The Chronicles of Jerusalem

When I was just a young, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, 1st year medical student, in the University of Newcastle, I got into a heated argument with another medical student regarding the issue of Palestine.

Jerusalem belongs to whom, was the matter of contention between the two of us in the Auchmuty Library that morning. It ended up with me feeling battered and stupid. In general, I hate losing a debate. I hate even more when I lose an argument on issues that matter a lot. 

And on that day, I felt like I had lost this particular argument on Palestine. And Palestine matters. A lot!

You see, I was young and fiery. (ehem, I’m still relatively young but less fiery nowadays. Haha… I think). I had more sentiment than facts. And in the end, I lost because I didn’t have enough facts to back me up.

Every debater knows that excellent research is the most crucial aspect of your preparation before you engage your opponent in an argument. Not just any research… but excellent research. Your oratory skills, the inflection of your voice, your outward appearance…. they are merely the icing on the cake of your substantial facts! If you don’t have facts, you will most certainly lose regardless of how much charm you can ooze out of your pores!

However, in my own defense, I didn’t know that I was going to get into a debate of the issue on that day. (Or else I would have done my research like any good debater out there.)

It began as a normal day; me being in the library doing my studying and checking out the news from the internet in between. It began as a discussion on current issues and it so happened that the topic of Palestine cropped up between us. What began as a friendly discussion ended up in a heated snappy comebacks that I was totally unprepared for.

I wanted to educate him so that he could stop spewing biased, unlearned  views regarding the Palestine-Israel conflict. I told him that historically, Palestine belonged to the Palestinians. I told him that Post-World War II, the British had given away Palestine to the Jews when the British had no rights to do so.

He came back at me vehemently and said “Come on! Who are you to say that Palestine belongs to the Palestinian? Just because your Quran says so? But according to the Bible and the Torah, that land belongs to the Jews. God gives the land to the Jews thousand of years ago. So which should we follow? The Quran or the Bible or the Torah?”

Okay, he had a point. Muslims cannot say Palestine belongs to them by making the Quran as their reference because then the Jews and the Christians will say Palestine belongs to them by making the Old and the New Testament as their point of reference. And we will then end up arguing in circles because neither party believes in the other’s holy book.

“No, I am not basing my argument based on anybody’s holy book. But historical facts show that the Palestinians had taken in the Jews who had escaped the Holocaust in Europe and welcome them into Palestine in good faith. Before the Bristish Mandate, Palestine belongs to the Palestinians.”

He scoffed at me and said “And if you want to talk about history…. Sure, before World War I, Palestine was the land of the Palestinians. But thousand of years ago before it was the land of the Muslims, it was also the land of the Jews and the Christians. Before Umar won the war….Jerusalem did not belong to the Muslims, it was the land of the Christians! And then Umar won the war and Muslims then ruled Jerusalem for a time. And then during the Crusades…. the Christians got the land back from the Muslims. And after that, Salahuddin won the land back from the Christians! So historically speaking, should we establish who got the rights to the land based on who FIRST arrived on the land? Because it was not the Muslims who first arrived on the land! Muslims got it much later…because of Umar and Salahuddin!”

I knew I was losing the argument. He had more facts than I did.

He went on to ‘educate’ me in his patronizing tone, “In the case of the Palestine, the land is claimed by three major religions as theirs. Whoever conquers the land would own the land. Once upon a time, the Muslims had wrestled away Palestine from the Christians. And now, the Jews have wrestled away the land from the Muslims. So, whoever wins the land gets to keep the land. It so happens that at this time, the Jews are winning instead of the Muslims.”

In my mind, I reviewed back my knowledge on Palestine history. My brain was working in overdrive, trying to recall the historical chronology:

“Mula-mula Saidina Umar dapatkan Palestin, kemudian Palestin dirampas balik oleh Christians through the Crusades. Kemudian Salahuddin Al-Ayubi dapatkan kembali Palestin. Palestin kemudian memang dimiliki oleh orang Islam berkurun2 lamanya hingga Sultan Hamid II daripada Khalifah Uthmaniyah jatuh…World War I happened… Balfour Declaration 1917 happened ….after World War I, Kerajaan Uthmaniyah dipecah-pecahkan… Palestine jatuh ke tangan British and British Mandate in 1922…. Sistem Khalifah dibubarkan 1924….Then British bagi Palestine kepada Yahudi… Palestinian Exodus/ Nakba pada tahun 1948.”  As I recited the chronology in my brain, I realized how patchy my historical knowledge really was. I didn’t know any real details in any real certainty… because I did not have the opportunity to do a proper and thorough research. And I am the sort of person who is very bad at bluffing or faking it when I don’t know something. I can only sound confident when I really am confident. And I can only be confident if I am convinced. And I can only be convinced if I have read the facts and done the proper research myself. (Other people telling me the facts do not convince me. I have to search and do it myself and read it with my own eyes. That’s my problem.) It is the process, you see! I need to go through the whole process of research before I can be convinced enough to be confident and to sound confident.That’s just how I am. (Yes, I am a control freak with trust issues! Hahah)

Unfortunately at that time, I did not have enough facts and I felt like a fool!

I broke a sweat and in my heart I knew “Aku tak boleh nak bagi argument bahawa Palestin tu milik orang Islam hanya kerana orang Islam lagi lama duduk di Palestin. Sebab sejarah Palestin ialah ia sentiasa direbut dan siapa yang menang, dia yang dapat. Aku tak boleh deny yang argument dia tu valid and logic. Damn, I am stuck!!”

At the end, I could only say to him “Fine, then don’t call the Muslims terrorist. They are trying to fight back for the land and when they win, the land will be theirs. Because according to your views, whoever wins the war for the land could claim the land. So, stop calling the Hamas terrorist while calling the Zionist as the victims. It is a war between them that is yet to end. It is the battle for the holy land.”

We went our separate ways after that. I packed my books, got out of the library and went back to my hostel at Edwards College, abandoning my plans to study in the library…because I knew I would not be able  to focus on my studying anyway. On my long walk back to the college, I was fuming with suppressed anger. Mostly anger at myself! I replayed in my mind the scene of our heated altercation. I analyzed where had I gone wrong.

And after awhile, I realized that from the very beginning I was destined to lose because I had taken the wrong angle. I had said, “Palestine belongs to the Palestinians.” I said that in a way that people would say “Tanah Melayu milik orang Melayu.”

The truth is, no land belongs to any particular race. That’s why “Go back to where you come from” is  a stupid thing to say to someone . Once your ancestors have migrated to another land and breed generation upon generation there, then you belong there! But the land is not yours for you to deny anyone! You belong there…. but the land is not yours! You cannot tell anyone else to go back wherever….because it is not yours!

Can the Native Red Indians say to the White American to go back to the UK because America was originally their land? After all these centuries? Can the aboriginals say to the White Australian to go back to the UK because Australia was originally their land? After all these centuries? Can the Malays say to the Indians/Chinese to go back to India/China? After all these centuries?

Can I say, “Palestine belongs to the Palestinians, so the Israelis should go back to wherever they came from before the World War I, before the Holocaust… back to Poland/German or wherever their ancestors had come from?”

It doesn’t matter how brutally unfair and cruel the method of land acquisition by your ancestors were (talk to the aboriginals in Australia regarding how the White Australians had murdered their native ancestors), but once decades have passed, and generation upon generation have existed in the land, then you belong there just as much as the generation of the original native.

If we were all to go back to where our ancestors came from… well, we all can trace our ancestors to Adam and Eve. And they had come from the heaven. And when you think about it, that’s where we all want to go back to…. we all want to go back to heaven. Right? In this world, we all come from the same ancestor, and therefore the same place… there is no particular place for anyone to go back to in this world. So no one should be able to tell us to go back to somewhere else! Once the migration process have fulfilled the legal requirements of the man-made law, you and your generation belong to the place you have migrated to. It is up to you and and your generation to make the best out of the migration…. to assimilate and integrate into the society as you see fit. (Many Muslims staying in the West have experienced numerous times being told to go back to the middle east. Haha. I myself had experienced such audacious rudeness when I was in Australia. So, next time some impudent rednecks shout at you “Go back to where you come from.” You can just say, “Yes, I am planning to go back to heaven where my ancestors come from. Thank you for your concern.”)

***

When I arrived at my room, I sat on my bed in silence while acknowledging to myself how stupid I was. I deserved to lose. Because my knowledge regarding Palestine was laughable! Spirit and passion alone would not win against cold, hard facts! I called myself as a Muslim… and yet my knowledge about Palestine was superficial at best, and paltry at worst! No wonder I had lost!

It was a wake-up call for me.

Maybe God  wanted me to lose, I thought. So that I would learn. Just because I thought I was arguing for the right cause, it didn’t mean my lack of knowledge was forgivable. I had no business getting into an argument about something important like this without having enough substantial knowledge at the tip of my fingers and I knew it!  (Oh yeah, how much I had learned on that day!) 

It dawned on me that I should have taken the angle of justice. Not the angle of land belonging! Because no one can argue with justice! Whereas land belonging is something arbitrary and arguing on it will lead us nowhere.

I should have said, “Yes, throughout the history, whoever wins the war gets the land! But Saidina Umar had never stolen the homes of the Christians and gave them to the Muslims. Unlike what the Zionists are doing now… taking the home of the Palestinians  by force and simply giving them to the Jews without any rights. Salahuddin Al-Ayubi did not terrorize the civilians, and did not bomb hospitals and holy buildings. The land of the Palestine could have been shared by all three Abrahamic religions, and before the British Mandate, that was exactly what had taken place. All three major religions had lived in Jerusalem in peace. The Muslims even helped the Jews escaped from the Holocaust in Europe, remember?! Saidina Umar and Salahuddin Al-Ayubi won Palestine by winning the war with honour! Not through cruel trickery, savage land hijacking and barbarous land occupation.”

I should have said, “If you knew history so well, you would be familiar with the Covenant of Umar which was also recognized by the West. It was the assurance of safety by Umar to the non-Muslims after he obtained Jerusalem! And the history of Salahuddin Al-Ayubi with Richard the Lion Heart are stuff of legends that is also recognised by  the West….the history of Salahuddin has been made into numerous Hollywood films… showing that Muslims had dealt with the Jews and Christians with justice, integrity and honour! The issue of Palestine is not the issue of land belonging. It is the issue of justice!”

The Covenant of Umar

The text as reported by al-Tabari:

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. This is the assurance of safety [aman] which the servant of God Umar, the Commander of the Faithful, has given to the people of Jerusalem. He has given them an assurance of safety for themselves, for their property, their churches, their crosses, the sick and healthy of the city and for all the rituals which belong to their religion. Their churches will not be inhabited by Muslims and will not be destroyed. Neither they, nor the land on which they stand, nor their cross, nor their property will be damaged. They will not be forcibly converted. No Jew will live with them in Jerusalem.

The people of Jerusalem must pay the taxes (jizya) like the people of other cities and must expel the Byzantines and the robbers. Those of the people of Jerusalem who want to leave with the Byzantines, take their property and abandon their churches and crosses will be safe until the reach their place of refuge. The villagers [ahl al-ard, who had taken refuge in the city at the time of the conquest] may remain in the city if they wish but must pay taxes like the citizens. Those who wish may go with the Byzantines and those who wish may return to their families. Nothing is to be taken from them before their harvest is reaped.

