The Gray Twilight

May 15, 2015 § 3 Comments

Three days out and I’m feeling both extremely calm and extremely anxious at the same time. I’m really making an effort this round to not let the stress and panic get the best of me. Last semester’s exam period was horrible and I don’t want to go through that again.

For the past hour, I’ve been holding myself back from sinking into a more negative, hopeless mindset. My eyes feel tight and dry and that makes it hard to sit here and continue reading. Sleep will come, but if I don’t feel happy with what I have accomplished before bed, negative thoughts will seep into my dreams. I can’t have that now. So, I’m trying to process it rationally.

What am I afraid of? I’m afraid of being asked something I don’t know, of standing there with my heart pounding in my chest while the examiner stares at me, waiting for my answer while I frantically search my brain for some semblance of an answer. I’m afraid of realizing that I don’t know the answer and getting caught in this endless battle of not knowing whether to admit it or just waiting until they acknowledge that I don’t without my telling them. I’m afraid of missing a major point, as a result of having spent too much time on unnecessary details. I’m afraid of saying something completely wrong. I’m afraid of feeling embarrassed, humiliated or ashamed. I’m afraid of failing this exam. I’m afraid of failing the retake and having to push all my other exams back and then failing those.

Normally, this is where I stay. I stay here, with my heart in my stomach and these thoughts swirling around in my head. I try to fight my way out with reassuring thoughts, telling myself that everything will be ok and everything will work out in the end. But those reassuring thoughts are no match for the others.

I’m changing my tactics now. Hearing that everything is going to be ok, that it all works out in the end, etc. doesn’t work for me. It’s too… aspecific. It has no foundation other than hope and I can’t work with hope during exam period. No more fighting the negative thoughts. Instead, I’m going deeper. I’m going as far down as I can go, until I reach the heart, until I reach a place where I can face them head on.

What am I afraid of? I’m afraid of failing. What does failing mean? It means that I did something wrong. And what does that tell me? It tells me that I need to change something. It is feedback and that is all it is. If I spend too much time fusing over unnecessary details and miss an important concept, then I need to learn to set the details aside and look at the bigger picture. The exam is the only place where I will get feedback on my preparation. If it is wrong, I should not feel ashamed. I can feel sad, for a moment, but then I should change and come back. I should improve and try again.

I can’t manipulate the future, I can’t figure out the perfect plan for these next three days, a plan that would ensure that I pass. I need to do what I can, what I know how to do. I need to focus on the tips our teachers have given us. I need to take it one step at a time. There is no shame in failure. Failure teaches. And that is what I am here for. The panic I feel before exams gains strength only because I think I can control the outcome. It is because I think I can do something in those few days before to make it go in my favor. What I don’t realize is that it doesn’t matter. It goes in my favor either way. If I pass, it means I prepared correctly. If I don’t, it means I have some improvements to make, improvements that will make me stronger for the next challenge. I either pass through with the armor I’ve built or build it stronger for the next round. It doesn’t need to be – and really shouldn’t be – more complicated than that. Fear and anxiety are petty emotions. Nothing comes of indulging them.

I know this from before and I’m sure I’ve written about it many times. But it is easy to forget. It is no less true for me now in third year than it was when I was in first year. I am dedicating myself to a career that is characterized by a lifetime of learning. I need to learn to be comfortable in that position. To admit when I am wrong and to learn from it. To not be afraid of vulnerability. To not feel shame when I don’t know something, but rather to feel excited at the prospect of having something new to learn. This exam is not to be feared, it is to be anticipated with great excitement. This is the foundation of medicine and I want to earn its respect. I have no doubt that I will make it through in the end because I will give it everything that I have to give. But through this all, I need to remind myself that I am a student of medicine and must learn much more than the medicine itself.

A quote I repeat to myself:  I did then what I knew how to do, now that I know better, I do better.

The competition this past Monday went better than I’d thought. I wasn’t one of the top three, but I did come in at 5th place. I spent a good few days with my mind consumed of “If only I’d…” thoughts. I finally had to throw those aside and be happy with the confirmation that I know more than I think I do. I’ll share more details about the competition itself once this exam is over. Now, it’s back to the books!

