Posted in Books, Reviews

Book Travels: Afghanistan and A Thousand Splendid Suns

It’s difficult for me to write this book review of A Thousand Splendid Suns.

It’s a well-written book, let’s get that out of the way. Khaled Housseini has a real talent for telling stories, and for sharing a little bit of Afghan culture to the world. His words make the country come alive for the reader, making them feel like they’re sharing the blistering heat of the sun or the welcome pouring of rain with the characters. I especially like the little touches of whimsy, such as the fact that Titanic and Leonardo di Caprio were apparently big enough to be trending even in war-torn Afghanistan.

I think what made this book difficult for me to read, and therefore to review, is because the subject matter pushes all my buttons. At the heart of it, this is a story about two women who were both victims of circumstances beyond their control. Their whole life they’ve not been given any choices, they’ve never been able to have a say about what they want or what future they might have imagined for themselves. They’re forced to wait for life to happen to them; they’re not free to make things happen by design.

I hate that.

I hate that in some parts of the world this is still considered normal. I hate that some of the freedom and privileges that I take for granted all the time may seem like a miracle for a woman whose never been allowed to even speak in a man’s presence, let alone argue with them. I hate that, despite our best effort, we are still a long way away from achieving equality. I would never presume to call myself a feminist, and God knows I haven’t got a bone of activism in my body. But I nearly wanted to sound a call to arms when I read the scene about women having to go to a different hospital because the one they’re at only caters to male patients; and then to arrive at a women’s hospital and find the amenities so lacking that you have to reuse sterile gloves, or bloody hell, have a caesarian section without any anaesthesia.

Both as a woman and as a healthcare professional, I was so horrified by this that I nearly stopped reading the book.

I also hate that there are still pockets of society, even in this modern world we live in, where people think that bearing children is all a woman is good for. If that’s the case, then I am the sorriest excuse for a woman there is.

The book may or may not have hit a bit too close to home.

In the end, this book made me feel grateful: grateful for my education, grateful that my parents worked hard to give me options, that despite their reservations about my lifestyle (and their increasing desire for grandchildren lol) they respect me enough not to force the issue of marriage. I mean, it’s not like eligible men grow on trees these days, and even if they did its kinda hard to get to know someone when you have to social distance or hold a first date through Zoom.

There is something symbolically powerful about a woman standing up for another woman, and there is a lot we can achieve when we build each other up rather than tear each other down. Such is the message of this book, and this is what makes it so beautiful.

Posted in Books, Reviews

Book Review: The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

One of the sacrifices we’ve had to make during this pandemic, and subsequent lockdown, is to forego all non-essential travel. As someone who likes to explore all the beautiful places this world has to offer, this saddens me. I don’t think I’ve ever fully appreciated the extreme privilege of being able to move freely between countries, or of having opportunities to experience various cultures and different ways of life.

Its times like these that I’m grateful for the solace that reading has to offer. Between the pages of a book, the possibilities of being transported to a time and place far far away from my current reality are limitless. Reading is the only way that I can still afford to travel to different places, for the bargain price of 8£ per paperback.

Today’s travel took me to 1970s Afghanistan. In the list of places I would never even consider travelling to, Afghanistan is superseded only by, I don’t know, North Korea maybe. It first came to my attention during the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, a watershed moment that brought terrorism to my consciousness. I remember watching the news and thinking life will never be the same. I read about jihad and holy wars and understood for the first time that there are some men willing to fight, kill and die for the sake of an ideology. Nearly 20 years later and those same was are still being fought.

The Kite Runner is as far away from war and terrorism as anything could be. Sure, it is set against the backdrop of conflicts and coups. One cannot tell this story without also touching on the many political changes that made the country what it is today.

But to tell the story of Amir and Hassan is to tell the story of a different kind of Afghanistan. Its an Afghanistan that is colourful and exciting; it is a place where you can write stories, read books about heroes, and watch American Westerns in the cinema; it is a place where young children anticipate winters so they can have kite-flying tournaments and make their parents proud when they win; and it is a place where friendship, love and loyalty can still exist despite divisions in class and religion.

I told my sister today that when all this ends, I’d quite like to visit Afghanistan. She asked me, do you want to die?

