On anxiety and positive thoughts – my journey through medicine

On the fear of redundancy

I was humbled to realize just how much more there always is to learn, this in the first few weeks of my second final year. My worry, prior to starting the year over, was that I would drown in the redundancy of repeating the year. That the same lame jokes and boring tutorials would send me over the edge and I would succumb to anxiety. The worry soon faded when the first rotation started, and I found myself learning new material daily. This reminded me of one of the reasons I chose to study medicine. It is dynamic, ever-changing and anything but redundant. It is life in a microcosm. It grows, hurts, and moves like all of us.

On anxiety and insomnia

Speaking of, anxiety taught me a few things during the rotation. She is hard to get rid of. She creeps in during the early morning hours, and, once she gets in your head, fighting to get rid of her is a struggle like no other. I had moments, weeks before the exam period, when sleep would evade me. I would battle with heart palpitations and my restless mind would not surrender to my obviously fatigued body. I would wrestle against thoughts of failing and be reminded of my wars even in my dreams. My mantra, hard as I tried to meditate on anything else, quickly became ‘do not fail.’

positive thoughts
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On re-wiring thinking

However, I had to quickly learn to kill the anxious thoughts and replace them with thoughts of excelling. I had to force myself to believe I could achieve what I never managed. I had to tell myself that it was not good enough to ‘not fail’ – I had to push to exceed my own expectations. I had to show myself that I indeed was smart, and my failure was a lapse in my character, not a core feature in it. The anxiety never quite went away (does it really ever?), but speaking and meditating on positive thoughts went a long way in helping me survive, and thrive in, my year of redundancy.

Check out this post on not letting anxiety get the best of you: https://www.manrepeller.com/2018/05/anxiety-tips-for-getting-stuff-done.html

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On lessons

I cannot imagine life going any other way than it had in medical school. The lessons I missed in my first attempt became clearer with the second try, and, people I met in my latter year became some of the most important human beings in my life. I learnt to (read: I was forced to) switch negative ideas with positive thoughts to keep anxiety at bay.
I am thus compelled to believe that my life story was not meant to be written any other way. It was humbling, provoked anxiety, and oftentimes repetitive. Nonetheless, I left medical school wiser, more courageous, and more self-compassionate than I would have, had I been the author of my own story.

See my post on being affirmative and self-compassionate during my repetitive journey:https://blackandgoldblog.com/2020/07/20/a-letter-to-me-my-journey-through-medicine/

Exams again – my journey through medicine

Exams are stressful. Exams that must be retaken – a thousand times more so. I could have asked a hundred people who went through the same thing before me, and none of them would have adequately prepared me for the Internal Medicine examination in my second final year. I prepared well for it, learning all the theory I could and practicing my postures for the oral exam. What I did not prepare for, however, was the panic attack that would hit during the examination.

Internal Medicine

 My patient was not co-operative; he had requested to NOT be in the exams as he felt too sickly but, as he was in an academic hospital, he found himself nonetheless being prodded and poked by students. He was furious at the doctors and, at me. As I tried desperately to remind him that my future was in his hands and I needed his co-operation to pass the exams, flashbacks from the last Internal Medicine exam intruded, and I started hyperventilating. “This cannot seriously be happening again! I cannot fail this God-forsaken block again!” Such were my thoughts while sweat dripped down my forehead and time moved.

In that moment, try as I did, I could not empathize with the patient whose wishes were being disregarded for the sake of learning and exams, whose pain meant less than the signs his illness produced. I could not empathize with him because my survival instinct had taken over. I had listened to my patient despite my better judgement the previous year and failed as a result. I used this reasoning as an excuse to continue my evaluation, despite the patient’s protests and my own panicking.

See my previous post: how I failed my final year of Medicine https://blackandgoldblog.com/2020/07/06/failed-the-year-my-journey-through-medicine/

I was not ready after the 20 minutes had lapsed. When the specialist examiners entered the consultation room, I had barely come up with a diagnosis. The patient was even more indignant, my anxiety had now reached intolerable levels, and the examiners waited on me to blow them away. I did not. For some reason though, I made it. Call it a miracle or a mistake, whatever it was, I passed my exams. When the wise say God works in mysterious ways, perhaps this is what they mean.

