Birthday Month

So I’ve been struggling a bit this month. Which is ironic almost, because Year Twenty Eight has been the movie-like coming of age year for me in so many ways, and I expected nothing but spring to end my year. But we all know how that goes.

I’ve been working nights this month, almost the last time I would likely have to do that in my life – there aren’t many emergencies typically in Infectious Diseases, my chosen fellowship field starting this summer. Despite the havoc on one’s circadian rhythm, I have almost enjoyed every one of my night rotations previously. You’re on your own, taking care of everyone else’s patients in the hospital while they are gone for the night, and admitting any new ones that come in. You attend to any Rapid Response Team calls or Code Blues that arise. There is a lot of autonomy involved for a resident, and the kind of exhilarating scary that promises a feeling of  ‘who da bad-ass who survived that mofos’ at the end of one’s shift. But this one has been unexpectedly hard for me.

I’ve been stressed out, snappy, easy to anger. And that is uncharacteristic of me.  At least the grown up me.  My teenage years were in fact spent as an angry young woman staring down men abusing power and parenting women who were being bitchy. I cringe. It was not my place.

And those edges had been painstakingly smoothed out over the last three years. I remember one particular evaluation from an intern that said “S is super kind and understanding when mistakes are made”. That was one I was particularly proud of. But it feels like I haven’t been deserving of that for the past three weeks. I could say I wonder why. But fact is I definitely know why.

So I have mentioned the depression before. I have mentioned my triumph over it.  While I credit writing, working out and volunteering to my recovery,  I cannot deny the role the right antidepressant has played.  The one that has become second nature now – that single pill I pop right before I dash out the door every morning without a second thought. Well, we all can agree I haven’t needed it for a long time now.  It was like a reasurrance for the powers that be that things were under control, a security blanket of sorts. Needless to say my Psychiatrist and I agreed that it was time I left the blanket behind. Side effects are an inevitable reality for every medication, but they are justified only as long as the benefits outweigh the risks.  Long story short, it was time.

The weaning process has been careful, methodical.  From taking 300 mg daily I was to reduce the dose to 220 mg for 10 days,  then 150 mg for 10 days, then 75 mg daily for 10 days before stopping. But what has been erratic has been the irritability, the snappiness and the pangs of anxiety that made an unwelcome comeback after two years of supreme confidence. It was like I was a teenager again, insecure, unsure of my worth, with a bitch of an imposter syndrome causing a nagging feeling that something, somehow was going to go wrong any minute now. I pondered going back on the meds, every day.  Was the freedom and the ability to feel like myself and the avoidance of further side effects worth the risk of my work suffering? WAS my work suffering? Is this something I should just take all my life? Is the ‘angry young woman’ an illness, or just my personality? If it was, did I want to be that person?

S always said I was a bad judge of people. And by default,  that makes me consider myself a bad judge of me. Am I acting like a crazy person? Would someone tell me if I were?  My dear friend M insisted that I seemed completely fine, amazing in fact. “You are your incredibly kind and good self, as always”, she said. But she hasn’t seen me at work,  which is where all my anxieties manifest.  I decided to take my night co-resident into confidence. She was someone I thought was trustworthy and a decent human. It was not a pleasant conversation to have, but a necessary one. I explained my ‘Past Medical History’ to her,  so to speak, and requested her help. Would she tell me if I were acting, say,  not like a normal person? ‘Of course’, she said.  Besides, she’s always thought I have been so much calmer than her during stressful situations on nights at work this month.  I heaved a sigh of relief,  and thanked her.

I read more about the process of weaning. It was not supposed to be easy.  “Discontinuation Syndrome” was common.  The key was to replace the drug-induced Serotonin in your brain in more natural ways. I started making sure my workouts were consistent.  I started doing yoga almost every day. Bought myself more flowers than usual. Organized my closet and my finances.  Went for long walks. Did my first run outside, that I was training a long time for since being impaired by shin splints.  Slowly but surely,  I found my footing.

Sure, it’s all not perfect. I’m still snappy sometimes, but I have not been beating myself up about it. I just decide it was a mistake and resolve to do better next time. And now, on day 6/10 of 75 mg, I feel like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I feel like I can do this. I hope I can. I sure am scared.  But I have to try. I have to do this for my teenage self – I feel for her so much. She had all the talent and intelligence in the world, but was crippled by her anxiety and insecurities. And taken advantage of, for them,  with the loss of many an opportunity which otherwise would have been a piece of cake for her. I have to do this for my sweetheart of a Dad – he has all the talent and intelligence in the world , but is crippled by his anxiety and insecurities. I see how good kind people like him are taken advantage of by the bad guys in life all the time for their insecurities. And I want it to stop. The question is do I achieve that with the aid of drugs that I take for the rest of my life, or do I utilize the infinite power of the human mind to change my detrimental defaults?

