thought about this book I read lately called ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck’ and I realise that I am getting far too old to let every single thing bother me, to let unimportant things distract me from everything that’s good about my life. Just like my closet full of clothes and my drawer full of unused bags , I need to be better at choosing what to value, what to let in, what things to give importance to, and what things I’m better off not giving a fuck about.

Taylor Swift once said that she only wants to be defined by the things she loved. I looked around my room when I finished cleaning and I realise I’ve already subconsciously chosen the things that are most important to me from the things I prominently put on display: my to-do list for work to represent a career that I genuinely enjoy (and which gives me enough financial stability to pursue my other dreams!), my books, which represent my love of discovering new worlds and learning new things; my writing stuff, as a symbol of my lifelong dream to be a published author; my passport, for my love of travelling and exploring new places; and a family picture.

At the end of the day, I don’t need anything more than that. Everything else is just clutter.

Posted in Books, Careers, Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle, Reviews, Self-Discovery

Book Review: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck – Mark Manson

It’s not very often that you find the kind of book you need at the exact same moment in which you need it. Call it fate, call it kismet, call it in act of divine intervention, but this book found its way into my loving arms just when I needed it the most.

I was in the operating theatre one day when I got into an argument with a particularly obnoxious Fellow over specimen labels, of all things. She thought she was right and I was wrong, and I was just as convinced of the opposite. I was so enraged that she wouldn’t just do what I told her to do (because I was right, goddamit) that I went storming into the manager’s office, ranting and raving like a lunatic, begging them to please do something about this stubborn incompetent fool.

On my way back to the theatre I felt the faint stirrings of pain on the centre of my chest and (I imagined) somewhere on my left shoulder (or left back, I wasn’t really sure). Bearing in mind that I’ve been having blood pressure problems for a while now, you can see why I would suddenly feel anxious and almost panicky. I became so convinced that I was having a heart attack right then and there that I very nearly excused myself from theatres so I can go to the A and E.

As you can probably tell I did not, in fact, have a heart attack thank goodness. Shortly before this incident, I had two large sausages and a piece of bacon for lunch. And because I was in a hurry to scrub for the next procedure, I had inhaled all this food in a hurry and was finished with my lunch break in five minutes. So what I probably had was a mild case of indigestion (although the hypochondriac in me still believes there’s merit in assuming and being prepared for the worst).

That moment really opened my eyes and made me think about a lot of things. Like the fragility of life. Like how much I let what other people think affect me emotionally and psychologically. Like the number of things I give a fuck about that I will probably forget in five years or less. Like how fucking pissed I would be if I died because of a bloody specimen form and miss out on all the wonderful things I have to look forward to this year, like my parents coming for a visit, and the Tiu Family Reunion we’re planning on Christmas.

And then I picked up The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. This is a book that generated a lot of buzz when it came out last year (I think) and numerous friends and acquaintances have been encouraging me to read it for a while now, but I’ve always been kinda skeptical about it. I’m not into self-help books to be honest, I’ve always found it kinda hokey, and the authors always came across as being self-righteous, not to mention self-congratulatory.

This book felt more like a friend. It was funny, endearingly self-deprecatory and perhaps more importantly, extremely relatable. I identified with a lot of the situations Mark wrote about, and with the experiences he’s shared. I’m not saying it’s perfect, nor do I agree with all of it (I think something in me rebelled at the thought of accepting that I will always be ordinary). But in the three weeks it took me to finish it, I have made some changes that I think will be healthier for me in the long run.

While reading it I’ve been forced to think about my values, and to examine the metrics by which I measure success. I went for a run last week and my calves were hurting the whole time, which reduced my speed from slow to turtle pace. I felt so discouraged by the whole thing and nearly gave up on running altogether. But then I asked myself how I defined a successful run. What were my metrics? Was it finishing a 5k within a certain time frame? Was it being able to run longer distances every day? Was it being able to run pain-free? Because realistically speaking, if I only focused on those three things I’m almost guaranteed to fail at least about half the time.