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Integrated Primary Care (IPC)

The IPC exam was markedly less stressful. Perhaps I was better prepared – both emotionally and knowledge-wise. Perhaps the long-term stakes were not as high, or perhaps I just knew I would make it. Where the previous year it had given me the more anxiety of the two, this time I knew it would not be my downfall. That counts for something, doesn’t it? After all, this is the block that shredded my self-esteem as a black student.

Sunday Times article on racial/political issues surrounding IPC exams https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times/news/2017-12-02-wits-medical-students-cry-racism-over-failure-rate2/

MG article on racial/political issues surrounding IPC exams https://mg.co.za/article/2017-12-01-00-wits-med-school-hit-by-racism-claim/

What I learnt from both exams

It took a while to get over failing and to believe in myself again, the process was long and ugly, and there are still days of self-doubt. However, here we are, not wallowing in our inadequacies, living the life of victors every day, irrespective of our continued struggles. What I learnt the most from this is, let the negative experiences fuel you to do and be better. They will affect you, even more than the positive experiences, but use them to grow, and to believe in yourself even more.

Other exams

Another experience I hadn’t anticipated, was retaking exams I had previously done well in (because the university still believes that failing two modules renders you an unsafe doctor and you must start over, to get the basic principles). Some of the exams went by smoothly, because I enjoyed them the first time. Others, however, reminded me of the ease with which one can fail a block one had previously passed.
The Paediatric module, for instance, was a nightmare. It was work-intensive, with calls every four days, working as interns while still being expected to study and work on research assignments. The exam itself was no child’s play. The one child cried from the moment I entered the consultation room to the end of my examination. I somehow still passed that exam, albeit barely. The idea, however, that I could have failed that exam when I passed it the previous year with a B symbol, scares me to this day.

Perhaps the rule that people who fail two exams should repeat the whole year is something to be re-assessed, or perhaps my fear and bias prevent me from being objective in this topic. Irrespective, this year has left a permanent mark on my life – the PTSD, the anxieties, the panic attacks, the fear, will forever be remembered. However, they will not always be remembered negatively. I will remember how I struggled and panicked through exams, and still made it to graduation that year.

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Victory

Exams will forever remain stressful and evoke anxiety. Nevertheless, we come out of the experience stronger and better, and the fruit of our labour is sweet as honey. I will never fully understand why I had to repeat the year after a relatively smooth ride through medical school, and the scars of failure do not magically disappear when the results finally say ‘completed requirements for degree’ at the end of the year. However, victory tastes a little sweeter and you savor it a little longer after a fall. 

A letter to me – my journey through medicine

To survive repeating final year, I knew I had to be kind to myself. I could not afford to beat myself up and be self-hating in 2018. I had to tell myself that I was capable, that I could move any mountain I set my eyes on.

So, I wrote myself letters. Letters of admiration and support and letters of endearment. I wrote these letters during tutorials, in hospital operation theatres, at home on my desk, in the study room, everywhere. I mostly wrote them when I had a good day and was feeling particularly good in that moment. This was so I could read them when I had a bad day and didn’t feel good about life. They helped, and I will advise anyone going through a rough period to adopt this.

The letter below was my first ever letter of 2018, written during a tutorial in the Gynaecology block, my first block of the year:

“I told you that you would survive this. Look at you, flourishing like you did not suffer from depression just last year. Look at you, thriving where you thought you would wither. Look at God, keeping you sane when you thought you would be admitted to a psychiatric institution. Look at life, handing you flowers instead of the lemons you got so accustomed to. Look at you, waking up each day, breathing and being when you thought you were done for. I told you that you would survive this.

Now listen, it won’t always be easy, it won’t always be fun, you will have the nervousness, the sweating, the anxious waiting. But you got this. Always know that you got this. You’ve done this before. It is doing it with experience this time that will give you an edge. You know what to do, what not to do, when to give and when to take apart what you learn and give purpose to this opportunity to relive final year. See it for what it is, not for what it could or should have been. Learn all the lessons you possibly can but know that you will survive, and you will thrive. Oh, the light that so shines on you, the radiance that is waiting to brighten the paths of others from your ember, you have absolutely no idea my dear. What I want you to do now, is open yourself up to the experience sweetheart. See what you missed last year, or who you missed, or check that you did not miss an important step that can only be climbed in medical school. But whatever happens, remember this – I told you that you would survive this. You can survive anything. Look at you, flourishing even.”
                                                                                                                                    13/02/18

Hey so uhm, I failed – my journey through medicine

Revealing that I failed was gut-wrenching. I thought I could control it – when, how and to whom I told my story. I was wrong. It happened here and there, now and then. It was unplanned, erratic, haphazard. It was not in my control.