If they pay their taxes according to their obligations, then the conditions laid out in this letter are under the covenant of God, are the responsibility of His Prophet, of the caliphs and of the faithful.

 

I wanted to smack my head. So typical of me to start having so many ideas about what I should have said after the argument was already done and dusted! It is too late for brilliant ideas now, Afiza. You lost! Accept it! Move on!

And I moved on. But this time, I moved on with an action plan.

I studied the history of Palestine. I attended talks about Palestine given by my alim, knowledgeable seniors who were dedicated members of IKRAM/ISMA. Every year they would organize the same talks and the same seminars for the new first year juniors and I never failed to join. (At that time, I did not yet join their usrah groups. I could not commit to it… I was cautious about committing to any particular group. But I always joined their Palestine seminars which was opened to the general non-usrah Muslims. I only started joining usrah when I was in my 4th year of Med school… when most of my friends already joined in when they were only in the first year. It took my seniors 4 years to convince me to participate in their usrah and finally my heart cracked open. Hahah. Yup… I am stubborn and I like to observe and think for myself and come up with my own conclusion before I commit to anything. I was afraid that if I commit to a group, then I cannot be free to think for myself. In psychiatry, this is called group thinking, although at that time I did not yet know what label to give to my hesitation to join them, until I learned about group thinking and group dynamics for my Part A exam last year.  I was afraid that I would lose my identity and my freedom. Silly me, yeah? It turned out that joining them was one of the most enlightening episode of my life.I should have joined sooner. As I mentioned before, this is my problem. I don’t want to listen to others. I need to go through the process and come to the conclusion myself. And as a result, I always end up taking a longer, circuitous route… but I believe, this is also a more satisfying route, because I can say that I do something based on my sincere, heartfelt conviction! I am not just going with the flow, following the herd.)

I was intrigued by my seniors’ enthusiasm regarding the movement for BDS (Boycott, Divestments and Sanction). I stopped drinking Coke or eating McD. I chose Gloria Jeans over Starbucks. (Sadly, when I returned to Malaysia, my resolve is occasionally weakened, I must admit. There are times when I couldn’t say no to Coke. Or Starbucks. But at least, my frequency of buying them were heaps less than it would have been if I did not support the BDS. I still need to work and strengthen the muscle of my will. Sometimes I lost the battle… and I bought myself the Java Chip drink. Oh well.)

During Islamic Awareness Week, I prepared myself by reading on many hot issues (Palestine Issues, The Rights of Muslim Women, Terrorism In Islam, Polygamy, etc etc)  so that I wouldn’t stutter and stumble when I answered the questions of non-Muslims as they gathered at our booth. It was part of my duty as the treasurer of the Newcastle Islamic Society to man the booth with a couple of other Muslim students. We created a timetable that would not clash with our classes and we took turns being in the booth, promoting Islamic awareness. This is something I would never have done if I were studying in Malaysia. It was in Australia that I learned to interact rather than making holier-than-thou religious preach. (I believe, that preaching doesn’t work, especially with people like me. Interaction does! If you want to change, it must come from within, triggered by an interaction you experienced with someone. I was triggered to learn about Palestine because of my interaction with someone who had made me angry….in other words, I changed NOT because someone had preached to me. Something MUST happen inside myself first.)

When I was in my 4th year, one of the seniors asked me whether this time, I would like to be the presenter for one of the Palestinian talk for the juniors. I said yes, I would do it. In my talk, I went through the history of Palestine which I had taken special care to know and understand inside out (after that humiliating encounter when I was in my first year) and in my talk I took particular steps to highlight on how we should tackle the issue of Palestine when we talk to the non-Muslims.

See? There was a reason I lost the argument… so that I would be motivated to learn my stuff properly and pass on the knowledge.

It is true that we learn more through failures than successes.

***

I was  in my 5th year when the Gaza Flotila Raid by Israel occurred in 2010. The Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, which was a civilian ship bringing aid to the Palestinians, were attacked by the Israel Navy in May 2010. The attack by the Israel Navy was bravely resisted by the civilians on the ship; nine activists died and many were wounded. Some of them on the ship were Malaysians.

I was about to face my final exam at that time, dealing with a lot of stress and pressure. But when I read on the tragedy in BBC news and Al-Jazeera, I realized that nothing about this world was worth feeling stressed about. “Other people in other parts of the world are fighting for their livelihood with courage and honour! And here I am, thinking that my life is so hard just because I have to face an exam! You should be ashamed of yourself, Afiza.” I had berated myself.

 

donald-trump-jerusalem-day-2017-move-embassy-tel-aviv-six-day-war

And today, after a few days of nursing my anger and resentment towards Trump,to quote Celine Dione, “it’s all coming back to me now”. How when I was a medical student, I had promised that I would not lose my interest in the Palestinian cause. How I had promised that I would do something worthy as a Muslim just like those activists in the Mavi Marmara had done. How I had promised I would try to persist with my boycott.

Well…. I did break those promises. Shamefully, I did. 

I think, my spirit has lost its fiery enthusiasm since I returned to Malaysia. I am back to my pre-Australia selfish self who did not care about things other than myself and my career and my exam. I couldn’t remember the last time I clicked on the website ‘The Electronic Intifada’, which I used to visit every day when I was a medical student. And nowadays, I am not that strict with my boycott anymore.

My God….truthfully, I have lost my idealism after housemanship. I am no longer that wide-eyed, bushy-tailed eager youth so many years ago who had cared about the suffering of other Muslims.

What have happened to me? I wonder, sometimes.

I guess, housemanship happened.

Adulthood and responsibilities happened.

Life happened… we drifted apart.

I lost contact with good people of good hearts. Some of them are still in Australia, continuing to educate new juniors, building foundations for future leaders who, hopefully, would not forget to care.

Maybe Trump’s announcement to recognize Jerusalem as the new capital of Israel could jump start my idealism and enthusiasm all over again….

Maybe this anger and restlessness would fuel me to stop dreaming, start reading useful materials and stick to reality. (I still remember the soft voice of my senior when she said, “Cubalah Afiza baca buku pengisian juga. Muslim ni berjiwa besar… dan dia kena ambil berat benda-benda yang besar.” Maybe that was why I didn’t want to join usrah in the first place. I knew I was not ready to change. I knew that when I finally joined them, I would feel the pressure to change… but I didn’t want to.)

I know I should read again the history of Palestine that I had forgotten. Read the sirah! Read on jihad and struggle! 

I know I should read real stuff…

So that perhaps, I would start caring again. 

Because The Chronicles of Jerusalem is still ongoing; its journey is long and torturous, fraught with trials and troubles.  But like all other great chronicles of the world, its ending is promised to be  sweet and victorious.

 

 

Advertisements

Oh My English!

Screenshot 2017-11-18 07.26.10

The above picture is a screenshot of my facebook status regarding the recent viralled article from The Star in which a worried Malaysian (presumably a parent) had implored the Ministry of Education (MOE) not to penalize the 2017 SPM candidates who had misinterpreted the question of their English essay exam.

Screenshot 2017-11-18 07.32.40

The article in The Star was an open letter titled ‘Error in Reading Exam Question’ in which someone using the pseudonym ‘A Worried Malaysian’ was saying that only a maximum of 3 marks should be deducted from the whole essay if a student had misinterpreted the question as asking them regarding moving to another part of the world, as opposed to another part of Malaysia. (Hmmm…. what is it about ‘another part of Malaysia’ did SPM candidates get confused about, I have no idea. The question is so precise to me! There is no room for confusion, I think.)

Below is a screenshot of the whole article from The Star. I am sorry it is a bit small but you can try to google it yourself.

Screenshot 2017-11-18 07.34.18

Basically, we could sum up the whole article by the first few sentences of her writing which says, and I quote:

THE English SPM 2017 Paper 1 was conducted on Tuesday. In the continuous writing section, which is worth 50 precious points, students were given five options to choose from. The first option reads: “If you had the opportunity to move to another part of Malaysia, where would you choose to live? Explain your choice.”

As an adult who read this question for the first time, I did not realise it was asking about a place to live within Malaysia. Likewise, many excellent SPM 2017 students who sat for this paper didn’t realise an inclusion criterion set by the question. Some wrote about living in Korea, Britain, Bali, Switzerland, Mecca, Madina, and etc.

SPM is an important examination for students in our country as it will decide the paths they will follow. For excellent kids who wrote about living outside of Malaysia, they have made a mistake in one of the most important examinations in their lives.

These kids have been in turmoil since they realised this horrendous mistake. Those who were aiming for an A+ in English are in extreme shock about this.

I think, it is a sad day indeed for English teachers all over Malaysia when their SPM candidates can misinterpret ‘another part of Malaysia’ with ‘another part of the world’. I cannot understand how such error could have occurred.

Even if (and it is a BIG if) the question is misleading or tricky (Gosh, it is not!!) , if I were the SPM candidate this year, I would have chosen another essay option to answer if I could not be sure whether this question was asking about ‘another part of Malaysia’ or ‘another part of the world’. (The more I write ‘another part of Malaysia’ and ‘another part of the world’, the more puzzled I become at how anyone can confuse these two! I mean seriously! Repeat it to yourself! Another part of Malaysia, another part of the world, another part of Malaysia, another part of the world…. say these over and over again and you will find yourself in a state of incredulity at how anyone can be confused of these two different meanings).

I thought it was absurd when the Worried Malaysian had said that ‘excellent’ students were the ones who had made an error in understanding the question. In my experience with my excellent friends back when I was doing my SPM, ‘excellent’ students usually don’t make simple errors. They only make complicated errors, and only when they are drunk, drugged or in a state of panic.

Excellent students are usually hypercritical at how they look at questions, and if they doubt their judgment, they would change the course of their strategy and choose another essay to answer.

So when I had said in my FB status, that if I were the English teacher, I would straightaway give the students grade B or below, I was not doing it out of cruelty or lack of compassion. If excellent students who would never have made such a simple error deserve an A, then these students deserve a B or below, right? You cannot give similar grade between those who make this error and those who don’t!

It won’t be fair, right?

***

 For those who don’t know, English essay is marked based on:

  1. -Content  – 20 marks
  2. -Language – 20 marks
  3. -Organisation (coherence)  – 10 marks

At least, that is what I was told by my fellow friends who are English teachers.

To me, who is a psychiatry doctor, content is very important. It forms part of our Mental State Examination that we perform on our patients. Based on your speech (in how you answer our question), we put a remark on whether the patient’s speech is relevant or is it circumstantial or tangential etc etc. (I won’t bore you with the technicalities of my daily work). In short, we psychiatry doctors really ponder your answers and we give them our own version of grading. (Not unlike English teachers, Lol.)

As a psychiatry doctor, your answer and your thought content are so important to me. That might explain why my knee jerk reaction to SPM candidates who don’t answer the question properly would be to straightaway give her a B or below (But I have known other people who are so good in English that they were even more strict regarding understanding simple phrase of ‘another part of Malaysia’ and these people simply wanna give these students 25 marks; half the full mark of 50. Lagi kejam dari aku kan? Haha. But it reflects how much people were disappointed that you can misinterpret something like this!) 

