#MedCanes Chronicles: Ugly Feelings from a Jellyfish

“#MedCanes Chronicles” offers first-person perspectives into the lives of medical students on their journey to becoming health care leaders. The series delves into the personal narratives of these aspiring doctors and scientists, shedding light on their struggles, triumphs and the resilience that propels them forward.

Stephanie Cedeño, M.D., chief resident, Med-Peds Program at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine/Jackson Health System

Miller School of Medicine medical student Stephanie Cedeño.
Dr. Cedeño has found that, as her medical career has progressed, she has difficulty communicating with family members she has known and loved her entire life.

I fluently speak 2 languages. I even speak a little of a third, but I don’t advertise that too often.

I grew up in a close-knit Latin community with an even closer family. Despite being perpetually surrounded with people I love and speaking with them on a daily basis through many different modalities and languages, something has changed.

I am convinced that at some point in my training my arms became gelatinous tentacles with microscopic stingers. My face blurred into a soft, translucent dome, one day splitting into two and completing the final, fantastic process.

In a matter of several years, the skills I possessed of communication with those who raised me have vanished. It began with some soft pauses and slightly awkward moments and ballooned into (shamefully) avoiding some conversations for the sake of maintaining a peaceful dinner.

My lifelong friends—my absolute best friends—who are not involved in medicine are likely some form of aquatic creature, too, as conversations with them have only gotten easier with each passing year. Our life experiences, maturity-levels, and everything else may be polar opposite, but speaking with and comforting each other through it all has never been an issue.

My experience with my family, however, is not something I speak about often because it is both strange and difficult to admit. Honestly, it really hurts. Talking about my mental health, or any aspect of my health, really, is grounds for discussing instead of comforting. From the day I entered medical school, the texts and calls I received carried a different tone.

Initially, the questions seemed to seek my valued opinion. Then, it became apparent that a specific response was being sought, a specific opinion they wanted to hear from me. To paint a picture, imagine you receive a call from a family member asking what you think about their insulin use. You discuss with them their diet, exercise, and long history of insulin use, only to eventually have them insist they don’t truly believe they need insulin. Namely, because medications are poison anyways, and they just need to exercise more. They end each sentence with, “…you know this is true, right? I’m doing the right thing, right?”

Dr. Cedeño (far right) with her residents on Halloween.

You’re backed into a corner, and now you have to break it to them that their A1C of 13 is going to need a bit more help. As if by magic, you’re suddenly the cold doctor who doesn’t believe in them, is being too harsh, and shouldn’t be involved. The terminal damage on your relationship with them is now palpable.

You ask, “What did I do wrong?” I’m one of the first medical professionals in the family, with a career in two specialties, but I haven’t been able to shake off the feeling of being a black sheep. I thought I was doing “good” but my version of “good” never involved feeling so isolated

I have a good support system and manage my health as appropriately as a resident could. I am trying so hard for a simple goal: happy and healthy. This goal I aim for with all my patients haunts me as just out of reach for myself.

This is not my 24/7 state-of-being. This is, however, a reflection on the isolation professionals may feel when they reflect on the life they had lived compared to the life they now live. The way my mind ruminates on certain patients at night or how some encounters bring me to joyful tears in the hospital hallways do not entirely translate over in words. The love, anger, and outright depression I feel for complete strangers is understood without question by my colleagues. We all shed similar blood, sweat, and tears.

Be it Spanish, English or bubbles from a jellyfish, there’s a language I’ve lost with some people I love. It permeates my holidays, birthdays and simple Sunday gatherings. I feel the love and respect from my family for what I have been able to achieve with their support, just at an arms distance.

Feelings of isolation, depression, guilt, and even anger are my own ugly feelings. Feelings that seemingly came as a consequence of my achievements. I can’t talk about it daily, and attempts to talk about it with my nuclear family have failed several times over. This ugliness is real, and despite its crude nature, I am not ashamed. I know I shouldn’t let some of these feelings seep into how I perceive myself, but pretending I don’t have these thoughts at all only causes more harm.

As I process my internal dichotomy of these difficult emotions towards and my sheer, unconditional love for the very same people, I must emphasize that I don’t think of myself as a bad person. I also don’t think my ugliness is unique at all.

So to all children of immigrants, for those with blended families, for the first medical professionals in their home, for any and every single human who can relate: We are still beautiful, even when we feel so freaking ugly.


The Friendly Two-Headed Jellyfish

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Tags: #MedCanes Ambassadors, MedCanes Chronicles, medical students, Miller School of Medicine