I first told Khutso*. It was not hard at all because we had both already failed one block, so I knew she would understand. It was not planned though, as I would have hoped. I was returning a book I borrowed from her and she asked how I’d done. The words could not have rolled easier off my tongue – “I failed the year.” Telling her, in fact, was the easiest of all. As she and I continued speaking I realized she would be my rock in this whole situation. She held the world’s wisdom in her heart and would share it with me whenever I needed it. Khutso made me realize how important it is to have friends who check up on each other, how important it is to GENUINELY ask ‘are you okay?’ She was that friend to me, and a huge part of my journey to healing was led by her.

Khwezi* was different. We ran into each other one day, exchanged greetings and she asked me how IPC went. I said I would rather not talk about it and, she immediately knew what happened. She asked how I was so calm and, she would be depressed if this happened to her; I must be some different kind of strong. The talk was not intended to insult me but, it left such a bitter taste in my mouth that I immediately asked Khutso for the contacts of a good therapist. Khwezi made me question whether I was dealing with something in the correct manner – something she never had to deal with. Our encounter, however well-meaning, taught me that not everyone can give advice, and it made me question the need for unsolicited advice. We are not all therapists. We have not all gone through every bad thing known to man. What Khwezi taught me was to be careful when counselling a friend, especially if that friend is going through something I personally have not experienced. If the friend asks for advice, I’ll go to town giving every idiom and proverb I know. If the friend does not ask for advice, perhaps all the friend needs is my ear.

After Khwezi’s encounter, I went to see a psychologist. If I were to come out of this strong and breathing, I had to check my mental health. After 3 sessions with the psychologist, however, I stopped attending. The sessions made me anxious. I looked forward to the clock hitting the hour mark. I felt there was no point to the sessions and would resume only if the anxiety of attending was overpowered by the need for professional help. I cannot emphasize how important mental health checks are. I know just how toxic an unhealthy mind can be. And seeking help should matter just as much as would be the case if one had lung disease. So, I will not give up on therapy. Maybe.

Two of the people I was most afraid to tell were my mother and my clinical partner. Mother was a straight A student, top student in class and is still carrying her study material, flourishing in her post graduate studies. I was never an A student. I was a hard worker, but I never got perfect scores. Going to varsity was my way of showing that at least some of her intellect had rubbed off on me. Now to tell her, after 5 years of flowing through medical school, that I failed final year? I had anxiety just thinking about it. I flunked every opportunity to tell her until the last moment. But I eventually did. I texted her – too worried that my voice would shake and render a phone call useless. Her response brought me half to tears: “MAKGONA KE MABOELETSA” – A Sepedi phrase that simply means practice makes perfect. I anticipated brutal, hurtful words. Instead she showered me with love and understanding.

My clinical partner, like my mother, gets to study one week before exams and his test scores will be higher than mine. He will read once what I read five times and be able to explain it faster and better than I. He already knew about Internal Medicine – he knew I failed it because he was there after the exam.
But I could not bring myself to say I failed again. It was too painful, perhaps more painful than it should have been. It was painful for reasons I myself do not know. So, it happened one day. I had not planned on telling him for at least a few more weeks. We were on call during Psychiatry. I was the moodiest I had been in a while and said things I should not have said. Knowing he would not understand my mood save I tell him, I did what I planned not to do. And he said he had suspected it! I was acting weird and he knew it had to be something huge. He did not say anything because he thought I would tell him when I was ready. God bless his dear heart. The two people I was most afraid to tell amazed me with their response. I was awed.

The awe, however, lasted a minute. The other half of my parentage squeezed into the conversation and just as quickly reminded me how little we knew about each other. When I told him I flunked final year he immediately asked about bad influences. Not what happened; not how did it happen; but ‘are your friends bad influences?’ I was probably more upset at his response than I should have been. He DID deserve to know because it would be him paying my fees for the next year. However, I still reserve the right to feel however I want to feel about this man. It’s the one privilege I have as a single mom’s daughter! I felt somewhat sorry for him though. He had to be okay with being the parent who pays for varsity without reaping the rewards of being appreciated. He had to pay his way into my life, with no assurance of ever reaching the goal.

