I often say “I should have gone to med school instead”, but last weekend for the first time in my life I meant it. I’ve wanted to be a vet since I was 9 years old, and I gave up everything to chase that dream. It was the only thing I have ever wanted to do, despite the low wage, lack of recognition and high suicide rates. But final year has broken me.
I am absolutely drained, not simply of energy but also of passion and conviction. Hard as I try I cannot will myself to pick up my books and study for yet another exam. I’ve recently been contemplating the idea that it simply isn’t worth it. All that effort put in and abuse taken, and almost half a million dollars in university fees, for a lifetime of shitty pay and a lack of recognition. To get told you aren’t a real doctor; that you don’t save real lives. No one becomes a vet for the money. But given the work and effort we put into it all, the massive discrepancies with regards to income and social recongition for the human and veterinary medical profession does get to me.
I’ve calculated that I have been made to work 130 hours over the past 2 weeks on my equine rotation. I know that to register as a vet you need to know about all the different species, regardless of whether you intend to ever work with them in the future. But it is an unrealistic expectation for students to remember every bit of information they had learnt over the past 6 years – especially when they are worked to the bone during the day and have little time outside of work to revise the material. I struggle with equine medicine, having never grown up around horses and having little interest in the subject area, and I got put down everyday for it: told I wasn’t good enough; and that I would make a shitty doctor. On a rainy saturday night I was involved in a minor car accident. I was ok, but my tyre had blown out. I hadn’t a tyre iron with me, and after getting some help from a friend, realised that my spare wheel was flat too. I emailed my supervisors saying that I wasn’t able to make it in time for morning treatments on sunday due to my circumstances, and was met with the cold reply that I should have ubered into work regardless. I think that was the breaking point for me. I called my mom sobbing and spent the next week endlessly worrying that I would be failed because of circumstances that were beyond my control.
I promised myself that regardless of my position in the future – if I ever make it as a specialist surgeon – that I would remember what is was like to be me right at this moment, that I would always treat my peers with respect and compassion. That I wouldn’t allow the stress and pressure get to me in such a way that I became destructive to the dreams of others.
When people meet me they say “Wow you must really love animals to choose veterinary medicine”. But in truth it is because I don’t like people. A dog bites because it is fearful and a lion kills because it is hungry. But we have an ability to be unkind despite intelligent reasoning. It is unkindness without a cause.
Come to think of it, the things that have been getting to me lately have been due to the words and actions of people, rather than my work with the animals. My faith in people (and myself) is broken, but my yearning to help animals remains unchanged. So maybe I don’t actually mean it when I say I should have gone to med school instead. And maybe this isn’t a dream I should give up on just yet.
I’ve had a rough couple of weeks that brought bad news after bad news. I’ve been trying not to let it get to me by allowing myself breaks such as watching a movie or eating some chocolate after work. On particularly bad days, I’d call home: the sound of my mother’s voice never fails to make the world seem brighter.
I think I hadn’t fully comprehended the amount of work or the levels of stress and responsibility that we would suddenly have to shoulder this year. And I know that I can not afford to fall apart, especially now. I have been trying to look after my mental health by doing the things that bring me joy. I run 5km every evening, and try to spend all my time outside of the hospital at the beach or park. I believe that the flowers always bloom for those who chose to see them, so I have been concentrating on counting my blessings.
