Posted in Careers, Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle, Writing

What Makes You Happy

I’ve been writing for as long as I could remember. Growing up, I used to fill up pages and pages of random notebooks and diaries (some of them with actual locks and keys) with entries about my extraordinarily ordinary life: bad-hair days, arguments with adults who will never understand me and whose purpose in life seemed to be ruining mine, the dramas of female friendships at an age when friends can be particularly cruel, and of course, boys, boys, and more boys.

From the time I discovered that boys were fascinating creatures who did not, in fact, have cooties, I’ve been writing about them. Nick Carter, my first crush, with his glorious blond hair, and a singing voice that seemed perpetually stuck in that moment between adolescence and manhood.

The popular guy in class whom every girl had a crush on, and every one of them was jealous of little old me because I was privileged enough to be close friends with him, the first of my many forays into the friend zone.

There was the bad boy that my father disapproved of, the boyfriend of a close friend that I had a serious crush on, the nemesis who was the Arnold to my Helga all throughout high school (I even have the cheesy poems to show for it), the summer love who I still think of as the one who got away.

And of course, there’s the big one. My One Great Love. The one boy/man/whatever who will forever be my muse, because writing about my feelings for him, unrequited as they are, will give me reams of material with which to write blogs, sonnets, and books about until the end of time. Everything that he is (or was) to me, every single tear and heartbreak, the exquisite pleasure/pain of having come so close but never getting close enough…there’s so much to unpack that if I put it all in one volume it will reach War and Peace proportions.

This blog entry is not, in fact, about the many guys I have given pieces of my heart to. Actually, this is probably the most aimless blog entry I will ever make, because I woke up today full of random thoughts about life in general and growing up and being an adult in particular.

I started thinking about how we live so much of our lives as if we were running a race and we’re smack dab in the middle of the pack: always looking back at who and what we’ve left behind and forever running after the ones that have sprinted before us, hoping to either keep pace with them, or race past them on the way to some arbitrary finish line.

Its exhausting.

I’ve had several conversations these past couple of weeks about mental health and how important it is for a person to feel self-actualised – or at least to feel like a complete human being with their own goals, dreams, and aspirations. It was easier when we were younger to dream impossible things. it wasn’t ludicrous at all to dream about being presidents, or astronauts, or in my case, an Olympic figure skater. Somehow when we grow up we subsume all of that into the daily task of surviving.

It became more important to find a job that pays the rent than it is to find something that really gives you fulfilment.

I got the closest thing to the job of my dreams this year when I became education lead for a building that focuses on orthopaedics, a speciality that I love so much. I put everything I had into getting the project off the ground and I don’t know at what point I started to feel lost, or when I started to feel like I didn’t know myself anymore, like I exist only as another cog in the huge machinery that is the NHS and I have no life outside the operating theatre.

All I know is that I blinked and suddenly two whole months have gone by and I haven’t done a single thing that wasn’t related to health care, nor have I written a single thing that wasn’t an email to our procurement team, with an itemised lists of things that I felt they should be doing better. It was so depressing.

I looked at social media and only felt worse. Other people my age were out there achieving things, travelling even in the midst of a pandemic, getting married, having babies, buying houses…and I felt like I had nothing. No matter how many times I told myself that comparing my life to the heavily curated lies lives shown through the imperfect lens of social media is counterproductive, I couldn’t help scrolling through it anyway, and I’m not (nor will I ever be) strong enough to deactivate all of my accounts.

When I finally made time to have a moment to myself to just write, it was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I felt like me again. I didn’t even write anything all that important, it was probably another book review that got like 15 views and was filled with rants about the government’s handling of covid. Either that or it was about boys (lol).

But it didn’t really matter what I wrote about. I realised that the whole point was just to write. Period.

When I started this blog, I had a whole vision of what it could be and I was disappointed to realise years later that I would never be able to commit to doing it full-time, and I just didn’t have it in me to be a blogger, with all the pressure to produce marketable content every so often. So I channeled my energies into writing a book, only to be in despair at the start of this year because I felt like I would never have enough time or energy to write all the stories that live inside my head that I actually want to tell people.

