Cycles

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I’ve been unwell these past few days. My heart was beating to its own rhythm, despite many repeated attempts to quell it through meditation and deep breathing. My new yoga challenge, Yoga with Adriene’s Yoga Camp, requires a longer commitment to daily practice (around 40 minutes per day instead of the 15-20 minutes of my previous DoYouYoga.com challenge. My schedule has been thrown off with multiple interruptions, and it’s been really difficult to get back on track. I’ve been spending a longer amount of time on the black hole that is the internet (I’m very active on the Reddit MCAT board, as so many of my fellow students are helping each other out immensely, but I lose a lot of time there). The wifi connectivity in my house is incredibly shoddy, and I’ll often start some work but have to take unexpected pauses because I’ve lost internet connection. I’ve been trying to finish my daily work earlier to catch up with my latest read, Cal Newport’s latest book Deep Work. I’ve had multiple reminders from family and friends about my waitlist status at medical schools. And I’ve just been feeling slow.

I want to curl up in ball and go to sleep forever. I want to be alone for hours and simultaneously be meeting up with people for meals and conversation. I’m drained, but full at the same time.

I’m entering the bad part of my mental cycle.

Over the past couple of months, and especially with the last thirty days’ daily yoga practices, I’ve learned to listen to my body more closely. My body is my master, and my mind is the instrument I use to work with and control it. When the body is calmed in times of meditation, the mind is able to speak to me. I’ve found that the thoughts that enter my consciousness during these periods of silence tend to be the solutions to problems I’ve been considering. I’ve come up with answers to scheduling conflicts, emails with potential employers, lulls in motivation, and all sorts of thoughts that are giving me anxiety (and I know this is true because every time an anxious thought pops up in my mind when I’m trying to study,  I write it down on an index card to deal with it later).

This isn’t just my trademarked phenomenon, however, as many of the world’s prominent figures and regular people alike solve problems through quiet introspection. This is actually one of the recurring themes in my current read, Deep Work by Cal Newport. Cal describes having solved complex proofs and other problems during his doctoral study at MIT on foot, as he took regular runs to and from work to free up his thinking time. Tim Ferriss, productivity guru, has talked about how aspects of his daily routine, like meditation and exercise, enable him to work out solutions.

Yet some days, I cannot calm down. No eustress in my future, as my mind just sends alarm signals that amps me up for some nonexistent stressor. The world gets to me, and I cannot calm down. My brain is taking in too many signals, from a lot of things I could cut out for a while like the internet and my phone constantly going off.

My mood starts slipping, and I lose my sense of gratitude. It starts with me not wanting to engage in my nightly routine, with tasks like brushing my teeth seeming to lose complete meaning. Then, I start to snap at the people I interact with, to the point where I am unable to even explain my thought process to them and just start sighing and grumbling. Then, my daily work seems unbearable – watching concept review videos, or sitting in a lecture, or even just writing down a to-do list. I wrote more about this feeling in Off-Days and Fog.  I’m over the work. I don’t want to do it anymore.

Finally, the culmination of this spin cycle is the sleepless night.

Yes. I spend one night completely awake in my bed with my thoughts running for the hills and no way for me to stop it. I toss and turn and try to find some solace. Even though my eyes are closed, it’s like there is a light being constantly illuminated in my face, and I feel it’s burn even though my eyes are slammed shut. Just like the shedding of the endometrial lining, this sleepless night is the most uncomfortable and painful time of what I’m calling “my mental period”. It’s also the most unexpected, as it usually presents itself after weeks of incredible REM cycles, which makes it the most unpredictable aspect of this whole drama.

See, yesterday, I knew I couldn’t go on anymore. I had lost hours of work after being distracted on the internet. Little spiffs with my parents turned into silent cry-fests. After my 50 minute yoga video, I was so mentally and emotionally drained that I resorted to eating the saltiest food in the house so I wouldn’t collapse from low blood pressure. I’d had enough.

