Let’s Get Personal | What’s Your Story?

I attended a Primary Care Progress Leadership Summit at my school yesterday. The purpose was to advocate for the benefits of team-based care in the primary care field and cultivate this team culture through intentional story-telling and coaching. The story-telling exercise was the most powerful part because it got to the root of: what’s your purpose? why are you here?

In my single-parent household, education was a prevailing value growing up. My mother didn’t want my life to be like hers. However, as a first-generation college student, she was not able to provide very much guidance, especially past high school. I really had no idea what the “real world” looked like. I just knew how to pass all my classes and that I had a particular interest in science – until the summer after my junior year in high school when I was gratefully accepted to attend a four-week MD Camp at OSU College of Medicine. We were treated like first-year medical students: meeting professors of medicine, shadowing an infectious disease doctor, experiencing the cadaver lab, taking a comprehensive test, and receiving a white coat. This opened my eyes to a career in medicine and lit a spark in me that I can do this. So this became my goal all throughout college as I pursued a degree in Neuroscience at The Ohio State University. It was a smooth journey until the MCAT, which made me question whether I was cut for the career or not. During the summer after my junior year when I was studying for the standardized exam, I spontaneously reconnected with an old friend from elementary school who was also on the medical path. That summer, we made a routine out of running together most summer afternoons – this was my solace from studying. I had no idea that our rekindled friendship would change my outlook on life forever. My friend was a true free spirit – he always said what was on his mind without caring what other people thought. That was the complete opposite of me. I have always been a reserved person and it took me a while before I can completely open up to others. His energy was so contagious that I caught it. I slowly fostered this free-spirited nature and that was the first time in my life I truly felt alive. I started thinking about the impermanence of life and how we should strive to feel more alive. This then made me ponder the meaning of life, which is partly why I started my blog. Among many nuances, the meaning of life for me is building authentic relationships and connecting with others on a deeper level. When we are on our death bed, I doubt we’d think about whether we could have made $50,000 more or if we should have bought a Lamborghini. We are going to think about people – regrets, shared experiences, joyous times. When I’m lying on my death bed, I hope I remember more good times than regrets, which is why I am making a more conscious awareness in my daily life to be more authentic with others to build a deeper connection. You never know the magic that can arise when you open yourself up to another human being. Fast forward to medical school. I had to overcome some hurdles with the MCAT, but in the end successfully completed the leg of the race and am now in my first year. People go into medicine for a variety of reasons ranging from: family influences, money, prestige, wanting to help people, research, service. Some of these reasons provide more lasting inspiration than others. My reason that I want to continually cultivate is building that deeper relationship with patients so that I can explore how their meaning in life affects disease and vice versa. Patients are more than just their disease state. We should seek to understand their robust life outside of the 15-minute office visit. This sense of shared humanity motivates me.

Caveat to this idealistic approach of being more vulnerable, authentic, and honest (from feedback and personal experience): people might not reciprocate and value these same qualities. One of my friends expressed that he would rather not live life this way because you are handing people bits of information about yourself that they can use against you. You weaken your defenses if you show people how you think and who you are. From personal experience, I was taken advantage of because I was too honest. I knew this person for many years and we practically knew each other inside out (except for the things he hid from me this past year). Being honest and open is my way of showing that I deeply care for someone and their well-being. I’m still struggling with this concept because I don’t believe in playing games in life for it is impermanent – say how you feel and do what’s right. Don’t hurt others in the process. In conclusion, it’s wise to use your judicious decision on who you want to be vulnerable with and what parts of yourself you want to share. I’m not a big fan of superficial conversations and the proverbial “good” reply to “how are you?” and this is a way to overcome that.

