We’ve been on a road of neurons and the connections their axons make. A road filled with the cranial nerves, stroke consequences, brain tumors, and psychiatric disorders.
A rhythmic pulse of a beating heart.
A rise and fall of expanding lungs.
Tears of joy, ecstasy, sorrow.
A decision to choose. To say yes or no.
These are all things brain. The axons are highways and side roads that traverse through our bodies. They cross in predictable places and they carry predictable information. They are critically important, yet fragile all the same. Learning the mystery of the brain has been both rich and exhausting, and if you’ll have me, then I’d like to tell you a story.
It starts with a man and is a story of resilience in the face of hopelessness.
Resilience is the ability to spring back, to adapt to change, to grow out of the dust of defeat and to keep going when everything else around you is yelling for you to get down.
This man came to us as part of our psychiatry course. This is how it works:
- The school puts out a call for volunteers to be interviewed by students.
- A volunteer shows up on the prescribed day and enters a room full of 8 medical students and two facilitators, 1 psychiatrist, and 1 psychologist.
- The volunteer is asked questions about their experiences with Depression, Anxiety, Psychosis, Autism Spectrum Disorder, PTSD, Substance Use to name a few examples.
- After the volunteer leaves, we discuss their stories as a group with our facilitators.
This man, he entered the room, carrying a cup of coffee and wearing a hat with the words “Resist”. His wide eyes sagged like he hadn’t been sleeping well and he told us a story of assault, depression, and anxiety. This story had twists and turns, frustrations and sorrow. He told us that he attempted suicide, twice. Sleeping two hours a night gave him the dark circles under his eyes and panic grabs hold when he thinks about what his life will be like when his loved ones are gone.
As I listened to him share his story I felt sadness and despair. I thought to myself that this man knows what it’s like to be pushed down and told not to get back up.
When I asked him, “What motivates you to choose to continue living?”, he said my family, my grandchildren. He said, today my depression doesn’t feel that bad. Today is not as dark as yesterday. This man picks himself up and he chooses to brush the dirt out of his scrapes to try again. As I was reflecting on his story and our interview with him I thought to myself, if he can keep going then so should I.
Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to be given the opportunity to be in medical school. Lately, when I feel defeated and beaten down by the number of things there are to learn and the amount of time I have to learn them, I try to remind myself of all the people that are anxiously waiting to hear about an interview. I try to remind myself of the privilege that I am given because, one day, I am going to be a doctor. In moments of doubt and uncertainty, I try to remind myself if he can keep going then so should I.
So, we build resilience. Every time we fall, stand up, rub the dirt out of our scrapes and try again.
“The phoenix must burn to emerge” – Janet Fitch