Intense Alhamdulillah

We say Alhamdulillah so frequently in our daily life that sometimes we don’t even realize what we should really be feeling while we are saying the word. We eat, we burp and we say Alhamdulillah. We sneeze, we say Alhamdulillah. We say Alhamdulillah when people asked us how we are doing.

But are we really feeling grateful to Allah while we are saying it? Or has it become part of our reflex response to everything mundane that we do?

The utterance of Alhamdulillah from someone who has gone without food for the past few days is different from us whose previous meal was only a few hours ago. The feeling of gratitude is immense and overwhelming when Allah finally gives you THAT VERY THING that you want so wretchedly badly that your heart constantly prays for it and at the back of your mind, you are always thinking about finally having it.

And you know that no one can make it happen except The Glorious Almighty.

I have mentioned before that I believe in the sunnahtullah of berusaha. But I also know that there is fate and qada and qadar. I have always known that ‘berusaha’ only qualifies you to be in the race. But whether or not you will win is something that can only be determined by God. Ultimately, God grants you what you work for. You don’t even get to paradise by your own effort. You get to Paradise by the grace and mercy of Allah.

Our Prophet (PBUH) points out this truth as follows:

The Prophet (pbuh) said: “No one of you will enter Paradise by his deeds alone.” They asked, “Not even you, O Messenger of Allah?” He said, “Not even me, unless Allah covers me with His Grace and Mercy” (Bukhari, Riqaq, 18; Muslim, Munafiq, 71-73).

Our deeds and our worship would not even repay Allah for the gift of a pair of eyes, let alone for the usage of the rest of our senses and our many blessings in life.

Alhamdulillah, my dear readers. I passed my Part A MRCPsych exam.

Alhamdulillah. One step forward to becoming a specialist in the field that I love.

Alhamdulillah for this happiness.

And my Alhamdulillah this time feels way more overwhelming than what I feel after my usual meal. (Haha. Not that I think a meal is not just as important as passing an exam. I mean, if survival is the main aim, food is so much more important than whether or not we pass ANY exam, right?)

This particular Alhamdulillah is intense stuff. Serious stuff, folks! After more than 2 months of excruciating wait, FINALLY Allah allows me a beautiful rest. Alhamdulillah.

And this success feels even sweeter because my good friend and colleague, Dr. T, passed too. We were overjoyed when we found out that we passed from our friend, a Master student in UKM who had checked our results even earlier than us. At that time, Dr. T was busy oncall so she did not have the opportunity to check her result straightaway. As for myself, I was driving back to Alor Star, bringing my staff nurses and PPKs home from our fun kayak trip in Baling. Me and Dr. T knew the result would come out around 8.30 pm on the 17th of February (it is morning, UK time) but we just didn’t have the opportunity to get to it straightaway.

When our friend congratulated both of us (in our own Whatsapp Group created only for the three of us) I was afraid that she had somehow misled me. I needed to see it for myself. Haha. So, I told my staff that I needed more time with my phone even though all of them were already in the car and eager to resume our journey home after the short break in Gurun.

When I finally see it… MY NAME! on the list of those who have passed (or rather, my father’s name, since that is my surname, Haha) I wanted to jump with joy. So, unofficially, my staff nurses and my PPKs who were in the car with me were the first people in my department to know about my passing the exam (other than Dr. T and our  mutual good friend who had congratulated us). I told my staff nurses and my PPKs not to tell anyone in the department first, because I have very specific people I want to have the honour of being OFFICIALLY informed first.

Such as my family.

I whatsapp my parents straightaway because I couldn’t wait until I got home to do it properly. Haha.

And my siblings were like “Okay, esok Angah kena belanja makan!” Hahah. My younger sister, Alida, has been saying “Kak Ngah memang suka buat drama. Hari dia balik exam, muka monyok macam apa. Cakap konon susahlah. Exaggerate la tu. Sebenarnya dia saja kata susah, supaya kalau dia pass, dia boleh cakap kata dia terer.” I laughed out loud. (That’s NOT TRUE, guys! To me, it was the hardest exam of my life. Only about 50% of our candidates actually passed. Out of 661 candidates all over the world, only 346 passed Part A. I have told my siblings, if I pass, it must be because I was somehow triggered to choose the BEST answer. Because correct answers were in the options, but BEST answer is the one they want. It was confusing as hell!)

I had officially informed my dearest best friend too, Dr. F, who has just passed her Master exam Part 1 last December and we are planning to celebrate our mutual happiness once she is back from KL.

The next day (well, this morning), I sent a text to my ex-HOD, Dato’ R, to tell him that Dr. T and I have passed our Part A. I think he deserved to know first because he was the one who had granted us our one month unrecorded leave to allow us to focus on our exam. (I end up using my own annual leaves due to some really annoying administrative stuff. But his intention to grant us such generous unrecorded leaves was clear from the start and Dr. T and I really appreciate his gesture from the bottom of our hearts. In some centers, they won’t even let you get straight study time even if you are using your own annual leaves. So, I am very grateful to Dato’ R.)

And then,you, my dear readers! Officially, after my family, my best friend and my ex-HOD, you guys are the ones I officially inform regarding my beautiful blessing. My happiness is too big for me to hug it all to myself. I am JUST over the moon.

***

I am very blessed for having such a supportive people around me. My family is my pillar of strength. My parents never stop praying for me. They take academic performance seriously and they always push us to continue our studies. When I achieve anything, the first person I want to inform it to will always be my mother. Then, my father and the rest of my siblings.

They give me what I need to put in a good fight and a good effort. As much as I appreciate wishes of good luck and emotional support, I don’t really need it that much (especially the copy-pasted good luck spamming via Whatsapp that people tend to do these days). I mean, by fitrah, Allah gifted me with the ability to self-motivate. Alhamdulillah.

I appreciate practical assistance and practical help rather than just meaningless wishes of ‘good luck, Afiza. Mesti hang boleh buat.’ Hahah. I mean, that is of course very nice of them to say that. But at the end of the day, I can say that to myself too, right?

I appreciate practical assistance to help me with my effort. I don’t need you to teach me or to study with me or to supervise me. Because I can do that for myself. I can study myself and to be honest, I study best by myself. (I am not trying to sound arrogant here. I just know myself and my style of studying after years and years of non-stop exams. INTPs in general don’t want anything that curb their freedom to do what they think is best and supervision is one of the thing they don’t really like. They are more likely to disagree with their supervisors and would resent having to follow what their supervisors say. Hahha)

Give me the tool that I need, and I will appreciate you so much more than if you just give me words of encouragement. For example, my parents support my effort by sponsoring my flight ticket and my hotel room. Money is practical stuff. (Hahah! Take note that I pay my own exam fees. I could have paid my own ticket and my own hotel room, but my parents insisted to pay for my flight and my hotel. So what is a daughter to do but to accept? Haha)

Doa is also practical stuff. My mother especially never stops praying for me. It so happened that my parents’s annual umrah is always in November. My parents just got back from Makkah one week before I was due for my exam and they told me that they prayed the hardest for me. So when I was sitting for my exam, I was accompanied by a fresh doa out of Makkah!! I believe that doa is powerful stuff.

I appreciate past years papers or notes too. Those are really practical stuff I can actually make use of!

The reason I appreciate Dato R so much is because he too had given me the practical assistance that I really, really, really REALLY NEED to help me with my effort. In order to put up a good effort, I need TIME! Time and space to focus and do my thing! And he gave it to me. I don’t think I have ever properly thanked him for it. (Because even though I am a psychiatry MO, I am just not so good at expressing my own feelings, especially face-to-face. Tender feelings such as fondness and gratitude… I stumble whenever I want to say things like that. I am just VERY good at expressing disdain and contempt at those who annoy me. That’s a bad, bad trait, I know. I am nicer now, though. Ehem, I think.)

I am not saying that when you guys are wishing me good luck and all the best, I don’t appreciate it AT ALL. I do appreciate them, especially personal messages of good wishes that are not copy-pasted over and over again in the Whatsapp Group. Very nice of you to take the time to think of me and type up your personal wish properly to let me know that you want me to succeed. I am just saying that I appreciate practical assistance THE MOST. (because Alhamdulillah, I have enough motivation and encouragement for myself within my own self)

My friend told me that I am a hard-to-impress person. Mengayat, memujuk, memang tak jalan… habis air liur pun tak hairan! Hahah. It’s true. Because words will never be enough to impress me. I know very well how words can be said without meaning it. Maybe because I read and write so much (almost all my life, minus the first five years of my childhood when I was not yet able to read) that I have become an expert in how words can be manipulated, twisted, bent over, rhymed together, and punned… so that I can clinically and objectively appreciate your ability to use your words to be nice or romantic or diplomatic, but that will never be enough for me. Subjectively, intuitively…. I will never be won over by words ALONE.

I need pure, sincere intention as well. And that can only be determined by your actions. To me, Dato R has shown his INTENTIONAL support for me to succeed in my exam by his ACTION of allowing me a one-month leave to focus on my study, just like what he had given to all other master MOs in the past. He WANTED us to succeed. He had proven his intention by his action. (Even definisi iman adalah percaya dalam hati, ucap dengan kata-kata dan amalkan dengan perbuatan. Ucap saja tak cukup, kan? Aku pun boleh ucap apa saja!)

And I am so GLAD that me and Dr. T have been able to show him that we used that one-month time properly. That we did not abuse his trust. What he gave us, we were able to make use of. Alhamdulillah.

Alhamdulillah for everything!

Effort And Sincerity

Once upon a time, me and my sisters were at a small hotel in KL, feeling hungry and needing something savoury to eat. The problem was, we didn’t have any transport and the only options were the food stalls around the area.

We are not picky eaters, exactly. We are not food connoisseurs or anything. We can eat at stalls, mamaks, or gerai tepi jalan, medan selera…. whatever. As long as the place is clean, then we will eat there. 

So me and my sisters walked around the many stalls around the area, trying to choose which stall was the best to eat at. I noticed a bunch of young kids at one of the stalls there had poured some water at the ground surrounding their stall so that the wind would not scatter the dust away into their small stove or bother their customers. They were just a bunch of teenagers but they caught my attention.

“Weh, jom makan sini.” I suggested to Alida

Alida agreed because she too had noticed what I noticed. Then all of us siblings ended up eating there. 

It was a simple effort. But it made all the difference in where we chose to eat.

And when one of the kids took our orders, we could see his polite respect, his effort to make suggestions about what was the best to eat at his small humble stall.

I could see his genuine pride for what he did as a living. He may not be able to do much, but he would do what he could. That was all it took to win our hearts.

***

I think that I am not exactly the most social person in the world, either in the social media or in real life. Social media to me is more as a tool to propagate a certain worldview, a campaign tool to get people to pause and realize how ridiculous society really is (my own paltry version of ‘kritik sosial’ just like in the literature that I read, hahha) or to stay connected with friends.

Mindless socializing is not my forte (even though I could do it, if I have to).

But when I finally do socialize, I make an effort. And I am sincere with the effort I make.

I am not only sincere with what I say when I am being nice, I am also very sincerely earnest in what I say when I am annoyed.  By reading my blog or what I wrote on whatsapp, you can tell whether I am joking, happy, annoyed, about to burst out or downright furious at something. Hahah.

My friend used to tell me “Afiza, you are so good with words. How come you cannot find a prettier way to express yourself when you are annoyed?”

I laughed out loud. Can you see how brilliant my friend is? That was a backhanded compliment at its best. Very diplomatic of her to compliment my literary skill (a sure way of warming my heart, making me more receptive to her suggestions or criticism) and in the next breath telling me in no uncertain terms that the way I express myself when I am annoyed have a lot of rooms for improvement. (She is a master at diplomacy without making it fake! And that’s rare!)

I don’t socialize much, but when I finally do, I try my damnedest hard to be genuine. The point is, you know that you are interacting with Afiza, as how she really feels and how she really thinks. If I am annoyed, you know it. If I am amused, you know it. There is no misunderstanding.