I said to myself, face it Anj, you will die having never been a writer.

But then I thought about what writing means to me. it’s a way to reach people and share little bits of myself in the hopes of being seen and understood. It’s a way to make people laugh, cry, or maybe even just think. It’s a way of challenging the way other people see the world when I express opinions they might not necessarily agree with. But mostly it’s just a way of giving the gift of words to people I love.

Last week, I had a very difficult conversation with a friend who means so much to me, and I didn’t feel like what I said was adequate enough to give her comfort, or to convey that I might never be able to fully understand what she was going through but I was here for her nonetheless. So I wrote her a poem – free verse, nothing special. I don’t even think I followed the correct structure for free verse, but whatever. I just wanted her to have something of her own and hopefully let her know that she’s not alone.

When she read it and loved it, I realised that all this time I’ve been bemoaning my inability to become a writer but by my own definition of what writing is to me, wasn’t I already one? Sure, I haven’t published an international bestseller, but in my own little way, haven’t I been reaching people through the medium of words for as long as I’ve known that the letters of the alphabet were more than just random ABCs?

The long and short of it is that putting words to paper makes me happy. It doesn’t have to be a big production. I could just be writing about boys, haha, a running theme in my life until I finally find that all elusive someone. Although I’d like to think I’ve matured enough to be able to write about other things as well.

I don’t need my writing be validated by likes or follows on social media. I already spend so much of my time being different things to different people but when I write, I write just for me. And no matter how busy life gets, no matter how stressed I am, no matter how much life or other people around me might stretch me to the point of breaking, as long as I can still write, I know I’ll be okay.

I think it’s essential that we all find that one thing that still gives us a spark of joy even as the daily grind tries to dim our sparkle. There has to be something more to life than just existing. We need to be able to wake up each morning knowing we have a purpose, knowing that life has meaning and that life still has joy. Because otherwise, what’s the point really?

If you find that one thing you do just for you that makes you happy, hold on to it, find time for it, and (to borrow from Nike) just do it. Who knows? It might even be possible to make the impossible dreams you dreamt when you were younger come true. It could still happen. And with that, let me find out how much ice skating lessons in London cost. The Winter Olympics is coming soon. LOL.

Posted in Careers, Current Events, Politics

A Promised Land and Why We Choose to Lead

Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

The release of Barack Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land, coincided with some of the most tumultuous months of my professional life, when I was grappling with my own aspirations, fears, and stresses as a leader. I bought it because I thought, who better to take lessons on how to lead than from a man who had to battle against history and more than a hundred years’ worth of ingrained prejudice to become the leader of the free world?

And for all its heft (the damn book is thick enough that you can kill a small rat with it), and for all that the man behind it is probably one of the most influential people to ever walk this earth, there is so much about A Promised Land that is relatable. It was a comfort to me when I was barely keeping it together after a particularly gruelling shift, or when I was incoherent with rage over some slight that I had (probably) blown out of proportion, to know that President Obama pretty much went through the same thing in his eight years as Commander-in-chief.

Okay, so he might have been a bit more poised and dignified during a crisis, and I’m sure there were far less trips to Chinatown for stress eating, and not as much boohooing over the fact that someone said mean and untrue things about him behind his back (although in his case, they probably said mean things about him TO HIS FACE).

But yeah, the man had good days and bad days. Just like me.

Some weeks it feels like the bad days outnumber the good, to be honest. There are times when I ask myself why anyone in their right mind would ever want to be a leader. What is the point? Its a thankless job where your mistakes are magnified and your successes largely go unnoticed. On any given day, I would have at least twenty conversations with twenty different people, all revolving around three central themes: some people are keen to point out the things I’m doing wrong, others will point out the things that I could be doing better, and then there are those who will simply complain that I’m not doing enough.

