Sunday, May 2, 2010

Whiney Reflections: A Pit Stop

Have you read “The Little Engine That Could,” by Watty Piper? After confronting skeptics, overcoming self-doubt, and a long, hard journey, the Little Engine successfully pulls the train cars over the mountain to the good little boys and girls on the other side, who, thanks to his perseverance, will have toys to play with and good food to eat. The story concludes, “And the Little Blue Engine smiled and seemed to say as she puffed steadily down the mountain. ‘I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could...’”

Next month, John finishes up his residency. Sort of. I mean, he still has four more years of training, but officially, the residency portion will be complete. Someone asked me today how long his schooling and training will take him, starting with high school graduation. Funny, but I’d never added it up before: 16 years (not including the two years he worked before starting med school).

When we got engaged and people heard John wanted to be a doctor (we were both still in the process of finishing up our undergraduate degrees) a frequent comment was, “You know, you have a long road ahead of you.” At the time, I didn’t know what that meant, emotionally or physically. I had no idea that meant 16 years.

So far, its been 12. People were right: the road has been long. Most of the time I haven’t complained. The medical labyrinth of school, training, fees, debt, exams, travelling (or staying home while someone else does the travelling), sleep deprivation, and lonely times is a path we chose for ourselves, hoping it would be worth it in the end. I’ve worked hard to both survive and even find joy in the journey. I’ve kept my eye on the prize, and focused on my blessings. I’ve mostly succeeded. Until now.

The past four months have been especially grueling. It has been intense and exhausting and downright horrible. I’ll spare you the details; I’m really not hosting a pity party – just sharing my thoughts as I struggle to understand them. We all have our trials and coping mechanisms. Suffice it to say, lately, I think I’ve reached far closer to the end of my limits than in the past – which brings me back to our Blue Engine Friend.

I’ve always loved the message of the story – persevere to the end, no matter how hard the journey, and you WILL make it, and will bless the lives of so many people along the way! I’ve desired and happily anticipated the sense of accomplishment the Engine exhibits as it puffs happily home, “I thought I could…”

So, here I am – admittedly not at the end, but I told myself it would be okay, and I could consider it a pretty great “rest stop” if I could just make it to April 29, when John’s schedule would change drastically and things would get better. They have. We’ve seen John. Today he folded laundry. Yesterday he cheered the girls at their soccer games. On Friday we barbequed as a family in the backyard. Its been great. But I don’t feel like the Little Engine. I feel horrible.

My stomach aches and I feel nauseated. I’m soooo tired. I am exceedingly emotional and I’m snappy. I am not chugging down the mountain, pleased with my milestone. Rather, I’m looking for a cave, and sobbing because I can’t find it fast enough. What’s wrong with me? (no - I'm NOT pregnant). I am supposed to be a happy blue train!

This is the part where I tell you my epiphany and you are impressed with my insight.

(Insert wisdom here).

Maybe it’ll be better once residency actually ends next month, or maybe it’ll be better once he finally finishes all his training, or maybe – I don’t finish the race well. I set out strong, and work and sweat, and grind my teeth through all kinds of CRAP – and then quit. That’s my fear. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Is it possible that I get just to the edge of the top of the mountain, see the waiting boys and girls at the end, and then lie down? Am I – gasp – a quitter? Surely the Little Engine chugged the last ¼ mile. Why can’t I?

A friend today suggested that she thinks Heavenly Father supports and compensates for when we truly can’t walk it alone – and then sets us down to walk alongside us once we are ready again. Um, hello – do I look ready?? (I’ll answer that, just in case you’re not sure – NO).

…but I think she might be right. I’ve had the strength when it felt like it all depended on me. And now, I have a partner again (at least sometimes, anyway) and the Lord is graciously allowing us relearn to collaborate, parent, communicate, and live together. He’s still there, but expects us now to reclaim our strength as a team. Don’t get me wrong – I know we still need, and can rely on, the hand of the Lord in our lives – but he gave us each other for a reason, and he’s now giving me the “space” now to utilize that gift.

Hmmm…gotta think that one over. I’d still rather bury my head in a dark hole than face the future right now, no matter how brightly it might be shining. Because the truth of the matter is that I still have to walk by faith, and faith is hard. Faith that it’ll get better, that this road we’ve chosen is worth it, and that I have the strength to complete the journey. I’m not always sure about any of that, especially now when I’m so - …tired. I’m surrounded by women facing far greater struggles than I. I admire and love women who serve amidst trial and fatigue. Why can’t I?

I’m not the Little Engine. I’m just me, doing the best I can – and sometimes, that’s not so very good. I can “should” on myself all day long about how I should be and should feel, but the reality is that sometimes, it’s just plain hard, and I’m not as strong as I’d like (insert growl here). I guess I’m at a rest area after all – and who likes rest stops? Seriously? No matter how clean and fresh the toilets appear, they’re just somewhere to stretch our legs, make sure we’re on the right track, assess and meet everyone’s personal needs – and then hit the road again, full speed ahead.

Will you think I’m a whiner if I tell you that today I think I hate this road?

Thanks, I appreciate that. I’ll be better tomorrow.


  1. I get it. You're doing better than you currently feel you are. Residency is incredibly intense and difficult on so many, many levels, and for every member of the family.
    Give yourself permission to take the time you need to regain your speed. And, for Heaven's sake, get yourself some chocolate at that rest stop!