True, I could have found better ways to express myself when I am annoyed. I just don’t want to. It’s not that I can’t be diplomatic. I just don’t want to. It’s not that I don’t have the skill to butter up to my superiors and be nice to authorities. I just don’t want to. It’s not that I don’t have the mental capacity and the language skill to couch my words in a manner that is more pleasant while delivering my message, but I just don’t want to.

I. DON’T. WANT. TO.

Not because I can’t. But because I won’t.

If I had wanted to, I would have done it! Make me want! Or make me feel like it is VERY IMPORTANT in this particular context for me to be diplomatic, then I will do it.  I do it with my patients, for example. Counselling, Motivational interviewing…. it’s all about giving a certain message in a manner that the patient can see, understand and accept. Another way of looking at it is explained by Wilfred Bion in his Containment theory. We do it all the time during therapy.

Bion’s theory (1959, 1962) explains how a mother receives unwanted and/oroverwhelming projections from an infant, processes them and then returns the experience to the infant in a modified, palatable form. This process also occurs in therapy with the therapist acting as a ‘container’, taking in thoughts/feelings from the client and re-representing them so they are both more understandable and less potentially destructive.

When I am doing therapy, I am working. My working persona, as Jung would term it! Not my real personality.

But when I am not working, I have no reason to contain anything. Hahah.  You will get me all raw and unprocessed. My own version of being a straight talker (because I think normal people should be able to take the truth without me having to dress it up the way I did with my clients and patients. If I have genuine respect of your intellect, I would be straight and honest with you. The moment I think your intellect cannot handle it, then I will try to be more diplomatic. So when I am being honest and blunt, take it as a compliment! Hahah. It means that I think your intellect can pass muster. Being blunt is also my own way of weeding out who I can be friends with and who I should only bother to communicate when there is a need for me to do so. As a result, I surround myself only with people of similar wavelength as me. Real, genuine people who would not act like they are in a drama all the time. Hahha)

Putting a lot of emphasis on being real and genuine, I was quite affronted by people who simply copy-paste messages of birthdays, Hari Raya wishes, CNY wishes, congratulations or condolences in whatsapp groups!

Gila malas!!

For example, when someone’s mother pass away, the first person giving the condolence message in the whatsapp group is the only one who actually puts a sincere effort to write his message properly. The rest of the whatsapp group members then simply copy-paste the first message ad nauseam, ad infinitum. It feels like you are reading repetitive spam messages instead of a genuine expression of sympathy and empathy towards your friend who has just lost her mother.

How can the society be so insensitive and so lazy!

Orang cakap aku tak diplomatik! Tapi sekurang-kurangnya, when I do socialize and communicate, I am sincere about it and I actually make an effort.

Instead of copy-pasting the same thing, I wrote a different message of condolence into the whatsapp group! It was my way of saying that I actually thought of her while she was dealing with the lost of her mother, that I had bothered to compose something out of my own heart and mind.

A minute later, the rest of the other members (who had not yet said their condolences before) copy-pasted MY message and turning it into another set of spam!

Adoiii!!  *tepuk dahi* (By the way, when did I give anyone the permission to plagiarize my message? Haha.)

What the hell hangpa semua ni! Pemalas nak mampus!

To be honest, aku pernah jer tak wish birthday and tak ucap takziah in whatsapp groups. Maybe because I am not particularly close with that person and therefore my wish (or lack of) would not really mean anything to them one way or another. 

But when I do finally write something, I compose my own! 

Maybe it is the writer in me that makes me so fastidious and fussy about showing some effort when you are making your greetings and wishes. Maybe this is just my personal pet peeve because I am so used to communicate my thoughts in writing, so that I become quite particular about the lack of genuine effort and warmth in what is supposed to be a sincere, personal wish of condolences by your so-called friends and colleagues.

But heck, this is not supposed to be my own pet peeve. Anyone with common decency should have thought about this too.

When I scrolled back the messages in the Whatsapp Group, I took note of people who actually bothered to compose a different message or insert their own personal message in the Whatsapp Group. And my INTP mind started analyzing the pattern (as it tends to do all the time. INTPs like patterns) People who I noticed had written different messages are either people of genuine kindness and warmth to everyone (one of my female specialist is like that), or people who are actually really close with the person suffering the lost (even though in other occasions, they too are copy-pasters).

So my mind came up with these conclusions/patterns: 

1)If you are genuinely saddened by someone’s lost because you are close to this person, then you would show an effort to express your feelings properly because you honestly feel sorry for them in view of your friendship. And because of your close friendship with this person, you feel compelled to personalize the message because you WANT this person to know that you SINCERELY share her sadness. Generic copy of condolence won’t do justice (in the context of your close relationship with this person.)

2)And if you are someone with common sense and common decency even though you yourself are not personally close with the person suffering the lost, you would also bother to compose your message properly. (this is because being a nice person is who you are and you would extend the same kind of thoughtful personalized message to everyone suffering such a great loss, regardless of the intimacy of your relationship with them. One of my specialists is like that. She is genuinely kind-hearted and nice.)

3) The rest are just actors and players (or perhaps robots that have been programmed to repeat or plagiarize) pretending to do what the society expects without having to really think about it or making any real mental effort. (And these are the ones that annoy me. At that specific  time, I don’t respect them or their sentiment).

I do personalize my messages and wishes. But it’s not because I am a nice person all the time. It’s because I am so rarely nice that when I am FINALLY being nice, I will make a real genuine effort. Or else I wouldn’t even bother.

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***

Please don’t bother to wish me anything (birthdays/ condolences/ congratulations) if you are just going to seem like you are suffering from echolalia. The writer in me do not feel anything (no joy, no gratitude, no respect, no real warmth) with such messages. I wouldn’t even remember the people who copy-paste the same darn wish over and over again like uninspired spammers with nothing better to do. If I am ever tested with the loss of my beloved mother, I don’t want anyone to display such a lackadaisical attitude with the way they express their condolences to me. (I might not even announce the matter in Whatsapp group and just personally call my boss to inform the matter privately and quietly in order to avoid reading copy-pasted messages and having to pretend that I feel thankful??! about what you so effortlessly and thoughtlessly plagiarize. Gosh!) The loss is devastating to me! And you are just copy-pasting like you don’t really care? How dare you! (I understand you may not mean it that way. Maybe you do genuinely think of my mother when you are copy-pasting that message, but how would I know that… when your effort is so paltry?!)

To rub salt to the wound, you are annoying me by spamming the group.

I appreciate genuine effort! That’s all! It can be small, it doesn’t need to contain bombastic words ala Shakespeare or Chaucer, but it can be genuine and real. At least!

Even if it contains grammatical errors/misspelled words… I would appreciate it a thousand times more than a thoughtless copied message.

I leave you today with the facebook status of someone whose idea and intellect I actually respect who had said the same thing I am trying to say. Maybe his facebook status could convey better what I really think when I write this post. He wrote about the unfortunate rampant spamming that has become the ridiculous trend in our society during festive season. I agree wholheartedly with what Tai Zee Kin in his facebook status had said. And below, I copied his very thought provoking facebook status into my blog post.

I think, this facebook status deserves a standing ovation.

Until next time, my dear readers.

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Ethics & Professionalism

“Kenapa Dr. Afiza tak jadi MO medical or surgical? Dr. Afiza nampak macam doktor yang patut duduk dalam department yang busy.” One of my HOs had asked me.

So, I told her that I was supposed to be an ENT doctor after my housemanship. But I wrote so many letters to the hospital director to refuse my posting in ENT. In my last letter I had said that “putting me  in ENT would be a waste of time for me and for everyone. It would be a waste of time for ENT department to train me when they know I am going out to psychiatry one day.” After that last letter, I think even ENT department would think twice before they take me as their MO. When I wrote that letter, I imagined that the ENT specialist would feel “dah budak ni cakap terang-terang tak mau masuk department aku, aku pun tak mau terhegeh-hegeh nak ambil dia”. Hahah. But I wrote that blunt sentence anyway. (Because I don’t give mixed signals. Hahha) The purpose of my last letter to the hospital director was  to state in the boldest possible manner that I’d rather be in the busy A&E where I could learn a variety of cases, than be placed in a highly specialized department such as ENT when I KNEW I would be going out anyway. It WOULD be a waste of time placing me there.

I remember thinking back then that if I couldn’t get into psychiatry, I would be happy being in  the busy A&E. I actually enjoyed my A&E posting when I was a HO. No matter how busy it gets, you can get off immediately once your shift is over and there is no on-call!  So yeah, I don’t like heavy on-calls like the ones they have in  medical or surgical. I have other interests in life such as reading, writing and hiking that I really don’t think I would be happy being too busy as a doctor. But I can do A&E. You just need to be fast in A&E and no matter how busy it gets, once your shift is over, you are done! Tomorrow is another day with another set of patients.

Maybe my HO’s observation that I should be in a busy department sprung from the fact that I have a type A personality. I want things to be done fast. I walk fast, I talk fast ,I drive fast… I even eat fast. In fact, my brain is always busy trying to think about making  things even faster. For example, I never park my car on the porch of my house because I wouldn’t be able to get moving fast. If I park my car inside the porch, I will have to open the gate first, then get into the car and reverse my car out of the porch, then I have to get out of the car and close the gate, and then I have to get back inside my car and only then I can start moving. See how troublesome and time-consuming it is!

Instead, I just park my car directly outside my front gate. So that when I want to go somewhere, all I have to do is get inside my car and just drive away. It’s more efficient and less time-consuming.

If I ask for something to be done, I want it to be done fast, especially if the completion of my task depends on YOU doing your task, FIRST. If your work doesn’t affect my work, then I won’t mind one way or another. I am pretty easy going actually (I think, haha). As long as my work is not affected by your progress, I won’t really notice your activities in the office.

To me, work performance is the ultimate goal in your working life. I don’t want to be involved in office politics, administrative stuff, gossips and conflicts… as long as they don’t bother my own work and my own performance, I will steer clear of non-doctor activities. I want to be a doctor as much as possible rather than being an administrator, peacemaker, mediator, conflict-solver etc etc. I have zero interest to lead or manage people, nor do I have any desire to be led and managed by others. I would follow whatever the majority has decided to do (if I agree to it. If I don’t, I will certainly speak up), and I would keep on doing my work as I always do. I won’t get into conflict with you as long as your conduct doesn’t bother me. I would never willingly accept being tasked doing the MO roster or being in-charge of other people (I had to do the roster when I was a HO in A&E and it drove me nearly loco arranging for everyone’s leaves and requests. I promised myself that I would never again take on the task of being the captain of any department). I want to go to work, see my patients, and come back from work to read my books or study for exams.  My external life must remain pristine, neat and uncomplicated because in my internal life, I have a rich universe inside my head. I read, and then I think about what I had read, and then I research/google about matters I have thought about,  and then I write about what I’ve thought over. Then I repeat the whole ‘read, think, research, write’ sequence.

(To be honest, my internal life is much more interesting than my superficial external life. Haha)

I have no time for dramas. (Having said that, I WILL be a drama queen should you ever decide to bother me with your ‘entah apa-apa’ ideas that affect how I do my work.)

But when the office politics or personal conflicts start to affect your work or my general surrounding, then I will start noticing. Orang yang tak bergossip macam aku pun boleh jadi bergossip. Hahha. I am usually the last person to notice anything, but when I finally do, I will start paying attention. And then I will start thinking about it… the ethics of it… the professionalism of it.

Because other than reading, I am also very interested in matters of ethics. Books and ethics are the reason I choose to practice psychiatry. Have you ever noticed that a lot of characters in novels deal with personality? (and thus are psychiatry related) The villains in mystery novels have antisocial personality disorder, for example. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes as an opium addict, did you know that? And addiction IS part of psychiatry. A lot of themes in novels deal with psychosocial issues…. a fight for justice, a fight to break away from poverty and bad childhood circumstances, a struggle to overcome some form of traumas so that the character would emerge to become a strong hero. These are all psychiatry-related issues and stuff which I have been fascinated with since the day I could read…. which would be at 5 years old.

