Black Swan

No I’m not talking about the movie (which I absolutely loved!)


I’m referring to the black swan events – events that are a surprise and have a major effect.  Unexpected outliers.  But ones that we try to rationalize away as something we could have predicted.

My therapist once had asked me what some of the black swan events in my life had been.  It caught me off guard, and I sputtered out something like getting into med school.  Of course the rest of the session ended up being about my poor self-esteem and impostor syndrome.

Later that day, I thought about it more and realized that perhaps the most important black swan was my diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

My initial episode was unfortunately a manic episode with some mixed features, which landed me in the hospital because no one knew what was going on and ended up with me having to take a leave from medical school.  Definitely a major disruption in my life.  Bipolar disorder isn’t super rare, but it certainly isn’t terribly common compared to depression.  Who knows what the stats are amongst medical professionals, because of course there’s plenty of stigma and no one’s going to admit to having bipolar disorder (or any other psychotic illness) in our field.  In retrospect, I probably was hypomanic in the weeks/months leading up to my diagnosis.  People just didn’t notice, because no one was looking for it.  You know, like a black swan.

I’m sure there are other examples in my life that I could find if I dug hard enough.  But I think the lesson is more that these events aren’t necessarily predictable, and will happen to everyone.  It only matters in how you respond to it.

image source: By Ing.Mgr.Jozef Kotulič – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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