Birthday Month

So I’ve been struggling a bit this month. Which is ironic almost, because Year Twenty Eight has been the movie-like coming of age year for me in so many ways, and I expected nothing but spring to end my year. But we all know how that goes.

I’ve been working nights this month, almost the last time I would likely have to do that in my life – there aren’t many emergencies typically in Infectious Diseases, my chosen fellowship field starting this summer. Despite the havoc on one’s circadian rhythm, I have almost enjoyed every one of my night rotations previously. You’re on your own, taking care of everyone else’s patients in the hospital while they are gone for the night, and admitting any new ones that come in. You attend to any Rapid Response Team calls or Code Blues that arise. There is a lot of autonomy involved for a resident, and the kind of exhilarating scary that promises a feeling of  ‘who da bad-ass who survived that mofos’ at the end of one’s shift. But this one has been unexpectedly hard for me.

I’ve been stressed out, snappy, easy to anger. And that is uncharacteristic of me.  At least the grown up me.  My teenage years were in fact spent as an angry young woman staring down men abusing power and parenting women who were being bitchy. I cringe. It was not my place.

And those edges had been painstakingly smoothed out over the last three years. I remember one particular evaluation from an intern that said “S is super kind and understanding when mistakes are made”. That was one I was particularly proud of. But it feels like I haven’t been deserving of that for the past three weeks. I could say I wonder why. But fact is I definitely know why.

So I have mentioned the depression before. I have mentioned my triumph over it.  While I credit writing, working out and volunteering to my recovery,  I cannot deny the role the right antidepressant has played.  The one that has become second nature now – that single pill I pop right before I dash out the door every morning without a second thought. Well, we all can agree I haven’t needed it for a long time now.  It was like a reasurrance for the powers that be that things were under control, a security blanket of sorts. Needless to say my Psychiatrist and I agreed that it was time I left the blanket behind. Side effects are an inevitable reality for every medication, but they are justified only as long as the benefits outweigh the risks.  Long story short, it was time.

The weaning process has been careful, methodical.  From taking 300 mg daily I was to reduce the dose to 220 mg for 10 days,  then 150 mg for 10 days, then 75 mg daily for 10 days before stopping. But what has been erratic has been the irritability, the snappiness and the pangs of anxiety that made an unwelcome comeback after two years of supreme confidence. It was like I was a teenager again, insecure, unsure of my worth, with a bitch of an imposter syndrome causing a nagging feeling that something, somehow was going to go wrong any minute now. I pondered going back on the meds, every day.  Was the freedom and the ability to feel like myself and the avoidance of further side effects worth the risk of my work suffering? WAS my work suffering? Is this something I should just take all my life? Is the ‘angry young woman’ an illness, or just my personality? If it was, did I want to be that person?

S always said I was a bad judge of people. And by default,  that makes me consider myself a bad judge of me. Am I acting like a crazy person? Would someone tell me if I were?  My dear friend M insisted that I seemed completely fine, amazing in fact. “You are your incredibly kind and good self, as always”, she said. But she hasn’t seen me at work,  which is where all my anxieties manifest.  I decided to take my night co-resident into confidence. She was someone I thought was trustworthy and a decent human. It was not a pleasant conversation to have, but a necessary one. I explained my ‘Past Medical History’ to her,  so to speak, and requested her help. Would she tell me if I were acting, say,  not like a normal person? ‘Of course’, she said.  Besides, she’s always thought I have been so much calmer than her during stressful situations on nights at work this month.  I heaved a sigh of relief,  and thanked her.

I read more about the process of weaning. It was not supposed to be easy.  “Discontinuation Syndrome” was common.  The key was to replace the drug-induced Serotonin in your brain in more natural ways. I started making sure my workouts were consistent.  I started doing yoga almost every day. Bought myself more flowers than usual. Organized my closet and my finances.  Went for long walks. Did my first run outside, that I was training a long time for since being impaired by shin splints.  Slowly but surely,  I found my footing.

Sure, it’s all not perfect. I’m still snappy sometimes, but I have not been beating myself up about it. I just decide it was a mistake and resolve to do better next time. And now, on day 6/10 of 75 mg, I feel like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I feel like I can do this. I hope I can. I sure am scared.  But I have to try. I have to do this for my teenage self – I feel for her so much. She had all the talent and intelligence in the world, but was crippled by her anxiety and insecurities. And taken advantage of, for them,  with the loss of many an opportunity which otherwise would have been a piece of cake for her. I have to do this for my sweetheart of a Dad – he has all the talent and intelligence in the world , but is crippled by his anxiety and insecurities. I see how good kind people like him are taken advantage of by the bad guys in life all the time for their insecurities. And I want it to stop. The question is do I achieve that with the aid of drugs that I take for the rest of my life, or do I utilize the infinite power of the human mind to change my detrimental defaults?

