While I am commonly considered to be a friendly person, I never had very many friends. This was likely because I was too much. I am was too brown, too bookish, too loud, too assertive, just too much in every single category. It was hard for people to accept me, and I gave up early on in high school to make friends. I fell in where I could, my boyfriends took care of me, and I had a very big family to care for me. But things were different when I found my friends in medical school. Like-minded young women who were stressed out and too much for every single category—many too brown, too big, too loud, too sassy, too assertive, too hard working. We were not loved before until we found each other.
We dove into each other. We spent all day working hard and preparing for exams, but the evenings were for wine, filling out applications, and writing papers with each other, each sitting in our own little world, peaking over our laptops to lament about our days. On Friday nights, we’d go to bars, go dancing, or have game night and wine with husbands and boyfriends. We shared everything with each other—clothes, wine, food, and time. We were each other’s allies.
When we were supposed to be getting couples massages with out-of-town lovers or boyfriends who were happy to see us, we got massages with each other. We got cupcakes with each other. We did dirt masks and face masks and manicures together. We talk about the babies we wanted and felt compelled to have. We would introduce new boyfriends to the team of lovely doctors to be, and then while we ran to the bathroom, they would grill the new boyfriend to be. This made me grin every time I thought of how these women protected me, quickly sacrificing their egos and their presentations to think about me and to save me. These were the first people to point out that I was in an abusive relationship and to help me to find a way out of it. These were the women to offer their guest bedrooms indefinitely and rides to work when I had nothing. The people who watched my cat when I was out of town and the people who had keys to my home. The people who would literally pick me up off the floor and the people whose apartments I let myself into to make sure they were okay. We checked in regularly about sleeping and eating. We made sure all of us were eating and still drinking. There was cake brought in after funerals and lasagnas made when we were too tired to cook for ourselves. There was love in all the corners of the friendships. These were the people who understood me better than anyone. People who knew where I was at all times. These were my ride-or-die friends.
These friends were the best friends I ever hoped to have. These were the friends I hope I would make as my lifelong friends—the friends I didn’t know that I would ever make. The friends who had my back in every corner. The friends I made who would love me every day of every moment. My friends who stood up for me in the middle of awful arguments with professors who would marginalize me. The people who stood by me no matter what.
But, these were trauma bonds. These bonds are unstable. These are bonds that are formed in the presence of the immense trauma we know from going to medical school. We have seen so much hurt from our rotations. The humiliation we face on the wards, the pain we face from failure when our success is what has defined all of us. We know that we are the only ones who will ever know each other well enough to comfort each other. We live vicariously through each other, ensuring that we treat the suffering in others we see in ourselves.
Medicine is a scary place. While I love each of these friends that I have made, it saddens me that we go to where we got from here. Our friendships were our only way of trying to comfort ourselves when there were few other people who were there to comfort us. We told each other that we were proud of each other. That we loved each other. Because there was no one there for us other than ourselves.
Micaela Stevenson is a medical student.
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