back into focus 

as i shared in my last post, i’d unknowingly hit ‘pause’ on my life and my dreams these past couple years once a measly little exam seemingly took over my life but i’m back now reclaiming my time and my joy.

in that process i’ve made a few pretty big decisions about my future and just wanted to share with you all. thank you for your company on this journey. i used to constantly be in awe – and still am – of folks in the arts or humanities or really anything that didn’t have a set multistep plan for their careers. i used to find so much comfort in being a traditional applicant to medical school – straight out of college, no decisions to make about what to do with years off, etc. but the older i get the more i realize that no one’s life path goes in a linear fashion. we all face expected and unexpected challenges and have to roll with the punches. here’s how i’m choosing to roll with mine:

i’m going to be a psychiatrist when i grow up! i’m guessing that this does not come as a surprise to most of you. pretty sure most people knew this was where i was destined to be before i was able to fully embrace it myself. there were many things that fueled my uncertainty but most of them boiled down to giving too many effs about what other people think.once i set all that aside – worrying about ‘hanging up my stethoscope’ and not being considered a ‘real doctor’ (what does this even mean?? i’m in medical school, which contrary to the belief of people who continue to ask me if i’m going to be a nurse when i tell them that, i’m going to be a doctor!!), stigma against mental illness and providers in communities at large and within my family of origin, folks assuming that i’m only going into it to have a good lifestyle (anyone who knows me this is probably at the bottom of the list of reasons – and anyway what’s wrong with wanting balance in my life??) – i realized that by caring about what others thought i was simply holding my own happiness and passion hostage.

i came into medicine because of my passions for social justice and mental health and i can think of no better way to execute my dreams than by being a psychiatrist. i love getting to know my patients. i’m good at it.

of course i still have concerns – am i risking my own mental health? will my empath self be able to hold down the boundaries necessary to function in my own life without absorbing the struggles of others? will i regret missing the opportunity to be the patient’s first line and home base as their primary care doctor?

but there’s an underlying peace that i’ve found from leaning into this. into what feels right for me and what’s brought joy in some of the darkest days these past few years. into what i’ve always envisioned for my life.

i’m moving to NYC! i’ll be at columbia this upcoming year obtaining my MPH. my struggles with USMLE greatly robbed me of my passion for medicine. it often left no time or energy to explore my activism and advocacy. getting an MPH was always a part of my life plan but it’s something i’ve decided to pursue now (rather than later) in an effort to rekindle the flame and remind myself of my goals for my life, beyond passing an exam. i still have no idea where i’ll be living or how i’m going to balance moving several times this summer while taking shelf exams and OSCEs and step two. but for the first time in a long time, i’m truly excited about the future and it feels so damn good.

i only have a few more weeks of core rotations remaining in third year and i’m so happy and proud that i chose to advocate for myself to start rotations before retaking step one. i’m not exaggerating when i say that decision probably saved my life. in the past year i’ve learned so much about myself and the physician i aspire to be. i’m so excited to continue to move forward in my career and this life i’m building. grateful for your company through it all.

onward

it’s been a minute since i’ve blogged, mostly because it didn’t feel like i had anything to say, but i’ve realized that sometimes finding healing in writing means pushing yourself to face things when it would be much easier to just run and hide. i started sharing my journey online because i felt alone in my failures and i didn’t want anyone else to ever feel that way too.

it would be easier to share after everything has worked itself out somehow – after i can pinpoint how each failure actually led to a success i may not have had otherwise. there’s, of course, courage involved in admitting to failure at any point throughout our lives but i’m choosing to take you along through the thick of it – when it’s messy and unclear how things are going to work out. because, as much as i often wish we could, we can’t fast forward through the difficult parts like they do in the movies. so let’s all try to be a little vulnerable and walk with each other through the hard parts.

