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As a Doctor, I Realized I Needed to Take My Own Advice

Big changes start when you decide to start with baby steps

As a primary care physician, I am not surprised to see the new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which suggests nearly all COVID-19 patients had at least one underlying health condition. For all of my career, I have tried to encourage my patients to have healthier habits so that they support a healthy immune system. 

The reality is that people are not in the habit of changing their habits, and sometimes it takes an inciting incident for them to want to make changes. The current pandemic is acting as a wakeup call for many, who have not been prioritizing their physical and mental health (myself included).

The reality is that it’s hard to avoid COVID-19 related conversation these days. This seems to be the only topic anyone is interested, especially my patients. It’s all over TV, the internet, and social media. It’s almost impossible not to get pulled into the vortex of noise and misinformation out there. It’s becoming harder and harder to separate facts from fiction.

I find myself having “Groundhog Day” re-occurrences of these COVID-19 conversations, reminding my patients, family and friends, about the importance of self care. I keep directing them towards the fact that self care is not selfish, and it has real benefits, including immune health.

I explain the logic in fully understanding that your habits have a lot to do with preparing your immune system for this current pandemic and any future ones. And one of the most important things I talk about is mental health. 

But I have a confession to make. 

Last week, I had a mini meltdown. I found myself crying in my office multiple times in one day. As I tried to figure out why, I had a realization. I was letting the opinions of others build up inside, creating an unhealthy balance of my own self worth. 

Upon thinking more, I realized it was one person in particular, and not anything related to COVID-19. And I think I know the exact conversation when it happened. Someone close to me discussed imperfections they had seen in my personality, and they did it in a very upfront way. At the time, I didn’t put much thought into it, but I am now realizing that instead of dealing with what was said, I just pushed it down into a dark place inside. I thought that by ignoring it, it would go away. 

But it didn’t. 

I noticed that I started to let those comments join with others that I had locked away. And I started not feeling right. I felt distracted, disconnected, and found myself having a short temper lashing out at people who I love.

A colleague took me aside and asked if I was okay. She noticed my behavior was not my normal cheery self. When I confessed to her that I have been crying in my office, she helped me realize that I needed to take action for myself so that I could continue to serve my patients and my community. 

I have always known that I am one of those physicians who puts the health and well-being of her family and her patients way ahead of hers. And the more I thought about this, the more I realized that my crying in my office, was a red flag of something more than putting my patients first. 

I realized that

  • I am one of those who asked my patients to rid themselves of negative people but somehow managed to let them penetrate my world. 
  • I am the one who allowed guilt to consume me if I grabbed fast food on my way home instead of cooking fresh food from scratch. 
  • I am the one who recycled so many negative memories while empowering my patients to do the opposite. 
  • I am the one who was too ashamed to show my own flaws while asking my patients to be proud of theirs.

I realized that I was not okay, and needed to pump the brakes.

Here I am telling all of my patients, and those who I care about, how crucial it is to take care of their mental health, and I was not taking my own advice.

So what did I decide to do? 

I am going to treat myself as my own patient to get my mental health back in shape.

I am realizing that I need to address the same things that my clients are facing. 

Here is a short list of things I am looking closely at to increase my self care:

The people I spend time with

I have made a concerted effort to step away from those whose intentions are clearly inflammatory towards me.

What it means to be a good mother

I have accepted the fact that I am not a perfect mother nor will I ever be. But I love my boys more than the universe and they know it.

Risk taking

I am being more conscious to not let fear stop me from taking risks. I know that we grow the most when we operate outside our comfort zone, and I am trying to channel my inner fighter

My intentions

I am intentionally committing to being my full self in spite of all those who will continue to discredit me.

My actions

I know that I can’t only focus on my work, and I am looking into pursuing new adventures once the stay-at-home orders are lifted!

Self talk

I need to start taking my own advice, and address my imperfections in a compassionate way instead of being ashamed of them.

Vulnerability

I am being more aware of relating to my patients, by sharing more of my own vulnerabilities. I may be their doctor, but I am also human, and sharing my struggles during this time will help me better connect with them. 

In conclusion

It’s much easier to give advice than to take it. In a recent breakdown, triggered by harsh words from a colleague, I realized that I had an imbalance in my mental health. Simply put, I was not taking the advice that I was giving. It’s not easy to admit, but it has made me realize the importance of my own mental health, especially during this pandemic. I am not expecting changes to happen overnight, but I am committed to working on them a little bit each day. I encourage you to do the same. Big changes start with baby steps.

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