Looking out from a porch, a story would just be a slideshow of beautiful things. Superficial like a cover of a book. A fairytale backdraft in a tragic play. Reality is bolder behind closed doors.
No life is picture perfect just as no person is without fault. Sometimes though, we kid ourselves by painting a happy mask to wear for people to look at, so that our darkness wouldn’t have to take center stage. We hide our brokenness because it is intimate, because it represents weakness. Like broken hinges that can’t be mended. No one wants to play the role of a loser, the one who dies first in a low budget motion picture.
Who we are when no one is looking, behind closed doors when all the lights have been shut off, is reality; With our fears and our sadness, with our scarred skin mapping our journey, with the tears crashing down, and our pieces falling off and scattering around our bare feet, is the story behind the sunshine covers of most of our lives. A clown does not fall asleep a clown.
We do what we have to do to cope. Some hold on to glitter, to mask the blackness surrounding who they are. Some immerse themselves with beautiful things, to forget the ugliness written somewhere in their storylines. There are some however, who ironically cope by befriending their demons, by remembering the darkness, by revisiting a tragedy. Different strokes for different folks. I write to continue living. I write to survive. And unlike those who try very hard to present an idyllic scene, I write about my darkness. I write about a tainted and imperfect life. By doing so, I am liberated from the distorted images I have of myself inside my head. It is a mirror from which I see who I am, because I am someone I never really got to know very well.
I play many roles. Some I play well, some quite poorly. Some I am extremely proud of, and some I’d rather forget. But who I am when roles are stripped off, and I am presented in my barest form devoid of masks and illusions is my unedited story. The stories I journal directly as my thoughts run haywire. It is the story I give directly to you. I am my only story.
I’ve walked these sterile corridors for so many years but not once did I walked it without my chest drumming like crazy. I remember April some years back when I first walked on these floors as a newly minted physician, proudly clutching my very first lightweight cardiac stethoscope ( I used to have the disposable kind that one can buy in drugstores for P250), amazed and frightened at the same time at the chaotic scenes before me. “I’m ready”, I told myself. It was not long after when I realized that no one can ever be ready for the battles a doctor faces. No one. Not even a dreamer such as I am. I witnessed how people I’ve been with in the starting line all transformed into someone unrecognizable halfway through the journey. I lost my idealism somewhere along the tiny spaces I tried to curl up in one night too many, to steal a desperately needed sleep; maybe I lost it somewhere along hallways where charts fly, and voices are raised, where hearts are broken and pride are pulverized; when my worth is challenged again and again, until I could no longer remember how it feels like to be secure in my own skin. It is only in Medicine where people are stripped off all pride and self confidence so that one day, they can trust their very own judgement. Ironic that doctors are broken in pieces before they can be trusted to heal others.
“Being a doctor is not just putting on that long white coat”, my Dad used to say to me. Being a doctor is that drumming of the heart before facing every patient, that fight in the soul every time we wrestle with death for someone else, and that stony façade we’ve been trained to wear when we wanted so much to cry. Emotion had always been a doctor’s great nemesis. It slows us down when there is so much work to be done. It taints objectivity, and it weakens the resolve to face more sufferings.
We can’t be healers forever, in fact, we can’t be healers for too long. Doctors die young, go mad or both. And the length of time to create a doctor (or mutate one) is simply too complex to compensate for those we lose along the way. Some die from stress related illness, a huge number commit suicide and more are murdered for mundane reasons. Is the long white gown still worth it?
My life may be worth more than the stale coffee I’ve consumed from the old hospital vending machine all these years; more than the blinding light of day after going on duty for 35 hours; more than the piles of census and case reports; more than the social media shaming; more than the accusing words from disgruntled patients and relatives who thought I had all the answers; more than the family holidays and birthdays I’ve missed; more than the money I could have earned; more than all the disappointments I’ve learned to collect one by one. But one life I make better is what defines who I am as a healer. The day I decided to walk the hospital floor, wearing the white long gown that represents the profession is when I ceased to be just me.
Why do you fear me and not your own madness? Why are you haunted by the shadows I cast when your very own darkness hover within you? Not every outcast are taken over by blackness. Some try very hard to find the faintest flicker of light; Some choose to build dreams upon dreams out of broken pieces, like a stepping stone that would eventually take them across the filthy, infested swamp of depression. We ran like the wind to escape, to cope, or at least to find that part of us untouched by the cruelties of circumstances. Most of us do not run after the world, but rather, we ran away from it. The world is dangerous, and we are already severely wounded. We hide to nurse fresh wounds, and we reach out with scarred hands, still hoping to make that essential communion that makes life worth living. Not all deviants are bad, and not all those who profess normalcy are sane.