But I guess, to be really fair, we should mark the essay according to the marking scheme above; based on content, language and organisation.

I think if the content does not fulfil the requirement of the essay question, I would probably give 5 marks only. A nicer English teacher might give a 10 (half the full marks for content).

So basically, only marks from the content component would be deducted. If the student’s command in the English language is good, then hopefully other components (language and organisation) would make up for it.

I do feel sorry for any of the SPM candidates who had made such an error in reading the exam question, but I do disagree with the spirit in which the article by Worried Malaysian was written…. as though the students should only be lightly penalized for their mistake.

Penalty should be given according to the marking scheme; in this case the marks for the content component must reflect their poor comprehension of the essay question.

My worry is, some over-involved parents want to shield and protect their kids from various bumps in the road of life and the MOE then breaks under the pressure.

***

It would be a shame if the MOE decides to break under the pressure of many worried parents and decides to only ‘lightly’ penalize these ‘confused but excellent’ students. Our standard for getting an A in SPM English is already so low, that lowering it further would place our examination system at the realm of a hilarious joke.

Seriously!

When I was an SPM student, nothing made me more annoyed at seeing how other students whose command in English was not that good had obtained an A too.

But then, there were also people like Miss A (whose command in the English language is not only good, but almost Shakespearean in its literary!!) who might also be annoyed that I got an A. Hahha.

So I learned to be okay with that aspect of exam; that people of the same grade do not always have similar level of excellence, but at least, well enough to get an A.

But I am here to tell you, that the standard for getting an A is very low already.

I will give you an example of many different standards of  introductions to an essay and how all of them can get an A so easily.

  •  When I first met Rania in my first day of residential school, I knew she would be my best friend for the rest of my schooling days. There was an air of sophistication in the way she walked and talked that I couldn’t help myself from being utterly enthralled in her presence. I wanted to know more about her and emulate her style. When she told me that she was from Kuala Lumpur, I knew immediately that if I were to gain her level of confidence, poise and ‘worldliness’, I must become a city girl too, just like her. Since then, I have wanted to make my home in KL, far away from the charming rustication of Alor Star.  (I think this is good enough. Maybe this intro deserves an A minus. But certainly not an A plus! This girl is a kampung girl from Alor Star who is fascinated by her new friend and this girl thinks that she might become like her friend if she lives in the same place as her friend. Maybe, you can develop the story into how this girl later finds out that certain traits have nothing to do with where you were born or where you live. That certain traits you develop through experience or travel or through books that improve your mind. That the secret to her friend’s sophistication is her wisdom, and nothing else. Depending on the candidate’s creativity, this can develop into a good story. During my SPM year… this sort of intro is considered great and I got A1. But Miss A was even better than me, but she too got A1. I wonder if like me, she was upset by the ridiculousness of the marking system… But such is the exam standard in our country.)
  • Once upon a time, when I was a 10 year old child, my father brought my whole family to Pulau Langkawi for a delightful vacation where we spent almost 2 weeks in a chalet of Pantai Chenang. As a busy executive in the hectic city of Kuala Lumpur, there are times when I wish that I could be transported to an island like Pulau Langkawi, where the atmosphere is that of serene calmness. I think, I would be happy in a rural area. (I think, this is grade B. Well, B for boring.  This girl is a city girl, and she remembers her old vacation when she was a child and she wants to go back there while dealing with a hectic executive life in an urban area. Boring, kan? There is no hidden story; no layers to the obvious. But this is also at the level of A1 during my SPM.)
  •  “A mind that is stretched by new experience can never go back to its old dimension.” It was the famous Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of  the US,  who had said that piece of elevated wisdom. And now more than ever, I found the quote reverberated deep within my heart. What is it about being human that we can never be still and satisfied? The soul wants to wander and the mind wants to rebel at anything mundane and repetitive. Now as a Judge myself at the ancient age of 60, after presiding over thousands of various criminal cases and making life-altering judgments and verdicts, I had to make the most important decision of my life. Where shall I spend these lonely years of retirement? Did I even have that long to live? My last heart attack was last week, and it began to dawn on me that I needed a place where my old, broken soul who had seen so much hatred and atrocities in life could heal once again. (Can you see how different this intro is from the rest? This candidate begins the intro with a quote… showing that this candidate is a person who reads a lot and actually memorize quotes. From the very first sentence of her essay, this candidate is already impressive to the examiner! Her very first sentence is already impactful, you see! The protagonist in  this essay is described as being elderly, and is thinking about moving somewhere else for his retirement. It makes the important decision of where to move very critical for him who has just suffered from a heart attack and might not have long to live. He is philosophical when he talks about the soul wanting to wander and not easily satisfied. We as the reader would also wonder why his soul is broken and needs healing and we want to continue reading to understand the reason! What I mean is … there are layers upon layers to the story. It is not a simple story of “I simply want to move somewhere because that is the essay question I am supposed to answer in this question”. Hahha. In short, this candidate is successful in grabbing the examiner’s attention. This candidate is an essayist par excellence! This is the level of Miss A, my friend in MRSM Langkawi who really deserves A+++ if other less impressive essays are given A+. ) 
  • If I can choose where to live in Malaysia, I would definitely choose to live in Kota Kinabalu. I have been there once before, and it was love at first sight.  (Straighforward. No layers! Nothing extraordinary. Grammatically correct because the sentence is a simple sentence, anyway. But yup… these kind of essays also got an A just as long as the language was good enough, not to have made some crazy errors. See how different all of them are but yet all 4 essays do get the same damn A! Sheesh) 

In order to write well, you have to read well. And the average Malaysians don’t read non-academic material! So we do not know how to set a proper standard when marking English essays. We think simple introduction to an essay should get an A already.

Well, it shouldn’t.

Essays should reflect your language sophistication! Because if you cannot be good in your writing (when you have the time to ponder about what to write) then how can you be good at your speech (when you have little time to ponder and simply need to think on your feet and respond)?

Language is not simply making sure other people get what we mean. When it is an essay, it is about getting your message across in the most beautiful way possible. Content is the core; but language and organization make it excellent.

***

And to the Worried Malaysian who thinks that SPM is very important, well… yes, it is. But it is not the be all and end all of everything.

Fair, is fair, is fair.

Everyone has to pay when they make mistakes in exams. Even for a careless mistake, we have to pay for it. In fact, most exams are all about catching you with your carelessness and stressing you with your lack of time management and tricking you with your comprehension of the questions etc etc. Exams ARE designed to trick you and stress you out! So, should everyone then be given compassion for any of those mistakes? Come on!

And in this particular context, what makes this mistake even worse is…. it was not even a trick question! So think logically; should they not be given marks accordingly, with compassion not being made an issue?

How are they going to learn if they never pay for their mistakes? Stop trying to shield your children from life’s disappointments.

Looking back, I am so glad that I was brought up in an era where tough parenting was the norm. No one mollycoddled us or packed us in a cotton wool away from harm and disappointment. We dealt with stuff!

Resilience is developed by dealing with stuff. By not running away from problems but facing them head on! Confidence is developed when you knew you had faced many challenges before and yet, here you are, having come this far! It reminds you that whatever current challenge you are facing now is just like other past challenges you had faced…. that they too will pass with the passage of time!

In my growing up years, my father was very strict but his strictness made sense. He ran the household almost in a military-like style. I had a schedule for every single hour of my days. Even during weekends and school holidays, I had a revision schedule. There were rest periods, of course, but only after I earned them by performing my academic tasks properly. (Rest periods are also scheduled! Haha)

Even my life as a student at a boarding school was not as rigorous as my life as a student in my own home. (To be honest, my life as a student in MRSM Langkawi was not tough in the sense of being a student, but tough in the sense of having to deal with the lack of privacy and the excessive noise and the intrusive friends.)

Just like any kiasu Asian parents (haha), my father too placed a lot of emphasis on academic performance. When we were children, he told us about how difficult it was for him to convince my grandfather to let him continue his education until the STPM level. He kept saying “Waktu ayah dulu, tok wan tak pernah ambil tau ayah punya pelajaran. Ayah nak kena tolong tok wan memotong getah lagi bila cuti sekolah. Nak sambung universiti pun tak boleh, sebab tak ada duit. Lepas dah kerja, baru boleh sambung belajar. Ayah dapat degree lepas umur dah  30 lebih. Sekarang kerja Kak Long dan Kak Ngah belajar saja. Takkan itu pun tak boleh? Kalau ada pelajaran yang lemah, usaha sampai boleh. Kalau tak usaha, sampai bila-bila pun takkan boleh.”

But despite his insistence that we do well in our exams, he would never shield us from the consequences of our own carelessness in exams. He was not that kiasu, see? He would never have written something like the Worried Malaysian had written. He would say, “Lain kali baca soalan elok-elok. Kalau dah silap, memang salah kita…nak buat macam mana. Kena hadap sajalah. Belajar daripada kesilapan. Silap sekarang tak apa lagi. Jangan silap waktu UPSR/PMR/SPM.”

When I discovered the horror of Add Maths as a 16 year old, I told my father that I would never be good in Add Maths. I was afraid that I would not get straight As this time. What made it worse was I could not even attend any outside tuition because I was studying in a residential school. So during the school holiday at the end of my Form 4, my father hired a private tutor for me to help with my Add Maths. For that one month of school holiday, it was NOT a holiday!

But then, when the school open for the new semester of Form 5, my Add Maths result showed a dramatic improvement that impressed my friends. And my SPM result showed the string of straight As I had always wanted for the very last of my National Level Exam.

I  think, our mother sometimes felt sorry for us because we only had one hour of play time per day. The time when my father was outstation was the best time in our childhood. All of us ‘raya hindu’ playing non-stop. My mother would turn a blind eye but would remind us that my father would expect to see our tasks properly done by the time he came home.

Whenever my sister and I came back home later than 7.00 pm after one hour of outside play, we would get a stroke of rattan because we broke the rules. (Afterwards, my Kak Long and I would enter our room and started the game of blaming each other for not minding the time… but after awhile, we simply laughed about it.) If you compare my life to the other kids in the neighbourhood back then, you might say that I didn’t get the same amount of play time like they had. And the other kids kind of pitied me for it. But then, they also didn’t get the same kind of academic results that I got. And I kind of pitied them back. Haha.

So, life is actually quite fair, don’t you think? Not totally fair; not absolutely fair. But QUITE fair.

Because every action has a reaction! Every action has its own consequence and following its own law.

Sebab semua perkara ada sunnahtullahnya. Usaha tu ada sunnahtullah dia. Disiplin tu ada sunnahtullah dia. Banyak main pun ada sunnahtullah dia. Buat silap pun ada sunnahtullah dia. (I should repeat these sentences to myself every day. If only I can get back my level of discipline in studying when I was a kid…I would not have to face the horror of my life while preparing for my Part B exam. My discipline had disappeared by the time I finished high school as my father no longer cared about what I did with my time. Haha)

So, when you make your decision, remember the sunnahtullah of your decision. MOE must remember that if they decide to NOT penalize this mistake properly, then it would open a Pandora box for every mistake not being penalized. Everything can then be argued on the basis of compassion rather than fairness. And everyone then forgets that this is a big national exam we are talking about! NATIONAL LEVEL Exam! National Level Exam should follow strict rules and regulations!