I could take the easy, safe, former route and just go back on the pills. But if I succeed with the latter, this will be among my top personal achievements.

I have to try.

Playlist: Women of Pop

One of my favorite things is long car rides listening to music, on earphones if alone, blasting on the stereo and singing along if with friends.

J is away for a bit. He had to go back home to LA for a family emergency. I decided to give him some time and space away. It would do us both good I think. He can come back whenever he’s ready. Part of me wants to be there for him, support him through this. But I get the sense that my current stance is preferable. I told him I’m here for him if he needs anything at all. Besides, it’s given me some time to focus on me a little, indulge in some reflection on long car rides over music.

Content and peaceful. Those are the words that come to mind thinking about my mental state these days. I’m okay, after 28 somewhat tumultuous years. I’ve found my footing, it feels like. Of course, it took a lot of hard and painful life lessons to get here, but they’re what got me here, so I’m okay.  I’ve made peace with the past and the future. I’m truly living in the moment, as cliched as that sounds. There’s no dream I’m trying to achieve, for the first time.  I’m exactly where I want to be, personally and professionally.  Anything good that comes along would of course be appreciated, but in a natural course of things way. Anything bad will be seen as life being life. Humblebrag is the only way to say, I really like who I’ve become. I only wish I had gotten here sooner. Lots of cringeworthy moments with S especially come to mind.  I’m not really surprised he did not propose all those years anymore – for the first time, I get my past imperfections. But I’m definitely not beating myself up about it – I was just working with the life experience I had until then. It would have been nice to have someone just teach me all the hard lessons as an eight year old.  But I guess that’s not how it works.  Well, I’m gonna try anyway when my kids are eight,  if I have any that is.  Until then, I hope to continue to work, read, write, sing, dance, go to spin class, do yoga and be kind. There’s no white picket fence I want anymore.  There’s no academic laurels I want to earn anymore. I just want to live and love the best I can.

I guess that’s a good note to go back to Spotify on.

Until next time,

S

Thanksgiving

I know I haven’t written in a while. No, I haven’t given up on yet another blog. I just wanted to make sure I had something quality to say every time I wrote. Something that wouldn’t make an older me cringe a few years down the line. Also, I use this as a platform to work things out in my head and I have been fortunate enough to not have any pressing concerns in the past couple of weeks.

Yes, it has been an unusual period of bliss-ed out contentment for me. One that I am very thankful for. I figured it would be appropriate to take a few minutes out of a day off that happened to fall on the eve of Thanksgiving Day to log my gratitude.

A lot of things have factored into this joy. I am doing well at work. I love my patients. I have found enjoyment in studying Medicine again. I am excited about my future. I have learnt to appreciate my family for how absolutely wonderful they are, and not take them for granted. I may have finally found my clan in Chicago – a group of smart, funny, decent Malayalees around my age who I met at a Meetup event, almost all of them having lived in Bangalore at some point in their lives! – can you sense my excitement? Now it may all fizzle out but I am OK with that possibility. I have learnt not to have lofty expectations of people. I have spent lot of time in the past dwelling on being disappointed by friends. Now I realize that is probably because I hold them to very high standards.  Most importantly, for the first time in my life, I am not looking for love. I really really like myself and seem to not mind not having constant validation of my worthiness.

