Thoughts on Moving: Changing the Narrative

It’s the final week before my life moves across a continent and I feel woefully unprepared.

Packing: I have barely started. I always think I don’t have that much stuff I want to keep but then it always ends up being more than I planned for. But now I am leaving a day later than originally planned so that gives me a bit more wiggle room. Praise.

Pre-rotation readings: I have re-done my reading schedule three times but am still super behind. Maybe I just need to give myself a “cram” day. Oh crap. I can’t be getting behind already. School hasn’t even started! Ugh. Help.

Pre-orientation forms: I also need to dedicate a good chunk of time to figuring out these things and making sure I’ve printed everything out that I need to.

Post-moving adulting things: managing the driver’s license transfer; making sure I have gas, water, electricity, and internet; setting up a local bank account.

There are also so many notebooks and papers on my small desk right now that I can’t even find the thoughts I put down when I was going through an earlier phase of moving-anxiety. Help help help. And I am in need of a shower and a regular sleep schedule.

Well, I have spent too much time going through this same narrative of “I’m hopelessly behind on this schedule I have set for myself and I will never amount to anything because I always procrastinate and do things at the last minute even though I want to change what is wrong with me.” ~It’s not too late for us to make a change (from the eponymous song by ONE OK ROCK).

As part of this, I’m going to apply the wisdom gleaned from one of my favorite Ask Polly responses (seriously, several of those articles felt like they were going to the heart of all of my insecurities):

Q: “Why am I so lazy?”
A: ” I do want you to notice how deeply and profoundly you’ve made messiness and procrastination part of your identity…But do you see how conflicted you are about these habits, even though you choose to view them as part of your core identity?…As long as you’re deeply conflicted about your choices and the ways you’ve chosen to identify yourself, you have a problem.”

In order to rectify this problem, Polly recommends doing some hard work to unpack the stories we’ve been telling ourselves based on the feedback we have gotten from the outside world and dig deep in order to find what we actually want, instead of what we think we want.

You aren’t lazy. Lose that one first. You’re afraid. You’re afraid of investing your full self in anything, only to be disappointed. You’re afraid to show your heart. You’re afraid of trying to change your habits only to disappoint yourself.

This is so TRUUUUUUUEE. Is this what therapy feels like? This is amazing I must have more of it until I have solved all of my insecurities. But back to the task at hand. Unpacking.

I am, and have always been, afraid of appearing vulnerable and authentic. I find myself holding back my excited feelings about many things, especially if I’m in the presence (online or IRL!) of others who don’t love something as much as I do. I never wanted to be the one person who *cared* the most about a particular TV show, project, or band in a group of people. If there was someone else who shared my enthusiasm, that would have been fine, since we could team up against the others who clearly hadn’t experienced the life-changing magic of <insert piece of media>. But if it was just me? Pffft, I am slapping on my “cool” face and straightjacketing my emotions faster than you can say “cool story, br–” (credit to Brené Brown for that metaphor about coolness). Heck, I doubt even my closest friends actually know what my favorite band is. It’s because their music is too close to my heart, to my soul, to my broken insecure self for anyone else to see.

Where does procrastination fit in with this? Sometimes I’m afraid I won’t been seen as being interested enough. This will be especially dangerous in medical school. The comparison game is real and mental health-threatening, and if I don’t have a strong self-concept there’s going to be lots of anxiety and fear and nervousness and potentially bad outcomes. What if I’m not spending enough hours per day thinking about medical concepts? Or my research? Does that make me lesser? I am working less hard than so-and-so, does that mean I will never amount to anything in my career? Why should I care? We are all going to be dead in a few decades anyway. <enters nihilistic slump>

Notice how that preceding paragraph was mainly fueled by my perceptions of how others would interpret my level of work, no matter what it was. There is always going to be someone working longer hours than me. Someone more efficient at studying than me. Someone for whom pathways and computational concepts and whatnot will come seemingly easier than me. But I don’t know what other people’s backgrounds are. And it’s useless to use what I see on the outermost surface to judge my own work against theirs.

