Glaciers of Gratitude

Our foray around Iceland came at a very pivotal time for Whitney and me. It signaled the end of our first year of internal medicine residency, the last glance at our intern year which was arguably the worst work-life balance time of our lives. It also served as the bridge between intern year and the life of a senior resident; the former who is not expected to run the show and always has an upper level for back up, and the latter who is supposed to do all of the above. It is a terrifying transition, where the level of stress on a day to day basis may be amped up with the new responsibilities, but is also a passage to better work hours and fewer minute daily tasks. The trip was a reward of sorts for our accomplishment. And finally, we managed to not forebode throughout our week of vacation and truly enjoy the fleeting moments of travel.

Throughout the week, Whitney read passages from one of our favorite books, Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly”. We both read it last year while trekking in Nepal, yet felt that the gravity of the subject matter desired revisiting. She addresses so many important topics, but a few rang close to the heart.

Over the last year, with the at times mind numbing and time consuming tasks of note writing, seeing patients, rounding, etc, I noticed burn out creeping up over my shoulder. I’ve discussed this before in prior posts, so I won’t revisit it again, but that sense of burn out smoldering left little room for empathy or gratitude. Anger quickly bubbled up, depression easily settled in, and my overall life felt clouded by negativity. As the year came to a close, positivity began to shine its rays throughout my daily life and I embraced joy in small outlets of creativity once again. Brene Brown’s words struck a chord as I reminisced on the roller coaster ride of emotion over the last year. “We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions… Numb the dark and you numb the light.” Numbness and an overall emptiness of feeling pervaded my daily thoughts as I gave up on battling the lack of control and succumbed to apathy. Although the frustration and despondency seemed farther away, behind a curtain and too far to harm, the joy, love, and compassion were pulled behind that curtain as well, leaving only a vacancy of feeling. We must embrace the dark; because only truly bearing witness to the depths of the shadows will we appreciate the magnificence of illuminating light.

The awe inspiring Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon was by far the highlight of the Ring Road drive around Iceland’s perimeter. The lagoon is the deepest lake in Iceland and flows out to the ocean, carrying monstrous icebergs out to sea. The bits of ice are chips off the large Vatnajökull Glacier. The ice was truly glacial blue, no photo editing needed. The moment we rounded the bend to see the tips of these beauties peeking through the water’s surface, I literally began jumping for joy in my seat, with a giant smile plastered on my face. The overwhelming sense of disbelief to witness something so breathtaking and the sense of gratitude that accompanied it broke through my blanket of numbness, allowing elation and bliss to shine through. That moment was as pivotal for my psyche as the second I stepped out of the hospital doors on my last day of intern year.

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