Every moment is the paradox of now or never

December 2, 2017 § 6 Comments

It’s been one week since my exam and it has not been an easy one for me. I started writing a post on Wednesday but had to stop because it was just too soon for me to write about everything. I’m extremely, extremely hard on myself. I always have been. Over the years, I’ve learned to direct my focus to the constructive self-critique and ignore everything else. Well, at least I try to. It’s a constant battle. I’ve learned to appreciate this quality. I think its one of the reasons that I push myself so hard, that I am constantly striving to be a better version of myself. But every great strength can also be a great weakness and this week has been a heavy one for that.

I’m going to post what I wrote here. I don’t mind sharing my low moments with people. There are only a select few that I turn to when I am actually deep in the thick of it, but afterward, it’s a learning experience. We all encounter periods like this at one point or another and pretending that we don’t doesn’t make us stronger. I’ve always believed that acknowledging and embracing my weaknesses takes away their power. If I own them no one person or one situation can use them against me. Then I am free to work on them at my own pace.

At this point in time, this is as much as I am going to share about the exam. I still have another two weeks until I get my results and I have plenty of other things to focus on now. Now is not the time to relive the experience, to criticize myself or even to reflect on these past few months. In two and a half weeks, I will have the result, I will have finished with my final exam in internal medicine, and I will be on the way to the US to spend three weeks with my mom and brother. I’ll be traveling with Amir and Baloo and am looking so, so forward to spending so much stress-free, quality time with some of the people I love most in the world.

Unpublished post: 124 hours

I’d been told what to expect when I finished the exam. I’d been primed for the feelings of inadequacy, the sheer disbelief, the relief of it being over and the anguish at the thought of having to wait three weeks for the result. I’d been warned of the flashbacks that would hit me in the days that followed and that the wait would be heavy and torturous. If you’re expecting this to continue into a more melancholic post, you’re correct. If you were expecting it to take a positive spin, this won’t be the post you thought it would be. Unless you count pushing through hell as being positive.

I’ve been in a bit of a daze since Friday. I’m finding it hard to put my feelings into words. Coherent is the last word I would use to describe my thoughts these days. I just feel very, very…sad. Maybe a bit shell-shocked. Empty. Low. Defeated.

The exam was…I can’t even think of a word to describe it. I thought I was ready to write about it. I thought sitting here now would be cathartic…

That exam coupled with my intense self-critique broke me. I was stripped of all my armor and skill and thrown repeatedly back into battle with every block. Dragging myself through those 9 hours was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It was so different than what I expected or what I’d prepared for that it honestly felt like they’d given me the wrong exam. It felt like I’d studied Spanish and was getting tested on French. After the first block, I locked away my pride and told myself it would get better, that I just had to stay positive and keep pushing through. But then the second block was the same. And then the third. And the fourth. It wasn’t until the 7th and final block that I finally got questions that I felt confident on. Questions where I knew what they were asking. Questions where the answers made sense. Questions that finally made me feel like I could show what I knew. But by then, there was honestly hardly any of me left.

Everyone keeps saying that they think I did well, that it’s a good sign that I felt it was so difficult. Right now, I don’t agree with any of them. I feel so, so strongly that it didn’t go well. There are weeks and weeks worth of learned material that I didn’t get tested on. It wasn’t like any of the question banks or practice exams I did. The questions were such that there wasn’t even any point of quickly browsing through my quick-review notes or looking in First Aid during my breaks. Those couldn’t help me. I did the best I could. I really mean it when I say that I dragged myself through it. I took several short breaks rather than one long one and used those to inhale water and a rice cake, rub my temples, take a deep breath and jump back in.

I do want to end this post on a more positive spin, so I am going to share something else I wrote: a letter to myself. In the days before the exam, I found my thoughts getting more and more negative and a special sort of panic begin to set in. One night, after two hours of not being able to sleep, I asked myself what I would say to someone I cared about if were him or her going through this and not me. Then, I wrote those things down. It felt silly at the time, but it worked wonders. I read it to myself several times a day after that.

