Whew! Where to start from? Friends, families, enemies, lovers of Lizzie’s Journal, gosh… I owe all of you the biggest apologies in the world!!! I’ve been away from this blog for the longest I’ve ever been away since I created it some two-three years ago. That was tough for me honestly because each day I was away felt like eternity. It was never my intention to go on an impromptu break. I never knew I needed one myself. For a moment, my superhero self thought I could do it all; I mean what at all is juggling clinical years of med-school plus reading six non-academic books every month on the side and still hoping to write regularly on your blog while also reviewing books and catching up on the latest gist on IG??? Ha! People do it all the time, right? Right? Sigh! 😑
The usual me would never have written this down let alone think of sharing it but hey, this year, “we’re going differently”, right? Which is why I’m going to ignore the weird feeling inside of me and go on anyways. I do hope to feel at the end of this piece a little bit of that catharsis that most writers say they feel after “pouring it all out on paper”. For a writer, one thing you need to know about me is that I’m a lazy journalist. I’ve never succeeded in keeping a single journal (or diary, if you so please) in my life! Even when I get gifted journals, I end up using them for academic work or something else. So there are lots of things that I keep inside; bottled up and never letting out which I’ve grown to realize never helps anyone. Since this is the only journal I have, for once I want to spill it all out…
To be honest, I don’t even know which angle to hit you guys from with the bad news that was “2021”. For context, my 2021, because I know there are people for whom last year was transformative. In a way, I could say it was transformative and life-changing for me too. The bad I experienced and endured have definitely taught me my lessons the hard way. Describing 2021 in a word for me would be, “CHAOS”; ultimately. I mean, there’s no other way to put it than that. It went like this: Chaos— chill—A mix of Chaos and chill—then Chaos—Chaos—Chaos—Overwhelmed!!! It was quite terrible. And although the whole of the year wasn’t an entirely bad one—I had some genuinely happy moments from time to time—to call it a “good year” would be overstating it, really. I’ve always had bad years but never one as horrible and harsh on me as last year.
Take literally the expression, “biting more than you can possibly chew” and imagine for a quick second that you indeed took a huge bite into one large burger and bit more than you actually could chew. Juices spill; the food smears all over your face; you’re most likely going to mess up your costume and just maybe in an attempt to save yourself further embarrassment, you’d try to swallow hastily and guess what, you choke! Cough! cough! cough! It’s a medical emergency!!! If you are lucky, you get away with vomiting plus gentle rubs on the back from some kind stranger. But if you are not, then a trip to the Emergency on account of food aspiration would be your final destination. So not a pleasant situation to find yourself in there. Well, I’m not saying that’s exactly what happened to me last year but something close, along those lines.
First off, the beginning of the year was not so good because for starters, I wasn’t ready. Three months into 2021 and I was still living in the year before it, still processing 2020. That’s usually my norm but it didn’t help that Covid was also doing this weird back and forth thing of rising and falling and rising again like an annoying relative who pops up in your life every now and then like, “heyyy, what’s good?” In the beginning of the year, I moved to KATH¹ to begin my clinical years of medical school and it was taking a huge toll on my mental health. Huuuge toll because I had so much “getting-used-to” to do. A hospital is not exactly a place I’d like to constantly be yet here I was formally moving into one, expected to show up in the wards always and see things I’d rather not ever wish to see or know about in my life! Time to actually know what it’s like to be a doctor and your girl was not ready!
That aside, from my spiritual to my academic to my emotional well-being; nothing was working. My mental health; in the gutters! Spiritual life; nothing to write home about. Physical health—just so and so. Academic life—falling woefully apart. The only thing I could say I had going— for which I could have won a gold medal—was my reading life (no surprise there because I needed an escape from the hellhole that was my reality and books (fiction especially) gave me that). Due to my devastating reality, I also spent an overwhelming amount of time on social media especially Instagram as a second escape. My screen time would be mind-blowing if I’d taken active records of it.
