Glorious

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

My dear readers, I have a bad news.

I failed….

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot 2017-11-04 07.03.40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Alhamdulillah, it was glorious!

 

Glorious

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

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


So I charged ahead, went to war,

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


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

-Afiza Azmee-
3/11/17
9.50 pm

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

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Why Taking An Exam Is Good For You

The real title of this post should be:

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

Haha.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1)It feeds your intellect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

2)It feeds your spirituality

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

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

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

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

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

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

Errmm…..

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

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

 

3)It builds character

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

tie your camel

 

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

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

affairs of believer

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

😉

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

Until next time, take care!

Thoughts On Trauma and PTSD

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

download

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

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

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

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

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

 ***

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I laughed in the midst of tears.

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

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

1)Start Driving Again Straight Away

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

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

 

2)Start on your normal routine straightaway

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Hmmm… 

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

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

 ***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hafazah

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

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

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

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

5/7/16, 30 Ramadhan 1437

5.30 pm

One Of The Funniest Video On Relationship Ever!

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Art Of Socializing

“You Have To Do What You Have To Do.”

That is my maxim in life. Regardless of your feelings, if something must be done, then it must be done.

I am a problem solver. I don’t allow problems to continue wreaking havoc in my life.

I might not like certain things, but if there is no getting around the problems/issues, then I will make myself deal with it.

I used to dread socializing. I couldn’t make myself do it as a child. I always pestered my mom “Mak, bila nak balik rumah kita ni?” whenever we were out socializing at other people’s houses. My mom had to excuse herself early than she intended to because it would not take long for me to start causing tantrum. 

I didn’t think I had any social anxiety or social phobia. I just felt awkward having to pretend that I was interested in other people when I actually didn’t. I felt awkward having to suffer the painful silence as the conversation dried up with no one having anything to say.

I was just bored. And could not make myself put the effort. 

But I recognized that I had to overcome my inability to make small talk. I have to do what I have to do, I told myself. I couldn’t hide away in my room every time guests came to our house. My mother would  have my head! “Tetamu mai kita kenalah keluar, Kak Ngah. Semua tanya kak ngah dok buat apa sampai tak keluar bilik. Very rude lah.”

I always had some excuses. Tidur. Baca Buku. Tak perasan orang mai. 

I am not shy. I never was shy. I am just an introvert. But when it comes to things I am really interested in, I can be chatty enough and sometimes downright vocal. I am a vocal introvert. If a topic interests me, you will have a hard time shutting me up. But if a topic does not interest me (let’s just admit that small talks are crazy boring and we just do it socially in order to be polite) or I am meeting someone for the first time, I would be very reserved and awkward and therefore I would try my best to avoid having to deal with such a situation.  

But I knew I could not get away with excuses for long.

So, I solved my problems when I was in my early 20s. I observed how people make small talk, I analyzed how they carried themselves during social events and then I imitated accordingly. And now, I am quite good at faking my comfort at making small talk (while deep inside, I cannot wait to get back into my private sanctum sanctorum; the innermost of my private world where stories are enthralling and mysteries are beguiling)

So when one day my patient came to me and told me that she was a very shy person (but her shyness is not yet a disorder of any kind) and she didn’t like that shyness (she is a shy extrovert. Yes, there exists a shy extrovert; just like there exists a bold introvert) I was very sympathetic with her plight. She reminded me of my younger self. Like me, she has problems coming up with something to say to keep the conversation rolling and ends up not saying anything and then the whole awkward silence embarrasses her. 

This inspired me to write about tips on how to make a small talk for this post. I would share with you what I do to make small talk appear effortless. (I am not always spot on and successful in how I do it. But at least, I no longer feel agonized when I have to do it) Hope it helps everyone out there who has the same problem as me and this patient of mine. All these tips are the result of my reading, my observation of other people’s conversation and from my own extended practice at small talk. I am very proud of these tips because I think it’s been working great for me. Maybe you can practice them when you are attending the many open houses throughout this month of Syawal. 

So, here they are:

1)Be approachable. Just smile.

-Ok, my sisters would laugh their heads off at this. Because I am actually not approachable at all. My colleagues and my own close friends had told me of their first impression of me so many times in the past for me not to have a good insight of my unapproachability. They said it was my bitchy-resting-face that scares people from trying to approach me. But that is because I was not trying to be approachable at that time. I was not making any effort to seem approachable because the situation didn’t require me to do so.

-But what if you are attending a social function or you yourself is the host for a kenduri or a family event? You have NO CHOICE but to mix and mingle. In THAT situation, I MAKE myself approachable. The simplest thing to do is smile! And talk about food. And keep asking them to “tambahlah lagi,” or “makanlah lagi”. You know, things like that! Over and over again. So bosan, but you get the idea. 

-Or if you are the guests (instead of the host), you can comment on the deliciousness of the food. Or exchange recipes on how to make some of the delicacies (even though you KNOW you are not going to cook any of it. But just show that you are interested in all the ingredients and how to prepare them. The point of the whole thing is just to keep the conversation rolling. Yes… we have to suffer the boredom! But you have to do what you have to do.). 

