The Journey

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. 

A Broken Hallelujia

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.

The Gate keeper 

We have two kinds of thought processes: the conscious and the unconscious. One is the gatekeeper, while the other is the task master. They are like two individuals living in one body, similar in many aspect, but ironically contrasting as well.

Our subconscious mind often acts in autopilot to free the conscious mind, which is programmed to do a task one at a time. We learn through our conscious mind, but it’s ability to hold information for a long time is often faulty because it is distracted by new informations and new tasks to be performed. The subconscious then gets into play. It is our storage warehouse of old informations like life experiences, vital functions, mechanical tasks, and beliefs. Therefore, it greatly influences behaviour, future thought processes, and well, character. It is that part of us that does not sleep. In fact, it influences our dreams, and of course, even our nightmares. It instigates our anxieties and fears; it holds some vital explanations to our phobias, even our negative emotions that we now all know trigger depression.

I see it as two individuals residing within my head. One subjected to logic and reason, and one that is resistant to it, and ultimately defiant to change. Our subconscious mind is dramatically attached to old routines. It embraces habit and it is aggressively protective. It often walls out traumatic events from resurfacing to the conscious self, though it may allow a leak out since no one and nothing in the natural world is guaranteed infallible. The leak out often comes in the form of a sudden feeling, an extreme reaction to certain experiences, smell or sight. A vision that seem to momentarily cloud logic. These are what we call triggers. A phenomenon that could only be explained by psychoanalysis and hypnosis since it traverses the dark and often misunderstood domain of the subconscious. Triggers are things, events or people that invoke extreme and often illogical negative emotions that shatters all carefully build defenses, allowing a moment of recall, a temporary flashback to a world that had once caused too much pain, a memory the subconscious mind perceived as too painful and hence blocked out from freely resurfacing to the conscious domain.

The subconscious mind holds most of the answers to why we are what we are now.

Save Me

How close can you capture sadness while I laugh in your face? While I dance around you, swinging and swirling like a stranger to sorrows? How close do you need to hold me to understand that while I blaze like a huge bonfire in the night, I am freezing cold? How close do I have to be for you to see that I am a void I have no idea how to fill?
A black hole resides inside of me and I am pulled in little by little until nothing of me is left , and I hold onto your hands hoping you still have the strength to pull be back. I hold unto your heart hoping that it could beat for the two of us, while mine rests for awhile. 
How much of me would stay to catch another day close its eyes? To bid it goodnight without actually believing that I’d still be around to see it wake up. How much of me could continue tickling the world while a thorn stays imbedded within my soul? How much of me could still keep up?
Do you see me, the real me, with all the shadows and sad memories? Will you trace my scars and say I am still lovely? I am being consumed and I need you to save me. I need you to want to save me.

Let’s Remember Who We Are

An essay about self harming

People cut because they can’t deal with the pain the world inflicts on them.. They inflict pain they can handle, the kind of pain they are able to understand,  so they can comfort themselves.

Sometimes, life is a raging ocean that drowns everything that we are, everything that we can ever be. And so we create ponds we can swim in. Big enough to contain us, but not big enough we get lost in.

We fill up with emotions we can’t understand. We are imploding. And so we cut for release. Not deep enough to kill, but deep enough to bleed, and to scar. We need to create something we can remember, while we try so hard to forget.

We cut to punish ourselves, for being who we are, for who we can’t ever be; for the many broken pieces that once were our dreams; for all the wrong turns and miscalculations; for the haywire life we can’t seem to control.

We cut so we can feel; For the assurance that we are still alive and not yet ghosts. Because sometimes, we can no longer feel anything, not even our own heartbeats.

We cut to make ourselves smaller, because we ran out of space, and we ran out of places to hide. We cut so that we can fit the pieces into a nook when the world blows up again. We cut to tell our stories, when we can’t master the courage to say it out loud.We cut for release, when the pressure builds up inside and we are in the verge of imploding. We cut because, ironically, we are exhausted and everything have grown bigger than who we are. We struggle to survive, as we are consumed alive by our very own fire.

Let’s remember who we are. Let’s say our names out loud and know how precious it sounds. We are worthy no matter how scarred we’ve been. Let’s give healing a chance, not because we  have to, but because we can.


 The best fighters of this world had known defeat a hundred folds. And the bravest ones have all once been afraid of their own dreams

Every person has that dark, cold, lonely place in them…

Sikeji is a christian boarding school located in the Kalene Hill, in the remote Ikelenge district of northwest Zambia. It was built to cater the affluent Zambian children and those of the many expats’.It was where I was from preschool to 2nd grade.

