Passion >>> Interest

Today, we had the honor of pinning the first-year medical students during their white coat ceremony.  I can’t believe it’s been a year since I donned mine for the first time!  It’s heartwarming to be back.  I think there’s something to be said about absence making the heart grow fonder, because I truly feel like I have a family here at the med school.  Familiar faces, the excitement of the faculty, hearing all of my “brothers & sisters” recount things they did and learned this summer, recounting my own tales of stress and also self-discovery.  I’ve already sought insight from faculty about the comparisons and contrasts I was able to make this summer, and I’m so grateful for the time given (I didn’t know that he was also about to act as the honorary speaker for the ceremony, otherwise I would have stopped the discussion sooner!).

It’s weird to listen to the words that are coming out of my own mouth, to actually….feel so compelled to do something, to wake up and want to go do some specific task (although now it is delayed during the completion of the education required to get there).   Yes, there is still much time before any such decisions need to be made regarding specialties, there is yet time to taste the wide spectrum of possibilities that medicine has to offer.  Nonetheless, I have found at least ONE thing that I could clearly see myself doing on a daily basis – in fact, I feel like I can’t go there frequently enough, during the semester when we have SO many responsibilities on our plates again; and I was only able to squeeze in a handful of visits to the office, with most of them being either before or after my research position was complete.  People actually get to do that everyday.

I thought for sure I would have my “aha” moment in a lab somewhere, studying a treatment, killing more cancer cells….granted, I thought it was amazing that I was able to do experiments like that this summer, and perhaps not enough of that type of experiment; however, when there’s a compulsion, this type of inner passion that is erupting unintentionally from the very core of who you are, something that makes you feel like all of the skills you’ve obtained up to that point in your life will help you to intrinsically do that job incredibly well once “let loose”…it’s an incredible and also scary thing.  Mostly incredible.  Well, I’m still sort of dumbfounded because I have some decisions to make.  So. Many. Years.  For so long, I’ve known how to put my head down, work, eat, sleep, repeat, moving towards some sort of fulfillment that might hopefully come from the hard work and dedication; yet, I kept wondering if I’d just sort of float along feeling like “I guess I’ll do this since this is what I’ve worked for, and it’s interesting…”

(enter the sound of a record being rewound)

But wait.  Hold up.  Hold the f— up.  There is an E.M. Forster quote that strikes a chord with me, particularly since I’ve had my world turned upside down by this specific field of medicine. “One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested.”  I get it.   I think I finally do.  And yes, it’s a different kind of passion than being in the heat of the moment.

Someone shared with me today that, at some point, I have to start closing doors.  That’s my next step.  But yeah, I mean, once you find something that so viscerally connects with who you are and the set of skills that you have…and something about which you are PASSIONATE…GO WITH IT.  Don’t overthink it (please, seriously? Do you KNOW who you’re talking to?).  Don’t overthink it.  You can’t logic your way out of passion.  You can’t make yourself stop feeling something.  You must acknowledge it, respect it, and decide what to do.  You can logic your way into something interesting, true.  But to try to “reason” your way OUT of passion is a type of intellectual and perhaps even spiritual death.

Summer Days, Now a Daze

I’m trying to understand what happened.

 

I’m so excited for tomorrow morning.

 

What do you do when you have your “Aha” moment….and it’s so….sooo far in the opposite direction from what you envisioned and worked towards for years prior?  I have had a mission.  It makes sense.  I have the work ethic to do it….I made it here.  I made it through so much other sh** that I shouldn’t have even made it this far (but I did, b****es, I did).

I have a friend who…Scratch that, I have 2 friends that come to mind, who are doing what they love.  One works with dolphins; the other is a neuroscientist.  I wondered if I would ever have that sense of finding “it” – that thing that truly invigorates me, that lights me up, that comes *seemingly* effortlessly.  I wasn’t looking for it, though, because I thought that I was already on track and that if I just kept plugging along, working hard, putting my head down and trucking through, that “it” would come.

