Saturday, 21 November 2015

Exam anxiety

I grab my phone, unlock it, scroll the screen without really looking for anything, and then I put it back. Ten minutes later, I do the same thing. When I realise that playing with my phone would be a waste of precious time, I start playing with my hair and fingernails. All while staring at my exam question bank and trying to make sense of what I am reading. I keep reassuring myself that I am calm, but deep down I know that I am ready to snap at anyone—anyone—who dare to interrupt me with unimportant things. And during this time, everything is unimportant, for me it seems.

I am having exam anxiety. The really big kind.

The problem is, I often can't talk about it with anyone. My parents, ever so confident in their super-smart can-do-anything daughter, always tell me, "Ahh you can do it! If Anna couldn't, who else could?" (Real answer: a lot of other people). Boyfriend is down with bronchitis and is demanding more attention (he didn't say he demanded attention, but he asked a lot of questions, each one separated by only 3-4 minutes) Strange as it sounds, I feel obliged to make myself distracted by these questions because otherwise unnecessary drama would ensue. And God knows drama is the very last thing I want in these times.

People's confidence in me can be more suffocating than flattering. I know I don't deserve it, because there are thousands of people smarter and more resourceful than I am, and a fraction of that population is either doing medical school or doing residency. The latter is none other than a collection of the creams of the crop, and while one is not competing against each other, seeing other smart people doing smart thing in front of you smart person doing stupid thing can be highly demoralising.

I am accustomed to giving my best in everything. Right now what I see is only a jumbled mess of daughterly duties, girlfriendly duties, and doctorly duties, with the last two seem to predominate and vying for love. Usually when I'm studying for important exams, I turn off my phone or at least silence any sounds and notifications. But now I'm too much of a chicken to do that because again, the drama I don't want.

Aahhh all these words just for pointing out that I have exam anxiety! Bear with me, for I feel alone, spent, and misunderstood. I know, this anxiety might be disproportionate to the real, actual difficulty of the exam. Yea maybe. I don't know!!!! A lot less external distraction looks like the best solution for now. Let me just... cave in with my books and slides and Q-banks and become the enemy of social life. Aaarrgghh!!

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Neither the examples of humility nor the proofs of charity

"Incense-bearer", photography by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.

"I wish to follow with all my strength the lowly Jesus; I wish Him, who loved me and gave Himself for me, to embrace me with the arms of His love, which suffered in my stead; but I must also feed on the Paschal Lamb, for unless I eat His Flesh and drink His Blood I have no life in me. It is one thing to follow Jesus, another to hold Him, another to feed on Him. To follow Him is a life-giving purpose ; to hold and embrace Him a solemn joy ; to feed on Him a blissful life. For His flesh is meat indeed and His blood is drink indeed. The bread of God is He who cometh down from Heaven and giveth life to the world (S. John vi. 56, 33). What stability is there for joy, what constancy of purpose, without life ? Surely no more than for a picture without a solid basis. Similarly neither the examples of humility nor the proofs of charity are anything without the sacrament of our redemption."
St. Bernard of Clairvaux (Letter On the Errors of Peter Abelard)


"Volo totis nisibus humilem sequi Jesum; cupio eum qui dilexit me, et tradidit semetipsum pro me, quibusdam brachiis vicariae dilectionis amplecti: sed oportet me et Agnum manducare paschalem. Nisi enim manducavero carnem ejus, et bibero ejus sanguinem, non habebo vitam in memetipso. Aliud sequi Jesum, aliud tenere, aliud manducare. Sequi, salubre consilium; tenere et amplecti, solemne gaudium; manducare, vita beata. Caro enim ejus vere est cibus, et sanguis ejus vere est potus. Panis est Dei qui de coelo descendit, et dat vitam mundo (Joan. VI, 56, 33). Quis status gaudio, sive consilio, absque vita? Nempe haud alius quam picturae absque solido. Ergo nec humilitatis exempla, nec charitatis insignia, praeter redemptionis sacramentum, sunt aliquid."

Monday, 26 October 2015

"This Too Shall Pass"

"Sunset in the Yosemite Valley", Albert Bierstadt, 1869
Many people attribute the titular quote to the Sacred Scripture, although it is actually never found there. There are similar sounding verses, for example, in 2 Cor 4:17-18: "For that which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory. While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen, are temporal; but the things which are not seen, are eternal."

Regardless, I've been contemplating on "This too shall pass" a lot. Or rather, the quote has implanted itself in my mind so I can't stop thinking about it whenever and wherever.

