A tremendous amount has changed in the past year, and even more is going to change in the year to come. And so it occurs to me that now might be a good time to take stock of my life, my writing, and myself.
I set out to write this blog about medical stories – you know, those anecdotes where doctor sees a patient and learns something profound about herself or the human condition or how to be a better doctor. At the very least, patients often say funny and entertaining things. But it turns out I haven’t seen very many patients in the past several months; most of the stories I have written have been about old patients or my own patient and family side of interacting with the medical profession.
It isn’t as if the patients I have had have been uninteresting. I had one particular patient that presented a fascinating medical mystery and was a great character that I really clicked with. I meant to write a post about him for months, but I never really knew what to say about it, there wasn’t really a point or a lesson to the story. Talking about how well we got along seemed a little self-congratulating. And also, the story of what happened to him wasn’t my story, it was his.
I tried to re-read Kitchen Table Wisdom recently and I couldn’t make it through. It’s a book of essay/stories about healing, you would think it would be right up my alley, but I just found it annoying. Because every patient story had to have a lesson or universal truth you could extract from it. It just seemed so reductive and a bit contrived. Sure, sometimes my patients remind me of things going on in my own life and that lends itself to good blog posts. But should it? Maybe if I were less self-involved, things wouldn’t have to relate back to me all the time. Maybe I would be a better healer if I were focused enough on my patients that they reminded me of themselves.
Writing a blog makes you look a little self-obsessed by nature. It’s a place for self-reflection, yet that reflection is all public. And really, self-reflection for public consumption is a strange phenomenon.
I re-read all my posts so far and I realize that I have mostly been processing the same theme from every angle: the medical experience is dehumanizing. I am so glad to have gotten a chance to process this, to move from analyzing my own experiences as a patient to integrating how I will do better as a doctor.
Personally, having this time and space for self-reflection is a blessing. (Both the blog as a place to record my thoughts and having the past two years of relatively relaxed academic schedule to have time to reflect). This time and space was instrumental in my re-defining myself as a healer, re-examining existing relationships and forming new relationships, and re-engaging with some of the “big issues” that had gotten shoved aside for lack of time.
But one of the most important transformations that I’ve been taking stock of lately is one that I haven’t written much about. I’ve become an adult. I’m twenty-seven years old. The process feels a bit delayed to me. I thought I was an adult at fifteen. I thought I was an adult at twenty. I thought I was an adult at twenty-three. So maybe this is nothing new or special; maybe at thirty I will think how silly I was back at twenty-seven. And I’m sure part of me will think that, because I don’t think I will ever be done growing.
But I do want to acknowledge that an especially important transition has been happening over the past two years. The major transition has been in the relationship with my parents. I haven’t written much about this, because it has been incredibly difficult and feels very personal to be putting on the internets (even though I realize that functionally means sharing the information with about six people).
But here is the shortest of short stories: I got engaged to Benjamin and my parents lost their minds. They strenuously objected and tried to break us up. We got married anyway.
This whole situation has exposed an area of my life that I don’t know I ever would have examined if I weren’t forced to. I thought my relationship with my parents was good. I knew we had some differences during the teen years, but I thought that we had a good relationship now and didn’t need to work on it at all. But it turns out I had never actually separated from them in any meaningful way. I was still looking to them for approval.
The wedding situation became explosive because it was one of the only times in my life when my parents had actively disapproved of something I was doing. Growing up, I was always looking for their approval. I always wanted to impress them. Nothing I ever did seemed to be enough; I distinctly remember my dad saying he was proud of me at my white coat ceremony because it was the only time I remember hearing those words. But nothing I did was ever met with active disapproval either. Every accomplishment seemed expected rather than noteworthy, and every decision I made was merely interesting, never good or bad.
Now, in the aftermath of this explosion, it’s really clear to me just how much I crave their approval, even as an adult. It’s also clear to me just how unhelpful that is to me having a good relationship with my parents, to my growth as an individual, to my marriage, and to adult functioning in general. Seeing how much I want my parents’ approval also opened my eyes to how much time and energy I spend ferreting out approval from others as well.
And ultimately, it is unimportant. I don’t know how I came to this place, really. I have always been so driven by external judgment that it would have felt impossible to accept that this is actually unimportant. But now, I find myself at peace with it. It feels like a weight has lifted, like a requirement has been dropped. It feels like getting to the end of the semester and having your professor tell you there won’t be an exam after all.
Approval-seeking is still my M.O. Unconsciously, I will slip back into this mode almost automatically. It takes mindfulness to break out of it. But now that I have given myself permission to do so, I feel stronger, more centered, more myself. I look forward to seeing how this plays out in my role as a daughter, partner, parent, and healer.