on mental illness in med school

As mental health awareness comes to an end, I wanted to address something very close to my heart: mental illness and reducing the stigma that often comes with it, especially in health care. I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety for, well I don’t really know how long but I was officially diagnosed with both during my first year of medical school. It was a really difficult time for many reasons and I just couldn’t deal with it on my own anymore and decided to get help. I was really hesitant to do so at first because I was worried about being perceived as weak, that I couldn’t handle medical school and the challenges that come with it. It’s so, incredibly, heartbreaking how many health care professionals we lose, both practicing and in training, to suicide each year. We’ve made progress on dealing with the lack of support for our community when it comes to mental health but we still have so much work to do. So much of why I want to go into academia is to change the way we educate and train our physicians, to do it in a way that doesn’t require us to rob them of their humanity, compassion and ability to empathize with others.

Before I get into how I’ve dealt with both of these diagnoses while in medical school, I want to address how absolutely ridiculous it is that this stigma exists at all but especially in the field of medicine where we know and understand the pathology behind mental illness. We know that there are actual problems in the balance of our hormones. We know that it’s not just laziness or something you just ‘push through’ or ‘get over.’ So the first step in dealing with depression and anxiety in medical school is accepting that there is no shame in having a mental illness.

Think about it this way: anxiety and depression are essentially like having allergies, your body is overreacting to something it perceives to be threatening when it’s not really that bad. With allergies, some people’s bodies think peanuts are the equivalent of poison when there is nothing inherently dangerous about peanuts – as long as you’re not allergic. I’m eating a peanut butter granola bar from Trader Joe’s as I type this and I’m not going into anaphylactic shock – because my body doesn’t perceive peanuts as a threat but for others, it most definitely is. It’s the same with depression and anxiety – episodes can be triggered by things that may not seem that bad to people who don’t have mental illness. Some people’s bodies do not turn on them when they have to take an exam, or have to speak publicly or for no apparent reason. But I obviously would never judge my friend with nut allergies for needing an epi pen or avoiding triggers, right? So why do we do that to ourselves and each other when it comes to mental illness? Let’s just make a commitment to not think of it any differently – when it comes to us or to our friends or our patients.

So now for tangible advice and steps you can take if you are dealing with depression or anxiety – and please keep in mind this advice is from the perspective of someone who has dealt with these issues, not as professional medical advice.

  • Find a therapist you trust and feel comfortable with. This can definitely be tough because it takes a certain level of comfort and trust to be able to discuss what you need to discuss with a therapist. I would recommend starting with counselors at your school if that’s an option since they usually understand at least some of the struggles students face. And I know that it can be exhausting to jump from therapist to therapist and repeatedly telling your story to a stranger but it’s worth it when you find someone you can really talk to. Yelp is a surprisingly great place to read reviews for various therapists. And it’s a good idea to go into each session with an idea of the topics you want to discuss and issues you want to work on. This link has really helpful advice on how to approach your first session with a therapist.
  • Don’t be afraid to try medication. Like we talked about above, there’s no shame in your Zyrtec game and there shouldn’t be with Prozac (or any other medication) either.
  • Prioritize your health and well being. We all know that we should take care of ourselves but how many of us actually prioritize doing so? Because we need to, especially if you’re dealing with mental illness. I find exercising regularly to be really helpful and I’ve recently also started doing yoga (at home with Yoga with Adriene), which has also been great. Prioritize getting enough sleep, especially in the first two years of medical school when you have much more control over your schedule. Pulling all nighters is not a good way to learn and you need sleep to be able to retain everything you spend hours studying. I also find that limiting my caffeine intake really helps keep my anxiety symptoms away so I’ve tried to stop drinking coffee on and off for the past few years. Try limiting it as much as you can! I’m not a fan of cooking so eating healthily can be difficult but I try to buy preprepared frozen meals made by companies like Evol Foods and Sweet Earth Foods because they provide healthier options. And if, even for a second, you start feeling ‘selfish’ for taking care of yourself remember:

    ‘Caring for myself is not self indulgence, it is self preservation and that is an act of political warfare.’ – Audre Lorde