Well, I’ve been blind-sided, my friends.  Earlier this year I volunteered with a group that helps high school kids get involved in science.  There was a forensics day, which sounded interesting, so I spent a couple of hours and really enjoyed watching their thought processes as they worked through some fake crime scenes.   Later on, I figured I would tag along at a medical examiner’s office, just to explore a little, check something off my list, and move on as I immersed myself in my (very intense) summer research.  Except that as soon as I checked it off my list, it grabbed me from my inner…being…(there’s a word, and I can’t place it) and drove me forward.  I’m having such an internal battle.  Is it just the novelty of the experience?  Is it just that it has been an escape from a lab that didn’t suit me well and had my hair falling out as a result?  Is it that I currently hold no true responsibility in that office at this point?  What is this feeling?  The excitement, the passion, the intrigue, the amazement, the drive for another case, and another, the sense that this is such a deep fountain of things unknown from which one can learn so much and have such a dramatic effect (ie. As an expert witness), the mystery of the unknown with the excavation of each unique scenario, the wonder that the human body can so loquaciously betray a story that was perhaps meant to remain covert…

 

Perhaps I should address more of these questions again tomorrow, after another morning of exploration.

Still, what do I do? I cannot deny the dichotomous experiences and their effects on me physiologically, intellectually, emotionally even.  None of this is anywhere near what I would have expected; yet, when I think about it, things make sense when I consider my previous experiences, prior career.  But then again I worked for so many years, working up to this point, struggling to get to where I am.

I cannot deny the sense of….freedom, of the ability to breathe, which I have obtained so ironically from those who have ceased to respire.  It’s like, I know exactly what to do with it, yet I am dumbfounded because it completely derails my plan.  The Sacred Plan.  As if I could actually prepare myself for all of the new things I would learn and experience here….

 

First year, first tropical hurricane, first patient

Well, since the last time I wrote here I’ve had some adventure:  I moved to another state (with an amazing night passed in NOLA en route), I evacuated for a rather anti-climactic hurricane (at least for us fortunate ones in South Florida), had my fair share of anxiety regarding this sprinkling of recurrent exams in my first semester of med school, and moved to a different abode two weeks before finals.  After that point, I enjoyed 3 full weeks off – my first true break in 3 years.  It was glorious…Christmas Eve was my favorite part! (My main girl’s got it goin’ on)

…And then this semester started.  Full of its own stress-inducing antics, I’ll just say that I’m grateful for yet another quick Spring break (Wow!  I know, seriously, another break!).

One thing which came to an end during this last block of Neuro was our interaction with our first true patients.  I’m not ready for it to be over.  I want to go back, to keep exploring, to make sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that I gave him what he wanted.   To those who have not been through the experience of gross anatomy dissections, perhaps this may on the surface seem morbid or destructive – appalling, even.  But donating his body to science was specifically what he wanted.  He wanted us to learn.  He wanted us to suck as much knowledge out of him as we possibly could.  I’m also of the opinion that he wanted to get a good laugh when we discovered the rods in his back and the bridge in his mouth.  Did he get a kick out of knowing that those things would take us by surprise?

(The portion below inadvertently turned into a second-person interaction.)

Teach us, Sir, you did indeed.  And yet I’m still left with so many questions.  Who were you, really?  Your hands were so strong.  Your back likely carried its fair share of weight in your lifetime.  Your heart was an incredible thing to see.  I didn’t want to ruin it, so I just kept trying to carefully dissect out the surrounding vessels.

You taught me that there is no shame in aggressive exploration, given that it’s performed in a respectful manner.  When we first met, I was hesitant (typical, for me).  However, I wanted to get comfortable with this process, and the way that I did that was to spend the extra time in the very beginning fumbling with scalpel and forceps (if I even had the presence of mind to use forceps at the time), digging in when it felt most uncomfortable and unnatural.  Then something happened – maybe we “bonded”?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that what you wanted for us became the primary motivating factor for my week.  I yearned for the tangibility of discovery.  Too many other facts about genetics, microbiology, immunology, and pharmacology were inundating my mind – yet in the tangibility of your flexor hallucis longus I found solace (yes, it’s ok to laugh at that – good ole Tom, Dick and Harry).

You taught me a little bit more about how to deal with death – or rather, how I evade dealing with death.  You taught me that there’s not much difference between the two of us, because whenever I breathe my last breath I will be in the exact same state in which I first met you.  Death:  the great equalizer.  I’m not ready for it, but I assume you were…weren’t you?  If you were, how did you prepare?  How did you get to the point where you were OK with it?  How do I get to the point where I’m finally at peace with all that I’ve done with my life, ready to let go?  Maybe you fought it at first.  Maybe you’re a fighter, like me.  Maybe you struggled with it to the point of exhaustion.  Maybe once you exhausted yourself in that wrestling match the peace overcame you…?  I wish I could understand.

Thank you for your generosity.  I wish I had just a little more time for some lessons from you, to allow that kind of discovery to continue.

