Columns, Therapeutic Misadventures
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Falling Down the Rabbit Hole


TMhow quickly one turns on oneself 
inner demons circling overhead
like opportunistic infections
ready to invade
predator and prey
so vulnerable
unprotected and unarmed. 
survival of the fittest 

I wrote this poem just a few weeks ago during a moment of overwhelming emotions that felt all too familiar. I’ve been writing poetry since middle school; it has always been a source of refuge for me, an outlet for my deepest fears and anxieties. Letting my most personal insecurities flow openly over paper frees them from stirring inside of me.

I spent my first year of medical school trying to mask the ways I was feeling instead of owning up to them the way I am able to in my writing. I could not admit to the world that nothing turned out the way I had imagined. I thought medical school would be this momentous, enlightening experience. I knew it would be hard work. I knew it would be exhausting. While I knew I would have to make sacrifices to succeed, I was prepared for that. However, what I was not prepared for was the overwhelming feelings of self-doubt and shame. 

I had never felt so unsure of myself, so small, so out of place in a world that was supposed to be one of the few places to which I actually belonged.  At the risk of sounding weak and pathetic, I admit I felt victorious if I went even a single day without breaking down into tears over something. A childhood of struggling through school ingrained me some deep seeded issues of thinking I was “the dumb kid” and that everyone knew it. I felt lost and overwhelmed during first year lectures and it took me right back to being in kindergarten. As a kid, I used to throw temper tantrums when my dad tried to help me with homework. Not that I hated doing homework any more than the average child, but because I felt out of control; I could not handle that feeling of struggling to understand and I just wanted the whole process to be done with. I may or may not have been known to throw our wooden salt and pepper shakers across the kitchen table during our daddy-daughter homework sessions. Medical school felt like that all over again, except in adulthood, my temper tantrums manifested as depression and anxiety. 

I have written many poems, journal entries and parts of paragraphs documenting  my medical school experiences during what felt like centuries of Alice falling down the rabbit hole. Sharing these experiences with readers in this column will be both one of my greatest challenges and most rewarding endeavors.

“Write from a position of discovering strength rather than overcoming weakness… It just [takes] time to learn that you can still thrive in a world of uncertainty and self doubt as you never give up” –My Dad

Everyone
Is smarter
better
quicker
No No NO!
I am not everyone.
I am me.
I am one of the essential
20 amino acids
201 students 
Do you know my struggles?
Do you care?
Right Atrium, tricuspid valve, right ventricle, pulmonary valve
pump pump pump
My heart is aching
Work harder
Pump faster
Be better
BETTER 
BETTER 
BETTER
I am a zygote.
I am totipotent.
I can be anything, go anywhere, do do do
I struggle.
No time for struggling, no time for weakness; never get behind. 
Aqueous humor and tears in my eyes 
Heavy backpack
Heavy heart
pump pump pump


Therapeutic Misadventures

Therapeutic Misadventures catalogs the unanticipated effects of medical school and the emotional roller coaster that is medical education. It is a peek into what it really feels like to be a medical student and the perpetual challenges that come with that life. Spoiler alert: it’s hard.

Valerie Efros Valerie Efros (5 Posts)

Columnist

Michigan State University College of Human Medicine


Hello! I’m Valerie. I’m from the suburbs of Detroit and graduated from Michigan State University in 2009 with my BA in Psychology. I’m currently living in Grand Rapids Michigan with my fiance Adam, where I’m now in my second year of medical school at MSUCHM. I’m the aunt of two little kiddies that I love to death (Asher 3.5 and Shana 1.5) and the proud mama of a silly red-brown dog named Bo. Before starting medical school, I sang in an a cappella group for 3 years, traveled to India, volunteered at a Navajo hospital in New Mexico and many other uninteresting things I won’t mention. I still sing as much as I can, love hot vinyasa yoga, hiking, camping and spending time with my family. If I’m not studying, you can probably find me on my couch in sweat pants eating frozen yogurt, watching Modern Family, The Mindy Project or The Goldberg’s.

Therapeutic Misadventures

Therapeutic Misadventures catalogs the unanticipated effects of medical school and is meant to provide a sense of the emotional roller coaster that is medical education. It is a peek into what it really feels like to be a medical student and the perpetual challenges that come with that life. Spoiler alert: it’s hard.


  • Laura Haley

    Thanks for sharing this, Valerie! It is not easy to reveal the darker side of medical school. Glad you wrote this!
    Laura, fellow CHMer