I owe my sanity to all these people who helped me when I came to them. Not everyone who helped me is here recognized, but their contribution is highly appreciated. The support of good friends can bring light in an ever dark place.

*Not their real names

Failed the year – my journey through medicine

 “Failed the year – refer to faculty”

These are the words that assaulted and violated my sanity in my final year of medical school. Technically, these are the words that rendered it my first final year. I was preparing for graduation, for internship, for a monthly salary and for two wonderful years at the coast. Mostly though, I was preparing to not have anxiety attacks every 6 weeks (this owing to having life-changing examinations, seven in total throughout the year) because of all the dangerous, unhealthy habits medical school develops in us (I would have said we develop these habits in medical school, but the choice is not ours). The mental toxicity these examinations cause is unrivaled.

So, there I stood, face to computer screen, reading the words as the screen went from crystal clear to blurry. It was not due to my eyes filling with tears, as one would imagine. It happened because my brain could not, would not, register what my eyes had been seeing. I mean, it just was impossible. My lowest score in first year was 60% (when the pass mark was still 50%). In second year I went up to 69%, exempt from exams for the remainder of my medical school theory career (because from second year, an average test score of 60 or more meant one had proven oneself capable and smart, and further examination [i.e. actual final exams] was unnecessary). The next year my year mark was 72%. In fourth year the report card noted 75%. I was a Golden Key invitee for all those years. So how would my brain justify what my eyes were seeing? What sense did any part of that phrase make?

What’s even worse, my final year marks – of the blocks I had already been examined in – left only a little to be desired. My scores ranged from 69 to 79 percent. How do I bring myself to understand failing because of two bad days? Two LIFE-ALTERING bad examinations?

The first block I failed, Internal Medicine, was horrific. Too horrific that I could not bring myself to meet up with the head of the department (as was expected of me) to find out what marks I received. The oral exam had me dealing with a discordant patient, who was picked for our exams because he had ‘good signs’ to illicit. Apart from the fact that the exams are there to prepare us for internship (where patients do not have signs on their forehead revealing what system is worrying them, unlike in the exam), we are told that the history guides us towards which system to examine. What, then, was I expected to do when my patient said his problem was only gastrointestinal but was placed in the neurology station? My brain understands that I failed to illicit the ‘good signs’ of cerebellar dysfunction, thus deserve the poor outcome. The rest of me, however, cannot come to terms with having been expected to examine a system that didn’t bother my patient, and failing because I listened to the patient, not the sign on the headstand. I loved Internal Medicine in my sixth year, more than in my fifth year of studying. That is what I found most ironic about failing my first block of final year.

The Integrated Primary Care (IPC) block deserves its own chapter. For now – the crux of it. My overall mark was 75%. I failed because the oral exam hit me with a bulldozer and my anxiety issues did nothing to help. 54% is what I walked out with – 6% less than I needed to make it through. I had been oblivious to how badly I did prior to receiving the results. So much so that when I searched for them on the Wednesday afternoon (a week after the exam), I expected no less than a 75% – I was confident I aced it and only modestly said I received a young A symbol. As the results came through and the phrase “FAILED THE YEAR – REFER TO FACULTY” showed up instead of the distinction I anticipated, my brain refused. I said to myself, alone in my room, ‘this is wrong. I’ll refresh again in a few seconds. Impossible.’ I refreshed, and refreshed, and refreshed. Then came the, ‘I will go to the head tomorrow and he’ll see the grave error which was made. We’ll laugh about it, after he apologizes.’ I slept peacefully that night. Had I known that that would be my last peaceful sleep for the rest of the year, I would have savoured it a tad bit more.

I awoke the next morning, went on to class and endured the cheers of my peers as they sang songs of victory at defeating the mighty IPC block. Some spoke of how they thought they’d fail but passed, others whispered about how those who failed should have studied harder. Both kinds pierced every fibre of my heart, for different reasons. I studied hard, and I thought I would pass, but Wits medical school said I had failed. The Utopian ideas I’d had the previous night melted under the Parktown sun and, the realization came that it may be possible I failed the year. Thoughts raced through my mind and I decided to skip the rest of the day and go visit the IPC department.

“Black students form the majority of the students who failed IPC. We have to believe there is an inherent weakness in either how they study or how they take exams.” I had been in his office for perhaps 20 minutes, trying to understand how I thought I passed but failed the exam and, consequently, the year. The head of the department felt it alright to tell me, a black student, that I am weak. I was defeated, no, destroyed. Because from that moment, those words haunted me day and night. I was one of the black students in question. I was weak. I failed. All my previous successes had been nullified by this one statement, made by this one man, this white man who felt comfortable enough to tell me, a black woman, that my melanin weakened my intellect.