Otherwise, don’t organize an exam! It would be a waste of everyone’s time.

P/S: How are we ever going to get our education system respected and recognized if we always give leeways in the system in order to ‘help’ our candidates. I am sure everyone still remembers the ‘Soalan bocor UPSR 2014’ as one of the worst scandal in the MOE back then. Even at the level of UPSR, our integrity has much to be desired. 

Up to the level of master among professional doctors, leaked questions are common and this is like an open secret! Everybody knows it! And we are talking about professional doctors whom we should be able to trust as having the best level of moral and integrity in the society. But sadly, even at that level, we are just like naughty school kids who would grab whatever leeways or ‘help’ we can find. I have friends in other specialties as well who are doing Masters, and THEY too admit that they got hold of leaked questions.

We all know the credibility of ANY exam is non-existent if leaked question and ‘leeways’  and ‘help’ are not just possible, but very highly probable. No matter how good your system is, when it is not trustworthy, it loses all credibility. 

SPM exam was the last exam that I took using the Malaysian Education system. My IB diploma, medical degree and specialist exams are all International and I prefer it that way. Nowadays, we should think globally! 

So when anyone dares to question my MRCPsych credibility or the credibility of any of the external pathway (MRCP, MRCPCH, etc) to my face, as though I am taking shortcuts in my training, I will just smirk and say in my heart “At least, my exam is world-recognized and meets the rigorous standard of examination that is set by an organization that is recognized everywhere. And I have never heard of any leaked questions that would destroy the credibility of the exam system. Unlike yours!” Once upon a time, I would have said those rebuttal sentences back to their faces, instead of just in my heart. But nowadays, I take refuge in the Malay saying that “Bukit tak runtuh dengan anjing yang menyalak.”

I am not the sort of person who would go around belittling others. My self-esteem doesn’t require me putting other people down or making my unwelcome criticism known in order to hurt other people’s feelings (unless I was feeling provoked), the way some people had done towards me when they talked about MRCPsych as though it is not as good as the Master pathway. It is my principle to support anyone pursuing their education in whatever way they prefer, because that is better than simply sitting on your bottom, not progressing. But in the past, I did give people a counter attack when they tried to condemn my decision to pursue my study via the external pathway. In the past, I paid back taunt for taunt. I was quite fierce in my retaliation, too.

However, nowadays, it might be a sign of maturity that I can ignore people who have a need to belittle other people’s qualification when their own qualification is very, very questionable! With the existence of leaked questions that does not fulfil the moral requirement of integrity, that kind of exam system would NEVER be recognized. So now,  I can ignore their noise and regard it as the hallmark of a jealous and insecure person… and I move on. Yeay, mature me!

Glad INTJ argues

Glorious

I was sitting in my room, in front of my laptop, thinking whether I should break the bad news first or the good news first to my dear blog readers. Finally, after a long, hard contemplation, I decided to break the bad news first so that the good news later can heal whatever pain the bad news might have caused. Say  Hooray! to logical progression (the Afiza’s version, anyway). Haha.

My dear readers, I have a bad news.

I failed….

….I failed to honour my post-exam promise. In fact, I have broken them so many times, I am embarrassed to even own up to the count. But yeah… I have gone berserk reading many fiction books for the past few weeks (not only one book per week as I had promised to do. My justification was “Nanti result exam keluar, you won’t be able to enjoy reading anymore. So do it now!”). I also have not started studying consistently every day as I had promised I would be doing (I am terrible, I know. I don’t like studying because I like fiction more. Haihh!) I also have not started reading any non-fiction or religious books yet (Yeah… I am hedonistic. Afiza is always ‘lagha’ and is always utterly lost in her fantasy world of fiction where everything is fair in the end and justice prevails, and the good shall always win and the bad will always perish. Haha). But I did socialize more in an effort to be erm, nice and more savvy at mingling with society… I went out a few times with friends and colleagues (when in fact, I’d rather be in bed, reading. Surprisingly, I did enjoy myself after I got over the fact that I had to postpone my reading in order to make time for socializing).

Have patience with me. I am learning to slowly give up letting fiction-reading monopolize all my free time. I am slowly building up the momentum. One day insya Allah… I will reach my target to reduce my fiction preoccupation to only one reading per week. You see… it takes time and training to alter a habit of a lifetime. I cannot do it drastically because I will surely fail at it! All my life… I read fiction almost every day! All my life! I am trying to change my unhealthy ways… to fill my mind with more academic and factual things than fanciful stories… but don’t expect abrupt result. I am only human, after all. Haha.

Well.. now that I have gotten the bad news over with, here comes the great part. Are you guys ready for the good news? *excited grin*

The good news is, Alhamdulillah, somehow, miraculously, GLORIOUSLY… I passed my MRCPsych Exam Part B. Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah.

Allah, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful, has been so gentle towards me. So merciful and so benevolent is He towards His undeserving slave. What did I do to deserve this happiness, I knew not.  But if Allah’s blessing must be earned, then I shall never be able to earn it. It is His Grace towards His slave… nothing I could ever do would ever qualify me for His  boundless mercy. I can only thank Him that He decided to have mercy on me regardless of my various sins and shortcomings.

Ya Allah, You know me in all my flaws. Yet,  You grant me happiness still. How patient You are with me. I am overwhelmed by everything I didn’t deserve that You bestowed to me regardless.  I can never say Alhamdulillah enough but I mean every single one sincerely and deeply.

***

I would like to share with you how truly epic my suffering for Part B was. I didn’t share this part of my Part B journey before, because I was preoccupied in worrying about whether or not I would actually pass. Now that I knew I have passed, I am more open to talking about stuff.

I was a pain in the proverbial ass for everyone around me throughout the duration of my Part B effort. At the start of my study leave, when I found out how MUCH I had to cover, I promptly shut myself off in my house, not replying my family’s whatsapp messages and limiting my involvement in the rest of the Whatsapp’s groups that I belonged to. All my friends were like “Afiza memang jenis ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Bila dia exam, tak ingat benda lain dah. Takut nak kacau Afiza, nanti dia marah.” Hahah. They were joking, of course. They knew I value all my friendships… but I am the sort of person who place priorities where they belong according to the level of their urgencies. I am not a social person, even in the best of time. And since exam is really NOT the best of time, I have a tendency to regress to my old self even more. My schizoid personality traits become more prominent when I am preoccupied. Haha. Friends who are very close to me did not mind that I was less responsive to their jokes/conversation in the whatsapp groups. They already knew me and they knew I would be back once the exam was over.

20171007_095615-1.jpg
How messy my work station was during my study leave! Believe me, I am not usually this sloppy.  *sheepish grin* The messiness of my desk is proportionate to the level of my preoccupation at any single time. 

Alhamdulillah for my parents and my family. They didn’t take it personally when I didn’t reply their messages promptly or when I did not answer their phone calls occasionally (because I was either sleeping my exhaustion away or simply couldn’t be bothered to turn on my phone). They have been so supportive. You see, I am a whiner (But I only whine to those who are close to me. Dengan orang lain, buat budget cool, tak cakap apa-apa. Haha). And they patiently listened to all my self-doubts and my incessant complaints about how I never get to enjoy my life  since I was young because I was always struggling with one exam after another! (I exaggerated, of course! I love my life when there are no exams)

My mother and my youngest sister accompanied me for my exam because they wanted to go sight-seeing in Singapore as well. (hotels and flights sponsored by my father.  Muchas Gracias, Papito! We love you!) I was studying my short notes throughout the journey from Kedah-KLIA-Singapore when an overwhelming sense of impending doom assailed my senses. (Hahah. Drama queen MUCH?) I was so tensed because I knew there were so many things I had already forgotten. I was saying to myself “How the heck am I going to answer my exam tomorrow if I have forgotten many stuff I have already read?” You see, there were so many materials to cover…. some of them I had read many weeks before but I didn’t get the opportunity to revisit them since (because I couldn’t read everything TWICE when I was struggling to just finish reading everything at least once. LOL ) So I was FRANTIC, going through everything all over again 2 days prior to my exam. At the same time, I did such a good job of stressing myself out with self-torturous blame “You should have studied sooner. You should have studied consistently. Of course you couldn’t read everything twice, because previously you were busy reading fiction! If you fail, you know you deserve the heartache.”

Hahah. See? I was really neurotic, even I cannot stand being around myself… so I don’t know how other people do it! (Unfortunately for my family, they have no choice. They have to be around me regardless and they have to love me anyway. I feel sorry for them. Haha.)

I was frowning and becoming inwardly annoyed at random people in the airport who were coughing, crying, laughing or clearing their throats. The slightest, most innocent thing that they did had the power to distract me when I really needed to focus at that time. I couldn’t remember how many times I had to take a deep breath in to calm myself down so that I would not glare at those random people menacingly. (Haha. Because if I were to do that, it would be very unreasonable of me, right?)

My mom turned to me and said “Kak Ngah… mak tau kak ngah boleh pass punya. Tak payah study dah. Kalau macam ni kak ngah lagi stress kan?”

“Mana boleh tak study, mak. Angah dah lupa semua benda. Angah kena study juga. Angah dah ready untuk tak tidur malam ni. Kalau tak, esok mesti angah tak boleh jawab.” (Yup… I only slept 2 hours the night before my exam. Until now, I can feel myself yawning just remembering how sleepy I felt at that time and YET I couldn’t sleep because I was so nervous!)

My youngest sister rolled her eyes and turned my worry into a comedy with her facebook status. (All my siblings love making fun of me. They said I am the most ‘garang’ in the family. But I think, I am not ‘garang’ enough actually. A ‘garang’ person won’t be made fun of as consistently and completely as this!)

Screenshot 2017-11-04 07.03.40

(I was posing behind my mom with my smiley face, like everything was cool and I had no stressor whatsoever. Hahaa. So, don’t believe everything you see in the social media, including all those great pictures of people having fun in facebook and instagram. Those pictures are not real and almost 90% of them are mere acts! Even though I was smiling, there really was nothing amusing at that time about my inner struggle worrying for how I would do in my exam the next day. So yeah, this was my fake smile! It looked genuine, though. Haha.) 

Initially, I didn’t even want to go to dinner. I told them that I just wanted to lock myself in the hotel room to study. But then I felt horribly guilty… I couldn’t bring myself to abandon my mother with  my youngest sister (whose sense of direction was non-existent, I think. I think I am the most travel-savvy person among the three of us. Haha). How would I cope if they got lost in the city? Instead of studying the night away, I would be frantic searching for them if they didn’t make it back to the hotel. Rather than worrying about the possibility of them being lost or getting in trouble in a foreign country, (in which case, I would not be able to concentrate with my studies anyway) I might as well just join them for a quick dinner.

And that was what I did. Look at how good I was at faking my smiles as though I was enjoying myself. All for the sake of taking pictures! Hahah. Behind the scene, I was like “Jom mak, cepat makan. Angah nak balik study ni.” LOL. I was in such a hurry I forgot to take pictures of the food. *facepalm* Sometimes, I wonder how my family can bear with me and my occasional bossy ways! I thank God for them every day of my life.

