The College Years, Part 4: Winter-Spring 2012 (The rest of Sophomore year)

So, it’s been a  while. Life’s been crazy, you know?

Anyway, Winter break was much needed. I don’t think I did much of anything. I probably looked into internships, and I probably attempted to review Orgo I stuff in preparation for Orgo II. The only thing I know for sure is that I registered for the Women in Physics conference. I felt ready to go for Winter Term.

Butttt winter term sucked. Intro to (Physics) Research was wonderful – I started becoming closer to Selyna’s (my best friend’s) roommate, as well as my buddy Bobby. Dance was nice – it was completely out of my comfort zone and stretched me in many ways, literally and figuratively! But Orgo II was pure torture. I struggled so much that by the end of the term I actually broke down and cried HAPPY tears that I ended up with a C instead of a D. Again, all thanks to lab. And a final exam that was a retired ACS (American Chemical Society) exam, therefore meaning standardized (and as a general rule, I do decently well on standardized exams as long as I have some idea of what’s going on.)

About 2 weeks into term, I attended the Midwest Women in Physics Conference at Case Western and it was, quite honestly, such a relief. It was when I was really introduced to the concept of “medical physics.” Considering I was dedicated to medicine but chem never ceased to eat my soul, I decided that medical physics would be a great backup plan, and in a way, having this new “backup” re-invigorated (at least for a while) my drive to become a physician.

On top of my crazy course schedule, I was also taking a 6-hour/week EMT class, in Chamber Ensemble with my oboe, active in Pre-Health club, and starting to go to physics club meetings. And in KolorWorx (our colorguard.) I was seriously overextending myself, but I refused to cut back. In the years following, I thought that if I had cut back maybe I would have done better in chem… but at this point, knowing what I know now about my learning style, intellectual strengths, etc, that’s actually pretty unlikely.

I also (finally) got notification from Rush that they were not going to be accepting me to their early admittance program. Yay for my first med school rejection! And while I was on a roll with my whole handling rejection thing, I decided to spill my feelings to my Senior physics friend, Mark. He, of course, was not interested in me like that, but we continued being buds. I’m really good about that – becoming interested in guys who are legitimately good people, and good friend material. In some ways it’s a strength (ie I choose good human beings) but also a curse (because it means I don’t really get a chance to distance myself after a rejection.) Anyway, this was just fuel for my downward spiral.

Said spiral continued gaining momentum in Spring Term. I continued all my activities – EMT (now with ride-alongs in addition to the classroom portion), KolorWorx, Chamber, Pre-Health, the whole 9 yards – and my class load did not get any easier: 2 biochem classes (one theoretical, the other lab-based), and Intro to Linguistics. The lab class and Linguistics, both pieces of cake. Lab=my jam, and linguistics=ridiculously cool. But the theoretical biochem class… murdered me. I ended up with a freaking C-. Which really made me question my med school goals, and pushed me more and more towards medical physics as a result. Clearly, I was good at physics, and bad at everything that is actually relevant to the human body.

Like seriously, here’s how bad biochem messed with me. First two stories are amusing: on one quiz (4 questions, 15 points each), I had no freaking idea what the first question was about, so I literally just drew a moose which, unfortunately, got me zero points. Second story: one night I literally dreamed a slideshow of amino acid structures. Third story: much, much worse. One night, I came back from EMT class and I had yet to study for my second biochem exam, which was to be the following day. I studied in the Physics Lounge, using the chalkboard, until 2 AM at which time I just couldn’t bear to stay awake any longer. I was at the point where I erased the chalkboard and literally saw rainbows as I did so. Even though I had been using white chalk. On a black chalkboard. It was a tad bit frightening, tbh. The next day, as I was taking the exam, I saw a pink x-acto knife on the table of the physics lounge (Honor Code allowed us to take exams anywhere within the building, and the Lounge was my comfortable zone) and for the first and only time in my life, I thought about harming myself. Yeah. I feel a lot of feelings, but my coping mechanisms have never included intentional self-harm. My dermatillomania (excoriation/”skin picking” disorder) has def resulted in blood and scars over the years, but that’s more akin to addiction or OCD than it is to self-harm. These days, I thank my lucky stars that I had enough personal insight to realize “if I start, I won’t be able to stop,” and that I took action by hiding the knife in the other room before continuing with my exam. I got off really easy that day. (Not on the exam, because I ended up getting something like 40%, but “easy” on the mental health front.) Following that exam was the one and only time I skipped a class in my entire college career. Instead of going to Linguistics, I went hid in an outside corner of our oddly-shaped science building, sobbing uncontrollably.

For SOME reason, I still didn’t consider dropping that biochem class. I just continued doing too much of everything, and I came to my breaking point at the end of the year when my KolorWorx coaches took me off the rifle line. I broke down and cried for at least 45 minutes, probably longer, and was given the task of setting up an appointment with the counselor, Dan. I’m not proud to admit this, but until that moment I always had the modus operandi of just “powering through” everything and that I could solve my own problems without the help of professionals. But in that moment I was so despondent that I was willing to try anything. My meeting with Dan convinced me that therapy can be helpful even for me and got me in the “when feeling too many feelings, at least give the therapist a shot!” camp. That was probably my most important lesson my sophomore year: don’t be afraid to ask for help.

I ended the year feeling almost entirely like crap, and I was going into the summer with zero internship plans (nowhere had accepted me 😦 ). The two good things were being elected as Speaker Coordinator for Pre-Health Club and VP for Physics Club for the coming year.

Sorry to end on such a downer there, but that was the end of sophomore year for ya. It made me question literally everything about myself, about the future, EVERYTHING! It was without a doubt the pre-med year that posed the most trials and tribulations, but that also made it the pre-med year that I grew the most.

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