And I grew up reading John Grisham’s books. The theme of all his novels are law and ethics related. And thus, medical ethics was my favourite subject when I was in med school. 

And one of the most emphasized aspect of ethics in medical school were conflict of interest and ethics in the work place.

***

I think most people have forgotten their ethics these days. It pained me to say this, but Malays especially are really bad at work ethics. Isn’t it such a tragic coincidence that ‘Malays’ sounds just like the English word ‘malaise’, the meaning of which is hardly flattering. And even the Malay version of ‘Melayu’ makes you think of a withered, shrunken flower.

Malays, in general, tend to allow their personal emotion to spill over into the professional realm and cause chaos in BOTH realms. Their ethics are haywire.

What do I mean by that? Well, I have a list. 😉

Romantic Relationship In The Workplace (intra-department)

This is a NO-NO!! I don’t care whether it is between staff nurses and PPKs or between doctors and staff nurses or between fellow doctors. It’s just really bad ethics! I am not even going to touch on the ‘dosa pahala’ and the morality of your conduct towards your legal spouse at home. But the workplace affair that you have is bound to affect the dynamic in  the department. If your workplace love affair then suffers through a break up, can you imagine how havoc it would be for the rest of us who might feel compelled to take sides just because they are good friends with one of the parties involved? The awkwardness of it is just not worth it!

Ni tempat kerja, bukan tempat ada affair! Get your personal life sorted out!

And if your spouse creates havoc in the workplace because of the affair you have with your colleagues, I am not likely to have a lot of sympathies at the downfall of your reputation at the work place. You put yourself in that situation and you better get out of it without affecting your work performance. The bottom line is work efficiency!

Last but not least, tak malu ke?? People talk about you, you know! It’s degrading, humiliating and an insult to your self-worth. Bagi aku, point malu ni dah cukup untuk menghalang niat untuk mewujudkan office affairs! If you still want to have affairs, at least one of you must have the decency to get out of the department first before you begin any such destructive affairs.

Personal Conflict Impacting On Work Accomplishments

Go ahead and fight with your colleagues if you have to. But never let it affect your work performance. No matter how angry you are at your colleagues/subordinates/superiors, your work must be well-done.  No ELs/MCs or asking to be transferred to a different unit just because you just had a fight with someone in your unit. If you have to communicate with your enemy to get the work done, then you have to do so despite of what you really feel. I can have a verbal argument with anyone, but if my work requires me to communicate with the person I have just had an argument with, then I WILL do so. It is a matter of pride for me that no personal feelings should ever cause my work to suffer. This is nothing extraordinary; just normal, expected professional behaviour. 

It would be the height of unprofessionalism for you to recruit supporters to your side and cause division within the department. If you have a problem with person A, then that’s on you and Person A. There is NO NEED to go to your boss, crying and asking your boss to intervene on your behalf. No matter how good your relationship with your boss is, crying and ‘mengacum’ about your colleagues is just not professional.

In general, spilling tears in front of your boss is just not allowed, okay! We are all adults here! Settle your problem among you guys and don’t bother your superiors with petty office fights.

In general, I don’t like crying women. Go ahead and cry in the toilet, if you must! Don’t do that in front of others! I think, crying publicly is a manipulative behaviour. If you have a point or an argument, say it clearly and professionally…. or even unprofessionally loudly, if you have to! But crying is pushing it beyond acceptability. If I were the boss, I would never let such an act influence me in a positive manner (ONLY in a negative manner).

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Taking sides

No! Double no! Especially if you are a boss! You must investigate the matter properly. It’s not enough that you are fair; you must also be SEEN to be fair. At least, be a good listener to BOTH sides.

Injudicious Emergency Leaves

I have never taken any EL since I came into PSY department (touch wood). I understand that some people have a lot of trouble and commitments in life and EL cannot be avoided entirely. But efforts must be displayed to minimize the frequency of ELs as much as possible. Maybe if you have taken one day of EL when your child has fallen sick, then the next day you can arrange for your spouse to take up his/her share of caring for your child too. This goes to BOTH men and women. Child rearing is not only the job of a mother. A father must take part too. Whenever I heard that a female colleague had to take ELs a few days in a row because her child was admitted into the hospital, I would roll my eyes and think inside my head, “Suami kau buat apa?? Dia tak boleh function ke? Korang tak boleh selang-selang or take turn ke?”

My mother and my father gave me the work ethics that I have now. The only ELs they have ever had when they were still working were when their parents passed away. Me and my sisters were healthy as a child, and we have rarely been admitted into the hospital for anything. So, I guess, my parents were lucky with us. Furthermore, my mother had a reliable domestic help when we were children. My mother said “Kerja elok-elok. Kalau perlu orang gaji, cari orang gaji. Mak sangat-sangat jarang EL. Mak sangat tak suka bila kena pi kerja, ganti orang EL. Seboleh-bolehnya cuba jangan menyusahkan orang”

From 2013 until now in 2017, I have never taken any EL. All my leaves are planned. I don’t know how the future might turn out to be… after all, my commitments are very little now and therefore I can afford my ethics in this. Maybe in the future when my commitments grow bigger and varied, I would have ELs too. But my point is, be considerate and judicious in what you consider as emergency. Kalau sikit-sikit nak EL, orang yang easy-going macam aku pun (ehem!) akan bengang!

Being On Time

I think that I am pretty punctual. There have been times when I arrive late to work, but it is not very frequent at all. Usually it happened when I have stayed up late to study (or to finish a novel) and thus accidentally wake up late. Or it is raining and there is an accident on the road causing me to be stuck in traffic jam.

I can get to work in a 10-minutes drive. So I usually start to get out of the house at 7.45 a.m. Usually my punch card would show that I arrive at 7.55 and occasionally 7.58/7.59. When I still lived with my parents, they would always nag me about it. “Waktu mak kerja dulu, setengah jam sebelum masuk waktu kerja, mak dah ada kat tempat kerja.” Then my father would add something along similar lines. My parents are a strict disciplinarian. 

I told them, “Mak, angah pi kerja sampai on time lah. Lepas tu angah terus pi ward and buat kerja. Angah jarang sangat nak dok kat pantry makan-makan macam orang lain. Orang lain sampai lagi lewat daripada angah, lepas tu pi pantry pula tu. At least, Angah dah makan siap-siap kat rumah.” I would defend myself.

“Mak dah makan kat rumah AND sampai setengah jam awal” My mom would shot back. Yup! When it comes to punctuality, I can never outdo my own parents.

Punctuality is not even an ethical problem…. it’s our life’s general rule, already. Being raised by two parents who take punctuality seriously, I became quite anal retentive about being on time, myself. Having said that, I don’t go around checking on other people’s punctuality… EXCEPT when it affects my own work. If your being late causes me to be slow in doing my own work, then I will start noticing. eg; HOs being late for morning rounds. Even then, I don’t make an issue out of it, if their lateness is not severe. I will simply start the rounds myself. But if you are 10-15 minutes late, then I will start feeling agitated already. So if you want to be late, please keep your lateness within the acceptable range of five minutes. And that’s the max!

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***

Of all the items in the list that I have enumerated above, romantic affair between colleagues is the most troublesome! If the affair involved a high-ranking officer with his/her subordinate, then there might exist an issue of conflict of interest when the officer in question make certain decisions that may seem to favour his/her romantic interest against the rest of the other subordinates. Then, the credibility of the officer shall suffer. All his/her decisions will be second-guessed and silently challenged behind his/her back.

And if the affair is found out by the spouse(s) of the involved parties, that is a whole lot of another can of worms! Your own colleagues would surely gossip about you. And can you blame them? You are the one who brings that sort of trashy, cheap entertainment into the workplace. They are only responding in kind.

So with all these troubles that would ensue when one is involved in an office affair, it boggled my mind as to why would anyone even bother? Even if you are a two-timing cheating bastard, can’t you at least seek your conquest from another setting or another department? Why must you involve someone at work to enhance your career as a casanova? It would hurt your own reputation and distress the whole department!

When I was a HO, my friend from another hospital told me how everyone in her hospital had talked about how this particular doctor had cheated on his wife with a female doctor with whom he worked in the same department. To make matters worse, his wife was also a doctor in the same hospital. Some of the staff nurses had seen the male doctor with his female colleague outside the hospital setting while they were out on a date and then tongues started to wag and stories about them got spread and embellished to an enormous degree. Do you know how ugly the talk became?

Let me enlighten you regarding how humiliating the talk can be. The dialogue would go something like this:

“Weh, MO mana yang teruk sangat ni? Handsome sangat ke dia ni?”

“Tak handsome pun! Tak layak langsung jadi kasanova.”

“Wife dia cun dak?”

“Cun la juga.”

“MO tu dah ada anak pun dengan wife dia. Baru kahwin jer pun”

“Girlfriend dia lagi cun daripada wife dia kot.”

“Wife dia baik laa…. kesian kat wife dia.”

“Awat yang MO perempuan tu pun gatal sangat. Dah tau laki orang!”

“MO perempuan tu pun dah ada boyfriend sebenarnya.”

“Habis tu? Awat dia pi kacau laki orang lagi?”

“Yang wife dia ni pun, awat tak tinggalkan ja laki macam tu?”

Isn’t it ugly? People would speculate about how you look, how your spouse look and whether your romantic interest is more beautiful/handsome than your spouse. If you are not that handsome/pretty yourself, they would talk about how ‘tak sedar diri’ you are. Hahhah. And then they assassinate your character and shred it to pieces! What would be left of your self-respect? Zip, zero, nada!

10 years hence, people STILL talk about you. Trust me! When a new HO enters your department, the gossipy staff nurses would tell them “Doktor ni dulu… dia… yadda yadda yadda. Dia suka kat bla bla bla. Lepas tu dia bercerai and so on and so forth. La ni pun dia dok….bla bla bla” It would be a never-ending headache, following you around like a relentless nemesis (which might be a fitting consequence to your own terrible mistake).

You might as well just transfer yourself to another hospital to get away from all the talk!

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In general, it is NEVER a good idea to mix business with pleasure. But if you cannot help yourself, at least one of the parties involved should transfer herself/himself to another department as soon as things get serious.

If you love your work and you value your reputation, please be professional with everyone at work and keep the relationship platonically friendly. Keep your flirtatious comments to yourself. All affairs start with flirting. So, don’t flirt! If someone tries to be too friendly with you, make your discomfort obvious and better yet, just walk off. He/she will get the idea and won’t try again! Tapi kalau kau pun tak assertive… giving mixed signals here, there and everywhere, it’s your fault! Lepas tu kau dok budget konon ‘aku dalam dilema’. So drama queen! You are the one who perpetuate the dilemma in the first place! G…God!

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In general, if I am nice to you and you are my colleague, that’s just me being kind. Hahaha. My principle is CLEAR about office romance! It’s a dumb thing to do!

Other than via flirting, affairs also get started because a member of the opposite sex starts talking about his/her personal problems to you. Sheesh! If I were the person at the receiving end of such heart-pouring session, I would think “Hiys, hang ni pathetic gila! Hang tak dak kawan lain sama jantina ka nak curah perasaan pasal masalah hang ni? Awat cari aku? Unless you wanna become my patient, I am not interested about your marital problems, especially since you are not of the same gender as me.”

Seriously! What the hell is wrong with people who like to talk about their marital problems to outsiders? Unless you are doing it in a clinical setting, talking about your marital problems to outsiders (especially with one of the opposite sex) is SO INAPPROPRIATE and SO WRONG!  (But then I guess, such conduct is already expected of someone who would have no qualms about starting an office affair and become a cheater). Even if you are in need of a good listener, don’t you have friends of the same gender who might understand you even better? Aku seriously tak faham! What a dodgy way of starting an affair!

