An individual crisis unfolds daily. Each starts small. When I learned about epidemics in medical school, I thought they were uncommon. I was wrong.
COVID has taught us what happens if we do not address a crisis with the urgency it deserves.
The COVID crisis quickly became an epidemic and then a pandemic.
The obesity crisis is now an epidemic.
The substance abuse crisis is now an epidemic.
The mental health crisis is now an epidemic.
The suicide crisis is now an epidemic.
The burnout crisis is now an epidemic.
The gun violence crisis is now an epidemic.
If we continue to leave these epidemics unaddressed, they will grow into pandemics just like COVID did. The momentum is going in the wrong direction.
At this moment, you might feel hopeless. I know. Sometimes I feel that way too. However, I also know that this is just a fearful thought. It is not true. We are not hopeless.
Individually, we have overcome many challenges. We have learned and grown from our life experiences. Individually we can’t fix all the problems that face our country, but together we can create the change we want to see. It is up to you and me to find where our passions lie and give of ourselves. We must work together to help find the solutions to the growing number of epidemics.
How do we start? Where do we begin to focus?
The epidemics we are facing today appear like a slippery slope. Our egos might ask, “What do you want me to do about it?” or say, “It’s not my problem.”
Maybe you’re exhausted and have nothing left to give. That’s possible. That was my struggle for a very long time. After I experienced burnout for the third time, I was scared. What if I lost everything that I’ve worked so hard to accomplish? No matter how hard I worked, I felt like I had lost my traction and slid down a slippery slope.
Through my self-healing, I found my passion. When we are driven by passion, we can accomplish great things. I realized that my self-neglect was the reason I was falling backward. I wasn’t eating well or sleeping well. I wasn’t exercising or drinking enough water. I put everything and everyone before myself. I was gaining momentum in the wrong direction. How could I possibly help others if I couldn’t even help myself? I truly had nothing left to give.
As a society, we are falling backward down a slippery slope. The “work harder” can reach the point where it isn’t working anymore. I learned the very important lesson of saying “me first.” My mission is to start a movement to inspire all of us to say #MeFirst.
We can’t give from an empty cup. We can’t be creative and inspire when we’re exhausted and sleep-deprived. We can’t come up with solutions for the growing number of epidemics we face in America if we continue along this path.
One hundred thirty miles away from me in Uvalde, Texas, many young lives were lost due to gun violence which is now an epidemic. Many of us feel lost and hopeless. Today, many of my fellow Texans are experiencing the unimaginable sadness of losing loved ones. Tomorrow, history will repeat itself. It will likely also happen the next day and the day after that. We must change that.
My call to you is to say #MeFirst. Nurture yourself, get rest, and allow yourself the space you need to heal. When we give ourselves this space, we begin to see things differently.
As doctors, we are called to heal. We are called to serve. It’s in us. Our ability to heal and serve others does not have to be limited to the hospital and clinic walls. I want all our brilliant doctor minds to be part of the solution to the growing epidemics. However, many of us are caught in the epidemics ourselves right now.
Living with passion is beautiful. It’s peaceful. It’s contagious. It will allow you to help at a larger scale and live a purpose-driven life. Healing ourselves first will allow us to have the energy and inspiration we need to tackle these epidemics and other challenges that we are facing as a nation.
Life will always have its ups and downs. At times, it will be hard. However, when we care for ourselves and follow our passions, then it becomes less hard and more rewarding. Only by saying #MeFirst can our creative minds blossom to their full potential. Only by saying #MeFirst can we see how much of a gift this life is.
Liz Aguirre is an internal medicine physician.
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