Saturday, August 11, 2018

Self Care

When medical schools interview prospective students, the question "How do you deal with stress?", or some variant, inevitably comes up.  Having been an interviewer on a few occasions, I know that every interviewee with at least basic interviewing skills will come up with some combination of the following:

Adequate breaks
Healthy eating
Time with friends and family

When I said those things in my medical school interviews, just like everyone else, I was very earnest.  I legitimately thought I would find the time and energy for all of them in my medical training.

(Insert sound of my laughter here.)

Medical training was the hardest and most life-altering thing I have ever done.  Not so much the first two years - those were almost entirely classroom based, and I had long ago mastered the art of sitting in lectures and writing exams - but definitely everything that came after.  The moment I set foot on a ward for the first time, I transformed into a human-shaped bundle of stress and anxiety, constantly terrified that I was going to be responsible for letting someone die.  And unlike with many of my classmates, that feeling didn't go away for a very long time.

My strategy for dealing with this terror was to pretty much never stop working.  I would come in earlier than everyone else, work through lunch, and stay late.  I convinced myself that double, triple, quadruple checking everything would make me perfect and prevent me from ever making a mistake.  (Spoiler alert:  It doesn't.)  Any time I thought about putting in less than 100% of my maximum effort at work, I would remind myself of what was at stake:  People will die if you screw up.

Not surprisingly, my perpetual state of panic and overwork wasn't very conducive to taking care of myself.  I essentially stopped exercising on day one of my clinical rotations.  I gave up cooking for myself and ordered food so often that the receptionists at the delivery services recognized my voice.  And I started spending all the money I wanted, whenever I wanted, because "I deserved it". 

Yoga?  Did my stomach doing nervous back flips count?
Healthy eating?  If I bought my Coke and Nacho Cheese Doritos from the vending machine on the Cardiology ward, did that make them healthy?

I don't know how long I would have continued being so completely and utterly negligent of myself had it not been for a few key events.  The first was a crisis at work, which woke me up to the fact that I might not ever graduate and earn a doctor's salary.  (Spoiler alert:  I did!  And I paid off my student loans yesterday!!!)  Suddenly it no longer felt okay to spend more money than I was earning, so I discovered the great Mr. Money Mustache, started a budget, and got my financial life back in order.  The second was some upheaval at work, during which I reached out to some of the other attendings, and which ultimately led to me being connected to a wonderful performance coach.  While I have only seen him twice, I credit him with enabling me to let go of my self-destructive perfectionism and to forgive myself for being human.

The third thing wasn't a specific event, but rather years of working with people with lifestyle-related illnesses.  I spend a lot of my time at work counseling people about the negative effects of poor diet and lack of exercise, as well as treating them when their bodies break down after years of misuse.  Somewhere around the thousandth time that I said "Pop is basically poison", the message started to sink into my brain.  I'm not immune to the things that affect my patients.  I also need to care for myself.

So slowly (sometimes oh so painfully slowly) I have started to change the bad habits that I learned in medical school.  I've almost completely abandoned sugar-sweetened beverages.  I've started mostly eating brown rice* and brown pasta.  I cook a lot of my meals from scratch, and I try to pack them full of veggies and other healthy things.  I'm even exercising again and (amazingly) kind of enjoying it.

And so many other things, like getting enough sleep and meditating and taking enough vacations and quitting Twitter.  All of the things that I said I would do in my medical school interview 13 years ago, I am finally getting around to.  And it feels really, really good.

*This is huge for me, because I love white rice with a fiery passion and can happily eat two large bowls of it, smothered in butter and salt, in one sitting.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Learning About Love from Mary Oliver

For almost all of my dating life, I have struggled to make failing relationships work.  The queer community in my city is small, so I've tried to convince myself over and over that I can make do with someone who is too loud/too messy/not interesting enough in order to have a partner.  The worst of this was with my second-last ex, whose many good features made me want to overlook the bad, resulting in four years of settling for not quite enough.

Towards the end of that relationship, I started seeking solace in literature.  I would Google phrases like "poems about hating your girlfriend" and "poems to help me stay in a relationship when I'm unhappy" and then spend hours scrolling through the results.  Somewhere in the midst of this, I stumbled upon Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese", which in my opinion is one of the best things ever written. 

The whole poem is fabulous, but what stood out for me was the line "You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves."  The line stuck with me for days, forcing me to realize that the soft animal of my body did not love my partner, no matter how hard I tried to will it to.  I'm sure I would have broken up with my ex eventually even without it, but that single line was the thing that finally allowed me to walk away.