My theory is: those who talk about their marital problems to someone of the opposite sex is actually subconsciously already attracted to that person, in the first place. They try to get that person’s attention by pouring out their sob story to this person in a manipulative manner. If this person is smart, he/she would put a stop to such sessions by saying “I wish I can help. But may I suggest you seek professional help with counsellors in pejabat agama, instead?” But if the person is just as ‘gatal’, then he/she would pretend that he/she is just being a kind-hearted, helpful listener to someone with a personal problem. Pffft! Self-delusional, MUCH??

“Maybe office love is about meeting the right person at the wrong place and the wrong time.” My best friend challenged my analysis, laughingly. “Cinta tu buta, Afiza,” My best friend gave me the cliched phrase (just to bait me for a response, I am sure. That’s just like her. Hahha)

Then I guess, love is not just blind but deaf and retarded as well. If I were the guy, I would have a few doubts about falling in love with someone so morally corrupted that she doesn’t mind stealing another woman’s husband. (Is such a husband-stealer the right person? Pfft) And if I were the woman, I would have a lot of qualms about falling in love with a guy who would cheat on his own wife with me. (Is such disloyal cheater the right person too, that you just happen to meet at the wrong place of your office and at the wrong time when he is already married? Come on!) That’s such a sick way to begin a relationship. But then, maybe this is sunnahtullah. After all, birds of a feather flock together, right? And dodgy male and dodgy female are probably made for each other, anyway.

So now the ball is in the court of the poor spouse at home. Would he/she have enough self-respect to leave his/her cheating spouse and move on? Alas, most of the time, they would only break down and cry and beg the cheater to come back into the fold of their loving arms. *sigh*

Sometimes there is no justice in this world. There is no satisfaction of a good ending and an amazing outcome in the stories of real life.

That’s why I prefer books over real life. In the books that I read, the wife will have enough pride and self-respect NOT to beg her cheating husband to come back to her. Instead, she would take matters into her own hands, get some revenge in unique ways, go on to become successful by herself and then find herself another more worthy hero as a replacement. Now, THAT’S satisfaction!

But in reality, the wife would only patiently waits. Konon ‘redha dan pasrah’. Setia ke hujung nyawa, berkorban apa saja. And all such drivel!

Maybe such wives don’t read what I read. *sigh*

***

To all people who are involved in office affairs,

“If it’s the wrong place, at the wrong time… then it is MOST CERTAINLY the wrong person!”

Get over it, and don’t start something that would end catastrophically for everyone involved, only for it to be a fodder for malicious gossip. The tragedy of it all would make you weep. 

Defensive

I think that I am pretty tough as a person. I was raised that way by my father. No one can bully me without me fighting back. No one can ever try to put an unfair blame on me without me lashing out right back.

Speak it loud, speak it proud and justify! That’s my modus operandi, always. Justify what you do if you believe in it enough.  My father encourages that sort of thing in all of his daughters. So that when people criticize us (and we disagree with that criticism because we have our own reasons), you can bet YOUR LIFE that we are going to be very blunt in defending ourselves. Some people would call us defensive.

If I am defensive, so what? From your position, of course you would prefer that I just nod my head and agree to your criticism. But how about from my position?  Kalau hang attack aku and then aku tak defend diri aku, syok kat hang la kan?” Hahha. But I am only defensive in things that I believe I was right or when I have a very good reason to do what I do. If you are going to criticize me, you can at least try to understand where I am coming from. If after having understood my position, you still believe I am wrong, then fine! Give me your counter-argument! Go ahead and silence me! I dare you! I want to know when I am wrong. Challenge me and make me see. Make me learn! Make me shut up simply because I have nothing else to say to defend myself. Defeat me! Go on!

Otherwise, just admit that I am right. (Yeah, sometimes I am so immature. Haha)

You see, me and my siblings don’t run away from confrontation. Even with each other, we are just like that! We are really loud girls! When we grow up, we realize that other people would find us rude instead of frank. But unfortunately, our manners were set already by the time the realization and insight came to us.

Of course, being adults, we are now quite good at softening our manners somewhat. *coughs*

But still a leopard can’t change its spots… but sometimes the leopard can hide the spots, disguise them. (by making a promise to ourselves to be more polite and more humble yadda yadda yadda. Make it a personal jihad to be nice and so on and so forth. Hahah) But the leopard’s spots do not stay hidden all the time. The disguise could unravel anytime, especially during time of stress (when someone pushes our button and irritates us that we just went, “ugh!!” Then all our resolution to be nice is forgotten! Haha) Sometimes we slip up, our amygdala takes over and our REAL nature comes out. So when that time comes, you beware. It’s either my biting tongue or my sharp written words. You choose! 

With that sort of background growing up, I always think I am a strong, independent person. I can live by myself without feeling afraid. I can drive all the way from Alor Star to JB by myself without any worries. I have traveled on my own across the seas thinking of it like another solo adventure. I can argue and defend myself against anyone if I believe in something strongly enough. If  you piss me off enough, one day just you wait for my retribution because you will get it.

I was raised believing that if you want something badly enough, you just have to work hard until you obtain whatever your heart desires. My father said that it is sunnahtullah. “Aturan alam… you usaha, you dapat.” And my father proves it right, most of the time.  When he wants something, he would insist, persist, and go at it until he gets it. When I had to do my History Project (Projek Salasilah Keluarga or something along those lines when I was in Form 1), I had to do a biography of my father. I interviewed him to complete his biography in the project and when it came to his motto in life, he told me that it was ‘usaha selagi daya’.

His name is Azmee….in Arabic, it means determined, resolute, purposeful. Like the name Azam, I suppose. Berazam… It is about persistence, perseverance and firmness of purpose. So at 13 year old, it struck me as such a beautiful coincidence that his motto in life kind of matched his namesake and his personality. Haha. So then, that became my motto in life too. Do whatever you can, and you will get what you want because you have followed the sunnahtullah of ‘berusaha’. Allah will give it to you. So, ‘learned helplessness’ is not in the dictionary of the Azmee girls.

We are strong ladies. Or so we thought.

Well, but now I admit I am weak in other ways. I am not good at accepting disappointment or failure or setbacks. This is a natural weakness for someone who is raised the way I was; raised to think that effort and systematic planning would always yield good results. People who were raised this way are really bad at dealing with things not going their way. We are such control freaks. That’s our number one weakness. My emotion when dealing with disappointing events is raw and immature and I just want to shout on top of my lungs, rebel at the source of my disappointment or otherwise withdraw myself into a corner to THINK!! about how to deal with this raw, immature emotion! (at least I have good insight about my weakness).

When I have done everything I could possibly do … I couldn’t handle it if things don’t go the way I expect it to go. It perplexes me. Why? What did I miss? What have I done wrong?

Alhamdulillah, I have been so blessed in life. All my difficulties are not that difficult, really. All my trials are not that trying. I haven’t experienced losing someone close to me. There is no such a thing as ‘the greatest lost of my life’ for me. Pfft. I have NEVER lost anything I can’t replace. Even my previous life disappointments are not that severe. It might feel bad to be disappointed at that specific time when I was dealing with it, but I could get over it by simply shrugging my shoulder, moving on and telling myself “well, it doesn’t matter anyway. I don’t really need it all that much.” (or maybe that’s my defense mechanism at work) Because in the first place, I REALLY don’t need anything much to feel happy. I have a great, amazing support system in my family and friends. In terms of material, I just need enough money to afford my freedom and enough money to afford my books. (And I thank God, I love the  job that has given me that money.) I also need enough time and space to be on my own to recharge. And then I am good to go. Good to move on. 

Disappointments in my life are rare and far in between… that I don’t get enough PRACTICE dealing with disappointments. Even when I experienced some initial setbacks, my family would push me to work harder until I obtained what I wanted at last, so that the initial setback felt as though it never happened. If I have been disappointed many times in the past, maybe I would be better at accepting it when things don’t go my way or follow according to my plan. I have been so spoiled to think that I can always get what I want if I work hard enough.

Now life taught me that my math is faulty. That the equation involving effort and outcome is not always right.

It is right only most of the time. But not always. Sunnahtullah cannot beat fate! Cannot beat qada and qadar.

For example you could have done all you can to make sure your patient gets the treatment she deserves, and then things go awry. Badly awry, that it devastates you.

For example, you could have planned everything to make sure the patient’s relative understood what he was supposed to do, but then he didn’t do what you told him to do. And then, you got blamed for it. Even though there was no way you could have foreseen what the relative would end up doing despite of your clear, specific instruction.

For example, you could passover your case to another center as flawlessly as you could over the phone, but things still ended up haywire and not properly carried out from the other side because of their own lack of communication with each other. And then, you got blamed for it.

I don’t mind being blamed. I can defend myself really well and I don’t care whose butt or feelings I hurt when I am being defensive. If you are going to attack me, I am not letting you do that without you understanding my position. If I sound defensive, be it. I AM defending myself, so OF COURSE I will sound defensive. Come on, what did you expect? You can label my behaviour whatever terms you want and I will keep on doing it because that’s what I do. I have been labeled ‘defensive’, ‘keras kepala, ‘stubbborn’, ‘asyik rasa dia saja betul’…. hahaha. Even my own mom said that to me. And then I said the same things to my own sisters, too . But really… deep inside, we understood that we are these stubborn defensive people not for ‘saja-saja’, you know. It’s because we have our own reasons for doing what we do. It’s because we believe that you have laid the blame at the wrong person and we are just trying to enlighten you until you see it. You can call it as ‘being defensive’, but I am still going to do it. As long as we know why we do it, we can ignore what you call us and keep on right doing it.  

But when things go badly awry for a patient – something you didn’t expect – it is really disappointing. Really disheartening. There is no one to blame. Nothing to be defensive about. Nothing for me to do. But just to deal with the feeling that I don’t have enough practice dealing with.

Disappointment really sucks. Full stop. 

But I will get over it.

I will shrug my shoulder and get over it. 

But…this time, how do I just shrug my shoulder and say “it doesn’t matter.” Because it matters.

My Mother’s Epiphany

My patient came to me recently, with a tinge of happiness in her voice, as she said, “I did as you said, doctor. I am finally free. I am so happy now.”

I swallowed. “What did you do?” I waited with bated breath. 

“I’ve left my husband. I gave him 3 years but he never changed. I am done with that useless man”

“Are you doing this for you? Are you doing this because this is really the right thing to do, FOR YOU? Or did you leave the man because you simply wanted to follow what I said when you asked me what I would do if I were you?”

“I have always known you were right. I just didn’t have the courage to do what I have to do. Your words gave me the right push to make that move.”

She is an educated lady of nearly 60 years of age and thus our whole conversation was in English. She is one of my favourite patients. 

I do have favourite patients, you know. I can’t help it. I treat all my patients the same – that is, I give them what they need. But with some patients,  consultations with them feel more stimulating than usual because they themselves are psychological minded and they ‘get’ what you are trying to say. These people usually have the capacity for self-reflection, self-examination, introspection and personal insight. When you ask them a question (which is meant to get them to think for the answers themselves, even though you already knew the answer) they give a delightfully honest answer that helps you to help them. I like these kind of patients.

This particular patient, let’s call her Mrs H, is a well-off lady. She has her own pension and has invested in a few lands as an asset. She has her own house in KL prior to coming to Alor Star. She plays the piano as a hobby, and she already has a grown-up son from her previous marriage. Unfortunately, when she first came to me in 2013, she had just recently remarried to a 70 year old Kedahan man, for whom she had left her KL hometown. She was stressed by that marriage. She felt cheated, used and taken advantage of by her new husband and his family. She was in the clinic crying her eyes out because she felt like she had made a huge mistake.

Even though at that time, I wanted to tell her that “yup, you probably did make a huge mistake” but I refrain myself (of course). You see, therapists in general TRY not to impose their own opinion on their patients. It is okay if you cannot help having judgmental thoughts, but you should not APPEAR to be judgmental. You MUST preserve the illusion that you are always on the side of the patient. The patient should always feel safe to confide in you about anything… and they would only feel that way if you give off the vibe of being understanding and non-judgmental. But human beings, as a species, are active thinking beings! Judgment and thinking are what make us so special. I would be LYING if I say I don’t judge what my patients do. Part of the evaluation process HAS to be judgmental. If you don’t judge, you can’t diagnose. If you can’t diagnose, you can’t treat.

