A second year resident once told me that the hardest year of her life was her R1 year when she lived away from home for the first time, and that hardest time within that year was January. According to her, January is what gets you when you’re living away from friends and family. “If you can get past January, you can do anything.”
I brushed it off at the time because, living with my family, I didn’t think it applied to me. But January is really taking its toll on me this year. It’s a combination of the sunlight hours being too damn short for human function, the reality of it being my last preclinical semester (along with all the comprehensives and OSCE exams that go with that), the dreadful apprehension of clerkship looming in the near future, and a lot of messy personal life dealings and realisations that I can’t seem to keep separate from school for the life of me. Winter break has a long history in my own life of hosting the most devastating life events, drama, breakups, anxiety, general bum-you-out times. Sad things don’t seem to happen to me in summer. Sad things seem to be reserved for when it’s cold and lonely, when the sun decides to make an appearance maybe once a week, when I have another long semester ahead of me, when all anyone wants to do is watch movies by the fireplace and feel loved.
Two years ago, around this time, my best friend told me I dodged a bullet with the last guy. This time, I don’t feel like I dodged a bullet. I feel like I took the bullet, and it didn’t kill me, but it didn’t leave me quite alive either.
I guess naturally I end up doing a lot of reflection on life in general, and unfortunately life in general seems to be limited to the span of my medical education. It’s as far as I can see on the horizon anymore. I can only think of how much longer I have of writing exams, sacrificing time with friends, sacrificing my own hobbies, poring over notes, beating myself up over not studying enough… how it’s even possible that my entire life will look like this, especially if I don’t choose a purely clinician type of medicine. And even then, even when you’re staff and everyone is convinced that life finally gets good at that point, why does everyone seem to be so overworked? Why does everyone seem to not have enough minutes in the day? When does it finally get easy and laidback and chill and holiday time and camping-in-the-mountains time? And did I really choose the right career when it seems to be so much work and worry, unending, when I probably had the option of choosing a more relaxed line of work, marrying into a well-off family, probably achieving a work-life balance far more easily and still having the lifestyle I want? Couldn’t it totally have been a possibility that instead of being in my second degree program and probably coming off as too intimidating for most men, that I could have been settled into a less demanding career, engaged or married by now, and already “starting my life,” so to speak?
Of course, it’s times like these when you tend to lose sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place, and you remember that you didn’t go into medicine because it seemed like a stress-free lifestyle, nor because it advertised a high salary, nor because it boasted about achievable work-life balance. No, you went into it because you promised that you wanted to do everything you could to contribute to the health and well-being of your society. Times like now it would probably be a good idea for me to revisit the first few entries of my blog.
I’ve been having this [very, very premature] mid-life crisis for the past few days now, and though it helps to hear the validating stories from physicians who have asked themselves the very same questions, I think this feeling may linger around for a while. I only hope it’s a common “last few months before clerkship” feeling among all med students and that it will pass. And I’m sure it’s no coincidence that it’s around the same time that the person I’d been hoping to “start my life” with is no longer that person, and I hope that this feeling, too, will pass.