Keep Going

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.

Everything brain.

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

Perspective//

In a brief moment above the water, I thought I would take a breath of air before plunging back under.

We started back at school on January 2nd. Winter break was the most relaxing, yet busy, two weeks. I managed to go yo-yo skiing, backcountry skiing, watch an absurd amount of the Crown and get everyone to do my bidding for a few days as I recovered from wisdom teeth surgery.

Since January 2nd, I’ve had two exams. I have two more exams next week.

It’s zero-to-100.

I signed up for this. Some days, I see pictures of my friend backpacking through Southeast Asia and I think to myself, “What am I doing????” But then I slap myself around because I’m walking through my dream right now. It’s easy to let the hours sitting in the lecture hall get to you as you’re trying to comprehend the endless waves of material crashing on your head.

Last semester we got our preceptors – doctors working in our community who have offered to take us under their wings and help form us, mentor us, lead us in this profession. My doc lets me go into the rooms before her. I’m practicing the basics, like taking vitals (blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate) and talking to patients. Then, I go and present to her what I’ve learned. There’s the handoff, the H&P, the oral presentation, a SOAP note.

Last week, I saw a patient and the next day there was a reference to her disorder in my lecture notes. Last semester, I learned about some diseases I never thought I would see. I thought it would be a disease unicorn, something that only existed in the textbooks or would show up on Step [I guess even a unicorn is less real than that, but you get the idea]. Then I stepped into a patient’s room and what do you think they were living with every day? These moments bring the lecture hall into perspective.

Two years ago, I started this blog. To bring perspective. Since then I hiked under a shower of ice, bought a crock pot, traveled to Minneapolis, Thailand, Utah, and San Diego to name a few. We explored what it meant to love people with everything we have, reminded ourselves that comparison is a thief, and adjusted to life as a medical student.

That’s a lot of perspective.

I don’t have all of the answers, but I’m still gonna go searching for some truth in this world. For some beauty and some grace. Thank you for reading along.

 

I Am Thankful

How often do we utter those three words? How often do we say out loud, or write down, “I am thankful because of…”?

I would argue, not enough. Mostly because I’m guilty of it. Our days are busy, they might feel hard and overwhelming. We might not feel like we have anything to be thankful for on a daily basis that we weren’t thankful for yesterday. When we get together for Thanksgiving the common theme of thankfulness is friends, family, health BUT there’s so much more to life than that. If I’m being honest then it’s really the mundane things that we should be grateful for.

Today, wasn’t all that special. My family dog woke me up around 3:30 barking about something [he probably wanted breakfast], I then had class from 8 am – lunch, followed by meetings, some “studying” [aka email answering], medical student council and now I’m writing from my bed with my genetics book close by for some light reading after I post this. I’ll probably fall asleep with the lights on because that’s what I tend to do best.

It wasn’t a glamorous November 1st filled with saving lives and taking names. Yet, mixed throughout the day are things I feel incredibly thankful for. Today, I am thankful because of friends that send me emails of dogs they think I should adopt, friends that let me know they miss me, and friends that ask how I’m doing and then listen when I decide to actually tell them the truth.

I love this quote so I’ll share it again – a million times if I have to —

“For it is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful”

– Brother David Steindl-Rast

So, for this month of November, I encourage you to write down a daily gratitude. A simple thing that happened during your day that you were grateful for. Write it down on a slip of paper and put it in a jar, a box, a shoe. You don’t have to tell anyone, do it for yourself. Do it for your joyfulness.