Posted in bloggers, Health and Well-Being, Medical

The Weight of the World

In most dystopian/apocalyptic movies there’s always that one person willing to stay behind to detonate a bomb that will obliterate an asteroid into a million pieces, thus delaying the end of the world and ensuring we get to live to die another day.

And then there’s the other guy, the guy who will fight tooth and nail to make sure he has a spot on the last lifeboat so he doesn’t sink with the Titanic, the guy who runs the other way when it looks like shit is going to hit the fan, the one who gets going when the going gets rough.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this as we enter the third week of lockdown. The reality of what we’re experiencing has started to sink in and I would be lying if I said it hasn’t affected me psychologically. I’d feel like a fraud if I tell everyone to stay positive, because that is the complete opposite of what I’m feeling these days.

I’m a nurse and I work for the NHS. Full disclosure, I don’t have the skill set necessary to work on the frontlines in the ITU, but at the moment there are still other health battles being fought out there that are not related to Covid19, such as cancer patients who need surgery to survive, and they too deserve equal care and attention.

That is what our team are focusing on at the moment: ensuring that everyone who needs an operation can still get one done, while on the background the situation with coronavirus gets worse and worse, hard to ignore, and putting added pressure on an already stressful environment.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have never been one to stay on the sidelines. Its not overstating it to say that I have natural leadership abilities. It stems from the desire to be useful, from the need to make a difference.

But I also have extreme control issues. I often find it difficult to see the big picture because I get fixated on the smallest details. I need facts, and I need clear instructions. I like rules, and I like guidelines, because I think the world would be a much better place if we were all singing from the same hymn sheet.

So its not surprising, with all the uncertainty and fluidity going on, that my nerves have been feeling a little frayed. No one can really say what the best course of action is, so things change from one breath to the next and its driving me bonkers. I felt myself to be on the verge of some sort of breakdown last week, and I didn’t know how to deal with it.

In my line of work I am used to being the person in charge, the person people run to when they want someone to make a decision. And normally I would be fine with that, but there is nothing normal about this. I don’t feel equipped to make those decisions. Both as a healthcare professional and as a leader I have never felt more out of my depth than I’ve felt these past couple of weeks.

Every time I had to make a decision, I second guessed myself. It felt like no matter what you do you were doing something wrong. In the space of half an hour you’d have someone complimenting you for a job well done and another telling you that what you’re doing is a complete waste of time and resources.

It got to the point where I thought to myself, I can’t do this anymore. I would rather be the one doing the work than the one calling the shots. It made me realise that we don’t fully appreciate how much of a toll all of this takes on leaders, be it hospital management or government officials.

Its so easy to whinge and point out the flaws in the plan. Its harder when you’re the person people expect to come up with the plan in the first place.

I finally made the choice last week to take a few days off in order to have a little R and R. I spent four days in my living room couch, with a mound of pillows and a wool blanket, creating what my sister called my little “nest”, and having an Agents of Shield marathon. There was an element of denial to what I was doing, focusing on other people and their fictional problems, but I make no apologies for the methods I employ to cope with stress.

And I make no apologies for the box of stuffed crust pepperoni pizza I consumed to make myself feel better.

I guess my point in all of this is to say that sometimes, its okay to be the guy in the movie who’s just doing what he can to survive. Its okay to pass the buck to someone else when you feel like you’re not coping anymore, to say ‘I’m way in over my head here, I don’t know what to do, and I need help.”

Not that I’m urging anyone to be selfish, and I’m not telling anyone to stop doing all they can to make a difference. But what I AM saying is that you don’t need to be a hero, you don’t need to be the person with all the answers ALL THE TIME. No one expects that of you, and you shouldn’t expect it of yourself.

The healthiest thing I did last week was to remind myself that its not all down to me. I need to focus on the things that I have control over and let go of the things that I don’t.

Don’t put the weight of the world on your shoulders. Its bad for your mental health. Leave the heroics to the fictional superheroes of the world. The rest of us just live here, doing what we can, and that’s perfectly fine too.