Some days are filled with difficult yet professional conversations with people whose principles are so fundamentally opposite to mine its a wonder I don’t lose my shit within 5 minutes of talking to them. On days when I really can’t be bothered to be professional, I walk away while I still can, hide in the relative privacy of an empty operating theatre, and release all my pent-up aggression by throwing around sets that weigh at least 6 kilos each and making lots and lots of banging noises.

I can’t switch off. I find myself thinking about staffing while I’m going for a run along the river, I think of competency booklets when I’m eating sushi, and where sweet dreams of Prince Charming should be, there’s the ever-present nightmare of missing consignments and empty shelves in the storeroom. The never-ending stream of problems play a constant refrain in my head, a more persistent earworm than my favourite Taylor Swift song.

Most days it feels like you’re just plugging a hole on a sinking ship, knowing with full certainty that your brilliant ideas and good intentions could still pave the way to a watery hell.

Okay, wow, that was a cheery thought.

I tried writing this blog with my usual optimism, I really did. But each and every time, I encountered the worst sort of writer’s block BECAUSE to write something positive when I’m feeling quite the opposite feels false and inauthentic. I feel like it is almost my duty to take a realistic view of what being a leader means now that I’ve had more years of experience being one. It’s not easy. It exacts a heavy toll on you. And sometimes you’ll want to give up. Just throw in the towel and leave the problems for someone else to solve.

What I can tell you with all honesty is that, if you were really born to lead, you won’t be able to help yourself. You care too much about your work and the people you work with to stay on the sidelines when an opportunity to change something for the better presents itself. You feel so strongly about the people who look to you for leadership that you wouldn’t want to let them down, and you will do all in your power to fight the battles that they can’t fight, because unlike them you are actually in the position to do so.

Finally, in the midst of the string of bad days, you will find that one perfect day when everything goes right, when you are reminded of why you wanted this so badly in the first place, when you see the fruits of your labours and realise you are actually making a difference. And isn’t that really why we beat on against the current when its so much easier to just swim with the tides?

So we lead, because we want to leave our mark in this world. We lead because the optimist in us believes in the way things could be instead of wallowing in the way things are. We lead because, as President Obama says, we have the audacity to hope that when we leave, the world would have been a much better place for having us in it.

A Promised Land is an inspiring memoir from a man that I really can’t help but admire, and totally worth the month it took for me to finish it.

4 stars!

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 bloggers, Careers, Lifestyle

Learning to be more comfortable with criticism

Everyone’s a critic.

One of my greatest fears has always been that of being tried and convicted in the court of public opinion without being given an opportunity to defend myself. I have had unpleasant experiences of this nature before and it was so traumatic that its instilled a deep-seated fear in me of people talking about me behind my back, twisting my words and misinterpreting my actions to use them against me.

I don’t think you’ll ever find anyone who could honestly say they were comfortable with being criticised, especially when the basis for it is founded on false or incomplete information, in which case it becomes a judgment. There are people who are better able to cope with judgment than others, but anyone who claims that they don’t get just the teensy bit upset when they hear other people saying untrue and unfair things about themselves or their work is a liar.

I feel like this is a blog entry that I’ve done before. I feel like I’m singing a remixed version of the same chorus and I seem to be singing it over and over again. For someone so afraid of criticism and judgement you’d think I’d learn by now to keep more of a low profile. After all, the less you do something, or the less you’re seen to do something, the less material people have to talk about you.

Well, sorry, I’m just not a low profile kind of girl.

I’m the kind of girl who wears my heart on my sleeve. I am an open book. I am so transparent I make Casper look corporeal in comparison. I am passionate about the things that I love and I won’t hesitate to talk about them in front of anyone who will listen. This makes me a target for the cynics and the naysayers who have nothing better to do than to bring people down because they think they can do so much better. Spoiler alert: they probably can’t.