On the exam day itself, I was a nervous wreck. I was sleepy, exhausted and cranky. Two hours before my exam, I arrived at the Trent College and huddled myself at a tiny corner to continue revising my study materials. But Wallahi, I couldn’t concentrate for long. So, I decided to stop studying one hour prior to my exam time. My brain couldn’t take it anymore. I could feel that my brain was fatigued and it would not be good if I walked into the exam hall in this pitiful condition. I walked around the area, doing my breathing and relaxation technique. I bought Coca-Cola and drank it slowly, savouring the taste fully (Coca-Cola was my favourite childhood drink. I boycotted Coke when I was a medical student as a protest against their support to the Zionist cause. But occasionally, I would indulge my craving. I especially crave for Coke when I am stressed. If you see me drinking Coke, you know the reason for it. When I first started boycotting Coke, it was hard for me. But these days, I could go for months without touching Coke. In fact, when I was a medical student, I went for years without it. Alhamdulillah, I am no longer that obsessed with Coke. Now, if only I can replicate my success with Coke when it comes to reading fiction, I would be a very happy woman, indeed.). 

As I was walking around the area with Coke in my hand, I gave myself a pep talk. “You know, everything has been written. You have done your part. It would never be perfect. You can only do so much. Exam is like marriage. You are never ready until you have no choice but to do it.” (Hahha. Yeah, I can crack a stupid joke when I am stressed. But at least, I was laughing while thinking it out. That calmed my nerves a bit.)

I said a lot of istighfar. I talked to Allah a lot in that last hour. I told Him all my worries and how much I was dependent on Him alone. I remember the prayer of Prophet Musa  when he was stranded in the desert of Madyan, a lone wanderer with only the clothes on his back as his wordly possession. He had said to Allah, “Aku ini terhadap apa sahaja kebaikan yang Engkau turunkan padaku, tersangatlah fakir.” I am in need of whatever help you can bestow on me. Whatever help, in whatever form, anything… I need it.  At that point, I had run out of effort already.

As I have mentioned before, the exam itself was hard. One third of 200 plus questions were on statistics and critical appraisal alone. There were a lot of maths and stats. (I have  hated maths all my life!). By rights, I should not spend more than 54 seconds per question. But I’d spent so much time on critical appraisal and statistics that there was very little time left for the clinical part. (The reason I had used up so much time on the statistics section was because I had my OCD attack at that time. The questions in the statistic section was long and required deeper analysis. And I calculated, recalculated, and reconfirmed my answers over and over again. So I ended up spending more time on statistics than I should) I went into my panic mode when I discovered that I still had 60 questions to answer in the 30 minutes time that I had left. So at that point, I had to answer every question in 30 seconds without bothering to think carefully. For the last 60 questions of my Part B paper, I just went with my instantaneous instinct.

What I did actually violated every principle of my usual exam-taking SOP. I am the sort of person who would go through each answer before I commit to the right one. Even when the question is obvious and I can already see the right answer straightaway in one of the options, I STILL need to go through in my head why other answers are wrong. For example, I would talk to myself inside my head, “The question asks about this. Answer A is wrong because of this. Answer B is wrong because of this and this. Answer C is wrong because it is not relevant. Answer D is wrong because the question was more specific. So, Answer E is correct because….bla bla..” 

I rely on that procedure so much in my exam-taking career so far! For every single question, I would do that mental debate with myself. Check and recheck, and tell myself my reason for choosing or not choosing each option; why each option is wrong or right! I never deviated from the procedure before. When I was doing Part A, I did the same procedure for every single question and it was hard to do. I ended up having just enough time for Part A. But I was still able to stick to that procedure.

But this time, with 60 questions left in 30 minutes, I rushed through every question and shaded the answer without bothering to do my usual reasoning! At the end of the exam, I felt terrible! I felt like I was totally dependent on pure luck and very little on my reasoning prowess. Honestly, I felt that I was being reckless with this exam! But what choice did I have? Should I be reckless or should I be careful but end up leaving some questions unanswered for lack of time? The choice was obvious at that point, wasn’t it? Looking back,  I didn’t feel I could do any better. “If you have to be reckless, then you have to be reckless, Afiza. You have to do what you have to do.”

When my parents asked me how I did during my exam, I was earnest when I said, “I did the worst I have ever done!” 

So when I saw my exam result yesterday, I was simply overjoyed. Another miracle in my life, thank God. After all the headaches, heartaches, worries and tears, interspersed with prayers, hopes and wishes, Allah gave me something joyous.

And Alhamdulillah, it was glorious!

 

Glorious

In the silence of the night,
It was You that brought me the light.
In my frustrated mental wrath, 
You guided me to the straight path.
It was You who hushed my mental niggle,
With consoling  words into my mind,
“Be brave, dear slave, in your struggle,
Believe me in the end you shall find,
That the outcome shall be glorious.”

So I toiled, I burned the midnight oil,
So I prayed, remembering what You said,
“To seek help through patience and prayer”
Those reminders a soothing balm to my ear
That calmed the chaotic mess in my mind
Telling me to “oh, be brave in your struggle
Because in the end you shall find,
That the outcome shall be glorious.” 


So I charged ahead, went to war,

fought the battle, to reach the bar,
thinking I would never win,
that I was surely now beaten,
Except something great happen,
Something marvellous,
Nothing short of miraculous. 
Dear Allah, as you promised, 
It was glorious. 


I lowered my head to the ground,
To You I am eternally bound,
I thought aloud, it echoed in my mind.
“It is You, oh Allah, the Glorious One.”

-Afiza Azmee-
3/11/17
9.50 pm

P/S: My mother said in a joking manner, “Nasib baik Kak Ngah pass, kalau tak habislah kita semua malam ni. Mak pun akan pening kepala sekali.” Alida laughed and added  “Aku rasa Allah bagi hang pass sebab Allah kesian kat kami. Kalau hang tak pass, kami semua akan stress sekali. So actually, hang pass demi kemaslahatan kami semua”. Hahha. Yup, they love making joke at my expenses! Really, I am just not ‘garang’ enough! 

Post-Exam Promises

Warning: this post contains exam rants and regrets. Please don’t read further if you cannot take some whining! Because this one contains a lot of whining! 

 

Okay, the real title of this blog post should be The Post Exam Promises That I Always Break. 

Yup…. I made the same darn promises over and over again since I was a kid every time I finished an exam, but I always ended up breaking them after some time. My consistency and reliability in breaking my post-exam promises is so impressive, the chance that I will break them again this time will be almost 1.

P(event) = 0.9999999

The event here being: Afiza breaking her post-exam promises again.

My post-exam promises always consist of:

  1. I will study consistently and be prepared as early as many, many months before my next exam. I will not rely on study leave alone in order to cram everything. Study leave duration is NOT ENOUGH to really learn everything I should know. I will not repeat this mental torture ever again and will be more committed and consistent from now on. Please God, just let me pass this one and I will behave MUCH better for my next exam.
  2. I will only read commercial fiction once a week. For the rest of the week I will make myself study and venture out into other necessary life activities. I will be more community-oriented and sociable and I will go out with friends and  ACTUALLY socialize with REAL people rather than with imaginary characters of  a book. I will learn to be nice and tolerant with other people when I socialize with them (which is something I don’t have enough practice doing because I always spend time with books). I will not let reading fiction monopolize the bulk of my time to the extent that I ignore the more important aspect of my life such as my academic learning and my relationship with my friends, and neighbours and my own family. I will keep in touch with all my friends after this exam and will not abandon them the way I did during my study leave. I will be NICE. I will reply whatsapp messages promptly. I will return phone calls straightaway.
  3. I will read more religious books and non-fiction. I will spend my time wisely. I will have more self-control regarding the frequency of my fiction reading.

You have no idea how difficult it is for me to keep those promises. And like I’ve said before, I always break those particular promises. The lure of new books from my favourite authors and new stories from new authors… they will ensnare and entrap me in mid-resolve and I lost myself.

***

It is ridiculous how much time I arrange my activities around my reading habits.  The problem is, it is so hard to change the habit of a lifetime.

When I am exhausted, I want to read stories to relax.

When I am already relaxed, I want to read books to maximize this pleasant feeling of relaxation.

When I am sad, I want to read stories to remind me of happy endings.

When I am happy, well, I thought I should multiply this happy feeling by reading. It will make me even happier.

When I am angry, I read stories to calm down.

When I am calm, I read stories so that I can absorb them better.

See? I can find many excuses and various reasons to read fiction for every occasion and every emotion.

But these stories are junks! They are pure entertainment! They are not real! I didn’t gain any earth-shattering insight or ground-breaking information from them. In fact, my hobby is correctly termed as ‘lagha’. While it might be okay for me to indulge in them once a week, but to do so for MOST of whatever free time I have….day in and day out… that is like a sickness. I know that!

And while I was struggling to cram everything I had to know during the one month study leave, I gained an insight regarding the debilitating nature of my condition. “If only I had started studying earlier! Kalaulah aku guna semua masa yang ada waktu aku baca buku cerita dulu-dulu dengan membaca dan menghafal my academic material, I won’t be suffering this much. Why do I always do this to myself over and over again? Orang lain ada free time, buat locum! Dapat juga duit! Otherwise, they do something very adult like cooking for their family. You? You read stories! When are you gonna grow up?”

Yes… you have no idea how many times I berated myself.  But like I said, I had done the same self-scolding in the past, but I always forget and relapse into my addiction every time the exam is over.

During that one month study leave, I hardly went out of the house. When I finally came out of my cave for some much-needed fresh air, it was because I was so tired of eating my home-cooked nasi goreng/ bihun goreng/ Maggi over and over again that I just HAD to eat something else and therefore I had to go out. Otherwise the only fresh air I enjoyed would be from the balcony of my house. Towards the end of my study leave, my mother actually brought me food because I just couldn’t be bothered to get out of the house anymore. She was probably worried I was not eating well. (And she would be right)

And I totally blamed myself. Because time is so precious and I have been wasting them by reading fiction all these time and simply relied on study leave to cram everything.

The problem with me is that, I will only do something I dislike when I absolutely have to do it. And study leave and exams force me to study when all I want to do is to read fiction, write my book reviews and occasionally exercise with hiking, jogging and an occasional weight training. Those are ALL I want to do during my free time when I don’t have exams. I am absorbed in them and I think those activities are more than enough to keep me fully occupied and satisfied. So you see, without exams, it is so easy for me to allow myself to drift away in the clouds of my fantastic tales. My parents had been saying to me since I was a child, “Kak Ngah, cuba kalau Kak Ngah baca buku sekolah macam kak ngah baca buku cerita. Mesti lagi pandai. Buku cerita tu tak bagi faedah satu apa pun” My mom said that every time I finished my ujian bulanan when my results was not as good as it should be. And I simply told her,  “Nanti periksa akhir tahun, angah buat betul-betul lah.” And I always delivered that promise. During my final end of year exam, I made sure I did well enough to maintain in the first class. And in all my national big exams, I got straight As… because I was able to cram in the last minute.  I was happy to push myself and went all out during those final moments as long as throughout the year I can enjoy my hobby.

And this pattern of last minute cramming persisted throughout medical school.