If you go back to the psychoanalytic era when Freud and his followers reigned supreme… they could make snap judgment about others without any evidence whatsoever and they called it psychoanalysis. Hahha. Those were the DARK AGES of psychiatry, in my opinion.

So to be clear, I am a judging, thinking being. (Believe me, ALL OF US are. I am just more upfront and honest about it). But I just don’t have to tell my patients about what sort of judgment I come up with, that’s all. Instead, I store that judgment in my head and use it to treat the patient. I use my judgment to help them.

Some patients have zero insight about their marital problems.

“Saya tunggu dia nak berubah. Saya okay ja. At least, mak mertua saya baik. Suami saya pun kadang-kadang baik.”

“Apa contoh kebaikan yang puan dapat dengan dia? Tadi puan kata, dia tak cukup duit, kahwin sampai tiga. Siap perabih duit puan nak tanggung isteri ketiga.  Kereta dia pun puan bayar. Kalau puan rasa dia baik,  puan report kat saya benda-benda yang tak baik saja saya dengar selama ni. Apa kata puan habaq apa yang dia baik pula hari ni?” Nice, soft tone was used to mask the biting sarcasm. (So, dear readers, please reverse and read again my dialogue in a softer inquiring tone. Haha)

Some patients have good insight about their marital problems.

“Doktor, saya memang tak tahan dah dengan suami saya. Saya memang nak bercerai. Ni lawyer suruh mai psikiatri, sebagai bukti yang saya trauma dengan perangai suami saya. Senang ada surat doktor kalau pi mahkamah nanti. So saya mai lah.” This patient is direct, honest, and knows exactly what she wants. I like these sort of patients too. But…

“Baguslah puan dah ambil keputusan yang tegas dalam hal ni. Cuma saya tak bolehlah nak buat-buat puan ada kemurungan kalau puan tak murung.” I am also direct and honest. I like direct and honest patients because I reciprocate and mirror their own style, which is really my default style, anyway.

Some patients know what to do already, but they couldn’t commit to any action because they are afraid of the unknown.

“Saya tak mau orang mengata. Saya tak mau jadi janda kali kedua.”

Mrs. H belong in this category – fear of the unknown made her stay on until one day she couldn’t take it anymore. And neither could I.

So, it took her 4 years (2013-2016) to ask me “What would you do, if you were in my place?”

I was very upfront about it. “It is not my place to tell you what to do. After all, it is YOUR marriage and you are the one who have to live your life. Not me. But since you asked me about what I would do if I were you….well, I would leave him. But then, you have to understand that we make decisions based on specific context and our own natural inclination, and our own personality. My personality and my personal inclination is such that I can never love someone I cannot trust; and I can never trust someone I cannot respect; and I can never respect someone who cannot fulfil his responsibilities. I am very strict about these things. If I have a husband such as yours, I would have left him a long time ago. Of course, some women have such a huge capacity for love that she can continue to love just anyone regardless of whether or not she can trust and respect  that person… so if she’s okay with that, who am I to insist otherwise?” I paused, allowing her to digest what I really meant.  “At the end of the day, we live with the decisions we have made. I don’t mind to continue seeing you, because trust me, medication cannot cure you. Your husband is the perpetuating factor to your depression.”

She is an intelligent woman, dear readers. She knew that I also had had enough. She knew that my “some women have such a huge capacity for love” is an euphemism for “misplaced loyalty”.

I have mentioned before that it is not enough that we do what we like. We have to learn to like the right thing. For example, I have to learn to like literature. Haha. And I end up liking it.

Love and loyalty is also like that. Learn to love and be loyal to the right person. The person you can respect and trust.

So when one day she finally said, “I am finally free, doctor,” it truly made my day. It took her four years of suffering before she would commit to a decision. And that was only because she had asked me personally about what I would do, and I was impatient enough to actually give it to her. Who knows what would happen had she asked the question sooner.

Some psychiatrists would probably say that I am unduly influencing my patients.

Well, to be honest, we all influence patients in variable ways and extent.

I don’t like to stick to only one blanket way of dealing with patients. I would use different approaches for different kinds of patients.

As a doctor (and especially in psychiatry), we learn that there are a few models of doctor-patient interaction, namely:

The Paternalistic model: It is assumed that the doctor knows best and the patient is expected to follow the doctor’s decision. Usually this approach is desirable in emergency situations. However, this approach may result in clash of values.

The Informative model: The doctor is seen as a dispenser of information. The choice is left wholly up to the patient. May be useful in one-off consultations, but may not work well if strictly followed on long-term professional relationship.

The Interpretive Model: Here, the doctor will be treating the patient for a long time and might know his/her patient well and understand the circumstances of their micro- environment. Here, shared decision-making is established.

Deliberative Model: The doctor here may act as a friend or counselor to the patient, where information dispensing is coupled with advice on a course of action. This is commonly used to enable lifestyle modification and to address maladaptive coping.

Some doctors like to use only one approach regardless of what type of patients they are dealing with. Maybe they like that particular style and think it is the best interaction style with every patient. For example, some prefer the informative model because they think it is the most neutral and would suit most people. Maybe they don’t know the patient enough and therefore doesn’t want to feel responsible should something bad happens as a result of the patient following their advice.

I don’t know. To me, in each specific case, whatever model of doctor-patient interaction that we use, it actually reflects on our own conviction or our own insecurities about that particular case.

We learn from experience and we would know what approach to use for each of our own patient. Paternalistic style won’t work well with manic patients, for example. It would only make them more irritable towards you and you would then lose the patient.

I would use the informative model for someone who is educated, and like to make her own decision, especially if I don’t know this patient all that well (other than that she is educated and has good judgment skills). I would NEVER use this informative model for someone with low education level. I wouldn’t want to take a chance of her making the wrong choice as a result of her disadvantaged background. This model requires that the person on the receiving end can make sound judgment based on the information that doctors have given. This is not the case in patients with low education attainment.  

With Mrs. H, I have known her for 4 years. She is educated, and yes, I could stick with the informative model if I chose. But I know her case inside and out. I know her micro-environment. So, I think I am still within my professional boundaries if I use the Interpretive Model and Deliberative Model with her, especially when she had specifically asked me about what I would do if I were in her place. (To be honest, interpretive model is my preference, most of the time. Followed very closely by deliberative model. If I just want to be informative, I could just ask the patient to read a lot and google, right? Pfft. A doctor is more than that.)

She asked me a question. I gave her the answer.

Whether or not she would follow my advice, was totally out of my hands.

***

When I was in my early 20s, my mother imparted to me a piece of her wisdom when she said, “Older women and older men are not the same. Older men benefit more when they remarry after having lost their wives. But older women would lose a great deal if they remarry after having lost a husband. If anything happens to your father, I will never remarry.” She declared, confidently.

She came up with that epiphany after listening to the woes of her friend who was in the situation of suffering after remarrying at a very mature age of 50. It was not unlike the situation that Mrs. H herself was in when she remarried at the age of 60 in 2013.

At that time, I thought my mother was being loyal when she said she would never remarry. But actually, she was just being smart. She was right. There is very little benefit in remarrying when you are already old.

All the benefits are on the elderly man’s side – they get a free maid and a free nurse, all combined in one person. In fact, sometimes they even get a free financial provider if the women they marry are richer than them. 

Mrs H could have enjoyed her own money and her own freedom had she remained single at that age of 60. She has the company of her friends from surau and the care of her own son.  She could have been far more well off than she currently is if she did not remarry a man who was older than she was (and therefore, couldn’t even work or provide for her financially because he was too elderly). Had she remained single, she wouldn’t be expected to do any housework or housechores if she didn’t want to. She didn’t have to cook or clean or look after another person when she herself was at the age of 60. Her son wouldn’t come to resent her because she had to obey her new husband and hurt the feelings of her only son. She wouldn’t have to play the role of a breadwinner to an elderly husband when she herself was not that young.   

But…unfortunately… she had remarried.

Her pension, which should have been enough for herself, was no longer adequate. So she had to work, selling sandwiches, because her husband was no longer fit to work. Her husband’s children expected HER to care for THEIR father just because their father had married her.

This is the problem with our society!

The elderly man who had lost his wife wants to marry again. And their children also prefer their elderly father to marry again…so that they won’t have to be the ones who have to care for their own father and their father doesn’t have to live with them, disturbing the dynamic in their own household.

BUT, they don’t provide their father the money that is required for their father to be a husband again. So the new wife suffers! The household money would not be enough. In the case of Mrs H, the husband’s children often scolded her when she asked them for money. Such nerve! Such audacity!

Don’t get me wrong. I am not giving a blanket statement that elderly people shouldn’t get married. I am questioning the fact that some responsibilities might not be met with such marriage. (so, if you can fulfil your responsibilities, go ahead and marry even if you are already at 100 year old of age)

My own grandfather had remarried at the age of 72 to a 40 year old woman. That means, my  new step-grandmother is younger than my own father!  My grandfather remarried NOT because my father refused to care for him, but it was because my grandfather preferred to marry. I remembered feeling so perplexed that my grandfather at the age of 72 STILL wanted to marry another woman. It was all done within 6 months after my grandmother died. It just boggled my mind at that time. I didn’t say anything to my grandpa about what I felt. To be honest, I was really disappointed because I had expected that my grandfather would live with us.

I did NOT expect that he would remarry! My grandpa should have looked forward to playing with his great-grandchildren instead of playing house with another woman. I felt quite personal about the whole thing.(well, but to be fair, my sister was not yet pregnant at that time and there was no great grandchildren around to play with, yet.)

But since my grandfather just wanted to marry no matter what, my father had asked around for anyone who wanted to marry his 72 year old father. We NEVER thought it would ever come to anything. I mean, WHO would marry such an elderly man, right?  But miracles happened. Can you believe it?  A 40 year old woman agreed to the marriage. I was flummoxed by the development. My grandfather remarried when I came back from Australia at the end of my 2nd year in med school. (At least, he waited for me to come home before he tied the knot). I was by his side when he pronounced the akad. I had accepted (reluctantly) that it was his decision to marry and maintain his own household.

My father increased the monthly allowance that he gave to my grandfather so that my grandfather could provide for his wife. A small house was bought where they could live together, so that my grandfather didn’t have to pay the rent. My step-grandmother is a full time housewife and DOES NOT have to work to support my elderly grandfather. My parents were in charge of all my grandfather’s appointments with doctors and did not simply leave the care of my grandfather to his new wife.

Mrs. H was not as lucky as my step grandmother. Mrs. H was the financial provider, the carer and the maid, all in one. (It’s like being a mother to a big toddler, ain’t it?)And on top of that, her 20 year old son who is still a student resented her marriage and did not get along with her new husband. If I were the son, I would resent the whole situation too. Here’s an elderly man taking advantage of his mother! If his mother disobeyed this elderly man, the religious line “I am your husband. You must obey me,” would be flung around. Isn’t it ironic when a dayus husband insisted to be obeyed? It’s a trick designed to make the wife feels guilty, in order to deflect his own inadequacies. His mother was better off not marrying that man. When she married him, her life deteriorated right before her son’s eyes. It violates all sorts of social-exchange theory I have learned. In this marriage, the risk-benefits assessment skews in GREAT favour for the elderly man and a HUGE disadvantage for Mrs.H. 

I couldn’t bear it if I were the son. I would probably perform some serious rebellion and would say “You have to choose between your son or your husband.”. (Hahah. I am a dramatic diva like that.)

But here lies the problem. Talak is NOT in the woman’s hands.

That’s why when an elderly man remarries, his children don’t feel that they have lost their father as much. In fact, they would feel like they have gained a free carer for their father. A man holds all the executive decision making. So, his children won’t feel that they have lost their father so completely. If they want, they could influence their father to make any decision that would favour them against their step-mother and the father would say, “Okay, I have made my decision. My children were right. I am your husband, so you must follow me.”

