Five or so years ago, I sat in my apartment in DC one late winter evening with my friend Reed. We were surrounded by dirty mugs (we’d actually taken pictures at the number of coffee cups in my dishwasher as a joke, to document how hyper-caffeinated we were), index cards, papers. It was a chaotic scene, and I was adding to the chaos with something resembling a meltdown over not being able to figure out a complicated genetics problem.
We were approaching the second exam in our genetics class. The first exam had taken us all by surprise: at that point I was used to getting Cs on post-bacc tests, but most of my peers weren’t, and a hush had fallen over the class when that test was handed back. Few had done well, and some of us had done worse than others.
For me, it wasn’t the single grade so much as the prolonged discouragement of feeling as though I couldn’t catch a break in the program. And I hated the thought of spending yet another semester with the heavy burden of having to redeem myself on the next test, or else end up with a grade on my transcript that I wouldn’t be able to recover from.
Reed and I had been doing our best to prepare ourselves for the test. He was as calm and organized as ever; he’d shown up at my place with an action plan and a stack of neat, detailed flash cards. It was no surprise: Reed was a supernaturally talented student, and in fact, seemed supernaturally talented at everything. He ran weekend marathons and practiced jiu-jitsu at the blackbelt level while achieving near-perfect grades in our program and continuing to work in finance nearly full time. It wasn’t even possible to resent all of the talent and ability, because on top of everything he was a really nice person—and an unusually patient study buddy.
Me? I wasn’t handling our study session so well. After my fourth or fifth crack at a tricky problem, I was begging Reed to simply give me the answer. “Just tell me how to do it,” I moaned. “Once I know, I’ll get to the answer and I’ll show you.”
Reed shook his head firmly. “You have to struggle a little so that you can get to the answer,” he said. “You won’t figure it out until you do.”
I kept trying to convince him that I wasn’t game for this struggle, and he kept refusing to buy it. “I’m going to stay here until you work your way through it,” he said. (It was past midnight).
I was tired and irritated to be getting this kind of a push from a friend, but Reed’s insistence worked. An hour later, I’d solved the problem and explained it to him in my own language. It wasn’t a test or a tutoring session, but it was probably the first real learning breakthrough of my post-bacc, and there were more that followed.
I think about Reed’s words each time I’m feeling spectacularly ill-equipped to do something. I think about how sure he was that, if I spent enough time with it, I’d figure the problem out. The greatest challenge of my post-bacc wasn’t the difficulty of the classes, or the workload, or even the sleep deprivation. It was my belief, which seemed to get affirmed with every poor grade, that I just didn’t have the brain for science. Reed believed otherwise, and his faith softened my own lack of confidence.
This week, I began my second clinical rotation. It’s at a large hospital, and I’m working in acute care. It’s a much faster pace and a more stressful environment than my first rotation. I’ve learned how to apply clinical judgment in the last seven weeks, but now I’m facing cases that are a lot more medically complex than most of the ones I’ve seen. It’s daunting, and while I haven’t completed an assessment on my own yet, I’m wondering if I have the critical thinking skills to do it.
I’m glancing back to that night with Reed and reminding myself that discouragement and self-doubt can be much bigger obstacles than lack of knowledge or practice. I’m keeping in mind that every single dietitian goes through this experience; my current preceptors did it, too. I have to imagine that no one feels prepared, or able, at the start. Interns do their best, and preceptors are there to guide, support and teach them along the way.
At my last rotation, one of my preceptors noted that I was still hesitant to address labs in my assessments. She was right: I still had the feeling that I wasn’t ready for the more medical parts of dietetic practice, interpreting bloodwork included. “Take a crack at it,” she said. She wasn’t being flip; she went on to explain that she’d correct me and explain my mistakes if necessary. But she wanted me to try.
She wanted this, I know, because it was her job to help me become more confident. And confidence, at least in these types of settings, isn’t a have or a have not. It’s acquired through practice, through trying and sometimes failing and then trying some more. My preceptor gave me the same push that Reed gave me five years ago.
Today, at the start of week 2, I’m giving myself that push. I don’t expect to wield perfect clinical judgment this week, but I’ll challenge myself to keep trying. That same, excellent preceptor at my last rotation said to me at the beginning, “what we’re really looking for is growth.” Growth I can handle; growth I can do.
Wishing you all a great Sunday, and a good start to the week. I’ve got a cozy new soup recipe headed your way in a couple days. For now, here are some links I’ve been enjoying.
I cook with cashew cream all the time, but walnut cream? What a great idea (and great looking risotto) from my friend Erin!
Has anyone else started collecting Thanksgiving recipes yet? This vegan pot pie is going on my list!
I love the idea of a mole pasta, and this particular one looks so cozy and filling. Bonus points for plant protein from black beans.