I googled a photo of Kabul as it is today, and it depressed me to see its war-torn streets and ravaged population. it forced me to think that, for all that we moan and groan about anything and everything that inconvenience us on a daily basis, we live an insulated world where we are mostly protected from true horrors, from the true meaning of human suffering. I think reading books like this is important, if only for the fact that they give you just a little bit of perspective.

Stories like this underscore the need for us to really nourish and cherish the things that are truly important. Not money, status or power, or other transient sources of happiness; but simple things like the thrill of feeling love for the first time, the pleasures of reading for and with a friend, the pure joy and freedom of running through familiar streets and knowing you are limited only by how far you are willing to run, and when you’re young sometimes you feel like you can run forever.

I think in a time where there is so much uncertainty, this book gives me hope. There are days when I can barely bring myself to read the news because there’s so much filth and stories of human cruelty permeating the headlines and the social media feeds. To read a book about unconditional love and unswerving faithfulness at a time like this…well, I’m already an emotional person at the best of times, the sort that will cry in films like Stuart Little, so it will come as a surprise to no one when I say that this book had me sobbing into my pillow for a good 15 minutes, pounding my chest as if to help ease the ache I suddenly felt there.

There’s no better review than that really, is there?

I’m late to this particular party, I know. My friends have been telling me to read this for years. Its made many a readers’ favourites list on Goodreads and Instagram, even friends of mine who are not avid readers have read this book. They all told me its awesome, they warned me it will be emotional. But none of that prepared me for the reality of it, for the sheer emotional punch of the story within its pages.

To say that I’ve read a lot of books is an understatement. I must have reads thousands and thousands of them by now. Some good, some I had to force myself to finish, some whose stories have stayed with me to this day. The Kite Runner belongs in the third category: I will be thinking about this book on and off for a long long time.

Posted in Covid-19, Current Events, Health and Well-Being, Nursing

It’s Been a Long Year…and It’s Only the Start of May

Sometimes it feels like this lockdown will never end.

Its been roughly six weeks since the UK imposed measures that essentially robbed life of any semblance of normalcy. Since then, we’ve all been trying our damnedest to keep our spirits up even as we become increasingly isolated from our fellow man.

Every day there seems to be new challenges cropping up on social media (like doing 20 press-ups on your instagram story and then challenging five other people to do the same) or an at-home concert organised by one pop star or the other, and what both those things have in common is that it speaks to our inherent need to stay connected even as social distancing becomes the new normal.

I might just be speaking for myself here, but I think this unprecedented crisis has heightened our sense of empathy and compassion for others. All of a sudden the number of people showing support for the NHS and recognising the work that carers do has increased tenfold. Young people now go out of their way to buy groceries for elderly neighbours. Colleagues who don’t normally get along have learned to put their differences aside so they can work together and do what’s best for the department they work for.

Personally, what this pandemic is teaching me, above all else, is that in times of pain and suffering no one is a stranger.

This week another nurse lost the battle to Covid-19, three weeks after his admission to one of the best hospitals in the country. He was my age.

Like me, he was an overseas nurse who left the Philippines to pursue a career in a foreign country, in the hopes that it will lead to a better life for himself and his family.

Like most of my friends, he dreamed of opportunities and adventures the likes of which we never would have experienced if we stayed in the Philippines.

Like tens of thousands of Filipinos before him, he bore the loneliness, the frequent homesickness, and the separation from family because he believed his future laid here, in his adopted country.

When I heard about the story of his death, I cried like a baby.

Despite having plenty of common friends, in every sense of the word this person was a virtual stranger to me. And yet his death affected me to a degree that goes beyond what you would normally feel for someone you didn’t know from Adam.

Maybe his story hit a little too close to home. I don’t want to dwell too much on how his story could so easily be our story, because that kind of thinking is just too morbid to contemplate. But all the same, on the day of his death I said a little prayer for every overseas Filipino nurse I know, and even for those that I don’t.

I’m not really sure how to end this post that has turned out to be more morose than I intended it to be when I first started writing.

I guess I just wanted to say that the longer this goes on, the deeper we may have to dig within ourselves to stay upbeat and positive.

But we can’t let this virus defeat us. I have every hope that this too shall pass, that there is a life waiting on the other side of this pandemic, and that we will all be better, more understanding, and hopefully kinder people for having lived through it.

We owe it to the people who have lost their lives to this virus, and especially to the people who have given their lives in caring for people with this virus, to ensure that we never ever take that life for granted.

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.