I am not going to rehash things that I’ve probably already written about in a previous blog about how hurtful it is to be the object of petty gossip. I will instead focus on affirming my beliefs and setting my intentions for how I am going to cope with criticism, unfair or otherwise, because the nature of what I do guarantees that I will experience this from time to time. So here’s what I know.

  1. Take anything you hear from other people with a pinch of salt. Being somewhat of a gossip myself, I know that the teller will always put his or her own spin on the tale. The version that reaches your ears is vastly different from the original message and some things get lost and added in the retelling.
  2. Amidst the negativity, find something helpful that you can work on. Consider it an extreme form of feedback. After all, everyone’s feelings and opinions are valid and worth listening to. Who knows, office gossip and catty comments might even be a catalyst for positive change. Although, at present, I am not in the mood to be quite as magnanimous as to thank the haters for their hurtful comments. Can I please be allowed to be petty for five more minutes? Thank you.
  3. Resist the temptation to do damage control. Its so so tempting to explain yourself, to justify your actions, to clear your name. I’ve had enough life experiences to know that this will not make the situation any better. All you’ll be doing is adding fuel to the fire. Besides, if they don’t already appreciate your hard work and effort, chances are they never will, so efforts to change their mind is an exercise in futility.
  4. Filter what you let in to your life, choose whose opinions you opt to listen to. Honestly, the thing to ask yourself is whether you should even give credence to the opinions you hear in the first place. Is it coming from people you respect? Is there any truth to the criticisms (if so, see number 2)? Do you really care? Will it matter six months down the line when we’re all running from our lives because there’s been an outbreak of war? Which leads me to point number five.
  5. Life is too short to be pissed off all the time. Honestly, the amount of energy needed to sustain a bad mood is infinitely higher than the energy it takes to just smile, and, in the words of one Taylor Swift, shake it off. And if you can’t shake it off just yet, do what I’m doing now, which is –
  6. Channel all that negative energy into something good. I happen to write better when I’m upset about something. Some of my best work is borne out of my darkest moods. Maybe because when I’m writing about them I open up and make myself vulnerable, and in doing so I’m at my most authentic. Upset? Post a blog, write a song, or better yet, sing your heart out and keep your neighbours up by screaming the bridge of Welcome to The Black Parade at the top of your lungs. I can almost guarantee you’ll feel better.

Let’s be honest here. I will probably spend the next twenty four hours dwelling on the situation and nursing my hurts, but I can promise you that I will have mostly gotten over it by tomorrow. And if you’re in a similar situation or if any of the tips above have resonated with you or if you have other strategies to share that might help others, please comment. I’d love to hear and learn from you.

Cheers.

Posted in Careers, Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle, Writing

How You Get Your Groove Back

Over the weekend my sister and I finally had the chance to watch the London production of Hamilton. I have to say that although its general knowledge by now that this show is a cultural phenomenon, its a different thing altogether to actually experience it yourself.

This isn’t a blog about how great the show it was though because I wouldn’t be telling you all anything you didn’t already know. It would be redundant for me to say that Lin Manuel Miranda is a genius, and as strange a concept as hip-hop musical theatre may be, he somehow made it work, and as a result he gave the Broadway and West End industry a badly-needed face lift and brought a new generation of theatre goers to the fold. We already know all that.

I suppose I wanted to talk about what watching Hamilton and listening to its music meant to me personally. For the past 6 months now I’ve slowly been resigning myself to the fact that this was it. This was all that’s going to become of my life. I would spend the rest of my days working for the NHS, doing a job that at best barely satisfies me, counting down the days until I collect my salary at the end of the month, breaking up the mind-numbing pattern by having sporadic dinners and catch-up sessions with friends every once in a while. Eat, Sleep, Rinse, Repeat.

It got to the point where I couldn’t even muster enough interest to pick up a book, I was sleeping longer, eating more – which is always indicative of my state of mind as I am a self-confessed stress eater. I could barely be bothered to put on make-up. I lost the will to even open a dating app. I spent most nights hunched over a 500-piece Disney Jigsaw Puzzle in a feeble attempt to find something that stimulates my brain. I start watching random shows on Netflix only to lose interest halfway through because I just could not be bothered.