But I think, it must be the ageing process in me. I cannot cram as well as I could when I was younger! I think the recent exam was the hardest exam of my life! I am not kidding! Not joking! Not exaggerating! It was HARD!! I fear for my result but knew that it is too late to regret. I must learn from this lesson and do better next time. I hope I will pass even though I knew it would take a miracle.

This time, I cannot break my post-exam promises. I know now that my brain is not as good as it was before.

Below is the findings on how our memory and learning evolve as we age:

  • IQ peaks at 25 – plateau until age 60-70 , then declines (maybe my brain declines early.  Hahaha.That was how I felt during my recent cramming fiasco)
  • Simple recall becomes difficult as we age (darn right!)
  • Working memory shows a gradual decline and worse with increased complexity of task and increased memory load (Yes…there was a lot to remember and my memory load was overloaded! My hippocampus simply could not take it anymore!)

I cannot afford to waste my time with fiction anymore. Cramming doesn’t work as well as it used to.

I am aging! *sobs sobs*

I told myself, that I have to do what I have to do. This time, what I HAVE to do is stop being so absorbed in fiction and grow up into a responsible adult who does what she must! And that is painful. Like making over my life.

It is a life makeover. *sigh*

I hope, I don’t break my post-exam promises this time. God knows I cannot afford to break them.

 

P/S: I just finished reading Dan Browns’ latest book entitled Origin that came out just a few weeks ago. But that was not exactly breaking my post-exam promises. I specifically wanted a break after the exam, so I read the book to reward myself after the crazy tough exam. But my next reading will be next week. I will try to stick to the schedule. Once a week. No more! Yup! Wish me luck, won’t you?

 

 

Why Taking An Exam Is Good For You

The real title of this post should be:

Why Taking An Exam Is Good For You : An Attempt By The Author At Positive Thinking When Facing Mental Torture And Suffering.

Haha.

But it’s too long for a blog post title, no? So I decided to make it concise and do all the necessary elaboration in the actual post itself.

Joke aside, I personally, do believe that taking an exam is good for you, not just intellectually, but also spiritually (and when you actually pass the exam, it is also good for you emotionally as it raises your self-esteem; even when you KNEW that your success has very little to do with your own effort and ONLY because Allah has blessed you with it.)

My study leave has just started today for one month! Woot! Woot! #Happiness

But instead of studying today, I spent half my day sleeping (because I only had 2 hours of not-so-good-sleep last night) and the other half of my day was spent blogging and reading (ehem, I read non-academic books. I told myself that this is one last fiction that I would read before I start studying SERIOUSLY).  I think I deserve the rest after the crazy hectic on-call I had last night! I should have known that I can never get away with a relaxing on-call on my last day of working before my study leave. The universe just never works that way with me. I am not the sort of person who subscribes to the notion that certain colours can exacerbate or reduce the level of on-call hecticness (aka jonah-ness). But I had worn black blouse, black pants, grey shawl and cream shoes (just in case, you know.) All those are very unobtrusive, non-striking colours. But I think, God has punished me for doing that! Maybe He is saying “You should have known that colours have NOTHING to do with jonah! That’s khurafat and you should have known that. You claimed you don’t believe such a thing! But your action proved otherwise! Now, here you go! You are, hereby, punished with the most unrestful on-call you have ever had for a long while! Enjoy!!”

Okay, God… I admit, I deserve it. Please forgive my stupidity! I will actively wear red next time I am on-call. I will prove to You once again that I don’t believe such a stupid khurafat of jonah-colour crap ever again! *facepalm*

Since I am officially on my leave for a month for studying, this post is my attempt at pumping myself up for the upcoming exam.

Here it is! My list of reasons of why taking an exam is good for you! (If you can make yourself believe it. Heheh)

1)It feeds your intellect.

This is, like, self-explanatory and self-evident. Human beings are intellectual creatures. One of the core feature that differentiates human beings from other creatures in  the animal kingdom is the fact that we are a thinking, analytical machine by virtue of having a mind, and not just a brain. The brain is the physical element of our thinking machine. It is the hardware that most animals possess in varying degrees and levels. Whereas, our mind is the sophisticated software that turns our brain into a functioning one. 

And every software must be updated to keep it relevant! But some people are too lazy to update their software (their minds!) because they are comfortable with the way things are already. They didn’t know what they didn’t know (and therefore their ignorance is bliss) and what they already knew has been enough to keep them going, so far. (I mean, I went for on-calls just fine with what little knowledge I had before taking Part A and before studying for Part B, right? Even without studying for any exam, what little knowledge I had was enough before, no?!) So, of course, in such a situation, no one would have the impetus to want to update their software. Because you don’t really have the urgent need to do so!

Then, comes the scary exam! NOW! Now,  the impetus and the urge to update the software intensify! And you can no longer postpone the update process this time. Hahha.

Lazy people like me need exams to read something academic. Otherwise, I will only read fiction. I can’t help myself! I am not really an academician (that would be my elder sister!) and I hate studying, until I am forced to do it. At which point, I will tell myself ‘you have to do what you have to do, Afiza’ and I will then start studying regardless of how I feel about it. 

So, exam is great because it forces you to upgrade your brain software in a manner you would not be motivated to do, otherwise.

So, yup, I love exams! (Ehem!)

 

2)It feeds your spirituality

This is quite difficult to explain. Because this is only my personal experience with regards to exam.

The thing is… I pray more during the time of exam. *sheepish grin*

I am usually an early sleeper and also an early riser. I am not the sort who would sleep after subuh because my most productive time is in the morning! When exam is near, I rise even earlier to study. Sometimes, I was up at 3.00 a.m.

Wallahi, I don’t have the highest level of iman to always perform the tahajjud prayer every night like some other  more pious people out there.  When I was a medical student, I used to wake up early for studying and simply got started on studying straight away. But, perhaps the usrah sessions were so successful in changing my dunia-oriented self (my naqibah should be proud of her achievement in changing me, lol) that  there was always this feeling of guilt inside my heart telling me “You are soooo dunya!  You can wake up early to study for exam, but you cannot offer a few minutes of tahajjud prayer? Afiza, buck up, will you?!”

The guilt prompted me to be more worshipful, I think. It brings me closer to God.

But there are times when I questioned my own intention. “Do you pray all these sunnat prayer because you are really being more pious now, or is this just a temporary thing while you are struggling with exam?”

Errmm…..

Well, I don’t think I am the only one like this. Most of my friends are like me too. We even talked about it and discussed the issues when we were in med school. And we came up with a conclusion that everything needs a level of forcing (and a conscious effort) before it can become a routine that would evolve into a sincere deed. The same thing goes to fasting and the obligatory 5 prayers. When we were kids, we were forced to do all those things before they became something that we now do sincerely, right?

All I can say is, please God, correct my intention and make it easy for me. I mean, really, life is a struggle and we all have our own personal jihad. This one is mine! Once upon a time, I did not even feel guilty when I didn’t offer tahajjud and simply started on studying straight away. Now, at least, I do feel something whenever I abandon my tahajjud in favour of immediately starting my study. So, that is an improvement, right? Hopefully, if my intention needs correcting, Allah will help me correct it as I go along. Amin.

 

3)It builds character

If you pass your exam, you learn to be grateful. You see people who have taken the same exams multiple times and work as hard as you do and yet they still do not pass… and you are grateful that Allah has eased your way for you. You know, your effort does not guarantee anything. You are only doing your end of the bargain. The other end is totally up to Allah. Allah does not guarantee anything out of your effort but Allah asks you to put in the effort, regardless.

tie your camel

 

On the other hand, if you fail your exam, you learn the concept of humility. And you develop the character of persistence, perseverance and grit, as you push yourself to take the exam another time. And another time. And another time. (But God, please, not another time. Hahah).

The prophet had said, whatever happens in the affair of a believer is good! Remember?

affairs of believer

Whether you pass or you fail, it is good! So don’t worry about it (but honestly, I am just an ordinary human being. Of course I worry about it. LOL! But only to a certain point, and then no further! This is how I keep my life sane. Whatever I feel…. it will only be up to a certain point, and then no more. Whether it is sadness, grief, fear, pain, love…. I will put a limit to it in terms of intensity and duration! And then, my rationality will kick in, and hopefully, I will make myself do the right thing. Learn to feel the right thing. I think that is the best Modus Operandi for not getting a mood disorder when we are assailed by life’s trials and tribulations. Put a limit! And tell yourself, that’s it!)

 

4) Exams make me read something I would not otherwise have read. And exams make me watch/listen to YOU TUBE videos I would not otherwise have watched/listened. Exams broaden my horizon!

I would be lying if I said that I only study academic books without taking any ‘lagha’ rest in between. Seriously, I am not an angel. I have to rest, you know. Haha. 

When I am not facing any exam, I don’t feel guilty reading commercial fiction, or listening to pop songs or watching movies on the internet and you tube.

But when exam is near, my superego told me that I MUST use all that time for studying ONLY and reading something ‘lagha’ like a mystery or a thriller or a fantasy would make me feel so damn guilty!  But my id wants me to rest and read fiction. So then, my ego forces my id and my superego to compromise by making me read a non-fiction book or  a classic literature, instead. This is actually how I started reading non-fiction books such as ‘The Doctor In The House’ (autobiography of Dr. Mahathir) or ‘The Authorised Biography of Nelson Mandela’ and ‘Moonwalking With Einstein’. (I comfort myself by saying that when I read those books, it is not exactly wasting precious study time. Because reading non-fiction actually update my store of general knowledge, even when it is not academic-specific. But it is STILL knowledge, right? Then the guilt is settled and I get to relax. hahah.)

When I want to rest from studying, instead of picking up the latest John Grisham/David Baldacci/Matthew Reilly/Jeffrey Archer books (all of them are my favourite commercial fiction authors) I picked up best-selling non-fiction books that I would never read otherwise. And I will surprise myself when I discover something new and I will feel amazed that I could enjoy other books other than my usual commercial fiction. 

Likewise, instead of watching YOU TUBE videoclips of western pop songs (I am sorry, God), I actually listen to nasyid. Hahah. This is how I come to know a lot of nasyids when I was in medical school. Thanks to exam! (My sisters laughed at me in disbelief when I told  them that I did listen to nasyid when I was in medical school. Because I never did, before that. I was more into Backstreet Boys and boybands etc etc and so were my sisters. So I kind of understood why they found it so surprising because even I was surprised at myself too. A lot of changes in myself happened when I was in Australia, when I think about it. I think my spiritual growth accelerated exponentially when I was in medical school overseas, where Islam was the minority. Weird, isn’t it?)

Here is one of the nasyid I actually put on repeat when I am studying.

I have also discovered classical musics by Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and Vivaldi. You can find in YOU TUBE a video with the title ‘Classical Music For Studying!’ Hahha. Really awesome! My personal favourite is Vivaldi’s Winter (Four Season), which is arguably, the best study music ever! Here is the video… listen to this and wait until you get to the chorus. Hehehe.

So you see, I have a list of what I call as my ‘study songs’. These songs are a perfect in-between that would satisify my superego and my id! So, I can enjoy my time listening to these songs in between my studies without suffering from any guilt!