It was the late 1980s when,  after 7 years of being a municipal health officer, my Dad, without the security of a specialty training, and with five very young children approaching school age, decided to join the UN Peace Corps  as a doctor. It was 18 long hours of plane travel and 2 lay overs before we finally arrived in Lusaca airport where my Dad was waiting for us. It was the middle of June and it was cold and wet in Zambia, which is a landlocked republic in Southern Africa.  We stayed in a hotel for 2 weeks before we took the long and straight drive to Mwinilunga where my Dad was stationed along with 5 Indian doctors and 3 British delegates. This was the time when AIDS was wiping out an entire village of Zambians, and the country was struggling in deep mire in terms of economics and healthcare after years of being besieged by civil war.

In a child’s eyes, being in a place where there were more forests than houses, where there were more people than food, where the nights were long and dark, where snakes get inside the pipes and get lost inside the house, where families grow their own garden because the market only comes to town once a week, is like being in a twilight zone. My parents decided to put my brother and I in the safest niche this place can offer, and so we were enrolled in Sikeji school came August, where the unfamiliar surroundings did not only continue to alienate us, but actually gave birth to the nightmares we still have until today.

Parents make the wrong decisions with the best intentions. It was an expensive school, and it’s the best there is even in British standards. Most of my classmates were white, coming from as far as Johannesburg and Pretoria. Children of the affluent British families who have established companies in South Africa. Most of them have been in Sikeji for years. For them to still be alive and lucid is beyond my comprehension at that time. To be in that place for longer than a few years is surreal. The short time I was there, I have already lost most of my light. A bit more time longer and I would have drowned myself in the nearby Zambian River.

I was towelled dry and soothed to sleep the first two nights I tried to run away from school. I did not get far. I tried to follow the car tracts on the muddy road presuming all the tracts were made by our car. But then a truck load of africans passed by ( farm workers from the school), they were chanting with drums and I got scared. I barged in the dining hall dirty and screaming, and late for dinner. My next attempts were punished with spanking (with a ping pong paddle). I was also denied my candy ration came Sunday.

The nights in Sikeji were particularly difficult. There were no one to comfort us when we have nightmares, and we have a lot. Bed wetting was severely punished with a ping pong paddle on the glutt. Mornings where chaotic. We were young, and most were barely weaned from diapers. I’d often get into inappropriate clothes for the weather and my socks were often mismatched. My brother who was younger would forget his socks altogether, or his shoes for that matter.

After months, we learned to push back. I particularly learned to grow as fast as I could because it’s what the circumstances called for. My brother regressed, and I grew overnight. Bullies were everywhere. Kids steal from one another and the small number of faculties and orderlies managing all the pupils were often overwhelmed. And so when I am pushed, I shoved. When someone kick my brother on the playground, I drew blood. Fear is often the most viable motivator for violence and I embraced both. I was easy to mutate. While I was a child outside, I had grown beyond my years in the inside. I never blamed my parents for putting us in a boarding school. I blamed circumstances. I blamed the inherent madness of the world and life itself. Loneliness fuel deep seated anger that often grows beyond the bearer if not extinguished. My experience however made me clingy and independent at the same time. It made me both broken and strong. The best fighters of this world had known defeat a hundred folds. And the bravest ones have all once been afraid of their own dreams.

I bear a calloused heart, and my soul had been stitched together many times over. I am made up of memories that consume and overwhelm. But I have never once known surrender. I fought until my battles were over, and I braved the unknown with the marks of yesterday written on my skin, on my heart, and on my soul. But I’ve moved on, a step forward at a time. And every distance I made from my brokenness is a conquest all on its own.

Your Name

You walked this path before I did, unfrazzled and innocent to the dangers that we seem to attract. You built your home before I did, and weaved your dreams like an unsinkable ship. That was your mistake. You trusted the world too much. You had no idea, not until you were snatched out from the comfort of your bed and hanged upside down from a tree. Not until you were burned at stake, by the very people you tried to protect. I still don’t know your name.

I woke up drenched in sweat from a nightmare that should no longer frighten me because they were mere repeats of every night’s interrupted slumber. Nightmares that are no match for what reality has in store.  Yes, reality is more threatening, because it’s logical. Because the evilness isn’t just weaved from distorted imagery and besieged memory. 

Are you buried somewhere in this lonely earth undiscovered and forgotten?  Will your bones suddenly turn up in one excavation too many, like a story reaching out beyond centuries, and beyond a hundred lifetime? Maybe then, you can tell me your name.

All I know is that I’m not alone. Not in the face of betrayals and not in the face of broken dreams. You’ve faced them before I did. Made the mistakes I should have made. And each night as I awaken from another disturbing dream, I’d sigh because again, I’ve forgotten to ask your name