one of the biggest lessons i’ve learned from all these failures, other than how to advocate for myself, is learning how to come up with a PLAN B (or C or D or E in some cases). so today i thought i’d share my plan F with you all. if you’ve been following along for some time, you probably know that i’ve struggled a lot with USMLE step one. i’m not going to go into details about how many times i’ve taken the test or what went wrong or any of that because that’s something i’m still figuring out and simply, i don’t want to. i’m trying to live without seeking validation from the others.

after finishing my core rotations in third year, i’ll be taking a year off to complete an accelerated MPH program (and also take USMLE step one and two CS & CK during that time). when i applied in november i was, of course, hoping to take this step under different circumstances but i’ve learned that we often have to just roll with the punches. so far i’ve been accepted to columbia (still pinching myself about this!!!) and am waiting to hear back from a few other schools. so excited to take this next step in my career!

my passion for public health began pretty much began with my passion for medicine because, to me, they go hand in hand. public health is the marriage of medicine and social justice and i love that. i actually applied to dual degree MD-MPH programs when applying to med school back in 2013. i’d planned on getting my MPH at some point during med school but kept putting it off because of my struggles with step one. and then i realized that i’d hit ‘pause’ on my life because of this test and that had turned it into an even bigger monster in my mind. i started putting everything off until after. but that’s not how life works. or at least not how my life works.

so i’m reclaiming my time from this dragon (i.e. step one) that took over my life there for a minute. it’s a battle i’ll have to face again. but instead of allowing it to pause my life, i’m choosing to keep living and instead hit pause – no, stop –  on all the stress and anxiety and negative self talk and depression and darkness.

i’m sure this plan doesn’t make sense to many of you. ‘how is she going to study for and pass this test while doing an accelerated master’s program when she couldn’t even do it during a year off without anything else to worry about?’ that’s a great question. one i’m choosing not to answer because i’ve decided it’s time to stop seeking approval and do what feels right for me. instead of telling y’all why this is the best way forward for me, i’m simply going to show you – by living it. and to clarify – this does not mean i’m giving up on medical school by any means. i’ll be back to finish my fourth year rotations and apply to residency in 2019 after completing the accelerated MPH program!

so ahealersheart may be heading to NYC or Cambridge or Berkeley oooooor who knows!? but first, we’re going to get through peds and obgyn and psych and OSCEs and step two CS and CK. one step (pun definitely not intended) at a time. deep breaths. one foot in front of the other. we got this.

roaming the deserts

I’ve been spending a lot more time exploring the treasures of southern California after realizing that I’m surrounded by such incredible beauty and don’t explore it nearly as often as I should. I’ve also been getting over my irrational fear of ‘finding parking’ and thus, venturing out more.

This past week I went to check out the super bloom in Lake Elsinore and to Desert X in Coachella Valley. Both were incredible experiences that I’m so grateful to have had. I’ve included some of my favorite shots taken on my DSLR from both locations below. Looking through my lens at works of art and the art that is our world truly brings peace to my heart. Grateful for the means to go on these adventures and the joy they bring my soul.

 

dainty sparkle

I get asked a lot about where I purchase my jewelry and I pick up most of my pieces along my travels. I’m a huge fan of ‘wearable’ souvenirs because they don’t just sit on a shelf and I love when fond memories of whatever trip I was on come rushing back whenever I wear them.

But when I stumbled upon Favor Jewelry on Instagram, I knew that it was a company I wanted to work with. In addition to having some of the cutest and daintiest pieces of jewelry I’ve come across, the Portland based company is so mindful about how they source their materials and recycle all scraps. You can read about their process here.

In addition to that, they donate part of their proceeds to organizations like UNICEF, women’s shelters and the Natural Resources Defense Council. I can definitely get behind a company that puts its money where its mouth is.

I’ve had three of their pieces for a few months now and am absolutely loving them. When I was choosing from their collection, I was the least excited about the necklace but it ended up being my favorite piece. I don’t think I’ve taken it off since I received it.

