soul-work

Two days ago, I packed by bags and moved to Boston, MA. The night before was full of tears, happy ones and sad ones, long hugs, prayers, and motivating words. Honestly, I was completely terrified. And I’m working through those emotions and trying to allow God to guide my life, to dictate when and where I need to go to become the person He designed. It’s hard. I’m two days in, and I’ve already had to confront topics and conversations that challenge my thinking and address new ideas that I’ve never seen before. I welcome new ideas, and always have, but I trust that my roots are planted deep in my values—believing that those things that are critical to who I am are unchanging, unwavering. Some of the most important work I’ve been doing the past 8 years or so is establishing who I am, what I believe, what is important to me. It’s truly a dynamic process to lay down our foundations, to articulate what we find meaningful and important in life, and I’ve spent many nights, days, moments, and experiences trying to define those things for me. I’ve made mistakes, jumped into situations that eventually didn’t feel right for me, tried out a habit that was popular but didn’t speak to me, and made mistakes I want to forget forever. But all that soul-work was way more important than anything that I was studying in school—that stuff lingers long after the organic chemistry mechanisms fade into the dark crevices of the mind, never to be recovered. My advice to those younger people: focus on soul-work as much as “real” work. You will be challenged, confused, and overwhelmed as you transition into adulthood (am I there yet?) and that soul-work will root you to what’s important.

I’m doing a program called “Justice, Advocacy, and Activism in Medicine” or JAAM where we’ve discussed topics like racism in medicine, reproductive rights and justice, substance use disorders, abortion, transgender/intersex identities, and many more really heavy and difficult topics to grapple with. I was/am certainly overwhelmed, but I pray every night that God reveals himself to me over the next four years in ways I never imagined or anticipated so that I can better serve those people whose care will be entrusted to me. I pray that he surrounds me with people who will lift me up and challenge me, and that my relationships at home will be fortified because of a shared understanding and belief system. I’m incredibly thankful for Avery, my boyfriend, for being so supportive through everything we go through together and being the person I can debrief with when I need to. He is a wonderful life partner. I’m thankful for my parents and sisters for keeping me stable and showing me such strong love as I left home, reminding me how blessed I am to have people who care deeply for me. I’m thankful for this journey, even though I’m scared, nervous, and uneasy, because I’m also curious, excited, and hopeful.

I think my word for this year is “change.” Change can be hard—it’s supposed to be, though, or it wouldn’t be a transformative process. So much in my life has already changed, and I feel many years older now than I was at this point last year (and I did just turn 23…). I’m ready for the change, for the challenges, for a new adventure, for a purpose that is bigger than myself, for taking care of myself, and for never giving up hope that I can make a difference in some way. I’m immersed in a city that looks and feels quite different from what I’m used to, but I welcome the ways I can interact with its people, bring my own background and belief system, and engage spiritually with this place—hearing people, listening to their stories, meeting new friends, trusting that God puts people and places in my life at critical moments of change. I believe that every serendipitous encounter, conversation, thought, phone call, message or interaction is a part of a mosaic that eventually reveals the plan that God designs for us. That plan may be fixed before we are born or may be one that changes as we move through life—either way, I’m ready. I’m here, ready to learn, grow, change, transform, love, and hope.

poems from seaside

I think

there are so many poems

about the ocean because it is

simultaneously violent

and peaceful.

At the same time it

crashes against the coast

destroys a weak vessel

and carries away debris

It

smoothes the rocky shore

coos the frightened bird

and hugs your planted feet.

It somehow reminds us

gently

chaotically

simply

subliminally

of that violent yet peaceful

love

that roars as it sings.

That kind of love that lives within you and within me.

——

If each day is a fresh page

Then I want mine to be

Inked with words of prayer

Stained with drops of coffee

Smudged with chocolate fingers

And scented with smells of you.

If each day is a fresh page

Then yesterday doesn’t matter

And tomorrow can’t be viewed

So I’ll sit here and

Think

Today, what good can I do?

