Category: Inspiration and Motivation

Winning the War Against Anxiety

Winning the War Against Anxiety

 

Hey everyone-it’s been a spell. I’m glad to be writing again.

Guys-I have anxiety. No, I don’t fit the diagnostic criteria for GAD or Panic Disorder. That said, my default wiring is anxiety. I worry about nearly everything- school, dating (I’m single ladies…), weekend plans, friendships, finances, research, if I remembered to flush. You know, normal stuff. Most of all, I worry about the beautiful, big picture, future-stuff like boards and residency and who I am as a person. I am exceedingly future focused and self-conscious, a winning combination, I know. Chances are, if you’re in medicine, you probably relate.

And you know what?

Anxiety Sucks.

A lot.

The ways anxiety sucks are impossible to number, but if I picked three reasons it would be these: Anxiety sucks because anxiety is de-motivating, it robs today of its joy, and it’s just a tiny bit addictive. You know, like when you watch Human Centipede and you want to stop, but you just can’t. (Editor’s Note: DO NOT WATCH HUMAN CENTIPEDE).

Right now, I just want to talk about how constricting, how suffocating, how demoralizing anxiety can be. Story time- I’ve been MIA from life for the past 3 as I’ve been wading through a labyrinthine haze of UWorld and First Aid. I had an original Step 1 date set for early June. As the day drew closer, I started getting anxious. I was sleeping 4 hours a night, vomiting before practice tests. My bowels were a mess. I don’t say this to garner sympathy, but to make it clear where I was at.

And you know what I did instead of buckling down? I psyched myself out- I told myself I couldn’t do this- that I wasn’t improving (untrue), and that I should be ashamed for not working harder (maybe a little true). I felt it didn’t matter if I studied or not, so I started slacking- waking up later, studying fewer hours, less intensely. If that’s you, I want you to simply know- you can do it. Heck, if you’ve accomplished anything in your life, you know that you succeeded in part because you told yourself you could succeed. When you’re anxious, nothing seems worth it, your mind races, and what was once false starts becoming real. Anxiety inhibits us from reaching our full potential.

But you knew that.

What you not might know is the cure – humility. Working harder doesn’t work. Talking yourself out of it doesn’t work. Humbly admitting that in your present state, you can’t do it- that works. You, being as anxious as you are, cannot and will not succeed. You have to accept reality. To me, that’s what humility is- seeing yourself precisely as you are-no better, no worse. I had to realize that yeah, I do suck right now. It’s a really hard thing to realize- that you’re broken and need help.

Everyone I’ve ever seen get through their anxiety, they had to accept the world as it was at that moment, to admit they needed a hand. It is never wrong to ask for help. To ask for help is, believe it or not, a sign of strength and courage. And I’m sorry, I wish I could give you a roadmap to humility, but I can’t. Maybe you’ll just break down in tears to your dad sitting in your sweaty Pontiac Vibe with broken a/c in the parking lot of a Panera. No? Just me? Okay, that’s cool.

Honestly, not the best place for a mental-breakdown- there was a Kopps Frozen Custard just across the street.

There’s a second step to winning this war- build an army. I mean a real team- people who may not entirely understand what you’re going through, but love you unconditionally. Joel, my roommate who told me how it was. Josh, my best friend who happened to be coming up to Wisconsin the weekend after I had my mini-meltdown. The scores of friends who lent me support on test day. The crew at MotivateMD who gave me the time off I needed to take care of myself. Dr. Tsao who showed me so much kindness and helped me switch my schedule around. And of course my amazing family, who let me be normal, who told me that I was loved no matter what, who told me I am valuable simply because I exist. Yeah, it’s a platitude. But sometimes we need to believe in the stupid little banal platitudes of life.

Because they’re true.

And you know what? Things got better. I moved my test date, took extra time to study, moved back home for a month. Things got better. Suddenly, material that didn’t make any sense was going in. I believed I could succeed, I wasn’t sick, I was sleeping again. When test day rolled around, I felt like I might actually pass, or even reach my target.

You can feel that way too-all it takes is a little humility.

I’m not saying anxiety is easy to deal with. I’ll probably always struggle with it. But now I know how to. Heck, my anxiety is mild by most standards. I know that. I’m not so resilient, I don’t have grit. Sorry if I sound like a pushover today. Even so, if you struggle with anxiety, I hope that my story has gone some way towards helping you win the war.

Be kind to yourself. Love others.