Can’t wait to try this wintery cauliflower, black lentil and carrot salad with some of my tofu feta.
Finally, a stunning dessert: vegan black sesame chocolate cake with matcha cream cheese frosting. I’m not a huge matcha person, but this would be a welcome way to enjoy it 😉
1. I enjoyed this touching essay by a pediatrician, published in the New York Times, about wearing a hijab around family to help mask the side effects of chemotherapy.
2. An interesting new study, conducted by a doctoral candidate in the UK, associates vegan diet with improved mental and physical health for Type 2 Diabetes patients.
3. I’m sort of fascinated by flow states, and this article touches upon their relationship with the perception of time.
4. Amanda Mull’s hard-hitting, insightful perspective on the language and branding of new health/nutrition apps, home testing kits, and other technologies. Her take, which I think is compelling, is that the emphasis that these technologies place on “optimization” echoes and potentially reinforces the perfectionism and rule-bound thinking seen in eating disorders.
5. I’m not a mother, but having had my own brushes with mental illness, I’m really grateful to Alissa Ambrose for this essay on post-partum depression.
This year has been more extroverted than I’m used to, but also more solitary. On the one hand, I’ve been in busy workplace environments each day, constantly exposed to new colleagues and new patients. This is a far cry from the quiet, work-from-home life that I’ve been living as a self-employed graduate student for the last many years. It’s been invigorating at times, draining at others; if nothing else, a big adjustment.
On the other hand, I haven’t had the energy to spend much time around friends this year. I do my best to keep up with people and prioritize high-quality friend time when I can. But I’ve often been too tired to make plans in the free time that I get, when I’m not trying to catch up on schoolwork and the blog. And the last few months have been trying in ways that I haven’t really felt like talking about. Catching up with most friends means answering the question of how I’m doing, and I just haven’t wanted to get into it.
I always assumed that the DI would draw to a close and that I’d gradually rest up and start reconnecting with people. I didn’t expect to make a new friend in the midst of it—certainly not a close one—but that’s what’s happened. At one of my two elective sites, I’ve been blessed with the company of a co-intern who is quickly becoming a new, dear friend.
I say “blessed” intentionally. This last stretch of my internship hasn’t been what I expected and has been difficult all around, personally and professionally. To have a colleague and an ally has been incredibly comforting; it reminds me of what it used to feel like to have close coworkers, which is something I was fortunate to find in my first career.
My co-intern and friend is already a dietitian abroad, shadowing here for the sake of her professional development, and we share a love of food as well as nutrition. We grabbed dinner this week, and it was full of laughter and fun; we traded stories and shared impressions as if we were old friends rather than recet ones. I was reminded of how important friendship is, how much it gives meaning to everything.
I’m glad I’ve indulged the need to keep to myself lately. Sometimes socializing really doesn’t feel good, which is something I’ve been reminded of from time to time this year when I push myself too hard to make plans, more out of a sense of duty or guilt at being out of touch than a real desire to listen or share. Yet it’s important for me to keep friendships healthy even when my bandwidth is low. And what a nice surprise to be given this new camaraderie at exactly the moment when I thought turning inward and forging ahead was the only thing I could do.
I’ve got one week of rotations left, and I’m so tired that I haven’t really processed the reality of being this close to done. By the next time I check in on a Sunday, though, it will be very real indeed—and I’ll be able to tell you how that feels.
Here are some recipes and reads.
Love this creamy, yet light summer cabbage salad from the ever-talented Heather.
A perfect tabouleh? Yes please! Katie has a knack for Middle Eastern inspired cuisine, so I trust her when she says this is the one.
No one makes hearty weeknight supper recipes like Jessica, and this tempeh stir fry with ginger peanut sauce is no exception.
I love the looks of Erin’s olive pesto pasta. I often end up with a half bottle of olives in my fridge and a lack of ideas about how to use them other than in salads. This recipe would be the answer.
And finally, dessert. This strawberry cheesecake from the talented folks at Sprouting Zen eats looks so good, not to mention super wholesome.
1. Scientific American brings some awareness to postpartum anxiety, which is distinct from the more familiar postpartum depression.
2. Leaky gut syndrome (also known as intestinal hyperpermeability) is incompletely understood in medicine so far, and like many diagnoses for which we lack a lot of knowledge, there’s unfortunately a lot of misinformation about it online. It may be some time before we have enough evidence to develop an understanding about it and clarify the contention that exists among practitioners about its very existence. In the meantime, I’m so glad that Food & Nutrition is making an effort to explain and explore this syndrome and its potential nutritional implications.
3. Some good, practical suggestions of inexpensive foods to buy when shopping on a budget. I’m a huge fan of frozen vegetables, and I liked the focus on everyday plant-based ingredients, like oats and legumes.