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  • Get a furchild. This obviously isn’t for everyone but have Kohl in my life has made the struggles of 2016 so much easier to deal with it. There’s something about a tiny kitten purring on your lap that makes you feel like it’s all going to be okay. So if it’s something you can do, consider adopting a kitten or puppy. It’s amazing how they just know when you’re not doing well or need extra cuddles. He’s been the source of my sanity through studying for remediation and boards.
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  • Spend time in places that inspire you. This can be as simple as going to your local coffee shop to study or planning a weekend getaway with your significant other/a group of friends. Changing where you are makes coming home feel so sweet and reenergizes you to continue doing what needs to get done. And making time for fun things is so important – you need it to recharge.
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  • Work hard when you feel good. The thing with both depression and anxiety is that they can sneak up on you. You can have an objectively good day and still feel completely miserable. So in a way, it’s important to ‘prepare’ for these episodes by being extra productive when you are feeling well. That way if you have an off day, you won’t fall behind because you prepared for it. I always have a game plan for studying for each block but because I know that some days are going to be better than others, I plan goals for each week (rather than each day). So when I have a day when I’m feeling down, I’m not really falling behind as long as I spend the day caring for myself and getting recharged so I can tackle tasks the next day and still stay on schedule. Having this flexibility has been really great for me and also reduces the guilt of ‘doing nothing’ on the days when I really can’t.
  • Spend time in service of others. There’s something so incredibly fulfilling in giving your time or skills to help others. If you’re in healthcare, a big part of why you’re here is because you have that innate need to be in service of others. So stay in touch with that by volunteering with your local free clinic or mentoring youth from underserved communities. Doing these things also really helps bring your purpose back into perspective. It helps you remember why you’re spending so much of your time studying and making so many sacrifices.
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  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to your classmates or friends. I can’t tell you the number of messages and comments I read every week from others in this field who share that they too are dealing with depression, anxiety or both. Don’t feel obligated to share this part of your journey if you don’t feel comfortable doing so but please know that you’re not alone. And if you do decide to share, realize that your recovery is going to look different from others’ so try your best not to compare. In this age of social media, it’s easy for us to think that everyone’s life is so much easier and better than ours but realize that most people just show the pretty parts. We’re all going through difficult times.
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  • Be kind and patient with yourself. This is something that I still struggle with. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others who seem to be much more productive or being angry with yourself for ‘being lazy.’ But realize that type of thinking is not productive in any way. You’re only prolonging this episode of deeper depression or anxiety by doing so. Your body is clearly telling you it needs a break or a change so spend an hour or so taking care of yourself and come back to your work. Treat yourself with the same compassion you’d show your patient who is struggling with similar issues.
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So much of why I started this blog and started speaking about my journey on Instagram is because I did not want anyone else to feel alone in the struggles that come with this journey. You are not alone. You deserve the best out of life and while we make many sacrifices on this journey, you should not sacrifice your health and well being in order to care for others. It takes some courage to seek help and take the steps towards recovery but it’s well worth the effort. You deserve a life where happiness is the norm, not the exception. You deserve a life that does not feel like a burden. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for your future patients because they deserve a healer who has spent time healing themselves.

edit: here is an additional resource by zencare on mental health while in college.

on staying motivated

  Trying to stay motivated on this long journey is something that has always been a challenge for me. It’s so difficult to maintain perspective when it feels like you’re putting in so much effort with so little tangible reward. That’s when looking internally and surrounding yourself with people who remind you of your purpose becomes so important.

At the end of my first year of medical school I stumbled upon Laura’s instagram and immediately developed the biggest girl crush of all crushes. Here was a woman who was clearly balancing a life of work, family, her own interests in fashion and photography and also supporting the #blacklivesmatter movement. She had an awareness of the struggles of minorities because she herself comes from an underprivileged background and knows how unfair life can be.

What started as a girl crush quickly developed into cyber mentorship (how she has time to mentor strangers on the internet still baffles me – pretty sure she runs on magic dust and coffee). She inspired me to start openly speaking about my struggles through medical school on instagram and this blog. I’ll randomly text her during the week complaining about how overwhelmed I feel with second year and she reminds me to prioritize my happiness, that no one is going to hand it to me and I have to make it for myself.

I often get asked how I ‘balance it all’ and it’s a great question. I typically answer with cliché phrases like ‘time management is key’ and ‘it takes a village.’ And while those phrases may be extremely cliché, they’re true. And now you can really learn how to do it all by the queen herself: Laura’s holding an online class!!!

When I started on this path to becoming a physician I was constantly told the same few things – you’ll never be happy, you won’t have time for a family, you won’t have time for yourself, and on and on. I’m sure you ladies have heard it as well – whether pursuing law or business or any “high powered” position – at the end of the day it’s supposed to boil down to us having to choose between career or family. We can’t have them both.