Letter to myself

This is not something you get lucky on. This is a fully comprehensive exam with 280 questions that span almost every subject you’ve learned in your entire medical education. This is not a “pick two topics and hope you get the ones you studied” exam. This is unlike anything you’ve done before. So you need to have a different mentality about it. You have been preparing for this for months now. You’ve done thousands of questions – and done them well! You’ve learned so much from when you first started and your brain has adapted so amazingly well. Of course there are going to be things you wish you could improve upon, things you wish you could do differently. But that is not an indication that you HAVE done something wrong. In fact, it’s just a testament to your growth, to your ability to evolve. You can look back on any situation in life and see how things could have been done differently, at what you could have done better, at how things could have been more streamlined. And you can do that because it’s in the past. Now, you know what happened. It’s easy to criticize after the fact, to see exactly what went wrong, but only because you already know the outcome. What you can’t do is let that criticism stop you from progressing. There is literally nothing that comes out of allowing it to debilitate you. So why would you let that happen? Why would you let yourself be weakened now?

Now is not the time for critical reflection. You’re not done yet. Stop trying to rush things. Look ahead. Look at the time you have left and what you can and WANT to do with that time. Literally anything you decide to do is good. You could get tested on anything, so it doesn’t matter what you do. I promise you, when you are done with the exam, you will have time to analyze how you prepared. Even better would be to wait until you get your result. Why? Because you can’t trust yourself when it comes to evaluating your knowledge. And B, there is no possible way you can manipulate this exam in your favor. This exam is way, way bigger than you. It’s sole purpose is to evaluate and quantify the knowledge of medical students. So trust it. Let it do what it is supposed to do. Do what you can now. Take care of your mind and your body, remember that this exam is as much about endurance as it is knowledge. Your mind will not work in a hostile environment, so remember that you need to create a safe space for it. No fight or flight response. When you’re there in the exam, that is literally the only place in the world you are supposed to be. Nothing else exists. It’s just you and the question you’re working on.

All the anxiety you are feeling now is the result of you thinking that you have control, that you can somehow determine what is going to happen in the future. You are taking responsibility for something that has not happened yet and for something that you are not even supposed to be taking responsibility for. Who do you think you are that you think you control the future? Let it go. This is not what the battle is. The battle is preparing yourself to the best of your abilities at that point in time, challenging yourself, and then evaluating the outcome. You have done exactly what you should have done when you needed to do it.

If there is a lesson to be learned, let it present itself in due time. Let the lessons of this world appear when they are supposed to appear and stop trying to predict and control them. There is no shame in saying you were wrong, in admitting you could have done something differently, in apologizing. We are dynamic, forever evolving and adapting creatures. You are not perfect now, nor will you ever be. You will never be done learning. You will never be “done” or “complete”. There is always going to be a better version of you down the road. So stop looking back. Stop looking at where you are now and obsessing over if it is the right place or the wrong place or if you made a mistake somewhere that you need to fix. Leave all that noise and move forward. Embrace the self-development, embrace the humility and the strength that comes from enduring these challenges. You live for this. You know you do. So let yourself breath it in!! Right now, you are the most perfect version of yourself that you could be in this moment. And tomorrow, there will be a new, stronger version that is perfect for then. Leave things to grow and develop at their own time – yourself included. You are not in control and you never will be.

Tomorrow is a Wednesday. Wednesday is the third day of the work week (depending on what country you live in). Some people call it “hump day” because it’s seen as the hump of the week. There will be another Wednesday next week, another one after that, and another one after that. Tomorrow will have different meanings for everyone in the world. Some people may remember it forever while others will never think of it again. For you, it happens to be the second to last day before your exam. You’re going to do some practice questions, go to the gym, take a hot shower and maybe take a short power nap, pack for your trip and review some notes. Then it’s going to be over. You’ll never live that day again and it will never hold more meaning to you than it did while you lived it. It’s as simple as that. Find peace in relinquishing your perceived control of the uncontrollable.

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