People usually think about the quote or say it to themselves during a period of suffering, be it a small or a big affliction. I couldn't agree more. When you say "This too shall pass", it reminds you to persevere, to push through, and to "do your suffering" well.

However, I'd like to point out that the quote is also a good warning in times of prosperity. We are reminded that in Heaven's eyes, material prosperity is as fleeting as earthly suffering. It's not to say that we are not allowed to be happy or to feel happiness (or other positive feelings), but even with pleasant things we have to be in moderation, so that we don't grow attached to them or too proud of them, because someday they will be no more. This is a virtue that I'm currently in the process of cultivating and praying for. I fail many times still, many many times. But every day I pray these words of St. Thomas Aquinas's, hoping that one day, by His grace, I will be made worthy of it.

Grant to me, O Lord my God, that I may not falter
in times of prosperity or adversity,
so that I may not be exalted in the former,
nor dejected in the latter.

Da mihi, Domine Deus meus,
inter prospera et adversa non deficere,
ut in illis non extollar et in istis non deprimar.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The "Yes" of Even One Soul

No soul need ever be afraid of meeting My gaze, for in My eyes there is naught but mercy and love. Those who turn away from My gaze, those who fear the encounter with Me face-to-face,
 are those who fall away from My love. I call you to a life of adoration
 so that you might contemplate My Face
 and read thereon all the love of My Sacred Heart for poor sinners,
 and especially for My priests.
 Whenever a soul seeks My gaze,
 My Heart is moved to show that soul an immense pity,
 to lift her out of the sin into which she has fallen,
 to bind up her wounds,
 and restore her to the joys of friendship with My Heart.
 When a priest begins to avoid looking at My Face,
 he has begun to alienate himself from the merciful love of My Heart.
 This will he begin, little by little,
 to lose confidence in My mercy,
 to consent to sin,
 and to descend into the darkness of a life
 from which I have been exiled.

Look upon Me for those who turn away from Me.
 Seek My Face for those who avoid My Divine gaze.
 Accept My friendship for those who refuse it.
 Remain with Me for those who flee from My presence.
 This is the reparation I ask of you. 
Offer yourself to Me as did the little Thérèse;
 thus will you allow Me to love you freely,
 and through you, My merciful love will triumph 
even in the souls of hardened sinners.
 The “Yes” of even one soul to My Merciful Love
 is of immense benefit to a multitude of souls
 who fear to say it,
 or who are hardened in the refusal of My love.

From In Sinu Iesu, the Journal of a Priest
(Dom Mark Kirby, OSB: Vultus Christi)

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

More Real than Reality

There's something beautifully strange about the Real Presence. Time freezes when you step into His chamber. History converges into that very time and place, as though the entire creation was set in motion just to bring about that particular second.

Isn't it a wonderful realization that God has thought about this very moment with you since eternity? When He spoke "Fiat lux!", what He really said was, "I love you! Arise, my beloved!" He was thinking of you and of me, and of this intimate encounter with Himself. It is as though He's saying, "I've been waiting for you. I miss you."

You look at Him. He looks back at you. A quiet stare that a romantic couple shares with each other. You are quiet not because you despise talking, but because you have so much to say. Too much. And too great. The hastily-scribbled list of intentions laid aside like an insignificant lump of dust. This is a soul-to-soul dialogue, of One that has long fallen in love with the other, who loves Him back a little late. Words are good, but once they're uttered they're gone like a smoke in the wind. But presence, ah!—presence is better. To enjoy and appreciate each other's existence, pleasantly surprised of that ancient hunger within that is right now being sweetly satiated, a fulfillment which only makes you desire for more.

Don't you love just spending time with your Lover? You cherish every moment, you don't want to stop. So many questions and so many expressions, but you're afraid that too many words will shatter the delicate silence. And is your heart not torn apart when reality shakes you violently awake from your loving slumber? Which one is only a dream, and which one is real?

Whether hidden inside the tabernacle or exposed in an adoration chapel, this glorious Presence is more real than reality. Everything else pales before His subtle brilliance. He is Him who is, you are she who is not. And with Him who is True Reality you're forever captivated.


Keep yourself for Me
as I keep Myself for you
in the Sacrament of My Love.
Know that I wait for you.
There is a consolation
that only you can give Me.
It is your friendship
that My Heart desires
and this friendship of yours
cannot be replaced by any other.
You are Mine and I am yours.

(In Sine Iesu, The Journal of a Priest)

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Spiritual history-taking: worthy of consideration?

