When was the last time you took a deep breath and embraced the moment? Do it now. Close your eyes and repeat after me. Right. Here.
This small activity in a lecture on self-awareness oddly comforted me, primarily because I could not remember the last time that I did it, and secondarily because it allowed me to recognize that I had permission to stop for a moment, one moment, and do absolutely nothing but take a deep breath. I didn’t have to worry about my newly founded pulmonary knowledge of contracting muscles and a decreasing intrapleural pressure and relaxing muscles and increasing intrapleural pressure, over and over again. I closed my eyes and breathed. Just breathed. And I listened to the breaths of those around me. I was here, in this moment. It was nice. It made me realize what I have been missing for the longest time: the recognition that I was exactly where I needed to be, right here, in this moment, and that every event of my life contributed to the person I currently am. That realization required recognition and deserved appreciation. It was calming, to take the time to accept the present. But then the moment passed and I was thrusted into constantly thinking about what my future held.
The statistics shocked me. Coming in I knew that physicians had infamous rates of suicide, but I didn’t realize they were the population most at risk, that women physicians in particular are at an even greater risk. I didn’t realize that statistics stated that nearly half of my classmates, myself included, will experience depression at least one time in this journey we are on. I was under the impression that suicide rates are decreasing, that somehow physicians are finding better ways to cope with depression and negativity, that I was starting to see more positive articles promoting this selfless lifestyle. Find a balance. Center yourself. It seems so simple, so easy, so why are we failing?
Before the talk on the power of self-preservation, I heard a talk from a physician working with the homeless. I was listening to my life goals, observing a role model who accomplished the types of things I wanted to accomplish. She found connections with her patients that allowed her to grow and learn. That is the type of person I want to be, the person who retains a romanticism said to be often lost throughout medical school, the physician who loves, who heals, who cures, who cares, who follows up, who impacts a community for the greater good. I think of the late nights, the bad exams, the failures and the successes, everything that had to happen to make what will happen, and then I think of how small they are-were-compared to the connections I am already building with the little medical knowledge I have. The healing connections I have are from the interactions with patients at preceptorship, the smiles of patients of physicians I am shadowing, the mutual understanding with refugees as I take their blood pressure and blood glucose despite a language barrier. Those experiences are meaningful and inspiring, and they make the everyday struggle worth it.
My self-preservation comes from building these connections. It is providing a service knowing that I will be satisfied that I crossed paths with someone else, and whether small or big, they will contribute to my present. A connection can be made at any point, in any circumstance-in the emergency room, in a pediatric clinic, on the metro rail-and it can be either incredibly pleasant or heart wrenchingly distressing. It’s sifting through these experiences, picking the ones that will contribute to my overall happiness. And of course, it is taking the time out of my day to sit down and simply breathe, to appreciate the memories that have granted me my present.