The short answer for how I survived my first semester is this:
surrounding myself with friends that don’t stress me out, a great anatomy group, my tutors, office hours, reassuring and supportive mentors (especially those that provide mid-week comic relief), check-ins with friends from home, therapy dogs snuggles, getting multiple passes with the material, not going to lecture, group studying every Sunday, YouTube videos (especially Osmosis), Dr. Sattar, working out when I can, garlic bread, chocolate, journaling, uplifting conversations, solo dance parties, Pentatonix Christmas album, frozen food and frosted sugar cookies from Trader Joe’s, food deliveries from Carol, care packages from my mom, penguin postcards from my dad, and the list goes on.
Maybe I could have survived my first semester without the extra support, but I know it would have been a hundred times harder and a million times more isolating.
I’ve been home for a few days now. The first few days, my brain woke up at 3 AM, insisting that I study. While my ideal break is not studying at all and giving my brain a break, I’ve realized that it’s difficult to go from studying 12+ hours a day (with breaks) for 2.5 weeks to not studying at all for two weeks.
Forcing myself to relax was ironically, making me anxious. As a result, I have been doing school-related things, but limiting it to two hours a day. I’ve been pre-reading a book my course director recommended we read over break to prepare for the next block and working on a few other school assignments. It’s nice to study without feeling a time-crunch and I learn better this way, too. Getting some work done each day allows me to not feel guilty for taking the rest of the day off to do whatever my heart desires. An added bonus is knowing that I’ll be starting off the new semester as prepared as I can be.
During the last few weeks of the semester, I’ve logged many hours in the same study room, using the same creaky (possibly haunted) table and sitting in the same swivel chair. I became territorial about room 204 and my friend and I arrived early every morning to claim the room. Throughout the day, other friends would study with us, but every morning, it was us two in the entire medical school building, along with a few maintenance workers a floor below, their gospel music echoing through the building.
I learned that guest lecturers spoke slowly, so it was more time-efficient for me to not go to lecture and watch them at 2x speed afterwards. I still feel like a rebel for not going to lecture, even though attending lecture is optional at my school. I wonder if professors know that I don’t attend their lecture when I go to their office hours to ask questions. I’ve learned that I can handle 12+ hour study days (with breaks) without completely losing my mind and taking a few hours off on Friday and Saturday helped as well. I haven’t taken an entire day off yet, but that is something I want to try starting next month.
I’ve spent the past two weeks feeling like a circus animal, jumping through hoops ringed with fire and hoping to make it through without getting burned. Medical school is simply this; a test of endurance and being expected to perform at all times. Even if my jump isn’t graceful or applause-worthy, as long as I make it through, I can move on to the next hoop.
There must be another way to measure competency, a better way for med schools to evaluate our knowledge, without making it so stressful, but I digress.
Earlier in the semester, I was focused on passing each exam. Now, I find myself passing my exams, but wanting to do better. It frustrates me to admit this, especially after how much I struggled in the beginning to simply pass. It annoys me to realize that I haven’t completely gotten rid of my perfectionist tendencies.
When classes start in January, I need to be mindful of my thoughts and how I interpret my academic performance. Of course, it’s normal to want to improve, but my past history with associating grades with self-worth makes striving for academic improvement a delicate endeavor.
I hesitate to say that I’m thriving in medical school, but maybe I need to change my definition of thriving, to make it realistic and attainable for me.
Perhaps thriving, for me, is this: passing my courses while maintaining my physical and mental health. Thriving is pursuing the things I love during my study breaks and learning to not feel guilty when I give myself these breaks. I am thriving when I am enjoying what I learn and when I am grateful for the privilege I have to dedicate these years of my life to learn and experience as much as I can to become the best physician I can be.
Thriving is being aware of how my thoughts shape my reality. Thriving is choosing to be cautiously hopeful in difficult times and being present for people in my life, no matter how busy I feel. Most of all, I am thriving when I stick to my own definition of success and when I show myself the compassion and love that I extend to others.
I missed writing on here while I sit by my window, typing away while the sun warms my hair. I missed hearing the birds chirp in the morning, seeing trees that still have their leaves, and hearing the familiar hum of cars in the distance. I appreciate that my parents are night owls because these quiet mornings are life-giving: spending time lost in my thoughts or within the pages of a book. I finished Becoming by Michelle Obama a few days ago and read The Vagina Monologues yesterday. The library at home was open on Christmas Eve, so I was able to check out a few Mary Oliver books, a fun drawing book, and a book on visionary women.
It’s so nice to be back in California, but I find myself missing my other home. I don’t miss the stress of never-ending (I-get)-to-do lists, but it’s comforting to know that I’m slowly finding myself at home in the mid-West as well.