I don’t always find the dainty and simple pieces in my travels that I can wear daily. But because of their high ethical standards and their contributions to their community, I still feel that my pieces by Favor are meaningful. I hope you check them out!

All pieces pictured are c/o Favor Jewelry.

these are my confessions

Anyone else’s mind jump straight to the Usher track whenever they hear the word confession? No, just me? That’s cool. I’ve come to terms with my embarrassing and unwavering love for Usher during my junior high years. It’s fine.

But on the real – I thought it was time for a life update since it’s been a minute. I started sharing my journey through medicine, and life in general, on here and Instagram because I wanted people to feel less alone in their struggles. In this age of social media, it’s easy to fall into the mentality that everyone has their life together except you. But that’s obviously not the case – we just choose to present our best selves to the world. And on the surface there isn’t anything wrong with that as long as we can remember that there is so much else going on that is not being shared. But in the past couple months, since finding out I failed step one again, I’ve started to feel like I’m folding into myself and only presenting the highlights of my life. And while I don’t owe anything to strangers on the internet, I feel it’s important for me that I continue to present myself honestly.

Since December I’ve hit one of the most severe bouts of depression I’ve had in my life. I’m pretty sure I’ve struggled with both depression and anxiety for most of my life but wasn’t clinically diagnosed until starting medical school. Stress has always been a huge trigger for me and obviously failure, and step one in general, is stressful. Having been through similar, but less severe, episodes in the past I tackled my depression head on with the things that have usually helped me. I continued taking my medications, working with my therapist, etc. I put away my books and I traveled. I spent time with loved ones and my kitten. And I convinced myself that I was feeling better and dove back into studying as the new year began in January.

But I wasn’t okay. I was struggling badly. I couldn’t focus. I was irritable. I had so much trouble sleeping. I was nauseous all the time. I hand anxiety attacks weekly that were almost as bad as the ones that initially drove me to seek help. So I sought council from those I trust and one of the deans at the SOM recommended that I get tested for learning disabilities in case that there was something making it harder for me to succeed and adding to my stress. I realized that it was important for me to set my ego and internalized stigma towards disabilities aside and truly find out if there were accommodations out there that would help me with both my studying and in my exam taking. It took months before I was able to find someone who accepted my insurance and saw adult patients but I finally got an appointment about a month and a half out. Those of you becoming psychologists, thank you, you are so needed.

Around this time, 45 also started his presidency in the United States. I think it’s pretty clear from my previous posts where I stand politically. The US has always had a dark history when it comes to marginalized peoples but something about the blatant disregard/outright support of the xenophobic rhetoric during the elections made the inauguration sting so much more than I had anticipated. Every executive order and tweet and confirmation has truly felt like a personal assault. It’s taken weeks for me to be okay with the fact that my resistance, at this moment in my life, is almost always in pursuit of my career. I will continue to do my best to be aware. To understand the struggles of those who look and live differently than I. To educate and have the difficult conversations. To organize. To put my body on the line as often as possible when my sisters’ and brothers’ human rights are at risk. But for the most part – my resistance is hours and hours of studying to pass an exam so that I may advocate and care for my patients. And for now, that has to be enough.

Meanwhile, I did my best to continue studying. I searched online for tutoring programs for medical students that worked through video chat. I wasn’t ready to pick my whole life up and move to another state again, as I did when attending Wolfpacc in the summer. It was clear that I had made the most progress in my studying in the months after I had returned home and worked hard on my own. I’m certain that the most helpful aspect of being at Wolfpacc was being in a supportive environment surrounded by people who truly understood the struggle but I did also miss the tutors and the structure they provided. I also missed having someone to run my study schedule by to ensure that I was as effective as I could be in my studying. I missed doing questions with a tutor and running through my thought process with them so that I could identify holes in my knowledge. And that’s when I stumbled across Med School Tutors and was immediately intrigued. I had the opportunity to do one-on-one tutoring from home with someone who would also help me create a schedule that worked for me. It sounded perfect!