But when an elderly woman remarries, the children would feel the lost acutely. Now THEIR MOTHER who they have known their whole lives is the new wife of a complete stranger. The happiness of their mother lies in the hand of someone they are not sure they can trust. And this stranger holds the power on their mother. Even if the children could influence their mother for a specific decision, what can the mother do if her new husband disagrees? Even if eventually their mother wants to be free from the marriage, talak was not even in her hands.

So a mother remarrying would be taken as a loss for her children, because like Mrs H, now her whole life and energy revolves around the new husband… as a breadwinner, a maid, a nurse! What’s left of herself for her children?

The bottom line is: The elderly man’s life becomes easy when he remarries. The elderly woman’s life becomes harder when she remarries.

And therefore my mother was right to decide never to remarry should anything happens to my father. (I wouldn’t allow it, anyway. I would be very forthright about it too.)

Of course, there is context to everything. Just like there is an exception to every rule. For example, the elderly woman could have married a richer guy, right? Haha. But then putting my self in the shoes of the richer  guy, I might as well marry a young woman instead of an elderly one (haha, just trying to think like a man). So MOST OF THE TIME, an elderly woman ends up with a poor elderly man whose children might or might not provide financial support for their father to enable him to provide for the new wife. 

So in general, my mother hit the nail on the head when she declared her epiphany.

Imagine if your elderly mother remarries? Can you bear the thought? I am not talking about young mothers, but elderly mothers! What benefit do they get from such marriage? Would you advise your elderly mother to remarry? Am I (and my mother and sisters) the only one who think like this, I wonder?

So that day, after Mrs. H finished telling me that she was now a free woman, and she was going back to KL, I smiled at her and said, “I wish you all the happiness in the world. Don’t hesitate to come back should you need anything else. If you need to talk to me about anything, just call the clinic. You know, I will always take a call from you.”

Since then, she had called me twice.

We kept in touch.

***

Disclaimer: Some details are hidden, altered or disguised to preserve Mrs. H’s privacy. But the gist of the case remains the same. This is not only the story of Mrs. H, but also the tales of many other women, even when they marry as a young woman. When they marry as an elderly woman, it gets even worse. Take care of your elderly mother. Never make her feel like she has to marry again for companionship. In most cases, it’s just not worth it.

Reading Is Life Long

I found out from RCPsych website that my exam result would come up in February. More than two months after the exam itself!

In my mind, I went “Another month of waiting and uncertainties?? I couldn’t bear it!”

We were speculating among ourselves: “Maybe most of the candidates had performed so badly that they need to review the questions again to decide which ones to include in the overall marking.”

This can be bad and can be good.

I am just not sure which one is which for me.

We had also gone to the website to analyze previous patterns of result pronouncement.

Guys, most of the time the result would come out only one month after the exam! So, this is a new pattern emerging all of a sudden!

I just don’t know what to think.

I was not kidding when I said the exam was tough. It was not false modesty on my part. If I pass, it would totally be by the grace of God. Most of the exam questions were HOT (higher order thinking). There was  not much of a straightforward question. It’s not a true and false…. which only requires you to KNOW rather than to apply.

Questions in MRCPsychs gave you situations and asked you to pick the BEST answer rather than the TRUE answer. Several of answer options could fit the situation just as well… and you really have to KNOW in order to apply your knowledge to choose which one is the BEST answer.

By the end of the exam, we were exhausted and depressed. Haha. One of my friends from SP did not finish answering six questions due to lack of time. I myself only finished answering all questions 5 minutes before the allocated time ended. I did not even have the time to check all my answers properly.

And now that the RCPsych examination board had moved the result date to another month, I am assailed by all kinds of apprehension.

Previously, I felt like I could use the waiting time to read a lot of fiction and literature, catching up on my readings. I told myself that it’s okay to be hedonistic for one month! But for two months?? My superego started prodding me to feel guilty! I couldn’t believe myself when at last I picked up my academic book after one month of complete fun reading.

My mother was astonished that I had bothered to study again. She knew me. I only study when the exam is near. (My parents used to badger us to study all the time when we were kids. But by the time we started studying away from home in residential schools, they pretty much thought that we were mature enough and left us to our own devices. I remembered thinking back then, “Yeah, freedom at last” hahha.)

“Baguslah kak ngah study.” She said one day, upon seeing me holding an academic book, while grappling with disbelief at my dramatic behaviour alteration. 

I cringed. “Lama sangat baca buku lagha. Takut otak angah berkarat,”

She laughed.

So nowadays when I am at home, I read on addiction since I am an Addiction MO. And in the clinic, I read a non-fiction book titled “Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry” by Jeffrey A Lieberman which was lent to me by my colleague. I am currently 3 chapters through the book. I must say, this book is quite good and doesn’t feel dry  even though it is a non-fiction.

So be proud of me, dear readers. I am diversifying into non-fiction too, these days! Hahah. I am proud of myself. 😉

You need to read a lot and diversify your reading in order to improve your knowledge and your writing. I believe that reading is the kindest thing you could do for your brain and your soul.

It’s like you are updating your brain software, you know.

My mom had once said to me, “Sampai ke tua ke angah nak baca buku cerita ni?” She had asked, half playfully and half incredulously.

“Ya lah, mak. Mestilah sampai tua. Takkan bila tua tiba-tiba nak berhenti baca buku pula?”

Really! Has anyone stopped feeding when they get old? Reading is like feeding to me. I cannot stop.

Some people are obsessed with gadget. They hold their smartphones all the time.

When I am alone at home, I hold books. So my friends already know not to whatsapp me if they want something urgent from me. Because I won’t notice the messages. If it’s urgent, just call. And I will pick it up, if I am in the mood.

If you are not a good reader yourself, you will never understand the difference between those who read and those who don’t read. I don’t connect with people who don’t read. I can do superficial conversation with them but I don’t feel  stimulated by their talk and their thoughts. I am bored to tears by ordinary small talk.

Stimulating and fascinating conversations can be found among readers… like Miss A, Miss L, Mr. D.

And great writing can only be produced by readers who read a range of books from trashy (picisan) to commercial fiction, to literature to non-fiction and finally academic books. If you don’t experience each category of reading, you yourself are not qualified to give a fair review of books. If you are an English teacher who don’t read a lot, you are going to be clueless on how to give marks to your students’ essays. You will set a low standard. And towards anyone who surpass your standard, you will have no idea how to deal with them.

A ‘picisan’ essay that is not glaringly obvious in grammatical error can obtain an A just like other better essays from other greater students. The marking criteria for English essay is so low that just anyone can get an A. (It’s like budak sekolah agama dapat A dalam karangan bahasa Arab. Entah-entah punya banyak orang yang lagi terer sastera Arab akan rasa karangan Bahasa Arab yang dapat A ni macam level sekolah rendah. Haha)

When I was in high school, me and my friends would read each others’s essay. I can tell, simply by reading their essays, what sort of books are their main staple.

I give you an example: Let’s say you are asked to write about your best friend.

Below are the examples of the many possible introductions to the essay. And I would tell you what I meant when I said I could tell what you read by how you write.

First Example:

I have a best friend named Ratna with whom I always hang out. I have known her since kindergarten and our friendship has remained strong through all these years.

(This is trashy/picisan, folks! While there is no grammatical error whatsoever, I would not give this essay an A. The sentences are simple rather than complex. There is no rhyme or rhythm; no variety in techniques. But at SPM level, this is already considered good enough and MOST English teachers would not mind giving this essay an A as long as there is no glaring grammatical errors. But in my opinion, this introduction is uninspiring, straightforward and nothing special. It is too clinical to be interesting. Sure, the language is effective enough to tell a story… but is it good? Heck, no! So, can you imagine my distress when I was in high school seeing other people had gotten the same A that I got? Look, I wasn’t great myself. Miss A was MUCH better than me. I bet, Miss A had also felt distressed that I got the same A for my essay as she did. Hers was literary, out of the league. Mine was inferior than hers. But what I am trying to say is, picisan kind of writing doesn’t deserve an A. But that’s the SPM level during my time). 

Second Example:

When I first met Ratna, I was struck by the elfin mischief in her eyes as she held my hand and whispered to me, “You and I are going to have the greatest adventure of our lives.”  Since that fateful first meeting, I was stuck with her through thick and thin and only now do I admit that there is no one better I would want to be stuck with.

(This is better! There is usage of complex sentences. The writer also employed the dialogue technique to create a variety. The usage of idiom “through thick and thin” would give the writer an extra mark. There is also an element of suspense when the writer wrote “You and I are going to have the greatest adventure of our lives”. The introduction is already gripping enough that you WANT to know what is going to happen next. You can picture Ratna as a mischievous, fun-loving girl who would bring some sparks into the life of the narrator! You cannot wait to read how the story of their friendship would unfold. I would say the language level of this writer is competent. I would say that the writer reads mostly commercial fiction. I wouldn’t mind giving an A to this writer if the rest of the story is as good as the introduction with no glaring grammatical error. This is good… but not great! I believe that when I was in high school, this is my level of competence. I tried to inject some element of suspense in my essay from the very beginning of my introduction and I use commercial fiction language to do it).

Third Example:

A friend is someone who knows the poetry of your heart and can recite the stanzas back to you when you have forgotten all the poignant words. Someone who can read the unspoken messages between your spoken lines. Someone with whom you can cast your silvery glance at her direction and she would smile meaningfully at you because she knew the hidden treasure of your mind at that moment in time. 

(See? Can you see the difference of the level of competence between all these examples! This one is literary! A lot of metaphorical words. There is some rhythm and rhyme to this whole paragraph. This is the level of Miss A when we were only just high school kids. Most adults and even most English teachers don’t get to this level of competence because they STOP reading… OR because they don’t read literature. This is only an introduction to the essay, not even the whole composition yet! But the beauty of the words struck you somewhere in your chest, and you just KNOW it is going to be a good story. You also just know that this writer is a better reader than you! And you will become slightly envious of her. Hahah)

So, this is why I read! Believe me, language becomes rusty if you don’t polish it up consistently. Ask your friends who attended Chinese School growing up. They forgot their Mandarin if they don’t practice enough after having graduated from school. Even my elder sister had said that her English has become rusty after she started working and having kids because she doesn’t have enough time for reading anymore. It is so sad when you don’t have time to read.

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***

I got along with my English teachers, most of the time. Out of all my English teachers I have had, I was in bad terms with three of them only. That’s not a lot, right? Hahha.

Mr. M was my English teacher when I was in standard 5 and standard 6. The reason we clashed was because I was always caught talking with my two friends at the back. We were not noisy or anything, but we might not be paying that much attention during his class. He called us ‘The Three Musketeers’, when he was in a good mood. But when he was in a bad mood, he would criticize my handwriting (okay, fair enough. I had the worst handwriting in the class. If I had known then that I was going to be a doctor, maybe I could tell Mr. M why my handwriting was actually prophetic in nature. Haha). But otherwise he was a great teacher. He gave something extra in his lessons that were not in the syllabus. He taught us idioms and where to place it in our essays. He explained why a particular sentence was grammatically wrong. Not many English teachers can properly explain grammar, trust me.

But I didn’t get along with my English teachers in MRSM Langkawi. When I was in Form 4, we were asked to form a group to come up with an essay. I attached myself to Miss A, of course. By that time, I already knew that Miss A would come up with better prose than I ever could. We also had another girl from KL whose command in English was great too. We were supposed to write an essay in two pieces of mahjong papers and read it out loud to the class. We had a great team and we wrote a great essay, in my opinion. Ours was the last group to present. But even before the presentation, some of my friends in other groups already commented on what a beautiful story our essay had been.

At the end of the presentation, we fully expected that the teacher would give us a good comment. It was so glaringly obvious that our essay was better than the rest. We had Miss A in our group. It’s a given! But the first comment from the teacher was, “Where did you get the idea for this essay from?”