So I got up from my study area, and announced (pretty loudly) that I was going to take a shower. A morning shower is part of my daily routine, and it always helps me re-energize. Back in college, I often started long nights of study with a fresh shower, typically with really scented soap to awaken my senses. After watching some March Madness games (I’m a huge underdog fan so I cheered really hard for Little Rock yesterday!), and a longer-than-normal shower complete with luxurious cocoa butter lotion afterwards, I was ready to take it slow. My family even surprised me by deciding to order pizza, and the two pepperoni slices I found myself reaching for were heaven. I understand the euphoric feeling of a cheat meal, as while I ate my slices yesterday, I wracked my brain to determine when the last time I had pizza was, and my search results were inconclusive. I couldn’t remember. Plus, I’ve been eating really well since my yoga challenge’s beginning, with more fruits and veggies and less processed snacks. The pizza was truly a delight, and as I sat with my family watching college basketball and feeling full, I spoke of my gratitude, and how lucky I felt in that moment. I thought I had beaten the cycle.

Well I forgot about the sleepless night that I was yet to experience.

This morning, I awoke after about 1 hour of rest. I was ecstatic because I knew what was going to happen.

I was going to have a phenomenal day today.

You see, after my sleepless nights, the worst part of my cycle is over. I get back to work with a renewed sense of urgency. Even though my eyes remain tired, my body is thrilled to be rejuvenated, and can’t wait to start rebounding.

I completed my morning meditation and yoga. I’ve been adding yoga twists in the morning to help fully awaken and elongate my spine. I even brought it up to some warrior poses to feel powerful. Pretty soon, before I had even brushed my teeth, I was up at my whiteboard calendar re-working my study schedule and looking through textbooks to pull material for brainstorming.

By the time I had stepped in my morning shower, my mind was abuzz with ideas to install chrome extensions to control my internet time-wasting habits, and delete some useless apps from my iPhone. I was so excited to get to my desk and crank through my daily Anki cards.

Then, I got soap in my eye.

To fully understand my state of mind, you need to be aware that my family is not going through the greatest of times. Finances have always been rough, but my mom was recently laid off. Our car died in the middle of a parking lot (we only have one), and towing to the shop found us in need for a new battery and other parts. Our roof is in need of fixing. My parents have been wearing very old eyeglasses, and get daily headaches from the eyestrain, but cannot afford to get new pairs. To add to this, don’t forget about my rejections from med school and complete uncertainty about my future + depression. It’s what they refer to as “a bad time”.

So when I screamed in pain and sunk to the floor of the shower, completely exposed and vulnerable, we all knew the familiar feeling of sadness that creeps up when we least expect it.

Every time I work so hard for my future, the universe knocks me down rung after rung on the ladder of life until I’m free falling. I randomly grasp at whatever rung is within my reach, and begin the climb over and over again until I’m higher than before. Then I get pushed down. And the cycle repeats.

After many many tears, and arguments that took place way too early in the morning (I brought up my depression, my parents brought up how sick of it they were, yadda yadda yadda), here we are. I’m sitting at my laptop screen typing away because I know that writing and sharing this story will make me feel better than walking up to the fridge and scarfing down slice after slice of the leftover pizza. I made a cup of lemon and ginger herbal tea, and decided to pour some honey in it.

Because some days, life’s terrible, seemingly endless cycle is unbearable. But our universe relies on cycles to survive. The daily rising and setting of the sun promotes balance, and reminds us that tomorrow will be a new day, a new chance to earn glory and feel renewed. The daily turning of our Earth speaks volumes – as for every moment we are in the dark, we will make up for that time by being in the light.

And even though I’m standing deep in the dark right now, and “happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

Today, the honey in my tea is my light.

Tomorrow is a new day.

 

–A.

 

 

Thirty

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No I definitely do not look like this, but my inner peace does! photocred

One of the shortest Ted talks I repeatedly refer to for inspiration is by Matt Cutts. The 3 minute 20 second talk describes how Cutts was able to transform every single aspect of his life by trying a hobby for 30 days. He took up photography, rode his bike to work, and even wrote a novel! His challenges had such a positive impact on his life and health, that he was able to advance his career, change his perspective on happiness, and even climb up Mt. Kilamanjaro! He simplifies the idealogy to “small changes = sustainable”.

The phenomenon of “Thirty Day Challenges” are everywhere. Just a quick scroll on Pinterest will show you 30 day detoxes, 30 day happiness plans, 30 day recipe challenges, and so many other diverse projects you can take on. I’ve tried to complete 30 day challenges before – I remember vividly trying to hold abdominal planks for as long as the day’s challenge told me to when I was following the 30 day, 30 plank challenges. I think I gave up around day 4. I also remember trying to follow 30 day fitness calendars, as per the Blogilates regimen. During the summer after my freshman year of college, the pilates calendars were working for me, and I lost around 15 pounds and felt in great shape! Yet, the moment I’d return to campus, the fitness regimens would fall apart.