4. The New York Times reports on developments toward more gender equality in the sciences.
5. Finally, if you struggle with self-forgiveness as I do, a quick reminder: of course we mess up!
On that note, it’s time for me to wrap up what I hope will be my last working Sunday for a little while. Have a good night, friends.
It’s interesting, what gets unearthed during stressful times. It was a long week, in spite of the July 4th holiday, thanks to my internship wrapping up and my mom’s knee replacement surgery. She’s doing really well, but these moments are fraught and trying for everyone. I haven’t exactly been a picture of equanimity or grace over the last seven days.
What I have been, though—and it’s been interesting to notice this—is honest. I’ve honestly expressed my needs (which included asking for help last week) and honestly communicated my feelings. Those feelings have been all over the map this week; they’ve included anger, frustration, resentment, fatigue, and anxiety. But I’ve allowed them to be what they are, and I haven’t edited myself around either loved ones or strangers.
I didn’t use to think of myself as being overly contained; after all, I share a lot of myself online, and I have no trouble opening up about seemingly intimate topics. The older I get, though, the more I realize how contained and controlled I can be. It’s not withholding of information so much as editing the narrative or the delivery in such a way as to make things sound a lot prettier than they’ve felt.
There’s much to be said for discretion and a health degree of privacy. But I’m always conscious of my impulse to control things, myself included. It’s important for me to close up the distance that I sometimes create between my inner experience and my outward behavior—a distance I maintain in order to make myself more palatable and pleasing—in the interest of giving others access to a more honest self.
This work, if you can call it that, includes being a little more impulsive, expressive, and not thinking so hard before I utter a word or give a response. It can mean stating boundaries when I sense that they’ve been trampled on or having the guts to articulate discomfort when I feel it. It means relaying sensations of vulnerability or hurt, rather than trying to maintain a posture of toughness around them.
None of this is easy for me, no matter how “in touch” with my feelings I consider myself to be. In many ways, the intensity of the last few months has exposed my nerves a bit, and while I dislike being irritable (which I am right now!), it’s not a terrible thing for me to in touch with a less edited, much messier self.
She’s interesting, this self; she’s pretty good at saying what she needs without stopping to worry about how she’ll be perceived. And in making a little space for her, I’m learning that my impulses and instincts are more trustworthy than I give them credit for being. My intuition endures a lot of cross-examination by my hyper-analytical, questioning mind; maybe I should spend more time listening to it.
I certainly haven’t found a way of communicating that’s a perfect balance of honest and conscious—both thinking and feeling, I guess. Maybe the deeper truth here is that a “perfect” balance is as much of an illusion as any kind of perfection is. My attempts to chart new territory, one exchange at a time, is the best that I can do.
Starting a fresh week with the intention of staying in touch with my experience—whatever that means and however it leads me. Wishing you a good one, too. Here are some recipes and reads.
I love the looks of Tuulia’s savory carrot and zucchini muffins. I almost never make savory muffins, but I always appreciate what a good snack they are when I do.
A hearty, versatile vegan lentil ragu from the wonderful Izy.
How scrumptious does Amanda’s homemade walnut butter look?
Tomato season is in full swing where I live, and I’ll be soaking up every second between now and October. This simple heirloom salad looks like a perfect way to celebrate.
And finally, a breathtaking vegan pavlova, thanks to the magic of aquafaba—and Agnes’ talent. (I used the translate function in Chrome to access the recipe.)
1. This carb champion never doubted the value of the macronutrient! But I was glad to see Carrie Dennett address one of the benefits of carbohydrates, which is gut health. Dennett accessibly covers new research into the disease-fighting potential of microbiota-accessible carbohydrates, or MACs. This is fancy terminology for the type of carbohydrates that feed healthful microbiota in our large intestine, thereby lowering inflammation and helping our bodies to fend off pathogens.
2. Via the New York Times, a second HIV patient has been reported to be cured of the infection.
3. Hospitals are loud! It’s one of the sensory experiences of working in clinical settings that I’ve noted most often in the past year. I’m pretty sensitive to sound, so I’ve wondered if it was just me. But this article in The Atlantic suggests that it’s not.
4. A look into the promise and potential of virtual reality as a form of therapy.
5. I’ve become a fan of Caroline Wright’s writing through Food52, and this essay is a reminder of why—so human and touching. Caroline writes about how her cancer diagnosis changed her relationship with tiramisu and with her parents (how’s that for zeugma?). Among other things, it’s a lovely expression of what it means to get older and to reconcile one’s ideals about how life should be with the reality that each one of us gets. It was a very good thing for me to read this week.
I’m signing off to gather up the last few hours of Sunday. Love and appreciation to you all.