Politics aside, the point was this – I failed. For the first time in my varsity career, I failed. Golden key did not matter. Exemption from exams did not matter. 75% aggregates did not matter. I failed. No graduation, no internship. No ridiculous salary, no beach. Just 7 more examinations to look forward to in 2018. 7 more six-week anxiety attacks. I failed. Oh dear.

Life had just hit me with the scariest lemon I hadn’t prepared for, and I was salty. You could not tell me anything that would soothe me, help me or heal me. I was bitter. I was furious. I was not about to make lemonade. And the real kicker – you could not tell at all. I perfected the fake smile, the ‘I’m okay, really’ line, the YEY GRADUATION cheer. I kept my failure a secret for as long as I could. I was the best actress I’d ever come across. And that was near fatal.

27 things I now know at 27…happy birthday to me!!!

Today is my birthday. I have been alive for 27 years. This means my knowledge of the world should be enough to fill archives on archives of storage files (it does not). I shan’t go on a defeatist rampage about how I had planned my 27th birthday at the start of the year (read: long weekend away at an expensive lodge in Mpumalanga, getting drunk on unnecessarily sweet pina coladas and orange juice-sparse mimosas, new photographs added to the cloud). We have enough no-can-do news and posts these days.
I have instead decided to collate all that I know about life. Yes, this IS an exhaustive list 🙂

  1. Don’t forget to wash your neck, and your ass. They’re not self-cleaning organs/tissues.
  2. It’s strange to be this age. I’m old enough to say I hooked up with someone 7 years my junior and it is LEGAL.
  3. Your heart and vagina are gold. Be intentional with who and what you let into them.
  4. Failing is part of life. It is not your entire life.
  5. “You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your blessings.” Quote from ‘Eat, Pray, Love’
  6. It is not your responsibility to teach, debate or argue with men about sexism. Do it only if you want to.
  7. It is not your responsibility to teach, debate or argue with white people about racism. Do it only if you want to.
  8. Everything, EVERYTHING, gets better with age.
  9. Self-confidence is conditioned at a young age. Children who are showered with love and adoration become self-assured adults.
  10. The world is shitty to girls.
  11. Words matter. ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me’ is a load of crap.
  12. Words matter. Be an affirmative person.
  13. Sweet peppers have more vitamin C than oranges.
  14. Slapping a piece of vegetable atop a pizza does not make it healthy. Also, knowing a black man does not make you not racist.
  15. No one has their act together all the time. Cut yourself some slack if you got a few misses.
  16. Cunnilingus is a trip. More men should get into it.
  17. Get into the habit of photographing and taking videos of special people and moments. Memories fade.
  18. Apparently, the brain cannot differentiate between milk and dark chocolate. The same reward hormone will be released whether you stuff yourself with a sugar-loaded Bar-One or a bitter 80% cocoa chocolate bar. (I say apparently because I choose to blindly follow this [and not google it] in my quest to sustain my dairy-free dopamine-rich? lifestyle.)
  19. Do not make important life decisions when you’re bleeding.
  20. Music WILL change your mood. It is that powerful.
  21. I don’t HAVE TO be on social media if it disrupts my mental health. It is not a requirement for existing as a millennial.
  22. Cheese is dairy. Going dairy-free means having to give up cheese:(
  23. Rihanna is the absolute baddest human to have walked the earth in our generation.
  24. I don’t have to be the best at anything to take up space and cement myself where I want to.
  25. Explore as much of yourself as you can while you’re young. it’s not cute to only figure out at age 26 that you might be into girls.
  26. That said, it’s never too late to find and redefine yourself.
  27. Believe in your fine ass self, cav yourself, rate yourself heavy.

If I were a boy (child)

Every other week I come across a tweet, a thought, an experience or something, that gives me an existential crisis about my life. Particularly my childhood, specifically regarding my rentals.

This week’s inspiration for my ‘why is my self-esteem so jarringly non-existent?’ came from a tweet by a man whose handle is ‘meninist.’ Yes, I should know better than to take to heart anything coming from such a space. Yes, there are many more who think like him. So yes, what he said had weight.
“Any girl can give you a daughter. It takes a real woman to give you a son.” No, this is not going to be a piece trying to debunk this. I won’t spend my time talking about the paternal determinants of a child’s sex. This is about feelings, not facts. More specifically – my feelings.