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Well, today was my last day of the DoYouYoga.com 30 Day Beginner Yoga Challenge. I completed all 30 days of yoga videos in order without skipping a single day. I have gained so much in such a little time, and have been able to commit to a safer, healthier lifestyle. Here are some lessons from my experiment:

ONE. Do it every day at the same time – I recently finished reading Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. The book analyzes habit loops and teaches you how to create a new habit and how powerful habits are in our daily lives. The book opened my eyes to the extent of the role habits play in our psyche. I can tell from the moment I get out of bed in the morning if my day is going to go well or not just by if I remembered to fill up my water bottle so I can drink my morning 8 ounces. If the water bottle is present, I don’t think twice about it and proceed to consider other aspects of morning routine, like showering and eating breakfast. Duhigg writes about the habit loop: a cue which leads you into a routine that ends in a reward. He gives an example of his own habit routine with eating cookies and gaining weight in this video (it’s a fun watch!).

For me, I was able to learn from the book that if I wanted to start a new habit, I’d need to cue myself daily to do the routine, and provide myself with a reward. I set up the cue – an alarm on my phone. This alarm would ring every day at 3:00 pm. It was automatic, and would require no conscious effort on my part. I didn’t want to set myself up to fail, and taking up too much of my mental effort when I’m studying for the MCAT was definitely out of the option. This cue led to me unplugging my laptop and taking it into my bedroom, where my yoga mat sits neatly rolled in a corner, awaiting my routine practice. I’d play the day’s video, usually about 15-18 minutes in length, and allow myself to work towards relaxation and flexibility. Afterwards, I’d roll up my yoga mat and store it in the corner of my room, wash my face and hands, and proceed to the kitchen to enjoy my reward – an afternoon snack. I quickly realized that yoga is best performed on an empty stomach, and wanted to kill 2 birds with one stone (my horrendous afternoon eating habits and lack of activity) by finding a routine that would force me to think about why I was eating.

Pretty soon, I’d find myself consciously stopping workflow around 2:50 and mentally anticipating yoga practice time. I began reading various yoga blogs and learning more about the spirituality behind the practice. As a woman of South Asian descent, I’m familiar with the practice of yoga, but I never before attempting to delve as deeply into the challenge as I found myself going. This leads me to my next point,

TWO. The benefits of Yoga are far beyond the physical movement. I’m dealing with a difficult time in my life, where I see other people able to take flight in their careers and relationships from what feels like my cage at home, as I study to retake an examination and reapply to medical school. Yoga has taught me to walk along a path of acceptance. I cannot control what happened in my past, and I need to learn to only reference it from time to time, not LIVE in it like I am doing. I’d find myself pressed to the verge of tears in poses, wondering whether it was from the pride I felt in being able to hold a downward dog without panting or whether Erin Motz’s points on the yoga video led me to really open up internally. I attempted this project with an open heart, really hoping to explore my inner thoughts on this journey and hoping for the strength to change. Little by little, I found myself replacing my afternoon microwave popcorn snack with an apple (of course it was slathered in peanut butter). I have been able to turn away from caffeine completely (even the little amount in my Tazo Zen), and drink around 3-4 cups of herbal tea daily. I start and end each day with a guided meditation (from calm.com, Stop Breathe Think, and Pacifica). I turn to meditation to take study breaks instead of mindlessly watching Netflix and YouTube. I journal more, and when I express gratitude, I’m really meaning it. I leap out of bed in the morning to cycle through a Vinayasa flow, when 28 days ago I could not even hold a downward dog for more than 30 seconds. I’ve already downloaded the calendar for my next 30 day yoga challenge, and am excited to continue this journey tomorrow.

THREE. My focus and concentration has improved. The most surprising part of these past 30 days was the improvement in my ability to study. I barely noticed it at first. My study sessions were getting longer by 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, a full hour. I found myself in a flow of sorts, an optimal arousal for study without being too distracted or overwhelmed. Whenever I found myself getting overwhelmed, I just focused on deep, diaphragmatic breathing, and brought my attention to myself. I don’t feel shame at falling behind on my study schedules in the past when I’d feel too overwhelmed to continue. Rather, I acknowledge the pieces that led me to feel that way and take an introspective look at myself. I learned that I like to work with music or some documentaries/Ted videos in the background. However, when it’s time for me to learn a difficult concept, I can completely focus on the task at hand. I don’t see my to-do lists as handcuffs anymore, and I don’t feel trapped by my past. I’ve been inspired to work hard and tap into my inner energy for success. And so far, I’ve been very happy with the results.