Posted in family, friendship, Nursing

Overwhelming acts of kindness

I was going to write a post of all the things I can no longer do because of the coronavirus pandemic, until I realised how shallow, counterproductive and self-indulgent that would be.

I an far luckier than most: young enough that the risk to my personal health is low, a profession that will pay me even if I have to call in sick in the event that I show symptoms, having the means to get treatment, and a home with access to internet and Netflix.

Other people are barely getting by. People who earn daily wages or who have been forced to go on unpaid leave are now wondering how they are going to support their families through this. The elderly population, who are most at risk, face the likelihood that if they get this virus the mortality rate is about 9%. That might seem small on paper, but it converts to thousands of deaths, thousands of lives lost, and one of them could be your loved ones.

Sometimes I read the news and its enough to send me into a spiral of hopelessness and fear. I have trouble sleeping most nights because I keep thinking of my friends, mostly nurses, who are running out of PPE; and my family, scattered all round the world, some of them with limited access to proper health care.

But there are things that keep me going, daily reminders that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that if we all stay calm, sensible and united we will get through this. So rather than indulging in reminiscing about things I can no longer do, or things that I don’t have (or indulging in a nervous breakdown) I’ve decided to make a list of the overwhelming acts of kindness that have seen me through these past couple of weeks:

A chatgroup of fellow nurses and close friends, created initially to plan parties but have now become a place to whine, vent and generally keep each other sane.

A colleague, offering to print and laminate things for me when I seem overwhelmed with the things I need to do at work.

An unexpected ally, telling me I need to be supported because I’m so busy doing teaching, and offering to do my coordinating shifts for me so I can just focus on what I need to do.

My boss telling me to go home early so I can rest and take care of myself.

An unexpected text from a rep I work with closely telling me to stay safe on the frontlines.

An offer from another rep, asking me to let him know if things get too busy so he can deliver food for the staff to eat.

The nightly salutes and tributes to health care workers in France, Spain, Belgium and other parts of Europe.

Daily texts and messages from family and friends telling me and my sister to keep safe.

Pret, Carluccio, Leon and other restaurants offering free drinks and/or 50% discount on all items for NHS staff.

A reply from someone who means so much to me, someone I’ve unintentionally let down and been out of touch with for almost a year, a reconnection that has made my world spin on the right axis again.

And finally, a close friend sending a care package to my parents, who live in a remote area in the Philippines where access to health care and medicine are limited. Thanks to her and her partner, my parents – who own a grocery store and who are staying open so people can still buy essentials like rice and canned goods – will have a supply of masks, Vitamin C, paracetamol and a thermometer. The sheer generosity of it makes me want to cry.

Sometimes you think you’ve never achieved anything great or meaningful in your life, that you’ve made the wrong choices, and have made far too many mistakes. But I don’t know. Somewhere, somehow, I must have done something right, to have people around me that I can count on when the going gets rough.

My only aim today, as I go through yet another day in the hospital, is to pass on the kindness I’ve received. Let’s make love and generosity a pandemic, and may it continue to be so long after the impact of Coronavirus has been forgotten.

Posted in Health and Well-Being, Medical

Education is Key

Its the weekend and I’ve never been so glad to see the end of a work week. Everyone’s a bit tense, and I think we’re all bracing ourselves because it feels a little bit like the calm before the storm. We’re all waiting for the other shoe to drop, and anyone who says they’re not even a little bit terrified is either obtuse or lying.

I think everyone’s a bit frazzled in a controlled, productive sort of way. It’s the kind of mild anxiety that leads to contingency plans being sorted and people being mobilised. My personal belief in all of this is that we need to educate as many people as we can on precautions, and what type of personal protective equipment (PPE) to use.

Essentially, coronavirus is spread through droplet transmission, meaning you can get it directly if you’re within 6 feet of anyone who coughs or sneezes. You can also get it indirectly if you touch surfaces that have been contaminated by those droplets. It enters via our mucous membranes, so that’s eyes, nose and mouth. For health care workers, the risk is when we do aerosol-generating procedures like intubation or suctioning because then the virus becomes airborne and can then travel greater distances.