-The point is just to keep it superficial and light. 

-Avoid talks of politics/race/religion. Again, keep it light and superficial. (unless you are lucky enough to find that rare deep thinkers among the guests with whom you can talk about any controversial topic that strikes your fancy. In that case, go ahead and show your true nerdy, geeky colours. Hahhah). 

 

2)Go to an event with a friend(s) who is more outgoing and extrovert than you. 

– This is my favourite trick! And it works every single time! 

-This friend can do all the approaching and all the talking with the host and you simply comment and interject every now and then. Whatever it is your outgoing friend said, you simply confirm it and elaborate on it. That way, you don’t need to rack your brain trying to come up with things to say because your bubbly friend will do it for you. 

-I see how great this works every day between my mother and my father. My mother do all the talking/ ice-breaking and my father do all the nodding and brief elaboration. It’s like watching a beautiful dance. But you must see my father when he is talking politics/business… THEN, he can really talk! Hahah. 

 

3)People like to talk about themselves. So, ask them questions about themselves. And elaborate and respond accordingly based on their answers.

Ask them about their children. People love talking about their children (something free, single people like me might not be able to relate yet). This is something I notice in almost everyone. 

I memorized the names of my neighbours’ children. Whenever I bump into my neighbour, I would ask her about her children and she lights up when she talks about them. When I was a teenager, I would not bother asking these type of questions because I was not interested to know, anyway. But the main point of socializing is not for extracting information that you want to know. That is not the point. The point of socializing is just to be nice and to establish a connection and not looking awkward doing it… I think. (Actually, I don’t know what is the point of socializing. Hahha.) 

And please, appear interested with their answers. When they give their answers, you follow it up with further questions. 

When I was a teenager, my conversation was very short and awkward. Because I didn’t yet bother to learn to solve my ‘small-talk problem’ at that time. So my conversation always turned out like this:

My neighbour: “Anak Kak N yang bongsu tu dekat UITM la ni. Dia dok buat engineering.”

Me: Oh. Hmm…Okey. 

(Hahhaha. Yes, pathetic gila! Because, I was just not interested to know. So I would just say “oh, ok.”)

But now I have improved. *proud silly grin*

Me: Oh, buat engineering. Dah tahun berapa dah (really, I don’t care tahun berapa. But as I mentioned before, socializing is not about getting any information that you really want to know. It is just about appearing interested even if you actually aren’t)

Kak N: Dah tahun tiga dah. 

Me: Oh, tak sampai setahun lagi dah nak grad la. (yup…. saying the obvious is part of the socializing game. Hahha. When I was a teenager, I would not bother saying something like this. I mean, if her son is already in 3rd year, OBVIOUSLY there would only be one year left until graduation, right? So, why bother saying something like this, I thought. But now, I know the reason we bother to say things like this… it is to fill up our quota of the conversation. Seriously! That is the whole purpose of saying the obvious, and now that you know, just do it even when you think it doesn’t make sense!)

Kak N: Tu lah… lega lah. Tinggal dia sorang ja tak habis belajar lagi. Lepas ni Kak N tak gaduh pikiaq dah. 

Me :(Because I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I then introduced another related topic… which was, her OTHER children, of course).  Fatin pula dok buat apa la ni? (of course, it requires you remembering the name of the other children. LOL)

Hahha. Yes, I have sooo mastered the art of making small talk! Now, I can do it almost automatically! It was painful at first. But I did it! 

So the tips is simple: Keep the conversation rolling by asking questions about themselves because people love talking about themselves and follow up on their answers with appropriate comments (even when you have to say the obvious, and feeling stupid for saying such an obvious thing). And when you have nothing else to say on one topic, introduce another related topic with another question. Do NOT abruptly introduce on an unrelated topic because that would’t look or sound smooth. ‘Related-ness’ and ‘smooth transition’ of one topic after another, after another and after another…. that is the trick!

 

4) Don’t Avoid Social Situation. Practice until it becomes part of your skill. (this is easier said than done, I know! Our first instinct is to avoid and run but we have to resist the urge to run if we are serious about improving our socializing skill)

We can all learn a lesson from this dialogue between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (this reminds me why i love reading literature. It makes you pause and think):

Mr. Darcy: I do not have the talent of conversing easily with people I have never met before.

Elizabeth Bennet: Perhaps you should take your aunt’s advice and practice?

Elizabeth Bennet was being sarcastic but quite accurate! 

Back in form 4, I hated Add Maths… but I wanted to get straight As, and therefore Add Maths must be mastered by me no matter what. So I practiced Add Maths in every spare moment I had leading to SPM and I made it happen, thank God!

Socializing is just like Add Maths! If socializing was made an exam subject, I bet I would bother to master it ever since I was a child. But unfortunately, it was not an exam subject. I didn’t feel the importance or the need to master it the way I had to master Add Maths. I thought that socializing involved a lot of discomfort and play-pretend and I would not stoop to that level, I felt. I should be myself, I thought.

