Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Reflections about life and graduation from law school

It’s been quite a long time since I wrote a blog post. For some reason, I have found it difficult to find the motivation to write, even though I have had quite a lot of ideas of what I could write about. There is no shortage of significant happenings around the world which are common topics for discussion amongst families and peers. For this post though, I wish to write more about my own life - what has been happening in it, where I am at, and my own reflections about it.

I have just completed the credit requirement to graduate with my law degree at National University of Singapore this semester. It’s been a long time coming, since I took quite a long leave of absence from school on account of my suffering from tension headaches.

It has been quite a challenge for me in my university life as an undergraduate. I’ve got to say that I found law studies much more difficult than what I would have expected before entering university. I didn’t expect to find myself hard of understanding when trying to read law cases and materials in my first year at law school. Although I pretty much understand the concept of what a contract is about, the study of contract law, which broke down a contract into its constituent legal elements, was rather mind-jarring and other-worldly to me; and I found the austere test-like approach in legal reasoning strange and cold compared to how I or other people I know would normally intuitively reason things. It took some while to get used to it. I was also quite out of touch with studying since I had served the military for National Service for 2 years before entering law school. The copious amount of reading texts was intimidating, even though I had believed myself to be quite a voracious reader before entering law school. I was reading law cases in the same way I would read a story book, from start to finish, without paying attention to the structure of the legal judgment and how legal judgments tend to have quite a systematic manner of laying out its analysis based on the respective components or ‘limbs’ of a legal framework. It was easy for me to lose sight amidst the deluge of texts of the legal structural framework. I answered law hypothetical questions with the sort of ‘go for the bullseye’ approach, where I identify whatever issue that seems apparent to me and address that part instead of systematically going through the legal framework from start to finish and addressing those issues in the case facts of the hypothetical every point in turn. My mind did not seem to intuitively grasp this structural nature of legal reasoning. It just reads, process content, and digest them into a churned state where everything is mixed together in a mash of disorganized glob. Sure, I might understand the content and may pluck out ideas from my reading from out of my head, but I don’t conceive of the content in the structural manner typical of legal reasoning. All that I was focused on when reading legal material was to comprehend the piecemeal content, but I failed to make out that the respective content are the respective limbs that formed the larger framework of the area of law being studied.

I was quite easily stressed and anxiety-prone in my first year of law school. My difficulty with law studies did play a part, and for some reason, I found myself having a nervous disposition which I had not experienced before in my teenage days. Perhaps it might have been due to a minor car accident which I was involved in that triggered off an anxiety disorder. But for the most part, it was the high expectation that I placed on myself to succeed in law school. Such anxieties probably took a toll on me when I started experiencing a strange pressure-like sensation in my head after my first year of law school. I remember somewhat that it came during the time when I was doing my first internship, perhaps when I was visiting the subordinate court (as it was then called) with my supervising solicitor to represent a client for flouting money-lending regulations. I didn’t think it would be cause for too much concern at first, and that some rest would make it go away. But it became more concerning when it lasted more than a few days, and then for a week. And it was so severe on days as to be splitting. I hypothesized that it might be due to my wisdom teeth, which as I found out from visiting a dentist, had erupted quite pronouncedly; my lower wisdom teeth were growing horizontally and were nearly impacted. Apparently the army dentist I visited during my National Service term had failed to identify it. I asked for permission to end my internship one week early from schedule while I go and settle my wisdom teeth problem which I postulated was giving me the head pain.

However, even after removing my wisdom teeth, the pressure sensation in my head remained. I was then concerned with whether this might be an underlying tumor or aneurysm. As I reading about aneurysms one day in the school library, it unnerved me so greatly that I felt faint and breathless as I walked along the library corridor. My vision was darkening about me. I called for help and laid myself on the floor as I feared that I might be having a stroke from an aneurysm rupture which I had just read about. I was attended to by a librarian and a senior law student who was in the library, and I told them to call the ambulance. After a while, I recovered from the momentary state of weakness and felt much better, and the law school senior was of the opinion that we could just call off the ambulance as it was probably a non-serious fainting spell which he had seen quite often as a medic in the army, but the thought of it being an aneurysm rupture continued to play on my mind and I told him to allow the ambulance to come nonetheless.

I was taken to the hospital, and given several medical tests, including an MRI of the head. At the end of it all, the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong. The diagnosis was ‘idiopathic syncopation’, which is technical jargon for fainting from unknown cause.

