Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Gateways of Hope

My last exam was last Tuesday and, aside from a couple of bits I still need to get signed off (I'm going to go into the hospital tomorrow and beg for mercy...I want my summer!), I have finished third year! What an absolute marathon of an academic year, but one in which I've developed hugely. Becoming a clinical medical student has been a seriously steep learning curve, but one in which I've definitely blossomed. More than ever, I love this profession. It's exhausting, frustrating and there have been many points this year where I have desperately wished to be doing 'a normal job/degree' but I love the challenge and actually feeling like I can play a useful part. Disclaimer: the term useful is very loose here...my med student jobs have ranged greatly at different points - from being the official 'curtain opener/closer' on a ward round (yes that's a thing) to running a clinic myself and presenting each patient to the consultant before giving them a management plan!

OSCEs were MUCH harder this year but my exponentially improved knowledge and clinical and communication skills meant that I coped. The first day was terrible by everyone's standards (all the grim stations, lots of stress, too hot, awkward histories and tricky imaging to look at) but second OSCE day went so well - I felt myself excelling on a couple of stations (like actually excelling, not even just doing okay) which was amazing.  

I'm proud of how I've managed this year - maintaining my relationships, jobs and interests while doing the most stressful year of my degree. I so strongly believe that every season is precious and full of opportunities - I don't want to ignore 'life' while desperately, unhappily, constantly studying and assume I'll live for real when I'm qualified. I want to be in my life, present, exploring NOW.

Recent beautiful things have included:
 My impromptu holiday to Iceland in late April with Phoebs: exploring a gorgeous country, perfecting my 4x4 driving through insane snow and eating so much icelandic meat and cheese..

Special times with the tiny people I adore

 The 'British Summertime Festival' which was a much needed revision break where I saw Ellie Goulding and Taylor Swift amongst others. My whole day was made by this 9 year old TaySway superfan who sat on my shoulders for the whole act and then threw his arms around my waist for the biggest hug at the end. His joy brought more joy to me than anything else at that festival....although sneaking in an entire sharing bag of skittles in my bra was also pretty impressive!...

Getting stuck on the roof of my house during a particularly boring revision day home alone (I thought I'd be able to get back in easily!) and having to be pulled in through a different window by my very understanding next door neighbour...

Generally spending time with people who share my heart

Those other times that broke up the constant studying and crushing pressure to perform: revision picnics; helping my housemate Georgie with her cooking commissions; drinking endless cups of tea; end of OSCE-day sea swimming; building incredible snack packs to take into our written exams...

I'm now back in the North briefly, seeing my mum's new house for the first time; recuperating from the exhaustion of the last few months; catching up with old friends; a long weekend in Suffolk with my mama. 

This is my current phone background:

I'm increasingly aware of my need to do exactly this: to guard all the incredible things entrusted to me from the ways they could fall apart. The potential in my life is so huge - relationships, medicine, children, worship-leading, ED recovery etc etc, yet there are so many ways that lies and fear could cause me to not fully steward those gifts and opportunities.

A few weeks ago, I was brave and went to a women's prayer group linked to my church called 'the well'. I'd been once before with a friend and LOVED it; was prophesied over, sang out in worship etc and I was so determined to continue pursuing God in this new way, even when my friend couldn't make it this time. The topic was based around worship, specifically the 'gateway of praise' described in Revelation - a doorway made of pearls which are formed in irritation. As we are challenged and irritated and choose to violate the enemy's suggestions - be they relapsing into our ED, running away, not daring to step out in faith etc, a pearl is created. These pearls form the doorway through which God enters our lives. We choose to create a gateway and He enters.

Hosea 2:14 "but then I will win her back once again. I will lead her out into the desert and speak tenderly to her there. I will return her vineyards to her and transform the valley of trouble into a gateway of hope"

I took great encouragement from this. I will continue, daily, moment by moment, to violate the suggestions of the enemy. I choose life; I choose Jesus' best for me. I choose to fiercely GUARD the good things entrusted to me: the painful, messy areas of my life are being and will continue to be transformed into a gateway of hope. God is a passionately creative redeemer indeed....

Sunday, 5 April 2015

daffodil musings

This year seems to be accelerating under its own momentum; February leaking into March and suddenly April! I wore my Spring coat for the first time one day this week and it felt glorious... (well, until the way home when the sun had gone in and it was decidedly chilly!).