But I had my paradigm shift, thanks to Elizabeth Bennet! Haha. She made me realize that socializing is a skill… some are natural at it and some require practice with it. Just like Add Maths! It is not about not being yourself and being pretentious…. you practice it because it is a life skill! If you can practice Add Maths, why can’t you practice socializing? Right? 

I didn’t go around saying “Practicing Add Maths is like being fake and pretending to like Add Maths.” No! I STILL don’t like Add Maths. But I had to do what I had to do, remember?

Just like we shouldn’t think “practicing to socialize means we are pretending to like socializing and not being ourselves”

 This is not a question of ‘liking’ or ‘being ourselves’. It is the question of having the skill so that you can do it in a situation when it is not avoidable. Because we are problem solvers! We just have to do what we have to do! Being good at socializing, is unfortunately, a coming-of-age skill. Part and parcel of becoming an adult (because you can no longer depend on your parents to do it for you.)

 

5) Try to be as genuine as possible even though  socialising  requires some amount of ‘faking an interest’. 

Just because socialising does require an amount of faking your interest (by asking questions you don’t really actually want to know), it doesn’t mean you cannot be genuinely yourself. What do I mean by this?

Well…

For example, when people ask you questions, you can answer those questions honestly. They might ask you back the questions you have asked to them. 

For example:

You: Anak hang Aidan buat apa sekarang?

Acquaintance: Dia buat engineering la ni. Alhamdulillah, results  okay. Pointer four flat baru-baru ni.  Alan pula buat apa la ni?

You: Dia major sains politik. Minor in literature. Dia memang minat social sciences. (this is an honest answer, right? Don’t say your son is doing medicine and also has a four flat pointer if it is not true! I mean, there must be limits to bragging too!)

Socializing is not something we introverts are naturally good at… so it does require an effort to fake an interest and to ‘seem’ like we are enjoying ourselves. Our general demeanour might be jovial, but inwardly we might be longing to get home and get started on our reading. We have no choice but to fake this general happy demeanour in order to maintain politeness. (it would be rude to have people think we feel bored by their conversation, right?)  But that is where the faking stops…. the actual content of the conversation must be real and true. 

 

6) There are online social skills guide

Yup! There are a lot of articles and books written on how to socialize. I have read them myself (in the course of trying to solve my problem with small talk)

But I don’t suggest you to buy any books for it. Internet articles will do. 

Because like Add Maths, you cannot just read on it! Practice is key! 

But reading on the theories would come in handy too…. so just read off the internet on that subject. And then go out to practice. Practice, practice, practice. 

***

I have mentioned before that the ‘self’ is fluid and changeable. That is why I always say ‘we do what we have to do’ regardless of our discomfort or real feelings about it. If that is our responsibility and it is expected of us, then we have to learn to adapt.

Instead of having a ‘fixed mindset’, we must have a ‘growth mindset’.

What do I mean by that?

The concept is a bit like “nature vs nurture”:

When you have a fixed mindset, you believe that you either are or aren’t good at something, based on your inherent nature, because it’s just who you are.

Whereas people who have a growth mindset believe anyone can be good at anything because your abilities are due  to your actions.

And personally, I think having a fixed mindset is harmful and one of the perpetuating factor to depression and anxiety. If you believe that you cannot change even when what you are doing is not working in your favour, then what else is there to do but to give up?

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This is what I always tell my patients. To have a growth mindset!

Remember Elizabeth Bennet? She told Mr. Darcy to practice! Practicing is something that those who have a growth mindset will do.

So, all the best to all aspiring socialites out there! We can do this! 

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****

Last but definitely not least, Selamat Hari Raya from the Azmee family and Maaf Zahir Batin. Taqabballahu Minna Wa Minkum.

Below are some of the pictures that we took on the first few days of Eid (some of the pictures do not contain my Kak Long as she didn’t make it back until on the 3rd day of Raya). There are a lot more pictures in Facebook and Instagram but I decide to only post a few here. I think my blog deserves a bit of colourful spicing up in this blessed month of Syawal.

 

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Our formal Raya picture. Look at my father… so serious! Hahah.
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Our silly free-style picture
More silly free-style pictures without our father because he is not into taking pictures/selfies like all his vain narcissistic daughters. Haha
And even more silly pictures…
Just the girls and the mom…😍😍😘

 

Sisters Bonding Time was on the 2nd and 3rd day of Raya. Tak sah raya kalau tak ambil gambar kat halaman rumah dengan baju raya. LOL. We missed my youngest sister because she was not around at that time. And my eldest sister was also not here because she was stuck in traffic jam on  the way to balik kampung here. So just me, Izati and the heavily pregnant Alida.

 

 

On the 3rd day of Raya, we went for our usual sisters-coffee-time at Starbucks. They left their husbands at home, because, of course! Who would want  husbands to tag along when the sisters are gossiping? Right? They would only feel excluded by our loud voices speaking on top of each other as we tend to do every single time.  Haha.

