Conversations with Anna
Sarenna Lalani, Meds '23
Full disclosure: I never thought I would be someone who went to see a shrink. Therapy was for people who had something wrong with them, and I was hell-bent on the fact that there was nothing wrong with me. Sure, I can be a little bit of a perfectionist at times and sure, I probably operate at a higher basal level of stress than the average person, but that’s normal…right? That’s just part of your regularly scheduled med school programming, isn’t it?
Over the past couple of years, I’ve toyed with the idea of seeing someone. I paid lip-service to the benefits of therapy, especially when friends needed help beyond what my words could offer them. I’ve casually referred friends to resources on campus, and whenever I was met with hesitation, I would always throw in the fact that I’d been considering making an appointment too. I didn’t feel the stigma – the cloud of judgement never lurked over my head – and I wasn’t ashamed to share my truth – I had indeed considered making an appointment – but when push came to shove, something would prevent me from taking that first step. I was too busy to call or didn’t have time that week or had other things outside of school that were taking up my time. I was nothing if not consistent at making excuses.
When this year started, I could sense that I was struggling with striking a balance. My stress levels, while still contained, were certainly higher than usual. I can recall a handful of weeks where I really didn’t think I would make it through – there was too much on my plate for me to even begin to tackle, and I had absolutely no idea where to start. I became reliant on my schedule to get me through, but my set-up was unstable at best. If I didn’t check off one of today’s boxes, the rest of my week and weekend would be thrown off, and feelings of guilt would wash over me. I began cutting myself less and less slack; I was less forgiving if I worked slowly because I was tired. While I wasn’t a ruthless dictator of my own life, I certainly wasn’t being kind to myself either. Of course, I didn’t realize this on my own – these are some of the findings Anna and I came through after sifting through my psyche. I just knew something was off, and come December, I knew that I needed to make an appointment to preserve my well-being. I was ready to admit that I might need a teensy-weensy bit of outside help.
I recall sitting nervously in the little waiting corridor (it really does not have the structure to be considered a room) of Student Wellness Services, eagerly awaiting Anna’s arrival. I remember wondering what would she look like: was she tall or short? Young or old? Would she be a nice person? How would I know that I could trust her? Anna, a small-statured and peppy woman with a soothing voice eventually appeared in the waiting corridor and guided me down the hallway towards her office. It was dimly lit with a warm-shaded lamp, had a desk in the corner and one sofa and one armchair. It was small, but cozy. She beckoned towards the sofa, and as I sat down, I could feel the tension dissolve across my shoulders. So, this was therapy, eh? Not so scary after all.
An hour later we had talked about all kinds of things. We shared funny stories from our lives, talked about the stress of med school, shared our favorite spots in Kingston and so much more. Anna, more than a therapist, was a friend. She didn’t judge and she certainly normalized and validated everything I was feeling. She gave me some homework, which was really more of a mantra to use when I felt myself spiraling. Instead of feeling guilt when I couldn’t get everything on my to-do list done in a day, I needed to accept that I was doing my best and that that was enough. I only have a certain bandwidth, all of us do, and we can only do so much. She said not making it to the gym one day, or not finishing all of the notes I had hoped to do was “fact, not failure.”
Fact, not failure – three simple words that have, in many ways, changed my life. Every one of us could probably benefit from being a little kinder to ourselves, and thanks to Anna I was able to see that. Med school can be hard, life can be hard, and you’re doing yourself dirty if you pretend otherwise. Some days, you will be your own superhero; you will dot every “i” and cross every “t” that you intend to, but if one day you don’t, remember it’s fact, not failure.
Illustration by Amanda Mills, Meds '23
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