I could take the easy, safe, former route and just go back on the pills. But if I succeed with the latter, this will be among my top personal achievements.

I have to try.

Thanksgiving

I know I haven’t written in a while. No, I haven’t given up on yet another blog. I just wanted to make sure I had something quality to say every time I wrote. Something that wouldn’t make an older me cringe a few years down the line. Also, I use this as a platform to work things out in my head and I have been fortunate enough to not have any pressing concerns in the past couple of weeks.

Yes, it has been an unusual period of bliss-ed out contentment for me. One that I am very thankful for. I figured it would be appropriate to take a few minutes out of a day off that happened to fall on the eve of Thanksgiving Day to log my gratitude.

A lot of things have factored into this joy. I am doing well at work. I love my patients. I have found enjoyment in studying Medicine again. I am excited about my future. I have learnt to appreciate my family for how absolutely wonderful they are, and not take them for granted. I may have finally found my clan in Chicago – a group of smart, funny, decent Malayalees around my age who I met at a Meetup event, almost all of them having lived in Bangalore at some point in their lives! – can you sense my excitement? Now it may all fizzle out but I am OK with that possibility. I have learnt not to have lofty expectations of people. I have spent lot of time in the past dwelling on being disappointed by friends. Now I realize that is probably because I hold them to very high standards.  Most importantly, for the first time in my life, I am not looking for love. I really really like myself and seem to not mind not having constant validation of my worthiness.

Now this may seem to be contradictory to that statement but I recently went to a Dabble class on “How to attract with allure and approachability”. Yes you are allowed to laugh at me now. It was something I had signed up for before this whole I don’t-need-a-boy emancipation came about. I decided to go anyway, and boy, am I glad I did! It was a small intimate gathering of of five single women sharing their stories of love over wine at the host’s apartment. All the while our wonderful coach gave us eye-opening tips on things that must be holding us back in love. It was as delightful as it sounded. What I liked best was how honest everyone was with their vulnerabilities. It was interesting how even though we all might have our individual hurdles, the common theme was self- doubt. It was yet another instance where it was evident that we as women, tend to put ourselves down so much in our heads, that we might be really really far from our truths. I came out realizing a lot of my mindsets that must have been holding me back for years in situations that I could have taken to my advantage. Oh and guess what? We enjoyed each others company so much that we ended up exchanging numbers and making plans to catch up again this Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong. I am terrified that this will all come crashing down come December 6th on Fellowship Match Day. I like to think this time around I have enough maturity and wisdom to approach this period of uncertainty with balance and grace. I hope I can manage to keep my sense of hope and purpose in case things turn out unfavorably for me. I really struggled the last time during Residency Match two and a half years ago. In hindsight, things really did work out for the best. But I was young and naive and used to winning all the time at the time. I have learnt to forgive myself and others for my perceived failures. The fact that I said “perceived” in itself is a revelation to me of a change in mindset. I now have a mindset of acceptance and pride in myself and all that I have achieved. And I am finally happy to just live in the moment, doing the best I can each day, not agonizing about what people think of me, or what the future may look like for me. I am paying my bills on time. I have a 401k. Going to the gym daily has become a habit. I am reading, listening to podcasts, watching the news, making conversations with strangers, going out of my comfort zone. I am also making time to hang out by myself in my living room that I so lovingly decorated two years ago but never used much as a result of being too high-strung all the time to just relax on my couch. Thank you, Whoever is making all this happen. Please make it so that I am this happy come what may for the rest of my life. And please help me keep my feet on the ground while I am at it.

Facebook.

C silently apologizes to those five people who kindly decided on the basis of her handful of posts that her blog was worth following. She hated following up such an uplifting post with yet another one stemming from heartache. But that is why she was here in the first place, after all. She did not want to sugarcoat her feelings. She wanted this to be a place where she could to be raw, honest and herself.

It started out as yet another day of happiness in solitude for her. Work was good. She liked all the new people she worked with. She managed to finish her tasks for the day at exactly five pm. She had helped a lot of people. And done that well, she thought. She managed to do some reading as well. She came home, with an entire evening ahead of her without any pressing tasks. These kind of evenings were hard to come by in her life. She switched on the TV. She loved watching the news nowadays. It amused her how much she enjoyed this one thing that she used to think was boring as a child. Must be a side effect of growing up. She was pleased at herself. It was raining. She loved the rains. Perfect, she thought. She ordered some Ramen for dinner.

