I Lost My Friend of 12 Years/Best Friend of 7 Years, but Gained a Relationship with God and Became Closer to my Family

Disclaimer: this is a deeply personal post, much more than the previous one. Views are my own.

“Getting a corgi so you can attract all the ladies, right?”
“Like I have time for that.”

“This sacrificing for medicine thing is no joke. Just turned down a hot date to study on a Saturday night.”

These are real quotes I heard in the past 24 hours from fellow medical students.

I didn’t get closure.

We FaceTimed every day, catching each other up on our days. We had just seen each other the week before. Although we shared a difficult conversation before parting, a joke was mentioned at the end. A week later, they shock you with the news that they found someone new. They want no contact because it’s not fair. Just like that, knowing someone since 5th grade means absolutely nothing. I am innately sentimental, sensitive, and loyal, so this shattered the depths of my core. Without going into all the details, our companionship did have a romantic plot for some time, but due to many external circumstances, slowly fizzled along with growing apart in different cities. I knew we were at different stages in life and wanted different things out of life, but I couldn’t stop my loyalty. I felt devastation and sadness, but I couldn’t stay that way for long. I found myself praying for the other person to find peace in their life. Reading some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s works, I realized holding onto anger is just hurting yourself. Maybe, I’m the only weird person who wants to remain on good terms with someone that hurt you, but life is too short. There should not be a limit as to how many people you can be kind to. For relationships that grow apart, why can’t two people discuss a civil dissolution and go their merry ways while still remaining friends/acquaintances in the most general sense? I’m aware of the old adage of people entering and leaving your life for different reasons, but I was naive to believe this person would be my lifelong friend. If you look at my life, my dearest friends are those that I’ve known the longest. These are some life lessons I’ve learned recently:

  • People don’t have to be in every season of your life.
  • You’ll never change other people’s thoughts, attitudes, way of life. Accept what is and move on if it’s no longer giving you good energy and you’re no longer enhancing each other’s potential.
  • Even if you have the best intention, other people are not guaranteed to think like you do. I constantly think about how life is so short on this planet compared to eternity. This motivates me to relish in all my relationships and connections to people and overall live with kindness for all people. I really do believe in the phrase “forgive, but never forget.”
  • Nothing is ever lost in life: memories were made, experiences were shared, lessons were learned. Take them with you and don’t make the same mistakes.
  • Always hold your family closer than friends (exceptions do exist for those who unfortunately have unreasonable family members or are estranged from them). It takes a lot to be estranged from family members as you share a blood line, but with friends and significant others, anything can break that bond within seconds no matter how long you’ve known them. Through my heartbreak, I’ve opened up to a lot of people and heard their stories. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard similar sentences, “married for 24 years, raised 4 wonderful children together, and divorced.” In my neighborhood, I am a part of a row of 3 houses that have single middle-aged women living independently after a divorce. The lifelong probability of a marriage ending in divorce in the U.S. is 40-50%. That’s about half of us! Here are interesting stats of some variables associated with divorce:
    • race/ethnicity
    • importance of religion to the couple
    • timing of the first birth of any children (before marriage, within 7 months, after 7 months, or never)
    • if one spouse has generalized anxiety disorder

This is not meant to be pessimistic, but realistic in the fact that anyone can have a change of heart at any time.

  • Serendipitously, I became quick friends with an elderly gentleman at the gym I regularly workout at. He describes our friendship as if “we’ve known each other for years” when in reality, it’s only been a few months. Even with a 40+ year age difference, we’re able to talk about anything and everything. We know all about each other’s love lives. Something he shared stuck with me: “I wish I would have gotten divorced 5 years before we actually did.” Early on, they both knew trouble was brewing, but he really wanted to stay together for the kids, at least until they all graduated from high school. He shared that kids know when there’s something wrong. Sometimes, it’s not about holding on and being loyal, it’s about letting go. This reminds me that selecting the right person is so important, no matter how long it takes. Don’t rush and don’t settle.