Now, I don’t think that this is something that necessarily everyone studying for USMLE needs. But having been at this for so long, I knew I needed more encouragement and reassurance this time around and I’ve found exactly that in working with a tutor through MST. Their entire team has been so incredibly supportive of my goals. The thing that I love most about MST is that they share my values. When I opened up to them about how much I had been struggling, they immediately reassured me that taking care of my health, both physical and mental, is the priority. They helped me rearrange my tutoring schedule at no additional cost to work best for my needs. Having a group of people who’ve essentially been cheering me on through the struggle of doing this for a third time has been such a blessing. If you do decide to check out MST, please cite me as your referral. This post isn’t at all sponsored by Med School Tutors but I do want to disclose that I will get a free hour of tutoring if you decide to work with them.

While struggling through all this I started falling victim to some really serious negative self talk and began to struggle with so many of the things I often warn you all about: feeling shame in the face of failure, constantly comparing myself to others, etc. and it started to take a serious toll. Part of the ugliness of depression is that it’s hard to separate when your thoughts are due to the illness versus when you’re actually right in your introspection and reflection. It’s taken me some time to be able to separate those two things and journaling daily has really helped me with that. I’ve been drowning myself in self care & self love and really doing my best to replace the negative self talk with positive affirmations.

I’ve taken the last couple weeks off from studying and really focused on getting back to feeling like myself. In my appointments with the neuropsychologist, we ruled out any learning disabilities but in talking to him about everything I’ve been through and am going through the past couple years, I realized that my depression and anxiety haven’t been managed as aggressively as they should’ve been. My primary care physician had been treating me until now and she isn’t the greatest when it comes to mental illness. (Another reason why I continually come back to a career in family medicine. We so badly need primary physicians who can provide holistic care. Shout out to all my future FM docs! I’ve got so much love for y’all). While talking to a close friend about this, she asked me why I hadn’t sought care from a psychiatrist over the past couple years that I had been dealing with my undertreated depression and anxiety. And I had no real answer. I later realized that it was because I, someone who constantly advocates against mental illness not being a true disease, had been downplaying my own mental illness for years. I hadn’t sought care from a psychiatrist, knowing that my PCP wasn’t doing a great job treating me, because I didn’t think it was that bad. I expected myself to pick myself up and just brush it off. I didn’t want to be someone who had a psychiatrist, and thus, label myself crazy. Why is it so much easier to show others compassion than ourselves? If I’d sought treatment for my mental illness as I’d encourage my patients and loved ones to do, the past couple years would have been so much easier.

So in the past few weeks I’ve talked to therapists and psychologists and psychiatrists and finally feel like I’m getting the care that I need. And while I’m still not feeling 100% like myself again, I’m finally caring for myself as I’d want my patients to care for themselves. I’ve spent a lot of time protecting my heart from those who try to dismiss my experience when I share my struggles and recognizing how strong I’ve been for so many years. I’m spending the rest of this week doing things that truly bring me joy, surrounding myself with the incredible people who have held me up in these difficult times often without even knowing it and simply finding gratitude in the little things.

I found out last week that the NBME accepted my appeal to expunge my score from my second attempt – you can read about my test day experience here. That news really helped restore my faith in ‘the system’ because I’ve recently been feeling like I’ve dedicated so much of my life to a field that doesn’t truly care about its people. I also found out that I was accepted to WISE’s Muslim Women’s Summit later this year, which will help me become a more effective activist and advocate. I’m still figuring out the details of my trip to the east coast but give me a shout if you’ll also be at the conference!