But I’m here to tell you that you can have both. You can have so much more.

You can have your cake and eat it too.

If any of you know me from my blog or social media, you know that I whole heartedly believe this and live it everyday.

And with this course I’m going to share every single skill you need to not only reach your professional aspirations, but I’ll also teach essential skills for self care, healthy relationships, maintaining friendships, having children, and balancing it all. Balancing it all and being happy.

Don’t listen to the naysayers who tell you it’s impossible.

It can be done, and with this course I’ll show you how.

………………

This course is for you if:

You wonder if you’re good enough to have all that it is you want (you are).

You are struggling to manage your time now and don’t think you could ever manage having kids or other responsibilities on top of it (you can).

You’ve been told you shouldn’t pursue your dreams (you should).

You forget to take care of yourself and feel burnt out (we all do it).

You have big dreams but have no idea how to make them a reality and feel paralyzed by fear of failure (I’ll show you how).

This course targets women in general who want it all, whether you’re 18 or 38, you’ll learn skills to successfully manage it all, and skills for finding happiness even when you can’t.

………………

This course is designed to be completed in one month, beginning on May 1st and ending the 31st. Each day there will be a new 10 minute lecture on the topics outlined below, as well as assignments with printable worksheets!

Here’s a quick synopsis of each module:

1. Me, myself, and I

This section focuses on what we usually forget to make number one – ourselves! Here I’ll delve into helping you figure out what makes you happy, where your passions lie, what you want out of life, and help you develop better habits for self-care, dealing with stress, rewarding yourself, and more!

2. Working girl

This section is all about work – because let’s face it, we’re all busy, but there’s a difference between being busy and getting work done! Whether you are a college student, employee, or mother getting ready to head back into the working world, this section will help you develop new strategies for learning new things (i.e. study tips), time management, finding motivation when you’re in the trenches, and dealing with failure.

3. Your circle

This section is devoted to finding your circle and keeping it. Women sometimes have a hard time finding and nurturing true friendships, but there are few things more therapeutic than a long talk with a girlfriend. This section will help you figure out who you need in your circle, how to find them, and most importantly how to keep them.

4. Mr. Right

This section is all about finding the right partner (and that can totally be a Mrs. too)! If you choose to share this path with anyone, figuring out yourself and what you want is only half of it – figuring out how to make that work with another person and their goals is the other half. This section will help you with what to look for in a partner, how to build love and continue building it, tips for communication and conflict resolution, and more!

5. Bring the kids along

This section is about – you guessed it – kids. And even if you’re in high school reading this and have no idea if or when you want kids, this section is critical to figuring out what we want and not closing any doors prematurely. In this section we’ll explore why you might want to have kids, when the right time is, working outside of the home with kids, dealing with mom guilt, and those damn mommy wars.

6. Put it all together and what do you get?

Chaos. This section is the key to it all, the sum of all of the pieces, but we couldn’t have gotten here without addressing everything else first. But now comes the question, once I’ve got it all (or while I’m trying to get it all), the career, the friends, the partner, the kids, how the hell do I keep it all up? How do I balance? This section isn’t just about doing it all, more importantly it’s about doing it all and choosing to be happy.

There will also be a bonus module with tons of extras – gorgeous printable motivational quotes, a behind the scenes look at a day in the life (I’ll take you along with me through one of my “short call” days in the hospital, the closest it gets to a 9-5 schedule!), busy girl beauty hacks, and more!

Included in the course will also be access to a private Facebook group for support where you can share your dreams and fears, because nothing helps more than knowing you’re not alone. And trust me when I say you are NOT alone! I’ll regularly be checking the page to add in my two cents!

………………

Those of you reading this now are getting first dibs of the course which will go live May 1st! If you sign up before then, you’ll get access to all of this for one payment of $149! On May 1st the price will go up to the normal price of a one time payment of $199, with the option of a 2 month payment plan. The course will run through May, and you can purchase and join at any time through the month! And once you’re a student you’ll have access to the lectures and course materials for life! Even new lectures that I’ll release in the next few months! After May the course may be re-released at another time point, but never again at this price!

$149 sounds like a lot of money (at least to me it does)!

But here’s the thing –

If you’re a mom you pay more than this for one week of groceries.

If you’re a college student you pay more than this for one textbook for one class in any given semester. Never mind the cost of tuition itself. Just to open that book a few times and (hopefully) pass a test. A test that will likely matter for your grade, a grade that may matter for your career in the future.

