The first time I heard the song “Truth Be Told” by Matthew West, tears welled up, and I cried. I was driving home after a long day at the clinic. The song resonated with me in more ways than I could soak in.
Lie number one: You’re supposed to have it all together
And when they ask how you’re doing, just smile and tell them, “Never better” …
I had this mental construct that as a doctor, a mother, a wife, a daughter, and all the other hats I wore — I was expected to have it all together. I was supposed to have it all. I was supposed to have fulfillment in my job as a hematologist/oncologist, be a full-time mom, dedicated wife, caring daughter, the garbage picker-upper, the schedule coordinator …
How many times have people asked how I was doing, and I gave them the generic answer of “Good” or “OK” when in actuality I was not?
Lie number two: Everybody’s life is perfect except yours
So keep your messes and your wounds and your secrets safe
with you behind closed doors …
It seemed as if everyone else had it all together: great work-life balance, more financial freedom, more choices than me. I thought, “Who else understands what I am going through?” I was doing my best to take care of my patients, but oftentimes it wasn’t enough. Some patients had advanced cancer. The emotional and moral burden of caring for them felt like chronic pain. I kept telling people, “I’m fine.” I was not fine.
I say, “I’m fine, yeah, I’m fine, oh, I’m fine, hey, I’m fine”
But I’m not, I’m broken
And when it’s out of control, I say “It’s under control”
But it’s not and You know it
I don’t know why it’s so hard to admit it
When being honest is the only way to fix it…
So let the truth be told
I was not telling the truth when I didn’t feel fine. I was not telling the truth to myself. I was avoiding my feelings. Every day was just another one filled with mundane tasks. I no longer felt the joy in taking care of patients. I ate when I was not hungry. I would rather stay home than connect with my friends. I was not sleeping well and became more forgetful.
Does any part of this sound like you? If yes, you may be experiencing early warning signs of mental health problems. You are not alone. You are not broken.
Let’s talk about our mental health. Mental health is health. It is part of our whole being.
The first step toward mental health and wellness is to be aware of your thoughts and how they affect your feelings. We are all human beings. No one is perfect. We are made to have a wide range of emotions, both positive and negative ones. While the negative feelings are unpleasant, they do not need to be destructive.
The second step is to acknowledge and accept your feelings. It is healthier to embrace negative emotions instead of avoiding or pushing them away. Once acknowledged, the path to healing can begin.
The third step is to be yourself—the authentic you. Are you creating a life aligned with your values, or do you feel pressure to please others? Understanding your motivations, setting boundaries, and taking actions to improve yourself and your situation are a few ways to be true to your inner self.
The fourth step is to get help. It may be sharing with a friend, talking to a therapist, seeing a psychiatrist, participating in coaching, or a combination of the above. Connecting with others is important to your emotional and psychosocial well-being.
Coaching transformed my life. The steps above beings the process towards a healthier mind and self. With practice, I am now more aware of my thoughts and feelings. I am better at acknowledging and allowing my negative emotions to inform me of my mental health. Creating this inner space helps me understand the thoughts behind my feelings and situation.
I am human, and I accept that I am not perfect. I can cope with life stressors much better. By taking care of myself and my mental health, I am able to make meaningful connections with my patients, my friends, and my family. I am experiencing my emotions and no longer hiding them deep inside the cobweb chambers of my body. I am learning and discovering my infinite potential.
It is time the truth be told. It is time to end the stigma of mental health. Let us all talk about it.
May is mental health awareness month. Let us lift one another up. Be a supporter of better lives and a medical community that advocates holistic patient care.
If you or someone you know are thinking of harming yourself or others, please contact:
- Physician Support Line: 1-888-409-0401
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-200-273-8255
Mary Leung is a hematology-oncology physician.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com