Beach Glass: Life’s Lessons

Beach glass is an interesting thing.  It’s a simple thing.  It’s a thing that acts as a metaphor for so many people’s lives.  Beach glass is trash. It’s trash that has been discarded by someone after it no longer served them.  Those glass items tumble around in the water for years.  They get cracks, they break into pieces, they become weathered.  Until one day, they wash up on shore as treasures to be found by so many people searching daily for even just one piece.  These pieces of discarded trash become broken and end up as unique, beautiful, sought-after pieces of treasure.  Did you hear me?

Maybe at some point in your life you felt discarded, no longer needed, maybe even worthless.  You spent years weathering the storm of life just trying to survive and feel like you are worthy of something more.  You were broken, you were tattered, your hard edges were worn down.  For years.  Then one day you give in to the cycle and simply let nature run its course.  No more trying to will something different for life, no longer wishing for something else, just giving in to the events that will eventually create a new version of you.  A version that everyone will dedicate time to understanding, finding, and admiring.  This appreciation for what you have become is so much greater than your former “perfectly useful self” that was created to serve someone else.  Now you are you, a little broken, but much more beautiful.

I speak often about adversity in life.  I think this is an element to life that everyone encounters, no one wants to admit, and everyone feels unworthy because of it.  I see this every single day when working with patients because these feeling negatively effect their health. I don’t care if anyone screams their story from the rooftops or lets the world know their journey.  Many people appreciate this because it gives them something to empathize with.  However, I do care that everyone realize adversity is normal.  It’s not only normal, but it is, in some regard, your greatest gift.  It has shaped you, changed you, created your uniqueness, and it is what makes you interesting.  As a society, we are obsessed with an image that erases adversity from what we see.  We want no scars, no stretch marks, no wrinkles, and certainly no evidence of the past.  When it comes down to it, no one ever sits with that person and feels anything.  That person doesn’t change the world.  That person has no purpose.  It’s necessary to be a little broken, weather a few storms, and take a few blows from life to create the most purposeful version of you.  Know that it happens to everyone and that there’s something great on the other side if you allow it.

Is All the Sacrifice Worth It? A Lesson from a Patient Who Died

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” I saw this quote somewhere a couple weeks ago and thought “that’s pretty profound.” My mind kept coming back to it, because I obviously can’t control my thoughts. I started to ask myself some questions:
How does someone live like they will die tomorrow? They would probably get rid of all responsibility and eat whatever, do whatever, take major risks, spend all their money, etc. But what happens if they don’t die tomorrow? Then they are screwed! So, is it possible to live like you were to die tomorrow and still have life be great tomorrow if you do wake up?

That led me to my story about a patient. I will call him Bob. Bob was a diabetic and came to me because he wanted off of his medication. Bob did amazing in my program, got off his meds, reversed his diabetes (type II), and couldn’t have been happier. In order to do this, Bob had to change some things that had become habitual in his life and maybe partake in certain indulgences a little less often.

The following year I get an update on Bob. He died. Not due to his health, but in a car accident. When considering the quote above, I asked myself “I wonder if he still would have done my program if he had known he would die the next year?” After all, he did give up some convenience, some indulgence, and some comfortable habits to improve his health, but he likely would have still survived past that year without changing a thing. I’ll never know the answer to that question.

This is often an argument I hear in regards to healthy habits. What if I die tomorrow? We will all die of something. I ask “What if you don’t?” Are you willing to sacrifice your ability to live a good quality of life later for the excessive amount of pleasure today?
I could ask this same question about money. If you spend it all this year because you never know about the next, what happens when next year comes and there’s no money?! But what if next year doesn’t come and you saved every dime and didn’t enjoy things as much as you could?!

It’s balance. You want some indulgence, some excitement, some pleasure, but not at the loss of your ability to experience that over a lifetime. You also don’t want to limit pleasure in hopes you will live forever. Because the truth is, you really just don’t know when your last day will be.

When I work with patients, it’s always been about creating an unwritten balance. Not in the way of “if I eat a salad, then I can have this donut” because that’s not the point. It’s about creating balance within a LIFESTYLE that allows you to enjoy today AND tomorrow. When people end up on my doorstep, many times it’s because they have recently realized that tomorrow will and did come, and they didn’t live yesterday in a way that will make a pleasant quality of life in the future. I want people to indulge, to experience pleasure, to create excitement in their senses, but I also want them here doing the same thing tomorrow, next week, next year, and for their lifetime. Unfortunately, there is no known way that one can live like they will die tomorrow and not have a rude awakening in the morning. So, seize your moments and enjoy life as if it is short but remember how much sweeter life will be if you can do these things for a lifetime and not just one day.

