Over the past month, I’ve slowly rediscovered my love for writing. Though I have never considered myself a strong writer, I have fond memories of it providing an outlet for my thoughts. The history essays that everyone dreaded writing in high school were some of my favorite assignments. I spent days wording and rewording my sentences while my classmates wrote them quickly the night before they were due. It felt exciting to produce a piece of work that I could read over and over again. Sometimes I wish I could go back to having writing assignments. With the hectic schedule of undergrad and medical school, I have abandoned my creative outlet for many years.
While in Oregon, I had some time for introspection. I realized that I needed an outlet for my energy otherwise I would internalize my emotions as I had been for so long. For me writing is a way not only to better define my feelings and memories, but to release them into the world. I often feel that writing about the experiences that have held me down help me to feel less burdened by them. It wasn’t until a month ago that I realized the therapeutic value of journaling. I journal both the good and the bad–the things that excite me and the things that frustrate me. Putting both down make me feel balanced and allow me to let go of extra energy.
Recently, I have started writing a series of letters. These are letters that I will likely never send to their intended recipients. The most freeing one to write was to my uncle who passed away a few months ago to alcohol related cirrhosis. I forgave him for his addiction and his actions. I shared with him my fond memories of him treating me to great home-cooked meals whenever I visited him. I wrote it as though he could respond and write back. It helped me say goodbye in my own manner.
I’ve written another letter to an attending physician whom I recently trained under. I wrote about how I felt so out of touch with humanity while working with her. I revealed that her many “business” oriented lectures to me revealed how her concern for money seemed greater than her concern about her patient’s lives. I told her that I was disappointed in the care she was providing her patients. I admitted to her how much I struggled with my worries that I would end up just like her – overworked and jaded by the medical training process. While that letter may never reach her eyes, writing it helped free me. It freed me of some of the pain that had come along from that experience.
I wrote good things about her to balance things out. I wrote about how I liked that she squeezed her patient’s hands whenever she was about to give them bad news. I wrote about how she always made sure to show her nurses that they were appreciated. I could tell that she loved to teach me and other medical students but was jaded by her own experiences growing up in a household of physicians and constantly being bombarded with medical facts. I realized then that working with her, though miserable at the time, provided me with a great experience. Rereading it helped me realize that I had the opportunity to learn from her mistakes and ensure that I wouldn’t make similar ones.
I don’t think writing is necessarily a good release for everyone. Most people I know don’t enjoy doing it and therefore it becomes more of a task than a therapeutic outlet. But in case you’re like me – a previous lover of writing, I encourage picking it back up. Whether in medicine or not, we have to find ways to stay sane and enjoy life. Writing has helped me hold onto my humanity and release my frustrations into the world. For many other people, their creative outlet is in music or the arts. I hope that this post inspires you to revisit those outlets and spend time doing the things you once loved or discovering new talents.
Medicine has a universal way of suppressing free time and making it hard to meet your personal goals of staying healthy. As much as we make time for physical activity and eating well, I believe that it’s just as important to have time to ourselves exploring our hobbies. We have to find ways to maintain our sanities while navigating our professional lives. I hope to continue with writing in attempts to do just that. My call to action to other medical students is to find a mental release and rid yourselves of all of the burdens that come along with medical training.