now on patreon!

i find power and healing in sharing and have been speaking openly about the struggles i’ve faced in my career, with my mental health, in my marriage, as a muslim woman of color and more on my instagram and here for almost four years now. i recently launched hearts of healers, a politicized online wellness community where we grapple with social issues and how they impact our collective and individual wellness.

there you’ll find more of what you’ve seen here over the years and more:

  • facilitated discussions + reading recommendations around various social issues (a deeper dive into what’s presented on hearts of healers)
  • reflections on my journey through medicine, being muslim and desi in these times, thriving with mental illness, being in a long distance partnership in medicine
  • tips on writing, travel, photography, style, blogging
  • current reads (w/ potential for a book club down the line!)
  • early access to: lectures, wellness groups, etc.
  • and so much more!

women, particularly women of color, are often expected to do emotional and intellectual labor at only a cost to them and while this work is a labor of love, it is labor nonetheless. unfortunately, in this capitalist world we live in financial support is often the most meaningful. funds raised will be used to foster my own wellness and to create spaces to do this restorative work with you all offline!

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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.

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.

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.

portland, pt. 2

Hubs and I went to Seattle and Portland a couple years ago and absolutely loved it! So when I was thinking of a place for a short self care trip before diving back into step one studying, Portland was high on that list. After doing a little research online, I found great deals for flights and a wonderful Airbnb (read my tips on finding great deals on airbnb here) so it was a done deal!

Day One: I stayed in the Alberta Arts District, which was so nice. It’s a fun little neighborhood with great restaurants, coffee houses, small shops – pretty much everything you need for a slow vacation. I got there early morning, checked into my house, rested a bit and then spent the late morning and afternoon exploring Alberta St. I went to several shops, had brunch at Tin Shed and iced tea at Case Study Coffee. I later met up with my high school bestie for dinner at Pok Pok Noi and then, of course, got ice cream at Salt & Straw. It was the perfect first day in Portland – delicious food, lots of walking, great conversation and time to slow down to read and journal.

Day Two: Last time we went to Portland was in winter so we didn’t have the chance to explore any of the outdoorsy sites but I definitely wanted to do that this time. I usually don’t like doing tours because it feels really artificial and then you’re forced to be on someone else’s schedule but since I was traveling alone this time, I didn’t really trust my navigation skills enough to venture out on my own. While researching the best ways to explore along the Columbia River, I came across Pedal Bike Tours. I saw that they had a bike tour that took you through the Gorge from waterfall to waterfall – it sounded perfect so I immediately called to book a tour. The meeting point was downtown, right around the corner from Stumptown so I stopped by there to have breakfast. We drove out to the Gorge, which took about 45 minutes in the van. We started at a couple historical site and then rode our bikes from waterfall to waterfall. It was such a beautiful experience, despite the fact that I had not been on a bike in almost a decade. My tour guide and group were super helpful and make sure that I was comfortable and didn’t complain too much about how much I was slowing them down heh. We saw six different falls and rode the bikes for about as long as traffic allowed. Our tour guide was a Portland native so we got to hear a lot about the history and ask her questions about the recent changes, etc. This whole experience was the highlight of my trip, as I’m sure you can tell by the series of photos at the bottom of this post.

We drove back to downtown and I was super hungry so I walked around downtown and bought the biggest (and most delicious) fajita burrito from a Mexican food truck. Our tour guide had mentioned that Salt & Straw had just started serving soft serve at Wiz Bang Bar inside Pine St. Market so I walked back to that area and met up with a fellow med student. I think I honestly enjoyed the soft serve more than the ice cream, mostly because of the chocolate shell over it. I’ve had cravings for that cone literally every day that I’ve been home since heh.

Day Three: I slept in a little because ya girl was out of shape and biking seven miles & hitting 10k steps really did its number on me. I spent the late morning at Blue Star Donuts, reading and sipping Stumptown Cold Brew. The donut wasn’t as great as I was expecting after hearing all the raving reviews but the staff at the Hawthorne location were so fun. After eating, I walked along Hawthorne St. and did a little shopping. I absolutely love how Portland celebrates and promotes small businesses. They also had wonderful secondhand stores in this area. I was planning on going to First Thursday in the Pearl District but honestly just got tired and lazy. I went back to the house and just hung out with my housemates for a while before walking to the food trucks around the corner from the house and got to sit outside and enjoy the fresh air. I spent some time reading Murakami in the living room and had some great conversations with my housemates.

Day Four: I was leaving Portland in the afternoon so I took the morning to try Barista Coffee and Waffle Window. It was really nice to get in a walk before spending the rest of the day sitting on airplanes and in airports.

Overall, it was such a great trip – exactly what I needed to slow down and recharge. And, as usual, I’ve included some of my favorite shots from my DSLR below.

r & r in redlands 

The past few months, pretty much since 2016 started, have been nonstop studying – exam after exam. And it also felt like the stakes were getting higher and higher as time went on. Now, I’m in independent study time for USMLE step one and the pressure is on. This exam is known to be the most difficult of many licensing exams and also plays a huge factor in what and where you’ll practice medicine.

I’ve always prided myself in understanding that test scores do not define me or my ability to be a good physician. When struggling with the MCAT, I knew that somehow things would still work out because this was my calling. But the step one boogie monster got to me and I started doing all the wrong things: not taking breaks, staying up too late to finish my study ‘to-do’ list, focusing on quantity instead of quality, comparing myself to others and making this test my life.

Earlier this week, I performed pretty terribly on a practice exam and after crying & wallowing and talking to one of my best friends, I realized that I was essentially setting myself up for failure. So I decided to take a couple days off and remind myself of the life I live outside of this exam. I went to a neighboring city and just explored. I dusted off my DSLR and just roamed around eating great food, shopping at local stores, hung out at a local coffee house and drank delicious coffee while reading and journaling.

Going to be back at it tomorrow, while fasting for Ramadan (which I’m nervous about but also excited that I’ll be taking this exam in such a blessed time). I’ll have even less ‘chill’ time between starting third year and taking this exam but pushing it back was just so necessary for my own well being. I’m committing myself to doing my best on this; I won’t sell myself short but I’m also not going to look at what others are doing (especially if they’re vacationing while I sit here stressin’ out).

This is my journey. It’s had a lot of twists and turns and loop-de-loops but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m going to be caring for actual people one day very soon and I can’t wait. But this is just something I have to get through until then. Thank you all for accompanying me on this journey – you all push me to constantly renew my intentions and better myself.