When I want to watch something else other than YOU TUBE tutorials of statistics and neurology, instead of watching YOU TUBE movies like I usually do, I watch lectures by Nouman Ali Khan, Yusha Evans and Dr. MAZA instead. This is actually how I discovered these precious gems in the ummah when I was in med school. I had wanted to watch something fun when I was resting from studying, but my superego could not handle the guilt of wasting precious study time by watching ‘lagha’ movies. So I decided to watch religious lectures instead. And I discovered something even more valuable than anything else; the CORRECT understanding of my religion that years and years of studying Pendidikan Agama Islam in Malaysian schools did not give me! I also discovered the wonder of comparative studies on religion! I also found out that all those Israillyat stories that I had stupidly forced myself to believe as religious -even when my instinct cautioned me that ‘this is weird’ when I first heard it – were all really false, just like what my instinct had told me in the first place. I discovered that my religion makes sense! That it is logical! If something religious doesn’t sound logical, dig deeper, investigate further… until you find the truth! I discovered that religious authorities (even JAKIM) can be wrong and can confuse the masses! I learn to use my brain as a filter before I let ANYTHING or ANYONE to influence my idea of what is right and what is just and what is true!

And I learn to like things I never thought I would like. Now, I have started buying non-fiction and literature books even for the times when I am not studying for any exam. I have also started listening to those nice, innocent, classy ‘study songs’ even when I am not actually studying. I have also started listening to lectures at least a few times every week even when there was no exam to prepare for.

See, how exam has broaden my horizon, expanded my outlook and changed my habits even in the times  when  I am WITHOUT any exam !! It is amazing isn’t it?!

***

It is only through exams, tests, and trials that you learn to become better than you once were! Not only in academic exams but also in life exams. Your lost! Your sadness! Your fear! Your anxiety! When you face them, you can bet your life, you will be a stronger and better person for it! That is like sunnahtullah, like the law of the universe. 

So…have I convinced any of my readers that exam is good for you? I have even convinced myself at the end of this writing! Haha. Please tell me that I succeed at sounding positive about all these!

😉

Pray for me, my dear readers. I need all the prayers I can get.

Until next time, take care!

Thoughts On Trauma and PTSD

Writers, in general, find inspiration by things that happen around us. As a doctor (who happen to have an interest in writing), things that happen around me are things that happen to my patients or to my colleagues or to myself.

Lately, we have a couple of PTSD cases in our ward. One of my patients developed PTSD after being involved in a relatively minor road traffic accident. 

Just a few weeks ago, I was asked to present a topic on psychological management of patients with Burn Injury and one of the subtopic that I covered in my talk was PTSD among war veterans living with blast injuries.

And just yesterday, one of my colleagues had a minor accident on the way to work, and she jokingly said, “Oh no, I hope I don’t develop PTSD like our patient.”  She is one of the funniest person in my department but part of me feel worried if she might not be joking about her worries on developing PTSD. She admitted to me once that she is the OCD and anxious type. 

It reminded me of my own impending PTSD last year (I use the word ‘impending’ because I never actually developed one. But I could have developed one, I think, if I didn’t straight away get a grip on myself and took steps to prevent it from developing. One of the steps I took was by refusing to talk about it or mentioning it to anyone other than to my family members who knew about it. And I continued doing my daily routine as though nothing serious had ever happened to me. My method worked because Alhamdulillah, I don’t have PTSD).

All in all, I feel like this is PTSD month for me and therefore this is what I am inspired to write about.  

***

If you have read the non-fiction book ‘Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry’ by Jeffrey A. Lieberman (The Former President of American Psychiatric Association and one of the key contributor to the development of DSM III, a dramatically and drastically more systematic manual than the previous DSM I and DSM II), you will find a very interesting chapter that he wrote on how unique, personal and mysterious the development of trauma can be. 

download

Why does trauma occur in some people and not in others? And how come the development of trauma has nothing to do with the scale of danger involved? Jeffrey A. Liberman related two events that had occurred in his life; one incident was life threatening (he was held at gun point by a robber in his house), and the other was just a minor accident (he accidentally dropped an air conditioner from a multi-storey building and the air conditioner almost hit the doorman downstairs but in the end, no one was actually injured) and yet he developed PTSD over the minor accident rather than the one that might cost his life. 

Below was his own thoughts regarding how puzzling the development of trauma can be:

“What is it about traumatic events that produce such intense and lasting effects? Why does trauma occur in some people and not in others? And how do we account for its seemingly unpredictable incidence – after all, it seems rather counterintuitive that dropping an air-conditioner elicited PTSD-like effects, while a violent home invasion did not. During the latter episode, I was assaulted and my life was in genuine danger; during the air conditioner’s plunge, I never faced any physical hazard. Was there some critical factor that determined how my brain processed each event?”

When I read this particular chapter of the book, I remember thinking that “PTSD is so fascinating.”

Out of all 265 diagnoses in DSM-5, all of them are defined without any causes being explicitly referenced, EXCEPT for substance use disorder and PTSD. While we all know that drug addiction is due to actual effect of  chemical reaction leading to neural changes in your brain, PTSD is a psychological reaction to an event that produces lasting changes to a person’s mental state and behaviour. Like substance use disorder, the cause for PTSD was clear cut (unlike other diagnoses in DSM-5). Before the event, a person was mentally healthy. After the event, the person is mentally wounded. (and treating a mental wound is a whole new headache that is not as straightforward as treating a physical wound. A mental wound is something you cannot see directly. In a sense, it is like ‘benda ghaib’ that you cannot fully grasp. How do you treat a ‘benda ghaib’? It is so difficult and it can be so frustrating sometimes, trust me).

 ***

Until now, it remains a mystery to me as to why I was able to move on with my normal routine after I was involved in a major MVA last year, but in contrast, I was an emotional wreck after the passing away of my ex-classmate many years ago. 

I was very emotionally affected after the death of my ex-classmate when I was 18 years old. Something about mortality scared me as a teenager. The unpredictability of death – that it could occur to someone as young as my ex-classmate in a sudden manner – shocked me out of my complacence about life in this world. I never had to think about death before. Intellectually, I knew it could happen to anyone at any age. But spiritually, emotionally, I was just a teenager who was enjoying life and didn’t think about mystical, existential stuff like that… until the death of my ex-classmate. I was not in any danger when the news of her death was informed to me. I remember feeling shocked but I was not affected straightaway. So I could not understand why a few days later I found it difficult to sleep and this continued for months. (But my appetite was intact, Thank God. Maybe NOTHING can ever reduce my appetite. Haha).

Last year in Ramadan 2016, I had made plans to visit my sister on the weekend. We were going to meet in Tanjung Malim and we were going to hang out in KL to have some sisterly fun times. On Friday, right after my sahur meal, I made that journey to see her. It rained heavily that morning. I ALMOST did not fasten my seat belt when I started my journey. In general, I didn’t like wearing seat belt. I felt that it limited my movement and made me feel very uncomfortable to drive. But I don’t know why on that day, I decided  to fasten my seat belt. Something about the heavy rain  gave me pause and made me decide  to err on the side of caution. (I thank God for that decision every day of my life and I never again drive anywhere without fastening my seat belt.) 

I had just passed the Pendang area on the PLUS highway when I accidentally hit a big puddle of rain water while driving in high speed and all of a sudden, I lost control of my car and it spun around so many times and then it actually went into the air before it flipped over and I ended up upside down inside the car. While the whole thing was happening, my mouth only said “Ya Allah, Ya Allah, Ya Allah.” (Seriously, I could not remember the complete syahadah at that time. I guess, the complete syahadah is something I associate with dying in bed rather than while struggling with my car).  As my mouth kept uttering the name of God, my mind kept thinking that “I am going to die soon.” Then I thought of what my family members would feel. And then I remember thinking “Well, at least,  I die in the month of Ramadan.” But a glimmer of hope inside my head also said “If not death, then at the very least, you might end up in ICU.” I thought about intubation, brain injuries and chest tubes while struggling with my car.

 

I have never experienced such an absolute loss of control over anything before in my life. That was the first and only time that I truly felt that my whole fate was out of my hands (even though, when you think about it, your whole life is NEVER in your hands. You are never in complete control. Everything has been written.)

Alhamdulillah. Alhamdulillah. Alhamdulillah. I did not sustain any fractures. I did not even sustain any bruising. Not even an abrasion. I was upside down in the car a few seconds after the whole crazy movement ceased and I thought to myself “I am alive!” I still remember the song that was playing on the radio at that time while I was digesting the fact that I was alive. (It was an arabic, Amr Diab song.)

Suddenly, an elderly stranger broke the window of my car, and pulled the door open and lifted me out of the wreckage. He thought I couldn’t walk, so he just lifted me up without asking whether I could walk myself. (I remember thinking “Hopefully I am not too heavy for you.” haha) I tried to tell him that I could walk, that I sustained no injuries. But he didn’t hear me due to the heavy rain. And I was too exhausted to shout twice. I would forever be indebted to him. He was such a kind-hearted man.

He was so surprised that I was unharmed. He said, “Ingat mesti dah pengsan, patah riuk dah.” I reassured him that I was fine. I thanked him very much for helping me out of the car and for going back inside my car to retrieve my handbag, and my phone. A few people also stopped by my car to help. 

“Nasib baik kebetulan tak ada kereta lain waktu tu.” said the kind uncle. 

Yup, it was a major accident involving me and the divider only. Thank God that I did not cause any injury to anyone else. (I don’t think I could live with that.) It was because I hit the divider that had caused my car to stop spinning. But unfortunately instead of stopping, it went into the air and flipped over. And the most miraculous thing is the impact from the collision did not even trigger the air bag to deploy. If it did, I would surely have some remarkable injuries on my face.

I called my father to tell him that I was involved in an accident. I didn’t tell him how bad it was over the phone. (In my experience, whenever I was involved in an accident – even when it was not my fault – somehow he would blame my driving. I must be driving too fast, he would say. But seriously, other than this particular major accident which only involved me and a highway divider, the other accidents were not my fault… all the police reports confirmed that. How would my fast driving cause other drivers to make mistakes in their own driving? In the previous two accidents I was involved in, the other drivers themselves had admitted that it was their mistakes. My own NCB was not affected in any accidents I had had before this one) 

While waiting for him to arrive, I prepared myself mentally to be scolded by him. (Because unlike the others, this one must be my fault. I can’t exactly blame the highway divider, right? I must have lost control of my car because I hit the big puddle of water, isn’t it? So this IS my fault. And I knew I would surely ‘kena leter’). But to my surprise, my father did not say anything after he saw the condition of my car. Perhaps, after seeing how bad the accident was, he was too shocked to the point of speechlessness. Or maybe he was just relieved that I escaped without any injuries.

Because he did not scold me as I had expected, I actually burst out crying right there and then. I was holding myself really well before that. I did not burst out crying until he arrived in front of me without a word. Perhaps when I saw how very uncharacteristic the behaviour of my father was, it then really hit me that I could have died. I could not remember the last time I cried in front of my father prior to this incident. It must be many many years in the past since I have cried in front of anyone. See? Even I was behaving uncharacteristically on that day. Haha.

My father eventually made a joke “Sejak bila Kak Ngah jadi pelakon stunt, buat lagak ngeri ni?”