Despite it being somewhat of a relief that I am not suffering from brain tumor, aneurysms, or anything of the like, the pressure sensation in my head remained, and was a source of major discomfort. It also made it difficult for me to study for what I already found challenging as a subject-matter. I did quite badly that semester for my exams. The tension headache, as the pressure sensation subsequently came to be diagnosed, persisted to the following semester. I was quite affected by this new and unfamiliar sensation which became extremely tight and painful at times. Indeed, it made it difficult for me to come up with something for a mid-term assignment because I found it so difficult to work under such an uncomfortable condition. That was the reason I decided to take a leave of absence. When I came back the semester after that, the tension headache was still troubling and was making it difficult for me to cope with work, and therefore I decided to take another leave of absence. I had to forfeit the entire term of tuition fees for both semesters because I applied for the leave of absences past the deadline for withdrawal. So for safe measure as I wasn't too sure whether I was well enough, I decided to take an additional leave of absence in the following semester, making it a total of 3 semesters, or one and a half years of leave of absence. During that time of leave of absence, I involved myself a little with political grassroot activities at my constituency, and came to school from time to time to sit in for lectures at school to determine whether I was well enough to resume school the next semester.

I think my tension headache improved somewhat after those leave of absence, even though they remained, even till this day. I am not as affected by it emotionally as when it first began, but it is still a source of discomfort which affects my ability to study well. There are days when it is so severe as to render me unable to do anything for the entire day. It also affects my motivation to study, even though I am someone who actually likes studying and learning about all sorts of things. I tried various medications, but to no avail. Some alternative therapy like gua sha from Traditional Chinese Medicine does help to alleviate the intensity of the headache, but not to a complete extent. I also try to practice stress management techniques like meditation since I am told that the cause of tension headache is due to stress.

I find myself at a crossroad in life after graduating from law school. For one, my dismal law school results make it difficult to get a legal training contract. For two, I am unsure whether pursuing a career in law would be the most sensible option for me given the possible high work demands of a legal career and my possible inaptitude at it. But I am not sure what else I could or should do for a living, and I am fearful that my tension headache might get in the way even in such other pursuits.

Throughout this stage in life, I have found myself wrangling with my religious beliefs and faith in God. Not that I didn’t struggle with my religious beliefs before such difficulties, but this has been quite a turmoil and crisis of faith for me in life. I pray to God for healing quite often, and have had Christian friends prayed over me. And it angst me greatly that these prayers do not afford me the healing that I want. I’ve got to admit that I find myself hating God a lot. Sometimes, I feel stupid that I might be hating a God that might very well not exist.

I am quite dissatisfied with way life has turned out for me thus far. It is a far cry from how I would have envisioned it when I first got a place to study law at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Indeed, I was very happy and thankful at obtaining a coveted place to study law at NUS, especially when I was rejected in my first application and only accepted the second time round the following year. Things seemed really hopeful for me back then, and the future seemed bright and optimistic. It’s a pity it has turned out the way it has, and I struggle to make sense of the significance of it all. Perhaps it is God's way of checking my pride or sense of security in my own capabilities. Perhaps I am reminded of the dissatisfactory nature of worldly existence and pursuits and to hope for, as according to Christian beliefs, in the more desirable state of the afterlife. But what is the point then of earthly existence if all that is to be desired is in the afterlife? I have been reading Pastor Timothy Keller’s book ‘Walking with God through Pain and Suffering’. I think it is a great book which ministers to the issue of personal pain and suffering quite well, and which I might blog about, if for any reason, as a form of personal spiritual therapy. 


James Pate said...

Congratulations on graduating from law school, Sam. It is an accomplishment, especially with all you've been through.

Samuel Tee said...

Thanks James. It has indeed been quite a challenge. I am hoping things would lighten up for me some day. I hope things haven't been too tough on you yourself.

Luisa said...

Hey there,i came across your blog from your post on aspergers. Firstly, congratulations for graduating! Law is never a easy subject. How about traveling abroad? May help you have a clearer mind...

Mei Zhen said...

Congratulation on your graduation!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Samuel.. Congratulations on your graduation. I had much anxiety as well during my school years, graduated with so so grades.. Only a few days ago I realize that I have an asperger.. Glad to see your post, and my many years after school have thought me that God provides to His children in wonderous ways, as the aspie characteristics had become a useful asset in my career.. Hope you will find your purpose, and do not loose faith in the Lord ;)

Samuel Tee said...

Thanks for your well wishes, Luisa and Mei Zhen

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