I know that I have what it takes to pass this exam and have an extraordinary career in medicine. But I’m still learning and unlearning what it takes to truly care for myself and be my best self. Thank you for your company on this journey.

why i march


It’s been a few months since Donald Trump won the election and yesterday he was inaugurated. And as I type that, my heart is aching and there’s a pit in my stomach. Because my brain cannot comprehend how, setting aside politics, we can go to a first family that was the epitome of class to this person whose entire campaign seemed to rest on hatred. So yesterday, I allowed myself to mourn but today I’m getting to work. I’m going to stay woke and aware because that’s how a democracy works. It’s my responsibility to make sure the rights of my sisters and brothers are not taken away. And I’m starting by participating in the local sister march to the Women’s March on Washington. While I think it’s wonderful that people are traveling from all over the world you be in DC, there’s something about marching with my own community that feels so right. Alongside my sisters, my future patients, elders from my masjid, professors at local schools, organizers from this very community. I can’t imagine a better way to state my intentions for the next four years.

I’m marching because my parents came to this country in search of the American dream – to build a better life for their family and have instead been faced with hatred towards their faith despite all the good they’ve done as citizens. Because religious freedom is integral to this nation being a just democracy.

I’m marching because, one day, I want to raise a family in world I believe in. When future generations ask what part I played in this reality, I want to be able to answer with pride.

I’m marching for my future patients – to ensure they all have equal access to superb health care. Because I believe in a woman’s right to choose. Because we need major revamping in the way we train our physicians. Because the lack of access to mental healthcare in this country is truly horrific.

I’m marching for clean, renewable energy. For immigration reform. For affordable education. For racial justice. For gun control. For livable wages. For universal access to basic necessities like clean water. For paid family leave.

To stand with our sisters and brothers fighting against police brutality and with those protecting their native lands, Standing Rock and all across the country. To ensure the citizens of the world know that I see them. I hear them. I will do my part to protect them from irresponsible wars pursued in the interest of a powerful few.

As citizens of a democracy, it’s our responsibility to stay aware and provide continuous feedback to our representatives. It’s our responsibility to ensure they uphold the values of justice, compassion, love and to get loud when they don’t. We have to continue to show up, even when it’s inconvenient. Especially then. This is just the beginning. Let us rise.

 

 

fred & far

 

Many of us who aspire to be care givers tend to be exactly that: givers. And as we continue through our rigorous career paths, we often push aside our own needs and continue to give and give until we have nothing left for ourselves. I’ve been guilty of this for most of my life. I used to think this was a noble, unselfish way to live. That I was living the way God would want me to – by continually putting the needs of others before my own. And up until I started medical school I did alright living my life this way but as soon as school started I began suffering. It took me months before I realized that living my life in this way was not sustainable, was actually detrimental to my own health and inhibited my ability to succeed in school.

For the first time in my life, I began to consider what I needed and it was a very strange feeling. There was a lot of unlearning that had to take place about what it meant to be a ‘good friend’ or ‘good daughter’ or ‘good wife.’ I learned my limits and realized that I was of no use to anyone – not my family, my friends, my patients – unless I was good on my own. I started incorporating self care into my daily routine through various means like journaling, yoga, exercising regularly, evening strolls, writing & sharing my struggles, and learning the word no (& being able to say it without feeling guilty).

I’ve always loved the idea of wearing jewelry that’s meaningful in some way. I wear mantra bands that say ‘be you, love you. all ways, always.’ and ‘SHE BELIEVED SHE COULD SO SHE DID.’ Other pieces I’ve collected in my travels. So when I stumbled upon Fred + Far’s Instagram account, I was immediately intrigued. Self love is a work in progress and I can constantly sense myself falling back into old patterns so having a ring that reminded me, every day, to prioritize my own well being has been wonderful.

When I first started wearing the ring, it felt too big or too flashy for a ring that’s meant to be an expression of self love. I felt guilty for spending so much money on something for myself. But as with prioritizing self care in my life the past two years, it started to feel as natural as wearing my wedding set every day. If I’m ever so blessed as to raise a daughter, I hope that I can pass this ring onto her. This life can be stressful and beautiful and heartbreaking but I know that as long as I’m in my own corner, I can get through it all.

You can visit Fred + Far’s website here to learn more about their story and products.