Author’s note: When I joined the UTMB blog, I wanted to be able to write candidly to you about medical school in the same way that I would to a friend from home. I worried that having an unknown audience would, consciously or unconsciously, change the way that I talk about medical school. To circumvent that, I’ve typed up copies of letters I wrote to a close friend during my MS1 year to serve as my blog posts. When I wrote them, I never thought I’d show these to anyone else, and I think that gave me the opportunity to talk about medical school with the kind of honesty and vulnerability that I’d like to be able to share with others. Here’s the second letter. You can read the first one here. Enjoy
Someone taught me a few months ago that the best way to explain going to medical school is that it’s like going to pancake school. At Pancake School you attend lectures about different types of pancakes, ways to prepare pancakes, etc. And for homework you’re required to eat 5 pancakes every day. Like, big, fluffy Kerby Lane-style pancakes. The kind that are big enough that you’re full after 2 pancakes, which means that pretty much all you eat all day is pancakes. Which is fine. It’s achievable. But then one day you don’t want to eat pancakes. Which is also fine, but it just means that you have to eat them the next day. So the next day rolls around, and you have 10 pancakes to eat now. Maybe you can eat them all, and maybe you can’t, but if you fall behind… pretty soon you have 35 pancakes to eat and you’re totally screwed. Finally, for exams in Pancake School they hand out buckets and you try to regurgitate as many pancakes as you can.
So that’s what med school is like. Every day I just remind myself to keep eating pancakes. I enjoy it though. People always say med school is trying to drink through a fire hose—there’s just too much material! I like to think of it more like being Eve and getting to eat directly from the Tree of Knowledge. Except I just end up dribbling most of the juice down my face and shirt rather than getting to digest it. Right now, that’s OK. For a while I was really happy with medical school because it was a relief from [a summer of travelling cross-country]. Buuuut… Then I got crushed by the first round of exams, and I started spending a lot of time comparing myself to my peers. HUGE MISTAKE. I went through this three week spiral of doom where I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about my little bitch boy problems for fear of being judged. I started really doubting myself. I was afraid to answer or ask questions in class for fear that everyone would realize how behind I was on my goddamn pancakes. When I brought up how I felt to people, they’d just say “You’ll be OK.” What does that even mean? Is that just to relieve the psychological stress of having to worry when I come to someone saying I have a problem? In the long term we’re all dead, and in the short term I was very unhappy, so what exactly does “OK” mean?
Yeah. So. Depressive spiral. I guess I kind of assumed I would feel… confident and secure in everything now. That’s how I imagined I’d feel if I got into my first choice medical school and [achieved a cycling goal]. But that’s the thing:
No matter where you go, there you are. If that makes sense. Like, I can’t ride a bike faster than the speed of self-doubt. And my self-doubt kept whispering in my ear that I didn’t deserve to be happy or spend time with friends if my grades weren’t good. But that was obviously a recipe for disaster. How could I study if I was miserable all the time? So I started to personify my feelings as The Bully. Because The Bully will try to fuck with you. He will try to separate you, isolate you from your friends, bring you down. And you can’t let him. You have to keep finding ways to be happy in order to stand up to him.
So I did.
My life started coming back together. I did better on the next round of exams. I stopped spending so much time on social media, because everyone looks happier than you if you judge based on facebook.
I guess this is the story of losing and finding myself in medical school. I don’t exactly like talking about it because it makes me feel… Like a Debby Downer. I don’t like admitting when I’m struggling or down in the dumps because I don’t want to bring other people down there with me, but sometimes you have to be honest, or you’re as bad as all those phonies on social media pretending their lives are nothing but a series of great times and huge successes.
This is my life right now.