What about the fact that I managed to wake up at the unholy hour of 5:30 in the morning four times a week and get my lazy arse off my comfy bed so that I can run before work? It’s currently averaging between 1 and 5 degrees in London at the moment, and those are temperatures that make you want to do the opposite of getting up and going outside.

But I do it every. single. time. And you know what, I realised that by doing that, I was already winning.

I made the executive decision that from that point onwards my metric for a successful run would simply be me getting up in the morning and showing up physically as well as mentally. And that’s when things changed. Every day I felt like I was winning a race. Every day felt like a triumph.

I stepped on a weighing scale two weeks after I started running and nearly wept. With abject misery. Because no matter what I did, no matter how much I tried to stick to a healthy diet, counting calories like a miser counts coins, I just can’t seem to get that number on the scale to go down. What was the point of putting myself through all of it if I wasn’t achieving results?

Then I started monitoring my blood pressure twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. For the first time in a long long time, the readings were steady, and if not always normal they were not as astronomically high as they were this time last year. More than that, I’ve started feeling more positive, both at work and life in general. I’ve been able to deal better with difficult conversations, uncompromising colleagues, unfair criticisms and all the other curveballs that your personal and professional lives throw at you on a daily basis.

An anaesthetist saw me yesterday and noted that I seem more chilled and relaxed. Was that not some better measure of success than the number on my weighing scale?

In a way, the book was very liberating. One of its fundamental beliefs is that we would be much happier if we stop placing all these unrealistic expectations of ourselves to be something great, to be extraordinary, to make a lasting impact on the world, to be so amazing that we are immortalised and allowed to live on even when we’re dead. Jesus, that is a lot of pressure to place on our teeny tiny human bodies.

Apparently, the more we accept that we are just a tiny fraction of the world at large, that it is not always about us, and that we are not special and unique, the better off we will be. For someone who’s always been a bit type A, for someone who has always been ambitious, for someone who was groomed from childhood to draw happiness from other people’s approval of my achievements, this is quite a difficult pill to swallow.

But Mark Manson argues that the feeling we get from other people’s approval are only temporary highs, it’s not true happiness. In fact, we’re actually making ourselves unhappy by constantly chasing the feeling we get when people give us praise, whether in real life or in the form of likes on social media. When we seek validation from somewhere outside of ourselves, we’re planting the seeds of our own discontent and eventual unhappiness.

True happiness, he says, is actually borne out of suffering. Pain and struggle are necessary ingredients to happiness because “to be happy, we need something to solve”. And when we find that solution, it then creates a whole host of other problems for us to solve, forever and ever and ever, Amen. And this apparently is what keeps us happy. This is what defines us. We are defined by the pain we’re willing to sustain, the things we’re willing to struggle for.

I don’t know about you, but I kinda want a pain-free life where I don’t need to struggle.

But I see his point. To expect a life free from suffering is to be delusional. Instead, you need to choose what is worth struggling for. For example, is it really worth having daily arguments with a colleague just so you can prove you’re right? Do you take that job that offers a bigger salary but also comes with a whole host of responsibilities that take you further and further away from the thing that you really want to do? Are you willing to struggle through frustration, insecurities, and the fear of failure just so you can finally fulfil your lifelong dream of publishing a book?

I think about the pain I feel when I go for a 7k run: the lactic acid being released from my muscles causing pain in my legs, that feeling of being slightly out of breath – that I’m willing to endure. Because waiting for me on the other side of that pain are the endorphins released after a good run, the sense of achievement from simply being able to finish, knowing that you gave it your best effort, and of course, the prevention of a potential heart attack (sorry this is going to be a recurring theme).

Needless to say, I really really REALLY like this book. I would give it as a present to everyone I know if I could. There’s so much more I want to say about it, and there is so much more to discuss, but this post is seriously starting to reach dissertation lengths. I’d just like to end by saying that the best compliment I could give for it is that it forced me, a notorious speed reader, to slow down and really reflect on the messages that the author wants to impart: that you need to have better values, that sometimes even the littlest things are a measure of success, and that if you do have to give a fuck, choose what you want to give a fuck about.

