I can tell that I’ve been slipping, especially over the last few months. Slipping into a person that I no longer recognize, and a person that I never wanted to become. Veterinary school changes a person; some for the good, some for the bad.
For most who know me well, I’m usually sort of an enigma to pin down. I tend to keep people at arms length, generally to keep others in a zone that I’m generally harmless if you don’t really care for me to be around but not someone you immediately think of to spend time with. I don’t particularly care if others like me or not, but investing myself in someone makes me nervous. Those that I call my friends (I don’t throw that term around loosely), I’m genuinely dedicated to being the kind of person you can call at 3 AM broken down on the side of a road and needing help and know that I’ll show up with a flashlight and tools as soon as I can. My friends mean a lot to me, and I’m very protective of them. I keep my problems to myself rather than look to others for advice or airing grievances – not because I wouldn’t love the opportunity for either, but that I don’t want to trouble anyone else with my own problems. The kicker to contrast my alter ego? I’m shy. Incredibly, incredibly shy. I have a hard time connecting with others because I play out conversations I would have with people I’d like to get to know, imagine the worst, and end up keeping quiet and reserved.
The problem is, that veterinary school has been so taxing that I’m realizing that I’ve lost a lot of the person I’ve always identified with. Like a river eroding away the earth beneath it, the stress has been ever-so-slowly carrying pieces of the true me downstream with it and leaving behind the qualities I despise. What once was my mask has become seemingly what is left of who I am.
Every so often, flashes of my true self come back when the stress alleviates and I get some clarity of what I have become – almost in a way like an epiphany. Today I spent the afternoon building a coffee table. I love woodworking, even though I’m terrible at it. When I was growing up my dad and grandfather were always so handy (okay, so mostly my grandfather…) with carpentry, and I remember many projects helping them. Today, kneeling in a friends garage measuring out the board lengths I needed and marking them off with a tape measure, using a square to make a level line, running a circular saw, and smelling the fresh cut cedar snapped me out of the fog I had been in for so long – that this was a part of me I had been missing. Getting a chance to work with my hands and see the finished product, using what I had learned from watching my family intently all brought back memories of my beloved cabin we had worked so hard on, a place that I haven’t been able to visit in over two years and is one of my favorite places in the world.
While to some this could have caused an even deeper slip – to realize how long it’s been since I’ve been up to the mountains, fished in a clear stream for native brook trout, seen my family… – but for me it was a reminder that not all of me is lost. It is encouraging that small things can pull me back into a world that I want to be a part of again, and that although veterinary school seems to erode away and alter me, it can never really take away who I am. And that gives me hope.