Finding happiness in the time of COVID

I was waiting for my boyfriend to return back from cleaning his car. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the tears started rolling down my face. I was startled at the sudden deluge. I don’t cry often. We had a small argument earlier in the day, the details of which I won’t divulge here. It made me question where I get my happiness from. It led me to the conclusion that, at least for me, there is no such thing as internal happiness.

I’ve been sidelined from medicine as a student for over a year now due to a mental health issue. Ever since then, I’ve watched slowly, standing by on the sidelines as I went from a promising young doctor in training to an out of work adult living with my mother and a huge debt load. That in and of itself would cause many to grieve. But, I try to stay positive. I try to express gratitude. And you know what? Most of the time that works. But not today.

Some days I feel like a failure, like a loser who couldn’t cut it. I imagine I might share that sentiment with many of my colleagues – the students, residents, and physicians fighting on the frontline during this unprecedented health crisis.

I know when I lost my happiness. My serotonin and dopamine seeking brain found its happiness in the pleasure of doing well on exams, of receiving positive feedback from my teachers, and, most of all, in the gratitude from my patients. Now, that pleasure has been replaced by the relationships I have with my family, the love I share with my boyfriend of nearly ten years, as those bonds have grown stronger over the last year.

What would I say to those struggling to find their happiness in these trying times? To those who are overworked and underappreciated? Remember the gratitude of that dying patient and their grieving family. Of the nurse who thanked you for staying with a patient just a few moments longer while they struggled to catch their breath. And of the people banging pans out in the street on your way home. These are the little things that add up and bring happiness in an otherwise dismal time in perhaps an unexpected way.

The author is an anonymous medical student.

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