Weakness (or, Unapologetic)

I am a boy that often asks why.

Why do people withdraw when I reach my hand out to ask for help?

Why do I feel chastised when I share my brokenness with others?

Isn’t this type of sharing good?

… Or are people tired of me being emotional?

… Or is being emotional… soft? weak? unprofessional?

Despite my medical school offering a Healer’s Art course — teaching us that it is okay to cry with patients, to be emotional with them, to focus on the emotional aspects of sickness in order to help them heal — outside of this teaching environment, the same ruthless medical school discipline and organization stands.

It renders the school a hypocrite. It renders me confused.

It’s like they are giving me a message that sounds like “we have no problem with you emoting with patients, to cry, to feel in your own heart the way a healer ought to feel… BUT, we will not hold back in telling you what the world does to feely doctors. You will be seen as weak. If you share your insecurities with your friends and mentors, they will use these things against you, deeming you incompetent and firing you.”

It’s like the school teaches this course to appear humanistic — which is attractive to medical school hopefuls, but at the school’s core, it is like any other conventional medical education program. They cannot change the heart of the school by offering humanistic electives, the entire faculty needs to learn to teach medicine a new way.

I am pessimistic. I don’t think this kind of change will occur. It will take a catastrophe. And more medical students will fall into depression and confusion by the double standard. More medical students will commit suicide. More doctors will commit suicide.

400 doctors commit suicide a year.

And that’s not going to change.

Heed my advice, if you find yourself in the category of a Myers Briggs “Feeler,” steer clear of medical school. Really steer clear if you have unresolved depression.

Unfortunately, this isn’t something that affects the field of medicine. It’s a human problem.

It’s why I feel ashamed whenever I reach out for help, ask for advice, say I’m lonely, or show emotion. It’s weak.

No one likes a weakling. Nature supposedly kills the weak, and favors the survivors of famines and droughts. But they seldom survived as individuals, but rather as collectives. Many species survived because they possessed the empathy and instinct to come together and collectively look out for one another.

I think humans need to do likewise.

I want to be in a world where people are not afraid to share their feelings. I envision a place where time is set apart daily, where coworkers and teams gather before beginning work of the day, and check in on how they are doing.

Besides, if things are wrong in someone’s life, it is bound to affect their work. Why not be open about it? I would be comforted knowing that others are there to support me, to comfort me, but also to challenge me to work through this trial and come out of this valley better and stronger.

I don’t envision this experience as being weak.

It is so courageous to tell others right before the workday begins:
“I broke up with my boyfriend…”
“My son has cancer…”
“We filed for divorce…”
“My daughter just got arrested last night…”
“I tested HIV positive…”
“Something got stuck in my eye…”

Even deeper:
“I’m scared…”
“I’m lonely…”
“I’m tired…”
“I’m sad…”
“I need a hug…”

While it is true that someone needs to walk through a valley of sorrow on their own, to deeply survey and reflect on aspects of life that only the person alone can discover, the process is so much better when there are friends on the other end of the valley cheering.

My fear of critique and attack keeps me from being vulnerable. That’s because the very act of being vulnerable renders me hyper-sensitive to anything coming my way. I remember sharing my anger with the world to friends, and someone critiqued my logic, and it really hurt.

At that moment, I resolved momentarily to concede to this fear and say “I’d rather lock myself up than to have to experience this again.” My other feeling was “I need to kill this person so no one would have to experience this, too.”

These thoughts still bounce around in my mind periodically.

But I am learning hyper-sensitivity and vulnerability are not one and the same. I can be an open book, AND I can be bold about the story I tell. If I walk boldly in the truth that I learned, showing the world the true person that I am, I would have the power to handle whatever comes my way. I can be vulnerable and confident at the same time.

As such, I long for balance. I want to establish healthy boundaries, while at the same time being wholeheartedly engaged with the world in its sorrow and joy.

I want to be in the state of mind where critique is not a death sentence.
I want to be in the state of mind where my tears are shed with boldness.
I want to stop holding up a protective shell that blunt my emotions.
I want to be fully emotional, but fully confident.

I want to be able to say:
“I know who I am, and what you are describing is not me.”
“I am comforted that you see this in me.”
“I hear you speak in anger and judgment, what are you trying to say?”
“I love you, and I want to show that I love you.”

This is what living unapologetically looks like to me.