We were so upset by her comment. It was as though she could not compute that we could come up with something like this on our own!

When I was in Form 5, again another English teacher had accused me of plagiarizing from a novel which she could not even name! How the hell was I supposed to plagiarize during an exam, I had no idea. How her brain could justify such a claim when there was no evidence whatsoever, I could not credit. (But I admit, that essay was controversial. She was a conservative. I was just being creative about a taboo subject. Haha. Like I said, my writings do get me in trouble at times). My mother came to my school to confront the teacher. For the first time, my mother had stood up for me against my teacher. Because my parents knew what I was capable of. They knew that this time their interference was justified.

I didn’t mind if my English teacher didn’t like the subject of my essay; I understood even then how conservative people could be. But she could just tell me why she disagreed with what I had written and why she found the subject distasteful. I could accept that (perhaps not gracefully, but at least I wouldn’t feel a sense of injustice had she simply said that she didn’t like the essay). But to accuse me of plagiarism, that’s a hit on my integrity and my pride and I would NEVER take such an accusation standing down. No way! No matter how controversial and distasteful the subject matter was, I came up with it myself during the exam and her accusation was unjust and unfounded.

She finally apologized… but I was still upset because I didn’t think she would have apologized if my mother hadn’t come to see her, bringing a whole lot of my previous essays and short stories as a proof of my creative acumen. (If it was my father who came, he would straight away see the principal. So, I was kind of grateful that it was my mother who came. I really didn’t want to make a big issue out of this. My father was far more intimidating and forceful than my mother. And as upset as I was, I really didn’t want that teacher to be in trouble. But at the same time, I had to stand up for my rights.)

What I have learned from this experience is that people can only judge you based on the level of their own capability. If they themselves have never been able to come up with something great, they would find it difficult to believe that other people could do something they never could.

Miss A has a far better command in English and writing than ANY English teacher I have ever had as a student. If Miss A were my English teacher, she would never think that her students could not come up with a good essay because she herself had been able to do it multiple times. To her, writing excellently is nothing extraordinary at all and thus she would not have any trouble believing that others could come up with the same quality just as well. She would have no reason to be suspicious of other people’s ability that she herself could display so effortlessly. (But Miss A is now a doctor in a Klinik Kesihatan. She is brilliant in BOTH arts and science). But these English teachers were not that good themselves, so they just found it unbelievable that their students could come up with something better than they could ever dream to come up with! So, the only explanation they could think of is “the student must have plagiarized this from somewhere. It’s just too good”.

I would respect a teacher, if the teacher has a skill worthy of my respect. I would even respect a teacher who may not be skilful in English, but has the mental capacity to recognize a good writing when she sees one. But I could NOT make myself respect someone like my English teacher in MRSM Langkawi.  If that means I ‘tak hormat cikgu’, well, be it!  Memang aku tak hormat pun!

Another lesson I have learned is teachers and authorities are not always right.

I believe that KPM has far better teachers than MRSM. MRSM was great because in the first place they have already chosen straight As students to begin with. My seniors won National Olympiad Competition (for physics, Math and Chemistry) beating TKC and other top schools because they could answer questions that were only appropriate for university level! In our school, it was not surprising to find students who could answer advanced physics and Add Math questions far better than the physics and Add Math teachers themselves. That’s how our school won the Olympiad… our seniors were geniuses whose understanding in those subjects had far surpassed what could be found in regular SPM textbooks and revision books.

Sometimes, we learned from each other far better than what our teachers could teach in the class room. During my time, MRSM teachers were much younger than KPM teachers, and they did not even have diploma of teaching. One of our Physics teacher has a degree in engineering rather than a degree in teaching physics. I also heard a rumour once that one of our biology teachers was supposed to be a doctor but ended up being a teacher in MRSM because she was not able to complete her training and thus she repaid her MARA loan by giving service to MRSM. (Again, she  didn’t have diploma in teaching) When I was in Form 5, our chemistry teacher had some health problems and rarely made it to class. We studied with each other using revision books and by doing a lot of questions.

In the first place, MRSM already have a highly motivated students who are also competitive with each other and would try to beat one another’s marks! Very little of our progress depended on the teachers alone.

So when my specialist Dr. S had sent her young daughter to MRSM Langkawi, I endorsed the school because of the learning environment prevalent in MRSM. But I told her “Tapi cikgu KPM lagi berpengalaman. Cikgu saya kat Asma lagi pandai mengajar. Cikgu kat MRSM pula, lepas diorang grad, sambil bekerja diorang akan buat teaching diploma walaupun diorang dah ada degree dalam bidang masing-masing. Sebab time degree dulu diorang tak diajar teknik mengajar because their degrees are not in teaching. They have degrees in biology, physics, chemistry… but not a degree in TEACHING biology/physics and chemistry. Some of them were supposed to be engineers, doctors or biotechnologist to begin with. Cikgu KPM pula waktu belajar kat uni dulu memang degree in teaching and they will be taught P&P techniques (teknik pengajaran dan pembelajaran). Diorang tak perlu ambil separate teaching diploma dah sewaktu bekerja.”

She shared the same view as I do that KPM teachers are better, because she said her own daughter had said the same thing. “Cikgu Sultanah Bahiyah lagi bagus daripada cikgu MRSM.” even though her daughter obtained four flat in MRSM Langkawi. That four flat was not a reflection of good teaching skills, but good competitive environment. All your friends are clever in MRSM and it is embarrassing when you get bad grades. And thus you tend to work harder and push yourself. So, don’t underestimate learning from peers and peer-driven excellence. Sometimes it might be the only thing that helps. 

***

If you are a science/Math teacher, your students can prove that they are better than you by producing OBJECTIVE answers to questions that you could not answer. (Ni dia, cikgu! Ini jalan kira dia. Ini formula yang kita kena pakai). The fact that you could not answer a question that your student could, is already an objective way of proving that the student is better than you. Math and Sciences are factual subjects. If you learn them, you will know them… and no one can dispute your answers!

But how would a student who is better than you in language or arts can prove to you that she is better than you? Arts and language are not factual subjects. There were times when I wished that I had had the heart to go to her and say, “Let’s compete! Choose one title for an essay. Let’s write the essay based on the title that YOU choose. Set a time limit. And let us write the essay within the given time. Then we can let other English teacher decides whose essay is better! Let’s see how good you are. Let’s see whether your grammar is flawless. Let’s see whether you can use complex syntax and metaphorical prose. Let’s see how well-read you are and whether or not you are qualified to judge my essay or Miss A’s essay. At the end of the day… let’s see whether we are the ones who can teach you how to teach English!” (But people would think I am rude if I ever say such a thing, right? Hahah. Tapi kalau kau tak cabar aku, aku pun takkan cakap macam tu! Aku tak pernah terfikir nak cakap macam tu pun to my other teachers in ASMA or KMB, for example.)

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Art is a talent. It is VERY LIKELY for you to be an art teacher and then find out that your students’ painting is much better than yours. A vocal teacher may not be a better singer than her own students. That’s why not all vocal teachers are also singers.

Language is partly talent and partly effort. Just because you are a language teacher teaching ‘high-school level’ language, doesn’t mean you are a talented essayist.

A teacher who doesn’t read well, would never be able to appreciate whose essay deserve what marks. That teacher may not even be able to appreciate whether the language used is trashy/commercial/literary if she herself is not good at language in the first place but just happens to choose TESL as her undergraduate subject. Even my own sister had admitted that her friends who were studying TESL with her were not very good in English and she could not compute why they wanted to be a TESL teacher in the first place. I was surprised that some of my friends whose command in English are far inferior than me ended up being an English teacher. They may be slightly better than the average Malaysian students (who don’t read much and prefer gadgets over books)  but if they ever come across an above average student who has been reading English all her life, would these teachers still feel they are better than the student? Would these teachers be better than my nephew Eshan and my niece Aayra when they grow up, for example? Maybe when Eshan and Aayra are still in primary school, these teachers might still have something they could teach the kids. But by the time Eshan and Aayra grow into their reading, get into secondary school and become friends with better readers than them, would these English teachers still be able to teach them much if they themselves have mediocre command in the language and just happened to choose TESL as an undergrad once upon a time? Or would they end up accusing their brilliant students of plagiarism just because their brains cannot come up with something good themselves?

So it is even MORE imperative for English teachers to get into the habit of reading continuously so that they can upgrade their language skills and would not embarrass themselves in front of students who are better than them. But how many Malaysian adults STILL read by the time they start working? Most of my friends don’t read anymore, citing petty reasons such as ‘Tak ada masa, anak kacau, banyak housechores’. Most of my doctor friends only read academic books when they are studying for their master, but how many of them read great works of literature? Not many of them do so.

‘Tak ada masa’ is simply an excuse, in my opinion. These people think that reading is a waste of time and something trivial and just a hobby for some people. They didn’t think of reading as a nourishment for God’s greatest gift to His greatest creation. The brain is God’s greatest gift to us, folks. Don’t neglect it.

So this is why I will always continue reading commercial fictions, literatures, as well as upmarket works. And I am now diversifying into non-fictions as well. You can never read enough. You can never improve your writing enough. Reading and writing are the exercise for your brain. It is one of the reasons I have a blog. I also have one specific folder in my computer for other essays/short stories that I write for fun, only to be read by myself and other close friends and family members.

And you cannot write well if you don’t read well. And this is the universal truth!

So I implore you to read continuously for the rest of your life. Reading has stopped becoming just a hobby for me. It has become my mental nourishment, my definition of having a quality of life. I am an advocate of reading because the joy of reading is too immense not to be shared with the rest of mankind. Try it and see for yourself how different your worldview will become the moment you realize how much reading has opened your mind.

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Being Yourself : What Do We Really Mean?

“Hey, since when have you been reading Orhan Pamuk?” he asked me when I was reading Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness In My Mind. He knew that I usually read mysteries and thrillers.

“I came across the book review of this book and it sounds good. Saw this book in Singapore. So, I just bought it. I force myself to read literature because my reading mates read literatures. I have to catch up. Haha” I said.

“Ala…be yourself. Just read what you enjoy. Tak payah nak ikut orang lain kata apa.”

I chuckled, outwardly.

But my mind was struck by the phrase of ‘be  yourself’. Because, ‘be yourself’ is something I had debated on and off with myself and I have come to the realization that the phrase ‘be yourself’ is so arbitrary and can be downright confusing and thus it needs further clarification, in my opinion.

***

My friends and colleagues are well-versed of my love for mysteries and thrillers and adventures. I love books that revolve around the theme of battling evil force. I adore the whole process of  solving problems in ingenious ways at the last critical moment when you think there is no hope left. And when suddenly the protagonist accomplishes the impossible, that is the euphoric part when a rush of dopamine is released in my brain and I get that high that all drug addicts yearn for! Adventurous fiction a’la Indiana Jones is my cocaine.

Skilful hero, bad villain, a beguiling mystery, an enormous problem to solve, effortful toiling… then AT LAST success comes in the form of the death of the villain when harmony and order and justice are restored. 

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This is why thrillers and adventures are addictive. I am part of the story that I read.

It’s very formulaic…but it works with me. Books like these taught me that unless it is a happy ending, it is not yet an ending. So in real life, when I come across something sad or something disappointing, I would remember that this is not the end. Something good for me is yet to come. Books like these help me define my notion of justice and why we must ensure that it prevails in the end. So this is how I justify my love of fiction. It is motivating!

Formulaic stuff like this is called commercial fiction! A happy ending is a must! When I read commercial fiction, this is what I want! Pure entertainment! And if it also happens to give me some new info or some interesting titbits that would then become part of my semantic memory, well, all the better. Because I can then pretend that I am reading it for the knowledge as well. Hahah (Think Da Vinci Code. It is formulaic and a commercial fiction. But this book incorporates a lot of facts about anagrams, fibonacci Sequence, history of Christianity, Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and The Lourve Museum. I honestly say I learned a lot when I read Da Vinci Code even though it is a commercial fiction.  It is full of facts, but at the same time it is fast-paced and full of exciting adventure). But no matter what facts they include into their plot, the main point of commercial fiction is entertainment, not knowledge or self-reflection! For Malay readers, think Ahadiat Akashah (as opposed to A. Samad Said).