As I get back into dating after the end of my long relationship, I carry these words with me.  They remind me that love isn't something that can be forced or willed.  I can't change myself to be loved by someone else, nor can I ignore parts of another person in order to love them.  The soft animal of my body is a highly discerning tyrant, and she is in charge. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

She Will Be Okay

The first four weeks of my most recent relationship passed in a strange and magical sort of delirium.  Perhaps I have always felt this way at the beginning of a relationship and had simply forgotten, but it seemed more intense and all-consuming than any relationship I'd ever been in.  When we weren't together, we texted constantly, and when not texting, I still thought about her all the time.  It was utterly distracting in the most wonderful of ways.

And then, something shifted.

I can't pinpoint the moment or the reason, but suddenly my interest waned.  I waited longer to respond to texts, and I wanted to see her less often.  It became easier to say goodnight at the end of a date.  Without any real warning, I was done.

So Saturday evening, I broke up with her.

It was a horribly difficult thing for me to do, because I hate hurting people.  In the past, I have stayed in relationships way too long (weeks to months to years too long) out of a desire to not hurt the other person.  While we had only been together seven weeks, we had made plans months into the future, and I felt like an ass for being the one to say that those things weren't going to happen.

I spent most of Saturday agonizing over breaking up with her, even though I had no real doubt that it was the right thing to do.  I contemplated waiting, "giving it a bit more time", because I was dreading the moment of the breakup.  I texted all my close friends, trying their patience with hours of rapid cycling between "I'm going to break up with her tonight" and "I'm going to wait a little longer".  I was unbearable.

And then I saw a Facebook post from an ex of mine from years ago.  She had fallen apart when I broke up with her, crying and sending me angry texts for weeks.  The Facebook post was a picture of her, 20 weeks pregnant, with her wife.  It is completely cliché to say this, but the only way to describe her expression is "glowing".

And then it was easy.  Because while breakups are messy and hurtful and absolutely zero fun, people do survive them.  And hopefully there are better things waiting for all of us on the other side.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Rich People Can Be Sad

When I opened Facebook last Friday morning, the status of one of my friends read "Don't turn on CNN".

In the comment below, it said "Dear God, not Anthony Bourdain."

Dear God, indeed.  I am not usually one to get upset about the death of a celebrity, as I'm practical and recognize that there are vastly more important things to worry about right now, but I fucking loved Anthony Bourdain.  He was sexy and unapologetic and smart and absolutely obsessed with food.  He was the stereotypical entitled white male, and I should have hated him based on my usual patterns, but I didn't.  Because although he was rich and had every door in the world open to him, he was also kind.  He treated the guests on his show, and the food they served him, with respect.  It's possible that he was a total jerk in real life, but his public persona was good.

He also responded to me on Twitter.

I recently called him out for his lack of female representation on The Layover, and he responded with a "Yep".  It was the absolute minimum he could have done to acknowledge me, but I was still gleeful about receiving a response from The.  Anthony.  Bourdain.

And now he's gone.

Within minutes of the news that he had killed himself, people were starting to speculate about the whys of it.  And of course, there were people who said things like "What did he have to be depressed about?  He had so much money."


Don't get me wrong.  We all know that there are some very good things about money, starting from its ability to provide us with necessities (food, clothing, shelter) and extending to its ability to fly us to France for fancy pastries.  Water is also wet.  But while some amount of money is necessary for happiness, no amount of it is enough to buy happiness.

It doesn't fix loneliness.
Or broken brain chemistry.
Or a traumatic past.

It doesn't create love.
Or community.
Or a life purpose.

I have had no money and I have had lots of money in my life, and while I definitely prefer the latter, I also know that money doesn't protect me from being sad.

And we need to stop thinking that it does.

Because even rich people like Anthony Bourdain deserve to be cared for when they're depressed.  They deserve forgiveness and understanding for not being able to stay in this often hostile world.

I forgive and understand you Tony.  And I will miss the heck out of you.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

What It's Like to be Queer

Pride Week is coming up in my city, and as an early event, last week my medical school hosted a group of transgender individuals talking about their experiences and answering questions.  Although it was a Friday afternoon and I was tired from being on call, I made an effort to attend, partly because I was interested in the session, and partly because as a queer person I feel a sense of responsibility to show up to all LGBTQ* events.  The session was hosted in the same room as my first-year medical school class, and as I pulled open the familiar door, I felt something completely unexpected.


Now, before I continue, I want to give some back story.  I came out as a lesbian when I was 16, and as bisexual less than a year later, so I have been out to the people closest to me for decades.  I brought my same-sex partner to a work dinner over four years ago, and I have been answering people's awkward questions about swingers resorts and polyamory at work ever since.  But when I was in medical school, having just returned to my home city after seven years away, none of my classmates knew.  Because I was still dating men at the time, everyone operated on the assumption that I was straight, and I did nothing to challenge them.

