4 gifts to love

Today’s inane images of the day will be scattered throughout the post.

With the holiday season in full swing [a claustrophobic experience I endured when I was coerced to “pick something up” for my family on Black Friday], I thought I’d share some of the gifts I’ve come to appreciate and some personal anecdotes to go along with each.

1. Blue Light & Wake Up Alarm Clock

A blue light to chase away the winter blues.

My first and foremost recommendation are these lights [especially for trainees in Northern states where old, mushy, dirty snow tends to accumulate sometime in January and makes the winter landscape that much more depressing]. Why? Because, I kid you not, they have changed my life.

I always suspected that I had seasonal affective disorder – while I always looked forward to the magical illumination of the landscape against a cloud of fresh, powdery snow, I also dreaded how moody and unproductive the changing seasons seemed to make me. Each winter, as the sun peeked through the sky later and later in the morning and disappeared too-quickly below the horizon each evening, I often found myself checking off enough criteria to fulfill a diagnosis of atypical depression. It was frustrating for me and everyone close to me.

Finally, sometime in my preclinical years, I gave in and decided to give light therapy a try with a blue light. I was skeptical – there was no way sitting next to some blinding blue LED lights each day would magically cure me! After all, I had suffered through many winters with this affliction… there was no way the answer could be so simple! Yet, as the days went by, I started to notice little things. I could convince myself to study a little longer under the intense beam of light. The mornings didn’t feel as painful and I found myself savoring my coffee as I reviewed slides or browsed my favorite blogs. At the end of the season, I could look back and see that things were just ever so slightly better and that was enough for me.

[As a medical professional, I am not recommending that anyone forego formal treatment for psychiatric illnesses – I am just sharing my personal experience with a very mild form of atypical depression. This anecdote is not meant to be medical advice.]

Now I really cannot ignore my alarm clock in the morning…

Then Step 1 studying time came and I had a plan to wake up at the ungodly hour of 5AM. The actual waking up at an early hour wasn’t difficult, it was that the sun hadn’t risen yet and being cozily wrapped up in my comforter in my dark bedroom was just so much more appealing than opening First Aid for the millionth time. So, my logical brain [and Amazon’s ridiculously good marketing skills] decided that an alarm clock that would illuminate the room might solve the problem! And it did. I cannot even count the number of times that this clock has coaxed me out of bed at ridiculous hours [i.e. general surgery rounds… ugh]. During residency, it really has been a lifesaver – by the end of my third inpatient month, I didn’t think anything would convince me to get out of bed but this alarm clock has. When you’ve gone an entire month without really seeing the sun, you start to appreciate the little things in life – like a fake sunrise with the pleasantly animated sound of birds chirping [yes, this is one of the preset alarm clock sounds].

2. Conversation

Some of the greatest gifts I’ve received have not been tangible. They have been thoughtful, engaging, emotional and philosophical conversations with my family and friends. I love learning about life experiences, lessons and ideals. Being able to express the highs and lows of my day or week or month is cathartic. Getting sage advice about moving on from my relationship. Sharing my concerns about moving to a new city [ugh… don’t get me started about trying to find an apartment in my price range], starting at a new program [Ranked #1 by U.S. News and World for 2015-2016? Oh, that’s not intimidating at all for me…/sarcasm], and the future in general [though, I’ve been getting better at relishing in the present].

3. Books

This image makes me giddy. I love books.

Most of the books I’ve read lately have been gifts I spoiled myself with [or borrowing from a friend or library has made possible]. I’ve noticed that over the last decade, my reading interests have shifted – although I loved reading in high school, I always gravitated toward fiction. There’s something about being an adolescent and wanting to be transported to a whole new world. Now, I’m finding that most of my selections are nonfiction. Some of the most recent books I’ve finished include: Susan Cain’s “Quiet,” Pauline Chen’s “Final Exam,” and Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” I’m working on Steven Brill’s “America’s Bitter Pill,” Oliver Sacks’ “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” and Sherwin Nuland’s “How We Die.”

4. Amazon.com

This pile of boxes is literally what greets you at my front door. I kid you not.

It’d be really cool if someone could straight up buy Amazon because it appears to have every material object any human being could want or need [does anyone have $250 billion handy? I promise it’d be a great investment!]. However, I was thinking more modestly – like Amazon Prime [$99/year]. I cannot tell you how many times the 2-day shipping saved me when I realized I should’ve picked up a study resource weeks prior or how much gas I’ve saved by never having to leave my house! If you ever went to an institution that lets you keep your email address forever [thanks, Bard College and University of Michigan], you’re still eligible for the Student [$49/year] rate.

Residency training [i.e. sitting hunched over a keyboard with my eyes glazed over because I’ve been staring at a computer screen for more than 50% of my never-ending shift] has made it harder and harder to make time to read fun books [more on those below], so I tried audiobooks. My first one was Oprah’s What I Know For Sure – it’s amazing how much more depth is added when an author narrates her own book. Or maybe it was just timing [I listened to the entire book in a 2-day period when I was down about the end of my relationship]. Either way, I’ve now unlocked a way to be more worldly without having to cause worsening myopia!

What gifts do you love? Is there something I should treat myself to holiday season?

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