At some point, everything was just so bad, especially with my mental health that I began fighting God for creating me. Last year was the year I fought God. On so many occasions; I accosted him, questioned him, threatened him (yes you read that right). If I could have physically fought God, in all honesty, He knows I would have. I asked God many questions out of pain, anguish and extreme frustration. Frustration with myself, the path I’d chosen in life, my health, the state of the world, everything! Nothing seemed to be working right for me according to my own judgements and discretion. To other people, I might have been “living the life!”, holding things down pretty well. But I wasn’t. And I never felt that way for a single time last year. I was always on the verge of losing control. I heaped on myself many expectations which in turn gave me anxiety made worse by my perfectionism and overthinking. I lost faith in God many times, regained it back only to lose it again in the next minute. Worst of all, I struggled to stay alive while being alive.
Have you ever woken up wishing you were dead instead? Or worse an inanimate object, like a chair or table with no feelings or fears or emotions or ward rounds or exams to think about? That was me every time, every day of the week last year! Six out of seven days in a week, I felt no joy in being alive. “What really is the point of all this,” I’d often find myself saying. I slept a lot from tiredness and pure exhaustion from doing absolutely nothing all day— just trundling through life in my first clinical year, with no enthusiasm or excitement whatsoever. I mean there were days I looked excited about many things to many people on the outside but inwardly, I was bland. The weeks and months were all whirling past without my notice. Everything was a huge blur. I was experiencing the worst anxieties about my own death in a way I’d never had before. It’s not something I hadn’t experienced before but last year’s was the worst ever. I usually succeeded in pushing it to my subconscious and living my life anyways but this time, I just couldn’t do it. I don’t know if it was my close proximity to the dilapidated health conditions in the hospital or my having to come to terms with the fragility of human life and how quickly it can be lost that was triggering me. But it was very bad.
Thinking about death is something that leaves me paralyzed and subsequently very mad. So I hardly think about things related to death or death itself. Yet here I was, orchestrating my own death, day in day out. Everyday was a new day for me to go. Imagine waking up each day with panic attacks because you were afraid you’d die in your sleep. Imagine physically fighting sleep off because of this absurd fear—not totally absurd because it actually happens but the point is with me what were the odds? And if every human on earth thought that way, then no one would sleep. I’d physically jolt myself awake and prevent myself from sleeping. And during those periods, either books or social media were my refuge. I’d spend all my time aimlessly scrolling till I couldn’t hold back any longer and sleep out of fear or frustration and wake up feeling guilty and ashamed for wasting another day.
With a mind like this, how do you learn? How do you pray? How do you create? How do you live? Everything in my head was jumbled up. The mind is a powerful entity, you know; a very influential part of our existence and until your mind is not exactly in the place you need it to be to operate, you’d never truly appreciate this. Since I was so convinced I was going to die soon, it started manifesting physically. I would always feel something was internally wrong with my body that I wasn’t physically aware of and it was going to kill me before anyone else realized. With this in mind, I began looking for physical signs to prove my belief to myself since no one around me was seeing it obviously. One time, my legs looked too crooked as if my bones were shrinking! Oh God, ALS? Another time, it was my arms, one looked bigger than the other. Then my palms looked too pale, anemia! Was I losing blood somewhere I couldn’t see? My heart was beating too fast, palpitations: I probably have hypertension! See that? That was me in my head all the damn time! Now if I tell you my mental health was in the gutters, you understand exactly what I mean. And I hope you’ve not forgotten through all this I’m still a medical student going to class, going for my rotations at the wards and in theater, dealing with stressful consultants, expected to learn and pass my exams with little to no breaks in between rotations! It was all too crazy but I was doing my best to stay on top of things.
I was basically a living dead. Instead of being thankful for my life, I was engrossed in deep fear and so much anxiety I could barely realize the gift of being alive. And each day I woke up to think these monstrous thoughts, it never once occurred to me that to even think about my death, I had to first be alive. Already dead people do not have the luxury to think or have anxiety about their death, do they? Those were some of the harshest moments of my life last year. There was not one positive bone in my body the whole of last year from the beginning right till getting to the very end when my head started clearing up a bit after my visit to the doctor, something I should have done a loooong time ago! As an incoming doctor I’m ashamed to admit I hate going to see the doctor but I’m also the first to tell people to go see a doctor when something’s wrong with them. Something about doctors being the worst patients, I guess.