Masks are useful, but really standard precaution and good hand-washing are the gold standard. This is an enveloped virus that is susceptible to alcohol-based products, so hand sanitisers and Clinell wipes are effective against it. Soap and water will do just fine but it takes a bit longer to get rid of the virus that way. The FFP3 mask will give protection when the virus becomes airborne and should be worn by those that need it the most, especially when resources become scant. The virus can stay on surfaces for a few days unless you clean it. A lot of this information is available on Public Health England, and the guidelines are continuously updated.

Personally, I am exhausted from talking and training all day. I feel a bit drained from doing information boards and making grab bags that staff can take in case they need to respond rapidly in an emergency. But I feel like I need to do my part in all of this. I will not have the necessary skills for when patients become acutely unwell, but education and preparation I can do.

I’ve never felt the weight of being a health care professional more than I did the past couple of weeks. Someone texted me today to say he thought we’re all heroes, and I got a bit teary-eyed because most of the time I feel like we’re not doing enough, but actually just willing to be on the frontlines is probably more than enough. One of my colleagues said she thought I looked tired and was getting pulled into too many directions at once, and she thought we should have a meeting to plan how to support me in the next couple of weeks. Another was working side by side with me sorting out packs, laminating and putting up signs and doing what it takes to get the job done.

I’m not pretending everything’s all rosy in the NHS, but I don’t feel alone either. There’s people willing to help, and everyone’s genuinely trying their best. I think people are looking out for each other, and I know everyone will pull together so its all hands on deck if it gets crazy.

So yeah, I guess we are heroes. Heroes that also need to take care of themselves so we can do our jobs in the coming weeks. So I’m heading off to sleep now, tired, but feeling light-hearted and optimistic about our chances of getting though this.

Posted in family, Health and Well-Being, Medical

Home is where the heart is

As the Philippines goes on lockdown I find my thoughts straying to where it usually goes these days as news about the spread of coronavirus pile up daily: my family.

I’ve adjusted reasonably well to being an overseas worker, living far from home and being away from my parents and most of the people I love. But its times like these when the reality of being an OFW hits you the most, when you are helpless to do anything except give your parents advice through Facebook and hope to God they’re keeping themselves safe.

There is nothing more I want to do right now than take my dad’s vital signs and check if mum is taking her daily dose of Vitamin C. I want to make sure they have supplies of paracetamol and face masks. I’m torn between telling them to stay in the remote area where we live, where the risk for contracting the virus is lower but where medical care is laughably rubbish, or telling them to go to the city where I have more confidence in the health care system but also where the number of tourists (and the sheer number of people) makes me really twitchy.

Mum goes to church every day, it is an essential part of who she is. I want to advise her not to do that anymore until this passes, but at the same time I can’t help but feel like, at this point, prayers along with sensible hand washing will get us through the day. I found myself this week going to church every day after work. The other day there was an elderly couple there praying the rosary, the only other people apart from myself in that cavernous house of worship. I stayed a bit to join them. The whole time I can hear mum’s voice in my head telling me I’m doing the right thing.

This is a really rambling post, I know. It’s mostly borne out of worry, and this really strong urge I got this morning to jump on a plane and just be with family. I used to revel in my independence, and I loved the thought of being in the big city and making it on my own. But when push comes to shove, and the world goes to hell in a hand basket, home really is the only place where I want to be. And at the moment that is not a geographic location, its a facebook messenger group where all the members of my family gather to share bits and pieces of our separate lives.

At the moment that will have to be enough…

Posted in Health and Well-Being, london, Medical

Err on the side of caution…

I’ve been glued to Twitter and the news for any updates on the so-called ‘delay’ measures that the British government is supposedly announcing today. So far all I’ve got is a bunch of tweets criticising the Tory government (elected by the majority of the people. Just saying) and soundbites from our fearless leader that, if true, makes me really scared about how this country is going to cope when things take a turn for the worse.

Meanwhile in the Philippines, our President has shut down travel by land, air or sea to and from the capital, an unpopular decision but one that will hopefully help contain the virus. President Trump has issued a lockdown on all travel to and from Europe, except the UK. Other countries will no doubt follow suit. One can’t help but think, well what about us? Apart from the heightened paranoia there hasn’t been a drastic change in the daily lives of the British public; at least, not in London.

