By: Zoie Sheets
July 27, 2018
Zoie (pictured above) attended a Regional Discernment Retreat. If you would like more information on how you can attend or nominate someone to attend please contact Heather B.P. Wallace.
If I know the change I want to create in the world, I can be anything.
This past year has been a roller coaster of questions, reflection, doubts, and fears.
After spending my whole life thinking I knew what I wanted to be in this world, I decided I had been wrong.
I was not called to a life of practicing medicine. When I made that decision, I voiced it aloud to various groups I belong to, including my campus ministry, which voiced affirmations and support, making me feel secure in my decision.
The next day, I woke up sweating, heart racing, unable to slow my thoughts. I ran to my bathroom and began splashing cool water on my face, trying to calm my body and mind. It had been years since I had a panic attack. But for the next few weeks, I would have up to five panic attacks a day. I sought a “why” for this sudden, vicious return of my anxiety and, weeks into this pattern, realized I had voiced my decision not to practice medicine too soon. I was viscerally reacting to the pressure. I felt stuck with my sudden conviction to not be a doctor, particularly because my decision had received high praise.
Slowly, I began to reintroduce the idea of pursuing medicine into my life but the same questions I wrestled with before were still centered in my mind.
Will practicing medicine let me have the impact I want to have in the world?
As a disabled woman and a disability activist, how do I reconcile the decision to pursue medicine, which is an institution that has historically harmed my community with its erasure of disability identity and culture and its adamant focus on a cure?
When I arrived at FTE’s Regional Discernment Retreat in Minneapolis I had one question on repeat in my mind—medicine or something, anything, else?
Every time it popped up, I tried to press pause—to avoid this anxiety-inducing question. I focused my energy on taking risks and pursuing ministry and leading liturgy in this space. I prayed over our lunch in front of all 80 or so participants, led a vulnerable spiritual practice, and had hard conversations about ableism and my experiences in the church. When the time came for my exploration lab, however, I found myself sitting in a circle with 4 other people looking at me, waiting to hear my story. As the focus turned to me during this clearness committee—a Quaker tradition that allows individuals to ask deep questions alongside a person pondering a life decision or other question—I took a deep breath and let my fear stream out. Now, two months later, I can confidently say this was one of the most transformational experiences of my life—but it did not leave me with an answer—medicine or something, anything, else?
This experience gave me the tools needed to reflect deeply and a sense of comfort in asking huge, life-guiding questions. Through journaling, conversation, and prayer I realized that my frame had to shift. I didn’t need to know what I wanted to be, I needed to know what I wanted to change in this world. What pissed me off? That answer came swiftly and easily—ableism and the exclusion of disabled people. This is the thread that connects all the work I do—in my Master’s program, in my activism, my writing and my ministry, I am focused on ensuring disabled peoples’ experiences are fully recognized, embraced, and shared.
This realization led me to a conclusion and brought me peace in a way the Zoie leaning up against her bathroom, trembling and nauseated, never dreamed possible. If I know the change I want to create in the world, I can be anything. I will pursue medicine. I will not let my fear veer me off the path I always deeply knew I would follow. If I ever realize I do not feel fulfilled in my career then I will walk away, but my reason will never be fear. I still feel the hesitations I felt, but now I am listening to God’s call: to immerse myself in the world of medicine and be the voice that says “we have to do better.” To change the very structures of this institution that made me afraid in the first place.
FTE gave me the space to realize, “my desire, passionately, is to be who God called me to be,” to do so with conviction and to bring my fear along for the ride.