Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Being hydrocephalic - Part 1

Source: www.sophysa.com

I never thought I would become hydrocephalic. Never even dreamed of it. To me, hydrocephalus only happens to babies, i.e. congenital hydrocephalus. The fateful day I was diagnosed with acquired hydrocephalus saw my whole world came crashing down on me like a tsunami. That fateful day was 25 April 2006.

I was in the final semester of my Master degree studies, in the midst of writing the final project paper. Actually, the disturbing symptoms and signs began to appear the year before, i.e. in 2005. However, I did not take these symptoms and signs seriously. I thought they were due to the stress I had experienced while studying for the Master degree.

It all began with the symptoms of migrain-like pains and excessive sleepiness. The migrain-like pains came and went, consistent with the usual onset of migrain. However, I could not put a finger on to the fact why I was sleepy most of the time; even though I had sufficient sleep the night before coupled with naps during the day. In other words, I lacked energy and found it difficult to go through my daily rountine.

I couldn't understand what was happening to my health because the signs and symptoms I was experiencing could also be found in common illnesses. I thought I just had to live with all the pain, suffering and inconvenience associated with these signs and symptoms. However, as time passed by, the signs and symptoms became more intense and disturbing.

One of the first major disturbing signs was I tend to stumble when I walk. My legs felt very heavy and my left foot tend "get stuck" on the ground for no apparent reason. When my left foot had gotten "stuck", I would stumble and fall flat on my face without any prior warning. I also had periods where I would often black out without realising it happening. When these two major disturbing signs happened at the same time, I would find myself sprawled on the ground without remembering it happening. It happened once and I landed myself overnight in the hospital due to a bad fall I had when I was about to do some grocery shopping in town; one night in August 2005.

Lucky for me, I'd only suffered minor injuries and a good Samaritan helped send me to the hospital when it happened. Of course, at the same time I had other people around me staring and gawking as I sprawled on the ground. This incident left me feeling extremely confused as I couldn't understand why these signs were happening.... Three years later looking back at the events leading to the eventual diagnosis of hydrocephalus, I can't help feeling grateful that this diagnosis was made just in the nick of time to save my life.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Life Committed to Ballet

I was a ballet student for ten years. I took classes for eight and a half years in Malaysia and another one and a half years in Australia. I learnt my first pliƩ at the age of 12. Going by the ballet standards I was a late starter. I felt very awkward in the beginning, but as time passed by I became good at it despite of the fact I am a special needs student.

I LOVE ballet A LOT! In fact I can go on and on and on about it forever.... I think it's quite safe to say my love for ballet is close to compulsion. It suits my personality well, being the quiet, and shy person I am. Ballet provided me with the opportunity to be able to express myself better. It functioned as an emotional outlet for me and did wonders to calm me down when I was experiencing a particularly lousy time.

I was trained on Royal Academy of Dance (RAD), UK ballet syllabus. However, I was unable to take its examination, as no teacher wanted to take me through the process. I was quite sure RAD would be able to cater to my special needs. This setback made me work so much harder than most students in my class, as they were younger than me and needed less effort to achieve what was required of them. What I had achieved was a surprise to many people. Despite my physical challenges, I have managed to find ways to cope in learning demanding dance steps and combinations. Not only that, I seemed to have an encyclopaedic capacity to remember the terms I have learned throughout the ten years as a ballet student.

This bode very well for me when I attended ballet performances when I was a university student in Perth, Australia. I was able to understand and appreciate better the abstract and beauty aspects of the ballet performances I had attended in Perth. Watching these performances motivated me to strive harder for excellence not only in my ballet classes, but also my academic pursuits and many other things in life which require a lot of effort and hard work.

Some of the habits of being a ballet student for ten years have spilled over to my daily routine, which many people might find them strange and quirky; from the way I carry out my daily routines to the way I behave, especially when I walk and stand. People who knew me all too well have understood and accepted me as who I am. I would say that ballet has inculcated mostly good habits in which complement my personality and character.

I would not have been who and where I am today if not for ballet. Ballet has taught me many positive values; some of which I held as part of my life's principles. It also helped me to be a more resilient person to overcame many challenges I face in life. Two of these challenges were to obtain my Master degree in English Language during the time I was diagnosed with hydrocephalus and to learn to cope living with hydrcephalus for the rest of my life. The discipline I'd obtained as a ballet student showed me that I could use the unique strength of human spirit to overcome the tough challenges I face throughout my life.

Thus, this saying will apply to me very well, "You can take the dancer out of a dance but not the dance out of a dancer". I believe the quirky habits from being a ballet student would remain in me for the rest of my life. This would be one aspect of my personality I would not trade for anything in the world.

Paloma Herrera, Principal Dancer, American Ballet Theatre

Monday, August 10, 2009

On Music and Songs

I can say music rules my life.... you can't help it when you are involved in any type of performing arts. As for me, ballet is the key to unlocking the my interest in music. I enjoy different genres of music, pop, contemporary, classical and Latin American.

I don't just listen to music for the sake of listening, I appreciate the fine nuances of the music in which makes a particular music or song unique in its own way. My favourite singer for many, many years was Gloria Estefan. I still like listening to her songs, they are IMO never go out of date like most songs do these days. However, I still do pay attention to new songs and music being released. New talents like Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus and Jordin Sparks are worth noting, they have what it takes to become excellent singers.

I listen mostly to songs from the 80s and 90s. I grew up during these two eras so I can identify with and relate to the songs of these eras. Of course, songs by the late Michael Jackson dominate the lives of most people who grew up in the 80s and 90s and I am no exception. My all-time favourite Michael Jackson song is 'The Way You Make Me Feel'. This song was used in a ballet choreography in the film 'Center Stage'; it was fantastic. Way cool piece of choreography! I never dreamed that a Michael Jackson song could be used as music in a ballet choreography.

Apart from the late Michael Jackson, 'Center Stage' also uses songs by Jamiroquai and Red Hot Chilli Peppers, all these songs are so danceable you just want to move with the music. I do.... and it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. I guess I'm meant to be doing things related to performing arts, I think it fits my personality well. Or I should be doing things related to English language, mostly academic research, editing and writing; it's okay even I don't get to teach.

Music is a universal element bringing people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds together. One fine example I can think of is 'We Are The World - USA for Africa' released in 1985 to assist the famine-striken countries in the African continent. Singers of many different genres came together to perform this song - Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Tina Turner, Cyndi Lauper, Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross, just to name a few. It is also through this song my Dad taught me the value of giving to help others who are less fortunate. I remembered Dad teaching me for the first time how to write a cheque, I was only nine at that time. This simple act left a very deep and lasting impression in me as a young child. From then on, I became very sensitive and receptive towards the genuine plight of less fortunate people around the world, especially of those from Third World and war-torn countries.

Music and songs have profound effect on me.... some songs and music can really move me to tears. The song that currently moves me to tears is sung by a group known as The Fray and the song is entitled 'How To Save A Life'. This song is the theme for the TV series 'Grey's Anatomy'; strangely I don't take to watching this series at all. I used to love watching 'Chicago Hope' and 'ER' but not 'Grey's Anatomy'.

'How To Save A Life' reminds me so much of the passing of my aunt earlier this year from lung cancer. Frankly, I have yet to get over of my aunt's passing. It really hurts.... just to think about it. However, songs and music provides me with the escape I needed when I'm facing a lousy day and/or experiencing a particularly bad time. I love music and songs so much they'll always be an integral part of my life.

Not a day goes by without me tuning to my favourite songs and music... Now that's a tune for thought! :)