I'm now on my medicine rotation, which is definitely very rich in opportunities to grow: I'm learning more than ever, it seems, although am sometimes a little overwhelmed by the relentless day after day cycle of ward rounds, clinics and acute medical environments, including lots of weekends and evenings. Incredible daffodils, kind doctors who go out of their way to teach and coming home in time for bathtime with teeny people are some of my pockets of joy in it. Snuggling in a little cafe one rainy lunchtime with a good friend, creamy hot chocolate and the best bacon sandwiches we'd ever had wasn't bad either...

I've moved house again - the family I'd been living with had to move about 45 minutes' drive away because of a new job, so I'm now with another lovely family who also have gorgeous littles! The first few days were a tad wobbly in terms of food (the new environment/kitchen/routines, indecisiveness around food choices and being too shy to admit I was anxious about it combined a bit) so I missed a few meals but have definitely found my feet now and am feeling settled. 

Spending the Easter weekend with my Ellie and Iyla was so special - I arrived late on Friday night when Ellie was asleep and, seeing as I was staying in the room with her cot, tiptoed into bed and managed to get to sleep without disturbing her. She woke up around 2am and must have noticed me because she got my attention back from dreamland straight away ("AnnaaaaAnnaAnnaAnnaaa"); came into my bed, and poked me awake every hour or so to share her suddenly-remembered thoughts ("I did hold a butterfly on my hand!"; "Anna...I don't think we have any clothes for you here!...oh, you have some in your bag?!"), kiss me on the nose and stroke my hair. It's usually preferred to have more than an hours' consecutive sleep, but it was so lovely to be with her that I really didn't mind. We had two lovely 'family days' and I slipped straight back in to complete comfort and wasn't shy at all which made it so much more relaxing. There are few things more glorious to watch than a onesied two year old congratulating herself on her own intelligence as she finds another little lindt bunny...

 I also had a HUGE self care win on Thursday night - it was definitely a 'God thing'. I had happened to be looking for a car insurance document in my box file during the day and found my 'relapse prevention' plan that I did with my therapist before she went on maternity leave in October. A large part of this plan focused on one of my main learning outcomes of the work we'd done - to continue to recognise that feeling emotions and having strong thoughts does not have to be 'wrong' or overwhelming, but can simply act to inform me about what's going on internally. When I later started to get frustrated with myself, overtired, feel overwhelmed and wanting to punish myself in order to numb out, I felt suddenly a prompt that I should have a bath (something I haven't done for YEARS due to not being able to sit with my body/finding the bath painful because I was underweight). I thought it was worth a try, so took in an easter crispy cake, a cup of tea and a book and spent half an hour soaking, getting out so much more relaxed. Essentially, I did the opposite of what the lies in my head were pressuring me to do: what a victory.

In other news, we lost my 94 year old Grandad in March: I had a text from my mum saying to ring her ASAP one Tuesday morning on my way to a tutorial, and knew instantly what she was going to tell me. It happened the same week I found out my childhood home had sold and that I had to move from my Brighton house in 2 weeks' time (and didn't know at the time where I would be able to move to) as well as a horrible pneumonia I needed antibiotics for, having to deal with parental fallout and a difficult week in the hospital. Too much emotion all at once felt a little like I was drowning: I think I listened to 'nearness' on the new bethel album several hours a day that week, and certainly all the way to and back from the funeral. There is such comfort in the line in the picture below in particular: healer is part of who Jesus is - it doesn't depend on when he happens to carry that out. He IS the healer, in a way more certain, deliberate and steadfast than a single healing event.

I'm learning to accept this new stage - I don't even want to say 'of recovery' anymore because that suggests a definite end point to the process - of, life, I guess. I think I always believed that life and struggles were separate things; that at some point I'd have none of the struggles and all of the life: no eating disorder or self hatred or loss or shame. I'm now beginning to understand that, while I will one day be in a completely perfect life-and-God-filled place, it won't be on this Earth. The struggles are a part of life here and part of what makes it so special - messy, broken and yet beautiful; they lead us to God repeatedly when we fail and fall. Yes, I still often wish I were either completely perfect or completely destroyed, but hopefully this slight shift of perspective means my dichotomous vision is being diluted into shades of grey: with increasing acceptance, humility and grace for myself.

 A quote that struck me recently:
 "I don't know if the hole ever actually goes away, but I do know that it doesn't have to go anywhere"
- 'Goodbye Ed, Hello Me' (page 69)

Amen to new acceptance of brokenness, balanced with the knowledge of God as healer and the firm hope in restoration. Happy Spring!

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Doing hard things...