I made the decision today to cancel my planned trip to Greece. I’m pretty sure I’d be fine travelling, and I’d probably be able to get back into the country without being placed on quarantine. But I just feel like things are changing so much at the moment and everything is so up in the air that now really isn’t the time to be visiting instagram-worthy tourist sites. Besides, as much as visions of being stranded in Athens and eating gyros and pitas for a couple of weeks might be appealing to some, if the worst happens I’d much rather be in a familiar environment, close to my beloved NHS.

I guess the point of all of this is that I would much rather err on the side of caution rather than take unnecessary risks. I love travelling as much as the next person, and it pains me to think about all the disruptions this might potentially cause to planned family trips and get-togethers. But I’d much rather be alive to travel without worrying about the threat of severe illness next year when this would have all boiled over (fingers crossed).

I’ve also decided not to put too much stock on what they say in the news. I mean I’d keep myself updated about travel bans and government measures and whatnot, but for every expert that says we’re all doomed there’s another one that says we’re all going to be fine. I think the thing to do is focus on the things that we can control, like personal hygiene and cleaning of surfaces and taking our daily vitamins. We can try to be reasonable and sensible about social distancing, and we should definitely think about how our actions could affect others. Like I said in a previous post, a crisis is not an excuse to forget basic human decency.

I think this coronavirus outbreak has the potential to change the world forever, but I also think people have short memories. Whatever lesson we learn from this I doubt half the world’s population will remember it when the world starts to turn again and we’re all taking selfies before the Trevi fountain once more. Still, its hard to imagine what the outcome of all this will be and where we’ll stand in three months time. It keeps me up at night, wondering if the world will ever be normal again….

Posted in Health and Well-Being, Medical, Nursing

Is it really business as usual?

I sit here having just had several meetings and training sessions to prepare our staff for an outbreak of coronavirus, a day after Italy imposed a lockdown on the entire country, and I find myself feeling more confused than fearful.

On one hand the news coming out from health care professionals in Bergamo and other regions of Italy that were most affected by coronavirus paint a picture of something almost akin to a war zone. It’s scary to think that in 14 days that could be us.

But of course no one really thinks this will happen to us until it happens. The Prime Minister apparently advised the public to just ‘take it on the chin’, other newspapers still say not to panic, its just another strain of the flu; thousands of people die of the flu each year and no one’s ever made a fuss.

And on the opposite end of the spectrum there’s the doomsday proclaimers who are predicting the apocalypse every chance they get, causing mass hysteria and an ongoing panic buying of – of all things – pasta, paracetamol and bloody toilet paper. If you ask these people we might as well give up on any semblance of normal life right now and accept that we will all be stuck in our homes, quarantined, within the fortnight.

I personally think that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I’m glad that I work for an organisation that seems to be taking the risk very seriously and is doing all that could be done to protect patients and staff.

I had a moment where I imagined what life is going to be like if what happened in Italy does happen to the UK. What will it be like when the call to arms is sounded and its all hands on deck because we have more patients than medics?

Its scary to think about the kind of responsibility I will potentially have by virtue of my profession, and that I don’t have the luxury of refusing to come to duty because I want to look out for myself. I will have to take a backseat to my patients, my needs will be secondary to theirs. To be honest with you I’m not sure I have that kind of selflessness in me, I’m not sure whether I won’t have a moment of selfishness where I question why I have to do these things.

But then I think about soldiers going to war for their country, and where we would be if they refused to fight because they’re scared and they want to look out for themselves. They don’t have the luxury to run, and I’m sure they have selfish moments too, but they somehow find the mental fortitude and courage to be on the frontlines of a war, fighting for freedom and fighting for people they love as well as virtual strangers who might not even remember their names when they die.

I know its a morbid thought, but I guess my main point is only that I hope I find that same fortitude and compassion to do my duty anyway, whether I’m willing or not. I don’t think its wrong to reflect on a very real, very human instinct to run away from it all and survive. But I’m hoping that the instinct to care and to help will prevail.