Extra note on love and life: While thinking about the meaning of life, obviously love comes to my mind. I am a self-proclaimed hopeless romantic. I get teary-eyed at least once in movies and books because the relationships between the characters always pull at my heart strings. I just dangerously subscribed to a YouTube channel that’s focused on creating professional wedding videos and sharing love stories – you can already guess I cry during every single video. Upon reflection, I should have had more independent time instead of stringing the other person along and being strung along. I encourage every early to mid 2o-year-old to spend at least a few months completely single – free of any kind of emotional or physical intimate relations. Society makes us believe that being alone should be one of our biggest fears, that being half-loved by someone is better than not having them at all. With the world at our fingertips now, dating apps make it that much easier to replace person after person without ever being lonely. I don’t think this is healthy. One of my friends argue that we all need to feel validated by someone and that you often can’t overcome heartbreak without seeking intimacy with another person. Yes, it’s a nice feeling to be cared for and it might be the easiest way to mask your hurt, but why can’t you validate yourself? Being truly single for a month now, I have learned to respect myself and give myself the time and space to self-improve. You shouldn’t invest yourself in someone who can only give you 99% or less of their heart. I’ve had a skewed image of what a loving relationship should feel and look like, but now I am awakened. It can be very painful to be patient, but I have faith that the wait is worth it and that there is someone out there who is ready to give you what you need and vice versa. Love is complicated. Relationships take lots of time and work. It’s a conscious effort – not just something that happens between two people who like each other. Don’t jump in if you’re not ready. That’s not fair for either of you. Being single means you have all the time in the world to use as you see fit – freedom at its purity. It’s important to have introspective time to realize who you are and what you want before trying to share with another complex being. People may have many definitions of what kind of relationships they want to have: casual, open, exclusive, inclusive, polyamorous. Don’t settle if that is not what you truly want. Establish your guidelines for love first and stick to it. If your potential lover has a completely different agenda that you don’t see for yourself, let them go. I’m taking this time to establish mental guidelines for accepting and giving love, to workout and improve physical fitness, to accomplish independent goals, to open myself to deeper friendships, to learn from missteps, to know my self-worth, to deepen knowledge, to live in my values, and embrace confidence in who I am and realize I don’t need to change for anybody. The person you’re meant to be with will want you just as you are and find your faults endearing. Only then will you be able to paint a collaborative art piece called love whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Story-telling always has a conflict. The good news: some sort of resolution always occurs. One of the most important take-aways from hardship is being able to relate to others through experiences and sharing what you learned. Key elements of intentional story-telling: story of self, conflict, choice, values, and the story of us (how it relates to your audience). Try it out: what’s your purpose for why you are where you are right now or where you hope to be?

~lntan

Med School is not as Glamorous as you may Think | August 20, 2016 National Day of Solidarity to Prevent Physician Suicide

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http://espn.go.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/12833146/instagram-account-university-pennsylvania-runner-showed-only-part-story

A nice reminder for all social media users. I first came across this news story three years ago and even wrote a blog post about it. Out of the blue, my research PI (who is a psychiatrist) sent me this article at the end of my senior year and it elicited even stronger emotions. I felt compelled to start a draft, which I didn’t finish until now. A lot has happened in my life since then, but I was reminded again of this story as I attended the National Day of Solidarity to Prevent Physician/Medical Student suicide at my medical school a couple weeks ago.

Since the era of sending mail through horseback and the advent of phone calls, we have always portrayed the positive parts of our lives, but the difference now is that Instagram and other social media has consumed more of our day as we endlessly scroll past people’s filtered accomplishments, happiness, and picture “perfect” moments.

All of Madison’s friends shared some form of struggle, yet she still felt alone because social media didn’t match up with what they were privately saying. This really urges me to be real with people I talk to. I’m not going to pretend like I live in a world of rainbows and butterflies. No one lives a perfect life. This is what it means to be human. We are all in this together.

‘People are also often encouraged to put filters on their sadness, to brighten their reality so as not to “drag down” those around them. The myth still exists that happiness is a choice, which perpetuates the notion of depression as weakness.

As a family, they had never talked about suicide. Jim never considered it a real possibility — just the dramatic ending to someone else’s story. Jim feared that speaking about suicide would make its likelihood greater.

Bill Schmitz Jr., former president of the American Association of Suicidology, points out that depression does not have a one-size-fits-all prognosis. “The course varies,” he says. “In a way, it’s the same as cancer. For some, we might prolong life for months, for years. For others, it can be very sudden.”‘

  • These three paragraphs summarize the myths of depression and gets at the very root of mental health stigma in our nation. Yes, happiness is a choice, but when a person is suffering from a mental handicap, their brain chemistry has changed to where you are not in full control anymore. With that being said, depression is a real disease and not a personal sign of weakness. A lot of us want to please those around us, but we also need to be in-tune with ourselves. Your body is all you’ve got in this world; love it and take time to nourish yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually. The quote, “Speaking about suicide would make its likelihood greater” is similar to the sexual education dilemma. I think it’s important to talk about taboo topics rather than sweeping it under the rug because the more open we are, the more opportunities we have to help ourselves and others.

“It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to show people you’re not OK.”

  • Most important message I took away.

