So, I’ve been tossing this around in my mind for awhile.
The first two years of medical school are packed. You’re going through material at a breathless pace, learning more than you ever thought you could remember and trying to package and digest that material at ever quickening rates. You begin to feel like a robot, learning about an alien race- with the Krebs cycle, Beta adrenergic receptors, P hormones that feels satisfied with fatty food.
As you wade through the lakes of material, knee deep with a quicksand like consistency you change. Who you are takes on a different meaning- you begin to define yourself more so by the amount of work you’ve done, the things you’ve learnt and the hours invested. The things that gave you pleasure BMS (before medical school) still do, but they’re guilty pleasures. You find yourself living more so in the seven deadly sins than ever.
To lust… (yes, I’m a HIMYM fan- though a full season behind)
Either way, you find yourself suddenly feeling this sense of emptiness, this lack of meaning, the fleeting feeling that nothing really matters and life is meaningless. You find yourself asking if saving a person’s life from an MI or a PE or any other part of the alphabet soup of conditions really means anything. You ruminate on the purpose of life, on the why, the what for and the who cares. (Or maybe that’s just me)
You look at your life, filled with pathology, viruses, bacteria, anatomy, physiology and the like; devoid of most everything else. And then you realize how vast a gulf separates you from the rest of the world- the seeming naivete and rosy-eyed view they have is hidden from you.
So, how do you cope? Well you find and create meaning. You give your life purpose, add to it. Make it worth something to yourself and to others. Personally, I exercise- I run, I lift weights and I work up a good sweat. Some people turn to religion, I’m an atheist. So, I turn to yoga. I cook making the very act of making food cathartic and therapeutic. Doctor Who is my new guilty pleasure, letting me escape to worlds beyond this one- and the quintessential loneliness of his character resonates, I imagine, with each viewer. Most importantly, I enjoy the support of an amazing group of people. From my family, friends, acquaintances and more. I spend time with them all as often as I can- even if it’s remotely. I find writing handwritten letters to my grandfather to be a more candid way of communicating than when I’m sitting in the room with him sometimes. I make my own meaning.
For that’s my view of nihilism- at least in medical school. Nothing means anything. At least not on its own. We give it meaning by what we choose to value, what we choose to believe and what we choose to cherish. So give your life some meaning today, give it a purpose. Live vicariously, purposefully and powerfully.
And while you’re at it, make someone else’s life a little better too. That never hurts.
In case you’re wondering what brought on this philosophical reflection and random spewing of words- its a book (“Hannibal and Me”). I highly recommend it more so since it uses some of my favorite quotes of all time:
“If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same”