I hope by writing and sharing, I can gain some closure. I often think about how my experiences can help my future patients. As doctors, we need to remember we are humans and remind patients we are too. An activity I recently did to cope with loss is: writing down all the reasons why this was meant to happen and then on the back of the page, specific qualities of life you wish for in the future. Keep it somewhere you can access when you need to. Spirituality has also helped me cope tremendously. My family had roots in Buddhism, but I didn’t grow up with a religion. I’m not sure where this will take me in the future, but I have found comfort in developing a relationship with God, praying, knowing that He has a plan for our lives, and listening to Christian music instead of mainstream radio. Another relationship I gained is a closer one with my family, particularly my mom. We’ve had our ups and downs, and still do, but this is the most honest relationship we’ve had in our entire lives. Due to external consequences, that individual and I did not open up to our families about the relationship. As teenagers and young adults, we blindly believed love is all we need. This was not healthy, toxic even. After I told my mom everything after seven years, I vowed to live honestly and authentically, especially with family. If someone doesn’t appreciate honesty and authenticity or if I find myself violating my values, I know I don’t have to force a relationship with that person or continue doing that activity. I can’t wait to finally live freely and without fear. In the Asian culture, respecting and caring for our elders into their old age is extremely valued. It can be hard growing up in the US where this is not valued. It’s an ongoing internal conflict for me. The current cultural notion is: we’re young, we should be building our own lives, move far away, have 5-minute surface conversations on the phone with one’s parents, they don’t need to know the important thoughts and activities of your life, visit them only during major holidays because being away from your friends is so boring. Years pass and the next time you really become close with your parents again are when they’re nearing death in a hospital room. Yes, we should all be independent adults chasing our dreams, building a life worth living, taking as many trips as we can, and having fun as 20-something-year-olds. I don’t disagree with that, but life can flash in front of your eyes. Years slip away, your parents get older, health problems arise with age, and when you finally realize you should have cared and spent more time with them before they pass, it might be too late. Imagine stepping into your parent’s shoes. The best situation would be to still have your significant other grow old with you, but what if you were divorced or widowed in old age? Would you want at least one of your children you raised to care about you or be sent to some arbitrary nursing home instead? I’m not advocating to live in your parent’s basement or constantly worry about them and put them first before the important things in your life, but a healthy balance must exist between independently building your vibrant future while also remaining close to your family, especially those that sacrificed so much to raise you to be the successful adult you are now. I am happy to return to my true values and know that one of my purposes in life is to care for my mother. Never change your values for anyone. I can only pray that my future significant other respects me for who I am, values and all.

Sample some of the songs that have helped me get through tough times:

  • Stars Go Dim – You are Loved
  • Danny Gokey – Tell Your Heart to Beat Again
  • Matisyahu – Live Like a Warrior (Richello Remix)
  • Chris Tomlin – Impossible Things
  • Axwell – On My Way
  • Mandisa – Unfinished
  • Lauren Daigle – First
  • Matthew West – Mended
  • Bobby Mcferrin – Don’t Worry Be Happy

There were a whole host of reasons for my situation, but I cannot leave out the fact that medical school played a part. We must say “no” to hanging out on weekends with friends, going to birthday parties, family functions, weddings, vacations. We need to plan around major exams. We only have one summer between 1st and 2nd year. We always have things to study seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Lifelong learning is a cornerstone to being a physician. Sometimes, friends and family don’t understand this. I’m creating an ongoing list here to resolve this sacrificial dilemma and think about it in a more positive light:

  1. My faculty mentor told me “you can have it all – all of your priorities.” Know what your priorities are. Write them down. Your studies should be #1 or #2 on your list. If you make time to do what’s most important to you (say the top 5 things), you can have it all.
  2. Treat medical school like an 8-5pm job. Work relentlessly hard Monday-Friday during those hours to get things done. There’s always going to be more, but if you had a good week, don’t feel bad about taking one day during the weekend off to enjoy your #2-5 priorities.
  3. Share with your friends and family what you do and what interesting facts you’re learning about in the human body.

Did you know heart burn, acid reflux, and GERD are talking about the same thing? This is when stomach acid used to digest our food leaks backwards into our esophagus that connects our mouth to our stomach. The best treatment to try first for this is lifestyle modification, not medication.

  • Eat more plant-based protein (beans, broccoli, spinach) to improve the strength of the sphincter/door between the stomach and esophagus.
  • Avoid dietary fat, caffeine, chocolate, mints, herbs/spices eaten after meals, alcohol, estrogen and progesterone (birth control pills).
  • Lose weight and eat smaller meals, so the stomach doesn’t extend too much.
  • Avoid eating before laying down and elevate the head of your bed 4-6 inches (sleeping on pillows won’t work, you need to physically place blocks under the head of your bed to raise it).

Both men and women 50 years and older are recommended to get colon cancer screening. Colon cancer is 70% lifestyle related. Want to know how to prevent colon cancer in old age?

  • Eat less processed meats (lunch meats, bacon, sausage, etc.)
  • Eat less red meat
  • Eat more vegetables and other fiber-rich foods

The link between a meat-heavy and vegetable-sparse diet to colon cancer is as strong as the link between smoking and lung cancer.

3/4 of all adults and 90% of adults from African and Asian descent will experience lactose intolerance. This means that you don’t have the functioning enzyme to break down the lactose in dairy products. The lactose travels further down your gut and gets chewed up by bacteria. The result of bacterial digestion produces carbon metabolites, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide. Therefore, you have bloating, diarrhea, and dehydration after eating dairy products if you’re lactose intolerant.

Take your significant other to medical functions or a night out with your classmates. When you involve your loved ones, they become a part of the journey rather than a carry-on baggage you lug around. However, if sharing your new way of life isn’t working and you feel dragged down and unsupported by this person, it might be time to let go. We’ve had three relationships break up in our medical school class shortly after starting school, but we also have two students starting families while in medical school (albeit the wives are not the students). It can be done, but it requires deep understanding, patience, and strong communication from both people. I recently read a wonderful article about how a wife survived family life while her husband was in residency. It helped me gain a lot of insight into how to work on a relationship and what kind of understanding must exist on this medical journey: http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2014/11/wish-knew-advice-spouses-doctors-residents.html

Thanks for reading. I pray we all live the life we’ve always wanted.

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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