So my first thought, walking into my old classroom, was a reflexive "I hope no one sees me here and figures out that I'm queer."  Which...hello.  A little late now.  I work at a small university, and pretty much everyone who knows me also knows that I'm queer.

But there it was, nonetheless.  An almost instinctive desire to hide.  To pretend to be just like everyone else.

And it came up again last night.  The new girl and I went to a theatre show together, which was hosted by the company with which I volunteer, and my first thought was that I needed to hide the relationship from my fellow volunteers.

My fellow volunteers in a left-wing theatre company.  

There aren't a lot of spaces in this world that are more queer-positive than a theatre show, and yet that automatic response was still there.  Even though I live in a country where same-sex marriage has been legal for 13 years and where the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects LGBTQ* individuals, I still feel anxious about being out everywhere I go.

If my patient finds out that I'm queer, will they want a different doctor?
If my doctor finds out that I'm queer, will she want a different patient?
Can I hold my partner's hand in this alleyway at night?  In the elevator of my apartment building?  In the grocery store?

I am so lucky and grateful to live in a time and place where my rights as a queer woman are protected.

And yet.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Anticipatory Grief

Years ago, a friend of mine who was eight months pregnant commented that she hadn't set up her nursery yet, as she knew that it would upset her if she were so unlucky as to have a late complication and lose her baby.  Another friend, who was already a mother, gave her a piece of advice that has stuck with me to this day:

"If you lose your baby, you're going to be devastated whether you've set up the nursery or not.  All that you're accomplishing by trying to protect yourself from grief is preventing yourself from feeling joy right now."

I have been thinking about this a lot over the past ten days.  Ten days ago I met "the new girl", and in addition to blogging about her here, I've also been tweeting about her incessantly.  About how much we have in common.  About how easy it is to talk to her.  About how I kind of wanted to marry her after she told me that she has a plan to retire at 55.

I recognize that this is ridiculous.  We have known each other for only 10 days, and while there are many things that work, 10 days is way too soon to be making any sort of decisions about anything.  It is not impossible to think that we could end up in a wonderful forty-year-long relationship, but we could also be sick of each other by the end of the month.  We just don't know.

And honestly, I'm scared.  I'm scared that I am going to fuck something up, or she is going to fuck something up, or that things are just not going to align in the right way, and this lovely feeling I'm feeling is going to end.  So part of me thinks that I should stop tweeting and daydreaming and feeling all of the happy feels.

But then I remember the advice.  And I just go with it.

Thursday, May 17, 2018


Hey wow...yes...I have a blog.

It turns out that when you take three weeks off of work, no matter how good a job you do of getting caught up before you leave, there will be a shit tonne* of work waiting for you on your return.  And if you're sick for three weeks before you leave and therefore don't get done everything you want?

You're doomed.

It has taken me a solid three weeks of hard work to get almost fully caught up, and I am now on call for two weeks, so I am falling further behind every day.  So there (obviously) hasn't been a lot of blogging happening.

But there has been some dating.  (Also a reason for the not blogging.)

Dating is one of my least favourite activities in the world.  I have a few hangups about my appearance (thanks bad genetics and critical mother!), so putting photos out there for people to judge me by is not fun.  (I'm sure I'm the only person who feels this way.)  I also really don't like to meet new people.  I do like when new people become old friends, but I do not like the anxiety of meeting someone new or the tedium of making small talk with someone I don't like.

So yeah.  Introverts.  Don't like dating.  Who knew?

But then I met someone.  Maybe not SOMEONE, someone.  But someone interesting.  Someone whom I have actually been seeing around my city for years, because my city is small and we both love the theatre.  Someone who likes 90% of the same things as me.  Someone whom I have now spent over 8 hours with and had virtually no moments of awkward silence with. 


And it has been pretty wonderful, in a lot of ways.  Except for my anxious brain.  My anxious brain does not like to just relax and let things happen.  It wants answers to everything.  Now. 

Are we compatible enough?  Will my mother like her**?  Will I break her heart?  Will she break mine?  Will I stay with her too long and regret time lost, like I always do? 

It is, frankly, ridiculous.  I haven't known her long enough to be wondering any of these things.  All of these questions, and the many others that distract me constantly, can be answered with time.  There is no rush.

I can just date.

So I am trying to go against my nature and do just that.  Trying to slow down and let things unfold how they will. 

We shall see.

*The metric equivalent of a shit ton.

**Probably not.  But that's just my mother.