—————————————————-

We had a meeting in preparation for a ceremony that we are going to hold in honor of our donors.  When we began to talk about how to handle the possible spectrum of emotions from family members, suddenly my memories took me to a place I had not revisited in quite some time.  How should we comfort those family members?

The image burning in my mind during this brief discussion was when Amanda was preparing for her wedding, which turned out to be a month before what everyone in the room knew was inevitable.  Her hair had grown back in a pattern of soft curls which was a change from her previously wavy but relatively straight beautiful hair.  She wrapped her arms around my neck for one of the last times, unloading a burden which perhaps she did not wish to express to her own soon-to-be-heartbroken mother.  “I’m so scared.”

I had no words.  She was so young.  The rest of that month and into the next consisted of the nauseating tension, the dread, of the next phone call which I would receive from her mother.  “Tears stream down your face, when you lose something you cannot replace…”

I don’t feel like continuing the rest of those thoughts.   But I think I am a bit apprehensive about the reopening of the wound, once I’m surrounded by grieving family members.  I need to be strong for them and don’t wish to lose face.  I’m grateful for what our donor offered to us, and I can confidently say that I took full advantage of what he wanted us to receive from it.  His generosity makes it possible for me to move forward as I learn to interact with many more patients and hopefully, learn how to offer even better care than was available to him throughout most of his time.

Rebuilding from the Ashes

I’ve been thinking a lot about just how to follow up with my previous post (here).  I’m not quite sure I can do justice to explaining the process of healing.  However, I can at least start to bring my perspective and experiences to light.

In the previous post I asked many questions, which erupted from a hauntingly dark and painful place – to the extent that I chose to write in that moment of pain rather than succumb to the circuitous thinking that was quickly spiraling downward.  Here, I’d like to explicate a few things that have helped me to deal with a very intense struggle and to begin the rebuilding process:  forgiveness, identification of emotions, release through music, and restoration through writing.

I mentioned forgiveness, and for me, this element has been crucial in overcoming and moving forward.  When I am faced with a full day or few days of raging internal thoughts, I am continually (by the grace of God, I believe) brought back to the determination to extend grace.  The defiance of refusing to become bitter, though it may mean releasing acidic tears on a now less frequent daily basis.  I recognize that in order to be the person I want to be, as well as to avoid becoming my own arch nemesis, I must persistently forgive…I must ask nothing, expect nothing, wait for nothing from the person who inflicted the deepest wound.  Communication may be broken, cut off even.  However, I must truly absolve him from my own…hopes of what could have been, what the world might say he owes me, or what restitution they think I must seek.  I must forgive myself and also recognize the part that I played (thanks, Andy).  Ultimately, this ring of exculpation brings freedom for ME.  I can only control my own responses.

However, in addition to this forgiveness I think it is vital to allow myself to actually feel the pain and to identify why it is looming again.  I feel the darkness creeping in.  I am so much stronger now than when everything exploded (and it actually sort of fell apart more than once after multiple attempts to forgive and rebuild, then I read the book ‘Boundaries’ and discovered that I really had to set hard limits due to a lack of trustworthiness…things they don’t teach you in college, huh?).  But despite the strength that I have gained, there are indeed days when the ominous recollections of that abysmal time still seek to destroy me. Yet, something triggered all of those memories, and to deny that they are there feels like minimizing what I know is really happening.  It is yet another layer of sutures that must heal.  And so, while I may not be able to deal with the encroaching emotional and mental struggle as I sit at my cubicle, I know that once I’m done at my “9-5” (a poor and horridly inaccurate term for a research job), my work of investigating this next layer of mending will begin.  I must confront, rather than hide from, my broken state.  “Can’t let memories become the death of me,” in the words from one Alessia Cara song.

Speaking of which, music has been – Ah!  Let me get my Pandora going again!  As I was saying, music has been my primary cathartic tool and I will ever be grateful for the encouraging and Spirit-filled words of my main girl.  It allows me to share my deepest hurts with the Only One who truly understands the depth of the damage and pain and provides a segue into a more prayerful solemnity.  Music gives my mind an outlet when my tumultuous thoughts relapse to all of the lies and actually start to believe them again.  It allows me to connect with that next layer that was mentioned above.  It reminds me that I’m not the only one who has experienced some level of this heartbreak, betrayal, abandonment…Recovery. Strength. Refinement. Rebuilding.