Looking back I think I probably had the beginnings of – if not depression, something close to it. It’s like I lost some vital part of myself, the part that always enabled me to look forward to tomorrow, the part of me that believed that something exciting was always waiting to happen around the corner. I sometimes found myself in the middle of doing something and I would suddenly stop to think, what’s the point?

Anyway. That totally went to a darker place than I thought this blog would go. Funny what introspection can dig up, huh? I haven’t given myself the chance to reflect on the past year because I didn’t know if I would like what I saw when I did. But happily I’m the kind of person that doesn’t have it in within herself to be down in the dumps for so long. I’m genetically engineered to be bubbly and happy and for the most part that is my default setting. It was very eye-opening for me to realise that even the most seemingly well-adjusted and happiest of individuals could also go through mental health issues, mild as they may be.

You’ll all be happy to know that I reached a turning point last week leading to a series of activities culminating in the Hamilton show this weekend. First of all, I started reading again. I have always had an avaricious appetite for knowledge and stories. I went on a shopping spree on both Amazon Kindle and Waterstones, diversifying my bookshelves with an equal mix of fiction and non-fiction. Among my most recent purchases include two feminist books, Julie Andrews’ memoir, a book on the Lost Princes of the Tower and two of Yuval Harris’ books Sapiens and 21 lessons for the 21st Century. Plus the usual romance novels of course.

I’ve started a workout regimen that challenges me but also allows for, shall we say, my physical shortcomings. I think I’ve finally accepted the fact that I will never be an athlete, and that I will never be skinny, but I can still be active and healthy in my own way. My sister bought me a new pair of Nike’s over Christmas, which to be honest was probably the main catalyst for my renewed interest in training. Personally I think the right pair of shoes has enough power to change a person’s life. Quote me.

2019 was a struggle for me financially. I was still reaping the repercussions of having made questionable decisions in 2018. I probably should have limited my purchases to those that were strictly necessary, or perhaps travelled less, but I can’t really bring myself to regret the experiences I’ve had. So I worked a lot of extra shifts between September and December to make up for it. That probably contributed greatly to the feeling that my life was all about, and only about, work. I was spending too much time doing it, getting caught up in office politics and the drama of working in a slowly-dying NHS, plus working extra shifts that were both physically and mentally taxing.

I’m not sure how to express my feelings about this matter without sounding ungrateful. I’m lucky to have a job that on occasion still brings me something that might resemble joy, and my career trajectory is something that I’m really proud of. But. Part of me wishes I had the courage to give all that up to finally focus on something I’ve been wanting to do all my life: write a book.

I made several attempts to last year to write a story. Any story. I told myself that it doesn’t have to be good, the point is simply to finish. I bought books on everything from creative writing to grammar (and wished like hell that I paid more attention to subject-verb agreement in high school). I made a list of things that inspired me, tried to find a genre that suited me and filled notebook after notebook with ideas. I was determined to at least have a draft by the end of the year.

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

Every time I wrote something and reread it a week later it just felt shallow and superficial, and I didn’t think it measured up to a real writer’s work. I couldn’t find my voice, and I wasn’t sure what message I wanted to send to the world with my book. Basically, just finishing a story doesn’t and will never work for me. It didn’t inspire me. If I was going to tell a story, it needed to be a story worth telling, even if I’m the only person that thought so. I needed to be able to believe in my own creation.

In addition, “real life” got in the way. I work 37.5 hours a week, sometimes more. Each time I move up the career ladder I take on more responsibilities, which meant it was difficult to switch off from work even when I wasn’t at work. It was difficult to change gears, to put myself in the mindset of being a writer when part of my brain is still dwelling on whether we had enough bed capacity to operate on all our patients tomorrow.