Years ago, a yoga teacher of mine said something in class that sounded obvious, but wasn’t: “when it can be easy, let it be easy.”
I’ve mentioned her words on the blog before, so in the spirit of the quotation I won’t overanalyze it. But I will tell you that her advice has helped to guide me through this period of anxiety. It’s been especially helpful in the last week.
On Sunday evening, after I vented about my overwhelm here on the blog, I spent some time thinking about what could be simplified or made easier in the week ahead. Work projects couldn’t be, but there were lots of other things that could.
I reached out to a close family friend and asked whether she could help out with some of the care-taking after my mom’s knee replacement surgery on Monday. I ordered my mom some meals from Veestro, so that she wouldn’t have to worry about food during her recuperation, and I threw in a bunch for myself, so that I can spend a little less time on cooking and meal prep during this busy stretch.
I cancelled some work calls that didn’t need to happen right away and extended the deadline for a job that had snuck up on me. I asked a peer to walk me through an assignment I’d been struggling with. I delayed making plans with friends, explaining that it would be better to catch up when my rotations were winding down. I sent emails that were shorter and more to-the-point than mine usually are; I turned in a couple projects that I gave about 80% of my effort to, but not more, trusting that they were good enough as they were.
I asked my closest friend here in the city to keep me company at the hospital on Monday; I didn’t ask for company during my mom’s last knee replacement, and it turned into an unnecessarily lonely, tense day. I spent much of it looking around the waiting room at the hospital watching partners and families band together, feeling pangs of envy and sadness. Those feelings were (and are) honest and OK. But I don’t have to go it alone all the time, either, and I’m glad that I asked my friend for a little companionship during the wait.
It’s my tendency to take charge of things and then give them my all. I’m not ashamed of this; it’s part of how I work, live, and love. But I’m learning as I get older the profound truth of the observation that no man—or woman—is an island. It takes courage and wisdom to ask for help, to choose against things being harder or more onerous than they need to be.
This past week wasn’t easy, and the week ahead won’t be, either. Things will feel challenging until my rotations are over, and my RD journey won’t stop there: there’s an RD exam to take, and then planning what comes next. One lesson I learned as a post-bacc student is that it’s easy to live in constant anticipation of an easier, smoother, less demanding moment in time, telling oneself that the business of being at peace can be delayed until then.
It really shouldn’t be, though. There are always upswings and downswings in life, including periods that feel either especially stressful or especially sweet. But very rarely do the clouds part entirely, which makes it important to cultivate calm no matter how hectic things are. I’m beginning to understand that it’s almost always possible to simplify something, to put down an unnecessary burden or two.
That’s the spirit with which I’m looking ahead to tomorrow, anyway. And I’ll continue to issue myself a gentle invitation to let go of what I can and ask for help with what I can’t. Fingers crossed. Here are some recipes and reads.
I love broken lasagna, and I’m so intrigued by Lindsey’s tomato free version with vegan ricotta and pesto.
A great recipe for July 4th get-togethers: Sarah’s vibrant, layered bean dip.
These crispy, Indian-inspired vegetable and red lentil balls look like the perfect addition to salads, pitas, and grain bowls. You can use the Google translator function to check them out on Susann and Yannic’s page.
Lily’s oat seed crackers look like a perfect, portable snack for me as I wrap up the last few weeks of my internship, and her impassioned tribute to Joy Harjo’s work is as lovely as ever.
Finally, a perfect, all-American banana cream pie for Independence Day! Marly’s vegan version looks amazing.
1. The New York Times reports on the growth of Charley—now seventeen months old—who had a groundbreaking surgery in utero to correct spina bifida. Harrowing and inspiring.
2. Hypercholesterolemia, or clinically high levels of blood serum cholesterol, are improving but still far from ideal among American kids and teens. I like RD Keri Gans’ tips for prevention, which include increasing fiber, focusing on whole grains, and limiting fatty foods. To her suggestions for boosting omega-3 fatty acid intake, I’d offer a focus on chia, flax, hemp, walnuts, soy, and vegan DHA/EPA supplements.
3. I’m a big believer that all emotions, even those that feel most threatening, have something to teach us. I appreciate Amanda Mull’s reporting on their importance and validity.
4. Until I read this article I hadn’t given enough thought to the need for low-cost care for companion animals. I’m glad that New York City’s resources for vulnerable animals is growing.
5. Finally, happy Pride. The celebration in NYC has been inspiring so far. While I was thinking about the Pride March today and its meaning, I stumbled on Eric Kim’s article for Food52 about coming out to his parents. Kimchi fried rice plays a pivotal role in the family’s shared story—Kim is Korean American—and his compassion shines through every word.
In the spirit of compassion, connection, and celebration of who we are, happy Sunday, friends. I’ll be looping back soon with a new summer salad recipe.
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