Posted in bloggers, Careers, dating

Everything I need to know about relationships, I learned from working with surgeons

Disclaimer: below is a work of non-fiction. Any seeming reference or resemblance to persons dead or living are not entirely coincidental, only slightly intentional and should not be held against the author.

Anyone who’s ever watched Grey’s Anatomy would have a working idea of what it must be like to work with surgeons. I wish I could say they were all Derek Sheperd’s, because the NHS would have less staffing problems if they were, but unfortunately they’re not.

Let’s all take a moment to remind ourselves how, in a perfect world, all surgeons should look like. Haha

In fact, I would venture to say that some of them are as far from McDreamy as a person could get.

Surgeons are not the easiest bunch to deal with. Off the top of my head I can name a number of colleagues who can’t stand to be in the same room with them, who find them rude, arrogant, overbearing, impatient, misogynistic and overall unbearable. They have a God complex, some say. While some others are of the opinion that they go to some preparatory course towards the end of their surgical training where they all get instilled with this (erroneous) belief that they’re right all the time.

What do I think of them, you ask?

Personally, I love them. The same way you learn to love your pesky little brother. You’re obligated to tolerate them anyway, and over time that tolerance has turned into something that resembles love (I think). I have spent most of my career working with them and I’ve never met a problem with them that I couldn’t overcome eventually. Which isn’t to say I haven’t had moments where I just want to do things to them that will get me locked away for life, but I tend to get over the urge to inflict bodily harm fairly quickly, all things considered.

One of the people I worked with last week went so far as to suggest that I have become such an expert on dealing with difficult surgeons that any relationship I’m bound to have would be a walk in the park in comparison.

I didn’t realise that my dealings with surgeons have also been a training ground for establishing future relationships, but I thought it would be fun to explore this little analogy. Just what have I learned from my professional life that I can bring into my personal life?

I came up with a list below that might resonate with those of you who make their living in surgical gowns and gloves. I think they actually do apply to all other relationships outside of the operating theatre but see what you think. Lol

  1. Timing is key.
  2. They like to talk about themselves. Use that to your advantage. A little flattery will get you everywhere.
  3. If you do a good job and show loyalty by maintaining a relationship with them, you might get wined and dined once a year (like, at Christmases and birthdays)
  4. Laugh at their jokes, even when its not funny, and even when its at your expense.
  5. Learn their preferences by heart and make an effort to give them what they want.
  6. Anticipate their needs so well that words need not be spoken. In fact, anticipate their needs so well that you give them what they need even if its not what they ask for.
  7. They may deny it, but they like it when you go the extra mile. Don’t do it every time, and not often enough that they take it for granted. But a little extra touch every now and again will always be deeply appreciated.
  8. Suggestions are welcome, but only if you use the right approach. Tip: if you lead with an accusation, an argument, or by listing all the ways in which you think they’re wrong, you will NOT be well-received.
  9. On that note, they are never wrong. To convince them otherwise is an exercise in futility. Even if they do realise they’re wrong, they won’t say it out loud. They’ll say they changed their minds, or have received more information that led them to think that another course of action might be more appropriate (insert eye roll here).
  10. Understand that when they get temperamental and moody and rude, it’s not always personal.
  11. Stress turns even the best of them into monsters.
  12. You don’t always have to believe them when they say ‘send for the next‘. They’re already thinking about the next step, and the next one after that, and the next one after that. Your job is to regulate the flow, and to get them to chill the fuck out, because its a marathon not a sprint.
  13. When they go low, you go high.
  14. A little sense of humour goes a long way.
  15. Choose your battles. Sometimes you win by giving in.
  16. But. If it’s really important, if you feel really strongly about it, challenge them. They need to be challenged sometimes, it keeps them on their toes.
  17. Forgive them, sometimes they know not what they say. They are only men after all.
  18. Always do a Time-Out and a Pause to prevent any irrevocable errors.
  19. There are times when they do get the final say, but you are a vital part of the whole process. They literally cannot operate without you, and they should be sufficiently grateful.
  20. You can only get so far with looks, charm and bullshitting. Its your skill and intelligence that will earn their respect and admiration in the long run.
  21. You have to respect them in turn. Respect their skills and what they can do. Respect them, even when you don’t like them very much.
  22. The best ones are the ones you keep coming back to not because you’re contractually obligated to do so, but because you’ve developed a true bond borne out of multiple years together and a mutual love for Brandon Flowers.