We missed Alida here because she was very, very pregnant and didn’t feel like going out and we missed my youngest sister Wani as she had gone back to the uni to start preparing for her final exam in dentistry. Their absence was deeply felt but it didn’t prevent us from having a great time. (LOL, sorry Wani and Alida.)

And on the 4th day of Raya (my last day of cuti raya, sobs sobs), I brought Kak Long to Gunung Keriang for hiking because she said she wanted to give it a try. I was happy to do it because I had started feeling guilty about all the calories I had consumed in the past few days. At the end of the hiking trip, my Kak Long learned to respect the level of my fitness to be doing this activity so very frequently. Hahha. She learned that she needed to increase her fitness level ASAP. “Tunggu aku balik next time… I will be fitter,” She said.

I laughed at the hilarity!

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Healthy life-style.. KONONnya!

 

Until next time, my dear readers. 🙂

O Companion Most High

O Companion Most High

O Companion Most High,
As his head rested on his wife's thigh,
As his face perspired his exhaustion,
He softly whispered "With The Highest Companion"
And thus he left the world in grieving,
Void of his presence we've been missing.

O Companion Most High,
Your beloved once recited a narration,
"No prophet dies till he is shown,
His place in heaven with an option,
whether to live or to die"
So as he rested on his wife's thigh,
And as he chose "O Allah, The Highest Companion"
He made the world all over grieve,
Void of his presence we sorely miss.

O Companion Most High,
As Your beloved's precious final breath
Rise to heaven, mixed in the air,
He left us forever with The Greatest Miracle,
Messages of beauty without rival,
Of true words and faithful revelation,
To tide us over till the day of judgement,
When we too shall meet The Highest Companion.

O Companion Most High,
In my dream on the mighty throne You reside,
The mercy of Your love rise high,
The sword of Your justice drawing nigh,
I feel scared but I remember what You said,
I'd read it many times and it made me cry,
"O serene soul,
Return to Your Lord, well-pleased and pleasing,
And enter among my servants,
And enter My paradise," 
And in that dream, those words were uttered,
In my general direction as I entered,
Into the light of Your Grace and Mercy
Of untold happiness, zero misery, 
For the rest of my life, for eternity.

-Afiza Azmee-
 02/06/17

***

Okay, I haven’t written poetry for a longgg time. And that is because I also have not read poetry for a longggg time too. There is a connection between what I read and what I write. One inspires the other in a complicated two-way  direction I have always found very amusing.

So my effort above is a bit rusty. But you’ve got to push yourself and start somewhere, right? I can feel my literary skill becoming as dull as the rear of a knife. LOL. So I need to sharpen it because I was told that ‘belakang parang jika diasah lagikan tajam’ and so on and so forth. Haha.

But these days, I have been inspired to write poetry again. A few things happened to me these past few weeks that made me feel like I have to pause, take a breather and just read and write. These things that happened are listed as below:

1) I found Miss A again

I finally found and connected with Miss A again on facebook. Two weeks ago I found her. After all these years!! She was my good friend and my roommate in MRSM Langkawi. When I befriended her, she upgraded my reading from childish ‘picisan’ Sweet Valley/R.L Stine/Christopher Pike books to great classic literatures that improved my language very significantly. I owed her a lot! She was the reason I started writing poetry as a 16 year old. To be honest, I have always been more at ease with essays or short stories or novels than poetries. (You have to be patient in reading poetries because the meanings to the words are not immediately apparent upon reading. And to ACTUALLY compose them… that is a saga of headaches in itself and a practice of dealing with frustration.)  But because I wanted to compete with Miss A (haha! Silly teenager me!) so I took up poetry… and ah… I was never that good at it. Of course, she is better than me! Her literary prowess is as sharp as a point of a sword. Effortless she made it looked to me, who was completely clueless about poetry-writing at that time! Fortunately, she was pretty encouraging of my pitiful effort to compete with her.

So, meeting her again on facebook kind of inspired me to do this again! Miss A is currently in her first year of Master of Surgery. Miss A had found me first and she was the one who added me on Facebook. Needless to say, I was exhilarated when I saw her profile. She is married to a Turkish man (and that is why I haven’t been able to find her all  these years! She has been using her husband’s surname on facebook!) and her son is so cute and adorable! Miss A is one of those people who are good in BOTH the sciences and the arts. She will be a great competent surgeon with a soul of a poet, I believe.  She kind of reminds me of my elder sister; a statistician with a mathematical brain but a soul of a novelist. Maybe that’s why we clicked almost immediately.

You know, I have come to actually know that there might be some transcendent, metaphysical reason why some people are drawn to each other and click almost immediately even though initially, they don’t know each other all that much. I have experienced it only VERY FEW times… but I cannot deny the phenomena. Below is an authentic hadeeth that might explain the phenomena. But bear in mind, that there are many possible interpretive explanation to this hadeeth. Go and search them yourself. It is fun to learn things like this once in a while.