So I lost the will to write. I gave up on that dream and told myself it’s never going to happen. I need to be content with what I have, be grateful to have stability and to be alive. But I was wrong.

This is the first time I’ve used my laptop for writing in a long while, and the first time I’ve had any interest in sharing my thoughts and feelings in a blog. It’s very therapeutic and it’s made me feel more like myself. I love being a nurse educator, I really do, but I think I realise I need both it and writing in my life. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t use my words to communicate, just like Alexander Hamilton.

Just two days ago I bought a notebook and a pen, sat down in a cafe and wrote a story that really meant something to me because it was my story, with a little bit of embellishment. I don’t know if I’m ever going to finish it, I really hope I do. I think I’ve found a way to tell the story I want to tell from a unique perspective, everything I need to complete it is within me, I just have to find the strength and the perseverance to keep at it even when it starts to feel like a pipe dream.

I think that’s why Hamilton resonated so much with me, and it will probably continue to do so in the months to come. Its a story about a revolution that founded a nation, sure, but at the core of it, it’s a story about having a dream AND having the drive to make that dream a reality. Its not enough to make castles in the clouds, if you want to achieve something you have to work for it, be willing to fight for it even if the odds are stacked against you.

I can only hope that if I ever put something out there, it can be as inspiring and life-changing for one person as Hamilton has been for so many others. Kudos, Lin Manuel Miranda.

Posted in Careers, relationships, Self-Discovery

Growing A Thicker Skin

On the heels of the latest Taylor Swift news, I thought I’d take the time to reflect on my own penchant for perhaps playing the victim and not taking responsibility for my own actions

(Disclaimer: I fully support Taylor in her quest to buy the rights to her music but even a huge fan such as myself can’t help but look askance at the number of feuds she’s had in a relatively short period of time. Love her though!).

I’ve never been a quitter and I can actually tolerate more bullshit than the average person. But I’ve had moments these past few months where I felt like throwing in the towel altogether and saying, that’s it, I’m done. I can’t take this anymore.

You know how they say you can never really run away from your problems? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard a version of that advice from people I respect, and it took a while for it to sink in but thankfully, sink in it did.

One of my mentors told me something that I found both profound and sad. He told me that wherever you go in life you will always encounter bullies; the kind that will do anything to hold on to power, who will want to bring you down in order to lift themselves up, who are self-serving, deceitful and just downright malicious.

He told me I had to choose my battles. I found this to be a bit passive-aggressive, probably because I grew up with the notion that I always have to win, I always have to be right. But actually winning and being right are both a relative state and a matter of perception.

Needless to say, its a truth universally acknowledged by all that just because you think you’re right doesn’t mean the other person necessarily agrees with you.

He then told me, in a succinct way that brooked no argument, that I just have to grow a thicker skin, especially if I want to go far in life. You can’t go crying home every time someone was a bit mean to you, or if you don’t get your way. You either decide its worth it and do something about it or you shake it off.

I have a really hard time shaking things off. I’m a dweller, you just have to accept this about me.

But what I have learned this week is that I’m at that age where I just have to put on my big-girl underpants and stand my ground if what I’m fighting for really means that much to me. The ensuing conversation may be singularly unpleasant, but I’ll be able to sleep better at night knowing I’ve finally said my piece.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that you create your own narrative, and you paint the picture of how other people will see you. And I for one would rather be remembered as the one who stayed and fought and gave it a shot rather than someone who got going when the going got tough.

Posted in bloggers, Careers, Self-Discovery

The Illusion of Power

I’ve heard it said that power rests best in the hands of people who never sought to gain it in the first place.

When you move up to a position where you have authority over people, its easy to forget that with that authority and power comes the responsibility to always look out for the well-being of those under your care.

Its very easy to succumb to the mentality that people are there to follow your every order, to bow to your whims, and to be subordinate in every way short of fetching you tea and biscuits.

When you feed this mentality, it gives you a false sense of pride – and we all know this cometh before the fall.

