12.31.15 — Of Orbits and Gravity

Lately, it seems like I’m a satellite that’s gone out of orbit… I don’t know when I stopped transmitting signals to the friends/family back at home, when I stopped being a blip on the radar screen. I’ve somehow spun beyond the gravitational pull of Boston/Cambridge… whirled past the edge of the clearly delineated boundaries of a structured medical student life.

I’ve been skipping too many time zones, like a stone skimming the surface of a pond. When I’ve plunked, dropped like dead weight, and landed on solid ground, the water around me refracts all the light. Depth, distance, everything and everyone dear to me… all distorted. Directions, which haven’t exactly been my strong point, are all disoriented. I don’t recognize my surroundings and I don’t recognize myself.

If I am excessive in my similes and metaphors, it is because I can’t really explain what’s been going on with any semblance of order / structure. I can only say I worked out less and ate a lot more. I kept sleeping later and later and waking up earlier and earlier to go to various hospitals in Hanoi… crowded infirmaries, with caregivers camping out in the courtyard and sleeping under beds, hospital beds stacked 3-deep with patients. I kept meeting new people and encountering different, foreign facades of myself: could I be so impulsive? Could I be so afraid? Could I be so thoughtless?I reflected, wrote, ran, read…less and less. As I looked into the mirror, there were so many different possible permutations of self that I couldn’t tell who I had been and who I might become. I became less and less. And simultaneously, I felt like a balloon inflated up too big and all my borders were stretched too tight.

… which is a very dramatic recounting of this past month, but there is some truth in it. In a little more than a month, I’ve stopped living my solitary, monkish life and moved in with these musician roommates, who live their freelance life. Their agenda, their schedules are dictated by a number of set commitments, along with their whims for the day. Admittedly, their way of working is effective: they’ve remained in the spotlight for the last 10 years and can sell out a tickets in both volume and cost (1500 tickets in 3 days vs. $300 USD / ticket x 100 tickets). But it’s so different from anything I’ve imagined: it’s a labyrinth of possibility. Given the space I’ve had from medical school and the increasing difficulty of imagining a life in medicine, I’m not sure where my future is headed.

I’ve felt hypomanic and half drunk in these past couple of weeks. And now, I have this wracking cough that, as a hypochondriac, I half worry is tuberculosis from those hospital visits. I’ve called for big favors and then disappeared into the ether without explanation; announced major life transitions and news, only to be found back-tracking wordlessly and then evaporating into the internet cloud. I don’t respond to emails, texts, calls for weeks at a time.

Some of it is pure narcissism. Some of it is… being unanchored and unmoored. I don’t know why it seems to matter so much to me, but it does matter that I have so few people in my life who have known me since I was a child. Someday I will make peace with it. Someday I will be more responsible, but for now, my perception of the situation is that in the context of so many possibilities of who I might be, of so many new choices, and so few people who can ground me in who I am, I have become lost.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I am so grateful for the people who love me and stay in my life. So very grateful, though I still go through bouts of doubts and the mis-perception that I don’t deserve it. At the same time, I feel slightly vulnerable to the fact that I don’t have anyone in my life, who has seen the entire narrative of me. I have to rely on memory as an unreliable historian. And memory is susceptible to emotions; memory gets filled up with fabrications from my imagination. Did I lose a tooth to a careless dentist, or was it just a close call? Was my first relationship pure heart break opening to the sunrise… or just a bruise, possibly even a near miss? Did I always love to play in the dirt, or have I only recently become a slob? The little white lies that fill in the gaps of my memory have recently obliterated the whole screen in a flash of white.

All that space is vast and uncertain. It is simultaneously a beautiful opportunity; I see that. But if you find me inconsistent, if you find me absent, if you find me difficult to understand and connect to and communicate to, it is because I am lost to myself. If I seem impulsive, immature, irrational, it is because I am. I am so unaccustomed to all of this openness… the lack of accountability… the lack of boundaries that I am making spontaneous, poorly thought out decisions. This has probably been brewing for the last 3 years, but it has become more exaggerated, more concentrated in the absence of a medical school structure holding me rigidly in place. I am a satellite off course: my responses and trajectory hard to predict. And I don’t like it.

So I’m going to take a time out and re-prioritize. I’m hopeful I will learn how to decide what is enough. To determine when I am enough. To learn how to be the smaller person again. I am hopeful I can step back and make more space for the people I love and care about, instead of needing their attention endlessly. I am hopeful to give more than I take in relationships. But I’m going to start by taking some time and space to figure out what it is I am doing and where I’ve gone wrong.

As the new year rolls in, please know that I appreciate you and your presence in my life. I appreciate the patience and continued support. I am hopeful this new year will bring you health, love, joy, and new opportunities for growth.

What it is I want out of this next year, this 2016, is still unclear. But time will tell.

Sending so much love.

A) Family members transporting a family member via motorbike. B) A hospital waiting room that resembles a ferry.
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