Don’t search the darkness for ghosts. Don’t search my eyes in the hope to see emptiness. Look within your heart. It’s where you’ll find a void not even my madness can compete with. Don’t search the asylum of the insane for coldness. The space that once housed your soul burns colder than ice. I am mad but not cruel. You are supposed to be sane and yet with your every step you harbor a grudge that boils down to hate and paranoia. How tragic it is for such a healthy mind to get crippled by blows no one had cast but his very own hands.
I find it amusing that people try so hard to find something to fear on every ounce of vagueness conjured, when the worst predator this world had ever created are the so called “normal race”; the cold and calculating face hidden within every sweet smile; the tortured, vengeful heart that knows no end. The most lethal poisons are those served by trusted hands.
I like to read. I plan my day carefully so that I will still have time to read my books. Unlike other children, I don’t play much. Television and movies bore me. Books are my sole source of entertainment. The old people do not approve of it. My Grandma once said, “ if you don’t move, mosquitoes will drain all your blood”. That frightened the hell out of me, nevermind if the entire house then was screened. So I tried to learn to read while walking around my room. That kinda gave me some terrible headaches, but I was not going to let the mosquitoes drain my blood.
My classmates think I am a bit different. I am painfully shy and laid back. I know things they don’t and my ideas are way above the level of graders which made me some sort of an outsider in their eyes at a very early age. I write a lot. I am the youngest contributor in our school paper. Again, my writings screamed “ nuts-o!”. My poetries are darker than dark, and once a concerned school counselor asked me why, I just shrugged and said, “I don’t know. I just write that way”. Of course being eccentric allows you to win a lot of creativity awards, BUT it dismantled any chance I had to have a normal social life. Being darkly creative is fine among artists, but disturbing maybe when the artist is just 7 years old.
So when I was diagnosed with Major Depression, I wasn’t surprised. I’ve always been odd. I just didn’t know then that my bouts of “brain flu” as I used to call it had a medical name and that it was an illness that could have caused me my life.
I remember that in high school, long before the “emo” generation had come to be known, my style had already been Gothic of sort. I emanate a kind of gloomy air without really intending to. To them, I am someone who is incapable of having a good time.
During college, the bad emotions became more apparent. And I dealt with it by drinking. I remember mixing vodka in my orange juice. I’d go to class dead drunk. There was even a time during my swimming class when I couldn’t remember how I crossed the pool. I couldn’t remember getting in the water. I passed with a grade of 1.75.
I am in accelerated class in college. How I managed it while being plagued with depression is beyond me. I have not been diagnosed then, and so I am running purely on will power. No medicine nor therapy to aid me. Fatigue was a constant ramp and the feeling of hopelessness was almost reaching its threshold. I abused substances to help me cope. I engaged in risky behaviours to fill in the emptiness that seem to grow bigger than I am every single day. I still had a long way to go. To give up had never been a welcomed notion as far as I am concerned. I am never one to quit. Maybe, my persistence and pride did saved my life all those times.
Along that time though is when I started to cut. Not deep enough to warrant intervention. Just deep enough to bleed. I did not want to die. I just wanted to feel. I am numb and I did not know why. I felt alone and frightened. I knew something is going on inside my head I could not control.
I finished college and went on to Med School. I am 3rd year med proper, during a psychiatry class that I was introduced to Depression. It stared me in the eye, and I knew then that my secret demon had a name.
I knew I had to be managed. But I was afraid to be found out. I had this absurd idea that when the school finds me depressed, I will not be allowed to graduate, and I couldn’t accept that. So, I self medicated. I researched, did my very own, personal PCP, asked a teacher an Rx of Fluoxetine and boom! For the first time in my life, I felt free. I felt the gray cloud lift up, the perpetual veil in my eyes is gone. I felt a different person after that.
The freedom was short lived. Taking the antidepressant aggravated my insomnia. It also affected my eating habits. I lost my appetite so drastically I was almost skin and bones. By the time I started clerkship, no resident wants me in their OR because it was simply too tedious to find a gown that I won’t trip on to, and find me surgical gloves that fit snuggly on my hands. They were also afraid I’d collapse on them during a 12 hours long Whipple surgery. I stopped the antidepressant. I still didn’t know better.