"Science and Charity", Pablo Picasso (1897)

It occurred to me just now that medical history-taking lacks an important component: the spiritual life. A proper spiritual history does not only ask about the patient's religion, but it seeks to answer these questions:
  • Does the patient use religion or spirituality to help cope with illness, or is it a stressor—and how?
  • Is the patient a member of a supportive spiritual community?
  • Does the patient have any troubling spiritual questions or concerns?
  • Does the patient have any spiritual beliefs that might influence medical care? 

I mean, why not? First, Indonesia is a [supposedly] religious country, so religion and spirituality are near and dear to the hearts of Indonesians. Secondly, a human being is both a physical creature and a spiritual creature. Religion is a human virtue born of a response to God's grace. Yes, of course this virtue is systematic, because virtue leads to order (i.e. orderly passions, orderly life, orderly worship and belief in God). Thirdly, I think we shouldn't make assumptions about a person's spiritual life based on his/her ID card religion. No two Muslims are the same, no two Christians are the same, no two Buddhists are the same, no two Hindus are the same. Consequently, two people holding the same faith might still define and approach their illnesses differently, and physicians should recognise this in order to give better care.

A spiritual history, however, requires a physician who is, at the very least, welcome to the notion of God, and who understands how important God is in many people's lives. Meaning, if the physician is an atheist, he must not dismiss the idea of a Higher Being as ridiculous or unfounded or counter-productive to treatment. In fact, he must use the patient's belief/religion/spirituality as an adjunct to treatment. I think, if used correctly, the spiritual history will add a fresh new dimension to the doctor-patient relationship and to medicine in general.

I'm not intending this post to be very long, so right now I'll just leave it there and think more about it.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Saints of Mental Health #1: St. Dymphna

The mentally ill are oft-forgotten children of God. In them, the wounds of Original Sin, especially the loss of integrity, manifest most insidiously and most destructively. As I'm proceeding through the humble first year of residency, I've come to realise the fact that mental illness is probably the darkest form of the darkness of ignorance. We need all helps we can get to aid this marginalised group.

St. Dymphna is the earliest known patron saint of the mentally afflicted. She was born in Ireland in the 7th century to a pagan king and his Christian wife. At the age of fourteen she took a vow of chastity, consecrating herself to Christ. At around the same time, her mother passed away.

Legend says that Damon, Dymphna's father, was so grieved that his mental health sharply deteriorated. He sent messengers throughout many lands to find some woman of noble birth, resembling his wife, who would be willing to marry him. When none could be found, his evil counsellors told him to marry his own daughter. Damon began to experience disordered desire for Dymphna, who was indeed just as beautiful as her mother.

When Dymphna learnt of her father's intentions, she fled the royal court together with St. Gerebran (or Gerebernus), her confessor priest and two other friends. From Ireland, they sailed toward the continent and landed in present-day Belgium. They took refuge in the town of Geel (or Gheel) and there built a hospice for the poor and sick.

King Damon successfully traced their whereabouts, due to Dymphna's usage of his father's material wealth for her service (Note: I don't understand the monetary system back then, but I imagine it must've been something like credit cards that can be traced, to make this story plausible). He ordered his men to cut off the priest's head and then he tried to persuade his daughter to return to Ireland with him. When she refused, he got furious so he drew his sword and struck off her head too. She was then only fifteen years of age.

In art, St. Dymphna is often portrayed with a sword, which is her instrument of martyrdom. Her feast is celebrated on 15 May.

Relationship with people with mental disorders

The narrative of St. Dymphna is largely based on legends, although at the town of Gheel two sarcophagi had indeed been discovered; one of them bore the name "DYMPNA", and the other was presumed to be that of Fr. Gerebran.

Invocation of the saint as a patroness of the mentally ill has existed from time immemorial. Ecclesiastical scholars noted that a colony of "lunatics" flocked at Gheel and were said to be miraculously cured. Even now there are sometimes as many as fifteen hundred whose relatives invoke St. Dymphna for their cure. At the site, the insane are treated in a peculiar manner: it is only in the beginning that they are placed in an institution for observation; later they are given shelter in the homes of the inhabitants, take part in their agricultural labours, and are treated very kindly. They are watched without being conscious of it. The treatment produces good results.

What does it mean for current psychiatric practice?

The "peculiar manner" described above sounds a lot like psychosocial rehabilitation, although not quite the same. The basic principle, however, stands true: the mentally ill have to be re-integrated into the society as early as possible, and as much as possible. For the modern eyes, the people at Gheel may be thoroughly foolish for accepting these people in their homes. But I'd say they just have great faith and great love.

"The beheading of Saint Dymphna", by Godfried Maes