  2. Please understand... you are allowed to feel worn out, frustrated, depressed, exhausted and in need of a rest stop. Rest stops are a necessary part of the journey. (Think of how awful a long road trip is without that break for potties and stretching legs- we may not enjoy them as much as our destination, but they sure can be a welcome respite!!) You are so hard on yourself, when everyone around you is just in awe of how incredible you are.
    Obviously I'm not able to really comprehend what you've been through and will continue to endure, but I do know that you are an incredible woman. You don't have to be wonder woman, you don't have to be perfect... just be YOU. Really, you are good enough just the way you are. (And your "good enough" is far above what many of us are still reaching for!!)
    I hope I'm not sounding preachy... I care about you and want to see you happily reach the other side of your mountain, without being so worn out that you're out of service for months for repairs!

  3. Bless you Erin! I feel so bad for not knowing that you have been going through the worst of it lately. In Sharing Time yesterday, we talked about Faith. I used a barbel (sp?) for my analogy. I added lots of things that are hard to do (resistence) as weights and had to keep pumping the weight so that I could get stronger or maintain my strength. Even though we can't see the end, we hope for it because we KNOW it's there!
    You go girl...keep pumping (or chugging)!
    I am already regretting the day that you will pack up your train and hit the tracks out of Fairfield. [sniffle]

  4. Thanks for you post Erin! You have always been such an example to me and I think you deserve any kind of rest stop you want! Congratulations for coming this far. I know you can make it the rest of the way. I'm cheering hard for you. Don't ever forget that you have done so much good and accomplished so much in all those years, too. Hang in there! Sure wish we could go to lunch!:)

  5. To continue the theme, a wise old man once said, "Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around and shouting that he has been robbed. The fact of the matter is that most putts don't drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to be just people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is like an old time rail journey...delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride."-President Gordon B. Hinckley

    I'm so sorry to tell you this but you're normal. I'm pretty normal too. And unfortunately that means we have to feel our emotions sometimes. To tell you the truth I don't want to be normal. I want to be Wonder Woman. But I'm not.
    The hardest time in my life was during medical school. I tried so hard to not feel how hard it was and to get through it. Only recently have I begun to let myself grieve how hard it was. I knew then as I know now how important our friendship was. I remember the day I saw you for the first time. It was at an enrichment and you were sitting in white capri pants, a white Mexican style shirt with a little white bow in your hair (a tiny bit was pulled back in a braid). Rachael was at your feet and was darling with chubby round cheeks. I could tell she was Meredith's age and I saw a friend. I don't know what happened exactly after that but I probably forced you to sew a quilt or something and the rest was history. You helped me through a difficult time and maybe you knew it but maybe you didn't. All I know is that I thank the Lord often that He put great friends in my life that I feel I will have forever.
    When times get tough, just remember that the Lord knows you can handle it or he wouldn't give you the challenge. You're growing and growing hurts sometimes.
    I love you, Erin!

  6. I love that quote by Pres Hinckley!

    Erin, thank you so much for sharing this. You have expressed how I so often feel and don't know how to put into words.

    We each have our difficult journeys. For you, it's med school. For others, it is health issues or job loss or moving or loneliness or a myriad of other situations that are a part of mortal life.

    All I can say is do not give up. Take your pit stop, rest a while, catch your breath. And then keep chugging along.

    And when we all reach the valley, let's throw a huge celebration party!

  7. Funny. I look at the little engine book from a different perspective. I see it as the toys who ask train after train to help them and although they get discouraged they keep asking for help. It's nice that the blue engine is willing to try so hard and help, but really the kudos go to the toys who never gave up on finding a way over the mountain.

    Blah blah blah. I don't do philosophy. Let's go roller blading.

  8. I have quoted you to myself often in the last 11 years to not "should" myself. It makes me smile when I feel like I've been failing. So, thank-you for that lovely phrase.

    And, I don't know much about medical school horrors, but when Tyler took his first break from traveling, I had a hard time with I mean I had a hard time with it for a year. Then I got used to not being the boss all the time. And now he travels again. Asi es...

  9. I say switch your analogy of the book to the one your friend uses by using the toys as examples. I for one, am willing to help you reach the peak of the mountain you are climbing. (and I know of many others as well)Just ask!
    Hang in there!

  10. I love how amongst your obvious frustration and pain you are going through you are still so funny. I'm convinced that if we had the autobiography of the little train that we then would see that in fact he had all these same emotions you expressed along his way. We just get the kid version of just keep trying and you will succeed. I know you will succeed, you will make it and then you can have a book about you that people will read and wish they could be just like you!! You are awesome!!

  11. Ah Erin, I love your posts. You have such an amazing way with words and conveying things, I wish I were as eloquent.

    Mostly I just have to say, I'm right there with you. Luckily, my journey (as far as residency goes) is FINALLY approaching the end. Only instead of being a train, I feel like I've been pushing the train through the muck to the other side of the mountain. And sometimes, no matter how hard I try I can't keep the muck off and maintain a joyful attitude during the journey.

    The comparison of the toilet break made me laugh, now I realize why Jake spends so much time in the toilet every day...poor guy needs more rest stops too.

    I'll send you my prayers and hope that the track levels out more in the next four years for you, or you're blessed with helpful toys. Love you!