“I run because it’s therapeutic for me. Because every time I run outside, around my home, I am reminded of the beauty of the world, of which I often forget. Yet at the same time, I am fully aware of beauty — it simply saddens me because of reasons I have not yet conjured up. I suppose I am sad. But at the same time I am happy; and miserable; and joyful; and stressed out; and calm, and everything in between. I am everything. Every emotion, rigged in every format, and developed through every machine. I am numb but I am not.”

  • I can totally relate to the first few sentences as a runner, but the latter half is where the message is. We are all bodies of emotions and feelings. This is a very beautiful thing. Never feel alone in your thoughts and feelings because somewhere in the world, someone else is or has already felt that way. When you need help from yourself – tell someone, ask someone. We are all in this together.

Revisit my first post about this news story: https://journeyoflifeandmeaning.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/what-if-we-car…ore-loved-more/

Excerpt: “Make sure that whoever you talk to or come in contact with, that you are okay with how you made them feel with your words and gestures if that was your last day on Earth. Try to develop that deep connection with people so that maybe you can save someone’s life. This is a powerful realization for me. You don’t need an MD to save people’s lives – just genuine care for one another’s well-being by opening up, being vulnerable, talking deeply and loving thy neighbor.”

Developing a Healthy View of Social Media

Recently, I had a friend tell me that she didn’t want to take a picture because she was so concerned about being too fat and ugly. I hadn’t seen this friend in over a year, so I wanted some memories. This saddened me a lot and I tried sharing my perspective that you should never measure your self-worth based on numbers on the scale or what you see in the mirror. She wanted to be perfect. I said that’s not possible. She said “90% perfect then.” She even turned down entering in relationships because she said she didn’t want to disappoint them with her physical looks.

Let’s be honest. We are all affected by our outside looks to some regard. We can’t change this because our exterior is what others see first. I don’t want to sound like a perfect person because I am not. I still get very bad acne in my mid 20’s and I’ve been battling this since middle school. It’s been worse recently most likely due to medical school stress. My acne makes me feel less attractive, it takes me more time in the morning to make sure people won’t be staring at my acne rather than my eyes, and sometimes it prevents me from going out if I have a really bad breakout.

However, I think I am half way there to the wisdom of not caring what others think of you. As long as you are okay with the energy you give off to the world every day, it doesn’t matter what clothes you wear, what your face looks like, how fat or skinny you are, etc. I don’t untag photos of myself because “people might find me less attractive” and I don’t care if I’m laughing so hard in a picture that you can’t see my eyes. It’s all about the feelings of the picture – the happy emotions it elicits, not the way you look and the thoughts of what other people on your social media might think of it.

At the end of the day, I am happy with myself if I spread kindness, warmth, deep care for others, and positivity in the world. Think about the kind of energy you want to radiate from your soul.

National Day of Solidarity Lessons

  1. The osteopathic handshake is a hug. It was cute to see all the presenters hugging each other when they passed the mic and it reminded me of the hug fest we had during orientation week. As DO’s, we are known to be more hands-on and more open to expressing the caring touch. I really do believe in the healing power of touch and this is a huge reason why I enjoy learning OMM.
  2. Get enough sleep. Fun fact: 7.7 hours is the average hours we should be getting. I make this a priority and it’s been really helpful in keeping me awake and alert for school.
  3. Practice healthy selfishness. I love this phrase. Never ever forget to take care of yourself.

Med school is not as glamorous as you may think. I know I didn’t really think about what daily life was like for a medical student until I was one. I was just concerned about getting in, but the hurdles don’t stop there.

