“Listen to the raisin. Put it to your ear. Try and hear the sounds. Put it between your fingers now. Let it role around. What is the texture like? Now smell it. Inhale deeply. How is this making you feel?”
This was my first lesson in Mindfulness.
I was a clueless first year medical student who was still getting lost around campus and defrosting her parents food and this was my first lecture of “Whole Person Care”, where I was going to learn all about caring for whole patient, not just their medical condition.
What I didn’t know was that I would also be learning about how to care for myself.
Our first task for this lecture. Examining a raisin. We were sceptical, surprised and too polite and scared not to oblige. We went along with it. Feeling silly at the start why were we listing to a raisin of all things? Then after a while we were engrossed.
By a raisin.
We gave into the moment. At one point, all we were thinking about was that raisin.
Someone wiser would say that we were practicing mindfulness. We were focused on the present.
Our teacher knew what would face us when we were doctors. We didn’t. They were trying to prepare us for that day in the not so distant future when we would be pulled in a hundred different directions and we would have to learn to quieten that voice in our head that was exploding with all we had to do. And instead focus on the scared 80 year old in front of us struggling to breath. To be mindful of the present and resilient to the inevitable stresses that would be placed upon us.
As we shuffled in each week we would learn about how to care for all of the patient including their complex emotional needs.
But more pertinent to me, I would learn the most important lesson of all my time in medical school. How to care for myself.
“You are like an elastic band. You can only stretch so far until you need to recoil” we were told.
At every stage of my time at medical school, neglecting the truth of the statement above would harm me.
When I would be to busy to eat on time, to go for a run, to see my friends, to see my family.
At the end of third year. I was burnt out and unhappy. I was an academic success but I wasn’t happy. There was no resilience. I had stretched my band to far.
Time to recoil. I intercalated, went to Kenya alone and started writing a blog. I started doing more of the thing I loved again and discovered new passions.
If you aren’t able to help yourself, it can be very difficult trying to help someone else.
I went back to clinical medicine a happier person.
When I was working harder around exam time, I allowed myself to recoil just as much. I ran everyday, not just when I was stressed. I wrote a lot. A danced around my flat. I wore lipstick when I was revising and if times were particularly tough, a great pair of heels too. I had learnt to be resilient by learning, the hard way, how to look after myself.
This weekend I am building up my resilience ahead of my first set of nights as a doctors. I have been spending time with my family and my sister has been helping me attempt to eat my body weight is dessert. We did well today. Roll on the family BBQ tomorrow where we shall attempt round two 😉