“You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” — Samuel Beckett
It has only been two weeks since I first realized I would have to repeat my third and worst year of medical school, although it has felt like two years. I debated with whether or not to post this for the longest time. I know I don’t owe anyone an explanation but myself. But.. my pride has already taken its bruising, and on the off-chance this might help someone else in some way, I’m taking the plunge.
Where did it all go wrong?
I’ve written before about how uncomfortable I am with the unknown, and how I knew this year of trial by fire clerkships would put that discomfort to the test for twelve straight months. It only took a week of rotations to realize I would make a fool of myself at least once a day, and that was being generous. On the outside, I shrugged it off, but I would spend the next six rotations overcompensating by controlling whatever else I could in my interactions at the hospital. I became so invested in building this appearance of perfection that I didn’t notice everything was falling apart inside. By my last clerkship, I was spending hours prepping for clinic the night before, writing quick notes on each patient to present and scrolling through their charts. Still, I loved every minute of it — I felt like I was shading in the basic stick figures I otherwise had to get the low-down on in ten minutes. They wouldn’t just be patients; they were My Patients. I was mistaken for a fourth-year by attendings sometimes, and midpoint meetings came with glowing resident compliments that I was a “dream student.” I don’t include this to toot my own horn (God knows I’m in no position to do that right now), but to point out that appearances are really never as they seem. I knew I wasn’t anything they were saying, because being a well-oiled machine on rounds came at a heavy cost. Every day I trudged home drained and never gave myself enough energy or time to study for my boards. This did not bode well for the end of clerkship exams, especially being the naturally awful test-taker that I am. And in the end, it didn’t matter in the slightest that I had aced all my evaluations and patient exams. I convinced everyone I had it together only to have it all come crashing back down on me.
I’m good with patients, I know that now. But it’s time to be good to myself, too.
I’m not perfect and it’ll be okay.
There is a small part of me that will always be scared of what other people think. I have been so appreciative of the responses from both my former and new classmates, but for a few days, I couldn’t push aside the regret that I hadn’t flown under the radar for the past three years. Everyone within three classes in either direction has an email (or twenty) from me gently harassing them to buy school merch. Because of this blog, most of my Facebook friends have been brought along for the ride of each clerkship. I didn’t stay invisible, and I am still learning to stomach the fact that I will constantly run into people I know and confuse them over this next year. I am also navigating the strange balance of being genuinely happy for all my classmates as they move forward in their careers with the ever-present sting of that would’ve been me. Though it certainly doesn’t feel like it right now, there has to be some sort of quiet strength in admitting your defeat, picking yourself up and dusting yourself off. There is no doubt this year will be an emotional one to work through, but I will hopefully be a better person for all of it at the end.
There is a surprising silver lining I found throughout this process: the realization that everyone has gone/is going through some sh*t. The more I allowed myself to open up about my struggles to friends and family, the more I received in return, especially from people I never expected it from.
A thousand thank yous go out to friends who somehow made me laugh, sent me flowers, brought food over and forced me to eat, stayed on the phone when all I could do was lay facedown on my apartment floor, convinced me not to drop out and chase that cake-baker dream, rode it out through my Kim Kardashian ugly crying and assured me I would make it out the other side.
MS3.2, here we go.