What do you think? Have I just described a relationship, or what?

I sure wish they’d told us in school that theatre nursing was really just an analogy for our love life, I would have paid better attention. Lol.

Posted in fitness, relationships, Self-Discovery

The Bikini

Last night I went out for a little celebratory dinner with my team at work. It normally takes me at least an hour to prepare for going out because I believe in always looking your best on any occasion, and probably because I’m really really vain (self-awareness, people, this is what it looks like).

I went to my closet, which I’ve downscaled by about half last year. I threw away anything I haven’t worn in the past 6 months, which includes all those size 8 dresses that I’ve stupidly been hanging on to out of some delusional hope that I’ll ever be able to wear them again.

I picked out and put on one of my favourite jumpsuits, placed my hair in a ponytail and accessorised it with a gold clip on the side for added flair, wore comfortable flats, bit of eyeliner, my signature red lipstick and I was done. 10 minutes flat and I was ready to go.

Now let’s talk about what I would have normally done before I started out on this new positive body image mindset that I’m trying really hard to cultivate within myself.

First I would have agonised for ages over what to wear, and even when I’ve made a decision I would have changed my mind at least three times, because when I look at the mirror all I would see were the bulges, the gut, the protruding tummy, and the thighs that looked like they would be substantial enough to feed an entire third world country.

I would have then gone through my arsenal of tricks, and I do hope I’m not violating some sacred female code of here. But let’s be real. Who among us could deny owning a nice pair (or two) of spanx? Think about all those tummy-control knickers you own, the ones that promise to be so effective you’d feel as if you’ve had liposuction (LIES). Think about the bras that promise to give you so much lift and support that you’d feel like you have porn star boobs (WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO?), those corsets that enable you to fit into that overpriced but really sexy LBD (little black dress, hello).

The reality is that you would probably feel confident and sexy for all of 5 seconds. You’d make your grand entrance and people will ooh and aah and tell you how good you look…before they turn their attention back to their gin and tonics (where it rightfully belongs) and move on with their lives.

5 seconds of admiration and applause, in return for a whole evening feeling like a trussed up chicken, squeezed, tied and stuffed, ready to go into the oven. Is it REALLY worth it?

I am not denying the power of a good outfit. But the power lies in how it makes you feel. It should make you feel confident enough to take on the world. I don’t think it will make you feel confident to force yourself (squeeze yourself, I should say) into a size 10 dress when you’re really a size 14. I don’t care how good you think you look. If oxygen can’t get into your lungs and you’re unable to breathe properly because of your vanity, well, cyanosis is not a good look on anyone.

I’d like to end this with a little anecdote of me and the bikini. The Bikini used to be my mortal enemy. It represented every insecurity I’ve ever had about myself. In the Philippines, where being a size 4 is the norm, if you’re plus-sized and you had the audacity to wear a bikini, people would look at you from head to foot, and titter behind your back because, come on, who do you think you are? How dare you show your lack of abs and your legs full of cellulite?

When I moved to the UK I realised that over here people don’t give a shit about what you wore. Live and let live. If you want to wear a bikini then for godsake wear one. Between global warming and modern slavery and all the other important issues the world faces, IT REALLY DOESN’T MATTER in the grand scheme of things.

The Bikini is a metaphor for all the unfair expectations we women impose on ourselves. Like, honestly, 80% of the female population will not have Victoria’s Secret Angels bodies. Men will just have to deal with it. Its not like each and every one of them are Henry Cavills or Chris Hemsworths themselves. We are all wonderfully, imperfectly ordinary. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Getting to the point where you’re comfortable with your body is a long and tedious process. One day you feel like you’ve made a giant leap forward, the next day you’re back to castigating yourself in front of the mirror. Its a constant uphill battle to focus and celebrate on the good parts of yourself. For some reason as human beings we seem to be programmed to see the negative first. We really are our own worst enemies, aren’t we?

