travels

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to describe the experiences I had when I was away. People talk about traveling, and the impact it has on your life, and you don’t believe them until you actually have that transformation yourself. You grow up in the comfort of your own country with people that mostly look like you and act like you. For my personal childhood, these people were pretty homogenous to me – in appearance and ideology. When I went to college I realized how much I appreciated learning from other cultures and from people that think differently than myself; I adored meeting those people and developed an appreciation for our differences. This December, I seriously sat down with my dad and asked if I could travel abroad for a Maymester. Going out of the country, admittedly, scared me. After some convincing and coercing, I was given blessings to go to Ireland and England. I would be studying public health of three countries and was ecstatic to learn of an area of healthcare I was less familiar with. The spring semester came with its challenges of exams, family life, a new research job, and college in general but before long I had finished my second year of college and was packing to travel across the pond. I can admit that I really had no idea what I was getting myself into – and that is part of the beauty of it all.

It is overwhelming to think of how to write about my experiences. I couldn’t possibly try to start from the beginning to the end, and I’m kicking myself for not keeping a journal going throughout my journey abroad. Truthfully though, I was going pretty much nonstop and would cherish the few hours of sleep I would get each night. I didn’t find time to write. When I think about what I learned on this trip, so much comes to mind. I’ve decided to just write of my experiences as I think of them – so my first one is below!

I feel very deeply that my experiences abroad will make me a better future doctor. Public health is concerned with the health of the masses – not the privileged, or the wealthy, or the exceptional, but of every man and every woman that is deserving of health. A public health perspective is not focused on individual treatment but on ensuring health opportunity for every person. This means that the woman in poverty with a newborn child is just as deserving of health as the wealthy businessman with a nice sportscar. On the first three days of our trip, I learned about the public health infrastructure in the United States, Tennessee, and Nashville. The Commissioner of Health for Tennessee spoke with passion about healthcare for all, not just in the states, but globally. He spoke of not just improving health but health equity. I learned of government programs that aim to improve the health of vulnerable populations – women with children, the impoverished, elderly people, people in rural populations. I observed with excitement the earnest desire that our public health professionals have to alleviate disease and illness and ensure health for all people. I walked the streets of Nashville with a nonprofit organization and talked to people living in homelessness – people I had often passed. I learned of how homeless people are even more susceptible to mental and physical disease than those that have a place to rest their heads. My heart became more compassionate, more understanding, and more heartbroken for the lack of systems we have to care for people that need it most. I thought of how homeless people were stigmatized and criminalized. What I realized most was my own attitude towards them. People – despite color, wealth, social status, illness, or any other factors – are just people at their core. They share the same anatomy, the same biochemistry happening inside their bodies, the same capacity for illness, the same emotional vulnerabilities. People are people, and sometimes as a society, we don’t treat them that way. People are stigmatized for mental illnesses, HIV/AIDS or other STIs, disabilities, and a menagerie of other diseases. In my own country, I noted these discrepancies. As I traveled overseas, I had lectures on public health in the UK and in Ireland. The same problems exist elsewhere, but I do feel these countries have developed more inclusive health systems. Without getting into the (complicated) details of the healthcare systems across the pond, the UK has a single-payer system that is funded through tax dollars and offers coverage to all citizens. The UK also ranks #1 among healthcare delivery, accessibility, quality, and timeliness; unfortunately, they rank second-to-last in health outcomes (second only to the United States). So, of course, the UK has its problems in improving the health of populations but at least has developed a sophisticated and inclusive (for the most part) healthcare system. Ireland has a much more convoluted healthcare system that has a public component where all citizens get a medical card they use to get public healthcare, and a private component where paying citizens can get private insurance and faster healthcare services. Interestingly, the public healthcare services are more desired than the private because of more extensive expertise in the public hospitals. Nonetheless, all of this healthcare talk is really exciting to me and something I want to be more involved in but probably boring for everyone else… The culmination of my experiences abroad lead me to realize that whether or not you believe healthcare is a right or a privilege – you have to believe that health is a right. Every person is entitled to living a healthy, happy life, free of disease and illness, free of disability, and free of pain. The unfortunate truth is that many people don’t live lives that way now and may never live that way. In my future practice as a doctor, I hope to work to ensure my patients have the best medical care with their optimized health always in my mind. I will value my patients as people with equality and integrity – no matter their race, background, income, homelessness, religious belief, or language barriers. I learned much more on my trip (like where the best pubs are in Ireland and where to get the best Americano in London) but of course this was the important, overarching theme that I wanted to write about first. I will forever be thankful for my travels abroad and hope to write of (perhaps more exciting?) experiences soon!