-Matt

Gap-Year Part 2:  Why Taking A Gap-Year Will Make You A Better Doctor…

Gap-Year Part 2: Why Taking A Gap-Year Will Make You A Better Doctor…

This is it, Gap-year, the sequel. This is the Empire Strikes Back of our series on the awesome value of Gap Years. I’m gonna be honest though, I’m more of a Jedi guy myself (Ewok haters back off), but Empire is obviously the better movie, so I suppose this essay has a lot of hype to live up to.

In my last post, I shared just a brief summary of why I believe that taking a Gap year is the best decision you can make. Chances are, if you missed that last post, this one will seem like it’s coming from nowhere. Go read that one, and then come back. Go ahead, I’ll wait 😉

You’re back, okay good, I was getting worried for a minute. Sorry, that’s the overwhelming social anxiety talking. Anyway, this week, I’m gonna dig into the value of taking a gap year when it comes to your emotional health and your relationships. Let’s jump in, shall we?

Emotion

Think of this as a catch-all: emotional health, mental health, spiritual health. Let me be clear before we start: pre-meds are incredibly strong people. It takes more grit than many pre-meds realize to get through the rigorous challenges of preparing for medical school. Undergrad takes a lot more out of pre-meds than we realize. If you’re like me, while you enjoyed undergrad, you probably weren’t exactly having the time of your life in the same way some of your peers seemed to be.

Undergrad was a lot of work, and your mental health, your identity probably suffered.

Trying to figure out who you are, your future, your passions and interests, and excelling academically. It’s exhausting. The problem is, while we pre-meds are really good at a lot of things, we suck at two things: taking it easy, and humility. Stress and emotional anxiety become the “new norm”, and being the highly adaptive samurai-wizard-geniuses we are, it’s bizzare and strange to slow down. Use gap years to slow down, to recoup, to stop lying to ourselves. That’s where the humility-specifically about our own limits and weaknesses comes in. Take a gap year to take honest stock of your mental well-being, because I can assure you, you will not have the luxury of time while in medical school. I admit it, I was way more tired after finish undergrad than I allowed myself to believe. I’m not proud of it.

I’m not tired- I’m Superman darn it! I should be able to handle this!

Admit it, you feel a little bit like this too. It’s okay, you’ve probably earned that feeling in many regards. You just came off one of the most rigorous undergraduate careers possible, and you won. But the truth is, you’re probably weaker than you realize. You’ve been fighting for so long, it just seems normal.  Learn to relax, to become sane again. A gap year affords you opportunity to rediscover what real emotional stability, what low-stress feels like (and yes, applying to medical school is stressful in its own right, but we’re talking relative stresses). Do yourself a favor- return to your place of rest, your Batcave. Regain your sense of well-being, remember what it feels like to not be stressed. Get some mental health hit points back, because you’ll need them for the herculean task ahead.

Relationships

Every relationship I know-be it friendly or romantic- has suffered at least in some part while in medical school. That isn’t to say that if you don’t take a year off your person, your people will suddenly and spontaneously combust out of your life. But medicine has a way of chipping at the cracks in the relationship, causing rust and rot, festers where you thought you were strong. So be aware, and plan accordingly. I’ve seen more than my fair share of failed relationships in medical school.

There is no way to ignore that medicine asks a lot not just of you, but your people too. You need to realize that.

You need people who are willing to put up with your crap on a monthly, daily, weekly basis. To be okay with your long absences- physical or otherwise- from their lives when you study. People who find tactful ways to share with you when you inevitably drop the ball, without throwing life off-track. Those are the sorts of people we need to surround ourselves with before medical school. Use your gap year to galvanize those relationships. Build into and invest in the people you hold dearest. Have tough conversations with your people about the future. Obviously, it’s not possible to fix every problem in a relationship in a single year, or even two or three, but taking a gap year is an incredible opportunity.  This is the time you can really focus in on the people you care about the most. The hopes is that when the time comes, those relationships can pass through the crucible without cracking.

Check back next week for the last part in this three part series, where we talk about the value of gap years when it comes to experience, identity, and finances.

By Matthew Wright

Medical School Rejection? You’re in good company

Medical School Rejection? You’re in good company

 

As the end of the medical school application cycle comes around, a number of applicants are comfortably settling into the idea of choosing one school among the handful of acceptances they’ve received. Many, many, many more applicants, though, are finding themselves in a strange limbo full of medical school rejection and wait lists.

 

“Is it too late to start applying for jobs after graduation?”

“Where am I going to live?”

“How did this happen?”

