I’ve had a lot of ups and downs throughout my schooling and career — not just related to my profession but personally as well. In the past, it has crossed my mind that I should probably seek professional help, but then some way or another, I would get past my issues and life would normalize. Then I would move on and forget about it.
However, after last summer, things were different. In the past when one area of my life needed help, I generally could rely on the other areas to take care of themselves while I fixed things. This time, however, everything felt like it was falling apart — family, work, personal life, etc. Every time I turned around something was going wrong.
Because everything seemed to be failing, and I could feel myself slowly going crazy, I decided to reach out and ask for help.
Who to turn to?
Knowing who to turn to can be difficult. There’s a stigma in medicine around this wherein people are afraid to talk about their issues or bury them for the fear that they will be seen as weak or incapable. However, there are people who recognize the importance of self-care and mental health. They do exist; you just have to look for them. This person doesn’t need to be high up on the food chain; they just need to be someone you can turn to, confide in and admit to that you need help.
For me, I contacted someone peripherally associated with our department who I knew could keep a secret and wouldn’t judge me. From there, I was referred to another colleague who pointed me towards the various resources that our institution has to offer. In addition, I was given names and recommendations of therapists known to be reputable and trustworthy.
I used that list and made the first available appointment with a therapist near my home.
Why everyone should consider this.
For anyone thinking, “I can just talk to my friends or family, I don’t need a therapist.”
Trust me, it’s not the same. It’s not just about venting and sharing your thoughts/feelings; it’s also the feedback and the questions that make you think about why you’re reacting and feeling the way you are. It’s about digging down and figuring out where you’re coming from and how to handle it:
How to take a step back and see a situation differently
How to separate your insecurities from who you really are
How to work on yourself so that you can move past your issues, deal with them effectively and regain your balance
How much of that sounds like what every physician needs? Every resident? Medical student?
From the beginning, we are thrown into this mess that is medicine and expected to handle it. We are not robots. We cannot be programmed to just “deal” with our situations. We are emotional beings. Our experiences affect each of us differently, and sometimes, we need assistance in figuring those emotions out.
And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Another way to think about it: how can we even hope to reach our patients if we are not allowed to reach down and know ourselves? How can we empathize when we are struggling to handle our own emotions and stressors?
Consider it sooner rather than later.
If any of this rings a bell or makes you think of someone, then I encourage you to seek out or help your friend, find someone to talk. Don’t wait. There’s no right time to do it — there is no preparation or mindset to put yourself in before you do. There’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
The last thing you want is for the mental stress you are experiencing to start affecting you physically and, ultimately, not only make you feel burned out at work but also get in your way of living life as you should.
I sometimes wish I had talked to someone even back in medical school. I could have learned coping mechanisms back then and maybe have changed the way I’ve dealt with things over these past few years.
If therapy is not something you think you can do right away, then, in the meantime, at least try to take steps toward self-care. Take a vacation. Use a day off to do something other than complete chores and responsibilities — whatever you can/need to do to make yourself a priority and regain your balance.
Be strong. In fact, you already are. So let’s keep it that way.
Be your own priority. Self-care and then care for others.
Be balanced. Even if it means asking for a little help to get there.
Sanjana Vig is an anesthesiologist and can be reached at BeThree.
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