——

prayers are like raindrops except you send them up instead of let them fall. everyday you send a raindrop up to heaven to join the puddle pooling at God’s feet. everyday you wonder, did my raindrop reach the stars or did it break along the way? then one day, you realize your raindrops were never supposed to go up all the way and stay. you just forgot to look around and see everyone soaked and smiling by the rain that wiped away their tears. your tiny little prayers were falling all the while, and finally you learn, prayers are a lot like raindrops,

they fall on those who are near.

sacred places

“There are no unsacred places; / there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” — Wendell Berry
I’m starting to understand that there truly are no unsacred places — this is a bold claim. Some may perceive the site where a white American minister burned himself alive in the name of racial reconciliation as unsacred, or the home of hundreds of incarcerated men and women as unsacred, or the doctor’s office where an abortion has been performed as unsacred, or a strip club where infidelity puts food on the table for women employees as unsacred. I am guilty, as I predict we all are, of having passed an opinion on each of these cases and many others without considering the human lives involved. And while yes, I do believe that there are very uncomfortable aspects in each of these places and scenarios, I’m starting to see that life is much more complicated than the simple dichotomy of sacred/unsacred or right/wrong or good/evil. I didn’t coin this distinction, though; that was Wendell Berry. Luckily it wasn’t me, because Berry importantly includes the alternative to unsacred: desecrated. I looked up “desecrated” in the dictionary to see exactly what he meant. Something desecrated has been violently disrespected, or possibly perverted, violated, infected, polluted, vandalized, debased, or degraded. Berry is onto something here. People — the most critiqued in society — are likely to have been victims of many waves of desecration in their lifetimes. I imagine people as those beautifully painted Russian nesting dolls. We may look whimsical and pleasing on the outside, but within each of us there are many unseen, hidden layers. These mysterious, unknown layers may be what have shifted some of us from the sacred to the desecrated. We’re all damaged, polluted, degraded in some way. Some of us are just better at hiding our layers than others.
So there are no unsacred places, only desecrated places, and those not yet desecrated, or the sacred. There are no unsacred people. There are people who have been cheated, lied to, abused, hurt, neglected, abandoned, scared, dishonored, gossiped about, rejected, and shamed; they are simply damaged. If someone we love is damaged, do we abandon them? Give up, toss them to the side, move on, and hope for better luck in the future? I hope the answer is no. At least, I’m hoping no one gives up on me. I’m damaged, just like you are. I want to see people as the complicated, multi-layered, dynamic living souls they are. This world is far too vivid and beautiful to see only in shades of black and white. That place we call harmony, sympathy, and understanding is all gray.
—–
How to Be a Poet by Wendell Berry
(to remind myself)
i   
Make a place to sit down.   
Sit down. Be quiet.   
You must depend upon   
affection, reading, knowledge,   
skill—more of each   
than you have—inspiration,   
work, growing older, patience,   
for patience joins time   
to eternity. Any readers   
who like your poems,   
doubt their judgment.   
ii   
Breathe with unconditional breath   
the unconditioned air.   
Shun electric wire.   
Communicate slowly. Live   
a three-dimensioned life;   
stay away from screens.   
Stay away from anything   
that obscures the place it is in.   
There are no unsacred places;   
there are only sacred places   
and desecrated places.   
iii   
Accept what comes from silence.   
Make the best you can of it.   
Of the little words that come   
out of the silence, like prayers   
prayed back to the one who prays,   
make a poem that does not disturb   
the silence from which it came.

power of words

The power of words. We often say that words are powerful, that they are able to transform the world, and I think we want to sincerely believe this. I also think we say a lot of things that we want to believe but struggle to fully support. In today’s society, it seems that action is valued more than words. I’ve always been told to “pay attention to how someone treats you, not what they tell you.” This is great advice that I’ve always valued. People can say a lot of things. They can say that they like you, are happy for you, or support you but truly their actions are what enforce these sentiments. But should we totally discount words? Should we be so jaded by the broken promises and empty declarations that are given to us in this world that we don’t even bother to care for the words others tell us? I romanticize things too much to think this way. I’m a classic optimist. Because of this, I’m led to believe that words are very powerful, even more powerful than action. This morning, I sat thinking about the young lady who coerced her boyfriend to commit suicide. How powerful her own words were. She was served a 15-month sentence; she had no weapon for evidence, was far from the crime scene, and unfortunately left questionable doubt in the jurors. I’ve been grappling with our justice system quite a lot here lately, internally, so I’m not sure what I would have done if I had to make a decision in that case. Sometimes I think about our criminal justice system and become appalled, as if I am viewing this world from the sky, watching how we treat other human beings – that’s another topic for another day though. Nonetheless, I am convinced that her words powerfully persuaded someone else to take his own life; and that is worth talking about. This case raises the awareness of how powerful our words are. We can use our tongue to convince someone they’re insignificant, unimportant, or inferior. Conversely, we hold a powerful tool to lift people up, enlighten, and encourage. Our words matter.

