Rounding Third | Motivation as a Non-Traditional Pre-Med Mom | Motivation for Pre-Med Moms

No, I am not on a beach.
But I might as well be standing on the moon.
This is foreign land with a foreign view. And I fought really hard to get here.

This is what I want the most.
I'm going to finish this and be proud of it.

Kevin was born ten days late. During those last days of pregnancy, I started to swear that I was never going to have him. I knew I was supposed to meet my baby really soon, but something about those last days convinced me that it was an impossible fantasy. I remember weeping in my kitchen and feeling like I would be in my 3rd trimester forever.

We scheduled an induction and waited.

And waited.

And now he's twelve.

My goal this summer was to take my required classes for graduation and to continue to saturate myself with any and all content possible that will help me prepare for graduate courses. I shouldn't be so surprised to be drenched from all the studying. Seriously, I'm soaked and leaving puddles where I walk. With about four weeks left, I don't want to see another organic chemistry mechanism... but there is still a lot of ground to cover. The days are long and I try not to think about how nice it would have been to take a break from classes this summer "if everything had gone as planned." An empty campus is nice, but it's also a little unsettling to still be there when I "should have" graduated in April.

Familiar exhaustion and discouragement can nestle in at the tail end of a journey to convince me that the finish line is still too far away. But many parts of my life did not go "as planned" and I'm acquainted with practicing a series of patterns that help me adapt and stay motivated to keep up with my goals. I've listed a few of the strategies I use, and added details about being a single mom preparing for applying to medical school.

1. One of the first steps is not allowing myself to ruminate (for long) on the negative situations or frustrating experiences. My days are scheduled very full, and there is so much going on with 4 part time jobs and a heavy schedule of classes. There are days when I feel disappointed because I didn't commit enough time to a certain thing because I had to prioritize another thing. I have a very stern rule about those days- I don't allow myself to give into negative thoughts. It's hard, because when I'm tired I am vulnerable to self-destruction. I try to catch myself doing this, and promptly shut that system off.

For example, I was collecting my books and book bag after an organic chemistry test and lab around 9:00 at night. I saw a gorgeous sunset out the window of my building and followed it impulsively. As I stood there admiring the sight, I caught my white lab coat in the reflection and scoffed a little at myself.

Look at you. Last one here. All this work and still you struggle. Still trying to finish a degree that normal people would have finished a decade ago. Would have been nice to be on a beach right now. How many years has it been since you've taken a vacation? | How to Stay Motivated as a Single Mom Going to Medical School

It took me a second, because I had so little sleep and felt the sting of my own judgement. But I stood there and waited until I could form a new dialogue.

This is so beautiful, and I hope my sons see this in Florida and think of me always pointing out colorful skies to them. I've always been enamored by sunsets and I spent a long time chasing light and catching it in my own way for other people to see in pictures. Now I'm ready to train for a different kind of service.

This journey is demanding an incredible amount of effort from me. Yes, it's late for a summer day. But I am so close to the end of this degree. I never thought in a million years that I would be able to come back to school and take classes like this. I never felt smart when it came to science classes, because I had to work so hard at them. And I couldn't even fathom how to fit these classes and their bulky labs into my life while raising two boys alone. But I did it anyway. I've worked hard for every class on my transcript.

No, I am not on a beach.
But I might as well be standing on the moon.
This is foreign land with a foreign view. And I fought really hard to get here.
This is what I want the most.
I'm going to finish this and be proud of it.

Wright State University Diggs Laboratory |
Wright State University NEC |

2. I have this very primitive picture in my head that sums up my brain activity like this: the more resources I place on studying, laughing, working out, etc., the less resources I have for worry, anxiety, or self destructive thoughts. I know it's an oversimplification of our physiology, but it works for me. One of the ways I combat stress is to plan to do something for my body that works in another direction. For instance, I see a busy schedule as a signal to think about how I can fit in workouts (usually at the gym, but sometimes at home). I know how good I feel afterwards, and intentionally give my body the benefit of a good run. I also see a long day (hopping from an ER shift to night classes) as an opportunity to think about what I'm packing in my lunch to make sure I have fuel for it. I don't pack every single day, but I try to be mindful about the health of my body being put through this kind of schedule. This also means going to sleep when I can after a big test. Some days I'm exhausted, and I *might* be napping at my desk or on a picnic table outside of my lab (sorry proper professional people that see me do this). I have a complicated relationship with sleep. I try to get enough, but when I don't, I try to catch up as soon as possible. It is vital & non-negotiable.

3. I talk to people. A lot of my work is isolating, but I do try to seek out humans to interact with. There's always a pool of people in class or lab who are interested in the same topics. It helps that we share a lot of the same challenges and goals. I'm lucky to have people who I can be honest with about some of my fears and send nerdy science memes. It's reassuring.

