It’s been a while.
The last time I updated this blog I was twenty years old and had just reached five feet and five inches. Now I’m five weeks away from twenty-three, and in the time that it took me to shrink back down to five feet and four and three-quarters inches, I’ve been… busy. I became a senior in college, castrated some twenty male rats for my senior neuroscience research project, tried raw oysters and Russian donuts, gained seventeen pounds, head cheffed a gourmet meal for eighty, graduated from college, moved back to my hometown, started work, took the MCAT, got my drivers’ license, and tried to find a new, concrete, semi-permanent normal.
And just yesterday I was rejected from my dream medical school.
Just a few days ago, I was joking with my dad that I couldn’t possibly ever be too stressed to eat. Quite the opposite, actually – I always took advantage of my college’s no-swipe dining hall system to eat a double-digit quantity of meals during midterms or finals. But right now, as I read that email titled “Not Selected” over and over and over, I feel like I could never eat anything again, even if I tried. Nothing will ever taste good again because I didn’t get into my dream school.
Which is super melodramatic, I know. Realistically, what’s going to happen is that as soon as I manage to put on a decently human-looking face and clothes that are not snot-stained from crying too long, I’m going to go to Chipotle and get two burrito bowls for myself. Then I’m going to the creamery and getting three ice cream sandwiches, and then all-you-can-eat sushi, and when I’m washing it all down with my first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season I will drown out those ever-present post-grad ghosts that tell me that I’m stuck and lost and will never amount to anything because I failed and didn’t pass at life. And I will play Kelly Clarkson’s “Cry” in my head through it all, because she got my through my chronic adolescent angst and maybe she can kick my ass out of this too.
In the months, and now the years, following college graduation, I’ve been so good at pretending like I’ve gotten everything figured out. Near the end of my senior year, I had memorized a perky and quirky quip to routinely and robotically respond to the inevitable question of what I would be doing after college. Once I moved back to California, I started taking the classes that I needed. One incredible part-time job opportunity fell into my lap, and then another, and I gave everyone my best smile and told them that I’m so happy, everything is going so smoothly, I’m making friends, I’m getting so good at my job, I love every single aspect of my life, and if you can dream it, you can achieve it!!
I became so skilled at telling that story and maintaining that façade that I truly believed it.
But what my college friends and new acquaintances don’t see as they scroll through my carefully-formulated social media feed are the anxiety attacks that I had by myself in the back room of the clinic where I work. No one else heard my heartbeat pounding through the soundtrack of my mind, like someone is chasing me and winning, that I heard when the anxiety starts to bubble up from my stomach. No one witnessed me curled up in the fetal position, gasping for air and coughing through waves of chest pain, when I had panic attacks at two in the morning.
It was easy to tell myself that I was okay because no one else ever saw me at my worst episodes. Receiving that email rejection, however, was external confirmation of everything that I feared: you suck! You’re stupid! You’re fat! You’re lazy! All of this is why you will never go to medical school! And their acknowledgement – no, their assertion – of my inferiority makes it difficult to pretend anymore that everything is dandy. Post-grad is hard. It’s hard to make friends, both of my jobs are really challenging, and I feel like I’m doing everything wrong. I’m wistful that I took college, where I lived ten yards away from my best friends, for granted, because now I’m lonely much of the time and watch way too much anime. There, I said it. I feel like one of those forty-two-year-old otakus who lives in his overworked single mother’s basement and is paid a dollar above minimum wage at an unfulfilling desk job and has such a shitty diet that the closest semblance to vegetation that he consumes is the fake taro powder that they use to make his overpriced bubble tea.
As I wait for responses from other schools, I am bracing myself for a very difficult season. But you can’t have resolution without change, so I think that I am going to stop pretending that everything is okay before I explode into a million pieces. A composed and premeditated demeanor is important to me, but maybe it’s been a long time coming that I relax and allow my genuine sadness, when it rears its needy head, to be visible. It’ll make other people feel awkward, but I’m not going to apologize for needing a break – especially when I’ve let them be comfortable complaining about their own lives for so long. You have problems? Me too! Let’s commiserate. Lets eat everything. LET’S HATE THE WORLD TODAY.
Maybe I’ll get into all of the other medical schools I applied to. Highly unlikely, but I don’t want to give up on dreams and dreaming just yet. Maybe I won’t get into a single school and will be miserable forever. That’s the only reality that I can see right now, but before I fall too deeply into a self-shaming cesspool of sorrow, I’ll let myself loose through all of the realities that I have actually lived: the thrilled embarrassment of having nothing to say when my Dolci dinner patrons gave me a standing ovation; animated frenzy debriefing a night of inebriated debauchery with my partners-in-crime; the most heavenly combination of sweet and salty upon the first bite of a homemade roasted fig and goat cheese flatbread; reckless frozen kisses in the middle of the street during a Philadelphia blizzard. And more recently: the relieved smile of a nervous patient when I was able to assuage his very specific fears about his upcoming procedure; familiar shin splints as I made it to the top of Mission Peak after a two-hour uphill hike at sunset; my students running across the library to meet me, excited to start their European history lesson on the Enlightenment.
And perhaps I’m just fooling myself again, but one day, soon, please, please, one day, dear universe, please let me add a white coat ceremony and my next first day of school to that list.