A Doctor Reflects on the Past 2 Years, Looks Ahead to 2022

Sophia O. Tolliver, MD

January 04, 2022

My friends will tell you that I am the consummate optimist, always looking to the future, hopeful on a bad day. These last 2 years have pulled and grappled with that positivity in so many ways. 

At the end of many days, I'm left wondering: How did I become stretched so thin? Being a wife, mother, sister, aunt, friend, where possibly could the role of physician fit into that mix? On the other hand, did I sacrifice parts of the former to maintain the latter? 

And in the end, has it been worth it?

Here are three things that I have learned over the last 2 years:

Identify the non-negotiables. There's nothing like being pushed to the brink of physical and mental well-being to help you realize what's most important in life. Life, unchecked, will push us far beyond what we are sometimes able to bear. 

This pandemic has pushed many personal and professional boundaries for me. Some good, some less than. To reset from all the madness, I depend on the weekends to unwind and regroup. Time dedicated completely to nothing yields intangible mental dividends that pay in the best way: clarity, well-being, and thoughtfulness. 

It's okay to fall off the tightrope. A wise person once told me there is no such thing as balance. Balance enforces that all things are given equal rank and time. This is simply not true and never will be for us busy professionals. 

Rather, focusing on prioritizing what's important from day to day is a better equation. Some days, my kid gets all the attention, charting and notes be damned. Other days, charting might win out. But overall, focusing on what needs the most attention in the moment has helped me to stay afloat often. 

One decision, one day at a time. This is the mantra that I repeat day after day, patient after patient. We are all multitaskers at heart and are good at it most of the time. In the grand scheme of things, a decision to choose happiness and peace at the beginning of each day can set the intention and tone for the rest of the day. I try to choose peace daily, and this has made all the difference.

With these lessons learned, here's what I'm looking forward to in 2022:

Continuing to be grateful and thankful. For me, one of the quickest ways to change the tone of negative thoughts in my head is to intentionally focus on what I am thankful and grateful for. I often cannot change the chaos around me, but I can change the way that I perceive and interpret my reality. 

My environment may never change, but believing that positivity is a force multiplier has changed me and the situations around me many times. 

Reexamining relationships. Depending on how you look at it, for some, the pandemic either stole time away from family and friends or provided the isolation or solace necessary to examine those relationships. The introvert inside jumped for pure joy knowing I could work from home, hunker down into daily pajamas, and take extended naps during lunch. My husband and I ate dinner together more often and had longer conversations. It was nice. 

The extrovert inside maybe enjoyed it at first but slowly became stir crazy and lamented events, concerts, and brunches of times past that were now few and far between. I was forced to create a good time DIY style, and I ended up having a really great time in my lockdown adventures. 

Living In the moment. Time never stands still — but we can. We were not meant to move every second of the day with our planners bursting at the seams with meetings and obligations. 

If we must schedule every second of the waking day, I want to include time to breathe, read, and connect. Sometimes when I am playing with my daughter, there is so much on my mind that I am thinking about that she could care less about. If it's not Elmo or Moana, she places no importance on the matter. LOL. 

She may be on to something. I must remind myself to focus on the moment in front of me. She is growing up so fast, and I don't want to miss anything. When I think too far ahead, I can become anxious about that which is due or not done. Intentionally, I will choose to embrace the presence of the moment, especially when I am with her.

In the end, when it's all said and done, no one wishes they would have taken another meeting or written another report. Time with those who love you, accomplishing a dream, reveling in the small joys of the day — those are what we will remember. 

"New Year, new me" is a popular quip often spoken this time of year. I say although we enter a new year, I'm working toward bettering the same me. My intentions for peace and joy, growth, and reflection I submit to the New Year. With this strong foundation, I know that 2022 and the sacrifices and struggles we endure will be worth it. 

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Sophia O. Tolliver, MD, MPH, FAAFP, is a family medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio.

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