The Prophet (pbuh) said: “The souls are (like) an army joined (in the world of spirits) whichever souls knew each other (in that world) are attracted towards each other (in this world) and whichever remained distant and indifferent (there) are disinterested to each other (in this world)” (Saheeh al-Bukhaari, Kitaab Ahaadeeth al-Anbiyaa’, Baab al-Arwaah junood mujannadah).

See? I think that hadeeth really explains some of the immediate connections that we occasionally have with certain people. And that hadeeth is AUTHENTIC, you know!

I usually don’t click with people immediately. I took a lot of time to warm up to people. But once I do, it is usually genuine (unless for the sake of politeness, I am somehow expected to fake it, but that is another story. haha) But Miss A was one of the few who I hit it off immediately…perhaps because we started our initial acquaintance talking about books. But then, I have also met people who talked to me about books but I still couldn’t connect with. (So, I think just talking about books with me doesn’t ensure immediate connection. Maybe something in our souls knew each other previously… just like what the hadeeth said. Similar souls recognize each other in this world and all that. I find this concept very interesting.) 

2) I feel burn out (for the second time in my life after housemanship)

I need to write again to recharge. We have lack of MOs in our department these days. So unfortunately, our annual leaves were temporarily frozen. And whenever I actually do have some free time, I have to study. So I stopped reading fictions as much as I used to. I used to read fiction everyday, you know. Continuously even! If people have chain-smoking habit, I have chain-reading habit. Hahah. I finished one book, after another, after another and another! Now, that habit has stopped. It was forcefully stopped too. So, you see, I don’t get as much inspiration to write when I don’t read. And that is to me, like experiencing anhedonia. Writer’s block is just not fun! So, even though today is Friday and it is weekend and I am supposed to study, I decided to take a breather, and take the  time to read something else no matter how guilty I feel about not studying.

3) Inspiring Seerah In The Month of Ramadan

Because this is the month of Ramadan, I have been reading and listening to seerah (because seerah are historical stories. And I love stories, you guys know that). I read again the story of my favourite superhero, Umar Al-Khattab R.A. And I read again about the many victorious wars that our Muslim forefathers had won in the month of Ramadan, making Ramadan literally the month of victory for us. And I also came across the story of the the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) last moment in this world.

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And in my poetry, I coupled that story with one of my favourite verses from the Quran, surah Al-Fajr verses 27-30.  Personally, I find the Malay translation of this verse more beautiful than the English ones, but BOTH cannot beat the rhyme and rhythm in the original Arabic language. It came out so beautifully when you recited them in Arabic. The words in Arabic, because of their rhymes and rhythm, are therapeutic, I feel.

Try reciting them yourself. It gives you immediate optimism.

al-fajr-89-27-30-jiwa2-tenang

So I leave you guys with that real motivation booster.

And have a blessed Ramadhan, dear readers. I feel more recharged now just by channeling my creativity into composing the above poetry.

Until next time, insya Allah.

Book Review: Go Set A Watchman

I know. I know.

It has been more than a month since I last posted in this dearest blog of mine. (hang on while I sweep the dust and cobwebs away  for you, LOL).

I feel the pain, trust me. One of the goals I set for myself is to write at least weekly because I personally think of writing as my brain exercise. The way I make hiking my favourite weekly physical exercise, I have made writing my weekly brain stimulation. When I don’t write, at the risk of sounding like I am having a nihilistic delusion, I can feel my brain shrinking. *drama queen sangat*

The only reason for my tardiness (because I do have one) is profound exhaustion due to my hectic schedule these days and because I have set other priorities to come first before blogging. I was swamped, to be honest. Inundated by work, housechores, studies and my stubborn determination to finish two literatures at the same time within the time period I have pre-determined for myself. (Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee and Langit Petang by A. Samad Said. Of course when I said literatures, I didn’t mean the scientific journal kind. Hahah. I mean, the novel, fiction kind, of course!).

Usually, when I don’t blog weekly as I am apt to do, it must be because I am busy reading; either reading my academic books (my exam is in October, peeps) or reading my fiction/literature. On top of everything else, I was just recovering from URTI  and a severe allergic reaction that made my lips look like I had a botox injection gone wrong! (Oh, the horror of it all!) If anything is guaranteed to spoil your mood to write, it is general ill health.

So, today I am back to write a book review on Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee. (I am so sorry. I know some of my readers are med students and some are fellow doctors who prefer that I write about medical life most of the time. But oh Gosh, my first and foremost passion will always be reading. Been doing it all my life. Addicted to it like one can be addicted to heroine. Hopelessly, helplessly powerless against the lure and magic of reading a good story. So occcasionally, that’s what I will write about. Please feel free to skip reading this post, adik-adik. You don’t have to read this really long book review.)

A Background Story of Go Set A Watchman

To those who don’t know Harper Lee, she was the famous, acclaimed writer and a Pulitzer Prize winner of my all-time favourite novel To Kill A Mocking Bird.  (Ring a bell, yet?)

