Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goodbye, 2016

Well, what do you know, it's year end post time already!

As I'm sure many people can attest to, 2016 has been an awful year. Really and truly. The worst. Celebrities were dying left right and centre, numerous acts of terrorism and shootings were happening across the world, there was the shock of Brexit and then the Trump presidency, and the world heard about the horrors happening in Aleppo which included bombings of MSF-supported hospitals. On a lighter note, closer to home, Dato' LCW unfortunately missed his last shot at an Olympic gold medal (although the three silver medals in badminton that our athletes brought back are certainly something to be proud of). Anyway, all in all, it's just been a really bad year in general.

Burn, 2016, burn!
(Gif from here)

It's been hard on a personal level as well. Wait, hold on, I have a lengthy disclaimer. It feels kind of disrespectful to talk about my (largely inconsequential) personal life after all the truly horrible things I mentioned above, but I know far more about what I'm going to write about compared to world events. In any case, there are countless articles written by people far more knowledgeable and opinionated than I all over the Internet, so I don't think there's any need for my contribution to that at the moment.

Anyway! This year has been a difficult one for me. I mentioned some posts back that I'd had trouble adjusting to Launceston, but what I hadn't mentioned was just how much trouble I was having. For a creature of habit like myself, having to adjust to a new environment, new hospital, new friendship group, new house, new housemates, new everything, was a nightmare. It took me a very long time to settle in, and I was utterly miserable. Which is not how you want to be in a new everything! You want to be friendly and outgoing and adventurous, but instead I was withdrawn, self-conscious, insecure, and very, very sad.

It me
(Image from here/Fanpop)

Given the drastic life change I was undergoing, I figured this was a normal reaction and told myself to wait it out. Things only got worse, unfortunately. Later in the year, I started having problems with anxiety (I am normally a bit of a worrier anyway, but this was almost nothing like it). After talking to a few friends and after much encouragement, I went to seek help. It was the best thing I could've done. I will forever be grateful to the friends who shared their own experiences with me, who encouraged me to see someone, who commiserated with and comforted me. Thankyou for being there when times were hard. You guys really are the best.

I'm being a bit fuzzy with the details, I realise, but that's because I don't really want my entire mental health journey on the Internet for the world to read. In fact, the only reason I'm writing about it at all is I believe mental health is something that needs to be talked about. When I told people about this, it sparked great discussions about their own experiences with mental health issues and how they dealt with them. If you're interested, I'd be happy to talk to you about my own experience in more detail; I'd be happy to listen as well if you'd like to talk to someone. (Malaysian friends, I'll be around till Chinese New Year!) Mental health issues are far more common than you think.

To be honest, all that kind of clouded my entire year. Things back home weren't so great, either. There was much turmoil over having to give away Pugsy, our very first dog, due to DBKL's one-dog ruling. It was extremely hard for my family, and I felt guilty for not being there. All I could do was post on Facebook and ask friends if they or anyone they knew wanted an old purebred Pug. Everyone was sweet and understanding and did all they could to help. In the end, my mom found a suitable home for Pugsy, and she's now very well taken care of along with two other Pug half-siblings. It's actually really cute.

Miss you, Pug dog
(Photo credit: New owner -- I don't actually know their name)

If I've learnt anything from the dark clouds surrounding the year, it's that friends can be the most amazing silver linings. I've been so blessed to have the best people with me in the worst of situations, and there aren't enough words in the dictionary for me to express how incredibly grateful I am.

Anyway, I'm done talking about the bad stuff. I suppose if I think back hard enough, there were some good things that happened this year.

I mentioned before that friends were a great help throughout this year. Another great blessing was church. Moving to a new place also meant moving to a new church, and I finally found myself in The Branch. I've always taken a while to adjust to new things, but somehow ended up joining a growth group relatively quickly. It was a great decision, because growth group was large enough to have a good number of people for discussions and small enough that I was able to contribute to them. It was where I got to know people better since the things we talked about at growth group were more in-depth than after church conversations (it also meant I didn't have to approach or be approached by new people, things I'm still working on). At church itself, I met and made new friends from Tassie, the mainland, Malaysia, Egypt, and Germany. Diversity is a great thing, and our church clearly isn't lacking in that department! The Branch is a great church, and I'm excited to bring friends who will be in Launceston next year there.

10/10 would go again
(From their Facebook page)

Other good things that come to mind about this year all involve leaving Launceston. I don't mean to offend anyone, it's true! I went to Hobart a few times this year and loved every second I spent back in that city/town. It's amazing how much I miss the place. I must've looked like a crazy person, happily strolling down Collins St going, "Hello, RHH! Look at all that construction work. Hello, Woolies crossroads! This is where I used to do my shopping! Oh, there's Pigeon Whole! They have great almond croissants!" while my friends shook their heads. I miss the pier, the ice cream, the city, living in the city, Soldiers' Memorial Avenue, the coffee places...and the people, of course! Every visit back meant meeting up with Hobart friends I'd missed dearly, and that made visits all the more treasured. I even managed to make it for OCF one Friday night! Sigh, Hobart. I could go on and on forever about Hobart and how much I miss it, so I'd better stop here.

Another thing worth mentioning is our various trips with the Burnie people (plus one Hobart person that one time)! Over the short breaks we had over the year, we went to Grindelwald, Russell Falls, Cradle Mountain, Anvers (a tourist attraction in its own right, if you ask me), The Nut, and Narawntapu National Park. We stayed over in Burnie a few times as well. Getting out of Launceston and away from all the stress and worries of med school was such a welcome respite, and I enjoyed seeing the Burnie people again! They were incredibly generous and gracious hosts/hostesses, and made sure we were well-fed and comfortable. You guys are A+.

Have you seen anything more beautiful in your life? Anvers is amazing.