*geeky side note: When teaching physiology, we would always go over a concept of sensory adaptation, and we have all experienced it. You walk into a smelly room and in 5 minutes, you don’t notice is nearly as much, if at all. Or you order a piece of cheesecake for dessert and you take a bite and go to heaven. By the time you reach bite 4 or 5, you are actually not that excited about it and are just eating it because it’s there. The culinary world knows the magic happens on the first couple bites. That’s why they create small plates and dessert shooters. They want you to leave with the pleasure and desire for MORE, but it actually decreases your pleasure when you do have more! Sensory adaptation is the ultimate temptress, the tease, the thing that everybody loves to experience. Biology ultimately tells us that this heightened pleasure is NOT prolonged. However, it can be experienced over and over if there is enough gap in between. In the long run, this creates a lifetime of pleasure instead of continued behavior that never quite reaches the dopamine surge of the first bite. Food for thought.

The “Yes” That Changed My Life

I probably think about life too much, ponder issues in the world excessively, and spend too many hours nose deep in research; however, I make no apologies because that is who I am.  When you know who you are, your actions are very distinguishable as yours.  You are driven by forces that keep you from conforming.  If there were no money or recognition in the world, you would still be the same you, doing the same things. This makes success fulfilling.  When we look at people who are successful in whatever sense of the word “wealthy, accomplished or happy, fulfilled,” you will notice that they have a couple things in common: 1. they failed over and over 2. they often had one “yes” or “ah-ha moment” that changed their trajectory.

I have thought about this for myself.  I have gotten so many messages since opening up my practice to social media about how I inspire people, how I’ve helped people, how people are jealous because I have their dream job.  When I think about how I got here, it’s not like there was magic, or a template of how to do it, etc but I do fit the two criteria that I spoke about previously: I failed over and over, and I had a “yes” that while small, was probably the one that changed my trajectory.

When I started college, I had been “following the rules of accomplishment” my entire life.  Any award you can think of, I earned it.  Highest grade you could get, I got it.  Any degree or letters available, I was in the running.  Why?  Because I thought that’s what made you successful in life!  Accomplish all this stuff and you will make good money, have nice things, have little to worry about, and live happily ever after.  Then I got to college where someone asked me what I wanted to do.  Insert blank stare. I don’t know what I said but I thought to myself how I know I could do extremely well in any degree, just tell me the most difficult and that’s the one I will pursue.  Good thing for me, pursuing a medical degree also had components that I found myself extremely interested in.

In college, I always had a job, if not 2 to help pay for tuition.  I took notes for disabled, I worked at the Finish Line, I was even a Bacardi girl.  Yes, hanging out passing out free drinks after getting off my first job. In addition to working, I applied for every scholarship under the sun.  Let’s just say that I spent more hours trying to prove why I was worthy of a donation than I care to admit.  I failed over and over.  I’m not exaggerating when I say OVER AND OVER. It may have been my first real sense of rejection.  The kind that sort of says “You were great in your small town, but you’re in the big leagues now, and you aren’t good enough this time.” Ouch. I was terrified about the debt I would be graduating with and often contemplated leaving. (If I’m being honest, my mom forced me to take the SATs and apply to ONE college or else I wasn’t even going to go! That’s how much I was afraid of student loans!) Then one day I applied for something different.  I applied to be accepted into a 400 level biology course that allowed you to study in Costa Rica.  I specifically remember filling out the application asking myself why I was doing so.  They had NEVER accepted anyone as a sophomore and I had barely even declared a major.  Oh well, the worst they can say is “no, thanks.” As if I hadn’t heard that enough lately.

They didn’t say “no, thanks.”  They said “congratulations on being accepted as the youngest person to get into this program.”  I was PUMPED!  I was going to study in the rain forest.  Peace out!  What I didn’t anticipate, but was how that one “yes,” would snowball.  Not only did I make huge decisions about what I wanted after that trip, I met the people that I would then take my medical mission trips to Honduras with.  I would then sit on the board of that organization.  I would then have several experiences that primed me for the Peace Corps.  I would then use those moments to get accepted to my doctoral program where I would teach anatomy and physiology labs.  I used that degree to become the doctor I am today and the teaching experience to become a professor at our local college.  I know who I am because the qualities that make me, me, drove me to the “yes” that changed my life.  If they had said “no, thanks” I have no clue what might have happened.  Would I have applied again? (probably), would I have given up?, would I have changed career directions? would I have quit college because of money?, would I have ever met the same people that led down the same path?  I don’t know.  But I do know that when you are being you, doing the things that make you, you, it all happens the way it’s supposed to.  Those things may lead to perceived failure; however, the beauty of “doing you” is that you aren’t doing it to please others.  You would’ve done the same thing if no one was watching. I have heard “no thanks” and failed many more times since then, I assure you. Those moments may matter just as much as the one “yes.”  They open the door for that “yes.” Do you want to be successful?  Be you, fail over and over, and be aware of the moment you may need to grab a hold.  It could be the catalyst for everything to come.