London

I’m lying in my bed, with my windows open to the fresh, energetic air of London at night. I’m on Thoresby Street, living in Thoresby House, the yellow colored building with stairs that lead to the red door and a winding, wooden staircase that invites you into my hall. Perched in my bed, I hear the ripping of taxis and blustery honks, buzzing of motorcycles, and roaring of engines; but my favorite sounds so far have been the passing voices that find their way up and into my window. I’ve probably heard four different languages, fluidly speaking with ease and laughter and friendship as the passersby leave a trail of conversation. I can feel the wind blow in (the primary reason my window is open) and feel immersed in London already. I’ve been here for around 12 hours, I’ve been awake for around 34 hours, and I’ve already grown to cherish this city. I think of all the writers that I’ve read who have found inspiration in these streets, written of the exquisite beauty of the brisk walkers, the antiqued buildings, and the overcast skies. Virginia Woolf found London to be the only thing worth writing about – the true love of her life. Sherlock Holmes is one of the world’s favorite detectives (and certainly mine) because Arthur Conan Doyle’s medicine practice was unfortunately failing and writing was his escape. Winston Churchill echoed speeches that are inscribed in history books; and the royal family has been plagued by paparazzi since the establishment. And speaking of plagues – this city has seen them. I couldn’t wash my face and brush my teeth tonight without thinking of the cholera epidemic in London. Multiple diseases have ran rampant through this city and have faced eradication thanks to human intervention. Lots of things run through the old, regularly washed buildings of London. The streets taunt you with their secrets, the lives they have seen and the history that they’ve made. The buildings are beautiful – colored with character and stitched together with shades of red brick. And, oh, I’ve noticed – London is diverse. The people are colored many colors and speak many languages. Styles are different and some of the same. The university district was buzzing with students that held a sophisticated aura of intelligence and creativity. The people look different. They act different. They are different. Yet the real beauty I have found so far in London is that all of these differences are appreciated. Virginia Woolf would have been inspired by the many colors of faces she saw on the street and would have etched them out in unimaginable detail. London will charm you. I will lay here, with a Woolf-like awe, and observe with my ears the many sounds and feelings and emotions and thoughts that this sweet city will send up my window, to touch my heart and to move my hands to continue to write.

finish line

You’ve got people in your corner. You may not know who they are yet, or maybe you do, but they are there. There are people out there that want to see you succeed as bad as you do. They support you, encourage you, market you to other professionals, love you in your flaws. They see your worth, even if you don’t. They recognize your talent, even when you don’t. Something about you inspires them, and you feed off their success and hunger for life. You have people that are your cheerleader. They rejoice with you when you do great things and they fall hard with you when you don’t. They are acutely aware of your life goals and dreams, and they can see what lights your eyes up and sets your heart ablaze mid-conversation. They tell you that they know what you were made for. They are happy for you. They are there for you. They are rooting for you. It may be your mom, teacher, co-worker, best friend, mentor, stranger, boss, dad, roommate, or just a passing face – but somehow they know you and believe in you. People are rooting for you. They don’t wish to see you fail, wish to see you find trouble, but are instead genuinely happy for you! These are true friends. Real friends that you find strength in. Friends that you reciprocate this feeling of pride, excitement, and overwhelming love for. Forget yourself and remember the people that are rooting for you. Those people will be the first people you hug whenever you cross the finish line.

-Me, to myself, when self doubt infiltrates my thoughts on the beautiful things God has given me.