I remember with high acuity the times that people said something that penetrated deep and hurt who I am. Sometimes, words cut deeper than a real knife ever could. I would never punch someone, especially someone I love, but maybe I do mindlessly let my words hurt as bad as physical wounds? It’s hard to think like that. It is painful to imagine our words causing pain to someone else, but they do. We separate what we say and what we do so well in this society. You can post all you want on social media, but it doesn’t necessarily follow what you do. Likewise, it makes sense that we are more inclined to ascribe meaning to physical punches than verbal ones. If I hit someone, I leave a visible mark of the damage I’ve done. When I shame someone with my words, though, the mark I leave is invisible. This translates to the unquestionable nature of a physical illness (measurable diseases, like atherosclerosis or hypertension) versus mental illness (less objective measurements like depression or anxiety). Why does this dichotomy exist? Why do we delineate between what is seen and what is said? Haven’t we observed the cruel effects of cutting language and mental diseases, both of which provoke beautiful, purposeful lives to truly consider their worth on this planet? Shouldn’t we start talking about this? I think this case of a young girl strongly persuading her boyfriend to kill himself should wake us up but not come as a surprise of the power of words. Instead, it should serve as a reminder of the power we have to convince and convey ideas, true or false, harmful or helpful. I think this issue moves beyond merely being nice to others but speaks of the false authority we give to tangible, physical qualities (punches, heart disease) over more abstract concepts (language, mental illness). What is the best way to eliminate this dichotomy? I don’t know. But we can always start by talking about it.

mentality

There’s an epidemic coursing through America, silently capturing the lives of many people. It leaves them internally harmed and demoralized. It is stigmatized, looked down upon, and often viewed as unacceptable. I am personally responsible for contributing to the growth of this problem. But sometimes, life has a way of exposing you to situations and people that will dramatically change your perspective. This happened to me, and I feel obliged to correct my previous ways by being a voice for those experiencing this silent killer.  We can treat it with awareness, compassion, and support. I boldly stand behind the notion that these illnesses are real problems that need real solutions. I want to be a part of a system and country that seeks to address awareness and answers. I refuse to continue being a part of the problem. There’s an epidemic coursing through America, and it’s called depression and anxiety.

As an aspiring physician, I hope to treat patients holistically and with a purely patient-centered focus one day. I am particularly interested in heart diseases. Who knows what type of physician I will become, but I find it fascinating the heart is uniquely connected to other body systems and plays a fundamental role in regulating normal functions. If a patient presented to me with symptoms of cardiovascular disease, I would certainly identify the origin of the problem and seek to address it with a canon of treatment options. It would be absurd to think that physicians would allow their patients to carry around undisclosed symptoms due to fear. If a patient came to me and failed to mention severe chest pain, it would greatly alter the course of treatment and would likely lead to poor outcomes for that patient. Why is it then, when a patient presents with a mental disorder they often feel restricted or discouraged to tell their family members and physicians? Like our hearts, kidneys, lungs, and immune system, alterations in the mind can lead to a “sick” mental state as well. These problems are real. I was someone who paid little attention to mental disorders before this summer. I don’t really know why there was a disconnect for me, but I do know that I wasn’t convinced that mental disorders were real. It gives me great shame to say that. We as individuals, communities, and a country must seek to understand the needs of patients with mental disorders and try to alleviate the deeply rooted stigmas these individuals are faced with.

From a humanistic standpoint, I previously thought anxiety and depression could be controlled and cured by an individual person. A lack of willpower, I suppose, would cause a person to suffer from chronic mental illness. I am revealing these very derogatory  ways of previously thinking to illustrate what I believe to be a common theme throughout American opinion; however, from a purely scientific standpoint, a chemical imbalance in the mind cannot be controlled by individuals. Chemicals, specifically these types called neurotransmitters, control so many of our regular processes in the mind and ultimately throughout the rest of our bodies. A deficiency or over-production of certain neurotransmitters can wreak havoc on a person’s homeostatic levels of these chemicals and can lead to subsequent pathway activation or inhibition. I am not a brain biochemist, and I’m certainly not claiming to be one, but I can at least attest to the fact that the brain is infinitely complex and chemical imbalance theory likely plays a significant role in depression and anxiety. This means that in combination with other factors, chemical imbalance is a problem that people cannot control. Neuroscientists across the United States and world are working tirelessly to understand the basic mechanisms of depression and anxiety to hopefully develop better treatments and cures (insert: future blog post on the necessity of basic scientists vs. clinical and translational researchers). Furthermore, we can do something as non-scientists and as friends, family members, and individuals that interact with people who have mental disorders on a daily basis.