Part of that is because pride gets in the way of you being able to listen to people around you. Pride also makes it difficult for you to accept feedback, and to accept the fact that you don’t know everything and you’re not always right.

The knee-jerk reaction to being questioned is to become defensive. But actually, having your decisions questioned should not feel like an attack. I’ve actually come to look at it as like a safety net, because I know someone is there to check my actions and to make sure I don’t make the mistake of implementing things that could go horribly wrong.

I guess its hard finding that balance between asserting your authority to make sure people know to respect you, and not overly elevating yourself above the people whose respect you seek.

Respect comes from people knowing you’re there for them, that you’ll be fair and compromise when the situation calls for it but that you also have the balls to make the tough decisions when the going gets rough.

I think having the respect of your team is where your true source of power lies, and its something so precious and something that takes ages to cultivate that you never want to do anything to jeopardise that.

I suppose I just need to remind myself that being in power doesn’t give anyone license to be an autocratic bitch. The idea that authority gives you power which then means you can do whatever you want is an illusion that you should nip in the bud lest it comes back to haunt you.

A little humility goes a long way.

Stay grounded. Stay humble.

Posted in bloggers, Careers, Lifestyle, london

A Moment To Reflect

This week, the sun’s finally shining over London after what felt like an endless winter. I went for a run around my favourite route near the river Thames, with no goal in mind except to enjoy the beautiful spring day. Although physically I’m not as fit as I used to be, and though I was huffing and puffing after one kilometre, it felt like the first easy breath I’ve taken in ages.

There’s plenty of reasons to be happy and content. This week I finally got my British citizenship approved, after six years of hard work, struggle, achievements and so much joy that I hardly know how to put it all into words. It felt like the culmination of a lifetime of dreams, and despite Brexit and the looming uncertainty surrounding the country’s future, I still find myself incredibly grateful to have made it this far.

That’s not to say its all been sunshine and roses these past couple of weeks. Parts of it were downright maddening, in fact. It’s funny how some things are magnified in your mind if you continue to dwell on them over and over, until a seemingly manageable molehill now feels like an immoveable mountain.

I am a champion dweller.

I really should rid myself of this habit of being unable to let go of things. I tend to obsess about certain issues or concerns to the point where it is the. only. thing. I. see. I get a kind of tunnel vision where I’m unable to move on until I’ve picked the problem apart in a hundred different ways trying to come up with a solution.

I need to learn to accept that there are problems that can only be solved by acceptance and compromise.

I need to learn that not everyone will see things the way I do, and that the choices we make are a product of past experiences and influences. There is no point in judging others according to the standards that you set for yourself. You will only drive yourself mad.

I think the only thing that will keep you sane is to continue to do you, and not to mind so much about what other people are getting up to, difficult as that may be for type A personalities like myself. Be part of the solution, not the problem.

Towards the end of this week, whenever I felt like pulling my hair out in frustration, I reminded myself that – just like everything else – this too shall pass. Life is too short to be pissed all the time, as a wise person once said. There are far too many beautiful things in this earth to appreciate; you can’t let problems that will probably be inconsequential a year down the line get you down.

Most of all, I remembered to breathe, to stay centred, to focus on the things that are important, and to remember that even though other people may let you down, the key thing is to not let yourself down.

Happy start of the week, fellow blabbaholics and bookworms! xx

Posted in bloggers, Careers, Medical, Nursing

Goodbye, Teacher

My whole life, I have always wanted to become a teacher.

When I was younger, I used to help my brother and sister with their schoolwork, in addition to doing my own. I was the go-to person at school for any classmate who would need extra support or tutoring on any subject.

In addition, just for kicks, my uncles would allot an hour each day for me to help my brother learn to read. For some reason we chose to pick up a hardbound edition of Disney’s Pocahontas, which, in hindsight, may not have been the most appropriate choice for encouraging an 8-year-old boy to read.

