Year 1 and me

The end of my first year of naturopathic medical school is looming, and I realize I’ve been remiss in keeping any kind of journal of updates. Where to even begin! So much this year. Science though, always the science.

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Personal growth has been more of a major theme this year, and while it may not yet seem apparent on the outside, there have been some big shifts on the inside that are likely to take awhile to integrate. I have been extraordinarily lucky to have free counseling services provided by my school, AT my school. (For me, this made all the difference.) I’ve never sought counseling before, but becoming a doctor is starting to feel like a big deal at the grand ol’ age of 29, and I have professors and doctors echoing the same. Coming into the program at a run, straight off the boat quite literally, and after a nice piece of “life experience” I felt like it was time to check in with myself and see if I couldn’t come up with some new insights on patterns and stumbling blocks. I drew an ace and got paired up with someone amazing, who always remembered my story, drew parallels I’ve never noticed, and offered support in a way I don’t know if I’ve ever had. I feel empowered, but in a loose-trucks-with-my-helmet-on sort of way. Trying to figure how to carry on with the work on my own, and also how to use the illumination to move forward into who I will become.

Being a doctor. And a woman. And a feminist. And spontaneous. Too much. Not enough. Converging non congruent ideas.

I can write you a list of courses, or concepts. It will in no way describe to you the value of this education. I am so enamored with the human organism. The numerous pathways and systems, checks and balances, safeguards and rogue deviations. There is nothing about this body that is simple. What we think we know is ever changing. Having studied anatomy twice prior, a form that wouldn’t expect changes once we’ve seen the cadaver… so much new info, changed names, altered understandings, better magnification, theories gone bust! My mind sparkles at the concept, the change, the vastness. With such dynamic in anatomy, you can imagine what that means for biochemistry, GI, neuro, endocrine, etc!

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Another genre I’ve explored this year is space. Solar systems, super nova, dark matter, and the universe. So much of what I learn about the human form reminds me of something I heard on How the Universe Works. The recursive pattern of nature. Mind blowing! I highly recommend a venture when you have the time and attention span. There have been more breakthroughs in recents months/years than in the past several decades, and it is inspiring and humbling to visualize my place in the world. A self-aware consciousness in the goldilocks zone of a holographic universe… Thank my lucky stars there are physicists willing to talk slow in small words so I can begin to comprehend these things!  (If you’re an inspiration junkie, I also highly recommend Shots of Awe by Jason Silva)

One of the greatest gifts I’ve been given this year is friendships. So many wonderful people have come into my world, as friends, study partners, adventurers, seekers, future colleagues. Walking into my first day of orientation I could already feel it. This is my family. These people get me. We are sharing an amazing journey towards something we all believe in. Last weekend we all went on a retreat together to practice our medicine, on ourselves and each other, in nature, of nature. And in the end as we were reflecting, I heard my same worries, my same struggles, my same gratitudes, my same achievements, in the voices of my cohort. Nothing feels like belonging to a purpose quite like that does. Reiteration that I’m in the right place. That I’m on my path.

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This year has been full of study and science and hard work. But the memories that stand out are of people and growth, of change and inspiration. This is not the scary medical school of legend. This is my future, started already, and my cultivation as a naturopath. This is my life, and I am blessed.

Happy New Year

The holidays are over. Another new year begun. Another birthday.

Yes, I’m 29. How does it feel? I feel like the seed buried in the soil. I can feel the warmth from the sunlight, penetrating through the ground, not directly on my skin. I feel the weight of the earth on all sides. The closeness, the tight space. Everything is here, water, nutrients, light. This is my time to meet the challenge of this place, find my strength, and grow into something new.

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I had a Saturn return reading in November. My first astrology reading ever. I found it less instructive, more validating. Acknowledging where I am and what I feel. Warning that the struggle is not over yet. Advising me to find a safe place and support myself so that I can weather the coming months, and emerge stronger when my sun comes out. I find this sort of realism so comforting.

I’ve also been watching The Universe. Wow! Have you watched this yet? Blows my mind over and over again! I highly recommend it, and if you have netflix, you’re set to go.