Due to my heightened levels of anxiety, I’d begun to have vigorous palpitations—at least these were real palpitations not imagined ones. I had my worst acne break-out too; wouldn’t know what to attribute that too but stress acne exists so I wouldn’t be surprised. Then it was decided: I just had to see a doctor this time. So I did, had an ECG² done on me for the palpitations, which showed my heart was in perfectly normal shape and health, not overly dilated and about to blow up through my chest wall like I had imagined. And my BP³ was perfectly fine; not raised or anything (somewhere between 120/90 something). The doctor asked me if I had been anxious about anything lately and that’s when I finally confessed to him about my anxiety. He suggested I see a psychiatrist after our meeting because physically I was fine; that from his findings nothing physical was going to kill me anytime soon so I needn’t have such thoughts at all and prescribed me some antidepressants.
To be honest, that hospital trip was the turning point for me. I was really calmed down after that hospital session, I didn’t understand why I hadn’t gone earlier. Seeing the results of the ECG myself and having the ability to interpret the findings myself had a big impact on my brain because trust me with the state I was in, I probably wouldn’t have believed the doctor had I been oblivious. But I saw those results, knew what they meant and everything was normal. Then it dawned on me that maybe all this while, I might be the one forcing myself into an early grave. That’s when I decided it was time to relax. I reached out to a psychiatrist friend (Shout out to Dr Eliezer Bernard Ntim Owusu, God bless him! Please check out his website, Online Psychiatry Ghana, read his content, subscribe and patronize his services for all your mental health needs) who was really helpful to me during those times.
After that, I became calmer, saying positive things to myself, confronting logically the possibility of my fears, and began to feel a whole lot better than I’d ever felt since the start of the year. My sleep improved because I was no longer afraid of dying in it so I allowed myself to actually sleep and sleep well. I mean it didn’t all just disappear into thin air at once. There were still certain moments of fear and anxiety but they were now reduced. And little by little, I could think a bit more clearly and I cried less when alone. I began to see the positive side of things, and to appreciate the little blessings in my life plus the blessing that was life itself no matter how difficult. This was around October-November-ish, after almost ten months of my year had been ruined. Ten solid months I could have spent bettering myself, wasted and gone, and I had done nothing but be afraid. But I never blamed myself. To be in the kind of mental space I was and still operate the way I did, bruh, I deserve a standing ovation. I mean how many of y’all would even guess this about me without this write-up? I’m sure some of y’all are clutching your jaws in your palms right now like nah, no way! But it was and it did happen to me. Exactly the reason why we always need to choose kindness and empathy because on the outside, everyone looks fine and great but you never really know what’s going on with someone in their head/personal space. Peace of mind is indeed an underrated gift from God, my friends. You wouldn’t know until you’ve lost it and regained it.
Through all of this, at least I had the one thing I could seek solace in and that was reading. Reading my books was the only thing that kept me sane during that troubled year I had. I had wanted to be organized, focus on my academic work, be able to write as well but my mental health really got in the way. And before I could even salvage the little of what was left, the year was so far gone that I just gave up and decided to take whatever happened because I was TIRED! Which is why when y’all sent me all those sweet messages of how you admire me and how much I was doing so well and how you wished you could read like me, it made me happy but I also couldn’t help thinking “this is the only way I know how to stay alive, okay? I don’t know what else to do.” I took it one fiction, one poetry a day at a time—poetry for the worst of the worst days. Because when I’m so low I can’t even concentrate on a fictional world too so I read poetry to wash over my turmoiled soul and either hope I die quicker in my sleep or wake up still feeling worse.
Amid all the hellish moments, there were at least some utterly amazing moments too. And it’s sad how I let the bad completely overshadow the good because when I think of 2021 I just want to clog my ears and run like a child who’s just seen a monster. But then I breathe in and I remember a good moment interspersed between the bad ones and I smile. Because after all, I still had some things to smile about in all the chaos and pain. For instance I bought and got gifted many new books— received ARCs⁴ and won giveaways from across the world on Instagram! On my birthday and the days leading up to it, I was genuinely extra happy and so light. I got so much love and appreciation from my family and loved ones that helped me forget my anxieties for quite a while.
