Unsaid

I feel like I’ve started being more comfortable being straight-up and honest with people, which in many ways has been helpful for my own mental health by alleviating some of the anxiety of keeping thoughts and feelings bottled up. There are certain things that a better left unsaid though. Whether its an apology, unfiltered honesty, there are certain cases in which saying exactly what’s on your mind, while potentially liberating for myself, may cause harm to those around me, or even to myself in the long run.

Coloring Outside the Lines

As long as I can remember, I’ve hated coloring things. For me it was always a tedious, stressful, anxiety-inducing activity. On one hand I kind of want to color quickly so I can get the picture looking how I want it to (or, as was the case when I was little, so I can go out and play). On the other hand I get super frustrated if any stray marks find their way even a fraction of a millimeter outside of the black outline (sometime seeing the mark on the black lines is even pushing it).

I always just thought this was the way I was; that I was just naturally a pseudo-compulsive. However, recently I was having a conversation with my mom and she actually brought up my elementary school-era coloring habits and knew exactly where and how it all started. Apparently, on one of my report cards in kindergarten my teacher made a comment that I was not doing a great job of coloring inside the lines. I was so hurt and traumatize from that one comment, which was probably both common amongst my classmates and objectively true, that from that moment on I must have vowed never to color outside the lines again.

Looking back, I like to imagine pre-report card Niko happily coloring away, outlines be damned, just making a complete mess of the page with no regard for the boundaries set before him. Little did he know that his carefree dreams and creative aspirations would soon be crushed and reformed by the academic automaton that we call our education system (I don’t blame you Ms. McQueen, you’re still my favorite teacher).

As I get older, I realize how much of that I’ve carried with me throughout my life, though you could argue that my conditioning to be a people-pleaser preceded this incident. Regardless, that’s who I am now and I don’t think that is every going to change much, and I’m ok with that. I’m always going to (try to) be a people-pleaser, but I have been learning to let go a bit more and I’m constantly trying to remind myself that its ok to color outside the lines.

Fllng n th blnks

Our brains are pretty good at filling in blanks with the likely missing links, especially given enough context. This is important to a lot of communication, it’s the basis of much of scientific inquiry, and it is also a key part of what makes us human; we can fill in blanks with things that are objectively not present, but context tells us must exist.

A ghost must have turnout turned out the lights because I’m alone in the house. This year’s harvest was plentiful as a result of my sacrificial offering at the temple.

We do the same thing in our interactions with others. Sometimes (or probably all the time) we form ideas about other people or on certain events based on limited information without knowing the “objective” truth. Often times its those very assumptions that keep us from seeking the truth because we think we’ve already figured it out. I’ve always considered myself an open-minded person, but I constantly catch myself making assumptions about other people’s character based on limited interactions. Recognizing it in yourself and other people doesn’t make you immune, it’s only the first step. Step 2 is making an effort and listening.

Hummingbird

When I was young, I was told that if hummingbirds stopped flapping their wings they would die, and for a long time I believed that. Thinking back I realize how ridiculous that would be if it were true, and what a tortured life it would be to be a hummingbird. Always needing to be on the go, literally because your life depends on it. Never being able to slow down. Never being able to stop, settle down, and rest.

I was sitting outside this morning and saw two hummingbirds chilling on the leaves of some giant birds-of-paradise, wings stowed at their sides. It made me happy.

GO FOR THE HEAD

When you’re fighting a monster it seems like the obvious thing to do, especially from an anthropocentric point of view. But what if there is no obvious head? Or what if going for the head isn’t actually the best thing to aim for (if playing Dark Souls for 2 weeks has taught me anything it’s this).

Sometimes the best way to defeat the monster is not to fuss over the ideal place to attack, but to just attack it wherever you possibly can and hope for the best.

Attention Deficit

I had another appointment with the psychologist last week and this time she indicated that she actually doesn’t think I have ADHD.

I agree with her (not that that necessarily matters), but I will say though that I do have an attention deficit of sorts. I think we all do. By I don’t mean that my attention is short, but that I have a tendency to “spend” more attention than I return. Every time an idea comes up or I think of something I need to do I make a tab (mentally or virtually); I spend some attention. This deficit results in a debt that just keeps growing to the point where all these things are running at low power in my head (or in my browser) taking up bits of my attention, however never enough individually to complete the task or pay off the debt, so collectively they add up to just a huge sum of unproductive processing.

The solution perhaps isn’t to ignore it or hide it away as I kinda suggested before, but rather to start paying those debts. One by one, address the things that have been on my mind, enough to satisfy the lender. Maybe I should start with the small stuff first so I don’t overdraft on the bigger ones.