The young think that failure is the Siberian end of the line, banishment from all the living, and tend to do what I then did – which was to hide.
— James A. Baldwin


It’s not necessary to fear the prospect of failure but to be determined not to fail.
~ Jimmy Carter


You must accept that you might fail; then, if you do your best and still don’t win, at least you can be satisfied that you’ve tried. If you don’t accept failure as a possibility, you don’t set high goals, you don’t branch out, you don’t try – you don’t take the risk.
— Rosalynn Carter


There are no magic answers, no miraculous methods to overcome the problems we face, just the familiar ones: honest search for understanding, education, organization, action … and the kind of commitment that will persist despite the temptations of disillusionment, despite many failures and only limited successes, inspired by the hope of a brighter future.”
— Noam Chomsky


But there is suffering in life, and there are defeats. No one can avoid them. But it’s better to lose some of the battles in the struggles for your dreams than to be defeated without ever knowing what you’re fighting for.
— Paulo Coelho


Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.
— John Dewey


No one can defeat us unless we first defeat ourselves.
— Dwight D. Eisenhower


Life is to be lived, not controlled, and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.
– Ralph Ellison


No matter how hard the loss, defeat might serve as well as victory to shake the soul and let the glory out.
~ Al Gore


The greatest mistake a man can make is to be afraid of making one.
– Elbert Hubbard


Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.
— Robert F. Kennedy


Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer too much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.
— Theodore Roosevelt

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§ 3 Responses to The Gray Twilight

  • Tony Fiorentino says:

    It has been 55 years since high school for me. I used to be at the top of the class consistently, even at the top of the entire school. Yet for many recent years I have a recurring dream of being unprepared for a high school exam. Sometimes within the dream I remind myself that the high school years are well behind me. It is difficult to understand the fear or the anxiety that fuels such dreams; that brings together ancient demons to create dream scenarios.or imagery. Only instinctual fears and negative emotions can create dreams and nightmares.But we do have available opposite emotions and attitudes that neutralize the imagery. Years ago I used to experience sleep paralysis. My mind awake while the body struggled to follow – it created a world of imagery and sounds that eventually I would find had not been real. Possibly much like the worlds of schizophrenics. One day at the inception of an episode I decided not to fear it but to actually love it and desired it as an opportunity to learn secrets of mind and body from it. It was as if I tried to open a forbidden door. I was thrown back immediately into the darkness of deep sleep – and never again have I been able to experience sleep paralysis. The paradox is that without our instinctual fears the hypnagogic imagery and perhaps even the normal imagery that connects us to this reality disappear. Emotions of attraction and positive desire takes us into no-thingness – a formless consciousness we are unable to comprehend. Perhaps the morale is that we should not be too eager to lose the dark forces and fears of the Id, that carry the energy that connects us to our everyday reality. And then of course all this this could be mere nonsense.

    • Buda B says:

      Beautifully put, Grandpa. I just woke up from a night of deep sleep peppered with a few dark dreams. I immediately began telling myself that I have to remain calm for the sake of my sanity and success. But then I began thinking that maybe I shouldn’t completely rule the darkness and stress out of my life. There is a TEDtalk about stress that I really enjoy. She speaks of how the affects of stress are the result of how you view stress and not the stress itself. She speaks of how to view stress as a strength and not a weakness. It’s your body preparing for battle. So, I’m deciding now to leave the panic, but take the stress, at least some of it. For these 3 days, I have to give it everything I’ve got, and that requires a little fire.

      I love reading your comments and am so appreciative that we have this opportunity to connect over the distance.

  • tony fiorentino says:

    What I did not say about my sleep paralysis experience is that for a few seconds after I took an attitude of openness and desire for that state, I thought that I could generate pain in parts of my body by a simple thought. I do not know if that experience was in the imaginal world my mind was creating, or in the reality we experience in common. But I know that was enough to thrown me back into deep sleep and never be allowed the experience again. Who knows what defensive, what fail-safe mechanism I had triggered. There is so much we do not know yet know about what we are and what we are capable of!

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