Embracing the View From Your Unmapped Path
I opened the door and heard the jingle of a holiday-themed bell announcing my arrival. I walked up the creaking staircase and found myself in front of a pleasant woman sitting at a desk. She greeted me and led me to an empty room, decorated as if it were someone’s living room, wood fire stove and all. I took a seat on the couch and tried to feel comfortable despite being clearly uncomfortable. What an unfamiliar feeling.
I never expected to find myself here.
I never expected to need help.
Yet here I was, sitting on a stranger’s couch, trying to put into words what was wrong with me. Trying to explain how I had lost my way.
It was in high school that I started thinking about becoming a doctor. I had always been one to challenge myself, and a medical degree sounded like one of the hardest things I could pursue. Plus, I had always loved science.
“Why not?” I thought.
As graduation day approached I began wrapping my decisions around this idea more and more permanently.
It became not only my goal, but my expectation. I was going to move to Washington. I was going to go to a great university. I was going to be a pre-med student, do well in school, make great friends, adventure in the mountains, and maybe even meet someone that would sweep me off my feet. It was the perfect plan. Of course it would all work out. If I just tried really hard, I couldn’t fail.
It wasn’t until my junior year that the plan started to crumble.
School was hard. I felt distant from friends, my relationship was struggling, and my grades were far from what I knew I needed to achieve. I wanted to do well in school, but what about snowboarding? And mountain biking? What about the persona I had worked so hard to craft? I was supposed to be an adventurous and daring; I was willing to suffer through mountain storms to reach wintery summits and be some sort of badass mountain chick. But what if I couldn’t be that?
I felt lost in my own skin. Who was I if not a future physician or an accomplished mountain biker?
“Just keep trying,” I would tell myself.
Just keep trying.
But eventually? I just lost it.
I lost the drive. I lost whatever but remaining confidence I’d gripped to. My self-respect was gone, too.
Disillusionment was setting in and life became a dark place for the first time.
I hated myself for failing. So many negative ideas ran through my head in those days. And I had no idea how to turn them off.
As it turns out, simply admitting that I was depressed was one of the most liberating things I could do. To admit that I wasn’t happy with the way the few years of my adult life had turned out was the first step to liking the life I was living again.
Admitting that I hadn’t lived up to my expectations was the very thing I needed to do to be free of them.
My mom and I hiked a mountain in Colorado one weekend when I was in high school. We used a map and had a description of where to go but, still, we got lost; took a wrong turn too far back to return. So we trudged on. Once we got above tree line we looked across the valley and saw the trail we had expected to take — the trail everyone else was on.
As we struggled over boulder field after boulder field we would glance over at the other trail and long for its smooth, easy access to the summit. At one point we just sat on a rock and watched as people meandered up the other side, and we just started laughing.
“This sucks!" I said. I looked up as I exclaimed that, and couldn’t fight the massive smile that flashed across my face. My mom lost it. We were laughing so hard we couldn’t find a moment to speak.
At the end of the fit, we picked up our backpacks and kept climbing. Our situation was not ideal. It definitely was not what we expected, but this sad version of a trail we were following still had flowers growing along the sides. It still lead us to breathtaking views.
And it definitely gave us a few good belly laughs. It wasn’t what we expected, but to this day it is my most memorable summit.
I tried to remember this story as I sat on that couch, once so unfamiliar. Over the next 18 months, that couch became a comfortable place to sit and talk about what was bothering me.
There are expectations we carry around — expectations that can lead us to do great things but cripple us when we don’t. I’ve decided that in order to accomplish the former I must prevent them from the doing the latter.
I may always be a girl that needs to work harder to get good grades. I will never be a sponsored downhill mountain biker.
But I will be a doctor.
I will be a passionate woman. I will be free to fail, and free to come up short. May I never again expect not to.
May I recognize the flowers along my own rocky path, and through my laughter, let my forward motion carry me where it may.
If you are struggling with depression, which is so common and often unspoken of during this holiday season, don’t fight it.
Let yourself be depressed. Let yourself ask for help. Let yourself say that life isn’t what you expected. That it isn’t what you wanted. That it’s not what you had dreamed of.
Allow yourself to grieve.
And then, alongside friends, family or a counselor, let yourself be happy again.
Osteopathic Medical Student - 2nd Year (OMS II)
College of Osteopathic Medicine
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences