I am one of those annoying people who loves New Year’s! Not only do I like the excuse to dress up, the colorful noisemakers, and having a nice meal on New Year’s Eve, but I also love that feeling of a new start. Like many, the way I view new year’s resolutions has changed over the years – once nebulous vows to lose weight and just be better at life in general in my 20s has slowly transitioned as I approach my fourth decade to trying to actually embody some sort of personal wellness, not only for myself but so I can be a better human for my family and community.
Wellness is different for everyone (as we have all seen the past 2-3 years), and in my history wellness sometimes feels like a moving target. As crazy as it may sound since we are in yet another COVID surge, I feel a personal improvement these past few months. In addition to many other resolutions, I have started journaling. My journal is canary yellow and on my bedside table; its pages encourage me daily to focus on what I am grateful for, what I need to get done for my soul to feel some sort of accomplishment for the day, and reflecting on how the day went. I have found with this practice, I can focus on that negative self-speak, that feeling that I am not cut out for this demanding profession, and to focus on what I did right.
A wonderful Brene Brown podcast discussed the importance of sharing these negative, unhelpful thoughts with a friend or colleague; that sharing the shame with someone you trust allows you to make those feelings less powerful. This insight has been groundbreaking for me on its own. But journaling also allows this vulnerability that comes with confiding in a friend and makes it more of a daily practice, pushing me to be honest with myself.
So I was interested when my friend (and one of our program’s behavioral medicine faculty members) Heidi Charron told me about the 55-word story concept. The practice of writing a story in exactly 55 words has apparently been used for over a decade to help physicians understand and/or appreciate a patient or a health care experience. Reading through some examples in JAMA and Family Medicine, I was amazed at how much emotion is expressed in so few words and how I could relate to every single one of the example stories given. The article that I read on how to start a 55-word story said to write down everything you can think of about that experience, walk away for some time, and then return and start editing – taking out every extraneous word. It seems like what was left in every story is pure emotion, whether joy, fear, anxiety, frustration, etc.
Looking back on all the impactful events in our lives, it’s amazing how we can still feel that sweat on our forehead when we did a procedure for the first time, the smell of the cautery in the first OR session, the music playing when you see a mom crying happy tears as you place her newborn baby on her chest after delivery, and the taste of pure sadness deep in your stomach when a patient you know like family passes away. Our lives are formed and sustained on these emotions so thick they are almost tactile. And these 55-word stories are skeletons of those memories on paper.
As you can tell, I love run-on sentences, so 55 words is a challenge to me! However, in honor of my new goal of journaling and self-exploration in 2022, I committed and have included my first two stories below. I will continue to incorporate these stories into my journaling, especially for those impactful memories that I am having a hard time working through on the surface. I would encourage you to find a practice – whether verbally sharing experiences with a friend, journaling, or something completely different – that allows you to get your feelings out. We are in a very exhausting world, practicing a demanding profession, but I have found the above practices allow me to remember just how good my life is and how amazing this job can be.
One year old, wrapped tight with mom, face pale with sickness.
Obtaining swabs – getting assaulted point blank with tearful screams, hacking coughs thick with mucus.
Silently thanking the foggy shield, which most days I curse
… she’s Covid positive …
Once again, having to tell my kids I can’t cuddle with them until my test in 5 days …
I always smile when this couple is on my schedule, octogenarians, sweet but honest.
These relationships make paperwork, incomplete charts, red bubbles filling inboxes disappear
Kind, honest eyes, thankful hearts
Everytime, the husband says he trusts me with his life and that they love me
Everytime, I cry saying I know, I love you too