She settled down on her couch, and pulled a throw over her bare legs. She loved that warm fuzzy feeling of winter. After about an hour spent between a new book, Instagram and Grey’s Anatomy, she finally logged in to Facebook. And there it was.

The details would be laborious and unimportant at this point. But it involved his first Facebook post in along time. It also involved what could be construed as flirty comments from a girl he had mentioned was interested in him. It was good that C was alone at home, so that no one had to witness the full blown panic attack that ensued. She had sobbed uncontrollably, gasping for air. Why was she saying that in public? Are they dating? They must be dating. How could he? She couldn’t breathe. It was so strange, seeing another woman talking to her man like that. HER man. What was this strange world she was trapped in? Is this a nightmare? God, please let this be a nightmare!

She couldn’t stop herself from texting him about it. He brushed it off, like he had done every time she had asked him if anything was going on between him and the woman he cheated with. They exchanged a few texts back and forth, and then he said “Sorry for being curt, but I don’t have the time for this right now”. That stopped her in her tracks. She put down the phone, curled herself into a ball on the sofa where he had once held her tight, and cried her heart out.

She was not crying because some girl made an inconsiderate post on her ex boyfriend’s wall. She was crying because his callous comments reminded her of every single time a boy had treated her with disrespect in the past two years. The one who had ghosted after getting what he wanted from her career-wise, the one who had done the same after getting what he wanted, not career-wise. V, who had pledged his heart and soul for life to her, only to find a new girl in the blink of an eye to do the same for. “Sorry”, he had said too, “but that pretty little girl is waiting for me”. It made even less sense when he was the one who still pursued her. “Sorry”. It was interesting how a word that is meant to convey care and respect, can cause such humiliation. She could not fathom how these men who apparently had loved her, could be so unconcerned about the effect their words would have on her.

Through her tears, she texted her friend, P, who was back in India. She was among the few wonderful friends who had stuck through it all with her. “You need to get your life back”, she had said. “You have come this far in life and achieved so much…you deserve more”. God bless her sweet heart. But C knew all that already. She had tried and failed at getting back her life. She had decided she was never going to get over S, and that that was ok.

She had a vision of her old age, alone. She saw sick old people at her job every day. She knew what the deal was going to be. Old age is hard as it is. But to add loneliness to that, to have no one to witness her life?  Jesus. Was she really ok with that?  Was she ok with this, her life right now, being it? She pushed the thoughts away.

Don’t get her wrong. Neither the men nor the other women had tainted the self-esteem that she had developed at an early age one bit. She was thankful to her parents for that. She knew what she was worth. Question was, did they? Did S ever really love her? If he did, why couldn’t he give her the forgiveness she had once given him? She would never hurt anyone who loved her like that. All the time when V had feelings for her that she could not return, she was gentle with him. She never blew him off once. She never let a text go without a response. Did she not deserve the same dignity?  Is there going to be a day when all this erodes on that precious self-esteem, finally causing her to wither, and give up?

One thing her self-esteem had never quite figured out was how she rated on attractiveness. She knew she was incredibly blessed terms of intellect, talent and heart. But how did she compare to these women on physical beauty? Surely she was not one of the pretty ones. Those same parents who had praised her intellect every chance they got had never once called her ‘beautiful’ growing up. Or a princess. Or <insert other adjectives bestowed on little girls along with story after story of happily ever afters>. It might go to her head, they must have thought. Consequently, she had never really thought of herself as one of the pretty ones. But then years later the boys from her school had told her how back in high school almost every boy in class had a crush on her. She could not believe it at the time. She was popular in high school?! Damn. She wished she had known. She apparently had lived a completely different life in her mind compared to what was actually happening. Other instances came to mind. The first and only time she had gone to a club in America, four different men had tried to hit on her. But that probably happened to every girl in that room. Her hairdresser always told her she was pretty. But she probably said that to all her customers. That one time her friend J, who always teased her for her shortcomings, got drunk and then told her how hot he thought she was? Well, the guy was pitch drunk. S of course had told her a million times that she was pretty, hot, cute. But isn’t that what boyfriends are supposed to say? Part of her wanted to believe them all, even though most of her did not dare to.

She comes back to the present. She tries to reason with herself. Was she actually as much a victim as she was making herself out to be? S had not even replied to the flirty girl. At least not in public. Did she have any right anymore to ask S about what he did in his own time anyway? Probably not. He had every right to flirt with or date whoever he wanted to. But they were not like other couples. They were S and C. They had a once in a lifetime love. The kind of love that matures and grows over time. Din’t they? These were all questions she did not have answers for. All she could do was write.

And so she did.

P.S. Did she mention the flirty girl was a model?