Maintaining some semblance of a personal journal has also been imperative for my own process of restoration.  When my thoughts become so loud that focusing on anything else becomes impossible, or if I need to clear my heart of a strong negative emotion, writing it down, getting it out in a place where I can actually see what I am feeling, brings my experience to a level of tangibility quite different from the world of cathartic music.  I can see the dark places that I need to change, I can see the bitterness that I must allow Him to take again.  I can see the thread of love despite the pain.  I can see the humiliation that comes with mass betrayal.  And then I can see…breakthrough.  I realize that I must stay true to my own standard of integrity despite the perfidy.  I am once again reminded that I deserve more than that, and also that his/their behavior is a reflection of them, not of me though I must also take responsibility for the large part that I played in that travesty.

My hope is that if there is someone struggling to find tangible ways of dealing with a past that nips at your heels, perhaps here you may gain at least some insight as to where to begin sorting the chaos.  The concepts of forgiveness, emotional presence, release through music, and breakthrough via written word are just a few suggestions to get started.  Many blessings and health to you.

 

 

Experiment #1 with Vulnerable Questions

Truth.  Love.

What happens when they lose?  What happens when the logic that your brain automatically tries to apply to a situation simply…fails, because the lies have so tragically and irrationally won?

What happens when only those closest to you know the truth, and another very different story, with you as the primary “fool”, is known to the public?

How do you regain your sanity, when the vitality of the lies  make you question the reality of what actually happened?

How do you….prevent relapses?  How do you banish it from your mind forever so that the dark taint vaporizes?

I have forgiven.  I sometimes have to forgive daily.  I refuse to become bitter.  Yet, aside from forgiveness, it seems it truly is the memories, laying dormant just underneath the surface of my consciousness, which constantly threaten to overturn this homeostasis secondary to the healing process.

Something mundane – a song, a landmark, a certain time of year with the weather just right – sparks a memory that brings it all flooding back to me in overwhelming fashion.  My memory here works against me, and with the visual reminder I am instantaneously brought back to a torrent of haunting emotions.  Humiliation.  That’s the big one – I would argue worse than the rejection because I know that the rejection comes from fear.  But also the nagging…persistent…grating….WHY?

Why did the lies seem to win?  Why was the love that was very thick and tangible, traded for something else so destructive, manipulative, unhealthy and superficial?

Yes, I know I know…”Oh, well that wasn’t really love.”  Or…”just do something else, keep yourself busy and don’t think about it” (because that works for the millions of work-aholics in our country already…great, thanks I’ll just join the ranks of people who deaden their emotions with work).  Or even, “Well, you just have to trust God” (thanks, I strive to do that daily but these emotions are really strong and I don’t think they dictate whether or not I’m trusting the Deity whom I follow).  “Look ahead, keep moving forward, see all you have to look forward to and all you’ve accomplished.”  OK, but what about the days which, while further between now, still bring everything back in a flash, catching me off guard even?

(To be continued…)

Avocados and Upheaval

Transition, even when moving towards something new and exciting, brings challenges along the way.  And many of those hindrances, I am finding, are mental and emotional.

As I think about uprooting and establishing a new life, there exists the irony of something so daunting in the midst of known or fairly certain great opportunity.  I am sensing a deep excitement about what lies ahead, and simultaneously, a daunting emotion that comes with being overwhelmed with a multitude of comparatively small tasks required to grab the next monkey bar, so to speak.  And in order to grab the next bar, I must let go of the one behind.

In the midst of this changeover, I find myself thinking about everything all at once – past, present, future all in one pot.  There are the bittersweet memories of a soul mate turned oppressor.  There is pride for the things I have overcome in this process to get where I’m headed.  I also think about the friends I’ve met along the way who will, if I have anything to do with it, remain part of my life as I move forward (and I will remain a Spurs fan, in the territory of Miami Heat  – “Race for Seis” to continue in 2017!).

Besides all of these things, I also consider the doubts I have about what lies before me.  I’ve come this close.  I am at the edge, about to jump.  Should I do a 180 and bail?  I know the lifestyle of a medical scientist is not easy.  What if I just turned around, now that I know I made the cut at least, and pursued a family, with a perhaps much more mundane job.  But then I think about how far I’ve come and all the years of hard work I have put in.  I think about experiencing one of the deepest heartaches of my life that also happened to encompass core elements of my desired future in academics…and then dragging myself out of bed for the next two years until life seemed more normal again, less of a fog.  I think about how God has taken me this far, in preparation for this opportunity which two years ago I considered to be out of my reach and but a dream.  If He got me this far, surely He will see the rest of the way.  In the words of Lauren Daigle, “God’s not a God of risks. He just says, ‘Trust me,’ because He has it all under control” (article here, and might I also strongly suggest Lauren’s YouTube channel).