This course is not only going to teach you essential skills for mastering new knowledge (whether at school or work) and acing those tests, it will also teach you how to better manage your time so that you can accomplish more, and most importantly, it’s going to teach you how to enjoy the journey, how to balance all that’s on your plate, how to pursue it all and do so with grace.

So much more than your $250 organic chemistry book.

So take the leap. Be proactive about not only your career aspirations but about your life. About your happiness.

Become the next “I don’t know how she does it” woman. Because I know how, and soon you will too.

I’m not going to try to sell you on this class because as you can see above, she does a great job of convincing you herself. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I want to share that I’m an affiliate for this class and will be compensated in part for every registration done through this link. But I would not be taking time out of studying for remediation and boards to write up this post if I didn’t truly believe in what she has to say. So much of why I started the Med Sisters Series is to remind women that it really is possible to get everything you want out of life and be happy while doing it. 

I hope you decide to join us as we try to navigate through this thing called life.

my premed journey: choosing the right college

The ‘my premed journey’ series is going to be a series where I share my journey to medical school – the ups and downs. I wish I had started blogging about this journey earlier because I could’ve to share how I got here. Many of you who follow this blog or my Instagram are still in that premed leg of the journey and I want you to know that no one ends up here without many bumps in the road. I hope that you may find inspiration here and that it serves as a reminder that it’s all going to be okay.


As I’ve shared before, I definitely was not one of those people who went into college ‘knowing’ that I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up. Both my parents attended med school and encouraged me to do the same – but when you’re 17, you hardly do what your parents ask of you. I resisted the idea for a long time when I was younger but every time I tried to think of what else I could potentially do with my life, nothing else seemed all that interesting. I loved photography and writing, but I knew that I would lose my passion for it if I tried to make a career out of it. I loved public health work but I wanted to know more of the science behind disease mechanisms in addition to studying the epidemiology.

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kohl’s adoption story

If you follow me on Instagram, you already know this but we recently adopted a kitten! I thought I would share a bit about how we got him and how it’s been as a first time pet owner.

We adopted Kohl from a local rescue group about three weeks ago and he’s quickly moved his way into our hearts. He’s currently roaming around the room as I type this, playing hide and seek with himself, and I can’t imagine our home without him. While we were doing research, we saw that black animals (both cats and dogs) had lower adoption rates due to superstitions and stigma associated with them, which completely broke our hearts. How ridiculous is it that humans are even racist against certain animals!?

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show review: master of none, season one

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I recently did a post about Mindy Kaling’s book ‘Why Not Me?‘ and an episode of the show Quantico. I don’t often see South Asian people on screen who I can identify with, especially not characters who have real personalities and aren’t just the stereotypical cab drivers with accents. That’s not to say there aren’t real Pakistani and Indian taxi drivers who have recently immigrated to the United States in hopes of providing his/her family with a better life, because there most definitely are. But the problem comes about when the characters portrayed on screen are reduced to just their stereotypes. Because the cab drivers who helped my husband and I travel around Seattle and Portland last year had full lives with wives who lived abroad and theories about their competitors at Uber – they were more than their jobs and their accents.

Master of None is a show created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang that stars Ansari as the lead character of Dev, a 32-year old actor living in New York City. The show is absolutely hilarious because the dialogue totally strikes in my awkward life (Dev frequently ends conversations with ‘well this interaction is over now’).

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hi-def warmth

Every year we have Thanksgiving at my aunt’s house and the past couple times we’ve had gatherings at her house, it rains! We were joking around that we’ve solved the drought – we just need to keep having parties at her place. Someone call Governor Brown!

Below you can see the rain soaked tables. Thankfully the covers from her previous party were still up so the rest of the tables were nice and dry.

My cousins did an awesome job with the decor, as usual! I loved all the fall colors in everything – so many autumn vibes. It was pretty chilly because of the rain but that actually made it feel more like Thanksgiving.

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finals + life update

The past week or so has been pretty hectic with my birthday, going to a talk by Paul Farmer and finals so I thought I’d just do a general update on all that. I’ve never been a big fan of making a big deal about my birthdays. I’ve just always felt like it’s more a day to celebrate my mom, because she’s the one who worked so hard all those years ago. But with the madness that is finals week in medical school, I wanted something to look forward to. At midnight, hubby gave me my presents and a wonderfully hilarious card. After class we went to this bakery/coffee house near campus. Other than the fact that it closes super early, it’s a really nice place to study during the week. It’s kind of hidden so doesn’t get too much traffic and they have big tables (and outlets!!).

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