I've just finished a 20 day online Bible study called 'I do hard things', and it's been so helpful for me. It covers different aspects of how to protect yourself, honour God and learn the most that you can while dealing with challenges in your life. Day 2 and Day 13 were both genuinely life-altering for me and one of the messages that spoke to me most is this:

"If you get instantaneously rescued from the pit, you will still be afraid of the pain BUT if we are led to climb out of the pit then the fear no longer holds us bound" 

Wow. All those times I've cried out and begged God to just deliver me and pick me up out of my mess and wondered why He didn't seem to care and having explored these purposes more, I have a new level of understanding about God's will in suffering. I'm never going to understand God's will aside from on a flawed, human level, but I feel like this study has taken me deeper and I'm so thankful.

Christmas was rough; quite complicated with my parents' divorce, but as ever I was SO reminded of the graciousness of God and His timing: I don't know that I would have coped with processing the breakdown of my family unit on top of the ordeal that Christmas with anorexia can become... This was the first Christmas in a long time that food wasn't a struggle for me, and the awareness of timings meaning that I could just about cope meant that I could recognise God saying constantly: "I am in this". What an encouragement...

I've been on psychiatry rotation for the last 3 weeks and I LOVE it. I'm placed on a women's inpatient ward in the local psychiatric hospital and it's very different from other hospital environments:

-the ward rounds: instead of awkwardly shuffling behind 10 higher grade doctors from bed to bed, not able to actually hear what's going on and generally getting in the way, we all sit around a table in a conference room and the patients come to us! Most of the ward reviews I've been to have just been a consultant, a reg and a junior doctor, a nurse and me; we discuss the patients before calling them in to talk to them. (there are even drinks and biscuits available! amazing!)

- treatment is so much more personalised. I guess it has to be, because of the nature of the illnesses, but we have long discussions about medication changes, taking the patients' opinions into account and explaining details to them in great detail.

-patients are often unsure whether to trust the professionals: totally understandably. Personally and professionally, I've experienced a lot of the negative side of psychiatric treatment, but it has been interesting to be on the other side: where I see doctors who genuinely care work incredibly hard to manage patients in what are so often very logistically difficult situations.

-when a patient allows you into their inner world, it's the hugest privilege. I feel like, as a clinician in psychiatry, you are much more involved in your patients' treatment than in other areas of medicine. The interactions have a massive impact in a person's health and doctors' human qualities like patience, compassion and a gentle manner are as crucial as any drug or therapy.

I really REALLY love psych. Even more than I thought I would...I think I've found my future specialty!

I'm also enjoying being more in control of my timetable - which makes life a lot easier in terms of working out when to do my paid work (note summarising at a GP) and also leaves a little more opportunity for spontaneous lunch dates and much-needed lie ins!

I'm trying to be braver with small group and it has definitely paid off - deepening relationships and fostering vulnerability and prayer in group situations is playing a big part in my life at the moment. I'm so thankful. 

Also for the babies who I just completely adore and whose curiousity and excitement and untamed love make my heart happy. Ellie has taken to snuggling with me in bed in the mornings and reminding me in a singsong voice of my need for breakfast. She now only agrees to wear 'princess dresses' so pink frills are the norm (I do feel partially responsible for this dress obsession!). Iyla is into EVERYTHING: nothing is safe from her beautiful, sticky little reach.

This week we got the results of the first module of this year (an emergency life support and critical care course) and I got a distinction! Such a confidence boost that I'm beginning to excel now that I'm well and my course is becoming more about practical management of treatment as opposed to dry lecture facts!

Monday, 10 November 2014

Obs, gynae and roast gammon

I'm in my fourth week of obs and gynae rotation, and I've already learned SO much. It's a huge learning curve to be in the hospital, pretty much left to our own devices and being in the thick of things, completely self-directed. I love the flexibility of being able to stay longer when I'm feeling enthused, and jiggle things around so I can fit more into my life, but the bit I'm finding more difficult  is being brave and assertive in approaching doctors/other health professionals to ask them to help me learn (by assigning me to a patient/ letting me follow them etc). My internal monologue can so easily backslide into how little I deserve their time/how much they'll hate me for irritating them/why am I even here?! clearly I'm not worthy of studying medicine lalala..., but pushing through and doing it anyway is the best antidote to the thoughts...it's coming more and more naturally and I'm still yet to hide in a supply cupboard to cry, which I would have thought would be inevitable at some point in the first month!