I went into Nursing because it was my best shot to get out of the country and try and make a better life for myself abroad. Had I been given a choice, and if the financial rewards were taken out of the equation, I probably would have become a History or English teacher or something.

Anyway, its true what they say that life always has a way of sorting itself out. And all you have to do is not get in the way of it while it does. I graduated Nursing and ended up becoming a Clinical Instructors in my alma mater for two years anyway.

I left that post after two years because I had an opportunity to work abroad as a theatre nurse. But after two years of doing that, I then applied for an education post in my trust and here I’ve been ever since.

This week, I lost a person who started out as a mentor and eventually became a colleague and friend. We both worked together as Clinical Instructors in Velez College, and her passing has made me reflect on what it means to be a good teacher, and what it means to be a good person.

I don’t think both are synonymous with each other, but I also think that they’re not mutually exclusive. Being a good person makes you a better teacher, and learning to be a good teacher will help you learn to become a better person.

There are so many qualities that you need to become a teacher that people don’t think about. There’s the easily definable and measurable qualities like time management and organisational skills, writing skills, the ability to speak eloquently and clearly. You also need a really good grasp of what it is you’re meant to be teaching, be subject matter experts so to speak.

But there are the qualities that are more difficult to quantify, the ones beneath the surface that people don’t always see.

Being a teacher takes a lot of patience. There are moments when I lose the will to live when I have to repeat something over and over again because someone just doesn’t get it. But when you manage to get through even one person who’s been struggling for so long, it feels like more of an achievement than when you teach a class of twenty intelligent people.

Being a teacher requires a lot of compassion. We all learn in different ways, some struggle more than others. I have always felt an affinity for those who need more support than the rest of their peers, for those who feel like they’ll always be a failure no matter what they do. As a teacher, I want them to believe in themselves because, even when I’ve hated my students, I’ve always believed in their potential.

Students and learners just need a little push, for someone to tell them to keep going no matter how many times they have to go to the dean’s office to submit a promissory letter because they’ve once again managed to acquire only the bare minimum grade required to pass a subject. It doesn’t matter. What matters is they did pass.

They need someone who won’t give up on them even when they’ve given up on themselves. I don’t know whether I’ve achieved this or not in the course of my career, but its something that I will continue to aim to do as an educator.

Being  teacher requires courage. I don’t know about my colleagues, but I always feel like I’m putting so much of myself on display whenever I have to get up in front of a class or group of people to present something. I feel intensely vulnerable, and I feel like everyone’s cataloguing all my faults and waiting for me to slip up so they can pounce and take advantage of my moment of weakness.

It takes strength and bravery to put yourself out there, and we do it each and every time because we believe in the payoff. We believe that its worth it. 

This week, our hospital is trying to introduce a new system of care planning as part of our new electronic health records system. The NANDA, or nursing diagnoses, is something that we’ve always taught and drilled into our Velez College students from the time they first step into the wards and care for patients. We have them do it every time they’re on shift; they do an extensive one at the beginning of the month as part of their OPTs and again at the end of the month when they have to do a case study.

I am incredibly pleased that the students we’ve taught as a faculty, who are now working in London, will finally be able to apply their training to the care of actual patients (I don’t know if THEY’RE pleased, because most of them hated the NANDA, but I am! lol).

Moreover, I feel so chuffed that something we implemented as part of their curriculum will now actually give them an advantage leading up to the planned change, and they will be able to support their colleagues who may not be as familiar with the system, in the same way that we supported them when they were students.

It is the best sort of validation for a teacher when she sees the actual fruit of her labours, to realise that she’s helped to equip her students with the tools they need to be globally competitive in the nursing field, and to see students that she’s personally taught become great and responsible nurses.

Ma’am Mira, you are everything that is good in a Velezian, and you exemplify some of the best values that the college has always taught us. I can only hope to be as brave and courageous as you have been when life has knocked you on your feet, and I can only pray to have your optimism and faith in difficult times, and even all the way through to the end.

Rest in peace, we will miss you very much, and this blog is for you.