By Jamesa Fabien
A million thoughts raced through my mind:
“Need to do well on Step”
“Need to publish”
“Need to network”
“Need to be EXTRAORDINARY!!!”
I struggled to focus on the text before me, but the concert of thoughts dancing in my mind won the competition. I crumbled in defeat, unable to do what needed to be done in the moment.
This was the story of my first few semesters at medical school. I knew that I wanted to be a surgeon and that it would be a challenge. However, instead of being able to rise to the challenge, I was repeatedly crushed by anxiety and fear of failure and these posed an even greater challenge. I sought desperately to find solutions.
First, I tried meditation in my quest to get my life back on track. My first attempt actually raised my anxiety; I could not turn off my thoughts. I wanted to be great at meditation and expected to be healed instantly; however, just sitting there and achieving nothing at all when I had so much work to do DROVE ME NUTS!
Frustrated by my failed attempts at meditation, I tried painting, but I completely missed the point, wanting to be an overnight Picasso. Mediocrity was not an option. I was devastated by the amateur quality of my initial efforts.
With increasing desperation, I enrolled in therapy. I would have amazing sessions with my therapist – arriving super anxious and leaving somewhat calm; only to find that good old anxiety came right back knocking on my door like a dearly beloved neighbor.
The problem was not that these methods lacked the potential to be effective; it was that I was so caught up in my end goal of becoming a successful surgeon that I was not enjoying the journey. The exhilarating journey of a student in medical school, the gratifying journey of being able to focus my mind through meditation and find peace through painting I was not truly living my best life. As my feasible options decreased, I kept trying and failing until at some point SOMETHING MAGICAL HAPPENED!
I began to love those moments when I would sit in silence and focus on my breathing. It became a joy taking a break from my mind. I came to the realization that the world is so much more beautiful when you practice mindfulness, when you take a moment to get out of your head and just bask in the uniqueness of the situation around you.
I also began to cherish every brush stroke, learning to enjoy the process of giving birth to something unique and letting go of the quality of the final product.
I learnt to think like my therapist – to be as kind to myself as she was to me; to practice gratitude; to celebrate my wins – the big, the small, the in-betweens; to accept that it is ok to be afraid, without letting the fear control me.
Above all else, I learnt to hand over my battles to God.
As a result of my struggle with anxiety, I have become a better person and ultimately, I will be a better surgeon. Far too often we fixate on our destination – our goals, and forget to enjoy the journey. I’m forever grateful that my struggle with anxiety caused me to wake up.
Jamesa Fabien is a rising third-year medical student at Ross University School of Medicine. She is a native of the nature island of the Caribbean, Dominica. She is an artist and nature enthusiast. Jamesa currently serves as Diversity and Inclusion Co-Coordinator on the AWS National Medical Student Committee and as Co-Chair of the AWS Instagram Sub-Committee. She is passionate about encouraging others, especially the under-represented, to pursue their dreams. She believes that despite what your circumstances may look like, it is of paramount importance to remain faithful and keep working hard for the results you want to see. In her spare time she channels her creative energies into painting, specializing in medical and Christian based art. She can be found on Instagram @jamesafabien and her artwork can be found on her Instagram business page @youngandhustlinng
Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.