As the years passed by, the depression grew worse. And by the time I was finally diagnosed and properly managed, I’d have tried suicide more than 50 times, and I am nowhere near who I really am. The suicide attempts, I could say now with conviction that it was not because I wanted to die. It was simply a part of the fulminant stage of clinical depression. I had no thoughts about death. My consciousness never once consented to dying. Suicide is just something the ailing brain pushes you to do and you are helpless to do anything about it. I did not want to die. I wanted help. I knew I needed help. I just did not know how to get it. And I am a doctor. I can’t begin to imagine how others might be feeling.
Why am I sharing this? Because I wanted people to know that Depression is not a “status illness”. It is not a hype disease. It is real and it has our faces all over it. I am one of the lucky ones. I got to catch it before it literally blew me away to kingdom come. I am not saying I don’t have it anymore. I still do. Unfortunately, it still has no definite cure. But I was able to reclaim my life from it at long last. If one medicine doesn’t work, don’t give up. There are more chances that one will work. You also have to wait at least 2 weeks for the first noticeable improvement, so hang on and don’t let go no matter what. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Fight the stigma. You are not crazy. You are simply ill. People who brand you as “nuts” are people who don’t know better. They are morons and their opinions don’t matter, BUT you do. We do.
This filthy man whose laughter is hollow
Chasing his thoughts and tracing his sorrow
A nameless footprint too many
A tiny footnote in a broken story
He cries but no one hears
The cold wind dried his tears
A broken trinket in a dispensable world
A dirty piece of tattered robe unfurled.
Maybe he knew the one called sadness
Felt the demon’s deceitful caress
But he’d gotten lost inside his own maze
His confusion hidden by an empty face
They saw his outward gruesome decay
Unworthy to walk the world they say
To the beleaguered there is great animosity
From the mediocres who’d defined acceptability
The world is torn to pieces by the jagged teeth of hypocrisy
Masked to the bones by the holographic idea of humanity
We dig graves and bury our tainted souls away
And then we resume our righteous roles in this tragic play.
I woke up not knowing what to expect. I cowered under the sheets, allowing a few more moments of forged security to calm my senses. It’s a mean world out there after all, and I am just another grain of sand in the vast desert of moving mortals. Among the triumphant titans, I am just another broken soul, just another grain the rain washes over, just another useless body to use, just another name to forget.
The world is suffocating from the smoke of burnt offerings. It had gone blind from the glitter of fake gems crowding the altar floor. It had gone deaf from the roar of pretentious praises. I have nothing to offer but my broken soul. My pockets are empty except for the pieces of my being I tried to keep but failed to put together. My feet are muddied because of the puddle my tears created. Will the altar accept my fears and nightmares as offering? Will it be willing to take my dark memories? Maybe not, so I’m walking on.
The clean congregation mocked me. I have soiled their sacred ground with my careless mistakes. It is sacrilege to come with my sadness, my shadows misfitted among the crowd of the enlightened. I am a sinner walking along the clean floors of the baptised and the chosen.
Some dreams are created in dirty alleys. Some hearts are born along infested gutters, like colorful confettis left by a grand parade. Some souls scavenge garbage bins for a bit of kindness, a drop of compassion. Often though, this world is fast to sing hallelujah, but too stingy to give love to those who need it the most.
I am my sacrifice. My life is my offering to God, along with the shadows of my past, my mistakes and my weakness; my fears and my confusions; my broken dreams and my endlessly bleeding heart. I have nothing that glitters, for I am a black hole. I have not memorized scriptures but I can recite what I often tell myself when the devil wants me to end it all. I can tell you the names of the people I cried with, people I allowed into my hiding place so that even for a moment, they will not be alone. I will tell you the story of my life, grit and all, for it is all that I am, and it is all I have to give, in this makeshift altar among the outcasts, the lepers, and the lost.
I held the guitar and I’m barely breathing
With no clue what to sing, I started strumming
I closed my eyes pretending to be strong
How can the world get it so very wrong?
The tune was bitter like hate spewed from broken dreams
It was ferocious resonating from a thousand screams
Around me were the cheering and dancing fools
Like shadows of mindless, graveyard ghouls.
I strummed until the dead sings
I strummed until it no longer stings
I strummed until the ghosts go away
I strummed until I could no longer play.
And I’m still not okay…
I can no longer play
I can no longer play…