Now literature (sastera) is different. The main point of literature is to educate and to criticize some element in the society that the author finds repugnant (kritik sosial). The author of literature hopes to trigger a paradigm change in the society. Happy ending is not guaranteed. In fact, sad ending is more effective! And most of the time, the ending is in the form of a cliffhanger and you get a feeling of things not being properly resolved. (And I feel unsatisfied! I hate that unresolved feelings. I rather have a sad ending than an unresolved ending. But maybe that’s the point! If most readers feel unsatisfied, then maybe we will get fired up, talk about it in forums, and at last campaign for a change in the society. So the author has reached his/her purpose: to make the readers feel so unsatisfied and so angry that they just have to talk about it in forums.)  Most literatures are really slow-paced. Where in commercial fiction the conflicts are usually external, the conflicts in literatures are internal. Where the character in commercial fiction is this perfectly handsome, intelligent and skilful hero, the character in literature will be flawed and the character will struggle internally to overcome his flaws. (Think Salina by A. Samad Said. Salina is the protagonist who is also a prostitute!!) So you see, some characters in literature are not always hero material. So it’s difficult for us as readers to admire and fall in love with this person. Unlike in commercial fiction, the protagonist here is not at all perfect; he is only human in this literature. And that’s just not good enough for us. (Well, at least AT FIRST, such protagonist won’t be good enough for us. But as you mature into your reading, you will grow to like this sort of protagonist. This protagonist is real and human, and perhaps as you grow older, you can relate to such a character. Protagonists in literatures are people like hawkers, farmers, taxi drivers…rather than CIA agents/ Secret Service Agents, SWAT agents/ successful CEOs etc etc. So really…they are NOT as exciting, but they are REAL every day people. As time goes by, you can possibly make yourself accept a hero that may not be so handsome, and not so successful, but just ordinary people struggling with life’s trials and tribulations. But remember, AT FIRST, it is so damn difficult to finish the book! But you just have to HANG IN THERE and finish it!)

So, reading literature is a struggle! You may not like the plot or the character because it is not entertaining enough and too real to be a source of fun escapism. (And most people read as a form of escapism. To relax from reality! And thus, literature feels torturous when compared to commercial fiction)

If you are a young reader and still struggling with reading literature, don’t worry! It’s normal. I STILL struggle. I have to MAKE myself read literature and Thank God I have this reading forum that would motivate me to do so. Like the character in a literature, I have a weakness too. I feel jealous of  anyone who seems to read better than I do (haha) and I want to compete against them. It’s really ridiculous of me…but heck, I have flaws!

So when I force myself to read literature, does it mean I am NOT being myself?
I don’t think so.

I AM being myself. Well, my competitive self, at least! 

If I had said “I love literature only… and commercial fictions are beneath my notice because they are so awfully trashy!”,… well, THEN I am lying and not being myself. But I did not say that. I fully acknowledge that literatures are hard to swallow and I have to force myself. So really, this IS myself. Haha.

But, this is the problem, you see! Is ‘being yourself’ means following your every inclination and not opposing your whims and desires at all…and not bothering to improve yourself at all and just remain the same… because you want to ‘be yourself’? Is that what we are supposed to do in life? Are we going to demand that people love us ‘just the way we are’ because we are just being ourselves?

I have problems with that concept. To quote Alanis Morisette, we will love you just the way you are if you are perfect. But no one is… so… well…the concept of ‘be yourself and never change’ becomes problematic in my analytical INTP mind.

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***

If I had come across the phrase ‘be yourself’ when I was a child, I might use it against my parents. But I don’t think it would be effective.

Nope!

“Kak Ngah, pi study”

“Studying is not myself. At the moment, myself wanna play. If I force myself to read academic books, then it means I am not being  true to myself. If you force me to study now, that means you are not accepting me for myself” Hahaha. 

I think if I ever said that, my father would quip  “Tak apa. You can be yourself. Cuma… ‘yourself’ nanti kena rotan jer lah. But yes, go ahead and be yourself. You have that option, of course,”

Haha.

You see? Maybe even my childhood self knew that the ‘be yourself’ rhetoric is too wishy-washy and arbitrary to be used in an argument (or else you bet I would have used it with my parents). Whatever valid argument out there for me not to study, I have used them. But I never used the ‘be myself’ angle with my parents. Because deep inside I knew, it was too stupid to say something like that (and I know how the argument will end up. Just like the above dialogue, that’s how! Haha)

The problem that I have with the ‘be yourself’ catchphrase is because it can be misapplied or taken advantage of, you see. A murderer and a thief would say “I am just being myself when I commit that crime.”

A cheater would tell his wife “When I fell in love with the other woman, I couldn’t help it. You might think I am cheating on you, but with myself, I am being true!”. Hahhaha.

What would the world turn into, then?

So you see, ‘be yourself’ catchphrase is very flawed at its core. It doesn’t stand detailed scrutiny. It is vague! It is fragile! And perhaps, should not be propagated!

We should not always be ourselves. Not in the way that they are promoting it.

We must first understand which part of ourselves are we talking about.

***

You see, according to Sigmund Freud, self/psyche can be divided into your id, your ego and your superego (tripartite).

Id: operates on instinct and pleasure principle. We want what we want and the reality be damn! This is me! What I want is unrealistic and selfish but I still want it.

(eg: I want to eat ice cream all the time. I don’t want to have to diet.)

Superego: this aspect of ourselves incorporates the values and moral of the society and is learned from our parents, our teachers or our religious upbringing.

(eg: I support the value of healthy diet because I am a doctor and I have learned it in med school that eating healthy is good for your health)

Ego: The job of the ego is to balance the demands of the id (our instinct to seek pleasure, to eat whatever we like) and the demands of the superego (our moral values and what we have learned.)

(eg: we then decide to eat regular meals rather than go on an extreme diet in order to satisfy our id’s need for good portion of food. To satisfy our superego, we reduce our ice cream intake to only once a week and exercise regularly. Id doesn’t get everything id wants. Superego also doesn’t get the ideal that superego wants. Instead, ego make them compromise and meet in the middle.)

Your superego and your Id will constantly influence your ego. Your ego will have to decide which way it should skew towards.

So, if ONE DAY, you decide to go on a diet, that is your superego winning against your id. Your superego is STILL yourself. So don’t go around thinking “Wow, I feel so fake and not myself when I am munching this carrot and celery. This is not right! I should be true to myself. I should just eat that double cheese burger because THAT IS MY REAL SELF!” 

Do you understand what I am trying to say?

Your id, your superego and your ego…they are ALL you and yourself. Just because you ignore your id and satisfy your superego, doesn’t mean you are not being yourself. In fact, ignoring your id makes you the better person.

The better self.

And the good news is your id can be trained to be more in tune with your superego. Initially all diets and exercise are hard to do (that is your id being in revolt and rebelling. Ignoring your id can cause tension and stress, initially). But after awhile, your id will follow through and eventually your id will easily accept the need for things to go the superego way most of the time.

On certain days, your id would win against your superego. You would eat a lot of ice cream and binge on junk food. When that happens, don’t go around saying “I am just being myself when I binge eat.” Instead tell yourself, that I am being the ‘id part’ of myself today. The superego part of myself lost today.

And that’s okay. Id must be allowed to win too, occasionally. It relaxes us. 

You can indulge your id occasionally, as long as you don’t do that by abusing the rights of others.

Below is another example of how id and superego influence your overall self:

Id: I am bored with my one wife. I want to have sex with more than one woman.

Superego: But Islam prohibits Zina.

Id: Well, I can have four wives,

Superego:  But as a husband, I must be responsible financially for all my four wives. I must be equal to all of them in terms of nafkah. I must lead them to the right path and be responsible for all their sins. 

Ego intervenes at this point: The reality is, I cannot afford four wives. But I might just be able to manage two wives in the fair and responsible manner that Islam stipulates. So I will have two wives, instead. (ego will try to satisfy both id and superego. But whether id or superego has the greater influence on your ego, that depends on many external factors and circumstances.)

In this example, if the id has a far more powerful influence than the superego, the man just might not bother to marry other women and simply hire prostitutes to satisfy his id. Lagi senang, kan?! If the superego (moral) is not well developed, the id wins easily and he can commit zina without feeling any guilt.  Is it then okay for him to simply say “I am just being myself?” 

Hell, no! You are just being the ‘id part’ of yourself!

Id is your nafs! So be careful when you say ‘be yourself’.The psychiatry MO in me might just ask “which part of yourself? You could have chosen your superego self to express, but you had chosen your id self to express instead. And then you go around using the convenient catchphrase of ‘being yourself’ as though that justifies everything.”

The phrase ‘be yourself’ is problematic because it doesn’t specify which part of yourself you should be! Your id…or your superego? And this arbitrary phrase can be misapplied by unprincipled crooks to justify whatever they do.

***

In my case…

My Id: I love entertaining books that are fast-paced, adventurous and fun. I feel relaxed. 

My Superego: But this sort of books that you like do not have much intellectual value, right? It is so ‘lagha’. God gives you brain NOT for you to waste it in fantasy adventure and la-la land. Your fiction doesn’t change the paradigm of the society. It’s fun, of course. But it’s empty calories. Why can’t you read something that feed your brain and nourish your soul? Read non-fiction, why don’t you? Those are factual and real!

My Ego: Okay, calm down, id and superego. Let’s compromise. Let’s read literature instead. It is still a fiction, but based on reality. It gives you something to think about without the boring academic feel to it. You don’t have to feel guilty about not feeding your brain properly if you read literature.

So, my point is: whether I am reading commercial fiction or literature or even academic books…all of them are MYSELF.

I indulge my id with commercial fiction. I satisfy my superego with literature and obligatory academic books (when the exam is near). Satisfying my superego improves my knowledge and my writing. Satisfying my id allows me to relax and recharge. 

So when I said I had to force myself to read literature, what I really meant to say was I had to force ‘my id self’ to read and enjoy literature. My superego didn’t need any forcing because that value is already within me. I just need my superego to be strong enough to wrestle the controlling rein from my id. And after awhile, when I do it often enough, my id would accept that literature is a superior reading material and we should read it more often. 

The take home message is: Your id can be TRAINED. Your id can be TAMED if you make it a practice to allow your superego to win most of the time. Eventually, it gets easier. It does.

***

So the next time I said I am being myself, I will say that phrase with the conscious awareness that the ‘self’ is FLUID and CHANGEABLE at any moment, depending on how good and pious I am feeling at that time and depending on which part of my self dominates my ego at that point in time.

And that’s normal! That’s human. 

So relax guys! Don’t feel fake and pretentious when we choose to rise above our natural (id) inclination. That’s what jihad is about; a struggle to force our id into submission.

May we all have the strength to be the better part of ourselves, most of the time (if not always). May Allah reduce the gap between our id and our superego so that doing good and being nice become easy. Amin.

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Hahaha! I love the quote above!

Until next time, folks!

Disclaimer: This is merely my amateurish take on pop psychology. Haha. I am not an expert or anything. But INTPs are annoyed by vague, wishy-washy stuff like ‘be yourself’ and we have the need to break it down and analyze it to death. No one else would bother to analyze this catchphrase beyond its superficial application. I mean, it is not worth the time to mull the matter over. It’s just an ordinary adage, after all. But this is how INTP use their brain. This is our eternal problem. Even as we are annoyed by vague, arbitrary, wishy-washy stuff like this, we are also fascinated by the thought of how we can attack and crucify the matter to smithereens. We are fascinated by contradictions, inconsistencies between theories and reality. Any type of dissonance holds our attention until we have thought the matter over and come to a decision. It is, alas, a never ending passion. So here you go. This is how INTPs spend their time thinking about abstract stuff that is not that important in real life. The only reason we STILL do it is because we enjoy it.