What I hated most about my 2021 was not the fact that there were no good moments but that I was not fully able to immerse myself in them before the sadness and darkness creeped back and took over. At one time I’m ecstatic, full-on cloud nine mode, all over the place like nothing can ever break or pull me down. Then suddenly, the next moment I’m a wet bag, stuck in this dark, heavy place I hate so much but can’t seem to pull myself out from. And on many occasions, it felt like no one (not even God) could save me. I used to feel everything in magnified versions, as in ×400 magnification if there’s anything like that. I noticed if I was happy, then I was really happy no matter how short lived. But then if I was sad, then I was very very sad in every sense of the word,”sad”. There was no in-between for me. And because pulling myself out of the dark places were much more difficult, they lasted longer, gradually wiping out all traces of the happy moments and by the time I was out, my whole life felt shitty as if I were the most unlucky person on earth.
I had the saddest pity-party of my entire adult life last year. Every moment was an opportunity to be mean to myself, remind myself of the many ways in which I had failed and was still failing and to hate myself to the core such that being alive meant nothing. I struggled with contentment, gratitude, positivity, satisfaction, self appreciation, and self-love a lot. That’s why this new year my goal is to dote on myself. Because the shackles from which I have broken to even be able to have this clear mind to type this essay for you to read is no joke. But I thank God that progress has been made. I never intended to take a break from writing. But with my state of mind, what good writing would I have been able to produce for you, my readers? I just lost all passion for life so I stopped putting in effort for the things I cared about. And writing my dears requires effort, requires me to think, something for which I had no energy. I just didn’t feel like writing anymore. And when I did write, I never liked what I wrote. Because I hated it before I’d even written it.
Last year was a lot for me. I’m just thankful to have survived it all. On the 31st of December, 2021, I cried, laughed out loud, prayed a long time because I couldn’t believe that the year of 2021 had ended with me still being alive and finished with my first clinical year. I was like, “wow so this is really the last day of this nightmare.” It was almost unbelievable. And that’s when I made the decision that this year was going to go differently. My 5th year (2nd clinical year) definitely deserves to be better. Having clawed my way through grade A chaos and seeing how pathetic it worked out for me, I have come to the conclusion that never again will I ever allow myself to have another year like 2021. Never again! Surprisingly for the first time ever, I was so ready for a new year way before it actually came. I couldn’t wait to make my most awaited life changes in 2022. I wondered if I was the same human being from last year because the energy with which I was entering into the new year was different. I just had this optimism for 2022 before it came in that I felt any bad thing I was supposed to have experienced came last year. So now is finally the time for a Rebuilding, a Makeover, a New Season.
This year is the year where I take a break from sorrow. I, too, I’m deserving of soft, soft love. I would love to know what true and non-stop happiness feels like this year. I do not intend to wake up with panic attacks. I do not intend to wake up with cluster headaches and a restless mind that has travelled through hell and back. I do not intend to wake up hating myself and life. On the flip side, I intend to do more for myself and those around me who are looking forward to my success. I realized it was very selfish of me to bury myself in a box and bottle all my burdens alone as though the world had conspired against me. I’ve always known this but somehow last year it just wouldn’t click. I felt no one could understand my problems (such a huge lie: someone always gets it if it’s just that one person).
This year, I intend to be intentional about everything I do—even the small things like drinking eight cups of water a day to stay hydrated. Notice I’m not saying “I want” because I’ve always wanted these things I’m talking about. Year after year, I keep wanting them with no real plan or actions on how to actually make them a reality; my reality. So this time, I no longer want to be happy but rather, I intend to be happy. I’m hoping to be intentional about my food choices, my speech, my thoughts most especially, my habits and literally every single thing I took for granted last year. This year, I’m going to pay more attention to the things that bring me joy, peace of mind and calm such as exercise and a morning devotion before I head off to class or start my day.
Last year I had no plan. Not just last year but all my years on earth I’ve never had a written down plan. I usually have an idea of what I want to do or accomplish throughout the year but I never take time to organize or put them down. After last year, I have decided to try active planning where I put every single thing down on paper to give me a sense of purpose and direction whenever I wake up. No doubt my lack of planning did hinder my progress a lot last year and made me an underachiever. The guilt of knowing there is so much I am capable of and yet constantly keep living below my abilities year after year is what has fuelled me to get my act together. I realize I’m growing, and no one, no matter how hard my life becomes, is going to walk up to me and say, “hey Liz, I realize you’re suffering so take a break and let me continue from here for you until you’re ready to come back”. Nope! It’d have been great if it worked like that though. Sadly it doesn’t. So if I want this to work, then I need to work on it myself. And the earlier, the better.