Lichenization

For a long time scientists didn’t know what to do with lichens. Are they plant? Are the fungus? What are they? Some guy at one point suggested that they weren’t a single organism, but a collection of both fungus and algae/ cyanobacteria, living together. One provided protection and nutrients, the other provides the energy. This notion of two species coming together in a seemingly single organism was challenged by many at the time since it flew in the face of Darwin’s concept of divergent evolution that was just becoming widely accepted, but eventually a new term was created to describe the relationship between the species that make up lichen, and in turn all species that evolve convergently; symbiosis.

As unassuming as lichens are when you see them growing on rocks and trees on hikes, or really anywhere, they cover more of the Earth’s surface than tropical rainforests do (though perhaps these days, that is not such an impressive feat). Not only that, but many of them can survive the harsh conditions of space and Mars, unlike the majority of single-specied organisms.

Symbiosis allows these little cluster of organisms to go further than any other organism could manage alone. Our society is obsessed with competition and with weeding out what doesn’t work, which shockingly has led to the detriment of nearly every ecosystem on the planet. Maybe we should take a page from natural history’s playbook and focus a little more on lichenization.

Surrounded

I’ve quoted this many times before, but I’ll do it again cause it’s been so meaningful for me in various stages of my life and career: My Latin teacher in high school (shoutout to Davey) would say, Surround yourself with people who make you better, and who you make better. And since I can’t find an original source when I search for that exact phrase on Google, I’ll say that he was the man who said it first.

This idea was at the forefront of my mind yesterday during a session we had about healthcare disparities, specifically around maternal morbidity and mortality, and how in America, unlike most “developed” nations, maternal mortality has actually been increasing over the years. Unsurprisingly, due to injustices that exist (and have existed since our founding) in this country, this increase has disproportionately affected black women in America.

While I do want to talk about the data and some of the potential solutions we discussed in that session in another post, I just wanted to take some time to express my appreciation for the people in my class. I feel like in many cases it can be hard to motivate some students who were once premeds and who score as high in neuroticism as medical students do to talk about things that are not going to be “high yield” for upcoming exams, but when it comes to talking about real issues affecting vulnerable and marginalized people in our society the students in my cohort SHOW UP. They aren’t afraid to vocalize their thoughts and to challenge the status quo, and they do it articulately and with so much grace.

Not sure how much I can contribute to the second part of my teacher’s quote, but I will try to learn from example. Change is coming to healthcare in America, and I’m proud to be in the presence of the future physicians who are going to make that happen.

Other-Narrative

Just like we all have stories we all tell ourselves about ourselves, we all have stories we tell ourselves about other people. Often times we use this other-narrative as a substitute for actually getting to know other people, despite being constructed mostly from indirect interaction or secondary accounts. I wouldn’t get a long with this person because. I think this person doesn’t like me because. This person said X one time so they must think a certain way.

It can be hard to be yourself when you think people around you already have preconceived ideas about who you are as a person. You can resent others for judging you without first getting to know you, even if that is all in your head and has no basis in reality.

We can never fully anticipate or control what others will think about us based on what we do or don’t do. So in the end the best course of action is to just be unapologetically ourselves… whatever that means.

Backwards

We’ve got it backwards. In school we tell students to sit down, turn off their laptops, shut up, and pay attention, all in an effort to get them to learn. We are starting with the assumption that the content or presentation of the lecturer is not engaging enough to maintain the focus of the students. A good lecturer would tell their students to open their computers, to browse distracting websites, because it is their job, and their challenge to capture the attention of those who are present (https://youtu.be/uVGuOTQ4gtI?t=230).

I think we as students also have a sickness too though, through no fault of our own, but because of the academic culture we grew up in. We’ve learned survival techniques to help us skirt by (or excel) using shortcuts and flashcards based on the current academic system and so we are afraid of changing our ways or when teachers alter the format to try new things to be more engaging. So the teachers who do have the courage to try something different are met with resistance and/ or negative feedback, shaming them into just going back to their old ways.

Maybe you could also say, hey we can’t expect all teachers/ lecturers/ instructors to be amazing presenters and be able to engage any and all students, that’s unrealistic. And I agree, but does that mean we should default to the driest form of information transfers possible? In the age of the internet there are so many resources out their to learn about nearly anything you want and frankly universities are behind the times.

Today it’s possible for a student to get through their first year of medical school without opening an official textbook or attending a single lecture covering exam material. That doesn’t make them exceptionally smart or special, it means they are resourceful and that they prefer to learn in a way that doesn’t destroy their soul.

The information is out there, and it is beautifully packaged and delivered in so many different ways, and much of it for free, and the rest of it for pennies compared to the cost of medical school tuition. The same applies for most undergraduate education. Back then, I went to every single lecture (health permitting) because was under the impression that I had to go to lecture or else that was like throwing thousands of dollars down the drain every day. But I had it backwards. This attitude allows for university to get away with the exploitation of students and aspiring professionals. Instead we should be asking, what are these universities providing that is truly worth the exorbitant tuition costs other than a title and a piece of paper that says we scored well enough on a bunch of tests.