Pushing stones

Find something you think is important and spend your life supporting it. How does one find meaning in the mundane, spontaneity in the ordinary, and purpose in the routine? These are questions I think about often, and I don’t think anyone knows. But I do think some are closer than others. I read a book over Christmas break that impacted me deeply (I wrote about it on here), and what I took away from it was the basic human need to do meaningful work. Some would argue that life should be spent pursuing fantastical adventures, exploring the unknown, living robust and exciting lives…and while this is true to some extent, it is supremely unconventional and sometimes plainly unattainable. I am a person that sometimes gets carried away on these lofty, imaginative thoughts as well, but nonetheless I find my roots and become grounded in the practicality of life. So what do we do when we can’t spend our lives traveling the globe, jumping out of airplanes, investing in nonprofit organizations, saving the lives of homeless people, writing best-selling books? I think my personal answer was revealed to me by a classmate in my European literature class yesterday. We were discussing The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. While we didn’t read this piece, there was a metaphor that we discussed. This was the vision of someone pushing a rock, up a hill, only to never reach the top. This person spent his whole life, some would say ignorantly, pushing a stone up the hill to never become satisfied in his efforts. In a way, we spend our entire lives doing the same thing. Maybe we are pushing along many stones, exerting ourselves in unnecessary ways, only to find that the end was never our goal. The entire journey is about the stone. What does all of this metaphysical, philosophical jargon mean anyways? For me, really a practical person, it means finding a stone I think worthy of spending my life pushing. Identifying, consciously, what it means to do meaningful work. It means actively engaging in my life in ways that I have been gifted, and exploring the limits of those treasures. Viktor Frankl would say that our fundamental human condition rests on doing and performing meaningful, purposeful work. This may not be a traditional “job”, but instead a cause that we support, a belief we are rooted in, or a purpose we feel destined to fulfill. Or, it may be a traditional vocation where we can utilize and implore our skills, grow, change, and transform. For me, what my stone is becomes clearer every day. Admittedly, there will be (and are) doubts (why should I spend my time doing this anyways?) but whether we are aware of it or not, we are all pushing something. Maybe yours is social media, the opinions of others, and mediocrity. Maybe it is a watered-down version of yourself. Maybe it is what your family and friends want for you instead of what you want for yourself. It really only takes conscious knowledge to change these things, and I have found myself in these examples as well. We are all spending our time, energies, and lives supporting something. For me, I want to be a part of this process. I want to push a stone that allows me to transform lives through my curiosities and my skills. I want to spend my life pushing myself towards fulfilling a greater purpose than I could ever be. I want to care for people in their most vulnerable state, discover new ideas, advance our understanding of the human condition and the science behind it. I want to allow myself creative exploration and the ability to write when I want. I want to permeate love and kindness and grace and hope in the places I share with those I cherish. Simply, I want to dedicate myself and my time to something meaningful. I think everyone does. The important part is to find that thing that makes you light up inside and is worth your time and energy. We all have them, and we will spend all of our lives pushing, supporting, sacrificing, all that we have to navigate that stone up the hill towards what we consider a meaningful and promising life.

Structured chaos

Life is busy. We are running around, chasing dreams that have us hooked like the bait on a hook, and life unravels its tightly woven, clean lines. I have found that peace and stillness lies within delighting each moment that leaves you feeling frazzled AND those that leave you feeling gratified. This is the busiest semester I have had at Belmont: everyday, I am waking early to study, running to class, popping into meetings, driving to the lab, spending hours doing research, then driving back late at night and finding I haven’t eaten in a while or gone to the gym for the day. So I take the time to eat, work out if I can, and talk with my roommates. Then I finish up studying/homework and find myself in bed usually past midnight and honestly wanting to watch some Netflix. There are some days that literally every half hour of my day is planned and inscribed in my planner. There are days were I have to be six different places within a few hours. This is not unique to me. My friends and classmates are equally as busy, running around doing their amazing things and chasing their dreams. We are all working so hard, always keeping in mind that elusive goal that we are chasing so fervently. It is one of the beautiful things about college, being surrounded by like-minded and motivated individuals. It is encouraging to see your friends doing awesome activities, getting accepted into awesome internships, and just all around being awesome. We are each carving our own unique pathway towards being who we want to become. I have two thoughts on this.

One. Remember that it is indeed your own pathway. Just because the person next to you is the President of twelve different clubs while running a nonprofit organization on the side doesn’t mean that you have to be that same person. The world works in harmony when there are many different types of people living their lives in uniquely different ways. While many of those I spend time around everyday have similar goals, I try to remember that we are all unique people and that individuality shouldn’t be compromised for the sake of achieving your dreams. If you have to forsake who you really are just to “make it”, I would reconsider what you are chasing after all. I find truth in cliches, and certainly “comparison is the thief of joy” is true to the end. Comparison is inevitable, but I have found that my happiness abounds whenever I remember that I don’t have to be like anyone else but who I am; I only have to be true to myself and my God. I admit that the courage to follow this is sometimes little, but I find it and hold onto it and hope that my life is incredibly robust because I am living out my dream not the dream of those around me. In short, don’t be afraid to take chances and be yourself when it seems the world (and our country) are increasingly trying to normalize the loss of individuality.

