At the end of June I quit my job to focus on studying for the MCAT full time. I cleared the old mail and neatly stacked piles of junk from the desk in the office, plugged in the dusty, unused lamp, and proceeded to cram as much knowledge into my brain as possible for 6-7 hours a day, 5 days a week. The judgmental part of me has been berating myself for not gaining more ground last month in spite of the holiday and family gatherings, and the frantic part of me has whipped herself into a froth of anxiety over how much there is left to learn, how little I’ve retained, and how unprepared as a student and a human being I am to take such an important exam. I have less than a month left until test day and I’ve barely scratched the surface of physics and am starting to believe that all of this studying is actually making me forget more than I remember.
At times of intense pressure, I find myself cycling through different coping mechanisms to find the right combination that allows me to feel stressed, feel important for feeling stressed, feel self-righteous about how other people just can’t understand the pressure I’m under, and feel holier-than-thou for (outwardly) handling it so well without getting to the heart of the issue. It’s a very difficult balancing act, suited only for those with advanced “Look at me, I’m important!” skills. But these “coping mechanisms” are akin to plucking a few spots of mold off an entire loaf of bread while proceeding to choke down said loaf with a smile; they are superficial ways to deal with real problems and ultimately lead to a gut-full of bad feelings.
This past month I have tried to choke down my feelings of inadequate self-worth while attempting to learn the intricacies of oxidative phosphorylation and the Lympatic System, but they continue to constitute a lump in my throat that has grown to undeniable proportions. It’s no longer a question of if I can learn the material well enough with my remaining study time, if I am smart enough, studious and disciplined enough, if I am capable of doing well. It has metamorphosed into a question of if I am worthy of doing well and succeeding.
I attended 4 different colleges before earning my bachelor’s degree, started and stopped taking classes towards a dietetics degree twice, and have been plodding through pre-med prereqs at a rate of 1 class a semester or less for the past 3 years. To give myself some credit, I have been busy with other life events during that time like getting married; having kids; moving states 3 times; and taking care of houseful of boys, some who ask me if I’ve done laundry after they used their last pair of underwear. However, there’s part of me who feels like she’s given up her chance for further academic success. If I had quit quitting years ago my professional life could be on an entirely different level.
But I stopped and started and stopped and now I’m starting again. I tell people almost nervously that I am on the pre-med track because I feel their judgement come down on me maybe even before they have time to assess the situation. All of that schooling will be hard on the kids, on your marriage, on your entire life, they say. A good mother wouldn’t willingly volunteer for so much time away from her young children, the voices in my head confirm. These are hardships that I haven’t ignored and that make me question what I’m doing every day even though I have no doubt in my path. However, studying for the MCAT has been slowly teaching me to embrace the questions – scientific and otherwise – and ask them of myself before anyone beats me to the punch. The questions are the easy part. It’s giving, understanding, and sometimes believing the answers that can take time. I’m working on some of those answers.