Every other weekend my friends and I would take a day trip down to Margaret River to do some bouldering – this is a 6 hour round trip by car. On our last trip there I decided that whilst I desperately wanted to go, I really needed to get some studying done. So I came up with the brilliant idea of popping a few travel-sickness pills in order to efficiently study for the duration of the car ride. Unfortunately I took too high a dose (which is worrying, given my medical background) and ended up very obtunded. I slept for most of the ride there and could barely walk in a straight line when we stopped to get lunch. When we got to Copper Rocks, I found a nice deep cave and promptly fell asleep for an hour. Upon waking up refreshed (but still a little out of sorts!) I decided to hop immediately onto a climb without first warming up – and took a bad fall, spraining my ankle. I spent the rest of the day nursing my injury and doing only a few climbs. Then we drove home. It was such a silly day, but it makes for a heck of a story that I will continue to tell for ages to come. 🙂
Picture credit: Oliver Chen
I find that I have recently started evaluating my life a fair bit. Whilst sitting at my desk, I find that my mind drifts to the questions of “Are you happy?”, “Are you any closer to achieving your goals” and “What can be done if the answers are ‘No'”. I have never been one to be easily drawn into motivational speeches and articles; I abhor self-development books. I have always identified with being realistic rather than optimistic. Over the past few years I have been in some very bad slumps, at the worst of it, I remember wondering if I were able to somehow get access to S8 drugs in the hospital. It wasn’t in a fit of emotional exaggeration, but rather an idle contemplation of the idea: An easy way out- the most sly of seductresses that claim the lives of so many medical professionals every year. I remember being surrounded by family and friends but being unable to talk about it because I didn’t want my parents to worry- I didn’t want them to feel helpless about being in a different country from me. And I never talked about it with classmates because “This is vet school- being depressed is the norm. You are no special snowflake.” Some days I would come home and crawl into my then boyfriend’s arms and just cry- he would hold me for hours until I had no more energy to do anything but sleep. I would not eat, and I would not get any work done- and that just added to the stress and pressure of everything.
I am much better now, I never hesitate to talk about this subject because I know that so many other go through the exact same thing. I have made many tough choices- and many equally frightening changes to my life this year. I guess I constantly evaluate my own well-being because I worry that if I fall into the pit of depression again, I wouldn’t have someone to pull me out of it this time. I am happy with my life, and I feel fulfilled with the things that I do- but I still keep all the suicide hotline numbers on my phone. I guess it is strong-me’s way of protecting weak-me. And the constant re-evaluation is another protective measure.
Recently though, I find that it has become less about self-preservation and more about personal growth. At the start of the year I realised that there were so many things I wanted to do that were well within my means of doing, and that I just never did them because I was either too reliant on others to do them on my own, or because I lacked the drive and courage to. That has changed, and in so many ways I have changed- for the better, I dare say. I find myself asking “Am I happy” because I realise that it is within my control to do something about it if I am not. Whenever something bad happens the first thing I do is to run through scenarios as to how things could be worse. I find that doing this makes me count my blessings and forgive life’s fickle challenges. I focus on the good things that I have in life- from the wonderful people that I love to the privilege of a comfortable life and an education.
There are so many things that I have always assumed as a given and never really contemplated the awesomeness of. I am changing that. When I go for a run in the woods I marvel that my legs work, and that they are able to take me to such distances, that whilst terribly short-sighted, I am still able to appreciate the wildflowers. And that whilst I still have days where I feel empty, they don’t last.
If this is the rainbow after the storm then I will make an behemoth effort to retain it’s beauty.
I fly back to Australia tomorrow. And as usual, I am terribly sad about it. It has been a glorious 2.5 months back home and I must say it has been one of the busiest and most fulfilling summer-breaks I’ve had in a while. I managed to catch up with most of my friends and even made new ones/ reconnected with old ones. I ran my legs into the ground trying to juggle work and my social responsibilities. But I welcomed the exhaustion. This is to me, what being home is about.
I find it so crazy when people can’t understand why I’d prefer to remain in Singapore over going back to Australia. Singapore is home- it is where I have more friends than I can count on both hands, and a family and a dog to come home to at night. It is home-cooked food on the table and companionship/ a hug whenever you need or desire it. It is knowing that no matter what happens, you will get through it and you will be okay- by the power that comes from the love and support of the people around you, you will be okay. I’ll let you in on a secret: Perth to me, is coming home to an empty house or to one filled with strangers- faces that change so often you don’t bother trying to put a name and character to it anymore; it is doing your dishes and the laundry and then sitting down and wondering what you should do now- perhaps some work, or studying, or maybe you can stare at the ceiling and will for time to pass quicker, until you can do what you came here to do and go home again. Actually, that is rubbish, you don’t exactly have time to whittle away- Perth is studying 15 hours a day and then some; it is living in the library and constant anxiety. Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate alone time every now and then, but when it is no longer a choice, it can feel like four walls bearing down on you. It is knowing that on a particularly bad day- perhaps one where you find out that you failed an exam or when you feel especially homesick- you will have to grit your teeth and go through it more or less alone. Perth is having all the suicide hotline numbers on your phone, for when dark selfish thoughts creep in and settle in the crevices of your mind. Stubborn like beetles, refusing to relinquish their tiny holds on you.