I often wondered if my mother wished me to be a boy. Speculation on my part, based on what little I knew about my father, conversations we’ve had, and my mother’s reaction to finding out that her next and last offspring (my then-unborn little sibling) would be a girl.

My mother, as I have come to appreciate, raised a daughter single-handedly while watching my father be an amazing dad to another child, a son. For that, I sympathize greatly with her.

My father (and it pains me greatly to use this term) believes men and women are not equal, and should not be. Yes, he said this to me once. Seven months into my employment, he suggested I gift him and my mother (who, as earlier stated, was my sole rental in all my eighteen years of life before he waltzed in) a monetary gift as a ‘thank you for raising me’ present. He advised that I give my mother a certain amount and him, almost double that. Naturally, being the curious, raised-by-my-mother-and-my-mother-alone confused adult, I inquired. His response: “women can never be equal to men. Even the bible says so.”
Yes, VERBATIM. Yes, he used the bible in an attempt to give weight to his misogyny. I was moved. I was embarrassed for him. More than anything else though, in that time, for the first time, I was relieved to have not been raised by him.

My mother wanted a son. I was eleven years old when she fell pregnant and I knew she wanted a son. (And, dear reader, I hope you know, I am of the belief that although patriarchy benefits men, its gatekeepers are usually women. Older women, aunties, mothers, who perhaps grew tired of fighting the system, or, more likely, who simply keep the ‘wisdom’ passed down to them by their predecessors. All the same, patriarchal princesses perpetuate the idea that men, by virtue of being born with penises, are worthy of a respect unattainable by non-men).

I, already having an older brother and having had to tolerate seeing the different parenting styles in dealing with him and me, wanted a sister. Our reactions to finding out she was carrying a girl were as polar as polar gets. I was eleven years old. My young mind could never intellectualize why a woman could be anything other than overjoyed by the fact that she would be raising a fellow woman. Do women desperately want to bear boy-children in the hopes of being recognized as quote-unquote REAL women?

I traverse life knowing that my father rejected me before any other man could. I continually have to suppress the idea that he could perhaps have thought me inferior, even as a foetus, before I came into the world, before I uttered a single word, because I was not a son. I constantly have to tell myself that I am worthy, good enough, and remind my jarringly non-existent self esteem that my vagina is no lesser organ than a penis, that great black feminist women did tons of work to dismiss that idea (the fact that it was an idea needing to be dismissed is in itself painfully idiotic), and I owe it to them to consider such tweets as nonsensical and idiotic.
Sometimes though, I mean rarely, I remember that my dad told me, his very evidently female offspring, that I am not equal to his very male (very evidently loved male) offspring, and as such deserve less in life than him. Then (I mean rarely) tweets such as this one become less nonsensical, less idiotic, and more real.

T*W Whose agency is it anyway? On rape and silence (part 2)

Was I just, was I just violated?
Nah, don’t be silly man. He did not rape you. If he had, you’d be traumatized. You’d be having flashbacks and you’d be bruised, torn. Face – disheveled. Legs – unmovable. Vagina – dismembered. Hotel – Trivago.
Isn’t that what we had been taught on TV, in movies, that that is what rape looks like? The struggle, the pushing down, the beating, the punching, the overpowering big man bending over the fragile and delicate little girl? The bleeding (oh my goodness, so much bleeding), the messy apartment, evidence of some struggle?

Okay, alright, there was none of that messy, sloppy, bloody action. So uhm, not rape.

But I said no, at least a couple of times. He heard me, I’m sure of it. I could see it in his face. He heard me. I’m pretty sure he heard me.
Did he? Did I say it loudly enough? Did I say it at all? Was the ‘no’ just in my head?
NO! It wasn’t all in my head. I said no! I didn’t scream and shout, but say it I did. More than a few times.
Okay but you stopped saying ‘no’ at some point. Was that…why sis? Surely that must mean ‘yes’ right?
I…I grew tired of fighting. I got exhausted. I simply could not focus on the pain and saying no simultaneously. Not for that long. I gave up. Figured he’d finish faster if I resisted less. And he did. And the relief! My God, the relief of no longer having a man jerk off in you.