Harper Lee
Harper Lee

To Kill A Mocking Bird has been made a compulsory text in many English classes all over the world (but not in Malaysia, alas). When I first read the book in my teenage years, I had fallen head over heels in love with Atticus Finch, the lawyer who had defended the black man who was wrongly accused of raping a white woman. Atticus Finch was an upstanding, noble-hearted man who had defended, to the best of his ability, a wrongly accused black man and standing up against the racist society of Maycomb, Alabama, with the support of his family, consisting of his tomboyish daughter (6 year old Scout), charming son (9 year old Jem),  younger brother (a doctor), and his black maid (named Calpurnia). Atticus Finch was labeled as a nigger-lover (a derogatory term) by his neighbours, and was called as a traitor to the White people just because he wanted to ensure a fair trial for a black man. Throughout the court trial, Scout was bullied at school and was unfairly punished when she fought with other kids to defend his father’s good name. Atticus Finch was depicted as a wise, loving and patient father to his kids as he tried to shield his kids from the repercussions of his work as a defender of a black  person, but at the same time he educated his kids about what justice, fairness and kindness were all about. Atticus Finch taught his kids about courage and compassion. He told them that  courage is “when you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what”.

Atticus Finch
Atticus Finch (the film version) defending Tom Robinson (the black man)

In short, Atticus Finch is the moral center of the novel. The superego in To Kill A Mocking Bird…. that is Atticus Finch.

And if you belong to any book forum discussing To Kill A Mocking Bird, you will find many women readers all over the world had placed Atticus Finch as their benchmark of what a good man should aspire to be.

Sometimes, I even speculated that the reason Harper Lee never married was because in real life, she couldn’t find someone like Atticus Finch, the hero that she had created so many decades ago.

Harper Lee was said to be the ‘Jane Austen of Alabama’  and Jane Austen also never married. In fact, many great novelists I know didn’t get married. Harper Lee, Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Emma and all her other great works and I have read them all), Anne Bronte (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall), Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights), Emily Dickinson, Louisa May Alcot (Little Women)…. they never married.

Charlotte Bronte (author of Jane, Eyre, The Professor and Villete) finally got married at the age of 37, but she died only one year into her marriage. Only one year, folks! Makes one thinks that marriage is simply not compatible to the nature of a writer, huh? When they got married, they died SOON after. LOL.          

Another way to look at it is, what if being single gave some famous writers the freedom they needed to go on a writing binge without having to think of someone else? Maybe not having to face marital issues, make these women the great writers that they were. Maybe the solitude and peace that they got from spinsterhood inspired stories that are evergreen and stand the test of time?

“So, you are saying that the reason you are still unmarried is because you are like Jane Austen… like Anne Bronte?” my sister rolled her eyes.

“Pandai pun. You got the point.” I laughed.

“Perasan!” Hahhaha. Me and my sisters do goof around about writing a lot! Sometimes we do a lot of basket lifting (Read:angkat bakul, haha) about our writing abilities. Of course, I am NOWHERE in the league of Jane Austen. NEVER! But it doesn’t hurt to dream, right? *goofy grin*

But jokes aside, I believe that most writers are very idealistic. And the real world cannot meet that idealism. And they’d much rather enjoy their peace and solitude than being shackled and trapped with anything less than their ideals.

And in the minds of many readers, Atticus Finch is the ideal!

Harper Lee had published To Kill A Mocking Bird in 1960. Then, she didn’t publish any other novel for a very long time (almost for the rest of her life) until she FINALLY came up with Go Set A Watchman in 2015. She then died on the 19th of February 2016 at the age of 89, only one year after the publication of her second novel. So, for most of her life, she was an author of only ONE novel… but what an awesome novel it was! And only one year before her death did Go Set A Watchman get published, which was considered as a sequel to To Kill A Mocking Bird.

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According to an article that I read, Go Set A Watchman was actually her first novel; her first draft which she sent in the 1960s. It was rejected by the editor. Instead, the editor had suggested that Harper Lee revise the plot to focus more on the childhood experience of Scout and Jem while Atticus Finch was handling the controversial trial… and so Harper Lee then followed the editors’ advice, and the rest is history; To Kill A Mocking Bird was born!

So, I advise that readers should read To Kill A Mocking Bird first. Otherwise, you might not enjoy Go Set A Watchman as much. You wouldn’t be able  to understand what makes Go Set A Watchman is as good as To Kill A Mocking Bird if you don’t get the context of how great Atticus Finch was in the first novel.

Because in Go Set A Watchman, Atticus Finch was no longer as idealistic as he used to be. One might even say that Atticus Finch had become a racists in Go Set A Watchman, albeit, with his own reason for being one. I felt like I was reading about a different Atticus Finch, at first. But at the end of the novel, I understood why Atticus Finch did what he did and said what he said.

When you read To Kill A Mocking Bird, you love Atticus Finch in the way a child loves her parent. An immature child has the purest of love towards her parent; ‘my father is so great, he can do no wrong in any situation’ kind of pure, undivided love.  But when the child grows up, goes on in life to see the world, she will start noticing that her parent is not as flawless as she once believed when she was just a kid, and so the now grown-up child has to readjust.

