Wednesday, November 21, 2012

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

I attended a boarding school for one year in high school. A fancy, smaschy boarding school with a real live princess in the student body. It was a nice joint. Of course I hated it. I was 16, tortured, hormonal, and the hottest mess you had ever seen. I imagine that my insides looked a lot like a flaming, jiggly, red hot pile of jello at that time. Adolescence was an interesting time for me.

A few months before I left the school my drama teacher pulled me aside and said, "I think you're making a mistake leaving. You could be a big fish in a small pond here." I looked at her with my hard little 16 year old heart and said, "I don't care. I'm leaving." I just didn't give a shit. I was arrogant and I was used to being a big fish. I was used to being a top dog. I thought I would always have that.

I used to be a big fish who jumped from small pond to pond. I was smart, I seemed older than my years, and I was talented. I thought that those things would be with me forever so I took them for granted and I didn't feed them. I let them waste away.

Four years ago I started acupuncture school. Four years ago I learned that if you don't feed your brain it withers. Four years ago it dawned on me that, holy shit, I was going to have to work hard to make it through school. I looked around my classroom at the geniuses and I thought, "I am a small fish. I am a small fish in a big ocean of big ole' fish." And then I started repeating Dory's mantra from Finding Nemo, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming." and I got through the first 3 years of school.

My school is 3 hours away from where I live, so I pack my ass up and head down there for 5 days once a month. While I'm there I stay in a boarding house with other students. I am immersed in school while I'm there. No distractions, no breaks. There have been so many classes, not to mention just dinner conversations, that I sit around and listen to like this:

Physics, biology, and philosophy of life swirl in the air around me as my classmates dissect the meaning of it all and I sit with my atrophied brain, amazed that I am even allowed to eat pancakes with these folks let alone work side by side with them. I'm always worried that someone will find out that I am an impostor, that truly, I should not be sitting around listening to any of this. I am Oz behind the curtain. A flick of the wrist will expose that my intelligence is less than average, my brain a mere pea rattling loosely in my skull. My classmates will find out that while they are using all those big words, and fancy theories I am thinking about how much I like cake, and the fact that my underwear is riding up my ass.
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This August I headed down to school for my first week of internship in my school's acupuncture clinic. On the way I said to myself, "This year my challenge is going to be self-confidence. I have got to have faith in myself." I have heard that humility is accepting who you really are. No better, no worse, just a balanced idea of your true self. That's hard for a woman who internally swings from goddess to gargoyle in a millisecond multiple times throughout a day.

My first day in the clinic I realized that, yes, I actually did retain some of that information from my three years in school. I understand what I am doing when I treat a patient. Kind of. I heard the other interns discussing treatments and mapping out acupuncture points and I thought, holy shit, I do not follow that vein of reasoning. Actually, that vein of reasoning seems like an ocean of knowledge that I only have my toe in. My fellow interns were having these amazing discussions about points and strategies while I was picking my few points and quickly presenting them to the supervisor for approval. I felt like my classmates were painting Monet and I was throwing down the finger paint.  Their treatments were poetic, mine merely points strung together out of a rudimentary understanding of the language of acupuncture. 
My treatment strategy

Over the past four months though, that view of myself has changed, and I have started to find the balance and self-confidence that I was seeking. What is different? My need to compare myself to others and weigh my worth by their standards.

I love the geniuses I practice with. I love the way they practice acupuncture, but I love the way I practice it too. And so do they. Last week while I was at school my friend Pokemama said, "You know, I really like your intuition. You have good intuition when it comes to treatments." And I do. I may not be able to explain the etymology of a spirochete without consulting Wikipedia, but when a woman came to me sobbing because her in vitro fertilization did not work, I knew I needed to give her uterus a break and treat her for a broken heart. I have worked on a woman's low back pain and after the treatment she danced out of the room because her pain was so much better.

But then here's the balance, I gave another student a big ole' bruise on her chin. I treated an intern and he was sick for an hour and 1/2 after. Oops. I'm learning, but my foundation is firm and my intuition is strong.

About 15 years ago I got a call from my roommate from boarding school, "Did you hear that Miss Shannon is on the roof?", she asked.

"Uhhh, what? What in the hell does that mean?" I pictured my teacher from long ago, beautiful, Texas born drama queen literally sitting on her roof. Did she lose her mind?

"She died. She had a heart attack."

"What? She was young! In her forties." Then my former roommate explained that Ms. Shannon had had a heart condition, and while she explained it to me, I felt like I might have a heart condition too, because it hurt so much to hear that someone who had believed in me and cheered for me at my worst had died before I could tell her what a big fish she had been for me. Ms. Shannon had been eaten by a sperm whale in grim reapers clothing. She wasn't on the roof, she was in the belly of the whale and I would never be able to thank her for seeing the potential in me.

When I sit with a patient I am neither goddess or gargoyle, I am just a woman trying to come up with plan to help someone feel better. Neither big fish or small fish. I'm just a fish, just like all the other fish in this great big sea, swimming along, trying to avoid that damn sperm whale who eats us all in the end. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming.....
One fish, two fish, 
be my own fish, 
with these other delish fish, 
We make a gourmet 
sperm whale dish.

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