I should have blogged about Cradle Mountain and given it its own separate blog post, but I'll attempt to condense the story here. The day we attempted to climb to the summit, it was wet and drizzly. It was the best the weather was going to get at that time of the year, though, so we decided to stick with the plan and plough through. The climb up was fine, but got daunting towards the end -- there was no trail, and we were scrambling over gigantic rocks that were wet and slippery. One of us had already called it quits and gone back to the rest stop to wait for the others. We got to the final stretch and saw that it was even steeper than the route we'd just come through, and the drizzle increased to an ominous 'don't-do-this-don't-do-this' patter. We took a vote and ultimately decided to turn back. So close yet so far! In my mind, I'm counting that as having climbed a mountain, never mind that we were unable to make it all the way. That's one thing crossed off the bucket list!

To be fair, the hike started off nice

"Why not try again one day?" you ask? Let me tell you why: Coming down was agony. I am afraid of heights and sometimes get a little dizzy descending a particularly steep flight of stairs; descending a mountain was about a million times worse. My friends were happily striding and/or sliding down slopes all around me, while I clutched onto the nearest stable object I could find and slowly shuffled down. To make matters worse, I experienced hypoglycaemia for the first time. I was giddy, nauseated, shaking, incredibly grumpy, and couldn't concentrate on anything. Initially, I attributed all that to my acrophobia, but when I finally reached the rest stop (long after everyone else had), my friends took one look at me and told me to sit down. I was very pale, apparently. I sat with my head between my knees, accepting gummy bears someone had brought out. A few gummy bears later, I felt remarkably better, and that's when I figured it out: hypoglycaemia. It's something you know about, have studied about, but never think to apply to yourself if you don't have diabetes. I ate other stuff we brought along, more complex carbs, and made it back down alright (albeit very slowly). So those are my reasons for not attempting it again: acrophobia and hypoglycaemia. Climb every mountain, they say; sure, but at what cost?

View on the way down, when the fog lifted a bit

But I digress. I'm supposed to be talking about good things. Well, Cradle Mountain was a good thing, it just had some not-so-good aspects.

Anyway, electives were good! I did two weeks of oncology at the LGH while waiting for results to be released (more on that later), then two weeks of psychiatry at SGH. They were pretty different experiences, but both a good two weeks. Everyone in oncology was lovely (I'm sad the regs won't be there when I'm on med rotation next year!) and the intern turned out to be a senior and friend of mine. I got to do an ascitic tap, which was pretty cool! The thing that struck me the most about oncology was the arsenal of treatments we now have, and how specialised things could get. (Did they have this particular cancer? Did it have an EGFR mutation? What kind of EGFR mutation did it have?) It was also really nice to see how well some cancer patients looked. It showed me that, yes, cancer can be something you die from, but more and more it's becoming something you can live with. I think that's great.

Psychiatry in Singapore was mainly clinics and blue letters (what is known in Australia as consultation liaison psychiatry). Because it wasn't a hospital specialising in psychiatry, I saw mostly the usual depression and anxiety, which was really strange to me since GPs deal with that in Australia. I did get to see a floridly manic patient, though! Her husband described classic manic characteristics, it was incredible. It was also incredible to see how much people put up with before they thought to seek help. What is 'normal', anyway? Oh well. It was a great four weeks in total of electives, and I'm glad I spent them where I did.

SGH is massive
(From the SGH website)

The reason I did two weeks in LGH was to see if I needed to stay back in Tassie for supps. I'd studied hard and practised OSCEs a lot, but it had been a hard year for me, and I couldn't shake the feeling that I might fail something. The day before I was due to fly home, I found out that I'd passed. I heaved a massive sigh of relief, and prayers of thanks were said. The breakdown would only be released days later, but I was content knowing I wouldn't have to change my flights. Elated, I flew home. Due to the three-hour time difference, the breakdown was released while I was still asleep. I awoke that morning to notifications from classmates alerting me to the fact that breakdowns were out, and scrambled to check my email. When I finally received it, I opened the email attachment with bated breath...and yelled.


I'd done better than I'd ever done in all my years of uni. It was unbelievable. I read the attachment over and over again -- had I misread a number? Was that really what I thought it said? Should I put on my glasses? I did, and the number remained unchanged. I still couldn't believe it. It would take a while for the disbelief to melt away into joy and thankfulness. It was incredible that despite the tough year, I'd managed to do so well in my exams. I don't have the words to express how immensely grateful I am to have been blessed with exactly the right people and resources I needed in order to get through the things I'd been going through. My heart swells just thinking about it. (God is the best.)

Oh, since we're talking about good things about the year, I feel like Pokemon Go should get a special mention.

Have you guys seen the Christmas Pikachu? Isn't it the cutest?

It was nice to have a non-med-related sense of purpose, almost, and it was great because it got me out of the house. My friends and I went on a few Pokemon hunts, and all that walking was great exercise! There is a spot in Royal Park where three Pokestops are in close proximity with each other, which means lure modules are supposed to interact and be more effective. I don't think I'll ever forget the sight of a cluster of people around these Pokestops in the cold and dark night, heads bent over their phones, excited faces illuminated by the blue-white glow...and my shaking my head at myself as I was about to join them.

So that was my year. It's been rocky and rough and uncertain, but I'm glad to be able to look back on it with thankfulness and a whole bunch of lessons learnt. Next year brings final year of med school, job applications, goodbyes, and other stressful things like those, but I'm hopeful that it'll be better than this year. It'll be another year of learning and growing, which I'm excited to do. I'm just excited for 2017 in general, to be honest -- I've never been more ready for a year to be over.

Goodbye, 2016! Thanks for all the lessons, but really, shoo.

Hello, 2017! Please don't suck as much as your predecessor.

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