The first three months
— A relentless duration with my obsession to construct a groundwork of self-esteem with knowledge and application.
How absolutely rewarding it was! In due time, I was a dutiful, dependable residency officer. My seniors could sleep like an infant during night duty. It was a silent compliment that I gifted to myself as I worked the hours, tirelessly bolstered by the adrenaline of happiness.
It did come with a price. No one wanted to talk to the “nerd”. I was serious, reticent, and unsociable. I had quite the stutter, and combined with the glasses on my nose and a chaotic frizz atop my head, the picture of a comic swot was complete. Hence I was the recu-cu-curring su-subject of d-d-disparaging humor. When they were out of good jokes to tell, some would advise me to “mingle a little more”. Others would accidentally think loudly among themselves “she’s a little shy”.
Needless to say, I despised myself.
The second three months
— A drunken euphoria.
How absolutely liberating it was! If I analogize reasonably, with least exaggeration and vivid imagery, my heart had grown wings. White, lavish, feathery.
I had walked in the first day of this new ward with a new goal in mind: to be bolder, more sociable, and to stutter less.
The previous months had been exhausting, the humiliation, unbearable. To prevent my fragile emotional built from collapsing, my gospel had taught me to seek acceptance in order to build a social circle. The circle would most certainly bear the self-esteem that knowledge had failed to provide. So each morning I made a remarkable entrance clad in bright colors and latest designs, flat-ironed my hair every single day, styled earrings and wore variety of lip colors. I flashed smiles, dug for conversation starters, agreed with opinions, and created inner jokes. Soon, I was “friends” with my closest peers, and almost “well-acquainted” with others. The day would start with sheer anxiety churning inside my stomach, ready to retch several epileptic fish out my mouth. I would down them with breakfast and every morsel of energy I had inside. Then I would reload that strength with two cups of concentrated caffeine that would burn inside my chest for the rest of the day. After painting a coat of composure on myself, I would set off to another trip of smiling at dozens of colleagues and feeding my bones a meal of self worth.
I think I overdid the act.
It was around this time that I became slightly aware that my perception of social dynamics is distorted, blurry, and depending on the situation, nonexistent. It took me entirety of three months to realize I’m making my peers uncomfortable.
Clouds of distress took abode above my head, and as much as I tried, I could not keep coating the lies as fast as they were wearing off. My mind was exhausted by the constant stagecraft I was working too hard to pull together. Peers were becoming evasive, and I struggled to elude dark thoughts in order to present myself at work. Even my teacher was tired of me. When I would ask a question, I was told “You need to know stuff, not ask stuff”. My ears would occasionally detect fading whispers like “unprofessional”, “too friendly”, “too loud”, “too crazy to be seen with”. Wounding rumors of a romantic affair with one of my close peers circulated. I received strange looks.
I wondered what went wrong. “Is it because of how I dress?” I used to ask myself every night near the end of this time. My mind and heart would buzz both at once with all kinds of speculations. I frantically searched my dear gospel for an answer but to no avail.
The third three months
— The depression.
The wild goose chase for goodness-knows-what-at-this-point had drained me of all energy. My mind hibernated, while my body functioned to a mark exceeding its stamina. I stopped accessorizing myself inside out. I curled into a sleeping cat whenever I could. I needed a mental recharge but my duties demanded otherwise.
Who was I? What character was I to play next? The three months were spent searching for an inspiration. I found one.
The last three months
— The last chance
I stood in the operating room. I begged myself to be useful.
“Can you stitch this up?”
“Of course!” I had been waiting. I rolled my sleeves up in an amplified exhibit of preparedness, less to impress, more to make myself comfortable, however not as much as to diminish my pursuit for the former.
To be taught, I thought to myself, I need to be liked, and to be liked, I need to know stuff, not ask stuff.
I wanted to retrieve the pleasure that came with being knowledgeable and dependable.
However, my mind was now awake. With each passing day, I fell deeper and deeper in love with surgery. I was a keen observer, and a zealous worker.
Adrenaline was filled inside me to the brim. I wanted to learn anything and everything. Hands on. I wanted to run my hands over the glossy guts, and gently stroke large veins. I wanted to cut through fat and flesh, muscle and tendon. I insistently begged for cases, with brows arched almost up to the hairline, eyes wide open and fiery, and gave toothy grins at every opportunity I won after countless hours of pleading.
A few weeks into my duty, and I once more realized I’ve overplayed my new character, as I started receiving caustic comments, “unstable”, “overconfident”, “lunatic”, “over-energetic” and the worst of all, “annoying”.
Every single morning that I decided I would not be joyous, excited, or expressive of any one thing, my mind would still unleash due to adrenaline running rampant in my blood. This manifested in short lived phases of sheer silence and sobriety, contrasting with outbursts of informal wit and laughter. This perceived flamboyance, I resolved, was far better than the flaccidity I had formerly felt. I do not know whether my heart came to that conclusion or my mind.
Had I known this was only the last sparks of energy in my system before I completely shut down, I would have prepared for the fall.
The comments continued to flood in. A part of me is certain that it was concluded over tea that no critical cases shall be handed to me, owing to my mental derangement. My energy was often criticized upfront, my idiocy highlighted, and my small achievements ridiculously aggrandized in an attempt to remind me of the limited extent of my potential, my lack of skill, and my inability to grow.
Without a warning, my mind shrunk back into its self-conversant state. I felt robotic, following a monotonous routine of receiving patients, scribbling in charts, stitching up skins, sipping on tea, repeat. I was not, however, present. I was not listening. I was not responding. My heart was stuck in the operation room, yet I did not care to exist in space and time any longer. The highest ranking consultant would ask me questions, but I could not answer. He can ask, he can be disappointed, he can insult. It became a daily mantra. It was surprising to me how my mind could just switch off the way it did. Cognitively paralyzed, physically awake.
By the end of the term, I had lost all care in the world. The idea of self grooming was rejected…by my mind or my heart, I do not know. I would come to work un-showered, hair uncombed, shirt unironed, laces untied, and heels protruding from the shoes. Without greeting anyone I would proceed to catch up on my cases, present them like a failure, and go home to read my gospel. The last couple of days, the remaining few circuits of shaky effort disconnected in a remote part of my brain, and I refused to turn up for my duty. For me, that was the end. Countless text messages and several phone calls demanded my presence, but all were left unanswered.