Two. Don’t let your to-do list run the roost! I am pointing this message directly at myself now because this is probably my biggest struggle. I make to-do lists every. single. day. Usually, I complete them and feel a grand sense of personal satisfaction. My lists keep me on track, organized, motivated, and determined. But when I step back and look at how completely structured my life is I remember that it’s really not supposed to be that way. Structure and routine are the fundamentals of my existence (or at least my mental health) but they evade the time for writing and reading and going out with friends and watching an episode of Netflix or going for a walk or visiting a new store or etc. etc. etc. So I am going to challenge myself to be more conscious of my to-do list and what it is potentially preventing me from experiencing that I need to experience (sometimes Netflix is simply not justifiable, but other things are). It is going to be beautiful this weekend and I have a laundry list of things on schedule. I am going to try to find the time to take it slow, to think, breathe, and meditate on the good things in my life that I am blessed to have and be able to do.

So I wish a very blessed Saturday for you all. Spend it doing what you love and don’t be ashamed of what that may be (full disclosure: I’ll be doing organic chemistry, possibly visiting TJ Maxx HomeGoods, and grabbing dinner with my friends or family). Enjoy it!

 

Doing hard things

Here’s the truth: College is really hard. It is hard because you are doing so much, always with the question lingering in the back of your mind: Am I doing the right things? I don’t mean the right things to get you to your desired destination (graduate school, nursing school, professional school, a job, etc.) but the right things for your life and for a meaningful life. I think it is truly imperative to ask yourself these questions. I literally ask myself an iteration of the same question every day. Am I doing this right? Am I engaging in activities and with people that are pushing me towards what I want in my life? Am I doing meaningful work, for the right reasons? Am I a happy person? Am I happy in the situation that I am in, doing what am I am doing? I can be honest and tell you that sometimes the answer is no; I am not happy doing certain things or being with certain people. In these moments, it is critical to acknowledge this quality and then, importantly, modify behavior. I ask myself these questions with hope that I find truthful answers – so that I can deliberately and intentionally identify where in my life unhappiness or resentment starts to permeate my peace. I don’t mistake sleeplessness or mental fatigue for unhappiness – these things are usually temporary and can be remedied with a good night’s rest and relaxation. But I do acknowledge that fulfilling purpose requires deep commitment and faith. Things will inevitably change – perhaps both interests and circumstances. It is important to be open to these changes. I recently changed my major and minor this semester because I was intentionally and deliberately asking myself if I was getting everything that I desired with the path I had designed for myself. The truth is – I love writing and my literature courses, I love both my biology and chemistry courses, and I had a way that I could harmoniously love both for the next two years (and beyond, of course). The point is that I was open and comfortable with altering my course. The endpoint is the same. The pathway there is different. I encourage you, when you’re drowning in articles to read, papers to write, exams to study for, meetings to attend, jobs to uphold, you mentally take a break long enough to ask yourself why it is you are doing what you do. Robotic, mechanistic activity has a place in this world – but not in the activity of one’s life. I want to love what I do, both now as a student and in the future as a physician. If you are miserable in your journey to your dream destination, I would highly suggest reconsidering why you’re chasing that dream. Life is simply too short to be cranky all the time. Life is too short to be unhappy. Yes, there will be moments of uncertainty, of pressure, of questioning, and of doubt. In these moments, not if you survive them but when you do, you will find yourself strengthened and purposeful. There are certainly days I am tired (just ask me any day and I’ll tell you, easily) but there are days where passion triumphs fatigue and inspiration refocuses all the reasons I dream big dreams and chase them with everything I have. I implore you to ask yourself hard questions and don’t be afraid to do hard things. Honestly – I really believe you can.

I took a month away from social media and this is what I learned.

How lovely it is to have found peace again. I recently removed myself from what I have discovered was the unrestricted source of my anxiety. That addictive, appealing realm of the internet that draws us in and captures our thoughts, time, and soon enough, even our motivation. In the past month or so, I removed myself completely from social media. What I found was an unexpected, and wholly welcomed, shock. While away from social media, I learned an incredibly lot. My days were not saturated with staring at my phone or mindlessly scrolling past the lives of others. I was not engrossed in the fascinating stories on my Instagram or the gossip-drenched commentary on Facebook. Instead, I found myself with a new, real peace. I found authenticity in my life again. Last summer, I vividly remember writing of the deep yearning I had for intimacy in my life. I felt as if I was living superficially, for the outward view. In truth I was. I have been living my life through the perception of myself online. I viewed my worth by the praise and friendships I generated online. I felt my identity in the 140 characters of a “bio” I could fit on Instagram. I was enveloped in titles I had given myself – scientist, researcher, biochemistry student, fitness fanatic, reader, intelligent, young woman. I knew who I was and was confident in this person because of the identity of who I was online. The great flaw in all of this is the rigidity to change that comes online. I became scared to change who I am, my interests. It did not fit in with who I was online so it could not be so. Interestingly, even the motivation behind my actions was pressured by those social media obligations I felt. Walking from the lab – take a picture for others to see. Doing something fun – take a picture for others to see. Reading a good book – spend 20 minutes trying to get a cute picture for others to see, and by then the time I had to read is gone. Express, with sincere gratitude, the blessings I had been given. Try to inspire others with words and images. The former qualities, common themes I see among social media, are incredibly toxic. In living my life online, I was quenching the life I was actually living. I spent more time focused on taking photos of the moments than the moments themselves. I was more motivated to do something for the sake of a photo or share than for the actual activity itself. Social media, though it can serve a democratic and good purpose, was draining my life of its goodness. It was capturing my time, my energy, and my emotions.