I propose a few key points.

The first: Let’s stop stigmatizing people who struggle with chronic illnesses of the mind. My initial point was the synonymity between cardiac diseases and mental disorders. Maybe this is hard for some people to understand (as it once was for me), but these are both simply problems that happen to the human body. I had trouble even typing the words “mental disorder” because the word disorder has such strong negative connotations surrounding it. The main reason I chose to use that term, though, is that I would not hesitate to write heart disorder or kidney disorder. In order to eliminate the stigma associated with depression and anxiety, we must treat them as we would treat any other human illness: as just that. It is a disorder. One that we must fight to normalize and identify. Mental disorders happen, and they will continue to do so as long as our brains hold the ability to change (which they will continue to do so). So let’s work hard to make these individuals feel less like outcasts in the world and accept them for being just like we all are: highly imperfect and flawed.

The second: Anxiety and depression affect a combined 25.1 million people in the United States (Anxiety and Depression Association of America). That’s a lot of people. It is very likely that you will encounter someone who struggles with these illnesses at some point in your life, probably daily. I suppose that these people look as if they have no struggle, they likely speak positively, and may even deny any kind of illness. Instead of trying to identify every person with a mental disorder, let’s seek to create a welcoming environment for someone who may need to talk about their mental struggles. Let’s become a more openhearted community and country and invite these special people to share what they’re going through. Much like a person with the threat of a stroke should let their family and friends know, we must be able to accept the responsibility of trust from these people. I desire to be a comforting hand, listening ear, and unbiased friend to anyone who needs to talk about what is happening with their mind. We can all be these types of people.

The third, and the last: If you find yourself struggling with a mental disorder, please know that it is okay. Someone with heart disease would have their health compromised if they felt the need to hide it from others as well. The best way we are going to solve this problem is if we have people come forward to be ambassadors for change. Mental illnesses are real. We all experience them at some point in our lives, maybe temporarily or perhaps chronically. Know that what you are experiencing is okay and be open to reaching out and talking with someone. We can all spread awareness, and we can all push for ending the epidemic that harms so many lives each year.

As a future physician, I pledge to create a welcoming environment for my patients to tell me about these things. I will seek to treat a patient holistically, including issues of the mind. Until I am a doctor, I will be a friend to those who need me, pray for those who are struggling, and try to spread awareness of the highly stigmatized illnesses of depression and anxiety. Our friends, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, pastors, professors, aunts, colleagues, and the world need us to band together and fight to end this epidemic.

 

adaptability

It’s time to talk about change. I’m not talking about national campaign agendas or world peace or equality or restoration of the constitution or any of the pressing issues that are featured in the tabloids and news websites. I’m talking about the changes we experience on a personal level throughout our lives. Change is undoubtedly hard. Our human nature encourages us to maintain an inertial groove that we have established for ourselves. We hardly discuss the mechanisms that are necessary to deal with change, and especially the methods that we use to deal with change that can actually optimize our lives during change.

We often experience change. Throughout our entire lives we move through school, changing grades every year with new teachers, new material, and possibly new classmates that we see everyday. Some people may have experienced more profound changes, like moving schools, houses, or even states. We experience change when we switch jobs, learn something new, or gain failure or success. Our lives are constant waves of change, sometimes small and unnoticeable and other times crashing, extraordinary waves. I think our reactions to change largely determine what we gain throughout the experience.

I speak from a very personal experience with change right now. Nothing in my life right now is as it was this time last year. For the first time in 17 years I had to leave my family vacation early, I flew home alone and stayed at my house alone washing my clothes and packing myself to move away for the summer, I am not being in my hometown for the summer (for the first time in my life), I am living with people I have never met in a place I have never lived doing something I have never done. I am experiencing one of those crashing, extraordinary waves of change. I have learned a few things about change that have really modified the way I both approach change and deal with it.

The first thing involves perspective and the second involves emotions. When it comes to change in life I feel there are many ways to view it. The two most important ones for me personally are terms I have identified as reflective perspective and progressive perspective.