Now this may seem to be contradictory to that statement but I recently went to a Dabble class on “How to attract with allure and approachability”. Yes you are allowed to laugh at me now. It was something I had signed up for before this whole I don’t-need-a-boy emancipation came about. I decided to go anyway, and boy, am I glad I did! It was a small intimate gathering of of five single women sharing their stories of love over wine at the host’s apartment. All the while our wonderful coach gave us eye-opening tips on things that must be holding us back in love. It was as delightful as it sounded. What I liked best was how honest everyone was with their vulnerabilities. It was interesting how even though we all might have our individual hurdles, the common theme was self- doubt. It was yet another instance where it was evident that we as women, tend to put ourselves down so much in our heads, that we might be really really far from our truths. I came out realizing a lot of my mindsets that must have been holding me back for years in situations that I could have taken to my advantage. Oh and guess what? We enjoyed each others company so much that we ended up exchanging numbers and making plans to catch up again this Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong. I am terrified that this will all come crashing down come December 6th on Fellowship Match Day. I like to think this time around I have enough maturity and wisdom to approach this period of uncertainty with balance and grace. I hope I can manage to keep my sense of hope and purpose in case things turn out unfavorably for me. I really struggled the last time during Residency Match two and a half years ago. In hindsight, things really did work out for the best. But I was young and naive and used to winning all the time at the time. I have learnt to forgive myself and others for my perceived failures. The fact that I said “perceived” in itself is a revelation to me of a change in mindset. I now have a mindset of acceptance and pride in myself and all that I have achieved. And I am finally happy to just live in the moment, doing the best I can each day, not agonizing about what people think of me, or what the future may look like for me. I am paying my bills on time. I have a 401k. Going to the gym daily has become a habit. I am reading, listening to podcasts, watching the news, making conversations with strangers, going out of my comfort zone. I am also making time to hang out by myself in my living room that I so lovingly decorated two years ago but never used much as a result of being too high-strung all the time to just relax on my couch. Thank you, Whoever is making all this happen. Please make it so that I am this happy come what may for the rest of my life. And please help me keep my feet on the ground while I am at it.

After rock bottom.  

It was another Sunday alone. She could go on about that but she was not going to. Instead she reflected on her journey through these tough times. She had come so far. One year ago she struggled to get out of bed every morning. Now, for the first time in a long time,  she could say she was genuinely somewhat happy.

She never thought she’d be one of those people who said this, but her healing had begun through Yoga. It was December last year, when a friend asked her to go with her to the Yoga studio that was just a few steps from her place. She did not think much of it. Her mother practiced every day, but she herself was definitely never a smoothie-drinking, yoga pant-wearing kinda chick. But her friend wanted company and she had a hard time saying no to people so she agreed to go. But it turned out to be her first step towards the self-care that she desperately needed. It was a slow progress, with definite setbacks. But now, finally, she was at a place where she could look forward to her days. Days that she had filled with art, culture, learning and self-growth. And accomplishments.

She decided to make a list of her accomplishments in the past year.

1. Pased Step 3 USMLE boards with a good score.

2. Earned laurels at work.

3. Learned to dream about the future again.

4. Decided on a future career path.

5. Managed to complete the fellowship application procedure in a timely and effective manner.

6. Managed to bag over 80 interviews across the country.

6. Found the drive to travel and attend interviews at her top choices.

7. To the best of her knowledge, did well in those interviews.

8. Developed the grace to accept the outcome of the application come what may.

9. Read four books in the last month.

10. Started listening to music again.

11. Became interested in her work again.

12. Attended church regularly, without expecting anything in return from God.

13. Started following the news.

14. Learned to switch the TV on to a news channel when she found herself lonely or brooding at home – focusing on things larger than herself.

15. Went to her first meetup group and decided to return.

16. Started a skincare regimen. And stuck to it.

17. Started getting monthly massages.

18. Started getting monthly facials.

19. Paid every single bill on time.

20. Improved her credit score.

21. Signed up for a Volleyball game.

22. Developed restraint in her social media postings.

23. Bought herself flowers regularly.

24. Started having breakfast daily.

25. Stopped beating herself up for her mistakes.

26. Started really loving herself, for the person she was, and not for her achievements. Stopped caring about what other people thought of her, like completely.  She knew she was kind and good and special. That’s all that mattered.

27. Started listening to podcasts on long journeys, on her walks.

28. Stopped feeling sorry or self-conscious about going to places by herself.

29. Finally found not one, but three perfect shades of lipstick for her skin (Sephora ColorIQ is an amazing tool ladies)

30. Learned to curl her hair, for the first time in her life.

31. Learned to contour (Sorry boys, this is another girl thing. You don’t wanna know).

32. Started developing female friendships, for the first time in her life.

33.  Discovered who her real friends were. Forgave the rest for abandoning her in her time of need.

34. Started this blog, to turn her grief into art.

35. Accepted that S was the love of her life. And that she would be happy with having had the chance to spend seven beautiful years with him.  Accepted that she would never find it in herself to love anyone else, and that that was ok. She would love him unconditionally from a distance, without ever expecting anything in return.

She smiles in relief. She still had a long way to go,  but her heart was already full.