This concept of trust versus risk has a few implications, as my choice to further my education in Florida was not the “logical” choice of those that presented themselves particularly as I reviewed the financial pros and cons of each offer.  Yet Florida was where I sensed peace.  The turmoil I experienced at my other option precluded my ability to further consider it, though it was/is a wonderful program with great people as well, and despite the fact that its monetary benefits trumped the offer that I ended up taking.  Regardless of how many people I spoke with for advice or how many prayers for wisdom, I did not, in fact, receive a lightning bolt from the sky indicating what decision was best.  So I had to go where I felt at peace.  And I am confident in this decision, despite its seeming contrast to what most would consider financially optimal.  Just ask my mom.

OK, so what about avocados?

After a day of internal struggles – yes, ALL day, and in the mind of a woman that is literally ALL day with NO “nothing” space for my thoughts, I ended with a phenomenal workout which is my Tuesday night BodyPump class.  I had an avocado ready to go with my post-workout meal and this part concerned me, as I find avocados particularly difficult to choose at the grocery store.  Come to find out, the moment of truth had proven that it was indeed a properly ripe avocado – and still good after 2 days!  I had a happy “adulting” moment, which I shared with a friend who also unbeknownst to me was having a rough day.  At this point, I realized that some days in this defiant life that I strive to live, I must cling to the little things, the simple successes, in order to maintain a certain element of positive self-worth.  And so with the excessive endorphins from a great workout along with the beauty of finding joy in something simple, my day ended well despite the turmoil inside.

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Photo Credit:  Huffington Post; Will Merydith Flickr

“F— you, Mars.”

When Mark Watney is thought dead and abandoned by his crewmates, he regains consciousness with the realization that he has narrowly escaped death after his protective suit has been punctured, leaving his oxygen levels gravely low.  He makes his way back to main camp at the Mars station and realizes his precarious situation – as well as his profound isolation.  His initial emotional response is that death is imminently encroaching.  There is no escape.

But after removing a foreign body from his abdominal area and regaining strength with a meal, his perspective changes:  “F— you, Mars.”  Rather than accept death and defeat, he determines to “science the sh– out of” his opportunity to attempt survival.  He records his thought process and his daily activities for those who might come behind him and find his files.  He determines the remaining number of meals that he must now ration strictly.  He even makes a greenhouse and reignites his passion and genius for botany.

My military experience enabled me to poignantly understand Watney’s verbal response to the situation, in this movie filmed after the Andy Weir novel “The Martian.”  At times, when faced with a grave situation (life or death, physical or emotional trauma, or some other traumatic experience), having a simple positive outlook may not be enough.  The situation described above illustrates to me the grit and sass required to look death or failure in the face and to, defiantly, refuse to accept it.  Sometimes survival or success after a profound personal failure, requires us to look rather rebelliously at a situation and say, “No.  I do not accept failure.  I do not accept ____.  F— Continue reading

Why I Started This Blog

This is my (second) first blog post, anywhere, officially.  I am trying a couple of different venues.  I was inspired by an organization called Live Your Legend (LYL) to start a blog, but decided my budget called for a free blog site rather than what was recommended.  If you knew my past 3 years, you’d understand my hesitancy to part with aliquots of my income that need to go towards moving expenses.

So, I wanted something with a “defiant” theme because I consider myself to have defied many odds.  I grew up in a single-parent home, where I moved frequently, and I lived in a small city where local politics and the business of others spread rapidly.  I wanted out, so I went to Chicago for college, after graduating at the top of my high school class.  Perhaps Chicago was a bit far for a start, so I ended up returning home (anti-climactic) after graduating with my B.A. in 3 years.  Two years later I simply couldn’t stick around and was, if anything, losing momentum, so I joined the military.  Within six months of training, I decided that I would pursue med school as soon as I got out – which was a long time.  But after one long deployment and a reprogramming of my brain for Mandarin Chinese, I did what I had determined to do.

I am currently preparing for a move to Florida (yay! Sunshine State!) to begin a MD/PhD program and I’m super excited!  And also a bit stressed!  This time of transition has prompted much introspection (as if I don’t already do too much of that), and as a result, this desire to try out a blog as an outlet to continue this journey of self-discovery nagged me to this point.  So, I’m no longer a virgin to the blog world!  And I hope to encourage others along a path of…defiance.  Defiance against the crap that life throws at you, not just to survive, but to thrive.  To live a meaningful life of following your passion, whatever that may resemble.  This is just one of many previous steps in finding that out for myself!  Bon voyage!  Buen viaje!