The Only Foolproof Antidote to Overwhelm

It’s no secret that the second year of medical school is tough. Suddenly, all the study skills you thought you learned last year are for nothing as your classes get harder, your obligations seem all the more real, and your extracurricular commitments never seem to quite transition away the way you expect them to.

I’ve tried all I know for relieving stress to try and make things better:

  • Yoga
  • Taking a mid-week breather to spend time with my boyfriend
  • Minimizing the importance of obligations so they’ll seem less daunting
  • Freaking out about how much I’ve someone convinced myself is going to get done in a 24 hour period, and then pretending it does not exist and just going to bed (or playing video games, or going out, etc.)

(For those of you taking psych right now, as I am, you might recognize the progression from the “mature defense” of sublimation down through neurotic rationalization and intellectualization with a little denial thrown in there. I promise that none of this has sufficiently interfered with my normal functioning to be considered pathological — I think.)

It’s just a little too much with much too little of a break from the summer. It’s the shortening of patience and depletion of energy that comes with constant stress that even one stolen weekend of no work and studying (which you know will screw you over for the week) will not solve. Things have to be let go. I need to be able to let go. But what and how when there is so much?

So I turned to my private journal (which is not this blog, believe it or not) and I let myself write. I pulled out some unfinished prompts from the old Joy Equation and I thought about what I really wanted for the future. I thought about what I was grateful for and what I was excited about. I thought about my own personal narrative and how with all the things I am and have been involved in, maybe I have let it get too complex and overreaching, even for my own self.

I remembered that who I am needs to be more than just the sum of parts.

I realized the tension in my values between making a difference in the here and now but also setting up slow steps for the future of improving the quality of health care for all. I recognized that I needed to pull in and commit only to those core activities *that define me — *strengthening my core competencies in doing community work and doing what I can to advance that work within my university in a compassionate and quality-driven way. I saw that while I loved evidence-based research and physician-driven advocacy that (at least for now) these would never be my life’s work. Instead, I found in myself a desire to want to build local systems changes and patient advocacy — still new, scary worlds just outside of my current reach but it takes naming a goal to know you need to take steps towards it.

Finally, I realized (what perhaps should have been obvious from the start) that in order to do any of this, I need to prioritize being the best student that I can be. Because I can’t take care of patients until I know basic pharmacology.

(In some ways, that has been the best and the worst part of second year so far. Pharm has been for me the line between interesting knowledge for some advanced undergraduate or medically-inclined biochemist, but true medical knowledge that in some ways no one would bother to learn or memorize except for the inescapably real fact that this may help a patient someday.)

It’s hard work sitting down and realizing your own narrative. In the end though, the measure of peace it brings is worth the time you’ve taken away from neuro studying, chores and other projects. Because you, like each and every one of your patients, is worth that extra moment to make yourself feel whole.