When it becomes time to embrace fear and loss and let the chaos lead to growth

A man outfitted in a lovely blue suit falls through the air, losing his shoe and hurriedly scribbling notes, seemingly ignorant to the gravitational chaos around him. While this picture is featured on the cover of the novel Less by Andrew Sean Greer, I wonder how similar my experience will be starting on Monday.

After four months of delay, it is finally my turn to enter the hospital and begin my clinical rotations as a third-year medical student. I hesitate to use the adverb “finally,” as it paints a picture of triumphant entry through automatic sliding doors onto the hospital floor. While I am certainly excited to undertake a journey I thought would start in April, I am also incredibly anxious. These next ten months promise to submerge me into a completely new situation, one where I am partially responsible for the care of living individuals, and hopefully help me grow into a more knowledgeable, compassionate, and prepared physician.

This feeling of sparkling possibility mixed with abject terror is masterfully depicted in the story of Arthur Less. He is a mostly unsuccessful writer who finds himself on the receiving end of a wedding invitation from his recent ex-lover of nine years. In order to save himself from the emotional turmoil of attending the wedding, he embarks on a journey around the world to every speaking event and book writing opportunity he can find. One of my favorite moments during his great adventure comes as he hikes with camels across Morocco and discusses the meaning of love and relationships with friends, some lifelong and some newly found. This voyage became one of my favorite stories, as Arthur’s escapades while he tried to ignore his broken heart had me both laughing out loud and tearing up happily.

Heartbreak is a unique time. It is a time in which you are smashed open and lose your grip on a certainty — a certainty that you were assured you would never lose. Heartbreak guts you and then offers you the possibility to redesign your future in ways you never considered. Losing your love in this way is devastating, and that same devastation provides the ability to do wild, unexpected things that help you grow in unimaginable ways. Pain and growth both can be true.

The questions faced during Arthur Less’s journey through heartbreak and the ones I have before starting rotations are quite similar: Who am I in this unfamiliar situation? What should I do? Will anybody like me? Will I be good enough? Can I handle this?

I think we all have these questions.

Heartbreak can be a blindsiding realization that we have to move on from a past certainty into the unknown ahead. Whether it stems from another’s choice or our own conclusions, the future awaits upon tremulous ground. It is true that I have chosen my profession, and thus I can at least look upon the beginning of this clinical journey with the knowledge that the selection was mine. I cannot accept the alternative of never showing up and living with regrets and significant financial and temporal loss, so I will be there Monday morning entering the doors, with a feeling of sparkling possibility mixed with abject terror. It is my time to throw myself into a voyage, losing my certainty about what is to come, but eager to learn and evolve from every step.

Claire Brown is a medical student. 

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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