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What Next? Finding Power in Powerlessness

What Next? Finding Power in Powerlessness

​Wednesday, November 9th was a strange day. As I passed a tree on my way to class that morning, I paused. It was a tree I’d seen every day for over a year, yet that morning it seemed different. The result of the night before had shaken my core and forced me to question even the smallest truths I knew to be true. I am an immigrant, a person of color, and have lived in America for 22 of the 24 years I’ve been alive. I’ve been a citizen for almost a decade now. But Wednesday morning, as I stared at that familiar tree, I felt suddenly unwelcome in the place I call home.

 

​Election night was a roller coaster of emotions. I flashed back to every moment in my life where I felt judged by the color of my skin. I thought about being teased over my lunches in elementary school, snide remarks overheard on the streets, and being pulled aside for further screening in security lines as my mind raced to make sense of the night’s proceedings. But in that moment, there was no sense to be made. With every fiber of my being, I felt as though my very existence had been judged and then rejected outright. I found myself at my friends’ doorstep in a complete meltdown. I felt the tears streaming down my cheeks, the knot tying ever tighter in my stomach, my legs that threatened to give way every moment I stood and my chest pounding as I trapped every scream I wanted to let out.

Words hurt. And the words that have been spoken this year have left me scared. They have left me feeling vulnerable. But more than anything, they have left me feeling devalued and dehumanized.

So here I was, Wednesday morning, unable to focus, unable to concentrate, and unable to grip reality. I sat with a friend in the library as he told me that his parents were afraid to go to their Mosque on Friday. I had no words of reassurance for him. All I could do was be with him and let him know that he wasn’t alone.

In the midst of this chaos, I turned to the place where I didn’t feel alone. I turned to the incredible privilege of being in medical school and sharing that experience with over 100 truly special classmates.

The diversity in our class is inspiring. Almost two-thirds of my classmates are female and three-quarters of us identity as members of a minority. Our diverse student body promotes culturally competent care, partakes in a variety of holidays and religious events and shares the flavors of their unique cuisines with all. I am now more thankful than ever for being a part of this bastion of inclusion. This is what has kept me together these past few weeks. As a class we have grieved. We have been disappointed. We have faced a bitter irony that couldn’t be more apparent. Here we were, giving so much passion and energy to someday heal a country that had just hurt us all.

Wednesday morning was cathartic. No one had to say a word. We cried, we hugged, and we lifted each other up. We were used to commiserating together over the typical struggles of medical school, but this time it was different. This time we were truly healing each other’s souls. We told each other we belonged, that we were wanted, and that we would keep each other safe.

Medical students are creatures of action. We are hardwired to find tasks that need to be done and to finish them with ruthless dedication and excellence. For better or for worse, it is likely the reason we ended up where we are today. Thus, to see a group so rooted in action be moved to a state of powerlessness therefore was especially sobering. As we slowly recovered from the gut punch, however, everyone’s minds turned to what actions we could take. As tough as it was to think about school and exams, we recognized that we had a responsibility because of our positions as medical students.

One of my classmates asked a faculty member what can we do to change things. How can we have an impact? Her response was “get your degree.”  She is completely right. We have been handed an enormous opportunity. We have the option to let this event break us and send us down a spiral from which we may not recover. Or we can stand up and recognize that we have the chance to be leaders and to serve our communities. To speak for those too scared and vulnerable to speak to themselves. And to work to heal them. Most importantly, we can use this occasion to remind ourselves just why we entered medicine in the first place.

I work in a free clinic that serves a number of immigrants from Asia, the Indian Subcontinent and the Middle East. I have seen firsthand the impact this year’s events has had on my ability to provide quality care. I’ve had patients ask me if our clinic would close down depending on the outcome of the election. My classmates have seen patients whose depression and anxiety is rooted in the Islamaphobic hate speech they have encountered. I have met clinic volunteers who are afraid of speaking their native language in public. Recently, our clinic encountered a different message. People have called our clinic to say that our patients don’t deserve the care we provide. But this just means we work harder. That we continue to provide support and care to those who come to us. We must stop feeling powerless and understand the role we can play in the future and beyond.

I am not completely there just yet. I am still processing. But I know this moment will be a call to action. With Step 1 looming and the burden of academic burnout weighing me down, this shall be a moment of clarity and rejuvenation. I know my work is now more important than ever before and the stakes are too high. I do not shirk this responsibility, rather I embrace it, taking solace in the strength my classmates offer. I am excited for what the future holds and I will be ready for the work that lies ahead.

-2nd Year Medical Student at UC Davis School of Medicine (Guest Post)