Living by default

By Sarah Jaboury

‘I refuse to bend.’

Not sure if you’ve heard that phrase before, but I certainly have; and although a little pretentious, I feel that it’s nevertheless a good way to describe the quality of resilience. In a profession like ours, resilience is not just important, it is ever so necessary to our survival.

Being a medical student was never the main stressor or source of pain in my life; I’m a bit atypical in that I have always used it almost like a coping strategy, to feel control amidst overwhelming loss. To clutch at a sense of drive and purpose when, to be raw, I used to and occasionally still feel that outside of medicine, I was empty. But I’m waking up now; I’m realising that I can’t rely on that alone as a crutch forever. It’s not good enough. It’ll never be good enough, and I’ll never be satisfied just on that.

I think that’s part of the reason so many people around me, the people of our time, are so fucked up. We’ll never – we can’t be satisfied. The typical type A medical student personality is just an overt phenotype of how lost our generation is. Be more, do more, so you can be better, and have a better life – this is the message constantly shoved down our throats, not just by the media, but by every single person around us, including the endlessness of our own thoughts.

It’s a classic case of the chicken and the egg – is it that being pushed to continuously improve our lives creates the sense of not being or having ‘enough’, or is it that our feelings of deep dissatisfaction with our lives are what drives us to constantly, desperately search for ways to ‘fix’ them? Or is it that we lack resilience? Where does resilience come from?

The answer is the only thing I know and feel with certainty, and that is that it is a choice.

You choose what you can survive. You choose what you can come back from. It might be an easy choice or a hard one, depending on what challenges or losses you experience, and the time you have to adapt, but at the end of the day it is entirely, and wholeheartedly, a choice.

I want to take this second to make clear that this does not mean that if someone has given up, then they are weak, or selfish, or lack mental strength. Essentially, what I’m proposing is a hack – a ‘cheat’.

There is no such thing as ‘strength’ – there is, however, a will to fight for your life. Almost like stubbornness – a refusal to bend, and a decision made based on that to continue, unconditionally. Something that I’ve trained to be a reflex— living by default.

And I’ve not just been living, but highly performing. It’s so much easier to do when there’s no fear of failure, but instead the knowledge that no matter what happens to me, so long as I still have the air in my lungs and the blood in my heart, I can choose to, and therefore I can, survive. It may sound like a miserable, zombie-like existence, but I’ve found that when I abandon searching for meaning, I am the most likely to find it in the most unexpected of places. And at the end of the day, I’ve survived. It’s a win.

Living by default means that even when you’re lost and confused, when everything is up in the air and you are at your God’s end for why you are even doing this anymore, and why are you trying, and what is the point of all your effort and all your suffering and the sleepless nights and it’s not even good enough, it’ll never be enough you’re not HAPPY it’s not working—

STOP. Stop thinking.

Just continue.

Just keep breathing. Keep doing. Go to sleep and wake up and keep going.

Fight for the sake of fighting. If you can simply continue, it’s a win. No matter what happens, the earth will keep spinning, the planets turning, and humanity will always have something inherently beautiful and worthwhile in it, for as long as we survive. It’s in there, it’s just a puzzle, and it’s subtle, and despite what you’ve been told there’s no sure-fire way to find it and hold it down.

Don’t listen to what anyone else tells you to do. Your only job is to survive. Do what you need to, be kind to yourself, and know that you’re doing all you can, and that’s enough.

And if you ever feel lost, just breathe, sleep and repeat – and you’ll be okay.

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