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Resolutions aren’t really my thing, at least not in a traditional sense. Lately I’ve been musing on generosity though, and gratitude keeps popping up as well. So for this year, or starting now until the lessons have been integrated, these two things are my meditation. What are your resolutions?

Going into this new year, I want to thank you all for your love and support, the wealth of birthday wishes, and the depth of spirit you share. Let’s share more love and laughter in the months to come. Happy new year!

 

Burnout

Courtesy of Dr. Marnie Loomis, at NCNM, I learned a lot about burnout today. And as suspected, I score very high on the I-have-it scale!

What are the stages of burnout, you might ask.

1) Emotional and/or physical exhaustion. This might characterized by fatigue and cognitive weariness.
2) Depersonalization (cynicism). Symptoms include lack of empathy, mocking others, and loss of altruistic feeling.
3) Low sense of personal accomplishment. This may include a sense that you can’t do anything right, and worthlessness.

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“But Ash, isn’t it a little early in your schooling to get burnout?” you might say. Yes, I think so. But the trouble is, I started this way.

Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing summer! Whales and mountain goats and bears, oh my! But transitioning from farm life on an island where my favorite thing was watching lambs play, to a summer on a small boat with 10 new people per week that it was my job to entertain and serve all of my waking hours… well folks, that just aint easy. Naturopathically speaking, it would’ve behooved me to bring along some sort of adaptogen or other support product, as well as cultivate emotional and mental sanity in my minuscule time off. Hindsight, 20/20, and all that.

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Stress does more than cause tension. According to Dr. Loomis, you are literally more brittle under stress. This is because each day your body is replacing and rebuilding cells and tissues. Stress changes the chemistry of your body, and each day you rebuild in stress-conditions is another day of reduced flexibility and less-than-optimum building conditions. So while fight or flight is an appropriate response when a herd of wooly mammoths is stampeding through, it is less than idea in a long-term stress situation. Like medical school!

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So what can we do about this? Many things! Depending on how far down the 3-stage pathway we find ourselves, this might vary. For instance, I find myself between a 2 & 3, so my first step was to seek out available resources for assistance. On campus at NCNM these include the student association and student life departments, student counseling center, tutors, student mentors, faculty mentors, and a program called Careteam, where we can actually seek help for classmates we are concerned for as well. Amazing.

If you’re not so far down the continuum and/or are more of a help-yourself type, other suggestions include:
Personal quiet time
Exercise
Spend time with family/friends
Spend time in nature, or if you can’t, with plants!
(seriously. an office study showed people around plants were 30% happier)
Get more (better) sleep
Eat regular meals
Take breaks!
Start a mindfulness practice
And many more…

Things to avoid, that may contribute to burnout include:
Alcohol or drug use
Skipping meals
Wishful thinking
Financial stress
Housing stress
Multitasking
Poor health
Debt
Isolation
Etc.

In the 6 hours since this presentation I have done these things to help myself:
Went to yoga (love Friday night yoga!)
Planned 2 study sessions with classmates
Planned a night of dancing to move my body and relax my mind
Spent time talking to friends about topics other than school!

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I have a ways to go, friends, but I am paying attention to where I’m at and taking steps to improve. Other things I have in the works are: cooking at home, seeing a counselor, establishing care with a naturopath, taking adaptogen supplements (Gaba, Opolopanax, and kali-phos), and cultivating a mindfulness practice. I will report back on progress.

If you are feeling signs of burnout, I urge you to take steps to reduce/eliminate stress and cultivate a stable state. Find resources, talk to family and friends, and direct your energy to things that will support your sanity and your health! We don’t have to correct everything at once. Promise yourself you’ll try something new for a week, and at the end of that week check in and see how you feel. Was it beneficial? Do you feel any better? Do you want to continue or try something else? Listen to your body and trust your intuition.

I’m going through this now, and if you are too, feel free to comment, and we can share difficulties and successes. I’m so glad I went to that talk to, this week has been a huge shift into gears for my self-care! I hope you can help yourself too.

