This piece is part of in-Training Mental Health Week.
Despite the fact that it’s fairly warm for this time of year, I was feeling in the spirit to try a winter-themed activity that wouldn’t require travel or cost a significant amount of money (aka skiing, snowboarding). The most obvious activity, given those requirements, was ice-skating — figure skating specifically, given that speed skating isn’t exactly an option for someone who’s never skated before.
Ice skating is a physically dangerous and mentally taxing individual sport, and as such, I was expecting to find articles stating the high rate of physical injuries and increased stress levels compared to group sports — and I wasn’t wrong on either count. With some more research, however, I found one study which stated that ice skating led to a significant improvement in self-concept, behavioral and emotional problems, and sleep quality in novice child skaters with visual or hearing impairments. The study also brought up the point that ice skating for leisure was more of a group activity than an individual activity. I could picture it then: all of my friends banded together in the skating rink, clutching onto each other and trying not to fall (with the knowledge that when one of us did, the rest of us would go down like dominos). Since I wasn’t planning to become the next Yuna Kim, I figured it could make for a fun bonding experience before Step 1 studying and decided to try it out.
One of the other reasons I chose this activity were the two obvious positives: the time and the cost. Google Maps told me that it was only a 20-minute trip to the skating rink, and if we timed it right (which we did), we arrived during the “free skate session” in which our entrance fees were waived and we only had to pay a few dollars for renting skates. The experience itself, however, was a completely different monster.
I wish I could describe something incredibly entertaining and/or thrilling for you, but alas. I spent the first fifteen minutes clutching onto the handrails around the arena and slowly, tentatively putting one foot in front of the other. I was taking deep breaths in and out, so sure that I would fall at any minute (in hindsight, that was a little silly, given that I had both hands on the rails at all times) and ignoring my braver friends who, by the fifteen minute mark, were easily skating in circles and laughing at my struggles when they came by. By the thirty minute mark, I had found my courage to actually let go of the rail (this was a big deal, I want to emphasize) and it only took me eight minutes to make a lap around the entire rink. I fell no less than eleven times (yes, I counted), and by the time we were ready to go, I knew I was going to be sore for a few days. And no, I hadn’t really improved at all by the time I was finished.
I guess this sums up how medical school — or life’s challenges, can be. Sometimes you start out having a lot of trouble; sometimes you start out at the back of the pack — and then it clicks and you are able to rise to the challenge, to make that desired score on a UWorld question set or Honors in surgery rotation. And sometimes? Sometimes — for a lack of better word — it just sucks through and through and through. Sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and bear it, knowing that while it may not get any better, you can’t just quit; you can’t just sit on your frozen butt in the middle of an ice skating rink because you’ll end up hurting yourself or someone else. We’ve all had moments of clarity like this: moments when we realize that despite how hard we’ve worked and how much practice and patience and persistence and all those good “P”-starting words we learned in kindergarten — sometimes we won’t reach the prize and that’s okay. I realize this is a bit of a stretch given that I’ve only gone ice skating once, but I can safely tell you that even if I practice ice skating every day of the week for the next ten years, I doubt I will rise to any level above “marginally competent.” But I think this is an important lesson and reminder: sometimes we can and sometimes we can’t, but the important thing is that we just keep on going, being the best we can be, because, at the end of the day, that is what matters most of all.
A very important topic is that of mental health in medical practitioners, notably medical students. According to a study in the Student British Medical Journal, 30 percent of medical students report having a mental health condition — with a majority of 80 percent stating the level of available support was poor or only moderately adequate. This column was born from these alarming statistics and aims to stimulate conversation on mental health in medical students, from providing suggestions on how to maintain one’s mental health to discussing the taboo and stigma surrounding conversations on mental health in practitioners and students, and how to eliminate it.