To me, Go Set A Watchman is THAT readjustment. Scout was readjusting her opinion of Atticus Finch and found that she could not agree with her father this time, that her father was not as perfect as per her childhood memory, but after much argumentation, screaming and tearing-up, she still loved him anyway. 

In my opinion, To Kill A Mocking Bird is Atticus story (even if it was told from the perspective of a 6 years old Scout), and Go Set A Watchman is Scout’s Story!

And I love them both!

A summary of the novel (copied from Goodreads):

Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch (“Scout”) returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past–a journey that can be guided only by one’s conscience. Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor and effortless precision–a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context and new meaning to an American classic.

My literary analysis of this novel:

The setting of the novel is around the time when the blacks were fighting for non-segregation between whites and blacks in America. In this novel, the court had just ruled that in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, it was unconstitutional to establish separate public schools for black and white students. In conjunction with this court decision, black students  now deserved to go to the same public schools as white students. This court decision together with the tension caused by the activities of NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) had raised racial discord and controversies among the races in Maycomb Alabama.

By principle, Jean Louise Finch (nicknamed Scout) supported for non-segregation and equal rights between the races. When she returned home for a holiday in Maycomb, she was surprised when she learned that her neighbours and the Maycomb community did not share her sentiment. But she was even more devastated when she found out that even her own beloved father Atticus Finch and her own sweetheart, Henry, were against non-segregation. She felt betrayed when Atticus, who had taught her about justice in her childhood, had now turned out to be a ‘secretive racist’. She broke up with Henry because she found out that Henry did not have the same worldview as she does and that she “could never live with hypocrites”. Scout believed that the two men in her life did not possess the same integrity as she did in this issue and it hurt her tremendously.

Later, we found out that Atticus was not against non-segregation per se. He just thought that the Black was not ready for it. Examples of the blacks’ non-readiness to get equal rights were being placed casually throughout the book. There was one occasion narrated in the book when Henry mentioned that “the black people in the county now have money for cars but neglect to get licenses and insurance“.

In other words, the black people in the America AT THAT TIME, was not ready for the responsibility of a full citizenship. Atticus believed that citizenship should be earned. That if we allowed the backward blacks an equal vote, then they would run the country to the ground because they would not know how to manage the country. (and in that time setting, blacks were quite backward secondary to their segregation and lack of education; even Scout could not deny it when Atticus pushed the point).

The conversation between Scout and Atticus Finch below would make it clear that Atticus was no racist; he was just not as idealistic as Scout; more practical and more realistic,

Scout said, “….I heard a slogan and it stuck in my head. I heard “equal rights for all; special privileges for none”. And to me it didn’t mean anything but what it said….”

“Let’s look at it this way,” said her father. “You realize that our Negro population is backward, don’t you? You will concede that? You realize the full implications of the word ‘backward’, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir”

“You realize that the vast majority of them here in the South are unable to share fully in the responsibilities of citizenship, and why?”

“Yes, sir”

“But you want them to have all its privileges?”

I think the round above belongs to Atticus. Atticus drove his point here admirably well. Atticus was able to demonstrate that the blacks were unable and not ready to share the full responsibilities of citizenship, so was it then fair that they should have all the privileges that should come with responsibilities that they were not ready for? Here, Scout had stumbled and lost, I feel. 

If you read many book reviews and discussions in book forums, many people were frustrated that Atticus was made as a racist in this book. They lamented ‘where is the great Atticus that we so loved?’. But if I were to write an analysis of Atticus’ characteristics, the conversation above would be the evidence I would use to say that Atticus was not a racist. After all, he had defended a black man in a court trial in his younger days, remember?!

Atticus said that he just always thought like Thomas Jefferson (The Founding Father of America and its third President) and he elucidated his point by saying “Jefferson believed that full citizenship was a privilege to be earned by each man, that it was not something given lightly or to be taken lightly. A man couldn’t vote simply because he was a man, in Jefferson’s eyes. He had to be a responsible man. A vote was, to Jefferson, a precious privilege a man attained for himself in a live-and-let-live economy”.

So you see, things are not as black-and-white anymore. Atticus no longer seemed as racist as he appeared, at first. And Scout was made to look too idealistic, and less practical. And that’s what made this novel Go Set A Watchman so good! You are torn between supporting your ideals absolutely or planting your feet firmly in your flawed reality.

Another scene I love best is the scene between Scout and her ‘almost fiance’ named Henry (who she later broke up with). Scout had said that she was disappointed that Henry (who was also a lawyer working with Atticus) had not shared her worldview about equal rights and non-segregation.

Henry tried to justify his position by telling her that, sometimes there is a need to go with the flow, be like the rest, in order to best serve the community. (Scout thought that Henry was a coward when he said that).

Henry said “How can I be of any use to a town if it’s against me?….. Now, shall I throw all that (my education, reputation) down the drain…. when I could be helping them with what legal talent that I have? Which is worth more?”

This was the moment when Scout broke up with Henry. And personally,  I think she did the right thing. Henry had lost her respect from that moment forward and marriage will spell disaster for them both if they continued with the plan.