So what I do I really want? What kind of person do I really want to be? Here’s what life could look like after I start figuring some of this stuff out:

I used to believe that I was a slacker. I thought it was efficient and cool to always do the bare minimum. I saw people who worked really hard and kept a consistent schedule and showered regularly as extremely uncool and rigid. I was cooler than that! I was impulsive and awesome! All of these assessments were about as sophisticated as a squirrel’s guess that the moon is on white-hot fire. And now here I am, writing this column two weeks in advance while I walk four miles on my treadmill desk. I got out of bed and did this, on vacation, because I know that I love to keep a schedule that starts with writing and walking, every goddamn day, even when I don’t have to, even when no one minds if I sleep late. THIS IS WHAT MAKES ME HAPPY. But it took a lot of questioning and experimenting and breaking through some deep shame to figure that out.

Preach it, Polly! But I still haven’t answered my own question? What makes me happy? The crux of the actionable steps suggested by Polly are really: try new things and pay attention to how it makes you feel.

Well, I know one thing that makes me really happy, even though I hate doing it: waking up early. I’ve been battling the old voices in my mind that tell me I’m a staunch night owl, that early birds are some weird type of human that I could never hope to emulate, that I even had a late wake schedule as a child and thus I am doomed for early waking, etc. etc.

But let’s try it out. People change over time. Ignore those nasty voices for a while. I can always come back to them later.

Things that are making me happy

I should also include this as a regular segment in order to remind myself that my negative interpretation of the world is not the only one that exists.

Because I’ve got moving on the mind, today’s thing is figure skater Jason Brown’s latest video. (I still don’t know how to embed videos) It makes my heart absolutely sing with joy when I see other prominent figures (heh…hee…) having similar life milestones as me and while I may not be moving to a different country, my distance travelled by car will be similar. And another one trains with Orser! Hahaha the #TCCEMPIRE is real. My fave skaters are all going to be Team Orser this next season squee!! This is the only national alliance I care about. On a tangent, it was really weird to watch the Pyeongchang Olympics through NBC for the figure skating portions since I care about so many non-US skaters but of course publicly available NBC will only focus on the US ones…but back to packing!

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Hello, internet!

I don’t normally enjoy writing introductory posts because it’s another thing that’s getting in the way of the Actual Content. So I am going to try something different. Because the nature of this blog is that it will change over time, I am going to re-introduce it every year or so. Because what this blog is now may not what it is in three years’ time. If it even lasts for that long. The important thing is to allow for enough flexibility for me to both A) not get bored and B) make it easy to write things here.

Why am I writing this for the entire internet to see? There are some things that are just better shared online. I also spend way too much time on the internet, but now I would like to have something to show for it.

Eternal Worry of the Ruminating Mind [Intern by Sandeep Jauhar, review]

Full disclosure: I’m a third-year undergrad student on the medical school “track,” so to speak. I’m not here to tell you whether or not this book is worth reading, I’m just sharing what it’s meant to me. All opinions, cynicisms, and poorly-written witticisms are my own, and are not reflective of my future med school application in any way. Not that anyone from the AAMC is reading this. I hope. Also no one is paying me to do this.

One sentence summary: Dr. Sandeep Jauhar, MD describes his life and times during his internal medicine internship, from troubled beginnings to wizened cardiology fellow. 

The main thought bouncing around in my the head the whole time I was reading this was Oh thank goodness there are other people who feel shaky about the whole medicine thing. My personal ambivalence came out of realizing that being a clinician meant a full day of fleeting personal interactions that you then have to write up in medicinese while also keeping track of diseases and treatment progressions. It sounded exhausting to me, a hardcore introvert who treats every personal interaction like a crummy day job–necessary to pay the bills but let’s get it over with quick. But thank goodness that medicine has room for all personality types! (Please keep that in mind admissions committees and don’t penalize me for being interested in pathology.) Sorry, tangent.

Dr. Jauhar’s medicine origin story is in some ways pretty common.  A former girlfriend had lupus, a disease in which the immune system unfortunately has friendly fire on, and he felt his physics PhD wasn’t going to do anything to help her or humanity in general. I would’ve liked some more details about his application process, but that’s only because it’s the next step in my pre-medicine journey and I’m friggin’ terrified. ANYWAY

So he’s in med school, and when the time comes to choose which residency to apply to, he picks internal medicine ultimately because of what drove him to medicine in the first place–being able to tangibly help people.

