It was close to the end of the 150 minutes of my first Neuro exam. I desperately tried to review a last couple questions before hitting the "submit" button. I cringed when I got my score. It wasn't awful. But when I reviewed my mistakes, my heart kept sinking. I missed the question on epidural hematoma? I knew exactly what was depicted, but I chose subdural hematoma. How did I make such a stupid mistake?
When Lizard Brain Took Over
That wasn't the only silly error. Of the 114-question exam I'd made a number of simple misreading errors. I couldn't believe that I was caught in lizard brain. Me, Miss yogi, who has taught people for so many years about the nefarious impacts of stress on the mind, body and especially the nervous system.
Practice Doesn't Immunize Us From Stress
Years of practice and teaching didn't immunize me from stress. The stress of feeling like I need to make As on all my tests. The stress of wanting to prove that I can be a mom, run a business and keep myself healthy. After that test I hit a low point. I felt like I was doing a terrible job. I hated that I was putting myself in stress. And I was in a horrible mood. I'd gone from loving my medical education to resenting it. Just like that. All because of a couple missed multiple choice questions.
I spent a week questioning why I was doing this at all. Why was I attempting medical school at my age with a family? And how had I gotten caught in the trap of letting my grades define my self worth? In the process of grappling with academic stress and self doubts, I realized a few things. Being a yogi doesn't immunize us from stress, but it does give us unique ways of combatting adversity.
1. Figure Out Your Why
I had to remember why I was going the Medical School. Bringing a touch of yoga to medicine is where I want to spend the next few decades. Because I believe that my experiences in yoga, ayurveda and wellness will bring a fresh perspective to medicine. I've also seen how unlikely candidates are transformed through yoga. I believe that yoga's philosophy of compassion and holistic health can change how we see and treat illness. Figure out the long term vision for where you're going. Ensure that you're acting from intrinsic motivation rather than external pressures. When I shifted my focus to my long term vision I began to climb out of my depression. In my heart I know that an A on a test won't make me a good doctor. But the ability to listen with an open heart and mind will.
2. Practice Mindfulness to Keep Your Focus In Your Heart
Even with med school's grueling schedule, I practice daily meditation to look at my thoughts. To notice when I fall into the circle of judging, condemning, picking over small details. Perhaps my tendency to focus on the details was a way of coping with uncertainty. This is a new path for me.
3. Clarify Your Long Term Vision
My vision is to have my own medical practice where I incorporate yoga, nutrition and lifestyle into medical treatments. As I learn more about medicine it will evolve. I hope to share this journey with you. Keeping your long term vision is important for avoiding the trap of focusing on the tiny details. It's easy to obsess over one tiny detail that doesn't go right and to forget the bigger picture.
4. Keep Going
After the first Neuro test I started to shift my focus and remind myself that the tiny details don't matter that much. But I often slipped into the small-minded self condemnation. Feeling mad at myself for missing a detail in a question that make one answer obvious. Or for not being able to remember all the side effects of the drugs for psychosis. I continued to practice mindfulness and catch myself when I spiraled. When I got to my final Neuro test, I had decide that I would be happy with outcome. I felt like I had learned the material, and this was most important. The final tests happened to be on my daughter's 5th birthday, so I couldn't spend all evening studying. I had more important things at hand...wrapping her presents and decorating to surprise her in the morning.
The result was that I went into the test feeling more relaxed and free. I rediscovered equanimity. Life presents big stressors. Yoga practices won't prevent us from feeling stressed. But they give us ways to climb out of stress and maybe climb a little higher each time. Keep going.