Reflective perspective puts your vision in the past, focusing on the ways in which your life is different now than what it was previously. Reflective perspective invites feelings of nostalgia, past memories, and often times, homesickness. This type of mindset encourages you to compare your life during change to your life pre-change and can entice feelings of anxiety, worry, and uncertainty. I think reflection is really important but not at the brink of change. A reflective perspective means that you are constantly contrasting your past to your present, and with it the person you were then, the people you had around you, and the experiences that you had during that time. You live in the past and find yourself yearning for that time. Reflective perspective can make change seem inconvenient and negative.

Progressive perspective is the vision of where this change is taking you. Although not all changes are necessarily positive, their outcomes can always be. Progressive perspective means that you are controlling your change and not letting it control you. When we experience great movements of transition we typically feel helpless and out of control. A progressive perspective means that you view the change as what you can extract out of it for the future. Instead of the change compromising what you had in the past, you actively use it as a tool to enhance your future. Progressive perspectives rely on comparing your current situation during the change to where you are headed in the future. I have found progressive perspective to give a more positive aspect on change. Although it is surely scary sometimes to imagine where life is traveling towards, it is important to be watching out the front window towards the future than staring blindly through the back.

I mentioned emotions as another important part of handing change. I want to briefly mention this and plan on writing about it another time because it is very important to me and has transformed the way I hold myself towards my emotions. Emotions are entirely controllable. 100%. We are thinking humans with the ability and the capacity to manage our emotions. Emotions are these tricky little things that can really alter the way we behave and view our world. Emotions can send someone from smiling and laughing into a raging fit of anger. They can turn a truly enjoyable experience into one that is anxiety-inducing. When you learn that you have control over how you feel towards certain things you can learn how to create the best possible outcomes for those things. I’ll give an example.

You get a new job at a new place. When you arrive, you keep thinking about the old job and the people that you will miss and the memories that you have there. The people at your new job are kind, welcoming, and attempt to make conversation. You are so consumed with feeling sadness for the loss of your old job (reflective perspective) that you are incapable of allowing the future to come into play. You then decide that this is your new job and you feel excited to have the opportunity. You make friends and decide that you can use this to strengthen your portfolio and gain skills for your future (progressive perspective). Throughout all of this, you have fleeting emotions of anxiety, worry, joy, contentment, excitement, and uncertainty. I don’t think you should suppress these very real emotions, in fact I think they are a fundamental human trait; however, I don’t think you should allow emotions to control your perspective. Feel them, acknowledge them, but then remember your ultimate goal is to embrace the change and maintain a steady emotional peace. Truly experiencing and allowing these emotions to capture your mind will feel like a roller coaster during times of immense change. Just food for thought (and discussion) on the importance and adaptability of emotions and our control as humans over them.

I am going through change right now with my research internship. It is new, exciting, overwhelming, encouraging, and has required some shifts in perspective and emotions. I cannot wait to experience the next ten weeks, accompanied by all of the failures and successes that I will encounter. I know that change is inevitable but with mindfulness and contemplation, there is a best way we can all seek and attain optimal joy, fulfillment, and happiness.

open #oneword2016

Open.

A trend I stumbled upon on wordpress was this #oneword2016. After reading through a few articles I got the impression that this is a one word “mantra” dedicated to 2016. I started contemplating some of the words that I would like to implement into 2016. Some of the words that came to mind were words like real, strength, imagine. All of these words were fitting for my life, but for some reason I felt inclined to think of word that didn’t “fit” my life. A word that wasn’t something that didn’t just come to the top of my mind. A word I had to search for.

Then I thought of Open. I would like to be more open in 2016.

Open to having coffee with a stranger.

Open to reading books I don’t think I will enjoy.

Open to having meaningful conversations at odd times in the day.

Open to change.

Open to suggestions.

Open to commitment.

Open to challenging myself mentally.

Open to challenging myself physically.

Open to creating novel ideas and writing about them generously.

Open…

I would like to be more open. I dedicate 2016 to the year I step outside of my comfort zone, explore new ideas, learn more about the world, make silly choices, and be a more open person.

I encourage you to find your #oneword2016. Analyze where you could use some remodeling in your life. We all need to rearrange our perspectives sometimes.

Comment your #oneword2016 so I can be a part of your journey to liberation, success, and happiness!