But I kind of understand why Henry said what he said to Scout.  Henry had come from ‘white thrash’; he began as a nobody (until Atticus took him under his wing) and he always had to be careful with what he said or what he did in the community. Whereas Scout had the reputation of a Finch surname that made the community viewed her with more indulgence. Henry told her that “There are some things that I can’t do that you can (because you are a Finch)”.

In a way, Scout was more privileged because she belonged to a reputable family in Maycomb. She could say any outrageous thing she wanted and she could deviate from the societal norms (within reasons) and the members of the community would simply chuckle and say “That’s just same old Scout,”

But if it was Henry saying or doing exactly as Scout said or did, the community would harshly say “That’s the thrash in him.” They would not view what he said or did in the same indulgent way as they did with Scout.

And this is something that Scout had taken for granted. She had her freedom simply because her life circumstances were much more privileged than the rest. So she sat on a high pedestal and could judge Henry as a coward. But what if Scout was also born as a ‘white thrash’? Would she have the means to be as outspoken and as courageous as she did? Maybe not. And that was what Henry was trying to point out to Scout.

Again, this is what I mean when I said there are so many nuances to Go Set A Watchman. More grey; not much black-and-white.

(When I read this part of the scene, it reminded me that this sort of double-standard occurred everywhere. Kalau specialist yang rude dan kurang ajar, they would say “Ala, that surgeon/specialist memang macam tu. Kitalah yang kena adapt”. But if it was a houseman who retaliate and being frank (not even rude, just frank), the houseman will be labeled ‘tak padan dengan houseman, dah kurang ajar, berani nak cakap banyak/tulis macam-macam.’ Hahha. And like Scout, I would not be able to respect Henry. I also would think that Henry was a coward. Hang takut apa orang nak cakap apa pun? Because if you keep on doing what you think is right, one day people will also finally said “ala, dia memang macam tu. Kitalah kena adapt.” Sementara kita nak dapat reputasi tu, memang tadah telingalah kena kutuk. But once you get to a certain level and you always have the reputation of doing what you feel is right, people will finally give you the same acknowledgement…“dia memang macam tu. kita yang kena adapt dengan dia.” But then, maybe I am more privileged and I didn’t realize it? This scene really made me think! It made me think a lot about my expectations of others around me. Maybe it is just not realistic for me to expect that people should be frank and forthright against any unjust authority that they don’t like. Maybe I should not base my respect and trust on whether or not someone is courageous enough to speak their minds. Well…. this scene certainly made me pause and think.)

Now, we come to another good scene that I absolutely adore. This is the scene between Scout and her Uncle Jack who was a retired doctor. This Uncle Jack sounded like a psychiatrist when he told Scout that the reason Scout was so angry at his father was because all these while, Scout had merged her personal conscience with that of Atticus. But now, over this black segregation issue, finally Scout had become her own person and able to separate her own conscience from her father’s conscience. (This scene sort of reminded me of Margaret Mahler’s Separation Individuation Theory, except that the theory was supposed to apply to an infant. Not to a 26 year old lady.)

Below are the quotes from Uncle Jack that I absolutely love because I think Harper Lee might have studied some psychiatry or dabbled in some psychology when she wrote this scene.

Uncle Jack said to Scout “…now you, Miss, born with your own conscience, somewhere along the line fastened it like a barnacle onto your father’s. As you grew up, when you were grown, totally unknown to yourself, you confused your father with God. You never saw him as a man with a man’s heart, and a man’s failings – I’ll grant you it may have been hard to see, he makes so few mistakes, but he makes them like all of us. You were an emotional cripple, leaning on him, getting the answers from him, assuming that your answers will always be his answer. When you happened along and saw him doing something that seemed to you to be the very antithesis of his conscience – your conscience – you literally could not stand it. It made you physically ill. Life became hell on earth for you. You had to kill yourself, or he had to kill you to get you functioning as a separate entity,”

Powerful, isn’t it? I love it!

There are many more psychiatry-esque quotes like the above towards the end of the novel and I drank them all like a desert traveler with an unquenchable thirst. I can see now why Harper Lee won the Pulitzer Prize. She was amazing!

I read To Kill A Mocking Bird when I was a teenager, with a teenager’s understanding and a teenager’s limitation. Even then, I had loved it. Loved Atticus. Loved Scout. Or maybe… love (as in, present tense).

I read Go Set A Watchman as a fullly grown adult, and I love Atticus and Scout even more. The only difference is that, my love for them are more realistic now.

I have mentioned before that the reason why I choose to specialise in psychiatry is because I love reading. Characters and characterization in novels that I read all my life give me the interest I have in psychiatry. Without a doubt, deep, meaningful novel like this is responsible for my career choice. My love of literature and my passion for beautiful words are the beacon that bids me to psychiatry. And I have been  following that beacon ever since.

So, now, whenever I am reading a novel, I will pretend that it is part of my psychiatry academic revision. After all, how else am I supposed to keep the beacon burning bright, if I stop reading, right?