I have come SO far. I've dealt with being shouted out by a consultant, mocked by a surgeon and with standing my ground when other medical students (some of the 5th years are on the same rotation to us at the moment which can make space difficult!) have tried to push me out of clinics I've been timetabled to attend. I've been brave with trying to be authentic with the other students I've been placed with. I'm getting much better at maintaining boundaries, particularly with being logical about other people's emotions. I feel what the people around me are feeling so intensely that it can be overwhelming in stressful situations, but I'm learning to separate myself from their frustration which means I can then see that they aren't angry with me. I care less what 'they' think. Yes, I'm still a HUGE people pleaser, but if I perceive someone not liking me doesn't devastate me in the way that it would have done in the past...

I'm enjoying my time being free from the hospital too, in this beautiful city, with beautiful people... I love that I can invest in my life now - not 'invest in recovery' or 'work on recovery' but just feed into the aspects of my life that I love to move forward. I'm having to be careful about not missing meals with how busy I am, and have struggled a bit with nausea around meals (potentially anxiety but I don't feel like it is!), but anorexia continues to take up less and less of my head and my heart.

Ellie is cuddlier than ever, which I LOVE and Iyla is growing more and more into her own person. We still do 'family day' most Saturdays and it's so special. This Saturday we went swimming then for carvery with Tris' parents, and I was fully present. Potentially the biggest joy of recovery remains in just being present. Like swimming in a bikini then eating a ridiculous amount of roast and ice cream, and still being present and myself and not have the time ruined by guilt.

I wonder if I'll ever be okay with not being able to save people... I'm really working on it; I understand the theology behind it and on a spiritual level but emotionally, it just slays me every time: when someone I love is hurting a huge amount, and I can't fix it. Funnily, I happened to do a personality test recently and it came out SO accurate for me being an INFJ. It made me feel less like I'm flawed, and more accepting of the way I intrinsically am.

 So thankful for these learning experiences; the painful but amazing stretching and growing...

P.S I got my big mac lovin' back...

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Summer 2014

As of Monday, Summer has finished: it'll be the beginning of 3rd year. It's gone quickly but, equally, I've crammed so much into it that it seems to have been a very productive time. I've had some lovely holidays; caught up with people; celebrated new marriages and new babies; faced new challenges; driven a LOT of miles and learned some more about myself in the meantime...

Last weekend, I was in York to celebrate Wayne and Ruth getting married. It was a lovely day although a little strange in that it was exactly a year since I was last in York for a wedding (and since I saw many of my Northern friends!) and in the same church. Lots of memories of a not-very-nice weekend that time due to being so ill at the time but, this year, things were very different. It was difficult at times but so joyful and I was so present. I stayed dancing until the early hours and enjoyed the celebrations so much.

On Friday, we move into our new house which is closer to the hospital for next year (3rd year starts tomorrow!) and a really nice layout. A new chapter in my story with my Brightonian family, and moving to a new location all together is significant to me too - our house; not theirs with me as a lodger (although they've always made sure I don't feel that way). I'm so excited about decorating my room!

 Ellie and Iyla are as precious as ever. Ellie started nursery this week and was incredibly brave: even on her first day, she was joining in with everything and encouraging the shyer children (who have been at the nursery for months!) to play with her as well. I'm so proud of her kindness, courage, gentleness and boundless energy and enthusiam! She's recognised how much I like cuddles lately - either instructing everyone to 'duddle Anna' or getting me to lie with my head on her tummy and stroking my hair. Iyla is 6 months old now: learning to sit up and starting to be weaned. Her new pterodactyl noise is both hilarious and a little scary but her giggle is just completely beautiful. I love these little girls so much!

A couple of weeks ago, upon going home to see my parents, I was hit with the bombshell that they are divorcing, and it's all a little messy and upsetting. The divorce itself I can deal with, with a bit of getting used to and some tears over the loss of our house with all its memories etc, but the back story is a lot harder to reconcile. I'm leaning into God's grace; trying to balance out my reliance on God and my reliance on people...having only just properly started to put my trust in people as opposed to weight and numbers and performance, being so suddenly and dramatically reminded that people are unpredictable and imperfect is difficult. I am SO thankful for my firm foundation; my faithful, pursuing, passionate Jesus. A few wobbly days of restricting and hurting myself; a little too much alcohol and a couple of cigarettes; some reckless shoe shopping and lots of tears later I'm feeling more sensible. I want my Jesus; nothing else will do. No other comfort compares to even a fraction of how it is to be close to Him...