Up until a few years ago when I graduated from residency, life appeared to have a linear, predictable path: obtain high school diploma, finish undergraduate degree, get accepted into medical school, graduate from residency, secure a well-paid job as a psychiatrist.
Yet, throughout the entire process, I encountered several challenging experiences trying to adjust to each new phase. When I moved away from home for college, I was so excited to live with four girlfriends and finally feel independent enough to lead an exciting college life. However, I can vividly recall the day my parents helped me move and when they left, I cried. For several days, all I wanted to do was isolate in my room. Eventually, I became more comfortable with my living situation and newfound independence, but my initial desire was to flee back home as often as possible.
For medical school, I was fortunate to get accepted into a school within 30 minutes from my hometown, so I was familiar with the area and lived with family that first year while adjusting to the grueling academic demands. It was so nice to come home to a hearty meal prepared by my grandmother or aunt after a full day of lectures, anatomy lab, and studying.
However, when I moved away to Oregon for residency (a state I never even visited let alone knew anybody who lived there), I felt extremely lonely and isolated. At some point, my program director suggested that I see a psychiatrist because I wasn’t performing very well on tests. I felt like a failure. Yet, finally realizing that I needed help was when I started to evaluate myself in order to create change. It’s the time that blogging became an outlet for social support and connection that I felt was missing at that point in time. It was the period of my life when I became more self-aware, made long-lasting friendships, discovered my leadership ability, and became chief resident. Such a pivotal point in my life motivated me to evaluate myself and discover my resiliency based on how I overcame my struggles.
When I rotated at the student psychological center at the local university, I saw several patients who struggled with transitioning to college life. I completely identified with them. I currently have several patients going through major changes (divorce, moving away for school, starting a new job, recently losing their job, getting married, expecting their first child, etc). I emphatically listen and validate their experiences — going through life change WILL challenge your usual ways of coping (ie, one may cope by isolating, keeping thoughts to themselves, working out at the gym more, confiding in a friend, etc). And sometimes, depending on the stressor, the usual copings skills may not be enough to overcome the challenge.
And here lies the dilemma — Even the most linear path in life has its challenges. Do you face the challenge head on, or do you recognize your limitations and choose a different path, or do you justify ways to avoid the situation altogether?
Photo by Marlon Santos