I don’t mean to demonize social media or its purpose. Indeed, I missed the positive motivation I gained online – from role models, friends, and family. I missed that. Everything else though, I did not miss. I did not miss the comparison I felt against every image that scrolled past me. Not that I intently analyzed everyone’s posts, but simply a natural inclination to take a photo or comment and compare it against my own life and self. This is inherent to our nature and cannot be avoided. I don’t think social media is bad. I don’t think it ruins lives or intends to cause harm. In fact, I think it can be very important for a business and for staying connected with long-distance friends and family. It is how our generation operates. I don’t think that necessarily means it is good for us though.

Let me tell you about my month. I did this fast from social media with other members of my church, Ethos, here in Nashville and across the globe. Thirty days of supplication to God without something crucial to our lives. I chose social media for personal reasons. The first few days I was anxious with what I was missing, the messages I was receiving, the likes and followers I was generating, and the photos I would never see. I was faithful to my promise though, and persisted. Instead of getting on my phone, I would read. When I did get on my phone, I would find an online article or play a game. Even better, I would talk to those around me. The weeks passed and I found myself in a very lovely, vulnerable place. I spent more time with my thoughts. I cried often. I laughed often. I felt a freeing, empowering sense of authenticity in my life. I experienced the reality of failure and the satisfaction of reward. I stopped removing myself from some of the ugly things going on in my life and I let my emotions run unrestricted. I looked at the sky as I walked and I listened to the birds sing as I traveled. I examined the countenance of those I passed and grew curious about their lives. I thought about my own life. This is important. I thought about my own life, but not in the context of what I want others to perceive it as. I thought of my own life in the image of what I want it to be. I thought of what makes me happy, what makes me sad, what powers me, what defeats me, what inspires me, what angers me, what encourages me. I prayed often. I felt, for the first time in a very long time, a real intimacy with my life. I made some decisions. I was intentional with my time. I was a more focused student. I studied for longer periods without interruption. I don’t need mental “breaks” on social media anymore. I have reconditioned myself to be focused, intent, and aware of my surroundings and of myself. I worked hard in the lab, and I saw the beautiful, synchronized beating of cardiomyocytes that I cultivated, maintained, and cared for. I worked hard problems and defeated difficult exams. My days often felt like rollercoasters because, truthfully, they were. I am not invincible; I am not Superwoman. I am, however, a super woman. I am worthy and purposeful. My talents make me unique, and in these past weeks I felt less compared to others than I have in my entire life. I felt like me.

Every day, I wrote. In the mornings I would write. In the afternoons I would write. Walking to class, in my mind I would write. On the treadmill, I would write. I won’t act like it was all gold or articulated in a lovely way. But writing enabled me to feel again. It brought me closer with my life and the complexities and hardships that I have avoided for a long time. Writing caused me to reflect and to think about what I am experiencing in this crazy world! I remembered the deep passion I felt for writing. I realized why my writing has been so dry the past year – it was motivated by my blog and by the attraction I hoped to gain. In this goal the ingenuity of my writing was lost among the aim to appeal to others. Throughout this month, I have tucked away writings in my journal, my computer, and my mind. These are treasures that I hold dearly, words that were motivated purely for my own expression. I wrote diligently and fell in love with it all again.

I will continue. I will continue to write. I will continue to study the intricate, complicated science of the world. I will do so with a deep appreciation for this past month away from the social media-sphere. I don’t know if I will go back online for a while (truly, my grades would appreciate it if I maintained my current activity). I write this to encourage you to step away from your phone. You may find that you are much more complicated than you thought, and that you have a passion within you that has been suppressed by lack of time. I can say that I feel incredibly thankful that I made a small decision and learned a lot as a result of that decision. To me, that will always be a success.