4. I assess the minutia of my schedule. I have a Google calendar app for my phone with appointments, work schedules, etc. Then I make a weekly to-do list on pretty paper my sister gave me. This is logistically how I make this work. It helps ease my mind to know it's accounted for on the list. It gives me a sense of control and power to do this, because a lot of my time is spent working around fixed schedules I can not change or only having a short window of free time that needs to be organized and focused. Sometimes I'm (very) stressed about everything that needs to get done, but writing out my tasks helps release some of the tension. It also gives me a plan. Often when I'm doing homework for one class, I remember something and start to feel anxious. In the past that could spiral into distraction very quickly. Having a place to write that down enables me to go back to concentrating on whatever I was working on initially. This is crucial for when my boys are here too. I can tell when I haven't been doing this, because things start to fall under the cracks. I have shed tears while writing these lists, because it felt impossible and scary to tackle everything. It's amazing though what you can get done if you simply remember it needs done in the first place.

Organization for Pre-Med Moms |

*I know there are a lot of awesome planners out there. I like the "rip a page off at a time method" because I have heavy books and binders! I love throwing the lists away with pink check marks all over them. It's something I look forward to.

5. I think about my big big goals. I HAVE to know WHY I do this. There are many circumstances that motivate me toward this mission, and I recite the list daily to make sure I am actively aware of why I tether myself to these goals. Finding purpose in the journey is also important to me. I always say that I have to find meaning in where I am, because it is costing me so much. If I didn't find something to value in every leg of this journey, then it would be miserable. I don't think about starting medical school or residency as my most important goals. I think about next month or twenty years from now, and find meaning in the whole process. Otherwise, I think I'd be disappointed. I try to visualize myself in the future and think about what it needs from me now to be the best version of myself when I get there. What choices can I make this week that will impact future me? I know it's kind of silly, but synthesizing the present with the (what seems like distant) future inspires a lot of motivation.

6. I think about what would happen if I wasn't allowed to pursue my big big goals. What would it feel like if I received news that that I had to leave school permanently and not come back? It would almost break my heart. Actually, there were several times that this felt like the circumstance I was facing, and it made me want my degree even more. Some of these non-academic setbacks were more damaging than others, but I always came back for a new semester with a sense of gratitude for being able to sit in my classes. I am acutely aware of how close I came to not having that privilege. To start this semester, I had to fill out 14 forms (and supply a drop of blood mixed with a strand of hair) to extend financial aid. When I study until I no longer want to hear about another nucleophile or epoxide from organic chemistry, I think of how lucky I am to even be taking this tedious class. It (eventually) helps me adjust my attitude.

Teduius Organic Chemistry |
Organic Chemistry Manual Must Have |

The thing I hate about writing is that it's all so tidy after I've had time to reflect. Like getting through the last three years has been one healthy breeze. It was not always that way. There were many days that stress was so intense I could barely keep up. I always feel the need to come clean and admit that sometimes I abandon these suggestions and take a day off from being able to cope (probably when I'm drinking a big milkshake and watching Netflix). That's ok too, because sometimes we all need breaks from the pressure. This is just part of my typical routine that helps me regain motivation when it seems like a never ending process. I don't live with a clean perfect state of mind, but I use my mental toolbox to work toward a healthier approach. Part of making adjustments is looking at the areas I know I struggle with (time management, motivation, etc.) and strategize how to be more effective and efficient.

Only a few weeks left until my graduation.
I'm rounding third and the catcher isn't going to make the catch in time to stop me.

* Went into labor naturally the night before my scheduled induction. Damian was a week late too, but I didn't cry before he was born because my midwife told me it seemed like I cooked my babies a little longer and it seemed to be true. Contrary to questions I frequently get on campus or with coworkers in the ER, no I wasn't 14 when I had Kevin. I married young (21) and had Kev at (22). Yes I was (too) young, but not 14! I don't want people to misunderstand and think I had a hard life, because it was fantastic and I adored my squishy little smiling babies. It was a beautiful season, even though my marriage ended in divorce. As much as I feel strange for having kids when very few pre-meds do, they tell me they are jealous of me (!?) because I am done having kids and don't have to factor that into my medical school/residency plans. I've heard this from multiple women, and it shows how we can get hung up on something and see it as a "weakness," but other people admire us for it. After a few of those conversations, I started to see my situation differently and felt very thankful to be done having kids. I get to bring the ones I have with me for the journey. We share the struggles and the accomplishments together.

Damian had a birthday this week, and he showed me how he lost his 7th tooth just before his 8th birthday (the boys were excited about this coincidence). Missing my Florida boys, but thinking of them as I spend some very monotonous days studying for these accelerated summer classes. I try to dress up on Damian's birthday, because I want him to know it's always going to be a special day, even if we can't be together for it. Thank God for FaceTime. They were able to watch me work in my lab for a few minutes and use a vortex to spin a vial of naproxen... and it was nice to have them "with me." 

Damian's 8th Birthday |
Birthdays with Shared Parenting |
Damian's 8th Birthday |