The Balloon

By Jasmine Elliott

Auricle Annual Writing Competition 2018: Pre-clinical Runner-up

‘Toughen up,’ ordered the grade 6 teacher at the student upset with their C in a history assignment they had spent hours on.

‘Just let it go, who cares?’ laughed a friend when the year 9 student came to them, frustrated with the bullying that permeated their friendship group.

‘You’ll never be a good doctor if you care so much about everything,’ shared the doctor who had spent the prior twenty minutes lecturing the year 12 student about how they didn’t suit the medical profession.  

‘The people who don’t care as much always do better,’ reflected a friend after the year 12 student told them about yet another application that fell through.

‘Maybe you should take a leaf from their books.’

And so I did. I took their leaves and transplanted them into my metaphorical tree. I began to shift my perspective; from valuing the act of caring, to seeing sensitivity as a flaw, something that had and would continue to hold me back. I would still care… a little. I would distance myself; close enough that I would do well, but detached enough that when things inevitably fell apart, I could immediately bounce back and keep looking forward. I would no longer be seen as weak and malleable, but strong and steady.

Sweaty palms and shaky knees transformed from fear to fuel. A composed face and rehearsed smile would surpass any expression of weakness. Tears were a waste of hydration and hope always meant there was further to fall. Rejection would no longer shatter me into a million pieces, but barely leave a mark.

All of this fell into place for a perfect millisecond. I was stoic, composed and immoveable.

But I was denying myself.

Is this what success looked like? A chain of hidden vulnerability. A pursuit of insensitivity. A journey to diminished feeling. An escape of emotional investment.

As Hannah Gadsby reflects in Nanette, ‘Why is insensitivity to strive for? Why is sensitivity a particularly bad thing?’  Yes, big dreams and self-investment may have made me more prone to falling, but also had the potential to build me up. Yes, helping others sometimes meant I didn’t help myself, but in another sense helping others does help me. It’s a source of growth, of personal fulfilment and an integral part of my identity.

My caring too much had proven to be a problem, but not caring couldn’t be the solution; it’s not a choice, but something I had to compromise with. Doing well could no longer be analogous with my supply of oxygen, but I still needed to inhale hope and exhale hard work to survive.

My caring too much, my sensitivity, are part of who I am. My ambition may fling me into the depths of failure, but it’s also my propellant into the heights of fulfilment. As soon as I tried to skirt around the feelings of loss, disappointment and sadness, the other end of the spectrum became fractured.  

My caring too much, my vulnerability, makes me human, and this humanity isn’t a weakness but an asset. It’s the seed from which passion and dedication grows. It’s what makes both failure and success real. It drives me to do what I do, to study medicine and work to create change – we just have to make sure our hands are firmly gripping the steering wheel.

Everyone made the act of caring so binary; you care, or you don’t. I thought that sensitivity was either intrinsically good, or intrinsically bad.

This is the advice I received.

It’s become so clear that caring is not an on/off switch, but a dial in our machinery, one that we learn to control with time. An inflated balloon may burst at the touch of a needle, but without air it will never rise.

This is the advice I wish I had taken.

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