But here is where the going gets tricky, and his dedication to his newly-chosen profession is tested. While I’m more attracted to pathology than internal medicine, there were still parts (quoted below) that resonated with how I’m feeling right now, as a shaky pre-application premed.

“My mind is sluggish; I cannot focus…I feel like a marble rolling around in a bowl: back and forth, speeding up as it gets to the bottom, desperately trying to avoid what will happen if I stop.” (161)

Dr. Jauhar’s talking about his break from internship due to his neck injury, but I feel like this in the summer between school years sometimes. Unmotivated, avoiding thinking about my larger goals even though summer is a great time to think about them without the stress of the academic year. It’s as if I’m afraid to think about them too deeply because I’m awash in the blissfully ignorant relaxation that my previous, pre-college summers were steeped in. But it feels like I’m on a speeding train headed for a cliff, and if I don’t turn it around or stop it now, disaster will strike. So a very anxious type of relaxation, perfected by my years of procrastination.

“First you wanted to do physics; you said that medicine was for mediocres…I said, ‘Okay, he wants to be a physicist.’ But you said you wanted to do medicine. I didn’t tell you to do it. But I told you, ‘If you do it, you have to stick with it.'” (the author’s father, 165-6)

“You have to learn to focus,” my father said sadly, getting up to end the conversation. “Then and then only are you going to get somewhere…You cannot always do what you like, but you must like what you do.” (167)

The way his father lists out his life choices and all their crazy twists and turns seems like something my parents have done in the past (especially my mother, about my wanting to take a gap year among with other things). But I do agree with his father’s statement that “You can train your mind to find passion,” which is very Cal Newport-esque. Side note: I did feel that there was a bit of overemphasis on passion in Jauhar’s narrative, but as a side product of today’s passion-obsessed American society, who can really blame him?

Another point of similarity: I’m also very reflective, and like to take longs periods of time to think excessively about big important things like What Do I Want To Do With My Life. So this following quote also hit pretty close to home:

“I was flailing in a quagmire of my own making, and yet the quagmire was the only place I could imagine being. The constant cogitation was exhausting and seemingly preordained…perhaps the way my life had unfolded depended on who I really was, deep inside, not the part that could be changed or molded or beaten out like a pellet of ore.” (170)

I struggle a lot with imposter syndrome and maintaining a Growth Mindset (TM), but in the words of Lindsey Stirling, if I’m not enough without fancy achievements, I’ll never feel enough even if I get those “objective” measures of success. And David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon commencement speech (which has probably been over-quoted to death but bear with me here), the part about worshiping things, is also relevant here. If you worship intellect, you’ll never feel smart enough. I try not to, but sometimes I do find myself thinking that way.

At the end of the book, part of me was slightly disappointed to find out that his disillusionment cleared after the first year, or at least he was blatantly admitting that he had in some ways become the type of doctor he’d complained about earlier in his experience. But part of me was also glad to hear that the grueling insecurities during intern year are survivable, even though I’m lightyears away from any kind of residency.

Here are some bonus quotes for the light at the end of the internship tunnel:

“Another reminder, perhaps, that medicine is a field of specialties. Some doctors are better at treating certain diseases; some at treating certain patients.” (200)–The humanity within even the most beauraucratic and systematized endeavours will never cease to amaze me.

“Frankly, what surprises me now are the rare doctors who treat the drug-abusing homeless person with the same care as the Madison Avenue socialite. They are the kind of doctors who seem untouched by bias, or at least recognize their biases and fight to disentangle them from medical decisions.”(216)–This is the kind of person in general that I want to be, especially since starting college and getting to know really awesome people who I would’ve totally surface-judged during my high school years.

“As a doctor, how you talked to your patients, guided them, advocated for them, was up to you. That was how your personality could be expressed.”(267-8)–See above comment about humanity.

Overall, it sounds like the internship did what it was supposed to do: engender a dedication to the profession through an uber-intense initiation. You want to make sure all that effort was for something worthwhile, right? I could bring up arguments about hazing, but really, what do I know? This is a personal book review, not an article on the merits and drawbacks of the medical education system as it stands. I suppose we’ll have to dive into the sequel if we want to learn how his disillusionment has adjusted post-residency!

Works Cited (cause why not)

Jauhar, Sandeep. Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. Print.