The only thing I can say based on my experience is to bear in mind that there are things more important than weight and physical appearances. Like enjoying what you do. Like learning. Like finding fulfilment in doing your life’s passion, whatever that may be.

Every day, I try to find at least three things I like about myself, physically and non-physically. I like my skin. I like my teeth. Today I’m having a good hair day. My blood pressure has been normal all week. I make people laugh (even when I don’t intend to). I can write a blog that is as long as an academic essay in 10 minutes, that’s a talent isn’t it?

Be brave. Wear a bikini. Go parading down Oxford Circus naked (or maybe not). Set yourself free from caring about what other people think. They don’t matter. Besides, the only people worth keeping will think you’re awesome regardless of how you look and what you wear, even a bikini.

Posted in Lifestyle, relationships

Personal Boundaries

I read something the other day that really made me think and reflect on my self and how I interact with others.

People with strong boundaries are not afraid of temper tantrums, an argument, or getting hurt. People with weak boundaries are terrified of those things and will constantly mould their own behaviour to fit the highs and lows of their relational emotional roller coaster

Mark Manson

What this means for me personally is learning how to be myself and how to stand my ground. It means being true to my values and principles no matter what situation I find myself in.

I don’t think anyone would call me spineless, not by any stretch. But I still find myself in situations where I’m either giving in and giving way in an argument, or I’m twisting myself into a pretzel just so I can minimise the threat to the general peace (and my peace of mind).

Awhile back I was involved in an issue that required me to make a stand. It was highly contentious to say the least, all parties on either side of the argument felt quite strongly that they were right and the other was wrong. I was on the fence because, to be honest, I really didn’t care one way or the other. I personally didn’t see why there was even a discussion about it when the outcome was inevitable, but some people felt the need to pick a subject apart before coming to a decision.

Instead of examining my own values and standing up for something, instead of speaking up for what I thought was right, I went out of my way to be everything for everyone, hearing out each side in an effort to be fair. I allowed the people involved to tell me all the ways in which the other side was screwing things up. I vacillated between agreeing and disagreeing, bending over backwards trying to placate everyone involved until I was so exhausted that I lost the will to live (figuratively speaking).

I’ve always been like that. Probably because a) I care far too much about what other people think and b) I don’t want to risk choosing a side and ending up being on the wrong side, because I hate being wrong. PERIOD.

In conclusion, I have very weak personal boundaries. I like to think of myself as quite a strong person but what I am, in fact, is very malleable. I have a tendency to bend to the will of stronger forces. I probably change some if not all the aspects of my personality depending on who I’m with and what their position is in relation to mine.

This needs to stop.

Getting into arguments, being wrong, failing…these are all inevitable aspects of life that help us to grow, and from that growth comes true happiness and contentment. Also, if you never take a side, if you never allow anyone to see the real you, then you can never really trust in their love or respect because you know deep inside its based on false pretenses.

You will never really feel secure, and you will spend the rest of your life compensating or maintaining that façade.

Which isn’t to say that you now need to spend the rest of your life getting into arguments with people. You don’t want to be up in arms with pitchforks up in the air all the time. I think there’s a balance that can be achieved, and if other people respect you enough (which should be the only kind of people worth keeping in your life, BTW) they will be capable of disagreeing with you without things turning into DEFCON1.

And if they’re the kind of people too stubborn to consider that they might be wrong, that there’s merit in looking at things from another person’s perspective, then leave it. It’s not worth the stress trying to convince them otherwise.

Its easier said than done. After all, who doesn’t prefer a peaceful life? But the next time you find yourself setting yourself on fire to keep other people warm just to avoid the inevitable drama and confrontation, think about what doing that does to you.

Does it make you happy? Is it exhausting all your personal stores of energy, leaving too little for you to do things you actually care about? Is keeping the peace better in the long run or is it a temporary Band-Aid hiding a festering wound?

I leave you all with that cheery mental picture. :p