Perth is where I am less confident, less beautiful and less wanted.
It is where I have messes to clean up and demons to face.
It is not home. Maybe simply not yet- but maybe not ever.
So much has happened this year. It’s been so hard- So hard. And I’ve been so blessed, I can’t deny it. If you haven’t heard, I’ve completed my first degree in Veterinary Biology. Only two and a half more years to go and I can hopefully fill in random street surveys as a Dr Jol. This will be my 5th year away from home, and I am 22 now. I can’t really believe it. This semester I’m taking on surgery, diagnostic imaging, small animal general practice and anaesthesia. It’s been terribly exciting- we’ve learnt to scrub up (I’m bad at this as my arms get tired after half an hour of holding my hands up above my elbows), and yesterday we learnt about 10 different ways to suture a wound or incision site. It’s also been pretty full on- we have so many hours of lectures and labs every week and I can hardly keep up. Last friday I had 6 hours of lectures spanning from 8.30am-3.30pm, after which I had an early dinner in the library before reporting for my night rotation at the hospital which lasted til 11pm. It so much fun, but also so exhausting. It makes me feel so inadequate but also makes me feel like I’m finally on my way.
Yet I still feel like I am stuck in the same place I’ve always been; chugging my arms with all my might but unable to gain any traction. I’ve felt more vulnerable this year than I have in a long time. And I wish I could take a break- go home. Hug my friends, spend time with my aging dog and be surrounded by family. I didn’t want my mom to fly in specifically for such a menial occasion but it was hard being at my Halfway Day (basically our graduation from our 1st degree) and seeing everyone with their families and friends, and having sparsely any there. My family came to visit 2 months ago and it brought me the most joy in a long time. It was so hard saying goodbye, I pulled up outside some industrial park outside the airport and bawled my eyes out. I wish they could have whisked me away, too. You never outgrow the safety and security of being surrounded by family.
It hasn’t stopped raining these past few day. The rain in Perth is thin and cold- like needles. Maybe it’s the rain.
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!
Source: Poetry (June 1918).
This is my second favourite poem. I found it scribbled on a library desk some time ago, and spent the entire day mulling it over. You know something is special when you are able to recall every well placed semicolon after reading it for the first time. It reminded me that sometimes hopefulness and sadness come together like a pair of Siamese twins; or an aqueous solution of xylazine and ketamine, both soluble enough that you can no longer separate them. Hope is both beautiful and sad. It sometimes weighs down on you like lead boots that have grown too tightly around your feet. I find it strange that no one ever associates hope with tiredness. Hope is not always a new day with new possibilities: it can grow old and stale but ever lingering- perhaps it’s last defining quality.
Despite the sadness and tired hope, it brings me some form of sad comfort that everyone has their own battles to fight. I don’t truly believe that misery loves company- at least not for me. But there is strange comfort in knowing that 97 years ago, Edna fought her battles, and she was alright, and she lived her life. I am not extraordinary, and perhaps I too will fight my battles, and come out scarred, but alright. Is this what hope is?
People often tell me “But you’re Christian, you have nothing to worry about- you die and you go to heaven. What ignorant bliss- to be able to trust in something so abstract that you never have to worry about mortal woes.” And I agree; how wonderful to be able to trust in someone so completely you know that your life is in good hands.
I have a couple of atheist friends who tell me that they fear dying. That they believe in a blank oblivion when life ends, and that that is a most terrifying thing- but that I’d never understand.
What I never understood was how someone could fear death if they didn’t believe in anything after death. If I weren’t Christian I think I would have tried to kill myself many times over, both a long time ago and- not. Believing in a Heaven also means a belief in the existence of Hell. I don’t proclaim to be right about my understanding of theology, I don’t even proclaim to be a good Christian- I’m not. I don’t think the way I know I should, I don’t trust the way I know I should and I don’t listen when I know I should. But I’ll continue to call myself Christian because I still believe in God. And I think I will never dare to kill myself because no present Earthly situation could be as terrible as hell. But what wonderful bliss- to think that life ends when it does. In an absolute oblivion with no consequences. To hold in your hands, the key to the ultimate escape.
I don’t think I could kill myself, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t wish I don’t exist, sometimes.
And what a terribly selfish, conceited, whiney, weakling thing to say.