  1. You spend so much time staring at a screen studying that the next time you feel the sun’s warm rays or talk to a person about something non-medically related, you feel like a new person.
  2. All day, every day, even weekends and breaks, all you think about is studying. You feel guilty if you have too much free time. The material isn’t hard in and of itself, but there is so much content that it’s not humanly possible to master every detail. You keep striving to learn everything and fall short.
  3. You schedule to see your friends during the one free weekend after you take the block exam and before starting a new block the following week. You have less time to spend with family and friends outside of the medical world. You might miss important life events, like birthdays, weddings, reunions, graduations, etc. People might even move on without you… That’s one of the hardest things about this lifestyle. Non-medical people in your life might never understand what you go through and they move on because you can’t provide the kind of attention and time they seek. There are so many articles and videos out there about personal sacrifices people in the medical profession make (I do have something positive to say about this. See #6 in the “good things” list).
  4. You don’t get enough sleep because you are constantly wanting to study more and/or you have to get up early for another day of new lectures.
  5. If you’re away from family, you have to worry about managing life outside of school, such as cooking for yourself, expenses associated with eating out, cleaning, and other miscellaneous chores. You might experience being homesick.
  6. You put life on pause in a way. If you haven’t found your life companion, good luck dating and finding someone that puts up with your lifestyle. If you have found your life companion, wishing you the best during this challenging journey and may love endure, sincerely.
  7. Your apartment/room is a madhouse because you wait until exams are over to clean it.
  8. You spend your whole Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the library/study rooms before a big exam.
  9. You’re constantly accumulating $200k+ debt while in school.
  10. You often let go of a few hobbies and forget about what truly makes you feel alive.
  11. You end up double speeding YouTube videos you watch for fun because that’s what you do for lectures.
  12. While you may see your non-medical school friends traveling the world, making money in a job, going out every weekend, getting married, having children, buying houses, and settling down, you’re concerned about passing the first two years of didactic learning, then rotations, then applying for residencies where you work long hours with modest pay, then finally securing your first position as a board-certified physician. By this time, you’re in your 30’s (older if non-traditional). While I’m not saying these things can’t be done simultaneously, it’s just more to think about and juggle.
  13. Medical school takes a toll on you. Four of my fellow medical students developed strands of white hair halfway through the year. You might experience feelings of depression, anxiety, and inadequacy.

Good things!

  1. You become close with your medical school classmates because of the shared struggle. With a small class size, you truly become a supportive family.
  2. You get to be a sponge as you soak in all this new information. You’ll look back and think “how in the world did I gain all this knowledge in four short years.” Learning is fun!
  3. What kind of career allows you to learn something new every single day for the rest of your life?? When I feel bogged down about studying, I step back and think how awesome it is that we have a wealth of information at our finger tips.
  4. Making new and exciting memories (e.g. unintentional twinning with my classmates and end of block gatherings with the whole class).
  5. I look forward to working out now because it’s the main release of my day. It feels so good to lift or run off all the stress you felt during the day. You just have to schedule it like you’re going to lecture. Hopefully this will prevent the med school 15 haha.
  6. I have a lot of classmates that have supportive significant others, even a few starting families. It’s not impossible. If you are privileged to have already found your person while in medical school and your relationship withstands the hardships, you know they are a keeper. Count your blessings for finding someone so understanding and patient.
  7. Medical school is a unique and special time. You only get to do this once. It’s four years where you really don’t have real responsibilities. Your job is to learn as much as you can. These four years will pass by fast, so make the most of it and slow down to be grateful for your daily opportunities.
  8. A long line of people would die to have your seat in medical school. In the 2016-2017 application cycle, 21,030 out of 53,042 applicants matriculated into medical school. That’s 39.6% acceptance rate. If you’re a medical student right now, be very grateful for this life-changing opportunity. Source: https://www.aamc.org/download/321442/data/factstablea1.pdf
  9. How lucky are we, as medical students and beyond, to have such a wide array of activities to experience and accomplish that’s worth documenting? Seeing your first standardized patient, volunteering at the free clinic, studying, OMM, taking Step 1, student organization events, conferences, presenting research, leading a health careers exploration camp for high schoolers, welcoming new students on campus, new friendships, field trips, wearing scrubs, holding human hearts and brains, learning new clinical skills, rotations, graduating, starting residency, etc. Follow my medical journey on Instagram: ghrellen where I explore what it means to be a strong female physician humanitarian 🙂
  10. When you learn about diseases that people in your personal life have and you start thinking about how it’s affecting them and possible treatment options: cystic fibrosis, immune thrombocytopenia purpura, GERD, lymphoma, Wilson’s disease.
  11. You become happy with very little. Sometimes, we go through such low points in this journey that we become more appreciative of the little things in life, such as having a free weekend off to spend with friends, breaking up the studying routine to get lunch with classmates, or taking a few minutes to be appreciative of nature outside the window.
  12. I normally go on a long run shortly after noon on Wednesdays, weather permitting. As 1st and 2nd year medical students, we have a lot of flexibility and decision-making power to choose how we spend our day. Of course, this changes in 3rd and 4th year, so I’m trying to be consciously grateful for this freedom while we still have it.
  13. At the end of this journey, we are in one of the most meaningful professions. In what other capacity do you get the chance to become so intimately involved in all spheres of another human’s life? We have the unique opportunity to save lives, reduce suffering, and love humanity every day.
  14. Remember, it’s not solely about the destination, it’s the journey – not only the journey of medicine, but the journey of life. We are in this space and time only once. Step back and be grateful for everything you have.

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I challenge you to live a #lifeunfiltered

~lntan