These are not the kind of thoughts I would normally have on a daily basis. There would normally be more people on the Underground, its unusual to find people who are not Asian tourists walking around Oxford Street with masks on. The overarching feeling seems to be that of paranoia. People are actually being stopped on the street. If you look even remotely Asian, random people will suddenly shout ‘Wuhan!’ and be rude to you, as if you’ve single-handedly brought this virus into the country.

Its day one after Italy made the unprecedented decision to lockdown the country, and even in skeptical UK its not business as usual. I suspect it will get worse before it gets better. I’m probably going to write about unfolding events from my personal perspective in the days to come. In the meantime, keep calm, take reasonable precautions, wash your hands and keep safe everyone!

Posted in Uncategorized

There is a light that never goes out

Last night I was on the grips of one of the worst anxiety attacks I’ve ever experienced in my life. You see, I have these irrational fears that visit me from time to time, usually at night. It varies slightly depending on the trigger, but the end result is the same: I lie on my bed, scared, heart pounding, convinced that I’m about to die from a heart attack.

It’s very difficult for me to admit this to anyone. Such is the stigma of mental health issues that I find myself brushing this under the rug and treating it like a joke when its probably (actually) a legitimate problem. At the moment, its not debilitating enough to affect my activities of daily living. I can still talk myself down from the ledge that my fears bring me to. Usually I just need someone to tell me how ridiculous I’m being.

But I am well aware that there is a line I might cross and never be able to get back from if I don’t start dealing with my issues.

For whatever reason, the fear of death has haunted me for most of my adult life. It is one of the driving forces of everything that I do, whether I’m conscious of it or not. I guess the fear fits in with my personality. I don’t like uncertainties, I loathe the idea of something being unknown to me, and I absolutely detest not being fully in control. There is nothing more uncertain, more unknown or more out of our control than death.

I have issues. I’m ashamed to say that I’m very ashamed to admit that out loud, to admit that – as well-adjusted as I am most of the time – there is a part of my brain that doesn’t work as it should, that triggers that helpless, hopeless feeling that life as I know it is about to end. I’m still trying to come to grips with the reality of living with this, and how I might get help.

When it comes to mental health, the journey is individual. Different things work for different people. Even with medications: no two patients will react in the exact same way to a drug. We all have to do and stick with what works for us. So what works for me? I’m still trying to figure that out.

Running has helped me immensely. I cannot stress enough how thankful I am that I built up this habit of running in the morning before work. Sometimes I think its the one thing that’s keeping me sane.

Talking to people about it, being able to open up about my anxieties, and not being judged for it – this helps too. I found out during my panic attack that there are people who will literally drop everything to come keep me company just because I said I was feeling scared. You find out very quickly who your true friends are when you reveal some of the worst parts of yourself.

Lastly, today I voluntarily went to church for the first time in a long long while. It was to keep a promise I made last night, when I was gripping the rosary so tight praying to God that I make it through the night. As we grow older it becomes harder and harder to believe some of the beliefs that seemed so infallible and irrefutable when we were younger: like answered prayers, heaven and life ever after. Being part of the medical community, and being friends with people who don’t share my faith and where I’m constantly being asked to explain the LOGIC of the Catholic religion probably did not help, although I wish to apportion the majority of the blame for my lost faith where it rightly belongs: with me.

There is no logic to faith, that’s why we refer to it as a leap of faith, rather than a series of scientific steps. If faith can be explained, it would be called another name. There is no reasonable explanation as to why praying ten Hail Mary’s while gripping scented beads bring me immeasurable comfort when I’m scared. All I know is that it does.

So today I went to church and just prayed and talked to God the way I would talk to myself. I asked for guidance, and I asked for strength. Mostly I asked Him to help me find my faith again, to help me believe that there is a life waiting for me on the other side of this where I could be with my family and loved ones forever. I know there’s no proof that heaven exists. But there is also no proof that it doesn’t.

I got up after praying and noticed a light in the corner of the church for people to draw from if they want to light candles. Its a flame that is being kept alive so that people who need just a little bit more hope than usual can see it and know that there is a light that never goes out, and that light is called faith.