If I want happiness, I’m going to work tirelessly for it this year. If I want academic excellence, I’m going to put more effort into learning. I’m going to be kinder to myself. The things I used to say to myself last year, if I said those same things out loud to my friends or family, I suppose I’d be the loneliest person on earth. Ironically, when it comes to outsiders I’m such a sweetheart (unless you’ve stepped on my toes, of course). I have so much love and care and patience to give to others. People tell me I’m very supportive, something for which I’m proud of. But when it’s my turn to be sweet to me, I turn into this savage bitch who cuts herself no slack. I’m so brutal with myself; I just really do not know how to give soft love to myself and that is something I intend to vigorously unlearn this year. I am going to be my number one cheerleader. I intend to be there for myself first before anyone else. I plan to practice self love with all the intentionality I can gather. I am literally going to be the exact opposite of the person I was last year in terms of the bad stuff; the good, we maintain and work harder to increase it.
Where last year, I merely survived, this year I intend to thrive. Where I barely held on, I shall glide. I will spread my wings out wide and fly. And if I fall, I’ll rise up and try again till I soar. Because I know I can. I’ve just never given myself the full permission and opportunity to be who I am capable of being. I plan to enjoy living and breathing for no reason. The things I only dreamed of having the strength to do last year, I’d actually start putting measures in place to materialize them this year. I’m not going to base my worth on my accomplishments and productivity though but I also do want to know and experience how good it’d feel to be able to do something I set out to do and be happy that I did. As for my relationship with my Maker, we’re back to being best friends again so that’s a good thing. I intend to exercise my faith this year and put all my fears and uncertainties on God. I know things are different when He is involved.
I will remind myself of all the love I’m surrounded by each day. I do not need to seek it elsewhere. I am going to appreciate and focus more on the people who are putting in effort to love me and encourage me, build me; people who are showing up for me in all aspects of my life; you my wonderful wonderful readers included. I do not profess to have it altogether. I still struggle with sad thoughts from time to time. But I’m making the effort to not sink in them this time round. This year I won’t just give up before the fight even starts. I’m going to arm myself and prepare adequately. Now that I’ve survived the chaos, what better way to crown it than to thrive in this newly found peace I now have!
PS: Expect a lot of nonfiction from me this year compared to fiction. The inspiration and ideas to write fiction has dwindled drastically over the weeks. I’ll continue writing nonfiction and poetry in the hopes to resurrect it. If you enjoy me being vulnerable in my write ups like this and you want me to share more of my personal struggles with you, do let me know. Anyway, what are some of the things you struggled with last year? Any highlights of your year? A lesson you learnt? What changes are you making to better yourself this new year? how do you intend to “go” differently? Let me know in the comments section, let’s have a chat.
Don’t forget to take care of your mental health and stay hydrated. Pray a lot! If you believe in prayer, that is. Talk to people. Journal if it helps. And don’t worry so much because everything works out in the end—so I’ve learned. Thank you to everyone who checked up on me, who enquired about my writing, who was curious to know when I’d get back here. You all make me a better human and I’m grateful for your existence. Thank you! Thank you! Love, Liz.❣️
1 – Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital: One of the largest referral centers or tertiary hospitals in Ghana. It is located at the heart of Kumasi and is one of the major teaching sites for many health practitioners in training.
2 – Electrocardiogram: The visual output that an electrocardiograph produces. An electrocardiograph is a machine / device used to assess the electrical activity of the heart to detect for any abnormalities
3 – Blood Pressure: The pressure at which your heart pumps blood to all parts of your body. Your B.P. is what generates the heart sounds we hear and refer to as “heartbeat.”
4 – Advanced Readers Copy: a free print or electronic copy of a book given to special readers or influencers in the bookish space by publishers to help market or introduce an incoming book to the world before its actual release date.