I hope that you are able to find your yoga, your passion for self-care and relaxation, in whatever means you can. The strategies for taking care of myself will be invaluable for my future career in medicine, and help me accept the present more than I ever did while I was in college, constantly pining of the future.

–A.

Happy National Women Physicians Day

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Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first women to receive an M.D. degree from an American medical school. In the fourth grade, I dressed up as her and presented a report about her life to my fellow students on the prompt “My Hero”. Today is her birthday, and to honor her legacy, the Physicians Mom Group (PMG) has decided to celebrate by designating February 3rd as National Women Physicians day.

What better day to launch my blog and start my journey to recovery than on this inaugural holiday? 

Welcome to Recovery MD! I have decided to remain anonymous due to the raw nature of what this blog will be about. My stories, at the moment, are all details of shame, pain, and embarrassment. I have withdrawn from society, from my friends, and from all things happy (or so it feels like) because I have slipped back into Depression. Depression, a cruel partner to the pre-medical student lifestyle. An almost indispensable companion to the medical school application process. A painful memory that I am all too familiar with. In the last two years, I have taken the MCAT exam more than once (new and old due to my year in school), applied to medical school, have been rejected from several, interviewed and became waitlisted at 2, have gained 15 pounds (in danger of being pre-diabetic), lost all of my close friends, watched my face deteriorate to adult acne, earned a C in a basic science pre-med requisite, dealt with the death of a family member, and have lost all interest in the previous pleasures of my life.

However, also in the last two months, I have raised my GPA 0.2 points, have graduated from a major state university with a Bachelor of Science degree, served on the leadership board of one of my pre-med student clubs, made the Dean’s List , discovered a love of fitness (only to lose it time and time again), and recognized my chance for Recovery. RecoveryMD is my way of communicating with a friend, Happiness, through this rough patch. I have decided to retake the MCAT and look at my options for one-year academic programs. I might have to re-apply to medical school, and look at how to get funding for this endeavor. I’m tired of being beaten down repeatedly by life, and I don’t want to stand for it anymore. I am launching RecoveryMD to prove to myself that I can achieve my goals, and recover everything I once considered vital to my self-concept.

I’m made the start to Recovery by

  • Reading again – As a child, I adored reading books (I may or may not have an AIM username floating around with that characteristic about me!) to expand my world view. In high school, I consider my advanced English courses to be my favorite coursework (tied with biology of course!). However, I definitely lost the reading bug in college, and the downward spiral corresponds with a lack of literature in my life. I plan to start a Goodreads account in this blog’s name and share my reviews of the books I read.
  • Starting to Blog/Journal again – I blogged frequently and on multiple platforms during my collegiate career, always dreaming to start my own blog one day to share my life tips and successes with my readers. Although an anonymous endeavor is not really my style, like I said previously I have a lot to work on
  • Taking care of myself again – Yes I ate like trash in college and high school. I was a skinny child but ballooned during pre-puberty and puberty. According to my BMI, I am overweight, and am a pretty petite individual to begin with. I have Binge Eating Disorder (BED), and frequently binged after exams to reward myself, in times of stress to comfort myself, and in times of boredom because there was nothing to do. My binges controlled me, and it takes every part of me to not run to the kitchen and eat everything in sight, no matter how worthless or disgusting I feel. My goals of having healthy skin and a healthy weight are definitely probable, but are not going to transpire without me being inspired to work.
  • MCATing again – As a post-graduate student (not really student – I’m not enrolled in any courses at the moment) struggling financially, the only thing I can improve my reapplication to medical school that I can do right now is retake the MCAT. I’m still not happy about this, but logically it all makes sense. The MCAT is only associated with painful memories for me, and I will be writing more about this in the time to come for sure, but my old MCAT score of 507 is not going to cut it, and has not cut it already.

Join me on my road to Recovery, and I hope to one day be able to reveal myself from anonymity and be proud of who I am and how far I have come.

-A.

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