I keep you all in my prayers, and I hope you keep me in yours.

Posted in Current Events, Health and Well-Being

A Brief Pause to Examine the State of the World

I’ve often been accused of being ignorant about what’s going on with the rest of the world. I’m not ashamed to admit that I don’t keep up with the news and current events as much as someone my age probably should. In my defense, its not because I don’t care, its because it genuinely depresses me to read about the endless wars and political squabbles. It seems like every time you turn a page or switch on the telly, a city is being bombed, a horrendous leader is being elected, something like Brexit is becoming a reality…there’s nothing in the news that I want to read and internalise.

2020 has changed all that though.

2020 has forced me to really sit up and take notice of what’s going on around me. It’s only March and it feels like this year has lasted a decade. First there were fires in Australia, and then the increasing conflict between the US and Iran that made me seriously consider learning German so that if a war breaks out I can move to Switzerland and be able to work there. And now we have this coronavirus that’s causing a mass outbreak of paranoia, fear and even hysteria. Its hard to believe we’re still in the first quarter of the year because so much has already happened.

As a health care professional I’m on the fence about how much precaution to take with this COVID-19 thing. I agree that all non-essential travels to affected countries should be avoided, and I’m quite glad that people are now more aware of the importance of handwashing: its the first line of defense against infection, people. Its one of the first things we learn in nursing school.

On the other hand, some of the things that people get up to are just borderline silly. Pharmacies and drugstores are running short on masks and hand sanitiser, fair enough, but people stocking up on so much toilet paper that some supermarkets now have a shortage? Get a grip. Even more alarming, some people are actually stealing masks and sanitisers from NHS hospitals. How bloody counterproductive. If this thing becomes the epidemic/pandemic that the WHO is projecting it to be, the NHS will be the go-to place for very sick patients, might be best to leave their resources alone.

On a more personal note, its disheartening to see the amount of racism that’s come out because of the coronavirus outbreak. I sneezed in Chinatown a couple of weeks ago and was given a dirty look. Last night I was actually stopped because I coughed in public. I was attempting to clear my airway because I choked on my own spit, it was NOT a productive cough. But because I have very Asian features this person thought she had the right to physically stop me on the street to tell me to cover my mouth. I have now developed an irrational fear of clearing my throat or coughing in public. I am not entirely sure I’d be safe if I exhibit anything that even remotely resembles respiratory symptoms.

I understand the fear, I really do. I wouldn’t wish to underplay how serious this is. The combination of how infectious the virus is and how quickly its transmitted from person to person is a genuine cause for concern. But I don’t think an epidemic excuses racism, or theft. Life is already being disrupted by this. Travel is affected. Gatherings have been cancelled. I can’t even shake hands during the peace offering when I attend mass. I don’t think we should compound this by forgetting basic human decency.

The key thing to remember with this is awareness and containment. There are a lot of things about this that we can’t control, but we are all still the master of our own actions. If you’ve been in contact with anyone suspected of having this virus or have recently travelled to a high-risk area, take the 14-day quarantine. Its annoying, but think of the greater good. I promise to give you a list of Netflix shows that will make the confinement a bit more bearable. If you’ve travelled anywhere recently and are showing symptoms, I think its only sensible to self-quarantine also.

Apart from that, handwashing, handwashing, and handwashing is really at the heart of preventing transmission. And also keeping a healthy distance away from your fellowman. This is a good excuse for me to carry on with my self-imposed dating hiatus. At this rate anyone who sees me will probably run screaming if I so much as sniffle anyway. There’s no point attempting to go on a date (this is my excuse and I’m sticking to it). Personally I would avoid the tube at rush hour or walk if I can. This might be a good time to pick up the habit of running to and from work.

There is no need to panic, and we’re not helping ourselves by inciting fear in others or downplaying how serious this is (I’m looking at you, Donald Trump). Conspiracy theories, as fun as they are to pick apart, don’t help anyone. Let us all try to live our lives as normally as we can and try not to be active agents of infection. I don’t know about you, but I’m still optimistic that, just like any other viral disease, this will run its course very soon and we can get on with the business of living.

Hope springs eternal.

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.