What are your new year’s resolutions and/or hopes for 2021?
It amazes me just how fast time flies. It seems like only yesterday, I was aiming for the stars, a bright-eyed applicant taking her shot at what was reportedly one of the best medical schools in the Philippines, eager to chase after her dream of becoming a doctor. The past four and a half years of my life hold testament to the continued pursuit of this dream. Graduation, boards, and beyond are just within reach, but at what cost?
Medicine is unarguably a difficult vocation. Perhaps, ‘difficult’ is an understatement. The first few years of medicine proper consist of a grueling program of seemingly endless lectures and examinations, of stacks upon stacks of books and transcriptions, of what were once pristine white uniforms now stained with highlighter ink and day-old coffee. And yet, all these pale in comparison to the actual hospital experience in clerkship and internship, where a single 36-hour duty can feel like a lifetime. At this point, you straddle the line between a medical student and an actual healthcare professional. You’re expected to learn as much as you can while fulfilling your role as part of the healthcare team. This is all done while navigating through the toxicities of what is admittedly a problematic healthcare system.
I can’t recall the number of times I’ve wondered if all this is worth it. At times, the stress can get the better of me. More often than not, I miss important milestones in my family and friends’ lives, or celebrate mine alone. Looking back, I realize that life became saturated with studying and extra-curriculars that I hardly had any time for myself. It’s a bit ironic, considering how we’re putting so much on the line to take care of others.
I’m the type of person who takes comfort in a routine, and this time last year, that routine was your typical pre-duty, duty, post-duty schedule. Unsurprisingly, when the world came to a standstill last March 2020, so did I. As a clerk that was pulled out of the hospital, I felt like a fish out of water. During the first few weeks of quarantine, I probably spent a significant amount of time just staring at the ceiling, wondering how we were all going to get through a pandemic. Social media was incredibly overwhelming, and news from our seniors at the hospital weren’t very promising either. I had so much time to think, but not enough headspace for all the information. It felt like years-worth of pent-up stress were finally taking their toll on me. The pandemic was just the cherry on top.
After some time, this stress started to manifest itself in actual signs and symptoms. My body clock was already in disarray pre-COVID, and it only seemed to worsen during the quarantine. I started to have breakouts and irregular menstrual cycles. An old tooth filling cracked, leading to constant pain and multiple appointments for a root canal. I even noticed a suspicious lump in a place where it shouldn’t have been, and underwent a minor operation (thankfully, it’s benign).
That I was able to seek treatment during these unprecedented times is a privilege. This experience serves as a wake-up call for me. As an aspiring physician, I have to walk the talk on health and start taking better care of myself, if only to gain the capacity to take care of others.
I guess that’s the point that I’m trying to drive at here. For many of us, the year 2021 holds a promise of hope, that things will get better eventually. I don’t exactly have any grand new year’s resolutions, just this one goal – to be kind, to myself and to others.
As of writing, I’m nearly halfway through clinical internship, and the pressure of passing the board exam is higher than ever. Between hospital duties, I have this strict and rather ambitious study schedule with which I’m still struggling to comply. In addition, I also have responsibilities outside the hospital. As the SSE, I have to look after my sisses and lead by example – be it in academics or in Phi, and even beyond. Admittedly, it’s all a work in progress. I realize that it’s completely okay to take pause at any point in time and reassess where I’m at.
While I’m still trying to find the best work-life balance for the new year, I find myself falling into a routine that incorporates a lot of self-care activities. For example, I look to fitness simply because it gives me an extra boost of endorphins for the day. Running has always been a favorite pastime of mine, and picking it back up again during the quarantine has done wonders for my mental health. There’s just something about my feet hitting the pavement and my mind zoning onto the stretch of road before me that gets me going. Having recently reached my dream of running a half marathon has only motivated me to take things farther, both literally and figuratively. I’ve also been doing a lot of strength training through weight lifting, and mobility and mindfulness through yoga. Moreover, it’s important for me to get adequate nutrition and sleep, which, as a medical student, I think would have been unheard of before the pandemic changed my mindset on how I treat my body.
Developing healthy habits and actually enjoying them is one form of self-love, and I think we all could use a little more self-love these days. It really helps that I have batchmates and sisses who share in my enthusiasm for health. Despite the distance, my sisses have become a constant source of love and positive reinforcement, for which I am forever grateful.
My experiences in 2020 remind me that I’m only human, and that I have my fair share of faults and limitations. This 2021, I simply hope to be kind to myself in spite of these limitations, and to keep moving forward.