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Not “the Student”, but Forever a Learner

By: Hailey Higham

On the very first day of school last year, Michael and I ate a special breakfast, took a selfie, kissed goodbye, and he was off. As I closed the door behind him, I felt tears stinging my eyes. That morning, I wept. I cried for reasons you may not think of right off the bat ("I'm never going to see him" "Med school is going to end our life"). I cried because I wasn't walking right out the door to school hand-in-hand with him the way we had done the last two years. I cried because I was mourning the loss of my own source of fulfillment.

I've never wanted to become a doctor. Seeing Michael grind harder and struggle more than he ever has before has most assuredly confirmed that. But the allure of receiving a good grade, or a teacher's notice, or a classmate's friendship... it's been hard to leave behind. I didn't realize how much of my self-worth and identity I had attached to schooling until I was no longer a student.

Chatting with other med school spouses, I can clearly see that I am not alone. Any sort of life change takes time to adjust to, and this is no different. Although friends' challenges differ in situation and scope, it is comforting to have felt camaraderie in the struggle. I pray you will not feel alone in your own struggle: that you will feel the support, love, and empathy your own tribe has to offer. As part of your med school tribe, here are a few things I have learned that have made my transition easier and will hopefully be useful to you as well.

Connect & Communicate.

A month into medical school, I felt I was lacking a deep connection with friends. I turned to three of my best friends from college and started a book club. We have been meeting once every month over Zoom for the past year and a half and plan to continue... forever.

I also make it a point to plan girls nights, baby showers, and get-togethers. I love attending workout groups and going on hikes with friends. I think at the beginning of med school, I felt pressure to spend money in order to be with friends (shopping, going out to eat). The reality is, we are all poor and there are SO many fun, free things to do around here.

Be honest and vulnerable with your spouse. Express your feelings, your desires, your fears... all of it. Talk with friends who "get it". My experience has been that we connect at our "broken edges" even better than we do at our smooth ones. Also, don't be afraid to communicate openly with your doctor. Go to therapy and/or take medication if you (and your doctor) feel it's the right thing for you.

Acknowledge your growth.

Be proud of the things you are accomplishing now. Looking back on the last year and a half, I am amazed by my growth and by the things I have let seep into my soul. Interestingly enough, I feel I have grown more in the last year being a new mother & supporting my husband through school than I did while in my bachelor's and master's programs. It is immensely comforting to me that my learning has not stopped just because I have stopped going to school and working. As one of my favorite people, Henry B. Eyring has said, "Our education must never stop. If it ends at the door of the classroom on graduation day, we will fail."

One of my favorite things to do is setting and achieving worthy goals. On my refrigerator, I have a whiteboard split into 4 sections (intellectual, spiritual, physical, social). Every week, Michael and I write the things we want to achieve that week. Sometimes our goals are big, sometimes small, but we always push ourselves. This practice has helped both of us feel a stronger sense of identity and purpose. Setting goals in this way has helped me feel motivated to pursue and finish my master's degree, read SO many books, make new friends, and train for a half marathon among other things. In short, continuing to pursue knowledge and growth has kept me (mostly) sane ;).

Know that you are worthy of love.

I didn't realize how much I resembled a plant until med school. LOL. I NEED SUNSHINE. And water. In a similar self-care vein, try to eat at least some healthy foods and exercise (but of course you don’t have to be perfect). Listen to your spirit. I never realize how isolated I am until I get out and start interacting with friends. You can't pour from an empty glass, so fill that glass with things that make you feel whole. Take that long bath at night, binge that Netflix show, craft something for your home, play a sport you love, etc. etc., etc.

Like all plants, we must stretch toward the light to survive. Russell M. Nelson taught, “When you spiritually stretch beyond anything you have ever done before, then [Jesus Christ’s] power will flow into you.” I have seen this promise fulfilled in my own life as I plead on my knees to be given His power and strength.

Remember that growth is slow and steady. It would be fruitless to be upset with a plant: to mock or shame it would do no good at all. I invite you to be patient with yourself: to talk to yourself (and your significant other) the way you would talk to a close friend who was struggling.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown defines self-compassion with these three elements: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

1. Self-kindness: Being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.

2. Common humanity: Common humanity recognizes that suffering and feelings of personal inadequacy are part of the shared human experience—something we all go through rather than something that happens to “me” alone.

3. Mindfulness: Taking a balanced approach to negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. Mindfulness requires that we not “overidentify” with thoughts and feelings so that we are caught up and swept away by negativity.

Not a student, but forever a learner.

When I think back on that girl crying at the door two years ago, I have nothing but love for her. If I could go back in time, I would wrap my arms around her and tell her not only that everything would be all right, but that everything would be so much more wonderful than she could even imagine. I would tell her that her future was just as bright as her future-doctor-husband’s. That her seemingly small accomplishments would be eternally significant. That her daughter would bring her more joy than she ever thought possible. That her relationship with her husband would become more sacred in sacrifice. That she would continue to learn and grow in all the ways she so longed to do.

That in losing what she thought was herself, she would find herself.

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