My Take on the Aging Process; Wrinkles vs. Passion Lines

I am big on doing things when you are feeling passionate about them.  That passion and energy comes through, and it definitely makes a difference.  This is a topic that I have had sitting in my back pocket for over a year now.  I have had several moments where I got fired up about it and should’ve written a post then, but decided not to because sometimes strong energy around sensitive topics can cause drama.  This is a drama-free zone.  So, I kept deciding it wasn’t worth it.  Until now….

I was at the salon getting my hair done the other day and my hairstylist and I were talking about my grey hairs.  I have admitted this many times, so that is no surprise.  I definitely noticed them when I colored my hair black…can’t hide anything with black hair!  I told her that they really don’t bother me, and I meant it!  I have been highlighting my hair for years now, and I’m sure someone is thinking “if they don’t bother you, then why do you dye them?”  If you have colored your hair, you know it’s not that easy to just stop.  You have this weird half colored, half natural hair thing going on that is definitely not natural or cute looking. lol.  I started toying with my hair color in high school when it had nothing to do with grey hair; however, I am not in high school anymore!  So, until I figure out how to make that transition to natural in a way that I don’t have to cut off all my length, I will probably continue to highlight.

Having said that, when we were talking about my greys, I also brought up wrinkles.  I was watching some trashy tv show one day with 20 year olds sitting around laughing and one says “We need to stop laughing, we are going to get wrinkles.”  They all went silent and erased their smiles in an attempt to avoid those god awful wrinkles.  What is wrong with this picture?  It is an obvious sign that our culture is obsessed with looking young.  This is where my opinion starts….

There are no procedures that will make you look 20 again.  So, I would never want to chase such an unattainable goal.  Then I start asking myself, what if I could be 20 again, would I want that?  My answer is very strongly “no.”  Don’t get me wrong, college life was an amazing time, I had amazing personal growth during those times, and I had more life adventures than I can count.  However, now that I am well into my 30s, I know who I am, my purpose in life, confidence in my abilities, and what I want.  These things only come with life experience that you just haven’t had time to have when you are 20.

Within those years, I have laughed, I have passionately argued, I have stood up for causes, I have experienced.  Therefore, when you look at me, I have wrinkles that I call “passion lines.”  I eluded to this in an old post.  The lines on my face mean something to me, why would I want to erase them?  They tell me:

  1. I have laughed (with friends, family, at movies, with people)
  2. I have smiled (to greet everyone I see, when thinking about my blessings, for photos of experiences, when I’m happy)
  3. I have concentrated heavily (So much studying, working on patient cases, reading, etc)
  4. I have researched (I can’t count the hours of studying to be where I am)
  5. I have listened (when I do this I often furrow my brow…to patients, to friends, to teachers)
  6. I have practiced empathy (You make a face when hearing someone’s story….I promise)
  7. I have taught (When I teach, I get so fired up that I often have dramatic facial expressions when touching on important points)
  8. I have endured (look at anyone pushing their limits physically and you will see that you make a face when you endure something that makes you want to give up)
  9. I have had years to experience life
  10. I have had years to express my feelings

Why would I want to erase any of that?  Why would I want to portray to anyone that they things have never occurred?  Why would I want to minimize my life for a more naive version?  If I wouldn’t want to be 20, why would I want to look 20?

The lines on your face, scars on your body, and greying of your hair all have stories.  They are your own personal blueprint.  Take care of yourself in order to “look great for your age,” but don’t feel the need to erase your journey in the pursuit of youth.  That may mean erasing all the things so important to you….spouses, kids, careers, travels, etc.  Feel comfortable with aging.  Look forward to what the next 10 years will bring (inevitably it will include more lines, too if you are living).  Love yourself not just for how you look, but where you’ve been.  If not for your own happiness, for your future generation to appreciate what living entails.  I have hope that we will start to cherish age and quit running from it.  I hope my passion lines continue to develop because I fear if they weren’t, that I may have lost my way.