I laughed in the midst of tears.

On the way back home, me being a PSY MO, I thought about PTSD. I have seen a few patients who stopped driving after being in an accident. I have seen patients who have panic attack while driving. I was afraid that I might develop such symptoms. Which would be so troublesome, because I don’t want to have to depend on other people to get me to places I could so easily drive myself. That kind of dependency, resulting from unreasonable out-of-control fear, would limit my freedom. And I really love driving. Despite what my father always said, I think I am a skilful driver. (It is just that my skill is so good that it belongs in the race track. Haha.)

I started to formulate ways on how to prevent myself from developing PTSD. I didn’t know whether or not it would work, but I had made all these plans inside my head as my father was driving me home. 

1)Start Driving Again Straight Away

In one of the books I read, the protagonist develops fear of horse riding after she fell from her horse in one of her practice session. Her tutor had told the protagonist, “You should have gotten back on the horse straight away after your fall. Everybody knows that the longer you wait to get back on your horse after a fall, the harder it is to regain your confidence.” So based on that principle that I remember reading from a Sweet Valley High novel, I decided to straightaway drive my father’s Ford Ranger a few hours later in order to go to the workshop and retrieve some of my leftover stuff from my wrecked car.

My father and my mother offered to accompany me to go to the workshop since it was so soon after the accident (2 hours post-MVA!) but I told them that I had to do this by myself. I had to drive by myself because I wanted to be able to drive by myself for the rest of my life. I don’t know whether there is a window period, within which time, you must create a new experience to undo the bad ones. (this was just my theory, at that time. Not sure if it is scientifically proven or true. Haha) So, I decided to hasten the process of driving again after my accident. Alhamdulillah, I was fine. No anxiety (well, maybe just a little) and no panic attack whatsoever.

 

2)Start on your normal routine straightaway

I stayed at my parents’s house on the day of my accident to please my mother (because my mother was remembering how my cousin had passed away one day after his accident despite being discharged from A&E with no detected internal bleeding. His passing away was a shock to the whole family.) But the next day, I told them that I wanted to go back to my own house. I wanted to see whether I can stay at home by myself after the accident. Having my own space to relax and read and escape from noise and hectic environment is important to someone like me. Being able to enjoy my solitude without fear and anxiety is imperative to an introvert like me. We need our alone time in the same way we need our basic physiological needs (well, maybe not in the same way we need oxygen, but almost in the same way we need food and drinks.) I need to be able to do that. And I wanted to test my ability to do that straightaway. My mother did not approve of my plan but my father had no objection. I think my father understood the practicality of my decision… it was just as practical as my decision to start driving straightaway.

At the end of the day, we must control our anxiety and our fear by facing it head on and moving on. We must prove to ourselves as soon as possible after an event that there is nothing to be anxious about and nothing to fear. The sooner you get the ‘testing and proving phase’ done and over with, the sooner it stops having any power over you. 

Even though I had no injuries, no scratch and no abrasion whatsoever, the muscles all over my body started to ache slightly and felt a bit stiff the day after the accident. My mother suggested for me to take a leave on Sunday. But I decided not to do that. I wanted to get on with my routine as though nothing traumatic has happened. In my normal life, I get to work on Sunday, and therefore I MUST go to work on Sunday as usual.  Routine, routine, routine… my main aim was to get back to my normal routine.

The muscle ache? I just pretended  as though I had a heavy work out at the gym. 😉

 

3) I kept my accident a secret from everyone at work and even from my best friend.

On Sunday, they asked me why I was driving my father’s Ford Ranger instead of my usual Toyota Rush. I told them that I had an accident (I didn’t tell them that it was bad and it scared me shitless when it was happening. Hahha).

A few weeks later when they still saw me driving my father’s Ford Ranger, they commented that the workshop where I sent my car took too long to repair the car. I simply shrugged my shoulder and said “Yeah, I don’t know why they took so long. Maybe insurance issues or something.” I ended up getting back my car after 3 months of repair work. And my friends kept saying “Why does it take so long?” 

Hmmm… 

I just didn’t feel like talking about it. I was studying for my Part A MRCPSYCH exam at that time and I had read that debriefing was not recommended for PTSD. In my mind, I felt like talking about it might be like some sort of mini-debriefing and therefore I simply avoided talking about it by making it a secret. I think it worked.

(Deep inside, maybe I kept it a secret because I was afraid people would comment or tease me about my driving skill like my father always does. I am quite touchy about my driving. I hated it when guys think women are bad drivers. I think I am a good driver and I don’t want anyone else to think otherwise. Haha.)

 ***

So Alhamdulillah, I can really tell you that I did not get any PTSD/anxiety/fear of driving/ fear of rain/ panic attack after the accident. In fact, when I compare the emotional impact between this accident and the death of my ex-classmate, I can honestly tell you that  I was more affected by the death of my ex-classmate than this accident. I had no trouble sleeping at all after the accident.

It was weird. But as Jeffrey A. Lieberman had said, development of trauma is such a mystery. Does it have anything to do with our brain processes while the trauma was happening or our brain processes after the trauma has happened? Our amygdala, hippocampus, and our prefrontal cortex are all involved in the pathophysiology of trauma. But when do they start forming the ‘traumatic memory loop’? Why do some people never develop that loop despite whatever traumatic experiences they have gone through?

Until now, I am still wondering. Could it be that I had prevented any development of PTSD (traumatic memory loop) by normalizing my life as much as possible right after the accident? Maybe somehow, I had stopped the process of ‘traumatic memory loop’ formation by tricking my brain into thinking that everything was normal and the next day was just another day. 

Whatever it was, one of the things I told my colleague after learning about her accident was, “You must drive straightaway.”

Because it helped with me. So hopefully, it helps her too.

In the whatsapp group, all of us were sharing the pictures of our previous encounter with road traffic accidents. And needless to say, my picture won the prize of the most horrifying accident to ever happen to any of us. And then it occurred to me, “Wow, I finally talked about my accident after all these months,”

***

With my colleague’s accident, I remember again all the thoughts I had about my own accident in the aftermath.

I had thought, “Maybe I didn’t deserve a Ramadhan death, after all. I am not that good as a person.” (God, that sounds depressing but unfortunately, it is the truth. I have that much insight about my impatience and my lack-of-tact and diplomacy.)

I had thought that “Well, maybe God saved me because He loves me and He wants to give me a chance to repent and do as much good as possible while I still live.” (This sounds less depressing. Hahha)

After nearly tasting death, you realize that things that happen in this world are so insignificant that you should not stress yourself about it at all. Nearly tasting death gives you a strange sense of freedom. You knew that the most stressful thing that can happen to you is death.  And if that is the worst thing and you have nearly encountered it, what makes you think you cannot handle the rest of the other life stressors that may come your way in the future? Life is one struggle after another …so don’t be afraid, stick to your principles, speak the truth and do what is right no matter how much it would compromise your position because ‘in this world’ is your only chance.  Death can happen at any time. And thoughts of death renders everything else in this world meaningless. But paradoxically, it can motivate you rather than pull you down, if you have the right methodology in thinking about it.

I remember thinking about miracles and guardian angels after the accident. In Islam, we know about the Hafazah angel…

For each one are successive [angels] before and behind him who protect him by the decree of Allah . Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. And when Allah intends for a people ill, there is no repelling it. And there is not for them besides Him any patron. (Quran 13:11)

According to Wikipedia, The Arabic term al-mu’aqqibat (commonly encountered in the definite plural, Arabic معقبات “those who follow one upon another”) is a term occurring in the Quran (Q.13:11) which some Islamic commentators consider to refer to a class of guardian. Therefore also these Angels are also called al hafathah (الحفظة) which means the guarding angels. They protect us from the harm of evil jinn and shaytan (شيطان).angels who keep people from death until its decreed time.

In Islamic tradition a guardian angel or watcher (angel) (raqib “watcher”) is an angel which maintains every being in life, sleep, death or resurrection. The Arabic singular for mu’aqqibat would be a mu’aqqib “a person which follows.” These angels are included in the hafazhah (“the guards”) and the concept of the guardian angel in Islam is similar to the concept of the guardian angel in some Jewish and Christian traditions.

At the end of Ramadhan last year, I reflected about my remarkable experience by writing a poem entitled ‘Hafazah’. In that poem, I was meeting that guardian angel  when I make it to heaven and we were having a conversation. Hahha. It was a fanciful poem but it was deeply felt.

The month of Ramadhan has always been special to every single practicing Muslim out there. It is the month of miracle. I knew that before. Intellectually, I believe that. But now God let me emotionally experience the miracle. It was a blessing, actually. And so, I have nothing else to say but Alhamdulillah.

 

Hafazah

Katakanlah nanti suatu hari
Kita bertemu sekali lagi
Jasad, jisim, jirim ukhrawi
Bukan di sini, di syurga abadi
Akankah kau aku kenali?
Akankah aku kau dekati?
Akankah kau aku hampiri?
Lantas berkata dengan lirih,
“It was you then, wasn’t it?
In the world once you’d saved me,”
Akankah kau menjawab kembali,
“No problem, dearie, you don’t owe me,
It was my job, so I did it. 
The ink has dried, the pen is lifted.”  

Akankah aku berkata pula
“Sudah lama ingin berjumpa,
mengenali dia gerangan mana,
menjaga aku tika bahaya,
mengiringi ku dalam duka,”
Kemudian kau akan ketawa,
“No problem dearie, you don’t owe me,
It was my job, so I did it. 
The ink has dried, the pen is lifted.”

Akankah aku melirik padamu,
Lalu dengan suara esak tersedu
Mengucapkan puisi dalam sendu
Yang kau balas dengan menyeru.
“No problem dearie, you don’t owe me,
It was my job, prescribed by God 
So I did it, not for you
I swear, nothing else is true,
It wasn’t your time, or it would be done”

Atau mungkin kita tidak akan berjumpa,
Kerna layakkah aku menapak ke syurga?
Mencarimu di sana adakah terdaya?
Mungkin madah ini takkan termakna
Hanya tinta beku coretan pena
Catatan kaku selama-lamanya.

5/7/16, 30 Ramadhan 1437

5.30 pm

One Of The Funniest Video On Relationship Ever!

 

 

I have a friend who is quite mad at her husband at the moment.

So I gave her this video to watch because it depicts the reality of relationship; that it is not always a walk in the park with you wearing a rose-tinted glasses.

She watched this video and she laughed out loud.  I remembered how I was when I first watched this video… I too was laughing hysterically! No me puedo contener!  

So I then declared that this video is a relationship saviour, amigo! Please save this video and replay it many times whenever you feel quite mad at your significant other. Tell yourself that it is normal to occasionally hate someone you are supposed to love. (laugh out loud!) Such cognitive dissonance should be embraced when there is nothing else you can do about it. *shrugs*

This video reminds us that it is really quite normal to want to curse your better half at times! *ROFL*

So, don’t worry. Don’t go to your divorce lawyer just yet. Watch this video and tell yourself it is normal to hate your husband, occasionally. Because chances are, when he said ‘sorry’ he means something else entirely. Haha.

I leave you guys with another tear-rolling funny video. Also about relationships… but this time on siblings. I am glad I was never ‘the project’. Hahah.