A meditation in vulnerability

I watch this video from time to time to remind myself where I want my heart. This is a constant practice for me, one that I fail at time and time again. But one that I believe is important and of immeasurable value. Here I am, practicing again. I want to share this with you, in case you haven’t seen it yet. Lets practice being vulnerable together.

Why being present > worry

Howdy friends.  Today it occurs to me that I can legitimately count down without thinking about it! Numbers are my thing, amazing magic poetry that always resolves if you know how to manipulate it, with constants that plug into diverse formulae. What’s that about?! Okay, but I digress. The countdown!

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Today is April 26th, 2013. Gasoline is $3.69/gallon. Apple blossoms are on the trees, and the cherry tree is snowing on the front porch. My broccoli starts are ready to go into the garden, and the dahlias uncovered from their over-winter blanket. Gay marriage and marijuana are legal in Washington State. And today is 28 days from my last day of work. A few days short of a month away from hoisting sails for Alaska. Less than 4 months from my first day of medical school!

So many things to do, so much to sort out and accomplish over the next 4 weeks. Hire and train a new office manager at work. Sort out and pack things to move, separate from the things to bring with me for summer. Paperwork for school while I’m still around internet. Logistics and formalities for my summer job. My mind is scrolling in lists. Each day that I cross something off, one more “big” stress that I can finally set down, it feels like gaining back 5% lung capacity, 5% mood elevation, and 10% heart. I am highly stressed in the most beneficial ways.

Every couple of days I let my head fall back and thank the Universe that I’m not a worrier. This is usually half a moment behind my becoming aware that I’m worrying. As funny as it sounds, I’ve already done this a handful of times lately. Worry is something I have seen so many of my friends, family, patients, and colleagues do, sometimes to a debilitating degree. It can become so ingrained and ubiquitous in a person’s character that they are described as a worrier. As to say that’s what you would notice about that person if you met him/her. Aren’t people amazing creatures?! This soul’s ride through a human body can so easily dwell in cerebral hemispheres! Self undoubtedly included! Worry is not something we see in other species to a fraction of the degree in humans, and yet so many of us adopt it with every cell. Worry becomes a conditioned response. Pavlovian. Incredible! These sorts of things usually get me asking questions about this mind-vehicle we’re all in, most especially, are we riding or driving? Observing a person’s most apparent traits, what they are most comfortable representing to others, and trying to see what light that sheds into their deeper self, I inevitably find these traits in myself as well. Worry is no exception!

Of course I’m not free from worry. I’m not that zen. Yet.

I aim to be. Worry doesn’t serve me. I don’t wind up ahead when I over-think things. In grade school I recognized that I miss more questions on multiple choice tests when I second guess myself and change an answer. Trusting my gut (which has a mind of its own) usually leads me forward, and if I’m listening closely, rarely leads me wrong. So why should I worry?

But then the list gets long and the time gets short. Tasks stack up, responsibilities call, and plans being to form as vague outlines with blanks that can’t yet be filled. This is when I start to worry.

Most often these things build up gradually over time. So slow sometimes that I don’t recognize the worry building until I don’t recognize myself. I start to feel uncomfortable in my own skin. Worry takes over. But you know what’s cool? Usually being consciously aware is all it takes to reverse the process. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

Being present is shockingly hard and surprisingly easy. Nights like tonight I can sit in the yard feeling mellow, eating my dinner, watching the sunset and be perfectly happy to sit feeling the warmth. Other nights (especially when waiting for an acceptance letter) it’s hard to keep from being a passenger in the mind-car, getting whisked away sudden and often, feeling out of control.

Like I said, I’m so happy I’m not a worrier. I have not mastered this grounding presence, and am still prone to getting caught up in the whirlpool of my mind. Fortunately, this is not a prevalent tendency for me. Details of the day come and go, each moment replaced by the next, new information to process and feel. With so many experiences to be had, I’m not the type to spend a lot of time evaluating and re-evaluating each and every one. I look for the good ones. Savor them.

And when the stress builds, my goal is to savor those too. Balancing the pull with visions of the big picture. And maybe someday I’ll hop in the drivers seat, and steer my way into bliss. :)

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2012 in review – 67 countries! Thank You Readers!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,200 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.