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What If?

I am a self-confessed day dreamer, doodler, and resident of my own fantasy. I live in my head and play out all my thoughts and dreams. However, I rarely ever do what I think of.

Many of us play the “what if” game. What if I decided to major in Russian in undergrad? What if I quit my job right now? What if, oh what if.

In addition to living in the clouds, I am a medical student. This identity takes up and occupies the majority of my brainspace. Transitioning between undergrad to medical school was, in all honesty, awful. So I didn’t major in Russian like my heart wanted, and instead I chose microbiology. I thought I was ready for the leap in learning, and, long story short, I wasn’t.

School metastasized into my life. It became a vicious cycle of trying to understand the lecture material, cramming the previous day’s work, and losing sleep between the two. I kept losing pieces of myself while ineffectively gaining the knowledge I needed to pass exams.

What if I worked just a little bit harder?

This cycle continued well past the first semester and by then most of my actions were fueled by stress and coffee. I was beginning to wonder if I had made the right decision to come to medical school. Something had to give.

And it did.

I got really sick, I have to acknowledge that it was flu/cold season, so maybe it was inevitable, but I think stress tripped me up. Something got a hold of my tonsils and they swelled. It became so bad that I was having trouble breathing. Reluctantly, I went to my doctor, who took one look in my mouth and told me to head straight to the ER.

What if I was more careful with my health?

In the ER, I was admitted and kept for a week as they eventually removed my tonsils. Being cooped up in a hospital is no fun, and an important perspective for a future clinician. However, I gained one thing I didn’t have much of before: time.

In the hospital, I didn’t have my laptop and definitely couldn’t go to class. I picked up a book that was hidden at the bottom of the duffel bag I thought to bring before being admitted. The book was devoured, my brain was starving for anything non-science related.

I remembered that I liked to read.

What if I had more books?

Over the week stay, I found some of the missing pieces again. I started drawing again and I kept up with the news. On discharge, I was a little sad to go back to “real life.”

What if it didn’t have to be this way?

It didn’t at all. I tried out something radical, ok med student radical, scheduling time for myself. Some of the “what ifs” became “what nexts.” It took a little while, but I had a more manageable routine. Engaging myself in things other than school even helped me like school a lot more.

For anyone who feels like they are stuck, here are some what ifs to help you find yourself again:

  1. What if I just need more time to adjust? You probably do, but don’t ignore how something makes you feel. If going to work gives you anxiety or unease, acknowledge it, take note of why that happens, and see if the feeling changes.

  2. What if I don’t have time for myself? Everyone has the time for the things they prioritize. For me, I wasn’t prioritizing my needs. Now I schedule chunks of time for myself to write, read, or go to the gym. Give your own needs the same importance as your must-dos.

  3. What if I work harder? You know your own limits and your goals. Make sure they line up.

  4. What if I’m not where I want to be? Having a goals list and revisiting it often will help you either realize why you are in the field/job you are or it will give you the reasons why you should make a career change.

Keep asking and answering your what ifs.


By: Aanika Balaji

I enjoy life as a medical student, amateur artist & writer, dog walker, and casual global traveller. Either going solo, with friends, at homestays, or volunteering abroad, travelling has taught me a new way to view and perceive the world. My goal is to be an oncologist who is lucky enough to spend part of her career working abroad.

Keep up with me on my blog Travelling Cactus, Instagram and read more about my adventures on Pink Pangea!

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