I can go pee now. I can pee n… OH MY F****** GOD IT HURTS! F***

But, but, nah let’s not call it rape sis. Because if you admit you’ve been raped, then you have to tell the cops, then you have to go to hospital (be exposed to trauma only for them to conclude with, “lack of evidence does not rule out assault”).
Then you have to take him to court (dear Lord, lawyer fees. And who has time to take off work to sit in a courtroom?)
Then you have to prove your innocence…

(I was not drunk, your honour. Yes I invited him to my house but I didn’t invite him into my body, your honour. No, your honour, I’m not sweating because I’m lying. I’m sweating because if I even say one thing not in keeping with the rape stereotype, if I say anything regarding my sexual agency, he might be found not guilty. There will be reasonable doubt of guilt. I will be called a liar, judged as harshly as rapists, labelled a false accuser, told I ruined a good man’s reputation, and forever be ‘that’ girl.

I’m not sweating because I’m lying, your honour. I’m sweating because the only ‘evidence’ I have of this intimately violent criminal act, is that I said ‘no’ a few times. And I’m not entirely sure he heard me. Because he did not stop. And if he heard me, he would have stopped, right, your honour?)

Then you have to prove his guilt
(He has no priors but he committed THIS crime. He is a respected doctor but he did it. What, why did I allow him to hug me and giggle when he tried to kiss me in public after he ‘raped’ me? I…I…*huge sigh* I don’t… I can’t.)
I tried to convince myself that if he liked me, if he cared for me, then he simply had sex with me. Then I wouldn’t be the girl who was raped by the guy she liked. I’d be the girl who had an uncomfortable sexual encounter. Then I wouldn’t have to explain why I giggled in the street with a man who had just raped me.
Then  I wouldn’t have death threats and ‘she invited him to stay the night. What did she think would happen’ and ‘she is ruining a good man’s reputation’ chats. Then I’ll still be the girl with complete sexual agency.

But…but…but I said no.

T*W. Whose agency is it anyway? On rape and silence (part 1)

I let him hug me goodbye in the middle of a public road
and giggled when he tried to kiss me
I stood frozen as I watched him walk away, a shy smile on my lips,
not anticipating the tears that would soon betray my face.

I stood frozen and watched him walk away
When his silhouette vanished, I felt them
The tears, filling my eyes, trickling down my cheeks
and watering my lips

I was not sad he was walking away
I was mad that I let him hug me goodbye on a public road
and giggled when he tried to kiss me
I was mad because my head hurt from all the analyzing
my vagina hurt from all the thrusting
my throat hurt from all the choking, holding back the tears
Mostly, I was mad because, if even I couldn’t be sure
whether or not I was raped
– whether or not HE RAPED ME –
How was I to convince someone, anyone, else?

*Part 2: conversation with self during, immediately after and weeks following…

To be wanted fully, loudly and unapologetically

I met Zulu just before varsity closed for the semester break. It was during one of the parties my friends and I regularly hosted after exams.

He did not particularly stand out at the party. In fact, I only came to learn of his name when the gathering ended and we all parted ways. As it turns out, we stayed at the same school residential place. So naturally we (along with two other party goers) took the same uber to res. We got to chatting and, as would be expected, the world – the uber driver and other riders included – disappeared. We were the only people in existence.

What words where uttered, I cannot recall, because more important was the simultaneous vulnerability and security I felt at that moment. Here was a man, a stranger but a minute before, and he captivated me, shook me, had me awestruck. (It may be a pertinent time to share this – when I fall in love, I fall easy, I fall hard and I fall fast. It is my virtue and my vice)

I fell for his easy-going vibe, his worldliness, his command of my attention, and, his finely-chiseled, fiercely-inked biceps. He came into my life at exactly the right time, when I didn’t even know I needed him. I had just been fighting demons in my previous chapter, and he gave of himself fully, generously, selflessly and without caution, to me*

*this excerpt was written close to two years ago. It serves to remind me just how beautiful my short experiences with romantic love have always been. I love that the people I allowed in my life have left nothing but great vibes in my heart, and keep me excited for the future. For a love that is full, loud, open, and unapologetic. My love life has truly been tumultuous. However, I appreciate all my past experiences, for what they were, what they taught and what they gave. I will always go back to this. To this excerpt, to this moment, to this feeling, and realize that I have been wanted, fully and unapologetically, and indeed deserve a love that is full and loud and unapologetic.